What Good Is Seminary?

What good is seminary?

As a devout Christian, after graduating with my Master’s Degree in Christian Studies from a theological seminary (and by the grace of God with a 4.0 GPA), I feel I am adequately equipped to answer this question.

Some believe that seminary is where to go if one wants to become a “professional Christian”. They believe that to go to the next level of belief and faith in God, that one should go to theological seminary or to bible college. They believe that one cannot know all there is to know about God, the church, and the Holy Bible without going to seminary.

The university from which I matriculated had four levels of seminary. There was an Associates, Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate program. Some might feel that until one attains the highest level of seminary that one is not a good enough, or well-equipped for ministry Christian. I will tell my opinion about that towards the end of this blog post after I tell a few benefits that come from attending seminary.

For starters, if you hope to be a bible teacher one day, it helps to be taught by others who have spent a lifetime of studying the Bible. Some people spend their entire adult life studying the Old Testament or the New Testament or even just one book of the Bible. Therefore, if you want to teach others about the Bible at your church, it would prove beneficial to be taught by this particular person.

Some people feel as if Bible study is unnecessary. They feel that the Holy Spirit Himself can teach them all they need to know about the Bible. That is true. The Holy Spirit can teach you whatever God wants you to know. But the reality is that because of our strong traditions that come from our church or denomination or family, we will always FILTER God’s truth through mankind’s teaching. And much of that teaching might be faulty. It is hard to drink purified water through a dirty glass. Sometimes, seminary can clean the glass so that you can rightfully receive what God is telling you about the Bible.

For example, many Christian partake of the Daniel Diet. This is the diet that we read about in the book of Daniel wherein Daniel only ate particular foods and did not eat the Babylonian food that was offered to him. Today, for ten days many Christians will refrain from eating meat and sweets as a way to get closer to God. BUT seminary can teach you that many of the foods we eat in America were not even around in Babylon, so if we were hoping to eat just like Daniel, then would not be doing exactly as he did. Also, Daniel’s purpose for eating those particular foods was not to get closer to God, but rather it was to avoid eating the unclean food being offered to him by the Babylonians. The Israelites only ate Kosher clean food, and because Daniel was a Hebrew, he could not in good conscience eat their food. And Daniel did not only eat the right food for 10 days as we do, but he ate that way his entire life. But because we are not Hebrews in Babylonian exile, we should not feel bad that we cannot do the Daniel Diet as Daniel did because we should only be trying to grasp the principle of the matter which is to hold fast to one’s convictions even under dire circumstances. These are things one might only learn in seminary. Do you see how your information determines your actions?

Another important function of seminary is when one is confronted with false doctrine. My seminary professor of Church History 1 taught us many of the false doctrines/heresies that were condemned in Councils by the Orthodox church in the first few centuries of church history. So when a friend invites me to their church or tries to convince me to believe in some false doctrine, I can automatically dismiss it because I know it as being closely related to a condemned teaching that has returned in the last one hundred years or so to deceive others. Theological seminary can be helpful in recognizing and rejecting false teaching.

I have also found theological seminary to be very helpful in me worshipping God in TRUTH. Believe it or not, but your theology will affect your praise and worship. For example, if you think of God as some cosmic Joe Jackson who is scrutinizing your performance waiting with a celestial whip with which to cast you into hell at the slightest mistake you make, it will greatly impact your relationship with Him. If you think of God as the deists who believe that God simply created all humanity and then left it alone to its own devices without any interference, then it will greatly impact your prayer life. But if you know God’s true character which is a Heavenly Father who loves you unconditionally and who chastises those whom He loves as sons, then you will have a better relationship with Him and therefore worship Him in truth. Seminary has theology classes that teach you accurately about God and His nature.

One last thing I’ll mention about the importance of seminary is that it tells you not simply WHAT the Bible says but HOW to read the Bible. We know that many a cult is begun by one charismatic leader telling an ignorant congregation EXACTLY what to think and believe. But this is uncommon in seminary. I attended a seminary that had students and teachers of different denominational backgrounds, and we were not always told WHAT to believe, but we were told HOW to read the Bible. The problem with the 33,000 – 38,000 Christian denominations is that most of them attempt to tell their members WHAT to believe. And doubtless they are being told what to believe by one imperfect human being. So whatever that one imperfect person teaches them is now believed by them and taught to their children. If the originator of the teaching was wrong, then everyone who believes everything he says is wrong too. And that is how cults get started. For example, one might teach their congregation that women must wear stockings and closed-toe shoes. Even though this is not in the Bible, it will be passed down to all generations as the truth. However, it is not true, but merely tradition and preference. Seminary will help one to see whether or not a tradition is actually and accurately based on a Bible verse or principle.

The Bible tells us to RIGHTLY divide the word of truth. It does not tell us to blindly swallow whatever we are told. And seminary has taught me that. I have learned to prayerfully read the Scriptures with illumination from the Holy Spirit; I have long ago ceased to accept everything I am told even though I know the Bible says the opposite or otherwise. Seminary has not made me a better Christian or a more godly person, but it has cleared my mind of the traditions of men that are not rooted in the Bible so that I might be more clearly influenced by the truth of God. If nothing else, seminary can serve as type of detox for tradition clutter.

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A High Failure Rate for the Time-Honored Altar Call?

“The proclamation of grace has its limits. Grace may not be proclaimed to anyone who does recognize or distinguish or desire it…The world upon whom grace is thrust as a bargain will grow tired of it, and will not only trample upon the Holy, but also will tear apart those who force it on them.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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If you’ve been raised in the American church any length of time, you’ve heard of or experienced the traditional and time-honored “Altar Call”. This is a call that is administered typically at the close of a church service after the sermon and before the offering. This call is a petition – a beckoning if you would – of the lost souls in the church to come down the aisle and to stand at the altar to do business with God.

In the church settings in which I was raised, one would seldom do just one altar call in their life. If you were like me, my cousins, and my  sisters when we were young, we went to the altar to get saved just about every few weeks. Guess it was like a bad perm – it didn’t take the first time. But yet in spite of the fact that it may not be sufficient to save you once and for all, altar calls are very popular and expedient. But are they EFFECTIVE? Do the people who respond to altar calls “STAY saved”?

