Confessions of a Charismatic Fundamentalist

My conversion to Christ in April of 1976 was immediately followed by a crazy spiritual experience that was accompanied by a receiving of the gift of speaking in tongues. I remember, like it was yesterday, that night at a large church in Houston Texas. It was the day after I quietly surrendered my life to Jesus … no one had a clue what I had done in the quietness of my heart that Saturday night in a Houston hotel … but here I was in church on a Sunday night caught up in worship for the first time in my life. I remember we were singing a chorus from the Andre Crouch song "My Tribute". We were repeating the verse "To God be the glory" … I was in a state of surrender … singing my heart out … entering a most holy place of worship … then I came to the realization that I was not singing in English … I was totally freaked out. This was the beginning of the wildest ride of my life.

Three months later my wife and I moved to Kansas City and began attending a small evangelical church. I enjoyed the new friendships I was developing at church but missed the worship that I experienced in Houston. Then one Sunday night in the spring of 1977 I attended a large charismatic church in Kansas City Kansas. Oh my, what a service … once again I found myself lost in worship … waves of God's Spirit seemed to flow over and through me. After several months of Sunday nights my wife and I became convinced that the large church was right where God wanted us to be … in June we began attending there full time.

The following 18 years of my spiritual journey were immersed in the ministry of this large church. I taught Sunday school, led small home groups, was an overseer of small groups and established close relationships with many people … the church and the pastor’s teaching became a party of my spiritual identity. For most of those 18 years I was involved in the prophetic ministry of the church … several times a month the Holy Spirit would speak a message of encouragement through me to several thousand people … looking back on this it was quite surreal. I became know as a prophetic person … being prophetic also became part of my identity.

Life was good for most of these years … kids came along … joyous family times were the hallmark of this time in my life. My wife and I had a wonderful relationship. If you asked me I would have told you that the priorities of my life were, in this order, God, family, church and work. I was absolutely identified by the roles in my life. I loved being a Christian, a husband, a father, a church leader, a prophet of sorts, and a computer programmer. These roles gave me so much joy and made my life meaningful. Life was good.

In March of 1990 my life fell apart. My wife of 19 years had a heart attack and kidney failure. In the following four years my whole life’s focus was caring for her. Everything else I was doing, ministry-wise, was stopped … I slowly died on the inside. It was during this time that I began to be confronted by the legalism that surrounded me and lived deep within me. For years I had thought of myself, in a Christian sense, as a ‘Charismatic’ – both in theology and in practice. I considered myself to be this ‘free’ person. I distained legalism and specifically the word ‘religious’ because I identified myself as a ‘Spirit-filled’ person … someone who was led by the Holy Spirit certainly could not be legalistic.

It was like yesterday, I was entering the parking garage at work … I became aware of the fact that I had ‘parking garage rules’ … I had a logic scheme by which I chose a parking spot … I was crushed by the idea that ‘possibly’ … ‘maybe’ … I wasn’t led by the Spirit in this part of my life … in hindsight it is pretty amusing but it was just the beginning of my awakening. As I continually prayed for my wife she got weaker and weaker … and my frustration got stronger and stronger. My children began having problems in school … they too were dealing with a deepening grief about their mom’s health. All the while I was being forced to change – I hated it … all of the things in life I thought that I had figured out were unraveling before my eyes … everything that was important to me was falling apart. I was dying on the inside and in May of 1994 my dear wife of 23 years died.

The past years had taken a toll on our family … my 14 year old son, my 10 year old daughter … and me … we were all devastated at my wife’s death. We all expected her to get well … that is what we prayed for … I believed in healing and miracles … I even prayed for a resurrection when my wife breathed her last. The aftermath of her death found my son medicating with drugs, my daughter struggling with identity issues and me dealing with a broken theology. I increasingly became aware of how much I had been led by principles and precepts. Subconsciously I had developed a complex internal system of rules and logic concerning life. These of course were all based in scripture and encompassed words like ‘authority’ and ‘submission’. For years I lived the life of a ‘Charismatic’, ‘led by the Spirit’ Christian when in truth I was more like a Fundamentalist.

One encyclopedia defines a “fundamentalist Christian” as “a Christian who holds the Bible to be infallible, historically accurate, and decisive in all issues of controversy that the Bible is believed to directly address”. On the surface this really seems to be a good thing … and possibly for some people this is the correct way to express their faith … but for me it was not. Fundamentalist thinking brought out the worst in me. I took an exclusive and legalistic approach to the bible. This approach bred an arrogant attitude towards people who didn’t see the scripture the same way I did. When my wife was sick the arrogant attitude began to give way to glimpses of humility. I was humbled when meals came into my home from friends at church for 10 weeks. Coping with hospitalizations, doctor’s bills (from 40+ doctors), hemo-dialysis, and a boatload of medical problems brought me to a place of breaking … I didn’t want to let go of my legalistic ideas and practices but had no option … I could no longer maintain and feed the on stuff that once brought my ego such satisfaction.

The 10 years after my wife’s passing have brought many changes in my life. One major theme in these years has been one of control. You know that ‘control’ is a major battlefield for one trapped in legalistic thinking … it is all about ‘control’. That brings me to the end of 2002 … I had remarried and my new wife was going through an intense health crisis that involved paralysis … I was besides myself once again when the Holy Spirit began to speak to me. He spoke to me about life and living … about letting go and flowing in life instead of controlling … He said that life isn’t something to be managed like a project but something to be lived. I still find it difficult to let go and not control but I am making progress. I take job assignments these days that have clear boundaries. I honor the choices of my adult children even when I don’t agree with them.

