I am somehow reminded of the young man fresh out of seminary who was scheduled to preach on a Sunday morning in a very large, historic church. He was a highly touted orator, and had at his disposal all words of profundity to impress his audiences. He was oozing with confidence and self-assurance. He bounced up on the pulpit that morning with head lifted high and shoulders flung back. This was for him his day in the sun.
However, as the young stud-preacher got into his sermon, things began to deteriorate very quickly. He lost his place several times and over time fumbled and struggled for words. It turned into a sermonic and oratorical disaster. He just couldn’t find himself back and never recovered. He was living a pulpit nightmare that only exists in bad dreams. Or does it?
He walked down from the pulpit that awful morning humbled and broken. His head was now hanging low and his shoulders were stooped. It was quite a contrast to the young man who had walked onto the pulpit just a few minutes earlier. One of the older, wiser and more experienced members of the church saw it all, so he went to the young man in private, put his arm around him and gave him a bit of wisdom that every pastor of whatever age should remember. He said to him, "My son, if you would have gone up to the pulpit like you came down, you would have more than likely been able to come down from the pulpit like you went up."
Whether coming up or going down, Proverbs 6:18 is inescapable and unfailing, simply because of the Author. We read,
"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty
spirit before stumbling."
And again, in I Peter 5:5,
"God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
FROM ECSTACY TO AGONY
I was about to be gunned down at the "Not Okay Corral." God will share His glory with no one. Just ask King Nebuchadnezzar. Just ask "King of the Catechism." Later that evening, and it didn’t take long, I received a telephone call with the voice on the other end demanding that I come to their house where all of the irate parents of the three desert streams had gathered together in fuming protest.
The moment I walked through the door and saw the faces in the house, it was obvious to me that I had walked into a "War Room." There was no "Spirit River" flowing in that living room. Rather, it felt, looked and smelled more like a swamp with alligators. The "Three Desert Streams" were nowhere to be seen. They were being barricaded somewhere. Without any greetings of any kind offered except my own to them, one of the mothers instantly scowled at me and screamed, "You told my daughter that she was a sinner, and I’ll have you know that she was baptized as an infant." I remember thinking, "What does that have to do with the price of cheese?" In other words, "Our daughters are not sinners, let alone dirty, rotten little ones." It is so true of all men:
"THEY WOULD RATHER BE FOOLED AND BELIEVE FRIENDLY LIES
ABOUT THEMSELVES AND THEIR CHILDREN, THAN TO
EMBRACE UNFRIENDLY TRUTHS ABOUT EITHER."
Just like the atheists:
"THEY DENY THE EXISTENCE OF GOD NOT BECAUSE THEY HAVE
NO GOOD REASONS TO BELIEVE, BUT SIMPLY BECAUSE
THEY WANT TO LIVE BAD WITHOUT GUILT."
I soon learned that in the ministry one needs the mental reflexes of a shortstop. But my reflexes, as I think back, were paralyzed by an instant case of paranoia.
I was also totally caught off guard with a comment that frankly dumbfounded me. The horrific heresies contained in her reproof require an entire book all on their own. There was no dialogue possible, for each one of the six parents began to jump all over me for attacking and upsetting their daughters to the point of making them cry.
The tirade continued and after a non-stop barrage of parental rebukes, I kind of went blank. Perhaps by God’s grace I blacked out. To this day I don’t recall what I said to them if anything. Though I can assure you that when I left, all the tires on my egomobile were flat, and the battery was dead.
The whole world appeared suddenly to me like a barren, smoldering terrain after a marauding army had burned or destroyed everything of beauty. Did you ever have an experience like that? Very real! It was something like Stephen King might write and direct about ravenous parishioners sinking salivating fangs into pastoral flesh and leaving him for dead, all in the name of Jesus of course!
