Friday, December 21, 2007

When Light Bearers Get Weary

A recent post by a pastor on an internet forum to which I belong struck me directly in the heart. There are certain occupational hazards involved with all professions but there are none that can rival that of being involved in active ministry. The man who is really involved in ministry will find himself having to see both sides of people. He will see the genuine and authentic and at the same time will see the shams and charlatans. At times trying to factor in the kaleidoscope of feelings can create much heaviness of heart.

Periodically, they who bear the light find the light sometimes gets a little heavy. Those in ministry too often find their steps are more stumbling and heavy than they are purposed and planned. There are some very distinct reasons for that. I believe that first and foremost is the unrelenting spiritual battle that is being fought out in places that we cannot see. Sometimes I think I could fight better if I could see what I was fighting. That is probably nothing more than an echo of something that you have said sometime in the past. You must always remember that the intent of the spiritual battle is to decimate our ministry and to paralyze any effectiveness that flows from our lives and our prayers. This spiritual battle is also opposing our hopes, desires, and visions of revival and spiritual growth in the place where we serve.

A stroll through by-gone years yields a wealth of lessons to us even now. Charles Spurgeon, Alexander Maclaren, Alexander Whyte, John Henry Jowett, Andrew Bonar, and Robert Murray McCheyne were all men who battled with discouragement, some even bordered on depression. I have a feeling that were we able to revisit some of the lives of the greatest Apostolic preachers who are now in the grave that we would find that there were times that despair dogged their steps and troubled their hearts. In fact, I have read an account of T.W. Barnes life by Nona Freeman and it seems to document that there were times in his life that deep and dark depression dogged his path. In addition to Brother Barnes, I have heard messages preached by J.T. Pugh, James Kilgore, and Billy Cole that all seemed to indicate that they faced some very dark and depressing days in ministry. All must periodically have to traverse the valley of despair.

“I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.” Charles Spurgeon, Statement from a sermon in 1866

“Personally I have often passed through this dark valley.” Charles Spurgeon, Statement from a sermon in 1887

I recently heard a very prominent minister on the radio say that he had never dealt with despair, discouragement, or depression. When I heard that, I thought to myself, that he obviously is either entirely out of touch with his church or he does not have much of a heart for what he is doing. Our age is frankly careening out of control and the ravages of sin that is destroying not just single individuals but entire families and sometimes even encroaching in on churches ought to be enough for him to feel a burden of some kind. Jeremiah, the man who was a weeper, wanted his head to become a fountainhead of tears. Scattered about Paul’s epistles, one finds Paul making references to the tears that poured not only from his eyes but from his heart over the condition of those to whom he ministered. There is an incredible sermon that one could preach on the “Tears of Jesus” because it gives insight into what saddened the Lord. I ask you, can your ministry, for that matter any ministry, really be effective that knows no tears and has not been wilted with the burden of despair?

For several days, I mulled over what I heard this radio minister say and I came to some conclusions as to why we who bear the light sometimes find the light heavy to bear. What follows is not exhaustive nor in any category of significance. Each one of these reasons can usher despair and discouragement into our own lives.

Sometimes because of the overwhelming, troubling circumstances in the lives of those whom we have been called to serve and to lead. When one starts trying to put marriages back together, one finds this to be very taxing. Trying to unravel the feelings of betrayal and distrust, staggering anger, burning resentment, and replace all of this with a sense of forgiveness and restoration our work is cut out for us. Several years ago, I was involved with an estranged couple who was remotely attached to our church and in trying to help the situation I came to understand that there were unbelievable amounts of venom stored in both of their hearts that had been accumulating over the years. Children were involved and there was no way that I could just leave my emotions at the door and not feel the perplexity of the whole situation. However, with my involvement in that situation along with a whole host of other daily cares of the church that it was not long before I began to sink under the burden of bearing the light to the dark places. All ministers have mirroring situations that seems to pull the life out of you.

After working with this disastrous marital conflict, the enemy started whispering to me all sorts of things and soon that wicked self-analysis began to take place. Where had my prayers been directed? How long had I been praying? How much had I been fasting? What had I been preaching? What sort of services had we been having? On and on the enemy wrestled me down into the slough of despond. Through that course of struggle, the Lord brought it to my mind that we cannot live the lives of others. We can minister and pray and do the best we can but other than that we can do nothing more. These individuals must have their own personal sense of commitment and responsibility to allow them to overcome the difficulties. Still on and on we move because of a degree of certain hopefulness that people will change. I am aware that the heavenly treasure still has to reside in an earthen vessel until we cross the finish line and that knowledge causes me to stretch and reach as far as I can. No doubt all of us have experienced victory with those whom at one time or another everyone else had given up on them.

Sometimes the light gets heavy because of the responsibility of bringing revival to our place of calling. There is great spiritual energy that is expended when one begins to embark in the ministry of intercession and spiritual awakening. No real revival can come without places of intense prayer and personal sacrifice. Our own carnality tugs at our souls and our prayers are hindered. Our deadness of mind brings an empty yield from the Scriptures. When you begin to mix some fasting in with that, the body screams and complains and tries to overwhelm our emotions. Can your ministry really be effective until it has been brushed with despair and the disappointment of life?

Revival brings about our own knowledge that there is something within that is dead that was once alive. Anytime we begin to acknowledge that we have lost an edge that we once had and again this is a reason for despair. To have knowledge that our prayer life was once more vibrant, that our study was more disciplined, that our preaching was more passionate, and that our personal evangelism efforts were greater, there is a certain blackness that begins to creep over the horizon of the soul.

Sometimes the light becomes weighty when we confront sin. The prophets were martyred, the apostles were martyred, and others have been destroyed because they chose to confront sin. Chances are that in our time we probably will not be martyred for the confrontation of sin but despair will set in when you have to confront moral failure from those in high level leadership. Despair will set in when you confront character flaws that are present because of sin. One of the most difficult things that a pastor has to do is to confront sin in the people that he loves. If you don’t love the saints at your place, it is pretty easy to confront their sin because there is no emotional connection. On the other hand if you have fallen in love with where you serve, confronting sin is emotionally devastating. I am not having reference to soft-soaping and going easy on sin, I am writing that if you have a concern for how things turn out in the lives of people, bearing the light that exposes sin and darkness is sometimes difficult. The desolation of sin continues to eat away long after it has been confronted. There can be an accompanying despair that comes when we reach down and try to restore the fallen. The restoration of the fallen forces us to assess what has been lost and to what degree those things can be restored.

