I have probably heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime. I am certain that I have read, if not thousands, at least hundreds of sermons, and I have even written quite a few. I am starting to realize that listening to a sermon is an art that few ever really come to appreciate. I believe that there are things that we "hear" and things we do not "hear." There have been hundreds of times that a message has spoken directly into a situation in my life and has provided necessary wisdom to navigate through the situation. Sermons have brought comfort, relief, direction, and vision into my soul and spirit. Some wonder as to why I place such a crucial importance on preaching, the specific reasons that I just mentioned are why.
One of my Bible college instructors once leaned very heavily on us one morning in class as he pointedly and directly made the following statement, "Poor preaching is a heavy cross to bear!" He was having reference to those poor saints who often endure more than they gain. He also imposed a very high level of expecatations upon us by stating that if we pastored churches who had the "heavy cross of poor preaching" to bear, then to please not tell them where we had gone to Bible college! He was setting the bar very high because he believed that much could be accomplished with preaching. Preaching can be extremely challenging and it is always hard work if it is going to make a difference.
The fourth message that I will tell you about set the direction and tone most likely for the rest of my life. Even though it was preached in January 1996, it has kept me focused on where I am presently serving. I have jokingly said that the only way that I would leave Dothan is: A) To receive an offer to teach at a Bible College; B) To be called to pastor a "super church" somewhere between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and between the Canadian and Mexico borders; or C) To get thrown out on my head. Choice C is probably more likely to happen than A or B.
Instead of making a lot of reference to the conference, Because of the Times, my remarks in this post will be limited. I wrote in the previous post about the importance that Because of the Times has had on my life, so if you are curious about it, it immediately precedes this one.
Because of the Times '96 was a transitional point for me although I would not know it until several months later. Beginning in June/July of 1995, I had began to become increasingly restless about the direction of ministry for my life. I was ready to leave Dothan and start a Home Missions church or at least begin looking for another church that was considering a need for a pastor. I was in Dothan with my father-in-law, Joe Patterson, who is a great man, although highly unrecognized for his devotion and faithfulness to God. His desire for for world evangelism particularly through Foreign Missions is astounding and he has poured that vision and burden into many of the great saints in Dothan. At that time, I was an assistant pastor, district Sunday School secretary, and working full-time as an RN in an ICU in Dothan.
The restlessness that was within me was due to a couple of things: A) I was very hungry for revival and a greater depth of relationship with God, and B) I had finished Bible College three years earlier and in my mind I was ready to move into the next phase of ministry. I was heavily involved in the church in Dothan with preaching and teaching on Sundays, working with Home Bible studies, etc. and yet there was a gnawing within. I cannot stress the importance of having a constant spiritual hunger. Sometimes I wish I could turn it off and forget about it! But to do so would be very detrimental to what God wants to accomplish in my life. At that point in my life, I was almost 30 and was ready to get on with ministry wherever I was going to be.
I had spent some days fasting and praying leading up to January '96 in preparation for BOTT. There were some late nights at church in extended times of prayer and which had been very productive times. I could feel that God was opening some things up, I was just very unaware of exactly what they were. I had continued in some educational patterns and had finished a Master of Ministry and was preparing to begin work toward a D. Min. with a focus on expository preaching. I felt that I needed to continue to sharpen my own skills and talents to be a useful instrument to God. I believe that God wants all men to be constantly honing what talents that He has provided. So week in and week out, there was quite a bit of involvement in working in the Kingdom.
So I really felt like that I was positioned for God to speak something to me at BOTT '96. The lesson in this is that when we go to spiritual events especially revival conferences, whatever or wherever they may be, that some preparation is necessary before you get there. Too often we go into these 2-3 day events without any spiritual preparation such as fasting, prayer, and seeking the counsel of elders and it takes a day and a half to get us into the position to hear the voice of God.
Bro. T. F. Tenney always preaches on Thursday morning of this conference. Leading up to his message, I had been profoundly stirred by Bro. Anthony Mangun's usual call to evangelism and revival. There were other messages that I had heard but I still did not feel the touch of direction for the future until after Bro. Tenney's message.
