Awesome Songs of Easter

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Easter Sunday was always my favorite day to attend church. It was a tradition for me which started at an early age. When I was a child it was about wearing new clothes to church and the Easter Egg Hunt after church. As I grew older, I learned to appreciate the positive message of the resurrection. It has always been exciting to hear about that morning when Jesus walked out of His tomb. Good Friday became an even better Sunday.

During a period of my life, I was a church youth leader and my favorite activity was to direct the Easter program at church. I was always one who was a bit eccentric and liked to do things different. Each year when I planned the Easter program, I would pick a powerful Easter song and have our young people to play roles in acting out the song. These programs were a lot of work but they were always very fulfilling when they were performed. I always had a wonderful group to help me. We had fun but they were all also very committed to what we were doing.

My early productions were rather basic but I found ways to improve each year. The year I discovered the effects of dry ice was an awesome discovery as I learned how to create fog or smoke effects, especially when the stone was rolled away from the tomb. Another year I managed to save tubes of fake blood from Halloween to use them for the productions. The blood was so lifelike that one elderly lady didn’t like it and left. I’m not sure what she was expecting from us acting out a song called “This Blood Is For You”.

Since I would always use modern contemporary Christian songs, there were always the traditional people who would express their dislike for our “worldly” music. In other words, we weren’t acting out songs from the church hymnal.  That’s okay because everyone’s tastes are different, I just liked using songs that were effective to stir the emotions of people and understand the importance of this day.

It was exciting to bring life to some awesome Easter songs. When I refer to Easter songs I am referring to songs about the resurrection.

Here is a list of some of my favorites along with a link to a performance of that song:

  • “He’s Alive” by Don Francisco (Listen)
  • “Arise my Love” by Newsong (Listen)
  • “The Champion” by Carman (Listen)
  • “He Lives” by Lakewood Church by Cindy Cruse Ratcliff (Listen)
  • “Rise Again” by Dallas Holm (Listen)
  • “Was It A Morning Like This” by Sandi Patty (Listen)
  • “Jesus Is Alive” by Ron Kenoly (Listen)
  • “Celebrate Jesus” by Don Moen (Listen)
  • “Because He Lives” by Bill and Gloria Gaither (Listen)
  • “I’ve Just Seen Jesus” by Sandy Patti and Larnelle Harris (Listen)

It’s very difficult for me to pick a favorite from the list above.  I can only say that they all have their own ways of bringing out hope and maybe cause a few goose bumps to appear when you listen to them.  I think the first one that I remember which really stuck with me was the first time I heard the song “He’s Alive”.  My first time hearing this song was not the Don Francisco version but one sung by a man that has meant a lot to me.  He was my first counselor in Youth Camp many, many years ago.  He is an awesome banjo player and he performed a memorable version of this song.  I have never forgotten it.

So if you are looking for an awesome Easter song today, I highly recommend any of those on the list above.

Although not an Easter song, the final scene from the movie “Passion of the Christ” is perhaps the best movie scene which depicts the resurrection.  I think it’s pretty powerful.  You can view the scene below:

 

 

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What’s So Good About Good Friday?

goodfridayThis morning I walked into our building and noticed that our cafeteria is closed for “Good Friday”.  Seriously?  It isn’t even a federal holiday and they are closed?

Well, honestly, Good Friday is NOT a holiday nor should it be.

And what’s so “good” about Good Friday?

Good Friday is the Friday prior to Easter Sunday which recognizes the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.  Yes, it’s a Christian thing so what’s so good about a day when Jesus was brutally beaten and suffered death on the cross?

If you need a reminder about what happened, you need to watch the movie “Passion of the Christ”.  I have only been able to watch it once.  It’s pretty graphic and closely accurate to what happened.  I warn you that the movie is pretty graphic.  You will gain a whole new understanding of how Jesus suffered and died.

And this is supposed to be good?

It is good because of the suffering and death of Jesus, as brutal as it was, fulfilled God’s plan to save people from their sins.

So why did a man have to die to save people from their sins?

Yes, I know it’s a little difficult to understand but you would have to go back in history and understand the culture at that time.

