Sunday, January 31, 2010

I am Thankful for the United States of America

The USA is the greatest nation in the history of humanity. No other country has given so much for the good of others. I am aware it is a nation with a long list of sins as well, sins against slaves, sins against minorities, sins against native Americans, sins against other oppressed people. It has assassinated the elected leaders of other countries because they held political philosophies contrary to its own. It is guilty of supporting dictators who persecuted their own people. But the list of America’s sacrifices in the name of liberty and justice far exceeds the list of its sins. No nation has given more financial aid to others. No nation has sacrificed more of its sons and daughters in behalf of others. No nation has sent more missionaries, fed more hungry, and built more infrastructures for others to prosper.

I am an American by the grace of God. I rejoice in the benefits of my citizenship daily. I have been blessed to visit other countries and observe the beauty and dignity of their peoples and cultures. I am reminded that God is not a respecter of persons. He loves all equally. Being an American does not make me better than anyone else; it does make me a debtor. To whom much is given, much is required.

Ours’ is a great nation, but let us not forget two facts. First, we are great because God Almighty raised us up for His purposes. Our collective greatness is not innate to us but is rather a gift from Him. Our society is good only to the extent we reflect His goodness. Second, all of the good we have done can never erase all of the evil we have done. Righteousness is not measured on a scorecard as if everyone with a score above zero wins. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse us of our sins. Without repentance this nation and its citizens will be judged and found wanting.

I am thankful for the United States of America. We are blessed materially and educationally. We are free people, at least more free than any other countries. Let us pray. Let us seek God for our leaders. Let us be thankful. Let us repent.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 31, 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I am Thankful for “New” Beginnings

“In the beginning God created…”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

God is the God of beginnings.

Beginnings are all about the creation of something new. Beginnings proclaim the birth of new possibilities, new hopes and new dreams. They are life breaking forth into another generation.

Yes, it is true that if we are considering patterns of human existence (void of God’s creative intervention), “That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

But God is continually intervening to make things new. He promises a new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem, and new names for those who enter His kingdom. Christ has come to inaugurate a new beginning for all of creation. In Him we have a new covenant whereby all things are being made new (see Hebrews 8:8-12). We who are in Christ Jesus are the first fruits of this new creation: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature (literally “creation”); the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

A new beginning is essential to life in the Kingdom of God. In order to enter the Kingdom we must become like children. Indeed, we must die to ourselves and to sin and be born again. In this, we are baptized into Christ and share His life. We are one with the “only begotten of the Father” who is the eternal fountain of creation. He who is the “Ancient of Days” is the beginning of all things new. He Himself is ever new, the divine infant who is the ground of His own Being, the fountain of His own youth. There shall be no end to the newness of life in Him.

To be in Christ is to live in an ongoing beginning. That which is old is passing away. But we live in the twilight between the already and the not yet. The old holds on to us with the grip of a dying man insisting we are dying with it. Whispering into our inner ear “you are stuck in a downward spiral and there is no escape. Nothing is going to change and if it does it will only get worse.” And so people wait; they wait for a new semester; they wait for a better job to surface or their boss to retire; they wait for their marriage to end; they wait for things to get worse; they wait for death. And as they wait for “endings” they fail to recognize and embrace the powerful new “beginnings” around them.

I have done my share of waiting with little or no hope for the sun to shine again, having lost touch with the new creation that I am and more importantly the eternal creative life flowing to and through me.

I have also had an abundance of new beginnings, those events that thrilled my soul and transformed my imagination. Most of these commencements were in truth culminations. They were the fruit of self-doubt, hard work, suffering, and endurance. Among the greatest were the day I married Cheryl, they days of Alethea’s and Karisa’s births, graduation from my doctoral program. Those wonderful days when suffering seemed worthwhile and the future seemed unlimited, the present was swallowed up into a glorious future.

Life is full of these new beginnings if we can receive them, although usually in smaller portions. They are the days we get a good medical report, an unexpected financial blessing, and so many occasions as we watch our children grow. They are those beautiful sun rises and sun sets and all those other “aha” moments when everything just makes sense. And so I resolve to embrace my past as the soil of my future, not the definer of my destiny. I have a new beginning arising in my soul and it is just the beginning of my beginnings.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 30, 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010

I am Thankful for my Professors at Wheaton College

The decision to go the Wheaton was really quite simple. I knew God wanted me to continue my studies after Lee. It hadn’t come as a specific word but as a growing compulsion. I just had to do it, but where?

First, Pentecostals were not welcome at most Evangelical graduate schools in the mid-seventies. I looked at Dallas Theological Seminary but they required a commitment to not speak in tongues while a student there. I really wanted to go to Asbury, a solid Wesleyan seminary, but they required a commitment to not practice any of the charismata on school grounds or at school sponsored events. [A few years ago Cheryl and I became acquainted with Dr. Maxie Dunnam while he was President of Asbury. I told him of my experience and he with great grace apologized for the past. Sometime later he called and asked Cheryl and me to come teach at Asbury. Things had changed a lot in 20 plus years.] Wheaton had lifted their ban on Pentecostals a few years before we graduated from Lee. Ironically, more liberal schools were open to Pentecostals, but that wasn’t an option for me. Wheaton was the only reasonable possibility unless I was willing to deny my faith.

Second, the two leading Evangelical scholars in the field of Christian education taught at Wheaton, Lois and Mary LeBar. Dr. Lois had written three books that had made a profound impact on me.

Third, when Cheryl and I were dating we discovered we had independently decided to go to Wheaton for graduate school. That settled it all; it was a final sign I was to go to Wheaton and I had to marry Cheryl just so people wouldn’t talk. It worked for me.

At Wheaton I discovered Dr. Lois to be the master teacher. She was the director of our program and we took everything we could with her before she retired in the middle of our studies. (At seventy she and Mary, at sixty-eight, left for Africa where they served as missionaries.) She modeled everyday her theology of teaching and learning, engaging all of the students in the subject matter. She truly was phenomenal. In every session it was like she brought us into the presence of Christ to learn at His feet. I was transformed and my Pentecostal heritage was affirmed (although she was not aware of this later reality).

Dr. Mary LeBar was very different from her sister. Lois was soft spoken and, well, plain. Mary was loud and wore bright clothing and makeup along with gaudy, cheap jewelry. She wasn’t a master teacher, but she was dynamic and engaging. The two of them were quite a team.

A great bonus for going to Wheaton was to study with Dr. Merrill C. Tenney. Tenney was the leading Evangelical New Testament scholar of the mid-twentieth century. His New Testament Survey was the survey text at virtually all Bible Colleges. Cheryl and I had gone for a campus visit in November before we got married. The admissions process required an interview with one of the graduate faculty members (a fact we had missed). Dr. Tenney was the past Dean of the Graduate School and available for an interview. He graciously received us in his Office in the basement of Edmunds Hall (a girl’s dorm). During the interview we heard a phone ring next door. Shortly thereafter Dr. Waterman knocked on the door between their offices and entered carrying a phone with an endless extension cord. These two leading scholars shared a phone in the basement of a girl’s dorm.

When we left Cheryl asked me what was wrong with me. I had clearly been nervous and said very little. She had carried on an engaging conversation. I asked her if she knew who we had just been talking to. She said “I think they said his name was Tenney. He was a very nice elderly gentleman.”

“That was THE MERRILL C. TENNEY,” I said.

“So, who is he?” she responded. Cheryl has a special gift for engaging and honoring the elderly, famous or not. Dr. Tenney was the quintessential Christian gentleman.

In the interview Dr. Tenney said something that has remained with me. “Don’t come to Wheaton for what you will learn. Come for how you will learn it. We teach the same things you would learn at any Evangelical school. But we teach it differently. We expect the student to engage the content through inductive methods. That’s our distinctive.” Unfortunately, that distinctive may have left Wheaton when he and the LeBars retired.

A fourth teacher was a great joy, Dr. Earl Cairns. He had written the Evangelical text on church history. Each day Dr. Cairns brought hand written notes to class, some of which were from his research for his dissertation decades earlier. They were scribbled on scraps of paper of all shapes and sizes with a few napkins in the bunch. He was so welcoming and open to new insights. Although he was about seventy years old, he made learning fun.

I should also mention Howard Newsome, our youngest teacher there. He was encouraging and inspiring.

I am thankful for my teachers at Wheaton. They had a deep piety and keen spiritual insight. They introduced me to a vibrant Christian faith beyond Pentecostalism. They accepted me as a brother in Christ without prejudice against my heritage. And as noted above, their approach to the Scriptures and to knowledge affirmed my Pentecostal approach to the Christian life in ways I am certain they never recognized.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I am Thankful for my Father’s Kisses

My dad was a real man: square shouldered, muscled, emotions in check, direct, and fierce. Think of John Wayne without a swagger. Back in the sixties some of his co-workers threatened to kill him and our family (I took one of the phone calls) for refusing to sign a petition to block an African American from transferring from the docks to a road driver position. I asked him why he didn’t just sign. He responded, “He’s a man just like I am and he has the right to provide for his family just like I do.”

