Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: A Spiritual Odyssey

As I glance back across 2010 I am first and foremost stunned that it’s over. The year has been a time of joy and frustration, highs and lows, good and bad. Overall, it will go down as one of the most amazing years of my life.

I can vividly recall ministry frustrations early in the year. I remember sitting on one of the furthest back rows of church one Sunday morning, hidden in a crowd of over 800 worshippers and suddenly feeling like the preacher was right up in my face. His message had taken a turn to discussing forgiveness and I felt like he’d written the entire thing for me. His sermon ripped off the scab of an old wound and revealed I’d been harboring some bitterness, anger and resentment in my own heart over past hurts.

At one point I just wanted to shout, “Okay, okay! I get it big guy! Back off!” I wanted to run away, hide and cry. Well I stayed, but I still shed some tears. I went down to the altar and confessed my un-forgiveness to God. Suddenly I realized one of the biggest stumbling blocks to my ministry was this stuff I’d been holding in my heart. I told my wife all about it and felt like I’d unloaded a 100 pound weight from my back.

Just a few weeks later as I sat in that same seat, I felt God relating a message to me. I strongly felt it would be one of my last weeks at my home church. Depression seized me, especially because worship time had such power that particular morning. I shared the feeling with my wife and told her I could feel God working, I just didn’t know where it was all going. I felt like I was on the threshold of something.

It had been since 2006 that I had surrendered to preach. I had served from 2007-2008 as associate pastor at my first church, but it had afforded few opportunities to fill the pulpit. Most of my preaching was done inside the local adult and juvenile detention centers as a volunteer and for 2009 as assistant chaplain to the local jail ministry. I’m not sure why God gave me such a heart for inmates, but I loved bringing the Gospel message to them. However, I still felt I had not reached God’s destination he had set for me.

I felt unfulfilled spiritually despite the great opportunities in jail and the blessing of co-teaching a wonderful group of 9th grade boys for Sunday school. Back pain became a constant throughout the year and I was deep in the midst of it by spring. We took a trip to Arizona and I was privileged to walk my oldest girl down the aisle. She made a beautiful bride. The 19 hour trip there then back wreaked a little more havoc on my back.

My wife had encouraged me to send out my resume to several local churches looking for a pastor, but honestly, I had become discouraged that anything would ever come out of it. I seemed to keep finding closed doors and disappointments at every turn. She called me with excitement while I was at work one day to tell me a little church named Lee Chapel Baptist Church just outside of town had called expressing interest in meeting with me. I drove by it at lunch that day, and I felt something odd in my heart, a longing, a desire, and the seeds of some sort of peace.

A few weeks went by with no further word from them. I felt disappointment settling in like a heavy weight again. It had been over 6 months since I had stood in a pulpit although I still had a semi-regular opportunity to preach in jail. I remember taking a dose of vicodin to dull my backpain and sitting down to watch one of my daughters play “Red Dead Redemption.” I’d had it that day, and I expressed a great deal of frustration to God in prayer. I felt drained and depressed. The medicine helped with the physical pain but not with what I can only describe as the spiritual pain.

Suddenly I heard my cell phone ring. It was the ringtone for a call from somebody that was not in my directory. I felt my heart leap at the thought that it might be from that little church, but then I tried to prepare myself for disappointment as well. The voice on the other end was that of the search team leader, and they wanted me to come preach in view of a call. I think I just about exploded in excitement.

A few weeks later, under God’s divine direction and provision, I found myself called to be the pastor of Lee Chapel Baptist Church. I always wondered how I would know when the right church called me, but I had such a peace about it that I knew it was God’s absolute direction.

The excitement was not over as my previous home church arranged to ordain me and two other younger men into the ministry. It was such a powerful and emotional experience, and I was thrilled that the chaplain was able to come and participate, laying his hands on me and praying for God to bless my ministry.

Wow, that’s a lot about that event, but I must confess, it is the most important event for me in 2010 and one of the most important in my life. I am a bi-vocational pastor, but I can say I have one of the greatest blessings of any person – I get to do a job every week that I love. God put a dream in my heart to be a pastor, and I am living out that dream right now.

My second grandchild was born in 2010, baby Abi, coming a bit prematurely but progressing miraculously. My youngest girl started kindergarten and one of her older sisters started her senior year, the next sister moved out to a place on her own, and the aforementioned oldest girl was wed. These ladies keep me busy!

God brought some great people into my life as friends. One of my best friends came on board with our church as the worship leader, and for me it has been a match made by God. I am just stunned as I look over the past few years how God brought us together and how he works out his perfect plan beyond any ability of us to fathom. I even got to perform the first baptism at my new church, and I’m ready for more!

I fought through some challenges and frustrations in my secular job, but everything took a turn for the better towards the end of the year. We suffered some heavy turn over, but I am blessed to have my two team members still with me, and they are the finest folks I have ever had the opportunity to work beside.

