Moving Deeper Into Fundamentalism

RMlogo Moving Deeper Into Fundamentalism

In February 1986, my pastor, wife, and I took a road trip to Greenville, South Carolina. It was a cloudy day. And, no, I don’t believe in signs, though that could have been one. I hardly spoke during the 2.5-hour trip. My soul was unsettled about uprooting my family and moving away from all we had known.

As we made our way to Greenville, I said something about the sunlight piercing through the clouds. It rendered what many artists and anyone with a camera want to capture. There were several “fingers” of light breaking through, reminding me of my favorite Artist. Gotta give it up for the Lord; His handiwork is phenomenal. Gerald saw it too.

And that pretty much sums up the conversation. Though I could not articulate what was going on in my soul back then, I now know. I was struggling with faith in the process of what we were about to do. I’m a small-town boy with a redneck’s heart. Moving to the “big city” was not my dream. As I was learning, the Lord was deconstructing and rearranging my dreams.

Tabernacle Baptist College

We had an appointment at Tabernacle Baptist Bible College (TBBC) on White Horse Road. Dr. Jerry Clark was the Dean of the college. They were going to provide us with an overview of the program and a tour of the campus.

We took exit 44 (White Horse Road) and drove the five miles to TBC and TBBC. The church and school were on the same property. The church building stood prominently alongside the road. When Dr. Harold B. Sightler and others bought the church property in the 50s, White Horse Road was a narrow street making its way toward the mountains of North Carolina. In ’88, it was a six-lane highway. The only thing that separated the church building from the highway was the sidewalk. Literally. You could stand on the road and reach over the sidewalk to touch the building.

That day, we saw the church building, the college campus, the children’s home, and the widow’s apartments. You could be part of that ministry from cradle to grave. The radio station was still in Pickens County. We also saw a few church-owned homes where some of the students stayed.

Dr. Clark was in his forties. He was wearing a suit, of course, and every hair on his head was in place, held neatly with hairspray. I’ve never seen him in any other clothes, and his hair was always the same. We used to joke that he slept that way. (That might not be a joke.) I suppose there is something to say for consistency, though I’m more into comfort these days than maintaining a self-imposed or anticipated image.

The Fundamentalist Way

Independent Baptists are fundamentalists. Think conservative regarding their social practices. They model a lifestyle that mirrors how most people lived in our country during the 40s and 50s. They are always consistently 30 to 50 years behind the current times and trends.

Their music had a Lawrence Welk vibe. (You can Google L.W.) They mostly wear long or short sleeve dress shirts to their church meetings, and nearly anywhere else. Lots of suits. The ladies do not wear pants in public, though some will wear them in the home. The closest they come to “pants on women” would be culottes, which I call Baptist britches for women.

Their conservatism is mostly preferential rather than biblical. The fundamentalists have a skewed view of worldliness, believing it to be “in the world” rather than in the heart. (See James 1:14-15). Thus, they react to what they see in the culture by doing the opposite. Ironically, if you played their music from the 1980s in the 1880s, it would be scandalous. If you remove the words, it’s barroom music, which I always found humorous (and instructive).

They have a “chronological conservatism” that adjusts according to the times. It keeps them distant from and out-of-step with their culture. Biblical conservatism, however, transcends cultures and eras; you can dress with the times and engage the people but continue to be different from them.

By having a chronological conservatism, you can show your differences by what you wear, which is similar to the Amish culture. It’s an external display of what they represent. The worse case of this is the Pharisees, who wear their religion on their sleeves. I was a fundamentalist from the point of regeneration until my life fell apart. More on that later.

I trusted and practiced all of their ascetic beliefs. The truth is that I did not know any different. When God regenerated me, I did not know any Scripture, including John 3:16. One of their core tenents is strict adherence to the 1611 King James Bible (KJV), which is a translation from the original KJV. Yes, it’s ironic, but there are a lot of ironies within this movement.

Though I don’t hold to most of their religious practices any longer, I do love these people and fondly look back on those days with appreciation. It is my heritage. I learned about God within that movement. The things we did were some of the happiest of my religious experience. I was appropriately dumb, innocent, hungry, and teachable.

