Can We Have a Little Respect In Washington?

Some say the greatest source of grief in the world develops either when someone wants you to do something you do not want to do, or when you want someone to do something they do not want to do.

I think it’s true. It seems as though we human beings can overcome just about any obstacle, but the suffering caused by one person or group demanding that another conform to their wishes has caused more human grief than any other single issue.

Religious people tend to do this. Those who agree are included and given benefits, while outsiders are shunned, punished, humiliated, and sometimes put to death for their lack of compliance.

Political leaders do this. When people refuse to submit to the dictates of some political leaders, those in office use the power of the state to cause their opponents to suffer.

Married couples, kids on a playground, young men and women deciding the pecking order in their group can cause immense grief.

We should never minimize the power of respect. In my younger days as a pastor, I thought about how delightful it would be to have a Sunday morning worship service with only those in attendance who wanted to be there. I envisioned no one there because of family pressure, religious guilt, shame or obligation. So I decided to try the experiment of respecting people’s choices about their own church attendance. Gayle and I decided many years ago that we would not use any of the popular techniques to get people to come to church. We decided that we would simply have a believers’ meeting and respect the decisions of others whether or not they wanted to join with us.

We have made a fundamental decision to respect the choices others make for themselves. And of course, we appreciate it when others are respectful toward us. It leads to a more peaceful existence for all—one more conducive to respectful dialogue in the marketplace of ideas as opposed to hostile division.

Now for the mid-term elections . . . Today I am dismayed with the headlines in our local newspaper. The banner headline across the top is “Obama takes a defiant stance” with the sub-headline, “vows to act alone to change immigration system; GOP opposes plan.”

I do not expect President Obama to start thinking or acting like a Republican, but I do expect him to be respectful toward those with whom he disagrees in Washington. I remember when congress was controlled by the Democratic Party for 40 consecutive years, while having a variety of Republican and Democrat presidents. During those years Democrats and Republicans dined, golfed, worshipped, and negotiated together. Even in the midst of significant conflict, decorum, respect, and a fundamental understanding that the other guy was elected too, provided a fundamental foundation for the democratic process to work.

We as Americans want our politicians to be statesmen, not just advocates. We want them to represent us, use wisdom, have manners, and when necessary lead us responsibly. We trust them with power, but that power is rooted in the dignity of the citizenry. So we want them to give their best arguments in a respectful way, and move our country forward.

We don’t want them to be such strong advocates for their position that they demean, embarrass, or dehumanize those who differ from them. They should debate, vote, accept the results, and go to dinner or play golf together. Disrespect prevents that from happening. If there is trickery, deception, blame, or embarrassment, then we human beings tend to get bitter, align only with those who sympathize with our view, and we stop thinking and start hurting one another. I believe that is what has been happening in Washington, but it’s time for it to stop.

Our mid-term elections count. President Obama needs to respect the people’s representatives, and those representatives need to respect our chief executive. If mutual respect is not upheld, then the power struggle begins again with our politicians simply positioning themselves for elections in two years.

Many have paid a high price so that we don’t have a monarchy, a dictatorship, or one party rule. I believe that President Obama is thoughtful and was elected by the left because of his political philosophy and pleasant demeanor. But there are many of us who do not believe his philosophy is best. If he will honestly work with those who differ from him, he could be heralded as a great president. But if unilateral executive actions continue, while mocking and blaming congress, then history might not laud our current administration.

When President Obama was elected, the majority in both houses of Congress shared his philosophy of government. We, the people, did not approve of what he did as president when his office had that much power, so we limited it to some degree by changing the leadership of the lower house of Congress. Two years later, our nation re-elected him as President, affirming his role, but not with the power of both houses of Congress, requiring that he respect, listen, advocate and negotiate, to enjoy greater success. But there was too much blaming and division, so rather than ending the gridlock by re-electing Democrat leadership in the lower house, we went the other direction. We elected to further limit his power and increase the level of accountability over his actions by electing Republican leadership in both houses of Congress. If those in the White House will respect the decisions we, the people, are making, we can move forward. Strong, humble leadership, Republican and Democrat, working for the common good, could serve our nation and the world well right now.

Today’s headlines make me wonder if this is what people in other countries feel like when their prime minister or president disbands their parliament. Checks and balances are gone, decorum and dignity are thrown to the wind, and brute force prevails. Is that what we’ll have for the next two years? I hope not.

We can all show more respect. We in the Church need to be respectful of those we may never persuade and protect them as we would protect our own. Christians should ensure that Jews and Muslims feel safe in our communities, and the opposite should be demonstrated as well. Atheists need to be respectful of those with faith, and vise versa. We should demand that all of our representatives be statesmen, and should they choose to be partisan advocates, let them, but not from an elected governing position. As citizens of a constitutional republic, we are ultimately responsible to ensure that our society is civil. Let’s begin by upholding the value of mutual respect.

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Genesis 1, Pope Francis and Evangelicals

Pope Francis stimulated interest in Genesis 1 with his comments on the Big Bang and Evolution, especially among conservative Evangelicals. We tend to defend a more literal interpretation of Scripture and are a movement that highlights the centrality of the Word in our faith and practice, so some evangelicals are concerned that the Pope is compromising biblical authority.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the first sentence of the first book of the entire Bible. It establishes one of the first great truths God wants all of us to understand—that he created everything.

Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Does this describe the first condition of the earth after its creation? And what of the six days which follow in this first chapter? Do they describe the process of the original creation?

