Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Play Stupid Games; Win Stupid Prizes

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."

2 Corinthians 10:3-5

I will never forget the morning that I received wonderful, scriptural advice from an older pastor and dear friend. It was not only good advice, but a loving rebuke as well, one that I desperately needed. For some reason, he and I were the only ones in our carpool on that Tuesday morning headed to the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary campus in Memphis, Tenn. As I was unusually quiet, Bro. Mike asked me if I was feeling alright. When I assured him that I was fine, he asked about my family, and I told him that everyone was feeling well. 

"Bro. Charles," he said, "if you and your family are all doing good, how about the church? I can tell that something is bothering you. Is everything okay at the church?"

"Well, to be totally honest, I'm very disappointed in what happened at the church. I had challenged our church to break a numerical goal of having 100 in Sunday School for three consecutive Sundays, and I would preach the morning sermon off of the roof. We had over 100 in the previous two Sundays, but this past Sunday, we fell just short." (Just to give some context, when I first arrived at this church, we ran around twenty in Sunday School. Within eighteen months, we were averaging 80-85, but had seemed to hit an invisible ceiling that I desperately wanted to break through. I had seen a pastor's photo preaching from the roof of his church when his congregation succeeded in hitting a numerical goal in our state paper several weeks before, and I thought that would be good challenge with an unforgettable result. Not only could I get my photo in the Mississippi Baptist Record, but I could also submit it to the New Albany Gazette as well. Then everyone would know that New Oak Grove Baptist Church in Union County, Mississippi was led by a real man of God! LOL)

After a few moments of thoughtful silence, my friend replied, "Bro. Charles, quit pouting about not preaching from the roof, and get in God's pulpit and preach the truth." As I heard these words, I began to feel my face flush with anger. In my mind I thought, "You say one more word to me, Mike Sledge, and I'll grab your steering wheel, jerk this car over to the shoulder of the road, and whip your butt in this highway ditch!" That's what I thought, I'm very ashamed to admit, but the words never came out of my mouth. We were both silent for the rest of the commute.

Arriving on campus, I was so frustrated that I skipped my eight o'clock class and went to the prayer chapel. It was in this little room that God broke my heart. He broke my heart over my inner response of intense anger at my friend, and He broke my heart over the ridiculous challenge that I proposed to my people, as it was nothing more than a vain attempt to have a spotlight shining on me because our church accomplished some numerical goal.

Since this idea didn't originate with me, I'm sure that many others have performed similar, stupid stunts. Let's gather a big crowd, or collect a big offering, and I'll preach from the roof; or I'll swallow live goldfish; or I'll eat a habanero pepper; or I'll let the children throw pies in my face; or we'll rent a dunking tank and the deacons, the staff, and I will take turns being dunked in water. Hallelujah - God most certainly will be impressed with us! Don't you think so?

Now let's be honest, too many times we focus upon the trivial and foolish when we vainly attempt to perform the assignments that God has given us. As He has placed upon my heart a renewed vision of countless souls around the world, across our nation, and in our communities hurting, suffering, and dying, He has also renewed my burden over the reality of so many of our churches playing stupid games. I recently posted via social media about one of our larger churches in America beginning their worship service with their husband-and-wife pastoral team coming out on the platform dressed as Woody the Sheriff and Bo-Peep from the Toy Story movies. She tried to sound as if she had a southern accent. It was hellish. As I attempted to continue to watch it, my heart seethed. Why the shenanigans? Why the foolishness? Why display such childish stupidity in the name of Jesus? WHAT'S WRONG WITH US? People are going to HELL, people, wake up already and let's be THE CHURCH!! The Bible says that we "are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation." (1 Peter 2:9-12)

I've had enough of the pie throwing, roof preaching, goldfish swallowing, pepper eating, water dunking, and prancing around on stage like cartoon characters church services. Where are the displays of personal and corporate HUMILITY, BROKENESS, REPENTANCE, and CRYING OUT in utter desperation unto the Lord for REVIVAL and AWAKENING? Where is the true man of God who will "Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins"? (Isaiah 58:1) Oh how we need MEN of God to lead the CHURCH of God to walk the HOLY PATHWAYS of God in order to experience the FULLNESS of God! A-MEN!!

In closing, allow me to return to my seminary days for a moment. A cassette tape was being passed around of a message that the late evangelist/revivalist Vance Havner had preached in a chapel service at a Bible college in Kentucky. I was blessed to listen to the message several times before giving it to a fellow student. I certainly wish I would have thought about making a copy for myself, but I didn't do it. Bro. Havner was preaching on accomplishing God's ministry through the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit. He ended his message with this personal testimony: "I was recently at a church and with a pastor that I had never met before. It was a large imposing edifice that was abuzz with excitement for our opening service of a revival campaign. The pastor escorted me to a chair on the platform and whispered in my ear that he had to exit for a moment in order to fulfill a promise to his people. As everyone was finding a seat, one of the staff members finally approached the pulpit, welcomed everyone in attendance, then happily announced that a numerical goal had been met that morning. And as promised, the pastor and deacons were prepared to celebrate in a way that few would ever forget. As he said those words, the doors opened up in the rear of that large auditorium and the deacons began coming down the aisles throwing confetti into the excited crowd. As they made their way toward the front, another deacon stepped out of the middle doors with a rope, leading a donkey into the building with a clown upon it's back. The clown had a candy bag with him in order to throw sweet treats to the standing and cheering worshippers. As they got closer to me, I was finally able to recognize the face of the pastor. But being of such advanced age and dim of eyesight, I had trouble determining if the pastor was the clown, or the jackass."

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Wednesday, August 30, 2023


Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."
2 Corinthians 5:17

Forty years. Forty incredible years. The year 1983, for me, slowly evolved into a very good year. A life changing year. A year that altered my dreams, my destiny, my desires, and my devotion. It was the year that I would meet a beautiful young lady who would gently, yet firmly, share the truth of Jesus Christ with me. It was the year that I would hear her witness, and eventually pray for God's grace to be real in my own despicable life. Forty years. Forty incredible years of walking with Jesus. Forty years...
In June of 1983, I had no idea that I would soon be a student at Mississippi State University. My life began to unravel during my final year of high school. This unraveling spun totally out of control as a Freshman seeking to find my way at the first university that I attended. I say that I was a Freshman, but I actually began my experience of higher education as a Sophomore, as I had received advanced credit for all of my core Freshman courses based upon my ACT score. I accepted an academic scholarship that covered all of my tuition, books, room and board, along with a meal plan for dining in the school cafeteria. This university had very high expectations for me as a student, and I was about to royally disappoint them. My first semester was more or less uneventful as I was trying to adjust to my new surroundings. By the time classes resumed in January, I realized there was much more to college life than classes, homework, tests and term papers. I decided I should make a few corrections to my lifestyle as the semester ended very poorly, but changes externally didn't produce any internal adjustments. My second year would not be finalized, as I was given an ultimatum during the spring semester by the Dean of Students to either withdraw from all my classes and leave the school voluntarily, or be expelled and escorted away by campus police. He said that I had twenty-four hours to make up my mind, but I decided before leaving the building to sign the necessary documents, gather my belongings, and head for home.