We chose to move and set-up camp in Greenville, South Carolina.

I Surrendered to the Call and Became a Preacher

I went down front convicted and crying—slobbering all over the altar, which was the steps that led to the platform. I do not remember everything I said to the Lord, but there was a sense of anti-climax. I had already prayed all I knew to pray days and weeks before.

I got up from the altar, in tears, and approached “Brother Gerald” and told him that I believe God was “calling me into the ministry.” This way of becoming a preacher is the fundamentalist formula to go into full-time vocational ministry.

Gerald was standing on the platform since he was giving the “altar call.” I was facing him, with my back to the congregation. He smiled big and said, “Tell them,” as he pointed to the people. I turned around, and through blubbering words, I told them that God had called me into the ministry. This announcement was the first time that my wife had heard about our new future life. Whoa!! What could possibly go wrong that? If there were idiot pills, I would have overdosed.

The place erupted as everyone was grinning from ear to ear, shouting the praises of the Lord. I don’t remember what happened for the rest of that church meeting, other than pumping a bunch of hands and relishing in the aftermath of released angst. After most of the people left, I was sitting on the altar (steps) with (brother) Gerald. I asked him what I was supposed to do now. I never considered the next phase.

A Call to Prepare

I had focused my energies on surrendering. It never occurred to me that there were things to do afterward. Gerald told me, “A call to preach is a call to prepare, son.” Well, amen! I needed to go to college for training. There were two preacher boys from our church that had surrendered years earlier. I was the third one in ten years. One was in the pastorate already. The other one would be graduating that year. They went to a fundamentalist Bible College in Greenville, South Carolina. I had never heard of Greenville, South Carolina, even though it was only 135 miles away.

On the way home that night, I asked my wife what she thought about what I did. She said she was glad that I “surrendered” because I was making things unbearable at home. I did not know how the pressure of “the call” was hurting her or our home life. She was excited, though both of us were clueless.

My First Evangelistic Stop

Before arriving home, I decided to stop by my mother’s home, which was across the field from our double-wide mobile home. I wanted to witness to her, which meant to tell her about Jesus, hoping God would save her. She was not “living for the Lord,” and I was concerned for my family. Mother told me she had an experience with God a few years earlier.

She said she was standing at the front door of her home, looking toward the front yard when she saw the ground rise and the sky come down. Then something happened, the details of which I don’t remember. Because of that experience, she knew she was a Christian. I did not respond to what she said. Maybe I should have.

I went home and pondered all the events of the day in my heart. My life had just changed, and I had no idea what God had in store for us or the costs involved.

The Subjective and Ignorant Call of God Into the Ministry

I continued to work in the church through the summer and fall of 1985. I couldn’t get enough of it. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. The church was the world’s greatest playland. My career at Delaval—the machine shop—was going well too. God was showing favor there as I was becoming more involved in committees and training. It was an excellent job for me.

I told Cal Pearson, one of my bosses, that I couldn’t foresee me doing anything else in my life. But I did add that if I do grow weary of the job, I will leave. Of course, I could not possibly imagine that happening. My comment to Call was instructive because it was less than a month later when I noticed there was a drawing of my heart from Delaval. It was out of the blue; I was growing weary of my job. It was amazing.

There was no script for what I was going through, and I was unprepared for the unexpected. The work that I loved doing was becoming taxing and frustrating. Shortly after talking to Cal, I wanted to be somewhere else though I didn’t know where that would be. The only clue I had was that my heart yearned to do more work for the Lord in the context of a local church. These thoughts brought fear and angst.

The Call of God?

Simultaneous to my soul troubles, some of the good church folks hinted that God was calling me into the ministry. “Going into the ministry” is a term from the Independent Baptist movement of churches that meant if a male, Christian had zeal and a desire (burden), God was calling him to full-time work. The three options are pastor, missionary, and evangelist. Yeah, weird, right? But it wasn’t then.

