The Learning Curve

I have learned a lot through this process of my marriage struggles. But nothing like in the last week or so. I had a very set idea of what a marriage should and should not be. That would have continued indefinitely if not for the interference of the Holy Spirit.

In my last post I talked about being a backslider. And I honestly thought I had come back. But it wasn’t until this last week that I actually broke. See, I had assumed that if I came back, that was enough. I had overlooked the need for breaking and repentance. I needed God to not just forgive me but to begin the process of changing me again. I had to, under survival necessity, accept the fact that I was more than wrong in some areas, I was damaged.

I’ve been crushed by what’s happened with my wife and looking back on my own actions and failures. I can’t explain the depths of despair that I’ve experienced. It was constant and crushing and completely selfish. See, I had been used to getting my own way for so long, it’s all that mattered. My life, my needs, my ministry ideas.

But then something changed. I realized that I didn’t have peace because my wife was absent and as a Christian, that should never be the case. My peace depends on Him, not another person. Somehow in my meandering, I had given up the seat on the throne of my heart to someone other than Christ. When I saw that, I began experiencing peace for the first time in what had seemed a very long time.

I wanted her back, badly, and yes, it hurt. I wanted her back. I wanted normalcy. I wanted lots of things. Not that wanting someone back is necessarily bad but as a Christian husband it should never be first, myself should never be first.

My first job is to love her as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. If she needs time and space, then I should practice self-sacrifice and give her that. I do not want to at all, believe me. Jesus didn’t especially want the cross either. I saw that this had not been true in me for a very long time and that hurts. As a leader its not about acquiescence it’s about laying your life down for others. I lost sight of that to be honest. I want in my flesh to have everything conform to my wants, needs and desires. A Godly relationship could not be more opposite. What does she need, how can I meet that need? Am I in intercession for her, selflessly? Am I doing the same for my children?

The other issue that I’ve seen is sanctifying love. Have I sanctified her by my example? Is she more like Christ because of who I am or less? I know I have failed here beyond all contestation. As a strong leader and compassionate husband and father, this should have been foremost in my mind as the Head of the family.

I’ve not seen any of these things. I’ve been very confused and lost to be honest. The fall was hard and severe. All that I can do now is serve, try and lead by example and pray.

Confessions of a Backslider

I have learned a lot over the last few years. I would have to say that most of what I learned was about myself and most of it was not good.

Especially over the last two months when everything truly began to fall apart in my life; things that were stable were no longer that way, everything that I knew as solid vanished. I found myself grasping at air as they sailed away, much like a kid trying desperately to reach the string on a balloon as it slips just out of reach of your too-short grasp.

One thing that I learned in a deeply permanent way is the thing that I want to share with whomever cares to read this. It was a hard won lesson that I probably could have explained previously as a self evident truth intellectually but I had never had the feeling of it seared so deeply or painfully into me as I do at this moment in time.

Apart from Christ, you will never be anything other than what you were before you met him.

I had walked with the Lord for over twenty years when I saw this as truth. I saw first-hand that as soon as I let go of the vine, I transformed into a man that I had believed to be long dead.

The progress and good things that the Lord had molded in me for all of those years simply vanished as if they had never been. The key revelations that had transformed my life and thinking no longer played a part in my thinking processes. The moral ground that I thought that I had gained for all of those years was simply not there any more. I was nothing more than an older version of the bully, drunk and thug that I had been all those years before.

Paul said that he knew that in him, that is, in his flesh, dwelt no good thing. And he was right, you can’t take the gains of Christ with you when you decide to walk away. They stay with the one who gave them to you- hopefully in safe keeping for your return but I don’t know if that’s promised or not.

There is a gaping chasm without Christ. It’s more than a hole that religion previously filled that you now stuff with sex or booze or money. You find yourself without a compass that you counted on, without a hope that kept you secure through the storms, without the peace that we so easily take for granted. You find yourself looking in the mirror and realizing that the person looking back at you is the REAL you. And you don’t know what to do with them. You don’t know how they feel or what they want or where they want to be. All you are sure of is your uncertainty and lack of balance. It’s not much to go with.

One thing that I am sure of is that the older me had far more that the enemy could destroy than the younger me did. Back then when I was first saved, I had a change of clothes and not much else. So the enemy tried to get me to give up the one thing that I did in fact possess- my life. When older me let go of the vine, there was much, much more to lose – such as the love of my best friend and partner for 18 years, the credibility that I had with my children, the honor that I once cherished. That’s not to mention the physical things that were up for grabs as well. I’m sure that the enemy knew that he couldn’t keep me away forever and so he moved quickly to tear up every single thing in my life that I held as precious.