When I was small I watched him bear hug one of my uncles, pick him up and carry him into my grand-parents back yard. My uncle was inebriated and threatening my grand-father. Dad put him down, spun him around and said, “What you and Mr. Tyler do when I’m not here is yall’s business. But if I’m here, you had better not lay a hand on him. Do you hear me?”

He was intimidating without even trying. He only spanked me once, a swat on the leg for not letting him put my shoes on me; I was three, but I remember. Shirley got a spanking for walking out into a busy street. I think Jimmy got a couple but that was before my time. The baby, Darlene, was cheated out of the privilege of these precious memories.

Mom was the disciplinarian, but she used Dad as her back-up threat. “You had better not resist me when I spank you. If you do I’ll tell your dad when he gets home, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop him once he gets started.” We grew up with that fear. Dad would kill us if we disobeyed our mother, no question about it.

Dad spanked us with his eyes. When he wasn’t pleased with our behavior we knew it without a word being spoken. If he did speak it was a simple declarative question, “You’re not going to do that again, are you?”

“No, sir.”

We trembled at his displeasure. Although never far from our consciousness, these experiences were in fact few and far between. Dad was really a gentle, loving man. He practiced Godly touch without even knowing that is what he was doing, especially when saying hello or good-by to a family member. “Son, you should always greet your relatives right. Give the men a firm hand shake. Give the women a kiss or at least a hug, especially your aunts.” As for us, we always got a hug and a kiss on the cheek when he left for work and when he got home. Most significantly, he always seemed happy for the ritual. He took great pleasure in this simple expression of love.

We live in an age when children are all too often objects in the lives of adults. Upwardly mobile parents might treat them like social accessories, emblems of success. Among every social strata and every ethnic group they are far too frequently battered and used for perverted gratification. Society’s misguided response is to prohibit healthy touch by authority figures. School teachers are forbidden to hug a child even in a time of crises. In an effort to protect them we are isolating and emotionally crippling them.

Children need to know they are loved; they are valued; they are important; they are not alone. They need to be connected; they need healthy touch. They need hugs and kisses.

I have my fair share of neuroses. I wouldn’t want to be a case study in a clinical psych textbook. But I am confident of who I am; I am the youngest son of James Ellis Johns who modeled very well for me what it means to love and be loved. For as long as my father lived there was never a fraction of a second that I doubted I was loved and that I belonged. I am so very thankful for his hugs and kisses. I miss them greatly.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 28, 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I am Thankful for Respite From Vandals

It has been over a week since vandals last damaged our church. They have acted at least four times since January 1st, three times weekend before last alone.

I am thankful for the young men of our church who helped me install the security camera system last Saturday. They also cleaned out our storage building and a classroom that had degenerated into a cluttered space.

I am thankful the camera system works.

I am thankful the locksmith donated his time to install new front door locks and to repair two other locks.

I am thankful one of my former students felt led of God to pay to replace one of the broken windows. (Thank you, Betty.)

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 27, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I am Thankful for Words of Knowledge

In August of 1976, a year and a half into our marriage, Cheryl and I moved to Minot, North Dakota (“Why not Minot? Freezin’s the Reason”). I was still 22 when I started teaching at Northwest Bible College. A year later, we had a beautiful baby and an ugly house. (More on the baby later.) The house was an old Victorian, two stories on top of a daylight basement, painted pickle green and trimmed in black. The original plaster was being held on the walls by thick layers of wall paper and paint. We removed the plaster from every room, added dry wall, wallpapered, and installed new carpet. All of this was done while we lived in the debris (household debris is not picked up when the daily high temperature is below freezing, which was five months of every year).

We did all of this while we (both) taught at the Bible College, served as pastor of two churches simultaneously, co-directed the Family Training Hour at the Campus Church of God where I also served on the Church and Pastor’s Council.

In the fall of 1978, feeling totally non-productive (I jest), we felt God was calling us back to school for doctoral programs and we put the rush on completing the remodeling project. In February of 1979 I sat on the new, burnt orange, shag carpet in the den and prayed, “Father, I thank you for this house. You led us to purchase it and now it is going to sell and the profit is going to help us pay for our schooling.” (While I had always rejected the “Word of Faith” doctrine, I wasn’t above a well placed positive confession when I thought it might help.) In the middle of my eloquent hair-splitting, faith without presumption, proclamation, God spoke. “This house is not going to sell. You have a period of testing…” That is not exactly the word of knowledge for which one hopes. It was a true word. We put the house on the market in June. Later our realtor told us more houses sold in Minot the week before we put our's on the market than sold the entire following twelve months.

It was a very difficult year as we returned to school (we came to our Seminary for one year before entering our doctoral programs the next) and struggled to live and pay the mortgage on an empty house. But through it all I had confidence God was in control of our lives. He was working even if I didn’t like what He was doing. It would be alright if we could hold on to our faith in Him. The house did sell one year later. We closed the day we matriculated as students in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The man we bought it from, the one who had painted it pickle green, bought it back for about twelve thousand dollars more than we paid for it. We made a little profit, paid some tuition and bought an electric typewriter. So ended phase one of our test.

My life and ministry has not been especially marked by the gifts of the Spirit. I am humbled that God does on occasion work through me with the charismata. Of all the spiritual gifts, I think God has used me most with words of knowledge. They almost always come when I am praying with someone. I sense the Spirit’s anointing and the prayer shifts to promises and prophetic words, “Father may they know...” I know I am participating in the transmission of a blessing. I know what I am saying means more to the hearer than I understand. They know exactly to what the Spirit is referring; I usually don’t. This is not a frequent experience but neither is it rare.

Between fifteen and twenty years ago I was unusually moved upon during a prayer meeting. The Lord used me to speak specific words of blessing on everyone present except one young woman. I moved around the room trying to work my way back to her but it was as if there was a shroud of silence around her. As I prepared to dismiss the meeting she came to me and said, “bless me too. I want a blessing.” I laid my hands on her and began to pray, but I was not prepared for the words that came. The Spirit spoke of a great test, one in which she would not be able to tell anyone, “not even your mother.” Sometime later she came to us in tears about a situation that she could not tell anyone, not even her mother. She remembered the prophecy.

There have also been words that encouraged. One Sunday about a decade ago one of our church members was concerned for her father who lived in another state and had terminal cancer. He had not left his house in weeks, but he wasn’t answering his phone that day. Neither were her siblings who lived in the same city with him. As we prayed the Spirit spoke saying that her father would be in church again and her siblings would be with him. As I spoke the words I knew it was God but I prayed internally none-the-less, ”Father, please let this be you.” Neither her brothers nor her sister had been in church in years. Later that afternoon she called to report she had finally gotten her father on his phone. He had gone to church that very morning. Her brothers and sister had gone with him.

I wish I could report her father was healed and her siblings were saved. They were not, but that was not the Word given by the Spirit. This experience stands out for me as one of the great moments of grace in my own life. I was in the midst of a trial that was causing me to doubt my ministry. Whatever the word meant for her it meant more for me.

I am thankful for words of knowledge. They serve many purposes including preparation for troubles ahead, strengthening our faith, and encouragement for our hearts. Beyond the specific blessings of these words to their recipients, they reveal the greatness of our God. He is omniscient. He is sovereign. He has a plan. He is working for the ultimate good of His children. In sum, a word of knowledge serves God’s purposes and brings us into the confidences of His Kingdom.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 26, 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

I am Thankful I do Not Have to Always Feel Thankful

Thankfulness is an attitude not an emotion. It is a disposition toward others that requires self awareness, humility, and appreciation. To be thankful is to be conscious of one’s place in creation as creature, receiver, and giver. We are relational beings and thanksgiving acknowledges that we exist and thrive in relationships. By grace we come to know a truth, all of us have received far more than we can give.

Thankfulness requires that we value ourselves, the gifts we receive, and the givers who offered them. It is a way of knowing. To be thankful is to know not only the value of what we have received, but also the great worth of the giver. Thus thankfulness invites wisdom to discern the difference between the gift and the giver, the urgent and the important, the temporal and the eternal. It raises the bar from “for what should I be thankful” to “to whom should I be thankful?”

Thankfulness taps into our emotions and often calls forth happiness. It is truly a blessed state in which to live for it opens joyous possibilities. But thankfulness is not an emotion and it is not dependent on our feelings. There are times when we just don’t feel thankful, and that is acceptable. At least, I am thankful that I believe this, for I often do not feel thankful even when I know I am.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 25, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I am Thankful for Sunday Morning Worship

I love Sunday morning worship. I am usually stressed when I wake up, with the sermon and other worship considerations to think about. But when I get to the church all of that fades away. It is great to see brothers and sisters in Christ, my friends, come into the building. We are family, bringing our joys, sorrows, hopes, and fears together. I especially love seeing the children and youth. I know God has great plans for each of them.

