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August 2017

When the Bishop Paid a Visit

Our small, inner-city church was in the midst of some powerful meetings.  By this time we had been in extended meetings for many weeks.  We just ended a very powerful, special Saturday night service.  I was in the back of our rented, converted bar building, soaking in some after glow when I heard the front door open and a loud voice ask, "Where's the pastor?"  I heard, "He's back there."  Within seconds, the "Bishop," an African-American, pastor from the church down the street was pumping my hand and saying, "I just had to meet you, I've heard about good things going on here!"  We small talked for a bit and agreed to have lunch together one day during the following week.

At lunch the "Bishop" invited me to preach and minister in his church the following weekend, during a special "Convocation" that they were holding.  I and many of the people of our church (all white) showed up for the special service.  What a service that it was!  The people of the host church ate up my ministry.  They were like ministering to a bunch of hungry sponges.  To me, they seemed to be starving for God.  Corinne and I began to minister to the people, laying hands on them and praying as the Lord was leading us.  All went well, until Corinne reached out to lay hands on one guy, a leader in the church, when he suddenly reached out and shoved her hand away.  He said, "I do not allow women to minister to me!"  Corinne was taken aback some having her ministry flow interrupted.  However, within seconds, the hunger that she was detecting from the rest of the congregation got her right back into the flow. 

After a few more meetings together, one day the "Bishop" suggested that our two churches merge.  It seemed that our people liked him and his people really liked Corinne and I.  A few weeks later, we did merge. What a mistake!

As we were a inner-city ministry, our vision was solidly on reaching out to the poor and homeless.  We would have hot dog cook outs on the street in front of our building.  We gave away a lot of food and had many homeless people attending our services.  They loved the freedom and the moving of God in their lives!  The "Bishop" assured me that our homeless ministry could continue after the merger.  He told me of how his church had a dinner every Wednesday evening before the mid week service and that our people would fit very well into that ministry.  After the merger, we attended our first Wednesday evening dinner.  My family, as well as all those from our church who could attend, ate with the homeless and others in attendance.  I couldn't find the "Bishop" anywhere and asked about where he was.  I was told that he and his family were in his office.  Shortly, I saw a serving cart being rolled by a couple of Sisters into his office.  I asked someone what was on the cart and was told that it was some ribs and special food that the gals had worked on all afternoon preparing for the "Bishop's" family.  I thought it interesting as everyone else, including my family, ate beans and rice. 

A couple of weeks later, during a Sunday morning service, the "Bishop" took the offering.  Wow!  Did he ever take an offering!  No one was ever allowed to write a check.  Everything was done in that church with cash.  I guess that particular Sunday there was a very large financial need.  He told the congregation that no one was allowed to leave the building until that need was met.  He asked the ushers to count the offering right then and report back to me.  It fell short!  He stopped his message and berated the people and shamed them until they gave enough to meet the need in subsequent offerings.  The need was met!

The people of his church fell in love with Corinne and I and our people.  We fell in love with them as well.  As a result, soon I could tell that there was something strange going on with the "Bishop."  With the merger I was made Associate Pastor of the church.  About 5 weeks into the merger, the "Bishop" preached on loyalty to the pastor.  During that message he said, "This church can only have ONE PASTOR!" It was obvious that he was threatened by the relationship that was budding between us and his group.  Two weeks after that message, I was called into his office just prior to the Sunday morning service and told that I was no longer needed in that church, basically I was fired!

That afternoon I met with those of our congregation, told them what was going on and we all decided to leave the church and re-start our old ministry.  Which we did the following Sunday morning.  Our "merger" lasted an entire 7 weeks!  What a mess!

The local newspaper followed our merger very closely.  The local TV station even had  reporters at our merger service. What hurt me more than anything, after news of the merger failure became public, the local paper contacted the "Bishop" and asked what had happened?  He told them and the paper reported that I was let go from the church staff because I was racist!  That hurt me more than anything ever could.  For me to be called a racist hurt more than if someone had stuck a knife into my heart!

Yet, the pain that Corinne and I felt for years was that of a great group of people, that we loved beyond measure, being deceived to stay under a ministry of control, manipulation and religion.  Later I discovered that so many "Black Churches" operate in that same fashion.  It was then that I developed a burden to see my Black brethren set free from religion.

