Found

Have you ever made a really bad decision? How did you feel afterwards?
I have shared this story on my blog before, but this event has to be one of the most embarrassing (and painful) moments that I have ever been a part of. High school students can do the strangest (and scariest) things sometimes. My friend and I used to participate in a dangerous (and idiotic) activity quite often. I consented to sitting in the bed of his Chevy truck while he proceeded to drive around crazily . . . throwing me to and fro . . . to see how long it would take for me to cry ‘uncle.’ The “fun” would always end with some pretty painful bumps and bruises but nothing too serious. A good old time indeed (even though numerous parties had encouraged us to cease such practices). They were correct in their concern . . . later on, in the attempt to impress two girls (one of them happened to be my ex-girlfriend which made matters worse), we took the game a bit too far. My friend took a good jump at a good speed which thus propelled me in the air (higher than I had ever been in my life). The moment was so surreal . . . I remember looking down to see the truck going out from underneath me . . . and on the way down having the crazy idea to grab on to the tail-end of the truck . . . and for some reason I could not bring myself to let go right away . . . being dragged along (the driver not seeing what had taken place behind him). I was not dragged long . . . but long enough to burn a hole through two shirts, a pair of jeans, and one shoe. I was pretty bloody. My friend was pretty shaken. I remember walking into my house (with one shirt discreetly covering my shoulder wound), promptly saying goodnight to my father and stepmother, and walking quickly upstairs . . . grimacing as I fought off the pain in order to go to sleep). I probably needed stitches – and yet I could not bring myself to telling my father what had taken place . . . so I now live with a small scar on my left shoulder that will forever remind me of my foolish decision.

You can probably relate with how I felt that night. Tossing and turning . . . the pain was agonizing. The burden of guilt (what if I get caught?), shame (how could I be so stupid?), and condemnation (will my shoulder be okay?). Everything I was supposed to do – I did not do. Did I listen to my parents? Did I ride with friends that were responsible? Everything I was not supposed to do – I did. I tryed too hard to impress someone. Did I not thing of the consequences to my actions?

How do we approach God after making mistakes? How do we approach future relationships?
Isn’t this what happens to us when we rip sex outside of God’s created context (one man and one woman who are committed to a lifelong marrage)? Where do I go from here? Will I ever be happy? Can God really bless me now? How can I find fulfillment? How could God love someone as bad as me? Does he still love me? Is there any hope for me? This is another reason why our student ministry is taking this winter to focus on a series based on Craig Groeschel’s book, “Going All the Way: Preparing for a Marriage that Goes the Distance”. We have covered such topics as finding the One (centering all relationships around Christ), looking for our two (the importance of the foundation of friendship), revealing myths about sex (God is calling us to be holy), and establishing the necessary physical boundaries (doing the little things right).

Nothing we do can make God love us more or love us less.

One prophet claimed that, “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). We must never forget that we have an enemy. Genesis 2:25 tells us that he is intent on destroying everything that matters to God – and you and I matter deeply to God. He will use everything he can that isolates and separates us – and shame seems to bring about both fairly quickly. Think about Paradise. Adam and Eve were both naked and yet they felt no shame. Imagine life with no guilt, no hidden skeletons, and no fear of being caught. They enjoyed perfect intimacy with their Creator and with each other. Life unburdened. Everything changed when the serpent tempted them to rebel against their God (to cross the boundaries that he had established – to live outside his created context). What does rebellion bring? Adam and Eve rushed to make coverings for themselves (they felt filthy). They chose to hide from the Lord (wallowing in their failure).

It is time to come clean and invite God to help us. Sex outside of God’s order brings division, depression, and destruction. We end up using people intentionally, selfishly, and cruelly. Some people are completely unable to control their tongues. Others waste their existence addicted to pleasing people. There are others who are haunted by their past (having an abortion, suffering a molestation, or embarrassed by their appearance). Come out of the shrubbery and let God know where you are and who you are . . . he wants to come to your rescue.

What can we do to receive God’s mercy, forgiveness, and healing?
Remember: nothing we do can make God love us more or love us less. However, there are steps that we can take to purposely show our love towards God more. First, we must recapture the practice of confession. No more secrets. Choose to deal with it in the open. One apostle said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). He no longer sees all the filth and sinfulness but the righteousness of Christ. Another apostle instructs, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Everyone does not need to know everything. Seek out the appropriate people for prayer and accountability.

Along with confession, beware of deception. Our experience and our essence are not one in the same. The choices that we have made or the events that we have lived through are never our identity. We tend to mix up the external with the internal (our actions must not define us). Pastor Craig clarifies between guilt (which is truth-based) with shame (which is lie-based). There is a huge difference between doing something bad and actually being bad. Just because you have made a mistake does not mean that you are a mistake. Stop the pattern of destructive thinking (too many people have failed and thus have considered themselves a failure). You might have been rejected by the opposite gender and now consider yourself worthless. You might have given into a temptation and now see yourself as no good. Now you believe that you will never be blessed – that you will never have the type of marriage that goes the distance – that lasts a lifetime.

Here is the good news: you are who Christ says that you are. Our responsibility from here on out is only to change what can be changed. 2 Samuel 12 tells the terrible account of King David’s fall. He knew failure. The story is full of lust, deceit, adultery, and even murder. The consequence was that his child would live. David was heartbroken. He cried and prayed all night . . . until the baby passed. His assistants were shocked when he immediately got up, showered, ate, and went on with his life. He chose to walk forward in the light . . . to do what he could to make things right with his wife and future children. If you have a problem with gossip – apologize – but remember that your words still hurt the other person). If you have had an abortion – be assured that your baby is in heaven – but you still need to find Christian counselors and mentors who can help you heal emotionally and physically. If you have given away your Virginity – it is lost – but you still can recapture your purity). If you were molested – my heart breaks that someone stole your innocence – but it was NEVER your fault and there are people who can help you find healing. The past is unchangeable – but the future still awaits you. The Apostle Paul believed that all things can actually, some how and some way, bring honor and glory to God’s name. Think back to the turbulence of David’s affair with Bathsheba. The relationship began out of disobedience to God’s. Nevertheless, with confession and restoration, both were included in the genealogy of Jesus (just read Matthew 1). Time and time again, our gracious God uses the foolish to bring about his purposes on earth.

What steps can we take to never return to our old ways? How?
First, go public with your new commitment. Burn the bridge that lead back to your hazardous past. Participate in water baptism and begin publicly confessing your sins. Second, break free from any and all dangerous relationships. I am not talking about rudely dumping or devaluing a person – but removing yourself from that person for a season for personal growth. Radically redefine your friendships to protect your purity. Finally, get back up fast. You will fall short – but refuse to hide. You are right . . . you never deserve his forgiveness – but he always manages to give it to us. Failure never has to be final. The bible offers two examples. You can be like Judas who betrayed Christ. His choices lead him into the wilderness of shame and eventual suicide. Then there is Peter who denied Christ when he needed him the most. He approached Jesus as a humble sinner and was restored as a messenger of the gospel. Come on out of hiding . . . .

Found

Develop

Jolene Castor (the children’s pastor at Maltby Christian Assembly) and myself had the privilege of facilitating a session at the Small Church Conference (located at the Northwest Ministry Network campus) on developing children’s and youth leaders. Here are some of our thoughts . . . .

Who has been one of the greatest influencers to your personal growth? Why?
I have had many mentors along the journey. One person who had a great impact on my life was Neil King (one of my youth pastors while I grew up at Richland Assembly). He pulled me aside at a small group meeting and told me that I had a passion and understanding for the Bible . . . but that I was responsible to foster that talent into a life skill. That was one of the many reasons that I decided to later go to Northwest University and major in Biblical Literature. A leader of leaders will not only tell you where you excel but how to exceed those initial expectations.


