Selling Service

“I do not want you to use my shame for your gain,” I told the missionary who hosted us in his home. I thought he had generously offered his home to my family and me when church overseers required us to move from our home in Colorado Springs in 2007.  After living there a couple of months, I learned that our host was marketing the fact that he was helping us. As a result, he received favor from his donors and denominational leaders. When I learned that I was his project for gaining notoriety, we moved out. I needed a place of safety.

Paul writes in Galatians 6:12 – 13, “Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others . . . They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples.” Sometimes I wonder if God is conflicted. He wants to work through people, but the New Testament solution to our sin problem works best through those who are willing to let God get the credit. In verse 14, Paul writes, “As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.” I believe one of the greatest hinderances to effective ministry for those who need to be healed, as I did, is that the healers have to struggle with who gets the credit . . . which is why most restoration attempts fail.

No, that’s not true. Most restoration attempts don’t fail, but very often the restorers say they have failed. It’s because these restorers have their sights more on the process than the end result of restoring. The Word of God doesn’t fail, it does its work, and the Holy Spirit does his work. But if God’s restoration path does not fit the design of the restorers, they typically say the sinner was unrepentant, not adequately submitted, or that he or she did not complete the prescribed process. I have come to believe that in these situations, Jesus insists on being the head of the church, and he is unwilling to forfeit that role to those who want to use it for their own promotion or gain.

It seems as though we have a fundamental misunderstanding. Jesus said “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Luke 5:32). Paul reminds the Christians at Rome that, “No one is righteous -not even one” (Romans 3:10). So when people in the church are dealing with the fallen, it’s not the righteous who are working with the fallen, but the fallen working with the fallen. To presume that the “sinner” designation does not include the restorer is a major misunderstanding of the New Testament. The first of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses says, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” This acknowledges the pressure of sin in every believer’s life. Was Paul lying when he wrote, “. . . God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone” in Romans 11:32? No doubt, we as believers are free from any obligation to sin. I know that we are righteous and saints by faith, but to lord over others as though we are perfected before we see Jesus face to face, is negligence.

Our Reformation fathers wanted to end the abuse of the Roman Catholic Church and establish authentic New Testament expressions of faith and worship. Interestingly, in just about every Reformation movement, the reformers felt as though rigid church discipline was necessary in order to maintain integrity. Since the New Testament does not say much about the need for or the practice of church discipline, Reformation leaders filled in that gap with historical church practices. As a result, our Protestant churches regularly fail to apply New Testament solutions in our response to Christians overcome by some sin. Today, it appears our attitudes and actions are just as random and ungodly toward sinners as that of many of the reformers who successfully applied New Testament life to much of their theology and practice, but failed to do so in this area.

But this is our generation. Though it is 500 years later, maybe it’s time we build on the revelation of the Reformation and let the Gospel inform the way we respond to those we consider “fallen.” Every application of the Gospel requires courage, because Pharisees always demand punishment instead of grace, typically under the banner of “integrity” or “justice.” They seem to forget that we are not prosecuting attorneys or journalists, but ministers of the Gospel, ministers of healing and restoration. In forsaking the Gospel when its application is most needed, we might actually become the enemies of the Gospel.

Many Christians who claim to embrace the desire to be Christ-like seem to neglect two fundamental questions: 1) How did God initially respond to us as sinners? And, 2) How does God respond to us as Christians when we sin? The answers to those questions demand contemplation of two additional questions for all who want to be Christ-like: 1) Do I respond to sinners the way God did to me? And 2) Do I respond to other Christians who sin the way the Holy Spirit responds to me when I, as a Christian, sin?

No doubt, all Christian leaders can preach the necessary sermons and write articles trying to convince the Christian market that they believe in God’s restoration. But the proof is in their actions with the fallen. Do they respond to them in the same way Christ does? Do they protect their dignity as fellow human beings and brothers and sisters in Christ? Is their aim to restore them so they can continue on in their God-given gifts and callings? Or do they negate the work of God in them, shame them, and embarrass them? Would the person submitted to them say the leaders helped them heal, or added burden to their lives?

I can answer these questions because I have heard from thousands of believers who have stumbled and been subject to ministry restoration. They all point to the Word and how it addresses and strengthens them. They all marvel at the faithfulness of God and how he draws closer to them in their crisis. But only a few of them will say the Christian leaders responsible to help them actually assisted.

Are too many of our leaders only in sales? I suggest we not sell the ministry of restoration, let’s just do it and let the restored tell the story.

It’s time we see the fallen as an opportunity to help, which demonstrates that we are, in fact, Christian.

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Sex, Ducks, and Dignity

Duck Dynasty’s Robertson family is standing with its patriarch, Phil, saying that if A&E will not allow Phil to tape any additional episodes because he identified homosexual activity as sin, then the rest of the family will not tape any new programs either. The family press release emphasizes that Phil would never “incite or encourage hate.” The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and their supporters are outraged and are congratulating A&E. Now many Bible-believers are crying fowl. They are saying Robertson had a right to say what he said, was just referencing the Bible, is a loving guy and is, himself, being treated unfairly and is being discriminated against.

Why the confusion? I believe Robertson does not want to encourage hate, but because of our history, the LGBT community does not hear him as loving. Instead, they know that talk like his has led to laws that hurt people like them. Could they have cause for alarm?

About the same time Phil Robertson’s remarks were published, American Evangelical Christian leaders encouraged the parliament in Uganda to pass a bill to toughen the punishment for homosexual acts to include life imprisonment. This bill also makes it a crime, punishable by a prison sentence, not to report gay people to the government.

Parliamentarians in Uganda argue that they compassionately weakened the bill, which is true. It originally proposed the death penalty for some offenses, such as if a minor was involved or a homosexual partner was HIV-positive. The parliament removed the death penalty and replaced it with life in prison. It should be thought provoking to all of us, though, that there is no similar law for heterosexuals who are sexually active with a minor, or if a heterosexual partner is HIV positive. Why?

