Preacher in a Basket

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Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.” (Acts 9:25). 

Paul was turned persecutor into persecuted. He who was once a terrorist was now a preacher.  Now he was on the other side and very quickly Paul got a taste what it was to be on the run from hostile anti-Christ crowds. At first they must have thought this was just another way to capture the Christians but then after a while they must have realized he was not pretending, especially when the people he was preaching to were getting baptized and converting to the way of the wonderful Nazarene. He was preaching the gospel so powerfully he was confounding the Jews and proving that Jesus was the Messiah. So the Jews at that time decided that he would have to be killed. A governor who was appointed by Aretas an opportunistic ruthless king of that area (so powerful he defeated Herod Antipas’ armies) assigned a garrison, to arrest and kill Paul (2 Cor 11:32-33).

But the followers of Christ in that city decided to lower him out of a window in a basket so he could escape. Much like Moses who escaped by a basket (Ex. 2:3-5) so Paul would escape with his life. It was not easy, it would have to be a big enough basket to lower a man who could have weighed from 150 to 180 pounds without dropping, injuring or killing him. But his life was like that, always in the balance. It would seem he was a preacher in a basket teetering on the brink of life and death every day.

Paul’s resume looked more like an intelligence report from the NSA in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. People thought Paul was insane. He had to bear the weight of responsibility in taking care of churches which most likely gave him many sleepless nights. He lacked clothing, many times he did not have enough food to eat. He was in danger wherever he went.  He was in and out of prison and he was publicly beaten within an inch of his life by lashes and with wooden rods. Who know how many times he almost died. One time he was stoned and they thought he was dead and they dragged his body out of the city (Acts 14:19). He was shipwrecked and floated at sea for a day. He was robbed and almost drowned. He was persecuted by Jews and Gentiles and those who claimed to be Christians and were not. Eventually, according to tradition he would be decapitated for his faith in Rome. Yet he says, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24).

What is my point? Here we have Paul writer of fourteen books of the New Testament who lived life on a razors edge. He was seen as a basket case (2 Cor. 5:13) because he saw his ministry as a fearful responsibility and knew the terror of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:11). Who are we to think we are any better than him? Paul’s problems were not random, he caused them! Paul had an energetic passion for Christ fueled by the Holy Spirit and this got him in trouble with the law and religious people more than once. Although he lived in purity, showed understanding, patience and kindness (2 Cor. 6:6-7) he was treated like garbage by the people of his day and he even saw himself as the scum of the earth (1 Cor, 4:13). He was treated like a nobody and some thought he was an impostor. This was the great Paul the Apostle.

Let me ask you a question? Are you gospel scum? Yes, I am serious. Are you greater than your Lord who was defamed and harassed? (Mt 10:23-25). While no one sees being irrational or mentally deranged due to delusion as glorifying to God-does the world system and backslidden church people see you as a basket case for the gospel? Is your desire to minister the gospel so motivating you are treated like garbage and even the enemy of the state? Has Pentecost “cost” you anything except sitting tired, yawning in a church or making a roast for pot luck suppers or having to teach VBS once a year?  You drink booze, dance, watch godless movies and then wonder at your ineffective witness-that is if you care. You commit adultery, divorce and remarry and then parade against the GLBT crowd. Ah we know how to crank out certain issues to get our jack in the box “amens” from the pew forgetting such were some of us! Self-righteous snakes and religious reptiles beware-only those forgiven much love much.

Maybe you are just a “nice” Christian? You are just so agreeable with everything and everyone. You hope people will accept your precious little faith and develop a taste for your lukewarm religion.  You don’t want to offend anyone and although you say you do not compromise the truth (which today means a firmly held opinion not fact) your words and actions reveal that you are a part time salesman and convert to the new discipleship that makes you a pleasant agreeable marketer attempting to populate your CEO’s church (what we used to call a pastor) with more clientele.

The gospel was a threat to all society especially the idols of established religion and false patriotism. The evil world system run so long by the prince of the power of the air Satan, greatest fears were realized with what Paul was preaching: CHRIST THE PROPHET, PRIEST AND KING was and is real and he was and is taking back what belongs to him. While it is noble to get people food, shelter and clothing-is it right that we infect them with a diseased form of Christianity?

The gospel Paul preached is diametrically opposed to the present evil age and the worldly religion of moralism, psychology and the philosophy of lawlessness. Real gospel preaching opposes all sin and anything that attempts to eclipse God’s glory and his way of salvation through the Cross of Jesus Christ. Preaching law offends the lawless. Preaching grace offends the moralist. Gospel preaching is not palatable to the world and what I mean by the world is not the lost and dying in this context but the world system intermixed among so called Christianity and a social, behavioral moral code gospel that is powerless to save.  Can you hear the satanic laughter at the futile efforts of today’s form of Christianity and evil runs amuck in our land, yes our world? Look, boy and girls- cowards never can serve God and are left outside heaven.

Before I close, you say that Paul was a special man? Not everyone is like him. True. Yet I wonder if he was so special why don’t you preach and emulate his teachings in context then? The book of Romans and the book of Acts should be side by side. One is elaborate Christ centered doctrine. One shows you the practical side of faith and what happens when you preach pure doctrine. Christianity is not a cultural experiment-it has already been tried and proven. Abandon, yes, repent with torn hearts of your religious tourism, marketing and souvenirs and just preach Christ (that is if you know him)!

If not, as always, in the foreknowledge and predetermination of God there is no lapse or mistake. Christ our master architect and builder will stand up! He does not give sleep to his eyes as he builds the church and will God will have a people for himself! He has heard the prisoners of sin groan and seen those on spiritual death row heading to hell and if these lukewarm people do not respond to the clear call of the truth-they will end up being castaways! He will raise up a people yet to be created that they may praise the LORD! These will be a people willing in the day of his power, full of the vitality and dew of heavenly youth.

May the Lord fill his basket with many who have the unleavened bread of sincerity in their hearts and feed the world with the bread of life-JESUS!

©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due

 

NO MORE PILGRIMAGES

Christian+Pilgrim+Groups+Travel+Holy+Island+LLRLn2FUUXMlPlease be careful. WAKE UP! I am a historic premillenialist like Charles Spurgeon but I am becoming aware of some troubling issues.

There are those of us who really care about the salvation of Israel who frown on recent ploys by some ministries to fund raise or make an end run play by Word of magic salesman to get people to go on tour in the Holy Land.

Ever get an offer for a free trip to Florida? Then when you go, they invite you to meetings to sell you time shares or condominiums?

