Monday, December 13, 2010

$56 and Change

Every year for the past 43 years our church has participated in the annual Christmas for Christ offering. It is the main force that helps fund the Home Missions Department of the United Pentecostal Church to start new churches around the United States. We make a big deal about it and wrap up our offerings in Christmas wrappings and try to give our best gift to the Lord so that somehow and somewhere a church can be planted. After placing our gifts around the altar area, the whole church prays over what we have given.

This year we did something a little different with our promotions. Director Carlton Coon and his team put together a DVD with four clips that ranged from about three minutes to seven minutes or so that focused on the history of the CFC program and some of the accomplishments of several church planters around the nation. With those clips, instead of an instrumental while we were receiving the offering, I played those clips. The last one that we used was sort of a “highlights” clip that spotlighted a church planter in Louisiana and another in Chicago. Both of the segments were quite moving and if you have any desire at all to be involved in reaching lost people this was a shot in the arm. It was also a provocation to look at priorities and consider where the best gift ought to go this Christmas season.

What I did not know was that during these four Sunday nights that two boys were intently watching Director Carlton Coon as he navigated us through history and the impact that church planters make on communities. Two boys, Josh and Alex, were on the verge of doing something that would reach out and change the world and probably change the course of their lives for the future. I believe that when kids are touched early on in the church that God has a way of setting their lives in a direction for Christian ministry.

Josh and Alex have faced incredible odds most of their lives. Without a lot of details, suffice it to say that their world has been very unstable as far as their home life goes. Jerked about from pillar to post and living behind the proverbial eight-ball, nothing has been easy for them. If I were to write about all of the calamities they have gone through in their short lives, I have no doubt that you would be weeping as you read through their troubled tale. Despite that, somewhere along the way the grace of God stepped in and slowly began to turn things around for them. Now there are warm beds and hot meals and clean clothes. Grandparents now provide some stability for Josh and Alex and also for their little sister Maddie, who is two.

About two years ago when their grandmother gained custody of Josh and Alex and Maddie, she and Mark, begin bringing them to church. I would notice that during our old-fashioned Pentecostal altar services that both of these little guys would be fervently praying the best way a seven and nine year old could pray. I had no doubt that God was touching them and helping them in ways that neither their grandmother nor our church could. I also noticed that there were several times that they would follow Brother Patterson around the platform while he was praying for people and take in all that was going on. I also noticed that there were times that Josh and Alex would cling to Brother Patterson and a few times to me. We would both pray for these little fellows and I suppose that my praying for them was more out of desperation than faith because I knew some of the sordid details they had to live with.

Josh and Alex’s grandparents save their change throughout the year and when the year is over, they give the change to the boys so that they can go and buy Christmas gifts for others. Last week, Josh and Alex approached their grandmother and asked her if they could give that money to Christmas for Christ. I think that their grandmother was as shocked and surprised by their request as I was when it was related to me.

So last night, they brought their little box to the altar and laid it up there. I saw it, Brother Patterson saw it, our church saw it but others saw it too! Heaven was watching last night, God saw, the angels saw, and that great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12, they saw it too. Two boys with a box had no idea who all was watching because they were caught up in the innocence of true sacrifice. They heard a story from Chicago about a church planter pulling a drug-dealer out of the depths of sin and something clicked in their little hearts. We have to get involved they thought. How shall we do it? Somewhere in the plotting and planning of the small world they live in, it came to them, our box, and our money. But it is not really our box, it is God’s box, and it is God’s money. So why don’t we give it back to him?

This is how God builds churches, this is how God reaches the world, and He works in the grass-roots. Josh and Alex are part of the bunch that Elijah never saw when God told him that there were some who had never bowed to Baal.

In that box? 56 and change. What can 56 and change really do?

It can fill up a church planter’s car with gas.
It can buy literature for a church planter’s Sunday school department.
It can support one foreign missionary for one month.
It can pay a portion of the electricity bill for a church planter.
It can be put with a whole lot of other folks sacrifice and it can help to reach another lost person.

Most of us don’t know what to buy our families for Christmas because we have far more than enough. iPads, iPhones, and iStuff have a way of choking the life out of our souls. We are like that barn-building fool who Jesus spoke of that had so much that he was going to tear down his barn and build a bigger one to hold his stuff.

Last night, Josh and Alex gave every bit that they had to the cause of Christ. 56 and change will go a long way to accomplishing something in Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh, and other metro areas here in America. I have a feeling that 56 and change will confront some of us at judgment.

What if every member of your church gave 56 and change this year for Christmas for Christ?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Reflections on "And the Shofar Blew" Part 1

One of the most provoking works of fiction that I have ever read is And the Shofar Blew by Francine Rivers. It was published in 2003 and having read one of her other books, I picked it up on a whim and read it. In the subsequent years that have passed, I have re-read it a couple of times. Recently I picked it up again and read it for a third time. This time I had a pen and underlined a number of places in the book that can serve as jumping off places for blog posts in the next several days.

If you are involved in ministry in any form, it is a very worthy book to be read and then ruminated over for the rest of your life in ministry. So as not to totally spoil it with a lot of details, it basically is a story of a young man who is called to take over a dying church who allows a maddening personal ambition and uncrucified dark motives to destroy him.

The first lesson that boldly stood out to me was the gradual deceptiveness of the gravity of human means. H. B. London of Focus on the Family gave some statistics about those involved in various forms of Christian ministry of all denominations some time ago. He noted that 1500 men left the ministry on a monthly basis. Five years after commencement fully half of the men who graduate from seminary are no longer involved in ministry. Another major denomination asserted that for every twenty men who enter ministry only one would still be involved by the age of 65. They gave up despite all of the energy and effort they spent on education, training, and adapting to the call.

Various reasons were given in the statistical study for their exits of public ministry. Health reasons, personal issues, others may determine that they misread the initial calling, and some give up because of the monumental stress that is placed on them. Others are forced out by their churches and determine never again to allow themselves to get into a position to be hurt again, so they walk away. Some give up in discouragement, others give in to frustrating challenges, and others give up because of the constant nagging feeling of failure.

For some money becomes an issue—either the heady pursuit of it or the bitter gnawing battle of not having enough. For some, immorality derails them. For others, ministry becomes a power struggle. This can take place on a local level in a local church or it can be a pursuit of power through the positions that denominational work may offer to them. For these men, political twists and turns become the sole motivation of what they ministry is all about. Those who find power to be a temptation have to become adept at manipulating and jockeying for position so that the seat they occupy is safe from attack. The struggle with pride also hammers them.

Paul Hudson, the major character in this story, struggled with every single one of the issues that have been listed. As he pursued the building of his own personal kingdom, the more he had to resort to political and human workings to build something that would ultimately fall apart. A recent Twitter that I received noted that far too many pastors have come to fill the roles as a CEO or board chairman rather than that of a humble shepherd.

At the outset of the story, the heart of Paul is soft, humble, and open to hearing the voice of God. However, it was not too long into his role of pastor, two or three years at most, that he had started an ominous change that would destroy him. He got so busy building his kingdom that he neglected the priorities of the inner life. The longer that you are in the ministry the more that you must understand that the joys of ministry begin to turn into assignments and responsibilities. This is why it is crucial to know that the ministry is not a sprint but rather a marathon. You are either making progress in your personal ministry or you are slowly becoming an enemy of the Cross. The longer you are in ministry the more you realize that every day you run across people who have empty buckets that have to be filled, if the well-spring of devotion does not find itself being replenished, you will find yourself being poured out in such a way that soon depletion will destroy you.