Sometimes the light becomes heavy when we are in conflict. One of the general buzzwords these days in leadership circles is something called conflict management. Major seminaries are now offering classes at the masters and doctoral levels which have to do with conflict management. These savvy business principles are relied on to reduce conflict to a point of become “manageable” in churches and relationships. Frankly these high level precepts fly in the face of the basic concepts of Christianity. Two thousand years ago, my executive director and your executive director lectured from a little mount, a sermon. Indeed, the Sermon on the Mount does not recommend conflict management, it recommends peacemaking. Blessed are the peacemakers. . . . . . Sometimes to make peace, it requires the courage of character to say, “I was wrong, will you forgive me?” No matter whom we are working with, we owe it to our own peace of mind to settle the issues. The longer that conflict brews, the longer it pushes one toward bitterness, and that bitterness becomes the blight of the soul that dims the vision with despair. Undoubtedly there are times that conflict introduces us to enemies within who find some twisted sense of purpose in destroying a minister and the church.

Other times despair comes to us because of pride. What a strange twist to think that a light bearer can become full of despair because of pride. I heard of a man who lived in a modest home that suited his needs. One Saturday, he worked diligently on his lawns mowing, edging, trimming, and finally watering. While he was sitting on his back deck listening to the sprinklers tick along and feeling the contented satisfaction of working hard and accomplishing something but all of that would change in a flash. He picked up a glass of cold, pink lemonade and began to look through one of his wife’s magazines, Better Homes and Gardens, he had hardly turned ten pages before he begin to curiously envy all of the “other” houses and “other” lawns and gardens that were glossily printed. Before he knew it, sudden despair had replaced his feelings of contentment and he begin to almost curse the “dump” that he lived in. That sort of thing can happen to us when we start looking at other men’s fields of labor. It can happen to us when we start looking at other churches, at other ministries besides the one that God has called us to. Most likely what we need during this time of pressure is most often a vacation. Time away from the battle does amazing things for us. It restores our vision and clears the clouds of despair.

Another reason that we may be overcome with despair is when the “upper room” has been forsaken. This has to do with our private times of devotion. How elementary that it seems to us that the Lord told his disciples to go and “tarry.” This time of waiting pulled them out of the teeth of the emotional storm they had been going through the last forty days. The “upper room” must exist in our life. The “upper room” of personal prayer, personal Bible reading, and a hunger for personal holiness has to take precedence in your and my lives. When we minister out of emptiness, not a lot can happen. When we preach out of books and not out of personal study and personal experience, churches wilt on the vine. When we pray only in the “official” settings of our calling, despair trips us when we least expect it. I trust that we can find that deluge of the Spirit that washes away all of the superficial aspects of our public ministry.

A few more that you can consider: Sometimes despair is ordained by God for our lives. The Lord endured Gethsemane and Job endured the terrible loss of family, property, and possessions. Sometimes despair comes because we lose things close to our hearts. Imagine the pain of an axed friendship between Paul and Barnabas over the John Mark factor. Sometimes we despair because of where the seed falls. We are not responsible for the ground but rather the sowing of the seed. Keep sowing the seeds of faith regardless of how the wayside, the stony, and the thorny ground may receive it.

When dreams slip through your hands, doubt visits, discouragement summons, and the heart is broken, and the cursed despair has a tendency to settle in and make your heart his home, it is not the end. Remember there is a source of love that needs to be visited again. That source of love is the very source who called you into ministry. When God called you into this ministry, He did so for a reason. There was something within your life that He found very crucial to the success of the Kingdom. So I tell you to take heart in all that you are currently doing. Do it as unto the Lord and allow Him to revisit you with fresh anointing and fresh power.

I confess to you that more times than once, I have managed to limp into a late evening prayer meeting, alone, where that I have lain out the whole situation before God. It is amazing what happens when we confess to God our own weakness in trying to bring about the progress of His Kingdom. The further down the road that I go the more I become increasingly convinced that He rejoices in our own weakness and inabilities. At that point, when we become brave enough or weak enough to say that we cannot pastor a church or evangelize a community or reach around the world with missions, He reminds us that those who have thorns are those who have the greater measures of grace. Gather the light and carry it on, and as Robert Frost put it sometime ago we have miles and miles to go before we sleep . .

May grace and peace be with you all. . . . .

Philip Harrelson

Monday, November 19, 2007

Please Know This. . .

Please know that on this day that I prayed for you. I did not call out your name because I did not know who you were. . . . . But please know that I prayed for you. . . . .I prayed in this manner. . . .

God, please touch those out there whose minds are being slowly captured by doubt. They are slowly being blinded to their need for God and they are slowly getting further and further from You.

God, please help that pastor and his wife who are faithfully serving you and trying to bring the knowledge of the holy to those saints who are against them. I prayed that God would strengthen you amidst the withering criticism that has created dread in your heart for any place of ministry that you have to go to. I prayed that God would deliver you from the hands of carnal men who are so opposed to the extension of the Kingdom of God.

God, please help those marriages that the fires have almost entirely flickered out. I prayed for those whose words toward their spouses have become spears that wound not the body but the heart. I prayed that the excitement and hope that walked down the isle the day you were married would return. I prayed that there would be a spirit of reconciliation to come and put the war to rest.

God, please help those faithful saints who are having to weather the demands of a pastor whose expectations are putting huge yokes on their spirits. I prayed for saints who are nothing more than pawns in the hands of a minister's ungodly ambition. I prayed for saints who have been wounded by out-of-control men who are not shepherds but are "lords" over the heritage that is supposed to belong to God.

God, please bring life and energy to those who are working on a job that is demanding greater production with smaller means to accomplish the task. I prayed for those whose directors, bosses, overseers, and supervisors are wicked and unprincipled and have a trail of bodies behind their accomplishments. I prayed that God would help those who are working for low wages and yet have high commitments with financial obligations.

God, please help those who cannot see tomorrow's light because of today's darkness. Let them understand that sometimes the most important thing about living is simply walking the path that does not have much glamor but much responsibility. I prayed that God would give you enough manna for the day so that when tomorrow gets here, your faith will be stronger because you made it through your yesterday.

