Month: June 2012
Learning the Faith, Beliefs and Spirituality blog on NOLA was widely read gave me something worthwhile to do, but I continued to look for a place of service in the church. I taught a Bible Study on Friday’s nights for a short time at an independent church. The church fell apart and we moved to another church. Our new pastor was very supportive. I started a Women’s Ministry. When I realized Women’s Ministry wasn’t my place, I released it to another’s leadership. I started a drama team but knew this wasn’t my place either. Then my pastor offered to finance the production of a book.
We met to discuss book publishing. I was prepared to give the church rights and profits from the book so they could recoup their investment. But I wanted my pastor to understand the perils of self-publishing before he presented it to the board. During the course of our conversation, I accepted that my God given purpose in life is writing.
After the meeting, I called a friend and prayer partner. I prayed God would “shut the door” on this opportunity if it wasn’t from him. Several weeks later, my pastor called and said, “Teena, the door is shut.” He offered to let me ask the congregation for an offering to finance my ministry of writing. Firm in my conviction that God is able to finance what you do, I turned him down. The board had already shurt the door and I didn’t think climbing through a window was a good idea. I had not asked my pastor to finance a book, so I wasn’t disappointed when God said “No.”
I turned my attention to NOLA’s faith blog. Writing one entry a week proved difficult and I was floundering. My entries were diverse, a video, a devotion, story of answered prayer, news of church events. To keep the blog fresh and interesting, I enlisted others to contribute material. Posting articles months in advance of their release made the blog manageable as I looked for my niche.
I found my stride the day popular Bible teacher Anna Donahue repeatedly came to my attention. She became the subject of my first profile, Who is Anna Donahue? I outlined her journey from broadcasting news to broadcasting the love of God. An unshakable name occurred more than once. Pastor Anthony Marquize, who was running for the United States House of Representatives, came to my attention three times in one day. I already had a list of people waiting for me to write their story, and opted not to contact him. Before the week ended, I met him at a minister’s fellowship and relented. His story left me in awe. He lost the election but gained something greater. Finally, I denied multiple invitations to Dr. Kathy Baker’s Interfaith Bible study before a friend convinced me to attend. Dr. Baker became a cherished friend.
Friends were a rich resource of remarkable stories. Jeremy Quintini, a lively child in my husband’s children service, fulfilled a 100 year old prophecy in a foreign nation. Pamela Binnings Ewen’s struggle to find a faith compatible with reason produced credible evidence that the gospel stories can be trusted. George Zanca disqualified himself from pastoral ministry but God did not. Mark McLean stared out his office window in the World Financial Center at the aftermath of the first plane’s collision with the Twin Towers. He looked up to witness the second plane heading for his office.
A friend, who edits some of my work, told me several times that I should turn the stories into a book. I toyed with the idea on occasion but was too busy writing stories to pursue the task. The task I refused to pursue, pursed me. More about that in my next post.
David Rodriguez preached his first sermon at The House of Living Water. He had been recruited by his friend, Jeb, to participate in the new mission, but the leaders of the ministry did most of the preaching and teaching. David told Jeb about the desire to teach that burned within him, so Jeb gave him the opportunity to teach his first lesson.
David did his best to repeat a sermon he had heard from 1 Samuel Chapter 6. In the passage, the Philistines had captured the ark of God. When God plagued them for keeping the ark, they returned it on a new cart pulled by two cows. The cows stopped in Beth Shemesh beside a large rock and the Israelites sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to God.
At the conclusion of his message the associate pastor said to David, “When you made the point about the two cows bringing the ark, I felt a confirmation that my wife and I should become missionaries.” Then the associate pastor stood before the congregation, pointed at David and said, “This young man is going to be a fine preacher.” The encouragement convinced David to devote his life to ministry.