After Adam and Eve sinned the world changed.  Sin is the wickedness in each of us that causes us to act selfishly, to rebel against God, and to hurt one another.  In the Old Testament, Gold instructed people to set aside the day of atonement to make sacrifices for their sins.  They were to bring an innocent, blemish-free animal as a temporary atonement for their sins.  God gave a temporary means of forgiveness through the death of animals.  The problem with this method was that no amount of sheep or other animals could remove the sin from the world.  Jesus came as the only human being in all of history who was completely pure and without sin.  In God’s plan, it took a blameless human to become the ultimately sacrifice for sin.

This whole explanation can really get twisted depending on which religion you listen to.  It’s difficult to grasp the fact that someone who died a horrible death thousands of years ago could still affect us today.

I’m not expecting this blog to convince you if you don’t believe.  That’s totally up to you.  There is no way a person could intellectually convince you through scientific of historical facts.   Even if you go to the site of the crucifixion, it would still be hard to believe.  I have been there and seen the place and I have to tell you that the bus station next to the location kind of doesn’t fit what we imagine it to be.  But when you think about it, when, in any other point of history was a perfect situation for God to choose the time period that He did to do this?  Yes, just imagine if something like this happened today?

Good Friday is really about blood.  The blood atonement that Jesus gave for the sins of the world.  The Bible states that blood was the symbol for life.  Old Testament sacrifices were only temporary and only pardoned for a short time.  This atonement was a weekly thing but when Jesus shed his blood on this day, He voluntarily gave himself for all time and no need for future sacrifices.

So, really, Good Friday is good for us.

If you want to see a powerful music video about Good Friday, watch “This Blood is for You”

 

 

 

The Power of Redemption

Icanonlyimagine_1200w_tnAt times I can be a very emotional person.  There are times that I cry.  There, I said it.  Something like that is hard for a man to own up to but as I sat in the movie theater Sunday wiping away tears from my eyes after watching the movie “I Can Only Imagine” the power of redemption overtook my emotions.

I wasn’t the only one.  I heard many sniffles from the people around me.  We were all taken in from the emotional workout we had just experienced from watching the story of Bart Millard of the Christian Music group MercyMe.

As I think about this movie, I can tell you that as long as there is a God there is a chance and a hope for redemption.  I’m just crazy enough to believe that.

Forgiveness is hard.   Let’s be honest.  In fact, I think it is the hardest thing that a person can do.  The only way it can truly work is from both sides.  It is especially difficult if you are the person who was wronged to let go of the hurt and the memories that are burned into the scars of your life and to set the offender free.  We don’t like pardoning people.  Not in this day and world that we live.  We want people to pay.  We want revenge.  We want them to hurt as badly as they hurt us.  We don’t want to hear about forgiving anyone or cutting someone loose.

It’s hard I won’t lie.  I have always been passionate about defending myself when I have been wrongly accused.  I can get pretty worked up about it too.  I don’t like to be wrongly accused but it happens.  It’s not right or fair.  Life isn’t fair.  If we live and we feel we will most assuredly be hurt by someone.  I know you don’t like reading this and I honestly don’t like writing it.

Redemption is hard.  We want people to pay.

In the movie, Dennis Quaid plays, Arthur, the abusive father who tries to make things right with his son, Bart.  Bart has a hard time dealing with the change in his father.  His father is at a loss on how he can possibly make up for the years of hurt and pain he caused his son.  Sometimes we all have relationships that have gone past the point of no return.  The hurts run deep.  So deep that there is no possible way to make up for it.  Unfortunately none of us have a time machine that can go back and correct the hurts we have caused in the past.

So what does God expect from us?   Well, you’re not going to like this but He expects us to forgive – and not just one time either.  He’s also not into the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” rule.  When Jesus was asked about this He said 70 x 7.  So, in other words, we are ALWAYS supposed to be good at forgiving.  Let me say that God also expects us to use our brains too and not keep put ourselves in a position to where we have to forgive someone that is taking advantage of us either.  If someone keeps stealing from you at some people you need to forgive them and stop giving them money.

God is kinda big on forgiveness.  We also hear the other part that is usually tagged onto this and that is forgetting.  Letting it go.  Now that’s a hard one to digest isn’t it?  Love is the key to letting things go.  It has to be.  If you don’t let things go then there is no forgiveness.

Sometimes the forgiveness never comes and the other party dies.  What then?  Are we doomed forever in the land of unforgiveness?  No.  Even if the deceased person is no longer here, we still must deal with it.  Some suggest getting a chair and talking it out as if the other person is sitting there.  I’m not sure if that works or not but we must do what works to resolve it.  We hold onto things way too long and it messes up every other relationship we have with people.  We hurt so we unintentionally hurt others when we don’t deal with it.  Get it resolved one way or the other.

