This has been a great week for me. I better understand what it means to give thanks with a grateful heart. I am more aware than ever of just how big God’s kingdom really is. I started my week in Chattanooga attending the Fresh Oil New Wine Conference at Abba’s House. Ron Phillips, one of my best and dearest friends for over 25 years is the pastor of that great church. Ron is not only a close friend, but a brother, mentor and hero in the faith. We both grew up in our faith in the wonderful heritage of Southern Baptists. Years ago (even though we both remain Baptist) we both felt led to walk in a broader stream of fellowship. After a life-changing experience with the Holy Spirit, Ron crossed over into the charismatic-pentecostal world. He is not only perhaps the best Bible preacher I have ever heard, but he also ministers in the realm of the Spirit in an unusual way. He has become a spiritual father to young pastors all over the nation who want to minister both in Word and Spirit. I really believe that God has placed him in a unique position to be an example to those brothers about how to rightly handle the Scriptures as well as walk in the Spirit.
My journey has been a bit different. In the mid-nineties, I had a defining moment in my personal and ministry life and knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life trying to communicate to people who were very far from God. I realized I could not pastor a traditional church and fulfill what I believed to be God’s call in my life. Please don’t misunderstand, I do not use the term “traditional” in a pejorative way. In my heart, I am for the local church regardless of its style and methods. There is no higher calling on earth for any man than to be a shepherd of God’s flock. I don’t think my way is right and everyone else is wrong. I don’t even believe that everyone needs to do church like me. I just knew I was supposed to do something a little different than I had been doing and wanted to walk in a wider stream of fellowship with other believers who were not exactly like me. At times, especially early on, that proved to be very painful because some of my friends in my own denomination perceived that desire to be a sense of disloyalty. I believe one of the joys of heaven will be no labels to describe our faith or the faith of others. Ron experienced the same thing and maybe that is one of the things that has kept us tied to one another through the years. Mavericks seem to run with other mavericks.
Attending his conference this week was a wonderful experience for me that will have a lasting impact on my life. I did not go to learn about new methods or leadership principles, I just went for God to speak to my heart, renew my spirit, and to witness the combination of ministry in Word and Spirit. I was not disappointed. Every session I left with my heart over flowing and full of wonder. I can’t begin to explain everything I heard or witnessed. Was some of it out of my comfort zone? Sure. But I believe it was in the zone where God wanted me to be. I met and made some new friends, and I am thankful for their ministry. God’s kingdom is big and we are not all alike. God seems to enjoy variety in His body whether we do or not. One of the speaker’s spoke a word of knowledge regarding my health and future ministry. I received it with gratitude and pray it comes to pass. That will be in God’s hands, but it sure sounded like something He might do.
So what were my takeaways from this special time? God is good all the time, even when we are not aware of it. I have a greater love for God’s church. We are not all alike. Every church and ministry is just one expression of His body. I want to experience more of God’s power in my life and ministry. I want to be faithful to His Word and obedient to His Spirit. I want to trust His promptings more and allow Him to control more of who I am and what I do.
I want to say thanks to Ron for being my friend in the good times and the bad. I want to say thanks for having the courage to walk in a new direction even when many were telling you not to do so (hey let’s face it, there have been times where I wondered where you were going). I want to say thanks for allowing me to ask lots of questions as God continues to work in new ways in my life. Most of all thank you for being faithful to Jesus, loving His Word and living in obedience to His Spirit.
In the western movie Tombstone, a cowboy asks Doc Holliday why in the world he was willing to wade into an open stream to face gun fire with no covering. He replied simply, “because Wyatt Earp is my friend.” The cowboy replied that he had “lots of friends,” to which Doc Holliday replied, “Well, I don’t.” That’s the way I feel about my friend Ron. I hope God has given you such a friend. Blessings.