By the time I looked up from feeling sorry for myself it was too late, the damage had been done. The destruction was far reaching, vast and utterly complete. Have you ever woken up from a dream to discover that you’re in a nightmare?

I was shocked when I finally came to my senses. I had mistook the gains that had been gained all those years as my own. Sure I could give lip service to God regarding his role in who I had become but the awful truth is that I really viewed them as my own. My talents, my calling, my anointing. I had become a much better person during the journey and I was quite proud of the juxtaposition between who I was and who I had become.

Believe me, when you take a skinhead, a punk that had begun leaving home at 12 and really never transitioned back- someone that was homeless and a gutterpunk, who some years spent more time in jail rather than out. A prolific seducer of girls that had no conscience about it. A drunk by 19 that was completely self absorbed and completely ruthless and totally selfish. If you can take that guy, who never had an active father to pattern himself after, if you can keep him from prison or suicide; that’s a feat. To transform him into anything resembling a loving husband or father is a miracle. To transform him into a minister? That’s just silly. But that’s precisely what God did with the raggedy life I presented to him all those years ago.

Until I let go of the vine.

It was only then, in the clear cold light of my moment of clarity that I saw the awful truth of it all. I am what I am only by the grace of God. Left to myself, I won’t help you, I will hurt you. I’m a brawler, a drunkard, violent, a liar, blasphemous, lustful, prideful, argumentative, selfish, a manipulator, a cheat and a fiend. I am not a good husband, a good provider, a good father. I’m not a friend unless I gain something from you. The list is almost literally endless. Here I thought that I was someone else, the reciprocal of all of those things. Yet here submitting itself to me was the unshakable conclusion that I tried to fight away with all of my being; Left to myself, I am the same garbage that I was before I knew Jesus.

I am filled with rage and hatred for the enemy, more so than at any point in my life, which is saying something. I am deeply ashamed of who I am without him and I stand in horror at what I am capable of when I let go. I hurt everything and everyone that God had given to me as a gift. I took something precious and handed it over to the enemy. I don’t know that I will ever recover, to be honest. At some points over the last year, I was deeply hurt by others and their actions. I still am if I meditate even briefly on what transpired. I realized something today though that altered my thinking regarding every wound that I received- all of the monsters that surround me are monsters that I created. How do you live with that?

I am finding that out now as I wander through the wreckage of my life with a stunned look on my face, the damage is complete and overwhelming. I feel like the victim of a tornado, drunk with emotion as I stumble around what used to be my home, occasionally stopping to pick up a fragment of a destroyed life that seems to have survived.

The difference that I clearly see between this moment that finds me attempting to salvage something from the most awful attack in my life and the hell that I’ve emerged from is simple and profound and unforgettable – I have come home. When I feel stress or guilt or anxiety, I no longer want a drink to dull it. Instead there is a quick search for a Holy Ghost that so quickly confirms his presence that it humbles me. This beautiful Spirit of God, this incredible being, he actually comforts ME. Me, The guy that defiled precious gifts that he blessed me with. The guy that drank himself into a stupor and cursed God for a liar. The one that hurt his beautiful wife over and over and over. Me. How could he continue to care?

At some point in our walk we must be in danger of conveying our testimony without remembering that feeling. The feeling that is best expressed by saying, “Jesus, how could you love me?”

I have found that place again. Broken, humbled, wounded beyond comprehension but I have found it. And waiting right there at the end of myself is this miracle called the Holy Spirit and this person named Jesus. My Jesus. The one who loved garbage at 19 and then did the unthinkable and still loved him over twenty years later.

You and I will never be anything other than what we were apart from Christ, my friends. So hold tightly to the vine, take no credit for any gain or any success or any power. None of it is you or I. We hold onto the hem of the Nazarene’s garment tightly and let him do what he does best- turn sow’s ears into silk purses.

Be blessed, my friends.

JC

Final push to Cleveland

Hello friends.
We are almost ready for the big ministry push to Cleveland,  Slavic Village.

A lion’s share of the finances has come in but we find ourselves in a pinch for the last bit that will allow us to go.

We understand that this is not your backyard and we understand that you have obligations that are in your backyard.

But the Kingdom of God and the supremacy of Christ is a world issue, not just a backyard issue. Through 24 years of innovative ministry, we have seen God do wonderful things in unlikely places. We believe that Slavic Village is next on that list.

We are so certain of His calling to impact this area that we are moving our family there to start the work.

