Friday, March 21, 2008

This Easter I encourage you to drink deeply of the implications of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Through the various people involved in the biblical accounts of the Cross, many of the faulty human characteristics that show us our need for a savior are revealed. Here are a few of the people and thoughts on their flaws:

1)The religious leaders who plotted and stirred the people up to kill Jesus. These are like people today who use popular sway, secret alliances, deception and treachery as a means to manipulate and control. This is frequently a form of evil done in the name of good.

2)Both Pontius Pilate who knowingly condemned an innocent man because of political ease and Herod who passed the buck back to Pilate. This reveals the weakness we have to avoid our responsibility to defend the innocent and the lack of courage to stand for what is right in light of potential unpleasant fallout.

3)Those soldiers who who killed Jesus. These are the people who excuse themselves from guilt by saying, "I'm just doing my job," or, "I'm just following orders," without taking responsibility for the moral content of their actions.

4)John and the women at the cross: those who looked on as Jesus was killed. Helpless, powerless victims of circumstance. Brave enough to associate with Jesus in His suffering but powerless to make a difference.

5)Those who ran away when He was arrested. Most of the disciples fled as soon as there was trouble. A week before, they were proud to be associated with Jesus as He triumphantly entered Jerusalem, riding across coats and palm branches to the shouts of Hosanna. But as soon as things turned for the worse, they were gone. This is the timid fearful Christian of modern times; confident inside the church but invisible outside and gone whenever there is trouble.

6)The one who betrayed Jesus for money with a kiss. Judas loved money and was stealing from Jesus' ministry fund. In the same way, we can steal from Jesus' ministry fund by not giving tithes and offerings (see Malachi 3). Because of Judas' corrupt heart, he became so enraged at Jesus' use of expensive ointment that he betrayed Him for 30 pieces of silver. And he did so with an act of love... a kiss. Christians who do not participate in giving are always the first to turn and criticize. They will always boast of their great love for God, but very quickly betray their relationships.

7)Peter, the one who, under pressure, denies ever knowing Jesus and quickly deteriorates into a vulgar, cursing liar. Poor guy ran his big mouth and then stuck his foot in it. This is Christian who brags of his infallible faith among the Christians but not so much in the real world. Hmmmmm.

8)The mindless mob who called for His death. These people reveal the human weakness to think we know something when we do not. The pundits, preachers, prognosticators and politicians offer us irrefutable proof and evidence from every perspective and for every opposing opinion. We tend to follow the voices we find most agreeable like lemmings, without credible proof, and then close our eyes and minds to any contradiction. Christians must know why we believe what we believe in the spiritual stew of modern culture. We can no longer afford the bliss of ignorance like medieval gray-faced peasants.

9)The two thieves. What flows out when one is under pressure reveals the secrets of the heart. Both are thieves. Both are guilty of wrong. From one comes anger and accusation and from the other comes humility and submission. That we would learn to respond like the latter.

These are just a few of the characters involved directly in the Cross of Christ. Their flaws and weaknesses are no different than ours. As we consider Easter let us remember that Christ did not die for righteous people but sinners. The Father's great love was manifested toward us in paying the necessary penalty for our redemption and giving us the opportunity to forsake the old and embrace the new!

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! 1 John 3:1

Saturday, March 1, 2008

My Testimony

I was born in the Bronx, NYC in 1956, the third of seven children, and raised by hard working parents in the rural upstate community of Earlton, NY where we moved when I was two years old. I graduated from high school in 1974 and went immediately to work for my father's printing company.

As a typical child of the seventies my main recreational activity was partying—partying to celebrate weddings, rock concerts, sporting events, holidays, weekends, birthdays, or for no reason at all. My friends and I were not serious illegal drug users although we had no reservations about drinking alcohol, which we did vigorously and excessively. The years between high school and marriage, though admittedly fun, passed in a blur of shallow self-gratification.

I married my beloved wife Nancy in May of 1977. She is the best thing (besides Jesus) that ever happened to me and marrying her was the only smart decision I made during those years. Besides being in love we were great partying buddies—that is, until she attended a Jack Van Impe evangelistic crusade during the summer of 1977 and gave her life to Jesus Christ. Soon after she received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and as she became more deeply committed to God, I continued to view partying as a harmless form of recreation—something I had no intention of giving up.

It’s not that I didn’t like God in those days. Having been raised in a church, I always believed in God and had even said a half-hearted sinner’s prayer at one point, ostensibly ensuring my salvation. I even remember nearly having a fight at a party once with a guy who was raised in our church and had become an atheist at college. His arrogance and shallow bitter arguments against the existence of God and his hatred for all churches disturbed me deeply and I let him know, in no uncertain terms how I felt. So, although I had some kind of twisted and hypocritical reverence for God in those days, Nancy’s newfound version of Christianity filled with prayer meetings, Bible studies and gifts of the Holy Spirit, was definitely not for me.

