My Comments on the Issue of Women on the General Council

From the earliest days of the Church of God we have firmly stood in our belief in the whole Bible rightly divided and the New Testament as our guide for faith and practice. Each time this body has gathered, from the earliest times, we have attempted to mutually discern how to structure and lead this church with that firmly in mind. 

I believe every member of this General Council shares that desire in a deeply held way. We obviously have disagreement on this point, but that disagreement is not because one group holds the Scripture in higher esteem than another. And that is what concerns me when I hear my brothers say that this motion would cause us to go against the Scripture. A better way for us to say that would be that it goes against a certain METHOD of reading and interpreting Scripture. And there are just as many who faithfully interpret the Scriptures in a way that leads to a different understanding on this issue, while still holding to the core teachings and commitments of our church. 

The number one way to stop a conversation in a movement like ours is to say we are violating Scripture. That strategy has been used with great effect today. But I respectfully submit that it is not Scripture we are going against. It is a particular WAY of reading Scripture. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. Or an issue of adapting to the prevailing culture. It is an issue of hermeneutics. And it is my view that we need to eventually decide as a movement what our hermeneutic of Scripture is going to be. But make no mistake, this is a family discussion.

In light of the fact that our disagreement today has been about both age AND gender, I want to share a statement spoken at a General Assembly a few years ago, a statement that was made by a pastor and educator who also happens to be a woman. This statement best expresses my concern today. I quote:

“At this General Assembly I have been made acutely aware that the baptistic-fundamentalist strand in the Church of God has won the day over its holiness roots. The language, the interpretation of scripture in which the vision of the fall is viewed as normative, tell me that our ministry is more fundamentalist than holiness.”

The only thing I would change in that quote today is to add the phrase Neo-Reformed in addition to fundamentalism. Regardless, I can testify that this statement sent me on a quest to better understand Scripture as well as to further understand and embrace our Pentecostal identity. Those who know me know I am passionate about these things. 

Again I say to this Council today, I believe we all agree on the authority of Scripture. But we have also agreed to the fact that our understanding of Scripture periodically must be revisited. Otherwise we would still be holding to everything stated by AJ Tomlinson in our earliest days. To be clear, we have rethought some things since then. 

“Come now brothers, let us reason together.” The canon of Scripture is closed. The Minutes of the General Assembly are not. Let’s be careful that we don’t confuse the two. 

Posted in General Stuff | Comments Off on My Comments on the Issue of Women on the General Council

What Happens To Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel When They Die? And Yes, Jesus IS the Only Way To Be Saved

This past month, I have been preaching a series called “Hard Questions” in which I attempt to offer biblical answers to ….. well …. hard questions. And that can be hard. That’s why they are hard questions. In week 1 we dealt with the issue of “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” Week 2 was “Is There Really Life After Death?” Week 3 was “How Could A Loving God Send Someone to Hell?” and Week 4 was “Aren’t All Religions the Same?”

These sermons have been well-received and there is a high demand for the recordings. We had a podcast glitch last week that we caught yesterday, so we will get caught up on the podcast (hopefully) today. But the bottom line is these are controversial issues. These are issues that challenge people’s faith. And in some cases they can prevent someone from coming to faith. We need to be prepared to offer answers that are both biblical and faithful to the teachings we have received from the earliest days of the Christian tradition.

I want to write some further thoughts here about yesterday’s message on world religions and the particularity of Christ. I do so because I want to make sure that my position is clear on these matters. In particular in light of my comments about the possibilities of salvation for those in the world that have yet to hear the gospel and what God will do with them in eternity. That is a controversial topic indeed.

Let me make a few things extremely clear about what I believe and what we teach at ROL:

  • There is absolutely no salvation outside of Christ. Furthermore, this salvation is not based in any way on our works. If God had not acted to save us, we would be doomed because we cannot save ourselves. However, I do believe we are saved to good works (see Eph. 2:10) which means in our ongoing relationship with God what we do matters and we will be judged for it. True Christianity will require me to live in a humble relationship with the Lord in which I quickly repent of those times when my behavior grieves the Holy Spirit and moves me away from union with Christ. See 1 John for what I am talking about.
  • My first statement means that I do not believe that any other religion in the world possesses a full revelation of truth, nor can they bring someone to a saving relationship with God as they do not deal with the issue of sin and corruption in the heart and they place the responsibility on the seeker of salvation to earn it through works.
  • This places me in the very controversial position of declaring the particularity of Christ in a world full of people that seek pluralism (i.e. declaring that all religions are equally valid paths to God). I am not pluralistic.