What were some of Jesus’ instructions concerning developing leaders? Why?
Jesus once said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2). Even Jesus had a difficult time finding enough volunteers to fulfill the mission that he had been entrusted with. He called his church to pray. However, he also called his church to take responsibility and do something to actually meet the need. One of his last words to his followers were, “Go and make disciples . . .” (Matthew 28:19). The church is not called to make converts – but committed and holistic disciples who reflect their Master in all they do, say, think, feel, and believe.

Why must we develop leaders? What happens if we choose not to?
There comes a time in vocational ministry where we discover that there is no way that we can possibly manage to be every one’s best friend. Some try. Nevertheless, if we choose to raise up others to share and implement the mission . . . our leadership will be longer (avoiding frustrations and factions) and stronger (allowing others to be strong where we are weak). Along with that, we will actually see our area of influence grow over time (multiplying the church instead of just adding on to it). Developing leadership will cause us to become effective and stay excited). Our session in a sentence is a quote taken from the founder of Firestone Tires which states, “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership” (Harvey S. Firestone).

How can we better engage people in the process of volunteering?
Jolene and I both spent considerable about of years as volunteers before we transitioned into full-time pastoral ministry. We can both recall being asked to do something that we did not believe we could do. In fact, Jolene’s desire to dedicate her life to pastoring children was confirmed by a mentor of hers who was willing to challenge her to step-up and serve. As a leader of leaders, we must be constantly be asking ourselves, “How do we attract and assimilate people onto our teams?” First, we must communicate with clarity (speaking with understanding and sharing the need). How might I make the need more visible? How do you promote your ministry to the rest of the church (announcements, email, website)? How do you build relationships with others (home and hospital visits, prayer times following services, discussions with parents)? Are you professional in your attitude and approach (teachings and overall reputation). How am I conveying the need in a positive light? So many times we are tempted to guilt others into serving . . . why not instead offer them a cause that is bigger than just themselves?

Second, engaging others takes vision (people need to understand why they should do what they are being asked to do). There are so many things in life that are demanding our people’s time, energy, and resources . . . why would people want to join our team over all the rest? What is so compelling about our mission? You cannot (and should not) overestimate the power of story (involve them in the process – show and tell the transformations of lives). Along with that, identify the excuses that people will make before you even approach them. They will say they do not have enough time, biblical knowledge, or ministry experience. People will claim that they lack the training, that they are too young or too old, that they will not meet expectations, or that there is nothing of value that they will bring to the team.

When recruiting people to be on our teams, what qualities and characteristics should we be on the look out for? Bill Hybels seeks after “the three C’s.” The candidate must have character (who they are is more important that what they do). Consider some of the attributes that are absolutely necessary in ministry (i.e. discipline, composure, emotional strength, etc.). Find a healthy balance between being too picky and being too desperate. Jeffery Portmann, the Northwest Youth Ministries Director, has always said, “Make it easy for people to be on the team but make it hard for people to be on your starting lineup. In other words, there are some roles that anyone can fill and still others that only a few should fill.

Second, they need to be competent (are they able to do what is demanded of them?). Differentiate between what they need to know upfront (i.e. specific experiences and skills) and what they can learn on the job (their potential). Make sure that they show passion (loving God and loving this generation) before they join the team. Third, do they have the right chemistry (how do they work with others)? Does their attitude fit the team? What specific people skills are necessary?

How can we better equip our teammates to excel in ministry?
I am a huge believer in our Network’s Youth Pastor and Leaders Summit. The weekend event has always been beneficial in my development. I attended my very first one because my youth pastor, the same one to point out my heart for the Scripture), simply chose to invite me along. Summit exposed me to a world that I was unfamiliar with . . . where youth pastors were learning and listening to each other. Flash forward a couple of years later, now an intern at another church and just six days after our youth pastor had resigned due to personal difficulties, our team was discouraged and in disarray. We were greeted at the door by a youth pastor, that I had never meant before, of an influential church at the time. He asked if I was the youth pastor. After explaining the sad situation, to my surprise, he immediately called his entire team to surround ours and began praying for all of us. I knew that day that I was now a part of a great Network.

Equipping our teammates will take intentionally keeping the team purpose before them. Describe their role (our children and youth ministries both have an application and team covenant). Make sure to celebrate their wins – highlight the behavior that you want replicated. For example, focus on baptisms, share stories, and give out regular awards. What are some other ways that we can shape and sharpen our team on a continual basis? Discipleship takes relationship (care for your teams). Be a role model (focus on your example) and mentor (give helpful instruction). Discipleship also takes resources. Do they know how to pray and study the bible? Have you given them any books or taken them to any workshops?

How can we better entrust our leaders with valuable roles and responsibilities?
One of the greatest challenges of leadership is the ability to give something away (in hopes that the tasks will still be done correctly). We may just discover that people have the hidden talents that we have been longing for. What can we do to better mobilize our teammates? Begin challenging them to take risks (to finally take action). Allow them to learn from their mistakes (commonly called “failing forward”). Is there a way that we can communicate what to do without telling them exactly how to do it? Is there a way that we can share the goals and bigger picture without micro-managing the steps that they take to get there? We must allow for times where they can give their input (observations) and share their ideas (creativity).

How can we better encourage our volunteers along the way?
Pray for your team often. Ask God to give them wisdom and courage. Ask that he bless their family and finances. Ask him to protect their health and propel their vision. Be specific in showing your support for your teammates. Let them know what they do matters and how they are accomplishing the mission. Stay aware of how they are doing. Value them publicly and privately. Play with them often (scheduled and spontaneously).

How can we better evaluate our team’s place and performance? Why?
We tend, as leaders, to shy away from honest feedback . . . conflict is never easy. However, let us not forget what it was like for us to never know how we were doing. Our team wants to know where they are doing well and where they can improve. Keep a watchful eye on who they are becoming. Are they setting an example in their personal life? Are they bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit? Are they pursing life-long learning? How are they doing in their specific role? Do they take initiative? Do they take appropriate risks? Do they manage their time well? Are they problem solvers? Do they demonstrate how they want things done?

Remember: The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.
It was my very first Sunday at Maltby Christian Assembly when I was approached by a junior at Northwest University about being an intern. The associate pastor had already signed off on it. I had no idea who he was or what I was doing for that matter (this was my first transition and the largest church I had ever attended). Jeremy Frisinger ended up being one of the biggest blessings that I have ever had in ministry. He helped me way more than I probably ever helped him. Eighteen months later, upon graduation, I watched as he took his first vocational ministry position. Developing leaders is still one of my favorite aspects of my role . . . and I am committed to getting better at it each and every day. I want to help as many “Jeremys” as I possibly can. Our challenge is simple . . . look for someone who is willing to do more that what they are doing right now . . . you might be surprised at what they are capable of!

Here are some recommended resources . . .

  • Bonem, Mike and Roger Patterson. Leading from the Second Chair. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005.
  • Burns, Jim and Mike Devries. Partnering with Parents. Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2003.
  • Fields, Doug. Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.
  • Hybels, Bill. Axiom. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
  • Lencioni, Patrick. Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006
  • Morgan, Tony and Tim Stevens. Simply Strategic Volunteers. Loveland, CO. Group, 2005.
  • Wideman, Jim. Children’s Ministry Leadership. Loveland, CO: Group, 2003.

Take some specific steps in developing leaders . . .

  • Who are five people you can begin recruiting for ministry?
  • Who is one person you can take to coffee to discuss vision?

