Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Competition Syndrome

Do you have children? If not, do you spend much time around them?

Listen to them, especially siblings; they often display something I call the "One-Up Syndrome", otherwise known as "trumping". Whenever my youngest daughter talks about doing, reading, going, or accomplishing something, her older sister has this incredible need to "one-up" her.

It is an embarassment to say that preachers are no different.

We are fiercely results-oriented, because we've been taught that a preacher who experiences little or no results in his/her ministry is scarcely worth walking across the street to listen to. Therefore, we---as preachers ourselves---have bred an entire generation (or two or three) of preachers who have virtually no self-identity when it comes to preaching style, especially in the Pentecostal genre of preaching. (There are two exceptions that immedietly come to mind, but they are the only two anomalies I can think of.)

It has troubled me for quite some time now that this "competitive" mindset is eating through our ranks like some hidden cancer, yet as obvious as it is to every one of us, few dare to tackle it head-on. We get up and preach---in our best Pentecostal voice, no less!---that "God didn't call me to be so-and-so", yet we try our best to preach like them, because they are the marquee speakers of the hour.

Someone recently made a statement that a particular preacher "...can outpreach almost anyone with his age and/or experience". In response, my mind immediately asked the question, "When did delivering a message from God become a competitive sport?"

It is not only preachers, but musicians, singers, choirs, youth pastors, outreach directors, etc. that struggle with this beast. This elusive, insidious spirit of competition is weaving its way through the ranks of Pentecost, eating us from the inside out. It causes discord, bitterness, jealousy, envy, and ultimately lying. Remarks are made, or tallies given, that are far from the truth, yet preachers (and the others as mentioned above) feel it necessary to make such statements with scarcely a thought because, from all we've been trained to believe, "results" are all that matters.

This past weekend, I was privileged to minister in a small church here in the South Texas region. What an incredible move of the Holy Spirit we had...not because of me, but (truth be told) probably in spite of me. I didn't take revival---or a move of the Spirit---with me, but rather, I was blessed because there were hungry souls in that service who worshipped God's Presence into the place.

I didn't actually "preach" (as far as taking a text, etc), but only spoke for a short time from my heart on what I felt God was leading me to say; however, in my closing comments, I made the statement: "We don't have an altar full of people seeking God, no one has received the Holy Spirit, and we haven't seen any miraculous healings today. However, this service has been what I consider a 'success' because God came into this house. If anyone leaves without whatever they came needing today, they've no one to blame but themselves, because the Giver of gifts is here today."

I'm sure there are those who will consider me haughty, pompous, arrogant, or worse; however, I have learned---through painful experience---that God is not impressed with my "works", nor with my "results".

When I step into a church, my goal for that particular service is to connect with God, to usher His Presence into the place. I cannot meet anyone's needs, answer anyone's prayer, or calm anyone's storm. But if I can somehow tap into the Majesty of the Almighty, and connect people with God through music, song, worship, or the Word, He can do whatever needs to be done.

If we can ever grasp this concept---that it really isn't about us, or our so-called "results---then God can move through us, and do what needs to be done in every service.

I am convinced that this is what is separating us from the Acts of the apostles.

They would do anything for the cause of Christ; we, on the other hand, will do practically anything for the promotion of Self.

I'm sure this particular post won't win the "Most Popular Blog" award. However, if we don't somehow attack---and crucify---this spirit of competition that rules our ministerial life, we are every one of us doomed to accomplish nothing for His Kingdom.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Wounded Church

This post stemmed from Ron Wofford's outstanding commentary on WordShare regarding "The abomination we never preach about". This is not to take anything from him or his words; they are truly worth reading...

I have watched this forum for a couple weeks now (having been gone for some time), and the fallout of the advertising resolution has left me wondering if the passing of this resolution really added any damage to a body that was obviously already fractured and wounded.

Isa 1:5-6 "...the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment."

I preached a message from this text some time back entitled The Wounded Church; this passage in Isaiah is, sadly, directed at Israel, God's own chosen, yet from His observation of them, they were filled with brokenness, wounds, injuries of all sorts. The gist of the message God had lain on my heart for that particular time: it is small wonder we are seeing such limited power in our churches now, because a body that is wounded, full of injuries, soreness, and putrefaction can scarcely be expected to operate in a strong, healthy manner.

