Twenty-eight years ago today, Christian singer, evangelist and prophet Keith Green died in a plane crash, at the age of 28. Two of his children, along with another family and the pilot, also passed away.
We end this series today with one of the PP’s favorite iconoclasts, Babylons Dread.
Brilliant, well read, and a pastor in every way, he is one of the best people I’ve been gifted to know.
This is his story and his heart.
Why I Am a Renewal Pastor
After producing one of those long ‘my journey’ documents it became apparent that what PP readers really might be interested in is my involvement in “Renewal” circles. How did a Lutheran born, Presbyterian mentored, Baptist educated 40something pastor become a charismaniac? Good question, and it required some introspection to describe. The bottom line; years and years of academic pursuit gave way to the thirst for a taste of spiritual reality. Knowing theology was never my quest, knowing Christ was and is. So the bottom line is that a salty, sometimes harsh, insensitive curmudgeon was and is a revivalist at heart.
When you experience a dramatic, instantaneous, powerful conversion you cannot settle for didactic rationalistic Christianity. The bottom line for me is that evangelicalism left me fully informed academically and fully unformed spiritually. Further, the enormous gap between Biblical truth and daily life was and is simply irreconcilable. There had to be MORE than this and that became the cry of my heart. If the ‘joy of the LORD is my strength’ then why was depression so common, so pervasive, so unrelenting? So here is the simple process; renewal offered the promise of a Christian life that was richer, more experiential, more supernatural AND to a high degree that pursuit was satisfied.
My first encounters with power-filled faith subsequent to conversion all involved experiences with demonic torment and release both for myself and for others. That amounted to 5 or 6 encounters over a 15 year period so it unfolded very slowly. You must also remember that Baptists are open to demonic warfare but they are prone to see demonic activity in glossolalia and other charismatic experiences.
John Wimber is the first breakthrough, he was the first to offer a coherent evangelical argument against the baptism of the Holy Spirit theology of Pentecostals and Charismatics. John gave evangelicals a way past our academic objections to charismatic theologies and practices. C. Peter Wagner modeled the path to navigating the personal change. Finally, my friend, Randy Clark opened the way for a Spirit-filled evangelical to participate in Holy Spirit revival and renewal. After reading John, studying with Pete and getting to know Randy most of my objections were removed.
Theologically my commitment to the presence of the Kingdom had become very entrenched. Add in the experience of tongues credible encounters with the Spirit in prophesy and you have a very good framework for understanding and embrace of renewal. Luke 11:1-13 convinced me that pursuing and asking for the Spirit from the Father was failsafe. No demon could intervene in that quest. If we ask Father for the Spirit he gives in kind. John Wimber via Chuck Smith offered a theology that spoke of our relationship to the Spirit in terms of three prepositions; with, in, upon. That removed my objection to the old Spirit baptism doctrine in favor of saying that those who have the Spirit ‘in’ them still can experience the Spirit coming ‘upon’ them.
After experiencing the Spirit in this fashion, my marriage was stressed. Thus a promise was made to Gail that unless this new experience brought real change to my life it would be discarded. For one full year the matter was not raised between us, my experiences were kept private and away from public eye. After that time my wife was so moved by the change in my demeanor she began her own pursuit of the life in the Spirit. Tongues had the amazing effect of improving my mental health dramatically and reducing my stress measurably. For Gail this was a profound change.
It seemed to me that charismatic renewal held the most promise for those who believe in the presence of the Kingdom. It also seemed to me that kingdom theology was best served by a positive renewal theology that looked for a massive revival over against a last minute exit from the world’s demise. So on the point of missions and eschatology renewal stood up to the test in my mind.
In addition, my growing sacramental view of the communion, has actually found an ally in renewal. Nothing is more sacramental than the emphasis on ‘impartation’ as a means of receiving from the LORD. To be Bible-centered, charismatic and sacramental leaves one with few options, especially when you throw in the heavy focus on ammillennial theology. Someone once told me prophetically(we had never met) “you feel like you are neither fish nor fowl, like you do not belong anywhere.” Bingo! That nails it. I did not have a home. The renewal took me in with open arms. That is a powerful reality when looking for your place.