What if the other person is unwilling?

That’s a hard one.  Maybe you want to redeem your relationship but the other person does not give a thought about it and has no interest in it.  All I can tell you is to let it go on your end and be open.  Never shut the door.  Believe in the power of redemption.  You know, if one thing I learned from the movie is that God is always working and sometimes we never see what He’s doing in people or how He’s working behind the scenes.  As hard as it is for us to believe that God does not give us a report of what He’s doing, He’s doing what He wants and will work in whatever way to bring redemption.

Yes, I’m crazy enough to believe that.

I am an emotional guy.  I can’t help it.  That’s who I am.  I believe that redemption is possible.  It’s hard to believe it when you can’t see it happening.

It’s true that there are some relationships that are never restored but, as the old hymnal goes – “We’ll Understand It Better By and By”.  As long as there is a God, there is a hope for redemption.

 

The Lord Told Me….

Yeah, I see the way you are looking at me right now. I’ve done the same thing when I hear someone say that. It’s almost certainly an eye roll and a sigh.

“Okay, let’s hear it. What did “the Lord” tell you?”

Hey, I have fallen for this too. There was a time I would be in awe of someone who would say that. I have met people who have called themselves prophets, prophetesses and those who claimed to have a “word of knowledge” from the Lord. I used to wait anxiously to hear what these people would say or hoping they would give me a “word”. I have even tried it myself. Yeah I know. Creepy right?

It is very wise to be wary of people who say they have a word from the Lord. Too many people have abused this claim and instead of something divine, it becomes a game of Simons says.

“The Lord says touch your nose.”

“The Lord says laugh.”

“The Lord says bark.” (Oh believe me, this has happened.)

All this stuff really gives God a bad reputation that He didn’t ask for and it’s really not fair. You don’t need these super spiritual people to hear from God. You can hear from Him yourself. You don’t need a spiritual circus sideshow to do it.

The problem is that people are lazy. They want the easy answer without having to find it themselves. You don’t need a spiritual psychic to find out what God wants you to do. You just need to spend the time to do it yourself.

Like I said, I have fallen for this stuff too. I have been in awe of these people when I should have been in awe of God and seek Him for myself. No, it isn’t always the easy way. Seeking God for yourself can be hard.

If any of these people say they have a word from the Lord and it is in contradiction to the Bible they are a false prophet so you’d better beware of these folks. Don’t let yourself be manipulated by their guilt trips or warnings that you could blaspheme the Holy Ghost. They love to use those tactics to play upon your fear.

Listen to me. God will speak to you. I can’t say that it will be in an audible voice, a burning bush or an angelic visitation. God does it in many ways and methods. I have learned that you just can’t assume how God will speak. Sure, sometimes He absolutely does use other people and when He does, it is awesome.

I have learned that many times God will speak through circumstances in your life. I know that’s not a super spiritual answer but you just have let God do what He wants to do. If He wants you to know something bad enough He will find a way to get through to you. Sometimes we get anxious and impatient but I’m pretty sure that God isn’t worried.

I have always wanted to hear the audible voice of God. I went through a period in my life that I pleaded and begged God to speak to me so I could hear Him with my ears but He never did. You know what? God isn’t going to be manipulated into doing anything. We aren’t going to command Him like a genie in a bottle. We aren’t His master.

The truth is that God loves us and He wants to have a relationship with us. I know that some of those TV preachers and extreme religious people have tainted who God really is but God is interested in us and in every aspect of our lives. He wants to be included. Hey, I am not smart enough to explain this to you or to try to convince you of it. I just know He’s a God that isn’t looking to strike you with a lightning bolt and send fire down from heaven.

I love the quote from the movie “Facing the Giants” when Coach Grant Taylor says “God can do whatever He wants to do, however He wants to do it. And He chooses to work in our lives because He loves us, because He’s good.”

If you ask me in what ways God has spoken to me, I would say mostly through circumstances in my life but He has also used other people with a timely word that I needed. Not one of those “the Lord said” but something I needed to hear in the right place at the right time. Many times I have found direction when reading the Bible and applying it to my situation. Sometimes by just sitting quietly – which is a lot harder than you think it is. There have been times He has given me a sign like the time I needed to know if He wanted us to move to Nashville. I was in a store looking through T-shirts in Tampa, Florida and the moment I got that prayer out of my mouth I pulled out a shirt that had Nashville, Tennessee on it. Yeah, you can think what you want but that was a God moment. You don’t have to believe it but when it happens to you it is pretty amazing.

