A burning passion for the lost became all consuming! Top priority! Jesus left the ninety-nine for the one lost sheep. The ninety-nine were not his major! Never have been! Once you join the sheepfold, you are demoted to second place. No one likes being put into a minor role. It is difficult, and for some church people, nigh unto impossible, to embrace Christ’s unwelcomed major and minor sliding scale.
I as a recently as a few days ago heard from a Methodist pastor’s mouth about a longstanding couple in his church who said to him, “We must not be concerned first of all about the new people coming into the church. Our first concern must be for the folks who are the old-standby pillars of the church.”
You see, it is a story often told, namely, that these “new church invaders
” are viewed by the old guard as threatening contenders to the “old heavyweight champions of the church
.” You know all too well what I am talking about. It is the “Old Guard” – “New Guard
It was the same in my first church. Young people, who were told that they were dirty, rotten, little sinners, were repenting of their sins and giving their lives to Christ. People from the tavern parish were committing their lives to Christ and coming to the church.
There was so much happening all at once. Just when one crisis seemed to be averted, or at least quelled for the moment, the Holy Spirit led us into another. Such as my hosting a S.W.I.M team of young dynamos for Christ from Wisconsin. S.W.I.M. stood for “Summer Workshop In Missions,” making the statement that the little community on the banks of the Grand River in Lamont, Michigan, was a mission field filled with lots of heathen and not just a quaint “Historic Tourist Attraction.”
Unlike anything in that church’s ancient history, all of our energies were finally being directed to the top end of God’s paradigm for the true Christian church. For an introverted church, this was viewed as outlandish. Just another source of irritation as I, this young, greenhorn, upstart pastor, was turning this rest home for saints into a hospital for sinners. If you will, turning the church from a religious country club into a noisy, dusty construction site as Christ was building His church. Of all the nerve!
You see, the Holy Spirit was kicking a sleeping dog. If you will, Sleeping Beauty was no longer being allowed to spend her time with Mr. Pillow, while Prince Jesus was hacking His way through His bloodied fight with a fire-breathing dragon. Quite unlike the Prince’s kissing the sleeper who wakes up and says, “Oh, did I miss anything,” in the church Sleeping Beauty became more like an angry witch breathing much hotter fire than the dragon. My worse headaches did not come from Hell, but from religion disguised as Heaven.
RAINS BECOME STREAMS – STREAMS BECOME A RIVER
Yet, through it all, the three desert streams and the bar streams of life were turning into the beginning of “Spirit River.” A fresh deluge of latter-day rain was falling upon the church, and the promise of Joel 2:23,28 began to happen in our midst, as it says,
“So rejoice, O sons of Zion, and be glad in the Lord your God;
for He has given you the early rain for your vindication.
And He has poured down for you the rain, the early
and the latter rain as before.”
“And it will come about after this, that I will pour out my
Spirit upon all mankind
It was all beginning to happen, everything except rejoicing and gladness among the older, traditional, church folks. Thankfully a few of the younger folks and couples were showing evidences of revival in the river of life.
But the more that Heaven’s rains fell, it would seem the more people were purchasing denominational umbrellas. And the more they tried to shield themselves, they looked more and more like a fat man standing under an umbrella far too small, the result being that the Holy Spirit downpour channeled down the back of their necks and inside their shirt-collars. There is nothing more irritating and uncomfortable. I am sure you get the picture and sense the problem.
My sermons were not getting the church as a whole to put even their toes in Spirit River. They were not convinced that the “Three Desert Streams” or “The Bar Converts” were the Holy Spirit working in our midst. As time went along, the silent majority, simply viewed it all with lingering suspicion, and then eventually seldom gave it even a passing thought. In the main, they looked upon it all like flotsam that had been deposited by the receding waters of a nasty flood.
“DEAD RELIGION WOULD RATHER GATHER COBWEBS
Furthermore, modern religionists have other pressing priorities, such as lots-of-frills lifestyles and pro-sports. Outside of fire insurance against Hell, everything else in the main revolves around the natural world, and therefore they are uncomfortable with realities in their midst that only exist in the supernatural world. In short:
“WHILE THEY NOMINALLY IDENTIFY THEMSELVES WITH ONE
WORLD, THEY ACTUALLY LIVE BY ANOTHER.”
But we can be sure or this:
“THOSE WHO IGNORE AND EVEN OPPOSE THE HIGHER WORLD,
WILL BE BROUGHT LOWER IN THE NEXT WORLD.”
However, as we shall see, God, without the church board’s or church committee’s permission, continued to break in on us with the supernatural. He was on a sovereign roll and was not about to stop now.
DEATH COMES CALLING AGAIN
One morning the telephone rang in the parsonage, and the news was not good. There were so many precious folks in the church, and among them were Chuck and Clara Wyma and their several adopted, international children. A lovely and endearing family, the kind of people that make the church a family too! To know them was to love them, and they loved us in the midst of all of the upheavals.
Chuck was a tall fellow, with even a taller spirit of tenderness and compassion. The telephone caller told me that Chuck had been working on his garden tractor on the garage floor and had died of what looked like a heart attack. It had taken some time for the ambulance to arrive, and by the time that it did there were absolutely no signs of life. There was no pulse, and it was a case of what emergency workers call “Flatline.”
