A few weeks ago, I posted an entry entitled, "Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner" about the David Stein Show which had just been picked up in "3rd shift hours" at BostonTalks 96.9 WTKK. (The show CAN also be heard on-line anytime.) Due to the late night hours of the show, I've probably only heard a total of around 7 hours of it since it came on, but it's a real gem. David is a born-again Christian (born Jewish) who interweaves a lot of Scripture and Biblical truth into his program but does NOT use an "in your face" approach. The program is one of the most encouraging and inspirational I've ever heard. I was sad to learn that the company that syndicates his show is dropping it as of the end of this week, so tonight's (or is it tomorrow morning's?) will be the last show. David Stein expects to eventually return in some other venue several months down the road, and in the meantime is trusting God and being content with what God has done with the program.
“Let all things be done decently and in order,” (I Corinthians 14:40)
There’s an old Three Stooges short featuring a scene with Moe and a wealthy woman sitting on a sofa. Enthusiastically, she tells Moe, “I sense you’ve found the eternal spring!”
Simultaneously, Moe’s hand is digging into one of the cushions and he’s grasping a large, loose spring.
“Lady, I GOT IT!” Moe exclaims.
“What are you going to do with it?” she hopefully asks.
“Get rid of it!” he disgustedly replies as he flings the spring across the room and into Curly’s suit coat!
No, THIS piece is not about the eternal spring, but about the eternal sermon! I was pleasantly surprised and amazed when Pastor Gary at the church I attend mentioned this during his own Sunday morning sermon yesterday. Gary gave a great teaching from First Corinthians chapter fourteen about the proper usage of speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophetic utterances in church. (This is a MOST fitting subject for an Assemblies of God church audience.) Assemblies of God pastors sometimes have to deal with congregants who speak out inappropriate things at various times; and who later rationalize, “But GOD TOLD me to do it!” or “I just COULDN’T hold it back! I couldn’t CONTROL MYSELF!” Pastor Gary made it very clear that just because we feel impressed of God to say a particular thing out loud DOESN’T mean it has to be done right then and there! There’s a time and a place for everything. (“AMEN!” to that.)
It’s the next part of the sermon that blew my mind as Pastor Gary touched on one of my pet peeves. I wasn’t raised in the Assemblies of God. Now, I thoroughly believe in and teach the doctrines of the Assemblies of God. But I’ve always had a problem with sermons in our fellowship that go on seemingly forever, in which the speaker will often say something like, “I’m in the Spirit and GOD wants you to hear ALL of this and if you don’t you’re disobedient!” In addition, there are the church services which go on seemingly forever, and the pastor will announce something like, “DON’T leave unless you don’t care about the Holy Spirit and you like being totally out of the will of God!” Along with laity who misuse public utterances, Gary criticized preachers who go on and on and on in their preaching, are are actually in the flesh and out of the will of God when they do so. Again, AMEN, Gary! I remember one such Easter Sunday sermon when I was in Bible College. At the church where I attended in Springfield, Missouri,the guest speaker went on and on, saying “I know you’re late for your dinners, but THIS is more important!” Honestly it wasn’t a particularly good Easter sermon, and this guy should have finished at least twenty minutes earlier than he did. Now, I’m not opposed to long services and long sermons if they’re REALLY “in the Spirit”. At one special service with Hannah Price Richardson from Canada (now deceased) at Christian Life Center in Walpole in the early 1980s, she preached a long sermon and ran a long altar service. Nobody minded. It was joyous, wonderful, and invigorating. I was stunned that when the service ended it was almost 3 p.m. I’d have guessed it was maybe a little after 1. When the Holy Spirit is REALLY moving, no preacher has to manipulate the crowd to make them stay!