Their approach to pursuing the ministry is not wise even though men do it all the time in religious cultures. Some of the things missing in this equation are a lack of assessment of the person’s gift mix, character, and a season for the outworking of his gifting. And, of course, how he loves and leads his family are critical data points. Discerning these things did not happen. I received no counsel. The irony is that I was merely acting out the gospel in my life as I was learning from Bible reading, preaching, and modeling what I saw other Christians doing.

In retrospect, God was not calling me. Living out the teaching of the Bible should be typical for all believers. If you grow in your understanding of the Bible and live it out, you’re transforming into an expected Christian life. Reflectively, I see how my life was counter to the nominalism in the church. I was the new, shiny thing, and the people were ignorantly excited about the zealous Christian in their midst.

This kind of ignorance is the false continuum that says if you have zeal, God is calling you into the ministry. And the good Christian folks were not shy about stating their opinions regarding my vocational future. Their “encouragement” became a sinful temptation to me. I did not want to “go into the ministry.” I was terrified of this notion.

But their not-so-veiled-comments continued while nobody came alongside me to talk about these matters. They were observing me and giving opinions on how they thought about my future or what God was doing in my heart. It became a waiting game for them. I did not know how it worked, but they knew the day was coming when I would “surrender” to the “call to go into the ministry.”

I just needed to work it out so the inevitable would happen. I think about how insane this is today. How devastating to a person and his family when you “expect” him into the ministry without careful evaluation and soul care.

Our First Book In Print

Change_Me_front_cover_02

Last week I published our first paperback book, called, “Change Me, The Ultimate Life-Change Handbook.” This book will be the leading resource from our ministry on how to change. It is 34 chapters and 292 pages.

Here is the promotional video https://vimeo.com/rickthomasnet/change-me

A few years ago, I wrote 31 articles (2K words per) on how to change. It was intended to be a guide for disciplers and counselors to use as a long-term homework tool. It was quite popular, so I turned it into a digital book. Now it’s in paperback.

As we near the 10-year anniversary of our ministry on July 03 of this year, we are at the “publishing phase” regarding our content creation. The goal is to publish two paperback books per year. The second one this year will be in a few weeks. Then we’ll try to release one during the first and second halves of next year.

Hey, What May I Do?

1. Say a prayer, asking the Father to bring more folks who are willing to support our ministry. Each book costs approximately $1200 to publish.

2. Buy this latest book here: https://amzn.to/2JPeliJ

3. Share the link with a friend https://amzn.to/2JPeliJ, asking them to buy a copy.

4. Write a review on Amazon about the book, which will signal to them to broaden its reach.

5. Use this book in your discipleship and counseling endeavors. (One counseling ministry at a local church is reviewing it to see if it would be a good fit to add to their curriculum.)

This new step is significant for our ministry, and I hope the Lord will open more doors as our books go forth, sharing the good and transformative news of Christ.

The Birth Of Our Ministry

RMlogo 12 universal assumptions you can make about people

I disdained my job at BMW (the German car manufacturer, or as we say down here, Bubba Makes Wheels). We have a plant in my town. Ironically, the money I made during those five years (1995-2000) is what enabled us (from a human perspective) to have our current ministry; we were able to be nearly debt-free.

The job was hard, and I was a regular complainer to God about the hardships. I had two Bible degrees, which led me to a production job on an assembly line. (The things they don’t tell you in Bible college.) It was evident to me that God did not want me to be there, so I let Him know my perspective regularly.

One day, I was going through my “grumbling to God routine.” The Lord, not agreeing with my perspective, said, “Once you stop grumbling, you should look around and see all the ministry you could do in this place.”

Gee, whiz, Lord. I think I’ll do that.

Besides Women and Children

And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. – Matthew 14:21

He further reminded me of the feeding of the 5000 where it said, “There were 5000 men, not counting the women or the children.” God wanted me to know that if you added all the spouses, children, and relatives to the 2000 BMW employees, I could impact a lot of lives for His fame.

I began to think how impacting these employees would spread to their families and communities.

Okay, Lord, I repent. I’ll stop grumbling about this awful job.