As far as these people who have had a “word from the Lord” for me, it never turned out to be accurate or even helpful to me. I got burned by them and I learned from it. I’m not super spiritual or a perfect little praying hands Christian but God does speak to me. I just have to listen. That’s the hardest part.

Driving 101: Show Some Respect

I get it.  We are all in a hurry to get to places we need to be and we don’t have time to be slowed down by other traffic or issues on the highways.  We are wrapped up in our own world and oblivious to others but there comes a time that we should stop for a minute and show some respect.

I have seen too many times when a funeral procession passes by that other drivers either ignore it and keep driving by or use it as an opportunity to pass other drivers who have stopped as a sign of respect.

Is it really people being that selfish and impatient or do they just not know the rules about this?

The rules vary from state-to-state so check with your state on their rules for when you encounter a funeral procession on the roadway.  For the State of Tennessee, Code 55-8-183 states:

(c) (1) Unless complying with the specific order of a law enforcement officer, no operator of a motor vehicle shall knowingly:
(A) Fail to yield the right-of-way to a properly identified funeral procession progressing across an intersection in accordance with the provisions of subdivision (a)(1);
(B) While following a properly identified funeral procession along a two-lane street, road or highway, pass or attempt to pass a properly identified funeral procession; or
(C) Drive or attempt to drive between the vehicles within a properly identified funeral procession.
(2) Each violation of subdivision (c)(1) is punishable by a civil penalty not to exceed fifty dollars ($50.00).
(3) For purposes of this subsection (c), to be a “properly identified” funeral procession, the procession must be indicated by a flashing amber light and a auditory signaling device mounted on the lead vehicle or by other properly identified escort, and a flag or other appropriate marking device on each vehicle in the procession indicating that the vehicle is part of the funeral procession.

Is it so hard to simply pull over for a few seconds until the deceased and immediate family passes by?  What if it was your family or your loved one?  We all look at this a little differently when it affects us.  I know that the times I have been part of the family that it always was comforting to see drivers show respect.  It does give you a sense of hope in humanity.

Yes, it is a moment of inconvenience and it slows us down but wouldn’t you rather slow down for a few seconds than to be IN the funeral procession?funeral-procession-etiquette-1519247332

 

Why I Left The Church (Part 3 of 3)

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In 2010, I left the church. Church had been a major part of my life and my family history for 46 years. I have shared with you in the past two weeks of this series, my experiences of growing up in the church. I do not write about my experience for anyone’s sympathy or for you to pray for me.  I do it to share my journey and how I was able to maintain my relationship with God in spite of these experiences.

There were a lot of things that made life in the church very frustrating for me. I grew in fear of the church and the belt.  It was a very strict and judgmental life.  Someone once condemned me to hell when I slipped and told that I had seen “The Empire Strikes Back” at the movie theater. If you read the “Advice to Members” last week you will know that going to a movie theater was on the list of don’ts. Yet the person who said I was going to Hell had a cable subscription to HBO.  It didn’t end well when I called them out on it.

What I have recounted to you in this series were all contributing factors that led to my point of decision to leave the church. So what was that one thing that caused me to leave the church?

This one thing is something that wore me down over a number of years. It wasn’t just one single event or one moment.  It was a building of frustration. It was the frustration of attending church every Sunday and leaving feeling worse than I did when I came. This cycle repeated every Sunday for many years. The sermons did nothing and the worship changed nothing. It was the most frustrating experience of my life. It was the definition of insanity which is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  Maybe it was just me but I have a feeling a lot of people have experienced this frustration or are currently facing it.

I spent years hearing loud preaching and services where the “Spirit” moved but once the service was over it changed nothing. I hated my life. I told God many times that this wasn’t the life I was meant to live. I fought it and I tried to push my way through, still believing in all the hype. It took a toll on me.

During this time, I went through a divorce and found myself at decision point in my life.  I won’t deny the fact that I was broken and needed to be fixed. One day I went to watch the movie “Robin Hood” at the theater. It was the with Russell Crowe as Robin Hood.  There was a line in that movie nudged me into the course my life would take. Robin Hood’s father said to Robin Hood “Are you ready to be who you are?”

