Random Thoughts This Morning

Last night I was blessed to have one of my few true friends in service with us at church. He preached a wonderful message that blessed the congregation on David and waiting for your promises and gifts to come into full maturity. I find it amazing how God works and moves. This is a similar theme that I have been on for some time with my church. i have preached on Joseph and his ordeal before his dream become reality and on Habakkuk’s progression of faith. Now, without coordination on our part, my dear friend comes in and preaches a well-received message that drives home the point I have been trying to make. God is wonderful, and wonderfully timed!

Friends in ministry…true friends, not acquaintances, are few. This man is a true friend, and I am blessed to call him friend, fellow minister, and brother.

Changing direction, I am excited personally about the times ahead. I am nearing completion of my undergraduate degree in biblical studies and theology with Lee University. I anticipate graduating May, 2017. I am entering my final two classes on Tuesday. Part of the excitement is that I will have a degree. This is something I have lacked in my years on earth. I was a poor student in my youth. I seen little to no need for education or school. My concerns were far more social and much less focused on anything productive. I dropped out of high school and have lived life the best I knew how. God changed my heart on this, as well as my passions, and now, for the first time I look forward to finishing something. What is funny, ironic, whatever word choice you prefer…I do not see this as an end or accomplishment. I have realized just how much I do not know and the need to continue my education. To that end I am already enrolled at Pentecostal Theological Seminary.

Part of my excitement also lies with (I hope) more time to renew some online efforts in ministry. I have a YouTube channel that has been sorely neglected for far too long (YouTube Channel) and I intend on getting some sermons recorded to post. I am also investing in some inexpensive equipment to start a podcast, which will be on this page and hopefully pulled over to Apple Podcasts.

The way to reach people has changed in method. That is my driving force…people love the immediacy and lack of intimacy in finding something online. My hope is that through YouTube I can simply spread the message of Christ. The Podcast I envision being a little more in depth on studies and theological questions, but we shall see.

I may also start a new YouTube channel to highlight a hobby of mine. I have come to love fountain pens. Here is my favorite (and an early graduation gift to myself):

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This is a Montegrappa Copper Mule, based on their Fortuna line. They are not a “low-end” manufacturer, they produce some very fine Italian writing instruments. (You can pick one up here) I purchased mine in a medium nib and absolutely love it. Writing is a little different; it requires much less effort…except this particular pen, when writing with the cap on the back (or posted) feels like you have a brick in your hand! The pen is solid copper, as is the cap, so it certainly has some weight to it. Other than the weight, which is very nice not posted, the pen is such a dream to write with if you still use pen and paper.

I have been rather rapidly transition back to paper and pen for sermon preparation, school notes, etc. I just find that I retain the information much better if I take time to actually write rather than type. The professor for my one class at PTS this semester even commented that he had seen a study that writing helps with learning much more than typing.

God Bless,

Pastor Steve

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Reading Recommendations

I must confess, before beginning my educational journey I never ventured outside of my Pentecostal tradition in my reading. My boundaries have been pushed, expanded, ripped away, and rebuild within a safe area of higher learning. Through this journey I have encountered a few new authors and books as well as relied on some tried and true favorites. Here is a list of 10 (#1 is #1, the rest are in no particular order) items in my library I would highly recommend to all, with links provided:

  1. God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology by Elmer A. Martens (Buy It Here)
  2. Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit by Clark H. Pinnock (Buy It Here)
  3. The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education by Walter Brueggemann (Buy It Here)
  4. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Buy It Here)
  5. Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective by Veli-Mati Kärkkäinen (Buy It Here)
  6. Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians by Ben Witherington III (Buy It Here)
  7. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders (Buy It Here)
  8. Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom by Steven J. Land (Buy It Here)
  9. The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary by Walter Brueggemann (Buy It Here)
  10. Transforming Power: Dimensions of the Gospel by Yung Chul Han, et. al. (Buy It Here)

As a bonus, here are the two Bible’s I consistently use out of my many:

  1. Life in the Spirit Study Bible in King James Version (Buy It Here)
  2. The New Oxford Annotated Bible w/ The Apocrypha, 4th Edition in NRSV (Buy It Here)

In addition to the difficult choice of only 10 books and 2 Bibles, I do have some authors (and a journal) I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone serious about theological or biblical studies. Here are a few:

  1. Walter Brueggemann
  2. French Arrington
  3. Ben Witherington III
  4. John Christopher Thomas
  5. The Journal of Pentecostal Theology (and any of the Supplement Series monographs)

The lists are not all inclusive…I have at least 700 books not to mention journals, printed articles, etc. in my office. This encompasses hundreds of authors across a vast range of denominations, backgrounds, theologies, and the like.