One of the paradoxes the Lord mentioned was that the Kingdom of God was going to be built only when our heart was like that of a child. Life and ministry will get complex, especially if a church starts growing. However, you must still maintain the discipline of a personal devotion on your heart. You have to make some choices about what to do with that situation. Far too many men buy into the idea of a messiah complex who believes that if they weren’t there the whole thing would implode. The real test of ministry is this; if the church implodes, you built it! If it lasts, God built it; you just happened to be a worthy servant for Him to work through! Those who fall admit after the fact that they quit reading the Bible and they quit praying. Prayer and devotion to the word is the life-source of ministry and you have to make sure that the ministry does not keep you from Jesus! There is a barrenness of busyness!

Paul Hudson soon learned that there were complainers in the congregation and he let them get the best of him. I will never forget a number of years ago when a physician I worked with (George Veale, M.D.) gave me a very good piece of advice. We (he more than I) were having to deal with another recalcitrant, obstreperous, arrogant physician (and every other adjective you can think of to describe him) who was not a happy camper on that day. In fact, I think the guy only had three or four happy camper days per year and he had already exhausted those when he found us. But Dr. Veale told me, “Philip, that guy just isn’t a happy guy!” Most chronic complainers are not happy campers and you will have to ignore their gripes and come to realize that they complain everywhere they go. Restaurants, department stores, and so forth seem to be in the complainers sights at all times. Paul Hudson let those complainers turn him into a cynic and his heart began to harden. Tie that up with less time in prayer and the Word and disaster is lurking.

Another element of gravity on the down grade put Paul Hudson into a place of professionalism. The more professional he became the more that style gave way to substance. He allowed the shortcuts to sink him. This is where technology can become disastrous to us. You can download sermon notes, MP3 sermons, and Powerpoints and use them without ever having to do anything spiritual again. But as the shortcuts are embraced, increasingly shallowness will rob your soul.

For the last two weeks, I have found that 1 and 2 Peter in the ESV has been more than just words on the page of the Bible. There are words that Peter left us that can stimulate great spiritual growth in our lives if we will allow the Word to transform us.

Do it for yourself and do it for me. . . Go somewhere and find a closet of prayer and open up your Bible and mark up 1 and 2 Peter. . . Your life and ministry depends on it. . .

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Hell's Disappearing Act

J. C. Ryle—The watchman who keeps silent when he sees a fire is guilty of gross neglect. The doctor who tells us we are getting well when we are dying is a false friend, and the minister who keeps back hell from his people in his sermons is neither a faithful nor a charitable man.

Hell has disappeared! Hell has been sanitized from the modern theological mind. Hell has become an off limits message for most pulpits. The sheep have either stated so publically to the other sheep or the sheep have privately inferred to the shepherd that this is not what they want to hear. The reasoning of the sheep goes in this manner, “We are so stressed out! We feel the pressure of moving from pasture to pasture. We are having babies and they are demanding our time. We are worried that the drought is going to wither and destroy all the grass. We have a shepherd who is always trying to lead us where we don’t want to go. The last things we want to hear about are ravenous wolves, bad waterholes, poisonous grass, and worrisome flies that will drive us mad. ”

Some shepherds have a tailor made view about this too. They say, “Keep it upbeat! Tell the sheep about the still waters, about the overrunning cups, and the mercy that chases the sheep. You will kill the flock with the negative message.” The shepherd conferences and confabs all promote greener pastures, fences that never need repairing, pure waterholes, and a place without wolves. However, this is a fantasy land for shepherds. A shepherd always will contend with sub-par grass, fences that get holes in them, watering spots that become contaminated, and predators that are always licking their chops.

The startling question that I have for you is this: When was the last time you heard a sermon on Hell that jolted you from your reverie of pursuing the American Dream? If it has been recently, you need to thank God that someone was willing to put this in front of you. If you cannot remember, you need to ask God to press it into the pastor’s mind with such force that he has to preach this troubling, terrifying message to the flock.

Despite the fact that hell has disappeared from the American pulpit does not make its existence any less true. In his book, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, author David Wells writes about the truth that used to work and “. . . once watered the evangelical soul is now dammed by a worldliness that many fail to recognize as worldliness because of the cultural innocence with which it presents itself. . . . We now have less biblical fidelity, less interest in truth, less seriousness, less depth, and less capacity to speak the Word of God to our own generation in a way that offers an alternative to what it already thinks.”

When Hell disappears, the Church loses her sense of direction. The presence of Hell out to motivate evangelism, it should encourage a devotion to God, it should heighten the desire for holiness, and it should keep us in a place of individual spiritual evaluation. The very existence of Hell places a sense of personal responsibility on every person who calls themselves a Christian. We are to give ourselves to actions, attitudes, and aptitudes that are distinctly Word-driven. Our directions come from the Bible not from the talking heads.

As Hell disappears from the landscape of the pulpit, worldliness gets a chokehold on the Church to such a degree that those who come go and go in houses of worship have very little difference in their actions, attitudes, and thinking patterns as the worldlings they view as lost. Perhaps it has to be considered that the greatest mission field in America is not outside the Church but inside the Church. But with the exit of Hell, shame and guilt are removed from the equation in the human heart although both of these emotions are distinctly God-given to us for a reason. When Hell is gone, sin is reduced to self-esteem issues that can be fixed by talking through them or better yet, dismissing it totally. I can only wonder how many people sit on pews that have never been converted but are really self-deceived and think that they are safe and saved.

It has become popular in our society to laugh at and mock those who do proclaim that there will be such a place as Hell. The mockers cast anyone who dares to venture into the subject matter as a “fire and brimstone” preacher. We are so beyond that they contend. We are so educated beyond that they intone. We are so advanced beyond that idea they stutter. But the fact remains that one’s opinion about what God has clearly stipulated in His Word is unchanging regardless of what a man thinks or does about it. This includes the matters of how educated, how financially secure, or how socially acceptable he may be, truth is unchanging.

A few weeks ago, I again found a compelling and pressing need to again preach about Hell. Personally for me it is always a challenge to preach about Hell. The reason is because I do know about the pressures and stresses that are facing people every single day of their lives and a message about Hell is always very heavy and ominous. But the fact remains that if I help people manage their stress, their finances, their marriages but they end up in Hell, of what use was the “spiritual” advice. While the message was loaded with Bible, I want to share with you a couple of the illustrations that I used.

A number of years ago, a pastor was summoned to the bedside of a dying man from his church. When he entered the room, the man extended his hand and with deep emotion said, “I am dying and you never warned me of the state I was in. You did not tell me about the danger that I was going to face. You never told me I was neglecting the salvation of my own soul!”

The pastor, taken aback, said, “Oh no, my brother, I took every reasonable opportunity to talk to you about spiritual matters and the actions of the church and the importance of living for God.”

The man replied back, “Yes that is true. You did do those things. But that was not enough. You never came close to me and closed the door and took me by the collar of my coat and told me I was unconverted and that if I died in this state I would be lost. And now I am dying and I will be lost forever because you were too soft in your approach.”

It is told that this had such a huge effect on that pastor that from then on he went about his task with an urgency and fear for the souls of man.

I am aware that the majority of readers of this blog are ministers, so my question to you is this: When was the last time you preached a message on Hell? When was the last time that you preached a message on Hell and you were so moved by it that tears marked your words? Can you pay the price to become a man who preaches with conviction?

I concluded with a story told to me by one of the men who attends our church. Hoyd Sanders is a retired USAF fire chief who for forty years worked as a fire-fighter literally all over the world.

Several months ago, Brother Sanders started talking to me about some of his experiences with fires that he had been involved in putting out. He told me about a time in January, 1965 when he tried to help a lieutenant get out of a fire.