Please know that on this day. . . I prayed for you . . .

Thursday, November 15, 2007

In Honor of "Joe"

Occasionally, I go to the Out of Ur blog hosted by Christianity Today and read some of their thoughts and ideas. This morning I was prompted by another pastor to go and read through an article that asked “Are Pastors Competitive Enough?” The writer of the article Andy Rowell is quite forthright in his assessment of the fact that the secular and the spiritual do not mix.

As I read through the article, several thoughts came to mind that might be helpful for those who are involved in ministry.

Delving into the business world or sports world to get a model for ministry can be incredibly destructive and produce heavy loads of guilt. We are not making widgets, we are in the business of building the souls of men. The business of working with a man’s soul can be a wearisome, anxiety-producing, and frustrating experience. If we are working the ministry from a business angle then at some point, the “widget” in progress must be tossed aside as a defective product. Imagine what would have happened to John Mark if he would have been tossed aside simply because he could not make it in Paul’s first missionary journey. The corporate executive would have tossed him aside, the coach would have cut him from the team, but instead Barnabas and Paul had a parting of ways. Because Barnabas was dedicated to trying to salvage whatever he could in the life of this young man, twenty-two years later Paul would make a request that John Mark be brought along because he was “profitable for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

The more I read my job requirements from the Pastoral Epistles, the more I understand that the business model is very much at odds with God's plan for ministry. The spiritual resume and the curriculum vitae of Harvard Business School have not matches. John Piper is quoted, “We are fools for Christ’s sake. But professionals are wise. We are weak. But professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor. We are in disrepute. We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless.”

I can remember way back in the day, as they say, (early '90's) when John Maxwell was the hottest ticket in town. I went to five of his leadership seminars. I bought his books. I bought some of his video series. I joined the Injoy Life Tape Club. I got “juiced” going to those meetings. I can distinctly remember him making a sarcastic statement to the effect of, "Joe is a good guy. . . Joe is a godly guy. . . . Joe is a praying guy. . . . Joe is going to Heaven. . . . but Joe ain't got a clue!" This remark was made in at least 3 of the 5 seminars that I attended. This provoked much laughter from the crowd.

I must confess in honesty that I laughed too. It was in one of those moments of my very youthful immaturity. The more Injoy stuff I listened to and the more Maxwell books that I read something started happening, I begin to change. I started playing the game. You know the game that tries to put you in the path of the “successful.” It was a punishing game that wouldn’t let you hang out with a certain group because they “aren’t motivated” (i.e. not successful).

The game, sad to say, affected my preaching too. Now looking back in retrospect this is the most troubling aspect of all. I was no longer content with taking the great truths of Scripture and unfolding them and letting ancient truth save those who heard me. I did all of this because I did not want to be like “Joe.” I wanted to be a “communicator” or as this generation might say “relevant.” I might add that the same old girl from the early ‘90’s now is wearing a new dress and the masses are bowing down to her because they are afraid to be “just Joe.”

Life pressed on and I had to endure some fiery trials. Some things came along that knocked my “sanctified” (worldly??) ambition for a loop. The ladders I was trying to climb started collapsing. I had some real dilemmas of life that seminars, tape clubs, books, and videos did little for me. The only relief and direction that I could get was in a prayer room and pushing away from the table. The secular books failed me but the real Book didn’t. Then a little more maturity came and I momentarily took my eyes off of my little self and my little world and my little “personal growth plan.” When I momentarily took my eyes off of me and my plan, I saw “Joe.” There he was!

He came to life for me one day at a Junior Camp in Alabama in the mid 90’s. I was making sure the dorms were secured and that all of the campers were out. As I walked past a dorm, I heard a voice. I thought to myself that surely it wasn’t a voice for all the campers were no longer in the building. So I slowly opened the door and I had indeed heard a voice. It wasn’t just any voice, it was a praying voice, it was a voice that mixed with sobs, it was a voice that crying for revival and for children. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but the Spirit and the “spirit” of Joe literally rooted my feet to the floor. I didn’t mean to listen to this man pray but the Lord was on this day going to use an object lesson for me. I recognized the voice of “Joe” as a pastor from a little small burg in Alabama. His church is out in the country and to hear some speak of it, not much has ever really been accomplished. But on that day, that glorious day, in that last week of June, God showed me something! I stayed maybe one to two minutes before carefully exiting and for at least 10 years this elderly pastor never knew that I had walked in on his prayer that day.

I turned to leave and when I did finally get out of the building, I found that the tears that had sprang to my eyes were now coursing down my cheeks. On that day a great purging of my soul took place. God jerked out all sorts of stuff like ambition, position, false humility, pride, and host of other things. I have to confess that my soul is still a work in progress but on this day the Spirit of the Lord and the “spirit” of “Joe” planted a seed of character in my life.

From that day until now, I have observed men who served small churches face dilemmas that were almost insurmountable. There were twists and turns in life that brought them much pain and hardship. Duress seemed to be a constant companion and difficulty literally tried to pound the life out of them. I am certain that their days were filled with discouragement and their nights were sleepless because of the worry that faced them.

It was almost as if suddenly there they were the "Joe's" that Maxwell had spoken disparagingly of. They faced their challenges and disappointments but with much sacrifice, pressed on. A couple of men that I know lost their wives to cancer. One man I know pastors a small country church but he has labored there for 30+ years and has not seen much "growth." Another man I know has great burden and vision and is given to much prayer and yet his church hasn't "done much" (or so the business model would say). Another man I know had much pain and difficulty because of some of the poor choices that several of his children made in their teenage years. All of them "plowed" on. . . .

They are just the "Joe's" who have been called to work their particular portion of the Kingdom. If you look at their plow-handles, they are marked with blood, sweat, and tears. Tears of faithfulness and commitment to their flock stain the plow-handle. Their sweat has fallen into the earth as they gave themselves to weeding and watering the crops.

What these men have not done is disqualify themselves for service by looking back. I am in honor the “Joe's” who are bi-vocational. They are willing to carry the financial burdens of their churches at the expense of their own needs. They are not blessed with a "staff" per se to help them with the many demands of the pastorate. More often than not because of their lack of resources, the tables get more of their energy than does prayer and the Word. But on today, “Joe” I tip my hat to you.