My hope concerning those that have not heard the Gospel and have no knowledge of Jesus Christ (much less what He has done for us) is that they will be judged by the light God has shown them through the prevenient work of the Holy Spirit (in advance of the full proclamation of the Gospel). This view is often referred to as “Christian Inclusivism.” I will not be dogmatic about this view, and I really don’t identify myself with it or any other view. I am simply “hopeful.” Consider Paul’s words to the Roman Christians:

“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Romans 2:12–16 NIV)

The idea here is that the Spirit is at work in the world right now. Those in the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition refer to this prevenient grace. It is very similar to what those in the Reformed tradition refer to as common grace. When I say that God will hold these unreached people accountable ‘for the light they have been given’ I am saying that if those who have not yet heard the name of Jesus respond to the Spirit’s work (who is drawing them to Jesus) then God will judge them for what knowledge they have received in spite of – not because of – their religion. It is just as likely that many will reject the Spirit’s work in these situations and they will be judged negatively for that as well.

I am not staking out a dogmatic position here because the truth is we really don’t know for sure. It is “above our pay grade” as we say around here. People I respect hold differing views on this issue. In the end, as Abraham said in his petition to save Sodom and Gomorrah – “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:25) ” I say that whatever “right” is (and only God knows) then that is exactly what He will do. He is a good, loving, and just  Father. Now on to dismiss some misconceptions about inclusivism. I take these directly from the blog at (accessed April 25, 2016)

Note: These myths are stated as just that – myths. So when it says “Inclusivism is the same as Universalism” that is the myth. The truth is that “Inclusivism is NOT the same as Universalism. 

Myth 1 – Inclusivism is the same as Universalism:  The truth is, Universalism teaches that all will be saved, and that there is no hell.  Inclusivism teaches that many people will perish and spend eternity in hell.

Myth 2 – Inclusivism is the same as Pluralism: The truth is Pluralism teaches that all religions are equally good and lead to God.  Inclusivism teaches that salvation is only through Jesus.  Inclusivism teaches that God justifies some heathens despite their religion, not because of it.

Myth 3 – Inclusivists hold to Annihalitionism: The truth is Annihalationism is the belief that hell is not eternal.  It is unrelated to inclusivism.  Many inclusivists believe that hell is eternal.  Likewise, there are exclusivists who hold to annihalationism.

Myth 4 – Inclusivism is Philosophical Rather than Scriptural: The truth is it is true that Inclusivism is not explicitly taught in scripture.  The same is true of the doctrine of the Trinity.  Like the Trinity, inclusivism is a view that is arrived at with a plenary reading of scripture.  Inclusivism flows out of a Biblical understanding that God is love and desires to reconcile everyone to himself.    Some verses inclusivists point to (paraphrased): God shows no favoritism, but accepts people everywhere who fear him.  God did not send Jesus to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Jesus is the propitiation not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. When Jesus is lifted up he will draw all men to himself.  The servant who does not know his master’s will is beaten with few blows.   A multitude that no one can count from every tribe and nation will be before the throne.

Myth 5 – Inclusivists hold to Post Mortem Grace: The truth is post mortem grace is the teaching we have an opportunity to be saved after we die.  Thus, it is possible to be saved after spending time in purgatory.   Inclusivism and post mortem grace are entirly seperate issues.  Many inclusivists (myself included) believe that all people will be judged at the time of death.

Myth 6 – Inclusivism Takes Away the Motivation to Evangelize: The truth is Inclusivists do not believe that heathens have an equal chance to be justified.  Heathens are rather to be pitied than blamed for the narrowness of their faith (Wesley).  The more heathens know about Jesus, the better for them, because Jesus is the light of the world.  And many inclusivists have had a heart for evangelism.  Billy Graham, DL Moody, and John Wesley are examples.

Myth 7 – Inclusivism Devalues the Cross: The truth is Inclusivists believe it is possible to be justified only because Jesus died and shed his blood for all mankind.

Myth 8 – Inclusivists are Theological Liberals: The truth is the term “liberal” is often used as pejorative rather than a descriptive term.  Many inclusivists are theologically conservative, and are wary of modernism and its influence on Christianity.   Inclusivists affirm a high view of scripture, hold to the deity of Christ, are typically Trinitarian,  believe in the resurrection, believe in miracles, believe in the supernatural, etc. Inclusivists such as C.S. Lewis have been instrumental in the defense of Christianity against liberals.  Other inclusivists such as Wesley and Zwingli, predate the advent of modernism and the associated debate.

Posted in General Stuff | Comments Off on What Happens To Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel When They Die? And Yes, Jesus IS the Only Way To Be Saved

How Do You Know Someone?

“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:18-20‬ ‭NIV‬

How do you know someone? We may think we know someone by listening to sound bites. Or maybe by listening to gossip about them. The truth is that is not a real way to know anyone. But that seems to be the preferred method in our 24 hour news cycle, social media saturated, sound bite driven society. 

But REALLY knowing someone takes time. It takes conversation. It takes observation. Real authentic relationships with people are how you REALLY get to know someone.

I have known the Carney family for only a few short years. I’m not what I would consider to be necessarily the one that knows them the best. But I know them. I have prayed with them. I have eaten meals with them. I have listened to them tell stories of their years on the mission field and in the pastorate. Stories that represent a lifetime of service to God and others. I think I have an idea of what kind of people they are by the fruit of their lives. 