Ask yourself the following questions . . .

  • What is your biggest challenge in developing leaders?
  • What is one step that you can take after this session?
  • Am I doing too much? If so, why do I do so much?
  • How can I clarify the mission and the need? Why?
Develop

Pentecost

INTRODUCTION AND BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND
Randall John Beal was the youngest of three children, born in Benicia, California, on May 8, 1950. His father was an American Baptist minister and his mother was a nurse. Neree (Horlacher) Beal became his wife on March 29, 1974. They have since raised four children. Beal’s formal ministry training was completed in 1975 through the Berean School of the Bible held at Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Spokane, Washington. Following his education, he received a License to Preach with the Northwest Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God and was ordained just three years later. He invested over ten years in youth ministry (beginning at First Assembly of God in Kennewick, Washington and later at Calvary Temple in Seattle, Washington). Following his time as a youth pastor he transitioned into senior leadership. First, he ministered at Sandpoint Assembly of God in Sandpoint, Idaho for close to fourteen years and now leads the congregation at First Assembly of God in Spokane, Washington (where he is nearing his ninth year in that position). Involvement in the Network has included, but has not been limited to, serving as Sectional Youth Representative, Sectional Presbyter, and currently as an Executive Presbyter.

Growing up in the home of a pastor, Beal came to understand the need for salvation at an early age. Upon that confession, being just nine years old, he was baptized in water. On three different occasions over the course of nine years, he heard messages on Christian service, and thus responded to a growing desire to devote his entire life to the cause of Jesus Christ. His parents always displayed incredible wisdom and restraint by reassuring him that there was never any pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps. They were proud of him regardless of what occupation he pursued. Despite these encounters, his faith in Jesus Christ wavered with age. Beal describes this portion of his life as “believing in God but never able to live it out.” The majority of his high school career, along with much of his time in the Navy, was plagued with rebellious attitudes and actions such as objectionable speech, alcohol abuse, and drug use. Often he would lay his head down on his pillow, after a long night of partying, and was haunted by thoughts of remorse and regret. Even after being raised under the teachings of eternal security, he knew that he was not going to go to heaven if he were to die that night. The transformation that he was missing and so desperately searching for would culminate with his discovery of Pentecostal Christianity. His devotion and desires would forever be shaped and sharpened by the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon his life.

DOCTRINAL DISCOVERY AND DEVELOPMENT
Beal’s Pentecostal theological perspective is centered on Jesus Christ as Savior. A large portion of those long sleepless nights were filled with requests for forgiveness. He recalls, “I did not want to go to hell but I did not want live like I was going to heaven.” Around that same time, he periodically visited a Presbyterian Church located near the Navy base where he was stationed. This was the first time he was exposed to a pastor that spoke in the language of the culture and actually played the popular songs of the day. A few months later he was invited to take a few middle school students to see the ‘Jesus People’ at a coffeehouse in Austin, Texas. The room was full of about ninety people and the service happened to be facilitated by an Episcopalian Priest. The movement had seen thousands of former hippies exit the drug culture and enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Beal, however, shared the popular sentiments of many evangelicals who wanted little to do with them.[1] His uncertainty increased as he was immediately greeted with a hug by an overgrown male with long hair and bib-overalls. Despite his initial trepidation, he sensed that these people had something that he was so badly seeking. In the midst of the songs and testimonies, as was the pattern of the Charismatic movement of those years, Beal heard someone speak in tongues for the very first time. Though at first mistaking the chorus of voices for Latin, he became enthralled with the experience and was quickly overwhelmed “as if an ocean waved over [him].” Beal knew that there was no way that he would leave that place without committing to follow Christ. He was overjoyed with the new life that he had received by God’s grace and power. So much so, as a matter of fact, that he and his friend were removed from the room that they were staying in that night because they could not stop laughing.

The next step in his spiritual development was to rely upon Jesus as the Baptizer. He had no initial thoughts about ministry but he did have an increasing longing to trust and obey Christ. Upon being transferred to California, he was discipled by the Navigators. They instructed him in the habits of prayer and bible study. It was during his daily readings that he became riveted by Luke’s accounts in Acts and Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. For some unexplainable reason, he just could not get past the idea of the early church’s pattern of speaking in tongues.[2] Such a topic was not talked about in the American Baptist tradition. Beal was even warned directly from a Navigator leader to stop asking questions or face a swift removal. He could not find any passages in the bible which stated that this sign was to cease with time. The negative responses from fellow believers further confused him.

After some unlikely bible studies spent wrestling through the book of Acts, and many discussions with his Navy Lieutenant Commander, he found himself in an Assemblies of God church. That was the night, sometime in the beginning of 1972, that he was baptized in the Holy Spirit with the initial outward sign of speaking in an unknown language. He was immediately reminded of his childhood interest in vocational ministry. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit brought along a rekindled yearning to invest his life into that which mattered the most.[3] Upon returning from Vietnam and in response to counsel from a few supportive mentors, one of them the AG pastor who was instrumental in his Baptism experience, Beal moved back to Spokane, WA. At twenty-two years of age, he gravitated between two occupations – a fourteen month electrical program which would allow him to work on commercial aircraft or a two year Berean School of the Bible? He received his confirmation at the altar. A man approached him in order to pray and lay hands on him and his then fiancé. The Holy Spirit filled him once again. The man gave a word of prophecy, “God is going to specifically use you for his plans and his purposes.” He ended up finishing both schools but knowing full well that he would only use one of them.

A third shift in his life came as he embraced Jesus Christ as Healer. Growing up he could not recall any of his churches praying for anyone or anything of significance in size or scope. They did not pray for the sick or for the dying. Many Assemblies of God churches, however, were determined to pray for anything and everything. Signs and wonders were prevalent. Miracles occurred in the present and in order to bring glory and honor to God. Healings seemed to be happening in this day in order to substantiate and demonstrate the saving message of Jesus Christ.[4] He was encouraged with the idea that the church was able to offer the hurting and hopeless something of eternal importance. It was refreshing to be surrounded by people who trusted God to turn a tragedy into a testimony. For example, he recently had someone in his church that was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. The doctors had little to no expectation that she would live. Many diagnosed that the best-case scenario would be that she would spend the rest of her existence in a permanent vegetative state. People prayed, wept, grieved, and believed. In less than a week she was completely awake and aware of her surroundings. She was moved to a regular room. The doctors discharged her as fully recovered just a few days later.

Finally, being a Pentecostal Christian propelled him to see Jesus as the Coming King. There was now a natural urgency to the gospel going out. Upon his conversion, Beal began to maximize his remaining time on the Navy aircraft carrier with aggressively witnessing to the unchurched. He believed wholeheartedly that Christ could return at any moment. The second coming was imminent. As a pastor he has always encouraged and equipped the church to be people of reconciliation. Along with that, the mission to make more disciples has always been one of a global extent. Beal has a burning conviction to mobilize his church in sending and supporting missionaries who will plant indigenous churches and partner with indigenous leadership. The goal of such missions work must see Christ proclaimed, churches planted, pastors trained, and the communities cared for.[5] He is resolute that investment in the Kingdom of God demands vision and sacrifice. Pentecostalism was launched as a worldwide movement and must continue to be so into the future.[6]

CRITICAL ASSESMENT AND CONCLUSION
Careful reflection upon the thoughts and testimonies of Randall J. Beal lead to a few key insights concerning the current Pentecostal context. All spiritual exploration and experience must rest on the understanding that the bible is the inspired Word of God and thus is infallible and inerrant. Sharing the understanding of most Pentecostals, he believes that “the supernatural gifts and miracles abounded throughout the apostolic period . . . and this is still Christ’s will for his people.”[7] In other words, the gifts did not cease at the end of the apostolic age. Nevertheless, Beal’s personal Pentecostal experience did not begin with experience or observation but rather with the careful study of scripture. The theologies of Luke and Paul directed him into an area of unanswered questions and concerns. He did not approach the narrative of Acts as a mere historical document but instead as a call to contribute in the missional move of God’s Spirit.[8]

In addition, going back to the Pentecostal roots of Wesleyan theology, Beal recognizes that salvation begins with justification but must also emphasize the need for sanctification.[9] The church must be fully committed to the leadership of Jesus Christ. Due in large part to how he spent much of his early life, he has little patience for alleged disciples who manage to synchronize their faith in Christ with the current paradigm of the culture. His ministry has been marked with the message that the church must be set apart for service. Since his first discipleship days in the Navigator program, he has always gravitated toward Jesus’ words which read “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”[10] A committed Christ-follower will gain so much more by submitting to God’s holy nature.

