Trusting that my purpose in sharing my own testimony about how God has led me in a journey with Holy Spirit has been accomplished, I conclude my posts in this mini-series today. From New York to the West Coast of America, to England & Africa, and back to my home state of Georgia, I have been blessed to hear from people who have been provoked to think more deeply on the issue at hand. I have not been opposed to people changing their views on the matter of the gifts of the Spirit, but that has not been my goal in these posts. I simply felt compelled to explain some of my own struggle and breakthrough in this often debated issue. Ultimately, Christians are not bound together because of our views on the gifts. We are One in Jesus Christ – nothing more, nothing less. My own story will continue and I hope that it will serve as a source of blessing to others who simply wish to know the truth about the gifts as time goes on. Here is the last installment which led me into a new chapter in this book which is still being written. Forgive the length of this last entry, but I want to finish this part of the story today. – Jeff
After the painful experience of watching dozens of people leave our home church because of the reports from others about my beliefs concerning the gifts of the Spirit, God got me all alone, sequestered with Him. Shortly thereafter, it was time for my annual vacation with my family. While spending a few weeks at the beach reconnecting with my favorite three people on the planet, the sound of the waves and the gulls became like medicine to my hurting heart. Looking into the faces of my wife and children for uninterrupted days as we swam, laughed, ate and detached from life’s complexity, I began to really hear the Lord’s voice about His affirmation of my ministry. Some people had been displeased with me about my pastoral work, but God was not. He repeatedly spoke to me, aggressively reinforcing to me not to doubt or draw back from the direction I had been going. He showed me that, when He gets us alone with nothing else to lean on, it is His way of inviting us to breakthrough. This breakthrough is exactly what happened.
When I returned home, it was not too long before I began to preach on the topic which had caused so much conflict earlier in the year. About four messages into the Spiritual Gifts sermon series, God began to speak to me about the door now being wide open to follow Him into new territory. The flock at Meadow who had remained through the thinning of the ranks truly wanted scriptural clarity on this matter of the gifts. As the messages began to take root, and erroneous teachings from our cessationist pasts were addressed, people became hungry for the person and work of Holy Spirit in their lives. A spiritual refreshing began to find our church family. We were fewer in number but stronger in unity. It was during this time that a thought entered my mind that it would be wonderful if we could find a likeminded group of believers who would consider merging churches to make one newer, stronger church. Truthfully, it was little more than a lingering thought to me. I shared it with a pastor friend over lunch one day, and Rolando agreed that it would be amazing if God provided that opportunity, but we also knew it would be a difficult thing to make happen. After that lunch, I could not get the conversation with Rolando out of my head for a day or two. Eventually, I came back to the reality that I had two sermons at Meadow to focus upon that week, plus two messages for a men’s retreat that the pastor of Cornerstone Fellowship had invited me to share. That men’s retreat would prove to be a pivotal piece of the puzzle which was about to quickly take shape.
Meeting in North Georgia with the men of Cornerstone, we all sensed God moving in our midst. Because I had come out of an extended period of time wherein I had been wounded by men I had pastored, it was extremely encouraging to enjoy a weekend of brotherhood with these new friends. Dustin Pennington, the pastor of Cornerstone, had been my friend for a year or so. The rest of those men I had met for the first time that weekend. On the Monday after the men’s retreat, Dustin asked to meet with me, only telling me that he wanted to submit something for me to prayerfully consider. When we met in my office, Dustin simply asked me what I thought about the possibility of Meadow and Cornerstone becoming one new church. God had been dealing with Dustin’s heart powerfully since the second day of the men’s retreat. That Sunday afternoon, God pounced upon Dustin, and he would not be able to rest until he explained the vision God was giving him. For a few seconds after Dustin submitted the vision for my consideration, I was stunned because my conversation with Rolando five days before instantly came back to my mind. Dustin knew nothing of that conversation. I had never even thought of Cornerstone being a potential match as a church to unite with. Because I knew that Dustin and I shared a parallel theology, I was immediately stirred within about the possibility. He was nowhere close to the stereotypical Assemblies of God pastor, and I never had been a very good Baptist. It sounds trite, but we both had spent a very long time to be committed Christians, without all the weight of denominational limitations. We talked for about ninety minutes that Monday, we prayed together, and then we agreed to only talk to King Jesus about it for a few days. We did not speak with each other during those days as we independently sought the will of God on this potentially significant endeavor. At the end of those days of prayer and fasting, not only was there no red-light from God, it was as green as green can get. God was leading Dustin and me to lead the two flocks we shepherded to become one new local church. There were many steps which followed – meetings with Elders, ministry leaders, seeking counsel from pastors outside of the two churches and the obligatory legal meetings with those who know how to establish non-profits. This new endeavor was repeatedly confirmed by godly men and women from whom we sought counsel. This was clearly from the Lord and being entrusted to us. Though there were many objective issues that needed to be planned through, not a single leader, not one single time, ever stated that they did not believe this was of the Lord. God was bringing together two local churches who would commit to be anchored in the two forces which were the foundation of the first churches:
The authority of God’s Word and the necessity of God’s Spirit.
With these two pillars agreed upon, we began to do our part in leading the two churches to marry one another. The offspring produced from this marriage would eventually become New Bridge Church. In a matter of six months, Holy Spirit birthed a vision in Dustin Pennington’s heart, connected it to an idea that had been bouncing around in my head, and brought forth the establishing of a new faith-family in the city of Lawrenceville, Georgia. With amazing trust, commitment and hard work coming from the precious people of these two formerly separate churches, the vision has now become reality. To our knowledge, the merging of a Baptist congregation with an Assemblies of God congregation has never been done in our area. Some people were skeptical about the possibility of this “working”. What we know is that God began the work, confirmed the work through godly counsel and the existing leaders of the two churches, and has subsequently blessed the work. I like to jokingly say that the Meadow baptists have not been weirded out and the Cornerstone charismatics have not been bored to death as we have become a new family. When the authority of the Word serves as the guardrails for a local church, and the power of the Holy Spirit serves as the green light for that same church, the result is a solid pathway which appears to mimic the trajectory of the very first Christians. New Bridge Church is built upon the twin pillars of Word & Spirit. Yes, it is messy at times, but committed love between believers cleans up many a mess. We have only just begun, but it has already been amazing. Denominational loyalties have been jettisoned by us. We aren’t waving mini-banners of lesser loyalties. Stripping away those things that gum up the wheels of Gospel ministry, we find ourselves humbled, liberated and expectant. Our former burdens have been transformed into present blessings.
If I had it to do all over again, I would not fail to continue to follow my great, unfathomable God down this road. It has cost me, but not near as much as it has benefited me. I see it in my children. I see it in the faces of the flock at New Bridge. I rejoice in it every time I get a handshake, a note, a call from someone who has thanked me for being willing to risk comfort for difficult truth. Ultimately, there is deep satisfaction in knowing that I have obeyed the Lord and have grown in my understanding and intimacy with Him. Amazingly, my heart is free of bitterness from the shrapnel of relational conflict which preceded all of this. I have forgiven all, and I can only hope that others find it in their hearts to forgive me for how I failed them at times. My eyes are fixed on the horizon where, at some undefined moment, we will witness the descending of a glorified King who will come and establish His everlasting reign over all. Every knee bowed, all tongues having confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord. That is what I am longing for. I will never be fully satisfied with anything less.
Thanks for listening.