To do this, we are making this final push for the remaining $3000.00 by this coming Friday. If you can’t give all of it, we ask that you take a moment and ask God about giving a portion of it.

God bless and may the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.

https://americanpentecost.wordpress.com/give/

Together we win,
James and Shana Smith

New Sermon: Switching Systems

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“Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” Col 1:13

The church tends to get most things wrong well in advance of the need. Case in point; if you are not instructed as to the laws that govern the Kingdom of God, you will find yourself hopelessly flailing in the world system. The Kingdom of God has a unique mindset and economy and you need to know these rules to function in it properly.

But the church has spent too much time instructing people in how to fit into their subculture and none instructing them the realities of the Kingdom.

In this study, we begin to lay out the differences between the two systems and discuss the dangers present in trying to live in two worlds at once.

http://www.churchcloud.com/american-pentecost/sermon/switching-systems/

New Sermon: Intro to Manifestation

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Hi all.
I have a new sermon uploaded. This one deals with the dominion of the church, limitless expanse of the possibility of God’s provision and the ultimate goal of our manifestation as Sons of God.
Fell free to listen and share.

Keep us in prayer as the mission sending group is proposing sending us to Spain within a few months.

Blessings,
JC Smith & Co.

http://www.churchcloud.com/american-pentecost/sermon/intro-to-manifestation/

Sermon: The Two Prodigals

Hello all.
I am including a link to one of our sermons online.

http://www.churchcloud.com/american-pentecost/

We have been in the process of rebuilding our online catalog of free sermons for all of you and will update as we progress.

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The first offering is a sermon based on the entire chapter of Luke 15 and particularly the parable of the prodigal sons. Jesus’ intention was never for that parable to only be about the son who left home, it was also about the son who stayed.

You see, you can be lost both in and out of the house.

I pray that you are given this revelation and that the Father sees both types returning to his house.

If you enjoy this message, feel free to share the link with others.

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The Lazarus Generation

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So, you want to be effective with Gen-X? If you were to gauge exactly who this demographic is and how to win them by the current efforts of the church, more than likely you would start some sort of hipster ministry. For instance, you could take out all titles and replace them with something more hip: Pastor would be out and in its place would be “Pathfinder” or even just “Dude”.

Or you could place religious symbols from as many faiths as you could around your “community space” and then use bean bags and couches to fill empty areas. Oh, and don’t forget your incense and your U2charist… the kids like those; they make them feel like spiritual…

Now, that is exactly the way that many people are going about ministry to Gen-X and Gen-Y. Granted most of the visible ministry to our generation is being done by ex-youth group leaders who are now all grown up and keeping church cool. I have to tell you though, had you tried to win me with any of that I may have tested your faith a bit.

You see, I come from a different group of Gen-X called the Lazarus Generation. We are called that because we are a dead generation that Christ is raising from the grave. Big deal, you say, I was dead as well…we all were. Yeah, that may be technically true but in comparison to the “Lazarus kind of dead” most people were really just“mostly dead” if I can quote Miracle Max from The Princess Bride.

The Lazarus Generation was “all dead” which generally is regarded as a hopeless case scenario where the only remaining option is going through their pockets for spare change.

You have to wonder why the enemy went after Lazarus in the word, don’t you? I mean, he wasn’t an apostle or prophet or pastor. He had not shown himself to be of any consequence whatsoever when the enemy killed him off. In fact, killing him only had one visible consequence: causing grief to Mary, Martha and Jesus. In the end, I believe that this was his intention from the start. He knew that he couldn’t hurt the Lord but he could certainly hurt those that he loved.

Today’s Lazarus Generation were also those that the enemy had specifically targeted to destroy because of who loved them. Most of those considered to be a part of the Lazarus Generation came from the homes of believers before they fell away. Somewhere between the empty religion, the hypocrisy and the system of politics in the church world, Lazarus had had enough and decided that the faith they grew up with was a fairy tale, like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and a winning baseball team in Pittsburgh.

And when they left, they left hard. Lazarus tried Satanism, eastern religion, Nordic mythology, atheism and pretty much anything else so long as it was not the religion that they grew up with. They never really doubted that God existed; they just doubted what everyone was saying about him. And they sinned in every way imaginable, hurt everyone around them and burnt bridges like it was going out of style. And somewhere, someone cried for them.

My mother used to tell me that the “hounds of heaven”were going to get me. I had no idea what that was but it was a bit freaky. Of course, she meant that the “hounds” were goodness and mercy and that they would follow me all the days of my life. And she was right of course because one day during a suicide attempt those hounds finally caught up to me. And I am so glad that they did.