Usually it is people of Pentecostal, Charismatic churches who have repeat offenders respond to the altar call. But what do we know about the origins of it? Who executed the first altar call? Believe it or not, It wasn’t done in the New Testament; it was first done by a man by the name of a Methodist evangelist named Charles G. Finney in the early 1800’s. He was the first to ask people to come forward to the pulpit – as well as the first to refer to his services as “revivals”. He also popularized the after meetings and the spontaneity style of preaching in young pastors.

Many will admit that gospel presentations have become more diluted and brief over the years. The appeal may be just as urgent, but the message is not as detailed. In other words, instead of telling people who would come to the altar the extent to which their lives much change if they so choose to follow Christ, evangelists sometimes give a brief one-minute review to save time. But is this time-saving technique the reason for so many false converts?

Billy Graham is well-known for his altar calls of old. He would ask people to come to Christ at his huge evangelistic meetings, and over the time of his ministry doubtless thousands have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Right?

While doing a research paper and reading the book, “The American Church Experience” by Thomas A. Askew and Richard V. Pierard, I stumbled upon an interesting paragraph. Referring to another evangelist – not Billy Graham – it said, “In a series of meetings held in Boston in 1906, he is said to have won 2,550 “decisions” for Christ. By then it was customary to judge a revivalist’s success by the number of “decision cards” turned in during a campaign.” Wow. That’s pretty interesting. So it was common for evangelists/revivalists/soulwinners to tally up the decisions for Christ? So, could it be that if it was seen as a competition for some, that perhaps some might do anything for a response just to get their tallies up?

I believe it is important to see how the altar call MIGHT have been created from a biblical idea. Perhaps verses such as “behold, I stand at the door and knock” gives one to think that we must knock on the door of someone’s heart by giving an appeal to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Perhaps the verse “The day you hear His voice, harden not your heart” gives one to think that it is the job of the evangelist to make sure sinners hear God’s voice and to encourage them to respond to an altar call. But what has history shown about the effectiveness of altar calls? Do they “work”? Is the proof in the pudding? Let’s look to none other than the founder himself. What had he to say about the effectiveness of the altar calls he made during his ministry?

Charles Finney, at the end of his life, rejected the fruits of his altar calls. He said, “I was often instrumental in bringing Christians under great conviction and into a state of temporary repentance and faith. But falling short of urging them up to a point where they would become so acquainted with Christ as to abide in him they would of course soon relax to their former state.”

Wow! Really? Did the founder of altar calls turn his back on his own “invention”? And could we have we worked out the kinks yet from the first model?

(Side Note: Now I do understand that this could taken at the risk of making the logical fallacy known as genetic fallacy. This fallacy is a line of reasoning that concludes that if there is a defect in the origin of a thing or claim, then that should be used to discredit the claim or thing. In other words, someone might argue, “Just because the founder of altar calls realized that HIS altar calls were ineffective, that does not have to mean that all altar calls done by any person after him are also ineffective.” This is similar to the ad hominem fallacy that would reason that if Charles was ineffective then anything he did was effective.)

One of his contemporaries (a man who worked alongside him in ministry) said, “During 10 years, hundreds and perhaps thousands were annually reported to be converted on all hands. But now it is admitted that Finney’s real converts are comparatively few. It is declared even by himself that the great body of them are a disgrace to religion. As a consequence of these defections, Practical evils, great terrible and innumerable are in various quarters rushing in on the church.”

Wow! Another quote that speaks disparagingly of altar calls due to their dastard results of false converts. His contemporary seems to imply that in spite of the joy of reporting the number of decisions for Christ, evidence is apparent that only a few of those great many were actually converted. And of the false converts, they have remained in the church wreaking havoc as lost souls would be expected to do.

A letter was written to Finney by another co-labourer in 1834 stating – “Let us now look over the fields where you, and others, and myself have labored as rival ministers. And what is now their moral state? What was their state within 3 months after we left them? I have visited and revisited many of these fields and have groaned in spirit to see the sad, frigid, carnal, contentious state into which the churches have fallen – and fallen very soon after our first departure from among them.”

Yet another quote of dismay about the altar calls’ effectiveness. Seems as if after weeks or even a few months of someone walking down the altar to “get saved”, they become as dogs returning to their own vomit and pigs returning to the mire. The Bible says it is better to have never known Christ than to know Him and then to turn one’s back on Him. Is this what altar calls have been doing? Leaving people in a worse state than they were in when they first came? This man is not just hypothesizing; he actually went to visit the converts. And they were not any better and were probably left worse. Let’s look at one more quote:

B. B. Warfield said of Asia Mayhem long-time friend of Charles Finney: “That everyone who was concerned in these revivals suffered a sad, subsequent lapse. The people were left like a dead coal which could not be reignited. The pastors were shorn of all their spiritual power And the evangelists among them all and I was nearly personally acquainted I cannot recall a single man who did not after a few years lose his unction and become equally disqualified for the office of evangelist and that of pastor. Thus the great western revival ran out into disaster over and over again. When he proposed to revisit one of the churches delegations were sent him or other means used to prevent what was thought of as affliction. Even after a generation had passed by (Warfield notes) these burnt children had no liking for the fire.”

I heard of an interesting metaphor that reminds me so much of this quote. It was by one of my favorite preachers, the late Dr. Adrian Rodgers. He said that when someone first hears the gospel, they are on fire like dry wood. They blaze bright! If you have heard the gospel the second time, you’ll still catch fire, but you won’t be as bright because some of the wood is already been burnt. On the third try, they’ll flicker like and ember, but no flame. But after a few more times, their heart will be hardened like a charred piece of wood or coal. It will no longer light or even flicker. And that is what this man says of the great revivals of that period. They left it impossible for someone to be relit. Here’s one more quote:

“…involving a high rate of apostatizing (90+% according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association). So that means that out of the thousands of people who came to the altar at a Billy Graham crusade, only a few were saved or stayed saved?