Note that in verse 1, the Bible highlights creation, where God created the heavens and the earth. Later verse 21 describes the creation of the animals, and verse 27, the creation of people. The Bible differentiates between the original creation of the earth and its subsequent reconstruction making it suitable for people. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the six days in this first chapter do not necessarily describe the original creation of the earth.

When verse 2 describes the earth as formless, empty and dark, it doesn’t mean that is the condition of the earth immediately following its initial creation. Actually, there is no way of knowing how many millions, or maybe billions, of years might have passed between verses 1 and 2. For us to assume that all God has ever done is create the universe, the animals and all of us is too limiting for the Eternal, Almighty God. He is God. This universe might just be one of his creations, and there are obviously mighty things he did before our Genesis account, and that he will do after the accounts in Revelation conclude. Remember he always has been and always will be. He was before the creation of the world as we know it, and will be long after we pass into eternity and the earth enters a new phase that is far beyond the final accounts in the book of Revelation. The Bible gives us an understanding of God as we need to know him for our salvation, so that revelation is not thorough in every other subject. We will all learn more when we step into eternity, and still more when we see him face to face.

The English Bible translators could have translated the third word in verse 2 “became.” “The earth became formless and empty, . . . “ The same Hebrew word is translated “became” in Genesis 2:7b where the Bible says, “He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” In other places, translators use “and it came to pass” when translating this Hebrew word. So Genesis 1:2 could read, “And it came to pass that the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. . . “ That would have given the average English Bible reader a grid for understanding when visiting the Natural History Museum.

The first verse of Genesis simply states the fact of the original creation, and leaves it there, in the dateless past. Then verse 2 tells of the chaos which came to this earth later. And then the six days which follow describe the re-formation of the earth with a view of earth becoming the habitation for people having the history of which we have a biblical record.

When I was in high school, my pastor taught that scholars guessed regarding the cataclysm that disorganized God’s original creation between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. He called this the Gap Theory, and speculated that maybe some pre-Adamite rebellion of which we have no record, or maybe the judgment of Lucifer, and the angels that followed him, created the disorder described in Genesis 1:2. We don’t know, but if you are interested, study Isaiah 14:9-17, Jeremiah 4:23-27, and Ezekiel 28:12-18. These passages certainly communicate that much could have gone on during this period that may not be explained to us by God until eternity.

The Bible does not say evolution is impossible, and it’s within biblical parameters that there might have been several big bangs in the development of the universe, with more to come. During the first four days in Genesis 1, no creative acts are recorded. It’s only when we come to the animals and the human race that the Hebrew word for “create” is used. It is not a stretch that these six days give the account of a new beginning, but they are not necessarily the first beginning.

As a conservative Evangelical with a high view of Scripture, I believe the Pope might be right on this one, without compromising biblical authority.

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Could Losers be Losers for a Reason?

It’s election season, which is an opportune time for us to think about success, security, the role of government, and our overall philosophy about what is important to us. As a pastor, I often think about these ideas because I want everyone I know to be better off, to be able to enjoy their families and their relationships, and to be free from worry and fear.

I understand the realities of earth in contrast to Heaven, but it’s sometimes frustrating to watch people destroy their own families, relationships, potential for greater earning, and future security. I’ve watched some live life well and enjoy the benefits; and I’ve watched others live without intentionality, often resulting in failure. The vast majority of the time, though, those who win are those who invest in making life what they want it to be.

I think Jesus revealed a major life principle when he said, “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29).

I tell my kids that all good things are earned, but bad things will happen all by themselves.

I am aware of and don’t appreciate the shallow portrayals of success. I understand that the poorest American lives better than the royalty of 100 years ago, so I’m not writing this to promote the American “we’ve all got to have more stuff” idea. I know we all have reason to be grateful. I am, though, persuaded that God wants our lives to improve. I appreciate Jesus saying, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10b).

No doubt, people who know their heavenly Father and consistently participate in their local church have greater potential to do better in life. Why? Because in church we learn that we are here for God’s purpose, that God’s grace is in us, so we have the power to obey him . . . which results in a better life. Yes, there are exceptions. All generalizations are faulty. But these ideas do help us live better lives.

I know there are some who believe all things should be equal for everyone, but I think they are delusional. We’re all born within varying circumstances, with different bodies, brains and socio-economic statuses. Human beings are born into different families, nations, and situations. Every one of us is unique and different, and we decide what we’re going to do with our own circumstances. I think the only potential realistic equality is our great American experiment striving for equality for every citizen under the law. But let’s face it, equality under the law is where equality ends.

So we can whine, complain, blame and compare, always pointing out where we are inadequate or not given the opportunities others have. Or we can take what we have and invest to build the best possible lives for ourselves and those around us. Whining, complaining, blaming and comparing weakens us. It displaces our responsibility and gives us an excuse for our failures, which removes our motivation to improve.

I think that’s what Jesus meant when he talked about us using well what we have been given. I hear folks from every race, socio-economic status and background, blame, complain and fight against those whom they blame. Black against white, white against black, rich against poor, poor against rich, conservative against liberal, and liberal against conservative. Those folks rarely enjoy the lives they could have lived. Then I see others who are better off because they appreciate the things they have and invest them to create their futures.The blamers call these folks “lucky” because they seem to have things naturally fall their way.

In Deuteronomy 28, God tells his people what will happen to them if they line up with him, and what will happen if they go their own way. In Matthew 25 Jesus clearly teaches what will ensure loser status, and what it takes to win. It’s not rocket science. And in 2 Corinthians 9, Paul is perfectly clear. Some of you will study these references, figure them out and build a great life. Others will go on to the next thing and assume the future will work for you. Yesterday you created most of the elements that are in your life today, and today you are creating your tomorrow. It’s your choice. You have more power than you might realize.