The Great Commission is most effective in the atmosphere of connection. Beal’s Pentecostal theology has always had a relational thread woven throughout. The Holy Spirit has a tendency to bring about counsel and community to those willing to receive both. Whether it be a Charismatic coffeehouse priest calling for repentance, a Lieutenant Commander using a family-sized bible to lecture on glossolalia, or a pastor’s wife in Hillsboro, Oregon demanding that a young man join Glad Tidings Assembly upon arriving in Eastern Washington; Beal has seen the benefit of allowing people to give him encouragement and correction. This might have been one reason why he has stayed so committed to the Northwest Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God. Though he has been willing to go anywhere in obedience to Christ, his ministry career (which spans over thirty-three years and four locations) has always taken place in the great Northwest. Despite continual challenges and changes, he has demonstrated the essential value of having the friendship and accountability that only such a Fellowship provides.

Nevertheless, a wholehearted devotion to Christ never did negate his ability to show humility and respect towards others. Beal never showed a tendency to use the infilling of the Holy Spirit as a mark of spiritual maturity or religious superiority.[11] On the contrary, as is the pattern in scripture, he received the Spirit in order to bring unity and not division. Nothing exemplifies this characteristic better than in the way that he related to his father. Lawrence Chester Beal was in vocational ministry for over twenty-eight years (the majority of which was spent as an American Baptist). Unknown to his son, the elder Beal was on a journey of his own. His first encounter with Pentecostalism came in the mid-sixties at a denominational conference in Ross Point, Idaho. The keynote speaker happened to be an Episcopalian priest, Father Dennis Bennett, which some have attributed as being one of the founders of the modern Charismatic movement. Much later in life, the elder Beal actually admitted to slipping in and out of the nearby Assemblies of God church on an occasional basis.

Upon receiving the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the younger Beal decided to write a letter of explanation to his father. Shortly after, he received a letter of reply which read, “I am so proud of you and glad that you have had this experience. Please do not think any less of me as a Christian because I have not had this in my life. I really have been interested in this for the past ten years.” They ended up having a couple of interesting conversations concerning the topic of glossolalia. Within three years of the letter, while traveling alongside a couple of Charismatic American Baptists, Beal’s parents were baptized in the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues as well. In fact, after his father suffered a stroke which obstructed his speech and forced his retirement, the couple spent their remaining years as a vital part of Spokane First Assembly. Beal’s mother still claims that her husband’s baptism changed him. Specifically when it came to his preaching, he was no longer as dependent upon his notes and he seemed to be bolder in his approach. Much the way that Beal impacted his family, the current generations of Pentecostals have been entrusted with an extraordinary responsibility to influence other Evangelicals in identifying and experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit.[12]

Likewise, Beal holds to the conviction, making no apologies for it, that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a gift offered to every willing believer. Speaking in tongues is to be an outward sign of the inward work of being empowered to witness on behalf of Jesus Christ. The eventual result of such a work must be that the believer would become absolutely captivated with reaching his or her community. Though he supports establishing and expanding bible institutions in order to equip emerging leadership, he is troubled that the incoming generation does not completely embrace their Pentecostal identity.[13] He sees the movement taking a turn by emphasizing neo-Pentecostal practices instead. Many of his Boomer peers grew up with the gifts being misused or abused and thus have come to believe such outward signs cannot be combined with connecting to the unchurched to Christ.

Though Beal is fully committed to his Fellowship, he is deeply concerned that some recent strategic moves will take the Affiliation into a direction that is being untrue to their foundation. He is afraid that an entire generation is growing up without being given the opportunity to experience Pentecost. Pentecostal ministry in a postmodern context can include leadership development principles as well as moments dedicated to passionate pursuits after Christ. Restricting signs and wonders to the backroom steals something valuable and vibrant which was intended to direct the culture’s attention towards the cross. He wholeheartedly supports equipping churches in the improvement of guest assimilation, service excellence, and sermon communication. However, he still places greater importance on leaders allowing time for their people to encounter the power and presence of God. Beal misses the annual conferences and retreats that allowed for the occasion of waiting at the altar in prayer and praise. He believes that the Holy Spirit can transform crowds just as he was changed himself.

Even with such challenges, Beal is confident that the church is in the midst of unprecedented opportunities for the gospel to be shared. Whether it is on an economic, political, or spiritual scale, the people of the United States of America along with their global counterparts are looking for authentic hope and substantial change. The emerging generations are looking for a cause in which to believe. Families are dysfunctional, poverty is rampant, and disease is widespread. In this cultural climate, Beal senses that God is purposefully placing his people in positions of influence. In the darkest of times the church can become all the brighter.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, confirmed outwardly with the sign of speaking in tongues, has deeply transformed Randall Beal’s passion and purpose. He has been unwavering in his assertion that Jesus Christ is the Savior for the sinner, Healer of the sick, Baptizer in the Spirit, and King who is returning soon. Likewise, he has made every effort to formulate a Pentecostal identity which is based upon the bible, grounded in relationship, shared with humility, enjoyed through experience, and focused on the mission. As a result, his ministry has always aimed to honor the past, seize the present, and transform the future.

APPENDIX

JF: Tell me about any monumental moments you might have had with God? Coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ? Receiving your call into pastoral ministry?

RB: Raised in a Baptist preacher’s home, I do not recall any moments where I sensed the presence of God like I did later in a Pentecostal setting. At young age, I did come to understand the need for a Savior and was baptized in water at age nine. Sometime during that time, during a message by my father on full time Christian work, he asked those who were sensing a desire to give their lives to such a cause, to come forward. I did. Over the course of the next eight or nine years, that event took place no less than three times in my life. My parents were incredibly wise when dealing with each one of those situations. They would let me know that they were proud of me. At the same time, they assured me that they would be proud of me no matter what I chose to do with my life. In other words, there was no pressure to become a pastor.

I wavered in my faith. I believed in God but was never able to live it out. For the majority of high school, and the first part of the navy, I did all of the worldly stuff (smoking, drinking, and cussing). I began to have these encounters with God just before my twenty-first birthday. I would go to bed at night, probably after partying, and I would have these feelings that if I was going to die I would not go to heaven (even though I had been raised eternal security). I would ask him to forgive me. I did not want to go to hell but I did not want live like I was going to heaven. To intensify that process, just three or four months later, I began to go to this Presbyterian Church. The pastor spoke in a way that I connected with and used songs of the day. He was one of the guys that God used to get me to think about committing my life to Christ.
That July, I drove a car a couple of hundred miles with two junior high students, so that they could go to Austin, Texas to see the “Jesus Freaks.” I did not want to go. Being a good church kid, I saw these guys as hippies who had not really changed all that much. On July 30, 1971, we arrived at this coffeehouse full of about ninety college-age students. I walked into this atmosphere that I had never experienced before. I was immediately greeted with a hug by this large guy with long hair and bib overalls. Despite being uncomfortable, I could not shake this feeling that he had something that I so badly wanted. I knew that there was something different about the room and that the difference just had to be God. I watched and listened as they sang their songs and shared their testimonies. This was the first time that I ever heard someone speak in tongues. I had no idea what it was. At one point this girl started singing this song. I first thought that it was Latin. Everyone gradually began to join her in chorus. It was as if an ocean waved over me and the hair on my arms began to stand up.

