people are social animals; they love to get together…be it for a church
service, a lunch, a dinner, a home visit, or simply a cup of coffee. Perhaps it is because we share a like faith
and consider that shared faith not just a spare tire to use in time of sickness
or trouble, but rather a template for living.
In doing so, a spiritual bond forms that very truly can become stronger
than blood relations, and we as believers and participants in the spiritual
march learn to depend on and assist one another in time of trouble or victory.
|Jerry Stewart, John Cook, Prentiss Smith|
Pentecostal Church, International, being the organizational glue that connects
like-minded churches across the nation, divides America up into districts, and
within each district are smaller administrative groups until one finally gets
down to the organization of a local church.
There are men’ groups, women’s groups, seniors’ groups, young married
groups, single young people’s groups, youth groups, kiddie groups…you name
it…all designed to foster a comradeship and spiritual bond of fellowship.
My group is the
SODWAOTHs…Senior Old Dudes Who Are over the Hill. OK, OK, I sort of made that up on the spur of
the moment, but there really is a group called the South Texas District United
Pentecostal Church Men’s Fellowship. (I think “fellowship” is the last word in
the title.) This group of men, led by an
administrative staff, meets once a year for a South Texas Men’s
Conference…although calling it a “conference” is a bit of a stretch. It really isn’t a conference, but rather lots
of music and lots of preaching. There
are no conference committees, no issues to be discussed, and no seminars to
attend…just some heavy duty preachin’.
Actually, the more I
think about it, there is a local group called the SODWAOTHs, and we meet every
Friday at our local Denny’s Restaurant to solve the issues of the day. We never gossip…everything we talk about is
absolute fact. We determined a few weeks
ago that we would try visiting the upcoming South Texas District Men’s
Conference one more time. Our last visit
to San Antonio had been…shall we say…disappointing (See my blog “The
), and we had pretty well written off ever going back. I mean, the last place I heard music like
that, they were serving hard liquor.
But this time there
was a powerful incentive to go back to the “conference.” Our
own beloved pastor, David Fauss was to be one of the speakers, along with a
Reverend Jerry Dean, a minister who visited our church about a month ago and
delivered one of the most astute (and ignored by most ministers) sermons I have
ever heard. We decided that with proper
preparation (heavy duty ear plugs, a backup iPod with decent music, and an
escape plan, if needed, in the conference auditorium, it would be worth the
effort to go hear what we knew would be at least two outstanding sermons. The meeting was to be Friday night and
Saturday, May 15-16, 2015, so we made hotel reservations and prepared to head
west. In the final head count, there
were four of us: Brothers (spiritually) Jerry Stewart, John Cook, and his
father-in-law, Prentiss Smith, and myself.
I was glad Brother Smith was coming along because he is a long standing
member of Bethel Tabernacle and a board member of impeccable credentials who
would give us instant respectability in case we got ourselves in trouble.
Whatever was to
happen on Friday, it had to happen after our Denny’s breakfast, so it was not
until around 11:00 that we finally headed out Interstate 10 toward San
Antonio. We were in Brother John Cook’s
Honda Pilot. Just as an aside, I sold Hondas
from 1982 until 1994 and I must say Hondas have come a long way. I still have enough gasoline in my blood that
I instinctively appraise every car I get in, and the Pilot was a very nice
vehicle indeed. We four guys and luggage
had plenty of space and were very comfortable for the trip.
Brother John Cook
probably was the most uncomfortable one of us, mainly because he was doing the
driving and it was raining buckets…all the way to the Drury Inn at IH-10 and
Loop 1604. We arrived there around 3:00
p.m. and in short order were on our way to our rooms: John and his father-in-law in one and Brother
Jerry Stewart and I in the other. The
Drury Inn is a very nice place…immaculately kept, handy to the church, with
free breakfast, and free snack goodies from around 5:30-7:00 each evening. Of course, at the price we paid we should
have gotten free filet mignon dinners, but in the comparative price scheme of
things, it was a good deal. The hotel
did not disappoint.
Since it had been
a long time since breakfast and it wasn’t 5:30 snack time yet, we decided to
visit the attached Applebee’s for a late lunch, and we enjoyed the usual
outstanding Applebee’s chicken salad, burgers, and whatever else the other guys
ate. By the time we finished we had just
enough time to run upstairs and don our ties and jackets and head back down to
the car. The church, Hope Community
Center, pastored by Brother Randy Scoggins, was only a couple of miles away,
and we arrived about 7:00 p.m. After standing
in line to register and get our identification badges, we took our seats….close
to the door (escape route, remember.)