Sadly, I have had other bad experiences with long-winded preachers. Several years ago when I was pastoring in Framingham an Assemblies of God pastor I am acquainted with phoned me. He was pastoring in the South, but was traveling to Massachusetts to spend some time with his elderly father. He told me he was looking for speaking engagements to help defray his travel expenses. I booked him for a service. Shortly after he arrived at the church, he asked me about how long he’d have to preach, and I told him, “Plan on about 45 minutes.” Immediately upon stepping into the pulpit, this preacher said, “The pastor says I have 45 minutes for this sermon, BUT I’M GOING TO TAKE AS LONG AS I WANT TO!” I did not hear one word he said after that statement. I was appalled. Now, I was pleasant, and he got his check, but I knew I’d never invite him back. I wish I could tell you that was the only time something like that every happened at our church, but it isn’t. And, I’ve visited other churches and seen speakers manipulate the crowd, and run services for hours on end. One evening my wife and I visited a large church for a special service. After two and a half hours, I walked out to the car and was sitting there listening to the radio. My wife was surprised that I left. I told her I was not angry or anything like that, but that I’d sat through two sermons, a long time of praise and worship, and a bunch of special music. I told her that after two and a half hours, I was done. It was nice, but I was ready to get up and move around and do something else.
The Rev. David Yonggi Cho, pastor of Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, South Korea (the largest Assemblies of God church in the world) has a real problem with the long services that take places in America. I read in one of his books that he sat through one such service in a fairly large church in the South. Cho is used to running 9 services every Sunday. He sticks to time limits and the people are moved in and out. He believes there is a danger in services being SO long that visitors will tire and think, “Boy I’ll never go back to that church again!” Cho thinks it’s far better for them to be left spiritually hungry and wanting more after a shorter service, for they’re likely to RETURN to other church services!
A few months ago, I was in a group meeting where a retired Assemblies of God pastor was speaking. He told of the Sunday that one of his trustees installed a clock in the church sanctuary. He said he pointed at the clock and yelled, “Get THAT out of here!” There was quite a look of control and dominance as he told that story. Everything in me wanted to say to him, “So in other words, you can’t work within limits and perimeters?”
Maybe I’m skeptical, but in our Pentecostal circles people always talk about great moves of God where “the service ran way overtime” or “the preacher went on for 3 hours”. I’ve often wondered why the Holy Spirit likes services and sermons to run late but never to start early. Frankly, I’m not always so impressed with sermons and services that run on and on, although as I wrote above, as with Hannah Price Richardson that CAN happen. I am still looking for the Assemblies of God service where the people show up over an hour ahead of time; where they’re already praying and crying out to God in the parking lot...where they ask the pastor if he’ll PLEASE start the service early because they want to worship God. (Actually I understand that some things like that DO happen at the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York, and THAT’S evidence of real revival!)
Does your pastor preach eternal sermons? Maybe you ought to give him or her this piece to read! You can make ME “the bad guy”. Or maybe you’re a pastor like the guy who yelled about the clock, “Get THAT out of here!” or like Reverend “I’m going to speak as long as I want to.” Listen, Billy Graham gives every effective salvation sermons in about twenty minutes! As I recall, the famous Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” isn’t all that long...maybe would take thirty minutes to deliver. Pastors, I think you’ll do well to heed Pastor David Yonggi Cho’s advice; AND Pastor Gary C’s advice!
“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” (2 Peter 3:4)
There has been so much publicity about one group’s prophecy that “the rapture of the Church” will happen on Saturday, May 21, 2011, that I imagine many readers will at least have heard about it. The “prophet” is 89-year-old Harold Camping of Oakland, California. Camping founded “Family Radio” in 1959 and has hosted the evening call-in radio program known as “Open Forum” since 1961. I really don’t know if Harold Camping’s “Open Forum” still airs in the Boston area, but it did back in the early 1980s. I was a regular listener. Please don’t misunderstand. I was never a supporter of Harold Camping. I disagreed with him about many matters. Camping taught, for instance, that all Pentecostals and Charismatics proclaimed “another gospel other than the true gospel” and that such people were on their way to Hell. (The Assemblies of God is a Pentecostal group- thus I was among those bound for Hell!) Camping’s not a stupid guy. I’d guess he has a very high I.Q. Some of his Biblical exposition and teaching was quite well done and fascinating, but he could also be very narrow-minded and judgmental. In those days, Harold Camping didn’t even believe in “the rapture”!