What an excruciatingly painful shock this was for Chuck’s family to see their dear husband and father at a relatively young age lying dead on the garage floor! Old age may temper the cruel finality of death, but Chuck was in his prime. Chuck and his wife Clara had recently adopted another child, this time a Korean orphan, making it such a tender, transitional time for the family.
It wasn’t easy for me either. Chuck was one of those few in the church who had taken me to his heart. Moreover, it had been a period in the church when people began to die. Not long before this, three church members passed away during a four day span. I was told by the mortician, in jest of course, that my ministry had set a record. He informed me that it was the only time in his funeral home history that all of his funeral equipment for memorial services had been left in the same church for one week. Instead of thinking that my ministry was saving people, I began to feel that it was killing them.
And now Chuck! These are not easy moments in ministry. Death not only separates soul from body, but it separates husband from wife, father from children. In situations like this one, there is really no good time for death. It always makes such a havoc of things. It is no surprise why the Lord describes death as He does in His Word, as in I Corinthians 15:26,
“The last enemy that will be abolished is death.”
We know that Christianity does not end in negatives, but in fact at that time it seemed like it did. We see through a glass darkly, but with tear-filled eyes we can barely see at all.
This was a young and vital family, with young children adopted from the four winds who were in such dire need of their father-provider-protector. Suddenly that big tree had been blown over, a tree under which this family had found such loving shelter.
He was a big man, not only in physical stature, but in spiritual stature too. All of this and more went through my mind as I made myself ready to go and shepherd the family in the valley of the shadow death. I by now had done this a few times before with other families, but each time is like the first time. How to comfort, what to say, what Scripture to read and on and on! It always seemed so miserably inadequate.
To be utterly transparent about myself in those days, there were those times that I felt so weak, alone and unqualified. The day Chuck died was acutely one of those days. He was a friend that I could count on for love, encouragement and support. Now he was gone!
I had told an entire high school catechism class, who were also the youth group for the most part, that they were foul sinners. My Friday night missionary trips with Pastor Skunkhollow to the taverns continued. There were uprisings in the church along with lesser murmurings here and there.
But one night there was a near riot as a mob of enraged church men tried to break down the door of the board room to protest and incite the board members to depose me. One even threatened bloodshed. In other words, “Crucify him!” (Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you that one, simply because I am trying to forget it myself to this day.) I recall being utterly terrified and speechless in that most hideous of moments with my elders and deacons. It has been said that:
“ORDINARY DISLIKE AND COMPLAINTS CAN BE UNSETTLING, BUT
RAGING HATRED AND WRATH PARALYZE THE HEART
WITH ASTONISHED SILENCE.”
As in the words of Psalm 77:4,
“I am so troubled that I cannot speak.”
I sat there in the board room literally tongue-tied. For some time time after that debacle, I walked putting one foot in front of the other like minesweepers.
And now Chuck, my loyal brother in Christ, has left me. I took it very personally, and for an instant felt more sorrow for myself than for his wife and family. I could feel my heart bleeding inwardly. When I told my precious wife about the phone call announcement of Chuck’s passing away, it truly was a moment of overwhelming grief for both of us.
GOD CANCELS THE FUNERAL
God surely has His ways of outdoing the overdone, out-speaking the already over-spoken, surmounting the insurmountable, and topping the untoppable. If you ever play the game “Now Top This” with God, you will lose.
I was called again on the telephone before I left the parsonage and was told that Chuck’s body had been rushed to the hospital by the ambulance still in hopes of reviving him, even though all indicators were those of death. Upon my arrival at the hospital, of course, I expected to minister to a family grief-stricken by the grim reaper. In fact, it would be deep sorrow trying to comfort deeper sorrow! Not much consolation there!
While I thought I would be walking into death’s dark night, it appeared in the hospital chapel that I was walking into life’s bright day. I was jubilantly informed by Clara and the family that Chuck had come back to life, though he indeed had been dead for some time.
I was not ready for that to say the least, which is a gross understatement. I had come from a miracle-proof background, being taught that all miracles had ended with the apostles. That settled it!
More than that:
“DEATH IS A DISEASE FOR WHICH THERE IS NO CURE, AND
FROM WHICH THERE IS NO RETURN IN TIME
Look, you don’t heal corpses. Chuck’s body would be raised and renewed in the resurrection, but this does not fit the script. I had already determined the proper Scripture to read and the fitting prayer to offer. Now I am told that I must minister at a cancelled funeral. Seminary never prepared me for this.
Confession is good for the soul. Immediately I asked if I could visit Chuck. True, I was eager to see him. The whole truth be known, I was Thomas demanding to see the evidence before I would believe. I could not believe a miracle upon mere hearsay. Dead! He was dead! They had assured me! But now they tell me that he is alive. I heard their words, but I needed to see him with my own eyes and not through someone else’s.
I was informed that Chuck could not be visited except by the immediate family. The staff said that he was too tired, and coming to think about it, if I had died and come back to life in the same body, I would be a bit wrung out too.
