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 (philipharrelson@gmail.com)

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. . .


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Christopher Hitchens' Great Dilemma -- Part 1

Last November, I wrote a series of posts (which I did not finish) about a neurosurgeon that I have worked with and known since the summer of ’92 and his recommendations of Richard Dawkins’ works (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). At the time of his suggestion, I had no idea who Dawkins was. But after I read through one of his books and sorted through a couple more, it became clear that Dawkins was a radical, hostile, and sarcastic atheist who enjoyed humiliating anyone who would attempt to defend a Christian worldview and the existence of God.

As I became acquainted with the Dawkins spin, I also discovered a few other fellows that are comrades with Dawkins in their efforts to become what has commonly been referred to as the New Atheists. One such author, and very popular I might add, is Christopher Hitchens. He is also an avowed atheist but is not nearly as sarcastic and pugnacious as Dawkins, at least in my opinion. Although I have not read any of Hitchens work, my exposure to him came through the Collision Debates that he had with Douglas Wilson. All of the debate is on You-Tube but unless you are interested in debates you probably won’t find it very compelling.

Last evening, I noticed a news article concerning Christopher Hitchens who has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer with apparent metastasis. The cancer not only is in his esophagus but also has spread to the lymph nodes. For anyone who remotely knows anything about medicine and the disease process, this is a ticking time bomb that Hitchens is dealing with. So take note of the interview and hear what the man says. Listen carefully to a man who is now sitting on death row about to go where we all will ultimately end up, facing the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

I will post more thoughts on this in the days to come but I want you to contemplate what hopeless this man unknowingly is presenting to his watching fan base. I conclude with Paul’s words to the Romans:

Romans 3:4 ASV
God forbid: yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy words, And mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment.

For Mr. Hitchens, and everyone else for that matter, it doesn’t matter what you believe or do not believe about God! Your unbelief does not change the equation of God’s existence and His active work to redeem man through the power of the Cross.

More later. . .

Thanks for reading. . .


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How Is Your Listening?. . . . Part 4

With this last blog on how is your listening, I want to continue with the ways that Ken Ramey states that we can help our listening.

Fifth, be consistent with church attendance. Haphazard church attendance is an Achilles heel for many Christians in our times. They do not even realize what they have missed after they start having sporadic patterns of attending church. When we assemble together for a time of fellowship and encouragement it helps all of us (Hebrews 10:23-25). When I was growing up, my parents attended church every time the doors were open, so this habit became ingrained into my life and it has continued to reward great benefits to me. When you are regularly attending church, God has the ability to pick up where you left off from the last time. Not only do I feel that weekends are important for corporate worship, I am also a strong advocate of coming to mid-week services.

David Eby summed it up like this, concerning church attendance: “You grieve over flaky folks who don’t take preaching very seriously, who will miss services with seemingly no conscience pangs, at almost any flimsy excuse. You mourn for a generation, red-eyed from Nintendo and TV, bloated with soccer, scouts, hot tubs, and designer vacations, but bored with the Word of God."

You have to make time for worship and when you go, have a sense of expectancy. Expect something in the worship to engage you. God is a speaking God and when we go to the house of worship, we should intentionally determine to experience something great from God. Plan your Saturday night to facilitate your Sunday morning and Sunday night. There are a lot of things that could be done in 15 minutes of Saturday night that would severely diminish the stress levels that some families face on Sunday mornings getting ready for worship. It’s hard to hear from God if marital tension, unruly kids, and NASCAR style driving all had to accompany you on the way to worship.

Sixth, worship with all of your heart. Worship helps us to focus our thoughts and minds in prior to the preached Word. The songs, the prayers, even the offering are all a series of active things taking place to help us to be receptive to the Word and Spirit of God. We need to sing! Some can sing in their car but can’t sing in their church. We need to pray! Some men can call in on nation-wide sports call-in shows and talk about their favorite team but cannot pray in front of their wives and children. We need to give! Again, most people spend $100 and even more eating out on a weekly basis but quibble when someone expects them to give 10% in tithes. As you can see worship is always a matter of priority and whatever your priorities are they will get your time and attention.

Seventh, fight off distractions. There are a thousand and one distractions that one can find attractive in the course of a worship service. You can watch people, you can look at the sanctuary, you can day-dream, and in fact the sky is the limit as to what distractions you can pay attention to. However, most of us have been in a class before whose intent it was to prep us for taking a final or a board examination. Nobody had to tell you to get focused and pay attention because you were fearful of failing the test. It’s funny but sad how we can put much more effort in paying attention for some earthly examination we want to pass but pay little attention to the words that can help us to gain eternal life.

You can fight off distractions by making eye contact with the preacher. You can mentally follow along with what he is saying and you can physically follow along in your Bible. Don’t give in to laziness by leaving your Bible at home, take it to church! By the way, sermons are not for entertainment, they are for instruction in righteousness and sometimes the Word will confront where you are living and it will convict (or confront) you. If you are living low, the tendency is to get angry with the preacher but if you are living high, spiritually speaking, you will embrace the biblical message and determine to do better after you repent and confess your sin to God.