I welcome feedback and suggestions here…please! I always love finding new gems to add to my library.

Journey with God

I have seen many times people say to a new convert, “You’ve got it made now…the hard part is over.” They could not be more wrong, or more dangerous. There is this old myth that life with Christ at the center is an easy life. The fact is, life is still life. Bills mount up, people are still people, and you are still in the flesh. Life is still going to happen, but now it is in fact a life with hope…a hope upheld in the resurrection. In other other words, our hope is eschatological, not immediate.

My journey has very much reflected a progression of growth, progression of frustrations, and yes, a progression in understanding. Today, I simply want to share some of my journey in hopes that it may speak to people at paths along their walk. My journey is no where near the end…and neither is yours.

My journey could go back to birth, but lets flash ahead to when I was 19. At that age I first went to the altar, but it was at the urging of others. This turned predictably into a prompt backsliding and even some bitterness. Life continued on, and in 2003 I finally dropped not at an altar, but at my seat in church. I wept, cried, and sincerely desired a different path than that which I was on. I didn’t understand a lot, but I knew this time that instant change wasn’t going to happen. Perhaps I was a little more aware from my past failures and I simply wanted a future hope. I wanted to live right and I didn’t want to go to hell, and I knew that Christ was the only way for that to happen.

In 2005 I received the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and in 2006 the call to ministry. This call to ministry is where I will focus, not because of lack of information, but because a personal story sometimes relates better.

My call into ministry was met with resistance…from me. I had watched my dad in ministry, I seen some of the pressures and heartache…and churches trying to starve out a pastor. I wanted no part of it. I tried everything to avoid preaching. And it wasn’t just the things I had witnessed in dad’s ministry, it was equally if not more so the weight of carrying forth the Gospel. That is a very serious call and I shrunk back instead of embracing the fact that God can and will equip those that are called. I tried writing for a website, running my own website; each with the purpose of spreading the Gospel, but both to avoid spreading the Gospel the way God called me to be a minister. It wasn’t until 2012 that I finally accepted the call fully, accepting a position as Youth Pastor with a church. This led to me becoming a credentialed (licensed) minister. Actually, that started a path to which I have no idea where it leads in terms of ministry and Kingdom work.

From Youth Pastor I transitioned into a Sr. Associate roles another minister took the Youth Pastor position. Ultimately, the youth were still my responsibility, though I now had other areas of responsibility as well. Things were going well, but little did I know what lay ahead. It is not that difficulties had not arose prior to this, but I just expected difficulties. They were learning experiences…from dealing with people as well as learning from my own mistakes. But the time was just ahead in which I was forced to deal with mistakes of others. After some time as Sr. Associate Pastor I was forced into a role of Interim Pastor in a most tumultuous time in a  church. Never mind the dirty details, but the church was torn, hurt, angry, bitter, and more. I was in a place to either overlook the dangerous issues and let others deal with it while keeping my hands clean…or I could do what was right and face the most difficult, hurtful time in my ministry to date. And Lord willing I will NEVER face something of that level again. I chose to do what was right, regardless of the hurt.

After this transition period was over I honestly left that particular church with a deep sense of rejection and a good case of the “church hurt”. That was the end of August/first part of September 2015. In a period of 3 years, 8 months I went from scared but trusting to bitter and hurt Pastor. That is hard to admit, but it is the truth. Less than 4 years and I had run the gamut of ministry that often takes years to experience. I have often asked, Why? But that is not for me to know fully, however I do know God has a backdrop of eternity on which He works, and somewhere all this fits into His plan for things I must pass along in due time to help others. It may be to learn and grow so I will better handle explosive church issues in the future…I simply do not know, but I know that looking back now I am thankful for my experiences. I am thankful I faced what a Regional Bishop in my state said no minister ever wished to face…I am thankful because with God’s Grace and Mercy I come out the other side with a church completely intact, moved on at the appropriate time, and now have the opportunity to serve as Pastor with a fantastic congregation with two budding ministers just answering the call. I now am in a place to serve not only a congregation, but to serve as mentor to other ministers. This has been a vision of mine for quite some time.