All these religious networks and so called ministries are having pilgrimages to Israel and Jerusalem. The emphasis on the nation of Israel on television is replete in much preaching lately but their motives seem murky with all the spiritual vacation packages.

Recently, one major Christian satellite network has a new studio in Jerusalem and methinks this is their motive for Holy Land tours and there is a growing concern that they are knowingly or unknowingly exploiting those who are unlearned and ignorant.

It seems like they are selling spiritual time shares, religious condominiums or telling people they can get closer to God by going to Israel. One preacher is selling products and prayers at the wailing wall for $1000! 

Is this not what the Roman Catholic church did with the city of Rome and what Islam does with Mecca? Are we now so powerless, so ignorant of the gospel of Christ we need pilgrimages and products that get us closer to God? Does this not show error and backsliddeness of these preachers and ministries?

Is not the church one new man, of believing, born again Jew and Gentile? Not two churches. Not two nations (Eph. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:9).

Did not Jesus insist that we DO NOT need cities to travel to, trinkets or toys with which to pray, mountains in which we have retreats, to worship in temples or perform in ecclesiastical theaters? “Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.” (2 Peter 3:17).

Rather Jesus our Messiah taught that the worship of omnipresent God who is Spirit has arrived and that we worship the one true God in the power of his Holy Spirit and the Truth of the Gospel! For that is the worship our Heavenly Father wants!  (John 4:23-24). 

©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due

THE REAL VERSUS THE PHONY

counterfeits“But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.” (1 John 4:6).

Notice the supernatural aspects of truth and error. We cannot help but see that the phrase is not “the teaching of truth and the teaching of deception” and if it was worded that way it would seem correct. But it is not worded that way here.  It is, “the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.” It shows the source of truth and the source of error.  Satan and his demons have teachings (1 Tim. 4:1) and there is also the doctrine of Christ (2 John 1:9). As Pentecostals we should be more sensitive to this and that is why God has given us the all the charismata or gifts of the spirit especially the “discerning of spirits” (1 Cor 12:10) which is the gifting or ability to discern a true miracle (Acts 3:12-16) from lying signs and wonders (2 Thess. 2:9). While I was still pastoring my previous church in the 90’s, the so called Toronto Blessing and Brownsville Revival movements were having a major influence on various Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Falling down, writhing like snakes, barking like dogs, clucking like chickens with people sprawled all over the floor was the norm.

I mean seriously? This has NOTHING to do with the Holy Spirit. It is NOT true Pentecost.

As I remember on a July 4th weekend I was asked to come and minister in a church in Maine. When we came we found the church at that time was into this Counterfeit Revival movement. At one time, I knew the Pastor to be a level headed man but when the service began it was wild and out of control. The church was dominated by cacophonous laughter and people lying all over the floor. The “worship” service went two hours with all kinds of craziness. I was not happy at all-and was wondering why I was there and why he invited me to preach.

The pastor knew I did not agree (probably because of my sour expression and how I just sat there motionless) and as God would have it, he had me come up to to the pulpit to preach anyway. By the grace of God I am not a ecclesiastical politician nor a coward when it comes to confronting such extra-biblical practices. I just wonder why it always has to be me. I reprimanded them sharply-just like the Bible says to do (Titus 1:13). After I spoke, the pastor was miffed. I left the meeting and went back to the hotel room thinking I was done and I should start packing for my trip back home. I was disappointed and wondered what was wrong with them? What was ironic is that I felt to preach on the biblical view of the anointing of the Holy Spirit for that weekend. I intensely studied on this subject for months and now I was second guessing myself.

They had morning seminars and then we went to lunch. You could see the pastor was still brewing over my preaching the night before. So we talked about it and I actually asked him, “When the Holy Spirit is moving in a service could you preach from any portion of the Bible?”

He said, “I suppose so…yes.”

Then I asked, “What about  1 Corinthians 14 and its regulations and teachings concerning spiritual gifts?”

He said, “I suppose not.”

I said, “That is ridiculous. It makes no sense.”

His reasoning was so flawed- yet that night the pastor still had me preach and it was powerful. I focused on the teaching of scripture about the Holy Spirit and many told me they saw more answers to prayer than they did under what the pastor was promoting. I could teach about the biblical perspective of the Holy Spirit and God took over from there. It was like a high pressure system pushing a low pressure system out. It turned about to be a great series of meetings. I learned then that the truth is stronger than lies, that the inspiration of the scripture far outweighs  the false  practices and teachings of man. I could only hope God would deal with them after that time.

God during this time began to bring my attention to the New Jersey area.  It was a slow start when we came and one day I felt compelled to leave Pennsylvania and go to New Jersey. I found a job and lived with my Mom for a time. Sarah found a job almost immediately and things came together-we had a small Bible study. I received a call from with two families in Maine who wanted to come down and help me start a church. So those things were good.

When Sarah moved up finally we went to live with my father in law for a time and would visit churches on Staten Island. Once again a preacher who I thought was a balanced man was allowing the Brownsville influence in his church. In fact, he and others were making pilgrimages to that place. His church was jammed. He was my friend so we visited his church for a few services and he let me preach. I had fellowship again. This church was at first not as wild but after attending a few services the weirdness was growing to fever pitch.

People were yelling, making weird noises, tongue talking during the preaching. I do not mean to be crass but every freakacostal and charismaniac was in attendance. I remember the day I came I was happy for my friend.  The church had grown to two services and though I did not agree with those practices I was hopeful things would turn around. After all, this was the church where I was saved. Maybe it just being welcomed anywhere after my recent hurtful experience at the Warehouse of Praise so there was a sense of relief. I also believed that if he was a man of God he would correct these practices eventually.

But these happy thoughts would not last very long-not even one day longer. My pastor friend came in and he looked angry and sour. He had a bad spirit and you could tell. I was wondering what was wrong with him. I had pastored before so I know how things happen before church and when you preach so I cut him some slack and excused it in my mind. 

That same Sunday morning God gave me a word or prophecy. It was a hard word and I had never given one like this before. But I felt the power of God to say it.  I don’t remember all of it but it was a harsh rebuke for what was going on-God was exposing the wrong practices and spiritual adultery of these people. I said some other words and as I began to speak of God offering blessing for their repentance- the pastor stopped me midway from prophesying. This was a first. Before this time, I prophesied many times in that church and I was well received. I was known of the brethren and I am careful when I speak forth prophetically. His actions were unnecessary and he was wrong. My mother was next to me and she was indignant at what happened. All of us knew what this pastor was allowing in his church was wrong and God was telling him to repent. 