The next day, I found a Bible study that some folks were doing during lunch. I joined them. In two weeks, I was leading it. From there, a series of other events transpired. Many missional opportunities.

I started making hospital visits. We began another Bible study so more folks could attend. We took up collections for a local family. We ended up on two TV news programs and newspapers. Eventually, I submitted a proposal to become the BMW corporate chaplain. They rejected my offer, but told me on the side,

We can’t let you be the chaplain because if we do, the atheists and other groups will want their chaplains. But we don’t want you to stop what you’re doing. You’re having a positive effect on the employees.

I decided to submit another version of my proposal to my local church. They loved it and hired me part-time, asking me to build a counseling ministry. What I did not know is that they had been praying for a counseling ministry at their church. They also paid for my MA Biblical Counseling degree.

Just Stop It

Once I repented of my grumbling, clarity came, e.g., I started and finished my MABC on the BMW production line. I’ve always said that “BMW is a vehicle” in that it takes you from point A to point B. The Lord used that miserable job to get my heart realigned to His higher purposes. And through that awful job, BMW took me to this fantastic ministry.

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions. – Deuteronomy 32:11

Sometimes the Lord stirs up your nest because He wants to teach you how to fly (Isaiah 40:31). In typical human fashion, we begin this process by complaining about the Lord’s “nest stirring.”

Imagine what might happen if you stopped complaining and started exploring what the Lord may be up to in your life. For me, it began when I looked across the production plant floor at BMW and saw 2000 employees, “not counting the women and the children.”

Counseling Success Six Years After Counseling

RMlogo David Swain's 60
Tonight, our family went to a friend’s 60th birthday bash. He and his wife were born a couple of days apart, so we all had a double celebration. It was a great event.

One of their daughters, along with a few other folks, spearheaded the event. After we arrived, I spoke with his daughter; she thanked me for helping her and her husband through some marriage issues six years ago. I remember it well.

Later in the evening, the husband approached me and expressed gratitude, though he admitted to lying and damage control during our counseling sessions. The counseling did not have the intended effect, as it was a few more years before he came to an end of himself and cleaned up his act.

He told me that after our counseling season ended he began listening to Drive-By Marriage (DBM), our 31-lesson marriage series, on his way to and from work. It was DBM that the Lord used to capture his heart. He repented and had been walking out repentance for the past three years.

Post-Counseling Success

While I was so encouraged by his gratitude, I was struck (again) by the reality that the counseling season is so often not the season when change happens. Most counseling times are periods of watering and planting, not change (1 Corinthians 3:6). Too often, counselors and counselees are put “in a spot” by elevating their season together as a time for a change to happen when change rarely happens during that short period.

God grants repentance, not disciplers (2 Timothy 2:24-25), and it’s unusual for folks to change after two, four, or six counseling sessions. My friend is an example of this truth. He transformed several years after we met. It was only after he came to “an end of himself” did transformation come his way (Luke 15:17). And that “end” did not happen during counseling.

A Spouse’s Perseverance

He was full of joy and gratitude for what the Lord did for him, and I rejoiced with him too. Later I stopped to share with his wife my gratitude for the grace of God in her life as she persevered with her husband. Too often, spouses are exasperated, exhausted, bitter, and even angry about what is happening to them and their marriages. Though it was hard on her, she persevered and stayed the course.

I told her that I remember standing beside my son’s baseball field, taking a call from her, from another city in South Carolina. She was struggling so much. She was at her rope’s end. But she stayed the course. She fought. She persevered. She is a testimony of God’s grace. While we rejoice at his transformation, I did not want her testimony of God’s grace to go unnoticed. She received my encouragement with tears.

As for this old counselor, it’s good to hear about the victories, even if they come six years after you meet with a person. God is so good to all of us. He persevered with me for twenty-five years before transformation came.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8

Mexico. Revisited.

RMlogo Case Study_ Unholy Trinity - Man, Ministry, Marriage

My pastor friend in Mexico has done an excellent job in working through the problem of having me come for a series of meetings. After another round of talks with his pastor friends, they are okay currently with me speaking, though I won’t be speaking at one church because I’m divorced.