I knew that I would not leave that place before giving my heart to the Lord. Later on in the service, a speaker invited all those who wanted to talk, to join them on the third floor. My friend and I ran upstairs, opened the door, and immediately panicked. “Do we really want to do this?” We snuck in the back, purposely hiding behind people, so that the guy in the front would not see us. I had no idea how they ran these meetings. After each person was prayed for, he was then escorted into the back, so that those next in the line could be prayed for. The line grew smaller. We were moving dangerously close to the front. I was doing my best to hide behind a girl with a fair amount of hair on her head when the guy in front looked at me and said, “So, what are you here for tonight?” After explaining my story, he then prayed the prayer of salvation with me. This was at the height of the Charismatic movement. In fact, the guy leading the meeting was either an Episcopalian minister or a Catholic priest. I felt so overjoyed with my new life. That night, while staying at a Lutheran church, my friend and I were forced to leave the room because we just could not stop laughing. I kept on thinking to myself, “This is what I have spent my life looking for – through the friends, the drugs, the drinks – this is what I was looking for. It was God. I had no idea.

At this time I had no thoughts about ministry. I just knew that I was a Christian and I wanted to live for Christ. I did my very best to give my best to the final seventeen months I had left in the Navy. As God will strategically place you, I was transferred to California and was discipled by the Navigators. They guided me in the disciplines of prayer and bible study. I became interested, after reading Acts and 1 Corinthians, about this thing called “speaking in tongues.” My father never preached against it (I later found out why), but he surely never talked about it. Nothing in the bible ever said that this is not for today. I was confused. One night during a Navigator bible study, a guy asked me what I knew about speaking in tongues. I knew nothing. During the discussion, someone tapped me on the shoulder and invited us back into his office. He said to us, “We don’t talk about that around here. We don’t believe in it. If you talk about it again you will not be allowed back.” I thought that this was a weird response.

Shortly after that time, I was invited by the Navy to be a part of a nuclear weapons loading team. I began to have these huge reservations on whether or not this was the right decision. I was then sent to talk to this Lieutenant Commander, who happened to be a Christian, about my concerns. He answered my question in about ten minutes and then ended with, “Beal, have you ever been baptized in the Holy Spirit?” My answer was, “Well, I have been baptized in water.” He broke out in laughter. He then proceeded to take me through the book of Acts, slamming the large white family bible shut, and then said, “I don’t care what you do with it. You just need to know that it is in the bible and that it is for today. See you later.” The night before, my friend and I had spent the evening arguing over this thing called speaking in tongues. We ended by praying, “Lord, we want to serve you. We want everything you have for us. If this is for today, you are going to have to show us.” You can imagine the impact that this encounter had on me. I had gone into my Commander’s office with a question totally unrelated to my prayer and came out with a challenge.

Two weeks later, I found myself in an Assemblies of God church. I jokingly have told people later that, “My father would have rather caught me in a bar than an AG church!” That night, sometime in the middle of January of 1972, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. Now I began to think a whole lot about full-time ministry. God seems to bring people in your path who will graciously nudge you in the direction that he wants. My standard line, up to that point was “One pastor per family is quite enough.” After returning from Vietnam, the AG pastor would always send me a care package of tracks and stuff that helped me witness to others on the ship. We really wanted others to know Christ. He took me out for lunch one time and asked, “Have you ever thought of going to bible school? I think that God’s hand is on your life.” I just wanted to get out, go to electronics school, work on jet aircraft, and have a nice life.

Now I am thinking about these three events in my life, now twenty-two years old, wondering what I was going to do with my life. I moved back to Spokane where I immediately got involved in a church called Glad Tidings (where I ended up meeting my wife). I started a fourteen month school that would allow me to get my license and work on aircraft. Five months into this school, in the fall of 1973, this guy starts a Berean School of the Bible (a two year program at Glad Tidings). The thing only lasted three years. God said, “I am going to give you a school that you can get ready for ministry.” One night at the altar, I am down praying, and looking for God’s will in my life. Neree and I are engaged at the time. A guy came up to me and laid his hands on me. It was like Austin, Texas all over again. He gave a prophetic word over me. He said, “God is going to specifically use you for his plans and purposes.” I did finish the electronics school but knew that I would never use it (nor did I). The rest is history.

JF: Would you be willing to expand upon the statement about your father, “He did not preach on it (and I later found out why)”?

RB: My father would say being raised American Baptist and pastoring for over twenty-eight years, that the denomination was inaptly very evangelical. It was not uncommon, during the evening services, to have some hand-clapping and even some who would raise their hands. They were very lively services. After the war, he went to Berkley Baptist Divinity School, a school at the beginnings stages of becoming a liberal seminary. Many professors started teaching that the bible was not infallible – that it was not the Word of God. Somewhere during 1964, my father came to a regional American Baptist conference in Ross Point, Idaho. One of the keynote speakers was a guy named Dennis Bennett (one of the fathers of the Charismatic movement). My dad was so moved by what this guy said that from that point on he longed for what that guy had. He just had no idea how to get it. He would later tell me, after I became an Assemblies of God pastor, that he would often sneak over to AG revival services for the music. He just could not stay long enough for anyone to recognize him.

When I was baptized in the Spirit, worrying about what he would think, I chose to write him a letter of explanation. He wrote the nicest letter back, “I am so proud of you and glad that you have had this experience. Please don’t think less of me as a Christian because I have not had this in my life. I really have been interested in this for the past ten years.” Shortly after, during a Christmas dinner, he asked me, “What is it like to speak in tongues? I have never heard anyone speak in tongues before. Would you be able to speak in tongues for me?” I did not even know if it worked that way. My mother, raised Lutheran, was sitting across the table. I prayed a little bit in English, spoke in tongues for about twenty seconds, and then closed in prayer. He said, “Yeah that is pretty neat.” It was two years later, while with a couple of Charismatic American Baptist friends that they both were baptized in the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. They would later, after his stroke, spend many years attending Spokane First Assembly. That encounter changed my father. He was a different preacher. My mom said that he was less glued to his notes and much more spontaneous than he had ever been.

JF: Do you mind sharing, in more detail, about your experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit? Speaking in tongues? How did that experience change your life?

RB: Our Lieutenant Commander invited us to that Assemblies of God church. I was irritated at the thought of being committed, by my friend, to go to this church. Tom said, “Why don’t we pray before we go in.” It was like the coffeehouse experience all over again. We were surrounded by all of these AG women who were praising God by speaking in tongues! During that evening class on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, still having these questions, the teacher seemed to always look right at me whenever she said, “The baptism is for today.” This is odd. God must be saying something.