Seems to me that the turnover rate was very high. I would even call it a recidivism rate. Many of these sinners spent a little time in reform only to return back to a life of sin. It turns out that even in the very beginning of the altar call practice, the altar call was not very effective. I wonder why. I think there are a few reasons the altar call has not been effective:

  1. It is not biblical. Evangelists did not ask people to come forward in a synagogue to repeat a sinner’s prayer. And because God did not sanction altar calls, He is not obligated to move during them or to cement what is done during them.
  2. It is not detailed enough. These evangelists only give a very brief summary of Jesus and salvation. If it was more detailed, 99% of the people coming up would have stayed seated or sat back down instead of repeating the prayer and becoming false converts. The way is narrow and hard, and most people are not interested in living as God commands.
  3. There is not enough being done to disciple these “converts”. Many of them will leave that church after saying the sinner’s prayer and will not return for follow-up. After birthing a new believer, he must then be raised up by discipleship. A baby left to his own defenses will be a casualty in no time.
  4. Salvation comes by the faith in the saving work of Jesus – not in walking down an aisle and reciting a 12-second prayer. If you really believe the gospel in its entirety, you do not have to repeat a prayer that was made up less than 200 hundreds years ago. The people in the early church did not have to recite a prayer before all. They just knew in their hearts that the gospel message they heard was true. And there are people reciting the sinners’ prayer who do not believe the entire gospel so they will not be saved regardless of what they recite.
  5. Many altar calls as used for bragging rights to show off how many people responded to one’s impressive preaching style or fire and brimstone, fear techniques. This means that the main concern is not the work or move of God, but the work of man. As Finney said himself:

“Salvation is the work of man.”

So how did the early church of the New Testament lead people to Christ? Was it a quick introduction to Jesus Christ? Was it done at a pulpit with emotional music? Let’s look at one of my favorite examples in the book of Acts which gives great insight about how to bring souls in to the Kingdom and the church. There are MANY other examples, but for the sake of time and length, I’ll just post one passage. But I am working on another post with the other examples.

Acts 2:37 NOW when they HEARD THIS they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what SHALL WE DO?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized EVERY ONE OF YOU in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our GOD CALLS to himself.” 40 And WITH MANY OTHER WORDS he bore witness and CONTINUED TO EXHORT them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who RECEIVED HIS WORD were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.42 And they DEVOTED themselves to the apostles’ TEACHING and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the PRAYERS.

In Acts 2, we hear that only when people HEAR the Word of God, only then will they be convicted enough to ask what they must do in response to God’s Word. We also hear that it is necessary that God FIRST call them to Himself. You don’t come to Him on your own. You don’t initiate; you only respond. And this is what I like most about this passage that I think many preachers leave out in their evangelistic appeals. Verse 40 says, WITH MANY OTHER WORDS they witnessed about Jesus. They didn’t do a one-time, hitter-quitter altar call. They spoke plenty about Jesus’ identity and work and also CONTINUED to exhort them about saving themselves from the lost. We see that ONLY after receiving the word of the preacher did they become baptized and added to the heavenly roster. And those who did believe, repent, and get baptized didn’t just get bored and walk away after a few weekends. They DEVOTED themselves to the teaching and fellowship and prayers! It wasn’t a quick decision that as we say, “Will only take a minute.” Not only will it not just take a minute, IT’LL TAKE YOUR WHOLE LIFE! Your whole eternity even! We try to rush through the altar call as if we’re impinging upon the rest of the sinner’s Sunday plans. But the truth of the matter is this: If they don’t want God impinging upon their Sunday dinner plans, they’ll not be pleased with the fact that He’s about to hijack their whole life! If they’re too busy to spend a couple of hours discussing the One who they approached the altar to give their souls to, then they obviously do not have the desire to spend the rest of their life serving them. And you cannot have a full relationship with someone in five minutes. Let those in a hurry forget about it; you’re wasting their time, and they’re wasting yours. And like any other healthy relationship, you have to be DEVOTED,  have FELLOWSHIP, and COMMUNICATE with the person you are in relationship with. Nowadays, we seem to just tell people that they just have to recite some words and their relationship can never be broken. FALSE. Relationships MUST be maintained. You can’t have a relationship like that.

In closing, I am not against altar calls per se. I am a “product” of several of them. But I believe something must be made clear. 1. If you believe the gospel and fully intend to respond as God requires to it, then you are already saved without repeating the sinner’s prayer.

2. You must know that it does not stop here; it’ll take a lifetime of obedience and self-sacrifice and faith in Christ.

3. Do not think that the reciting of a few sentences made you born again. The most it can do is testify to the fact that you already are.

4. Because time does not permit the evangelist painting the picture of the entire gospel story, please make sure to get an understanding of the entire picture because you might not even want to become a Christian once you hear all that it entails. (Remember the story of the rich man who was unwilling to sell all he had to follow Jesus?)

This is a YouTube video link to the quotes I used:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U49RyyHVmXQ

“A truly evangelical sermon must be like offering a child a fine, red apple or offering a thirsty man a cool glass of water and then staying: ‘Do you want it?’ We must be able to speak about our faith so that hands will be stretched out toward us faster than we can fill them.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Afraid to Take Communion After a Sinful Week?

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1 Corinthians 11:17 – But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not….27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself….33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

Ever been to a church service where communion was being observed? And before they administer it, they ask for a moment of silence for everyone to do some serious self-reflection to check whether or not they are worthy of taking communion. By communion they mean drinking a tiny cup of grape juice and eating a small, square wafer. If you don’t feel particularly saved that day, you pass on taking communion. For example, if you were drunk and turned all the way up at a party just the night before, you would not take communion. If you had premarital sex within the last week, you would likely not take communion. You decided that because you did a visible, more intense sin, then you are unworthy to take communion.

Is that what we read in the above verses of 1 Corinthians 11? In the verses I selected, we see that Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth about a problem that he has heard about and/or observed during their communion times. But let’s get the facts. These people were not being chastised by Apostle Paul because they were arranged in lines taking turns drinking grape juice and eating small crackers. They did not have preset amounts of juice and precut unleavened bread. What we now observe as communion was at that time more known as a “love feast” which we hear briefly mentioned in Jude 1:12 – “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves…”

How they did communion at that time is that it was more like a potluck. The believers who could would bring a dish or meal to the designated location. And they would fellowship and eat. As Jude says, it was a feast. And we know that a small vial of juice and a small wafer is far from feasting. Paul says that when they meet for communion, it’s not for better but for worse because for one, there are divisions among them which actually can be helpful in that it distinguishes the trifling people from the genuine people. Paul then goes into detail about why he is scolding them; he is scolding them in this letter because they are not eating to the glory of God in love for their fellow saints. Paul says that 1. There are divisions/factions within this church. 2. Some people begin eating before everyone arrives at the feast to eat which leaves the latecomers hungry. 4. The early eaters (and drinkers) are drunk! 5. The early comers humiliate those who are late (which might have been because they lived further away from the meeting place); and because Paul said the humiliated people are also the people who have nothing, it implies that the late comers are hungry also because they could not afford to bring food to the potluck (or else they would not have been hungry no matter how late they came).