We evangelicals have so emphasized salvation by grace through faith, I think we might have unintentionally downplayed the importance of what we do and do not do, and how our actions impact our future. True, we’re saved by grace, but both the Bible and life teach that other universal laws give us opportunity to make life better for ourselves and those around us, or to make life worse.

It’s our choice to determine what we are going to do with what we’ve been given. We can do what leads to greater success, and peace and joy in our lives, or we can do the things that increase the probability that we will lose. Winning is work, but we can do it. Let’s win.

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Why Gayle and I Give

When Gayle and I were married 36 years ago, we decided to be givers. I was 22, she was 21, and we made two core decisions: 1. The local church was the most important institution God had established on the Earth, so we wanted to be participants in it, and 2. We were going to be faithful givers and tithers.

Now I’m 58 years old and Gayle and I continue to hold these foundational decisions as fundamental practices. One reason is that we don’t believe ministry should ever be a burden to anyone. When we see churches go broke, church workers go unpaid and church leaders struggling to meet basic financial needs within the church, we don’t want to be part of that problem. As a result, we have chosen to consistently give 10% of everything we earn to our local church. We see our church as a storehouse of resources from which all of us draw and out of which we serve others. It’s like an armory to strengthen us during weak times, or a granary from which we all feed when hungry. Cities are better when there are an abundance of local church based youth ministries, men’s and women’s fellowship groups, Bible studies and prayer meetings. One time our district attorney told me he had never had to prosecute anyone who had been in Sunday School the week before. Think of that. By simply increasing Sunday School attendance, crime rates go down. The impact of local church work is important, so we don’t want the men and women working in those efforts distracted with lack.

Gayle and I paid attention to the ideas Malachi communicated when he wrote, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! Your crops will be abundant . . . “.

How does God do it? I’ve watched people who faithfully and consistently tithe to their local church experience three vivid developments in their lives.

First, they become increasingly responsible and their responsibility leads to greater earnings. It holds true that those who make significant money usually have greater earning power because they carry responsibility well. Tithing develops responsibility, and being responsible is rewarded in every area of life. When people demonstrate they are responsible, they are compensated for it. Jesus addressed this in Luke 16:10 when he said, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones . . . “ This is the famous passage that concludes with Jesus saying we can’t serve both God and money.

Secondly, I’ve noticed that givers develop greater skills. God wants to bless the work of our hands. He values the development of our skills. When he wants something done, he calls on people who can do a good job. In other words, he rewards us for developing skills. God will place in us a desire to read, obtain an additional degree, or develop a technical skill. Thus, as we develop these skills, we make ourselves increasingly useful and improve our earning power, and we often end up enjoying greater prosperity.

Third, givers are gracious. I have no idea how this works with certainty but givers have attractive personalities. Tithers seem to grasp the big picture of what is truly important in life and are willing to invest in others. Tithers know the importance of strengthening the ministry of the church, the body of Christ. Tithers directly invest in the family of God because they know what it really is in a community and in eternity. As a result, they are not crass, crude, rude, or brutal. Instead, they know the application of love, because they invest in it.

I think this is why Paul was so extravagant when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 9: 6-10, “Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’ And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, ‘They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increases your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.”

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Rational Charismatics

I was raised in the United Presbyterian Church by a Presbyterian Dad and a Methodist Mom. When I was 16, Bill Bright ushered me into a more dynamic and personal relationship with Christ, and when I was 18, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. I loved serving the Lord and experiencing the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit in my life. But when I turned 50, I went through a personal crisis as I tried to determine how I should identify myself within the body of Christ. After much internal debate, I finally decided that I was a “Rational Charismatic.”

I am Charismatic, knowing without any doubt that the gifts of God, as outlined in the New Testament, are available and operational today.

I am rational, meaning that facts and reason inform my beliefs. Evidence matters. A quality education and the ongoing development of ideas that impact our lives and inform our understanding of the world around us matters.

Sadly, after writing that, I feel the need to validate my conservative biblical beliefs to my friends reading this blog. That subtle feeling reveals the problem we have created. Why have we believers allowed ourselves to think a high view of Scripture and confidence in the person of Christ doesn’t coexist with rational thought?

Jesus is so completely the Son of God, Son of Man, Lord of all and Creator of all, I have no reason to doubt that he is who he says he is. So much so, that I have no fear in pursuing my doubts, thinking through the realities of life, and interfacing what I read in the Scriptures every day with science. In my mind, New Testament faith does not require blindness, because there is evidence for its truth. I have no trouble reconciling the discoveries found in the natural history museum with Genesis, or chemistry with Jesus turning water into wine. Because of the miracle Christ has done in me, I know he can override natural law, but natural law is not his enemy. He created this orderly system within which we live, which is why the scientific method of discovery works.

As referenced earlier, some conservative believers have made a horrible mistake by positioning their teachings against science. Modern science is the product of western civilization, which is the child of Christendom. Centuries ago the popes taught that science and the Bible conflicted in areas which science has since been proven correct. Now Bible scholars agree that the church’s interpretation of the Bible was wrong and that, in fact, the Bible and scientific knowledge are harmonious. Think of that. As science has proven to be correct, the church has had to refine its interpretation. What’s wrong with that? Our interpretations of the Scriptures are not the absolutes of Scripture. Some of our interpretations should change as we grow and learn. I believe that since God is a God of order, and he created all, that the knowledge we gain through studying his creation is harmonious with the Scriptures.