And now I have watched them grieve and grieve deeply at the loss of their son Chris. A tragic accident took Chris and his best friend Zeke far too early. It took Chris from a wife and children he loved dearly and who loved him back. From brothers and parents who he loved dearly and who loved him back. A host of family and friends gathered at his funeral service. 

I watched them. I listened to the words that were spoken. I sang the songs with them. I heard Chris’ wife of six years, Tiffany Carney, stand and speak words of faith and courage. In that moment she was the Kingdom of God on display. I heard his brothers speak of their love for their brother and represent his heart to those of us who had gathered there to mourn with them. I watched Ken and Ruth lift their hands and worship the God they have served for a lifetime even on what is probably the worst day of their life they have ever faced. The media was there. Channel 11 I hope you get this right. 

Hot Springs, do you want to know Ken and Ruth Carney? Look at the fruit of their lives. And watch them persevere in the face of a situation that all of us with sons and daughters pray we will never have to face. 

I know more of the kind of people the Carneys are after today. And it confirms what I believed already. I am privileged to call them friends. I admire them and hope to learn from them how to tap into the grace that I saw on display today.

Posted in family, life, worship | 2 Comments

Let’s Talk About Money

Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’  In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the LORD Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe, says the LORD Almighty. Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land, says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:8–12 NIV)

Fact – I have historically struggled with how to receive offerings and tithes as a pastor.  I don’t struggle because I am embarrassed to ask for money. After all, this is the Lord’s plan for funding His kingdom work. He could do it without us. As a matter of fact He can do everything without us. But in His sovereign wisdom He has chosen not to do that. Instead He calls us to partner with Him in His saving work. And part of that partnership is manifested in our giving of tithes and offerings to him.

The reason I struggle is because I see this teaching so distorted these days. It seems like everything – particularly in the Charismatic world – has become about money. I’ve seen as much or more time spent in a worship service dedicated to receiving the offering as I’ve seen spent coming to the Lord’s Table, or praying in the altars in the same service. I’ve seen emotional manipulation to cajole people into giving. Just turn on certain media ministries and you will see that if you want God’s blessing, you need to send a seed offering. We are told that if you have enough faith and give enough money, then God will respond by making you rich. The same ministries brazenly boast about their extravagant expenditures (like $65 million dollar jets) based on this type of giving practice. Let me be clear – I believe what this amounts to is another gospel. One that is materialistic at heart. One in which the evidence of God’s blessing on your life is not the fruit of the Spirit – it is financial prosperity. In this gospel, the people of God are not known by their love for one another – they are known by the amount of money in our bank account, by the kind of car they drive, or the label on the clothes they wear. Again…NOT the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because I seek to distance myself from such teaching and behavior I don’t stand before my congregation and make huge promises about what God will or won’t do. I believe God has promised in His word to provide for our needs. If we will be faithful to His work, if we will seek His kingdom first, then we don’t have to worry about what we will eat, wear, drive, or live in. Some may have more than others, but God knows what we can and cannot handle and that is His business and not mine. I do believe we can improve our position if we are faithful with what we have. To be clear, I also don’t think God is glorified by our being broke. But at the end of the day it is all about His kingdom and His glory filling the earth.

The text referenced above talks about robbing God in tithes and offerings. It talks about being vulnerable to the “devourer.” It is commonly used in offering sermons. I’ve used it myself more than once. We all like to focus on the promise associated with this Scripture – where it talks about testing God and seeing if He won’t throw open the floodgates of blessing on us. And how He will prevent pests from devouring our crops or fruit dropping from the vine before it is ripe (all of this speaks to a loss of income in an agriculturally based society – you can make the analogy in your own life). We love to talk about walking in God’s covering and provision. But there’s another side of the text, the part where pests are NOT prevented from devouring crops and the fruit DOES fall before it is ripe. The implication here is that this is what happens when we fail to honor God with our finances/material resources as a part of our worship.

Any pastor will tell you that giving patterns are a challenge. More challenging in some places than others I imagine. But still a challenge. I don’t know of anyone that feels like they can stop talking about it altogether. I suspect that many Christians are distracted. The things of the Lord are not the focus of their thought and energy most of the time. The cares of life get in the way. But we are people of the Kingdom of God. We can never forget who we are and what we are about. God did not ask us to bring all of our money and possessions to the church. He asked for a tithe. He asks for an offering that expresses your heart of devotion.

Let me share with you a personal example of how my wife and I give our tithe – we get our increase, our salary from our jobs, then we look at the gross amount, move the decimal to the left one place and that’s our tithe – that’s 10% of our increase. We give that first. There are times that we don’t see how everything is going to get paid. This is the most expensive time of our life with 2 kids in college, me working on my PhD, doing what we call managing a fleet (our cars, our kids’ cars)…you know how it is. So, if we paid everything else, THEN paid our tithes, the money wouldn’t be there to pay tithes. But, we pay our tithes first, and guess what…GOD has always provided the rest in an amazing, unexplainable way. Let me also testify to you, that this was true when I was making $25 a week – we paid $2.50 in tithes. You can always pay your tithes. It doesn’t matter how little or much you make. It’s a heart issue.