A fire broke out in a large building and the Air Force firemen showed up to put it out. When they got there, a portion of the building on one end was engulfed with fire. They soon discovered that there was a lieutenant in the building but his escape had been blocked by the fire. So he turned around and started running toward the end of the building where the fire had not progressed to find another exit. The bad part was that there weren’t any alternative exits. By the time the lieutenant discovered this, the fire had caught up with him. He ran to a window and about that time Brother Sanders saw him running toward the window and decided he would go and try to break it so the guy could escape. The only problem was that there bars covering the window and he could not rip them away from the window casing. Furthermore when he reached up to grab the bars on the window they were so hot he could not hold on to them.

This man was on the other side of the window and Brother Sanders said he could see the fire racing up behind the man but he could not escape nor could he be rescued. Brother Sanders told me that in just seconds he could see the man’s ears literally melting off the sides of his head. He could hear his screams pouring out of his mouth. But the part that still haunts him to this day and he told me that rarely does a week go by that he does not see that man’s eyes. . . . those horrible, terror, pain-filled eyes pleading with him to get him out of that fire. . . . .

Jude. . . said it like this. . . . others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.

Pastor, preacher, evangelist. . . You have a job to do this weekend when you get into that pulpit! Are you going to manage the stress, massage the egos, or pull them out of the fire????

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Moonshine Whiskey and the Holy Ghost

My mind and thoughts have been drawn back to old-time Pentecostal experiences in the last week. Last night (8/30/10) even provoked those thoughts even more. Being part of the Alabama District UPCI, I belong to Section 8. For the last couple of years the sectional ministers will meet in a central location at a restaurant and spend some time eating and fellowshipin’ as they say.

Last night, we had a group of about 20 or so and the conversation turned toward the dramatic conversions of some of the ministers. It is always amazing to listen to some of the stories of God’s dramatic grace pulling debauched sinners out of some of the most dreadful situations. One of the men, Jerome Owens, hails from the north Alabama, north Mississippi, and south Tennessee regions. As the stories continued, we continued to drift back in time to the 1940’s and 1950’s as the Pentecostal experience trekked its way across the south.

We have come a long, long way from our roots which is not all bad but it has definitely robbed us of some of the traditions and experiences that made the Pentecostal movement grow in the early days. In earlier times, Pentecostals were made up mostly of poor working folks who barely had enough resources to make it from week to week. They were common laborers, a lot of farmers, share-croppers, and various other low-end spectrum sorts of situations. But despite the hardships, their whole lives seem to revolve around God, His Word, and the church. The church was literally the connecting point both spiritually and socially for these people.

During those times, it seemed as if a perpetual campmeeting kind of atmosphere marked these churches. They would build what is commonly called brush arbors which were more of a pole barn kind of apparatus. On the corners and the sides of the brush arbor were posts that usually were constructed out of trees that had been cut down. Then a loose network of branches would be placed on top of the contraption and then added to the top of this would be brush, pine straw, and leaves to form a primitive roof. If there was a nearby sawmill, they would take sawdust and scatter it about the floor of the arbor. Then makeshift pews would be constructed with smaller blocks of wood and coarse wooden planks. More than one worshiper found out that those pews had to be carefully and gingerly navigated so as to save an important part of the anatomy and prevent it from being seriously pinched.

Occasionally when an outburst came from those worshipers in these pews, it wasn’t the Spirit that motivated it but rather a painful injury caused by shifting boards and so forth. Besides the sawdust, the primitive meeting place, and the treacherous “pews” during the spring, summer, and fall of the year there was a constant battle with bugs. Skeeters and moths seemed to enjoy the revival meetings as much as the worshipers.

However, when the arbors would be set up, some of the unconverted heathens would show up to watch the show from the perimeters. More than one preacher had to contend with catcalls, rotten fruit and vegetables being thrown at them.

Occasionally a preacher would have to contend an angry husband whose wife had gotten in the church and the husband would accuse the preacher of “brainwashing” his wife because of the dramatic change that had taken place in her life. On even rarer occasions, some of the local rednecks would gather up a snake and toss it up on the pulpit while the preacher was preaching. But in the midst of all of the ridicule and scorn heaped on these poor people their faith in the Lord sustained them and the church grew!

Last night, my father-in-law started talking about some of the moonshiners and whiskey runners that came into the church during the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. In fact, if you have ever heard of Buford Pusser the sheriff who walked tall, this is where my father-in-law grew up. McNairy County with towns like Selmer and Adamsville, Tennessee were just spots in the road but the revival fires burned large in these little burgs. On a side note, Buford Pusser is buried in the same cemetery where my father-in-law’s parents were laid to rest.

He told us a story about a fellow who was running moonshine whiskey in a gas truck. He had three compartments in the storage tank. One was for high-grade gasoline, the other was for mid-grade gasoline, and the third compartment was for moonshine whiskey. He did well selling gas and whiskey. The folks knew when they saw him coming that if they had a container, could fill it up with moonshine. It was as clear as water but packed a 180 proof kick to it. Those fellows would get their jugs filled up and then they would drink it straight out of Mason jars and within just a short period of time would be rousing, singing, fussing, raging, funny, and fighting drunk.

The problem with this fellow was that some of his family got in the Pentecostal church and they started praying for him. The more they prayed the more under conviction he would get. The Lord would talk to him while he was driving his truck selling gas and making other special deliveries. One night he had as much as he could stand and went to church and ended up being filled with the Holy Ghost. He quit selling moonshine much to the chagrin of his regular customers and the next thing, God called him into the ministry. For years he pastored a church after the Lord delivered him. He passed away a number of years ago but his dramatic conversion had a huge impact on a little community in Tennessee.

He told us another story about a young man who grew up in the home of a moonshiner. This young man knew what it was like to run from the Revenuers as they called them back in the day and lived a young life very dangerously close to the edge. One night he went to a revival meeting, more out of curiosity and boredom than anything else. He had not reckoned on what would happen to him before he went. It wasn’t too long into the service that with the joyous singing, heart-felt praying, and vibrant worship that the Lord started pulling at him. The preacher preached a soul-stirring message and the young man found his way to the altar and ended up receiving the Holy Ghost and being baptized.

But to complicate matters, he had some buddies that weren’t real happy with the change they saw in this young man. So one afternoon they persuaded him to go with them with the promise that later on in the day they would take him to church. What the young man did not know was that in the trunk of the car they had some moonshine. After getting out on the road, they all started drinking and picking at this young man and ridiculing him. For a great while, he managed to resist them but after all of their wicked influence finally broke him down and he started drinking. He got uproariously drunk and the devils’ brood then decided they would take him to the brush arbor revival.

They made a big show when they pulled up with him, got him out of the car, and leaned him up against the car. All of the worshipers under the brush arbor looked out and saw him in that condition and their hearts were smitten with grief. Almost the whole congregation went to their knees and started praying for him. He drunkenly watched it all leaning up against the car. He would later tell that the Lord spoke directly to him and said, “Son, you have to make up your mind what you are going to do but you can’t take a step until you do.” The young man decided that he would push off from the car and walk away. However, when he shoved his hands off the car, his feet were locked to the ground and he fell straight forward into the dirt. He ended up with a mouthful of dirt and a bloody nose and abraded face but some of the good saints saw it all take place and walked out to where he was. When they rolled him over, he told the Lord that he would do everything He wanted him to do.

The young man prayed through right there on the ground and the Lord dramatically refueled his soul. This young man would later acknowledge a call to the ministry and pastored a church the rest of his life also.