Those who deeply embrace and defend ideas they believe to be biblically based, which are not evidenced, might find themselves in the same position as our forefathers who tried to defend a flat earth. Facts are helpful in informing our interpretations of Scripture. Scripture is helpful in informing our existence. Facts are never the enemy of Christians.

I’m not defending the cynic or the unbeliever. In my view, people who let their hurts, arrogance, or bigotry shadow their thinking are just as vulnerable as sincere believers who are desperately hoping they are right, when they are wrong.

Accepting modern science is not a contradiction of Paul’s admonition to reject the “wisdom of this world”. He wasn’t dealing with science, but philosophy and our understanding of God and our existence. He wasn’t devaluing the importance of facts or truth, but emphasizing the temporary nature of trends and traditions, something we should continue to be cognizant of today.

We can grow in our understanding of the Bible, believe the New Testament, and fully operate in the power of the Holy Spirit, without having to deny the reality that exists in the world around us.

Let’s be rational, Bible-believing Christians. To be rational Charismatics might require that we discard some of the cultural superstition in our modern Christian practice. I think that would serve us well.

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Are Christians Hateful?

To do a quick survey on any subject, google it, and Google will automatically suggest what others have already searched regarding that subject with the most popular searches appearing at the top of the list. Anyone with a computer can immediately tell the most popular thoughts on a subject. With that in mind, I just typed in “Christians are . . . “. Every time I do this, the results are different, but sadly they are seldom positive. A good friend, Michael Cheshire, pointed this out at one of our Roundtables on Life-Giving Leadership. I knew that we Christians had a major public relations problem, but Michael’s suggestion confirmed that many believe that the positive image we project is not, in fact, authentic. So today I did it again, and the results were “. . . hate-filled,” “. . . annoying,” “. . . delusional,”  “. . . so narrow-minded,” and “. . . like manure.” I’ll stop there. Point proven.

I used to think that we were good, loving people and that the world hated us because of scandals. But that has not proven to be the case. I’ve ministered as a very successful, highly respected pastor, and as one considered to be among the chief sinners. I can say, without qualification, that ministering Christ from the position of an embarrassed and humiliated sinner who is gratefully redeemed is much more effective than ministering as a religious leader.

Maybe that’s why Paul chose that position for himself.

But even though we all value integrity and holiness, the reputation of Christians is poor even among Christians. It used to be that, “He is a good Christian man,” was a high recommendation. Now it’s common for even Christians to be cautious about doing business with someone who professes to be a Christian. What happened?

I think that in the midst of our Evangelical fervor, we’ve forgotten some of the core virtues Christ taught us and have neglected to do what he did. As you may understand, I am sensitive to how we as a church respond to those identified as “sinners”. More important, I believe our response to “sinners” reveals whether or not we are authentic according to God’s New Testament standard.

I also think that our willingness to surrender to Jesus’ Lordship is best demonstrated by how we respond to another’s sin. It’s those perceived to be morally inferior, like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, that cause those who think they are morally superior, to become like Javert. Right, but dead right. This is the situational twist that causes Christian leaders to become enemies of the Gospel in the lives of those desperately needing life and light. Our moden church’s revelation is wanting. Maybe Paul can help us regain our bearings.

While Paul was in prison, he wrote to Philemon, a slaveowner, about his runaway slave, Onesimus. This little letter communicates the ideas that, if incorporated into our churches, might keep us from ever being called hate-filled again.

According to Paul’s letter, Onesimus is the sinner. He was wrong. He ran away and deserved to be killed under the law. Though his name means “useful,” as a runaway, he became “useless” and would have probably been killed if Paul had not rescued him by being Christ-like, or Christian.

Paul, on the other hand, is the restorer. He understands the application of the Gospel and is working toward Onesimus being forgiven and thus, becoming “useful” again. As a restorer, he applies the Gospel in his plea to Philemon, Onesimus’ betrayed and disappointed owner. He does so in a letter to Philemon.

1. Note that Paul became an advocate for Onesimus by writing to Philemon, “I am boldly asking a favor of you” (1:8), just as Christ advocates for us.

2. Note that Paul invokes Philemon on the basis of love, which I define as “living for the good of another.” Here Paul establishes that love is the bedrock of the discussion involving the guilty one, Onesimus (1:9), just as the basis for Christ’s work in us, when we sin, is God’s great love for us.

3. Note that Paul’s belief that God places all of us in a family of faith actually has significant, tangible meaning (1:10) that demands a change in course. Paul indicates that God placing us in his famly is not simply good sermon material, but an idea that should dominate our discussions when dealing with another believer.

4. Note that Paul does not believe that Onesimus’ sins and shortcomings have excluded him from usefulness in God’s kingdom, but that because of his shortcomings, he came into relationship with Paul, in prison, and is now more useful than before (1:11).  Jesus’ imagery of God the Father welcoming home the prodigal, or the good shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to retrieve the one who wandered away, forces us to re-evaluate our common practice of discarding those who, in our view, have forfeited their value in the family.

5. Note that Paul, the Apostle, does not hesitate to connect personally and emotionally with Onesimus, the lowly imprisoned slave. Instead, he boldly states that “with him (Onesimus) comes my own heart” (1:12). Paul does not keep personal distance to protect himself from the potential of Onesimus’ future failures. Instead, he invests his own reputation in Onesimus and takes the risk of embarassment should Onesimus do what he did before, flee.