About 7:30 the
first event took place which caused me to have a very unexpected
flashback. The lights dimmed slightly,
and a large video screen lit up, and the first words we began to see along with ominous music and a gruff voice were
“revolutionaries,” “overthrow,” “resistance,” “non-conformance,” “the status
quo,” “giving our life to the cause.”
The video presented the message that we were to be revolutionaries in a
hostile environment, fighting the status quo, and resisting every influence of the
Evil One. The message itself was no
doubt sincere and in its hyperbole encouraged us to stand firm in the faith,
but the terminology reminded me of 1966.
In 1966 I was
serving in the United States Air Force Security Service and responsible for various intelligence gathering
activities in West Berlin, Germany. In
that year I was with a group of intelligence analysts who had gained access to
several Communist Party recruitment movies.
Designed to fire up a disgruntled populace, these videos and movies used
the very same terminology as the video I was seeing at this men’s
conference. Don’t get me wrong, the
message for us Christian men in the video was probably good, but whoever
produced the video, I suspect, had no sense of history. To some, being a revolutionary does not mean
being a devout Christian. But in all
honesty, I’m sure the producers meant well, and I did not find it offensive,
just really interesting.
Well, anyway, we
got through that without raising the red flag of revolution, and sure enough,
the next event was an explosion of sound from the pulpit as we were primed and
charged in preparation of this awesome, life changing evening. Then the music started, and the second
surprise fell into my lap: we were not deafened by a cacophony of thundering
sound. Oh, it wasn’t my kind of music,
and I will argue to my dying day that it was not even “church music,” but it
was at least bearable and at an acceptable volume. The music was what I term concert
music…entertaining, religious oriented, designed to get you out of your seat
with its rhythm, joyful, even stimulating.
I will be the first to admit this style of music is conducive to
enthusiastic praise, but, like when Houston Rockets player Dwight Howard slams home
a thunderous dunk, there may be a jolt of excitement, but it is shallow and
quickly fades. Our churches have
forgotten how to worship…a totally different concept of communication with God.
(See blog “Praise…or Worship?” http://www.bobdowning.blogspot.com/2010/05/praise-and-worship.html ) Our services now are measured by
the amount of movement and decibels that are created.
There was a lead
singer, stylishly dressed in some kind of jean-looking pants and either dark
sneakers or boots, with his shirttail hanging out underneath his sport jacket
(no tie), along with five or six women backing him up. Well, anyway, to get away from the
negativity, we survived the music and were happy our ear plugs stayed in our
Brother Jerry Dean,
however, did not make the conference because of a death in his church, but as a
substitute we had South District Texas Superintendent Ken Gurley…not a bad
substitute, indeed. To Shirley and me he
is Kenny because he grew up with us in our church in Baytown. He is a few years behind Shirley and me, and
of course, to teenagers, a difference of seven or eight years is like an
eternity, so we did not associate with the Gurley boys very much, but we are
well acquainted with their parents, whom we love and still admire to this day. But Kenny…excuse me…Brother Gurley has been
very successful in the ministry and has become a powerful preacher and pastor
and very influential in the Texas District.
Over the years, every time I have heard him speak, his message has been powerful
and memorable. Friday night was no
interestingly enough, were his subject, and he tied their existence to the
church and gave examples of spiritual zombies…alleged Christians who go through
the motions of viable church members, but are spiritually dead and
unproductive. I won’t attempt to
re-preach his sermon here because I don’t have the talent, but the message was
to the point and applicable to each of us; attending church is not enough…we
need to be living, productive workers for the kingdom of God. Needless to say, he had his audience on its
feet, and much rededication and recommitment was offered by us listeners after
I was sorry to
miss my good friend and old Wyoming hunting buddy, Juan Rodriguez in service
tonight. I asked his pastor, Brother
David Caruthers, of his whereabouts and he said Juan “had church duties this
weekend.” Maybe next time…. After church services there is (I think) a
rule that all Pentecostals must go somewhere and eat, so we went back to the
hotel and into Applebee’s and enjoyed a late snack. Well, a little more than a “snack,” but we
Saturday morning we
were dressed and packed by 7:45 and headed downstairs to the free breakfast,
which was quite complete and very good.
