Monthly Archives: December 2012

Mom, Manners, and Judgmentalism

I just got off the phone with a Buddhist who had been watching my videos and said he called to compliment me for my newfound humility and openness to others, and to encourage me to read his favorite Buddhist author. I thanked him for calling me, and kindly assured him that I was contented with my Christian faith. His tone quickly changed saying I was conceited and narrow minded. I reminded him that he called me on my home phone, was a stranger to me, and presumed to be in a position to discuss very serious issues with me. I encouraged him to have these conversations with people who knew him and are interested in his faith, but that Gayle and I were getting ready to work out before a day of appointments. I repeated that I appreciated him taking the time and making the effort to call, but that I do not discuss these types of matters with strangers on the phone. He retorted that we as human beings were all connected, said Christians are just like the Taliban, called me a few names and abruptly hung up.

So much for peaceful harmony.

Right now I am tempted to rail against angry Buddhists, absurd generalizations about Christians, and grown men who should have listened more closely to their mothers. But I won’t. If I were a better Christian, his call would occasion thoughts of grace and mercy toward all. But I want to protect my time with Gayle, and because I’m too fat and need to exercise, sour clouds overhead make me feel like an idiot for even answering the phone. Instead, I’ll rehearse Mom’s advice and pretend my caller should have known: “Mind your manners and think about what you say before you say it. After all, no one cares as much about what you think as you think they do.”

I respectfully answer my phone as much as time allows, and generally enjoy talking with callers. Yet I don’t recall ever calling anyone without either knowing them or being invited to call. But if you are tempted to call someone with whom you have no personal relationship, these ideas may be helpful:

1. Just because you have seen a news report about someone does not mean that you know them, have the right to an opinion about them, or should believe that you even know the truth about their story. The news story you saw has been interpreted through the reporter, producers, editors, and refined for context. If you contact the person covered and express yourself, you should probably be embarrassed for being naive.

2. My point is when people believe the projected image, they are often misled. Just about every public figure is cautious with the press because the press so often gets things wrong. Many journalists are lazy and incestuous, which means they seldom dig to find truth, struggle with nuance, and freely repeat what other journalists have said or written, accurate or inaccurate. I have become convinced authentic journalism is dead when I read what they have written about me. Most Influential people, corporations and advocacy groups hire professionals to help inform the press. They use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs to convey their messages unfiltered. They hire public relations experts, publicists, agents, and marketing firms to grasp at some control over how they are portrayed. Sadly, this too can be exploited by people to create a perception that is based neither on truth nor fact. Too often facts are selectively chosen to create a desired impression. Few are innocent of these schemes. It’s often the gullible who confuse public impressions with truth, and the exploitable who foolishly believe and respond, thinking they know. Don’t let this be you.

3. We have a responsibility to judge if another person is within our chain-of-command, otherwise it is seldom any of our business. There are four chains-of-command that warrant our judgment:

a. Family. Most of us have family members for whom we are responsible. We are responsible to judge them in order to serve them. I have five children, and it’s my responsibility to judge their driving abilities, their academic progress, their social skills, and the way they respond to peers, church, and civil authorities. Their relationships, financial management skills, and attitudes are all my business because I am their father. Since I am committed to their success, my judgments of them are birthed in duty, saturated in love, and focused on their success. When I judge negative behaviors, it’s redemptive. When I judge positive behaviors, it’s celebration. Just as my heavenly Father judges me because he loves me, so I judge my children because I love them.

b. Workplace. If you are in a position of authority at work, you have a responsibility to evaluate those who work for you. Every leader has a responsibility to achieve specific goals and objectives, which leads to a myriad of judgments. In contrast, employees get to choose who they want to work for, which requires judgment on their part. To apply to work at Ted’s Montana Grill in an affluent neighborhood is very different choice from wanting to work at Ted’s Bar and Grill next to an adult bookstore and a methadone clinic. We all get to make judgements up and down our chain-of-command in the workplace. As customers, we have the privilege of judging which businesses we’ll patronize and which products we consume. Every day we choose between Wal-Mart and Target, Tide and Cheer, McDonalds and Burger King. Judge correctly.

c. Civil Government. We all have a responsibility to judge during the election season. As a 56 year-old citizen who has voted in every election since I was 18, I don’t judge elected officials based on news reports or their speeches. Political speeches are prepared by political operatives or public relations managers, so I take them with a grain of salt. I judge based on my fundamental philosophy of governance in contrast to theirs, and their record of service. If they are a new candidate, I’ll note their political party affiliation, their associations, and their actions. Once elected, I respect the process and am supportive of whomever is elected until the following election season. I don’t hassle them while they are in office, I respect them. It’s the wisdom of good manners.