6. Note that Paul expresses his desire to keep Onesimus with him, indicating Paul’s respect for the value and skills Onesimus possessed (1:13). Very often the skills of those who fail are discarded because we believe, in some sad way, that that their skills are tainted and no longer useful. Jesus does not believe that about us, and Paul did not fall into that trap in regard to Onesimus.

I’ll not take space here to comment on the fact that Paul wisely deals with the reality of Philemon’s exalted social position in contrast to Onesimus’ and, probably Paul’s as well. But we do know that when we as a church deal with those with whom we disapprove, or those who have embarrassed us, we communicate our own moral superiority and want the other’s inferiority made clear. Our willingness to be Christlike and be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12 KJV) is rare in our modern church culture.

7. Note that Paul communicates that the status contrast between Philemon and Onesimus are irrelevant since both are in Christ. If in fact Philemon was an educated, wealthy, and well-respected landowner, as many scholars believe, and Onesimus was an uneducated, poor, disreputable slave, as is probable, then Paul’s request is profound. His request could only be required by a genuine application of the Gospel. “He (Onesimus) is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, . . .” (1:16). Note that being a brother actually means something material. It mandates a certain behavior toward another.

8. Note, then, that the Apostle Paul makes this truth profoundly personal, “So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me” (1:17). Paul gives to Onesimus his own reputation, credibility, and in this case, his relationship.

The  implications of these ideas are profound in today’s church culture. Think of those we’ve discarded! If we would inculcate these ideas into the culture of our churches, we would actually become what we say we are, which would not only revolutionize our practices with one another, but also our reputation.

9. Note that Paul takes responsibility for the sins and debts of Onesimus! When we have a grievance against someone else, we are essentially saying that they owe us something. Typically we want an apology, or for the fallen to demonstrate more humility, or sorrow, or simply to disappear so we are not reminded of the pain they caused us. Sometimes we want them to demonstrate what we would consider a greater commitment to integrity, or maybe even to repay us or the church or business for the costs their problems created. In contrast, here Paul states that if Onesimus has wronged Philemon or owes him anything, that he, Paul, will make it right (1:18-19).

10. Note that Paul does not ask Philemon to give Onesimus a favor for Onesimus’ sake, but Paul uses some of his relational credit by asking Philemon to do him a favor by treating Onesimus with respect (1:20). Think of this, Paul is fully invested in using his credibility with Philemon for the benefit of a lowly sinner, Onesimus. That is exactly what Christ does for us, expecting all of us Christians to model our faith by doing the same for others.

11. Note that Paul trusts that, because of his influence with Philemon, that Philemon will do even more than Paul is asking (1:21). This is EXACTLY what Paul encourages every spiritual Christian leader to do with those who have been overcome by some sin (Galatians 6) when he exhorts them to humbly help that person back onto the right path. Paul is, in effect, Onesimus’ savior, healer, redeemer, and intercessor. Paul demonstrated by his response and intervention for Onesimus that he was, in fact, a Christian.

12. Note that in conclusion, Paul makes this profoundly personal and strong. He tells Philemon he is coming to his house for a personal visit.This, in my view, seals the deal. He doesn’t say that he’ll follow up once Onesimus proves himself over time, or that he sheepishly hopes Onesimus will make it, or that their relationship is solid regardless of Philemon’s decision. He respectfully makes his plea based on his own integrity, and then, having confidence the matter will be settled, says he’s coming to the house for a visit. That is EXACTLY what Christ does for us, and what we can courageously do for others.

Are we Christians hateful? For many, we are, but we are not compelled by Scripture to be that way. I maintain that another’s sin is our opportunity to demonstrate that we are loving, healing, and restorative Christians. Paul demonstrates this for us. It’s time we forfeit our modern Evangelical culture with our lightly starched shirts unstained by sin, with pristine, lotioned faces and nicely pressed suits, and become Jesus for someone in need.

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Look Who’s Talking Now!

What is Jesus saying to the Father about you? Is he telling him the worst about you? I think not. Since he died on the cross for you, your failures, weaknesses, mistakes, and lapses are covered by him. Jesus has taken on the role of saving you from the eternal and some of the earthly consequences of your humanity, and infusing his perfect life into you. Now he is telling the Father about that, because he continues to want the best for you. He gave you his righteousness, his life, his nature, even his name. He is your friend. So like a good father defending his child, a friend protecting a friend, or a competent lawyer representing a client, Jesus is for you. He is your advocate.

What do advocates do? They present the best possible argument on your behalf. They promote, defend, and support you. As your advocate Jesus offers you his counsel, and he also counsels others how to see you and respond more positively to you. He wants the best for you. As your advocate, he speaks for you and champions your interests. He maximizes your good and minimize what is negative about you. Actually, advocates do not even bring up the negative unless it is to your benefit. When you are the subject, Jesus is neither cautious nor suspicious, but is 100% sold on you. Though he knows you better than you know yourself, he presumes the best about you. So what is Jesus saying to the Father about you right now? All good things. He’s defending you. He’s spreading good news of hope about you. He believes in you.

So as a Christian, as a man who strives to be Christ-like, I focus on what is good in people, to see them through the love of God, to cover over their sins, to be their advocate, and to give the best possible argument in their defense. As a Christian, I feel no obligation to be an expert in someone else’s sins, to nuance my compliments with any negative I know about them, or to ensure they experience the full consequences of the weaknesses in their lives. That’s just not my role.