I don't believe in laziness or a lack of vision or burden, however, in the grand scheme of the Kingdom of God, if we pursue a business model or a coaching model, it is going to lead to us making some very terrible spiritual decisions.

Jack Welch, William Rehnquist, George Bush, Clarence Thomas, Lou Holtz, and a few others are some of the biographies that I have recently read and while they made provide a bit of inspiration, it is very fleeting. I cannot get spiritual direction from a carnal source! Therefore, the real model for ministry is going to be plainly defined for me in the Acts and the Pastorals. This model frees me from the inebriation with numbers. . . .

By the way, in researching out the real story behind Jack Welch, his character leaves much, much to be desired.

One of the most famous quotes that Kelsey Griffin gave us during my TBC days was, "You boys are gonna be shocked on judgment day!" The longer I live the more I believe that Brother Griffin was very wise in making this statement. When we get to that great and final day, I have a feeling that more than one “Joe” will have an enormous reward that is literally going to take our breath away. . .

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Puritan John Owens: Overcoming Sin and Temptation

If you are regular reader of this blog and particularly of the book lists that I have suggested in the past, you have noted my occasional mention of the Puritans. The Puritan which has probably challenged me the most and directed my thoughts perhaps more than any other would be Thomas Watson. I have steadily purchased a number of his books in the last few years and have been profoundly impacted toward his writings about sin and his encouragement to pursue after holiness. Their writings on prayer are also quite unrivalled in our modern generation of books on prayer that has turned God into some sort of cosmic Santa Claus. Furthermore, if there are any leanings toward the writings of the Emerging Church (? Submerging Church) leaders, then you have two choices: A. Don’t read the Puritans, or B. Be prepared to have all of their “theology” quickly and rapidly sent to the “deep-six.”

Certainly there are some disclaimers with reading the Puritans. First, you will find there is much to labor through in their writings and thoughts. This is not a bad thing as we have almost forgotten how to think critically in our generation, especially concerning eternal matters. You will not simply decide to sit down and read through their books like you might do with a John Grisham novel or a Dick Francis mystery. Secondly, you will find that much, much Scripture is used and the more familiar you are with Scripture, the more value the Puritan writings will have. Thirdly, it would be very wise to read the Puritans with an open note-book nearby to jot down thoughts that come to mind as you read through them.

To help you out, I am recommending that you go to a blog maintained by Tim Challies. I venture by this blog almost everyday and have found some very good things written in the past couple of years. In fact, Challies is so disciplined that he has blogged every day now for over 1450 days (4 years or so). I admire his discipline and also because his material is not light-weight. A few months ago, he began a series of reading through the classics of good Christian material. He started with J. C. Ryle’s classic, “Holiness,” to which one blog a week was devoted to some good discussion of a chapter in the book.

He is about to begin the second installment and I have intentions of joining in the exercise and perhaps learn a little and maybe even contribute a little to his blog discussion. The book that they are reading is written by John Owen entitled “Overcoming Sin and Temptation.” It has been edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor for a much easier readability. You can either purchase the book or even better you can download the 400+ page book free, which is what I have done.

The book actually contains three of Owens’ works:

  • Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656)
  • Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It (1658)
  • The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of Indwelling Sin (1667).

In “Mortification of Sin in Believers,” Owen offers the following thoughts on killing the old man or the body of sin:

(1) consider whether the sin you are contending with has any dangerous symptoms attending it;

(2) get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of that sin;

(3) load your conscience with the guilt of it;

(4) get a constant longing for deliverance from the power of it;

(5) consider whether the sin is rooted in your nature and exacerbated by your temperament;

(6) consider what occasions and advantages your sin has taken to exert and put forth itself, and watch against them all;

(7) rise mightily against the first actings and conceptions of your sin;

(8) meditate in such a way that you are filled at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of your own vileness;

(9) listen to what God says to your soul and do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it, but hearken what he says to your soul.

(This is not typical Joel Osteen stuff, especially number 8.)

So you have some free resources to load up your mind and spirit before you get into the holidays. The only thing it will cost is the time necessary to read the book.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Parable of Accountability

I shall tell you a very powerful story about two boys. Willie and Freddy were buddies. In fact so close were Willie and Freddy that in their childhood they did almost everything together. They played Little League baseball together. They would go on family vacations together. They chased the girls together. They rode to school together. As they got older they both decided to do something to change their world.

Both of these boys were quite bright intellectually and excelled academically. They entered high school with lofty aspirations. Suffice it to say that their high grades helped with their great aspirations. It would benefit them in the chosen paths that they chose to walk. Honor students they became and academic achievements seemed to fall at their feet. Medals, ribbons, and other honors came their way because of their brains and their focused discipline. The focus and determination they exhibited set them apart from a lot of their teenage peers. While they were excelling in the classroom another area opened up to them too. The agility on the fields of competition also brought a measure of recognition to them. Even though they both enjoyed the competition of sports neither Willie nor Freddie were under any illusions that the playing fields would be the ticket to their success. Deep down they both realized that what they were called to do would require more agility of mind than of body and so the focus continued to demand that they take the hardest classes with the most unrelenting of teachers.

Collectively they decided to go to medical school and become physicians. After some counsel with their parents and school guidance counselors they begin the process of entering the school that would help them to accomplish this very visionary goal. The challenge escalated and they both realized that they would have to put aside their teen-age whims if they were to make it.

To their great satisfaction Willie and Freddy were accepted into a pre-med program. The pre-med program was finished with some degree of difficulty but it would not scratch the surface to the challenges they would face together in medical school. The task was daunting but steadily, circuitously, and diligently they begin to climb through the hoops of academia and medicine. Once they finished the academic demands of medical school, they begin the rigorous training of the “hands on” process of an internship, then a residency, and finally a fellowship into a specialty field.

When it came time for the fellowship into a medical specialty, Willie and Freddy parted ways. Their friendship remained and was even strengthened by the fork in the road that medicine now called for. Willie was interested in general organ systems and Freddy was interested in hearts. Willie began his more focused training to become a general surgeon and Freddy followed suit in his efforts to become a cardiovascular surgeon. Several years would pass and although they missed the camaraderie of their friendship, they both knew this was the designated path that each had to follow. With the passing years, their training continued with great demands of time and diligence but finally Willie had become a general surgeon and Freddy became a heart surgeon.