We were up at the front, following the service, just talking with some people. It was during that moment, with about twenty people left in the room, that Commander Willingham says, “Why don’t we all join hands and worship God together.” During the prayer, Tom is taken over to another side of the room and is prayed for. Everyone else is either on their face or on their knees praying. I kneel down on the floor, too. The presence of the Lord comes over me. My commander then yells across the room, “Hey Beal, if you don’t open your mouth and speak in tongues, your head is going to blow right off.” I am thinking, “Okay Lord, you have worked in me these last few weeks and months in order to bring me to this place. I know it is real and it is for today.” I just did not know what to do. I just went, “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready. . .” and opened my mouth. I began to speak in tongues. It was unbelievable. After about five or ten minutes, they spent time instructing me further. From that point forward, I set aside time each day to seek after the baptism, again and again.

JF: Tell me why you chose the Assemblies of God as your affiliation? Why the Northwest Ministry Network as your district of involvement?

RB: I stopped in Hillsboro, Oregon to visit one of my Navy buddies. While at the church, the pastor’s wife approached me, and after finding out that I was moving to Spokane, pointed at me and sternly said, “You go to Glad Tidings Assembly. Leonard White is the senior pastor. Glad Tidings Assembly!” That would be the church that I met my wife. I sort of fell into it. Went to the Berean School of the Bible and then was locked into it. I have always loved the Northwest. I would have gone elsewhere if lead. But I have loved it here and been here for over thirty-three years. Four places. I have enjoyed the fellowship and relationship of the Northwest Ministry Network.

JF: How has the fourfold gospel (Christ as Savior, Healer, Baptizer, and Coming King) shaped your ministry? Have your methods changed over time?

RB: The way that I was raised, I knew that Jesus was our Savior and that he was coming back again. The message always had a little bit of fear in it. A healthy fear – though it was never a major part of the Baptist teachings. As for salvation, after being baptized in the Spirit, that truth only became a bigger part of my life. However, I knew absolutely nothing about healing. I believe that everyone should be baptized in order to be empowered to witness. Receiving the baptism leads to reaching lost people.

As for the healing part, I was raised in churches where we never prayed for big stuff (things going bad or people getting sick and dying). I got into the Assemblies of God where people pray for anything and everything. All of a sudden you realize that you have something to offer a person that which is eternal. It is comforting to be with people who trust that God is going to heal them – that he will turn this tragedy into something that somehow brings him glory. We had a lady in our church that developed bacterial meningitis. The doctors expected her to die. The percentages were not good. The best case scenario would be that she exists as vegetable. Her family was praying, weeping, and grieving at the altar. While praying for her, I knew that there was not much hope, but I prayed for her anyway. Lots of people were praying. By Wednesday she was showing signs of recovery. By Friday she was fully awake. By Saturday she was moved into a regular room. Within one week she was discharged with absolutely no problems – fully recovered. Not only that, but somehow she had broken her shoulder, and she was healed of that as well. Here was one lady who had experienced two substantial miracles. What church would pray for that if they did not believe that God heals today? Finally, the return of Christ should motive us. The idea that he could come at any moment, like a thief in the night, should call us to be ready for his return.

JF: Tell me about your vision, passion, and gifts as a Pentecostal pastor? How that affects your participation on the mission (both locally and globally)?

RB: I have two longings in my life. First, I want to be a soul-winner. I would say that I am not good at that. I am not naturally an outgoing, talk to people, kind of a guy. If I would have one frustration in my life, I would say that it would be that God has not given me nearly enough opportunities to talk to people and lead them to Christ. Second, and I think it has a lot to do with my growing up, but I have a burden for churched people that they not just cruise along without living for Christ. If we will only give ourselves over to the Lordship of Christ! We miss nothing at all by giving up worldly things to fully concentrate on being committed to following Him. I think many people settle for synchronizing a bit of the world with our faith and it never seems to work out very well. One of the major things that God has given me to do is to challenge people to become dedicated to Christ. One scripture that I learned early on as a Navigator was, “If any man would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” That is what Christians have to do. It is not easy to do (especially when they are enjoying the passing joys of sins). A committed disciple gains so much more than one who just goes about it with apathy. The Holy Spirit will lead us to be holy – in becoming the salt and light to this world.

JF: What types of changes in Pentecostalism have taken place from the beginning of your ministries to this present time in history?

RB: I am saddened that our movement seems to be rapidly moving away from Pentecost as we understood it and towards more non-Pentecostal/charismatic styles. For some reason, many Boomers have had really bad experiences (weirdness and strangeness). It influenced them to believe that you could not blend reaching the unbeliever with something that was fully Pentecost. We are making some bad tactical decisions that will play themselves out in the next decade. We might just see the Assemblies of God, especially in the Northwest, made up of just a few guys who really embrace Pentecostal practices (speaking in tongues, praying in tongues, and encouraging others to seek the baptism). We are going to see those numbers dwindle. Such events will surely bring about a whole generation younger than us to be nothing more than a big tent (Neo-Assemblies of God and no longer Pentecostal).

We are putting something in the backroom that I see as dynamic and powerful and needed today in our culture. I don’t think that people need a service that makes them feel good but that they need an encounter with God. You can have friendly people at the front door, compelling elements to the service, but what good are they if people come hungry for God? What if they really want something that they can’t even explain? I have shared this with the leadership that I am a part of today. Can we do better at preaching sermons? You bet we can. Can we use language that they can connect with? We should do that. But they need to experience the power and presence of God (just as I did as a young Baptist kid). I was convicted that those people had something that I did not have. I needed to get right with Jesus. There are slight adjustments that we need to make. However, we miss out on something when we don’t have the gifts evident in our services. Take some time to explain the gifts. Paul said that tongues are for the unbeliever. I don’t want to go back to what I had for the first eighteen years of my life which caused me to hunger for something more. I never saw anything that would deeply satisfy what I truly was on the inside. It stills works today (for anyone and everyone). We can find new methods but without downplaying what the Spirit does in people’s lives.

JF: Tell me what you see as the greatest challenges facing the Pentecostal church in the twenty-first century? What are the greatest opportunities?

RB: I am not against the leadership training that we are doing. What bothers me is that they are totally devoid of the power from the Holy Spirit and how that intersects with what we are doing with God. Paul said to the Galatians, a little different context but an interested application, “Are you going to now work out in the flesh what was meant for the Spirit?” If we get someone trained then we will have churches that better connect to the community. Nothing is wrong with any of that, get all the education that you can, but somewhere along the process you have got to stir up the gifts within you. When do we as pastors ever get together and just seek the power and presence corporally? We don’t do that stuff anymore. Training, style, methodology, music – all those things are important to us (context and culture). But just look at what God is doing outside of the United States! People are getting saved in droves in Argentina. They are being empowered to be witnesses. It might take time to build relationship with the unbeliever. We must rely upon the Spirit and allow that to be a part of how we are used as well.

We in America are facing unprecedented opportunities today. Where do we go economically? What pressures upon families and marriages? God is strategically placing us in positions where we can have a great impact in people’s lives. We will be able to pray for people. They are spiritual. They are just looking in all wrong the places. We don’t have to be powerful and authoritative. We can pray a simple prayer. Who knows? It might just be the thing that brings them to believe in Jesus Christ. A new administration brings with it all the social and moral issues. The church can rise up and tell people about Christ. People are desperate. We might see many come to know him.

Globally speaking, the early Pentecostals sacrificially gave to send missionaries. We are facing a time where we struggle to get our missionaries back on to the field (even our veteran missionaries). People full of the Spirit will love lost people. The senior pastor holds the key. Let’s pour into a fund and get this thing done. It is a faith promise, not what I can generate but what I trust God to provide. Senior pastors must value the missionary enough to where they are in our services, even for the windows, and remind people that their investments matter. Don’t ramp up our lifestyle but give it to missions. Vision and sacrifice. Let’s rejoice in what God is doing all over the world.

