After God saved me in the Summer of 1994, I immediately began to proclaim everything that I knew (which was not much!) about Jesus to anyone who would listen. I testified about how He had delivered me from a life of misery. I shared in homeless shelters and prisons about how the King had broken the power of my decade-long addiction to drugs and alcohol in one singular, transformational moment. Though not always with a proper level of love and compassion, I began to unapologetically declare that God is holy and that He will judge us for our sin if we refuse to repent. Proclaiming Kingdom realities has been my soul-satisfying privilege for the last twenty-four years. Studying the Word, understanding what is revealed there, putting it into words that meet people where they are, and then wrapping those words in passion and exhortation is the primary ministry that God has packaged for my life’s purpose. Simply put, proclaiming the riches of the Kingdom has been my sweet-spot ever since I was born again. But right from the start, I knew that I was missing something. In the midst of door-to-door evangelizing, discipling, preaching at Revivals, leading ministries, teaching small-group lessons and a host of other communicative outlets…I felt a hollow absence in my soul.
I lacked personal, interactive encounter with God. I spoke boldly for the One whom I actually only knew via His book, the Bible. I had learned so much about Him in my head, but there was minimal experience with Him in my heart.
In the late 1990’s I experienced a doctrinal shift that would change my life and ministry trajectory forever. Being theologically trained in the doctrine of cessationism (the belief that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased around the end of the first century), I began to see gaping holes in that theological position. Because I was also trained to cultivate my theology from the Bible itself, I found myself in a frustrating dilemma. What was it? The Bible nowhere teaches that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased. That teaching is not sourced in a legitimate study of what the scriptures themselves say on the issue. It did not take me very long to refute every argument against the gifts of the Spirit that I had been taught. Ultimately, I concluded that my well-meaning mentors, pastors and professors were wrong on this particular issue. During that same season, I was involved in some chaplaincy work in a local business which introduced me several times a week to various types of Christians from all different denominational stripes. Without them knowing it, these Christians were used by God to break my tight, narrow grip on how I viewed the Kingdom of God and the work of Holy Spirit. Some of the finest Christians I met during those two years as a corporate chaplain displayed a great reverence for God’s Word AND a commitment to practice the various gifts of the Holy Spirit. While my theology had already concluded, at that point, that the gifts of the Spirit were still an active reality in the Kingdom, I still had not personally experienced any of them that I would call supernatural at that time.
All of that changed in February of 2003, four months after I had become the pastor of what was then Meadow Baptist Church. I do not have enough room here to detail what happened to me over two consecutive days at that time. Suffice it to say that God unquestionably added supernatural personal experience to my theology of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some would say that it was then that I was baptized in the Spirit. Others might call it a life-changing, supernatural encounter with God. Some might refer to it as an intense filling of the Spirit. All I know is that, from that very week unto today, God is not a doctrine to me. He is a full-contact King who leaps off the pages of my Bible and straight into my day-to-day life. My theology and commitment to the Word actually became stronger as I moved more deeply into experiencing the presence of God via the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Like believers in the book of Acts, I now had the full experience of believing in the primacy of the Word plus the reality of the presently active gifts and ministry of God the Spirit. God had added encounter to my strong beliefs. I began to become free in Him.