When we use “sin” as the basis for civil law, we probably should be consistent, but we are not. This last summer, the Colorado legislature removed the law that made it illegal to commit adultery. There was no outcry. It seemed the Christians did not care even though adultery is clearly sin (1 Corinthians 6:9). Jesus said, “For example, a man who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery. And anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18). I’m 57 years old, and I do not recall any efforts on the part of our leaders to prevent those who Jesus says are living in perpetual adultery from having equal rights under the law.

No doubt, we Bible believing Christians understand that all sexual activity outside a heterosexual monogamous marriage is sin. We also know that there is a great deal of sexual sin within heterosexual monogamous marriages (Matthew 5:28-30). So where is our New Testament imperative that we sinners, saved by God’s grace, use civil law to make others godly? It seems as though Jesus’ point is that all of us are sinners and we only become righteous by his grace and mercy. But I think that because most of us are heterosexuals, we don’t insist on laws that punish us for our immorality. Yet, the evidence suggests that we do want to add legal burdens on those who are not like us.

Most New Testament believers know that external threats do not change our hearts, but instead we are changed from the inside out by repentance, the blood of Christ, the renewal of our minds, and by becoming a new creation in Christ. To think we can force our beliefs on others through civil law is often an error. The sponsor of the Ugandan bill said, “Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way. It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill . . . ” Supporters of the bill say it is needed to “protect traditional values,” and, under that banner have banned miniskirts and sexually suggestive material such as music videos. I am all for propriety and societal morality, but we have to remember that when legally mandated, this type of thing can go awry very quickly. Now local newspapers in Uganda have started publishing the names and addresses of people they think might be gay.

I know, I know. The United States is not Uganda. In this country we have fought a long, hard struggle for various groups to gain equality under the law. Certainly our civil laws do need to protect what is right and good, and they need to be moral. But not every Christian conviction is best promoted through civil law. All Christians should have a sophisticated, thoughtful process to determine when our biblical beliefs should be inculcated into civil law. It’s not an automatic “yes.” Sadly, we Bible believing conservative Christians have found ourselves on the wrong side of this discussion too often.

If the government wanted to take the vote away from women based on the New Testament teaching that wives should submit to their husbands and that women should not usurp authority over men, would we Christians support that? No. But that was the accepted position of many not too long ago.  What about denial of African-Americans’ basic freedoms because some Bible scholars say they are descendants of Ham, whose descendants were cursed by God and thus relegated to serve? Would we white Christians support that? Absolutely not! But many did. And what if the government wanted to limit the freedoms of Jews in our communities because they reject Christ? Would we allow that? No. Could it be that we Christians, raised in modern multi-cultural churches with wholesome families surrounding us, have no idea how people who have suffered hear us when we speak?

All of us who believe the Bible is the Word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that we must be born-again, have to decide who we want to be in this chapter of world history. We have to consider: when is it “Christian” to protect people who will never be like us and will probably never be persuaded to be a Christian? “Now” would be my answer.

In 1959. Howard Griffin, a white guy, artificially darkened his skin to pass as a black man as he traveled by bus and hitchhiked through the racially segregated south. His journal of that experience was published under the title, Black Like Me. That book helped many whites learn what it was like to be a black man in America during that era. His book helped the cause for equality for African-Americans.

I had a similar experience, but the issue was not racism, and I have not yet written my book. However, I’ve discovered that our experiences do form how we hear other people.

Unless you have been the recipient of religious hatred, you cannot imagine the ruthless brutality. When I went through my crisis in 2006, some Evangelical leaders targeted me for permanent removal. Since I submitted to church authorities who required that I not respond to or explain anything, or even acknowledge that I had ever been in ministry, the flurry of random indictments flooded my way and to the public, all without response. I received up to 80 hate letters a day, the majority from Bible quoting Christians. My e-mail, twitter, and Facebook filled with threats, accusations, and condemnations, the vast majority of which were baseless. I am guilty of sin, and therefore, I am grateful for the healing Christ offers all if us. Sadly, though, condemnation from the church does not help healing (Romans 2:1-4). That season of my life convinced me that I never wanted to support any form of theocracy. It is too irrational.

We’ve got to apply to others the idea that while WE were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Because of that, we, too, can be like Christ and extend a hand of kindness to another simply because they are human beings. They may never choose to receive the full blessings already purchased for them by Christ, but even so, why should we make their time on Earth more difficult? If God Himself left Heaven, came to Earth to become one of us in order to save us, protect us, and help us, isn’t it logical that we, too, can leave our places of comfort to show some dignity to another. . . like Christ did? I think so.

I do not believe for one second that Mr. Robertson wanted to encourage hate, bigotry, or would support anything that would intentionally cause pain for someone else. But we are all old enough to know that people suffer horribly when government gets it wrong. We Christians can make the lives of others better by simply being who we say we are, Christ-like. God designed our Earth so that the blessing of rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. We can follow his example.

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Suicide, Evangelicalism, and Sorrow

Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church, and Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, both had sons take their own lives this year. I know of five other wonderful Christian families that also had sons who took their own lives. Some researchers are reporting that the suicide rate among Evangelicals is the same as that of the non-Christian community. How sad.

Back in my NAE days, I knew Joel and Rick. They are both sincere, wonderful believers with ministries that are admired. I also knew some of the parents of the kids who took their lives here in Colorado Springs. Good families.

The news about Pastor Isaac Hunter breaks my heart. Great speaker, lover of God, and my guess is he loved the church. But he, like all of us, fell short. In the midst of divorce with accusations swirling, he resigned from the church he founded. He gave it his best shot, and his heart was broken. This makes me sick to my stomach. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sick that he fell short, that’s a given for everyone except Christ Himself, I’m sick that our message did not do what we all hoped – it did not fix the problem.

