4/18/2010 ~ Today I attended the Niceville Assembly of God service, in Niceville, FL.
This Sunday, I set out with a great feeling of excitement to visit the Assembly of God Church in Niceville, FL!
About nine years ago I had the good fortune to be taken under the wing of a great Pastor ~ Jim Slaska at the Assembly in Northern Montana. It was a challenging time for me: I was almost 2000 miles away from my family, up on the Canadian border, North of Williston, N. Dakota, working as the Medical Director of a health complex where I was the only doctor in the county. They called this "Frontier Medicine" and it was!
I lived alone in a low-rent motel and basically my friends were the local priest, Father Gary; and Pastor Jim. I was on call for the ER 24/7 for months at a time (where they had stuff like injuries from being thrown off a horse at the Rodeo or being shot in the leg during hunting season -- along with the usual cardiac arrests and what have you; and where the nearest tertiary care hospital was a three hour round trip by fixed-wing plane - if we weren't snowed in!). It was pretty lonely; but I was there for the money so that, among other things, my kids could attend private Christian School in the "Big City". So it was "all good."
Anyhow, the Pastor and his wife threw a welcome party for me when I arrived in town and seemed very friendly. At Catholic Mass one Sunday I met two "Sisters" (Nuns) who were biologic sisters returning to town for their high school reunion. When they were leaving town, they came by my office to say "Goodbye" and shared that they were going to a quick Bible Study before they returned to the convent in another state. Knowing that the Catholic Church wasn't big on this I asked them where they were headed. They replied: "To Pastor Jim's Bible Study!"
I bid them adieu and got to thinking: If the Catholic Nuns can go to The Assembly of God Bible Study, why not me?
One thing led to another and before you knew it I was attending Pastor's Wednesday night Bible Class, going to church at the Assembly after Catholic Mass on Sunday; and Pastor was coming over every other Friday on my "day off" (I was still on call) to minister to me. It was an exciting time; I was born again in The Assembly; the two congregations became interactive under my eyes; and The Assembly Country Gospel Singers even performed at the Catholic Christmas Mass!
So I felt a sense of "Belonging" when I entered the Assembly Church in Niceville, Florida 4/18/10. But "entered' is probably the wrong word. They had such a large, vibrant congregation streaming out of the earlier service that I could not find parking and had to "swim" upstream against the happy, cheerful crowd as I pushed my way into the church. Actually, the congregation had grown so big that a gigantic new church had been built right alongside the original smaller building (see photo above).
Folks were very friendly, two different people left their pews to find me a copy of the weekly "Welcome" announcement. This was a very Pentecostal environment. The Altar was the most performance stage-like of any church I had visited to date and at the outset I thought I was at a contemporary Christian Rock Concert rather than in a church service! There was a lot of youth involvement compared to most of my other recent visits and the motif was absolutely casual. I saw one other guy in a tie; and no coats were in evidence. The preacher wore a guayabera-type shirt outside of his pants. But you could tell that this was an affluent middle-class community. Many of the women were very well dressed in what I call "The Destin Style": They were unusually trim, tightly-wrapped in designer jeans & skirts, and very "professionally" made-up. That look spells "Money" in this area and I don't doubt that a number of them came from the nearby, upscale, Blue Water Bay resort.
There was no communion, collection was taken, the chairs had a bible-pocket under each seat but few bibles were evident as everything was projected up on the two screens along with streaming video of the choir and preacher at times.
They had the usual friendly "Meet & Greet" and late in the service (which lasted more than two hours) there was a call for testimony at the altar and folks went up in a crowd to support each other.
To tell the truth, after about an hour standing and listening to the modern, sometimes almost rap-style and very repetitive music, I began to miss my "Country Gospel" and wondered if there would be a sermon. But we ultimately got there; and a long one it was (summarized below).
I enjoyed this tremendously invigorating service and marveled at the stamina of the congregation. But I think I relished it even more as a contrast to the rather more mundane gatherings I had previously attended (and looked forward to visiting again).
THE MESSAGE: "DEAL OR NO DEAL?"