Needless to say, this theological shift would not be able to be contained in my current ministry at that time. For several years, I kept my beliefs and practices private between myself and the Lord. As God’s presence and power increased in me during the ensuing years, the activity of the enemy also increased against me. There were three separate mini-rebellions at the church I was still pastoring, and it brought me to my knees over and over again. Looking back, I can say that the only reason I survived was because the Holy Spirit ministered so personally to me during those days. When the time came in 2013 to begin to disclose my beliefs to those with whom I was serving, I knew that God would be exchanging an old wineskin for the new one which He had prepared. A conference in California took place in which a large gathering of cessationists came together to disparage those who believed in and practiced the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As I watched those sessions of the conference via live-streaming video, I sensed in their words such an absence of love and grace for those who differed with the conference speakers. While most Christians who are cessationists would not likely display the same degree of gracelessness, these leaders and pastors showed that they possessed knowledge but no discernible love in what they were communicating. How could I continue to affiliate with that kind of approach to the Kingdom? God called me inwardly to begin to address the issue of the gifts of the Spirit via teaching on them expositionally. Many people came alive when I taught twelve expository sermons on what the Bible actually says about the gifts of the Spirit. Other people were not as excited about what they heard their Baptist pastor saying. I was accused of many things during that short season, not the least of which was being an apostate to the truth. It was both painful, yet motivating, to watch how God scripturally reformed our church as this hotly-debated issue on the gifts of the Spirit became a point of contention between two differing camps who equally loved King Jesus. Some have asked me over the last few years why I did not resign and leave the church. I tell them of the day where I sat in the room with Meadow’s elders and offered to do that very thing in order to preserve the church family as it currently stood at that time. I offered to go quietly and even to help find a good Baptist pastor who would maintain the historical doctrinal statement of the church. I would go quietly. My resignation was declined by the elders and, ironically, two of them resigned the next week. During that same time, after he heard of my position on the Holy Spirit’s gifts, the precious brother who led me to Christ called me and renounced my ministry, telling me he would not ever be able to support me. That was an excruciating moment for me. Terrible things were said of me and my wife – they split the church, Jeff stole the church, he’s lost his mind! Above it all, I heard God’s Spirit whispering endurance, grace and trust into my own spirit. Many people left the church with those two elders when they resigned and I saw, as the dust settled, that God was re-birthing our church into a family who would unapologetically cling to both the authority of God’s Word and the necessity of the Holy Spirit. It was the hardest work I had ever done up to that point in ministry. If given the chance, I would do it all over again because it was ultimately a stance for biblical truth. For better or worse, I remain anchored in answering the question, “What do the Scriptures say?” When we know the answer to that question on any given subject, it is there that we must lovingly stand.
As I close this post, let me tell you why I stood my ground, worked through the theology of the gifts and refused to give an inch when I was contested. The reason is likely best summed up in the short statement given by the Apostle Paul in 1stCorinthians 4:20 when he writes, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” I could not bear the thought of me, my family or the church family I served finishing our race with an abundance of kingdom-talk but no clear Kingdom-power. It became a frightening conviction for me that I could potentially finish my race with 10,000 sermons and little to no supernatural evidence in my life of the reality of a transcendent God. For years, my life and ministry looked nothing like what I saw in scripture. For me, the Kingdom was able to be proclaimed but, other than my salvation, it had not been really experienced. It began to feel fraudulent to speak of this immeasurably glorious Father when I knew in my soul that I had very little personal interaction with Him outside of my intellect. It was terribly painful to admit, but the honest truth was that God was more of a doctrine to me, and less of a friend like He was to Abraham. When it became clear that God Himself was not content to let our relationship continue in that realm of religious theory, I began to express my desire for a never-ending consummation of our relationship. Knowledge had to move from theological-only to sound theology wrapped in relational experience. This is what Jesus died for – that we might know Him, the only true God (John 17:3). The Greek word translated “know” in that verse is defined as intimate, experiential knowledge, not mere head knowledge. Eternal life was granted through Jesus so that those who believe on Him would have interactive, experiential knowledge of God. That’s what Jesus taught. To settle for less than that was not something I could be comfortable with any longer.
I reached the point where that truth became the driving force in my view of the Kingdom. I am now living that out with a million miles of spiritual progress that still needs to occur. Yet, none of what I have learned and experienced would have ever happened had I not responded to God’s call to move further out from just proclaiming words about Him and into pursuing personal interaction with Him.
I hope what I have written will create a deeper thirst in you who are reading to seek the same.
We cannot ignore the question of, “Where is the power?”