In the past we would try to argue that Evangelical leaders who fall were not sincere believers, or were unrepentant, or that they did not really believe their Bibles, or were not adequately submitted. And in the midst of these arguments, we KNOW those ideas are, in some cases, rationalizations. I can offer some guesses from personal experience as well as knowledge of others’ stories that, 1) Matthew Warren repeatedly prayed for God to heal his mind, and 2) Isaac Hunter frequently repented of the things in him that damaged his heart and marriage. I think Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and I know Ted Haggard, hated their sins, repented, prayed, fasted, memorized Scripture, and pleaded with God for personal holiness. I think there are very few hypocrites in our pulpits or on church staffs. I believe most people in ministry are sincere followers of Christ. But when God’s holiness is infused into our humanity, that sets us all up for some degree of struggle.

I was so ashamed in 2006 when my scandal broke. The therapeutic team that dug in on me insisted that I did not have a spiritual problem or a problem with cognitive ability, and that I tested in normal ranges on all of my mental health tests (MMPI, etc.). Instead, I had a physiological problem rooted in a childhood trauma, and as a result, needed trauma resolution therapy. I had been traumatized when I was 7 years old, but when Bill Bright led me to the Lord when I was 16, I learned that I had become a new creature, a new person, and that I did not need to be concerned about anything in my past, that it was all covered by the blood. I did become a new creation spiritually, but I have since learned that I needed some simple care that would have spared my family and me a great deal of loss and pain.

Contrary to popular reports, my core issue was not sexual orientation, but trauma. I went through EMDR, a trauma resolution therapy, and received some immediate relief and, as promised, that relief was progressive. When I explain that to most Evangelical leaders, their eyes glaze over. They just don’t have a grid for the complexity of it all. It is much more convenient to believe that every thought, word, and action is a reflection of our character, our spirituality, and our core. They think the Earth is flat. Everyone is either completely good or bad, everything is either white or black, and if people are sincere Christians, then they are good and their behavior should conform.

Not so. There are more grays in life than many of our modern theological positions allow. It would be easy if I were a hypocrite, Bakker was a thief, and Swaggart was a pervert. None of that is true. Because I’ve not communicated with the Warrens or the Hunters since late 2006, I do not know for sure, but my experience would suggest that the Warren’s have received some hurtful communications from other Christians saying their son had a demon that could have been taken care of if they would have simply taken their son to them for deliverance. No doubt Isaac also received some brutal mail from Christians after his resignation from his church. My sin never made me suicidal, but widespread church reaction to me did.

I can only imagine what many Christians must go through trying to reconcile the things we Evangelicals say are true with the realities of their own lives. Do we actually believe that the many pastors who have been characterized as fallen decided to be hateful, immoral, greedy, or deceitful?  I think not.

In my case, I was taught that life transformation took place at salvation and the power to overcome was inherent with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. My early Christian training was given by those who did not respect the mental health profession, nor the field of neural science. So I believed the solution to my struggle was exclusively spiritual, which turned out to be counterproductive.

If I prayed and fasted, I was more tempted. If I just worked in ministry, I experienced relief and was not tempted. I thought it was spiritual warfare. It was not. My struggle was easily explained by a competent therapeutic team.

But many in the church-world had to demonize the facts. My accuser failed his lie detector test and refused to take another, and I passed four lie detector tests given by three different polygraphers saying that the primary accusations were false. This  so confused the narrative the church wanted to publicly present, they hid the tests from the public. The lead overseer actually told me, “Brother Ted, we do not believe in this psychological mumbo-jumbo, but we need to send you to therapy for the sake of the public. Then when you get home, we’ll get this demon out of you and your family and sweet Miss Gayle will be just fine.” I thank God for the therapy. It answered 30 years of prayer. I became the man I had always prayed to be because of the process I went through during the crisis. Though I do believe there is a need for deliverance in some situations,  for that sincere overseer, the world is way too flat.

Saints, I have a high view of Scripture and am persuaded that the theological underpinnings of Evangelicalism are valid, but I am growing away from the Evangelical culture we have created. I think our movement has abandoned the application of the Gospel, and as a result we spend too much time on image management and damage control. Maybe we should be willing to admit that we are all growing in grace, be willing to be numbered with the transgressors, and stop over-stating and over-promising. Jesus has been faithful to all of us in the midst of our pain, our suffering, and our disappointments. Why don’t we tell that? Every one of us have had sin horribly intrude in our lives after being saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, and God is faithfully healing us or has healed us. Why don’t we tell that? He has never left us or forsaken us when we’ve said and done the wrong thing. Why don’t we tell that? And when our children disappoint and hurt us, or we disappoint and hurt them, God sees us . . . and them. Why don’t we tell that as well?

My heart physically hurts for the Warrens, the Hunters, and the five families that lost their sons. The pain is incredible. I don’t know that it will ever heal this side of Heaven. I also hurt for Pastor Zachery Tims who died alone in a Times Square hotel room trying to get some relief, and for Pastor Cedric Cuthbert who was accused of watching child porn at work, and for Pastor David Loveless who was let go after his affair was revealed. Shall I go on? I do not believe we have a problem because these and so many others are insincere or because we have not adequately emphasized holiness. I think we have a core, fundamental, essential problem with our application of the Gospel. We need to re-read the New Testament and modify some of our interpretations. The Bible is true. God is faithful. But at this point, too many are missing the mark.