d. Church. I work at St. James Church and serve in the role of Sr. Pastor. I and the other leaders get to judge who cares for the children in the nursery, who leads worship, who pastors the youth group, and who ushers. Wise judgments are our responsibility. Since St. James Church is a local church, people contemplating coming to St. James get to judge whether or not they want me as their pastor, Jonathan Johnson as their worship leader, and Shobie Spear as their youth pastor. We are not a para-church ministry, nor are we part of a denominational structure. As a result, we don’t ask the general public for financial support nor do we report to a national office anywhere. Consequently, people with manners living in Toronto, Canada would not presume an opinion about Shobie Spear being a youth pastor or Jonathan Johnson being the worship leader. In the same vein, I don’t have a judgment on the way the Catholic church chooses its bishops or the way the Mormons manage their ministry funds. I’m neither Catholic nor Mormon so it’s none of my business unless I join them or am seriously contemplating becoming a member. Here in Colorado Springs, I don’t have an opinion about the process Woodman Valley Chapel or First Presbyterian Church uses to choose its pastors, because I don’t attend or fund those churches. I repeat, it’s none of my business. But since they are in my community, I do care, but my role isn’t to offer my random opinion, but instead to be supportive of them. Good manners.

The angry Buddhist demonstrated poor manners by calling me and judging me. I have the right to judge his call because he called me at home, and I have authority in my home. He has no chain-of-command authority in my life, has no relationship with me, and no spiritual authority in my life. Since he is not a parent or an older sibling, he has no family authority in my life. Since I don’t work for him, he doesn’t have any workplace authority. Since he is not a government official, he has no civil government authority, and since he doesn’t attend and isn’t contemplating attending St. James Church, he has no church authority in my life. He is a human being, thus worthy of respect . . . to a degree, which is why I answered the phone and listened. But he hadn’t earned the right to be heard by me on major life and spiritual issues.

Mom was right. Manners are important. Judgments help when in order.

It’s liberating to know we don’t have to have an opinion about everyone and everything, and that we can live happy lives with unspoken thoughts. I rightly judged not to let a phone call dominate my morning with my wife. He thinks that proves I’m a bad guy. I think not.

Thank God for St. James Church

I’m depressed this evening. Today started off fine. It was a beautiful Saturday. Gayle and Christy are in California visiting Gayle’s awesome parents. I got up early to put a load of Jonathan’s clothes in the washing machine, unloaded and then reloaded the dishwasher, then sat down to read my Bible. The Scriptures were encouraging, relevant and instructive as always, so I then went outside to walk around and pray. Jonathan slept late, Alex and Elliott got up and started their usual Saturdays. I later dropped by the church and saw kids making ginger bread houses while workmen were tidying up preparing for Sunday. While there, I met a crew from downtown who were borrowing tables from St. James for a Christmas banquet for underprivileged kids and their families tonight. All was well with the world until . . . I came back home and got online to sadly read more about me.

Today I don’t appreciate some people and the internet that gives them voice. I look forward to the day when I don’t have to deal with any Christians outside our own little congregation. I was that way before, which is why I never entered into television or radio ministry, never had a flashy presentation, always drove a truck or modest car, and never asked to publish a book or speak anywhere. But I have always felt a responsibility to reach the lost and serve when asked, so I would foolishly say “yes” when asked to serve. That was misinterpreted as being a self-promoter I guess.

Then I crashed and went through a painful healing process, for which I am grateful. It was an answer to my prayers.

Now it’s years later and, from time to time, my name comes up in the news. This time it was two well meaning guys wanting to say that we Christians should actually practice forgiveness and restoration. But suddenly, those who see themselves as the guardians of self-righteousness, who fundamentally hate the idea of resurrection for the dead, pounce. Sure there are the kind, well meaning people in the church. But they are typically not outspoken nor do they have a burning to stick–that is make their opinions known in a way that would make them count in the public discussion. They write nice notes in private. It’s those who keep the records of wrongs who are loud, outspoken, have tenacity, and accuse in public. They stick. Hatred, religious judgmentalism, and self-righteousness are powerful motivators to hurt others I guess. They have a strong enough voice that they make me not want to have anything to do with modern Christianity.