Now that I understand the freedom and liberty of New Covenant Grace, I really desire to see people of all races set free and understand what the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.  During the "merger days" I didn't understand Grace very well, but I sure do now!  So, I'm spreading the word.

Grace and peace!


Preaching the Gospel isn't Just With Your Mouth!

I'm just a little over 10 mounts out from major oral cancer surgery.  I'm doing great!  My only issue is difficulty in speaking and difficulty in eating.  I can do both things, but both give me trouble.  Due to lack of any nerve feeling in my lower mouth and jaw, food is often hard to eat.  I also had to have all of my lower teeth pulled.  I can eat many things, but some foods remain a challenge.  Last night we went with some friends to a local Italian restaurant.  I ordered Fettuccine Alfredo thinking that the pasta would be easy to eat.  Well, it wasn't.  I had to take most of it home. 

I had most of my lower jaw bone removed and replaced with a bone from my right leg.  Therefore, due to the healing process, it still may be several years before I can have dental implants installed.  So...I wait!

My speaking is also difficult.  Most people just speak as a normal way of life.  I often have to think about what I'm about to say and then try hard to form the words right.  Some words are just impossible for me to say clearly.  Sometimes it gets rather funny and sometimes it gets rather frustrating!

I'm a preacher and I have a message burning in my heart!  It is the message of God's wonderful gift of grace, given to all of mankind.  I can't stop talking about it!  Even though after a Sunday morning message, I'm exhausted for the next couple of days, I don't want to quit talking about Jesus and His finished works!  But...I've also discovered that there are some other ways to preach about New Covenant Grace.

Of course, I can write about it!  I just finished a new book, When God Doesn't Heal: Avoiding Fear, Shame and Condemnation.  This book tells of my personal  journey through cancer as well as shares some of the lessons that I've learned about God and more importantly about myself.  It is also full of more lessons that I've learned about Grace.  I am trusting that it will help people who are beat up and condemned because they are sick and for some reason they feel that God's hasn't healed them yet.  So, yes, I can write instead of talking.  This is probably going to be a more consistently form of preaching for me.  

However, the best form of preaching is my life!  That's right...I trust that people can see the Grace of God being manifested in my every day life.  I know that I've changed since embracing the tenants of New Covenant Grace.  But, I hope that others can see that change and actually want what I have.  You see, our words can be cheap!  We can say we embrace Grace, but then when the bottom falls out of our life, Grace flies out the window. No one wants that type of Grace!  I want people to see not just hear about the Grace that is active in my life! 

I hope that you too, can preach the true Gospel of Jesus Christ by your life and not just your words!  At least it's something to think about, huh?

Grace and peace!

 


Some Benefits of Our Church....

I often wonder why anyone would every wish to attend our church, New Covenant Grace Fellowship in Inverness, Florida?  After all, we are a rather new congregation, a little over 4 years old and a very small congregation as well.  We don't have all of the "bells and whistles" in place.  For instance, we do not have a worship band playing live music. We don't have an exciting, dynamic youth group to entertain the kids.  Our building is small.  When a child cries in the back you hear it up front.  I could go on and on about why someone wouldn't consider our church.

However, despite any negative issues, our church is actually very healthy!  During the summer months we have been suffering from a lack of people, due to vacations, etc.  But our services have been exceptional. 

Here are just a few thoughts on why I feel our church could benefit anyone who feels to attend:

  1. Our church is entirely grace centered.  We focus totally on the finished works of Jesus Christ. 
  2. We do not mix any law with grace.  I'm not just talking about  just the old covenant law of Moses either.  I talking about trying to please God by following any type of law.  A good example would be dress codes, etc.  I live in Florida so I wear shorts and sandals every Sunday. I hope that doesn't offend you!
  3. Our goal is to see to it that people feel better about themselves when they leave our services than when they arrived.  I think we are doing a pretty good job of fulfilling that goal!
  4. Even though we are small, our bills are getting paid.  We do not always beg and plead for money just to pay our bills.  Some weeks it's close, but we don't have to resort to placing guilt trips on people in order to get them to give!  We just proclaim what works in the area of finances.
  5. We don't have a "dynamic youth group!"  But we do have a youth group led by a "dynamic" youth pastor!  Dave Schirmer is full of love and teaches the kiddos messages of grace, constantly and emphatically emphasizing God's love for mankind, including the kids!
  6. No, we don't have a dynamic, entertaining worship team and band.  However, our worship leader, Kris Schirmer, does a very impressive job of finding the right recorded music to enhance our church's focus on grace.  You will not sing songs declaring how bad you are.  Instead, the core thought is on all of God's love released through all that Christ did on His cross.
  7. A body who ministers.... We don't have just a few people pray and minister to others during our services.  Instead, we allow the Holy Spirit to work in other members, thus allowing them to minister to the needs of others in attendance. 
  8. There is a lot of love floating around in our church!  There are no words that can describe this, so I won't even try.  This is something that you just have to experience!
  9. No rules and regulations!  In our church you won't be told what not to do.  Instead, you will be told a lot about Jesus.  We trust that He can lead us in what not to do and in what to do!
  10. Fun!  We are a church that has a lot of fun.  We laugh and laugh together.  Usually some of us go out to eat after the service.  This fellowship is awesome and all are invited!  Sometimes I come home with a sore side from all of the laughing I do during lunch.Well, these are some of the reasons why I feel that our church is a good one to attend.  Now, if you are pretty religious, you won't be happy with our group.  If you feel that you have to repent of your sins all of the time for fear of loosing your salvation, you better stay away!  I think you get the point!  Anyway, thanks for letting share my thoughts with you today.  My thought are about what I feel is really the most dynamic church in Citrus County!  Glory!Grace and peace!

It's the Message....Just the Message!

The other day I posted a Blog entitled, "How to Choose the Right Church!" That post seemed to get a lot of attention.  This morning I was thinking more on the subject and felt to share some of my heart on it.

In the past post, I mentioned that there are usually several reasons why people choose the church that they do.  Among them was, "dynamic youth group, dynamic worship, large in numbers, many family and friends attend, etc."  Most likely you could add many other reasons to the list.  Here's one I thought of this morning, "My pastor is a dynamic speaker!"  I have to chuckle some at this one as I've never considered myself a "dynamic speaker!"  And, now, due to last year's cancer surgery in my neck and mouth I often have a difficult time just speaking, let alone being "dynamic" about it!  To me, I sound like a person trying to talk with a mouth full of marbles.  I'm glad that people in our church say that they have no problem understanding me, but to me speaking is a very tedious chore!  So, these days, I'm anything but a dynamic speaker!

The core to the past post was, that no matter how large the church is, no matter how dynamic the worship is, no matter how exciting the youth group is or no matter how gifted the pastor is, if the message of the church is wrong, then the church is wrong!  I know that many don't have the slightest idea about what I'm talk about here.  That to me is the saddest thing of all! 

Do you realize that in the days of the Early Church, over 2000 years ago, there was only one message.  It wasn't a mixed message of law and grace, it was totally grace only!  In it's formation days, the Church of the day was headed down the road into law and legalism.  James and Peter's vision was pretty much to see the Church follow Jewish traditions, including the Law and just add Christ to the mix.  At the same time, Paul was in Arabia for three years, receiving revelations from Christ Himself, learning the fullness of His finished works, in the New Covenant.  Paul later brought those revelations back to Jerusalem and shared them with the Brethren.  Thankfully, they received Paul's teaching and realized it was of God.  The Church of the day, reached out to the Gentiles, bringing them freedom outside of the Jewish Law.  A good read on the subject is the Book of Galatians.

Now, in the Day, there were no large church buildings, no dynamic youth groups, no dynamic speakers, there was only the message of God's love and Christ's free gift of grace to all of mankind!  You see, back then it was "It's the message...just the message!"

I trust that you can grasp some understanding on this today.  At least I trust the Holy Spirit will plant a bug of hunger within you, giving you the desire to seek the fullness of the transformed life found only within New Covenant Grace!

Grace and peace!


Grace is Easy and That is the Problem!

In my thinking here are the three best books around that expound the simplicity of basic New Covenant Grace:

3 good books

They are: Destined to Reign by Joseph Prince (www.josephprince.com), God's Brilliant Plan: Searching for the Easy and Light Life Jesus Promised by Mark Drake (www.markdrake.org) and The River is Here: My Journey Into New Covenant Grace by Yours Truly (www.larrysilverman.com).  All three of these books are of great value to anyone searching for the greatness that only New Covenant Grace allows.