From Heaven to Hell, from ecstasy to agony, from blessing to curse all in a few short hours! There I was riding home on the same road which only a few moments ago was "Praise-Street," and which now had become the "Nightmare on Elm Street." Before I had felt like a fireman who had rescued three teenagers from the eternal fires of Hell, and now I felt like a first degree murderer in solitary confinement awaiting execution.
I recall feeling that I had seen this somewhere before. It came to me that every time Jesus bestowed a miracle of healing or deliverance upon some needy one or ones, it was turned into a crisis by the religious people of His day.
Here were these parents demanding that I apologize for the salvation of their daughters. The parents were the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth wonders of the world. I am quite sure that the parents that night tucked their daughters in under the chins, and kissed their cheeks while assuring them that they were little angels. All the while they did not realize that they were stabbing them with the dagger of untruth under the fifth rib directly into their hearts.
RELIGIOUS PRIDE AND DOCTRINES OF DEMONS
Enormous religious pride and doctrine of demons had prevented these raging parents from being thankful and rejoicing over the salvation of their sinful daughters now washed clean in the blood of Jesus Christ. For their children to have been told that they were dirty, rotten little sinners was far too humiliating and painful for their pristine pure and holy parents to endure. Listen:
"RELIGIOUSLY PRIDEFUL PEOPLE WILL NEVER JOYFULLY THANK
GOD FOR SAVING THEM FROM SIN, BUT WILL DEEP DOWN
ALWAYS AND ONLY THANK GOD THAT THEY
ARE NOT LIKE OTHER PEOPLE."
Do you remember, and who could ever forget, the Pharisee in the temple vaunting and flaunting himself before God in Luke 18:11 and saying,
"God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people…"
Likewise, these religiously proper and pompous parents were saying,
"GOD WE THANK YOU THAT OUR CHILDREN ARE NOT LIKE
As far as they were concerned, their children were the stars on "Sesame Street" or maybe at the worse "The Brady Bunch." Their children were saints while all "those other children" were sinners.
The result was enormously tragic. Their daughters had returned home from catechism in brokenness and weeping with the joy of salvation as newly saved sinners and brand new creations in Jesus Christ. Their children had wept over their sins and were now rejoicing in their Savior, something which their pompous, Pharisaical, killjoy parents found highly dishonorable and shameful. What self-righteous religious people fail to realize is this:
"CONFESSION OF SIN IS SHAMEFUL, SHAMEFUL TO SIN AND
SHAMEFUL TO SATAN, BUT GLORIOUS TO GOD AND
HONORABLE TO THE CONFESSING SINNER."
As for doctrines of demons, we read of that very descriptive and pointed reality in I Timothy 4:1. If you will, demonic doctrines are lies parading as truth, even as Satan the devil of darkness parades himself as an angel of light (II Corinthians 11:14). In the case of the incensed parents, they were taught by their church that their children were set apart to God because of the faith of their believing parents, and that by their infant baptism their sins were already forgiven and they were sanctified in Christ. Hence, what it really amounts to is the belief in baptismal regeneration.
These children were not dirty little rotten sinners, but already redeemed and sanctified saints. Not according to their children! These daughters knew that they were dirty rotten little sinners, as if there could be any other kind. They were brought under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, as we read in John 16:8,
"And He (the Holy Spirit), when He comes, will convict the
world (the entire inhabited earth) concerning sin,
and righteousness, and judgment."
But demons, when they come to people, will try to convince them that bad is good, that wrong is right, and that falsehood is truth i.e. doctrines of demons who represent their boss Satan who is the father of lies (John 8:44).
Understand this about doctrines of demons (lies) which people believe and fall for in the world and in the church:
"THE ONLY WAY FOR A LIE TO BE BELIEVED IS BECAUSE IT IS
SKILLFULLY AND PALATABLY PRESENTED AS TRUTH."
And understand this too about a believed false doctrine (lie),
"WHEN A DOCTRINE OF DEMONS LODGES ITSELF IN THE MIND AND
THE EMOTIONS, IT BECOMES LIKE INTOXICATING BOOZE
TAKEN INTO THE STOMACH, WHICH CONTINUALLY
SENDS UP DELUDING AND NUMBING THOUGHTS
TO THE BRAIN."
