The New Year, 2018, has brought along its share of nostalgia, hope, and a bit of retrospect as to how far down the road I have come. Some of the looking back could be due to a pretty significant health event that I endured this past July although thankfully I have made a near full recovery. Even though I spent a number of years working in the medical field and was constantly made aware of the fleeting nature of life in others, it was brought home to me in a far more serious way when I was on the other end of a surgeon’s care. Perhaps another reason that 2018 is a significant time for me is because it is the year that thirty years ago, I along with my wife were compelled to make a decision that entirely changed the direction of our lives. In 1988, I attended my first Because of the Times, which is a minister’s conference hosted by the Pentecostals of Alexandria and led by Senior Pastor Anthony Mangun.
I still remember walking into that conference for the first time and literally being blown away by what took place. The entire event was life-shaping and I would not miss that annual conference until 2007 and overall have only missed four since 1988. The early years of that conference stirred things in me that remain to this day and it was in 1988 that I felt a call to a pastoral ministry as well. The atmosphere at BOTT cultivated a deep desire to be involved in evangelism, spiritual revival and renewal, to experience a depth of spiritual life marked with prayer and fasting, to hunger for spiritual matters that could only be gained by spiritual pursuits that weren’t for the ordinary. It gave to me ministry role models that exhibited godliness, holiness, and a passion for God. The successes these men achieved in their churches appeared to be a by-product of their devotion to God and little else. So, for a good 15 years or so, my spirit sincerely meshed with these role models. Along the way there were several peers that went down that trail with me and my involvement with them certainly encouraged me as well.
In all of this spiritual pursuit, I spent time, money, effort and discipline tracking something more than just an ordinary ho-hum ministry. In a very real way I was being pursued by God as well. The practices and disciplines that came to life in me at the time aren’t important to detail here but suffice it to say, those disciplines put some roots deeply in me that have been utterly effective to me all of these years.
During those young years of ministry development, I worked very closely with a group of physicians at Flowers Hospital that were all top-shelf board certified men and women in Dothan and it wasn’t until I had worked in Houston that I came to realize this. Throughout my Bible college days in Houston (1989-92), I worked at St. Luke’s EpiscopalHospital/Texas Heart Institute and M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Both facilities were world-renowned at the time (and still are) and I was able to spend 3 years working with some of the top heart surgeons (i.e. Denton Cooley et al) and some of the foremost cancer researchers in the world. My interaction with these people made me appreciate the necessary discipline that they gave to their craft and the almost overwhelming commitment to knowledge they had made me want to master Scripture to rival their expertise in medicine. That meant there was a need of a corresponding discipline and near seclusion with the Word and the God of the Word.
When I returned to Dothan in 1992, I moved back into the slot of being a bi-vocational associate pastor and did that until 2006 when I left the hospital to be a pastor. I still worked occasionally until the fall of 2014 in the medical arena before leaving it for good. But I was being challenged in two different worlds, one of them spiritual, the other a secular medical world. The nostalgia that I am now feeling is very real and there are a couple of turns that I look back on now and regrettably wish I would have gone down. I made some tradeoffs that cannot be retrieved now and would have been just as life-altering too had I chosen to attempt them. But our regrets are mixed with our victories and we have to live our lives in a forward manner, it’s the looking back that sometimes can be a snare of the devil to trip us up. At the end of the day, all in all, I certainly can see the purpose of the Lord and His involvement in all of it, so I have to leave my regrets to Him. Just in passing, the regrets have to do with secular success in the field of medicine and have nothing to do with what I would refer to as the arena of the sacred.
Sometime in the early ‘90’s a friend of mine sent me a cassette tape sermon of one of our younger ministers at the time. Some can remember the hording of cassette tapes of preachers that we had in those days. There weren’t any podcasts and the cassettes were really hard to come by. But the title of the message that was sent to me was “Old Man Pentecost.” The preacher told a story about one of our old elders, Brother Tom Barnes, who most recognized as a modern-day prophet who had told of a very sobering scene. Brother Barnes had preached at a camp meeting and this younger minister had heard him tell of a dream/vision that he had experienced. He related going to a large meeting and seeing an elderly man sitting up near the front. For a long time, the old man sat and observed all of the froth and foam of the meeting. Brother Barnes said that a lot of energy was being expended but there wasn’t much real spiritual power.