These dramatic conversions are what make the experience of Pentecost so powerful and compelling. The church I am serving also has its share of incredible stories of how people so lost and down and out were literally scooped up and delivered. We can’t afford to lose our message or forget our heritage. . .

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Places Where Worlds Are Moved

Last week, I got a series of twitter messages that brought some inspiration for this post. They are as follow:

• The no heat/AC garage storage room where my dad birthed a 1,000 soul revival at 5AM daily 1:42 PM Aug 20th via Twitter for iPhone

• The financial cost? Zero! The killing the flesh cost? Staggering. Went on for 20 years. 1:45 PM Aug 20th via Twitter for iPhone

• I looked inside that tiny hot closet yesterday and it felt like I was standing in front of a burning bush. Take off your shoes 1:48 PM Aug 20th via Twitter for iPhone

• His altar was a knee high floor fan with a blanket on top and a quilt on the floor. When Zion travails. Let's have another planning session 1:50 PM Aug 20th via Twitter for iPhone

• God, where is Elijah? He put his head between his knees into the Oriental birthing position. The effectual fervent prayer ... availeth much Friday, August 20, 2010 1:55:31 PM via Twitter for iPhone

• Planning is essential and I need help in this area. However Paul said, first of all PRAYER Friday, August 20, 2010 2:20:11 PM via Twitter for iPhone

All of these came from Pastor Jerry Dean who pastors The Pentecostals of Bossier City in Louisiana. The pictures that accompanied the first tweet:

When I read those tweets, I felt immediately convicted. Here I am the same kind of pastor, preaching the same kind of doctrine, moving in the same avenues of men, attempting to move in same realms of the Spirit. . . . minus a 5 AM prayer meeting. . . or a 6 AM prayer meeting. . . or a 7 AM prayer meeting. “Oh, I pray,” I say to myself. But confronted by a garage closet that had no heat or AC, I realize that my little prayer is so disjointed and distracted that there is no wonder that active apostolic ministry only occasionally finds its way into my life.

Brother Dean’s father, Bill, also a WW II vet, found a place to move his world in a very humble place. Try to put the majority of modern day pastors and evangelists in a little hovel like that and tell them to pray and one would hear loud protests. No carpet? No wall murals? No music? No books? No cool office? When the real facts are that the modern day apostolic church is choking on carpet, wall murals, music, books, and fancy offices. Devoid of power but “wow!” don’t we have all the nifty gadgets and tricks and the stuff? All the planning sessions in the world will only fill our churches with crowds who never experience the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. Could it be that we are so busy pursuing cool that we have become lukewarm?

I feel the overwhelming weight of ministry. I am consumed with the busy responsibilities of the problems of people’s lives. I feel the financial pressures of embarking on a building program while trying to juggle our responsibilities to our Foreign Missionaries and Home Missionaries who need our money too. I feel the grip of evil on the families in the church I pastor. I stay awake at night worrying and wrestling with their challenges. Sometimes I am awakened at night with the same burdens for the people. I wonder at the fits and starts of those who cannot make up their mind as to whether or not God is big enough to work out the tangled webs they weave. I feel the pressure of preaching holiness to a generation that does not want to hear my cry for separation from the world. I feel the pressure of feeling like I am too mean and too authoritative and too dictatorial while at the same time knowing the terror of the Lord and trying to persuade them as Paul did.

But I have to confess that I am also rigorously busy trying to get the best out of both worlds—my material world and God’s spiritual world. I want the big house in the gated community, the fancy car(s) in the garage, the big bank account, the nifty executive suite of an office, the honor and respect of the community AND a walloping apostolic church where people are delivered, the prophet’s mantle, a command of the Scriptures, and a powerful prayer life. See. . . the best of both worlds. . .

Then the jolt comes, I see Brother Dean’s father’s prayer closet in a garage via twitter. Another jolt comes as I look at a rock that Tim Kelley got for me from G. A. Mangun’s memorial service. Another shock comes when I read the scribbled words in J. T. Pugh’s book “The Wisdom and the Power of the Cross” that he personally addressed to me back in 1995. Still another jolt comes when I look at the mantle that I received in the Columbus, Ohio General Conference hanging on a towel rod in my study. It will never happen until I can find a closet of prayer.

When Brother Dean’s twitter came across last week, for once in about a 1000 times, TECHNOLOGY was used by the Spirit and it smote my heart! I felt so humbled. . . I felt so convicted. . . I felt so average. . . I felt so lukewarm. . . To my crowd and under (I am 43) the old men are leaving us! Note it . . . in the last few years we have lost N. A. Urshan, E. L. and Nona Freeman, T. W. Barnes, J. T. Pugh, and most recently G. A. Mangun. . . Who will replace them? They were men who prayed earnestly and moved forward in the place of prayer. Prayer mattered to them. . . it doesn't matter as much to us because we fall for the snare of superficial substitutes.

So I prayed. . . and prayed. . . and prayed. . . maybe this is a new beginning. . .

Gracious God, forgive us of our backslidings from our closets. Forgive us of thinking that we can manage and manipulate true spiritual revival with weak, human, beggarly techniques. Forgive us for getting so exalted with our education, our gadgets, our stuff, our things, and our money. Please forgive us for not being able to get on our knees and cry out for You to invade our churches, one more time. Forgive us for loading our bookshelves with books so we look like we are in touch and are smart. Gracious God, forgive us of our backslidings from our closets.

Gracious God, please forgive us for making ministry a profession instead of calling. Forgive us for our petty competitions and ceaseless bickering that does nothing but put little scorecards in our spirits that keep getting longer and longer. Please, God, help us forget the offenses and the little slights for it is eating our passion and our dreams and our visions away. . .

Great God, please wash us from the dirtiness of our human ambition and elevate us to a place where we are willing to sweat as we tug our Crosses. Help us to quit glorying in how big our crowds are and how big the budget is and how good the sermons are. Pull that kind of glory out of us and put the glory of the Cross in us. Help us to find comfort in our crosses and let those crosses put us in closets, just like the one that Brother Dean has shared with us. Please pull all the hurt from our heart no matter where it came from whether it was from district boards, church boards, or just regular folks. It can even be the disappointments with where we are and what we have done, please pull all of that stuff out of us! We know that all of that stuff only makes us fresh targets for bitterness and revenge and it paralyzes Your Spirit in us. Gracious God, please, please forgive us of our backslidings from our closets.

Savior, Redeemer, Shepherd, when You are finished cleansing us all the filthiness of the flesh, would You please just show up one more time in our places of worship on Sunday? Can You please brush us one more time with the innocence of that first anointing that came to us in the early years? Just once more, Lord, move through your men in America. We are fragile, weak, and sometimes confused vessels but way down deep we still feel the remnants of that first calling, that first burst of strength that came from another world, and even though it has been so long ago, we remember. . . The glory may have departed but we well remember what it was like so long ago. Gracious God, forgive us of our backslidings from our closets.

Lord, it isn’t just for our sakes that we are pleading with You about this restoration of the closet. It is for the mostly good folks who come every week to a place of worship. They need You just as badly as I do. So as I stumble to my closet, I am sure that You will be there! Amen. . .

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Professor Named Perini

The attorney and author, Scott Turow, wrote a book about his free-fall drop into Harvard Law School and how he spent those challenging three years there. In that ordeal, there was a professor named Perini that all of the ‘one L’ (first year) students loved to hate. Perini was one quarter smart-aleck, one quarter whiner, one quarter bulldog, and one quarter warm human being. His classes were immersed in the so-called Socriatic method of teaching which basically can be summed up as the madness of the survival of the fittest in an academic setting. The student who had the great graces and academic prowess to answer correctly was exalted to the levels of Greek mythological figures. Those who were wrong were banished to the trash bins of hopeless failure and rarely were allowed to redeem themselves among their peers and professors because Perini made sure the news of their demise travelled to the four corners of HLS.