ARE YOU READY TO BE WHO YOU ARE?

I was ready. I made the decision that I was not going back to the church.  The funny thing was that I had expected it would be a struggle and people from the church would do everything possible to reach out to me and pull me back. They did not. It was totally not what I expected and leaving the church was easier than I had ever imagined it would be.  Since I left the church, I can honestly tell you that I am better than I was.  I have a feeling that my frustration probably showed and perhaps it was best that I left.

Of course, when you sort through the pieces of your life and the experiences of the church, you have to sift it and find the things that were good.  Too many people have left churches like I did and went to the other extreme and rebelled against everything to do with the church and God.  For me, I realized that my relationship with God wasn’t the relationship with the church.  No, it wasn’t a perfect experience but if you read about the people in the Bible, they weren’t all perfect either.  They all had their own dysfunctions to overcome.  When I looked back at the past, I was thankful that at least I had a basic foundation of a having a relationship with God even if the church wasn’t the best experience.  One thing I still think about is that there is nothing I can do to change what happened.  There’s no sense to blame anyone for it.  I had to make my own way now.

I always remembered that, although my father was strict, I never remembering him lying or being anything but having integrity in what he did.  Yes, it was always about the church and what the church said growing up but now I had to make my own way.  I had to unlearn some things that were wrong about the church.  I did that but I have tried to do that with the same integrity.  I found myself as living my life as a believer – not a Catholic, Baptist or Pentecostal.

There are two things that helped me more than anything else in this pivotal change in my life.  One was that I remarried a wonderful woman who has become the true definition of what God meant when He created a helpmeet for man.  She has made me become a better version of the me I always wanted to be.  I can not stress how important it is to be with the right person.  It makes a huge difference.

I guess you can read between the lines here and see that I divorced and remarried.  As I told you last week, the church was debating the issue of divorce and remarriage as I left.  I can’t speak for this whole debate or for everyone that has ever divorced and remarried but I can tell you that it was a new world for me.  I was given a second chance to be a better husband and that is something I don’t take lightly.   Regardless of what people may think, you can’t really judge it until you’ve gone through it.  It has been a change for the better.

AbbeyChurchInteriorThe second thing that helped me was a spiritual retreat I took at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia.  The monastery is under the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO) which is more commonly known as “Trappists” monks.  It is currently the full-time home to approximately 48 monks.  I spent a few days with the monks at the monastery and learned a lot about myself and God.  After a lifetime being around loud preaching and Holy Ghost tongue speaking, I had an amazing experience in the quiet and reverence of God.  I will tell you that I’m not Catholic and I know nothing about all the rituals they went through at the monastery but I can most definitely tell you that I have no doubt about feeling the presence of God there.  It was like nothing I had ever felt before.   There were no revival meetings and there wasn’t any tongue speaking or shouting going on.  It was quiet.  It was simple.  I was able to search the depths of my soul.  It takes great discipline to sit in complete silence.  In today’s world of social media and constant noise, it can be a little unsettling to simply sit quietly.  Try sitting quietly for 10 minutes and see how difficult it is.  It can be quite a challenge.

During my time at the monastery, I wrote down some things that I will share with you.  The very first thing was that “The Lord will work out His plans for my life.”  (Psalm 138:8).

One night as I spent a time of silence and searched my soul about my experience with the church and trying to make sense of it all, I took my pen and wrote these words:

“I wasn’t in the weirdness, I was with you.  Loving you and guiding you for your life ahead.  While the man-made ordinances were peculiar, you did learn of me in spite of that.  Your heart became fond of me.  Your desire to server me was above all other things.  That’s where I was.  I never let you down.  Your dependence upon those other things let you down.  Some were true but many were not.  The main things came to the surface.”

Since leaving the church I have visited other churches.  I don’t have a phobia against churches but I refuse to be in bondage to fear of a man-made church.  I have also spent many times alone in churches that are open during my lunch hour.  My “church” is just times I have alone walking nature trails or spending time in a quiet place.  I think church has become too much “stuff”.  It has become a spiritual pep rally or a bunch of activities.  It is no longer simple and just about a person’s relationship with God.  Throughout my life I have seen people who have no clue about maintaining balance in life.  They will get “saved” and then they are extreme Christians and totally gung-ho about it.  Some call them “too heavenly minded and no earthly good”.  I don’t know about that but there can be extremes in anything.  I have also seen people that will only get serious about church when their relative is in jail and they need help from the church.  I guess you could say that I needed a break from all that.

