The next time you hear a convicting message being preached at church, and you feel the Lord leading you to come forward to the altar to do business with Him, do it. You may just get more than you were looking for, or even knew you needed.
About a month ago, I was in church on a Sunday morning with my daughter Kelsey, and the pastor was preaching a message from Isaiah 61. It was a good solid message that was taken from Isaiah’s prophecy about the ministry and mission of the coming Jewish messiah, whose identity is confirmed for us as Jesus of Nazareth in Luke 4:16-21. It was a good message that really hit home, and when it was over I stood to come forward when the altar call was given. Kelsey grabbed my hand and walked down front with me.
But a funny thing happened on the way down, the Lord showed up. By the time we arrived at the altar, it was for a very different reason that I never saw coming.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,” Isaiah 61:1,2a (KJV)
Before I go further, it is important for you to know that we were not at my little white Baptist church, we were at my daughter’s church, Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida. For regular readers of NTEB, you may remember I wrote about Celebration back on Easter sunday when the pastor, Stovall Weems, dropped the bombshell that he had had a personal, visible, and audible encounter with Jesus Christ.
The ‘vision’ that lead to a revelation, for me
You can reread that article here if you wish to refresh your memory, but suffice to say the events surrounding it were a little on the wild side. There is nothing in the writings of our apostle Paul for the Church Age that might lead you to think that a face-to-face with Jesus here on this side is possible. Indeed, many a cult has been built on the claimed “visions” of a charismatic leader who had a personal visit from Jesus or an angel.
So when I got home that day I wrote that article about the claimed encounter that the Celebration pastor had with Jesus. In fact, it became a larger 4-part series on the end times ‘falling away’ of the Christian church from doctrinal truth. I believe there was much-needed truth contained in those articles, as well as a timely warning for the Body of Christ around the world. But as I also found out when responding to the altar call last month, from a sermon preached by the same pastor in the same church, the Lord showed me I had left something out.
Something that, in His mercy, He would allow me the opportunity to make right.
Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted
The sermon that Pastor Weems preached on August 12th was built on Isaiah 61 verse 1, one of the most power-packed verses in the entire Bible. In it, we see how Jesus would one day come to ‘set the captives free’, and to ‘heal the broken hearted’. The next time your heart breaks you will be reminded how important it is that God provides a Healer for that.
The is the sermon that God knew I needed to hear at exactly the time I needed to hear it
This is the sermon my article refers to, it’s really good and I hope you will give it a listen all the way through. It’s the best sermon I’ve heard yet at Celebration, and hopefully this type of preaching will continue there for a long time to come.
Having recently been through at that time a very impactful, soul-shaking experience that left me broken-hearted and shaken to my core, Pastor Weem’s message came as unexpected manna in an extremely dry season. (I’ve included the video of that sermon here in this article and I do hope you will watch it all the way through.) I needed a fresh blessing and refilling of the Holy Spirit very badly, and God in His mercy gave me just that.
“And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.” Joel 2:13 (KJV)
As I stood in front with the rest of the people who came forward for the altar call, with tears falling from my face, I began to get right with the Lord and started to lay my burden down on the altar. The God we serve is both merciful and forgiving, and I had come to the altar to receive both those things. But as I began to lift my hands and pray, my eyes found themselves suddenly fixed on the pastor, and then God started speaking.
Meeting God at the altar, and doing more listening than talking
He brought to my memory the article I had written about the pastor and his claim of a personal visit from Jesus, and showed my the part that I had left out of it. He showed me that, though my desire to refute what I felt was wrong and misleading teaching was good, I had not written the article as to a fellow brother in Christ, but rather as to an adversary. God showed me that I had indeed thrown the ‘baby out with the bathwater’, and that here at the altar we were going to add another aspect to the reason why I had originally come forward.
I began to pray earnestly and fervently regarding my original petition. I asked the Lord for forgiveness and mercy, offered forgiveness and mercy, lifted up those who needed to be lifted up, and with all my heart I believe I received what I came looking for. Then I sought out the pastor for the second reason I was there.
Pastor Weems came over to talk, I found him to be gracious and open to speaking with me. In his mind, I am sure he was reacting to me as he normally would when someone wanted to have a word after the morning message. After all, that’s what pastors are supposed to do, right? But little did he know why I was actually there. As I started to speak with him, a flood of true emotion came over me. I tearfully told him that I had been the one that wrote those articles, and I was sorry for being so hard on him personally. It took a moment for it to click in but eventually it did. What was his reaction? He warmly and physically embraced me as a fellow member in the Body of Christ, accepted my apology, and told me he would be praying for me in a way that I totally believed he sincerely meant, and that he would actually do.
And in that moment, I felt the burden that I didn’t even know I was carrying lifted from me, and the sweet joy of gaining a brother in Christ.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1,2 (KJV)
Without love we are nothing
I find it fittingly ironic that the very person I had called out for promoting a false teaching would be the same person that God would use to minister to me through preaching at a very low point of my life. Now don’t get me wrong, I still believe that anyone who claims a ‘personal visit’ from Jesus is not making that claim on the basis of the Bible, and those things should always be called out. But as the Lord showed me, I had completely left out compassion and brotherly love when I did so.
As far as Celebration Church and Pastor Weems are concerned, in the intervening months since ‘the vision’ took place, a fair number of changes have taken place at the church. And from my perspective, they are good changes. For one, Pastor Weems having had some time to reflect on his experience, has come to understand that it was a deeply personal spiritual event which took place, and not necessarily a personal physical appearance of Jesus in the flesh.
Secondly, they have greatly reduced the amount of laser lights, smoke machines and ultra-loud music that used to precede the services. In the service I attended there was none of those things present at all, for which I was quite grateful. As Pastor Weems discussed in the time following his ‘vision’, he truly felt the Lord calling him to take a fresh looking at his calling and to make sure they were doing things in the services that were pleasing to the Lord. They even changed the way they take up the offering, and again, it was a good change. I totally respect a pastor whose heart is still open to receive correction from the Lord. May that be the prayer of our hearts also!
Lastly, this being the first sermon I heard at Celebration since last Easter, I was pleasantly surprised at the doctrinal strength of it and the manner in which Pastor Weems preached it. It had Holy Spirit power and conviction behind it, and it was certainly what I needed to receive on that Sunday.
Just because it’s a mega church doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing
My type of church will never be the modern megachurch, that’s just not me. I love the little white Baptist churches I have always attended since first getting saved, singing the old hymns and standing on the old Book. But the Body of Christ is as varied as the people who make it up, and no one church presentation reaches everyone.
Stovall Weems is truly a good guy, and a good pastor who truly cares about his flock. I will be forever grateful for the Christian love and forgiveness he extended towards me. I will be praying that Celebration Church continue to build on their recent changes, continue to put the focus on doctrine, and continue to preach messages like the one that ministered so powerfully to me. For my part, I will do my level best to make sure that any and all articles published here regarding the doctrines and teachings of other churches are done with true brotherly love and Christian charity. For those of you who are regular readers here, you will notice that that change took place about a week ago.
“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matthew 5:23,24 (KJV)
The next time you hear a convicting message being preached at church, and you feel the Lord leading you to come forward to the altar to do business with Him, do it and don’t delay. You may just get more than you were looking for, or even knew you needed.
And it might not just be you doing all the talking.