WORKS CITED

Anderson, Allan. An Introduction to Pentecostalism. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Brand, Chad Owen. Perspectives on Spirit Baptism. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2004.

Dayton, Donald W. Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987.

Ferguson, Sinclair B., David F. Wright, and J.I. Packer, eds. New Dictionary of Theology. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988

Kanaga, Lynn. A New Personal Pentecost. Sisters, OR: Virtues Ministries, 2005.

Linzey, Verna. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit. Longwood, FL: Xulon Press, 2004.

Macchia, Frank D. Baptized in the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2006.
Marshall, I. Howard, et al., eds. New Bible Dictionary. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001.

Menzies, William W. and Robert P. Menzies. Spirit and Power. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.

Stronstad, Roger. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984.

Yong, Amos. The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005. York, John V. Missions in the Age of the Spirit. Springfield, MO: Logio

[1] Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 149.
[2] Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984), 5.
[3] Verna M. Linzey, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit (Longwood: Xulon Press, 2004), 136.
[4] I. Howard Marshall, et al., eds., New Bible Dictionary (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001), 452.
[5] John V. York, Missions in the Age of the Spirit (Springfield: Logion, 2001), 160.
[6] Lynn Kanaga, A New Personal Pentecost (Sisters: Virtue Ministries, 2005), 243.
[7] Sinclair B. Ferguson, et al., eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 504.
[8] Amos Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 27.
[9] Donald W. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 46.
[10] Luke 9:23, New International Version.
[11] Frank D. Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2006), 211.
[12] William W. Menzies and Robert P. Menzies. Spirit and Power (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 57.
[13] Chad Owen Brand, ed. Perspectives on Spirit Baptism (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2004), 78.

Pentecost

Myth

Have you ever had a relationship that was dysfunctional or destructive? I have. I was! She was the love of my life. We were together for three whole years. We became an item at the beginning of my fourth grade year. We were serious (aren’t they all in elementary school). So what if we broke up at least four times in those three years . . . nonetheless, we were perfect for each other. We did everything together. Recess. Cafeteria lunches. Walking to the bus. Art class. An occasional neighborhood swim party. I was a romantic and she was the perfect girl for me. That was, until I met Monica.

Sometime during my fifth grade year, I went out of town with my mother, in order to be a part of my great aunt’s memorial. I spent the entire week with my cousin. The best part about Marnie was her best friend . . . Monica. The prettiest girl that I had yet to lay my eyes on . . . that week anyways. The problem: I was “with” Tanya. The second problem: She was “with” a boyfriend as well. The solution: We did not have to tell anyone about it. Yeah, I was “a cheater cheater.” We “went out” the entire week. In fact, I even kissed her. One night, Marnie had a bunch of friends over to watch a movie. I was the life of the party . . . in other words, I was the first to fall asleep in my chair. It was at that time the rest of the group decided to play truth and dare. Someone dared her to kiss me. The rest is history. The kiss was so good that I slept through the entire thing and did not evem know what happened until a few days later. Yeah, I even impress myself.

You have no idea how embarrassing some of these stories are to share. When I actually step outside of the situation long enough to retell the memories, I can’t help but wonder, “What was I thinking?” Elementary relationships are so immature! Yet, when we were caught up in the moment it was all we wanted. That is a whole lot like how our culture treats sex and dating. One stupid decision, if we refuse to change, might just develop into a routine or reputation – where all we do is hurt ourselves and hurt others along the way.

What do we most commonly hear about sex in our culture? Why is it like that? First of all, sex feels good (not just physically but emotionally). But for only a season. Sex gives us a false sense of commitment (a counterfeit version of love and intimacy). Pastor Craig Groeschel compares this phenomenon with glow in the dark boxers. When the lights are on the underwear read, “No, no, no, no.” But when the lights go off the verbiage reads, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” Let’s face it, the light switch of our society is turned completely off. The mantra has become, “Let’s have sex often, as many times as possible, and with as many people as we can.” According to MTV and MySpace – there seems to be no consequences whatsoever! To make matters worse, the message from the church on sex is either next to nonexistent (I am committed, one day as lead pastor, to do a series on sex for adults, at least once a year) or just plain confusing. We set young couples up for a fall when we shout, “Never have sex!” Then, once they are married, we say, “Now have sex all you want!” No biblical instruction or explanation . . .. and we wonder why so many marriages are filled with frustration and dissatisfaction.

This is one of the reason why we have dedicated five weeks of our Merge Student Gathering to “Going all the way” – to helping students prepare for a marriage that lasts a lifetime. Two weeks ago we discussed the importance of finding the one that we have all been waiting for – that Christ is the only One who can bring wholeness and health to our life and relationships. Last week we invited newlyweds in to share about the importance of building our relationships on the foundation of a friendship.

We now move on to how relationships are to handle the issue of sex. The truth is that God did not call us to be impure – but to be holy. The Apostle Paul once wrote, “For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:2-7).

Let’s take some time to debunk the destructive myths about sex. First of all, many say that sex has no purpose. Not true. God created sex. He thought of it. He gave the gift to us. Why else would he put two naked people in the garden? What else are they going to do (besides eat fruit)? However, it is important for us to realize that he designed sex to be enjoyed in a specific context – between one man and one woman committed to a lifelong marriage. No exceptions. Sex was given to us for two reasons . . . to procreate the earth and to please our spouse.

Not only did God create sex, but he actually celebrates it. He sees sex as one of his crowning achievements. He is proud of it (why else would he include the Song of Solomon in the bible)? He is okay with a couple being romantic and intimate . . . as long as they are ready (which only happens in marriage). Solomon was a ladies man (in the good sense). He compared his bride’s hair to a flock of goats and her breasts to two fawns (somethings just doesn’t translate well between cultures). However, take sex out of God’s intended context and you find yourself risky and rebellious (promises quickly turn into pain). Just look at the world that we call home – infection, unplanned pregnancy, rape, and lust. Even the bible tells stories of people misusing and abusing sex for their own personal gain . . . which results in homosexuality, adultery, and prostitution (just to name a few).

The second myth in our culture is that sex has no consequences. Isn’t that why modern science has given us birth control, abortion clinics, and morning after pills? However, Health Class will never tell you about the unseen outcomes of our sexual sin. People continue to settle for sex void of authentic intimacy. Teenagers are striving for stimulation (a magazine like Maxim or Cosmo) and missing commitment. Couples are filled with guilt and shame and quickly arriving to the question, “How did we get here?” In the process, we are losing the divine message about sex. We fail to practice faithfulness (by waiting for marriage). We fail to control our bodies. We refuse to stay away from sin. We never consider the importance of valuing our future spouse.

Could you imagine how different our world would look if everyone honored the covenant of marriage? If everyone guard their body and heart? Husbands and wives would finally have security and safety within their relationships. They would know that they are able to face (and beat) temptations that come their way. They would be assured that their spouse is loyal to them. Their love life might just be hotter because their relationship is closer. Forget all of the danger (the supposed rush and thrills of not getting caught) and experience the real thing – holy, special, intimate gift that goes so far beyond the next organism. Not only that, but then you would be able to share your story with pride. We honored God with every area of our life – now do what we say because that is exactly what we did.

God did not call us to be impure – but to be holy. In response to that revelation, so many people still ask all the wrong questions. They say, “How close can you get to the edge? How far is too far?” The right questions are, “How close can I get to God? How can I make him the One, and at the same time, best honor my two?” I cannot shake my experience of Swaziland. At least forty percent of the country has HIV. Funerals in the morning. Prostitutes at night. No one wants to admit that there is any correlation between the two. Did you know, for the longest time, there was not even a Swahili word for ‘future’? They live for today . . . and because of that they have no tomorrow.