We went back to my mothers house and I was hurt and confused. My twin brother was there and at first he said, “I told you not to go there!” But then he comforted me. People talk about how wonderful it is to be an Elijah or Jeremiah or any such thing. It is not-it is a life of rejection but obedience does not seek applause. The sad part was that not but a year later the same church fell apart. If only they would have listened!

I do believe in ministering under the pastoral direction I always attempt to exercise protocol and find out how to operate within the church culture. But this does not mean compromising scripture or scriptural practices. I wonder sometimes why God always seems to put me in the place of being the bad guy as it were. I have began referring to it as being an antihero. Yet I realize that a man cannot love Christ and the evil world system at the same time. Why can’t some pastors just do their job instead of allowing these things to happen to the congregation which has been entrusted to their care? Why do I have to sit in a pew and listen to their watered down message or insane ideas? Why do they have to run their churches by books and ideas written by religious marketers instead of God’s Holy Word? Is not Jesus enough? I always thought he was. 

© 2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due

PREACHING WITH NO FAN BASE

Chicago White Sox v Baltimore Orioles“Then your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:4)

The good news for Baltimore is the Orioles crushed the Chicago White Sox 8 to 2. The bad news is due to the riots in Baltimore no one could come to the game. The game was rescheduled from a night to a day game because there was a 10pm curfew and no fans were allowed in the ballpark.

It was odd.

Only media people and a few scouts came and that was it. You could hear the players yell for a pop fly, the loud smack of the ball in the catcher’s mitt, the crack of the bat and the clicking of cameras taking pictures. All that was dulled by the sound of people was so vibrant. It was like apocalyptic baseball game and the two teams were the only survivors on earth so they decided to play. They played hard-it was a regulation game. The game was real with or without the fans despite the few people who peeked in through gates and looked on from hotel balconies. The game had to go on with or without them. It still counted.

Lately, there are some preachers who have had to preach and pray alone. You were a Pastor or Evangelist andopen-bible-empty-pews ministered for many years but it seems things have so changed you may feel like you are unnecessary and outdated. You know you must preach God’s Word without compromise and this earned you the left foot of fellowship.

Maybe you are just aging and your church or denomination replaced you with some one younger.

The church split caused you to have to have to close your church and sell your building.

Maybe you were debilitated by sickness or physical weakness and you had to leave your ministry only to find you were thoughtlessly replaced.

It could be you sinned and God in his mercy chastised you but now that you have recovered people don’t trust you.

It is even hard for you to attend church because it serves as a reminder of what you used to do and how much you loved it.

Although you feel depressed, anxious or even useless you but God’s gifts and callings are never taken away and your heart longs to preach and pray and minister to others (Rom 11:29). You love Christ and his Word.

You are not invited very often to preach so you witness to people wherever you go or the opportunity arises. Sometimes you preach around the house when no one is home. You pray and seek God alone only with his eyes upon you and no one sees. There are no pastor appreciation days for you. You have no fans and your life seems like an empty stadium. While there are men of God who still preach the Word who are active in pulpit ministry you get my meaning.

The game of life is still real. Your life still counts. What you still do is during “regulation” time and things still affect your average. Everything you do still counts in the standings of life. It does not matter how people see you. The devil has tried to put a gag order on real men of God but they cannot be stopped.

Paul was rejected by other preachers and churches. The fake apostles were handsome and eloquent. They tried to discredit him by making fun of his appearance and speaking ability. He writes, “For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible….I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. ” (2 Cor 10:10; 11:5-6). 

He also said, “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.” (1 Cor 4:11-13NIV).

Yet, Paul still knew he was in the game-that what he did mattered. He knew that his call was real. The Christ he preached was still Lord of his life. His preaching still had eternal consequences.

In reality the stadium of your life is full! You are “surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith” (Heb. 12:1NLT). Men like Abel, Abraham, Job, David, Stephen, Paul and Peter have field seats to encourage you on! They shout as you defeat another enemy, resist a temptation and win another soul to Jesus. But best of all there sits JESUS and how he loves you! He is there smiling while other ignore or scowl at you. He makes it clear that you don’t need a fan base to preach-you are living, “not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thess 2:4).

Keep in the game dear brethren. The seasons may change, be prepared! Sharpen the axe of your skills (Eccl 10:10). Keep preaching, studying, singing and worshiping. You are vital to blessing God’s people and are a force to be reckoned with and you will find a fan base is not necessary.

Jesus is the Author and Finisher of your faith! You keep your eyes on him, for he is your most precious prize! 

©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due.

THE WAREHOUSE OF PRAISE

warehouse

If someone asks, “What are these wounds on your body?’ they will answer, “The wounds I was given at the house of my friends.” (Zech. 13:6).

We had to reluctantly sell the church building in Pennsylvania. I had a lot of memories there. Then my Dad died, less than a year after we lost my wife’s Mom. I met with the State District that year and after being licensed they offered me a full time position in a church located in the southern area of that State. They felt because of my enthusiasm and evangelistic spirit it would be a fit for me. I was glad for the opportunity. I started pastoring there in May of 1995. There was only one slight problem. Previously, the church had huge financial problems. Those problems ended up in a mortgage of hundreds of dollars a month. Unless a miracle took place it would have been a set up for failure. Every Sunday we traveled over an hour from our home and were committed to moving to the area and placed a down payment on a home within a few months.

I knew that we were in some sort of trouble when looking through the church file cabinets (that the secretary who eventually resigned kept under lock and key) I found newspaper clippings that were reports before I arrived on the churches unpopular decision to build a steel instead of wood structure. The church at that time was called the Cathedral of Praise. When the church was finally built it resembled a warehouse more than a traditional church structure. The people of that area were livid and I found clippings of cartoons that called the church, “The Warehouse of Praise.” Yes, there were cartoons of the church that I was pastoring! I realized at that moment that the district leadership was trying any kind of damage control and now, I was unknowingly part of their duplicitous plan.

Many of the people who were in leadership on the church board were lukewarm at best. People who had been in that church a while almost had an inbred manner about them awkward, rude and unpredictable. When I was calling for all hands on deck they were insulted. We lost some of those elders within a few months with limping excuses. They might as well told me their dog ate their Bible. This all began when I asked if some of these supposed elders wanted to lead in prayer in church and they did not want to at all. They were still spiritual infants! All of the board members instrumental in voting us in, slowly left, because they did not want to take their commitment to Christ up a notch. But we gained good people in their place that wanted to serve God and be involved. Some of those same people who told me that they voted against me being the Pastor said they regretted doing it once they got to know my ministry. During that time we painted and repaired the building and replaced the landscaping. It looked great.