And as it is with the intoxicated, some can become wildly and stupidly hilarious, while others can become angry if not vicious. These parents, who were intoxicated on doctrines of demons, were of the latter vent as is usually the case in religion. In short:
"NOTHING IS SO VICIOUS AND DESTRUCTIVE AS FALSEHOOD
WHICH IS BELIEVED AS TRUTH."
"EVERY FALSEHOOD-BELIEVING RELIGIONIST IS BY HIS VERY
NATURE DANGEROUS AND DESTRUCTIVE."
But then when you really think about it, of course it would be the devil! Who else would attempt to convince the daughters that their conviction of sin for salvation was a lie? Satan works on convincing the forgiven that they are rotten, and the rotten that they are righteous. Who else would try to dam the Spirit River in the church? Who else but the damnable one himself! So he used mothers and fathers to throw buckets of cold water on their daughters’ passionate newfound love for Jesus. All I wanted to do was to get out of there, as I already felt my Gospel shoes being sucked off in the deep mire and muck of that swamp.
One thing I knew of a certainty and that was I was not in Spirit River but instead in a haunted house at the end of a dead-end street. For me to have confronted the mob of rioting parents with any of the aforesaid truths would have been a sudden dash to destruction.
I will admit that after the whole thing began to ferment inside me, like normal men I wanted to strap on my six-shooters with their gospel grips and go do what a man’s gotta do. Thank God that His wisdom prevailed. I would need His wisdom often for I learned as I went along in the ministry that pastoring and church life can be a full contact sport.
I also learned that we had only just experienced the first page of the introduction to this Wild West reality called pastoring. So this truth also began to dawn on me more and more:
"I WOULD HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN BEING A PASSIVE PREACHER
AND EARN MY WAGE, OR BEING A PROPHETIC PREACHER
AND PAY THE PRICE."
NO GREATER JOY
We read in III John 4,
"I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children
walking in the truth."
Why should we as parents find ourselves in the greatest of uncontrollable ecstasy and joy when our teenage children embrace to their hearts the dismal truth about themselves and the glorious truth about the Savior? First of all because as someone has said about adolescence:
"ADOLESCENCE IS THAT PERIOD IN LIFE WHEN WE ARE ERRATIC,
EROTIC, NEUROTIC AND SOMETIMES JUST PLAIN IDIOTIC."
Stanley Jones called adolescence a period of temporary insanity. Which prompted a mother of several teenagers to come up to Stanley Jones after a worship service, having a big smile upon her face, and say to him, "Oh, Dr. Jones, I am so glad that you said that adolescence is temporary insanity. I thought that it was permanent."
Adolescence is a time of hormonal, psychological, glandular, and chemical chaos. Emotions and drives within the adolescent are like stampeding buffaloes. Then, on top of all of that, is powerful peer pressure which often makes it impossible for our teenage children to know the difference between their feelings and the facts of the Bible which must be the basis of their faith in Christ. These three adolescents fought through all of that and in front of their peers made their stand for Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. For our children to have the mind of Christ in the midst of all of that upheaval and pressure is for parents like myself and my wife a treasure beyond price.
There is a second gigantic reason why these parents should have danced and rejoiced with their daughters. What had happened to their daughters was totally contrary to their nature and was completely supernatural.
Well-meaning Christians when standing over a newborn baby have made this comment, "How is it possible for people to look at a little baby like this and say that there is no God?" Or again, Christians have stood gazing at a multi-colored sunset or a breathtaking mountain view and have remarked, "How is it possible for people to see this and still say that there is no God?"