I know this is too long, and I would like to stop, but I can’t . . . not until I say one more thing. Everyone I’ve mentioned here has fallen because of obvious sin. But I did not mention the proud, envious, gluttonous, angry, greedy, blamers and scrutinizers in the body of Christ who have equally fallen but their sins are acceptable in our culture so they do not even realize their sin or need for repentance. Why? They are too busy with the sins of others. Often we actually laude these Pharisees and Judaizers because of their stand against sin, not realizing that they are still not teaching us the New Testament solution to mankind’s sin problem. When the New Testament becomes Torah in their hands, that law, too, stimulates sin.

It’s time for us to stop what we’re doing and weep. We need to repent, enter into the prayer closet without cameras, notes, or any announcements that we’re praying and fasting, and repent for what we have created until our hearts are soft again. Our children are dying. Our relationships are broken. Our attitudes are arrogant. And our hearts are left confused.

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Mandela Schools Modern Evangelicals

(This is an e-mail I sent to some of the members of St. James Church on December 9th)

Several people have written me today asking for the Nelson Mandela quote I used yesterday in church. When President Bill Clinton was going through his scandal, many world leaders withdrew from him and many Evangelical leaders were determined to use his sins against him in every possible way. Clinton asked Nelson Mandela why he remained such a faithful friend during that time, to which he responded,

My morality does not allow me to desert my friends.

I think this goes to the core of our message. Our response to another person’s sin reveals whether or not we are Christ-like. If we are authentic Christians, we respond to others the way Christ responded to us in our sin, with healing and redemption, desiring to befriend us.  In contrast, if we respond by seeing ourselves as superior and are willing to use others’ sins against them, we may actually become enemies of Christ’s work. We Christians are advocates of repentance, forgiveness, redemption, transformation, healing, and resurrection. Enemies of the Gospel, though they may call themselves “Christian,” reveal themselves by trying to deny another’s resurrection. Strangely, enemies of the Gospel’s work in another often believe in resurrection for themselves.

Another person’s sin is our opportunity to model what Christ is doing in us. When another sins, it should never be surprising to a Bible-believing Christian. Though we believers are to be dominated by His righteousness, we are perfected only when we see Him face-to-face. So another’s sin simply validates the Bible’s teaching about our human condition and every person’s need to grow in Christ. God saw our sin and revealed his heart toward us by sending Jesus, a sure solution for our sin problem. For us to be like Him, we respond to another’s sins with the New Testament solution; forgiveness, hope, healing, and restoration. Another person’s sin is our opportunity to be like Christ, to be a healer and a minister of redemption. Too often, though, Christians have confused their morality as superiority and see another’s sins as the enemy, not the opportunity. Why? I believe many have not settled in their own minds the biblical solution to mankind’s sin problem, so rather than applying the Gospel, they naturally resort to natural law, which is judgement, punishment, humiliation, dehumanization, and death. The New Testament says we have a new and better way.

I do not know what Nelson Mendela’s faith position was, but I do know that the Holy Spirit has the ability to work with whomever He chooses (Acts 2:17), and that maybe during Nelson Mandela’s time in prison, the fundamental ideas of the Gospel and their inherent power came alive in him. As a result, he developed an understanding of friendship that makes allowance for the faults of others (Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:13), and helped advance the cause of equality under the law in South Africa through forgiveness of past grievances. He understood and demonstrated the power of forgiveness. He modeled healing as a response to the sins of others and as a result, changed the world one more time. And for this, the world honors him among its greatest men.

I love the ideas of the Gospel.

Blessings.

Pastor Ted

I Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

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Genuine Restoration (Part 3)

#7 in Q & A Series

Question: How do you believe New Life Church could have handled your situation better?

“Begin with the End in Mind” is Habit #2 in Stephen Covey’s, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Just about every church in the nation has taught some version of this, if not used the text itself as a leadership guide. But when it comes to restoring another, most Christian restoration teams not only are confused about New Testament guidelines instructing them, but also about the purpose of the process. As a result, many, particularly leaders, who have been subject to restoration in a church find the process nonsensical and are left discouraged, despondent, and some so bitter they seethe.

Galatians 6:1 is the most relevant Scripture in the New Testament addressing the subject of restoring another.

“Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also” Gal. 6:1 AMP.

So what is the goal? Restoration. The Greek word in this verse is Katartizo, which means to re-set, restore, as we would a disjoined limb. It means to make perfect, to restore. Thus, the translators are correct when they use the English word, “restore,” in this verse. The New Living Translation and the Amplified are correct when they say, “help that person back onto the right path” or “set him right and restore and reinstate him.”

Carnal-thinking people punish, embarrass, dehumanize, and humiliate those they are commissioned to heal. Because they are untrained in the application of the Gospel in these situations, they make demands and design activities to occupy the fallen without a constructive end in mind. Paul strongly warns against this, and says genuine spirituality is displayed through gentleness and humility as it restores another. Otherwise, the “restorer” will take on an aura of spiritual and moral superiority and rationalize why the fallen cannot  and should not be restored. Typically they say the fallen are unrepentant or unsubmissive. Then, they too often see themselves as more important than they are, which is specifically warned against in Galatians 6:2-3 where Paul concludes his thought regarding restoration: “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”

Paul’s caution might be here because the self-righteous leader is unable to appreciate the power of the resurrection of the fallen, and will end up thinking of themselves as more important than they should in light of the sins of the fallen. This is one of the sins of the Pharisees.

Jimmy Swaggart endured his scandal in 1988. His denomination constructed a restoration program, which he rejected for reasons to which we may not be privy. Then he was caught yet again in a compromising situation in 1991. Since that time, as far as we know he’s been actively involved in ministry and has been faithful to his wife and to God. It’s interesting to me that so many Christians hate Jimmy Swaggart. When I ask pastors’ groups why they think so poorly of him and don’t trust him, they always say it’s because he didn’t go through his denomination’s restoration program. I then ask what the purpose of that program might have been? They always respond by saying that the purpose of the program was to heal Jimmy Swaggart, help him find the moral strength to overcome his sin problem, and help him return to ministry again. I then point out that the 1991 repeat was predictable and that virtually every therapist teaches that relapse is part of recovery, and that he has been faithful to his wife and ministry for 22 years since that relapse. My follow-up question to the pastors . . .  “Is the purpose of the process the process itself, or the RESULT of the process?”