Cheryl is co-pastor and coordinates all of our special worship events. She helps us be both creative and faithful to our heritage. We have wonderful volunteer worship leaders at New Covenant. Whether they are singing, playing musical instruments, participating in drama/dance, or some other activity they do it first as a personal act of worship which invites others into the presence of God with them. And they are talented.

When we pray our people really pray with each other. When we sing they commune with God. They listen to and brag on my sermons and they find many ways to show Cheryl and me they love us.

Most significantly for me, Sunday morning worship is a time for me to know Christ in the fellowship of the church. I continually benefit from the fellowship of His resurrection. I desire to join Paul in desiring to know Him in the fellowship of His suffering; He continually knows me in my suffering. I do know Him in the fellowship of the saints. Some in the early church referred to Sunday as the “eighth day of the week.” It was the new Sabbath, the day Christ entered into eternal rest and we with Him. It was also the day of a new genesis, in the resurrection of Christ a new order of creation was born. They understood that on Sunday we were gathered together with all of the saints, past, present, and future, around the throne of God. The “not yet” was “already.” That’s what Sunday worship is for me. For those couple of hours I am “living in Canaan now, Egypt behind.” As the Body, we enter into the divine dance of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit knowing each other in the rhythm and melody of eternal life.

I am thankful for Sunday morning worship. In the fellowship of the saints, the grace of God abounds toward me. I am renewed and strengthened.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 24, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I am Thankful for My Mother’s Giving Heart

My mother was a giver. She loved to give to others. Giving was a duty, an opportunity to bless, a pleasure, and a chore, especially at Christmas time and other special events. A few days after her last Christmas I was helping her with something inside her closet and I noticed a whole pile of small wrapped presents. I asked who they were for. She said, “Whoever. I like to have a few extra just in case somebody needs one.”

“A few? There are ten or fifteen here.”

“Well son, you never know if it might be a woman, or a man, a teenager, or a child. I have a variety so everybody can get something they might like. They don’t cost much; I just don’t want anybody to be left out.”

That was my mother, always thinking about others who might need a little attention.

She was also determined to treat her children equally. We each got what we wanted and a little more so that the dollar amounts were equal.

I could never name everything my mother gave me. Most gifts were special for a time and a season because they were what I really wanted, a toy, a brand-name piece of clothing, etc. (There were also those off-brand imitation items I was embarrassed to wear: “I bought it and you are going to wear it.”.) Some were special not because I wanted them but because she put special effort into getting them, a really nice watch comes to mind.

There are three gifts from my mother that I especially cherish. First, I have a high school ring which I have only worn a few times but I value far beyond its gold or youthful symbolism ("Go Vikings").  I didn’t want a high school ring. We were in Alabama; I was a zealot for Christ and the Church of God was a holiness church. Back then we took the Apostles Peter and Paul quite seriously and taught against wearing jewelry. On top of that I was a Johns; my dad didn’t wear jewelry and he wasn’t even saved. It was a waste of money. When it came time to order the ring I told my mom I didn’t want one and she set me straight, “You are too going to get a ring. I bought one for your brother and for your sister, and I am buying one for you. You don’t have to wear it, but you do have to have it.” I love that ring and keep it in a "safe" place, not on my finger.

The second gift I am holding on to is a cheap totem pole. It came from that same commitment to treat us all equally. Actually, it was my last vacation with Mom, Dad, Shirley and Darlene. We went to the Smokey’s and on our last day we were in Cherokee, North Carolina. Darlene and Shirley had each bought a souvenir but I hadn’t seen anything I wanted. I was after all about the enter my junior year of college. It was time to leave and my mother asked me what I had bought. I told her I hadn’t found anything I wanted. I wasn’t interested in a souvenir. She succinctly explained micro economics to me once again. “I bought your sisters souvenirs and you are going to get one too! Do you understand me?”

“Yes, mam.”

“OK. You get yourself in that store and you buy yourself a souvenir and make it quick.”

I walked in the store, scanned all the cheap trinkets, most of them made in Japan (not a complement back then), and I picked up a flimsy, wood totem pole. It sits on the top shelf of the bookcase in our TV room. Occasionally I look up, spot it and have a little leap of joy at the memory of my mother and our summer vacations. I wouldn’t sell it for a thousand dollars. (I'll take offers on the ring though.)

The third gift is a set of Craftsman tools she bought me for my eighteenth birthday. The metal chest is a little beaten up now. Most of the tools in it have been added over the years, but some are original to the set. Unlike the ring and the totem pole, that was the most useful present I have ever been given. For decades they could be found in the trunk of my car.  I’m not certain what role, if any, my Dad played in selecting the gift. I know it was my mother who bought it and gave it to me. It was always my impression it was 100% her idea. Dad got me his own gift for my eighteenth birthday, but more on that later. The tools were something my mother knew I wanted without expecting, needed without fully knowing how much, and would enjoy and use without end. She was a mother, my mother.

If I took the time I would have to list a multitude of gifts from my mother that were special. These three stand out today. I am thankful for my mother’s giving heart. May I be a little more like her.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 23, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

I am Thankful for the Power of God

In Pentecostal tradition there was an expectation of encounters with God in which the worshiper feels a touch to their whole being. For me these encounters had always been an overflow of joy that could not be contained. It was like being embraced by God from the inside out. That is how I knew the power of God, not as something that zapped me from the outside. I had been prayed for by the biggest and the best: anointed, head slapped, and shook, but I had never felt anything like an encounter with an external power. That changed in the spring of 1973. Herschel Gammil was preaching a revival at the North Cleveland Church of God. He had been my pastor in Alabama and he had loosened my neck many times. The altar call was for persons who wanted the have the gifts of the Spirit working in their lives. Having recently been called to preach, I desperately wanted the Spirit to work through me. When he touched my forehead it felt like a bolt of lightning struck the top of my head. I had the sensation of my feet flipping up to the level of my head and my body gently floating down to the floor. My sister witnessed the event and said it looked more like I was slammed to the floor. She worried I had been injured. I left the service feeling electric.

On the way to the dorm I was impressed to go to the prayer room. I challenged the thought, having just had the most powerful encounter of my life, but I had a compulsion to go. When I arrived my roommate was kneeling quietly at the altar. I walked over and gently laid two fingers on his forehead to pray. I exaggerate not, he was lifted from his kneeling position and thrust backward against the wall. He immediately began to pray a victorious prayer full of praise and thanksgiving. When we finished he asked me what I hit him with. He said it didn’t hurt but it felt like I had hit him with a baseball bat.

That evening contained my first, last, and only experiences with this kind of divine manifestation. I have on occasion prayed for people who have been “slain in the Spirit” who later told me they felt the power of God flow through my hands, but I didn’t feel the power.

A few years after my encounter I went home for a visit with my parents and my Grandmother O’Quinn was there. Grandpa had been dead for a couple of years and she was splitting her time between her eight daughters instead of burdening just one or two (a simplified version of that story). Dressed in a brown paisley dress, her never-cut hair was covered with a blue flowered bandanna. She had a bad heart and was stooped and frail as she approached eighty. As we talked our conversation shifted to the goodness of God and she expressed her deep desire, “I just want to feel the Power one more time before I die.” As she sat in her chair and prayed, the rest of us knelt and prayed. Before long she was speaking in tongues and praising God with occasional rhythmic jerks of her upper body. She let out a shout, rose, twirled and danced, head bobbing, and glories flowing. It was wonderful. I am thankful I continue to feel God’s power bubbling up from within, but before I die, I want to feel the power of God again like I did in 1973, not just His overwhelming presence, His power.

Many in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement now make light of these manifestations, offering the same criticisms non-Pentecostals use to raise against us all. They see bizarre physical gesticulations and assume the worshipper is simple-minded and dependant on emotional catharsis for escape. “What purpose does it serve?” “How is Christ glorified?” I too am concerned that people might love the experience more than God. But I also suspect the more reasoned and sedate might love their ideas about God more than they love Him. As for me, I am confident I never loved God more, felt more accepted by Him, nor gave Him more glory with every fiber of my being, than I did in those experiences. Manifestations of the power of God are real and I am thankful for them. I do not measure my spirituality by them, nor by their infrequence but I know God shakes things up from time to time.

[And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, "YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN."  This expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;  for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:26-29]

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 22, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I am Thankful for Finding my Pearl of Great Price

I was seated on the left hand side of the cafeteria with some of my PFC friends the first time I saw her. I liked to sit in different sections of the room on different days. The left hand side was where the spiritually minded sat. The social club members were on the right. Others filled the middle. I had friends in all three sections but favored the hyper spiritual.

She entered the room with Steve Grimes, a friend of hers from Emmanuel College who had transferred to Lee with me the previous year. It was her first day and they paused on the entry landing to overview the scene. He was obviously giving her a social critique as they looked for fellow Emmanuel grads. She was erect, graceful, and dressed in an attractive outfit with classic styling. Her hair was dark brown, with loose curls, barely to her shoulders, her skin bronze. I thought she was Crystal, Steve’s girlfriend from Emmanuel who he had told me about and I thought he was a lucky guy.

