October 19, 2013
Sandra (Lopez) Lemus was with our fellowship for several years, teaching the youngsters. Her dad, of course, (Cesar Lopez) is a pastor and has a local Spanish-language fellowship. It was a joy to be involved in Sandra's wedding to Valdemar Lemus a couple summers ago. We just learned that Valdemar's family has been in the coffee-growing business in Guatemala for many years and is a big supplier of Guatemalan coffee in this country.
I share all that to say that Sandra and Valdemar have opened up a coffee business here in Sunnyside. Sandra will fix you an espresso, or an Americano, or a latte (or whatever your heart's desire is) and Valdemar will sell you different fresh roasts of Guatemalan coffee beans and explain the coffee-growing process. Take your pick! Their business is right downtown on 6th Avenue, and is called, Finca Margaritas! Stop in and grab a goooooooddd cup of coffee!!!
In the last couple of weeks, I've done a commentary in our local newspaper in the "Religious Reflections" column with the above title. It is the byproduct of many years of observations and revelation by Holy Spirit. My purpose isn't to raise a lot of sand in sharing the following, but rather to awaken God's people to an issue that has plagued the body of Christ for generations.
Growing up in classical Pentecostal circles allowed me to see what began initially as several different "fellowships" of folks who had experienced the moving of Holy Spirit as it exploded at the turn of the 20th Century with the Azusa Street Revival. Watching those "fellowships" degenerate into "denominations" was both disheartening and revealing. I'll explain that momentarily.
Years later I had the privilege of being involved in the early days of the Charismatic Renewal as Holy Spirit once again began breaking down denominational barriers and pouring out the gifts of the Spirit across denominational lines. In my early youth I had heard evangelical and Pentecostal leaders speak disparagingly of Roman Catholics and grew up in an era when Catholics "couldn't possibly be saved!"
Despite being a solidly entrenched Pentecostal, Dad often said to me, "Pay no attention to the name over the door, Son! You're not going to see Catholic Square, or Presbyterian Avenue, or Methodist Blvd., or Pentecostal Circle, or Baptist Street or Nazarene Highway, or anything remotely like that in Heaven! The ONLY thing that counts is where people stand in their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ."
As the years went by I realized the truth of what Dad was preaching, and when I met other Christians it never occurred to me to ask them whether they were Catholic or Baptist or whatever! If they knew the Lord, there was an immediate witness by Holy Spirit and there was no need to ask what label they wore on their forehead. Having the experiences at age nine and ten of going to Heaven and spending time with the Lord made labels all the more irrelevant.
In late 1970 I was able to participate in a pair of Charismatic conferences; one with the Episcopal rector of The Church of the Redeemer in Houston, and one with a Roman Catholic Bishop from Los Angeles. We shared together as members of the same family -- the family of God! As we ministered together we saw the Spirit of God poured out on people irrespective of their denominational background. Lutherans and Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians, Mennonites and Amish, Seventh Day Adventists and United Brethren -- you name it -- were speaking in tongues and moving in the Gifts of the Spirit, laying hands on people, seeing folks get healed, delivered from evil spirits and made whole.
When you see God move like that, you very quickly realize that He is no respecter of persons, no respecter of race, no respecter of gender, no respecter of denomination -- and certainly no respecter of doctrine! It all goes out the window! It gets worse, folks!
With a major portion of my extended family being Mormon, and having grown up in a culture of hearing that Mormons were all part of a cult that needed to be avoided like the plague, it was both eye-opening and rewarding to spend five years in Salt Lake City and watch God move among Mormons exactly as I had seen Him move among the so-called "denominational groups." In the summer of 1971, I called Andrae Crouch (with whom I had done concerts and recorded with in the mid-1960's), Charles McPheeters and other friends in the Christian music realm to join me for a three-week "Jesus Festival" on the Salt Lake County Fairgrounds.
During that three-week period we saw various Mormon bishops, members of the Council of Twelve and Mormons by the hundred receive healing, deliverance from evil spirits, and (for others to whom Mormonism was simply another "religion") genuine salvation through Jesus Christ. There were miracles by the hundred with blind eyes opened, deaf ears unstopped, the lame made to walk again, etc., etc., etc.
Gotta tell you! You want to be delivered from religious bondage? Just watch God move among those whom you've avoided because they have "strange doctrines" and "really odd beliefs!" It was still a process for me but the Lord wasn't done with me.
After the festival had ended I spoke with a number of people who had consecrated their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ and asked them where they were "going to go to church" now that they had been "saved." A few said they weren't sure, but they were going to find a new church to attend. Some looked really puzzled at my question as if it really made no sense. Others boldly said, "we aren't going anywhere! We're going to stay where we are."
My religious prejudice suddenly got exposed.
"How can you stay in the Mormon church when you've been saved?" I asked, absolutely puzzled at their response. After all, one couldn't remain in the Mormon church with its doctrines and still be saved and know the Lord -- so I thought. The answers I received hit me between the eyeballs.
"Haven't you evangelized in many places where people were religious and didn't really have a relationship with Jesus Christ?" asked one lady. "Don't those people need to remain where they are so they can lead their friends or acquaintances to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?"