“We have people attending Christian Fellowship today that received salvation at The House of Living Water,” said David. “I could rattle off a whole bunch of names of young people who came through that ministry. It was incredible, a real move of God. We were not doing pizza parties and sleep overs. Nothing wrong with that but those young people, like me and others, were radically transformed by the power of the gospel. It wasn’t our great talent or wisdom that touched so many lives. We were kids. God was present doing a remarkable work. Part of me yearns to see something like that happen again.”
David taught every Friday night at The House of Living Water while his friends went to Bible College. College wasn’t an option for David. He was a single father with two children and needed the stability of the steady income from his job at Shakey’s Pizza. Late 1973, the ministry moved to the Westbank Revival Center where David served as youth pastor and a Sunday school teacher for ten years.
He planned to remain single, so he could travel the world teaching when his sons were grown. His plan unraveled the day he entered a fast food restaurant to buy chicken. The beautiful young woman who took his order captured his heart. Linda was too young for him to date. He didn’t pursue a relationship, but he often bought dinner from the restaurant, so he could see her. One day, he stopped to buy dinner and learned she was gone. Two years later, David walked into Shakey’s to see Linda stood behind the beverage counter. His assistant manager had hired her. David could barely contain his joy.
He fell deeply in love with Linda, but she wasn’t a Christian. When he was invited to give his testimony at a Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship meeting, he asked Linda to accompany him. “As I gave my testimony, I saw tears running down her cheeks,” said David. “I led her to the Lord. She is the best thing that ever came out of Shakey’s for me. We married the following year.”
After they married, David sold the Shakey’s franchise he owned and obtained a job with Showbiz Pizza. While training for the general manager’s position, he discovered his supervisor in unethical behavior. Before David reported him, the supervisor complained about David. Showbiz resolved the matter by transferring David to a different store.
The new store was in an area that made a security officer necessary. “I hear that you’re a preacher,” the security officer said to David. “We got a little group over at my house. Why don’t you come and share on Monday night.” The man who taught the group wanted to leave and gladly let David assume his position.
“When I started teaching the Monday study, I was making a good salary as general manager of Showbiz Pizza,” said David. I don’t know why, but I prayed, ‘Lord lead me into full time ministry.’ The following month they closed my store and laid every one off.”
Under David’s leadership, the Monday night Bible Study grew and talk of planting a new church ensued. After consulting his pastor and much prayer, David decided God had answered his prayer for full time ministry. He rented a building in the lower ninth ward to accommodate his African American congregation. January 19,1986 New Orleans Christian Fellowship held its first service with fifty in attendance.
Attendance declined to less than twenty by the second service. The owners of the rental property had refused to give David a key. On occasion they arrived for service and were locked out. The congregation’s zeal to start a new church faded. Attracting new members in a depressed section of New Orleans proved difficult.
Five months later, David moved his small congregation to the Westbank of New Orleans. As he labored to build his church, he found himself in the midst of a personal financial crisis; his unemployment payments ended and the man who purchased his Shakey’s franchise defaulted on the loan payments. His wife’s job was their only source of income, and she became pregnant with their second child.
“We had really hit the bottom financially. I was thinking of returning to the pizza business when we attended The Living Waters Café, a Christian coffee house on Elysian Fields.”
David and Linda were enjoying the evening with their friends when he glanced at his watch. It was midnight. A young minister had just started speaking when David motioned to Linda he was ready to leave. As they walked toward the door, the minister asked David to wait. He finished his devotion and then said to David, “Thus saith the Lord, stay where you are, keep doing what you are doing. I have called you to that place.”
David remained steadfast to his calling and persevered. In addition to tending his flock, he started a radio broadcast on WWL. (The “Word of Truth” radio broadcast is currently on WSHO Sonshine 800 AM, Saturday at 10 a.m.) Two years later, a Baptist church, no longer in use, was donated to David’s ministry. In April of 1988, David moved his congregation to their new home on a four and a half acre lot. During the fourteen years at the Harvey location, David launched a Bible college and became the owner of Therapon.