Willie went to small-town American to ply his trade and Freddie went to a thriving metropolis to practice. As the years passed, the phone calls, the letters, the outings literally came to a standstill with only the annual Christmas card arriving in each other’s mailboxes. But as luck and maybe even a little providence, Willie watched his little town grow to such an extent that the hospital that he staffed decided to open up a cardiovascular program and needed a surgeon to come to practice. Willie was excited as he thought about his life-long friend Freddy. Willie did not waste any time in trying to persuade the administrators and medical staff to contact Freddy about coming to the smaller town to practice his art.

When Willie called Freddy and told him of the situation, as luck would continue to have it, Freddy was getting tired of the metropolitan rat-race. What Willie did not know was that the metro area had turned Freddy into an excellent heart surgeon and that he was widely respected in his region of the country. In the process of the cardiovascular program opening up in the smaller town, they begin to renew their friendship once again. However this time it began to take on an even greater strength than when they were in their teens and in their twenties.

Willie continued to cut on gall-bladders, stomachs, colons and other organs. Freddy finally left the huge medical center in metro-America and came to the little town. He put up his shingle and started cutting on hearts. Willie was one of the most lovable guys that you would ever want to meet and Freddy was in the same category as Willie. Both physicians became widely respected by their colleagues and the support staff that worked with these men literally loved to work for them. Not only were their skills good but their bedside manner had the capacity to put many an anxious patient at ease before the procedure. Good reputations and success begin to fit the bill for these two life-long friends.

As they say, life was good! Willie and Freddy began to enjoy a fantastic camaraderie once again. They laughed about their middle-school days and about some of their high-school antics. They remembered the demands of their college days and the long hours in medical school.

Things were so good that Freddy thought he ought to buy a home in his new found haven. But Freddy didn’t want just any house and so he bought one right across the street from Willie. Their wives became good friends and Willie and Freddy’s kids played together. Life was so good! Willie and Freddy’s story was seemingly meant to be a best-seller. It was perhaps one of those stories that you start in a good book and half way through the book, you find that you do not want the story to end. It was a story meant for the top of the New York bestseller list, such a story that would give readers ample opportunities to get a good case of warm fuzziness.

When the weekends came Willie and Freddy were inseparable. They took deep-sea fishing trips together. They golfed together. They went to their college football games together. They grilled out together. The only time that they were separated was when Willie had to take care of bones and Freddy had to take care of hearts. They were “living large” as they say these days. The only little drawback to their friendship and it was quit minor was that Willie liked to smoke. Freddy would jokingly tell him that he needed to quit and then they both would laugh. After Freddy would say this to Willie and the laughter had subsided they would continue to pursue life at full tilt. They shared dreams together. They shared their hopes and their fears because there was such a deep bond between the two of them.

As time passed, one of Willie’s parents passed on and Freddy sensed the loss almost as much as Willie because he had spent much time at Willie’s house when they were growing up. Time continued to march on and when one of Freddy’s parents died, Willie wept with Freddy because he too loved Freddy’s family almost as much as he loved his own.

The friendship deepened and the ties became stronger. Both men were literally in the prime of life, widely respected, and financially well off. But all the success betrayed a tiny secret in Willie’s life. Willie shared almost everything with Freddy but there was a small matter, or so Willie thought, that he kept from Freddy. Time continued to pass but something slowly and deadly was unleashing itself everyday in Willie’s heart.

A fishing trip one weekend seemed to prove how close these men really were. The only thing that was off limits to their friendship was a sinister secret that Willie refused to tell Freddy about. In fact, Willie told very few about his sinister secret. They returned home from the trip and promised to spend some more time fishing or golfing the next weekend. What they both did not know was this was the last fishing trip. There would be no more fishing, golfing, riding Harley’s, grilling, or just hanging out. . . . again. . . . ever. . . .

Late on a Thursday night, the phone rang in Freddy’s house. He picked it up and on the other end was the hysterical cry of Willie’s wife. “Freddy, please come help us, Willie is very sick.” Freddy ran across the street and found Willie crumpled on the floor. He turned him over and checked for respirations which were absent. He checked a carotid pulse and found it absent also. So now the heart surgeon began to perform the most basic of treatment for a stalled heart, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Freddy gave himself all out to CPR for his life-long friend in an effort to save him. Freddy did chest compressions and rescuer breathing furiously until the paramedics arrived and were able to relieve him.

The paramedics continued CPR, started an IV, and used the defibrillator to try to jumpstart Willie’s heart with very little success. After hurriedly but efficiently loading Willie into an ambulance, they sped rapidly to the nearest ER where a whole host of medical staff was waiting for his arrival. Willie arrived in a full Code-Blue status and the medical team worked valiantly and skillfully but to no avail. Willie’s heart refused to respond to their drugs, the shocking of the defibrillator, and to intubation of the lungs. As Freddy watched the cardiac monitor depicting the ominous flat-line of asystole, he could only brokenly sob, his best friend had died.

Subsequently in the following days an autopsy report found its way into Freddy’s hands. He was stunned and at the same time, he was enraged. Willie had died from severe coronary artery disease that had affected three of the five coronary arteries that were wrapped around Willie’s heart. Freddy’s skills could have saved Willie’s life if he had only known. As more details surfaced, some of the staff members at Willie’s surgery clinic had remembered him saying that he was having some vague chest pain. When they tried to get Willie to follow up on the symptom, he laughed them off and told them that he was in the prime of life and that it was probably just indigestion.

The sinister secret was that Willie should have told Freddy that he was experiencing chest pain. He stopped just short with the one detail that probably could have saved him. This parable should speak volumes to us about accountability and how crucial that it is.

Accountability only manifests itself in a close fellowship of brothers who are willing to speak things into our lives. We can have no more accountability than what we are willing to allow. Our accountability is only insured when brothers are allowed to traverse some of the pathways where we store our fears, our dreams, and most importantly, our secrets.

Much tumult has ensued in forum land since the infamous Resolution 4 passed in Tampa last month. For those men who are in preparations to leave the fellowship, the accountability card is now being played. It is almost as if to say that once these men leave they will have no accountability to anyone and that they will at best dry up on the vine or at worst depart from the faith. Furthermore, the implications are that those who choose to stay will find a warm bed of accountability that will provide an unrealistic sense of security.