(Edited & Adapted from the Sermon by Pastor Phil Daniels; 4/18/2010)
Pastor Phil came on stage to background music carrying props including a phone and a large box.
The phone rang and he appeared to take a call. He listened for a while, making occasional guttural responses, then hung up, turned to the congregation, and said: "That was God. There is a deal from God. In exchange for what’s in this box, He is offering joy, reality, experience of Himself, justice, goodness, faithfulness, appreciation for life, peace and freedom ... all in exchange for what’s in this box. Do you want to deal?"
"Yes! Yes!" the congregation shouted.
Pastor replied: "The Deal is: In return for worship and celebration you’ll get all of the above. You see, we have to give up something to do the Deal. And we’re going to have to give up worship and celebration. (This is part three of a series on ‘Deal or No Deal’. Soon we will do part two and then part one - in reverse order. But today we are doing part three first, because it’s the easiest)".
By way of explanation, Pastor then said: "Our spiritual target must be freedom. So we cannot make any discipline (not even worship) our central focus. If we do, then we have given up freedom for bondage. It is the same with everything, even including prayer. We must get off our knees and help or brothers. Disciplines are of no value in themselves; no-one fights alone. So if we want to Do The Deal and get all that God is offering, we even have to give up worship & celebration.
"There are three groups of disciplines : Inward, Outward and Corporate.
"The paramount Corporate discipline is worship and the Father is seeking this. True worshipers will worship in spirit and in faith. He sent a model: Jesus. We respond to that in Spirit and in Truth. Spirit is who we are. We are spiritual beings. And in truth - in reality - we experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the faith community.
"But worship and celebration, in the Corporate (church) environment are easy to fake. To Do the Deal, we have to give up that facade. Instead, we have to practice worship & celebration in our daily lives AND take them to a new level. Now, who do we worship? It must be God only: (‘Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written,) Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Matthew 4: 10).
"So first of all, we must recognize God as our target. But look inside of who we are as humans. What is it in your life that 'sets you on fire'? Are you as excited about your Creator and the worship of God as you are about the other stuff in your life? You need a right knowledge about God to get your priorities straight. Look at who God is and what He’s done. Read Isaiah: (‘In the year that king Uzziah died) ... I saw ... the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.’ (Isa.6: 1). Isaiah saw God in His splendor, recognized God for who he is. So must you. Then, and only then, can you appreciate God as being more important than the other things that 'set you on fire' in your life.
"Number two, you have to recognize what God is doing. He is the creator of the universe. But God is not just a cosmic deity. He is involved in every aspect of our daily lives. You have to identify him in all His interactions with His people. He infiltrates every aspect of the believer’s life. So we too must give our all, our entire bodies to God. Romans 12:1 says - (‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you) present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.’ This is truly the way to worship Him: With our entire being.
"Why do we find it so easy to go to a ball game and jump and shout, but find it so difficult to celebrate the same way in church; to worship God? If you got up this morning, He did something for you; He gave you life! Be thankful for that.
"So we must make worship a priority. To understand worship you must have an object and priority. The object is God: You must love him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. You must Love the lord your God with all the above. It is easy to say but hard to do. It is difficult to elevate this to a priority status in our everyday lives. But If we do, then those lives will be punctuated with grace and adoration.
"We must worship God at least as much as we do everything important in our Life: our job our family etc. Mark 12:30 says - ‘And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment.’
"So now, let me challenge you to find the most important thing in your life – that’s the thing you worship. Worship God that way.
"And give up worshiping things of the flesh. Then you can do the deal.
"The other discipline we are going to discuss today is Celebration. (We’re going to have to give this up too - for something better). But first let me say that when we talk about celebration, we’re not talking about birthdays. It’s easy to celebrate those types of things. But we sometimes forget the even greater instances of Celebration; for example in Jesus’ life: Jesus Christ came into this world with high Celebration. There was no ‘Silent night!’ when Christ was born. The sheep were there ! BAAA! Then heaven opens and a choir sings. It scares the shepherds to death. Luke 2:10. ‘And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.’ Yes folks, it was a noisy night, the night that Christ was born; there was lots of Celebration!