I felt a little intrigued later that day when Steve told me she wasn’t Crystal, but I didn’t give her much thought beyond that, at least not until she walked into class a few days later. I was seated in the center row, three desks from the front talking with Beck Kalminer. Cheryl walked to the front of my row and asked, “Is this CE 301?” I looked up and asked her “is this what?”

“CE 301.”

I feigned a confused look. “CE what?”

“Is this Martin Baldree’s class, History and Philosophy of Christian Education?”

I laughed and said, “Yes, you’re in the right place.”

She sat down right in front of me, turned sideways in the chair, double crossed her legs, interrupted my conversation with Becky, and we began a life-long conversation. She is my pearl of great price, my partner in all things great and small. Other than my relationship with God there is nothing I cherish more than her. I am thankful God brought her into my life and gave us the grace to choose each other as life partners. It has been an honor to watch her expand her horizons in ministry and explore the “hundred acre woods” of God’s creation.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 21, 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I am Thankful for the Gift of Healing

All of creation comes from God and is sustained by the power of His might. Life is His gift and the healing of life is His action, always. Whether the healing flows through the restorative processes built into human existence by design or through medical intervention or through a supernatural action, it comes from God. I am thankful for all healing, but here I write to give gratitude for the charismatic gift of healing, a gift of the Holy Spirit.

I have witnessed and been personally connected to several miraculous healings. In my early childhood there was an elderly sister in our church who was healed of a cauliflower, cancerous growth on her nose. In its place was smooth baby-like skin. A child born deaf in one ear was instantly healed. Most significantly for me, my mother was healed on several occasions. For one of those I was there when the doctor told us the cancer was incurable, the best they could do would be to “manage her death.” She was given three to six months to live. A few nights later God healed her as she and Dad knelt by their bed and prayed. She lived for many years without any treatment and without that cancer, although she did die of a different cancer.

I have had two instant healings in my ministry. The first was in Ashville, North Carolina. I was a Lee student on a Pioneers for Christ invasion. It was one of my first sermons, not one I could preach today. The team had met a paralyzed woman in the community and brought her to the service in a wheel chair. She was wheeled forward during the altar call and I felt strongly God was going to heal her. A couple of us lifted her to her feet. I saw the look of astonishment on her face when she was healed. She pushed herself up and down to her feet, smiling and weeping at the same time. Holding on to one of my peers she took a few steps. She came back that evening using a walker and testified she had been paralyzed for years with no feeling from her waist down, “I was like a wet wash cloth,” she stated.

The second healing in my ministry came years later on a ministry trip to India in the late eighties. It also involved paralysis. A young man came forward dragging his right foot with his right hand dangling loose except when he cuddled it with his left hand. God spoke very clearly to me and said He was going to heal the man. Again, I saw the expression on his face as he realized God was healing him. As I left the tent that evening he had both hands raised praising our God.

I believe the atonement of Jesus Christ is for all of creation. Redemption is for our entire being. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. There will be a resurrection. Our salvation is already but not yet. Our healing is a provision of His atonement and it is as certain as His resurrection. The question is not whether we will be healed, but when. If the Kingdom of God is breaking into this world, then we should expect to see the fruit of the Kingdom in this life, including healing. The gifts of the Spirit are a sign the Kingdom is breaking into this world. The end of the ages is rushing in upon us and it is glorious. In Christ all is becoming whole.

As I stated above, all healing is an act of God. There is a lot of disagreement about the gift of healing and how it functions in the Body of Christ. Some understand spiritual gifts to reside in the individual. In this view select persons are chosen to function as healers. I believe the gifts always flow from the Holy Spirit who may choose to minister them through whomever She chooses at any given time. Individuals may develop a special sensitivity to the Spirit’s presence to heal and thus they may be more inclined to have faith for those moments. They appear to have within them the gift of healing. My conviction is that we should all hunger to see people healed and that the hunger should be matched by willingness and desire to be the vessel through whom the healing comes. Let us all seek spiritual gifts. I am so thankful I have been blessed to witness and even participate in the gift of healing.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 20, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I am Thankful for My Health

I am 56 years old and I am in pretty good health. I have had seasonal allergies (all 4 seasons) all of my life and I have been on allergy shots for years (currently monthly). I take an AREDS formula vitamin/mineral supplement because I had signs of possible macular degeneration but it was caught early and has not developed. I use to wear glasses but my eyesight has improved to the point I seldom need them. I have sleep apnea and sleep with a CPAP. I have flat feet and I have to be careful to get the correct shoes. I have a problem with a nerve in my left foot but I was prescribed over-the-counter B-complex and B-12 vitamins so that it seldom bothers me. (I was told I would need surgery within 5 years and that was over ten years ago.) I take over-the-counter fish oil twice a day. I also take a small aspirin and a couple of other supplements daily. I am on two prescribed medications both of which are highly typical for my age and they both seem to work quite well. I have injured my back a few times but nothing serious. I think that’s everything other than the collar bone a broke several years ago.

I exercise for thirty to forty minutes most mornings: low impact aerobics and light weights mostly. Without exercise my back bothers me at night. I am determined to keep it in good enough condition to not injure it accidentally. In short, I have a few annoying physical issues but no major health problems. Other than a tonsillectomy, I have never had surgery. Physically, I can do anything I want to do. When I see people suffering with chronic, debilitating conditions I am so aware my ailments are minor. I am also aware that physical health is a gift to be cherished and protected. I am thankful for my health.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 19, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

I am Thankful for Freewill

The call to preach was not the only thing I wrestled with God about in 1971, 72, and 73.

I was a very socially backward teenager. After I was filled with the Spirit I struggled with the New Testament references to remaining single in order to better serve the Lord. I eventually concluded I was not gifted to live the single life. As I entered college in 1971 I prayed about starting to date but I felt impressed I was not to date or seek a relationship in my freshman year.

Preparing to enter Lee in 1972 I sought God again about what I considered a real problem in my life. Once more I felt strongly impressed that I was to put my social life on hold. I did accept a Saddie Hawkins date request with a friend (I had made a commitment to myself to go with the first co-ed to ask me, or not go at all.) In the spring I asked another friend out for dessert because she seemed to be going through a difficult time. In neither case was I interested in pursuing a relationship.

As I entered my junior year I felt like God impressed me that I would discover my wife that year. So I entered the fall of 1973 looking for the person I would spend the rest of my life with. I had a strong conviction that dating was a major problem in American Christianity. Breakups left people with deep hurt and animosity that dishonored Christ. I had known too many young people who dated someone they knew they shouldn’t marry only to fall in love and get married, usually ending in divorce. Without having dated, I had a strong conviction to never date beyond the point I knew the person was someone I should not marry. My assumption was that one or two dates should typically suffice to determine if someone was spiritually compatible with me.

I met Cheryl on the first day of classes that fall. We hit it off very quickly and spent a lot of time “studying” together – we did study and get to know each other in the process. We went on a group ministry trip together over fall break and when we got back to campus I asked her out on our first date, a Nancy Harmon concert on November 1. For the next six months I struggled with God about His plans for our relationship. I fell in love but I wanted God to tell me she was the one I was supposed to marry. God was silent. He wouldn’t lead me in either direction. I tried to keep a check on my heart until God would speak, but He wouldn’t. I had no reason to end the relationship and no assurances I should go forward.

Other than my relationship with God, this was the most important decision of my life and God wasn’t helping. Why? In the spring I had to have an answer or go crazy. God made it clear I had to decide. In the process, I gained an insight, a relationship as monumental as marriage required a total commitment to one’s spouse. God did not design us to marry someone simply because He wanted us to; the very nature of the relationship required that the primary reason to marry someone was that we wanted to. God was not going to tell me who to marry; He would protect me from marrying the wrong person if I was committed to know and do His will. Free will and faith had to work together.

In this I learned that freedom of choice is not just a gift to the individual; it is a gift to humanity. Its purpose is not individual happiness or self-actualization. Free will ensures the veracity of human relationships and constitutes the bases of true covenant. Love is a choice. Restoration of the image of God in humanity requires persons to mutually choose to be joined together as one. In this we find wholeness and fulfillment in life.

As I stood at the door waiting to walk into the sanctuary and marry Cheryl I prayed again, “Lord if it’s not your will for me to marry Cheryl show it to me or her now. I love her and I want to marry her but I want your will for both of us more.” We said “I do” a few minutes later and I have never questioned whether it was God’s will. Neither have I doubted that it was my will to marry her. God is a witness and participant in our marriage. He gave me the free will to choose and he required me exercise that gift. I’m thankful He did.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 18, 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I am Thankful for My Tractor

My favorite toy is my tractor. It is a Case IH Farmall Compact tractor with a 23 HP diesel motor. (My Dad, Uncle Vernon, and Grandfather each owned a Farmall.) I use it most often to haul hay out to my horses and cows. But I also use the front end loader a lot for a variety of purposes: moving dirt, pushing down small trees, pushing up small stumps. Once or twice a year I over-seed my pasture, or put out fertilizer, etc. The tractor with all of its implements cost more than my truck, but it has been paid off for more than a year. It is extremely helpful for all kinds of projects. I am most thankful when it is time to put down a new fence post. On those days it is more than a gift from God; it is a miracle worker. (I have two manual diggers that I have worn out in rocky soil) Best of all, my grandchildren love it. I am thankful for my tractor.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 17, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I am Thankful for my Call to Preach

Having trusted God to reveal His will for my life on His own terms, I felt free to resume my own plans. I envisioned going to law school, making a lot of money, giving a lot to missions, and being very active in a local church. God needs dedicated lay people to keep the church going. Life could be great.