Camping belonged to the Christian Reformed Church, a highly Calvinistic denomination made up of mostly people of Dutch ancestry. I don’t want readers to fall asleep on me, do I will try not to become too “cerebral” here- the bottom line is, the church holds to a strong “predestination” position- that is, God pretty much planned everything out completely, and it’s all playing out as He planned it. The C.R.C. is also “amillennial” and does not believe in “the rapture”.
“Amillennial” means “no millennium” or “no thousand years”. In Revelation chapter 20 the Bible speaks of Jesus Christ returning to planet Earth and literally reigning from Jerusalem for 1000 years. Most churches ARE “amillennial”... that is, they don’t take this stuff literally. That’s why many of you church going people have never heard of “the rapture”. A number of churches (mostly evangelical) DO believe in “the rapture”, however, and DO take the passages about the return of Jesus Christ to this planet to rule it for 1000 years very literally. Such churches would include most (but not all) Baptist groups, most Pentecostal groups including the Assemblies of God, the Evangelical Free Church, and others.
I heard Harold Camping interviewed by secular radio broadcaster Michael Smerconish a couple of nights ago. On-line biographical references about Harold Camping indicate that he left the Christian Reformed Church a number of years ago. Camping now believes ALL churches are corrupted and wrong. Camping no longer believes in a literal Hell. Camping is no longer a strict Calvinist. And, Camping now believes in “the rapture”. Smerconish tried and tried to get Camping to explain why he believes “the rapture” will happen on May 21. Camping totally ignored the question and prattled on about judgment coming to the unrepentant. Smerconish later wonder on air if ANYONE outside of Harold Camping and his small group of followers believes “the rapture” will happen on May 21. Smerconish suspects no one does. I think Michael Smerconish is correct about that!
When I “got saved” back in 1970, there was much talk in evangelical Christian circles about “the rapture” and the Second Coming of Christ. We were all reading Hal Lindsay’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” and books like David Wilkerson’s “The Vision”. I really wondered if I’d ever make it out of Bible College before “the rapture” took place. I certainly couldn’t imagine ever having grandchildren- “the rapture” was likely much too close for that! While dates were never set for “the rapture” and some preachers said it could be decades and decades away, for most of us there was the sense that it was right upon us. Today, evangelicals still believe in “the rapture” and the Second Coming of Christ, but it’s frankly not preached about much or talked about much any more. What’s happened?
For one thing, there was Edgar Whisenaunt. Edgar Whisenaunt began distributing a soft cover book in early 1988 entitled, “88 Reasons Why Christ Returns in 1988. He set September 12 or 13 of 1988 as the time for “the rapture”. Probably 2 or 3 percent of evangelicals believed Edgar’s prophecy, but the rest were disgusted, embarrassed, and believed it was all wrong. Ironically, Whisenaunt came out with another book in 1989 saying “the rapture” would happen in 1989 and that he had miscalculated by one year. NOBODY took that seriously! “Prophets” like Whisenaunt and Camping make born-again Christians look so foolish that many are ashamed and embarrassed to say anything about “the rapture” or even to THINK about it. I suspect this latest escapade will only service to reinforce that reluctance to proclaim or acknowledge “the rapture” and the Second Coming.
When I did listen to Harold Camping’s “Open Forum” in the 1980s, Camping was constantly warning against false prophets, false teachers, and false churches who proclaimed “another gospel other than the true gospel”. Isn’t it ironic? That’s EXACTLY what Harold Camping has become! He’s become a false prophet proclaiming another gospel other than the true gospel!
Listen, I don’t expect “the rapture” to happen on May 21. Well, if it does, it will be entirely coincidental and will be in spite of Harold Camping and not because of him! The Bible never used the word “rapture” nor does it ever use the word “trinity”. But it DOES teach the Trinity and the rapture. Where is “the rapture” taught about? Check out First Thessalonians chapter 4 (and there are other places as well such as I Corinthians chapter 15).