David understood the difficulties of obtaining a higher education. As a young single father he was not able to attend college with his friends. In 1991 David launched Koinonia Bible College to assist people in similar circumstances. The college enlisted local pastors to teach courses in their respective churches enabling students to obtain an education without the expense of relocating.
Koinonia grew steadily and then declined, but David had learned the value of patience and perseverance. To keep the college financially viable, he taught most of the classes. One semester he taught five classes in addition to his pastoral duties and radio broadcast.
“I look back on that experience today and see the benefit,” said David. “If necessity had not forced me to teach most of the classes, I would not know the Bible as well as I do. No one is a better student than the one who teaches.”
In 1999, David received a card from the Therapon Institute. For $290 he could become a Christian counselor. He started to fling the card into the wastebasket when he noticed a sentence at the bottom of the card. “The Bible is our only official textbook.” Intrigued by that statement, he enrolled in the three day certification school.
On the first night of the school, the students stood to introduce themselves. When David stood Dr. Carlin, the founder of Therapon Institute, said, “Are you the fellow with the Bible College? I want to talk to you.” Dr. Carlin asked David to be the State Director of Therapon for Louisiana. The responsibilities included setting up schools, teaching, and certifying those who successfully completed the course work. His work with Koinonia had prepared David for the position.
“I came to the seminar with a strong Biblical background and thirteen years of pastoral experience. Therapon taught me to see the Bible in another light. The Bible is the most up to date psychological textbook there is.”
Therapon’s Belief Therapy is a nationally registered faith based counseling model. As State Director, David taught certification classes with licensed, professional counselors. From them he acquired a wealth of clinical knowledge which enhanced his multifaceted ministry.
When Dr. Carlin learned Eastham Prison Farm, one of the most notorious prisons in Texas, was under new leadership he presented Belief Therapy for their consideration. They gave him forty-two inmates to work with for one year. Six months into the program the wardens were impressed with the dramatic change in the prisoners and assigned thirty-two additional inmates to the program. The successful therapy permeated the entire prison system keeping Dr. Carlin busy. To create more time for his flourishing prison ministry, Dr. Carlin turned over the corporation and inventory of Therapon to David.
Sixteen years after David entered full time ministry he was a pastor, radio broadcaster, founder of Koinonia Bible College and President of The Therapon Institute. In 2002, he purchased a former Assembly of God church on Ehret Road and brought the ministries of Christian Fellowship Church under one roof.
“When I first started in ministry, I envisioned becoming a traveling teacher; visiting different cities, meeting new people and going home with a nice honorarium. I had it all planned, but God had other ideas.
Jean Trufant Harvey introduces Jean De Dieu Musabyimana who shares how he survived the Rwandan Genocide when he was eleven years old.
I was on my way out of the sanctuary when a friend invited me to lunch. I worked my way through the buffet line and sat down with my fish, fried okra and salad expecting a pleasant lunch with several families from my church. I had barely finished my salad when the “touch not God’s anointed” discussion arose. My friend’s husband (who I shall call Mr. X to protect their privacy) wanted to know what I thought, so I told him. While I related my thoughts on the matter, I could see my friend vigorously nodding her head in agreement and made a mental note to call her.
My phone call revealed that my friend disagreed with her husband regarding the treatment of pastors. Her husband believes pastors are a little above the rest of us and due greater honor than the average church member. My friend and I believe we should give honor to whom honor is due. While we should respect the office of pastor, we are not obligated to honor a man who abuses his authority.
During lunch, I told Mr. X that we should balance the honor pastors are due with Jesus and the apostles’ actions. Jesus and his apostles did not lead a rebellion against the corrupt priests of their day, but neither did they obey them. Regarding Jesus, the priest complained, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry’” (Luke 7:32). Jesus refused to be controlled by anyone but God. Instead, Jesus made enemies in high places publicly calling the priests hypocrites, blind guides, fools and whitewashed tombs. The apostles picked up Jesus’ ways. When the priests commanded them to stop teaching about Jesus and the resurrection, they continued at the peril of their lives. They did not honor corrupt leaders and neither should we.