The fact is that it is very possible and highly probable for people to say that there is no God while looking at babies, sunsets or mountain ranges. Now hear this truth:
"THE WONDER IN THIS WORLD IS NOT THAT PEOPLE DO NOT BELIEVE
IN GOD, BUT RATHER THE MYSTERY IN THIS WORLD IS
THAT ANYBODY DOES BELIEVE IN GOD."
Until that truth gets a deep hold on us, and we get a strong hold on that truth, we will never experience the true miracle and wonder of salvation.
Why? Because the Bible tells us that in no uncertain terms that we are all born dead in sin! We read in Ephesians 2:1 these words,
"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…"
That means that when you are spiritually dead, you are spiritually dead – no spiritual life, no spiritual understanding, no spiritual sensitivity, and no inclinations to spiritual things. Dead is dead, no matter how you dress the corpse up.
More than that, we are by nature hostile to God. We read in Colossians 1:21,
"And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind,
engaged in evil deeds…."
Or again in Romans 8:7,
"Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God…."
Not only by nature do we not know God, we don’t even like the thought of God. That is exactly why the dark powers of the world are waging such a war against Christianity and anything to do with it. What does all of this mean? When a person confesses his or her sins and asks Jesus to forgive their sins, thereby expressing faith in Him, it is literally already a miracle of spiritual resurrection from the dead. Each of us from the womb is born SDOA – spiritually dead on arrival. And the longer we stay in our spiritual death and grave, like Lazarus, the more our life decays in sin and stinks. It not only stinks, but the longer the blot of sin on our life remains, the deeper the stain of sin sinks. Therefore:
"WHEN A SINNER COMES TO CHRIST FOR SALVATION, GOD IS
RESURRECTING THE DEAD-IN-SIN SINNER BEFORE
OUR VERY EYES."
The three young daughters had walked out of their tombs as spiritually alive as resurrected miracles. Miracles stood before these parents that far surpassed their daughter’s natural births. Their natural births had within them the terminal disease of sin and death that would destroy them forever.Their new births had within them the eternal life of God that could never die or decay and would make their lives glorious for God. Now these parents unknowingly had in fact tried to wrap them up in their grave clothes once again.
I know that you are all wondering what happened to these beautiful three desert streams. I carefully reestablished my pastoral relationship with them, rejoiced with them and reaffirmed their faith in Christ. They would carefully tell me that their parents just didn’t understand.
I’ve always thanked God for these three young women who became streams of refreshing in a very dry religious desert. The streams that flowed in their lives would soon for us become a river in another. I will always treasure those pretty young streams of life. Soon those rivulets would widen and the current would quicken. Unknown to me or them, they had become the headwaters of a river in which one day we would be carried away by the wind and the current of the Holy Spirit. We would discover this:
"BE IMMERSED IN THE STREAM AND YOU WILL BE MORE AND
MORE CAUGHT IN THE CURRENT."
The origin of the Mississippi River is in Minnesota. The headwaters for us of the infinitely greater Spirit River began in a little town and church in Lamont, Michigan. In the years to follow we would powerfully be "Swept Into Spirit River."
I also owe those three young women a debt of gratitude for not drying up under the heat of parental opposition. The natural fact is:
"THE MORNING DEW IS NOT ABLE TO LONG STAND AGAINST
THE BURNING HEAT OF THE SUN."
But they did resist the heat and continued to flow in faith, hope and love as well as in excitement and joy of what God had done and was going to do in their lives. Jesus says in John 16:22,
"…and no one takes your joy away from you."
It was because of their joy and freshness in a stale doctrinal environment that I continued to press on for God and thereby would be swept into God’s awesome purposes for us in the days ahead. Spirit River had swept them, and with them me, out of our religious graves.
"LET A MAN LOVE ANYTHING BETTER THAN HIS OWN LIFE, AND
HIS LIFE ITSELF WILL BE GIVEN FOR IT."
They truly had won my heart for Christ as well. So true:
"TAKE THE HEART, AND YOU HAVE THE WHOLE
MAN BY CONSEQUENCE."
To them I joyfully and excitedly dedicate this book!