But like the biblical Lazarus, most didn’t want to see me raised from the dead either. But Lord, by this time, he stinks can pretty much summarize the first few years of my new life. Shoot, some still say that about me to be honest. They knew that Lazarus was coming back with baggage and as cool as seeing him raised would be, they weren’t entirely sure that they actually wanted him back. I can recall vividly this one established Christian who after hearing that the notorious sinner (me) had gotten saved decided to take it to the Lord in prayer. As he did, power dropped him to his knees as the Lord revealed to him that I was really a Satanist and was pretending to be saved for some nefarious reason. Remember the whole “Lord, he stinks” thing above?

I think in part this has to do with the fact that getting yourself raised from the dead changes your perspective a bit. The Japanese used to talk about the state of euphoria that came with coming back from the brink of death. If someone intervened when they were about to commit seppuku, they described the feeling as being transcendent. Colors were brighter, the air was crisper all around them, and every movement had a delicate beauty that had previously gone unnoticed to them. Life had not really been lived up until that point and there could never be any going back.

How much more would this be the case after having been “all dead”? What would your perspective be like after landing on the other side and experiencing the total hopelessness of death? And then, suddenly in the dark, when all hope that you should ever be saved was taken away, a light suddenly breaks all around you and you hear your name being called down the corridors of eternity! And before you fully know what is happening, you are being violently ripped from the pits of hell, with demons grabbing at your feet and snapping their jaws at you as you take your place in the last place you ever expected to see again: the land of the living. How would that change your perspective?

What kind of conversation do you have with someone who has been raised from the dead? How would you convince them to go back into the very thing that killed them in the first place? How do you tell someone that is full of this ‘gratitude from the grave’ to sit down and just relax a bit? Guess what, you don’t, hero. From the moment that they come back from the grave, they will be a step off from everyone else. Believe me, this kind of thing can make normal people nervous around you to say the least.

I have personally experienced this over and over again through the years. A couple years ago, there was an apparent “error” in my ministry that was so grievous that it was compared by a well-known preacher to homosexuals praying before going out to talk to people about a God who loved gays. Sound extreme? The error was that we teach mixed martial arts (MMA) to men instead of teaching them to hold hands with each other and share their feelings and sing ‘kumbaya’.

This kind of thing is nothing new for me, I am sorry to say. At one time I had some 00 plugs in my ears and some other body piercings. So, of course there were those who took issue with me because I looked too much like “the world” for their tastes. Some still hate the fact that I have full tattoo sleeves on my arms. Some hate the fact that I preach while wearing steel toed boots. Some others think I should not have a shaved head (been told that, true story) and there are still some more who think that preachers should not have long facial hair.

But what these well-intending folks do not realize is that when I was saved the last thing that was on my mind was getting a new wardrobe so that I could fit in with the cutesy church people. All that I had, like Lazarus, were the grave clothes that I had on when I died. Add to this the new perspective that you gain from being raised from the dead and what you have is someone who doesn’t really care one way or the other what you think about them.

It doesn’t matter what some people think of our ministry techniques, what matters is what God thinks. It does not matter that we do not do things the way that you do them because we do them exactly the way that God has led us to. It doesn’t matter that we don’t preach in a way that you like because if you hate it, it probably is not for you.

No, in the end the only thing that you can do with the Lazarus Generation is the very thing that Jesus commanded them to do with the newly-raised Lazarus:“Loose him and let him go!” Just get us free, get out of our way and let us loose for some payback. Don’t try to control us, don’t try to understand and don’t try to change our thinking until it looks more like your own. Our mission is to monkey stomp the enemy and we will do it at any cost.

We that are the Lazarus Generation have something inside that is pushing us. It keeps us up at night with an insistent whisper that says that now is the time. If we don’t play nice, forgive us, we seem to have left our ability to play nice in the grave. If we don’t sound like everyone else, forgive us, we have a different perspective that is driving us. If what we say or do bothers you, by all means forgive us, dying and coming back seems to cause you to cut to the chase.

We may not agree about everything but believe me, we need you in the church and you need us as well. We need fathers and mothers who can keep us grounded and spare us from mistakes. You need someone unafraid to take this message where no one else cares to go. Together we have the potential to literally shake Hell and see millions come into the kingdom. At this moment in time God has chosen to raise something from the dead that was considered totally lost. And in so doing he has created a juggernaut of zeal that is ready to run to the battle. And we need you church. If you cannot understand, don’t try, just loose us and let us go