After a while, the old man got up and started down the aisle walking very slowly toward the back. Walking with a cane, holding his hat in his hand and his big Bible under his arm, Brother Barnes watched and then he said he asked the Lord, “Who is that man?” The Lord spoke back to him just as clear as a bell and said, “That’s Old Man Pentecost. He is leaving the building.” The minister preaching the message said that Brother Barnes was so moved by this that he began to weep with remorse about the condition that modern day Pentecostals were moving toward. This minister began to exhort and encourage his own local church that they need not ever let Old Man Pentecost exit the building.
I remember well the impact that it made on me and over the years I have listened to it a number of times and still feel the need to stay connected to old-time Pentecost. That message was preached somewhere around 1994 and I am fearful that it is now being prophetically lived out. Having been involved in the ministry for almost thirty years now and having had some victories and some losses along the way, I can vouch for some things that have changed among the Pentecostal movement in America. I confess that I do remember well running into men who are now my age when I was a younger man. I remember their grousing and grumbling and how it impacted me. I even thought that some of them were giving into a sense of bitterness and anger, and I always wanted to make sure that did not happen to me, and I am still praying it doesn’t. However, I am now at the age where I am looking back and looking forward at the same time. Existing within me is a mixture of faith and fear over our direction and some days the faith rises and other days the fear gets the best of me. I ask myself where will the modern-day Pentecostal church in America be in 25-30 years if we continue on our present track.
Please grant me a little grace as I express to you some of the things that I have seen change in the last 30 years among us. Times change and inexorably the church and its inhabitants give in to the outward pressures of change as well. Admittedly some of the changes are helpful and necessary and I would be a fool to tell you that I don’t enjoy some of the resources that change has brought my way. But there is a malevolent force of evil that would water down every single Pentecostal church and pastor if it could and that is where my deep concern comes from. Perhaps I am being overly fearful or God forbid that I would be a critical old soul but I am afraid that Old Man Pentecost is heading for the exit in some places. There needs to be a recovery, a revival, a spiritual awakening as never before. I know that the bands are playing, the fireworks are going off, and the parade is in full regalia right now. I hear the reports—more money than ever, more churches than ever, more ministers than ever—these are the things that have become the points of assessment for success in ministry. But I need to remind you that there were seven churches of Asia that John spoke to in Revelation 2-3 and there were only two of them that were not indicted by God. One of them didn’t have any money and the other one had only a handful of people. When I preached through the seven churches early last year, the Lord convicted me terribly about that because I along with a thousand other pastors want to weigh the “success” of the churches we serve by money and numbers. There may be more money than ever in the local church and more money than ever at the district, national and denominational headquarters; in fact, more than we could dream of but are those the true indicators of spiritual success? Does a crowd make a church? I cannot shake the terribly troubled spirit that I have with this modern-day Pentecost that is being pushed my way wanting me to adapt and to change. Come on, man, move up a bit, you are pastoring a throwback church! That is what some are saying to me. So, what has changed among us?
The deep level of sacrificial lifestyles has mostly departed from among us. The church that I now pastor was started in one old house, then moved to another old house, and now presently is in a place that has desperately needed more room for 15 years or more. My in-laws who were more like a second set of parents to me came in and sank their lives and finances and their prayers into getting this church off the ground. My parents moved to Dothan about 18 months after the first service and got deeply involved in the work of the moving the church forward. It was only after my early adulthood years that I started grasping the fact of the real sacrifice that this little church was born in. There weren’t any grants, outside offerings, or financial backers that helped us. It was literally the dependence on the grace of God that moved us to where we are now. A friend of mine who is attached to a Bible college related to me that the young men and women who are graduating from this institution are looking for “full-time” slots to go to and if there aren’t opportunities many are returning to their local churches and sitting on the pews waiting on an open door. Because I serve as a presbyter, when churches come open now, I have to speak with men who desire to pastor a church, and rarely are they looking for a situation that might cause them to have sacrifice. I know well the story of our church but I can remember when Ray Johnson, J. T. Pugh, and James Kilgore would stand up and preach at BOTT about sacrifice and it did something to me. . . but it has been so long since I have heard one of those messages calling for sacrifice. Sacrificial living is very closely attached to spiritual power. . . Old Man Pentecost, please don’t leave us!