Perini, the half-man and half-beast, was intimidating, sarcastic, anger-inducing but also thought-provoking and character building. Turow was very clear that this radical figure shaped him in a great way and all of the abuse he hurled on his ‘one L’ class actually fostered some very valuable things in him.

Most of us, if we are willing to admit it, have had to entertain more than one Perini in our lives. They can be nasty and condescending and diluted with the short-man’s syndrome but in reality their passage in our lives is quite beneficial for us.

You will have to deal with difficult people until you pass on, so get used to it. No matter what geographical location you find yourself in, there is always a Perini nearby. I have discovered that there are rich and poor Perini’s, educated and uneducated Perini’s, professional and unprofessional Perini’s; in fact every cut of life has a Perini in the midst. So how do you deal with a Perini?

One of the most important things to remember is that somewhere in the past something has devastated their world. They have been so hurt by life that instead of the painful circumstance shaping them through the nobility of their calling (whatever it may be) it has hardened them through bitterness and a desire for revenge. Since they can’t get to the situation to fix it, you are in their path and so they will fix you. The painful circumstances can be poor financial decisions, marriages that have collapsed, family squabbles, or a life that has not turned out as they desired it to. These are the contributing factors as to why they may treat others as they do.

Another important thing to remember about Perini is not to take their ill-treatment of you personal. Consider some of the tormenting Perini’s you have had to deal with over the years and hopefully you have come to realize that they treat everyone with the same sense of aloof condescension that you have had to endure from them. As time passes, if you work at it, you will come to see Perini through eyes of compassion instead of disdain. This is where we benefit from Perini, he can pull a nobleness out of us that otherwise would be undiscovered. Furthermore, as time continues to march on, it very well could be that Perini will soon share with you the things in life that has put him behind the eight-ball and your enemy has been converted to a friend.

Perhaps another thing to note about Perini is that their position has placed them in a capacity beyond their pay-grade. This is especially true if Perini is in a place of authority. Authority becomes a tool of added destruction for them to use on others. Take a look at Moses and the incident at the burning bush when he was commanded by God to toss his staff on the ground. Suddenly it became a venomous beast of a serpent, the principle in this speaks well—every rod of authority has a snake in it. Those who hold the rods of authority must know how to use it because if they don’t, it can harm them and others.

Of crucial importance is that you do not let Perini turn you into Perini. Perini has a wicked wand in his hand and he will turn you into a withering critic also if you are not constantly on guard. Perini pecks on you and then you go peck on somebody else. Because Perini is so bent by his negative attitude, he can get you to believe everything he says and then you have to get your pound of flesh from someone else.

Don’t let Perini make you sarcastic and cynical. He will do his best to destroy you with worry and intimidation but don’t give in to him. He will try to stifle your dreams and your vision but don’t let him do that either. Keep your eye on your responsibilities and your obligations and you will either graduate from his clutches or outlive his criticism. . . you have to just keep on moving. Be on the watch for Perini, he will be found at every cross-walk of life.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Some Books on Preaching--Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, we visited the aspect of the responsibilities of those who are listening to preaching and how important it is to literally hear what is being preached. What is being preached is a back and forth between the pulpit and the congregation, it is to be a living moment of worship. However, I think it is absolutely of crucial importance that those who do preach constantly work toward improving both the mechanics of preaching—the wording, the presentation, and so forth—and the spiritual aspect of preaching—private prayer, personal holiness, and inner hunger for God and the Word.

I have a responsibility to do everything in my power to make preaching/teaching effective. Sometimes the content of the message can be very heavy and convicting. It is imperative that the heart of the preacher be clear and free of the prejudices, offenses of life, and pressure of the times so he does not soil what God is intending to get across to the church. This huge burden of personal holiness, prayer, and purity can be weighty but embracing these qualities only makes the message that much more powerful and provoking.

As far as the mechanics of preaching, as technology has advanced, there are massive resources that are available to the man who is diligent in looking for them. MP3 sermons, homiletic seminars, and a host of academic resources are available to us. Despite the newer inventions of the Nook, the Kindle, and now the IPad, it is still very hard to beat a book! Preachers should read much because doing so increases our range to draw from in messages that will help. However, for those who are readers, one category that often slips under the radar and is sorely neglected as those writings that are literally on preaching.

I recommend to you a book written by Jim Shaddix entitled The Passion Driven Sermon—Changing the Way Pastors Preach and Congregations Listen. There is an urge for men not to be pulpiteers but rather to take the Word and use it in a very powerful way that causes a confidence to rise in the Word of God and not the man who is preaching. We all have our heroes but when their personality overshadows the power of the Word—biblical preaching suffers. In fact, I am no longer sure it falls in the category of true biblical preaching when the overriding personality of the preacher supersedes what is being preached.

Shaddix tells a story in the opening chapter about a little country church that he served in as an assistant. He remembered a brewing bitterness in the soul of the pastor who felt like that this church was far beneath his abilities. One Sunday, he allowed the bitterness to overtake him and the frustrations and aggravations of congregational life had so sapped him that he got up in the pulpit on that Sunday and said, “I don’t have a Word from the Lord this week so we shall dismiss and go home.” Shaddix admits his own youthful immaturity but he writes that he was appalled at this man’s admission. Shaddix thought to himself that here in his hands was a Bible that was loaded with passages and that somewhere in that vast storehouse, there was something to render effectively to this group of worshipers. He said that on that day he made a commitment to always have a familiarity with Scripture so that he would have something to preach.

While this may seem far-fetched, I am certain that most preachers at some point will have the same feelings concerning preaching to a bickering, unwieldy, and discouraged flock. You would really rather choose to send the folks home instead of wading through the dilemma of preaching. However, you will soon learn that more often than not, the longer you are in the ministry, the more you work out of the responsibility of your calling than the inspiration of your calling.

Shaddix comes from three angles with his encouragement to preach. Passion-Driven Scripturology which is a passionate hunger for the study of the Word. Passion-Driven Shepherdology which is ministry that works toward the church and not toward entertainment and man-centered worship. A lot of preaching in our generation at large is good stuff. The greater question: Is it God-stuff??? There is a big difference between good stuff and God stuff! Passion-Driven Sermonology focuses in on the delivery of the message that one is to preach. How serious a man is about Scripture and how serious he is about the church makes the delivery of the message!

This book is a strong encouragement to get away from so much “life-application” sermons that give ten steps to a better marriage or fifty-five ways to improve your self-esteem. All of these kinds of messages have a bent toward humanistic pragmatism that leaves the glory of God in the proverbial dust. Life application messages may be relevant but there are a lot of motivational speakers who are relevant too. Why lower the Word into the mud of human effort when we can exalt God with Word-driven preaching?

The Bible is filled with incredible things to preach to churches we just have to make a concentrated effort to mine those treasures out. This book will be a motivational tool that you might need to jump-start your inspiration for preaching. Let me remind you of Thomas Manton who preached 65 sermons from Hebrews 11 and from Psalm 119 pulled one-hundred and ninety-one sermons from that acre of diamonds!

God Bless,

Friday, August 20, 2010

When Church Leaders Fall--Part 4--Final Thoughts

John Owen—If a man teach uprightly and walk crookedly more, will fall down in the night of his life than he built in the day of his doctrine.