Frankly very little of my own spiritual direction and sense of accountability has come from men who have been in elected positions in our organization. In fact the majority of men who have impacted my life the most were men who were not office-holders. I am in no way inferring that men who hold positions are not doing an important service for us. But at the same time, I have marveled when political maneuvers bled over into spiritual venues that should have been off limits. When this sort of thing happens, more often than not principles will be a sacrificed on the very shallow altar of politics.

No matter where one stands at this juncture in history all servants of the Lord need accountability.

For those who choose to leave, I would spend much time, thought, and prayerful consideration before doing so. No organization or even “loosely formed” alliance is going to be entirely apolitical as this will always be the nature of the beast. In fact there are some very fearful “wolves” who will take full advantage to push a very powerful, self-motivated agenda under the guise of conviction and “doing what is right.” Furthermore there are times that self-importance and self-aggrandizement can be thoroughly couched and hidden in a showy but superficial spirituality. I can see conviction but until I am fully aware of the content of that conviction, I shall be very slow to embrace it. In fact I have noted some who have so-called “strong convictions” to be marred with appalling and disgusting latitude in areas of their personal lives that ought not to be so!

I am encouraging you to find some accountability that goes much deeper than an organization can bring to you. I am encouraging you to find some accountability that will be much deeper than a course beyond an organization. I am encouraging you to allow men to walk into your life who are honest, clean, and forthright in their assessment of the times. . . . Accountability demands that we sometimes hear the things that we do not necessarily want to hear. . . .

My accountability can only come when I am willing to. . . . .

  • Give myself to much prayer.
  • Give myself to an understanding of history.
  • Give myself to the preparation of preaching.
  • Give myself to a brotherhood of godly fellowship.
  • Give myself to a pursuit of holiness.
  • Give myself to a lifestyle of repentance.
  • Give myself to a hunger for purity.
  • Give myself to a ministry of faith.
  • Give myself to something that is bigger than me.
  • Give myself to the consideration of my brothers.

If Freddy had only known about Willie’s secret, much could have been prevented. Accountability. . . . It is worth staying for. . . . . It is also worth leaving for. . . . .

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Book Recommendation -- Rebuilding God's Wall -- Nevin Bass

For those who are going to General Conference in Tampa, Florida next week, I am offering to you a very good book to pick up at the Pentecostal Publishing House. Building God’s Wall by Nevin Bass is an excellent book. More importantly it has the capacity to become a mid-week Bible study series or even a Sunday School series. Pastor Bass works through the book of Nehemiah in an expository fashion and draws many insights from Scripture that are very helpful.

This book covers many of the facets of the Christian life from prayer, unity, overcoming opposition, preparing for revival, and even extends to giving. In this book, one of the highlights was what Pastor Bass refers to as the ten gates of worship. With each of the ten gates (i.e. Sheep gate, Fish gate), there is a corresponding process (i.e. Sacrifice, Discipleship, etc.) that a pastor or Bible teacher could put down some stakes and camp out on for several weeks.

When the process of rebuilding occurs, opposition will always be a factor. One chapter is focused on the principle of “Overcoming Resistance.” Here is a quote from Chapter 4 concerning the matter of resistance: When Satan is unable to stop the rebuilding effort, he often tries to plant seeds of rebellion inside the newly constructed walls. Pastor Bass also identifies three voices that attempt to stop the work: (1) Discouragement; (2) Fear; and (3) Helplessness.

In another chapter on “Preparing for Revival,” Pastor Bass pulls together the role of the Porters, Singers, and Levites who are all working toward having a revival within the walls. He also revisits again the principles that comprise the action of keeping the gates.

Again, my main purpose in encouraging pastors and teachers to get a copy of this book is to let it become a seed for you to teach a series of lessons from the book of Nehemiah that will benefit the Church. You can read a sample chapter here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Ride With UPCI General Superintendent Kenneth Haney - Part 2

Thanks to all who have come by and read and commented on Part 1 about riding with the UPCI General Superintendent Kenneth Haney. I trust that I have not added to anything Brother Haney might have said to us to give you an unfair representation of him. Furthermore please understand that what you are reading has to come through the reflections of my own thoughts and any misquotes or misrepresentation is not the fault of Brother Haney.

I have two regrets (sort of) with Brother Haney being with us this past weekend. First, I put my mother through untold anxiety and worry by telling her that I was going to bring Brother Haney to her and my dad’s house to eat on Sunday after the service. The reason that I did so was because we have had numerous missionaries to come through our church (my father-in-law has been the district Foreign Missions director for 20+ years) and the large majority of them always say that they get very tired of “eating out” and would like some real home cooking. So I figured if they were tired of all the chain restaurants then Brother Haney probably was too, therefore that is why we went.

My second regret is that Brother Haney could not go home with us on Sunday night after church and load up on the “leftovers.” Numerous times Mark and I would bring some of our Bible college “buddies” home on Sunday nights after church and sit up until 1:30 AM or so, eating and swapping sermons and stories. I wish that Brother Haney would have been able to help us knock down some more dumplings, butterbeans, cornbread, and pecan pie (among many other things) on that Sunday night after he preached. Now that I can say that I know him, I have no doubt that he would have piled up in the car and went with us. . . . . Just to make sure that this doesn’t slip through the cracks in these two blogs, Brother Haney is very, very interested in the success of all of those who have been called into the ministry. Furthermore, it appeared to me that he was willing to do everything he possibly could to ensure that success!

On the way back, Brother Haney was triple-teamed by Mark Harrelson (my brother, who serves with Brother Roger Lewis in Mobile, AL), Mike Patterson (UPCI Foreign Missionary to Romania), and myself.

Before getting fully cleared of Dothan, we presented Brother Haney with a book about the Bear. For all of the uninitiated, the Bear was the famous Alabama coach who trashed your college football team back in the ‘60’s, ‘70’s, and early ‘80’s. The biography particularly focuses in on how the Bear had the willingness and ability to pull the best out of the players that came through Tuscaloosa during his tenure there. I felt like that since Brother Haney had said he liked biographies that he might find some inspiration to continue to help the numerous men whom he is trying to help.