Mark Drake's subtitle is: Searching For the Easy and Light Life Jesus Promised.  I love that subtitle and I use it lots.  I've told Mark that I've stolen it from him and he has given me complete permission as his only desire is to spread "the message!"  That subtitle says it all. So many Christians are encumbered by performance based religion that they completely miss out on the rest that is only found in the Gospel of Grace.  On a wall of our church sanctuary, New Covenant Grace Fellowship located in Inverness, Florida, we have this posted, "He is the Vine, we are the branches...so rest!"  You see, that message is the message of rest that Jesus provides those who understand His finished works.  Instead of praying more, attending church more, tithing more, fasting more, worshiping more, etc., etc., we rest in Him!

Yes, the true Gospel of Jesus Christ affords an "easy and light life" to all who adhere to Him.  And ....that seems to be the rub!  Some are so works oriented that it is impossible for them to rest in God.  After all we all know that if it seems too be good to be true it isn't true!  Well, the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is simple.  Yes, it seems too good to be true...but it IS TRUE!  

In the early days of our basic understanding of Grace my wife and I would spend hours with our Bibles discussing the earth-shaking things that the Holy Spirit was showing us.  The revelations came so quickly to us that we were actually overwhelmed them.  "This is impossible!" we'd say as another door of revelation would open to us.  But it was there...all in the Bibles that we've read and studied from and even preached from for years.  The simple truth was there!  Instead of rejecting it as many do, we embraced it in every way we could.  As a result our lives were transformed.  We are closer to God than ever before.  Our marriage is stronger than ever before.  We are tempted to do bad things, but now find a new inner power to resist them.  Our thoughts are purer and more positive and we are watching the same things happen to those who have followed our journey.  So...if this is a bad thing, then just leave me alone.  Just let me stay there, enjoying the rest that God, through Jesus Christ has provided us!

I hope you have a chance to read the books mentioned above.  Read them with an open heart.  If you see something you disagree with, don't reject it but put it on the shelf.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if its truth or not.  He will!  Glory!

Grace and peace!

 


How to Choose the Right Church!

OK, for the sake of transparency and honesty, I wish to state in the beginning, that most likely I am the pastor of the smallest church in Citrus County, Florida!  Well, maybe there are a few smaller, but sometimes I think that ours wins that title!  If everyone that considers our church their home would show up the same time on any given Sunday morning, we'd probably have about 50 people.  Our church is new, only about four years old.  We had a larger ministry but when we began to come into revelations of New Covenant Grace, we felt to close that old ministry and walk away from the past and plant a new ministry, based entirely on the concepts of God's New Covenant.  We actually named our church, New Covenant Grace Fellowship, and have dedicated our ministry to fully proclaiming the finished works of Jesus Christ to our region. 

I, and most of our congregation are thrilled about what is going on within our church.  Yet, we would love to see our congregation grow to be much larger.  My vision would be to see hundreds of people within our county embracing the "Grace Message" (for lack of better words) and actually plant new groups all over the state.  Yet, it seems to be so difficult to expand to the degree that we would like to see happen, probably for many reasons.  Any pastor of a small church faces the same issues...HOW IN THE WORLD DO YOU GROW WHEN PEOPLE JUST WON'T GIVE YOU A CHANCE???

People in America "shop" for a church just like they do for hamburgs, TV sets, new cars and homes, etc. In other words, "I want it my way!"  I have been told, over the years, many times, "If your church had a dynamic youth group we'd bring our family!"  Do you know that I have never been told, "I feel God wants me to help you create a dynamic youth group!"  Some people "church shop" by driving around Sunday mornings counting the cars in the parking lots of area churches.  If it is large, then it must be good!  Some actually think that by attending a small church, that they will have to "pony up" to more obligation and responsibility.  Many believe that small churches are so desperate for money that to be involved will be very costly. Some people are attracted to "awesome worship!"  Years ago, while we traveled in ministry, I recall bill boards posted all over a large California city, proclaiming, "Come worship the Lord with Bro. _____!"  This guy was a famous Christian recording artist and had aligned himself with a large, area church.  The word was the people flocked to this church on Sundays to participate with this guy leading worship.  I've often wondered where the division between worship and entertainment ends?  I suppose I could add many other reasons why people today pick the churches that they attend.  Oh...here is one more big one:  "All of my friends and family attend that church!"  OK..I'll end my list of reasons here!