This issue is not something for Christians to respond in anger. Paul was clear in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, as he laid out how to respond to those who have unbiblical perspectives; he said knowledge leads to arrogance but love builds unity.

Though you or I may have knowledge about this matter, to beat our collective chests while looking down on those who have training in legalism would be sinful. We hold our perspectives with humility and love, not with condescending attitudes.

I sent this email, below, to my friend in response to the “dust-up” because he asked for my perspective on this issue. Part of my response to him addressed the idea of a sinner teaching behind a pulpit, which is a big deal for these pastors.

Different But Unified

Thank you for your thoughtful email. We are not struggling in any way. All is well with our souls. We will do whatever you want us to do. I do not want to be a stumbling block to anyone in Mexico, so if not coming will accomplish this right goal, then I do not wish to teach in your area.

But if everyone is “in faith” for our visit, then let’s do it. I would only ask that I be used in all possible ways because I’m not looking for a vacation. I go to meetings and conferences to work hard, not to relax, and I want you all to get the most from us. Our joy is to serve, not for you to serve us (Mark 10:45).

As for divorce? I believe Paul told Timothy that a pastor must have no more than one wife. I have only one. My first wife committed adultery and two years later dissolved the marriage. I did not divorce her. I sought reconciliation right up until the judge pronounced us divorced, and it’s a matter of court record that I was against it. I was clear on that matter.

She then married, divorced, and remarried a third time before I ever met and married Lucia. My first wife is no longer my wife, and I only have one. Though I was a pastor for five years, I am not now. I do not see myself as disqualified from being a pastor, though I do not believe the Lord has called me to pastor at this time. I have no desire for the noble office.

Missional Christians Teach

There is no teaching that I’m aware of that says I cannot teach Christians God’s Word. God redeemed me by the power of His Word. I’m also not aware of any forgiven sin that disqualifies a Christian from teaching God’s Word to other Christians. Doing so is at the heart of the great commission.

As for the pulpit? It’s not sacred; it’s a piece of wood (or metal) that some folks use as a means to hold their Bibles, notes, and water bottles. God dwells in people, not in inanimate objects. People are spiritual. Preaching is a spiritual event. The context is not relevant since any context is acceptable for sharing God’s Word, i.e., wood, rock, metal, or nothing at all.

I said the following on my family blog, which I write as an oral commentary on our family’s lives so our friends can see the “other side” of our lives, not just the ministry side of things.

Ironically, it would have been “better” if I had murdered my ex-wife rather than her divorcing me. (I say this in hyperbolic jest only, as I have no ill-will toward her.) But sometimes you can’t choose the sins that follow you through life. I just happen to have the “leprosy sin” of divorce.

I am aware that some folks have a weak conscience on this matter of divorce (1 Corinthians 8:1-13), which is why I would rather not come than to cause one of my brothers to stumble.

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:13

Therefore, if [divorce] makes my brother stumble, I will never [teach to them], lest I make my brother stumble. – RLTV

I’m at your service. You tell me what you want me to do, and I will do it. But if I do come, I request that you fill up our time helping others.

Grace and mercy to you, my friend.
Rick

Divorce Is the Unpardonable Sin

https://rickthomas.net/recurring-membership/

I just got word from my friend in Mexico that they do not want me coming down there to speak in their churches. My friend does, but not his friends. They found out that I was divorced, which is the unpardonable sin when it comes to speaking in Christian pulpits.

This worldview is not the view of my friend; he’s a supporting member of our site and has much respect for me, as I do for him. He did not think about this minor (divorce) detail, which he knows now that is not a small talking point with these pastors. Though the fact that we don’t hide that I’ve gone through a divorce on our website, it did not occur to him that he should say that I was. And he shouldn’t have “majored on a minor,” as though that tidbit is a disqualifier.

But some folks, due to their religious preferences and prejudices, have another perspective. Mercifully, the Lord brought this out for those pastors, and they are asking us not to come to Mexico to share the gospel of Christ. As one pastor said, “I will not permit him to speak in my pulpit.” (I say “mercifully, the Lord brought this out” because it’s far better to find out now than after we arrived in Mexico.)