I have other desires as well, some are more personal in nature, such as a strong desire to move. I desperately want in a larger, more prosperous area with an academic center.  Cleveland, TN would fit the bill nicely as I have just enrolled with Pentecostal Theological Seminary as i finish my final classes with Lee University. That first weekend of May will be very welcomed as I receive a degree in Biblical Studies and Theology. This educational pursuit dovetails nicely with my journey in ministry. As I have advanced in my studies it has been simultaneous with my ministerial growth…and they have both led to one conclusion…I have much to learn. From my little town in Southern West Virginia I have enjoyed studying under some of the greatest minds in Pentecostal scholarship today such as Dr. Terry Cross and Dr. Rob Debelak. Now I am down the same with PTS, having Dr. Roebuck this semester for my one class there.

The past 4 years of my life have prepared me in ways I would have not chosen, nor expected. Some days I set back and feel a little like Joseph in Egypt. God has given me dreams…two specific dreams, that have not come to pass as of yet. In the midst of all that has happened I wonder at times if they will. Somethings have fit in with what I have seen…others are totally off the path of anything that makes sense. Joseph had a dream…and his entire path must have forced him to a spot of being thankful for where he was, but wondering if his dream was dead.

In the end, if I remain faithful, I believe my dreams will come to pass. Perhaps not as mightily exceeding as Joseph’s dream, but perhaps so. Either way, to live is Christ and to die is gain….I am thankful today for all the Lord has seen me through, for all that He has blessed me with, and for all the experiences He has allowed me in ministry and life.

Life is a journey…I may be young, and young in ministry, but I have experienced much more than would be expected. And I am here to be a help. Consider that an open invitation…

Reflections and Forward Looking

This week I purchased a cassette to mp3 converter. I have multiple years of West Virginia Church of God Camp Meeting cassettes that I desired to explore. Such great leaders and ministers as Dr. Oliver McMahan, Dr. Mark Williams, Dr. Steve Land, Daniel Hampton, Billy Claypoole, and others are on tapes in my office. CD’s are much easier to deal with, and I have those as well. William Lee, Chris Moody, and others are on CD.

We have an amazing heritage in the Church of God, and within this state. There are a great number of fantastic men of God that have never been privileged to preach camp meeting gatherings. Many have labored faithfully, week after week, winning souls and making disciples wherever they may be. They have not desired to rise through the ranks of leadership, preach to the great crowds of camp meetings, or see their name on a sign. They simply desire the Kingdom.

There is nothing wrong with either…or both. I think our leaders have been faithful in what the Lord has given them, and I sincerely believe their desires have been only to serve the Lord wherever He may lead. We are a blessed denomination.

For my own heritage my paternal Great Grandparents (both sets) were instrumental in the foundation of a local Church of God congregation, and my dad was a retired Pastor and Ordained Bishop with the Church of God. I have now served in ministry for a few short years within the Church of God, and my time has been blessed. Not without troubles, but definitely blessed. I have been privileged to preach a homecoming at the oldest Church of God in West Virginia, serve as Youth Pastor, Associate Pastor, Interim Pastor, and Lead Pastor. I am also putting the finishing touches on my degree from Lee University, and also have started my Masters program with Pentecostal Theological Seminary.

I am simultaneously looking back at the wonderful heritage and looking forward to my own future. Kenny Hinson once did a song titled “Put Something Back”. That is my desire. God, and the church, have been so very good to me, my family, my heritage, and preparing me for the future that I simply desire to “put something back”.

Musings on the Election

As we enter yet another transition of power in the United States people are either happy or sad. The election cycle to determine the next President of the United States was bitter, mean-spirited, and exhibited no fruits of the Spirit from either candidate. The one thing that has been made abundantly clear throughout the past year+ of campaigning is that we are a country divided, even within the church.

Recently on a Wednesday night I preached a message simply entitled “I” from 1 Samuel 8, Exodus 3 and Philippians 2. The short version is that we have failed God. We no longer look to a Savior to which every knee shall bow and every tongue confess…instead we have clamored for a king instead of the King of Kings. We have forsaken the I AM for the government, we have traded the power of God for the policies of the White House, and we have categorically rejected God in favor of something less powerful, less compassionate, less merciful.

I don’t particularly care what you are politically speaking. Republican or Democrat is all the same at the foot of the cross. I can see policies on both sides of the aisle that would fit into a correct reading of the Bible, but what I cannot see is either (or any) party completely satisfying the whole Bible. That is where our issue falls. As a society we want to hyper-villianize one sin and forgive another. We place our sovereignty as a nation ahead of the Sovereignty of God. We want a king to provide and protect, all the while forsaking the providence and protection of the only one that matters…