So today, I am putting myself out there as a voice for the Lord (and maybe for some pastors that need a little help in this area). I am here to caution you based on the Scripture. Put God first in your finances. Give your tithes and give them consistently. Those are the conditions that have to be in place to protect us from the one that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy in any way he can get a foothold – including our material resources. Seek the Kingdom of God first and His righteousness (which includes a right heart toward material possessions). Those are the conditions in which we don’t have to worry about what we will eat, what we will wear, etc. Otherwise, we are telling God we don’t want to do things His way and we don’t need His blessing. Of course, His response then will be “okay – go ahead and do it your way.” From Genesis 3 on that scenario has never worked out for our good.

Today, if you have been withholding your tithes and offerings from God, I am calling you to repent to the Lord. Regardless of what you or I do, God’s work will go forward. His Kingdom will advance. His will is going to be done. The question is are you going to be a part of it? And will your church continue to be a part of it? What each Christian does with the issue of tithe and offerings is a big part of the answer. When a church body proves they are unwilling to do what is necessary to cooperate with God’s purposes, God can and will move on. He will pass the opportunity on to another group who will be obedient. There is always someone else that is ready to say “yes” to the Lord when we fail to appreciate the opportunity before us.

(If you are part of the River of Life family, you are able to pay your tithes using our online giving portal. Visit that site by clicking here.)

Posted in church, life, worship | Comments Off on Let’s Talk About Money

A Moment of Total Honesty From This Pastor

“not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25)

I want to share something with you that concerns me today. I woke up with this on my mind and since this is my little corner of the web to share my thoughts I decided to say something about it here. My hope is to bring some correction and guidance to those that need it. That’s part of my job after all. I am a pastor. So I want to talk about those who say they are part of a church but they never show up to it.

I believe that God works in specific times and places. When God called me to be a pastor, He called me to be a part of a specific family of people in a specific place. I know those people and I know that place. I might be able to speak in generalities concerning other people and other places, but I have personal experience with this one. They know me too. They know my strengths and weaknesses. In the context of those relationships I have grown, gained insight, repented when necessary, and am being sanctified by my participation in community with God’s people, even as the pastor!

I also believe when you give your heart and life to Jesus Christ, He calls you to be part of His church in a specific place with a specific group of people. Not floating around from place to place “led of the Spirit” every week as to where you will attend. I’m talking about being rooted and grounded in a community of imperfect people with names and faces that you know and that know you.

Now to be fair, I know that because of extenuating circumstances, there are some people who are sincere but can’t do anything about their attendance. I have people in my church that travel over half the year with their work and I have people in my church that work overseas and are only in town occasionally. There are those that are physically unable to be present and are doing the best they can. That’s not the group I’m talking about. As a matter of fact I want to see the church do a better job of being physically present in those situations too. If a person truly can’t get out of the house, then certainly the church can come there on occasion to facilitate bodily community. But even in those situations, these people know and are known.

Instead, I’m talking about those that just don’t come even though they are perfectly able to do so. For example, I know for a fact that there are people that live in the city of Hot Springs that say that River of Life is their church, but they either show up very sporadically or  just never show up at all.  Instead of prioritizing worship with the church family, it seems there is always something else to do and somewhere else to be. When you ask them, there is no ill-will or specific explanation. They just don’t come. But they insist that they are part of what is going on. This way of being a part of church, which is actually no way at all, is fraught with problems too many to mention here.

I confess that I just don’t understand. How do you say that you are part of a church and yet you don’t show up, you don’t participate in corporate worship, and you aren’t there to hear what God is saying to the church or to connect with the atmosphere in which it was said? How can you say you are part of a church when you don’t support it with tithes and offerings? How can you say you are part of a church when you don’t break bread with us at the Lord’s table? How can you say you are part of a church when you aren’t there in the flesh with those who are suffering and hurting right now? How can you say you are part of a church when you aren’t there to celebrate with those who are celebrating right now?

There is an illusion that has been created by social media, web casting, etc. that leads people to believe that following along on the internet is the same thing as being present in body. But it’s not. Imagine me saying to Pam “I love you and you are my wife and I am committed to our relationship” yet at the same time I never come home to her, I never eat a meal with her, I never kiss her, I am never present to listen to her when she’s hurting, I never celebrate her victories in person, and I never cry with her when she is grieving. Instead I just follow her on Facebook. No one would think that is a healthy marriage! Yet that is the exact type of thing that I see with people who relate to the church in the way that I describe above.

Don’t get me wrong. I will be your pastor as much as you will let me. If you call me and need to talk I will talk with you. If you call me and let me know you are grieving I will come grieve with you. If you call me and tell me that you are celebrating, I will certainly celebrate with you. But that is not a substitute for being part of a church community who knows you and is doing life with you.

I love you. You are missed. Your place is noticeably empty. Your absence is felt. But at the same time, I can’t constantly call and beg you to come. I won’t. I respect your sovereignty. But I pray that the Lord might enlighten your understanding and change your heart about these things.