I also wonder if all of the above reasons (and others not mentioned) are sufficient or essential?  For instance, you can attend a church with the most awesome worship, one where all of your friends attend as well, a place where the youth programs are just professional and off the charts, and your children are taught that they have to do tons of things, in order to measure up, in order for God to be pleased with them and you, my friend, have just totally blown it!  You have subjected your family to a mixed message of law and grace, and have totally frustrated the true Gospel of Jesus Christ!  Not good! 

Years ago, Corinne was involved in picking out new Sunday School curriculum for our church.  She ordered sample packs from several of the large, popular, Christian publishing companies.  One of the most popular companies sent her samples.  In one we read these exact words, I'll never forget them, "It is so important for you children to obey your parents, your teachers, your church leaders, so that God will be pleased with you and bless you!"  Friends...    THIS IS A LIE!  God is pleased with your children, not because of what they do or don't do, but because of what Christ did on His cross!  Yet, churches, large and small, all over America were using this junk to teach their children false doctrine!  Who cares how "dynamic" the youth ministry is, how much fun the kids have in Jr. Church, etc., if what they are being taught will mess them up the rest of their lives!!!

So, how should you find a church for your family? By it's size, it's programs, it's worship, etc., or by the message it teaches?  If the message centers upon all the things that you should do or not be doing to be pleasing to God, example;  pray more, worship more, give more money, fast more, live more holy, etc., etc., etc., then you should be running for the door as that church will mess you up for the rest of your life!  If on the other hand, your church proclaims that Christ has made you holy and righteous, that His works have been finished, and that there is nothing more that you can do to become what, in fact, you already are, then you must be in the right place, no mater if the congregation is 10 or 10,000!

In closing, please read:

Galatians 5:1-4New Living Translation (NLT)

Freedom in Christ

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.


Thinking Outloud!

Blogging has its good points as well as its bad points.  It is good that I can share my heart with anyone interesting in reading my words, on social media.  However, it can also be bad that anyone can read my heart's thoughts on social media and use my words to misunderstand me.  So, this morning, getting prepared to leave for our church service, I was thinking....a dangerous thing!

I was thinking that for my entire ministry I have spent most of my time swimming upstream!  I always seem to swim against the status quo.  I don't do this on purpose, because, in all honesty, I'd much rather swim down the stream with everyone else.  I know that my life would have been much simpler had I chosen to go with the current instead of against it.  Who knows, by now I might be retired, with a cushy retirement package from some large church somewhere?  Maybe, just maybe, that might be the case!  But, no...not me!  I constantly see things that the majority cannot seem to see or comprehend.

Here is an example:  Several years ago, Corinne and I began to read our Bibles from an entirely new point of view, one that we had never seen before.  Instead of understanding that we as Christians must do a lot of things to please God, we saw that He is already pleased with us because of what Christ did on the cross.  Now, this is just scratching the surface as our Bibles became entirely new books!  Those words were already there, but we had never seen them, or understood them properly before.  I thought that the people of our church would really be excited about what we began teaching them.  Many were and their lives, like ours, were completely transformed.  Yet, there were others that thought that we had lost our minds and left our church, many shouting, "heretics" loudly while leaving.  Talk about hurt!  Here we were sharing such good news and not only was our message shot down, but we were personally shot down as well. 

I have something burning within me that can transform the world, at least I wish to reach our county with it, but it seems that most wish to swim down the river of religion instead of taking a little effort, and swim upstream into God's grace and freedom.  I continue to scratch my head in not understanding this!

However, I will never go back to the old ways!  I'm preaching on Psalm 51 this morning.  You know the one, where David cries out to God, "Create in me a clean heart, Oh Lord, etc."   That's religion's cry while they swim on down the stream.  Not me though...I'm swimming up that river, crying out...THANK YOU LORD, FOR YOU HAVE CREATED WITHIN ME A CLEAN HEART!"

That's my story and I'm sticking with it! 

Grace and peace upon you, this Sunday morning!