The events of these years have convinced me that the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. I have learned that there is a difference in being right and righteous … one can have absolute truth about an issue but be absolutely wrong in their application of that truth if they are not truly led by God’s Spirit. These past few years have also taught me that you take very few things with you when you die and one of them is relationships with fellow believers.

I try to love more these days but I am always confronted with how little I seem to care about people. Just when I think that I am really making progress I find myself withdrawing into a protectionist attitude. You know loving ... God-like loving ... always gets us out of our comfort zone ... always challenges us to the core. God-like loving is not natural and cannot be accomplished using a set of precepts or rules. God's kind of loving is so different than man's kind of loving. God's love is what it is all about ... and we can't love people when we are rules concious. I am convinced that Jesus was all about showing us love in a way that man had not seen before. Possibly when, like Jesus, we are moved by compassion for others we will step outside of our comfort zone ... and walk in His love rather than our rules. That is my prayer for you and my prayer for me. Amen.

Why Obey The Commandments?

The following is excerpted from an e-mail message that I got from my neighbor and friend John Gilman. I love what John says ... he cuts through the religiosity ... his writing is insightful and helpful ... enjoy.

In my last letter, I said about love: “Why else ‘be a living sacrifice,’ or ‘submit to one another,’ or ‘let yourself be wronged?’ Well, actually, there are other reasons why people obey the commandments. Here is one of the most amazing statements in the Bible:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (I Co13:1-3)

Giving everything to the poor and sacrificing your life for some other reason than love? That’s hard to believe. These are great things! And they amount to nothing? That’s even harder to believe. But, and this is so critical, if we don’t love, we are nothing! We gain nothing! The Apostle John said:

“Anyone who does not love remains in death” and “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I Jn 3:14 & 4:8)

These love claims are not little hyperbolic asides by Jesus and the Apostles. They make their main point, we are to: Love God completely, love our neighbors and ourselves rightly, and love some fellow apprentices as Jesus loved the Twelve. Obedience is supposed to be an _expression of this love.[i] Faith is supposed to express itself in love. Love is the most excellent way. Love is greater than faith and hope. With love we shine like the stars, we have the very nature of God. With love we are perfect like our heavenly Father. And the Greatest Commandment is…?

I grew up in a church of people who were trying to keep all God’s laws, including kindness, justice, and responsibility. A child is far better off in a society of laws than in a lawless one and I am thankful for those people.[ii] And I am thankful for the laws that kept me out of harmful pits of stupidity like: abandoning my family, or addictions, or affairs, etc. However, if love becomes just one or two of the laws we keep, than the laws can be obeyed for other reasons such as: pride, acceptance, self-justification, prestige, fear, and on. We can pray because we’re supposed to, or because of love. I used to be kind, out of obedience; now, hopefully, I am kind out of love. Often the giver and the receiver can feel the difference. Ask my wife.

I have always tried to love and much of my obedience was motivated by love. But many years ago, at a men’s conference, I was envisioned with the importance of “obedience” and I told God that by his grace I would obey him. That, coupled with a positive experience in the military, meant obedience became the goal, and love became a few of the commands I was trying to obey. I marched home from the conference with the Marine slogan, “perfection is our basic minimum” ringing in my head, and immediately assaulted my loved-ones with a perpetual pressure for perfection. The laws of God became both a blessing and a curse, a blessing because of the attempt to deal honestly, kindly, justly, etc. A curse because my obediently patient perpetual pressure for perfection meant everybody (including me) was always failing. Usually I was obediently-patiently-kind about their failures, but obediently-honestly-clear in pointing out their failures. God began correcting my miss-guided zeal by revealing “grace” to me, which was a huge step up. Then God revealed his definition of perfection to me. And now I’m praying that my obedience will hang on love, like fruit on the vine.[iii]

Dear Father, help us love your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

John—a worker in the harvest.

[i] I concede the circularity here—we are to love out of obedience and obey out of love—but the emphasis is correct and can be clarified, I believe, through an argument that is too long for this letter.

[ii] Many, although they may not be able to articulate it, are living lives of love. Their obedience has resulted in the adoption of love into their lives. Wittingly or unwittingly, they have become lovers of God and man. Their inner compass pointed toward God’s love, they asked Jesus into their heart, and they’ve sailed that direction ever since, reaching, one by one, the shores of heaven. Every time I see them I want to kiss them. My mother was such a one, and early Wednesday her sturdy craft bumped ashore and the One-Who-Is-Love greeted her with a smile saying, “Perfect!” Far behind her, her family follows her long straight wake.

[iii] "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Mt 5:43-48

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” I Co 13:8-10

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Jn 15:8-12

The Cultivator

This morning in church, as I was lost in worship, I saw a picture in my mind. I first saw a picture of a very beautiful yellow flower ... as I looked the vision seemed to pan out and I saw a golden haired young woman kneeling before the planting ... crying as she toiled ... working the soil with her hands. I then began receiving a few words which I wrote down ... here they are:

The Cultivator

I saw her bowed down before a glorious planting of flowers,

Hands in the soil, tenderly working the roots with water and her hands,

Her flowers are beautiful, her plantings prosperous,

All she plants does very well and nothing withers in the sun,

The Lord has given her favor because she is faithful and a lover of God,

Stooped down, she has taken the position of serving and intercession,

With humility of heart and conviction of soul she is a mighty force,

She is
The Cultivator. She is Mom!

These words are so appropriate for today, Mother's Day. If you are a mom then please take these words of encouragement to heart ... your children appreciate the tears, the words and the deeds that you have cultivated into their lives.