To be perfectly honest, I do not have any recall as to the reaction of my family. They knew the circumstances, and I'm sure their hearts were broken over my foolish choices and decisions. But it was the spring of the year - an extremely busy season in the Mississippi Delta - and I resumed my position on the farm. I began to work again for my two uncles, which I had been doing since I was about age twelve. Returning home and working didn't solve my problems, however, as they just intensified with a steady paycheck. Now I had those finances that at one time hindered me from fulfilling much of my wicked desires. With money in my pockets, I could expand my horizons when it came to searching for new adventures, usually entailing wild parties, loud music, ample liquor, illegal drugs, and plenty of loose women. It was also amazing how many friends I amassed with my ability of foot the bill. Like the prodigal in Luke 15, I hand plenty of friends, as long as I had plenty of money.

It seems that with each decision that I would make, circumstances did not get any better, they only got worse. Uncomfortable encounters with family, as well as with the law, would cause me to make promises that I could not keep. The book of Proverbs says, "As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool returns to his folly." My life was a perfect example of that eternal truth. In the first few weeks of 1983, I befriended a man several years older than I, and he quickly introduced me to new companions that carried me deeper into the darkness. There were times when we struck out on the trail for new experiences with the wrong crowd, that would have me absent from my family and from my job for days at a time. Funny how working with family always keeps the door of employment open for you, when you really should have been fired. Some of these adventures I can barely remember. I vaguely recall where we planned to go, but I cannot recollect if we ever made it to our destination, what happened while we were there, and how we made it back home. Life during that time was like a dense fog, and how I lived through it is a testimony of God's mercy.

June, 1983, as far as I can remember, is when my precious Mom finally had enough of me and my ways. I had broken her heart too many times. She confronted me in the garage with anger, fear, love and rage all mixed together. With her hands on my shoulders, she shook me as best she could, crying and saying, "I don't know where you'll go and what you'll do, but you've got six weeks to get out of my house! I can't take this anymore!" I looked at her beautiful face, all red with emotion and covered in tears, jerked her hands off of me, and walked inside. To be totally honest, I wanted to hit her. As I pondered this encounter, I knew I had to make plans, but I couldn't think of anything. I didn't know it then, but Mom was practicing tough love on me before James Dobson ever wrote a book about it.

Before the dust settled from this episode, I came home from work one day to find out that a dear friend from high school was going to be home for a few days from Mississippi State, and she wanted to see me. Lisa had done quite well at MSU. Good grades, really popular, school beauty, Homecoming Queen, etc., and this girl wanted to see me while she was home. I got ready as fast as possible and drove at breakneck speed to Scott, Mississippi. In the midst of my excitement, I had forgotten that Lisa was a Jesus girl, and as soon as I got reacquainted with her, she began preaching to me about my lifestyle. The audacity of that girl, for if there was one thing I really despised, it was anyone meddling in my life and preaching to me! Oh well, as beautiful as she was, I could endure her sermons for the opportunity to just look at her.

In the midst of those few visits with Lisa, she talked at length about me trying to get back in school, and making a fresh start at MSU. Since I had the ultimatum from my Mom, with a time frame of getting out of her house, I decided to take Lisa's advice and call the number that she gave me about transferring to State. The lady on the phone had a nice voice and was very kind. When I told her the reason for my call, she informed me that I had just missed the deadline for applying as a transfer student. My heart sank, but then she said, "I tell you what, I will mail you an application today, but promise me to fill it out and mail it back the same day that you receive it. That means that you need to secure a copy of your transcript from your previous college, so that you can be ready to send it back to me on the very same day. You promise me that you'll do this?" I assured her that I would, and she bid me a pleasant farewell. When I got off the phone, I immediately began to wonder what kind of response she would have to my transcript. I thought surely she would burst out laughing and show everyone in the office what kind of idiot I was for trying to enroll at MSU. But since I promised her I would do it, I thought, oh well, it won't hurt anything to try.

July, 1983. To my utter amazement, I received a positive letter from MSU not long after I mailed the requested material to the Office of Enrollment. I had failed to meet the deadline, my transcript was atrocious, and yet I was reading an acceptance letter that opened with this word in all caps: CONGRATULATIONS! As I continued reading, my heart sank. Yes, I had been accepted, but it was on a probationary status, and only about twelve hours of course work would be accepted. Plus, all of the advanced credit for the core Freshman courses were deemed unacceptable. As I read the letter, I thought, "Well this is just dandy, I'm 21 years old and will have to sit in classrooms alongside immature teenagers with zits and fake ID's." But at least I had the problem solved as to where I'd go, and what I'd be doing, even before my Mom's tearful deadline had come to pass.

August, 1983, was moving time. I was fortunate to be able to secure a room at Arbor Acres Apartments, a university owned housing complex on the south edge of campus. Friends from the Delta had their names on a waiting list to get into this brand new facility, and they had enough space for me to join them. Life was good as I tried to adjust to my new surroundings. I was living with old friends, learning the layout of campus, and beginning to understand that there were some extremely popular establishments near Mayhew and Columbus that existed to make sure college students had enjoyable experiences outside of their educational demands.

During the second week of classes, my roommate asked me if I had purchased the necessary books for each of my courses. "No," I responded, "I really haven't thought much about that." He encouraged me to get some books, so that if I decided to attend a class, at least I would look like I belonged in the building. When I finally located a list of all the books that I needed, he said that he would go with me to the bookstore to help me gather all my supplies. The place wasn't very crowded, since most of the other students had already gotten what they needed. When I mentioned that I didn't know where anything was located, he asked for my list, and told me to stay where I was until he found everything for me. He quickly disappeared, and I as I turned around to see what else might be interesting to find, my eyes landed on the most beautiful young lady that I had ever seen. She was tall, trim, tan, and TERRIFIC! You've heard of love at first sight? Well, it was something like that, but rather than love, it was lust at first sight! Holding a book just a few feet from me, her eyes were looking at a list somewhat like mine, then glancing at a shelf filled with additional material. I walked up to her with a smile and said, "Hey there, can I help you find anything?" Believing that I was one of the student workers, she responded, "Yes, I've already gotten most of my books, but I came back for just a couple more and can't seem to find this one," as she handed me her booklist. Not having any idea how I might help this beauty, my friend returned with his arms loaded down with what I needed. "Hey, thank you, perfect timing." I said. "Now I need you to find this book for this young lady." When he returned with her book, we headed to the register, where I stood behind her and recorded her name and phone number as she completed her transaction with a personal check. Sort of creepy? Yes, but a man's got to do what a man's got to do!

Needless to say, she was somewhat surprised when I called her later that day. We agreed to meet at a high school football game the following evening, as I learned that she had just graduated from a local private school, and she already had plans to attend the game. The next week, we saw each other on campus quite often, and I decided that starting anew at MSU as a Freshman wasn't all that bad. We didn't have any classes together, but we were often in the same buildings, and could enjoy brief conversations in the hallways or outside near the entrances.