Then we talk about the real reason we question his integrity. Could it be that our real issue is that he did not cooperate with our program, which would have given us the ability to take credit for his sobriety and ministry? Were we more concerned about managing our image than restoring our brother? Did we elevate his submitting to our control over our helping him to achieve the goal of his repentance and to return to the ministry to which God had called him? Or did we really just want him out of ministry–either because we were envious of his accomplishments or embarrassed by his human failings? After all, ultimately we tend to manage our image and reputation. Perhaps we should ask ourselves if we are managing a Christ-like image and reputation or a worldly one based on self-righteousness.

The English word “restore” means to “bring back to a former, original, or normal condition. “ It means “to put back to a former place, or to a former position, rank, etc.” This is the correct interpretation of the word Paul used, Katartizo. So why would it benefit the church to follow through on his admonition to gently restore a fellow believer (even a leader) who has been trapped by a sin?

It is because it models resurrection, hope, redemption, and life.

The fallen give us opportunity to model Christ’s resurrection among us, and to demonstrate Christ’s heart toward humanity. Christ has restored all of us. When we, who are spiritual, competently model restoration among ourselves, others see the Gospel with clarity. We’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God should get the credit for restoring leaders. We should not position ourselves to receive glory. Healing, sobriety, holiness, and integrity are the goals. God’s work moving forward is the goal, the purpose, the end. We can begin with that end in mind

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Genuine Restoration (Part 2)

#6 in Q & A Series

Question: How do you believe New Life Church could have handled your situation better?

As I have been preparing part 2 of my response to this question, I asked a friend of mine who honorably serves in our nation’s military in various hotspots around the world to send me his perspective. Many who attempt restoration within the church are woefully ignorant of trauma, its effects, and the importance of an informed response to it if we expect a positive result. When Christian leaders responding to a traumatic event within a church or Christian organization lack understanding about trauma, they tend to misread the words, attitudes, and actions of the traumatized and ignorantly interpret the symptoms of trauma as lack of repentance, avoidance, denial, or insubordination. As a result, they too often unintentionally make things worse because of their misdiagnosis. Sadly, many traumatized Christians end up uncared for because they are misunderstood and mischaracterized and they become unnecessarily angry and bitter, and too often are left alone to die. When a leader falls, not only is the fallen leader in trauma, but those within their influence are as well. Spouses, children, employees, and congregants all need informed care or wounds can linger unnecessarily for years. These comments from one of the world’s top experts on setting right traumatic situations are both insightful and applicable. They will require contemplation on the reader’s part.

Some address this man, “Doctor,” others “Colonel,” and on a bad day, “MEDIC!” I will not reveal his name because of the sensitivity of his current service. Here are his comments. Please read thoughtfully, reflectively, and respectfully.

“As a veteran combat soldier I have seen more than my share of combat wounded. In the last 12 years military medicine has made huge advances on rapid treatment of wounded soldiers.  In fact, one could legitimately make the comparison that if a motorist on a US highway had identical life threatening injuries as a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan, the soldier would have a greater chance of survival. How can that be? Simple. The resources are apportioned to rapidly identify, treat, stabilize, and move the traumatized soldier to safety and definitive care.  So allow me to make some parallels between combat wounded and Christians wounded on our spiritual battlefield.

“In the amount of time I have witnessed trauma among combat wounded, the number of Christian soldiers that have been wounded and lost is exponentially higher. The problem is that the early identification of the injured, stabilization of the injury, and movement to a safe place is not trained, resourced, or practiced in the church. By and large, Christendom’s practice with wounded leaders looks like a horse that goes down with a broken leg – shoot them and bury them fast. I wonder, given the great individuals in the Bible that were felled on the battlefield of sin vs. righteousness and then rose again to great glory, if perhaps we are missing a major Christian theme. If we applied the same equine medicine to them as we currently practice, Peter, Thomas, David, and certainly Moses should have been euthanized on the spot. In the same way we as a church respond currently to leaders in trouble, we would have considered these men of faith too greatly damaged to ever be influential again.

“Perhaps, just as God made sure their stories were told in the Bible, he is asking us to look at these situations through his eyes and learn. Specifically, I think he’s modeling for us how to identify the fallen, how to stop the bleeding and then how to get them to a safe place so they can heal and function again. I am going to take huge liberties in drawing parallels between the physically wounded soldier and the Christian warrior that is felled.

“I am going to skip a few steps and go right past the how both warriors get wounded. Pick your poison; immorality, gunfire, gossip, plane crash, mental or physical abuse, IEDs, slander, car bombs, etc. After the wounded are healed, the source of the wound and avoidance of the problem in the future can be addressed. But the first goal is to get the traumatized healed. So for this brief discussion we have a wounded troop. Now YOU are the combat medic called to administer life saving care.  Since you have seen all manner of Hollywood movies you encounter a patient that you know will be fully cooperative and as soon as you apply pressure on a wound it magically heals and within 35 minutes the patient returns to the battle with greater effectiveness than any fully able soldier.

“It never goes that way. These are some of the reactions you can anticipate.

“1. The soldier who has created the persona of invincibility and is now wounded is embarrassed. He not only does not want your help, he will die fighting to keep you from saving his life. Let’s call it the Lt. Dan syndrome . . . “Forest leave me here.”  I will fight to my last breath, pride intact.  If you put that tourniquet on my spurting artery, I will shoot you.