In other words, they are not discerning the body. Body could simply mean the symbol of Jesus’ body – wine to symbolize His blood and unleavened bread to symbolize Jesus’ “leaven-less” (sinless) flesh.

1 Corinthians 10:16 – The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

Or it could mean the body of Christ which is the church as we read that Paul wrote in these three verses.

1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Ephesians 5:23– For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

Colossians 1:24 – Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ‘s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

Or it could mean both.

But clearly, if we read this passage, we see that Paul is disappointed in how the early comers and those who could afford to bring food would eat without regard for whether or not the late comers or poor people would have something to eat. He says that they are not coming together for the Lord’s supper because everyone in the body isn’t even there to eat! They did not discern the body of Christ in that they showed no concern or respect for Christ body of believers. And I would add that it was disrespectful to act gluttonous and to be a drunkard with something that symbolized such a precious person as Jesus Christ. (Apparently, there was wine at these feasts.) But how dare you drink up all the wine and eat up all the food. Paul asks a rhetorical question about whether or not they had houses to eat and drink in. It wasn’t that they couldn’t fill up, it’s just that they filled up at the expense of the other Christians who were en route to the supper. If you were so hungry, you should have gotten a snack at the house! Again, we do not have these problems at most of our churches because we have a prepackaged amount that is the same for everyone whether or not you are the first or the last person to participate in communion. So we don’t have to worry about gobbling up all the crackers and guzzling down all the juice. So since these conditions aren’t possible in our church settings of today, how can we make the principles apply in our context?

I would say that we should beware of how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters before we take communion. Sure, you might not have eaten their share of the communion, but in what other ways have you not been discerning of the Lord’s body. How have you treated your brothers and sisters at your church? We tend to think of those “more intense” and visible sins such as partying and sleeping around when we “examine” ourselves. But Paul here is talking about examining ourselves in how we treat our brothers and sisters. Maybe you weren’t at a party the night before. And maybe you didn’t lie on a test. And maybe you didn’t fornicate earlier that weekend. But did you put division between you and another church member? Did you humiliate them because they came to church late? Did you make them feel ashamed because they had less to give than you? Did you see yourself as better than them because you are richer? I believe that in this passage, THOSE are the things Paul wants us to examine ourselves concerning. Of course, if you are backslidden or reprobate for whatever reason, perhaps you should make matters right before you partake of Christ’s body symbols (whether or not your sin had something to do with mistreating a brother or sister in Christ), but just make sure you read what PAUL is saying in this passage and not missing the main point.

(By the way, I asked a couple of my seminary professors about this topic, and they said that they do not see that this passage is saying that a person who sinned that week(end) couldn’t participate in the feast.) 🙂

Is Your Pastor More of a Shepherd or a Zookeeper?

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Acts: 2:36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…47…And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Seems like the order here for church membership is 1. Knowing for certain that God made Jesus Lord and Christ. 2. Asking a believer what your response should be. 3. Repent. 4. Be baptized. 5. Receive the Holy Spirit. 6. Be added to the church after being saved according to the LORD’S recognizing you as being saved.

At a supervisor’s meetings several months ago, my pastor said something very interesting. He said it was his job to pastor sheep, but instead, he’s been feeling like he’s supposed to be a zookeeper. How profound! The Bible often uses shepherding terminology when referring to God’s people. So the pastor is supposed to shepherd the sheep of his pasture. But instead of him tending to docile sheep, pastors lately appear to be shepherding a bunch of wild animals! Must be hard! Especially since we know that pastors are not qualified to keep zoo animals.

But WHY are all these zebras, lions, giraffes, apes, snakes, and etc. found in churches so much nowadays? Sure, the churches of the New Testament contained their share of a wild one, but it was not characteristic of the church to be FULL of them to the point that they outnumbered the sheep!

I hadn’t thought of the reason why until one of my seminary professors talked about the topic. The truth was so common sense, but it was so unlike how I had been raised to believe. So it was shocking to me when I first heard what he had to say about people joining churches. A few of my seminarian classmates disagreed, but what my professor said made so much sense. He said that at his church, they did not extend the “right hand of fellowship” to just any ole’ body.

WHAT?!

You mean to tell me that if at a Sunday morning service someone were to walk down the corridor and ask to join the church that you would turn them away? Sounds pretty harsh, wouldn’t you agree? But that harsh response would actually be the most appropriate response. Why on earth would you grant a total stranger total access to all the precious members of your church? Why would you allow a person you know absolutely nothing about to be considered a member who is allowed to join whichever ministry or auxiliary s/he chooses so that they can unleash whatever they please?

Would you employ this method of giving a stranger access to your home? To your job? To your car? To your children? To your husband? Wouldn’t you want to at least know an adequate amount of information about a person before you give them the keys to your apartment or vehicle? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the lady you just hired as your babysitter or the teen you just hired as your dog sitter? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the sexy lady your husband is considering hiring as his secretary? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the roommate you chose from Craigslist? Most certainly!

However, we are much more lax about who we let join our churches. We figure, “I caught them, and I’ll let God skin them!” (Thinking of them as fish.) We figure that regardless of who or what they are, if we get them to come to biweekly services, that God will fix whatever issues they have. Unfortunately, God has not promised us that in His word. He did not say to let any and every one who walks down the aisle and who fills out a membership form with their name, address, email, phone number, etc. and that He will some day make them sheep regardless of whatever kind of snake, wolf, or dog they came in as.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely know that God can change a person’s nature. He changed mine! But what I am saying is that we should take some time to see who we are granting access to in our churches. Be careful not to be letting a lifelong pedophile to join the children’s ministry. Be careful not to let an undelivered homosexual, adulterer, whoremonger sign-up to do independent counseling for people struggling with the same issues. Be mindful not to let a liar and a thief work in the finance department. I don’t care how full of tears their eyes are when they come to join the church, GIVE THEM TIME TO SHOW WHO THEY REALLY ARE! Because after the tears dry, their true nature will come out and wreak havoc in your church.