I experienced one of the most excruciating bouts with tooth pain ever as I battled an abscessed tooth that had to be extracted. I guess it’s been a year with a good deal of physical pain but a greater deal of spiritual joy. We had some family bumps in the road as one of our girls moved out, but thankfully we all are a unified family at this point.

One of my big disappointments came when PepsiCo decided to discontinue my favorite energy drink on the planet – Sobe No Fear. That happened back in April, and I finally came to terms on drinking Monster Energy. My friend and co-worker scored me one of the last cases of No Fear, and I have a total of three cans left in my inventory now. The last three cans on earth…I think I’ll celebrate the New Year with one.

AS for the resolutions I made at the beginning of 2010? All of them have fallen by the wayside save one: floss daily. I suppose that is a noteworthy accomplishment, especially in view of my dental run-ins over the past couple of years. My dental hygenist was certainly proud of me.

2010 has been a year of turning points. Again, I cannot believe it is over. It’s been a wild ride – exciting and exhilarating. The bad has been more than outweighed by the good. I can’t wait to see what 2011 holds. I pray I’ll see some good and exciting times, and I pray for strength, endurance and wisdom during the bad times.

Happy New Year!
Randy Alan

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Gospel of Hate

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35)

I’m often amazed at how much hatred we can direct to each other in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have been a bit obsessed over the last week with Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, AZ. He spews hate from his pulpit, going so far as to say he prays every night for President Obama to die and burn in hell and calling for the public execution of homosexuals. He openly professes he hates the President along with homosexuals, pro-abortionists and apparently anybody who reads anything but the King James Bible. He actually claims that true salvation only comes through the King James Bible so I guess all those people cursed to be born before 1611 that relied on English translations such as the Geneva Bible and the Bishop’s Bible are all rotting in the nether reaches of the abyss. So much for the Puritans and their preaching from the Geneva Bible: I guess they were as heretical as any heathen that would dare to read from the pages of the satanic NIV translation.

I’m sorry, I digress. It’s just so easy to get sidetracked when you are dealing with fascinating characters like Anderson. I’m not sure where to start or finish with him. He is a clean cut looking man in his late 20’s with a beautiful family. You’d never imagine by looking at him that he was capable of vomiting the vitriolic messages he preaches each week. He really isn’t a bad speaker, just a bad interpreter of God’s word.

Let me clarify my stance before going further. If you show up at my church on Sunday morning you will most likely hear me preaching from the King James. I like it’s majestic and poetic language. I even believe it is an accurate translation. However, I don’t believe that it is the be all and end all of Bibles. Yes, I admit it…I confess…I read from the NIV, NASB, NKJV, NCV, AMP, NLT, ESV but I draw the line at the Message! Too much of a paraphrase, but I’m pretty okay with any other mainstream translation allowing that you understand the translation methodology so you can utilize it properly in study. We don’t send you through a TSA level pat down to see if you are smuggling in non-KJV Bibles on Sunday at Lee Chapel Baptist Church.

I believe homosexuality is wrong and sinful. I believe the same about adultery, lying, stealing, murder and a whole string of other things clearly laid out as such in God’s word. I’m glad God doesn’t arbitrarily strike down any sinner, but desires all to come to repentance (just glance over at 2 Peter 3:9 if you don’t believe me). I believe we should preach about such things from our pulpit concerning God’s wrath on the sinner and the grace, mercy and salvation offered to each and every sinner (the balance offered in Romans 6:23).

I’m just wondering if guys like Anderson (or the Westboro Baptist crew or Terry “Burn-a-Koran” Jones) bothered to read over Matthew 5-6 or huge sections of the Gospel of John? Anderson claims to have over 100 chapters of the Bible memorized but I think the bulk of them are from Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. I often believe we glaze over the wrath of God, but let’s not leave out the love of God either. God’s wrath towards sin condemns, God’s love towards man offers salvation. Yes Pastor Steve, even a homosexual, pro-choice Obama supporter that reads from the NIV can experience the love of Christ. Anderson and his followers in all their abhorrence for Obama love asking those opposed to such views, “If Hitler showed up on your doorstep what would you do?” The inference is the best choice is to take him down.

I’ll be honest with you, if Hitler showed up on my doorstep via some sort of temporal time distortion I’d grab the most effective weapon I had – God’s Word. I can’t change the heart of a man like Hitler, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ can. I’d do the same thing if the President of the USA knocked on my door…even if all I had was an NIV.

In closing, I cannot help but reflect on the life of the Apostle Paul. He was intolerant and uncompromising in his faith. He is my role model. When you think of Paul, it’s not hate that comes to mind, but love and sacrifice. What will Pastor Steve Anderson be remembered for? What will Pastor Terry Jones be remembered for? What will Pastor Fred Phelps be remembered for? I believe they have all erred over simply missing the mandate of one important verse, written from a titanic leader of the early church to his struggling protégé:

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

The phrase “rightly dividing” is the Greek orthotomeō. It means to cut straight. I’m afraid they have studied the Word that they might cut deep with it, inflicting grievous wounds on their flocks and any other unfortunate individuals who cross their path. I do not believe God approves of their teaching, and I believe they bring shame upon themselves because of their hatemongering.