I tried my best to get her to enjoy the dark side of life, but that was to no avail, as she had her guard up against my kind of pleasures. I would back off for a while, and we would simply take in an occasional movie, have a milkshake date, ride around in my sports car, or attend a MSU football game. A few weeks into our relationship, I pulled up outside of a very nice duplex in a quiet, older neighborhood in Starkville, and asked her: "You see that little place? Doesn't it look nice and quiet? I'm beginning to get tired of the constant noise at Arbor Acres, and thought a place like this would be perfect, if you would agree to move in with me. What do you say?" Since she didn't say anything, I thought that she didn't understand the great proposition that I was making, so I repeated myself. Following more awkward silence, I asked her, "Tell me something, what do think about me? Be totally honest, what do you think about me?"

"Do you really want to know?" she finally said.

"Yes, certainly, I wouldn't ask if I didn't want to know." I replied.

"Well, for one, I despise your smoking cigarettes. They make your car stink, and they make you stink. They make my clothes stink, they make my hair stink, they make me stink, and I don't like to stink."

"Anything else?"

"Yes, every time that I'm around you, you are drinking some kind of alcoholic beverage. You keep whiskey under the seat, or you have a small cooler of beer with you in your car all the time. At your apartment, that's all you ever have to drink. And even on campus, as you walk around with that stadium cup going to class, I know that you've got some kind of alcohol in there. Drinking is all you do, and I don't like it."

"Anything else?"

"Yes, your language is atrocious. I have never heard someone with such a vile tongue. If you get mad, it is unbelievable what comes out of your mouth. But even in normal conversations, you use filthy curse words. It's horrible, and I can't stand it."

By now, my feelings were quite bruised, but what could I say, it was all true. "Anything else?" I mumbled.

"Yes," she said. "I am very tired of the constant pressure you put on me to go to nightclubs, pool halls, and these off campus parties that you always seem to know about. I don't like those kinds of places, I'm not comfortable in those environments, I don't want to go, and I don't want to be pressured to go. In fact, I refuse to go, and if you and I are going to continue to have any kind of relationship, on or off campus, then you need to go to places that I like to go!"

"Okay, so where do you like to go?"

"I like to go to church."

With that response, I felt like reaching over, opening the door, putting her out, and saying, "See you later." But there was something about her beautiful smile, those big, brown eyes, and that silky, shiny, dark hair. This awesome young lady was slowly melting my calloused heart. Pulling away from the curb, I asked, "Uh, where do you go to church?"

"Friendship Baptist Church, it's right behind my house, and you need to go with me."

"So you're a Baptist? That's wonderful! So am I!" I exclaimed. She didn't seem to be very impressed at my compelling statement of religious identity. I'm sure that she realized there's a huge difference between being a saved Baptist, and a lost one.

The time frame is a little foggy after this encounter. I continued to speak to this young lady on campus whenever I saw her, but I was uncertain of my next move. I realized that I wasn't going to convince her to embrace my lifestyle, yet I was helplessly drawn to her honesty, sincerity, and to her breathtaking beauty. She was so different from the party girls that I was accustomed to spending time with. They were usually loud, crude, foul-mouthed, and aggressively seductive, especially when they were all overly intoxicated. Even as I attempted to immerse myself in my usual routines when the sun went down, I could not help but think of her, and what she might be doing. I was still drinking heavily, swearing profusely, smoking constantly, partying nightly, and fighting occasionally, whenever I felt my manhood was clearly challenged. My schedule was full, but my heart was empty.

I finally decided that I should approach her about coming out for a Sunday service. I'd been to church services before, many of them. I had joined the Baptist church in my Delta hometown when I was ten years old. Church activity and attendance had at one time been a very important part of my young life. Besides, I had even prayed publicly to close out our services on several occasions. Sometimes I'd still be drunk from the previous night's party, or about to vomit with an intense hangover, but I could offer a few religious words with the best of any hypocrite. She told me what time to arrive to pick her up, that I was welcome to come to her home after the service for Sunday dinner, and we could spend the afternoon together. It sounded appealing, but I didn't make an immediate commitment to join her. Thinking about her invitation brought a few thoughts into my mind. One, she is knock-out gorgeous every time that I see her, but I felt that she would really set a high standard for a church service. Two, a home-cooked meal for a guy in college would be priceless. And three, if I didn't come out to sit with her through the service, some other dude might get the privilege. Well, those thoughts sealed the deal, and I told her that I'd come on out and go to church with her.

The little building had a nice crowd of people when we arrived. We took a seat almost at the very back. I didn't bring a Bible, I didn't help them sing, and I sure didn't bring money for an offering. My goal was to endure the service, enjoy the lunch, establish a better relationship with this young lady, if at all possible, and get back to Starkville before she tried to get me to stay for the evening service. I already knew that she attended all of the functions of the church, including those on Wednesday nights. I really thought that was strange. Why would a beautiful young lady go to some kind of prayer meeting, when there were so many other things to do that would be fun?  I really enjoyed the idea of having a dazzling girlfriend with Baptist convictions, but I didn't like the idea of her being a religious fanatic!

What I did not know, however, was that in that little building on that particular Sunday morning, God was going to call my name. Her pastor did not know anything about me, yet as he preached with passion and zeal, he made a statement that shook me deep on the inside. It was as if there was no one else in the building, and that he was speaking directly to me. At some point in the midst of his sermon, he said rather authoritatively, "It makes no difference how good your mother is, if you die without Jesus, you'll be in Hell forever!" Judging his delivery as far as being seeker sensitive was concerned, it was awful. In today's world, it would make the snowflakes need coloring books, smiley stickers, and a few puppies to pet in a designated safe space. But judging his statement based upon what I needed to hear that day, he hit a grand slam! My Mom's prayers, I believe, had secured a wall of protection around me as I lived such a self-centered and foolish life. Some of my friends lived the same kind of lifestyle, and it took them to an early grave. In drunken stupors, I had bragged how that my Mom was praying for me, and that God would not allow anything to happen to me that would break her heart. To me, this was just a way to validate my destructive habits with a false sense of security. But now this preacher man had just nailed my sorry hide to the wall.

I could not escape this sobering experience. I didn't say anything to anyone, but my heart was deeply touched, and my mind was securely engaged to consider eternal thoughts. The following week was filled with a thorough self-inspection and spiritual evaluation. I was thinking about what my life had become, compared to the loving expectation of those who watched me grow up in my tiny hometown. I began to consider all of the biblical truth that I had learned as a child at the Duncan Baptist Church. Memories of Sunday School, worship services, revival meetings, Vacation Bible School, and youth events and activities danced in my head. At that time, although I had been patiently and lovingly taught the word of God, the only truth that I remembered from the Bible, was that someone, somewhere, said, "You must be born again." I didn't know who said it, and I didn't know where I could find it, but I remembered it. As I pondered this biblical truth, I asked myself, "Is this what happened to me when I joined the church at the age of ten? I remember the revival meeting, and I remember some of the details of my coming forward. Is this what happened to me? Was I born again?" Immediately, I could sense the Lord powerfully intervene, as He answered this question in my heart, "NO!"