Remember the order of being BIBLICALLY saved according to this passage in Acts 2. It didn’t say 1. Here a vague, incomplete mention of Jesus. 2. Agree that as your grandmother said, you ought to be going to church regularly. 3. Go the altar to publically acknowledge you are joining the church for whatever reason. 4. Fill out the church’s paperwork. Now if you already KNOW the person who is coming up to join, that’s fine because they know what your church is about and what your church is against, so they will have no surprises and neither will you. But if you let a stranger join, they will have joined prematurely only to regret it because they know nothing of your church’s practices or doctrines. And they on week three of being a member, they are upset because they don’t believe women should have to wear dresses or that men can’t marry other men or that they have to give 10% of their paycheck to your church. Let them go to your church’s orientation first so that they can make sure that this is the fellowship they want to join.

I notice in the Acts 2 order that God did not add any to their group any who were not saved. Any who did not show evidence of belief. But even this detailed account does not give enough information about the significance of what occurred the day of Pentecost. There were many Jews who traveled back to Jerusalem for the holy day/holiday known as Pentecost. They had come from many different nations. And when they arrived, they encountered this Christian sect of about 120 members. And they overheard Galileans speaking in their 17 different languages. They were amazed. So they were all ears when their “main guy” began to preach about Jesus Christ. And they were so impressed that 3,000 believed that the same Jesus that the Jews had crucified was in fact the Messiah about whom the Old Testament had prophesied. So they asked what should they do in appropriate response. Let’s revisit the passage to see if he gave them a brief, incomplete gospel message or an adequate amount of information to prove to them that Jesus was indeed the Christ:

Here are a few observations I gleaned from these passages about church membership/qualifications: 1. It must be based on a true, biblical belief in Jesus Christ. If your view of Jesus or gospel of Jesus is not biblically sound, then it cannot save anybody, let alone put them into God’s true church. 2. This biblical gospel will lead to conviction in one’s heart. It cannot just be head knowledge; it must be acknowledged in one’s heart of hearts which only the Holy Spirit can do because only He can convict. 3. This heart conviction will inevitably lead to an immediate response of asking what one should do which the answer is repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit because the Lord has indeed called them to Himself. 4. Once that happens, one should – as Peter did – “with MANY other words bore witness and CONTINUED to exhort them”. This says to me that we should not give some perfunctory introduction to Jesus and expect people to truly understand what they should know because they commit the rest of their lives and indeed their eternities to Him. 5. Once and only after the words of the gospel are received should the listener be baptized because baptism represents a public acknowledgment of a personal belief and transaction with God. Because first a personal transaction has occurred (conversion of one’s soul), then a person can be considered as being a member of Christ’s body, the church. AFTERWARDS, these persons should be devoting themselves to the apostles’ teachings and fellowship with the other true believers. And as verse 47 says, people were only being added to their number as they were saved (and might I add BIBLICALLY saved).

Enough is enough! We ought to stop granting people membership in our churches just to get them on the roster so that we can brag to other churches about how many hundreds of members we have. So what if you have the fewest members of your friends’ churches? I’d rather have 200 sheep than 1,000 wolves in sheep’s clothing raising hell in God’s church. Be content with your faithful few. And why do you want so many members anyway? Do you just want them for bragging rights? Do you want to be considered a mega-church pastor? Do you want their tithes and offerings? Many churches will only ask for a person’s tithes after they have been added to the church membership roll. So is that why you want them? Certainly one can pay a mortgage off faster with 1,000 tithers than 200 tithers. But will it be worth it? All the heartache, all the low retention rate, all the scandal? Do you want to be known as the church full of fools wherein “ain’t nobody saved in that church” or the church where “all the members sleep around”? So when you attend these church growth seminars, just know that it’s not God adding to His church, rather it is you adding to YOUR church. It’s not God adding saved sheep, but rather it’s YOU adding a bunch of “zoo animals”.

I don’t see a problem with these wanna-be/future members visiting however often they please, but just let them visit until they get saved for real. THEN add to them to your church.

Does God Love the Uncheerful – Yet Generous – Giver?

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2 Corinthians 9:7 – Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

This is one of the most quoted Bible verses during a worship service during the offering segment. God loves a cheerful giver. Usually when people hear this, they try to act more cheerful when giving to their church. I mean, who doesn’t want to be loved by God? But let’s not forget the preceding verse. It reads each one MUST give as he has decided in his heart. You MUST do this. You MUST give this way. You MUST give as you decided to give.

Apostle Paul goes into further detail when he says you must not give reluctantly. The Greek word used here for “reluctantly” comes from the Greek word “lype” which means:

    1. sorrow, pain, grief, annoyance, affliction
      1. of persons mourning

In other words, let’s say that when the church requested $50, you felt annoyed, angered, bothered, grieved, worried, anxious or any other negative emotion. You should not give with those feelings. If giving it would bother you, you shouldn’t give it. How many times have you been in a church service and they ask for a “small amount of $200” and your eyes roll or you elbow your friend beside you or you raise your eyebrows or drop your jaw in unbelief. That is NOT the attitude you should have behind giving cheerfully. If it doesn’t bother you and if you want to, by all means GIVE IT! But if you do not, DO NOT! This is not the gospel according to me, it is BIBLE. Paul used this Greek word for a reason.

And if we use the English dictionary definition of the word “reluctant” it would mean that you thought twice about giving what you’re giving because you did not want to give it for whatever reason. That means with your pen paused a centimeter above the check you were writing, you reconsidered giving that higher or lower amount of money. Let’s say you are asked to give $50, but as you pull out your checkbook you write the date, sign your name, put the name of the church, and put the intentions of the check on the “For ___” line. And then as you go over to the dollar amount side of the check to the right, you wonder if you really want to give the $50. You decide that you would rather give $20 because you won’t have enough money to put gas in your car after church. Or you decide that your account only has $50 dollars in it and you are yet waiting for an earlier $5 check to clear. Or you just decide you don’t trust what this particular church is going to do with the $50. If you are reluctant to give the $50, but have no problem giving $25, $35, or even $49.99, then you should give as the Bible says, as Apostle Paul says which is as you decide in your heart.

