I guess I should interject here that this is not my autobiography, just a blog to highlight various spiritual encounters that shaped who I would later become. The 1970’s was a blessed decade for me. The emergence of what was termed “The Charismatic Movement” gave me an opportunity to see the Holy Spirit in operation outside of what I was raised to believe was only in my own denominational boundaries. It also gave me an opportunity to perfect my teaching gift outside of my racial and denominational restrictions.
By the mid-seventies I felt like a yo-yo pulled on a double string in opposite directions. In the Black church I was becoming popular as a keyboard player with Gospel music and in mostly Caucasian churches a developing bible teacher around the country. In fact, at times I felt like I had a double identity. A “superman” complex began to emerge. As “Clark Kent” I served as a musician and as my alter ego, I was becoming a gifted teacher. Ultimately what should I do? How could I balance music and ministry? Was there a balance or should I replace one for the other?
I have to confess here that it was my “Charismatic” worship experiences that began to put my spiritual gifting in perspective. So as I traveled around the world with various “Charismatic Teachers” of the day and increased my personal and professional bible study, a new man was emerging. While at the same time I was serving various ministry functions within the Black church. It was during this season, my ministry developed from imitating preaching styles I was accustomed to – to initiating a unique teaching style of my own.
This is Part 9 of the series “My Personal Journey”
I could recount all the miraculous times the Lord rescued me from danger over my brief military career. However, let me conclude that it doesn’t take a “rocket scientist” to discover that there was purpose on my life. So in Anchorage, AL in 1969, my spiritual journey got a boost from a little red cover book I was introduced to titled “The Spiritual Man” by Watchman Nee. The impact of the insights I gained from this series revolutionized my thinking for years to come.
By the time I returned from the military I was a changed man. I had developed from the boy preacher, I left as, into a developing teacher with some life experience. Somehow I managed to maintain the nick name “rev” throughout my military career. However, various bible schools and self-study materials was now answering questions for me, while my prayer life was blooming.
When I returned to Baltimore I also returned to my Dad’s church as an organist and later assistant pastor of the church. I knew by then that “Bible-Teaching” was going to be my passion. The church atmosphere I found myself in though was more conducive to preaching instead of teaching. It didn’t take me long to figure out people were more interested in having their emotions stirred than their minds caressed. I was often branded “dry” and “slow” in my presentations, so I retreated to my music while secretly increasing my personal bible study.
This is Part 8 of the series “My Personal Journey”
I spent a lot of time in my teens building my library from the local “Baptist Book Store.” Seemed strange since my classical apostolic background was anti-Baptist. But I was really led to Church History and Biblical Interpretation. So while my musical skills were growing and I played the organ regularly in churches around town, my hunger for God was being pursued in my private prayer and study times.
I have at admit my real introduction to life outside my small church and social community in Baltimore in the 1960’s was being drafted in the Army. I had few friends; I was a loner and deep thinker; and my dad’s church had done a good indoctrination job on me. I had more questions than those around me could adequately answer. So I entered the military with a limited world view of society at large but I got a quick education in people, relationships, and religion.
My best friend in Basic Training was a red neck from Kentucky who had never personally interacted with Black people before. We seemed to be drawn to each other out of the shock of the new environment we found ourselves ultimately having to adjust to. Our favorite pastime was singing “Sly Stone’s ‘60’s hit, “Don’t Call Me Niger, Whitey.” It really didn’t take me long to score high with a rifle and become an expert in hand-to-hand combat. So while the army was molding me into a soldier, I was also developing discipline that would shape my ministry career for many years to come. All the while trying to figure out where I should go from here.
Today marks the official memorial of my first public sermon, July 28, 1963. My first sermon title was “Saved by Hope – Romans 8:24-25. Although I have had a media library for the last 30 years, I haven’t been one to log my sermons, so I couldn’t tell you how many sermons or lessons I taught over the last fifty years. For me the point is not how many, but how many have been effective and productive.
You see when I finally did get my GED in the military and got to my first bible college experience, I failed “Homiletics.” My professors tried to get me to write my sermons out and I wanted to just talk them out. When I started in the ministry I was under the impression, “You just open your mouth and God would speak for you.” However, I did learn structure in college and eventually how to outline my sermons.