Walking to and fro on campus was an unbelievable experience of God consciousness. As I spoke pleasant greetings with other students, faculty and staff, it seemed as if everyone responded, "You must be born again." Sitting in class and preparing to write notes, I experienced the same phenomenon. It seemed as if all my professors were writing on their white boards, or their overhead projectors: "You must be born again." I know this was not being said or written, but this is what I heard and saw. God's Spirit had me in a corner, and He would not allow me to escape. During this time, I lost my taste for alcohol, parties didn't appeal to me, and going out to night clubs was pointless. I didn't know it then, but this is what's called Holy Spirit conviction: To wrestle with God over His supreme right to control your life; to be allowed the privilege of having blinded eyes partially opened to His glorious light; and to have deaf ears beginning to hear His voice calling you from spiritual death to everlasting life. It is one of the most troubling encounters you will ever have, and one of the most wonderful. I've heard people say, "Well, I've never experienced anything like that. Holy Spirit conviction? My soul, I don't have the foggiest notion what you're talking about!" My only reply can be, "I'm so sorry, it's a terrible tragedy to be spiritually dead, and not even know it." You see, beloved friend, the only way that you can be converted, is to first be convicted. No conviction? No conversion!

I knew that it was time to be totally transparent with my beautiful young friend. She invited me to come have supper with her at her sister's house not too far from Starkville on a Thursday evening. When I arrived, I entertained her little nephew, who had just celebrated his first birthday a couple of months earlier. After supper, we sat alone on the couch together watching television, when she asked me, "Is anything the matter? I have never seen you so quiet." Several days without alcohol had my mind working deeply, and my mouth staying shut, which was a rarity. As soon as I tried to answer her question, I was deeply overcome with emotion. I began to cry uncontrollably, which was horribly embarrassing.

"What's the matter? Are you okay? What's going on?" she asked.

"I'm lost! I'm lost!" I cried, "If I died tonight, I'd go straight to Hell!"

"But you told me you were saved, that you were a Baptist," she responded.

"I lied! I lied! It's all been a lie!" I said, continuing to weep.

When my eyes first saw this young lady, and my heart was filled with lust, I approached her with the calm confidence that she would be my next "trophy" to conquer. Little did I know that just a few weeks later, I'd be confessing my sin to her, crying profusely like a baby, as she held me in her arms and whispered over and over again into my ear, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!" I spent several hours in that home as she told me how I could be saved. I tried to refute everything she told me as I recounted my sordid, pathetic life, and declared that God couldn't love someone like me, because of my open, rebellious, sinful lifestyle. Every excuse I offered, she had a counter offer: Jesus! On two or three occasions, I would go out to my car to leave, then she would begin to cry and say, "Please don't go until you get saved." Her tears would bring me back inside, where she would again whisper His name, and share with me Bible verses concerning forgiveness of sin and the promise of salvation.

It was nearly two in the morning when I finally told her that I had to go. This episode was surely keeping her sister's family up, and for the first time I thought about a young lady with honor and chivalry. The guys in my apartment knew that I was going to see my special friend, and I did not wish to mar her pure image by dragging home in the wee hours of the morning like an old tom cat. She held me at the door, saying again, "Please trust Jesus!"

"I will; I will. I promise you that I'll settle this when I get back to my apartment."

With that statement, I climbed into my little sports car and headed back to Starkville. The highway was nearly empty at that time of the morning, which was a good thing as my eyes were still filled with tears from such an emotional evening. I distinctly remember meeting two approaching vehicles on the way to town, immediately feeling overwhelmed by the stirring fear of what would happen to me should one of these cars come over the center line and hit me head on. My heart rate soared, holy fear paralyzed me, and I gripped the steering wheel with all my might until the cars passed on by. I was sill overwhelmed by the Spirit's convicting presence, but then another presence invaded my life, or at least another voice, I should say. When those two vehicles passed by, I seemed to hear someone say to me, "Now, now, you're alright. Everything is going to be fine. Quit worrying. Calm down. You're okay."

With those two encounters, the tears flooded my eyes again. Wiping the tears away, I felt my car leave the security of the pavement as I veered off to the right side of the road. Terrified, I jerked the car back on the highway, and thought about what those pine and hardwood trees would do to me should I hit them. And again, that voice, "Now, now, you're alright. Everything is going to be fine. Quit worrying. Calm down. You're okay." Hearing these words, I immediately began to relax. This had been quite a roller coaster of an evening for me. I realized that I had gone five days without a drink, and my emotions were shot. We sometimes didn't have enough food in our apartment, but we always had an abundance of liquor. I just need a good, stiff drink, then a cold beer, or two, out on the back porch. Such thoughts filled me with confidence, especially when I looked up and could see the streetlights of Starkville. I was almost in town. The two-lane highway was about to widen into a five-lane road, campus was only a few minutes away, and Arbor Acres and my alcohol were almost in reach. Oh man, I could nearly taste it.

Then it happened. As I approached the sign designating the city limits of Starkville, and just before the road widens to multi-lanes, my eyes were riveted on an eighteen wheeler coming out of town. My heart pounded again, my blood pressure shot up, sweat poured out on my forehead as I gripped the wheel. Then I saw it, on the trailer above the cab were large letters that said: U S MAIL. It was just a few months ago that a friend died on his way home after enjoying a few beers with the boys. He was just a few minutes from home, but he did not make the soft curve in the road and veered over into the path of a mail truck. It all happened at the sign along the road that designated the city limits of his hometown.

Now I'm meeting a mail truck at the city limits of Starkville. I could envision this rig coming over the line and demolishing me in my sports car. When the dust settled and the fuel is washed off the highway, I thought, someone will have to use a shovel to get me off the pavement and into a body bag. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs as the truck roared passed, barely able to see because of the tears that were blinding me. Then immediately, that voice, "Now, now, you're alright. Everything is going to be fine. Quit worrying. Calm down. You're okay. You need that drink that you've been thinking about. Everything will be just fine."

This time, however, it was different. Wiping the tears, trying to catch my breath and get my emotions in check, it happened. Before I could even contemplate what the voice was telling me, I felt it. I was safely in Starkville, but I sensed something else, or someone else, was in the car with me. The only way to describe is to go back in time to when I was a boy. Dad had bought my sister and me a couple of horses. Whenever I rode them, I only had one speed: wide open. Dad had taught me that when I brought one in hot, take everything off of it, then lead the horse around with a bridle and rope until it had cooled off. On many occasions, I walked a hot horse while it had it's nostrils flared, breathing in massive amounts of fresh air, and blowing out huge quantities of hot air. I could feel hot breath blowing on my neck as I made my way into Starkville. It seemed as if something, or someone, was in the back seat trying to get me, and this little car didn't even have a backseat!