I suppose it would be vain for me to attempt to share online what I felt so powerfully in that particular service, but let me at least share a handful of what the Spirit gave me on that weekend:

"Wounds" refer to an injury that severs, such as a deep cut from a sword or a knife; the only way a "wound" can heal is if it is wrapped tightly ("bound up") and the flesh begins to heal itself. This is much the same as our modern-day "stitches"; they do not actually heal the wound, but merely serve to bring the divided parts back together so that the body---and the blood flowing through it---will regenerate and heal itself.

"Bruises" refers to an injury beneath the surface. This is an injury that may never break the skin, but is a result of a direct (or indirect) blow that damages blood vessels and tissue underneath. The result is a mottled, discolored patch on the surface that is caused by a blood clot inside. While a bruise, at first glance, may seem to be more of a nuisance than a bona-fide "injury", the fact remains that the hurt is very real. Not only that, but bruises often take far longer to heal because they are so often overlooked or ignored. However, anyone who has ever experienced the pain of a deep bruising can testify that all it takes is an inadvertent bump from someone to bring the throbbing pain back to reality. An anointing of oil applied directly to the bruised area was used to restore blood flow to the clotted area, as well as to relieve the pain.

"Putrefying sores" are open injuries that have been left untreated. Today we would refer to these as gangrenous, or rotting. The only way to treat these was with direct cleansing, usually a very painful process that removed the dead or dying surface tissue, in order to allow new tissue underneath to grow and restore itself.

I suffered an injury during my time in Desert Storm, and as a result, every morning for two weeks, I had to allow the medics to scrub---with a stiff, unyielding brush---that open wound before they would apply the ointment and wrap it tightly to protect it against the grit, sand, and other contamiants of the atmosphere. I am not ashamed to say that I sat in that metal chair every morning with tears silently running down my face; the medic was always apologetic, yet he and I both understood that, without the scrubbing, without the removal of the previous day's scabbing and congestion, the underlying new flesh would be unable to breath, to grow, to heal.

The wounds that have afflicted our movement are not the result of the passing of one particular issue. If anything, that particular decision only served to jar the injuries that have been underlying for some time. The pain some have felt, as a result of seeing others walk away from certain truths or standards, has long been throbbing within, yet these hurts have gone unnoticed and/or unannounced, perhaps because---as with any physical bruise---it seemed like it would heal itself if just given time.

It has not.

If anything, the wounded body, which is the UPCI, has been allowed to remain fractured, broken, hurting. It is as if we choose to be satisfied with a limited amount of strength and power, rather than to take the necessary steps for healing to occur. Such steps require pain and sacrifice which we count as unneccesary for us to continue our supposed mission.

Am I saying that one side should concede to the other? That one opinion is right, and another wrong? That one should apologize for the division, and the other should feel smugly justified?

Absolutely not.

This body did not wound itself; we are a part of the Body of Christ, and God is not into self-mutilation. The wounds have been the result of a calculated attack by an enemy that is insidious, hateful, and ruthless in its onslaught against the Church. Yet, instead of recognizing the enemy, and joining forces to combat his assault, we have instead chosen to turn against each other, allowing the wounds to further decay, hurt, and degenerate. As a result, we further weaken the Body, which now causes us to be satisfied with "good church" instead of "apostolic power".

There needs to be a prayer among us, a prayer for healing within the body. I cannot---and will not---say that one "side" is right, and the other "side" is wrong; we are brethren, joined to one Body, united by the blood of Jesus Christ, yet that blood flow seems to have been stymied, and the healing process is slowing to a stop. And until the body is allowed to come together and be united in bonds of strength and healing, I fear that we will never truly see a demonstration of what God can actually do with a sound, strong, body that is whole.

I do not believe the UPCI is the Body of Christ; I do believe that it is a part of that Body. And if there are those who feel so strongly against a particular issue---whether it be advertising on television, or something else entirely---that they feel the need to withdraw from one particular organization, I choose to remain in fellowship with them, and to allow them to remain in fellowship with me (hoping they choose to do so) that the Body---as a whole---will be strengthened by our unity, and not weakened by name-calling, side-choosing, or misunderstood motives.