I occasionally get out on the Internet and read other blogs (generally non-Pentecostal) and am amazed and sometimes shocked that there are large groups of theologians and pastors who frankly do not believe that God still speaks to people today. There is a strong insinuation that miracles have ceased. God has gotten locked between the leather covers of their Bibles. Their "relationship" with God is lived out by their own efforts of self-discipline and behavior modification. Because I still believe that God speaks to men through the written Word and the Gifts of the Spirit, there have been a few but very distinct times that I knew that I had heard the voice of God. This would be one of those times.
After Bro. Tenney's message, we had one of those "down and out" prayer meetings when you are moved to your knees and there is a deep moving of the Spirit in the house. This prayer meeting would last between 1 to 1 1/2 hours. After a significant amount of time spent in prayer, I began to sense a greater presence of God than I had ever known before. It was insistent, strong, and right. I was preparing to hear God say that a door would be opened to me and that I would be released from my post in Dothan, in fact that is what I wanted God to say. However, the word was this, "You will spend four more years in Dothan!" In retrospect, it was the very palpable and total will of God for me. I can say this now with absolute certainty because time has unfolded His plan for my life. However, at the time, I was absolutely crushed. I was extremely disappointed because I had a plan for my life and God had a plan for my life. . . and they were worlds apart.
I was sitting by a close friend of mine (who still is a close friend), Brent Rashall, and I leaned over to him and told him that God had spoken directly to me that I was going to be in Dothan for at least four more years. I also told him that I was committed enough to the voice of God that if I wavered during that time or attempted to leave Dothan that I wanted him to make sure and hold me accountable by keeping my feet to the fire.
After telling Brent this, I went and found my father-in-law, Bro. Patterson, and told him what God had spoken to me. There was a time of great weeping and praying on both of our parts and he told me that he would do everything he could to help me during that next four years. Bro. Patterson had been well aware of some of the commitments that I had been making and the direction that I was seeking prior to going to Alexandria and he had also been praying for the will of God in my life. It is important for all "young" preachers to have a voice of a prophet, mentor, and leader in their life. He has been that and much, much more over the years.
The Occasion: Because of the Times , 1996. Alexandria, Lousiana.
The Preacher: I have to opt out on saying that I "know" Bro. Tenney personally. I have met him officially once but it was in a crowd of ministers and there is no way that he would remember me (at least I don't think he would). I have shook his hand a few other times in large crowds and since I fall into the wallflower category, it is doubtful that he could remember me. I have sent him a few Barnabas Letters and a couple of personal letters (to which he replied back). In his letter back to me, he recommended that I and every other minister read "The Making of a Man of God" by Alan Redpath, which after having read it, I wholeheartedly concur with him.
Even though I am listing only one message that Bro. Tenney preached, there are hundreds more that he has preached that over the years I have heard via cassette tape (remember those?). I, along with my brother-in-law, Mike Patterson (FMD-Romania), when one night at the conference in Salt Lake City and heard Bro. Tenney and Bro. Kilgore at a young ministers meeting. That night was also a phenomenal message when Bro. Tenney preached about losing coats and taking dreams (about Joseph).
The Message: Three Days from Nowhere. I will not describe this message in this blog. The reason is that I want you to go to www.thepentecostals.org and buy it for yourself and listen to it. It is a great message and it recounts a lot of personal things that really have added much to my own life and walk with God. It would mean much to me for 1997-99. I gleaned an incredible amount of inspiration and wisdom from his message.
The lessons that I did learn from this are as follows:
- There are rough places in getting to the points that God wants you to get to.
- There are important times when it is necessary that you go alone.
- There are doors that men can open and shut.
- There are doors that you must walk through that only God can open.
- These same doors will have times that attempts are made by men and sometimes organizations to open or close them.
- It is crucial to keep a right spirit and attitude both with God and men during these "three days from nowhere."
- You may want to fight. . . open the door. . . close the door. . . move into another area. . . but it is crucial that you stay "three days from nowhere."
- Ultimately, the passage of time is the only thing that will bring you out of your "three days from nowhere."