I’m trapped though, because i am, after all, alive. I love the Scripture and am called, and there are a handful of believers who enjoy meeting with me to worship, study the word and give to the poor. Based on what I read, those so outspoken on the net would be happier with me if I ran a liquor store, sold porn, or pitched holy water from the Jordan river on TV to the Christian superstitious crowd. But for me to pastor a church is an abomination in their view. I know that if I called it a television studio and the congregation was the studio audience, and we filled millions of Christian homes with fear and anxiety over current events, my detractors would be happy with that. But I’m stuck. St. James is a gathering of believers where we don’t take advantage of anyone. We don’t broadcast. We don’t ask for other people’s things. We don’t have pretense, don’t have public relations or capital campaign experts, and don’t guard image. We don’t even have a security team to protect our important people. We are worshippers. We are church.

As all of you know, Barna says, 1,500 clergy are leaving pastoral ministry each month, and a researcher at the Annapolis Roundtable on Life-Giving Leadership said 50% of those never return to a church. I envy that group. I have gone to church multiple times a week all my life except the days during and immediately after my scandal. Those were some of the best Sunday’s Gayle and I have enjoyed. We were forbidden to attend the church we’d known. We would stay in bed until we woke up, talk, enjoy each other’s company, and slowly get up and enjoy the rest of the family. It was excellent. I only enjoy church now because of the culture of St. James. I don’t have to clean up to go to St. James. It’s a believers meeting, so I can go the way I want. I think if it were not for the authenticity and transparency of St. James, since I’m 56 years old, know my Bible pretty well, and am not looking for new friends, I would be content to stay home and not mess with church any more.

Sadly, it seems many churches have become toxic. We have too many poisonous churches with pastors who don’t know how to apply the Gospel, who teach certain behaviors prove salvation, that we should hide our weaknesses, and that we should appear contented. In time, the beloved pastors will receive their due: 61% of congregations have forced a pastor to leave, and 83% of clergy spouses want their spouses to leave pastoral ministry. Church leadership can be a joy, until it’s not. Then it’s deadly. Churches don’t like lots of people. Most don’t even like themselves. One old man told me the average church will fondly remember a past pastor one week for every year he was there, then his memory will be vilified for the benefit of the new administration.

We are fundamentally flawed. How do I know? In addition to the national statistics and the horror stories I receive from those who have worked in churches and para-church ministries who write me every day, I just read the comments about me. I know me, I know what I’ve been through, and I know that in the minds of many, I don’t matter, my kids don’t matter, and the facts don’t matter. Only their brutality matters. Lot’s of people must feel the way I do, which is why fewer and fewer Americans will get up and go to church in the morning. Most won’t say it, but they will vote by staying home. . . or going to a football game. . . or the mountains. Sounds good to me. Do the Bronco’s play tomorrow? I hope so.

Ahhh but the ignorance of youth keeps us going. Our Bible Schools and seminaries are full of bright eyed young people, anxious to serve the Lord. If current trends continue, 90% of those who graduate and are ordained into ministry will not stay in ministry long enough to reach the age of retirement. Why? Because we are not what we teach. We poison each other. As soon as we stop admiring them, we will destroy them. Of the 10% that do stay, 50% of them indicated that they would leave the ministry if they had another way of making a living. Think of that. And when I read my detractors, they seem to actually believe it’s an honor to be in pastoral ministry, that it’s an exclusive club. Since most denominations have an increasing number of empty buildings and shrinking congregations, it’s no wonder the global influence centers of Christianity are moving away from America to the south and to the west. Our mega-church and denominational leaders are increasingly irrelevant. Why? Too often, those we call “mature believers” are simply awful people. I am the bane of the American church, and I couldn’t stand going on vacation with most of them. It’s the same reason why the finest people won’t run for public office any longer. It’s just not worth it.

I’ll be better in the morning. I don’t think I want to teach, so I’ll probably ask one of the other pastors to do it. I’ll joyfully go to St. James, enjoy the worship, the Word, the folks, and then go to the airport and pick up Gayle and Christy. They will cheer me up, and we’ll move forward because of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and a handful of people who love God and love one another. But sometimes it’s a pain to have to associate with the arrogant who call themselves Christian. I wish there was a way out. Too often I resent that I went to a Christian university, believed the message and wasted my life. It feels like my life would be so much better if I had gone to a secular university, built a business, and retired by now. But I am a believer. My dream would be to serve the Lord with our local congregation and be left alone. I love the authentic body of believers, the Church, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit. I am a believer, grateful to God. I am a member of his body. I am a Christian.