We have lost our ability to weather the stigma of being different. I didn’t know I was different until I was about six, it was then that I knew that I was different from other kids. I found out that I was different when I landed in a public school at six years old. As a male, my difference was that I grew up without a television, I didn’t wear shorts, and I didn’t play ball in organized sports situations. For the girls, the difference was even more drastic because they wore skirts, didn’t cut their hair, and didn’t wear make-up. We were different and we knew it. We dealt with it in whatever manner that we could, the best way we could. But when we got to church on Sunday, something happened that took away all of the stigma we felt in the world. The Holy Ghost literally was turned loose in our little, wrong-side of the tracks, Pentecostal church. Power from on high came down and we watched dramatic conversions take place and saw people completely delivered from the bondage of sin. We spoke in tongues, sang Pentecostal songs and choruses, and were empowered by the Holy Ghost to go back out and deal with the stigma of being different again. Our days have changed and our old holiness standards are now being called out as “legalism” or one nasty term is “bondage” that some would banter around. I have been immersed enough in Scripture long enough now to know that some of those people in those places were probably a bit legalistic, the fact remains that there is still a call away from the world. Separation will always have to bear the cross of a certain stigma that makes us different from a lot of other groups. But I have also lived long enough to see that the places that have traded in their stigma have lost the authority and liberty of the Holy Ghost to move among their congregants. . . Old Man Pentecost has left the building. . .
We rarely see people with demons being delivered anymore. One of the calling cards among Pentecostals in earlier generations was engagement in spiritual warfare. I remember well when our church was in the primary stages of its beginning (early 70’s) that one of the most profoundly terrifying events in a young kid’s life was to see Holy Ghost filled believers praying with people who obviously were demon-possessed. Some of the outward manifestations of their behavior were incredibly unnerving. I have seen them slither about like snakes, hiss like snakes, and speak in voices that were deep and guttural, certainly not their own. I have watched and as I got older been involved in praying for the deliverance of people who were possessed by demons. But our “advanced” Western culture has come to the place that we have displaced this kind of behavior to a category of mental illness. We have very much unwittingly relegated that kind of activity to the 1st century and think it has no place in the 21st century. While there is some caution to be taken in seeking out spiritual confrontation, it would appear that the dark kingdom has little fear of the modern Pentecostal church. However, there are multiple missionaries who would certainly tell you otherwise as to some of the spiritual conflicts and terrifying manifestations they face on the global scene. In January 2017, I spent eleven days in Africa and to hear some of the accounts of our missionaries in these far-flung places of the world further solidified my thoughts on this matter. So, what has taken place in America? I believe a part of it is that we have lost our sense of biblical discernment as to see these matters for what they are. The second one is just as alarming in that I believe that there is a lack of true apostolic power in our services. Little passion is in the pulpit and the pew. Worldliness, anxieties, the cares of life, and the deceitfulness of riches has caused us to forget the spiritual war that we have been dropped directly into. Therefore, if people who are either possessed or highly oppressed, when they come into our services, there is no need for them to feel any displacement at all because of the lack of spiritual strength. I well remember that one of the common responses of some was that you cannot cast flesh out of flesh, to which my question would be, what is motivating the flesh to manifest the symptoms that are being demonstrated. Certainly, we are not fighting flesh and blood but demons take up residence in fleshly bodies and we have to be aware that deliverance is necessary. Paul’s letters are filled with characters that opposed him and it was more than just a fleshly opposition (i.e. Alexander, Hymenaeus, Philetus, etc.). Even John, the disciple of love, wrote some pretty excoriating things about Diotrephes. If we would want to identify ourselves as akin to the 1st century apostolic church, then the power encounters that are evident in the book of Acts has to be present in our local churches as well. Could it be that Old Man Pentecost has fled the building in this area as well?