“2. Another reaction is similar to the prior and that is the prideful soldier who will not admit he has even taken a round. In this scenario you know he has been hit. The wound is undeniable.  However, the strength of his pride allows him to cover his wound, swear it doesn’t exist, and to walk without a limp. Eventually, his pride is overcome by reality and he drops dead with every one standing around saying…huh? How did that happen?

“3. A third reaction is the flight response.  It is common for a person that is rapidly traumatized to take off on a dead run. Here we can use a hunting analogy. Let’s call it the “deer in the gun sight” response. A shot properly placed should drop a deer right where it stands. Though mortally wounded, the deer will occasionally run. This is usually followed by a hunter’s expletive because he now has to track the wounded deer. When he finally finds the deer and examines it, the wound is so invasive the hunter legitimately wonders how this animal could have kept going. Adrenalin is an amazing thing. Humans do the same thing.

“4. The most rare response is: “I have been hurt and need help,” or “I have a bullet wound in my abdomen, shrapnel in my leg and my lung is collapsing. Thank you so much for helping me.  I will assist as you apply the tourniquet on my leg, pack my intestines back in, and if you have a needle, to place it right here in my intercostal space so I can breathe again.”

“That’s never happened to me, but I often hear Christian leaders blame the wounded they were responsible to restore for not responding to them like that. The patient may be cooperative but they are more focused on staying alive, not what the treatment is. The treatment is your job as the combat medic . . . and if you fail . . . this patient will die . . . but in Christianity, as happened in WW1, we just send the Chaplain out to pray with them and . . .  shoot him. Problem solved. Moses, David, Peter, Thomas or for that matter every human being who ever needs to be rescued, never achieves their intended potential. Oh, and for the record, wounds take more than 35 minutes.  Depending on the severity, the healing process takes time and patience.

“Perhaps a better approach would be: Get training to administer life saving care and understand you will have to do it at your own personal risk. Next, stop the bleeding of the wounded, get them out of the gunfire, and then find the definitive care that will restore them before someone decides that their usefulness has been lost and figuratively takes the remainder of their lives through spiritual euthanization.

“Euthanasia appears peaceful, effective, easy, neat, and convenient, but it’s still unloving, ungodly and unscriptural. Christian leaders should not be experts in rationalizing their use of euthanasia on others. Instead, we should all become combat medics intent on restoring, rescuing and most of all loving.”

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Genuine Restoration (Part 1)

#5 in Q & A Series

Question: How do you believe New Life Church could have handled your situation better?

Throughout the years, I’ve made it a point not to be an expert on the shortcomings of others. Instead, I tried to focus on the big ideas of the topic at hand.

Throughout my 35 years of pastoral ministry, I have enjoyed the privilege of trying to fulfill the New Testament exhortation to restore fellow believers who have stumbled or who have been trapped by sin. After learning from years of varying degrees of success, and also, after personally being in need of restoration ministry in 2006 & 2007, I am not only qualified to comment on this subject, I believe I am uniquely qualified. Add to my experiences the Roundtables Gayle and I are hosting with Christian leaders around the nation. These always include insightful and impassioned discussion on this subject, and as a result, Gayle and I have become keen on what is biblical and what is not, as well as what works and what does not. These ideas are more than theory; they are essential to authentic New Testament life.

Interestingly, just last week a pastor in Minneapolis pointed out to me that the 1998 edition of my book, The Life-Giving Church, had enough guidance on page 112 and in the bylaws section that, if heeded in my situation in 2006 and 2007, would have been healing to all involved much sooner than the plan that was implemented.

Let’s get started.

Galatians 6:1-3 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” (New Living Translation)

This process is described for the sinner who is repentant. In this case, the process is straightforward and can move along much more quickly than some who prescribe random timelines think, according to biblical instruction.

Different guidelines are involved, however, if the person is unrepentant. In this case, the instruction Paul gives the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 5 to remove the person from the fellowship may need to be applied. In doing so, however, we must keep II Corinthians 2:5-11 in mind, since most Bible scholars believe it is Paul’s follow-up comment about the situation addressed in I Corinthians 5. Of interest is the fact that most Bible scholars believe these two letters to the Corinthian church were written within a year of one another. The implications of the timeline between letters informs our dealing with the worst case scenario, the unrepentant.

Here Paul writes, “I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me. Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him. I wrote to you as I did to test you and see if you would fully comply with my instruction. When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes” II Corinthians 2:5-11.

This instruction is concluded by Paul writing, “. . . so that Satan will not outsmart us” and underscores that Paul was familiar with Satan’s schemes. What could the Apostle Paul be referring to?

Restoring another requires the ultimate belief in, application of, and demonstration of the Gospel. In fact, only the genuinely spiritual and the authentically godly, according to New Testament standards, have the character qualities necessary to restore someone who has been overcome by some sin.

Why? Because another’s moral inferiority gives our old sin nature every opportunity to reveal arrogance, self-righteousness, harshness, self-promotion, greed, and love of worldly power while masquerading as godly.

When responding to another person’s sin, our own core values and beliefs are exposed. In other words, our response to another person’s sin displays whether or not we are opportunists, manipulators for our own benefit, or humble because of our confidence in Christ’s righteousness in us. Restoring another also unveils if we actually believe in resurrection or not, are persuaded that the New Testament solution to our sin problems is authentic, or if we actually still believe that Old Testament punishment, humiliation, and suffering are the keys to integrity. Our actions in restoring another reveals whether or not we actually believe in the body of Christ, the family of God, and that the church is the building of the Lord. Actions imposed on and pronouncements made about the fallen reveal whether or not those doing the restoring are working for healing, as Christ would. Or are they acting in conjunction with the accuser of the brethren who subtly promotes separation in the body and comforts the brooding wounded into victimization. These typically present themselves as morally superior. Restoring another is one of the most fearful things any of us can do because it always unmasks our motivations as leaders as well as our understanding of the New Testament.