I knew I needed help so I asked my long time friend John DiGiorgio to come and help me. He was helping me in the preaching and taught the adult Sunday school class. I would be in my office and I would hear many times the entire class worshiping the Lord. They would come out visibly affected and would bring a wonderful spirit of worship into that place. I was glad he was there.

John was filling in for me one Sunday preaching with bad sciatica. He came with a cane and was in a great deal of pain. As he began to preach the pain left and he could move easily. He said once he was done the pain returned and he walked out with the cane. That was the way things happened and I cannot explain it.

A woman was being abused by her husband. She was a new believer. He came towards her and she said, “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus.” She said her husband’s body went limp and he lost all his strength. God restored that marriage not long after that.

The best thing that happened in the short time we were there was when we hosted Easter services. Todd and Kirstie visited us on our Good Friday service. Bill and Charlotte, members of our church, had been witnessing to them. At that point Kirstie did not even believe in the deity of Christ. That night we had people speak on the seven sayings from the cross and write on papers something they were surrendering to the Lord and then nail them to a wooden cross. It was at that moment I believe she and Todd came to faith. Todd had been around church but this was the first time he ever made a real confession of faith. They hung out with everyone for the weekend and we all shared Easter dinner-God brought us all together. I miss those times.

Not long after my brother Mike visited and preached and people including Todd and Kirstie were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Todd was impressed with the drum playing. He learned to play drums and became involved in worship ministry after we left. In fact, he stayed at the church they said they said they were going to close. Kirstie was deeply impressed by the worship time with my sister in law Kim. She felt impressed that she should become involved in worship ministry. The only problem was Kirstie suffered for many years with acid-reflux disease. She was a trained singer until this affliction came upon her and she was slowly losing her ability to speak. God miraculously healed her. Both of them are serving the Lord to this day and even served as successful youth pastors for a time.

But pastoring there would not last long for us. During that time I reached out to my presbyters and elders and they did not want anything to do with the situation or did not know how to advise me. I wrote letters to the District and begged for their help and counsel. They did nothing except for arranging a clandestine meeting with a Pastor five miles up the road organizing the sale of our property. Despite all we did it went ignored. We did all we could. The church was starting to grow. We even rented the church on Saturdays to a group three times the size of our church to make up for the deficit in the mortgage.

The superintendent at that time came and met with me and said they would have to sell the property. He was actually taken back when I said, “You can do what you want with this property, it is the people I care about.” I asked them to place the church in a storefront, or even let us pay for the rental of a hall but they refused. Finally, the District Secretary came and announced that they were “closing down” the church. The people cried a lot. I was heartbroken. It was over. By a miracle we got the down payment for our home back. But after this, I no longer saw my denominational leaders as men who cared for souls, or spiritual fathers who cared for me as a son in the faith, but more like publicans of a religious machine that cared only for buildings, real estate and tithe payers. I went home and licked my wounds for a while, but God had a different plan for me.

But for love of those people, I would have done it all again.

 ©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due

ADAM O AND THE SANTA ANA SAINTS

adamSurely the Lord is in the place and I knew it not.” (Gen. 28:16).

I was invited by Rev. Adam Ortiz who was Youth Pastor at Templo Calvario to come and preach at a youth revival in Santa Ana, California in the early 90’s. Pastor Adam and his staff was doing a phenomenal job and wanted to have what he called a Youth Explo. I felt that I should fast for these meetings because I was not going to do this in my own strength. God prepared me for what I should be preaching but He was also about to surprise me with the most thrilling experiences of my life.

Adam and these kids scrimped and saved as much money as they could to get me a flight there. I was fascinated with West Coast people they were totally different than what I was used to. I liked them. The first Thursday night I was to preach, I met both young people who had grown up in the church and former gang members. Adam was a former gang member himself and God had given him a great burden to reach his area.

The next day I watched as these beautiful kids mostly Mexican in nationality boarding the buses and the Lord began burning a word in my heart for them. Adam and I traveled in his old Mercedes (which broke down on the way back) carrying all kinds of sound equipment. We went up to a Christian camp and settled in our cabins for the evening. The kids were rowdy all night but they finally went to sleep, they would be exhausted by the next evening. Thank God I could finally sleep uninterrupted.

After a day of activities, Saturday night came and we gathered in an A Frame building used as a sanctuary. It was packed with over 125 people. I just studied and prayed that day and I felt confident that I had a message for them. The worship was wonderful and there was a great liberty in the Holy Spirit. The topic on which I preached was Entering Into the Door of the Spirit from Revelation chapter 4. I encouraged them to cross the threshold of the natural to the supernatural. The presence of God came in to that meeting like a high pressure frontal system and I was aware of the atmosphere intensifying with a sense of God’s holiness.

At the end of the message I asked them to move the chairs back against the wall so that we would have room to pray for people to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They formed a semi-circle around the front. I felt liberty to instruct them that they who desired the Holy Spirit would receive it by a simple act of asking and believing. I told them that no one would be manipulated by someone whispering “tongues” in their ear, or teaching them to say gibberish, cheer-leading and stirring up a dervish of emotions. I loathe showmanship. They would not have to wait long for God to move.

After this I began to pray and just as I said, “Amen.” immediately people started speaking in tongues. I began to lay hands on on them and simply say, “Receive the Holy Ghost!” and they would begin to speak in tongues. This was not wild emotions dear reader, the only way I could describe it was sacred. The sense of God’s presence was overwhelming. I began to actually be afraid to be in God’s presence. There was almost a glow of glory in that room. I had no fear of harm or injury it was just a deep sensitivity that God was at work. As the kids were worshiping God in their new heavenly language I looked in the back and I saw a young man whose name was Jesse. I am not given to visions but there appeared to be two radiating angelic beings with their wings touching above and around this young man.  I pointed at him and said, “Why is it that you need such angelic protection?” Adam was astounded. He brought Jesse up and he told me that he worked in ministry with the gangs. His life had been spared numerous times by the Lord. Glory to God! I asked who received the baptism in the Holy Spirit for the first time that night and it was nineteen people.

We had a devotional service on Sunday morning and and returned to Santa Ana for the Sunday evening service. Weadam 2 almost did not make it because the Mercedes broke down. We found out it was a small spring that would not let the vehicle accelerate. We made it just in time. That night the altar call was tremendous. People coming to the Lord, backsliders being reclaimed and baptisms in the Holy Spirit. It was like the old time revivals I had read about.