Randy Clark befriended me in a difficult season, and numerous others among the ‘usual suspects’ of renewal did so as well. So relationship is a big reason that renewal is my home. Its’ noncreedal nature has been both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes the things that pass for theology in this family are embarrassing and worse. Other times the freedom to dissent and insist on another way is refreshing and invigorating.
Saying that you are a renewal pastor is somewhat like saying you are a conservative… Relative to what? It is highly undefined. So much so that most of my friends would not even use the description, preferring revival as a description. Revival is probably what drew me into the group. The things that happened to people in the so-called Toronto Blessing, happened to me as well, despite having never been there.
Renewal is mess and often offends and upsets me but the right of dissent exists among us. To embrace renewal is not to embrace every madness that accompanies it. It means an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit actively and powerfully in the world today. It means believing that the life of the book of Acts is normal and settling for less is subnormal. It means an optimism about life and about the mission of God in the world. It means believing that emotional, spiritual and physical bondage should be opposed and eliminated. It means confidence about world evangelization. It means being able to ‘taste and see’ the goodness of the LORD. Thus I am a renewal pastor.
With at least 25,000 people slaughtered in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón hurled the Mexican Army into the anti-cartel battle, three questions remain unanswered: Who is being killed, who is doing the killing and why are people being killed? This is apparently considered a small matter to US leaders in the discussions about failed states, narco-states and the false claim that violence is spilling across the border.
President Calderón has stated repeatedly that 90 percent of the dead are connected to drug organizations. The United States has silently endorsed this statement and is bankrolling it with $1.4 billion through Plan Mérida, the three-year assistance plan passed by the Bush administration in 2008. Yet the daily torrent of local press accounts from Ciudad Juárez makes it clear that most of the murder victims are ordinary Mexicans who magically morph into drug cartel members before their blood dries on the streets, sidewalks, vacant lots, pool halls and barrooms where they fall dead, riddled with bullets. Juárez is ground zero in this war: more than one-fourth of the 25,000 dead that the Mexican government admits to since December 2006 have occurred in this one border city of slightly over 1.5 million people, nearly 6,300 as of July 21, 2010. When three people attached to the US Consulate in Ciudad Juárez were killed in March this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the murders “the latest horrible reminder of how much work we have to do together.”
Just what is this work?
No one seems to know, but on the ground it is death. Calderón’s war, assisted by the United States, terrorizes the Mexican people, generates thousands of documented human rights abuses by the police and Mexican Army and inspires lies told by American politicians that violence is spilling across the border (in fact, it has been declining on the US side of the border for years).
We are told of a War on Drugs that has no observable effect on drug distribution, price or sales in the United States. We are told the Mexican Army is incorruptible, when the Mexican government’s own human rights office has collected thousands of complaints that the army robs, kidnaps, steals, tortures, rapes and kills innocent citizens. We are told repeatedly that it is a war between cartels or that it is a war by the Mexican government against cartels, yet no evidence is presented to back up these claims. The evidence we do have is that the killings are not investigated, that the military suffers almost no casualties and that thousands of Mexicans have filed affidavits claiming abuse, often lethal, by the Mexican army.
Here is the US policy in a nutshell: we pay Mexicans to kill Mexicans, and this slaughter has no effect on drug shipments or prices.
This war gets personal. A friend calls late at night from Juárez and says if he is murdered before morning, be sure to tell his wife. It never occurs to him to call the police, nor does it occur to you.
A friend who is a Mexican reporter flees to the United States because the Mexican Army has come to his house and plans to kill him for writing a news story that displeases the generals. He is promptly thrown into prison by the Department of Homeland Security because he is considered a menace to American society.
On the Mexican side, a mother, stepfather and pregnant daughter are chased down on a highway in the Valle de Juárez, and shot in their car, while two toddlers watch. On the US side, a man receives a phone call and his father tells him, “I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dead.” He hears his sister pleading for her life, “Don’t kill me. No don’t kill me.” He thinks his niece and nephew are dead also, but they are taken to a hospital, sprayed with shattered glass. The little boy watched his mother die, her head blown apart by the bullets. A cousin waits in a parking lot surrounded by chainlink and razor-wire on the US side of the bridge for the bodies to be delivered so that he can bring them home. The next day, the family takes to the parking lots of two fast-food outlets in their hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico, for a carwash. Young girls in pink shorts and T-shirts wave hand-lettered signs. They will wash your car and accept donations to help bury their parents and sister, to buy clothes for two small orphans. “This was just a family,” says cousin Cristina, collecting donations in a zippered bag. She says they are in shock, the full impact of what happened has yet to sink in. So for now, they will raise the money they need to take care of the children. An American family.