I don’t know who originally said it, but I read something some time ago that went like this – “The church is not perfect, but it is the only place to be a Christian.” True words. When you are born again, you are born again into a family. And you need to be a part of that family in a bodily way. So show up, participate, contribute, celebrate with us, grieve with us, and pray with us. It may mean occasionally sitting through a boring sermon, or hearing the worship team miss a cue, or running the risk of someone saying something that offends you. But in the long run the good will far, far outweigh the bad. It is worth it and that is all part of the growth process. God is up to something in Hot Springs. Don’t miss it for an extra hour of sleep or for the sake of your personal entertainment or for whatever else is keeping you from taking your place at the table.

I love you,

Pastor Ben

Posted in church, General Stuff, life | 1 Comment

Christians – Stop Being So Gullible!

A few days ago in my social media news feed I saw person after person posting a story about Hillsong NYC supposedly endorsing homosexual behavior by allowing a gay man engaged to another man to direct their choir. The leader of that movement has clearly stated the truth about the matter in unequivocal terms. There is no gay man directing their choir. Brian Houston, the senior pastor of the entire Hillsong movement issued two responses. The first directly addresses the issue in question and that can be found here. The second is a general statement about Houston and Hillsong’s stance on homosexuality. I find it to be gracious and, although not everyone will like it, I find it to be a word of wisdom as we move forward in the church. You can read that piece here. Why were Christians so quick to share that without waiting for a response? Why are we so quick to jump on the “crowd pounding” bandwagon? (Credit to Scot McKnight for that term, btw.)

This has been adequately covered on the internet by various news outlets. The reason I am saying anything about it is because I need to vent. Why are Christians so gullible? Why are we so quick to believe the worst about one another? Why is it that we seem to believe that if something is posted on a website, then it must be true. Here’s a newsflash. This website you are reading right now costs me a few bucks a year. It doesn’t take much to build a website.

Furthermore, the goal of many website developers is to get “click throughs” so they can get money for advertising views. When you see a bunch of advertising on a site that is not related to the site content (like an American Express ad on a ‘prophecy’ site) that is probably what is going on. Scandalous headlines are a great way to get people to click to your site. The term is “clickbait.”

Christians, we don’t have time for this kind of foolishness. When Jesus told the parable of the talents, he told His servants to “Occupy until I come” (Luke 19.13). That admonition is meant for us. We are to stay busy making disciples of Jesus which is the Great Commission (Matt. 28.19-20). Personally, and pastorally, I don’t believe He meant for us to waste our time chasing down rumors, passing along the same tired old videos about microchips being implanted, etc., and tearing each other down with “gotcha” reports that end up going viral across social media doing who knows what kind of damage.

Let us get back to what we are supposed to be doing. And while we are at it, let us learn to be 1) slow to believe the worst about someone, 2) slow to speak, and 3) quick to listen. Maybe in our social media saturated culture I should add 4) be judicious when you read, and 5) be careful about what you share.

Posted in church, General Stuff, life | Comments Off on Christians – Stop Being So Gullible!

Rest – My Life For the Next Few Weeks

This past Sunday at River of Life I announced that I am going to be taking a few weeks off in the month of June. I hesitate to call this a sabbatical because I will only be gone for one month (maybe we can call it a mini-sabbatical). Either way, I’m taking some time away from being a pastor to narrow my focus a bit. I want to use this post to put into writing what I hope to accomplish and what things will look like at the church while I’m gone.

First, my hope for this time is to focus on my own spiritual growth. I’ve been leading River of Life as pastor for going on 15 years. I think I need to allow someone else to be in charge of the worship service I am attending. I need to be able to focus more on the Lord than on making sure the service flows as it should. I need to not have to be in constant motion from beginning to end of the service – from opening announcements to playing piano/singing to receiving the offering to preaching. It is not healthy for me or the church I lead to be this involved in every facet of the service. I need to pull back and rest and allow myself to just focus on the presence of the Lord, to hear the Word of the Lord, and to feel the gentle breeze of the Spirit’s moving in my life. I need to know what it is that HE wants me to put my hands to, not what I think I should do based on my sense of what is needed.

To that end, Pam and I will most certainly be in church. But we won’t be at River of Life Church during the month of June. It’s not because I am trying to get away from the people. Far from it. I just know what I need to do right now and that is to go where we can freely worship without getting caught up in the “mechanics” of the worship service. If the sound system makes a strange noise, or the piano player hits a wrong note, it won’t effect me the same when someone else is in charge. I can just move on and focus on the presence of the Lord and let someone else figure out the problem. I only hope I can learn how to do that again in one month. 🙂

Secondly, I will be spending quite a bit of time working on my PhD research and writing. I am hoping to finish the first phase of my thesis and begin the second in July. I am looking forward to spending a lot of focused time on this project. Believe it or not, I find the work to be life-giving and it has often led to times of worship in the presence of the Lord. That’s what the study of theology should do.

Third, I am planning on getting my body under subjection to the Holy Spirit. This encompasses what and how much I am eating, and also includes getting some exercise. I’m not training to run a half-marathon, I just need to start moving again. It has been far too long since I have been consistent in this area and I find that it has spiritual and emotional implications – not just physical ones.