I won’t say that I will never go to church or be a part of another church ever again, I just know that – for now – I am better off without it.  Things are less cluttered and more clearer than they have ever been.

If you are attending church I would certainly not discourage you or tell you to stop.  That’s your choice to make.  I would never criticize anyone for going to church.  That’s not what this series has been about.  This is about people like me who have been disenchanted with the church and those struggling with living a life of frustration.  God more real to me now than He ever was before.

Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that I have kept with me during this journey.  He prayed:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Why I Left The Church (Part 2 of 3)

left_churchA cult is defined as “a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or unorthodox.”

I spent most of my life with such a group.  Although some would disagree me, I can tell you that the church I knew was indeed in every sense a cult.  When you’re a part of cult you don’t know you’re in one.  My experience with church involved a group called the Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP).   What I am going to tell you is my own personal experience with COGOP.  I am not speaking for everyone only my first-hand knowledge and life in the church.

When you’re a part of cult you don’t know you’re in one. 

If you are not familiar with the Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP), it is a Pentecostal denomination spinoff of the Church of God which occurred in 1923 when there were some issues with leadership and finances.  You can Google COGOP for more historical information but I will tell you from an early age, I was taught that COGOP was “the” one true church.  We were the “bride of Christ” and exclusive.  In fact, this was regarded as fact because the church even had their own flag.  The flag was a symbol which meant we were chosen.  We even said pledges to the flag.  (Sound like a cult yet?)   When I would ask about people in other church denominations, I was always told that those people had not “seen the light yet” and “their eyes have not been opened to the truth.”   Of course, we were the only ones that had the truth.

The church had some strict teachings.  It was a list of more don’ts than dos.   In fact if anyone violated any of these teachings, charges were brought against them and they would be “turned out” of the church.   It’s funny when I tell these stories around some today who flatly deny this ever happened.  I was there when a group of men in the church brought up these “charges” against members they witnessed had worn shorts in public or was seen smoking.  After a first and second motion in a church conference, these members were removed from the church membership roll.  Yeah, it happened.  I was there and witnessed it first-hand.

ADVICE THAT REALLY WASN’T ADVICE

adviceThe church also had what they called “Advice To Members” but don’t let it fool, it was not viewed as “advice” but something every member was expected to comply with or could face charges.

 

Here’s what the “Advice to Members” entailed:

 As a member, you count one and should attend every regular service as far as possible.  Remember no one can fill your place, and the service will be that much hindered without your presence.
 
Show love and fellowship to everyone without partiality.  Don’t wait for others to greet you, but you greet them.  Show special courtesy to strangers who may attend one of your services.  As a rule, take part in the singing.  Be ready for vocal prayer when called on or prompted by the Spirit.  Be ready for testimony when such is in order.  Stand by your pastor or appointed leader and assist him in every way you can.  Always pray silently for the preacher while he delivers the message. Always live a consecrated life at home and abroad so no one can justly think or speak of you as a hypocrite.  Guard your conversation. 
 
Be careful what you say about a brother, sister, or anyone else.  Don’t be a critic and try to find something in others to criticize.  Examine yourself occasionally and see if you are in the faith.  Don’t yield to discouragement or despondency.  Be cheerful and happy and try to make others the same. Spend as much time as you can in secret prayer.  Give yourself all you can to intercessory prayer.  Daily prayers and study of God’s Word are necessary and very important for the spiritual welfare of each child of God; therefore, everyone is urged faithfully to maintain, as far as is possible, family worship at home at least once a day.
 
The Scripture gives strong precautionary principles regarding adornment to satisfy the pride of life.  Paul uses the terms “modesty,” “shamefacedness,” and “sobriety” as the guiding principal for the New Testament Christian.  Human nature is such that adornment can become a hindrance to one’s personal relationship with Christ.  Furthermore,”…caution should be taken in the wearing of ornaments for the decoration lest we would offend the conscience of another brother or sister.”  An overriding principal for such matters is found in:
   
Romans 14:13  Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
To be a stumbling block is to do something that may cause one to fall back into sin.
   
Matthew 16:24-27 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.  For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
   
Total commitment, even unto death, is necessary.  Cross bearing is a willingness to suffer and die for the Lord’s sake just as he suffered and died for our sake.  Cease making self the object of our life.
   