The proof for me would have to wait until the next day. Evidence, certainty, conviction would all have to wait. I admittedly, like Thomas, had to touch the miracle even though a rejoicing family was celebrating before my very eyes.
After all, what if they were all hallucinating in masse? What if it was nothing more than denial and momentary neurosis brought on by unbearable pain?
My religious, traditional lifeboat was totally unseaworthy in this gale, as I stood there trying to bail out inrushing unbelief that was sinking me, as it poured in through huge holes in my faith.
I gave the report a polite, smiling nod and then on the way home slunk back into doubt’s shadows. My perspective, born of a miracle-proof past, slowly seeped back into my mind.
I confess that my celebration with the family was only surface and plastic, but deep down was far less than half-hearted because I was far less than half-believing. How little God’s children have changed over the years! The Apostle Paul’s question to King Agrippa is as apropos today as it was when he asked him in Acts 26:8,
“Why is it considered incredible among you people if God
does raise the dead?”
BLINDED BY UNBELIEF – WHO ME?
How could I doubt their report? Was I accusing them of lying? What in the world is going on with me? Was I really a believer after all? The way I was acting was exactly the way the world would react when given the report that I was given about the dead-alive Chuck.
Was Satan doing to me what he has done to unbelievers down through the ages – blinded me? We read about the devil in II Corinthians 4:4,
“In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds
of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light
of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is
the image of God.”
Satan is such a blinder, a deceiver, a liar! So much so that someone once said:
“EVEN THE WOOL THAT HE PULLS OVER OUR EYES
IS HALF COTTON.”
Just a few years before this, I had interviewed a man by the name of Dr. Duncan Littlefair who at the time was, and I use the term most loosely, pastor of the Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Now deceased, he was an out-and-out atheist. He called himself a “materialist,” not in the sense of materialism, but in the sense that he espoused the evolutionary doctrine of the eternity of matter.
At one point in his study, I asked him, “What do you think about the miracles of Christ?” At which point he got out of his desk chair, walked across the room to me, bent down and came within three inches of my face. There we were, nose to nose, at which point in answer to my question, he shouted three times, “Junk, junk, junk!” I remember at the time that I wanted to say to him like Steve Martin, “Well, excuuuuse me!”
I tell you, you never appreciate your faith enough until you talk with a materialist-atheist, a pastor at that, and see the complete emptiness in his life and what had to be the complete hopelessness in his congregation’s life. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:12,
“…having no hope and without God in the world.”
And now, here I was, riding home doubting and even denying to myself the coming back to life of dead Chuck. I was closer to Duncan Littlefair than I ever realized. What a shocking and disgraceful discovery about myself. I too was writing the whole thing off as junk, though I handled my unbelief with far more sophistication than that. I said to my wife when I got home, “It must be in fact that Chuck never really died, and that it was simply a mistaken diagnosis of death and return to life.”
Who was I in all of this, Pastor Duncan or Pastor Bob? Or was I closer to those who say that they believe in life after death, but really do not? When some religious people say that they believe in life after death, that is, in the reality of the eternal, other side, I often get the feeling that all they mean by this is the “American Indian’s Happy Hunting Ground.”
For so many others the actual reality of the life on the other side is a little go-to-beddy-bye story that itself goes bye-bye with the first bottle of embalming fluid for a dead loved one.
How disgusting! How tragic! There I was with a heavy metal pile of questions and doubt so large that it was knocking my compass of faith totally out of whack. I was in the grip of and being totally jerked around by Satan the “Doubt Dominator,” and by his demons who are “Faith’s Wrecking Crew.”
In the total scheme of things, now many years later, I have since learned not to be overly critical of myself in my moments of doubt. I still battle them, and when I do from time to time, I remember to pray that beautifully honest prayer and confession of the father of that demonically possessed son in Mark 9:24,
“I do believe, help my unbelief.”
I have come to realize this truth:
“THE SINCERITY OF MY FAITH IS NOT INVALIDATED BY WAVERING
MOMENTS OF BATTLING DOUBT AND DISTRUST.”
“EVEN AS A SPRAINED ANKLE DOES NOT INVALIDATE THE ENTIRE
PHYSICAL BODY, SO A SPRAINED CONVICTION DOES NOT
PUT IN QUESTION THE ENTIRE BODY OF MY FAITH.”
More than that, in my moments of skepticism and questioning, I realize who I am dealing with. From time to time, the father of lies insinuates doubts into my mind in which for a split second I even question the existence of God. I know immediately what is happening and who is doing it. Simply put:
“IN THOSE MOMENTS OF FAITH’S FLUCTUATIONS, SATAN IS
WRAPPING THE TRUTH IN CLOUDS AND STICKING
HIS FINGERS IN FAITH’S EYES
If you will:
“WHEN THERE IS DISAGREEMENT BETWEEN TRUTH AND THE
MIND, AND BETWEEN LIGHT AND THE EYE, YOU DON’T
HAVE TO ASK TWICE WHO IS CAUSING IT.”
Then I pray, “Father, deliver me from the evil one.” He always answers that prayer.
(CHUCK GOES TO HEAVEN TWICE PT. 2 WILL BE POSTED SOON.”