Several years ago, I found a book in another Barnes and Noble in Tallahassee, Florida while Teresa and I were on a spring break trip with our kids. Few books have troubled me more, in fact I cannot think of one that ranks as its equal, it was entitled Our Fathers by David France. It chronicled the abuses by the Roman Catholic Church priests who were involved in pedophilia and the cover-ups that took place in the diocese in Boston and Los Angeles and various other places. What makes the book so troubling was the fallout that was forever created in the lives of those who had been abused. When those who are in a position of spiritual authority—no matter what church affiliation it may be—the fallout continues for generations.

While these posts have been primarily about the lessons learned when church leaders fall, the most important aspect to understand is that we do things that keeps us from being in that category. It takes place when we take care of our soul. This is where it all starts, in the dark recesses of the soul. We are either a man of honor in the heart or we are not. For those who are darkly involved, it is only a matter of time before exposure will take place.

Richard Baxter—If it be not your daily business to study your own hearts and to subdue corrupt ion and to walk with God, if you make not this a work to which you constantly tend, all will go wrong in your ministry and you will starve your hearers. We must study as hard how to live well as to how to preach well.

Make it your daily business to study your heart and then be demanding of your soul. I leave you with some ways to do this. These are ways to cultivate the growth of personal holiness in your life.

1. Know and love the Scriptures. To know the Scriptures means that you will have to read them but more than just reading them, you will need to learn how to apply them in avenues of daily living. It will not take place with a hit and miss approach, nor will it take place with small blocks of time.

2. Pray! If your prayers are lacking a punch then find some helps along the way. Praying the offensive Psalms, those which are pleading with God to take care of the enemies of the soul are useful (Ps. 54, 55, 61, etc.). Old hymn books are rich sources to motivate your praying.

3. Flee worldliness! We have to actively strike against any avenue that willingly attempts to cater to appetites that are not motivated by godliness and righteousness. The challenge of our culture is ever with us because there are a thousand and one avenues that the devil will use to introduce darkness into our spirit. Materials we read, recreation we participate in, and entertainment that consumes us are all ways the heart becomes hardened with darkness.

4. Have godly friends. Who we hang out with has a great impact on our spiritual lives also. It basically sets the tone for the direction of spiritual life. There are some who are toxic to our faith and there are others who are incredibly strengthening to us in our walk.

Until next time. . .

Thanks for reading. . .


Thursday, August 19, 2010

When Church Leaders Fall--Part 3

To clarify a point on this particular series of posts concerning when church leaders fall—it is not limited to immoral relationships—it can also be related to misuse of money, poorly exercised authority (either too little or not enough), doctrinal compromise, laziness, and a host of other issues. Church leaders fall when they are not actively carrying out their responsibilities and work of ministry. Generally speaking when the man is initially confronted by the maligning behavior, he will initially deny it.

Denial is a deadly form of self-slaughter. Henry Ford made that mistake after his company had been viable for a little over a decade. The things that made it great in the past were the things that drug it down in the present. Compound that with the fact that Ford began to believe his and be overcome with his own press releases. Don’t ever, ever believe what people are telling you about yourself! If you can deflect the criticism that comes to all ministers then you will have to deflect the praise that comes also. We can get caught up in great deception when we believe all of the compliments we receive and all the criticism we receive. Get a balance on that or it will ruin you. You are never as good as people think you are and you are never as bad as they think you are either.

When flattery is no longer fiction, you will be put on spiritual life-support and it won’t be long until a stumble takes you down. If our motivations are not principled, any form of success will cause a man to be corrupted in the long haul. Success does funny things to us. It makes us unbending, unyielding, and prone to mistakes. You will be overcome with the mentality of ‘just go out and do it!’ or ‘you’ve done this a thousand times, no need to continue the spiritual disciplines of prayer and so on’ and you are about half-way in the trap when you buy into that. I am glad that there are times that I am still nervous before I preach, before I am involved in the work of the church, and as I muddle through counseling sessions. Invincibility is an illusion that we all can buy into no matter if the church has 25 or 2500. You can’t do this by yourself!!!

I come to the last couple of points concerning what happened to me when one of my spiritual heroes fell. (Part 1 and Part 2.)

8. It will not be the first time that someone fell nor will it be the last time I will witness a failure. Be prepared for it!

In fact as time has passed, I have witnessed multiple failures of men who were church leaders. It is not nearly as ground-shaking as it was for me twenty years ago or so. As time has passed and the numbers have increased somewhat, it appears that the thing that contributed most to all of the failures was a prevailing sense of pride. That pride manifested itself in many different forms but two of them appeared to be prevalent. Those who thought they could control their motives and desires without the active work of the Spirit or they were increasingly absent from their home and their own church where they were called to work. Being absent from their home was not necessarily that they were taking cross-country trips but just away for various reasons.

Get used to the fact that failure is going to occur. It does not mean the Church is any less powerful, it just means that God uses the winds of the trials to expose the charlatans. We are often somewhat skewed in our thinking to believe the idea that our days are different from that of Paul. He routinely warned the Church that there were wolves among the flock, false brethren populating positions of authority, and weeds in the wheat. Why should we expect our days to be any different?

9. It made me appreciate the wall-flowers of the ministry world.

I mean by this that I quit looking for the organ grinders who had hopping monkeys. I started looking for men whose lives reflected a quiet godliness and a calm spiritual authority, men whose names never graced the marquees or the organizational flyers. I found a lot of heroes riding Shetland ponies. More than once I had to repent for my former attitude about the regular “Joe’s” of life and came to understand that they could contribute so much to my life that would be important in the years to come.

10. Every man must have a personal devotion to God.

You will find this particular thought woven through much of these blog posts. You will have to fight with your life for this time to get alone. We are by nature given to busyness and the doing part of the ministry. We can preach canned sermons, pray canned prayers, and lead canned programs and starve our souls to death.

Family problems, church problems, financial problems, and fill-in-the-blank problems will deplete your spiritual life. One man said that the bucket will leak even if nothing is being poured out of it. Maybe this series of blogs has scared you—it has me! I don’t want to fall because there is a lot of influence that God has granted to me but I am not alone in that. God has granted you an incredible amount of influence in the circle of the world where you are too! If I am not constantly dependent on the grace of God to sustain me, my life will run low.

I will have some concluding thoughts tomorrow. . . .

Thanks for reading. . .

God Bless,

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When Church Leaders Fall--Part 2

Picking up from yesterday’s post concerning when Church Leaders Fall, I want to give you some more thoughts that helped me to continue on in what we are called to do. The enemy loves nothing more than to challenge our faith by the failure of others. In fact, William Gurnall in his classic work, The Christian in Complete Armour, lists as one of the strategies of temptation that the devil uses is to get us looking at those who are in positions of influence and success and then create public failure to discourage us.

4. Public ministry “success” does not always mean that all is well.

The soul of the man collapses long before the trappings of his public ministry unravels. The old adage, “A man never falls far” is true. When we see a church leader fall, you can count on it that it rarely was a sudden failure. A man can be publicly lauded and elevated and behind the scenes be rejected by God.

Years ago, I was in the Barnes and Noble in Montgomery, Alabama and ran across a biography of Jimmy Swaggart. That book noted that during the 1980’s that within his own denomination, he had no peer as a preacher. Any conference that wanted to have a good attendance always made arrangements for him to preach because it had some sense of credibility with his presence. But when one gets so busy that he trusts in the arm of flesh instead of the anointing of the Spirit, complications will occur. One may compartmentalize his sin for a certain amount of time, but over the course of the long haul, carnality always will reveal its presence. No matter what level of talent that we have been gifted with, talents have never provided salvation for anyone. Please, please do not allow the trappings of success to justify improper or even immoral activities. Be a man of integrity.