Or let’s say on your way to church, you decided that you would love to give $100 to the church. If you decided that in your heart, then give that. BUT if you feel reluctant, you shouldn’t give it. It doesn’t say God loves a reluctant yet generous giver, but rather that God loves a cheerful giver. And listen, this is not saying that you should give an amount reluctantly, but paste a fake smile on your face and pretend you are enjoying giving it. If you give $20 with joy in your heart, but the $50 with resentment and regret, then God will not honor that gift above the $20. Now the pastor or church might appreciate it for bills’ sake, but not God. And we are giving as God would have us to give which is cheerfully, as we decided in our heart, and not reluctantly.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He also says that we are not to give out of compulsion. The King James Version uses the word “of necessity”. Whichever version you prefer, the Greek word they all used is “anagke” which according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance means:

    1. necessity, imposed either by the circumstances, or by law of duty regarding to one’s advantage, custom, argument
    2. calamity, distress, straits

In other words, you must not give just because there is a necessity imposed because by the circumstances or because you have it to give or because it’s just custom. Let’s say a particular church needs $100 more after they raise the initial offering. And then they come back saying they need $100 more. Let’s say you are the richest one in the service and they all look to you to make up the lack. You don’t have to give just because they need it or because they have it IF YOU DON’T WANT TO. Now if you want to, by all means, go ahead. But don’t do it because there’s a need or because you have it especially if you do not purpose in your heart to do so and if you will regret it and if you will not give it cheerfully. That is not how God wants you to give. It’s not my opinion – IT’S BIBLE! Paul used this Greek word for a reason.

But I believe that just as important as these two verses is the verses above in verse one that give the CONTEXT for this instruction on giving. This passage in 2 Corinthians 9 is referring to Apostle Paul asking the church in Corinth to give donations or contributions to the Christians of a poorer church. Here are verses 1 and 2 which give us the background information for verse 7:

For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many.

These verses are referring to how Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to minister to the Saints financially. He knew how great givers were in Corinthians, so he even bragged about them to the Saints in Macedonia how that the Saints in Achaia were ready to give a year ago. He even says that their zeal for giving provoked many more others to want to give like them.

See even here in the previous letter what Paul wrote to the same church at Corinth about giving to the poorer Saints:

I Corinthians 16: 1-3 – Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.

Here we read that Apostle Paul had not only told the church at Corinth how to give, but he had also given orders to the churches in Galatia how to give. And the directions were as follows: On the first day of the week, he wanted them to have some donations ready according to how God had blessed them. He would come once a week to get the donations. This did not have to be money because God might have prospered them with animals or crops. He wanted them already laid up in storage so that he did not have to wait around for them to bring all the things to him when he got there; he wanted the things already gathered. And when he would come, he would have whoever they selected – whose names would be written within their letters – would be sent by Paul to bring their liberality to Jerusalem. So either it was the Saints in Jerusalem who needed the donations or perhaps Jerusalem was to be the “distribution center” for the donations. Either way, we know from verse 1 that the collection was for the Saints. It was not to be stored up for the pastor or the church to just have. It was to be immediately distributed to the Saints in need. Interestingly, it did not say it was for poor Jews or poor pagans, just for Saints.

Now let’s go forward into Paul’s second letter again, but let’s go to verses 3-5 of 2 Corinthians 9:

But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

These verses seem to confirm that perhaps the church at Corinth had an issue with being READY with their collections. Verse 3 says “be ready”. Verse 4 says “not ready”.

David Guzik says in his commentary about verse 5:

“Paul was very concerned that giving be a matter of generosity and not a matter of grudging obligation. God Himself never gives out of an attitude of grudging obligation, and neither should we.  To be generous, in the Biblical idea of the word, has more to do with our attitude in giving than with the amount that we give.”

That is why he kept telling them to have it ready because he felt that if what they had purposed was already set aside beforehand, he wouldn’t have to worry about the brethren begging for them to give a certain amount or for them to give more than they would have given had they not asked. Imagine this. Let’s say that an hour before church service begins, the pastor asks each member to pray about and to decide what they will give beforehand and write it on a check or on the envelope. Then when offering time comes, he does not ask for a particular amount; he simply passes an offering basket around wherein people put their previously filled-out offering envelopes. This beforehand preparation will not leave room for he pastor to beg for more or to tell them how much he needs. So he will not come across as greedy. All he has to do at this point is RECEIVE. He does not have to auction out blessings or employ scare tactics or give a 30-minute rant about the importance of giving to the church. So the people leave trusting their pastor is not money-hungry and the pastor is doing offering God’s way and encouraging his members to be cheerful givers whom God loves. (However, I understand that this can be anxiety-provoking for a pastor who has a high mortgage note and who knows how much he needs to raise each week in order to pay the bills.) There may be other bible verses that speak to giving to pay the church bills, but this is not one of them.

So pastors and church members, when we hear these two passages from 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 9, remember that they refer to giving to poor Christians. The principles still can apply to giving of any contexts, but we should not forget these passages in their original contexts. We should not manipulate others to give more than they purpose. If they want to give 2 pennies, don’t beg for more. If they give sparingly, they’ll reap sparingly, but that has nothing to do with you. That’s between them and their pocketbook and God. Yes, you may prefer more offerings because the mortgage or utility company needs it regardless of cheerful giving, but spiritual giving has nothing to do with a high mortgage that you chose or with the utilities. It has to do with giving to needy Christians. And if your offerings aren’t even been giving to the poor Christians, you need to consider giving more to the poor anyways.

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Church Hurts: Chapter 6 – “Birthday Girl”

Chapter 6 – Birthday Girl

Terita pressed 7 on her cellphone to buzz in her guests at the gate. She had invited about 30 people to her birthday get-together and about fifteen were here so far. And of course, some of those guests took the liberty to invite a few other friends so she expected many more people. She was glad she had asked the caterer to bring extra food. Every time she pressed 7, she waited anxiously for Dave to knock at the door. But still no sight of him. He had replied to her text late Saturday night saying that he would try to attend. But she needed him to be here. She had long-term plans for him. And they began tonight.

She looked back at her bedroom mirror to reapply her hot pink lipstick. She looked flawless. Her dark-almond shaped eyes sparkled as she batted her thick false lashes at her reflection. Her smile revealed two perfect rows of neat, white teeth thanks to the thousands she had paid for veneers two years back. She had two dimples perforating the center of her cheek. She had three earrings in a row in her left ear – the side with the short hair. She had curled the long side of her hair into ringlets which cascaded down her face and shoulder with variegated highlights. Her beautician had told her she would run the risk of looking “ghetto” with the hair color, but Terita just shrugged. What the hey? It was Memphis. When in Rome, she had told her.