We had not gone very far before the conversation again turned to ministry and letting God determine the direction of your life. He revisited something with us again that he had mentioned to me on Saturday that purposely left out in the previous blog. He said that the anointing that we experience hinges hugely on the personal sacrifices that we are willing to make for the Kingdom of God. Yet our times challenge our ability to sacrifice because of the nature of our society. Much spiritual lethargy in ministers and in churches is created by the velvet charms that affluence brings to us. To remember our roots, the storefronts, the brush arbors, and the disdain that society had for us at large in the early days will do much for us. Sometimes the biggest cursing can come from the biggest blessings. Brother Haney told us about his father’s (Clyde Haney) association with George Studd who was an early Pentecostal pioneer and the tremendous sacrifice that this man went through to give money to support missionaries and the cause of the Cross. I related to Brother Haney that last year after the ’06 Columbus General conference that I used much of the inspiration and challenge from his Thursday night message to preach a message about the Cross to our Dothan folks (You can read it here. . . or send me an e-mail to and I will send you a copy that is not edited by SermonCentral.).

Brother Haney related that our real passion can only come when we are in the sacrificing mode. The reason that very little passion is reflected in the evangelistic efforts of some is because there is no real sacrifice in their lives. Passionless preaching, praying, worship, and churches are all related to the lack of sacrifice in our lives. If you want a powerful anointing and a church that will constantly have a revival spirit then sacrifice is going to play a crucial role in that. To lose touch with those giants of the past who sacrificed everything they had to push the message forward will not be a wise choice. The modern church must pick up that same level of sacrifice as did those pioneers.

Can we survive as an organization? We were asked this question! Brother Haney assured us that we will survive as an organization and perhaps even become a denomination that warrants some respect in the evangelical world. However simply being an organization or a denomination is not the goal! We must have the passion and fire of revival! We must press until we are stretched out on our faces toward God! We must be establishing churches that produce daughter works. We must have churches that do more than serve as social outlets for people to hang around! We must experience prevailing and powerful growth as did the early church. But all of this comes with a price. Brother Haney challenged us to reach as high as we could through these venues of sacrifice. I felt the Spirit very thick in the car as we trekked toward Montgomery, in fact I wanted to slow down to about 30 mph to buy us some more time!

As I listened to Brother Haney, I became aware of one thing: The United Pentecostal Church does not belong to Brother Haney or Brother Jerry Jones or to St. Louis. . . The UPCI belongs literally to me and to you. What I do with my part of the UPCI is going to be very crucial to its future. Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote a poem a long time ago entitled “Lifters or Leaners” and our age caters to those in her poem who become “leaners” and expect someone else to pull them along when in reality life and success comes to those who are “lifters.” Brothers, We Must Pray!

We asked Brother Haney about those who had shaped his life in his early years. He listed off five men. Clyde Haney, J. T. Pugh (another blog about Brother Pugh), V. A. Guidroz, James Kilgore, and David Gray. He told us about his father, Clyde Haney, of how that he constantly was trying to build a church building or to build men who would help to build the church. Clyde Haney was a church builder and a man builder. In 1949 (I think) is when Brother Clyde Haney opened the Bible College in Stockton. He faced huge financial hardship in trying to accomplish this but somehow managed to bring it to bear. In additional to building the Bible school, he was also working to build the church. Many saints and alumni are scattered around the world today because of the efforts of Clyde Haney. What Brother Haney did not say but the principle again prevailed. . . We can let such a choke-hold of materialism drag us down until we are just like Isachaar was in Genesis 49 who was enslaved to a burden. The achievements (burden???) of materialism and stuff-itis will ultimately find that moth, rust, and robbers will devour it. However, men like Clyde Haney who have passed on to their reward are still living much through their efforts of advancing the Kingdom of God.

J. T. Pugh had a large impact on Brother Haney also. Brother Pugh would come to Stockton and preach revivals for Clyde Haney. Brother Haney said that as a young man (in his teens) he would listen to the passionate preaching of Brother Pugh and then spend much time lingering in the altars praying long after the preaching had been completed. Brother Haney told us that all through the years that he kept up the friendship and there were times that the wisdom and confidence of Brother Pugh encouraged him greatly.

V. A. Guidroz affected Brother Haney as a preacher. He said that he could have listened to Brother Guidroz preach for hours because he was a masterful orator. The preaching of Brother Guidroz motivated Brother Haney toward study and the discipline of learning. He told us that Brother Guidroz was a self-educated man who spent much time reading encyclopedias and books about the Bible. Then when he began to preach, his wealth of knowledge paid off for him.

James Kilgore had much to contribute to Brother Haney’s life. He said that Brother Kilgore really came into his life after his own father had passed away. As the years went by Brother Kilgore apparently served almost as a second father to Brother Haney.

David Gray, who is Brother Haney’s uncle, also had much influence in his life. Brother Gray promoted a great love for the Apostolic doctrine and for holiness in his life. Again, the encouragement came to us that we should not minimize doctrine or holiness in our modern times. They are crucial to our existence. He told us that Brother Gray was a very excellent Bible teacher and could expound and bring out Scripture through a sermon or though a Bible study like very few are capable of doing. Brother Gray was a preacher of the Word.

Mike Patterson asked Brother Haney about facing spiritual opposition and burnout. Brother Haney related to us a very dark trial that he had to face at one point in his life. He told us that prayer and sweat is crucial to navigating your way through a trial. The prayer part is praying things down from God and into our spirit. Prayer is a very powerful weapon and there are even times that we have to pray things out of our spirit to maintain the presence and approval of God. He told us that this is where the “sweat” part comes in. For a number of years, Brother Haney has been a jogger, although he said now that he is more of a fast walker than jogger. But he did say that during those times of physical exercise that he would deal with frustrations in his mind and heart and would be able to let them go. He told us that every Pentecostal preacher needs an outlet of prayer and sweat in their lives.

By this time we had gotten to Montgomery and the trip had ended far too quickly for me and those with me. I trust that through this blog that you have been challenged by what has been written that Brother Haney said to us. Again, as a writer I take full responsibility if Brother Haney has been cast in a light that does not fully portray him. Furthermore having spent a weekend with Brother Haney has shown me an authentic, warm Christian elder and brother.

