Back From the Dead

Romans 6:8-11 (New Living Translation)

And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:8-11 (Amplified Bible)

Even so consider yourselves also dead to sin and your relation to it broken, but alive to God [living in unbroken fellowship with Him] in Christ Jesus.

This testimony is not my testimony of how a life is changed.  It is rather a statement of fact of what God will do in a life, when that person surrenders to Him.  I want to focus on the goodness and the love of Jesus Christ my Lord and Master and for Him to receive all the glory. 

Looking back on my life from the post salvation view, I believe that I was called by God to the ministry at about the age of thirteen.  I was the sixth of seven children born in 1940 to poor parents who were still struggling from the affects of the Depression.  They had purchased a three room house in Bethalto Illinois in 1936 and attended the church just three or four blocks away.  We all lived in that three room house, minus two children that had died in infancy, along with a grandmother.  Togetherness…yes. 

I attended that church every time the doors were opened but even though I had experienced a closeness or call of God at thirteen I never was baptized, nor did I ever take communion.  No one ever questioned this fact.  Today I ask myself, why did they not question.  The deacons that passed out the Communion, the Pastor, the Sunday School teachers I had had, even my own parents never questioned this.

When I was eighteen, having finished high school, and having no job, I went into the Air Force and eventually spent twenty years, retiring in 1979.  Of course, as is often the case, I drifted away from Church and what relationship I had with God. 

I went deep into sin.  Drinking, carousing, smoking, cursing, dirty stories, porn, drugs, and all the things that sin does over time.  I was calloused to the things of God, even though my position in the service was working in the Chaplain’s office.   Again, no chaplain or supervisor ever questioned my behavior.  I was foul in my language and what I lacked in size I did very well at trying to make up for with my mouth.  My biggest problem was the alcohol.  One drink was never enough.  I believe now the reason I had this insatiable addiction to booze was due to lack of self control and insecurity.     At eighteen I weighed just 110 pounds and because of my insecurity, I was scared to death to say anything to anyone.  I was a different person when I was drinking.  I couldn’t remember my insecurity when I was drunk – so I drank.

On more than one occasion after a night out on the town drinking, I would come home in a taxi or someone would drive me home.  Several times I had to go looking for my car the next day.  Many times I just drove drunk not remembering a thing the next day.  God was merciful for He spared my life on many occasions when I was in that condition.  I remember one occasion as I was driving home in the middle of the night, drunk as usual, I heard an inward voice say to me, “Your mother’s praying for you.”

While I was stationed in Taiwan in 1973-74 my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I went back to see her on emergency leave because family did not believe she was going to live.

Up to this point I was without question, a sinner, lost, undone, chained, condemned, bound for hell and its torment, and without hope, bound for eternal separation from God’s love.  I was doomed, eternally lost.

Romans 5:8 (New King James Version)

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

On my way back to Illinois on emergency leave, I had a layover in Seattle-Tacoma Washington International Airport.  All I could think about was my mom and losing her.  I was thirty four at the time.  It was past the hour of the bars being open, so I was alone with my thoughts, or so I thought.

At some point there in the middle of the terminal, while I was alone with my thoughts, there appeared what I would describe as a street sign. One part of the sign where the name of the street would normally appear said heaven and was pointed upwards.  The other part of the sign was pointed downward and it said hell.  As if this wasn’t enough of a shocker, I heard a voice inwardly that said, “And which way are you headed?”

Of course I knew enough about the bible and church that I knew where I was headed.  In my heart I answered and then I surrendered my life to the Lord Jesus Christ.   Hallelujah.

I got to St Louis International Airport and my brother picked me up.  I went to my sister’s house where my mother was staying.  She was taking chemo and radiation treatments and could not stay by herself.  I said nothing about the airport encounter to anyone. 

Several days later my mother was feeling a little better and she wanted to go home to her house and her own bed.  She told my sister that Paul could go with her and if she had any problem she was only about six blocks away.  That night as she slept in her own bed and I lay on the sofa I could not sleep.  In the wee hours of the morning I could sense an awesome presence of the Lord.   I believe His presence was in the whole house.  My mother was one of those great prayer warriors we often hear about.  That was probably the main reason she wanted to go to her own house, to have His presence.  I slipped off the sofa and sat on the floor near the door of her bedroom.  After a few minutes, she said, “Paul, is that you?”  She wanted to know if anything was wrong.  That is when I told her about what happened at the airport.  Her statement when I finished telling her of my encounter was “I knew something was different about you.”   My mother went into remission and lived for another five years when the cancer returned.