I am hopeful that as a result of these changes I will be renewed in my sense of sonship and dependence on the Lord. I hope to experience a rest and refreshing in His presence to prepare me to face the challenges to come in the future with deep peace and confidence in the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness.

So what about the church? First of all, I can’t say enough good about the staff of the church and their ability and anointing. Pastor Chris is turning into a great pastor and I am confident that he can handle whatever pops up. In addition, he has the support of our seasoned elders to help him when he needs it. Administratively, Nancy Roseberry is top notch. She knows how to mobilize people to get things done. She has handled the day to day running of the church for quite some time now. I am thankful for her gifting and know the administrative affairs of the church are in good hands. Our music director, Matt Graves is more than a great drummer. He has a servant’s heart and understands the way a church operates and what is needed musically. The worship program is in his capable hands along with our excellent worship leaders – Becky Arguello, Megan Graves, and Rani Simpson, and a great team of musicians that really don’t need me anyway. Honestly. I can continue to name people in our church that have taken ownership of their ministry but I would run out of space.

Because of my complete trust in the team and congregation at River of Life, I feel confident that I can let go for the month of June without losing any ground that has been gained for the Kingdom. During the month of June I will be off of social media (another detox effort) and will be using my phone/text messages on a limited basis. My staff know how to reach me if it is unavoidable, but I can only think of one or two scenarios where that would happen. To my staff and leaders I say in the words of Ken Carney – “call if you need me, but need me if you call me.” 🙂

I will be preaching two more weekends at River of Life before I go away for a while. I’m looking forward to Pentecost Sunday this weekend. We need a fresh outpouring of the Spirit in our lives – a Pentecostal Revival. Let it be Lord!



Posted in General Stuff | Comments Off on Rest – My Life For the Next Few Weeks

A Call to Fasting and Prayer

To my beloved River of Life Church Family,

As we look back on this Easter season we should reflect on the message of the day – the resurrection of Jesus has brought God’s new world to bear on this fallen and decaying world. All things are being made new. One day, Jesus will return to fully consummate His kingdom, but until then our task as His people is to bring Heaven to Earth through our prayer and faithful obedience to His leading.

But we also have to acknowledge that we are often fighting an uphill battle. Our own inner struggles as fallible humans navigating the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, but not yet being all that we will eventually be, results in hearts that can mislead us at times. Sometimes our feelings, our desires, and our motivations are off-base. Sometimes we are praying less about “Your Kingdom come and Your will be done” and more about “My kingdom come and my will be done.”

Sometimes due to the pressures of life we forget the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 where we are told that if we will first and foremost seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness then all of our needs will be taken care of. Instead of trusting in Him as children, we worry about “what we will eat and what we will wear” and thus we get distracted from our focus on His Kingdom and our place as hosts of His presence in the Earth.

But there are also times when we face direct resistance from the evil one. That is why Jesus taught us to pray “deliver us from the evil one.” Satan has come to steal, kill, and destroy. We must submit to God and resist the devil and he will flee (James 4:8).

Many people in our congregation are facing hardship due to physical sickness, financial need, and emotional turmoil. In light of that fact, the observations stated above, and in light of the general need for the Church to be a “shining city on a hill” here in Hot Springs and Garland County, I believe it is time for us to act more deliberately to seek the face of God for His help in this time. Because of this I am acting in my authority as the pastor of this church family to call a fast.

I would like for you to join with Pam and I each Thursday to fast and pray. Be very intentional about this fast. Plan for it. Don’t leave it to chance. If at all possible I am asking for you to do a total fast (water only) for at least one meal each Thursday. We will call this “Thursdays to Triumph” (credits to Bishop Les Higgins for the name).

I want you to use that time to pray for the Lord’s will to be done in your life, in our church, and in our city. Be attentive to the Spirit’s leading as you immerse yourself in Scripture. Set aside times of solitude and silence to wait on the Lord. Pray in the Spirit. We will be doing this each Thursday for the foreseeable future. In addition I want  you to set aside the money you would have spent for that food and give it to someone in need whether through one of our missions projects or a charity of your choice doing the work of the Kingdom.

I will be writing and speaking more about this in the days to come. But for now I believe these Thursdays will lead to victory in areas where we desperately need to see breakthrough. Join me and let’s bring Heaven to Earth together as God’s people. I leave you with these words to reflect/act upon:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. (Isaiah 58:6–9a NIV)

Posted in church, life, prayer, transformation, worship | 1 Comment

The Right Way to Love Israel (Part 3)

(Before you read Part 3, please be sure and read Part 1 and Part 2 to get the full picture of what I believe and why I am writing this series.)

The Cambridge Dictionary online defines the term “mission creep” as  the gradual addition of new tasks or activities to a project so that the original purpose or idea begins to be lost. Is it possible that the Church has succumbed to something like this?