I was too scared to turn around and look, so I just cried out, "Oh, please, help me, help me!" My heart pounded and the tears flowed all the way across town until I pulled into the parking lot of Arbor Acres. No one was in sight, I found a parking spot, got out as fast as possible, and refused to look back toward the rear of my car. Walking towards our apartment, all I could think about was that I've got to talk to God. Everyone was asleep when I arrived, so I quietly slipped up to my room and into my bed, heart still pounding, tears still flowing, body still shaking. The window to my room was just above my head, and a security light outside provided a soft glow to my room. Lying motionless, still under deep conviction, and thinking about all of the activities of the previous hours, I finally whispered a prayer, "Dear God, please don't let me die and go to Hell. Please, Jesus, I know that you died for me, and if you'll save me, I won't have to go to Hell. Please, Jesus, please save me. I'll do what you want me to do, I'll go where you want me to go, and I'll say what you want me to say. Please don't let me go to Hell, please save me."

As those words left my lips and approached the throne room of Heaven, God did a work of amazing grace in my life. No fireworks went off that night in my room, no flashes of lightening nor peels of thunder, and there were no visiting angels coming up and down a shining ladder thrust through that little window. Something more spectacular, however, took place. The Spirit of Christ stepped out of Heaven and into my heart, cleansing me of my sin, transforming me, and giving me new, abundant, and eternal life!

As Friday dawned, I decided to skip my eight o'clock class so that I could be waiting on my lovely friend to arrive at nine o'clock in Carpenter Hall. I remember sitting on the big concrete steps awaiting her arrival, and how I felt when I finally saw her walking across the Drill Field. Something was much different now. She was still so knock-out gorgeous, but this time my heart was filled with something other than lust. Looking at her as she got closer, I sensed the voice of God speaking to me, "Son, you're going to marry that girl." Coming up close to me, she didn't even ask if I had prayed to be saved (she later said that it was quite evident on my face). As our eyes locked, I said, "I believe God just spoke to me."

"Really?" she replied, "What did He say?"

"He said that I'm going to marry you!"

"Well, He hasn't told me that," was her less than enthusiastic reply, as we walked into the building and up to her classroom.

Forty years. Forty incredible years. You might be wondering: "What happened to that young lady? The one that you dreamed of spending a few nights with - what happened to her?" Well, we exchanged vows and rings the following year as we stood before a congregation of witnesses in our wedding ceremony at Friendship Baptist Church, and I've been blessed to spend thousands of nights with her! When those who knew me well heard about my salvation experience, they said it would last no more than six months. They were wrong. And when word began to spread that I was planning on getting married, those same voices said it wouldn't last two years. They were wrong, as well. "Let God be true, but every man a liar!" (Romans 3:4)

These past forty years have not been perfect, because we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world. And it's not been perfect because I still must renounce the demands of my Adamic flesh, take up my cross daily, and follow Jesus. I have often disappointed Tammy, Apryl, Laurie, Micah and Eli, as well as many other folks that we have known over the years. Yet through it all, God has been so good to me! Surrendering to preach His word a few years after my conversion, it has been almost like a fairy tale of activity. The places to which I have traveled, the people that I have met, and the precious opportunities that have been given to me to exalt Christ are, at times, difficult to describe. How could a boy from Duncan, Mississippi grow up to experience what I've experienced? How could a teenager who worked in the flooded rice fields of his family farm in the Delta wind up traveling to places in Africa, Europe, Asia, Central and South America, as well as all across the United States to proclaim God's word? How could a young man with his own landscaping and lawn maintenance business, along with his young family, pack up and leave behind a profitable future for the great unknown of church ministry and seminary training? And how could that same young man follow the leadership of the Lord to leave seminary without a degree, and eventually find himself leading and conducting preaching, evangelism and missions, prayer, and church leadership conferences all over the world? The only explanation to my life and ministry is the amazing grace of God.

Forty years. Forty incredible years. To God be the glory - Amen!

Saturday, July 8, 2023

The Dangers of a Dead Religion

 "Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord."
I Samuel 2:12

One little verse of scripture says quite a lot when you realize the context. This was in the days when Israel was ruled and led by anointed judges who were empowered by God to supply critical leadership for the Jewish people. Eli served as a judge for forty years according to 1 Samuel 4:18, and was succeeded by the final judge, Samuel. As the days of the judges were coming to a close, the Bible says on two different occasions: "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (See Judges 17:6 and 21:25) What a sad testimony of God's people as they lived self-centered lives instead of being shaped and transformed by the Divine truth found in His word.

But the problem was not just a people problem, it was also a priestly problem. Why do I say this? Because as you read 1 Samuel you discover that the sons of Eli were not just common citizens of the nation. Those two men had been elevated to positions of priestly authority. In other words, they served in positions of spiritual leadership over the people, yet the scriptures tell us that "THEY DID NOT KNOW THE LORD!" What? Are you kidding me? The sons of Eli grew up in the home of this priest and judge and now served in strategic roles for the spiritual development of God's people and they didn't even know God for themselves? That's exactly right, for that is what the Bible plainly and powerfully reveals to us concerning both Hophni and Phinehas. And, beloved, with a broken heart I confess unto you that I do not believe this problem was limited to the nation of Israel and to those two men who lived so many years ago.

Surveys conducted during the past twenty years reveal that less than 10% of Americans with a so-called "born again" experience have a biblical worldview, compared to 4% of the general population. You may be asking: "What is a biblical worldview?" That's a good question, and here is a good answer: A worldview is the framework from which we view reality and make sense of life and the world. Whether consciously or subconsciously, every person has some type of worldview. It is a combination of all you believe to be true, and it becomes the driving force behind every emotion, decision and action. Therefore, it affects your response to every circumstance of life. It is the interpretive “lenses” we use for understanding what we believe is real. Someone with a biblical worldview uses the divinely inspired word of God as their lenses for understanding the world around them, as well as allowing the eternal truth of God's word to form the foundation upon which they build their lives. In other words, those who possess a biblical worldview refuse to base life choices and decisions upon any personal human logic, emotional persuasion, or cultural peer pressure. Having a biblical worldview, therefore, demands that God's word is the most powerful element in shaping how a person views all elements of life, including relationships, morality, lifestyle choices, parenting, and eternity. A biblical worldview will shape what a person believes about EVERYTHING!

For quite a few years, I have attempted to sound the alarm concerning these sobering statistics. If these surveys are correct, it means that an overwhelming majority of church members DO NOT possess a biblical worldview. Men and women in our congregations have such a shallow knowledge of scripture, coupled with a yawning attitude towards growing in biblical understanding, that we should not be surprised to see our churches declining in spiritual health and vitality. But please hold on to your hat, for in May of this year a new nationwide survey of America’s Christian pastors revealed that a MAJORITY OF PASTORS DO NOT HAVE A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW! In fact, the findings stated that slightly more than a third (37%) possess what is commonly referred to as a biblical worldview. WHAT? Pastors, those who serve in the strategic areas of church leadership, do not possess a biblical worldview? That, my friend, is what the survey revealed. And now you know why we are in such a mess in this rancid domain known as American Christianity.

Looking at the truth revealed in I Samuel, I find three unique thoughts unfolded for our benefit:

1. The Sinful Condition - As I mentioned already, the people are described during this time as doing what was right in their own eyes. What a pitiful description of a special people blinded to the realities of life and truth. But the sinful condition of the people was only a reflection of the sinful condition of the priests. Elevated to places of spiritual authority, Hophni and Phinehas went through all the motions of their priestly duties, yet they did not even know the Lord. A preacher friend of mine who has completed his faith journey told me years ago as I began travelling in itinerant ministry: "Bro. Charles, you won't have to look past the pulpit to see what's wrong with most churches in America." He told the truth in that statement. During those years I often wondered if the pastor that I was with even had a true, personal relationship with the Lord. I vividly remember asking a particular Mississippi pastor about his salvation experience, and he could never verbalize how he came to faith in Jesus Christ. God have mercy.