Spiritual authority has been traded in for political authority among the ministry. While all organizations, denominations, and even the loosely defined “independent” Pentecostals, all have a sense of organized leadership models whether they are willing to admit it or not. In organized denominations, it comes in forms of district boards and sectional leadership and among the “independents” there are arranged boards of elders that work with fellowship circles of pastors and churches to assist with order. I certainly believe in this matter of order among the churches. However, we have come to a day where that leaders no longer seek spiritual authority that would cause their fellows to promote them to a position of leadership but instead move about in political alliances and backroom deals to move them into places of leadership. We have fallen into the trap of believing that we can manipulate things politically under the guise of spiritual direction instead of intensely praying for the will of God to take place. Has it ever crossed our minds that someone else might be better spiritually prepared to fill the position that I am presently in? Is there even a thought that it might not be the will of God for me to be on a certain committee or be above my fellows in a certain position because I might not be spiritually suitable to do the job? Handwritten in one of my Bibles is a long statement by A. W. Tozer who wrote that if you ever see a man seeking out a position, that he probably isn’t the man whom God would have in that place. He reasoned that Moses, David, and the Old Testament prophets were not men who were looking for a slot to rule over God’s heritage. One of the elders in my life cautioned me very strongly about getting involved in the nastiness of politics after I was elected as a presbyter almost 12 years ago. I have come to witness in almost wide-eyed unbelief what he told me would take place. May God grant to those of us in the ministry spiritual authority and not political authority. If you have spiritual authority, God takes care of the needs but if you have political authority, you have to posture, manipulate, destroy and then be destroyed by the implements of Machiavellian politics. Old Man Pentecost cannot handle this kind of leadership and so he quietly leaves the building. . .
Biblical illiteracy is the standard of the day. I observed this taking place a number of years ago and was concerned about it but chose to ignore it. I was too busy preaching about revival and coming up with cool, nifty, and topical messages that were a mile wide and an inch deep. While I am entirely responsible for that choice, I can say that I wasn’t the only one doing it. We were simply riding the trends of the day never expecting that we were sowing seeds that would bring a harvest. If the church is to survive the current famine of the Word in the land, the ministry has to get in earnest about preaching biblically instead of the whims of the day—political rhetoric, self-help motivational messages, inspirational talks, and timed speeches. We are not only seeing great biblical illiteracy among the laity but among ministers as well. The scrutiny that I was placed under when I originally was licensed to preach in 1992 has nearly disappeared from across the board. The time factor with the licensing process has caused a rubber stamp method to take place and very few candidates are even questioned much less tested on their biblical knowledge. (Thankfully our district board has developed a plan that is presently a work in progress but we aren’t just giving everyone who comes to see us a license to preach.) Neil Postman became a pariah and a prophet with his idea that we are entertaining ourselves to death. Simple Bible stories have been lost in the minds of many because Sunday School was turned into “funday school” or Sunday School classes became a collective pooling of ignorance expressed in the form of “what does this Scripture mean to me?” The real question is: what does the question mean to God? Keep it short and light, we are being told! While I have gone almost exclusively to expository, verse-by-verse preaching in the church I pastor, one very prominent leader told me I could not build an apostolic church like that. I was shocked to the core when I was told that but I have doggedly continued to do so and have now travelled about enough to know that I wouldn’t trade the EP method or my pulpit for anywhere else in the world. I am going to continue to do the hard-work of biblical Word preaching! I take biblical literacy to be a priority in what I have been called to do and I have ample evidence from the book of Acts and from the epistles to believe we ought to be doing it routinely, regularly, and rigorously. Don’t dumb down your congregations! This book we are preaching is God-breathed! I have had the occasion to look at some of the old elders Bibles, minister and saint alike, and their Bibles were marked up and worn-out, may God help us to discipline ourselves to this kind of work at the workman’s bench. Old Man Pentecost is departing because of our ignorance of God’s Word. . .
