Today, 2-4-2016, it is now 6:45 a.m. and I have been up all night. It’s true I slept all day yesterday due to the chronic pain that hits me hard at times, but what a joy, a true joy I have had during this night. I have caught up on some blogs I have missed and able to comment encouragement and such to brothers and sisters. Shared with a brother about some things he loves about the Lord, posted some things, true, simple things but encouragement to others, none-the-less. Felt the presence of the Holy Spirit with me throughout the night and was just basking in His loving presence.
Now understand something, I am in no ways naïve about things in the church world or in the world in general. I guess though I should have stopped while I was ahead for all that joy I had turned to tears. Personally, I get along with many brothers and sisters who belong to many different denominations, but the one thing that sets them apart is not the “label” of denomination, but rather the love that is demonstrated from their writings to all and anyone no matter the diversity. What causes me to recognize the love is their acceptance of those who may believe different, even those who do not claim to be disciples of Christ.
Now I have been a Pastor for many years now and even before that, a minister in different areas of service. After all, ministry is just one of those “religious” terms that denote service. During all those years of ministry, I have been involved in many different denominations. How is that possible you might ask? Well, I surrendered my self to the Lord just before my 17th birthday. I was raised in the Catholic Church until then and had been baptized as a babe, confirmed as a teen, a sometime altar boy, but one with “religious” questions that never seemed to get answered to my satisfaction. I met a young man in high school that became my best friend and one who loved to discuss “religion!” I would tell him, back in 1969 what the “church” believed and said and he would tell me what the Bible says!
Through him, I met the girl, his sister, who would eventually become my wife. I also met the MAN that would be my Lord and Redeemer! Boy, what a time I had when I gave my heart to the Lord! I went from Catholic to Pentecostal seemingly overnight!! Let me tell you also, it was like oil and water and the two would not mix! But — I was in an Associate Degree Nursing program right out of High School and the only guy in a class of 50 AND many of my fellow classmates in Nursing were Catholic! Went I was in my Psychology classes I learned who they were and they learned who I was and it went beyond class time! I was this young Christian “stud” and I was about to get my rhetorical “behind” whipped!
You see, with all this newfound “wisdom,” NOT, that I had gained I would put the Catholic Church down and anyone who believed what it taught was subject of disdain! Great spiritual love at work! Several of these girls, very loving and patient really started to put me in my place and made me to realize that just because I didn’t truly meet the Savior through the teachings of the Church, it didn’t mean that our Lord hadn’t called some to Him in a very Scriptural way through their Bible reading! I knew the Catholic Church had a Bible ’cause my folks had this really ornate thick one on our front room coffee table; beautiful bindings, beautiful pictures, but still didn’t understand it! It wasn’t until much later that I actually read this truth with “enlightened” eyes.
But, the one thing that I asked of the Lord, even before I was married to Susie, was this; “Lord, I will go wherever you want me to go, because I want to learn all I can from you in any and all ways possible!” You see, with all this newfound “wisdom,” (sounds familiar) I thought this was the best way to learn and the best way to grow in the Lord. Do you think that when I asked that, I was aware of all the ramifications and how seriously our Lord would take me at my word? NOT REALLY!
That vow of obedience took me to many different denominations. Many of them Charismatic/Full-Gospel, a couple of them Evangelical, and then several independent, non-denominational. The one thing it did do for me through the years is to learn the pros and cons of being a part of a denomination, or not, but also I truly learned as the Holy Spirit taught me, “how to do things” and in some cases “how NOT to do things.” You can imagine that not every “stint” that I spent somewhere was pleasant and yet, as long as the Holy Spirit did not release me from that place of ministry a.k.a. service I remained faithful to do what I could to be of service to the Lord’s sheep. Believe me, I truly learned to love the Book of Jeremiah in the Bible. It helped me to truly understand why he was called the “weeping prophet!”
I was also able to study different translations of the Holy Bible including a couple of “cult” bibles, ones that were not true translations, but more or less twisted to make the denomination’s doctrinal positions. The thing is, as much as they tried, the plan of God’s Redemption is still there and it can’t be escaped. That doesn’t mean that I would recommend them because I wouldn’t, but it does tell me that the Holy Spirit can still bring out God’s plan even when man tries to twist or hide it!
All this background has brought me to this point; I no longer condemn other denominations, including Catholic, just because some of their beliefs are different than mine. Denominations CAN be divisive, but only to the point that they make their beliefs greater than what is found in Matthew 22:36-39, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him,” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the first and great commandment. “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Also what is found in Romans 10:8-13, “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
If you allow ANY belief to come before these Scriptures, you are the one that no longer considers those who believe these principles your brother or sister. This is what has saddened me, nearly to tears, because posts that have been written in condemnation of certain denominations despite the fact that these writers and those that have commented in agreement I have considered my brothers and sisters. Understand this, I truly still consider them brothers and sisters in the Lord, but I also realize that in faith and in love they are weaker vessels, but being weaker vessels they are creating not just divisiveness but hurt, great hurt in the hearts of fellow Christians. They demonstrate a lack of openness to the Holy Spirit all in the attempt to prove how much better they are in their beliefs and how much more selfish in wanting to PROVE their “religious” theories. You will never convince me that this is an example of the Lord’s way of loving others but more so an attempt to assuage ego, to make one feel superior. This same thing went on in the time of Christ AND the disciples. When the Pharisees tried to trick Him, He used the wisdom that the Bible says is freely given to all who ask. He still demonstrated love, (in action) for those that were not just misguided in the Scriptures but who were actively more concerned with retaining what they considered authority over speaking the truth in liberty. History has went full circle and if this doesn’t cause your spirit to weep and cry out, then in LOVE I am admonishing you to hit your knees and cry out to God, our Heavenly Father!
There are times when the Apostles and especially the Apostle Paul had to give correction and admonishment when confronted with those who would twist the Scriptures, but they never wrote to condemn, to cast away or to shun those who didn’t believe the Gospel. He told the disciples to “mark them” or to take note of them and if within your power to do so, reason with them in the spirit of love! The other thing; to condemn individuals for the flaws in an organization is short-sightedness for it puts you in a prideful situation where you are standing in judgment because in essence you are saying there are no flaws in YOUR denomination! I am here to tell you, as long as men or mankind is in charge of the establishment of any religious organization, there is none that will be perfect and without some error or flaw!
But, what overcomes this? Only one thing, love, God’s Agape love which doesn’t take in consideration how you feel, but takes into consideration how our Heavenly Father feels about you and the individuals you criticize. Jesus never told us to go out into the world and make believer’s in your doctrines or denominations, but rather, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. — Matthew 28:19-20.
John 15:16-17, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. “These things I command you, that you love one another.”
Colossians 1:3-6, “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth;”
Now, you may think this is unloving, harsh and I have been told this before when preaching behind the pulpit. Happily, it is not something I have had to do often, but once in a while as a Minister of the Gospel, we have to correct and admonish and it is never pleasant, but I tell you now, I would rather you be upset with me today, that lose out in eternity because of selfishness and lack of love, all for the sake of trying to prove a point!
In closing, I want to leave this with you; The Apostle Paul wrote to his student Timothy, “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” — 2 Timothy 2:22-26.
Ephesians 4:1-3, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
May the Peace and Love of our Heavenly Father be yours through and in His Son and empowered by the Holy Spirit!