I went back to Taiwan where I was stationed.  The first thing I did when I got back was look up a fellow serviceman I  knew attended church.  He told me where we went and that Sunday I headed to the church.  

Of course, this foul mouthed, drinking serviceman was no longer foul mouthed and drinking every night of the week.  It did not go unnoticed and I began telling what God had done in my life.  The little church suddenly began to have other individuals and families that did not attend church show up.  A revival was truly in progress. 

The four or five busses going to the base some thirty miles away suddenly became filled with new Christians.  No more cursing, no more dirty stories were heard.  Instead, bibles were being read, questions about scriptures were being discussed.   One weekday we took a bunch of musical instruments up to the base from the church and did a gospel music concert during the lunch hour at the dining hall. 

Fast forward…now out of service…now a graduate of Bible School…now a definite call to the ministry.   In 1984 God gave me a Christian wife to work with me in my ministry.   Victory Tabernacle, Alpha Chapel, Bible Fellowship Church,  House of Prayer, Gospel Lighthouse, New Life Tabernacle, all churches where we served and Missionary to Iloilo Philippines along with Jessica our youngest daughter.  She is also a minister today.

Today I am retired – but you can never completely retire from God’s call.  My wife and remain active in our local church and try to share God’s love whenever and wherever we meet someone in need.

I am so thankful for a mother who never gave up but kept praying for me.  I am so thankful for the mercy and love of God that kept me and brought me back to Him.

Never give up praying for your family.  

  • Matthew 19:26

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Christ’s Church – Part 3

Ephesians 2:19-22

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Helen Keller was asked one time, “What would be worse than being born blind?”  She quickly replied, “To have sight and no vision.”  John Maxwell says, “Successful people are motivated by a dream beyond them.”  It is something that constantly keeps them going for they are always reaching higher and higher to ultimately reach that goal. 

One of the diseases that can affect the church today is to have no vision.  To not have something that is bigger than they are.  The church can then become complacent and happy in a comfort zone.  This is a dangerous place to be for a church for they will begin to feed on one another rather than being occupied with fulfilling the vision.  A complacent church falls in love with itself and the rest of the world does not matter.

Isaiah 6:1-9 – In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.  Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one cried to another and said:  “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!”  And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.   So I said:  “Woe is me, for I am undone!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”   Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar.  And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.”   Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:  “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”   Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”  And He said, “Go, and tell this people:  ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

  1. Isaiah saw God.  When he saw God, he saw a holy God.
  2. He saw himself.  He saw that just as God was holy and perfect, he was needy and imperfect.
  3. He saw others; he looked at the multitudes around him.
  4. He allowed God to change him.
  5. He began to stretch himself.  He began to say, “OK God, allow me to be part of this vision.  Allow me to reach out and be what you want me to become.”

Like, Isaiah, once you have had a glimpse of what God can make of you, you will never be satisfied with what you now are.  God has given to every church a mission, a vision and when we grasp that vision and begin to share it, the church will never be satisfied with status quo.  It will change our attitude and our outlook. 

Church growth/evangelism is not gaining people from other churches.  That is not any different than Farmer Brown moving cows from one feed lot to another. 

One of the biggest problems that has stunted the growth in most churches today is the lack of understanding of the divine purposes of the church.  The church is more than a Sunday worship service, or a social club, it is the house of God.  Jesus Himself said, “I will build my church.”  Let us take a look at two scriptures that give us the understanding of the purpose of the church.

Matthew 22:37 and 40 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…love your neighbor as yourself.  All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.