Just because it appears to be successful does not necessarily mean that God is in it.

5. A man has to live what he preaches.

If you can rationalize and justify your wayward behavior and then get up and rail against those sins in a pulpit, your soul is that of a worm. The sharpest words that Jesus had were for those who were hypocrites (Matthew 23). You must live what you preach. If you don’t live it, don’t preach it!

We can get so busy doing that he forgot about being. We are human beings not human doings. The farther along in the ministry that one progresses the more of a premium that spiritual disciplines must be fostered. Prayer, fasting, and reading Scripture just for the sake of reading the Book are invaluable. Prayer develops and nourishes the passion of the preacher. Fasting develops the discipline of both body and soul. Reading Scripture adds wisdom and gives us options when we are faced with weariness, temptation, and discouragement.

No ministry will ever rise above what occurs in the secret place of the closet. An old survey conducted by Leadership Journal found that pastors pray an average of 22 minutes per day. Of the 572 who were surveyed, 57% spend less than 20 minutes a day in prayer, 34% spend between 20 minutes and one hour a day in prayer and 9% pray for an hour or longer daily. This thing about renewing your mind that Paul mentions in Romans 12 really works. But perhaps we have gotten so high tech with all of our gadgets that we think that praying our way through something is too old-fashioned. However, that was what Paul affirmed would keep us from conforming to this world and then transforming the average man into a noble instrument to be used for God’s purpose.

Prayer and devotion to the Word will help us to live what we preach.

6. I will never again be trapped into believing that success is what I can “see.”

We Americans put way too much emphasis on buildings and bucks or nickels and noses as someone has aptly said. We place way too much emphasis on image at the expense of substance. Preaching at conferences, camp-meetings, and seminars is not necessarily the benchmark of successful pastoral ministry. The real pattern for ministry is what you will read about namely the Bible, more specifically the job description you find in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.

You may see outward “success” but God is more concerned with inward godliness than with public persona.

7. The real heroes are usually the men that you cannot see.

While it is crucial for God to have visible and capable leaders, the majority of the work is going to be accomplished in the trenches where real pastoral ministry takes place. It is amazing how that God uses the sanctifying work of a godly ministry to hone and shape our souls. When we are given to prayer, ministry of the Word, evangelism, encouragement, helping, and serving it puts a lot in the tank so to speak.

Over the years, I have come into contact with men whose real holiness and godliness put a longing in my heart to be closer to God. I have met men who truly gave themselves to the ministry of prayer and it showed in the complexities of life. I have met men who were literally filled with the Spirit in such a manner that it provoked me to good works. The vast majority of those men would be looked upon with disdain because they do not pastor large churches. They just serve where they are called to serve. They love their people and their people love them.

On a concluding note, a long time ago a minister, whose name now slips my memory, said that it was a must that I read Richard Exley’s book The Perils of Power. It is long now out of print but I want to leave this thought with you. Every man has his own blind spots and dangerous Achilles’ heel. Consider your areas of weakness and face up to them. Where spiritual self-examination occurs, is where the power of the Spirit moves into our lives. The following describes one pastor’s experience:

Somehow I made it through the public confession, on adrenalin I think, but following the benediction an awful weariness settled upon me. Like a sleep walker I made my way down the center aisle to the front doors. Years of weekly repetition gave my handshake firmness, my smile warmth I didn’t feel, and my words of personableness which belied the awful emptiness within. Eventually the last worshiper departed and I re-entered the now empty sanctuary and looked around in despair. The silence was overwhelming, almost eerie. I made my way to the altar, then to the pulpit.

Standing there it all came back--my call to the ministry, the skimpy years when we both had to work so I could finish seminary, my first sermon, the night I was ordained, our first church. Then I begin to weep, soundlessly at first, just huge tears running down my cheeks, then harder until my whole body shook. Great heaving sobs rent my soul. I wept for what might have been, what should have been. I cried for my wife, for the terrible pain I had caused her, for the anguish that now locked her in painful silence. I cried for my church. They deserved better than this. They had trusted me, loved me, and I had betrayed them. And I cried for me, for the man I might have been.

I stood behind the pulpit, touched it, ran my fingers over the smooth wood and realized as never before what a sacred place it was. And with that realization came guilt so great that I couldn’t breathe. The magnitude of my sin, my betrayal, drove me from the pulpit and I stumbled to the altar and sat down. An accusing voice inside of me whispered, ‘How are the mighty fallen.’

There was no reason to stay, no reason to linger longer, but I couldn’t tear myself away. My life was ending, unraveling thread by thread, and I was powerless to stop it. Over the years, I had told ministers, again and again, that they had identity as persons not just as preachers, but now I discovered it wasn’t true for me. Without the pulpit, the church, the ministry, I had no self. I could feel myself becoming invisible, turning into a nonentity--breathing and taking up space but having absolutely no reason to exist.

Think long and hard about it! Read those words again and think about what one tosses away when immorality enters into his personal life. Think about what it was like when you preached the first sermon that God really used. Think about your wife and children. Think about those saints that you serve. Guard yourself. Keep yourself. Maintain your love for God.

More tomorrow. . .

Thanks for reading. . . .

Philip Harrelson

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When Church Leaders Fall--Part 1

I am currently working through a long series of studies through the book of Acts and I have come to the part in Acts 1 where the replacement of Judas is being dealt with by the Apostles (1:12-26). (If you want the notes send me an e-mail and I will send them to you in a Word doc.) As I worked through this passage, again I am confronted with how unsettling it can be when a church leader falls. In fact, it is almost ground-shaking to us when we see someone who once stood for the core doctrines of the faith find themselves disqualified from public ministry because of their actions. Not only did Judas disqualify himself from public ministry he committed suicide which totally removed any potential for his recovery at a later time.

We have grown accustomed to public spectacles taking place when men make foolish choices and destroy the influence that they had carefully worked toward creating. This has always been the case as time marches on—the names change but the times of man’s failing or his potential for falling does not. In fact, when men are given an opportunity to make poor choices they always do unless they have allowed the influence of the Spirit to take place in their lives (Romans 8:13-14; 12:1-2). We are can still be somewhat surprised when the Bernie Madoffs’, Tiger Woods’, John Edwards’, and others in the secular world make destructive choices motivated by their sin but when it comes into the church it can be ground-shaking.

Never can I forget when one of my spiritual heroes plummeted almost 20 years ago when I was still in a state of youthful immaturity. For months I was in a state of disbelief with the constant nagging thought that the same thing could happen to me. Furthermore, I lamented, if it could happen to him then I was even more susceptible that it could happen to me because I did not have nearly the spiritual status that my hero had. I thought, ‘If he can fall, what will happen to me?’ I worried, ‘If he can’t make, can I?’ I agonized over all of those things at the time. It pushed me to a place of prayerful consideration and evaluation and caused me to put up some boundaries in my life that to this day have continued to help. It forced me to understand that prophecies, “words” from the Lord, will all be forgotten as the clock marches on but Scripture is with me all the time and the more I get in my heart and head, the safer that I will against the attacks that surround our passage on this earth.

As time has marched on, I have discovered that this prominent failure would not be the only one I would encounter but that there were other men who would fall too. In all of that I discovered some valuable lessons that were helpful to me and may be helpful to you also.