The Devil is their accuser, but since I’m not a Satanist, I’m not compelled to be their accuser. Journalists are in the business of telling all they know, but I’m not a journalist, so I have no obligation to broadcast every negative impression. The district attorney has a responsibility to hold those who violate the law accountable and ensure they receive the consequences they deserve, but I don’t work for the DA’s office, so I have no role ensuring others experience just consequences. Instead, I am a Christian, which means I am like Christ in that my role is to forgive, heal, infuse hope, defend, provide, protect, and give my life for those who have not earned it, and advocate for those who are guilty. That is exactly what Jesus did, and continues to do, for us. And it’s what we can do for one another.

It takes courage to be Christ-like. It’s actually easier emphasize the bad in others, but I’ve chosen to try to find the speck of gold buried in mountains of dirt and talk about the gold. Others can talk about the dirt, but I’m highlighting the gold. Why? Because Jesus did that in me. By his grace, we can have grace. Many accuse the gracious of lacking standards, condoning sin, and being ungodly. But in my mind, grace is God’s solution to our sin problem, not the cause of it. And since I want to be Christ-like in my response to another, I find the courage to apply grace. In other words, I am willing to apply the same Gospel to them I so deeply appreciate having been applied to me. Jesus is talking positively about us. We can do the same for one another.

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Thank You

My special needs son, Jonathan, turned 27 earlier this week. We celebrated by going to Casa Bonita, a restaurant in Denver that caters to the the kid in all of us. Then last night, a crowd came to the BarnChurch, where Jonathan is the senior pastor, to hear Jonathan preach, give him gifts, and to celebrate his miraculous life. Jonathan asked me to lead the opening prayer, and in that prayer, I had a sense of deep gratitude for Jonathan being as functional as he is, for a barn to meet in, for those who had come to celebrate with us, for the health we were all enjoying, for the reality that we were all together, and the grace of God’s work in all of our lives.

After everyone left and the barn had been closed up with only Titan, the majestic horse of the neighborhood, left to guard the barn, I went outside to walk around the fields in front of our house and pray. Gratefulness continued to fill me as I saw the full moon rising in the east, the lights from our home warmly glowing in the windows, and peace. Then I thought of those God used to make this setting possible, our home possible, our lives possible, and thought I wanted to thank you, publicly.

I want to thank my incredible wife, Gayle, and our awesome children for their bravery, courage, hard, diligent and skilled work, and endless love and devotion to each other and our family calling. Thank you!

I want to thank all of you who attend and support St. James Church for being so loyal, loving, and helpful. There are no words to express how much I appreciate you.

I want to thank all of you who attended and now attend New Life Church who have shown me love and kindness. It is truly a life-giving delight to see any of you from our New Life days. Thank you.

I want to thank the Overseers from back in 2006 (Larry Stockstill, Mike Ware, Mark Cowart, and Tim Ralph). Without your sacrificial work, prayers, and hard work, I have no idea where we would have ended up. Thank you.

I want to thank Brady Boyd and the team you brought up from Texas to do what you could to heal and strengthen the people of New Life. I know you had other plans for your lives, but adjusted those to come here and serve. Every time I drive by New Life and see the cars in the parking lot, I am thankful that you and your team maintained a strong, healthy body of believers.

I want to thank my old team at New Life. I thought particularly about Lance and Rachel Coles, John and Sarah Bolin, the Parsley brothers and their wives, Aimee, Andrea, and Maria, Christopher and Lisa Beard, Rob and Mauri Brendle, Brian and Pam Newberg, Bill and Nathalie Walton, Ted and Denise Whaley, Mel and Betsy Watters, Kevin and Darren Morehouse, and their wives, Becky and Carol, Jared and Megan Anderson, Jon and Paige Egan and others, and others, and others. Gayle and I so enjoyed serving Him with you. I probably spent 30 minutes in the field fondly thinking of the old team, thanking God for each of you and appreciating that God has given you grace, wisdom and strength, and that all of you were doing so well. Your participation made our team strong and effective. Thank you.

I thank Tommy Barnett for doing what he could to help our family in our darkest hour, Jack Hayford for staying in touch with Tommy to ensure we were ok, and H.B. London for trying to coordinate a constructive purpose for our time in Phoenix.

I wanted to thank Chris and Lori Byrd for staying steady with us. Chris and Tammy Hodges for doing what they could to help, and Randy and Louellen Welsch who provided invaluable friendship. And I want to thank YOU.

I am just so thankful for your love and prayers, I could go on and on.

I am thankful for Michiel and Alexandra Pelosi and the HBO team for their kindness and tenacity in helping us resurrect. Thank you for your grace toward my family and me, and for allowing God’s grace to work through you.

There are so many I could list. To the men like Michael Cheshire who courageously and publicly protected us and to those of you from the Roundtables who encouraged us, thank you. And thank you to Ron Luce, Terry and Linda Felber, and others who drop by or call from time to time out of friendship and respectful love.

“Thank you” to each one of you gracious enough to read this. In this little blog I can’t list everyone I think of so often, but I do want you to know that as I walked through my field thanking God, I so wished you were there so I could personally give you a warm “thank you.” Thank you.

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Smith Wigglesworth: Disqualified?

God confirmed Smith Wigglesworth’s ministry through powerful signs and wonders, including the creative formation of missing limbs and the disappearance of cancerous growths. His words continue to provide spiritual, financial, emotional, and physical healing as they inspire and build faith.

Graham Jeffs, a solicitor from England who is now an elder at St. James Church in Colorado Springs, attended church less than a half-mile from where Wigglesworth lived and preached. He recently gave me copies of the hand written correspondence between Smith Wigglesworth and the leaders of the Pentecostal Missionary Union (PMU) written after Wigglesworth had been accused of misconduct by two separate women at the peak of his ministry career.