There has developed a huge emphasis on the health, wealth, and prosperity “gospel.” It is appalling to hear the command of some showman to tell me that if I will sow a $1000 seed offering that thus and so will take place. It is disturbing to hear claims that if I would just double my offering that in a year’s time, my congregation and finances would double. We have been literally infected with the disease that takes advantage of the poor, the helpless, and the hopeless. The health, wealth, and prosperity gospel was never on a starker display than when I spent those eleven days last year in Africa. I was shocked at the unbelievable poverty and awful health conditions of people almost within shouting distance of some of the most elaborate “Pentecostal” and charismatic church buildings I had ever seen. Some of the missionaries I was with told me that some of the most prominent preachers from the US go regularly to these churches and fleece the congregations and get their cut before heading back home. They promise all sorts of things to these people if they will empty their money into the offering plates/bags. Sadly, that was exported from American soil to the African continent. I did an independent study a couple of years ago on the HWP gospel and discovered it started with E. W. Kenyon who influenced Kenneth Hagin and then it spread to Hagin’s followers. The troubling thing is that it made its way into our circles by way of Kingdom Now and Dominion theology which had its rise in the 1980’s. But this has also led us down another fatal path as well. Not only have we fallen into the wealth trap, we have also disappeared down the rabbit hole of the health gospel. Never among us has there been the maddening pursuit of miracles usually in the venues of physical healing. My involvement in health care as caused me to take a very narrow view of this kind of activity. We live in a fallen world and because of that, physical death has been ushered into the factor because of sin. Besides, there are only two exits from this world—death and the rapture. Sickness is what will open the door for many of us to gain heaven, but because we have lost our ability to see what Scripture teaches concerning a theology of suffering, we are hunting down charlatans and showman who promise physical healing and when it does not take place, the shift moves to the person who “didn’t have enough faith” or some similar answer. I have watched that kind of answer to those who are suffering to almost destroy their faith in God and His Word. No wonder Old Man Pentecost left the building, he wanted to flee from that kind of dishonesty. . .
We have lost our fear of our prophets. I have heard stories about Brother Tom Barnes and there was one other prophet that I had some occasion to be around. Both of these men had great sobriety about their lives and there was a dignity about them as well but there was also a sense of fear that we had for them. I was always concerned that the Lord would reveal the secrets of my heart to them. Move forward in time about 20 years to which I have had occasion to be around some of our modern-day prophets long enough to observe a night and day difference between this generation of prophets versus the dead ones. They were “operating” in the gifts of the Spirit and seeing angels with much fanfare and then 30 minutes later had devolved into some of the most carnal, ribald discussions that caught me off guard. I could never imagine Brother Barnes or Brother McClain being involved in such foolishness. In fact, my times around Brother McClain left me with a hunger to be more holy and sensitive to the Holy Ghost. I remember one evening well when I was with Brother McClain and two other ministers at a restaurant where we spent about an hour and a half with him. When I got back to my room that evening, I got shut in with God as much as motel room would allow me. When I left the others, I was filled with disappointment and disdain to how the so-called prophetic ministry had been drug through the mud. Is it any wonder the Old Man Pentecost limped down the aisle?
The prayer meetings have died in the local church. More than a few of our churches have lost their ability to pray. Whether it be a mid-week prayer meeting or a Sunday altar service, many of our churches used to have long protracted seasons of prayer regularly. We are now in such a hustle and bustle of life that we don’t know what it is like to “wait on the Lord” as they did in former years. We have completely knocked out “tarrying” for a move of the Spirit because we concluded that the only place they waited on the Lord was in Acts 2 and since the Spirit has come we no longer need that. But the OT prophets and the Psalms are filled with places that tell us to wait on the Lord and to be still and know that the Lord is God. We have forgotten that many of the epistles offer us patterns of prayer for the church. But even more sadly is the fact that the ministry has moved away from consecrated places of prayer that our elders would mock us if they were still alive. The prayer bench has been sterile of tears for so long that it is dry rotting. Water your ministry with prayer for your educational achievement and religious degrees will never ever have the power that an old prayer bench will give to you! Instead of sharing with me your curriculum vitae, your GPA and what your next step toward your PHD is going to be, why don’t you tell me what your prayer life is like? Why don’t you tell me that you are desperately praying for revival, personal renewal, and a return of Old Man Pentecost? Why are we relying on our stage shows to substitute for our lack of intercessory prayer? Maybe it’s because we are trying to be modern, or make excuses, or maybe it’s because Old Man Pentecost has left our building and we haven’t really missed him. . .
There are some other points that I will leave for another day but suffice it to say, I think that for me 2018 is going to be a year that I do my dead level best to reconnect with Old Man Pentecost in my personal life as well as the corporate life of the church that I am called to pastor. That means a house-clearing of my mind will have to take place. Some of the old books that I first heard about at BOTT twenty-five to thirty-years ago have been pulled down from the shelves. The old prayer benches are being dusted off and the old Bibles and concordances are being used instead of my computer. Bible reading plans that once caused Scripture to pour through my mind are being pulled down. Cassette tapes of the old days that stirred my heart and emotions, I am getting reacquainted with. I must have Old Man Pentecost come back! I pray you feel the same way. . .-->