Until the next time. . . . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Ride With UPCI General Superintendent Kenneth Haney - Part 1

This past weekend (August 18-19, 2007) the Apostolic Faith UPC celebrated its fortieth anniversary. We had a tremendous time of worship, fellowship, blessing, and many memories came flooding back to us from the past.

The high watermark for our church was having the General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International to preach on Saturday night and Sunday morning. On Saturday night, Brother Haney preached about “The Heelgrabber.” He started his message about Jacob grabbing the heel of Esau and having the tenacity and vision to get the birthright. He then went on to challenge our church to further pursue our mission of revival, growth, and progress. On Sunday morning, Brother Haney preached on “Spiritual Perception” and how important it was to see things from a spiritual sense and not miss the times that God was speaking directly to our lives through some of the circumstances and trials of life.

In addition to Brother Haney preaching, I was able to spend in the neighborhood of 220 miles driving him from Montgomery to Dothan and then back to the airport. As the mileage flew by, Brother Haney was extremely personable and warm to me and had much to say and I intend on sharing some of that in this blog.

A couple of weeks prior to his arrival, I had spoken to his secretary, Joy Hudspeth, a couple of times about travel arrangements. During one of the conversations, I expressed to her that we were a bit nervous about Brother Haney coming to Dothan as we had never entertained a UPCI General Superintendent. She assured me that I had nothing to worry about because Brother Haney was extremely easy to take care of. Joy’s statement about Brother Haney is going to end up being the classic understatement of 2007. She was more than right!

Pastor Larry McEndarfer, along with his son, Anthony, and I took Brother Haney to the Rosa Parks museum and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church on Saturday morning. This is the birthplace of the civil rights movement where Rosa Parks refused to get up from her seat that started the ball rolling. Montgomery is also the place where Martin Luther King Jr. pastored his first church that would propel him to the national scene.

After this tour Brother Haney and I headed for Dothan. Because I am always curious about the reading patterns of leaders, I asked him about the particular kinds of books that he read. He told me that he had read a lot of church history, particularly that which focused in on the 1st-3rd centuries. The reason was to gain an understanding of things that the early church had to deal with as they rose from the foundational level. The same kinds of difficulties the early church faced mirror similarly those that we are facing even today and gaining an insight of how the apostles reacted can be very helpful to us.

Brother Haney also related to me that he enjoyed reading biographies of great men. He talked for a bit about Richard Nixon and his great abilities with foreign policy (especially with China).

Brother Haney spoke about the huge challenge of materialism and spiritual lethargy facing the American church currently. It is very easy for us to relax in our society today and think that the mission has been accomplished. However, much work is still necessary to reach the world with the message of Jesus Christ. Brother Haney is very passionate about the Global Conquest mission which is going to be unveiled at General Conference in Tampa. In a ten year time frame, the UPCI is seeking to double everything! We must double our attendance in the local church and every church needs to get involved in a daughter work to double the amount of churches. Furthermore there needs to be a doubling of ministers in the UPCI. We will do this by tapping into our young men and women in the local church.

There was much encouragement from Brother Haney about this venue. He spoke of the local church in every city becoming a training ground for the apostolic message. The plan will include involvement not only from pastors but also from the constituents in every church. There will be a focus to assist pastors with tools to help accomplish this purpose and there will be a focus on how that saints in a church can help that pastor to see the vision accomplished.

Brother Haney related that he had just returned from a missions conference in central America. The missionaries in that region are having some good success with converting ministers and congregations to the message of Jesus Name baptism and the revelation of the oneness of God. In our day, we are becoming increasingly aware of missionaries from major evangelical denominations who are beginning to convert to the Pentecostal message.

Because of this shift in the Spirit, it is very crucial for the Apostolic doctrine not to be compromised. There are many shifting trends that are constantly trying to water down the American church that we must be very vigilant. Brother Haney and I discussed the fad of all the Purpose-Driven concepts that reached into the evangelical world in the mid-90’s. We are now beginning to see that this fad is going to have to be replaced with something new to hold on to the crowd. Yet in Apostolic churches where there is a true move of the Spirit, an experience of heart-felt worship, and a process of spiritual growth, congregations are thriving. For this reason we cannot allow a laissez-faire attitude to overtake us. Part of that fight is the constant battle with materialism and abundance.

Brother Haney spoke to me about the value of having elders in your life. The elders have the ability to bring a voice of reason into your life. He had recently finished a meeting with Brothers James Kilgore, J. T. Pugh, C. M. Becton, and T. F. Tenney at WEC in St. Louis. He said that he told them that they really did not need him but that he really needed them. He told me that having elders does two things for you. First, they will allow you to speak out frustrations that come about in trying to serve the church. They can listen to the frustrations and then they can assist you in making adjustments either in your personal life or in what you are trying to accomplish. Secondly, the value of elders allows you to see further with the eyes of their experiences. The experience of the elders can help prevent history from recycling itself again in negative ways.

After the service on Saturday night, we took Brother Haney out to eat. When we arrived at the tables, my brother-in-law told all the young men to sit across from Brother Haney so that he could address them. So my two boys and my nephew had a lifetime memory with Brother Haney. He told them that the most important thing in their life was The Call. As with all young men and women, Brother Haney believed that if they have the Holy Ghost that an incredible opportunity is in them to advance the Gospel. He told the fellows that there are enough physicians and lawyers but not nearly enough ministers, missionaries, and evangelists in our generation. Our young men and women need to fight against the tide to seek conquests in a very rapidly passing material world.

The next blog post I will give you a truckload of things that Brother Haney passed along to us on the return trip. He was triple-teamed on the journey back as I had my brother, Mark Harrelson, and brother-in-law, Mike Patterson with me. When Sunday night had finally closed down, I felt as if I had made another friend in Brother Haney. In fact on Saturday, he gave me his cell phone number to keep up with him while he was in Dothan. I told him that I would “lose” the cell number when he left for St. Louis. He told me that I could keep it and that I needed to call him later on in the year.

Joy Hudspeth was right! . . . . . Not only was Brother Haney a warm, down-to-earth leader, I also felt like that he was extremely interested in me as a person and wanted to see the success of our church in Dothan. . .

The Public Reading of Scripture

Quite some time ago, I was studying some of the practices of the ancient apostolic church and ran across some of the writings of Justin Ma...