The following week some Lee students were conducting a revival at a church in Chattanooga. On Monday I decided to drive down and support the cause. I arrived just as the service was beginning and had no time to talk with anyone. I sat by myself on the right hand side, six or eight rows from the front. There was no one seated close to me. The choir was singing when I heard the voice of God, “Now is the time; go preach my Word.” I knew it was God. The words were, for me, audible, spoken into my right ear. It was so real; I knew no one was near me but I instinctively turned to my right to see if I saw anything. I didn’t.

I was seated and outwardly non-responsive. I prayed a silent prayer. “Thank you Father. I know you have just now called me to preach. But You know me and You know the Devil. Tomorrow he will try to make me doubt it. Can You give me something so I will never doubt you have called me to preach?”

I then witnessed something I have never seen before or since. There was a message in tongues and interpretation that interrupted the choir. Right in the middle of the interpretation were these words, “I have called you into this ministry; Go preach my Word to your people.” I don’t know what else was in the interpretation, but the congregation was shouting the victory. I was overflowing with joy but outwardly sedate.

I prayed another silent prayer, “Thank you Lord, I will never doubt You have called me to preach, but if I am going to preach I will need a burden and an anointing. Will you give me a burden and an anointing?” There was another message in tongues and interpretation. In the middle of the interpretation were these words, “If you will take up the burden, I will anoint you.” I wasn’t expecting Him to put that ball back in my court. A heavy sense of responsibility settled in on me.

I left that service with questions bouncing through my head. Who are my “people?” How does one “take up a burden?” I am not certain I have fully answered those questions. I resolved a few years into this that “my people” are whoever I am with at the time, i.e., the people of the community where I live. The “burden” part is a little more elusive; I know it requires looking closely at the needs of others and time in prayer about those needs.

I also left that service with an unwavering knowledge of God’s call on my life. That certainty has been an anchor in times of storm. There have been seasons when I have doubted myself, my abilities, my faithfulness, but I have never doubted my call. I must preach the Word of God. I am not a great preacher; I try hard to be a faithful one. I love God; I love the Word of God; I love people. My desire is to honor the integrity of each and bring God and the people together in the Word. I feel God’s pleasure and presence when I preach. From this I draw strength to press through the challenges of life. I thank God for my call to preach.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 16, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

I am Thankful that God has a Plan for Our Lives

This entry introduces my call to preach and thus requires a disclaimer. There are no callings that are greater than others in the Kingdom of God. Pastors aren’t more important than deacons or teachers or anyone else who fulfills the call of God for their life. In the body of Christ there simply are no lesser members, just degrees of faithfulness. Having affirmed this Biblical truth, it should also be acknowledged that in the Pentecostal tradition there has been a stratification of honor, with preachers being at the top. I grew up in an ecclesial context in which everyone was called to serve God in general but only a few received a special call to “the ministry,” and that was always a call to preach. Pastors, evangelists, Overseers, and missionaries were all first called to preach. I am both the product of and a critic of this bifurcation of the Body of Christ. Yet, I cannot deny my personal call to preach; it came to me on Monday evening, February 12, 1973 and it was the most clear and profound voice I have ever heard.

Years earlier, when I was a young child I had a severe speech impediment. Our family physician thought I needed surgery to have my tongue “clipped,” but my mother believed God was going to heal me. She believed that in part because Aunt Jenny Williams, her spiritual mentor, had told her and others “God is going to straighten his tongue out and he is going to be a preacher. I won’t live to see it, but God will straighten that tongue out and he will preach the Word of God.” A few years later an evangelist called me out during his sermon and announced God had just revealed to him I was going to be a preacher. He had the congregation pray for me. I had no recollection of these events until reminded of them after my call to preach. They were never talked about; my mother later said she decided, like Mary, to “hide them in her heart”.

So I pause here to thank God for the fact he has a plan for our lives. He often reveals the big picture or fragments of that plan to others long before he reveals it to us. At least in the Pentecostal churches of my childhood the saints often seemed to have special knowledge about the future of children. Most often it was a simple exhortation, “Honey, God has a special plan for your life. You just seek Him and He will reveal it to you in His timing.” The unwise pressed larger-than-life callings on unprepared children who did not know how to deal with it; some became fixated on the grandiose self seeing themselves as the saviors of the world, others in adolescence rebelled and forsook the faith. The majority of Spirit-filled parents, like my mother, cherished the prophesies but did nothing to try to cause them to come to pass. They knew God would have to make his plan known to the child when the child was ready. I am thankful God has a plan for my life. I am thankful for Aunt Jenny Williams, for the evangelist, and mostly for my mother who knew enough to wait and let God work out His plan.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 15, 2010

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I am Thankful for Grace to Trust God

When I returned to Lee after Christmas break in early 1973 the desire to know what God wanted me to do with my life intensified. I was doing what I knew to do and I still did not know what He wanted me to do (vocationally). I couldn’t escape a hunger for clarity. In early February I went on a week-long fast. I agonized throughout the week. Again in the prayer room on a Saturday night I wrestled with God specifically about whether I was called to preach. As always before, he didn’t answer. Finally, I exclaimed, “Father I don’t know if You want me to preach, but I am going to trust you to make it clear when You are ready if that is your desire for my life. Until then I am going to be the best layman I can be.” A huge burden lifted off me. For the next few days I felt like I was walking on air.

In that event I resolved to trust God to be God in my life. He did not have to reveal anything to me. He did not have to answer my questions about my future. He did not have to tell me His plans for my life. I could trust Him to tell me what I needed to know when I needed to know it. I surrendered my right to know, the ultimate surrender of control. It is one thing to trust God to keep His promises; it is another thing to trust God when He makes no promises and offers no assurances except what is written in the Word. Trust is sometimes following God when He refuses to disclose the destination or even mode of transportation.

Trusting God is seldom euphoric. Often it must be done in a state of numbness or even despair. Sometimes to trust is to die to yourself, not just die to your hopes and dreams, but to your very self. There have been occasions when I chose to trust God because it seemed the only sane option; trust God and die or don’t trust God and die. Given who He has revealed himself to be in my life, I chose to die trusting God. [I am of course referring to psychological/emotional death and not physical death.] I had to trust God more than I trust myself to know what is best, even what is real. It is only when we die to our right to know that we can accept the full gift of faith. In those times we come to know more fully that He is the vine and we are the branches. His life flows through us unencumbered when we have died to our rights, our very selves.

I am thankful for the grace to trust God. Such trust is indeed a gift, an expression of His love and faithfulness even when we cannot feel His presence.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 14, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I am Thankful for a Word of Wisdom

I enjoyed my first semester at Lee, but I still struggled with uncertainty about God’s will for my life. The question was always on my mind. I spent a lot of time in prayer, but the heavens were silent. For weeks it was as if everything I said to God ascended to the ceiling and was there absorbed into a black hole. If I tarried long enough I would in my spirit hear a faint bell chiming through the abyss, like a gentle fog horn sounding from the shore announcing safe harbor is ahead. I spent as much time as I could in the prayer room but other than the bell, usually late at night, God could not be found. As I prostrated myself on Saturday evening wrestling just to hear something, anything, from God, I asked “what am I supposed to do with my life.” To my surprise He responded, “Do what you know to do.” I was ecstatic; God was speaking again. I rejoiced with enthusiasm; God was speaking to me. Then the question shot to the front of my brain, “what does that mean, what do I know to do?”

I began to prepare a list of the things I knew God expected of me: worship, Bible study, prayer, and witnessing. Those were the core duties I believed He required of me. As I walked back to my dorm I prayerfully reviewed the list, reciting it back to God and then He spoke again, “And fellowship with the saints, daily.” The “fellowship” part instantly rang true, but the “daily” part took me by surprise. It would be easy while I lived in a dorm on a Christian campus. I concluded it could be fulfilled in marriage, but I knew deep down He was referring to fellowship beyond the home, but I also knew this was a descriptive norm and not a legal necessity.