Hopefully you read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series (last chance to do it now if you didn’t….). If you did then you know that I am writing from a position of full support for the existence of national Israel. Furthermore, I have seen with my own eyes the beauty of a practicing Jew fully embracing Jesus as Messiah at the church I lead. I have had conversations with a local rabbi about the similarities and differences of our faiths. I outright reject any ideology that would lead to hatred of Jewish people. I love them and I pray for them.

I was troubled by the story I shared concerning Chuck Pierce presenting a mantle to Glenn Beck, who to my knowledge still self-identifies as a Mormon. I have already addressed that incident in more detail in another post, so I want to pick up where I left off with the questions I asked in that post.

What is the scriptural mission of the church? Is it to defend Israel? Or is it to make disciples of Jesus Christ of ALL nations?

Our mission is clearly outlined for us in the last words that Jesus spoke to the disciples just before His ascension. First in Matthew:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19–20 NIV11)

This is expressed in different words but with the same idea in Acts:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NIV11)

From reading these passages it seems apparent to me that the Church taken as a whole has one responsibility – be faithful witnesses in the power of the Holy Spirit in all the world with the goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ among all people groups and all generations.

The idea of defending Israel comes primarily from this passage in Genesis:

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:3 NIV11)

These words were spoken to the Jewish patriarch Abraham, and while there are certainly other supporting Scriptures used along with this one, this is the one that I see quoted the most often.

We should pay attention to this verse and verses like it, as we should the entire Bible. In all the history of mankind we have to acknowledge that God used Abraham and his descendants to be bearers of the covenant of salvation. Eventually Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, and Savior of the world – Himself a descendant of Abraham – came to fulfill the promise that “all people of the earth will be blessed” through Abraham.

But as seriously as we should take this, and guard against anti-Semitism in any form, it does not define our mission as the Church. Jesus did that for us in the words you read above. And as part of that mission we must love Israeli people. And Muslim people. And Buddhist people. And Hindu people. And Mormon people. And black people, and white people, and red people, and yellow people, and gay people, and…, and…..We do this because it was our Father’s love for the whole world that moved Him to save us. (see Jn 3.16) That love must continue to animate our mission.

What does it say of us that we would “mantle” someone who embraces a theology/ideology that is commonly accepted as outside of orthodox Christianity and simply explain it away based on the fact that said person shares our love and passion for national Israel? And how does this correspond with the first question?

I can only express an opinion on this one, an opinion that is based on my observations only. I think that when we “mantle” someone whose theology/ideology is outside of what is accepted as basic Christian orthodoxy then what we have done is taken the focus off of Jesus and put it onto something else. As my friend Steve Nelson would say, “Jesus is the Subject.” Not politics. And, in this case, not Israel. But that is not what is reflected in this episode. What I see reflected in this episode is the idea that “it doesn’t matter what you believe about Jesus and about the gospel as long as you stand with us in our support of Israel.”

Since this is such a volatile issue (one for which I have taken much heat) let me be clear – I am not criticizing support for Israel. I think that conversation is more nuanced than what many people are willing to admit. And I will refrain from reflecting on possible distinctions between loving “Israelis” and loving the political structure known as the nation-state of Israel, at least for now. Let’s just leave this at “loving Israel” for now. All of that being said, I think we can, and we must, find a way to carry out our love for Israel (Israelis) all the while keeping our focus on Jesus as the Hope for all the World.

Jesus – not unconditional support for Israel – should be our primary focus. Certainly in all areas of social concern, Christians can and should be able to cooperatively work with those that we don’t necessarily agree with from an ideological or even theological standpoint. I’m not suggesting we isolate ourselves. But working cooperatively with people who do not agree with our most basic beliefs is far different from inviting them onto our stages and presenting them with a mantle that indicates they have a divine anointing on their lives. That, brothers and sisters, is WAY above our pay grade.

I know and have heard the story of the pagan king Cyrus that God used to help the Israelites in the OT. That is why I agree with the idea of our cooperating on certain issues with those that are outside of our belief systems. But it was obvious that Cyrus was not a Jew. There is much more confusion today about the Mormon faith juxtaposed with Christianity. The beliefs are different, but not everyone in our churches (I’m speaking as a pastor, remember) can discern that difference. Furthermore, as I have already stated, we are dealing with an increasingly pluralistic society that downplays the need for good doctrine and theology. In particular the Christian claim that “Jesus is the only way to be saved” is under fire philosophically.

This brings me back to “mission creep.” I am concerned that many in the Church are in danger of losing our original mission – to make disciples of Jesus Christ. These kinds of episodes in our churches cause confusion. The same kind of confusion that may have emerged when the Billy Graham association modified their website to remove references to Mormonism as a cult when Mitt Romney was running for President.

And before I am accused of focusing only on one issue, I have the same problem in what I see emerging in the church as a trend toward compassion for the LGBT community (which I think is helpful) without a call for transformation into Christlikeness (which is very unbiblical and thus unhelpful). That is only one more example of possible “mission creep.”