Within the first couple years of marriage I began to feel the pressure of life as our babies began to come along and bills piled up. Frantically groping to make up for the lost party years, I enrolled in night college and began working various part time jobs to augment our income. I also left my father's company before long and landed a better paying job at another printing house where I worked my way up to manager over several years.

During these years a shift took place in my drinking and partying habits. Whereas I once felt in control of when and where I decided to drink to excess, slowly it seemed that I had stronger desires to drink myself drunk more frequently. I also began to plan these events in advance, scheming and deceiving to create opportunities to get drunk. In the sport of wrestling there is a move called a reverse. It is when a wrestler is on top and his opponent quickly maneuvers to take the controlling position from him. That was how it felt to me. Whereas I was once in control of my use of alcohol, suddenly I was being driven by it.

I continued to spiral downward in my abuse of alcohol for several years making many classic blunders; from wrecking a car, to drinking away entire paychecks, to being ticketed for DWI. The greatest damage I rendered however was the pressure my failures put on Nancy and my children. Money was always desperately short because of my excesses and Nancy's family was secretly urging her to leave me. We fought incessantly and each time after I fell I was enveloped in a blanket of self hatred. I would make new promises, vows and commitments, pledging never to drink again. Always though, after a few days, weeks or even up to two months, my resolve would weaken and I'd begin to scheme my next outing.

By 1982 our marriage was severely frayed and hostile although Nancy's spiritual life continued to grow. In the spring of that year she began to be tutored in spiritual warfare by a woman friend. (This portion of the story is more her testimony than mine.) Under this tutelage, my wife began an ambitious prayer regimen specifically for me to be saved, filled with the Holy Spirit, and set free from alcoholism. Very quickly, faith began to grow in her heart for victory and as it did I began noticing a change in her attitude towards me. She began to be very loving and compliant, verbalizing her love, commitment and confidence toward me and our marriage like never before. This really confused me because I could no longer justify my actions by reasoning that I needed this alcoholic escape because of my rotten home life. By Thanksgiving 1982 I was looking at her Christianity with more openness than I ever had before.

As was our custom, we traveled to Nancy's parents’ house that year for the holiday weekend. On the Saturday evening following Thanksgiving, Nancy, her mom and dad went out to a prayer meeting and I stayed at their house to watch our kids. When they came home later that evening they had an incredible story to tell. A woman at the prayer meeting, they said, had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. The woman claimed that Jesus had materialized and sat on the edge of her bed and comforted her because of a particularly distressful situation. Her husband apparently slept through the whole ordeal.

What was particularly unsettling to me was, not that Nancy or her mother believed this story, but that my father-in-law believed it. Having been a NYC police officer, my father-in-law was as street smart as anyone I have ever known. He could spot a scam a mile away. So when I saw how shaken up he was, how this woman's encounter had clearly impressed him, it really affected me. I remember wondering if this was possible. Does Jesus Christ really have the power to personally appear to a person? After years of hearing about God from the church, my wife and mother-in-law, and after months of my wife's constant prayer for me, a genuine thought finally penetrated my thick skull. If Jesus Christ cared enough about that woman to personally come to her, I wonder if He would come to me if I asked Him. That thought began to gnaw at me; it lit a flame of hope.

That Sunday evening we drove the two hours back home, arriving about 9:00 pm. After I got Nancy and the kids (three at the time) settled in I excused myself, telling Nancy that I had to go and check out the next days work schedule at the printing plant. I was really going to the plant for another reason altogether. I had decided that I was going to pray and see if Jesus would come to me.

Arriving at the plant, I went to the pressroom which was down in the basement of the building. After thoroughly checking that I was there alone and finding and old wooden pallet, I placed it on the floor as a kneeler. (Kneeling was from my church background.) I paced back and forth for a few minutes, trying to stir up enough courage to start. Finally I knelt, reached deep in my heart and very tentatively said, "God......Jesus... Will you please fill me with the Holy Spirit and give me the gift of tongues." (I prayed this way because for six years Nancy had told me that this was what I needed.) As the words were coming out of my mouth I began to feel a strange tingling sensation on top of my head. Immediately, I was so stricken with fear that I sprang off of the pallet and frantically ran to the other side of the building. Having never experiencing anything even remotely supernatural before, I was terrified at the presence I felt. Something was over there! Something I couldn't see!

After a couple of minutes I got my courage up a second time and decided to try again; only this time I resolved to see it through. I went back to the same pallet and knelt in the same way and tried to recite exactly the same words. (I had already started a new religion!) I said, "God...Jesus...will you please fill me with the Holy Spirit and give me the gift of tongues." This time when the tingling sensation started on the top of my head I didn't move as it increased in intensity and moved down my body. Some have described this feeling like that of hot honey or warm oil poured over you; all I know is that I was filled from head to toe with the most wonderful, warm, pure, and ecstatic feeling I had ever experienced. At the same time I felt a pressure pushing up from the inside of me and knew it must be the gift of tongues. I opened my mouth and began to speak as a beautiful new language practically gushed from inside of me. It continued to pour like a fire hydrant as I experienced wave after wave of this pure ecstasy. In fact, the tongues gushed out with such intensity that for several minutes I honestly could not stop my mouth from speaking this incredible articulate language complete with distinct words, phrases and inflections, all coming out of my mouth but which I could not understand.