I came away from that encounter with a motto for my life, “when you don’t know what to do, do what you know to do.” I have preached on that subject several times and used it in counseling sessions. Others have come to associate it with me. As a pastor, it is encouraging to have people refer to things I have said as having significance in their lives. Without a doubt this motto is the most quoted truism of mine cited as being helpful. That is nice but for me the significance is that it has sustained me through many dark nights of the soul. When I am lost in the midst of a storm I remind myself God requires only that I be faithful in the things I know He wills for my life. I soon came up with a corollary personal proclamation, “I am going to keep on keeping on until I can’t, and then I am going to die and go to heaven.” Someone recently said they heard this statement as being very pessimistic. I don’t mean it that way. It is for me a declaration of determination and trust. I can do all God expects of me and I can trust Him to complete the rest and consummate it in His presence.

I am thankful God doesn’t put more on me than I can bear. He only requires that I be faithful. I am thankful for this personal word of wisdom that has sustained me through many difficulties. By His grace I will keep on keeping on, doing what I know to do.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I am Thankful for this Exercise in Thankfulness

I recognize I am very early into a year-long project, but I need to state that this practice of writing something everyday has so far been a very positive experience. I have found myself reflecting throughout the day on things I should write about. (Three hundred and sixty-five is a daunting number and so I plan ahead.) In the process some thoughts of annoying situations have diminish, putting them in a more proper perspective. I am a happier person (OK, I know that is relative, I say in my most Eeyore voice.) I have also found the process has refreshed my memories. Things I once rejoiced greatly over are being renewed; I’m taking them less for granted. In short the discipline of being thankful is making me more thankful. Thanks be to God.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 12, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

I am Thankful for my Teachers at Lee College

I live in Cleveland, Tennessee. I teach at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary: A Ministry of the Church of God (now that’s a name for you) which is across the street from Lee University. I drive through the Lee campus most weekdays. Hence, I am constantly confronted with memories of my time there as a student. The campus has drastically changed; Cheryl says Paul Conn is a charter member of the “Building a Month” club. It does seem there is at least one new building every year. But the core of the campus remains much as it was thirty years ago, neater, cleaner, more flowers, but much the same at least from the outside. And so I have memories. Other than all the cherished time with Cheryl, my memories center on chapel, dorm life, the cafeteria, but mostly on conversations with faculty.

Dr. Martin Baldree was a great influence on my life. He was my second cousin once removed but I don’t think I ever got him to acknowledge that. His grandmother and my great grandmother were sisters if I understand correctly. When I was about ten my mom and dad introduced me to Martin’s father at a family reunion at the Laura S. Walker State Park in southern Georgia. My dad had referred to Martin occasionally, they were about the same age and Dad knew everybody who ever lived in Brantley County and all their children’s names. Martin had no idea who we were, he was a PK who had lived all over Florida.

Ken Andrews, my pastor in Alabama, thought very highly of Martin and encouraged me to get to know him. Since God had been very specific (“transfer to Lee College and major in Christian Education”) and Martin was the chairman of the department of CE I suspected it inevitable I would get to know him well, and I did. He was my advisor and I took all of the classes he taught, except Science and the Bible which at the time he team taught with Dr. O’Bannon.

Martin was of average height and of slim built. He had a contagious laugh. He chuckled often which usually crescendoed into a full blast of joy. He was extremely well read at least in all areas of ministry. He was one of the first Pentecostals to earn a doctorate in religion from an accredited school. His major assignments were often practical, gathering and preparing materials we could use in the local church. Yet he expected a high level of critical reasoning which is probably why I came to appreciate him so much. He encouraged discussion and I thrived on it. My approach was to take an extreme position and proceed to argue my point just short of frustrating (angering) him. For me this was a strategy of discovery. I wanted to know what he really thought because I valued his opinion, and so I learned quickly how to push his buttons. By giving me room to work through the options using him as a protagonist he gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life. Martin helped me clarify what I truly believed about Christian living. He is the only professor I have ever had who gave me so much liberty to learn (Dr. Findley B. Edge – a professor of Martin’s as well – at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary came close). In the process it gave him a very skewed picture of me. He once said to me that he couldn’t figure out if I was a very liberal conservative or a very conservative liberal. I responded “both.” I shall always be thankful for Dr. J. Martin Baldree. He was one of those rare college teachers who engaged me as a person around things that mattered to me all within the scope of the curriculum; he wasn’t given to impressing others with his degrees.

Other faculty influenced me as well. I am also especially thankful for Dr. James Beaty who would later become a dear friend and grandfather figure for my daughters. James Slay was a great influence in part because of his endless anecdotes and in part because of his personal interest in my relationship with Cheryl; he would often stop us in the hallways and ask me in front of her “Do you know she is PH, wonderful people those P.H.”. I also took a couple of classes with Ron Harris (who still teaches at Lee) who always took a personal interest in me; I enjoyed just talking with him. Beatrice Odom has remained a powerful influence through her charming character and grace filled life. Two of my professors, Drs. Arrington and Gause would have a much greater influence on me when I became a student at the Church of God School of Theology (now the Pentecostal Seminary where I teach).

These are some of the faculty who influenced my life. I observed other professors giving similar attention to my fellow students. Almost without exception they were great men and women of God who saw their ministry at Lee as a Divine appointment. The vast majority of them are now retired or in heaven. I know many of the current Lee faculty and the majority shares the same vision and ministry. I am thankful for all of the Godly teachers at Lee, past and present. They have/are helping generation after generation of adolescents become adults who can think clearly and contribute to the greater good, most for the cause of Christ.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 11, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I am Thankful for the Peace of God

I did not want to go to Lee College (now University). My brother, Jimmy, had been there in the late sixties. My sister, Shirley, was there when I graduated from high school in 1971. I had heard things that troubled me, specifically student life, but I also had an aversion to being in the “Headquarters City” for the Church of God. I also wanted to chart my own path and not be a tag-a-long to my sister, “he’s Shirley’s little brother.”

When God called me to Lee I dropped all of those objections and transferred. All was well until I arrived on campus. My dorm room was in Ellis Hall (the old dilapidated one). Most troubling was the cafeteria. Samford’s cafeteria was managed by Marriott. The food was quite good. At Lee I discovered meals less than desirable. I was quite miserable quite quick. On about my third day I left the cafeteria grumbling to God. I will never forget this event. As I stepped off the curb to walk across the street in front of the old music building I began to sing to myself, “Now let us have a little talk with Jesus, let us tell Him all about our troubles…” By the time I stepped up on the curb on the other side of the street I had peace and joy about being at Lee. From that moment forward I enjoyed my time there. I came in that experience to know there is peace in knowing you are in the will of God, if you are willing to accept it.

I cannot say I have lived in perfect peace all my life. There have been times of perfect despair, long, dark nights of the soul. One of the things that has sustained me has been confidence I am where I am because God has brought me here, wherever here is at the time. I refuse to make a major change in life without a strong sense it is the will of God, although I have been sorely tempted at times. On those occasions I vision myself stepping out into a black abyss (sometimes this image of an abyss has to be painted over what looks like a really great opportunity). Do I really want to go there without an assurance God will be with me? And so I stay where I am planted until I know He has said it is time to move. In this, I live with an underlying peace even when storms rage all through my life.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 10, 2010

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I am Thankful for Family

[My apologies, this one is long, philosophical, and sermonic.]

I am not here writing about my family, although I am extremely thankful for my family. Instead I am offering thanksgiving for God’s familial design for human life and fulfillment. I offer this thanksgiving in the face of an all out assault on the family. I am not just referring to the so-called “traditional” nuclear family of a husband, wife, and two or more children. I am referring to the long standing social order that recognizes marriage between a man and a woman as the foundational social unit and that this unit forms the center of other core relationships that are intergenerational and larger than blood-ties. I am not here trying to defend the modern Evangelical image of family; it is too Roman in origin and influenced too little by the Scriptures.

Neither am I just referring to the most recent attempts to redefine marriage to include homosexual partnerships. Challenges to the Western concept of family began long before this current skirmish. Perhaps the first modern battle was when agrarian society was replaced by urban/industrial society resulting in the nuclear family replacing the extended family as the primary social unit. It might be argued that in that battle young adult males were thrust into roles of authority for which they were ill-equipped. Certainly, the nuclear family was dislodged from a strong communal network. By the time the industrial age was full-blown fathers were leaving home to work and provide for their nuclear families; mothers were forced into the conflicted role of sub-monarch, ruler in father’s absence, servant in his presence. In the twentieth century three nineteenth century inventions liberated women: the phone gave them social interaction, the automobile gave them social mobility, and the typewriter gave them employment. World War II gave them opportunity to explore their full humanity outside the home. In short, the problem began when fathers left the home not later when mothers began to work outside of the home. [OK, I am aware the West has been patriarchal from ancient times.]

Another assault on the family has been the rise of a powerful youth culture fueled by the warehousing of children and adolescents in public schools where they developed mono-generational social systems contrary to the multi-generational (bi-generational) home. Modernization and urbanization has caused children and youth to have few resources to contribute to the family’s welfare while extending the timeframe in which they must remain at home. Families are not equipped to function well when adolescence is elongated and youth (especially males) are forced into a liminal state of already, but not yet, adulthood.