When she heard a knock at the door, she heard one of the attendants say, “Who is it? Oh, hey, it’s Dave, y’all! The door’s unlocked.” Her smile became wider and her dimples became deeper. She slipped out of her flats and into her high-heeled hot pink, bejeweled Christian Louboutin pumps. She knew her strut would get her the attention she wanted.

She turned the corner out of her bedroom into her front room. She exclaimed, “Hi, Dave! I’m glad you could make it. She gave him a big hug as he told her happy birthday. He handed her a card. She wondered if there was money in it but knew it would be tacky to check right now. She’d wait. She told him to grab a plate and to get something to eat. After he did so and greeted the guests who were all mutual friends of theirs, he sat on a stool at the bar counter between her kitchen and front room. Terita sat down beside him. Lucky for her, there were only two barstools there, so that would greatly decrease their chances of being interrupted.

“I’m so glad you could make it,” Terita beamed at him like an outgoing five-year old. She laid her hand on the back of his hand to drive home the point. “Well, of course I’d be here. You know you and me go way back.” Terita had been the girlfriend of one of Dave’s closest friends back in high school. They were known as the popular church kids who had nice clothes and well-educated parents. There was a group of nine of them that hung out all the time. Most of them were musicians or singers. Terita was talented in liturgical dance. Dave could play the guitar well, but he was most popular for having the richest granddad in the county. They went to private schools and vacation bible school together every summer. They attended the most anticipated revivals in the city together. They dated the most popular, well-dressed, most talented, and wealthiest of the church “elite”.

Church Elitism was quite obvious in their denomination. It was something like a caste system. A social order so speak. At the bottom were the poorest. They dressed most modestly. The women typically wore ankle-length jean skirts and flats. Their women and girls frequented inexpensive clothing stores like Cato’s, Simply Fashions, and Rainbow. They would wear their relaxed hair in low ponytails or home-rolled curls. Some would wear outdated hairstyles like fingerwaves and pompadours. They were humble, but tended to be more judgmental. They usually came from small towns in the Dirty South or the Midwest. And because they came from small towns, they had small town mindsets.

Next in pecking order were the middle-class bunch. They could afford to shop at stores at the mall and outlets. They were usually college-educated. They worked from paycheck to paycheck just as the poorer one’s did only without any government assistance only they had decent paychecks. Some would usually look in pity at the lower “caste” and look up in admiration and aspiration at the upper class.

And then there was the upper echelon. This was where people like Dave and Terita resided. They were the sons and granddaughters of jurisdictional bishops, their parents and uncles were politicians and successful business owners in their cities, most of the people they associated with had master’s or doctoral level degrees. They lived in neighborhoods often as the sole black family on their block. And they wore this privilege proudly. They had tailor-made suits, they could afford real animal skins for coats, shoes, and purses, and they shopped solely at boutiques or either had their clothes custom-made. Their memberships were coveted because their tithes alone were enough to sustain the church more than 200 of the other members’ tithes could. They had the highest titles in the denomination. They married the most beautiful women of etiquette. Their women were members of social clubs and their menfolk were members of exclusive country clubs.

Everyone at Terita’s birthday party was of the higher order. There was Barry the church pianist from the megachurch down the street. His father was pastor there. There was Sheila who had just graduated from Harvard law school following in her mother’s footsteps. There was Marcus who had been successful at opening a male suits clothing store with fine suits that he and his twin brother designed and sold to gospel artists. Lucinda was there. She was a niece of her aunt who was also a member of a famous gospel group that started in the late 80’s. Her aunt had raised her when he mother had died unexpectantly when she was five. Anthony’s father had just been re-elected as the Memphis City School’s superintendent; it was his third term. He saw to it that Anthony never had to pay a bill. Melissa and her sister Megan sat on the couch sipping their punch. They were somewhat antisocial. Their claim to fame was a father and mother who had graduated from MIT as engineers. They were just as smart and withdrawn as their parents.

And then there was Terita. Her dwindling wealth came from her charismatic charm with successful and prosperous men. Terita was brought up poor, but fortunately she had good looks and a great personality. She used these assets to her advantage. She had met a much, much older widowed bishop who was quite lucky in the stock markets. He wanted a PYT to share his riches with. Terita heeded the call. She saw this as her chance to ascend the church ranks. Her plan worked as they always had. After a brief marriage that ended in his timely death from old age, Terita was a young widow who had inherited all of his wealth being as her deceased husband had no children or any other beneficiaries. He had loved her and would have left her everything even if he had had children. However, her shopping addiction did not afford her any wise spending habits so she was losing money hand over first. Whereas before she had enough to last her for a lifetime, she now only had enough to last her the next five years or so. And she had no intentions of slowing down. She had to find a new donor. Dave looked as if he’d fit the part. She was no longer heralded as the youngest bishop’s wife. To be in the elite, it was not enough just to have money and nice possessions. You had to currently hold a high title or be known for your skill at a thing. Terita knew she did not want to go down in church history as the old bishop’s widow who excelled at church mime until she died old, wrinkly, broke, and alone. She figured this time that she ought not just to marry rich, but to marry rich and young. Her mistake was that she had married rich and old. And as much as that man loved her, she didn’t care that the old man had passed. She was disgusted every time he touched her. Every time she went to bed with him, she had to remind herself to do it for the money.

“Happy Birthday, Terita! So, Terita, when’s the last time you talked to Stephen?” Dave was referring to his friend, her ex. “Oh, it’s funny you ask. He sent me a happy birthday message on Facebook as soon as it was midnight.” “Oh, well that’s cool. You do know he’s single now. Things didn’t work out with that Marissa girl. She was too clingy. Called the man all day. Asking what he ate, who he was hanging out with, and all kinda questions. He had to let her go. But yeah. He asked me about you the other day,” Dave said trying to do as Stephen had asked in trying to hook them back up with each other. “That’s interesting. Marissa did seem kind of stalker-ish. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m kinda interested in another guy. No offense, but I’m kind of over him. The past is the past. Like your granddad says, ‘Out with the old, in with the new.’ I’m looking at something new.” “Oh, really? And who just might this be?” Dave inquired curiously. “You know the guy. He’s real cute,” Terita hinted. “Is it that Derek guy who’s been visiting our church lately?” “No, not him. Don’t try to guess because I’m not going to tell you who it is. Not yet. Real soon though.” Terita grinned.