Adam O decided to extend the services for another week so we met for prayer everyday. I remember one brother who was struggling to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He felt despair and I told him that he could not receive any of God’s gifts in that frame of mind. I kept praying and encouraging him to just be at peace and receive the, “peace of God which transcends all understanding.” and just believe the Lord loves him. I saw him in one service and I looked at him and said, “Wayne let go of the control stick!” I do not know why I said it like that but right there he began to speak in tongues. God answers prayer! I remember in the last service, I pointed to another young man and said, “You have the spirit of David!” And this young man received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with just a sentence. It was incredible.

I remember that during that week of services there were season where the kids would intensely seek the Lord. One night, I felt so much energy I wanted to pray for everyone but there were too many, so the kids started to grab on to my suit jacket. I felt like a conduit of Christ’s power and he honored their hunger for God and filled them to overflowing. In one service, I started running around the church worshiping God. It seemed everyone had a childlike exultation in the Lord.  Thirty kids received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. I am deeply grateful for love I received from these kids. It was worth more than gold.

adam 8Two years later I returned for another three day retreat. if I recall correctly the youth group had grown for 200 to 5oo kids on Thursday night meetings. Many of the youth were still serving the Lord from the last time I was there and they were serving in ministry. The young man who worked with the gangs was now working for the police with the gangs-unbelievable! That is what the Bible calls good and lasting fruit to the gospel!

They had the Adam O show done in an Arsenio Hall format and used it to interview a missionary. It was a blast-we thought that this time might be more subdued than the last. I was wondering would things happen like they did last time? I learned this much, God will work in different ways, never limit him- let him surprise you. 

God began to do it again. This time I was intensely praying for an entire hour over people and Adam could not believe my stamina-the Holy Spirit just took over-it was the quickening of the Spirit. A woman came up from an operation and it looked like half her foot was missing. She still could not walk on it-we prayed for her and on her own she threw her crutches away and she began to walk with ease on it. She began to shout! 

adam10A young woman fell on the ice that day and she was in great pain. Her friends told me she was going to have to go to the hospital. We prayed for her and when she went to sit down she realized she had no more pain. She came back up weeping at God’s goodness-this was amazing. There was a powerful word of knowledge and God began to expose the hearts of backsliders and restore them, I began by the Spirit to expose sin and it was confirmed-God was bringing people to repentance.

When we went back to Santa Ana on Sunday night I preached on becoming a Soul Surgeon and the scalpel of theadam 9 Lord cut away at people’s excuses and many felt God’s call to preach the gospel. It was so profound Adam extended this revival for a week. I was being ministered to as well despite the fact that Roman and Adam trashed my life at chess.  There were storm clouds at home in our church and God was refreshing me. My Dad was preaching for me while I was away and did a great job. So the church was in good hands.

We began to minister and we went to Teen Challenge. There was a man there in a wheel chair and he had been injured by an accident. I went over to him and pulled him out of the wheel chair in Jesus name! I walked with him up and down the aisle-it was awesome. It scared the stuffing out of me at the same time. I am very serious abut the things of God. It is no game to me.

That Thursday night, I preached a message called, ‘The Great Deception” I’ll Follow Jesus Tomorrow.” I could feel the dense conviction of the Holy Spirit upon the audience. I have never sensed such an evangelistic spirit in all my travels and it was a powerful drawing of the Holy Spirit to Jesus. The front was filled with kids who came to repentance and faith in Christ. It was much like that in each service.

Adam is a friend of mine to this day-we still talk of those days and look forward to God doing greater things. For Jesus is not done healing the sick, freeing the oppressed and filling people with the Holy Spirit. I am even now greatly burdened to see a mighty move of the Holy Spirit-use me Lord! Send me Lord!adam 7

SPIRIT OF CHRIST CHURCH

spirit of Christ“Furthermore David the king said unto all the congregation, Solomon my son, whom alone God hath chosen, is yet young and tender, and the work is great: for the palace is not for man, but for the LORD God.” (1 Chr, 29:1).

When I think of the days of my first pastorate more things stand out to me than others after 27 years. Before and after I married my wife Sarah, I was preaching in the Northwest of the United States. I had opportunity to be the keynote speaker and preach the “This Jesus” Conference in November 1988. I preached on, “The Beauty of Jesus” from Psalm 45 and I will never forget it. God worked wonderfully especially among the ministers there. I was invited after that to speak in many different churches in that area, I loved doing it.

People would come in fifteen inches of snow like it was nothing. It was amazing. There was one church were at least 900 people were dancing in the Spirit. I never saw anything like that before. I tried to be dignified but it was really powerful. I saw numerous healing miracles and baptisms in the Holy Spirit. The devil was being defeated left and right.

While back on Staten Island in 1988 God was speaking to my heart. I felt what I could only describe as a spiritual anticipation. I knew something was happening in the Spirit. I was telling people that God has a church for me. One uncle said to me cynically, “You don’t have a church.”  Later, God spoke to me from scripture, “And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.”  (Psa. 27:6). Not long after, a Pastor for who I had preached for in Wisconsin connected me with a group in Pennsylvania who were meeting in a home. It was a beautiful home owned by Peter and Christine who were a tremendous force in the work of that ministry and who helped us maintain the building we would eventually purchase. I was well received by them. I was officially a home missions Pastor.

We moved into a townhouse in Lansdale, PA and wanted to get the carpets cleaned.  A man named Ted knocked and he was holding his baby girl Nicole when we opened the door. While looking around the house he saw my theological books all over the floor he asked me if I was a minister. I replied in the affirmative and he cleaned all the carpets for free. What a blessing!

I found out Ted came from a Mennonite family. I asked him if he would like to visit our church. He said that he did, but I did not see them for weeks. I called on the phone and I found out that both their children were suffering with the croup. So, God gave me holy boldness and I said something to the effect that, “I am going to pray that God heals both your children and when they do you will come out to service.”  Well, God did exactly that and Ted and Joyce came out to church. Joyce did not really agree with Pentecostalism and so I debated with her about some things. My wife wondered why I was being so forthright with her. I said, “I like Joyce. I think God is working on her heart.” He really was.

Not long after, my brother Mike was preaching one Sunday Night and Ted and his wife Joyce were there. My brother pointed at him and said, “Brother, the moment I lay hands on you you are going to be baptized in the Holy Spirit and speak with other tongues.” My brother came over, laid hands on him and Ted fell to his knees and quietly spoke in tongues. It was amazing. Ted and Joyce as I remember consumed the Bible and books about the Holy Spirit and his gifts.