By the end of the twentieth century we had become a culture of narcissists, each one living for their own gratification. Sex has come to be seen as recreation rather than an expression of intimacy. Marriage is viewed as an obstacle to freedom and in the USA the majority of children are born to parents who are not married. We live in an age dominated by two extreme passions, personal happiness and national identity as if nothing in between the two extremes really matters. In this environment the survival of the family unit is in doubt and if it fails so will the human race. Yet, I am not without hope.

The family defines our existence and fuels our capacities. I am fully aware of the harm that can be done within families. As a pastor I see the residual effects of neglect and abuse. Even when the cycle of despair appears broken it has often only gone underground. Addictive and abusive personalities pass from generation to generation. Often persons delivered from drugs or alcohol will become workaholics who neglect their children or their children will substitute another addiction for the one they saw in their parents thinking they have broken the cycle. Those abused in childhood may grow up to be abusers but it is more likely in an effort to not be abusive they will over compensate and not provide the needed boundaries in their children’s lives. Never the less, it is the family that provides the genetic and psychological structure for our capacities, the building blocks for our potential. It is in the family that we first define our “place” and begin the process of discovering how big that place can be.

The family is the primary educational institution of the world. It is from the family we learn the most, and the most important, lessons in life. Everything we learn from outside of the family is merely a refinement, clarification or expansion of the spacial/relational realities first learned at home. Our early experiences with family are the seedbed for those universal values of justice, mercy, and love upon which all civilizations depend for order.

The family is the cornerstone of all human societies and the primary safety net for the needy and the hurting. I know families fight; more than once I have been called to mediate those fights (usually late at night). What we do not celebrate enough is the norm, families coming together to meet each other’s needs. Personal crises are seldom made public because the family has already acted to meet the need. The disabled, the infirmed, and the mentally ill are cared for most often by their families, and so it should be. I thank God I live in a country where there are programs to care for those whose families lack the resources or the integrity to care for their own. However, I often wonder if some of our social programs of care do not undermine the core fabric of civilization, the family.

Most significantly, I am thankful for the family because it is the foundational presentation of the image of God. It was not man in the person of Adam that was created in the image of God, it was man in totality, Adam and Eve. (“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” Genesis 1:27). Our triune God is a social being who eternally exists as three persons knowing each other. Our very ability to conceive of God is born in the relationships of the family, even in the most dis-functional of families. Specifically, our relationships with our fathers (or primary male figure) and mothers (or primary female figure) are instrumental in our ability to conceive of God and believe we can know Him. Certainly those relationships are marred by sin and create barriers to a true knowledge of God, but more importantly they create the inner desire to know a faithful, loving, powerful Creator who is our Heavenly Father. And they provoke us toward perfect knowledge of a perfect God. I thank God for families, without them the human race would degenerate into hopelessness and savagery. With them the quest for a better society and an eternal home will be renewed.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 9, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2010

I am Thankful for God’s Direction.

The night I was first filled with the Spirit my thoughts frequently returned to the question of God’s will for my life. I had heard testimonies of people being called to preach when they were filled with the Spirit and so I kept looping back to question God if that was His will for my life. He didn’t answer. At seventeen, I really wanted to know God’s will for remainder of my life. That quest intensified as I entered Samford University in the fall of 1971, turning eighteen a few weeks later. I was a math and physics major, but my plans were to become an actuarial lawyer. During that first semester, I fasted and prayed often for an answer. In February I was still seeking for peace about my chosen vocation and I was trying to accept that God would direct my path with or without a clear answer to the long-term questions of life.

My room at Samford was in Crawford-Johnson Hall (later torn down to make room for Beason Divinity School). Crawford-Johnson was a “U” shaped, two story dorm with its own courtyard. The inside base of the “U” was covered with a portico which led to all of the hallways and rooms. One morning I was walking alone down the portico on my way to class (I wasn’t praying) when God spoke to me, “Transfer to Lee College and major in Christian education.” Again, this was not an audible voice; they were clear and specific words sounding inside my head. Continuing to walk, I responded, “Yes, Lord, but what is Christian education?” I knew it had something to do with the Sunday school and other church ministries, but I wasn’t certain what anyone did with a degree in it. [This event was almost exactly one year after I was filled with the Spirit.]

A few weeks later I was home in Jacksonville for spring break [My parents had moved back to Florida during the Thanksgiving break]. Our pastor, Bud Braddock – whom I had known since childhood, asked me if I would be willing to work for the church as Minister of Education during my summer break. I answered I would pray about it, that’s what you are suppose to say, but I knew instantly it was God’s way of confirming what he had said. I did work for the church that summer; that’s a different story.

I am thankful God speaks when He chooses and sometimes He confirms through people what He has said. I am also (but less) thankful God sometimes speaks through silence. In time I had to learn God sometimes (most often?) speaks by forcing us to choose a direction and then step out in faith that He will catch us if we fall. Through it all, He leads those whom He has chosen and He has chosen who-so-ever will follow Him. The call to go to Lee College was one of the most important interventions of my life. It set the stage for God’s vocational call and my greatest decision.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 8, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I am Thankful for my Truck

I drive a 2001 Chevrolet S-10 pickup with a five-speed manual transmission. I bought it new nine years ago this spring. It has over 130,000 miles on it. I have spent relatively little on repairs. It gets decent gas mileage. It runs good (so far). It has a few small dents, a crack in the windshield and the new smell is long forgotten, but I love my truck. It fits me like a glove and gets me where I want to go. It gives me a sense of freedom and productivity. I can haul feed or fertilizer without effort and I don’t have to worry about keeping it clean. The radio and air conditioner still work. Best of all, I haven’t had to make payments in five years. Honestly, I do thank God for my truck almost every time I drive it and only occasionally do I dream of a new Silverado –power windows and seats and real towing power (and better gas mileage by the time I buy, I hope).

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 7, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I am thankful for my home

Note: I have to change my plans for this series on thanksgiving. I was going to structure my list of items sequentially in groups as follows (1) God’s voice and grace, (2) family, (3) church, and (4) material/physical. But I have a heavy schedule in January and I will shift to things I can list more than describe. Contrary to most articles in “Jackie Speaks” I will be including some pictures where it seems appropriate.

[I am thankful: item 6]

Cheryl and I have been married for thirty-five years. We have lived in an apartment, a couple of duplexes, a couple of house trailers, a couple of rented houses, and a couple of houses we owned prior to this one. This is the first place we have lived that has truly felt like home. It was home the day we moved in thirteen years ago. Although it is in need of some updating and repair, it is larger and nicer than I ever dreamed I would own.

This place is a gift from God. Close to town, but in the country (less than seven miles from work), it is a sanctuary in our stressful lives. It is a place of peace. I most enjoy it when it is full of family, but it is always our place of comfort. We endeavor to be good stewards and use it as a tool for hospitality. I am so thankful for this house given to us by God as the place we call home.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 6, 2010

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I am Thankful for the Gift of Tongues

[I am Thankful: Part 5]

I am thankful for the gift of glossolalia, speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance. It is for me the abiding sign of the Spirit’s charismatic presence in my life. As I read the New Testament there are three functions for speaking in tongues: a sign to unbelievers (I Corinthians 14:22), the edification of the church (I Corinthians 14:5-6), and personal communion with God (Romans 8:26, I Corinthians 14:14, Ephesians 6:18, Jude 20). It is to this last function I am referring.

When I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues was a major hurdle in fully surrendering to God. I wanted God to forcefully take control of my tongue and begin uttering a language out of my mouth. I expected it would be like losing consciousness and waking up speaking a foreign language. It is amazing how much Pentecostals back then talked about the power, beauty, and importance of speaking in tongues without ever discussing the individual’s personal initial experience.

My experience was that glossolalia was a step of faith. I felt God’s presence in a special way, but he wouldn’t take control of my tongue. As I cried, prayed, and praised, a single syllable kept repeating over and over in my mind. I was afraid to say it because it was nonsensical and I didn’t want to let Satan start me down a counterfeit pathway. It was then I heard God whisper, “Do you feel my presence? If I am so real and upon you, why can’t you trust me to speak through you? Give me the syllable.” I spoke the syllable and joy began to flow through me as I repeated it over and over. Soon it became two, and then three syllables bubbling out of my mouth. In a few moments it was like a vocabulary had developed. I was euphoric with His presence and I wanted to stay there forever.

Another challenge came the next day. I knew I needed for the initial experience to become a part of my life; the encounter had to become a relationship. It was a struggle to pray through to that same fullness of the Spirit. In the end it was the same question I had to answer, could I trust God to be at work in and through me? Could I step out by faith and trust the Spirit to give the utterance as I offered up prayers that transcended my ability to articulate my newfound knowledge of God. Simply put, the challenge was to answer the question of whether glossolalia begins with me, my initiation of learned nonsensical speech, or does it begin with the prompting of the Spirit. And the answer was “yes.” Speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance is a partnership between a human and his/her creator. It flows from the human spirit and the Divine Spirit in union.