 1 Timothy 2:1-10 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;  For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;  Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;  Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.  Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.  I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.  In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;  But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
   
Live a good and holy life, with special emphasis on its source, which is a deep reverence for God.  God desires the salvation of all people.  The Bible also indicates that God chooses some (not all) to be saved.  He chose those He knew would believe and follow Him.  Christ gave Himself as a ransom.  Through His death, He bridged the gap between God and man and made salvation available to all.
   
1 Peter 3:17-18  For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.  For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
  
Jesus is an example of how we should live as a Christian.  We are to be ready to suffer for doing good. 
 
1 John 2:15-17  Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
 
This doesn’t mean the world of people or the created world, but rather the world, or realm, or sin which is controlled by Satan and organized against God and righteousness.  You should not permit yourself to be trapped by worldly attractions.  The Bible says, “Neither give place to the devil.”  Dabbling with worldly amusements like professional ball games, horse races, stock car races, wrestling arenas, skating rinks, motion picture houses or drive-in theaters, bowling alleys, and going swimming where men and women both use the same bathing area would give the devil a foothold or place in your place.
   
Always tithe your income and put it in the church treasury.  Make freewill offerings other than your tithes.
   
Younger members should not keep company or associate too intimately with worldly outsiders.
  
Because of the ever-increasing number of broken homes, separations, divorces, and remarriages, the greatest care should be taken with much prayer and consideration regarding proposed matrimony.
 
A member who may have a living companion should not marry another under any circumstances, even if divorced.  Neither should a member marry anyone who has a living companion although such a person may be divorced.
   
Children are a heritage from the Lord.  Those who have children are responsible to teach them an early age to reverence the house of God.  This should be done by setting a good example before them and by instruction them with such a good spirit that they will have a strong desire to serve the Lord.  MINISTERS are to meet all the requirements in being examples to the members by keeping their children under reasonable control at all times and by restraining them from running about over the house of God, especially while the services are in progress.
  
The White Wing Messenger is a very important part of the Church of God.  It should be ready regularly by every member, and your interest in advertising the church should be so great that when you have finished reading your copy, you would pass it along to someone else.  Every member who possible can, should subscribe, and each minister is asked to be a “paid-up” subscriber and an earnest worker for our church paper—the White Wing Messenger.
   
These are the last days and perilous times have come, and it will require much watchfulness and humble prayer for you to so live and act that you will never bring reproach on the worthy name of Christ and His church that you so much love.

Never form too close an intimacy with the opposite sex even if they are brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Give no place to the adversary.  Abstain from the very appearance of evil.
   
Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Though out the New Testament we are taught to have respect for authority and to exercise order and discipline in the Church.  These kindly instructions and advice are given by those who are watching for your soul as they much give an account, and it is hoped they will be received with the same meek, gentle spirit in which they are given.

I never witnessed any charges brought against anyone for not taking part in the singing yet extreme weight was given to other areas in the list.  The church in my day was very difficult to figure out.   When I was dating, this list ruled out almost everything I could do on a date.  I posed the question once about what I could take a girl on a date and do you know what the answer was?   I was told “You can take her to church.”   Yeah, try that for a pickup line and see how many dates you get.

Seriously, though the church took fun out of everything you could possibly do.  For folks that went through a divorce, if they wanted to remain members, they would have to either remain unmarried or wait for their ex to die before they could date anyone else.    There were a lot of divorced people praying for their exes to die – for Godly reasons of course!

PUT A RING ON IT

ringIn the 1990s, the church went through a huge transition.  Although it was masked under a cloak of top secrecy if you weren’t present to hear it, the church began allowing members to wear their wedding rings.  You would not believe the fuss that went on about this.   Many people said that the reason the church was relaxing its stance on wedding rings was because they were losing members.   I don’t know if that was true or not but that was the talk going around.  Now, I will admit to you that I had a difficult time with the ring issue.  After years of being taught against wearing any kind of jewelry, I was dealing with this issue and decided I was going to wear my wedding ring.  I met with my pastor at the time and informed him that I was going to wear my wedding ring.  You would have thought I had done the most unthinkable thing possible.  He looked at me and told me how disappointed he was in me with being raised in the church and was “floored” by my desire to wear my wedding ring.  He also asked that I would wait a week before wearing them to church so he could prepare himself and the congregation.  I learned later that he had a secret clandestine meeting with the other men of the church and asked them if I should continue in any leadership roles in the church.  They apparently had no problems with it.  The next Sunday I came in with my wedding ring and almost every eyeball was looking at my ring finger.  I even got the ire of an anonymous caller who would leave hateful messages on my answering machine about it.   Yes, this is the “true” church doing this.  Amazing.  The ring controversy finally settled down and others started wearing their rings.