I was so happy that I jumped and skipped like a little kid, spontaneously praising God. It seemed like every negative thing in me was simply gone. All the self hatred, guilt, shame and years of accumulated burdens were lifted. I felt like an untethered helium balloon. But the greatest thing of all was the knowledge that, just like the woman my father-in-law told me about, Jesus came to me when I asked Him. I absolutely knew for certain that He was real, that he was a living person and that He loved me. I also had a profound sense of what I later learned that the Apostle Paul said..."If God is for me, who can be against me?"

That day began the most wonderful adventure in my life. To say I turned on a dime is an understatement. I began running for Jesus with all my heart and although my take-off was somewhat shaky at times, God supernaturally delivered me from alcohol, restored my marriage and has given me a life of incredible abundance.

Since that day in November 1982 some of the evidences of this new life are as follows:

  • Free from alcohol for 25 years in 2007 and counting.

  • Marriage restored—married 30 years in 2007 and counting.

  • Ministry education, Ravena Bible Training Center, Ravena, NY

  • Prison ministry for five years in a maximum security prison, Coxsackie, NY.

  • Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Ministry and Leadership, Antioch University International (AUI).

  • Extensive pro-life involvement.

  • Co-founder of a pro-life pregnancy distress center, 1984.

  • Ordained Minister since 1989.

  • Ministered on foreign missions to various nations including Belize, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Kenya and Uganda.

  • Senior Pastor, Catskill Mountain Christian Center, since 1991

  • President of Greater Margaretville Area Interfaith Council, 1995-2000

  • Senior leader of Catskill Mountain Christian Academy, 1995-present

  • Produced and hosted weekly ‘On Fire Radio’ from 1995-2007

  • Hosted daily live call-in talk radio show, an hour a day, five days a week for four years. With an evangelistic heart and airing on commercial secular stations, the show discussed current events and related them to Christian truths.

  • Interviewed over one hundred Christian book authors for radio broadcast. Some notable interviews were Linda Mintle, Mike Yorky, Tommy Tenney, Elmer Townes, Thomas Trask, T.F. Tenney, Larry Keefauver, Steven Strang, Lee Grady, Jim Goll, Steve Gray, John Sandford, Loren Sanford, Francisco Contreras MD, Don Colbert MD, and many more.

  • Founder and senior leader of the Family Table Community Assistance Program. This program distributes over $300,000 worth of food each year to low income people.

  • Guest speaker at many men's conferences, leadership seminars and churches.

  • Featured guest on 700 Club with Pat Robertson

  • Published article in 'Ministry Today' magazine.

  • Published two books in the Pure Gold Classics series by Bridge Logos Publishing.

  • Third book in contract to be published in 2008.

  • Member, Open Bible Faith Fellowship of Canada.

  • Member, Your Ministry Consultation Service (YMCS).

  • Member, International Coalition of Apostles (ICA).

  • Member, International Foundation of Christian Wealth Builders (IFCWB), Ecclesiastical Leadership Council.

  • Member, CitiHope International, Board of Directors.

  • Member, National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

  • My wife has become a highly effective minister and is in (not only) my estimation, the top woman platform speaker today. She is in a class of anointing, power, honesty, and passion by herself. She leads the women’s ministries at our church, heads our Christian Academy and speaks at many conferences.

I frequently tell people about a trip I once took to Washington State and how overwhelmed I was at the beauty of Mt. Rainier. Rising fourteen thousand some odd feet into the sky, this snow capped peak is a magnificent spectacle of God's handiwork. The day I arrived the sky was blue and the majestic Mt. Rainier dominated the scenery. I found that I could not take my eyes off it. Its beauty, in a way, seemed to nourish my soul. As night fell on that first day I was looking forward to savoring the same spectacular view for the next few days. I was disappointed in the morning to find that Washington's famous rains had moved in during the night and low clouds and fog obstructed the view. So completely was Mt. Rainier cloaked that you would never guess in a million years that behind the flat gray sky was a dominating masterpiece of God's creation. I never did get to view that beauty again - but, I know what I saw!

That is how this experience with God affected me. People can argue faith, philosophy, doctrine or religion. They can believe or not believe. They can theorize and proselytize but the vast majority is doing so from the fog. They believe but have never seen. I know different. I've seen Mt. Rainier for myself. I know it's there. It's the same way I've experienced God. I called Him, He answered in a way that was more tangible than my eyewitness of that great mountain. I know Jesus Christ; I've met Him. And having been touched by Him I have been left with a residue of His presence on the inside of me. So now, when I read the Bible I recognize the same essence as the one who touched me that day. Men can argue over the Bible, whether they believe it or not, but I know it's true. I've met the author.