I soon learned that if my heart is right with God and my desire is to please Him, whenever I struggle to express myself to Him in English it is good to just begin to speak in the language He has nurtured in me. This is an act of reverent faith. In this I trust God to commune with me and pray for me. When this happens it is as if a floodgate opens and my innermost being is poured out before God. I feel wrapped in His loving presence and somehow I know He is carrying me through the situations of my life.

I prefer not to call my experiences with tongues a “prayer language.” I recognize my utterances have taken on characteristics of a language, i.e., patterns of repetition, and they are a form of prayer. In a very real sense this language resides in me. However, to me that term implies I have learned it and can start and stop at will without regard to the Spirit’s presence in my life. I never want to speak in tongues without a consciousness of God’s presence in my life. While I am fully aware of what I am doing, it is an act of trust in God that He is with me and He will not let me act in a way that defiles the Spirit. In this act I acknowledge the limits of my ability to know and communicate with God (reasoned speech) and I proclaim His grace to transcend that gulf, to know me and empower me to know Him beyond the limits of my self.

In truth, it is not the act of speaking in tongues that I cherish; repetitive gibberish is of no value to my soul. I cherish the communion of the Holy Spirit which sometimes expresses itself in tongues. If the Spirit is not joined with my utterances in a symphony of praise and petition it is an act of delusion bordering on blasphemy.

Yes, I am thankful for the gift of tongues. It is for me a theophony of communion with God that transcends reason (without negating it) and embraces my whole being. It expresses my faith in the power of the resurrection and the veracity of the Scriptures. Through this gift I return to the womb of God where I am nurtured and healed. I have a personal audience with the Creator of the Universe, my heavenly Father. In this act of worship, my past and future are woven into a single garment of praise.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 5, 2010

Monday, January 4, 2010

I am Thankful for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit

[I am Thankful: Part 4]

I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in February of 1971, a few months before I graduated from High School. It was the single most transformative experience of my life, to date. I cannot recall when I was saved. I cannot remember not loving God and desiring to please Him. [I am fully aware of my sinfulness; I just cannot recall not repenting on the day I became aware of my sins. I cannot recall not being saved. I can recall struggling for sanctification.]

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit brought me into a fellowship with God I could not have dreamed possible. Although I spoke in tongues for several hours, I did not hear the voice of God except as He prodded me to fully surrender just before the infilling. The Spirit prayed with me and through me. I was conscious of seeking God’s grace and favor in all areas of my life, but I did not hear Him speaking words to me. Instead, I felt fully at one with Him. I knew that evening He knew me and I was coming to know Him in a way that transcends reason or words. It was an expression and encounter of love.

That encounter with the Holy Spirit is the benchmark by which I measure my life. It is the fountain to which I must return often. It is an anchor in the storms of life. Out of that experience I know I must and can bring God’s presence to others. In the fullness of the Spirit, I am a witness; Evangelism is not just an activity it is a state of purposeful presence. Out of that experience I know the promises of God are certain and secure, even when I feel cut off from God. I live my life out of that encounter with God, finding the Spirit’s presence renewed day-by-day. Yet, I have never had the sensations of that encounter replicated in entirety. I have had new and different encounters with God, but each of them flows out of that initial baptism. I find myself hungering to be refilled as if for the first time, but that is a logical impossibility. Instead, I hunger for the day when the fullness of the Spirit shall be engulf all of creation, the day toward which my encounter with the Spirit points. On that day we shall know as we are known and all by its very nature will be to the glory of God.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 4, 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I am thankful for God’s steadfastness.

[I am thankful: Part III]

The second time I heard the voice of God was as I knelt by my bed for evening prayer a few weeks after the first experience. I have never been rebellious against God. “I don’t smoke, drink, or chew, nor go with the girls that do.” Yet after God spoke to me about His grace in my life I lived with a growing awareness I was not walking as close with Him as I should. I was convicted and I felt His absence in my life. I found myself frequently praying for assurance of God’s favor. As I knelt in my basement bedroom, I earnestly wanted to feel God’s presence and I cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why can’t I feel you in my life?” I was not expecting the words I heard echo in my head, “I have not moved.”

It was childish and misguided for me to blame God for my spiritual condition. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He stands at the door and knocks; He will come in and sup with anyone who invites Him. His invitation welcomes who-so-ever-will to enter into His fellowship. I was not forsaken. I had failed to walk close with Him. He is the ground of His own Being, the foundation of the universe; He is God, unmovable, unshakable. He is faithful; He is steadfast. We walk with Him the same way we first came to rest in Him, by faith.

In truth, I have prayed the Gethsemane prayer from time to time. There have been trials and tribulations when I felt abandoned by God. Even when I was walking in faith, I have at times felt abandoned. Yet every time I have instinctively prayed that prayer, I have been reminded of God’s voice so long ago; He has not moved. I can depend on Him. I will find His presence. Thanks be to God, who changes not.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 3, 2010

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I am thankful for the grace of God.

The first time I heard the voice of God was shortly after my seventeenth birthday in the fall of 1970. I was in my regular spot at the Huffman Church of God in Birmingham, Alabama, end of the pew, half-way up on the left hand side of the sanctuary. The preacher went through a litany of sinners bound for hell: adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, gamblers, and idolaters, etc. I prayed a simple, inner prayer of sincere thanksgiving, “Lord, I thank you I am not one of those people going to that place.” A voice rose up from my chest burning into my brain, “But for my grace that is exactly who you would be and where you would be going.”

I knew I had just heard the voice of God. It was from within and yet from beyond. It was exact, specific, and verbal without being audible. It was in the first-person, singular. He spoke to me, about me and what He had to say surprised and disturbed me. No one was aware of my encounter with the divine. I gave no outward response and it was in fact years before I spoke of the event.

I was not aware I was depending on my goodness to please God. Intellectually, I "knew" all salvation is by grace. But in that moment I knew there was an element of pride in me and that I was relying on my own goodness to make me acceptable to God. What I had understood now became woven into my being, salvation is entirely a gift, a gift that makes us pleasing to God. Therein lies the challenge of Christian living; I must live my life in response to the grace of God which gives and sustains my life.

Years later I had this first lesson renewed through a vision. This vision only lasted a few seconds. I was going through a great trial. Unable to sleep I went downstairs and sat at the dining room table. As I moaned a complaint of “why me?” and whispered a plea for God’s help, I saw myself streaming down a dark hill accelerating past road signs such as “Loving,” “Good,” “Kind,” “Gentle,” “Faithful,” etc. As I suddenly stopped and settled into an abyss of total darkness having left behind the signs of who I had thought I was I became acutely aware that without God I am nothing; I do not exist except that God chooses for me to be. Suddenly, I began to ascend through the darkness accelerating past other signs: “hatred,” “envy,” “bitterness,” covetous,” etc. In that traverse of a split second I heard a whisper, “By my grace neither are you these.”

I am thankful for God’s grace. By grace He formed me in my mother’s womb. By grace He gave me life, caused me to be. He sustains my existence. He has held back the power of sin to destroy me. He prepared me to accept the gift of salvation and He keeps me in the knowledge of His name and presence. By His grace I have heard His voice and responded to His call.

Cleveland, Tennessee
January 2, 2010

Friday, January 1, 2010

I Am Thankful

Last November leading up to Thanksgiving my sister, Shirley, wrote everyday on FB something for which she was thankful. I was challenged in my spirit to be more thankful and the thought came that it would be a challenge in 2010 to list everyday at least one thing for which I am thankful. I think this will be one of the greatest challenges of my life. I have plenty for which to be thankful, but there are days... So here goes.

I am thankful for the voice of God. When I was small I wanted to hear God speak or to see some supernatural manifestation of His presence. An evangelist would say something like “Raise your hands and wave them around; you just might bump into an angel.” I would stand in my seat and wave vigorously hoping for a brush with heaven. It never happened. In the Pentecostal environment there were ubiquitous references to God speaking to individuals. He revealed sin, promised healing, gave direction, and answered prayers. I wanted to hear His voice, to know He was real and He was aware of me.

I had to wait until I was seventeen for that experience. Since then I have heard Him speak to me on many occasions. He speaks with specific words. Once it seemed audible as though spoken into my right ear. Most often it is a simple clause or complete sentence formed in my innermost being. In my experience, God does not speak directly to me in response to questions or petitions, with the exception that on one occasion He did explicitly respond to an inquiry (prayed silently) through tongues and interpretation given by others. He speaks when I am not expecting Him to speak. Often it is during a time of prayer, but not always. His words change my direction or my theology. They are often corrective, but He has also spoken warnings and promises.

When He speaks I just know it is the voice of God. The thought is not what I was hoping for or expecting. It is not always pleasing, but it is always comforting. My Father in Heaven has His eye on me and He has a Word for me. I am thankful for the comforting, convicting, corrective, instructive, sovereign voice of God.

More on the voice of God tomorrow.

January 1, 2010
Haymarket, Virginia