1. I understood the pervasive and powerful influence that private sin has on one’s life.

One cannot expect to engage in frequent, private, and secretive sins and not be marred by the impact it will have on your life. To do so proves that there is an incredible self-deception that one has bought into. Private sins have a way of corroding every aspect of our lives. We all have a public persona that is present with us, it is the level of living that we are expected to do and it can be deadly to us because it does not take much to be acceptable to the public eye. However, a public anointing will never rise any higher than a private devotion! The private life of a man, the secret chambers of his heart is where all of the action is and that secret chamber of the soul must literally be saturated with the Word and with prayer. If that does not take place, it is only a matter of time before the door is thrown open to the sin that will mar your influence. Public credibility is already fragile enough and it will be axed when private sin is being entertained. You can put whatever sin you wish to place in the area of private sin—there are a multitude of choices—all of them being as pervasive as leprosy.

2. It caused me to take deep (and constant) inventory of my own soul of which I continue to do even to this day.

Soul inventory requires that you not be gentle with yourself! You cannot afford to allow yourself outs on any issue. Years ago, an old preacher told me that four things will ruin a man who is called to public ministry—silver, self, sloth, and sex. That pretty well sums up for us the avenues of life that we must always hold the line and never allow a drift to take place.

Soul inventory is more than just a checklist that you go through on a daily basis because lists in themselves can become very legalistic and you will soon find an out if you look hard enough. Deep soul inventory requires that you constantly realize that that you are in a perpetual, relentless spiritual battle that requires constant vigilance. Paul said that you would have to buffet the body and reign in your body (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). Peter notes that your mind has to be held in a sober manner of thinking (1 Peter 5:8-9). He would later give a picture of those men who refused to deal harshly with their motives and actions in 2 Peter 2.

3. It caused me to look deeply at who this failure affected.

Who was affected by the failure of Judas? I am certain that because he was a disciple that he had someone he was influencing and I feel fairly certain in saying that his dramatic betrayal and suicide affected those who loved and admired him. The sad thing is that when men fall there are others who wash out with them. The wash outs are not as dramatic but their failure is just as dire and their destination is the same as that of Judas because some never recover.

I conclude this post with a list that I wrote down in my Bible about two years ago. I found it on Randy Alcorn’s blog and thought it provoking enough to put it at the end of Genesis because of the association with the integrity that Joseph demonstrated. Alcorn entitled the list “Anticipated Consequences of Immorality.”

• Grieving my Lord; displeasing the One whose opinion matters most.
• Dragging into the mud Christ’s sacred reputation.
• Loss of reward and commendation of God at the judgment.
• Having one day to look Jesus in the face at the judgment seat and give an account of why I did it. Forcing Him to discipline me in various ways.
• Following in the footsteps of men I know of whose immorality forfeited their ministry and caused me to shudder. (List these names.)
• Suffering of innocent people around me who would get hit by the shrapnel of my disobedience (Achan).
• Untold hurt to my loyal wife and best friend.
• Loss of my wife’s trust and respect.
• Hurt to my children. Why listen to a man who betrayed Mom and us?
• If my blindness should continue or my family is unable to forgive, I could lose my wife and children forever.
• Shame to my family.
• Shame to my church family.
• Shame and hurt to my fellow pastors, ministers, and elders and hurt to my friends who I have influence with.

I realize this is heavy thinking stuff and I have more of it that I scribbled down in the moleskin that I will share this week. We are rarely given to this kind of soul inventory much anymore because we don’t even want to entertain the fact that we could very well be guilty of being way too easy on ourselves. Don’t do it!!!! Too much is at stake. . .

More tomorrow. . .

Thanks for reading. . .

Philip Harrelson (

P.S. -- I am taking a brief hiatus from the Christopher Hitchens posts until I have a chance to read through his memoir which will be in a few days.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Christopher Hitchens' Great Dilemma -- Part 2

Continuing on that same stream from last week with Christopher Hitchens' battle with cancer and his obvious and perhaps delightful embrace of atheism, we have to note the obvious hopelessness that comes to those who are intent on embracing this theory. If you listen closely to what Hitchens has to say about life in general, there are some obvious comparisons with the thoughts and ideas of George Carlin who also recently passed away. George Carlin was another figure with who I wasn’t familiar with until his death and happened to read a book review from another blog about his life. Considered one top comedians of our age, he was another man who was trapped in the same defiled thinking patterns as is Hitchens.

I made the mistake of searching for Carlin on YouTube and could only manage about 3 minutes of the vile monologue that was dubbed as entertainment. But in reality both Hitchens and Carlin were both saying the same thing in a round-about way. Hitchens is being hailed as one of the foremost thinkers and progressives of our times and Carlin was being touted as one of the best comedians of our day—either education is being confused as comedy or comedy is being confused as education. Initial surprise at these two characters was soon replaced by proper theology—don’t be surprised at the actions and words of those who are sinners—they are just doing what comes natural to them, fighting with God. Despite their greatest inclinations to say there is not a God, all of their actions put them unknowingly in direct opposition to God. Anything opposed to God always fights with God!

All one has to do is again go to Scripture to look at the mindset of a man who has no hope in God. Perhaps it is most reflected in the most cynical book in the Bible, the Ecclesiastes, written by Solomon when his life was devoid of the hope of God. His idols and his wives had caused him to forget who God was.

Ecclesiastes 3:18-22 ESV [18] I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. [19] For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. [20] All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. [21] Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? [22] So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?

This is what happens to men who pursue the American dream at a maddening pace and either they get it or it is like chasing butterflies that are always elusive and never captured. If you only pursue things that are confined to the earth and never consider the spiritual aspects of your soul, it always comes up with emptiness. Hitchens soul is empty because he bought into the deceptiveness of the temporary and refused to believe in the permanence of the eternal.

Chuck Swindoll in his devotional commentary on Ecclesiastes provokes my thinking with the following thoughts:

Before we travel with Solomon through his journal account, allow me to state in three simple comments how directly his observations and experiences, though ancient, tie in with our journey today.

1. The sensual lure of something better tomorrow robs us of the joys offered today.
2. The personal temptation to escape is always stronger than the realization of its consequences.
3. The final destination, if God is absent from the scene, will not satisfy.

The good life—the one that truly satisfies—exists only when we stop wanting a better one. It is the condition of savoring what is rather than longing for what might be. The itch for things, the lust for more—so brilliantly injected by those who peddle them—is a virus draining our souls of happy contentment. Have you noticed? A man never earns enough. A woman is never beautiful enough. Clothes are never fashionable enough. Cars are never nice enough. Gadgets are never modern enough. Houses are never furnished enough. Food is never fancy enough. Relationships are never romantic enough. Life is never full enough.

Satisfaction comes when we step off the escalator of desire and say, “This is enough. What I have will do. What I make of it is up to me and my vital union with the living Lord.”

I plan on reading Hitchens biography in the next few days and have to believe that somewhere in that autobiographical work that there is some evidence of a man who never had enough. His dissatisfaction with life paralyzed the ability of his soul to rise to gratitude.

Finally, here is another video clip of the trailer for the Collision debates. The disclaimer that comes with this clip is that this is purely an intellectual and academic pursuit of God (or with Hitchens the absence of God) which always leads men astray. God cannot be confined to a classroom or a Petri dish. The great danger of seminaries that started with biblical foundations found that they drifted when they turned God into a purely academic pursuit; God always becomes lifeless when He is confined to academic nuances. God means and intends to live in the hearts of men through the occasion of the New Birth (John 3:3-5; Acts 2:38; 10:44-48; 19:1-6).

More later. . .

Thanks for reading. . .


A Prayer Pouring Out of Psalm 119

--> I am presently preaching through the stanzas of Psalm 119 and it has been a spiritually enriching exercise.   Toda...