Or, you visit the room where nine people were shot to death in August 2008 as they raised their arms to praise God during a prayer meeting. Forty hours later, flies buzz over what lingers in cracks in the tile floor and bloody handprints mark the wall. This was the scene of the first of several mass killings at drug rehab centers where at least fifty people have been massacred over the past two years in Juárez and Chihuahua City. An evangelical preacher who survived the slaughter that night said she saw a truckload of soldiers parked at the end of the street a hundred yards from the building and that the automatic rifle fire went on for fifteen minutes.
Or you talk with a former member of the Juárez cartel who is shocked to learn of a new cabinet appointment by President Calderón because he says he used to deliver suitcases of money to the man as payment from the Juárez cartel.
The claim that ninety percent of the dead are criminals seems at best to be self-delusion. In June 2010, El Universal, a major daily in Mexico City, noted that the federal government had investigated only 5 percent of the first 22,000 executions, according to confidential material turned over to the Mexican Senate by the Mexican Attorney General. What constituted an investigation was not explained.
The first tape opens with…”if your circumstances are miserable, blame God.”
That was heresy to my free will, “just pray harder and do more” ears…then Brown developed his message of the sovereignty of God in all things from the Scriptures and I began to feel like I was born again…again.
The Word of God opened up to me in a way I’d never seen before…it was as if the scales fell from my eyes.
God was in charge, He was at work and nothing could stay His hand or thwart His purpose.
My trials were sculpted with love specifically for me to be transformed into the image of His son.
I had done nothing to earn my salvation, nor could I do anything to lose it…I was finally, truly, somebody’s son and this Father didn’t throw away His kids.
The fact that I was still breathing meant He wasn’t done with me…He was in complete control and we were really just starting.
The commands to “don’t worry”, and “don’t be anxious” now made sense…I could rest because the outcomes didn’t depend on me, but on the grace and love of my omnipotent Father.
The truth that nothing either good or evil could happen to me without first passing through a nail scarred hand was the truth that set me free…free to risk, free to love, free to enjoy my liberty in Him,free to fail…free to really live.
The years have mellowed me…I went through the “cage stage” where when one sees the beauty of freedom in the doctrines of grace they try to convert everyone to their systematic theology and need to be caged till they calm down.
There are chinks in the system…socks sticking out of the well packed theological suitcase.
This is good…that which we can completely understand we inevitably seek to control.
My God can’t be controlled or even partially understood…He is God and I am not and as my teacher says when we don’t understand something, that is a call to worship.
We should worship far more than we inquire…
John Calvin would despise the fact that his name is attached to a sect…I know John and he would also be aghast at much that has been taught in his name.
He was simply a Christ follower who God took aside one day and whispered truths to that he repeated back in our hearing.
They are great truths, but they are not the only truths…Calvin always pointed back to the Word and to Christ and he loved the the truths that God whispered in the ears of others.
Grant, Almighty God, that since under the guidance of thy Son we have been united together in the body of thy Church, which has been so often scattered and torn asunder,
O grant that we may continue in the unity of faith, and perseveringly fight against all the temptations of this world, and never deviate from the right course, whatever new troubles may daily arise; and though we are exposed to many deaths, let us not be seized with fear, such as may extinguish in our hears every hope; but may we, on the contrary, learn to raise up our eyes and minds and all our thoughts to thy great power, by which thou quickenest the dead, and raisest from nothing things which are not, so that, though we be daily exposed to ruin, our souls may ever aspire to eternal salvation, until thou at length really showest thyself to be the fountain of life, when we shall enjoy that endless felicity which has been obtained for us by the blood of thine only begotten Son our Lord.
I. There is but one only, living, and true God,who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin,and who will by no means clear the guilty.
II. God has all life, glory, goodness , blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made, nor deriving any glory from them,but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and has most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleases.In His sight all things are open and manifest, His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.
III. In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Xenia a has been an online friend and companion on my journey for many years, before there ever was a Phoenix Preacher.
Since her first comment on an old email list and still today she has exemplified the positive virtues of the Christian faith.