Despite the doomsday prophets saying that modern society is too far gone, too decadent, too filthy to ever experience an apostolic revival, I believe that America can---and will---be turned upside down by a Church that is strong in its beliefs, sound in its doctrine, and unified in its vision to reach the lost.

We believe God can heal our bodies; is it time, once again, for the cry to be "Physician, heal thyself" ?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Whatever Happened To Lingering?

Recently, I had the pleasure of breaking bread with a fellow minister; we sat in the restaurant for close to 3 hours, enjoying our time of fellowship and getting better acquainted. It was merely a time of fellowship, a time for he and I to get to know each other a bit better, yet it lasted almost three full hours.

A couple weeks ago, I met another friend at a well-known coffee house; we sat there over a cup of coffee and killed two hours. The only reason we parted ways was because we both had kids in school, waiting to be picked up.

It is not uncommon, in Pentecostal churches at least, for fellowship to last upwards of an hour after service has ended. Ironically, we'll stand around in the foyer (or parking lot) talking for a half-hour about where we're going to go fellowship for the next hour and a half.

I can enjoy a meal with my family, and when the last bite is finished, and the last plate pushed away with a contented sigh, sit there and continue the conversation for hours. And this is before it dawns on me (or someone else) that the livingroom furniture is more comfortable so "why don't we go on in there and talk for a spell?"

So why do we have such problems lingering in the presence of God? Whatever happened to lingering?

I can recall those services where the glory of God seemed to fall right close to the end of the altar service. No, nothing spectacular may have occurred during the course of the service, and there may have been no miraculous in-filling of the Spirit to an unsaved person, but there was a "lingering" that called us to just hang around for a few minutes longer. No rush to get to the restaurants, no hurry to get the kids in bed (although chances are, they'd go home and dawdle about that, anyway), no thoughts of 5:00AM coming early so I need to rush home and get to bed...

No, there was just that quiet, drawing Spirit that called us to just hang around...don't rush out, don't be in a hurry to leave. It was similar to that comforting feeling of hanging around the table after Thanksgiving dinner, or savoring a cup of coffee with a friend.

What a Friend we have in Jesus...

So why don't I prolong my time with Him?

What has happened to those services where we want to hang around, where we're more interested in what's happening right there in the sanctuary of God? Is it maybe because we've stopped realizing what a sanctuary His Presence really is? Is it possible that we've become so engrossed with everything else in life that we cannot even slow down to realize that, in His Presence, there's fullness of joy?

I know that I'm not the only one affected by this malady of misdirection, but I cannot change anyone other than myself. I am responsible for my own relationship with God, and the words that I write this evening are directed at my own heart. Call it introspection, if you will, but I have come to realize how precious His presence is to me.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine...

Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear...

There is absolutely nothing like the Presence of God, and it is in those times that we stand in His Glory and majesty that it becomes almost overwhelming to realize that, one of these days, if we remain faithful to Him, we will enjoy that inexplicable peace for all eternity. It is more than the human mind can fathom.

So why don't I linger more? Why am I always in such a hurry to get things done, to move on to the next service, the next weekend, the next midweek Bible study?

Why is it that suddenly---in the last few years, I suppose---that life has become so demanding? I have said for years, and will continue to believe, that those whom the enemy knows he cannot turn back, he will try to turn aside. If Satan cannot get a child of God to turn back to a life of sin, then his next biggest threat is to get them distracted, looking in all directions but the one that really matters.

With all of our calendars, Day-Timers, planners, pocket PC's, etc, we have managed to schedule our time so much more efficiently that we have almost scheduled God out of the picture. Pardon me if this sounds abrupt, but are we guilty of "penciling God in for an hour on Friday"? What would happen to my day---stop and think about this concerning your own schedule---if I actually got lost in the spirit of prayer and fellowship with God, and spent eight full hours with Him, instead of rushing about doing everything I'm trying to do? Would the world collapse? Would the church go bankrupt?

Or would I discover God in a way that I have yet to know Him? Would I become more closely acquainted with Him, as I did with my minister friend over a three-hour lunch a few days ago?