After the situation became known to the leaders of the PMU, they demanded his resignation from the denomination, from ministry, and from public life. In a letter dated October 18, 1920, Wigglesworth repented, asked for mercy, and claimed that God had forgiven him. He also expresses dismay that the leaders failed to stand with him by saying of Cecil Polhill, the leader of the PMU, “I am afraid he is not the strong character I have believed him to be.” What was Polhill’s weak character to which Wigglesworth referred? Perhaps Polhill assumed a position of moral superiority and used his chain-of-command position to supersede a godly response and the respect due Wigglesworth as a fellow brother in Christ.

Two days later on October 20, 1920, Polhill responded to Wigglesworth’s “repentance”. Polhill wrote on behalf of the PMU leadership, “We do not think your statement (of repentance) I received this morning adequate” (underlined by Polhill). He continued, “In a few days I hope to send your draft of one we propose to ask you to sign. . . in any case you ought to send in your resignation to the P.M.U.” He continued, “In the event of your sending in your resignation to P.M.U., we should do our best to avoid any, in our judgment, unnecessary publicity.” Then, he used traditional church methods rather than biblical mandate by writing, “We think also that you should abstain for a prolonged season from participation in the Lord’s public work; and seek to retrieve your position before God and man, by a fairly long period of godly quiet living, so showing works meet for repentance” (underlined by Polhill).

Some speculate that we received the benefit of Smith Wigglesworth’s ministry only because the PMU did not have the ability to command attention in the press or publish their views on the internet to discredit Wigglesworth’s ministry. They certainly did what they could within their own spheres of influence, but Wigglesworth believed in the priesthood of the believer and concluded it unwise to submit to them. This serves as a warning to all of us: God chooses whom He uses, and our self-righteous judgments are typically wrong. Maybe humility, kindness, and helpfulness would be a better approach than the one Polhill took with Wigglesworth. That way, we are advocates for resurrection in the lives of others. It’s the scandal that often makes the man the person he’s always prayed to be. A church scandal seldom excludes the central figure of the scandal from the Kingdom of God. It often strengthens them in their faith walk. Just read the stories of the Bible greats.

Every time someone else sins, our response positions us in their story. We either contribute to their suffering and work with others to hurt them, or courageously stand outside the crowd and help them with their resurrection. I believe there is a time for discipline and justice, but in general, our role as Christians is to lift their burden and help them.

The next day, October 21, 1920, Wigglesworth wrote to Polhill, “The Good Hand of God is upon me & I will live it all down. . . I shall go forward deer [sic] Brother and I ask you be carfull [sic] that the Gospel is not hinderd [sic] thrue [sic] you . . . Do not truble [sic] to send any thing to sign. I signed my letter to you that [is] all” (underlined by Wigglesworth). The documents prepared by the PMU and the character Polhill displayed by his response to the scandal prompted Wigglesworth to send a hand written note dated October 21st to a recipient unknown to us saying, “He (Polhill) rules PMU and everyone else. I think he will have truble [sic] later.”

The PMU demands gave Wigglesworth opportunity to demonstrate his tenacity under fire and his faithfulness to God’s call on his life. Smith Wigglesworth resigned from the PMU, had the strength to keep Polhill from hindering his ministry by disregarding the church’s attempt to discipline and/or restore him, went to the train station to go to his next meeting, and continued doing what God asked him to do. From that time to this day, he is lauded as a pillar of godly strength.

Spoiled goods? Many today would have considered the Wigglesworth scandal, which would not have been kept quiet like it was in the 1920s, disqualifying. And his strong responses to his spiritual authorities would be interpreted as proof of his guilt and lack of repentance in the minds of many leaders in our modern church movement.

The dilemma our religious leaders face in trying to determine who should be used by God and who should not is that God uses problem people. Adam and Eve launched the human race, obeyed the devil and raised a murderer. Noah, the guy who saved all living creatures from wrath, was alone, drunk, and naked in his tent. What in the world was going on in there?!  Moses worshipped foreign gods and was a murderer. Abraham often lied, Isaac did too, and Jacob was a deceitful thief. David misused his official position, committed adultery and murder, and raised insubordinate sons. Many of the prophets whose books we read today were hated and rejected by their contemporaries, for good reasons.

To keep from belaboring a well understood point, I’ll just highlight the Apostle Paul for New Testament purposes because he wrote two-thirds of it . . . he was a religious leader who murdered people of faith with whom he disagreed, for the glory of God of course. Long after Paul’s conversion experience and great success in ministry, he had a messenger of Satan tormenting him, frustrating him so greatly that he maintained that sin had an independent life in him that was not reflective of his new life in Christ. We would not accept that explanation from anyone else, but for Paul, we rationalize it. Most evangelical Bible scholars teach that he found relief before he was martyred, but that’s a theological construction, not a sure fact. We all hope it’s true, but it might not be. Regardless, we all accept that a perfect God uses imperfect people. I don’t say this to excuse any of our own sin, but it might explain how we should respond to fellow believers, even fellow leaders, who find themselves trapped in sin. No doubt, we all need to grow in personal holiness, and we will, in fact, be completely perfected when we see Jesus face-to-face. But until then, might our current Christian culture be missing the point? And, is it possible we have apathy about our most deadly sins?

1 John 5:16-17 says, “If you see a Christian brother or sister sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it. All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death.”

What is the sin that leads to death? Any sin from which we do not repent. What sin’s might those be? Sins we do not think serious.