However, my journey is just that. My journey. Of course with the triumphs there were many mistakes and failures along the way. That is the beauty of survival and longevity in ministry. You learn from mistakes, repent and move on to teach others the wisdom you learned, if you learned and they will listen.
The media attention Christianity is getting lately might cause many to believe what they see rather than what they know to be true. In fact the best way to administer poison is to hide it in something good. So, false teachers are not standing up waving a flag saying they are teaching false doctrine. No, they are mixing truths, lowing standards, and secretly denying canal doctrines of the faith while we celebrate their greatness and are deceived by their glamor.
Our culture today urges us to seek our identity in our possessions, our personal achievements or some lofty title to impress others. The Church has brought into this false sense of self-worth and is not sounding the alarm while society is decaying. Yet Scripture tells us our identity is not derived from these things. It depends not on how others see us, but how God sees us. But a proper understanding of basic Christian beliefs helps one wrestle with questions that have baffled people for centuries. In our day there is a wishy-washy relativism that masquerades as faith. “It doesn’t matter what you believe, just as long as you believe.” “All roads lead to God.” “The important thing is to be sincere.” If we know what we believe, we will resist such shallow claims. God is personal. He has told us about himself and what he requires of us. All the rich knowledge of God is expressed through our Christian beliefs. Christian beliefs not only guide our thinking but also direct our behavior. In our day we desperately need leaders of integrity, people who are living examples of biblical values. As we learn these basic values, the Holy Spirit gradually transforms us into the likeness of Christ himself. Christian beliefs build Christian character.
When Jesus came, the religious elite were fussing over what Moses really meant in the Law. Standards of holiness were redefined and people mentally, socially, and economically were in bondage. Sound familiar? Jesus solution in His day was to offer rest (Mat 11:28-30) from tradition, power positioning, and intellectual gaming and just demonstrate “love” (Jn 13:34-35) as an antidote for power shifting.
Let’s examine this power Jesus promised the church at Pentecost. It is not physical power. Nor is it the power of logic. God wants us to convert souls, not argue over them. No, this kind of power is spiritual power. The ability through the Holy Spirit to get the job done. It is a living union with a living God. We have been given the power to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. The preparation for this kind of authority is in training and devotion to the cause of Jesus Christ. We must consider that authority and ability go hand in hand to bring us to completion in the kingdom of God. We must pray for the gift of patience to mature the other gifts God has given us. The power of God is not a demonstration of sideshow tricks or magic acts, it is to motivate people to seek the Lord. Having legal power is useless without demonstrative power to enforce it.
I believe one of the problems today in our worship services is that we depend too much on the popularity of preaching than on the integrity of teaching. In other words, we would rather be entertained than intellectually stimulated. But in order to identify false doctrine, one must be thoroughly engulfed in true doctrine. This can only be maintained through proper training and dedication. Another problem is a lot what we see and hear today depends on revelatory inspiration and private interpretation by untrained, but gifted preachers who don’t trust or are too proud to discuss their findings or conclusions with their colleagues. So when they minister if people respond or embrace the concept they are home free. So, church becomes what is popular instead what is challenging.
When I researched what we term, “The early or primitive church,” I was amazed at the amount of cautions and warnings regarding false teachers. They were constantly commanded to guard their faith and salvation. We are also challenged to build ourselves up through prayer and discernment. Jude v20, “but you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit” (Net Bible). Jude v3 suggests that we should contend for the Faith – this means we should fight, question, and stand firm against heresies that arise in opposition to the faith of the Church. Jude states, “ Dear friends, although I was eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I found it necessary to write to you and urge you to continue your vigorous defense of the faith that was passed down to the saints once and for all.” (ISV) The Apostles expected believers to be able to discipline themselves in doctrine and maintain strong Christian values. However, it became evident quickly that this was not going to happen without teachers and prophets (Acts 13:1). The lack of strong Christian conviction continues today. We can not make people confess what they don’t believe, and we can not live what we don’t confess. I believe the defense today should not be on the principle of sin, but the activity of sin, not by sinners , but by believers.