We need a revival of lingering in our services. I realize that we cannot force God's hand, we cannot make His Spirit sweep through our altar services, causing us to want to hang around. But pardon me for being a bit blunt...I wonder sometimes if God desires fellowship more than we do? Is it possible that I leave Him standing there wondering where I rushed off to?

"Could ye not tarry one hour?"

Is He still asking me the same question that He posed to His other disciples?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Calvary To A Child

Some time ago, I volunteered to take some old audio cassettes of sermons and preaching and convert them over to MP3 files for a friend of mine. He had discovered these old tapes in rummaging around through his attic, and thought to just discard them (attics, time, and mud wasps take their toll on old cassette tapes) but when I discovered his intention, I stepped up and offered to do this for him.

The job is not difficult, merely time-consuming; plug a cassette tape into the deck, and start recording. Most of the time, I have the volume muted so I'm not distracted by the progess of the recording until the annoying "ker-chunk" of the tape deck lets me know that the tape has reached it's end. I admit that I have probably missed a lot of good material by keeping the sound muted while these tapes are in the process of being recorded.

I have, though, uncovered some preaching gems in these boxes (which is why I volunteered to do it in the first place). Some of these tapes are by men who are/were looked at as giants in our movement, great men of God; some are from years ago, delivered by men who, sadly, are no longer with us, either because of natural or spiritual death. And so this morning, while sitting here at my computer, I kept the volume turned on (albeit at a very low level) while I continued working on my computer.

I'm glad I did.

The husband-wife team who were involved in this particular message are not known as "giants" of our movement. They are childrens' evangelists. It's not a real glamorous ministry, and one that is sometimes viewed as a "cute little thing" rather than being a bona fide ministry. And that in itself is a crying shame, for children are the future generation, and anyone who gives up the so-called limelight of ministerial politics to give themselves to reach young people is probably more of a giant in God's eyes than a lot of those oft-proclaimed "great preachers".

I've listened to a lot of preaching tapes, heard a lot of great "sermons" about God, about the Cross, about the blood of Jesus, and about the saving grace of God. I've heard a lot of good material just in the handful of these tapes that I've listened to thus far, and have little doubt that I'll hear some more before I'm finished.

However, this morning, because a husband and wife commited themselves to reaching children with this message, I saw Calvary in a whole new light.

Calvary from a child's perspective...

Children don't understand why Jesus had to die. Children can't comprehend that, because of the mistake of one man and one woman, we are all born into a life of sin, helpless to change ourselves. They don't understand the word redemption, nor the concept of grace, or the idea of spiritual adoption. The blood of Jesus, to a child, is something that probably should require a Band-Aid, not something to be sung about...

Children look at life so differently, with such innocence, and---because of a tape that I listened to this morning---I finally understood (I think) why the concept of salvation is so difficult for them at times.

Why did Jesus have to die?

He didn't do anything wrong. He made blind people see. He helped deaf people hear again. He touched crippled arms and legs and feet and made them all better. He loved everyone. He helped others. He taught people how to live better, to be nicer to others. He made bad people good. He was never mean or rude. He never told kids to go away and leave him alone. He always had time for children. He always had time for everyone, it seems like.

So why did He have to die? And why did those people do such terrible things to Him?

In today's society, much is said about the terrible effect that social trauma can have on a child. Witnessing parent's argue or fight; watching the effects that drugs and alcohol have on family members; abuse in all shapes and forms; these all take their toll on the hearts and minds of our children.

Can you imagine what a child must have thought while witnessing Calvary's cruelty? Imagine the child that once had been taken into Jesus' arms, sat on His lap, used as an object lesson to a bunch of arguing grown-ups...Can you fathom the shock and horror as he now watches Jesus struggle to draw another breath? Can you see the tears streaming down dusty little faces of children who had once laughed and ran in His footsteps, but now their eyes are wide with fear, not understanding why this kind man---who had always been so nice to everyone around him---was now hanging on a Roman cross, with crowds screaming at him, spitting on him, laughing at him?

I can't imagine it either.

But for one brief little moment this morning, I was taken back to the horror of Calvary, and saw it through the innocent eyes of a little child. And I sat here and I cried.