Why not instead choose to prepare for a fantastic marriage? We must first stop flirting with danger. Many of you have probably heard about former President Clinton’s infamous words, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” He actually believed that oral sex was not sex. Many think that you can do everything but . . . . . Many wonder, “Is oral moral?” Sex is sex is sex is sex. Pastor Craig says, “If you want what few have then you must do what few do. The Apostle Paul challenged the church not to have any “hint of sexual sin amongst you” (Eph. 5:3). Can we say that about Merge and MCA? There must not be any suggestive speech, watching of inappropriate movies, rubbing and groping (even with your clothes on), or putting your hands underneath someone’s clothing.

We need to start asking, “How can prepare for temptation?” This topic will be talked about in further detail next week . . . but let’s just hit on the principles quickly. First, keep your parents involved from beginning to end. Second, the lights stay on and the feet stay on the floor. Third, keep your bed your bed. Finally, keep clothes buttoned up and tongues in our mouths.

What steps can we take towards holiness and away from impurity? Again, this subject will be hit on later on in the series. However, we can summarize quickly. First, protect your wounds long enough for them to actually heal. Do not settle for conforming to some teaching but instead allow for the Spirit to transform you from the inside-out. Second, we must take practical steps to change. Jesus talked a lot about guarding our eyes and thoughts (which includes website and magazine subscriptions). We are instructed to run away from anything (as far away and as fast as possible). Third, we all need accountability (sharing our standards with friends and mentors). Finally, we need to repent (quickly and sincerely). Stop hiding . . . and ask God for his help and holiness. The truth always is better than the myth.

Myth

Published

I would recommend Sally E. Stuart’s book titled Christian Writers’ Market Guide 2009: The Essential Reference Tool for the Christian Writer for anyone who is pursuing being published. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy in a special pre-release. Copies are available at Cheaperbookstore.com for under $22.00 a piece (http://www.cheaperbookstore.com/a/stuart%20sally/christian%20writers%20market%20guide%202009/affnr=-2610/0307446433).

Paul once instructed his young friend and disciple to “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). One of my growing passions is to be the best communicator that I can be (whether that be in preaching, teaching, or writing). I understand that the fulfillment of my personal mission of engaging seekers, enabling followers, entrusting ministers, and encouraging leaders will hinge greatly on my ability to communicate both doctrine and direction. Who knows if a part of my journey will one day include being published? I am not the first person with the desire to see his thoughts be put in print. I do know that I will stay devoted to the value of life-long learning. Even this week, thanks in large part to the local church in which I am the youth pastor, I was able to begin a masters program in ministerial leadership. My hope is to better articulate my dream to one day design and develop a way to transition a church from being programmatic to becoming intentional. From being attractional to becoming missional. From being complex to becoming simple – a body of believers committed to connecting people to the love of Christ, the life of the church, and the need of the world. Only time will tell where my studies will take me.

Summary: Do you write? Looking to get published? Do you need some direction? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then you cannot afford to miss out on the Christian Writers’ Market Guide 2009. For over 20 years, author Sally Stuart produces this amazing resource, filled with trusted content. The only one of it’s kind, the 2009 Edition includes the latest information on more than 100 editors and publishers, conferences, writers’ groups, and more are not only listed and indexed in the book, but this year, readers will get a code in the book and on the CD-Rom for accessing more updates through the year on author Sally Stuart’s web site, http://www.stuartmarket.com/. Features include the full text of the book for easy searches of topics, publishers, and markets, as well as one hundred pages of exclusive content including indexes and writing resource listings. This is the resource you need to get noticed—and published. Completely updated and revised to feature the latest on . . . more than 1,200 markets for the written word, 416 book publishers (32 new), 654 periodicals (52 new), 96 literary agents, 100 new listings in resources for writers, 226 poetry markets, 316 photography markets, 25 African-American markets, and 166 contests (29 new).

Biography: Sally E. Stuart is the author of thirty-six books and has sold more than one thousand articles and columns. Her long-term involvement with the Christian Writers’ Market Guide as well as her marketing columns for the Christian Communicator, Oregon Christian Writers, and The Advanced Christian Writer, make her a sought-after speaker and a leading authority on Christian markets and the business of writing. Stuart is the mother of three and grandmother of eight and lives near Portland, Oregon.

Published

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I am always encouraged when I read about Jacob’s life – for all of the wrong reasons. What had Jacob done to deserve the blessing and birthright that he received? Steal from his own brother while he was exhausted. Lie to his own father while on his deathbed. He was a trickster – a promising politician. Jacob did not have character . . . he did not even hold the culture’s prominent positions . . . second born males, in this society, were typically at the mercy of the first born for any rights or responsibilities. What did Jacob have to show for when it came to the coveted privileges handed down from his family lineage? Nothing.

The bible reads, “So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him and commanded him: ‘Do not marry a Canaanite woman. Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham.’ Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau” (Genesis 28:1-5)

Yet, for some odd (and sovereign) reason, Jacob was the man of the hour . . . selected for this time in history to carry the covenant forward . . . . Why would a good God choose such a bad individual? The only reason I could come up with is that he wished to keep the word that he gave to Abraham. The promise must be fulfilled – and in such a way that only God would receive the credit. In his loving loyalty, God could even use a guy like Jacob . . . if only he would begin to trust and obey.

Here is the good news . . . God can even use a guy like you or me. He believed in us before we ever began to believe in him. Is there any real reason that he would select his church to carry on the new covenant? To reconnect our world to back to him? Can we take any credit for our adoption and assignment? Why would he select us? The only reason that I can come up with is because of our reconciliation to Jesus Christ. His sacrifice. His leadership. The new covenant was sealed with the Spirit and centered upon the cross of Christ. He commissioned us. As he gave grace to Jacob because of his relationship to Abraham, so does he now in a fuller sense, show to us through his one and only Son.

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Unbearable

A few days ago I was reading the account of Sodom’s destruction . . . taken back at the state that humanity had gotten herself into. God’s judgement was forced to fall upon them. However, now I approach Jesus’ words of warnings . . . concerning the people of his time and region . . . “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town” (Luke 10:8-12).

They too would be held accountable for their actions . . . more so in fact . . . due to them being recipients of a fuller revelation of God’s truth and love . . . as is evident in that he actually came to them in the flesh. This, by no means, excuses the state of Sodom – for they had been entrusted with the revelation of creation and the knowledge of good and evil – but there was surely no excuse for the first century Hebrews . . . for they had been chosen as the first covenant people . . . their ancestors were led previously by priests, prophets, and kings. Now, they were staring God in the face. Yet, so many of them responded by feeling threatened and angered by him . . . to the point that they wished to silence him by way of public execution.

If Israel was warned, how much more will we be held accountable for our responses to the Truth – to the revelation of Jesus Christ. To our relationship with God. Twenty-first individuals, both Christian and unchurched, know way too much to turn the other way. We now have the full canon of Scripture – from Genesis to Revelation. In fact, we have more bibles in our culture than past generations had combined. We also have been blessed with the Holy Spirit who resides in every heart of a believer . . . the same Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead. We have a church on every corner – churches of every shape, size, and style. This is all taking place as a part of the Information Age . . . which should never be confused with Discernment . . . but regardless, offers a plethora of resources and relationships to those who are sincerely seeking. Even the blindest of individuals could very well stumble upon the truth in this day and age. Lord, propel your church, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, to go out into the culture and make disciples. May we be encouraged by these times instead of being afraid of them.

Unbearable