Matthew 28:19-20 – Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

  1.  Love the Lord with all your heart – #1 is very easy to grasp!  It is simply the worship of God.  As a church we are called to worship Him.  Jesus said of worship, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”  The Father is literally seeking worshipers.  We are the church and one of our great purposes is to worship Him.  Worship is not a duty, but a joy!
  • Love your neighbor as yourself – #2 is a beautiful description of ministry!  The church simply exists to minister to people.  People have needs, all kinds of needs.  We are to be in the need meeting business.  We demonstrate God’s love by meeting the needs of those around us, and this means more than just their spiritual needs.  It means emotional, relational and physical.  In the book of Ephesians, we find again this purpose defined in this manner, “For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  Ministry is the work of the church!  Unfortunately, very little ministry takes place in many churches.  Faithfulness is often defined in terms of attendance rather than service, and members just sit, soak and sour.  Wrong.  We are to edify, encourage, exalt, equip, and evangelize.
  • Go and make disciples – #3 is simply called evangelism.  It is our responsibility to let the world know of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then to point them to Christ.  A true disciple maker is one who makes disciples and then teaches them to trust in Christ and Christ alone.  As long as there is one person in the world who does not know Christ, the church has a mandate to keep growing.  Growth is not optional; it is commanded by Jesus.  We should not seek church growth for our own benefit, but because Christ wants people saved.
  • Baptizing them – Why is baptism so important to warrant inclusion in Christ’s Great Commission?  It is because it symbolizes one of the purposes of the church:  fellowship-identification with the body of Christ.  As Christians we are called to belong, not just to believe.  As we relate to those who are being baptized in our churches, this is a symbol of the death of the old man and coming alive as a new reborn person.  Your life has changed and now you are identified with the people of God.  Our people must belong to this body.  They must identify with the body of Christ.  If in our churches they are simply a number or a face in the crowd they lose out on their importance in the body of Christ.  They must be brought into the fellowship of the brothers and sisters in Christ and find their place in ministry.  In other words, the church is here to help them have a sense of belonging.
  • Teaching them to obey – Dr. Paul Laverne Walker says, “In the scripture we find the word ‘disciple’ listed 320 times.”  This reveals to us the tremendous responsibility God gives the church today.  We are to make disciples.  The church exists to edify, or educate, God’s people.  Discipleship is the process of helping people become more like Christ in their thoughts, feelings and actions.  The apostle Paul said, “So everywhere we go we talk about Christ to all who will listen, warning them and teaching them as well as we know how.  We want to be able to present each one to God, perfect, because of what Christ has done for each of them.”  Colossian 1:28

We are called to reach them and teach them!  To bring them to spiritual maturity where they may be able to listen and obey the voice of God.  We disciple them to be ministers of the gospel.  One of the saddest things we find in the church today is the difference we make between the ministry and the laity.  We are all ministers of the gospel, and we all have our place in the work of the kingdom.  We are to make disciples and help everyone to find their place in the work of the kingdom.

These are the purposes of the church today.  They will be met in different ways by different churches but the purposes remain unchanged.  We exist to “Edify, encourage, exalt, equip and evangelize.” 

IF WE DO NOT DO THAT WE HAVE FAILED!

Christ’s Church – Part 2

Ephesians 2:19-22

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

For us to understand the purpose of the church, we must first find a Biblical foundation on which our beliefs are based. 

It is Gods’ will for the church to grow.  To grow not just numerically; but first and foremost it is His will for His church to grow spiritually.

If you had a building that would seat 1000 people and that church had multiple services so that each week you had 3000, 4000, 5000 or more total attendance, we would all say “WOW, THAT’S FANTASTIC.”  What are they doing that we can do and get the same kind of growth?   And it is fantastic that many people are in church, that the church has something going that might be worth duplicating.  But let us look a little closer.

 Are all those masses of people committed to serving Christ Monday through Saturday? 

Have all those people made a genuine commitment to Christ?  Have all those people gotten involved in reading their Bibles and praying on a regular basis and seeking to serve God in a greater way? 

If all of them are still baby Christians, that Church has a major problem.   Is the individual life changed?  Are their lives that live different than the week before?   And to take this picture a step further, is this a picture of Christ’s church?

Now, lest you think that I am picking on the large mega-churches, let me bring this same scenario down to churches under seventy people which is the size of the majority of churches.  Are small churches just biding their time till all the dead-wood pass on?  Who will be left?  What are these small churches doing for the sake of the Gospel?  Are they reaching out beyond the walls of their building, their comfort zone?

Are the majority of these small churches just content to come each week and lip-sync a few words of “Amazing Grace”, mumble some of the words of the Lord’s Prayer, fall asleep halfway through the message and then shake a couple of hands on their way out to the car?.    