Sometimes we think we have it all figured out: God's plan of redemption, the purpose of the incarnation of deity into humanity, the sacrificial Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the restoration of fellowship between God and His own creation. We quote scriptures from Old and New Testament alike, pointing to why all this happened, and we have all the understanding of what God intended from the beginning of time. And we feel smug in our confidence that we have the answers, and having those answers makes our salvation that much nicer.

God take me back to Calvary's hill, but let me look at it from the innocence of a child's eyes. Let me see the horror, the agony, the cruelty beyond imagination, and let me---as a child---wonder again:

"Why did you have to die? Did I do something wrong?"


Friday, August 03, 2007

Daddy's Tears

Had to take my youngest daughter to the dentist this morning.

Although I'm going to reveal something that might, in the future, be a bit of an embarrassment to her, I'm only sharing this to validate the point that I want to make. Please don't feel that I'm being a cruel, heartless father for "telling on" my child; after all, it's something that many a child has to deal with.

She has had a problem with thumb-sucking, from infanthood. She grew tired real quickly of a pacifier; it would fall out in the middle of the night, and when she couldn't find it, she would wake us all with her wailing. Mom or Dad would groggily go and fetch the pacifier, plug it back in, she would drift back off to sleep with a contented whimper, only to have it happen all over again.

The problem is, this "addiction" didn't go away when she turned 2...or 3...or 7...or even 8. It has become a subconscious gesture, a security thing; most of the time, she doesn't even realize she's got her thumb in her mouth until Daddy says "Get your thumb out of your mouth!"

We've tried everything short of jalapeno pepper juice. (The only reason we refused that old trick is because of the danger of her getting pepper on the rest of her digits, then reaching up to rub her eye. NOT fun!) But it didn't matter what we tried; nothing worked. Not threats, not mittens, not even that nasty-tasting stuff made to stop nail-biting and thumb-sucking. Oh, it slowed her down for a day or so, but---by her own admission---she gradually got to where the taste didn't bother her, and before long, she was just as bad as ever.

We tried rewarding her. Wouldn't work.

We tried grounding her from certain treats (No bubble gum until you quit sucking your thumb). Still had no effect.

It was a subconscious thing, that she really had little or no control over.

Finally, during a routine office visit with the dentist, he mentioned to her (and daddy, of course) about the damage that thumb-sucking would do. He gently cautioned her about it, encouraged her to try to stop, then quietly mentioned to me that, as a last resort, there was a device that could be installed in the soft palate that would prevent the thumb from "resting" where it normally does.

"It's actually a subconscious habit they develop, sort of a security thing, and when they can't 'seat' the thumb there in that spot, it feels unnatural, and that encourages them to stop." was his explanation. What did I know, other than the fact that nothing else had worked.

So we went to the dentist today.

She's been facing this date with both dread and anticipation. On the one hand, she knows it will be a struggle to give up what has become almost second-nature to her, yet on the other hand, she wants so desperately to stop a habit that she knows is unhealthy, and the source of ridicule from other kids her age. She wants to be looked at as a "little lady" and not a "baby", but the pull of what has always provided her that tiny bit of security...not an easy prison to break free of.

Words can't describe how agonizing it was for me to watch them install this device. Granted, my daughter has earned her nickname "Drama Queen" for her melodramatics, but a parent knows when their child is genuinely hurting, or when they're just wanting some extra attention. Although I'm sure that a big part of her discomfort was the trauma of having some foreign fixture in her mouth, I also know that the pain of having it fastened to her teeth was very real. I know that the spacers they had to set caused her severe discomfort, and I know that this appliance---helpful though it is---is not comfortable, and certainly having it shoved into the roof of her mouth wasn't fun.

I sat there and watched, and I'll give my daughter credit: she cried silently.

Usually she lets the tears flow freely, and has no problem letting everyone around her know that she's unhappy. But today, she tried her best to be brave and quiet about it.

She cried without making a sound.

As she lay on her back in that dentists' chair, I watched as her little tummy heaved with silent sobs. I watched as her little feet crossed and uncrossed, as her hands gripped the arms of the chair to keep herself from interfering with the doctor. And I confess, a tear trickled from the corner of my eye. I couldn't, and wouldn't, stop it; that was my baby girl that was enduring the pain and stress of being "manhandled".