2. The Sudden Confrontation - An unknown and unnamed prophet appears in verse 27 with a disturbing message for Eli. He speaks of the Disgrace that Eli's sons are bringing upon everyone serving in the priesthood, and how Death will come upon his sons on the same day because of their sin. Finally, in light of this horrible report, the man of God states that a Deliverer, a faithful priest, will God raise up that shall do everything that is in His heart and mind. Praise God that when darkness and depravity are overwhelming us, He has a plan of deliverance - Amen!

3. The Sure Conclusion - In I Samuel 4, we find the final days of Hophni and Phinehas described for us as they accompany the Ark of the Covenant onto the field of battle. There, in a very unceremonious way, these two men are killed as the Ark is captured and taken by the Philistines. When a solitary runner brings the awful news to Shiloh, the aged judge, Eli, falls from his seat and dies as he hears the report of his two sons and the Ark of the Covenant. Likewise, as the tragic testimony reaches the wife of Phinehas, who at the time was giving birth to their son, she said: "Name the child, Ichabod, for the glory of God is departed from Israel." What a horrible and honest confession concerning a group of backslidden religious folks that were supposed to be the people of God.

Proverbs 29:1 says, "If he that is often reproved, hardens his neck; he shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." I wonder how often the two sons of Eli were troubled deep down in their unregenerated hearts to repent of their sin and trust in the grace of God for eternal salvation? Yet they refused. Beloved, do you possess a living, vital RELATIONSHIP with Jesus Christ; or do you simply have an empty, dead RELIGION that will result in eternal condemnation before a holy God?

"Truly, truly, I say unto you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." When Jesus made that statement, He was in the presence of one of the most outstanding citizens of Israel. The absolute experience of the new birth is a requirement for any and every one to gain entrance into Heaven. And my dear pastor friend, as well as music minister, seminary professor, denominational worker, church officer, youth or children's minister, and faithful deacon, that includes YOU! "Marvel not that I said unto you, YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN!"

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Walking by Faith

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."
Ephesians 4:11-12

The life of someone uniquely chosen to be used in gospel ministry can be extremely challenging. It has been well said that if you can do anything else and be satisfied, then do it, because God has probably not called you into the ministry. Not only is this lifestyle difficult for the one called, it's also difficult on the family. On many occasions I can remember trying to encourage our girls during less than pleasant times of how pleased I was by their positive attitudes. "I know that we march to the beat of a different drummer when compared to other families," I would say, "and I am so thankful that you never complain, fuss, or get angry about the pathway that God has chosen for us." They would always respond with a smile, but I always knew that deep down, the pain was still there. How did I know? Because within my own bruised heart the pain of rejection, gossip, slander, loneliness, and other ways carnal men had treated us, seemed to be an unwelcomed, perpetual guest.

Many years ago, a dear pastor friend, Jim Holcomb, told me this: "Charles, you are a prophet. And with this spiritual gift that God has entrusted unto you, your journey will not be easy. Those who are prophets are often lonely, despised, and mistreated. You know this, you've read their testimonies in scripture. And I've seen the prophet in you time and time again. I've prayed with you when your tears would flow like a river for the lost and backslidden, revealing your tender heart of love and compassion. But I've also seen you stand firm against the lying tongues of those who misunderstood and hated you, displaying a backbone of hardened steel. You're a prophet. Life and ministry won't be easy for you, but always remember this: God loves prophets!" His words were helpful then and remain helpful today. Yet the path of a prophet is still hard.

I'll never forget the words spoken to me by the late Bill Stafford in a Bible conference as he walked to the pulpit following my sermon: "My-my, Bro. Charles, what a message to the church. Amen! You know, son, I've been praying for you throughout my ministry. Yes sir, you are an answer to prayer. Amen! For years, YEARS, I've been praying that God would raise up someone that can make folks mad faster than I can. And you're that man! AMEN! Yes sir, that's the message this modern, apostate church needs to hear. They don't want to hear it, but they need to hear it. Praise God! You're style of preaching, mercy, it'll knock the shout out of 'em, brother. AMEN!" For those of you who knew Bro. Bill, you can hear his voice and see his face, as he tells me this with that big, wonderful smile. I was subsequently blessed to travel around the world with this precious servant of God working in affiliation with the International Congress of Revival. Those are memories that I will always cherish.

Ron Lynch, an evangelist friend from North Carolina, encouraged me years ago as I was entering into a season of itinerant ministry: "Charles, pastors need to hear you. They won't invite you to come to their churches until they hear you." This was long before the use of social media and internet sites made it so much easier to see and hear someone. But following a hard message I preached at a revival conference, where we were sharing the preaching responsibilities, he said: "Charles, I've been telling you that pastors need to hear you. But I'm telling you, man, if they hear that kind of message, they're not going to have you!" 

When I first began travelling back in 1997, my pastor at that time, the late Luther Price told me: "Bro. Charles, the best thing that could happen to your ministry is for you to wake up in the morning and be sixty years old. You are so young and well-dressed; you look like a Philadelphia lawyer walking into a service. Then your voice booms forth with hard messages that a backslidden pastor and a worldly church doesn't want to hear. No one expects a man like you to preach a message like that. Now if you were old like me, they might be more likely to have an open ear." Now that I am in my sixties, I can honestly say that those who have no desire to hear and head the word of God will reject the message and the messenger no matter his stage of life.

I've had people tell me that I should tone it down a bit; that I should back away from addressing prominent sins within the church; and that I should simply seek to be more agreeable, understanding, and gracious whenever I stand before a congregation with the word of God. Well, that might be good advice for someone else, but I'm not wired that way. When Billy Sunday was preaching across America in the early nineteen hundreds, the story is told of how his plain and powerful preaching was upsetting the more liberal minded churchmen and businessmen in a particular city. The committee overseeing the campaign finally decided that they must confront the evangelist about the complaints. In a tense meeting, they said: "Mr. Sunday, there are leading businessmen who have financed this campaign, as well as several of the local ministers, who are all becoming very disturbed by your preaching. They have asked us to speak with you, and to let you know that they believe that you are rubbing the cat the wrong way." Billy Sunday's quick reply was, "Then tell 'em to turn the cat around!" In that same fashion, Jesus said, "REPENT, OR YOU WILL ALL LIKEWISE PERISH!"

An old gospel song used to say, "I've come too far to turn back now." Likewise, beloved friend, I'm not going to change in a vain attempt to win friends and influence people. I plan to preach it (and write it) the way I see it, and I see it through the lenses of eternal, scriptural truth. The Apostle Paul said that we "walk by faith, and not by sight." My plan is to keep on walking, and keep on telling, and keep on writing, and keep on serving, until I see HIM! Hallelujah, and Amen!