James 2:26 –For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Ephesians 4:11-16 – 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, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Instead of asking, “What will make our church grow?” we need to ask, “What is keeping ourChurch from growing?”  The church is a body, and bodies grow. It is a living organism and living organisms grow.  Christ, himself breathed on the disciples and said “Receive ye, the Holy Spirit.”  That took place on the Day of Pentecost and the church was birthed.  If your child or grandchild did not grow, you would take them to the doctor; and if the doctor didn’t give you a satisfactory answer as to what was wrong, you would immediately take that child to another doctor.   If your child was growing physically but was still nursing and slobbering all over the place and not potty-trained you would begin to question what was wrong.  Either your parenting skills were terrible, or something was seriously wrong with your child.

I ask you with all the sincerity that I can ask you, what keeps the church from growing?  Am I really a Christian?  Just because I prayed the sinner’s prayer 40 years ago does not mean I have not lapsed back into sin and do not even realize it.  How much time do I spend on my knees?  How much time do I pray?  How much time do I spend studying my bible?  How much do I witness?  We must all do all of these things if we are to maintain our love life with the Lord.

You that are married must go out of your way to maintain your marriage.  Saying “I do” forty, fifty, ten years ago or even last week does not make a lasting and committed marriage.  A marriage demands regular maintenance (the tender affections daily – and even hourly, shown to the other half of the marriage).  If that does not happen the marriage will literally die.  You may still live together in the same house, but the love, the passion, the relationship that God designed for marriage will die.  When God wanted to describe his relationship with the church he used the comparison of a bride and groom.  Why was that?  Because the relationship between husband and wife is the closest to what our relationship should be with God.  Marriage was the first relationship/institution God created – long before government and before the church itself.  God described marriage as two forsaking all others and becoming one.  The church is the bride of Christ.  The church is His.  The love affair must grow day by day or it will die. 

God asked a question of Adam and Eve in the garden.  Is that same question being asked of you on a daily basis?  Is God desiring some fellowship but you are busy at other things, too tired or too lazy, unmotivated, or what?

Genesis 3:9 – Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

Could it be the reason you are not involved in daily prayer, daily Bible reading, regular witnessing, and regular attendance at God’s house is that you have fallen out of love with God?  Is your love what it was at one time?  When you first became a Christian were you constantly pouring through the scriptures or could not possibly miss a single service or bible study of the church?  Is that desire still the same? 

When Barbara and I first got married I had been by myself for four years and she had been alone for over two years.  At the risk of too much personal information I just want to use us as an illustration.  Our passion for loving each other was enormous.  We could not wait to see each other at the end of the day.  We looked forward to weekends when we could spend all day long together.  I can unequivocally say that that passion is even greater today than ever.  When she was working, I would call her every day at work, not really wanting anything, just to hear her voice.  I would run by her work and bring her a Pepsi or take her to lunch.  She is always doing things to show her love for me.  She loves to surprise me.  One Valentine’s Day she hired a barbershop choir to serenade me with a love song after church on Sunday morning.   Another year she hired a woman dressed as a pink gorilla who brought me candy and flowers after church on Sunday morning.   Passion is much more than just the physical, although it includes that.  But the world has degraded love to nothing more than just a physical encounter.  God’s design for marriage, while including that physical union, includes so much more.

So it is with being a child of God.  Being a Christian is confessing your sins and asking for forgiveness, but it is so much more than that.  Do you have that passion to love the Lord more now than when you first became a child of God?  Has your love waned and you fall into that category of the lukewarm church described in Revelation 3?  Are you cold (backslidden) or hot (on fire) or lukewarm (somewhere in between).

I ask you to grade yourself as to your devotion in several categories – time spent in the Word, time spent in close, intimate prayer with God, time witnessing to others, time helping others in need, time spent in fellowship and worship with other believers.  Be honest and upgrade yourself from one week to the next for the next month and compare your closeness to God from week to week.  If you do that honestly and faithfully you will sense a change in your life.  You will not only sense a change in your life but the church will see a change in you and others and the church as a whole will change and be less self-centered and more devoted to serving God as He tells us to.   

Deuteronomy 6:5 – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.