I popped my last fried okra into my mouth and chewed. Mr. X said, “But, what about David? The Bible says touch not my anointed.” I knew this argument was coming before he said it. More than one well-meaning Christian has misquoted this verse as a warning to us commoners that the pastor is untouchable. True, Saul was a harsh, disobedient ruler that David refused to harm. However, David’s reason for refusing to kill Saul was wisdom applied to daily living. To understand “touch not” we need to listen to God because David was quoting God when he said it.
“When they [the descendants of Abraham] were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in it, they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another. He [God] allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” Psalm 105:12-15, NIV
Before the descendants of Abraham became a nation, before they had a king to rule them, God rebuked kings for their sake. When God’s people wandered from nation to nation and lived in the wilderness for forty years, God rebuked Pharaohs and foreign kings saying, “Touch not my anointed” (meaning all of his people) “and do my prophets no harm” (meaning the leaders of God’s people). This rebuke was never intended as a warning to God’s people that disobedient pastors are untouchable.
Somehow, God’s rebuke to foreign rulers has been attributed to David’s refusal to kill Saul. Leaders who try to control God’s people with this doctrine don’t include everything David said. David also said, “As the old saying goes ‘from evildoers come evil deeds’ so my hand will not touch you.” He called Saul exactly what he was, an evil doer, and then David refused to be an evil doer like his disobedient King. If David had killed Saul, he would have condemned himself as a evil doer worthy of death. David knew exactly what he was doing. Samuel had already anointed David to be the next king of Israel, making David “my anointed” just as Saul was God’s anointed. Killing Saul would have justified another for killing David when David became King and sinned.
David had no qualms about killing a man. When but a mere youth, he disabled Goliath with a rock and cut off his head. He also killed two-hundred men and cut off their foreskins to earn his wife. Saul was a little more difficult to deal with than a foreign enemy was. Killing your wife’s father is guaranteed to disrupt the harmony at home. In addition to that problem, God had used Saul to bring deliverance to Israel and many loved him. David knew if he killed Saul, uniting the kingdom under his dynasty would prove extremely difficult if not impossible, so he wisely left Saul in God’s hands. David said to Saul, “May the Lord judge between you and me and may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me.” He refused to act like Saul, so he could call on God to judge Saul without falling under the same condemnation as his wayward king. Two years later, Saul was dead and David was a king with clean hands.
David honored God when he exercised humility by treating Saul as an equal. David refused to exalt himself above a man who wronged him, because all have sinned and all are equal in God’s eyes. David was no better than Saul. After taking the moral high ground in dealing with his father-in-law, he picked up his sword to slaughter everyone in Nabal’s family for a lessor sin.
When a pastor or anyone wrongs us, we are not obligated to continue supporting and honoring that individual with obedience or finances. Instead, we should call them want they are, evil doers, and ask God to judge between us. But before we call on God to judge, we need to be sure that we are not committing the same sins.
After my friend and her husband left the restaurant, their disagreement continued. Mr. X accused his wife of setting him up. He was positive his wife and I had collaborated to say the same things. Mr. X also told his wife that I was always against pastors. She did not, and I am not. I knew nothing of their disagreement, and I am weary of watching pastors fail. Perhaps, God set Mr. X up. When you hear the same things from two or more sources, God is trying to tell you something.
Abram returned to Canaan a changed man. He had assumed the worst of the Egyptians and then lied to protect himself from a perceived threat of death. If Abram had believed God told him the truth, there would have been no reason enter Egypt spouting lies. Whatever illusions he may have possessed that he was worthy to receive the things God promised shattered in the blast of Pharaoh’s demand for an explanation.
To be included in the promises, God made to one of Abram’s future children which the Bible identifies as Jesus, we must learn that deceit is in humanity not in God. But that revelation is not enough for God to include us in his coming kingdom. To be included, we must learn the same lessons Abram learned by walking in Abram’s steps.