One fellow said, "Have you ever been in a smoke-filled bar and talked to people who were drinking themselves silly in an effort to lead them to Jesus?" Had to admit that I had, all the while feeling guilty about being in the bar in spite of the fact that I wasn't drinking.
Another lady really nailed me, though. "I thought you left your denomination because the Lord both opened an opportunity for you to leave and instructed you to do so. Did you leave before God told you to leave, or after He told you to leave?" Ouch!
She continued. "I don't know how long I will remain in the Mormon church, but this is where the Lord has me. I have no intention of leaving unless and until He instructs me to do so, and then opens the door to leave."
By now you are getting the picture, I'm sure. I know some of my Pentecostal brethren who have used exactly the same routine on Baptists or Methodists or Episcopalians after they were baptized in the Holy Spirit. And they got the same answer I got from that Mormon lady. "We're staying where we are unless Holy Spirit instructs us to leave."
I'm describing to you a prejudice and a religious bias that has existed throughout the body of Christ for many centuries. It is the underlying foundation of all racism, no matter by what name it is called. All racism has religious overtones.
If one is ensnared by spirits of religion they tend to look with certain jaundice at those who are a part of a different denomination. Consider for a minute something that Paul wrote to the Ekklesia in Corinth.
"Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
"I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?"
Paul is specifically rebuking the Christians in Corinth for "denominating" themselves "of Paul" or "of Apollos" or "of Cephas" or "of Christ." Get it? Some of the Corinthian Christians were denominating themselves as "Pauline." Some were "Apollonian" and some were "Peterites." Then there were those who looked down on the "Peterites" and they were "just Christians."
Paul speaks to the racism of this kind of separation and addresses the root of it like this.
"For it is written, I will destroy the sophistry of those who are wise [in the ways of the world] and I will disannul and neutralize the mental analysis and intellect of those who assemble facts in order to arrive at a conclusion." (my translation and amplification from the Greek text)
Are you seeing the picture? Within the body of Christ for centuries we have had the tendency to judge one another based on our analysis of circumstances, events, upbringing and associations. What we've been doing is eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and spreading the death among ourselves that comes from eating of that tree.
Our selection and inclusion into the Bride of Christ is not reckoned by the Bridegroom -- Jesus Christ -- based on our looks, our associations, our intellectual capacity, our education or our family heritage. Let's take it another step farther. Our choosing by the Lord is not based on the color of our skin; it is not based on whether we belong to a certain "church," or denomination, or fellowship, or adhere to a particular set of dogmas, doctrines or beliefs. We are not included into the Bride of Christ because we are rich or poor or because we have certain skills or lack thereof. We are not chosen because we have great abilities or are articulate in speaking.
We are chosen by the Lord because we choose Him! We choose Him above all else. No doctrine matters. No upbringing matters. No church label makes a pig's feet worth of difference. Whether we've lived on the streets and in the gutters of society, or whether we've lived in the most prestigious mansions and have been regarded as "the upper crust of society," everything -- and I do mean EVERYTHING -- becomes as a pile of horse puckey so that we can win God's best!
Let's see, how was it that Paul put it? "If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith." (Philippians 3:4-9, NASB)
As I noted in my recent newspaper column, the racism -- mmmm ..... the denominationalism -- that has separated God's people over the centuries is the direct root of the racism we fight with in the world today. That same denominationalism is the underlying core of the racism we see in America and globally. Think for a minute about the unadulterated malarkey we have to put up with in our society today.
African-American! Latino! Mexican-American! Arab-American! Really? What utter rubbish! Because of denominational racism, we have "black churches," we have "Hispanic churches," we have Korean or Chinese churches, etc., etc., ad nauseam.
My son-in-law, Anthony Picasso, would feel like he'd been slapped in the face if you called him a Mexican-American. From his perspective, he's an American -- Period! Danielle and Anthony's two sons don't even begin to think of themselves as Mexican-American, or Hispanic, or Latino, or any of those racist terms.
We have two black grandsons, Cyrus and Travon. Not once have they referred to themselves as "African-American." The term wouldn't even cross their minds. They are Americans -- Period!
We have two adopted daughters of Eskimo heritage. Despite the popularity of the terminology in today's culture, not once have I ever heard Debbie or Ariella refer to themselves as "Native-American." They are simply Americans.
Della's heritage is Cherokee Indian, but you'll never hear her refer to herself as a "Native-American." You get the picture, I'm sure.
Let me wrap up today with a final illustration. I was raised in a classical Pentecostal family. When the Charismatic Renewal began in the 60's and 70's, I was very much a part of that movement. Nevertheless, I do not call myself a "Pentecostal." I am not a "Charismatic." Though I have ministered in Pentecostal, Charismatic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, I never describe myself using those terms.
I will tell you what I am -- and this is how every believer in Christ should speak of him/herself. There is no division in this terminology. There is no separating between who or what I am and what other believers are. There is no racism or denominationalism in this phraseology.
Here's how Paul put it in his letter to the Romans (see Romans 8:16-17): "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
"And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."
That said, I am a son of God. I am an heir of God and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ! Period! Got it?
A reminder: If you are in need of healing you are welcome to join our prayer conference calls. The number to call is (805) 399-1000. Next, enter the access code: 124763#.
Blessings on you!
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