The dentist is one of the best I've ever met, and I know he was not being rough with her, but...oh, did I ever want to rush to my daughter's rescue, snatch her out of that chair, tell him "Just forget it!" and take her home where I could sugar-coat that thumb and make it even better. Anything to stop the pain and trauma.

But I knew...

I knew this was for the best for my child.

I knew that this was designed to help set her free of something that she could not do on her own.

I realized that, as gentle as that doctor was trying to be, there was a certain amount of discomfort that my child, my precious little girl, would have to encounter in order for this to succeed.

And I knew that this dentist knew what he was doing. I trusted him with my child's welfare, to take care of her, even though it might look (from my perspective) that he was not.

Daddy shed some tears today, even though I wasn't the one in the dentist's chair.

I cried for the pain and hurt that my child was having to endure.

And it dawned on me...

While we're being manhandled by the world, while we're enduring the pain, having things forced into our lives that make no sense, God is wiping away tears from His own eyes. Oh, the enemy would have us believe that, while we are being subjected to his evil devices, his assault on us, that God has turned His back to us, that He is unconcerned with our hurts, our confusion, our dismay.

But as a father who wept for my child today, who watched her silently endure something that, really, she's still too young to fully understand, I realize now that my Father loves me even more than I can comprehend.

He gets no pleasure out of my struggles; He gets no joy from my being broken. I believe when the ointment in my broken vessel is spilled out, His tears mingle with it. He hurts when we hurt.

But He knows what is best.

And in spite of the tears, He allows us to endure the hardships, the discomfort, the times of confusion, hurt, dismay. Because He knows that in the end, we will stand taller and have no cause to be ashamed of who we are.

I just went and hugged my little girl again.

Told her how proud I was of her for being so brave and doing so good in the dentist's chair. She doesn't understand exactly why I'm so proud of her.

But I am.

One of these days, I hope to get a hug like that from a Father who's proud of me, too.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Servant of all?

I bought a book several years ago that I still have yet to read all the way through; the title was captivating, however:

Descending Into Greatness

I remember mentioning the title in one of my bible college classes, and a couple of guys popped off and laughingly said, "How do you descend into greatness?" It is, indeed, a mindset that many men---of all ages---are completely unfamiliar with. Jesus, however, upon hearing the disciples argue amongst themselves about who would be the greatest, told them quite simply, "Whosoever would be the greatest shall be servant of all."

The idea of servanthood is so foreign to us all.

Here, I believe, though, is the root of the problem: We have no problem serving Jesus; we have no problem submitting to His authority and lordship, and recognizing His place in the Kingdom. The disciples did not argue with Him about who would be the greatest in the kingdom; they argued amongst themselves. They recognized Him as the ringleader, the Boss, the one who set the pace (yet still didn't fully recognize Who He really was), but they had little regard for one another in the kingdom.

We have no problem recognizing our place in the Kingdom in relation to Christ. Our problem is recognizing our place in relation to others who are involved in the kingdom, whom we consider our peers, or even our subordinates, our lesser brethren.

"Servant of all"...

I believe this is a large part of the dying process, the crucifying of self so that others might take preeminence among us.

"...submitting yourselves one to another..."

" honor preferring one another..."

" subject one to another..."

" lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves..."

I have no problem saying, "Not my will, but thine, Lord..." but it might not be so easy to say that to my neighboring pastor. It might not come so easily off my tongue on the floor of a conference business session, when I'm convinced I'm right, and my brother is the one responsible for disunity, and not me.

"Servant of all..."

Hard words, indeed, to swallow.

Much could be written about this short little phrase, but it speaks volumes in and of itself. And if we would see Jesus in our midst, we must learn to live by this standard.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"And Enoch walked with God..."

What an incredible eulogy; what a thing to be remembered for.

I woke this morning, and as I lay here in my bed talking with God, this passage came to my mind. Unashamedly, I confess that tears welled up in my eyes as I wondered what might be said of me after my passing.

Would it matter if folks said "He was a great father, a loving husband, a preacher of the gospel..."? Would that be a legacy to leave my children, and their children?