My appeal to my brothers and sisters in the faith is to follow the leading of the Spirit and fulfill your purpose for your generation. If that purpose is to show compassion to a particular people group, or to work in the political arena in some way, or to be a voice for justice and righteousness on a great media platform then I say “Godspeed!” But you and I must NEVER forget that our primary purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Theology matters. We can never be unclear in the signals that we send about who we are no matter the cost (and I am convinced there will eventually be a cost). And as we mix and mingle with others in a pluralistic society we must never lose our first identity and vocation as faithful followers of Jesus Christ participating, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in God’s mission to save the world.

Posted in General Stuff | Comments Off on The Right Way to Love Israel (Part 3)

The Right Way to Love Israel (Part 2)

In the first post in this series, I outlined some basic truths that I hold to in my thinking about the issue of a Christian’s love for Israel. And by Israel, I am referring to the modern nation of Israel because that is what is commonly in view in the prevailing conversation of contemporary Evangelical Christianity. It is not my intention to criticize anyone’s eschatological views or current ministries in relationship with Israel. The church I lead regularly supports such ministries. You can check them out here and here.  I trust my motivations here will not be misunderstood. If you have not read that post, please do so before you read any further. It contains an important foundation for the thoughts I have going on in my brain as I write this. Go ahead. I’ll wait.


Great! So now you may be wondering why I am writing on this topic right now. Well we recently watched Israel go through an election cycle and they were all over the news. And as a result I have also noticed a marked uptick in Christian commentary on the topic. And, as often happens, some finger-pointing and judging in the mix. In addition, our current administration in Washington, D.C. has made some moves to distance themselves from a long-held relationship the United States has with Israel. It is not my intention to comment on those issues in this post. I will leave that task to brighter, and more informed, minds.

But more than that, something happened that just stirred me to write from my heart as a pastor. I got home from church Sunday and checked Facebook. A post came across my newsfeed that talked about a well-known Charismatic ministry figure – Chuck Pierce – and a well known media personality who also happens to be a Mormon – Glenn Beck.

You can read a quick post about this in Charisma magazine here.

I am not writing this as some kind of “gotcha” directed at Chuck Pierce. I try to be thoughtful and very careful about the work that other ministries are doing, and I don’t think that I have some kind of corner on revelation and anointing. I also am not writing this out of dislike for Glenn Beck personally, or even politically. I don’t take my marching orders from him but he certainly has a right to his opinions and has found a way to get them out there effectively, so I say ‘kudos’ to him. Finally, I am not bashing the Mormon Church. I have friends who are Mormon (some may be reading this right now) and they are known to be some of the kindest, most helpful people around. I do disagree with Mormon theology as I understand it, and I do not believe it is in agreement with the most basic teachings of orthodox Christianity. This post is not an attempt to discuss Mormon theology, but you should know my stance on that.

But I am writing because I am deeply troubled by an individual who is considered by many to be a Christian prophet presenting a mantle (not sure what that is about) to a well-known individual who has embraced Mormonism as his system of belief.

You may be saying “but he has attended so-and-so’s Evangelical church on occasion.” Maybe so and that’s great. By all accounts I have heard that Glenn Beck is a nice guy, has a great testimony of overcoming huge obstacles in his life, and is a very upstanding person. I’m glad that Glenn was in church with Chuck Pierce! I don’t have a problem with Glenn being on the stage with Chuck Pierce because God can prophesy to and encourage whoever He wants whenever He wants. Some have even tried to say that Glenn has had a ‘born-again’ experience. I hope so! My question is this – has he renounced the teachings of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and publicly embraced Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? Of course I understand the hostility toward my views concerning Jesus Christ being the only way of salvation in this current cultural climate of religious pluralism. I’ll just take that risk.

So you see, my problem is not with Glenn Beck. My problem is with Chuck Pierce, a Christian pastor, presenting a mantle to Glenn. A mantle which, I know as a Pentecostal/Charismatic, represents some type of identity and anointing that comes from God. I have to ask – what anointing is being implied here? And for what purpose?

We have a clue in the comment that was put on Facebook by Pierce’s ministry. I saw it there myself and it is accurately quoted in the article. It says this:

Glenn Beck is devoted to Israel. The mantle was given from Israel. Many Jews have never had salvation experiences. Many individuals in Methodist, Baptist, Catholic churches, etc. may have never ever had salvation experiences. However one could bear witness to Glenn’s testimony. I look forward to him, like all of us, experiencing a new dimension of God’s Spirit and Grace. Blessings!

I’m going to continue this line of thought in part 3 of this series. But for now I want to simply ask three questions.

  1. What is the primary scriptural mission of the Church? Is it to defend national Israel? Or is it to make disciples of Jesus Christ of ALL people groups, including Jews?
  2. Secondly, what does it say of us that we would “mantle” someone who embraces a theology/ideology that is commonly accepted as outside of orthodox Christianity and simply explain it away based on the fact that said person shares a love and passion for national Israel?
  3. How does the answer to the second question correspond with the biblical answer to the first question?

….To be continued.

Posted in church, theology | Comments Off on The Right Way to Love Israel (Part 2)