It’s always been obvious that she belongs to God…and her journey to the East began my journey toward a love for and an embracing of the whole Body of Christ, not just the sects I was aligned with doctrinally.
I’m honored that she wrote this for us and I do indeed celebrate her presence among us.
Why I am Eastern Orthodox
First, a little background. I was raised in a Christian home. My parents were Baptists and we attended the little Baptist church across the road from our house in rural Ohio. When I was twelve I walked the aisle to accept the Lord on an Easter Sunday and was baptized in Lake Erie soon after the spring thaw. I had a great fear of going to Hell and that was my entire motivation for becoming a Christian. I continued as a Baptist after moving to California until I was thirty when I discovered the local Calvary Chapel. I continued at Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay for the next twenty years.
So what happened? Why did I abandon fifty years of comfortable Baptistic theology, my cool media jobs at CC, my cozy place in the inner circle of women’s ministry and pretty much lose all my friends to join an obscure and ancient church that did not even seem to use English?
A few Evangelical doctrines bothered me even from my youth. The one that caused me the most grief was Eternity Security or Once Saved, Always Saved. As I have shared here before, that doctrine kept me awake nights because it seemed to be based on nothing more than my own sincerity at the time I walked the aisle when I was twelve. (“If you really meant it when you repeated the sinner’s prayer….”) Most of the time I did not feel like a Christian and I certainly did not act like one so I concluded that I must not have really meant it when I was twelve. When my parents would watch the Billy Graham Crusades on TV I became so anxious that I had to leave the room and run upstairs and “accept the Lord” all over again because the last time didn’t take. Whenever the pastor at church gave the invitation it was all I could do to keep from running up front to “really and truly” accept the Lord. Only pride prevented me. And this continued even into my Calvary Chapel days, with a new twist. Why didn’t I receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit like everyone else did? Pastors and guest speakers laid hands on me numerous times to receive tongues and it never happened. Since the CC teaching on this was “Ask and you shall receive” I always left these episodes in tears, wondering if I was really a Christian after all. So again I would go to my room and try to accept the Lord all over again. And lest you think I was being overly neurotic about it a Famous Pastor’s Wife who was a guest speaker at our women’s conference questioned whether I should even be serving in women’s ministry since I had not received the Second Baptism.
Another doctrine that always bothered me was the Baptist / CC view of communion, which as you know, is symbolic, commemorative and non-sacramental. I could never quite understand what the big deal was. “Do This in Remembrance of Me” was carved on the table, but I could not understand how eating a saltine and drinking some grape juice helped me remember Jesus. Everyone acted like it was a big deal. The lights were turned down, the Baptist pianist or CC guitarist played soft, atmospheric music as we solemnly passed around the elements and partook in unison. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t know what kind of emotion I was supposed to be feeling. I came to dread communion and went out of my way to avoid it. It was meaningless to me. When I read the New Testament and church history it seemed like communion meant so much more to those Christians of the past and I was envious of them.
A third problem was the discouragement of doing good works lest we appeared to be too Catholic. I remember sitting in a women’s ministry leadership meeting as we tried to come up with stuff for the ladies to do besides Bible studies and tea parties. I suggested volunteering at soup kitchens or working with migrant women but this was shot down as works-righteousness. This upset me quite a bit. It seemed that the only activity permissible was Bible study. And believe me, I studied my Bible continually but guess what- I was not growing in the Lord one whit. I was certainly amassing a lot of factual information but as an individual I was not becoming conformed to the Image of Christ. In fact, I was becoming a bigger jerk with each passing year. As I came to believe that the goal of the Christian life is to become conformed to His Image. I realized that what was being offered in the CC world was not going to help me in this endeavor. No amount of study was going to take the place of actually getting up and doing the things the Lord told us to do, to feed the hungry, to dress the naked, to visit the captives, to shelter the homeless.
So, what to do. That summer I visited a lot of local churches to see if I could find a better fit. This was hard for me because I had been taught for the past 20 years that God was doing a special work in Calvary Chapel and that it was God’s cutting edge church. No one else did verse-by-verse, etc. etc. I found to my dismay that most of the churches I visited were trying to copy the CC model. Even the liturgical church I visited had a drum set up front. Shoot, if I wanted that I might as well stay at CC, which did this kind of thing really well. I still believed in the basic doctrines of the Christian faith but I was seriously thinking about leaving the world of churches. I was just about out the door.