Friend, there WILL be a “rapture of the church”. It may be today, or tomorrow, or in six months, or in six years, or in a hundred and sixty years. I sincerely hope evangelical Christians will NOT be afraid of speaking about “the rapture” and the Second Coming. I hope we all speak about it MORE with boldness! Yet, no one knows the day or the hour of “the rapture”; no not even Harold Camping.
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:" (James 1:19)
If there is any very Bible verse that 21st Century Americans need to learn, and not only learn but PRACTICE in their daily lives, it's that one! It doesn't seem possible that I've been working at my telephone answering service job now for fourteen months. In that period of time, I have spoken on literally thousands of telephone calls, and I have experienced a myriad of human behavior. I just want to share a few examples here:
This past Saturday, I encountered the angriest caller (the father of a child who had broken his arm) to date at the answering service job. I had gone on my one hour break, and just a few minutes after signing back on, I picked up the phone to listen to this irate man. He sounded like a WWF (or is it WWE?) wrestler..the way they'll yell and say things like "I'll break every bone in your body!" No, he did not say THAT, but he ranted about having called two hours earlier to a particular pediatrics practice. No one had called him back...his son had not been treated, and he was furious. I tried to get through to the pediatrics practice's inside line, but all I could get was a busy signal. I tried to explain that to the caller, but there was a flurry of callers that came in, and somehow I lost his call. I DID send a message over the computer screen to my Supervisor (in the next booth) telling her this guy was irate and that we needed to do all we could to get in touch with that pediatrics practice. A couple of minutes later, another operator in the call center answered a call and it was that same guy, yelling at her. At the same time, I could hear my Supervisor on the phone. She HAD reached the pediatrics practice and was relaying the message and asking the nurse at the practice to call that man. While the Supervisor was still on the phone, I answered a call and it was the guy! This time he sounded ten times angrier than before! I was TRYING to tell him that my Supervisor was on the phone with the practice and that they'd call him within a minute. I could NOT get one word in edge wise. The man kept yelling, "I want a call back within three minutes; you got it, three minutes!!!???? Not one hour, not three hours, THREE MINUTES??!!" He just kept yelling that over and over, non stop. I tried and tried to break in. Finally, I did something I have seldom done on that job. I just hung up the phone. And, you guessed it. He called back AGAIN and got another of our operators who transferred the call to the Supervisor. The Supervisor also tried and tried to explain that we truly WERE trying to help him. When she hung up, she commented, "I just can't understand why he would wait for two hours with his son with a broken arm. Why wouldn't he just go to the emergency room?" All of us concluded that the man's judgment had been clouded. The issue for him was really NOT getting treatment for his son's broken arm. The issue was arguing with the medical practice and answering service and trying to prove he was right. That's the kind of thinking that sparks road rage murders!
It's not just the callers. I hate to say it but I've learned the behavior and attitude of television's Dr. House are NOT far from reality with some physicians! I phoned a doctor who was on call for his practice this past Saturday morning. He told me he was out running through the woods and that he did not want any calls until he got back to his house. (Again, mind you, he was officially on call and there were sick patients trying to reach him.) I knew what it was to be on call when I was a pastor. If a pastor pulled that kind of stuff, the next thing he'd know, there would be a surprise Board meeting and he'd be fired! On Saturday afternoon, I paged a doctor who had just ended being on-call. This was for a true emergency involving a child's head injury and a very upset uncle who was in charge of the kid while his parents were away. The doctor curtly reminded me she was no longer on call. It was like pulling teeth to get her to talk to the upset uncle rather than page the off-site nursing agency who'd call the uncle back in thirty minutes. The Bible talks about the difference between the "letter of the law and the spirit of the law". Honestly, I'd LOVE to give a seminar for all the doctors who are clients of that answering service explaining that concept!