Tuesday, April 11, 2023



“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20


The words that you are about to read have been constantly swimming in my mind during the past few weeks. Each time that I sat down to write, there was a spiritual roadblock that seemed to prevent me from typing my thoughts. A fellow minister that I follow on social media posted the verse above and stated how that it is always wise to prayerfully consider what you desire to say, especially when you are emotionally charged. I heeded his wise counsel and continued praying how I might address what I am seeing, hearing, and feeling. I sincerely pray that you will read this with an open mind and a tender heart. And may God be glorified in and through His church.

  • TORNADOES - So far this spring, we have been ravaged by tornado outbreaks. In my home state of Mississippi, extreme storms have decimated entire communities. The loss of homes, businesses, and other private property is unbelievable. Yet those losses pale in comparison to those who have lost family members, neighbors, and friends. And this great suffering is not limited to the Magnolia State. Places in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama, as well as in other states have also been hit savagely. The normalcy of life will never return for countless individuals and families as they seek to adjust to incredible devastation and tremendous personal loss. My heart breaks for them all as they seek to navigate strange pathways through unchartered waters.
  • TRANSGENDERISM - It is emotionally difficult to even consider how evil can rise up once again in another mass shooting involving children. The video showing the shooter firing upon the glass doors to gain entrance in the elementary school operated by the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., was horrific. Three adults and three nine-year-old children were killed before heroic teachers led their students out of the building. In a matter of a few minutes, the bravery of Nashville police officers was in plain view as their body cameras revealed their actions of rushing to encounter and eliminate the shooter. In a mad world that seems to be bowing down to all types of sexual perversion on a global scale, Tucker Carlson of Fox News seems to be the only media voice brave enough to call this a "deranged and demonic ideology." The dirt hasn't even settled on the graves of those killed by this mentally ill and spiritually dead woman and corporate America is fawning over another transgender person and making him the face of their latest marketing campaigns. Bud Light is paying a reprobate man, Dylan Mulvaney, who likes to pretend he's a six-year-old girl, huge sums of money so that his face is on a beer can, while Nike hired him to advertise their sports bras and women's leggings. I wish that was a joke, but it's not. We truly are living in a clown world. Not only do some folks need shock therapy, others need it also for embracing, applauding, supporting, and forcing this sinful nonsense into the norm of our culture. (And please don't get me started on the Drag Queen controversy!)
  • TRUMP - I got up from the computer to prayer walk before typing this section. Do not seek to put me into some political camp. I am neither a devoted follower of Donald Trump, nor am I a never-Trumper. When he secured the Republican ticket and faced Hillary Clinton for the presidency in 2016, I prayerfully voted for him, as I soberly considered the alternative. With very little support from established politicians within his own party, he surprisingly set out to fulfill his campaign promises. Was he crude? Yes. Was he arrogant? Yes. Did he say and do things that could have been said and done in a much nicer way? Yes. But I didn't vote for him to be my pastor, I voted for him to be my President. His policies set our economy ablaze, with record low unemployment and energy independence reflected by extremely low fuel prices. His nominations to hold key judicial positions, including the Supreme Court, were constitutional jurists that we desperately needed, instead of rogue individuals desiring to legalize extreme political and social agendas via court rulings. His aim of reversing Roe v. Wade was eventually realized, ending the legal massacre of the unborn. Praise the Lord! (All of this success came crashing down, however, and you can read about that here: Pulpit Truth: COVID, Culture, and the Church) Now that he has publicly stated his intention to seek reelection in 2024, he has been indicted on charges concerning hush money being paid to a porn star, as well as a former Playboy playmate. Is he an embarrassment? In a lot of ways, YES! But he has already admitted that he paid these two women for their silence. So why is he facing these charges now when dope-smoking, whore-jumping, and international deal-making Hunter Biden walks around as free as a mangy, filthy dog? Why? Because our political processes, like our country as a whole, is going to Hell in a hand basket! That's why.
  • TRUTH - Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32) Okay, do you agree with what Jesus said? Then let's think together for a moment. While all of this has been happening as of late, I've been on the road, driving primarily through rural communities and small towns. Now please read carefully, I cannot say what the heart condition and mindset is of many churches across our land, but I can report what I have seen with my own eyes. Whether through countless social media posts, or with colorful banners placed prominently in church yards, I can report that most of our attention, time, and energy has been focused lately upon having a quality Easter egg hunt! WHAT? Are you kidding me? Is this the best we can do when circumstances involving life and death are smothering us? Can we not see that we are living in perilous times and that the fabric and future of our once great nation is hanging in the balance? With the reality of what I have written above happening right now, could we not forgo the frivolous activities of our carnal schedules and start seeking the Lord, as so many young people did just a couple of months ago at Asbury University?

The prophet Isaiah said: "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, and He will abundantly pardon!" In the Book of Joel, we find these powerful words: "Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’" And in the New Testament, the Apostle James said: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."

Pastor, what about it? Will you have the courage to stand up and say to your people enough is enough of our focus being upon temporal activities? I believe that it's high time that we put away our egg hunts, and harvest festivals, and Christmas parties complete with a few rounds of Dirty Santa games; and genuinely, humbly, and sincerely begin to SEEK THE LORD! But someone might say, "Wait a minute! There's nothing wrong with our church having food, fun, and fellowship." Oh, I agree, especially if you desire your church to become more of a social club than the living, breathing, empowered by the Holy Ghost body of Christ that changes the world!

Now, one last word. Please don't be so foolish as to think I pondered deeply about one particular church, perhaps your church, to write this message. If this is you, then you are like the mysterious subject of Carly Simon's fifty-year-old hit song; "You're So Vain." Do you remember the lyrics?

            You're so vain. 
            You probably think this song is about you.
            You're so vain (you're so vain)
            I'll bet you think this song is about you.
            Don't you? Don't you? Don't you?

Will you be so arrogant as to think this "song" is about you or your church? No, friend, this word from the Lord is rooted in a broken-hearted servant of Christ who is deeply concerned about the spiritual condition that is around him. This message was not based upon my observation of one particular congregation, but multitudes of congregations that are becoming too much like the church of the Laodiceans. God help us - WAKE UP CHURCH!

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Being Still

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted 
among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"
Psalm 46:10

Psalm 46 is an incredible passage that speaks peace and confidence into a very troubling experience. There is no clear evidence that reveals the secondary author of this Psalm, but we certainly know the primary author is the Spirit of God. We could look at the life of David and realize that he could have been moved to write these verses, as he was very well acquainted with difficult circumstances in his life. Likewise, Moses could have been the human instrument to pen this testimony of faith rising victoriously over fear. I was moved several years ago to appreciate the possibility that perhaps Isaiah wrote this brief, yet powerful Psalm. Great men of the word like John Stott, Warren Wiersbe and John Phillips have researched and written that this testimony might be about the experience that King Hezekiah and Isaiah shared when the king of Assyria sent his army of 185,000 soldiers to surround, capture and destroy Jerusalem. This time of terror resulted in the Lord sending His angel to put to death this entire army in one fateful night. (For an in-depth look at the faithful life and gracious reign of Hezekiah, you can read 2 Kings 18-20 and 2 Chronicles 29-31) Beloved, there will be experiences in our lives that will remind us that we are helpless and powerless to overcome personal challenges in our own limited and frail strength. Just as Hezekiah poured out himself to the Lord in humility and sincerity as this invading and intimidating army came up against him and his people, we need to have the same mindset as we face challenges, problems, and events that upset us and overwhelm us.