These two days are playing havoc with my Nutrisystem diet plan, but I
will recover next week…I hope. By 8:30
we had eaten, checked out, and were heading to Brother John’s Honda to drive to
the church. As we were loading up the
car with our luggage, Brother Fauss came gliding up in his recently purchased
Corvette, a gorgeous 2004 convertible with a candy apple red paint job and tan
convertible top. I think I lost some of
my “street cred” with my pastor when I traded my ‘Vette for another car a few
weeks ago, but, what can I say? The ‘Vette was good for looking cool and going
fast, but not too comfortable and I’m getting (choke) more…um… mature and prefer
more creature comforts. He greeted us,
roared off, and we headed to the church…arriving there about 8:45. At least for a change it was not raining,
though it was a bit foggy.
We started off with
another video, not quite as in your face as yesterday’s, and the
light-their-fire music started again. I
was surprised that there was only the male singer
who-would-not-qualify-as-best-dressed singing…there were no backups at
all. A keyboard and a drum set (do we
REALLY need anything else these days?) provided the music, (there may have been
a bass player…I can’t remember) although the guy on the keyboard did have a
microphone, so he may have backed up the lead guy some. Anyway, they did their thing, and then we got
to the preaching.
Our own Brother
David Fauss was the first speaker, and in venues like this, he carries on the
family tradition proudly. His dad,
Brother O. R. Fauss, was, hands down, the best camp meeting and conference
speaker I have ever heard, but I’ll tell you his son, Brother David Fauss, can
fill his dad’s shoes pretty well. He
preached on the story of Elijah and Elisha, and the mantle that Elijah left for
Elisha when his translation took place.
His message to ministers and saints alike: “Pick up the mantle!” Like these two great prophets, we need to
pick up the mantle given to us and use the power that we have been given.
By the time Brother
Fauss threw his coat (mantle) into the air, the place was rocking, and some guy
ran up and caught his coat on the fly and put it on. I was beginning to wonder if Brother Fauss was
going to get his coat back. Then there
was the guy who bounced up and down the center aisle flailing his coat on the
floor like he was putting out a grass fire.
I think that was supposed to be his mantle, but I couldn’t figure out
what he was supposed to be doing with it. Two or three other guys were up
around Brother Fauss shouting (literally) and waving about as he was attempting
to preach. I fully expected Brother Fauss
to stop and say something like, “OK, let’s settle down a bit….” Here’s a minister who will stop his sermon
in mid-sentence if your cell phone goes off during a service. But he kept preachin’ and the people kept
shoutin’ and we all had a grand old time.
Toward the end of his sermon, he emphasized the need for the youthful
ministers and saints to listen and heed the wisdom of the elder ministers. At the very end, he asked all ministers over
fifty years old to form a line at the front of the auditorium. He then instructed the men under forty to
walk by these senior ministers and be prayed for, and a long line formed for
Except we didn’t
fit into either line. So there we four
guys stood…nobody within 30 feet of us while everyone else was either praying
or being prayed for. We felt hurt, and
alone, and our self-esteem was shattered!
We started tearfully to go ask Brother Fauss, “Don’t we count at
all?” Had we become “disposable
saints?” Now, before you get all bent
out of shape, we were laughing when we talked about this afterward. We understood the point of Brother Fauss’s actions
and appreciated the message he had delivered.
It was an outstanding sermon, which is what I fully expected when I
signed up for the conference.
I would not have
wanted to follow Brother Fauss in the pulpit to minister, but Brother Roger
Blackburn, Men’s Fellowship Director for the South Texas District, did and
preached, and preached, and preached a good sermon about rededication. By the time he had finished it was 12:15 and
it was decided to take a ten minute break, so we walked outside.
We had been in our
seats since 8:45, and, although Brother Randy Scoggins, the host pastor, was
scheduled next to preach, the old adage was realized again, “The mind can
absorb only what the end can endure.” We
were pretty well preached out, and someone mentioned maybe we should head back
home. A vote was quickly taken, and in
five minutes we were pulling back onto Loop 1604 heading east.
The weather had
turned sunny and we had a good trip home, stopping in Seguin at a Chili’s for
lunch. I had another good fajita chicken
salad. I also ordered a hot chocolate
melting cake dessert…only because it was my favorite dessert on the Carnival
Magic cruise ship and I wanted to, you know, compare them. The one on the ship was just right for one
person, but when this one was brought, there were four spoons in it, and it was
enormous! And wonderfully good. Fortunately my brethren saw my plight and
volunteered to help me dispose of all the cake.
The rest of the way
east on IH-10 was uneventful. We
dropped Brother Jerry off first, and then I said goodbye to the two remaining
friends about 4:45.
The conference was
worth the trip because of the ministry…but it was thoroughly enjoyable because
I got to spend it with some of the greatest guys I have ever been privileged to