Joyce had not received the baptism of the Spirit yet and on Sunday night we were sitting on the floor and I was praying with her while she was crying. I will never forget when she told me, “Everyone is getting the Holy Ghost but me.” It broke my heart.  But not long after, we were in church one Sunday and during worship I heard her speaking in tongues. I was surprised and asked her, “When were you going to tell me you were baptized in the Holy Spirit.” She told me that she had been praying at home and God filled her. Her countenance was glowing and she was so excited.

I found out Ted was a talented musician. We sang acapella and we had no music until he led worship. He played a twelve string guitar and he was anointed. He played it furiously and broke strings every Sunday. I had never seen a better Psalmist. While he was leading worship I saw what I believed was a hot flask of oil that poured on the top of his head by an invisible hand. I knew God was calling him and Joyce to ministry. They both have traveled internationally and were both he and his wife are pastoring a growing church in Pennsylvania.

I can tell you some things that came out to me among the many things that God did. There was a pregnant woman named Lisa hooked on drugs who came to our church. She was on speed during the pregnancy and her family concerned about the child. She gave her life to Christ and we prayed for her after she confessed this issue. God protected that baby and Amber was born healthy and strong.

I remember another woman named Sherri and she was drawn to Christ through a message on the armor of God. She said as she came up for prayer and knelt alone she could hear an argument going on between the devil and God. The devil said, “She’s mine!” and God spoke and said, “NO she is mine!” She became a glowing Christian. Wow.

Another woman, originally from Germany, was pregnant with what I believe was her fourth child. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She was told by the doctor’s at that time she would have to abort her unborn child in order to live and that was unacceptable to her. We prayed for her and God healed her and she had a beautiful baby boy.

One time I myself was stricken with Bells Palsy and the right side of my face froze, it was devastating. I wept a lot in private and no one knew how much it crushed me, especially during a time I was teaching on healing. It was Ted and another man that prayed with me. Ted prayed for my face, but he did not touch my face. He told me that he did not want me to feel any heat from his hand, so that I could feel the Holy Spirit healing me. God healed me and now I knew personally God heals the sick.

The Lord granted me opportunities to minister in Word and to sing on television and radio and I got to evangelize in New England often. We even created an album during my time in Pennsylvania.

But not all churches are perfect in fact, wherever people are they are problems. People will tell me this happened in a church or that happened. I always ask them, “Were humans involved?” As a young pastor I did not realize that the human factor would prove to be a huge issue. Where the Spirit is, the flesh is as well. Where God is at work, the devil is at work as well. We still live on this side of heaven.

These people I began to serve were at one time the disgruntled members of another church. It was my first pastorate and I was unaware of this and I had no idea how challenging it would be. I was only 23 years old and I thought preaching was enough experience- it was not. Whether the past issues of people were valid or not is not the point. Not all Pastors have diplomatic ability, people skills or political savvy and these abilities are NOT part of the requirements to be a Pastor. A Pastor’s obedience to God is his greatest asset. But if you are a person that is called to set fires instead of putting them out you may want to think twice about dealing with people who are hurt by a previous church in a pastoral capacity. I was more of a fire setter. I was confrontational and uncompromising-which means, I got hurt badly in the end.

The family that was the largest tithe payers were affluent and I think that since they were hurt by a previous church experience they took a very business like approach to church. The man owned a successful business for sure and he arranged a balloon mortgage on the church building. I was so young I did not even know what that entailed. If I would have known I would never have agreed to it.  He and his wife and another family left the church. A few years later when the mortgage came to maturity we had to sell the building to an Anglican church for not much more than the price for which we purchased it. I miss the building to this day and even feel selling it was a mistake. The lesson I learned was stay put and watch God provide he will take care of things despite what people do.

There was a woman and man, both who were married who were committing adultery in our church. While I was ministering in California a second time (a story I will relate another chapter). My father came and preached in my place. He was an excellent Bible teacher and loved teaching about God’s purpose for marriage. My father said they confronted him after one message. My dad let me know and he did not feel they had much respect for the Word. By this I learned that God was attempting to reach this couple in his mercy so that they would repent. I was shocked when I found out that same woman was crossing out verses in her Bible that she did not like, writing notes on the sides of her Bible such as, “My god would not do that.” She was under a spirit of delusion. I reprimanded them with the scripture and they left the church refusing the restoration process. These were very sweet people but sometimes when people think that they have more love than God does, they will end up in compromising situations which will damn their souls.

My mother in law, an angelic Pentecostal woman died suddenly from colon cancer at fifty two years of age. After that my father in law was experiencing severe heart issues and my wife was back on Staten Island taking care of him best as she could. What was worse is that we experienced a church exodus as well. It was my first, it hurt. A year later my dad died from heart surgery complications. Satan was hitting us on all fronts.  The best thing that happened during those times was the birth of my son Stephen. I learned that as a Pastor you had to play hurt, sometimes bleeding and that only going through things like these is when God will build compassion in your heart. This was the beginning of a very long painful process and eventually I would have to find a job, my dream of pastoring was shattered and I wept many a morning as I went to work.

It should be noted that Ted was influenced by an outside source and a very strange man attending our church who had an agenda of his own. The man was very subtle in his demeanor. He convinced Ted that I should no longer be the pastor. They even approached me and wanted me to give up the building so they could have it. That was unacceptable to us. Eventually, he and Joyce left. I tearfully begged them not to leave but they did anyway. It was a real shame. While I am thankful they are serving the Lord I also learned that if people do not want to serve in the church that you Pastor, let them go with a blessing. Keep your spirit sweet. God will provide others who love you and will be glad to serve the Lord with their gifts.

©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due

PULPIT POUNDER!

sword_of_spirit“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12).

This part of my testimony shows how God still was using me despite all my internal struggles. I know most preachers chuckle at how God used Balaam’s donkey (I do not think they would laugh if they realized how close the application of that story was for them) but it was more than that. God works through weakness and imperfection. he was use all my issues one day to be a platform for me to help his children.

Now I was born to preach. I love it. It is what God made me to do. I always think about it. I even preach when I am alone. I dream about preaching. You see, it is God that ordains preachers. Preaching is not learned, it cannot be taught it is a vocation, a sacred calling. You are either called by God to be a preacher or you are not one. A real preacher of the gospel is a strange creature. He must preach from what is in his heart. He must feel the presence of God when he preaches or he is deeply grieved. God’s Word burns in his heart like a fire.

