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”
The summer of 1963 was a summer to remember. I had my call into ministry, participated in the Civil Rights March to DC, and heard Martin Luther King, Jr. give his famous “I have A Dream “ speech and get my first job. Which by the way was as a dish washer making $35 a week. I would give my mother $20 and pay my tithes of $3.50 to my dad’s church and use the rest for myself. I was not permitted to minister outside our local church yet that would come later.
So for the next few years, all that sticks out to me was a pattern of work and attending church every opportunity that arose. Raised in a church environment where everything was sin, from the music you listened to – to killing the infestation of roaches that filled our home, it was difficult distinguishing what sin really was. All I can remember is that we could do nothing right and beat ourselves into an emotional frenzy in church to kill the flesh. While any form of entertainment or enjoyment outside of attending some church event was opening up to the devil. Children were not permitted to have fun.
We were small in number because we had the “Truth,” and any form of “large” church activity was viewed as not preaching the truth. No church was right except the “Apostolic” churches we fellowshipped with and other churches who did not believe in the Oneness of the God head or the right baptism in Jesus name were in error. The word “Trinity” was a dirty word in our circles and anyone who used it was referred to as “Three God people.” I got the impression from Sunday School that there were the bible days and then there is the present times. No link between history and the scripture. All I knew was from the pages of scripture to every day life today. So by the time I was drafted in the Army and entered Basic training, I was a mixed up young man.
This is Part 6 of a series entitled “My Personal Journey”
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.
This month I celebrate an important milestone in the history of my ministry. It was in July, 1963 in Baltimore, MD that I preached my first public sermon and began both a spiritual and intellectual journey in discovering the God of Christianity. I am not clear now on what exactly brought me to this discussion to embrace ministry in my teens.
I do recall several events that may have influenced me. My dad was a pastor; we were having an explosion of youth receiving the Holy Ghost, as we termed it in those days; and my quest for biblical knowledge was consuming me. There were several sign gifts that helped build my confidence as I started out. I discovered I had a phenomenal ability to memorize scripture and I started playing the piano without any pervious lessons.
By now, I was used to hearing people call me strange, different, odd, and a loner. But it was my sixth grade teacher who made the biggest impression on me early in school. She kept telling me “You are an intelligent young man.” Not sure I even knew what that meant, but it resonated with me for years. While reflecting on my 50 year journey so far, I discovered that 2013 and 1963 are identical calendars. What does all this mean? A long history that has come full circle and accomplished very little.
We talk unity but practice division every day. The practice of Christian unity is a difficult task for the church. Many things divide Christians from other Christians—gifts, doctrine, church government, mode of baptism and so on. Whether we like it or not, divisions have occurred, and we must live with them. But we must be inspired and guided by Scripture and prayer to do better or things will only get worse. But real unity is not unity in sameness but unity in purpose and function. We must all be united in the fact that God is God; that Jesus Christ is Lord; and that the Holy Spirit is present today in the believer’s life. How that works out in every day practice is the struggle of sameness, not unity. What we believe ought to be consistent. How we practice what we believe is the question.
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.
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.
The pattern of worship is (Spirit and Truth). We must journey between the visible to the invisible and back again. In other words, our worship must invoke the presence of God as we assure ourselves that our prayer language is reaching the Throne Room. We really can’t have one without the other. The Holy Spirit is activated by the personification of Truth in the person and work of Jesus Christ. What we know has to supersede what we comprehend with our human senses. That is the problem, many of us are trapped in traditions that were never fully explained or validated as scriptural or biblical. But it is because we don’t take the time to study and research for ourselves. So in an effort to release one from the visible reality to an invisible reality of a image of God’s Glory; and then transporting them on a faith-walk imprinting the presence of God in one’s mind. We have gotten so accustomed to physical structures that reflect worship (i.e. tabernacles, temples, sanctuaries, and churches); we then mark time and space to capture the Glory, we are in essence lost in our own inventions. So between our own selfish natures and demonic influences we are struggling to maintain a worship atmosphere. An atmosphere of power that must propel us beyond icons and monuments that trap us into the now; to the freshness of God’s Glory filling the earth with the fragrance of the Holy Spirit.
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.