So, on a closing note, my question again is, “How Is Your Listening?”

Thanks for reading. . . .

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Thursday, August 05, 2010

How Is Your Listening?. . . . Part 3

We have established the importance of listening to preaching and the effectiveness of jotting down notes while you are listening, and now we come to the important part of getting your ears ready to listen. You are probably familiar with the song “Open the Eyes of My Heart” which is more of a prayer that it is a song but it has a powerful lesson in it. We listen with our ears but we hear with our heart. For the right thing to be heard in the heart, the heart has to be prepared to hear what is being preached. If your heart is dead to spiritual things, more times than not you are going to come away from the preaching/teaching event with the idea that it was boring and had little to say to you. However, if your heart is set in a tone of spiritual responsiveness to God, you are going to glean a lot from the preaching.

But preparing our hearts to listen can be an overwhelming challenge for us on a weekly basis. We have developed what one writer (who slips my mind at this time) terms as infobesity. We are little fat with information. We have become road kill on the information superhighway. The information superhighway roars at you all day long with massive doses on media of various sorts, tack on the internet with e-mail, add to those cell phones which text, tweet, and talk, and your head and heart can be spinning round and round!

In Ken Ramey’s excellent little book on Expository Listening, he has a chapter entitled “Harrowing Your Heart to Hear.” The indication is that your heart is a field and it has to be plowed, cultivated, and watered just as a garden would have to be taken care of. I am going to summarize some the points that he lists that are helpful to help us to hear.

First, meditate on God’s Word every day. We are a Bible rich society. They are everywhere but I have come to discover that just because they are everywhere does not necessarily translate into us reading them. You really can’t expect to be hungry for the Word on Sunday if you have not been reading it during the week. Richard Baxter said, “Read and meditate on the Holy Scriptures much in private, and then you will be the better able to understand what is preached on it in public.” I long for every person that I know to keep working at the Word until they literally see how applicable it is to your daily life. There are all sorts of different things to help you gain a love for the Word. All you have to do is go to ITunes and search “You’ve Got The Time” or “Faith Comes by Hearing” in the podcast area and you can download the New Testament free in two formats, KJV or ESV.

Second, pray throughout the week. Prayer is very crucial to help us to hunger for the Word. If you will ask God to give you the ability to hear and pursue the Word, He will! Ask the Lord to turn the lights on in your mind and the Bible will explode in your life. Suddenly what your pastor is preaching will begin to fall into place and you will begin to see what real spiritual life is all about.

Third, confess your sin. For those who think they are not sinning, let me follow you around for about a week. If you are not praying, you are sinning. If you are not evangelizing, you are sinning. What about those websites, movies, books, or conversations that you are actively involved in that are not encouraging Godly and clean living? What about you’re comments on Facebook or the forums that you are a part of? Are all of those Facebook polling questions that provide a characterization of you something that God would be pleased with? When you plow through Romans 6, 7, and 8, you will immediately discover that the American culture is constantly pulling at us and it is deadly to our spiritual life. All of those things obstruct our vision of God and His Word. That is sin and it calls for repentance.

Fourth, reduce your media intake. I am constantly fighting over this very lonely battlefield. I often think I am a lone voice crying out against this. Ramey writes that the average American watches TV just over 4 hours a day. But we can’t stand sermons over 30 minutes! That speaks to our priorities! The latest rage among the young teenage girls is the attraction to the vampire books and movies. It is hard for a preacher to get past that. For the men who saturate their lives with sporting events, college and pro, watching ESPN until you waddling about from sportsbesity is killing your ability to listen to the Word. Then we have the gamers, hours wasted building the dynasties inside of a little electronic box. Can you imagine proudly standing in front of God one of these days and proudly telling Him that you were the champeen of all championships in the little e-world.

Ramey writes, “After TV watching and going to the movies and surfing the Internet all week long, you come to church and have to sit and listen to a lengthy sermon that requires a great deal of concentration and exertion you aren’t used to. You’re expected to go from being a passive viewer to an aggressive listener literally overnight.” When a preacher cries out against this he is looked at with suspicion, as a legalist, as a real fruit-loop who needs therapy. The reality is that he doesn’t need therapy, our world needs to clearly again understand the calling out of holiness that will separate us from all of this soul-deadening nonsense!

A final quote from Jay Adams: “Many today drift into church with their minds turned off, slouch in the pew, and expect the preacher to do the rest. Examine yourself, brother or sister: have you been guilty of becoming a Sunday morning version of the couch potato?” (From Be Careful How You Listen.)

More tomorrow. . .

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

How Is Your Listening?. . . . Part 2

What struck my thoughts on this idea of listening is a book that I am currently reading and a sermon that I downloaded by Pastor Anthony Mangun. The book I am reading is called “Expository Listening” by Ken Ramey who noted the wealth of books on preaching and homiletics and that he had never noticed a book about listening to sermons.