During my early years as a Christian I would attend as many church services as I could. The Cops for Christ were meeting in my church and of course I attended and I listened to them talk. Two policemen John Carlo and Bill Salvia were there and I got to speak with them. I am not sure what happened, (I probably rebuked them for something as i was prone to do) but they wanted me to meet their Pastor and they asked if I would like to come speak at one of their Sunday night services. I accepted. Pastor Joe Demola was very encouraging. This was an Italian Pentecostal church and the people were very warm. On May 23, 1982 on Sunday night, was the first time I stood behind a pulpit…ever. I preached on Deuteronomy six and called for repentance and obedience to God’s Word. I was only sixteen and I think people were surprised.

There were some small churches on Staten Island that loved having us come and preach. I might be visiting with Pastor Tyndale on Jersey Street and would come up to me and say in his West Indian accent, “My brother, you are preaching tonight.” Brother Demola would do the same.  I would go see Brother Elstad in Castleton Corners and he would have me preach on the spot. Brother Sanchez in Jersey City would invite me to preach. It was not like today. I had to be ready at all times. The Holy Spirit had these men training me. I miss these men. I was too young to completely appreciate them, but I weep at how gracious God was to me. They called me a young evangelist and they encouraged my gifting despite my inexperience.

One time I will never forget at an end of a service at Brother Elstad’s they brought up a homeless man. He was bound by alcohol. He did not say a word but I looked into his eyes and there was another presence there. It was a demon. I reprimanded this demon for its hold on this man and immediately and without a question the unclean spirit left. He professed faith in Christ. Brother Elstad told me later that man was serving the Lord and was a deacon in his church.

My brother and I would go out and preach a lot. He called us “Bookends for Jesus” because we were twins. My brother would sing and I would preach.  We went to preach in one place and Mike sang one too many songs, not leaving me much time to preach. I was preaching on repentance and the Pastor stopped me midway. he still laughs about it. The people seemed to want to hear more but he ended the service abruptly. He was angry and he brought us into his office and rebuked us and asked me if I was reading any Leonard Ravenhill’s books because I sounded like him. I had never heard of him. But I thought that maybe I should read them after that.

I remember street preaching in Manhattan right in battery Park. I was working there temporarily and about a quarter of a mile a way I hear this large booming voice.  I went and there were these guys that were preaching under a huge American Flag to the people eating lunch. One guy looked like he could bench press 400 pounds and his voice was the one I heard. He could say, “Jesus Christ” better and louder than anyone I ever knew without a sound system. I had seen one of these men before and he asked me if I wanted to preach. Of course I wanted to. This was a new experience for me. Once again, I could see people as souls. There they many business people sitting on the benches eating lunch and we got to preach to people who had never heard of the new birth. 

One of the great things I got to do was work at WPOW in 1983 as the chief announcer just before I went to Bible College. My father jumped up and down when he heard I got this position. It was very early hours but I enjoyed it. I had the opportunity play Christian preaching and music.

During that time there was a young woman that my brother and I met. She attended a large Baptist church. She was a lovely Christian in her twenties and she would drive us home sometimes. My brother and I were speaking to her about the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

One night we were talking in her car about the Holy Spirit and she screamed “I’m afraid! I’m afraid!” Her church so poisoned her mind about this biblical experience she was terrified.

I placed my hand on her and said, “I rebuke this spirit of fear in the name of Jesus Christ and I command you to leave her alone.” Immediately she was at peace and not but a week later the Lord baptized her in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.

The Lord would also give me the opportunity to go to the Mid West and West Coast and preach-some amazing things would happen-things I never expected to see.

©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due.

SOUL SICKNESS

proverbs-18-14“The human spirit can endure a long illness, but who can survive a crushed spirit?” (Prov. 18:14The Voice)

I was still ridden with guilt that was already taken away by Christ. My soul was sick. I am not rationalizing anything but our hearts and souls get sick just like our bodies (Psa. 6:3; Prov. 13:12). This does not make us bad Christians, it just makes us human. We all get sick. We know this by the symptoms. When we do become ill, we seek a cure with over the counter remedies or home remedies. If we are still sick we seek out a doctor. We do all this because being sick is not normal in our minds, so we must be cured. My sickness was cured in Christ. All I had to do was look to him, see him in scripture, pray to him and know by his wounds I am already healed (Isaiah 53:5). But instead my soul was drawn to legalism, man centered methods and doctrines that promised healing but only brought disappointments. My problem was what I believed.

Now I did not necessarily know I was soul sick. Yet, I began to seek out books, teachings and people that might have a cure. These teachings all had the opposite effect and they fed my guilt instead of relieving it. They only slightly and temporarily healed my wounds (Jer. 16:13-14). For example, I began to read much on revival. I loved Chick tracts and also Keith Green a well known prolific Christian singer. They introduced me to Charles Grandison Finney. I loved reading his biography but later on as I discovered more about his teachings such as his rejection of justification by faith alone and his outright hatred of classical theology it troubled me.  He did not believe revival was the work of God but the responsibility of man so he had people take an inventory of their lives listing their sins and confessing them. He taught only then would the unproductive ground of the heart be broken up to produce the fruit of revival. This became like soul micromanagement to me-it is compared to trying to make your heart beat by listening to it.

Then there was the appeal of what people call “deliverance ministry” that taught that the Holy Spirit coexists with demons in Christians. They teach people have demonic curses that need to be “broken” even after they become Christians. I had no doubt we engaged in an invisible war but I knew Christians cannot have demons-period. I protested this teaching because the Bible said, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us…” (Gal. 3:13) and “God’s Son holds <us> securely, and the evil one cannot touch <us>.” (1 John 5:18NLT addition mine). When a Christian is confused with living in defeat or struggling with guilt, rejection, fear and depression one might be convinced they have a demonic problem. The deliverance ministry focuses on sin and Satan  instead of directing people back to Christ and his grace. I was invited to a deliverance session and they prayed over me and these “demonic” influences were told to leave. The session I had was very similar once again to taking inventory of my sin issues and thus I felt freedom for a short time but it was short lived. It was Satan’s deception to distract me from my perfect Savior and his great salvation. He must have had a good laugh at my stupidity. It was in what Jesus did once for all on the cross that my freedom was found. I was sealed by the Holy Spirit forever and delivered from all the powers of darkness when Jesus first saved me.