Randy Alan

Friday, December 17, 2010


But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. (1 Peter 3:15)

I spend time daily surfing various locales on the web that purport to be “Christian Discernment” sites. The goal of these sites is to function as spiritual whistleblowers for the church at large. Legitimately they engage issues such as syncretism, the Emerging church movement, political attacks on Christianity and things that turn the church into a circus. However, a disturbing trend I have noticed lately is that they mow down potential allies with friendly fire.

Case in point: The Crosstalk Blog leveled their guns at the publisher of “The Almighty Bible” recently. Crosstalk’s beef was that a “comic book Bible” was a perversion of God’s word. However, upon investigating “The Almighty Bible’s” website, I found they are a Biblically grounded group of folks who want to encourage young people from 8-14 years of age to read God’s word. They even have their new Bible in an iPad app that also contains the entire text of the particular book (they have done Genesis and Exodus so far).

The accusation from Crosstalk is that this is “adding to and/or taking away from” God’s word and is therefore an insult to God. Have you ever read a picture Bible? I have a couple I have read to my youngest girl for quite awhile now. It has helped give her a strong Biblical foundation. The stories are presented in a simple to understand format with great illustrations. These sorts of picture Bibles are a wonderful introduction to the Scriptures that can help a child or young person in learning about their wonderful Savior.

After expressing my opinion on Crosstalk, I found myself accused of “blasphemy.” I always expected insults and accusation for my faith…from unbelievers! I cannot help but chuckle at the label pinned on me for my views. My opinion is simply this: the folks at “The Almighty Bible” are trying to bring God’s word to a generation that desperately needs it. I’ve used similar tools before such as “The Manga Bible” and “Manga Messiah” along with numerous movies and cartoons and music from Christian hip-hop artists... all teaching sound, Biblical doctrine and staying true to the Bible.

I believe “Christian Discernment” sites must walk a fine line between discernment and denigration. Heresy hunters can quickly become witch-hunters. If you really want to find a witch bad enough, you always will. If they don’t exist, you will create them (remember the Salem Witch Trials?). We must be careful about drawing conclusions without thoroughly researching the target of our accusations. I believe we have a great precedent set before us in the works of the early church father Iranaeus and his voluminous tome “Against Heresies.” He knew the teachings and writings of the heretics and apostates and was able to address them specifically.

What bothered me most about Crosstalk’s attack on “The Almighty Bible” was that nobody appeared to be interested in visiting the publisher’s website and undertaking a thorough investigation. My suggestion to do such fell on deaf ears while the blind accusations continued to drop. Perhaps the best advice I can offer is to check your targets before opening fire. You could be emptying a clip on friendly forces.

The danger I find is that of creating an insular community that rejects anybody who even reasonably disagrees with them. They embrace preconceptions without intensive research. What raised Crosstalk’s ire were words in the press release about “The Almighty Bible” that stated it was “edited” from the original texts. The accusations flew and I’ll share a few of those statements:

“Our forefathers were literate enough to actually read a Bible, and today, ‘graphic novels’ (that’s another name for comic books) are assumed to be all anyone can handle.”

“The ‘Almighty Bible’ will bring essential books from the Bible to life, they say. No need for the Holy Spirit then. No need at all. We just need comic books with edited Bible stories for media-driven youth.”

“The same evil redefining of Truth that occurred in the Church and is being played out every day in stories like this…”

“Another example of how we are trivializing the Scriptures.”

“…who dares to think that God and The Holy Spirit didn’t make account for a ‘visual generation’. Blasphemy.”

And perhaps the worst came when the publisher responded to the attacks, saying:

“We are not trying to replace the traditional Bible, we just want to grab the attention of kids and teens who would otherwise have no interest in picking up a Bible. Everyday young people are challenged to balance their time and much of this time is spent using gaming consoles, Facebook and mp3 players. We have chosen to release the Bible in these formats to compete for their attention and introduce them to God’s word.”

The reply that came was stinging and to me totally out of line:

“You and your team are not a solution to anything,….the fruit of 30 years of relevance and seeker sensitivity and youth adoration are in…you are part of the problem. I wouldn’t want to be in line for Gods’ wrath that comes upon those who add or subtract from Gods WORD.”

As I read over the words of Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 I am saddened at such responses. The Greek word for “answer” is the root etymologically of our word apologetics. It means to give a reasoned answer for your beliefs. I do not see reason in such vitriolic attacks. I certainly do not see “meekness” (gentleness and kindness) or “fear” (respect).

We are called to be discerning (check out 1 John 4:1). However, I am afraid it can be taken way too far. I’m not going to swear off such sites, but I will continue to express my opinion on them both positively when they blow the whistle on serious church issues, and negatively when they aim their attacks at friendly forces.

I guess to sum it all up, please use discernment when you are discerning.

Pastor Randy