The podcast that I heard of Brother Mangun was a series that he was starting at the church he pastors about the Fruit of the Spirit. He began with Matthew 13 in the parable of the soils and before he really got into the message he mentioned that there would be people who didn’t hear a word he would say during the message. There would be others who would listen and have some emotional or intellectual reaction that would be gone by the middle of the day on Monday. However, he also said that there were also hearers who had hearts that was like the good ground that Jesus spoke of that would have true spiritual growth because they had been willing to pull in the Word into their heart and mind and let it help them make adjustments in the course of their spiritual walk. Basically what he was saying that your response to preaching is an affair of your heart! Wherever your heart is will greatly depend on your response to the Word.

I will never forget my junior year at Texas Bible College when it struck me that first week that I needed to be more proactive with my listening. I was sitting next to Paul Jacks and Bryan Aaron in a chapel service and I looked over at them and saw varying degrees of dazed lethargy. They were not quite to the point of nodding off and drooling but they were pretty close to it. Glazed eyes that had a faraway look keyed me in to the fact that both of them were present physically but not mentally. But I have to drop my rocks on the ground for I too had been in the dazed zone chapel before too.

Anytime that you get a bunch of rookie preachers who are in their early twenties and know everything about the Bible (if you don’t believe it just ask them) you have a recipe for a dazed-glazed preaching event to take place. I can well remember some of the antics of preaching about the identity of Melchizedek, forty-nine aspects of praise, and climbing into the third heaven using Jacob’s ladder. In between all of that were the nifty little poems, stories, and personal experiences that were pulled together in those “sermons.”

On the other hand, I heard some jacked-up masterpieces in that chapel at Texas Bible College. Some of them I have never forgotten despite the fact that this month is twenty-years ago that I walked into that place (I was welcomed to Houston by having my car stolen and stripped the second night I was there but that is for another day). I will never forget Ken Gurley’s opening chapel when he preached “The Beauty of the Beast.” Phil White’s “Overloaded with Goats” and “The Eyes of the Bride.” O. R. Fauss who preached “The Peril of Not Being Anointed” along with Mike Chance’s three shot Accent weekend with every sermon being on prayer. Never will I forget Brother Griffin’s series on “Blessed Assurance” and the series on the Sermon on the Mount. Two very troubling sermons came from Brother Hunt and Brother Griffin; “Concerned with Gourds” and “Despise Not the Day of Small Things.” Nor will I ever forget Brother Ensey preaching “The Ghost of Ephraim” and “Loving Much.”

However, it was not long before I begin to pick up things from even the rookies that helped me in my spiritual growth and it all had to do with how I listened to sermons. This all came about because of my purchase of one of those cheap little marble notebooks from Office Depot and good pen. Now twenty years, fifty notebooks (that I still have), and innumerable dead pens (that I don’t have), I have benefited from going back and reading through some of the things that struck me during the sermons I have listened to.

There are those who disagree with people taking notes while someone is preaching because they argue that it takes away from the listener’s ability to pay attention to the preacher. I strongly disagree with that, in fact I believe that it actually heightens the ability of the listener to pay attention and on Tuesday of Thursday one can still be mulling over some of the things that were said. I have to carefully demonstrate the difference between note-taking that you would take in listening to a sermon versus what you would do with Anatomy and Physiology in a college classroom. Some notes are very detailed and others hit the high points—hitting the high points and jotting down the Scripture references helps us to listen. I also might add that it goes a long way in helping a bad sermon move a little quicker.

Thomas WatsonWhen we come to the Word preached, we come to a matter of the highest importance; therefore we should stir up ourselves and hear with the greatest devotion. (From Heaven Taken By Storm)

If you begin to take notes, you will suddenly figure out who are the real Biblical preachers and those who are not. You may ask, “How so?” I want to give you a few areas to consider.

Keeping track with notes will determine the biblical content of the message.
The cry of one of the minor prophets was that the people were being destroyed because of a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). If you follow along and really listen the acid testing of biblical preaching is that it will contain the Word; not jokes, not stories,

Keeping track with notes will determine the spiritual content of the message. When I say spiritual content, I am meaning those things that apply to the spiritual disciplines of our lives—prayer, fasting, corporate worship, and church attendance. These are all spiritual practices that gives leanings toward growing spiritually. The world sees a lot of “Christians” who are not much different in their activities than those who are in the world—if we go to all the same places, do the same things, pursue the same things, etc. that the unsaved are pursuing. . . then are we really converted. . . have we really been saved?

Keeping track with notes will awaken a spiritual discernment in you that you have never experienced.
You will suddenly be brought into understanding the power of the Word in the application of how you live day-to-day. Spiritual discernment is directly related to spiritual maturity. Find a person who is spiritually mature and you will find a person who is spiritually discerning. I have also discovered that spiritual maturity and spiritual discernment will bring out a boldness that will help you resort to the Word instead of opinions, theories, and ideas.

More tomorrow. . . .

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...