By the time I graduated Bible College and was a evening manager at a Christian bookstore I became fed up with the false doctrines of the word “magic” groups and the self-esteem gospel of Robert Schuller. My Christian bookstore manager asked me to leave when I expressed my concern over these books. Here I thought I was doing the right thing. During that time I met a Pentecostal minister who asked me to come and serve his church and he would remain Pastor Emeritus. He was having difficulties due to his age and wanted to know if I could preach there on Sundays. Things went well, until my brother came and preached on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The seasoned citizen woman who played the organ was a Methodist and she complained to the Pastor. He asked me to leave a few days later. I was devastated.

The devil used my disillusionment against me. While I was a Youth Pastor at a church on Staten Island I encountered a group of people called the Jesus Only, Oneness Pentecostals. They believed in the deity of Christ and many evangelical doctrines but did not believe in the classical view of the Trinity. They taught that Christianity was under the influence of NeoPlatonism like many cultic groups accuse them of. They also believed salvation was by being baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38) and that Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19-20) were only the titles of God not the name of God. They confirmed the feeling of suspicion that had grown in my heart. They lovingly took me in and trained me and showed more concern for me than anyone. I baptized a few church members at that church and was asked to leave. Not long after, I pastored an Apostolic Church for a few years. I had to study a lot of church history and Christology in an attempt to defend my position. God used that in my life to show me that only in the person of Christ and the teachings of classical Christianity represented the truth. 

The cures for which I was seeking were just as dangerous as the illness. All these groups were, “worthless physicians and forgers of lies.” (Job 13:4). Religion is always telling you to do something to be accepted, forgiven or to be in right standing with God. We must be wary that of any one group or denomination that claims to have all the truth. Only the church as a whole has the truth as it is in Jesus. The foundational belief that saved and kept me is: that all my guilt and sin, anxiety and fear- all my soul sicknesses were placed upon Christ on the Cross and he carried them away for all time and eternity! This was the key to walking with God all the time.

©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due.

 

CHARGED WITH GUILT

download (11)I will be merciful when they fail, and I will erase their sins and wicked acts out of My memory as though they had never existed.” (Heb. 8:12 The Voice).

As I have said, I prayed a lot. I read the scripture a lot. God was answering my prayers. But I still struggled with terrible guilt and remorse for breaking God’s laws. I knew of God’s forgiveness but in my own mind and conscience I saw myself as doing so many things wrong and making so many mistakes and if I did not confess them God would not answer my prayers and not fellowship with me.  At that time I also believed I could lose my salvation. I knew this would happen if I continued in unconfessed sin but I lived as if it was just one sin. So I based God’s forgiveness on my incessant confession of sins.

I was told keep “short accounts” with God, to repent right away and I was good at that. This made me believe God was cataloging my sins against me and that he would refuse to listen to me unless I confessed each one. I heard much about, “If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me.”  (Psa. 66:18) and especially, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives…” (James 4:3). While I was taught there was a difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit (showing you some sin) and the condemnation of the devil (accusing you of past sin) I confused this two unknowingly.

As ridiculous as it sounds I remember going to church to pray one time and I crossed the street when it said, “Do not Cross” I felt I broke the law and wondered if I should go to the police station to confess my crime. I was haunted by guilt despite the fact God was blessing me and using me to win others to him through the gospel. I was melting under the white hot flames of I what I perceived as God’s holiness and righteousness. My mind was charged with guilt.

I wanted God to hear my prayers so badly. I needed him to answer me because I believed the souls of people to whom I was preaching were depending on my prayers. This was good and bad. It was good because I think people diminish the quintessential aspect of prayer as the agency through which God works in this world. But it was bad because somehow I thought I had to earn God’s favor through praying a certain amount of time or expending much energy in prayer.

I was sincere. A friend of mine heard me stop worshiping during a service and I thought I might be attracting too much attention to myself (I was not).  So I would say to God, “Lord I don’t want to be a Pharisee and worship you to be seen of men.” My friend Kevin standing next to me must have overheard me and after worship patted me on the back and said, “Steve you are a good man.” But guilt had caged my heart and it was frustrating. It was draining my prayers of life and joy until it was hard to pray. I would have to worship 45 minutes before I could pray.

I felt condemned by the criticism of the elders and pastor. Someone from the Port Authority called the church and told them we needed a permit to pass out literature. We were handing out tracts near the train station with a Christian man we just met from the navy.  It was exciting. It was the first time I ever passed out tracts publicly (brief literature about the Bible and Jesus). The tracts had our churches name on it and so they called the church. The pastor bawled us out!  I cried. It was confusing. I was knowledgeable, I prayed, but after all I was just fifteen. I was a fiery young convert and I had a blazing fire in me that they could have turned into a focused laser, making me more effective but they did not.

In fact, when the Pastor asked my brother where I was one time, Mike said, “He is praying in the sanctuary.”

The pastor replied, “What a nerd!”

Another time my knees would hurt from praying so I brought a sleeping bag for a cushion. While praying, I heard the back door unlock and it was dark in the sanctuary and  an elder  came in. He never came before this time for prayer, so I was happy to see him but then he accused me of sleeping in the church and told me about the sleeping Levites, a story from the Talmud not even the scripture! If they slept on duty their clothes were burned (they used their overcoats for a cushion) and they were left naked. Here I was praying and I never saw this elder come once to prayer. I was amazed at his insensitivity. I wish just once, just once, a brother, a Pastor, or an elder just would have put their arm around me and explained to me the things of God, or encouraged me and trained me in love. I know God used the negative experience in my life to harden me against the opinion of man, but no one wanted to take the time just to say, “Brother Steve, I think I can help you with this.”

The Lord’s Supper made me afraid because of the possibility of partaking unworthily. What did scripture mean, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”  (1 Cor 11:29)? We were given a moment of silence to examine ourselves and see unconfessed sin or not being right in relationships and then partake. I loved taking the Lord’s supper-why did it seem people portrayed God as keeping me at arms length when I was his disciple.  No one ever explained it or they did not do it well.  Once again, it seemed that people were misinforming me that Christ died to make me feel guilt for how rotten as sinner I was rather than removing my guilt.

All my experiences up to this point, salvation, baptism in water and the Spirit contradicted these feelings of guilt, but my mind was being held captive in a constant maze of attempting to unburden myself of guilt.  I would attempt to show the Lord my sincerity by weeping or yelling to let him know I meant my repentance but it was more like penance. I was back in the state of mind that I was when I was a Roman Catholic! I was still afraid I might go to hell if I did things wrong. The message of God’s love was not a topic for me, it was a lifeline that I desperately needed and was being strangled by a sense of being rejected by him. My life was charged with guilt and I was living in misery even though I was saved.

To be continued…

©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due.