Or would it be the greater good to have someone tell my girls, "Your daddy walked with God, and God just took him on home."?

The recent passing of Lady Bird Johnson caused many great orators, politicians, public figures, etc. to stand and shower her family with words of comfort and encouragement, telling of all the wonderful things that she had done, how much she had given, what a great woman she had been throughout her life; one major newspaper blared the headline "Heaven is a sweeter place now", quoting a line from one of the speakers at the funeral.

Were all the major figures in the world to line up to say great things about me after my death, what could be more stirring than to have someone say, of a truth, "He walked with God"?

Much has been discussed---and not only in recent days, but for many years, I suppose---concerning "the greatest among us". This is not original with the United Pentecostal Church constituency, because even the disciples, while walking in lockstep with Jesus Christ Himself, argued amongst themselves as to who would be the greater. I can almost see the bemused look in the eyes of the Lord as He heard the murmurings of their heart, the angry whispers of His faithful followers, each setting out in his own mind where his place in the new kingdom would be.

Then Jesus blows it all out of the water by asking them, privately, "What were you guys discussing back there?" Mark's recording of this incident tells us that "they held their peace; for...they had disputed...who should be the greatest." Here are these guys talking about who's the best, the greatest, the most spiritual, the most captivating, the most anointed...and suddenly Jesus brings them crashing back to reality by taking a child in His arms, and teaching them a lesson in humility and selflessness.

We have preached (and I say "we" because I know that not only have I, but I know of several other ministers who have been preaching and saying the same things) in recent times that "It's not about us; it's about Him." but somehow I am afraid that we still don't get it. And I'm preaching to myself more than anyone else, because I know how fragile my human ego is. We realize---I really believe we do---that Jesus is the focus of our attention, adoration, and worship, and we willingly give that, but then somehow, when God allows us a little bit of honor through His Name, we get this idea that we've got a special place in the Kingdom.

Humility, selflessness, child-like's almost diametrically opposed to where we are today. We are not bad people, just as the disciples of Christ were not; we are just human, and often carnal (i.e. self-serving) in our thinking. And the scripture tells us that "to be carnally minded is death;...Because the carnal mind is enmity against God...:".

I was going to research what some of the commentators had to say about Enoch and his walk with God; I never made it past Adam Clarke's commentary:

The astonishing height of piety to which [Enoch] had arrived, being cleansed from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit, and having perfected holiness in the fear of God, we find not only his soul but his body purified, so that, without being obliged to visit the empire of death, he was capable of immediate translation to the paradise of God. There are few cases of this kind on record; but probably there might be more, many more, were the followers of God more faithful to the grace they receive.

I'm sorry if this is offensive, but Adam Clark's commentary---and Enoch's walk with God---are indictments against many of us who claim to walk with God today. I say this with tears and brokenness because I realize how far I have to go to ever hope to reach the relationship with God that some of the men of old had. And we needn't go all that far back to find men who could put us to shame: the stories are far and wide of men in just recent generations---we don't have to reach back into the Old Testament----who walked in a different realm than many of us walk in today. It is not that God favored them any more than He favors us today, for God is no respecter of persons.

It is just that they paid---willingly---a price to walk with God that many of us haven't decided we're willing to pay yet. Some will; others will not.

Does this mean that those who do not pay the price will be ineffective in the Kingdom, or unimportant to God? Of course not.

But there will be those giants who rise and walk among us and cast a much larger shadow than others. These men may never preach a conference or campmeeting; the chances of them running in the circles of the UPC "elite" are quite slim. They are too devoted to walking in the footsteps of their Master to try walking with other men.

At the risk of sounding egotistical, I confess that it has been said of me in the past that I am a good preacher. Superlatives and descriptives have been used that, quite honestly, are both flattering and embarrassing at the same time. When it comes to the gift of music, I acknowledge that I am skilled; God has blessed me, and He alone is worthy of any and all accolades.

But this morning, I have decided that I am not interested in being known as a great preacher, nor even as a great musician.

But God help me...Please let it be said of a truth when I pass from this life that, "He walked with God...and God took him."

There is no greater statement that could be said of a man.