Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas. It is my great privilege to be spending my twentieth Christmas as pastor of Catskill Mountain Christian Center this year. I am so grateful to God for the faithful souls of the many people I have come to know and love in this region over the years. The past two decades have flown by quickly as together we’ve built a dynamic church and ministry center serving thousands of people each year, socially, physically and especially spiritually.

Maybe the most amazing aspect of the Christmas story to me is the decision by God Almighty to have Jesus born in a manger, outside the comfort of a hospital or even a cozy home. It seems funny in a modern world fixated with safety that the Creator of the Universe would entrust His only begotten Son to a peasant couple without enough influence or money to manage a safe human dwelling for childbirth. Cold, dark, anonymous and lonely, what could God be saying through this mystery? Three thoughts:
  1. God is showing what He thinks of our value system. In a world obsessed with financial success, God entrusted His own Son to common folks rather than rich folks. I guess He wants us to know that there is more to life than money.
  2. God is not impressed with a special location or building. Church buildings are nice as gathering places but Jesus does not need a temple or fancy location to dwell within. He’s most comfortable among His sheep.
  3. When God is doing something really great, popular culture won’t budge for Him or even notice. A small handful of select people were the only ones highly favored by God to be in on the divine caper: Joseph, Mary, shepherds and wise men.
That we would be vigilant to consider God’s values and stand watch for Jesus being born in the hearts of humble folks in our generation.

Christmas Blessings,
Pastor Bob Engelhardt

Friday, December 17, 2010

White Like Snow: A Book Review

Book Review by Paul Moore II, CitiHope International

White Like Snow by Robert Engelhardt is one of the most encouraging and insightful books I have enjoyed in decades. Accessible as a daily devotional, a seasonal study, or as a cover-to-cover read through; each chapter shared biblical wisdom and practical reflection on how to passionately pursue God in the ever changing landscape of my life’s journey. Pastor Engelhardt astutely infuses pillars of the Christian tradition, such as the 10 Commandments and the 23rd Psalm, with life and relevance as I have not tasted in them for years. It is disarming and refreshing to be reminded of the profound simplicity in the plain truth these often underappreciated cornerstones of faith have for us today.

The greatest quality of the work is the prolific use of scripture in the context of every observation Pastor Engelhardt makes. One feels the comforting hand of Biblical text with each turn of the page and they serve as guiderails for each season he walks with us through. A humble confidence is imparted as key scriptures are sited and even reiterated, chapter by chapter. More than that, the reflections made were often so enlightening, I found myself going back to the original text to read more of the context in the Bible myself.

Few modern Christian works can boast so wonderful a legacy as one which compels us to discover truth not just by reading the author’s perspective, but by reading it in scripture for ourselves. To me, reading White Like Snow often feels more like a loving conversation with a strong, learned father who is passing on truth, filled with compassion but without compromise. It is filled with encouragement and conviction both. It is an apologetic for core beliefs but is also an invitation to consider uncommon revelations. I give this book my strongest recommendation and believe it will be a tremendous blessing to all who enjoy it as I did.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

You Anoint My Head With Oil, My Cup Runs Over.

You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over. Psalms 23:5

Prior to November 1982 I was trying to make my way in a world that was simply too big for me. Having been raised in an ancient denomination, I still held to the Christian version of truth but was really just a lonely, ill-equipped and thoroughly lost lamb desperately trying to be a lion. Fortunately, through my wife’s relentless witnessing and prayer I finally sought God one night, all alone, kneeling on a wooden pallet in the basement of an upstate New York print shop. I was a twenty six year old working man; a husband, father, and had been raised as one of seven siblings with loving parents—in other words I was always surrounded by lots of people. But I was completely alone inside myself, trapped with my own distorted version of self and reality.

My prayer that night was simple—it was something like this: “God… Jesus… will you please baptize me in the Holy Spirit and give me the gift of tongues?” I prayed this way because as a sideline spectator of the charismatic movement for several years prior, I had heard my wife and others pray in tongues and felt it was a sign of God’s acceptance. What happened in that next instant is the single most defining event in my life. Well, that is not exactly true. The first time, as soon as the words of my simple prayer were out of my mouth I began to feel a tingling sensation on top of my head. Instinctively, out of fear I jumped up in knee-jerk reaction and bolted to the other side of the room. Nothing had ever happened before when I prayed!

Within a minute or two I went back to try it again, this time determined to see it through. Same pallet, same position, same prayer and right away—BOOM—a warm, wonderful, tingling presence like invisible liquid ecstasy, poured over my head and swept down my body animating every cell and filling my heart with God’s acceptance, belonging and love. ‘You anoint my head with oil.’ At the same time from down in my diaphragm I began to feel a physical sensation pushing up and I knew it must be the spiritual tongues. I just spontaneously yielded myself as this building energy erupted out of my mouth and I began to pray in a language I did not know. I jumped around in childlike joy as wave after wave of sheer ecstasy swept over me and the new God-language gushed uncontrollably like a Bronx fire hydrant on a summer’s day. ‘My cup runs over.’

Like Saul on the road to Damascus or like the disciples gathered in the upper room in Acts 2, the event I just described radically changed the trajectory of my life forever. ‘You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.’ The Good Shepherd anoints the head of each beloved sheep with the oil of the Holy Spirit, causing our hearts to overflow and transcend the limitations of physical expression with trans-dimensional gifts. This anointing also permanently marks and separates His beloved personal sheep like a rancher brands cattle, only this ‘branding’ marks our souls.

The ongoing opportunity for His anointed sheep is to continue to let our cups overflow with spiritual prayer that others may drink of this new wine also. Consider the following verses:

  • Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26

  • For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays… 1 Corinthians 14:14

  • I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all… 1 Corinthians 14:18

  • What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 1 Corinthians 14:15

  • …praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit… Ephesians 6:18

In my humble estimation, now twenty seven years since first being anointed by the Good Shepherd, the single most important discipline for a Spirit-filled Christian to cultivate is praying in the Spirit for at least one hour each day. It will revolutionize your life. It will deepen you, charge your spiritual battery, impart spiritual gifts, and open your soul for prophetic vision downloading blueprints directly from God. It will increase creativity, separate light from darkness and give love to the soul. It is grace in motion! Praying in the Spirit is a vital practice for the Good Shepherd’s sheep.