The ring issue was a huge example I experienced of the double-standard in the church.  People were lightning quick to criticize me of something yet they had their own vices.  The church wasn’t doing a good job of reaching the lost because they were losing the found.

The ring controversy created a rift in COGOP and eventually a group called “The Concerned” split off to form their own group which many call THE Church of God (don’t forget THE in the title).   There were also others that split off to form various groups as a result of the schism over the rings as well as the debate over divorce and remarriage.

Divorce and Remarriage was another big issue with the church as well.  When I left they were considering changing their stance on it.  They liked to quote the scripture on how God hates divorce but neglect the fact that God loves the divorced person.  And if you want to know the “truth” just ask someone.  Especially on the issue of divorce and remarriage.  Each person will give you their own slant and their own scriptural reference to support what THEY think is the truth.  They called it “rightly dividing the Word” but it always divided into the person giving the interpretation at the moment. The subject of Divorce and Remarriage was such a big deal that there was even an article about it in the New York Times:

Many COGOPs have tried to be more relevant to people and more “friendly” instead of the strict teachings they have been historically known for.  Some have renamed their churches to more seeker-friendly titles such as “Harvest Fellowship” or “Liberty Fellowship” and so on.  While they are still under the COGOP umbrella, they want to dispel the rigid disciplines of the past.  At the time I left COGOP, it was more likely that you will find each church is autonomous of another.  Some in rural communities are apt to keep the hard line of the past.  It varies from church to church.

ALL HYPE AND NO SUBSTANCE

hypeWhen I reflect back on my time in the church I can tell you that I never witnessed miracle.  Never saw blinded eyes opened.  Didn’t see people raised from the dead.  Not one deaf person was healed.  No one ever got up from their wheelchair and started walking.  Nothing.  I never saw it.  I heard STORIES about these and I believed the stories I was told.  I believed these things could happen so it wasn’t a lack of faith on my part and I certainly wasn’t a doubting Thomas.  I was in all the way.  I WANTED to see these things but in all of my 46 years I never saw it – not first-hand anyway.   All the church seemed to be was a lot of hype with no substance.  I heard a lot of loud preaching and people who would get my emotions worked up.  I have seen people holler and run the church aisles in the spirit.  Lots of emotionalism.  Did the church fail me?  Yes, I think you can see that it did.  I still believe in healing and miracles but I don’t need any yelling preacher to get me hyped up about it.

As I told you last week, I really tried to believe everything the church was telling us but it just didn’t work.  Not for me.  It is really quite disenchanting when you had a “man of God” preaching love from the pulpit and telling racially insensitive jokes when not on God’s stage.    That’s very disturbing to me and I am ashamed to have ever been involved in a church like that.  Yes, I tried to believe it all and accept it but it didn’t work.  I got to a breaking point from the expectations and hypocrisy to force me to discover my true relationship with God.  It wasn’t about the “advice to members” or wearing rings, it was about relationship.  Did you know that God doesn’t care about a person’s perfect church attendance record?  Being a part of a strict church isn’t equal to being a Christian.  I eventually have un-learned that the hard way.

I saw some good, a lot of bad and lots of ugly during my COGOP days.  One of the ugliest moments I recall was when my father was appointed as a pastor at a church in deep South Georgia.  They didn’t take too kindly to having a new pastor or anyone not related to someone in their church.  One night we were in the car home from church a group of church members followed us out and attempted to run us off the road.  I remember my mother telling me to lay down the back seat as they approached us and swerved close to us.  It was a scary moment and one that will instill a sense of fear in your life.  So, yes, I have reasons to be critical of the church I left and why I left it.

While there was a lot of bad experiences, there were a some good things about my life in the church.  The best part was the friends I made through the years.  Most of them are still with COGOP and I have no problems with that because they are good people and they are trying to be a positive influence in today’s version of COGOP.  I keep in touch with a few of them.  We all have our own crosses to bear and our own journeys to travel in life.  This is mine. Next week I will tell you about how I sorted everything out and reveal the main reason that I left the church.