Based on the volume of warnings Jesus had for religious leaders, it might be that religious leadership has the most significant potential for undetected sinfulness than any other group. In 2007, I had a global Christian leader visit me. He told me how blessed I was that I had dealt with the type of sin from which people repent. Then he wistfully said that his sins were the type people did not repent of, because they actually strengthened his ministry, increased his income, and increased the respect of others for his ministry. He explained that the more judgmental, loveless, critical, and dogmatic he was, the more Christian people complimented and supported him. He explained how simplistic judgments drew applause, where nuanced explanations cost him support. He said it would be the end of his ministry if he repented of his sins.

The basis of our salvation is that Christ alone is our righteousness. But since sin and self are so deceitful, how can we tell if we are self-righteous? I suggest that it is our response to another’s sin. I’ve learned that to the degree we are impressed with ourselves, we respond to another’s sin punitively. And to the degree that we are dependent upon Christ alone, we respond to another’s sin redemptively. Our responses to another’s sin reveals whether we trust in our righteousness or the righteousness of Christ. God revealed his heart in his response to our sin. We reveal our hearts every time we respond to another’s sin.

Smith Wigglesworth’s life embodies both of these ideas: the way God uses dependent but flawed people, and the way we religious leaders often miss our opportunity to model the Gospel by our response to another’s sin, thinking we are being godly. When we Christian leaders respond to another’s sin, we must choose whether to crucify the sinner or to facilitate their resurrection. It’s our response in this matter that reveals whether or not we are Christlike in our leadership.

 

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Should Sheriff Maketa Resign?

Due Process Matters

 

Sheriff Terry Maketa, our previously well respected Sheriff of El Paso County, has been asked to resign by several public figures due to accusations of misusing his position. Though the sheriff and all three of the employees of the sheriff’s department accused of intimate relations with the sheriff have denied the allegations, some believe he should go ahead and resign.

If people do not resign, they are able to use the resources of the institution they are serving to ensure due process. In response to allegations, our sheriff emphasizes that a “fair and impartial investigation based on facts and law” will take place and he is insisting that everyone involved should “respect the legal process.”

He’s right. We as a civilization have worked for hundreds of years now to refine our process of determining truth, guilt, and consequences. We decided to start with the presupposition that people are innocent until proven guilty, that they have the right to defend themselves, and that their accusers have to present factual evidence of relevant wrongdoing. We continually work to refine an intricate process of determining which facts are relevant to any particular case, and who is permitted to decide if the allegations against someone are, in fact, applicable. Then, we try to thoughtfully determine the appropriate consequences we as a society should impose on those who violate the law. All of us should respect the processes we’ve established, and the continued evolution of these processes to improve them.

The press distorts this process, and the internet permanently records the distortion.

We instituted and defended the establishment of a free press believing it would protect us. The downside of a free press is that it is largely an unsupervised, unaccountable, maverick press. Because we hope their self-policing efforts are more effective than we would trust in the hands of any other institution, we in the general population read their papers and magazines, and watch or listen to their broadcasts. They influence us to the point that we wrongly believe we know enough about a subject to have an informed opinion. However, many of us who have had first hand knowledge of a situation and then contrast the facts we know with news accounts, too often, find the press inept.

Sheriff Maketa is saying, “let the process work.” The district attorney needs time to do his job. Federal officials and the county need time to establish facts. Only then, after professional investigations and legal reflection, consequences, if necessary, can be decided by appropriate authorities. Should the Sheriff resign, both he and his office would lose full participation and representation in the process.

In the midst of the media frenzy, it’s difficult to have long range judgment. But I think it’s important for all of us that Sheriff Maketa stay in office. I know from first hand experience that there will only be a fair hearing of the facts, and the facts will only have meaning, if he stays in office. Otherwise, the press and the web will spread every rumor and permanently record them, thus creating a permanent rumor-based record that will define the sheriff for the rest of his life, regardless of the facts, and without his having any due process or opportunity for response.

Let me give you a couple of examples of those who quit too soon, and those who kept going.

Judas and Peter both betrayed Jesus. Judas repented, but removed himself from any future representation by killing himself, effectively building a memorial to his betrayal in the minds of every generation since. Peter, in contrast, kept going. He also repented, but only 50 days after his betrayal of Christ, he began publicly preaching. He also wrote letters that are now in the Bible, and he became one of the best known apostles. He is now deeply revered and his betrayal has become only a small portion of his story, not the highlight. St. Peter’s Basilica is an enduring monument to his personal resurrection.

A more contemporary example might be Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon resigned, moved and California and died after Watergate, establishing the Watergate scandal as the only significant item in his life in most people’s minds. In contrast, Clinton’s scandal led to impeachment and disbarment. His offense was clearly an abuse of authority by a person in a position of trust and was followed by an official attempt to cover up, deceive the public and lie to investigators. Yet, we do not think of his violations as significant. Why? Because he kept going. He is a highly respected leader of the Democratic party and, polls show, if he could run again for president he would likely win. Bill Clinton’s scandal has diminished from the defining moment of his life to a chapter, then a page, and now a paragraph. In time, the Clinton scandal will, in effect, become a sentence.

Some of our most important American ideals are being threatened by people reading press reports and making judgments. I do not know anything about the  innocence or guilt regarding our sheriff, but if he resigns, there will be a resounding presumption of guilt. No doubt, once the facts are established, we all support accountability and justice. We have a system for that, but if we are not careful, we all might unintentionally participate in the dismantling of that system by returning to, in effect, lynch mobs. Even if the accused is guilty, shouldn’t someone protect them from the crowd until the facts are established?

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