Thus, my recommendation in restoring a repentant brother or sister who has been trapped by sin is: Step #1. Recognize the importance of our task and settle on following the biblical model of genuine restoration.

“And we know that God causes everything to work out for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them” (Romans 8:28).

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Survival In the Coming Age?

4 in Q & A Series

Question: As believers, how do we prepare for the coming changes in this world?

As Evangelical Christians looking to the future, we would be wise to understand the times in which we live, and be aware that as a society we are improving in some ways and worsening in others.

I’ve observed that typically when a Democrat is in the White House, we Christians publish and sell a great deal of apocalyptic literature, but when a Republican is in the White House, we produce an abundance of hopeful, faith-based materials. This trend demonstrates how politicized we have become. Nations are always forming or being dismantled, economies are strengthening or weakening, political movements are growing or waning, and believers are impacted one way or another in each of these situations.

Surprisingly, under Sadaam Hussein, Christians experienced greater protection and freedom to attend church and worship according to their faith. Since his removal, the church has suffered greatly in Iraq and has gone virtually underground. Under Hasni Mubarak, the Egyptian church enjoyed greater freedom and government protection, but since his removal, Christian churches and schools have been burned, and many Christians have been martyred. Sometimes when we think political events might improve our plight, they actually get worse. And sometimes when we think things might get worse, they actually get better.

With that in mind, how do we prepare for the coming changes to the world? The Bible simply says that we should watch, pray, and be ready. I believe in staying steady on good days and difficult days. So here is what I do:

1. Develop habits now that will never change. I read my Bible and pray every day. I have done this during times of great success in my life, as well as during my most horrible upsets. We all can receive life and encouragement regardless of the other events surrounding us if we will read our Bibles and pray every day.

2. Keep growing financially. We all need to intentionally increase our value in the workplace so we will have as much earning power as possible. As we go through life, if we tithe 10% to an authentic New Testament Church, save and invest 10%, and use the other 80% for everything else, we will become increasingly financially secure as we go through life. Then if unexpected events come our way, we will have a greater ability to absorb them. If nothing negative happens, then in our 50′s, our investments will produce as much income as our work. Regardless of our age and current situation, this is a good plan to start today.

3. Love, but never take it for granted from others. One of the most crushing moments in life is when we experience a difficult season and it dawns on us that our friends don’t love us or our families as much as we thought they did. It’s tough, but to stay healthy and recover as quickly as possible, we would do better to face the reality that others do not owe us their love.

I think it’s wise to accept the fact that ONLY God has unconditional love for us, and that love from others is mostly earned. Certainly there are exceptions. Some will love us without us having earned it, while others may choose to love us because they value us in spite of our current limitations and failings. But don’t expect others to love or care about you or your family on a bad day, or you may end up deeply disappointed. Instead, be grateful when anyone is loving, kind, or generous. We will be stronger if we are grateful for any good that comes our way, than to expect kindness and be disappointed. And with that strength, we can love others.

4. Be strong and courageous. Courage is the greatest of all virtues because, without it, we are not able to exercise any other virtues on a bad day. Faith, love, and kindness all disappear from the self-serving hearts of cowards because they lack the courage to do the right thing. With courage, we are able to stand firm.

Courageous faith is our hope no matter what comes our way. It is based on timeless truths we can count on regardless of social, political, or economic trends. We can always trust the Lord. He is our core strength.

And finally,

5. Participate in an authentic New Testament Church that understands the application of the Gospel, grace, love, internal transformation, healing, redemption, power, and restoration. Here you will experience the strength of the family of God on good days and bad. Authentic New Testament Churches are the fellowships of the gratefully redeemed, not fellowships of the self-righteous. How do we know the difference? By how they respond to someone else’s sin. If they are an authentic New Testament Church, they will respond with understanding and redemptive healing. If they are actually an Old Testament “church,” they will respond with punitive condemning judgment that will include separation from the body. They will, in effect, deny resurrection to the sinner in order to increase humiliation, thinking the solution to the sin problem is punishment. They are Old Testament thinkers. They do not know that the Gospel applies most significantly in a difficult situation.

So how do we prepare? None of us knows our futures, but if we develop a few good practices and stay steady, we can face whatever comes our way.

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Left Behind?

#3 in Q & A Series

Question: “Do you believe the Left Behind series is based on our western culture which is generally free from persecution toward Christians? The series implies God will shield Christians from trials and persecutions, whereas Christian history and modern history are filled with examples of horrible persecution, even unto death.”

The Left Behind series are novels, fictitious prose. Fictitious means it’s not real, it’s imaginary. Prose means it is written using ordinary language.

Obviously, the arts can communicate powerful messages, which is what this series of novels has done. Many who were uninterested in God or had no interest in the end times came to Christ or became interested in biblical eschatology (the study of the end times) by reading the Left Behind series. Others who had never read the Bible gained new interest and began reading it. Many began attending home Bible studies or churches.

Here is my view. When evaluating the work of other Christians, I use a chart of three concentric circles with four characteristics on the outside of the circles.

The center circle is labeled “absolutes”. Absolutes are the unchanging foundations of our faith. These are the truths specifically articulated in the Scriptures that have not changed throughout the centuries, will not change as time passes, and remain the same regardless of cultural or political trends.

The second circle surrounds the first and is labeled “interpretations”. An interpretation is an explanation and application of the Scripture. We usually are interpreting when we read a passage and say, “this means . . . ” Bible scholars have developed a thoughtful process for us to determine reasonable interpretations from Scripture. Every responsible Bible teacher, from a home group leader to the most influential Christian leader, has a responsibility to teach credible interpretations from Scripture.