"He also left His life with high celebration. John 15:11 - These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
"And for the 33 years in between He wasn’t quiet. He exploded onto the scene. (See Luke 4): ‘And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. (Luke 4:14). And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.’ (Luke 4:15). Jesus basically preached to the multitudes: 'His (God’s) spirit be upon you. He sent me to announce that the slaves will be free. All debts are forgiven.' (This is even better than the stimulus, folks!) And note all the other things Jesus announced: ‘He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised ...’ (Luke 4:18). No folks, He was not docile! Jesus Christ came onto the scene proclaiming jubilee!
"And that’s the kind of rejoicing we’re going to get when we give up mere 'Celebration.' Instead we’re gonna get jubilee!
"Jubilee was a celebration of the fact that God would provide everything – even though God’s people were planting no crops, for example. When God declared Jubilee in the Old Testament, the Jews stopped working. So they harvested no crops. But they didn’t have to worry, because God could be trusted to provide everything His people needed. And today, He’s giving you a life free from anxiety, worry and fear and all the other things I mentioned in The Deal; So long as you accept The Deal; so long as you accept jubilee! and give up mere 'Worship' (of Earthly treasures) and lukewarm Corporate (church) 'Celebration.'
"There is no time in America when this message is more important than presently. Folks, Jesus Christ has declared jubilee!; and it doesn’t matter what Obama, and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid do. God has changed our mourning into dancing. There is a time for everything. We can’t stay mourning. Do the deal. Genuine jubilee!/Celebration begins with obedience. Joy RESULTS from obedience in Christ. Yes, we can fake that in church, yet live in hell all week. But obedience doesn’t start on Sunday. So Do the deal all week. And remember, God does not bypass misery. He transforms it by redeeming and sanctifying. He transforms it into Joy; into jubilee!
"The benefits of Celebration are, firstly: Strength. But we cannot endure without Joy. Indeed our Joy is our Strength. Nehemiah 8:10b. Says: ‘... for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength’.
"Thus Joy is central to all spiritual discipline. God gave the Jews three festivals (Jubilees) a year to strengthen them. He said you need special grace. So 'Lighten up!' (Spiritual people are often too serious). But Christians should be the most free, alive people on earth. jubilee!/Celebration adds hilarity. Laugh till you wet your pants! 'Joy' - Biblically - means to leap and spin wildly!
"So what drives you? I guarantee that your local sports team didn’t give a life for your salvation. Then how come, living in sin, we celebrate life but can’t celebrate Christ?
"So lighten up, experience joy, and celebrate. Declare jubilee! It also helps to stem the tide of depression. We are even deficient about celebrating the passing of life. And we can also avoid a judgmental spirit by Celebration, for Celebration typically leads to more Celebration – joy begets more joy! Think of all the Celebratory possibilities there are; and declare jubilee! Read Psalms 150:
 ‘Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
 Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
 Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
 Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
 Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
 Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.’
"So praise God in His Heavens ... everything that has breath, praise The Lord. Worship from our souls and from within our hearts which then become a place of praise.
"Even a young child understands Celebration. When someone laughs he says ‘Yeah! Let us say ‘Yeah!’ too. Shout it out. Remember that, only once was there ever silence in heaven: In Revelation there was 30 minutes of silence; nowhere else does this occur in Heaven. See Rev.8:1 - ‘And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.’
"So Christians - do not be silent. Worship and Celebrate in church and in life. But take it to the next step; to the level of jubilee! Stop weeping. The Heir will open the seal. Then you’ll hear the voices of millions of angels singing in a great chorus! For Heaven is not silent. It is a place of Celebration; of jubilee!"
(NOTE: I want to emphasize that, pursuant to the relevant campaign prohibitions, none of the churches, Pastors nor parishioners in their official church capacities ~ referenced or pictured herein ~ officially support my political candidacy).
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Pd. Pol. Adv., paid for and approved by Dr. Bill Escoffery,
Candidate for U.S. Senate from Florida.
Copyright © 2010 by William Escoffery III. All