One Sunday morning, when my cup of disgruntlement was full to overflowing, I visited the Russian Orthodox Church here in Seaside on a whim. A whim. It was to be my last hurrah before I left churchianity for good. I entered the mysterious, jewel-like little building with the attitude more of a tourist than a seeker. But that’s where God grabbed me. As I stood there in that tiny candle-lit space I had THE major mystical experience of my life. I knew this was God’s Church. This was the place. I was full of faith and joy. I was home.
Home… odd thing to say about a Church that was not even using one word of English the day I visited. But I felt like I was home just as I expect we will all feel when we cross over into Heaven one day. I felt like I was in the presence of God and the hosts of Heaven. I felt like I belonged, that I knew with a certainly that eluded me most of my life that I really and truly was a child of God and that He loved me. I was in the presence of a holiness that I didn’t even know existed on earth. After maybe five minutes I knew I had to join this Church, that my very soul depended on it. The simplest answer to “Why I am Eastern Orthodox” is that God grabbed me and told me I was home.
So, I joined up. Not the Russian parish but a Greek parish in Salinas that used a lot of English. The first thing I had to do was make a “Life Confession,” a chat with the priest where I confessed my major sins over the last fifty years, as best as I could remember them. We got stuck on a biggie, but God forgave me. This was big. I had a load of guilt over a certain matter and the relief I felt at being able to confess it with the help of the priest is hard to describe. It was more than just saying “Sorry, Lord.” I felt truly forgiven and released from a big burden of guilt that I had carried around with me for a long time.
After I was received into the Church by the rite of Chrismation (anointing with oil) I was able to receive the Holy Eucharist, which we believe is truly the Blood and Body of the Savior. I now look forward to Communion and believe that I am truly being fed by the Blood and Body of our Lord, for strength and for salvation. Like the Lutherans, the Orthodox also practice closed communion. To receive, one must be a baptized Orthodox Christian who has been to confession fairly recently and who has fasted since midnight. I have seen strangers approach the Chalice who were grilled by the priest: Are you Orthodox? Who’s your Bishop? Did you eat breakfast? When’s the last time you went to Confession?
There are many things I love about the Orthodox Church; here’s a few:
The Divine Liturgy, which is beautiful, heavenly, timeless and Christ-centered.
The veneration of the Saints, which is not worship but rather a way to cherish the heroes and heroines of the faith.
Icons, beautiful timeless windows into heaven.
The Liturgical Calendar, with its feast days, fasting days, Saints’ days and scripture readings. It is good to be literally on the same page as the rest of the Church.
The Orthodox prayer book with its morning and evening prayers. I appreciate the fact that many Christians have a vibrant prayer life by praying spontaneously, but this was a very weak area in my life and I am so thankful for my prayer book which has enabled me to pray consistently each day. Well, at least most days.
The wisdom, humility, kindness and gentleness of the Orthodox clergy.
Monastics and their monasteries, an integral part of Orthodox life.
Orthodox Church government, with an elected parish council to oversee the building and other earthly matters and the Bishops to oversee spiritual and ecclesiastic matters. Everyone is accountable to somebody.
“Small” things, such a sweet smelling incense, candles, church bells, clerical vestments, standing during Liturgy, head coverings for the women, a cappella singing…. These things make the Liturgy heavenly and help us set aside all earthly cares.
Antiquity. It goes without saying, this a is very old Church. No fads, no attempts at coolness, no electronics. It is not what you’d call “seeker friendly” but as my story (and many others) demonstrate, God can grab you anyway.
Of course, of the utmost importance are the Sacraments, especially baptism and the Eucharist. We believe that God works through His material creation, such as in the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
In Orthodoxy, salvation is a journey along a life-long path with Christ leading you, nudging you from behind, holding both hands and carrying you as well. He is in us and we are in Him. As long as we stay on the path we are safe. He enables us to stay on the path. He gives us things to do which help us stay on the path. If we say we cannot do the things He gives us to do we need to remember that with man, nothing is possible but with God, all things are possible. We can do all things through Christ Who gives us strength.