Murder, Yes – Divorce, No

Ironically, it would have been “better” if I had murdered my ex-wife rather than her divorcing me. (I say this in hyperbolic jest only, as I have no ill-will toward her.) But sometimes you can’t choose the sins that follow you through life. I just happen to have the “leprosy sin” of divorce.

My friend is sad. He has used much of our content in his preaching over the past few years and genuinely loves me and our resources. I’m sorry for him.

My children were listening to the phone call through the speaker, as was Lucia. They don’t understand, though they shrugged it off with mild sadness that they could not go with us for this trip. Ansa hugged me and said that she loves me anyway, and always will. Her love for me is more important than a handful of legalistic pastors.

It’s been a while since someone has disqualified me from Christian ministry. I don’t think about it any longer since my identity is in Christ, not in what the Lord has permitted into my life. I suppose it’s been thirty or so years since I walked away from fundamentalist’s teaching preferences. I do remember my friend (and pastor) in Commerce, GA telling me that I could speak in his pulpit anytime that I wanted to as long as I was not dating or remarried.

Oh well.

Pray For My Brothers

It is possible these Mexican pastors will change their minds, though it seems unlikely since they believe so firmly and the trip is less than a month.

As for me? I’m a sovereigntist; God is in control of all things, and I know that He works in mysterious ways. I don’t say that simplistically. I do believe it, and because of that, I’m not struggling with this turn of events. God is good. He opens and shuts doors.

From my viewpoint, it was God’s work in me as I went through a divorce that gave me (and this ministry) a significant platform to help hundreds of thousands of people. We just won’t be serving a group of folks in Mexico.

Apparently.

But then the Lord could do something different for them and us.

Stay tuned. Pray fervently. We are one in His body.

Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Mexico

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Update To Our Member Community – I’m in the middle of a significant public speaking stretch, for which I’m grateful to God for the privilege to serve Him and His body this way.

What happens during these events is that the ministry continues, which means prep for speaking, travel, and the work at these conferences do not replace my regular ministry duties; I add these responsibilities to my day-to-day work. (FYI: One of my “requirements” for speaking events is access to wifi so I can continue to work while away.)

To accomplish these events, I have to “pre-load” a week’s worth of work before I travel. E.g., This week I will do seven articles and podcasts between Sunday and Wednesday. Also, I must complete all our student’s assignments in our Mastermind Training Program. And then there is the usual ministry work, which is myriad, which includes a new book launch next Tuesday that I must complete in the next couple of days so it can go through the edits and populate globally by next week.

We’re also in the middle of a significant website launch, which we hope will be ready for you in a couple of months. There are numerous details involved with this launch.

Mercifully, many of you support this ministry, which has permitted us to hire Brandi Huerta, Chris O’Donnell, and Doug Graham this year. Julie Hansen has been working for us for a couple of years now, and Lisa Rice volunteers her time to the ministry. (We hope to bring her onboard by year’s end, which will coincide with the completion of her Mastermind Training.)

Without them, I would not be able to add these events to our workload. Without you, we would not have them. This work is a partnership in the gospel.

A Testimony – A lady in Alaska said that this past retreat was the best one that she had attended. She added that the previous retreats were fun and informational, but not as transformative. She said this retreat gave her a lot to think about and respond to personally and in her marriage.

It’s important to me that you know God is doing good work at these events. The assistant pastor in Alaska said the Sunday night meeting was one of the most well-attended meetings that they have had in recent memory.

Please pray for Lucia, the children, and me. We have Idaho, Oregon, and Mexico coming in succession. We knew it would be a challenge, but believed this was God’s will for us. We’re “in faith” for the process, but we’re also desirous of your prayers.

Thank you!
Rick

If you know of individuals, churches, or businesses that you believe would be interested in supporting us, share this link with them: https://rickthomas.net/recurring-membership/

One Final Note – This website ranked our site as #10 of the top 30 best Christian websites for men.

The Lord is kind to us!!