People can be so self-centered and impatient. On weekends, we coordinate deliveries for several medical service companies. Most of these companies use delivery drivers who cover very large territories. One guy may cover the entire state of Vermont, for instance. Yet, someone in Swanton, on the Quebec border, will be very perturbed that the delivery man, who is now in Brattleboro, not far from Franklin County, Massachusetts, will take over three hours to get to his residence with the medical delivery the caller wants IMMEDIATELY. TRUE STORY: about six months ago, the delivery man for one of these companies was involved in a vehicular accident which totalled the company's van...late on a Saturday afternoon. A family on Cape Cod was waiting for an important medical supply delivery. I informed the family that the van was in a wreck and that "the delivery will have to be made tomorrow". Now, that family really didn't understand that I was working for the answering service; although I tried to explain that. They did not understand that I have no authority with that company to order its drivers and employees around; and neither do my Supervisors have that authority. The caller from Cape Cod informed me that they DID NOT CARE that the man was in a vehicular accident and that the van was wrecked. They DEMANDED their delivery. I called the poor shaken up delivery man on his cell and told him that. He was almost in tears and told he all he could do was deliver the item as soon as he could in his own private vehicle.
Now, I admit, I'm NOT always the most gracious customer. But fourteen months on this job have really mellowed me and I am MUCH less likely to whine if I get a Hazelnut coffee at Dunkin' Donuts when I wanted a French Vanilla or if the guy at the post office gives me a Canadian dime in the change I receive. It gets to the point that you have to realize we're all human. We are certainly to do our best, but we will all make mistakes.
Yup, it's doctors and it's truck drivers...it's waitresses...and it's corporate executives. We all fall short sometimes. We all make mistakes. But I think of that father with the kid with the broken arm. HE made that whole situation worse. And, speaking of doctors and medical practices, maybe more should give this for a prescription: "TAKE A CHILL PILL"!
"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." (Psalm 166:15)
Yesterday, I received word that the Rev. Carl Guiney passed away (or "went home to be with the Lord" as we evangelicals like to say) this weekend. I mentioned in my last blog post that David Wilkerson was famous in evangelical and charismatic Christian circles. Outside of the Assemblies of God in southern New England, I suppose few people would know who Carl Guiney was. I want to share a bit about Carl Guiney here.
I remember Carl Guiney almost always having a big smile on his face. He was light complected, somewhat short of stature, mild-mannered, and at least thirteen years older than I am. At the time Carl Guiney graduated from Central Bible College in the mid-1960s, Rhode Island was the only state in which there were NO Assemblies of God churches. Carl Guiney felt a definite call of God to New England and planned to start a church in Rhode Island. He "pioneered" First Assembly of God of Wooksocket, Rhode Island which he pastored for around forty years. Sadly, three years ago, Pastor Guiney was diagnosed with brain cancer and around two years ago, due to his health issues, he stepped down from his pastoral duties at the Woonsocket church. I know this next part may be somewhat confusing to readers who are outside of the Assemblies of God, but we are divided into approximately fifty Districts nationally. Each of the Districts is divided into several Sections. A pastor called a "Sectional Presbyter" is put in charge of the ministers and churches of a particular Section. For many years, Carl Guiney was Presbyter of the Rhode Island Section (which included some Massachusetts churches and ministers). When I took my examination for "License to Preach" in 1981, Carl Guiney was the Presbyter who administered the examination to me and corrected my test. When I was Ordained at District Council in Brookfield, Connecticut in 1985, Carl Guiney was the Presbyter who laid hands on me and prayed, ordaining me into the the full gospel ministry. Thus, I had a definite connection to the Rev. Carl Guiney.
I pastored a very small church in Framingham, Massachusetts for over twenty years. Sometimes, I felt marginalized and dismissed by some of my ministerial colleagues, but that was never true of Carl Guiney. Carl Guiney and his eighty-ish father-in-law Ray Shepherd (also his Associate Pastor) always treated me with dignity as a friend and a colleague. I was honored that they had me as a guest speaker at the Woonsocket church around seven years ago.
Despite the stereotype of Pentecostal and Assemblies of God churches as being full of "holy rollers" swinging from chandeliers, some AG pastors and churches are quite sedate and conservative and that was true of Carl Guiney and the church he pastored. Please don't misunderstand me. Carl was thoroughly Pentecostal, but never wild and crazy. Often he served as a "Parliamentarian" at District Council meetings. He usually drove some sort of mid-sized sedan manufactured by Chrysler Corporation. Carl was a good faithful pastor, and a decent and fine man.