I am convinced that the Eastern Orthodox Church contains the fullness of the Christian faith and is the Church that was born on the Day of Pentecost. I think when it comes right down to it, this is the reason I am Orthodox: I believe it’s the Church. (To anticipate the question “Do I think people outside the Orthodox Church are genuine Christians” the answer is Yes.)
Mike Macon is our representative from Calvary Chapel and someone I’m honored to call my friend.
He’s also one of the smartest, most well read people I know in any tradition, but most importantly he’s always there when you need him.
He has been just that many times for me.
He’s a pastor in the best sense of the word…and this is his article.
The quickest, most succinct way to answer the question, “why are you a part of the Calvary Chapel movement?” is: This is my family.
The slightly less quick and distinctly less succinct way to answer the question is as follows.
Without going into stupefying detail, I was raised as an Episcopalian with very strong New Age leanings, but had departed from any sort of theistic belief by my teens. During a deployment in the United States Navy, three of my shipmates graciously and patiently interacted with me, putting up with my extreme antagonism against their Christianity – I’d been there, done that, no more for me thanks I’m full. Through just listening to my rants and calmly, lovingly answering them with stunningly simple logic, I eventually surrendered my life to Jesus and haven’t looked back since.
My first taste of Biblical Christianity was onboard ship. Since we were steaming at the time, it would be months before we’d be in port long enough for me to attend church. Instead, those same three guys more or less tag-teamed a Bible study in the ship’s library every evening after dinner, going verse-by-verse through Romans. I’d never experienced anything like it, and I was hooked – immediately, and irrevocably. Mark (one of the guys) led simple worship with his guitar. Usually either Mark or Tom (one of the other guys) then led the study.
Simply teaching the Bible simply – and especially doing so through one of the most important Books of the Bible for Christians – had a profound and lasting effect on me.
Six months later, two of the three guys had been reassigned to other assignments – one to another ship, another to a shore billet. The ship’s chaplain at the time was very favorable toward the Bible study, and wanted to see it continue – but the third of the three original guys didn’t want to take the reins. I was asked to lead it, and to become the Protestant Lay Leader for the command.
I was only six months old in the Lord – and I was terrified.
But those six months were foundational in my spiritual life. I look back on them now and recognize them as my spiritual “boot camp” – in every positive way.
The guys who’d led me to the Lord instilled in me a deep and abiding love for the Word. They continually encouraged everybody to get into the Word, and get the Word into them – a lesson I took to heart. In those six months, I voraciously read everything I could get my hands on – through the Bible a few times (once in the first Bible I bought right after becoming a Christian – a New Oxford Study Bible), through every commentary I could find (Matt Henry, Jamieson Fausset & Brown, Clarke, Calvin), through a few Spurgeon devotionals, and everything else I could. I had my stateside friends tape KWAVE shows, Sproul, MacArthur, and others, and ship them to me. I had a ravening hunger to read, to listen, to learn, largely because what I had grown up with had left me spiritually starving, but mostly because that’s the example which had been set for me by those three guys, and I wanted what they had – a calm, mature, open-hearted, sharp-minded faith, an abiding relationship with a real Person Whom they walked with and talked with as if He was really there – because He was.
By the time the other brothers left, I had already started leading some of the Bible studies myself – under their wing, but even so.
After a whole lot of soul-searching and prayer, I timidly took up the challenge to become the Protestant Lay Leader.
That is a story in and of itself. My first ever leadership experience, in the very variegated and volatile environment of a military command, with men from every corner of the nation and from every background. Very early on, my leadership was challenged by men much older in the Lord than I was who had come onboard ship since then and who wanted me to stop being so friendly with those evil papists and Pentecostals and to only teach out of the Authorized Version, etc., etc., etc…it was a baptism by fire, and from the perspective of years I can look back and see the Lord’s hand in it all, doing His preparatory work in my life.
But as I’d said – that’s a story in and of itself, and quite tangential to the current one.
Just as soon as my ship was in port longer than a few days – more importantly, over a weekend – I found out where those three brothers who’d led me to the Lord went to church. Turns out, they all three went to Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego – a Calvary Chapel pastored by Mike MacIntosh and (at the time) Leo Giovinetti. I’d waited until the ship was in port over a weekend because I didn’t know that you could go to church on days other than Sunday. Imagine my deep surprise (and delight) to discover that not only did HCF meet on Sundays, but Saturdays as well – and even Wednesdays.