For most of my adult life I have been a man of action. I take pleasure in having an agenda of what needs to be done and doing it. This attitude was placed into me at an early age. Growing up on a farm in the Mississippi Delta meant working from can to can't when precious days of ideal weather gave us a limited window of opportunity to accomplish needed tasks. Many vital activities on the farm could not be rolled over to another day. Whether it was planting, harvesting, or anything in between, we had to work long and hard to ensure agricultural success. Many of these developed attitudes followed me into the ministry. Whatever needed to be done for the glory of God in the body of Christ, I was willing to do it. I despised lackluster attempts at serving the Lord when a job needed to be done while the souls of men were at stake. Dead services, boring sermons, dull music, and pathetic prayers were to be avoided at all costs. As a pastor, I desired and demanded personal excellence in all that I tried to do, and I expected the same attitude from my church leaders. Anything less was unacceptable to me and would not be tolerated. More than once I boldly told people that if they wanted to attend a lifeless church where God never showed up, I would gladly name a few where they could go and be happy in the dead atmosphere of a godless vacuum. In that season of my life, I distinctly remember being approached by one of my church members who was very concerned for my physical, mental and emotional well-being. She was a pastor's daughter and had witnessed her dad suffer a debilitating breakdown that cost him his ministry, and nearly his life. She challenged me to keep a record of my ministry hours per week, and she promised to find out what I discovered at a later time. I assured her that I would fulfill her request, and to no surprise I discovered that I was logging an average of 100 hours per week in ministry. During that time I was preparing sermons and preaching numerous times a week; visiting our local shut-ins and members in area nursing homes; traveling to local hospitals in Booneville, Corinth, New Albany and Tupelo, as well as to those hospitalized in Jackson, Memphis, and Birmingham; maintaining evangelistic outreach in our church community; reaching out to those members who were not being faithful in attendance; and participating in preaching opportunities at other churches in the surrounding areas of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. It was during those days that I considered golfing or fishing pastors to be slackers. After all, how could a true man of God take a day off when the Devil was constantly on the prowl? When she finally asked me for a report, tears fell from her eyes as she silently turned and walked away after hearing my testimony. I readily admit that being still in that day for me, did not equate to having a greater, personal knowledge of the Person of God.

It was not long after this encounter, that He began to open my eyes to some incredible truth. In John chapter six, Jesus was asked an important question: "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" His answer was unique: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." In other words, those around Christ wanted to know the secret, or the formula, for doing the work of God. The miracles of Jesus were capturing the attention of everyone. He was doing only what God could possibly do. Therefore, they sincerely wanted to know what they must do in order to perform or accomplish the work or activity of God. But Jesus did not give them a formula, nor share with them a secret. Rather, He told them the truth: FAITH IN THE SON OF GOD IS THE ONLY REQUIREMENT IN FULFILLING THE WORK OF GOD!

What does this mean? It means that only God can perform or accomplish the work or activity of God. It is absolutely ludicrous to assume that any humanistic endeavor, no matter how sincere, can accomplish the work of God. He showed me that I, in and of myself, would never be anything but an absolute failure in life and ministry. I cannot save anyone. I cannot change anyone. I cannot sanctify anyone. I cannot grow a church numerically, nor spiritually. I cannot create, manufacture, nor sustain a revival experience. I cannot do anything that has any eternal value. Only God can do these kinds of things, and Jesus did them because He was God, and He can do them now because He is still God today! Our focus and responsibility, therefore, is to trust and obey His voice, because He is the one who will accomplish the work of God through His people as we yield ourselves to Him! Now do me a favor, re-read the previous paragraph, and this one as well, then go somewhere and shout HALLELUJAH!

The Lord also reminded me of the dilemma of the early church when a dispute arose over some of the members being neglected. Instead of doubling and tripling their efforts to minister to everyone, the pastors instituted the deacon body to come along side and assist them. They said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." Imagine this scenario, the church is multiplying, and a dispute arises that threatens the harmony and unity of the body of Christ. Yet in the midst of this upsetting reality, they recognize that being still in His presence must be their priority in order to rightly divide and teach the word of God. And what was the result? God began doing only what He can do. "Then the word of God spread, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith."

I share this testimony to help you understand how God taught me of the importance of being still. Think about it, the great Apostle Paul accomplished more by being still than on his missionary journeys. What do I mean by this? It was after he was arrested and imprisoned that God used him to write most of the New Testament. His "prison epistles" are still being used today to grow churches and transform lives, long after Paul's death in Rome. It was the beloved disciple John who was banished to the Isle of Patmos as an aged warrior of the Gospel. Yet in this horrible environment, separated from family and friends, this man was being still in the presence of God. And what was the result? "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants-things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near." Yes, beloved, being still for John increased his knowledge and experience of God, and the result for us was the Book of Revelation. Another example would be the rugged Galilean and former fisherman, Peter. It was this outspoken, impetuous man who would be filled with the Holy Spirit to provide key leadership for the early church. And it was this man who would also be imprisoned in Rome before his execution that allowed him to be still and experience the inspiration of God in writing his two epistles. Though Peter's physical voice has been silent for centuries, his spiritual voice will reverberate throughout eternity as a human author of God's holy word.

In the book of Ephesians, the Bible says, "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil." The word redeem comes from the Greek word 'exagorazo' and has the root meaning of purchasing, buying or investing. Because the word for time can also be translated as season, this phrase conveys the idea of investing wisely to make the most of every opportunity, or taking advantage of opportunities that are given since they may never be available again. Someone helped me tremendously quite a few years ago by teaching me that we are human beings, not human doings. The emphasis of spiritual development, therefore, should be on our inner relationship to Christ, and not upon our outward activity for Christ. Failure to understand this was the reason the church at Ephesus was rebuked in Revelation 2:1-5. Their focus was so riveted on their faithful performance of certain Christian duties, they failed to spend quality time at the feet of Jesus. The testimony of Martha in Luke 10:38-42 is very similar, as she did not realize that her greatest need was maintaining intimacy with Jesus. And like Martha and the Ephesian believers, I also have to be constantly reminded of this principle, for I easily get caught up seeking to check the boxes of my spiritual to-do list rather than redeeming precious time in His presence.

In closing, please allow me to ask us some serious questions: Are you and I redeeming the time by making the most of every opportunity and practicing the lost art of being still in the presence of God? Are we taking advantage of solitary seasons of life by investing quality time praying, fasting, reading, meditating, and worshiping? And if you are a pastor or serving in some kind of teaching capacity in your local church, I pray that you will understand that you cannot do the work of God, only He can perform His work. May He graciously and wonderfully empower us to do both the impossible and the eternal as we learn to be still, and truly know that He is God. Amen.