…[H]e (Abraham) is the father of ALL who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:11-12, NIV)
This passage in Romans addresses a controversy in the early church. Many Jewish believers taught the Gentiles that they must be circumcised to be included. Paul argued that Abraham possessed faith that imparts salvation before he was circumcised rendering circumcision unnecessary to salvation. Therefore, the descendants of Abraham have no right to the promises unless they also walk in the same steps of faith that Abraham did before he was circumcised.
Anyone can say, “The promises of God are mine.” What we say carries no weight unless God agrees with us. At this point in Abram’s life, God had made promises Abram cannot partake in. He will be dead before the son God made promises to was born. He took the first step of faith when he acknowledged he is not worthy to receive the things God promised, but the journey is not over.
Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the south. Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord. (Genesis 13:1-4, NKJ)
Abram returned to the place his walk with God began. He returned to the first altar he built when he entered Canaan, before he doubted God and went down to Egypt. This time Abram initiated contact with God, but his relationship with God can’t grow until Abram obeys him. God had told Abram many years earlier to separate himself from his father’s house. We don’t know exactly when God first spoke this desire of his to Abram. We do know it happened sometime during the first sixty years of Abram’s life.
Abram did not obey God. Things became a bit complicated for him as a result. Many years before God gave Moses the law forbidding the marriage of near-relatives; Abram had married Sarai, his father’s daughter from a second wife. Sarai’s brother from her maternal mother had a son named Lot, making Lot Abram and Sarai’s nephew. Since Sarai was barren, Abram may have desired to keep his wealth in the family. Jewish history states that Abram, having no children of his own, adopted Lot as his son making Lot heir to Abram’s fortunes.
Lot had been a part of Uncle Abram and Aunt Sarai’s life for many years. He was more than a nephew. He holds the status of “son” and heir to Abram’s fortune. We know Lot embraced Abram’s new God. The New Testament says Lot was a “righteous” man whose soul was vexed by the evil society he lived in. He followed Abram as Abram followed God. He followed an obedient Abram to Canaan. He followed a disobedient, fearful Abram to Egypt and returned to Canaan with a humbled Abram.
After all these years, how does Abram tell his adopted son, “When I was living in Ur more than twenty years ago, God told me to separate myself from my family. I didn’t obey him. Now you are in the way, so pack your bags and leave.” What would Abram do if Lot didn’t want to leave — force him out? How would Sarai feel about that, since Lot is her dead brother’s son?
It’s plain that Lot has to go, because that is God’s will – but how will he go? Should Abram pack his bags in the middle of the night and slip out of town, leaving Lot confused and bewildered when he awoke? Would Abram then have to spend the rest of his life hiding from Lot in order to remain in God’s will? What would Abram say when Lot found him and wanted to know why he deserted him? Should Abram say, “Tough luck, Lot — God wants to bless me and not you”? Wouldn’t that make Abram’s God no better than the gods of Ur, and sour Lot’s opinion of the God of Abram forever?
We need to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves as we pursue God’s will. This wisdom is available to God’s people, but we must ask for it (James 1:5). If we use our human wisdom, we can, as Abram might have done here, cause major damage in an attempt to obey God. If we bring harm to others, the result will not justify the means we used.
We can’t enter the center of God’s will without God’s help, even when we know what God wants us to do. Jesus said, “Without me, you can do nothing.” If we try to fulfill God’s will without him, we will make a mess of things — and I speak from experience!
We will enter God’s will in a perfect time if we pursue peace as we seek God. We must wait for the time God is best able to create and order circumstances that will enable us to enter his will without destroying people we love. The opportune time for Abram to enter God’s will arrived in the midst of a strife.
Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents. Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock (Genesis 13:5-7, NKJ).