In fact, there was something going on every single day of the week.
I started attending HCF every time we were in port – Leo was going through Acts at the time, and Mike was going through Revelation.
I was blown away.
HCF also (again, to my exuberant delight) maintained an extensive study library, with books from all over the theological spectrum – not just Christian. It was there that I learned about the Watchtower and the LDS, mainly by reading their literature and doing my own comparison with what I already knew the Bible said (though obviously Dr. Walter Martin’s materials were vitally important resources in this and other studies) – which became very vital information as other guys came onboard ship from both of those backgrounds, enabling me to intelligently interact with them.
As my ship prepared for a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf (ultimately becoming involved in Operation Restore Hope – the operation which ended right before the Battle of Mogadishu – you remember, Blackhawk Down…), I had more time to be involved in the ministry at Horizon, becoming a part of the Children’s Ministry and becoming an assistant Home Fellowship Leader in El Cajon.
All good things come to an end, and for America – er, I mean, myself – that day came when Bill Clinton became the first 100% civilian president of the United States of America – and therefore the first president with a Pollyanna complex.
I was standing pier watch the night of the election. I can’t describe the stunned, shocked, incredulous expressions on almost everyone’s face as they crossed onto the pier to go to their moored ships.
Anyway…two years later, Clinton decided that the world was now a safe place full of happy shiny people, and began dismantling the military with a vengeance. As a consequence, it was determined that anyone on a decommissioning vessel, no matter how time they had in – or had leftin – their enlistments could put in for an early discharge.
At the end of 1993, beginning of 1994, my ship began the process of decommissioning – and so did I.
Through a strange series of events, the Lord led me to Michigan, where at the time there were no Calvary Chapels – so I got hooked into the Kalamazoo Vineyard (right at the beginning of the whole Toronto Blessing thing), and very briefly a Christian Reformed congregation And an EV-Free. After a move to Grand Rapids, another Vineyard, and an independent Pentecostal congregation which was heavily involved in the Renewal Movement, Calvary Chapel East Grand Rapids began in the living room of pastor Ed Yearack with six of us, studying through Hebrews.
After a few years adrift, I was home.
I am Calvary Chapel because this is my family.
Also, because as I read the Bible, I see what I see in broad terms in Calvary Chapel, and as I at first attended, then was involved in, then pastoring in Calvary Chapel, I saw what I’d read in the Bible.
The simple polity…the centrality of Jesus…the simple, systematic, expositional teaching of the Bible…the present reality of and dependence upon the Holy Spirit…the easygoing relationship with the rest of the Body of Christ (yes, I know many people believe this doesn’t exist in CC, but that has emphatically not been my experience, in aggregate)…I am Calvary Chapel because this is my family and it and its Distinctives are in my blood.
I am Calvary Chapel because this is where the Lord has me.
I know that my experience is not universal, but it is what it is – and I was asked why I am Calvary Chapel, not why others are not. Your mileage may vary.
My Father, if Thy mercy had bounds, where would be my refuge from just wrath? But thy love in Christ is without measure. Thus, I present myself to Thee with sins of commission and omission, against Thee, my Father, against Thee, adorable redeemer, against Thee and Thy strivings, O Holy Spirit, against the dictates of my conscience, against the precepts of Thy Word, against my neighbours and myself. Enter not into judgment with me, for I plead no righteousness of my own, and have no cloak for iniquity. Pardon my day dark with evil.
This night I renew my penitence. Every morning I vow to love Thee more fervently, to serve Thee more sincerely, to be more devoted in my life, to be wholly Thine; Yet I soon stumble, backslide, and have to confess my weakness, misery and sin. But I bless Thee that the finished work of Jesus needs no addition from my doings, that His oblation is sufficient satisfaction for my sins.
If future days be mine, help me to amend my life, to hate and abhor evil, to flee the sins I confess. Make me more resolute, more watchful, more prayerful. Let no evil fruit spring from evil seeds my hands have sown; Let no neighbour be hardened in vanity and folly by my want of circumspection. If this day I have been ashamed of Christ and His Word, or have shown unkindness, malice, envy, lack of love, unadvised speech, hasty temper, let it be no stumbling block to others, or dishonour to Thy name. O help me to set an upright example that will ever rebuke vice, allure to goodness, and evidence that lovely are the ways of Christ.