The third concentric circle is labeled “deductions”. A deduction is a conclusion we create from a variety of sources. Our deductions may come from our experience combined with our personal study of Scripture. Or they may come from listening to or reading the work of another who takes a selection of Scriptures, compares them and puts them together, and comes to what seems to be a logical conclusion. That’s a deduction.

Deductions have a greater capacity of being incorrect than interpretations, and interpretations have a greater potential of being wrong than absolutes, because absolutes are never wrong.

But that’s not all. On the outer edges of these three circles, are subjective opinions, personal preferences, feelings, and cultural norms. If we are not consciously aware of these differences, we might make the grave error of forming judgments about someone who teaches their deductions, which might differ from ours, even though we both believe Jesus Christ is Lord and that the blood of Christ was shed for the remission of our sins, which are absolutes.

As teachers, if we are not aware of the absolutes we believe in contrast to our interpretations and deductions, we will confuse our listeners because they might not be able to differentiate between the absolutes, which are 100% correct, and our interpretations, which actually might change as we grow in understanding.

Most eschatology being promoted in the American church today is a combination of deductions and cultural norms. Sadly, we often teach deductions and cultural norms with the same authority that we teach the absolutes. This weakens our credibility. For example, if we take Scriptures from Daniel, add Scriptures from Ezekiel, put them together with material from Matthew and Revelation, and then change the meaning of the words by saying, “this stands for . . .” or “this is a symbol for . . . “, we could be teaching pure fantasy.

I have met both Tim LaHaye and Larry Jenkins. Both seem to be wonderful men of God. Both wrote the Left Behind series believing it would be beneficial to others. They both value the absolutes of Scripture, and include many of them in their novels about the end times. Thus, we should read the series as it was intended: entertainment with a biblical theme, based on deductions from the Bible, which include subjective opinions and cultural norms.

So what are some of the positive benefits of the Left Behind Series?

It teaches some powerful absolutes.

It teaches respected interpretations.

The deductions it draws are clearly deductions.

The cultural norms, feelings, subjective opinions and personal preferences are the creative license of the authors as in all novels.

Therefore, trust the absolutes, consider interpretations, and take deductions with a grain of salt. As for subjective opinions, personal preferences, feelings, and cultural norms, take them for what they are, but never confuse them with absolutes. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this. You are welcome to comment below.

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Why Do I Feel So Much Guilt?

#2 in Q & A Series

Well, all of us are guilty. Feeling it and having the ability to do something about it is a gift.

There are lots of reasons why people feel guilt. Maybe you have done or said something wrong. Or maybe you have been influenced by your culture, family, or a non-New Testament religious organization that has you convinced you are not worthy. Regardless of the reason you are feeling “so much guilt,” the New Testament has the solution for you.

Guilt can be a motivation to improve our lives. In Romans 3:19, Paul writes that the purpose of the law “is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God.” Paul is saying that all of us need to take responsibility and not excuse our own ungodly thoughts, words, and actions. We all fall short of God’s ideal and need Christ’s righteousness for us to be in right standing with God.

Once his righteousness is in us, we experience great confidence. In I John 3:20-21, John writes, “Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence.” Feeling guilty is our state outside Christ or in disobedience to Christ, but as we abide in His righteousness, we are cleansed and gain great confidence in him. This is easy. It is a relief.

In Matthew 11:30, Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

In II Corinthians 11:9, Paul said, “I have never been a burden to you, and I never will.”

I decided early in my ministry career that I wanted my Christian service to be like Jesus’ and Paul’s in this respect. Every ministry I have ever led has been structured to be an uplift, an encouragement, a relief to people. Life is difficult enough, we don’t need Sunday worship to be a burden as well. And on Sunday mornings when we as believers gather to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and, consequently, our own resurrections, we worship, fellowship, give, and publicly read the Word together. This is not the time to add burden to people’s lives. Our giving can be done freely, joyfully, and without pressure. That is why I am opposed to religious leaders imposing guilt in order to extract funds from fellow believers. Some construct godless, guilt-inducing ways to get believers to give more and more. I’ll not go into details, but fundamentally I think believers should give, and the leadership should budget accordingly so the costs of ministry do not excessively burden the worshippers.

Sadly, many Christians do not feel guilty because of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, but because of leaders who impose guilt in order to control them. These types of leaders have been in the church from the beginning, and very often they are our most popular leaders. Paul warned Timothy about them by saying, “They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires” (II Timothy 3:3-6). I notice these leaders scrutinize the weaknesses of others and present themselves as spiritually superior. Watch out!

Our modern Christian culture demands justice and public ridicule for some sins, while other sins are embraced. Immorality, theft, and addictions demand punishment. Judgmentalism, lovelessness, and blame, however, are lauded and can be marketed to the church . If our leaders promote certain sins, they can raise significant amounts of money to stop “those sinners.” This duplicity makes the one raising the funds appear spiritually superior highlighting the inferiority of others. Everything about this is contrary to the New Testament.

We should fund the Gospel, but we should probably ensure it’s an authentic New Testament Gospel. New Testament Christianity is an uplift to people. It lightens our load and offers a solution for guilt. The cross sets all of us free from the need to humiliate others, even the unrepentant. It’s just not our role. We offer dignity, confidence, and joy because of the love and righteousness of Christ. Remember the fruit of God’s Spirit within us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Because of the reality of the cross, our lives are a Sabbath rest. I know, I know, the great evangelists say we should burn out not rust out. Well, let them. I’m going to take some time in my back yard and gratefully enjoy Him. I’ve lived long enough now, that I feel no need to be an expert in anyone else’s sin. I only feel compelled to let others know the freedom they can find in Him. That’s it. And that’s not hard.

If you feel guilty, then repent. Receive your forgiveness and be transformed, renewed, filled, and healed, so your life will improve. Now, smile a grateful smile, and rest.

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