God blessed Abram and Lot until they were both so rich they could no longer live together peacefully. God’s blessing created strife, not between Abram and Lot, between their employees. How will Abram solve this problem? How would you solve this problem? The answer to that question is very important. The way we solve our problems will determine whose child we are.
Did Abram storm into Lot’s tent hurling unwarranted accusations? “I’ve treated you like a son all these years. You repay me by letting your livestock graze on the best land while mine go hungry. I took you into my home when you had no one else, and now you’re trying to destroy my business! God never wanted you around anyhow. Pack your bags and move out!” Was that Abram’s attitude when he spoke to Lot about this problem? No! Egypt had taught Abram valuable lessons about love, humility and doing what’s best for others.
So Abram said to Lot, Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your headsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other (Genesis 13:8-11, NKJ).
Abram no longer thought only of himself and what’s best for him. He approached Lot with the intent of keeping peace even if it costs him. Willing to stop the strife before it infected their relationship, Abram put Lot’s personal preferences before his own. “The whole land is before you, Lot. If you go left, I’ll go right. If you go right, I’ll go left. Choose what you will, and I’ll take whatever’s left over.”
Abram’s unselfish pursuit of peace put him in the center of God’s will without alienating and hurting others. When you pursue peace with your brother or sister in Christ, you will both get what you want. Lot, already prosperous, in livestock and tents, wanted more wealth, so he chose the best land for his livestock. Abram, already prosperous in livestock, silver and gold wanted the Prince of Peace. Unfortunately for Lot, what he wanted eventually brought him loss and shame. He won’t be able to blame his future misfortune on Abram or God. From their hands, he received goodness and love.
Lot packed up his tents, separated his livestock from Abram’s and then departed for the well watered plains of Jordan to pitch his tents near Sodom. For the first time in his life, Abram was, at last, separated from his father’s house. For the first time in his life, Abram was walking in complete obedience to God’s instructions.
Jesus said, “Peacemakers are blessed, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). When God’s blessings created strife and Abram responded as a peacemaker, God spoke to Abram again!
Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are – northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever (Genesis 13:14-17, NKJ).
God did not include Abram in the promises the first time he spoke to him. This time God said, “I give to you and your descendants”. God was not impressed with Abram’s half-hearted, partial obedience. Jesus warned us:
Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to me In that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name and done many wonders in Your name? and then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, You who practice lawlessness! (Matthew 7:21-23, NKJ)
There will be a much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” on that day when many stand before Jesus, saying, “We have done this and that in your name,” only to hear Jesus say, “I never knew you. Depart from me.” It’s not what we say that counts; it’s what God says. If we want God to say the land is ours, we must obey God’s instructions by walking in the revelation he has given us for our lives. Don’t worry about what you don’t know of God’s will; obey what you do know.
When God fulfills his promises to Jesus, he will include peacemakers, not great prophets. He will welcome peacemakers, not those with power to cast out devils. His kingdom belongs to peacemakers, not those who think they’re doing great wonders in God’s name. His will is peace. If we refuse to live in peace with others, he will not honor us by declaring before all creation, “This is my beloved son,” because you’re not his son if you don’t love peace.
If we think God’s kingdom belongs to us when we refuse to live at peace with our brethren, we deceive ourselves. It doesn’t matter how many times we “go to the altar.” Abram built altars long before God ever told him, “I give the land to you.” Building altars availed nothing until Abram chose to live at peace even if it cost him.
So, if we’ve learned that we’re not worthy to be King, if we’ve sought God’s face, and if we love peace, do we then wipe your brow and say, “Thank God, I’ve made it”? No! It’s not over for us yet, it’s only just begun. Don’t sit down and rest — grab your binoculars. It’s time to explore.
God told Abram, “Lift up your eyes and look. Everything you see I will give you.” We have to see it to possess it. Read Paul’s prayers for the churches. His greatest desire was that God would open the eyes of their understanding so they could comprehend what God had given them. Don’t stop now. Put on your hiking boots! Walk through the length and the breadth of what God has given us.