Interrupting their conversation was Anthony bearing a red velvet cake with sparkling candles covered with fondant icing in the replica of a Louis Vuitton bag. She beamed from ear to ear as her wealthy friends belted out an ethnic rendition of the happy birthday song. They surrounded her as she closed her eyes and a made a wish. She only hoped Dave would cooperate in fulfilling it.

Church Hurts: Chapter 5 – “In the Studio”

Chapter 5 – In the Studio

Nick’s expensive loafers pat down the dark corridor filled with the vibrations caused by musicians in the studio. He’s excited about laying down a track with his good friend Pete (better known by his stage name “Neophyte”). He always enjoyed Pete. They had such a close history with one another that they knew that despite their lifestyle differences, they would forever be linked. Both had the misfortune of being sent to juvenile detention in their mid-teens. Pete had been raised by the streets because of a drug-addicted mother and a dead beat father who both left him to be raised by his great grandmother. He was driven to the streets by his search for identify for a male father figure. And he found that in the form of a gang known as the Red Road Posse. After doing those things that gangsters do for years, he was eventually caught on a drug charge and sentenced to two years in juvy. This is how he met Nicholas.

Nicholas’ story was quite different. He had both of his biological parents in this life. They were still married to each other when Nicholas was imprisoned. How Nicholas was caught up was that his father had stored drugs in the car. And when the cops caught wind of it, the father convinced his young son Nick to take the charge because he wouldn’t get any jail time because of his age and clean record. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. And Nick the pretty, church boy was not cut out for jail.

Because of their small physique, good lucks, and “good hair”, both Pete and Nicholas were easy and obvious targets for the more hardened of the juvy boys and guards. Pete who had already been a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of his uncle who also lived with his great grandmother, felt compassion for Nicholas and would often sacrifice himself to get Nicholas a night off. While fighting the men off of Nick, he gave Nick time to run off, but sometimes he would eventually be overcome by the bigger guys. He only did for Nick what he wished someone had done for him. For that Nick was forever indebted. There was nothing Nick would not do for his friend Pete. And now, they were both out. And both had a passion for Christian music.

“Hey, man! Whassup, Nick! You late as usual. You know studio time is money!” exclaims Pete to Nicholas as they exchanged daps and chest hugs. “Ah, man. You how I do. I got to stay fine for the ladies. Had to get some extra mirror time to keep your great grandma interested.” “Dude, please. I’m just as handsome, and I got here early. Come on in. I got some friends I want you to meet.”

Nick is introduced to three of Pete’s rapper buddies. They didn’t seem to detect his “gayness” much to his relief. He made sure he made a comment about sexy ladies to throw the men off his trail in case they had caught a whiff.

Lastly, Nick is introduced to a quiet man sitting in the corner. He walks up to Nick to introduce himself as a talent seeker of a well-known gospel recording label. He’s a middle-aged man who is only a little less dressed up than Nick. Could this be his big shot?

Nick had dreamt of being signed to a label for as long as he had been singing for the church. He knew he was talented and had the “right look”, but it was unreal to see his chance right before him. Within the hour, he might be able to convince this man to sign them or forget them. This man could crush or fulfill his recording artist dreams.

Hey there, Nicholas. I was invited by Pete here. He sent me some videos of you two’s work a few months back and I finally got a chance to stop by from Atlanta. I think you guys are sitting on something great here. I’m sure you won’t mind if I sit in during a recording.

Nick tries to maintain his composure. He knew that when he got giddy, he lost a lot of his masculinity. He managed to muster out a, “Yeah. Sure, man. That won’t be a problem. And you can call me Nick.”

Nick called Pete out into the hallway for some privacy. He gives Pete a bear hug. “Man, this is awesome! How did you manage to…So when did you…This is huge! So which song do you think we should do for him?” “It needs to be something that showcases my lyrical genius and your range and runs, Nick rambles excitedly.” “Exactly what I was thinking. What about “When God Says It’s Time”? That one has equal rapping and singing parts that way neither of us seems like a ball hog.” “Mane, I don’t even care! I just want a chance to get in that booth and show this man what we got!”

After the two friends calmed down, they walked back into the room cool and collected. Nick’ began by singing: “When God says it’s time, you better get on the move. When God says speak, you better tune up soon. God has a tight schedule, and you got to do what he says. God’s not playing, you’ve got to do what He says. When God says jump, the heights can’t be an excuse. When God says pray, you better ask for whom. When God says preach, you better decree and declare that the word of God is a seed that will bear…”

Nick was very pleased with how it went. He didn’t skip a beat or hit a bad note. His runs and range were on point. And Pete was equally impressive, his hip-hop rhymes serving as a refreshing contrast to the song.

After the song was being recorded, the label’s representative smiled at them while nodding. “I’m very impressed. You guys definitely have a spark. I will run your music by some of the partners at the label. I’ll be in contact. Neophyte and Nicholas. I mean Nick. I like that.” “Actually,” interrupted Nick, “that’ll be Neophyte and Nea Zoi. New Growth and New Life.”

Nick walked out of the studio feeling like a million bucks. From the looks of it, God was going to fulfill His promise to him. As he walked to his car, he checked his phone. There were two new texts and one voicemail. The first text was from Terita. She was inviting him to her birthday party this Friday. He turned his nose up at the invite. How dare she invite him as if they were friends when she was blackmailing him. She’d probably ask him for money at the party. He quickly text her that he had already made plans for that night. The second text was from his mother. She was new to text messages and had managed to type out a brief text which read, “love you”. He smiled. The voicemail was from Judd. His heart sank. How he was supposed to go on to New Life if he hadn’t yet closed the door to his past? The voicemail said, “Hey, lady. Just thinking about you. I hope you haven’t changed your feelings for me since we last met at the church. God bless.” Judd would leave voicemails addressed to the unnamed “lady” just in case anyone was eavesdropping or got a hold to Nick’s phone. The voicemail immediately stripped Nick of his newfound joy. He knew he had to obey God. He had to heed the warning of the song he had just recorded with Neophyte. He knew that he must do what God asks “when God says it’s time”. He just needed to pray for God to give him the strength he needed to do and follow through. And a move to Atlanta near the recording company might be just what he needed to cut ties with his old life.