The Cross: Acquittal or Condemnation? Our Choice.

Dr. Fred Antonelli and Pastor Michael Cheshire wrote about my story in Relevant Magazine and Christianity Today, respectively. Both articles were followed by comments that were interesting, revealing, encouraging, and some a little disappointing. I appreciated the comments that taught that the Gospel could be applied to my life and that God’s resurrection in my life was verifiable and authentic. I noticed that those who thought sin should dictate over my life never based their arguments on quotes from any of my sermons over the last 30 years, my 9 published books, or the hundreds of thousands of pamphlets I’ve distributed. My blogs, personal appearances, websites, family relationships, or social media posts were not used as evidence against me. Instead they quoted media accounts, rumors, cited feelings and misused Scripture. Some claimed things they thought they heard me say but, in the comments I read, they were mistaken. What many were saying, without realizing it, was that I should not be obedient to God, his Word, or my spiritual authorities, but instead be ruled by their ideas about me.

I recently taught though 2 Corinthians at St. James Church. My teaching preference is to walk our congregation through a verse-by-verse exegetical study of specific books of the Bible, one at a time. I’ve done this for many years. I believe understanding and applying Scripture is enhanced by understanding the cultural, historical, and social issues that prompted the writing of any specific portion of Scripture. Often this process makes the biblical text come alive and creates a depth of comprehension. Because we start with the actual intent of the author and the cultural mindset of the hearer, we are then able to extrapolate how the Bible text applies to our lives as 21st Century New Testament believers. One of the sources I enjoy reading in preparation to teach the Pauline Epistles is William Barclay. Though non-technical, his insights have been helpful to me.

I thought about Barclay’s comments on 2 Corinthians when reading the comments following Dr. Antonelli’s and Pastor Cheshire’s articles. Barclay claims some portions of 2 Corinthians were Paul’s response to a series of accusations from the church. In his comments on 2 Corinthians 1:12-14, Barclay says Paul was responding to three charges. 1) They said “there was more to Paul’s conduct than met the eye.” Modern church leaders sometimes make this same claim against those they wish to disparage by saying, “If you only knew what I know.” This vilification isn’t specific enough for anyone to hold the accuser accountable, but effectively clouds the reputation of the slandered person.  2) Paul also had to respond to the  charge that he had hidden motives. When I hear someone raising suspicions about another person by presuming to know their motives, I become highly skeptical of the accuser, not the accused. 3) Paul didn’t say what he meant, there were hidden meanings in his words, the Corinthian church charged.  They were essentially saying Paul lied.

If these accusations would have been leveled against him in this generation, Paul’s ministry might not have survived. Our scandal hungry 24-hour news cycles and social media excesses would have left critics exactly where I found them in the comment section: confident in their opinions but unknowingly confused about the facts. Because Paul defended himself, we have read Paul’s response and NOT the accusations against him, we consider these indictments ludicrous and laud him for his courage. He’s exonerated in our minds. It’s interesting that he had to strongly defend himself to the Corinthians.

Barclay says Paul was responding to more slander in 2 Corinthians 1:15-22. Barclay wrote, “His (Paul’s) enemies had promptly accused him of being the kind of man who made frivolous promises with a fickle intention and could not be pinned down to a definite yes or no. That was bad enough, but they went on to argue, ‘If we cannot trust Paul’s everyday promises, how can we trust the things he told us about God?'”

Barclay says, “There are some people whose eyes are always focused to find fault, whose tongues are always tuned to criticize, in whose voice there is always a rasp and an edge. . . If we are constantly critical and fault-finding, if we are habitually angry and harsh, if we rebuke far more than we praise, the plain fact is that even our severity loses its effect.”

Slander is murder. Gossip is sin. Though I do not claim innocence, one of my many regrets is that I submitted to the requirement that I not grant any public interviews while under the Overseers and New Life contracts following my 2006 scandal. This left me and my family vulnerable, powerless, and defenseless, the church victimized, and the public misinformed and confused. That’s in the past. Because of this and other regrets, I have gained a new appreciation for the application of the Gospel. I have concluded that throwing stones is not beneficial for the one throwing the stones, the one being stoned, or the kingdom of God in general. Throwing stones does not work and is not helpful. The new and better way revealed in the New Testament, which is based on faith in the cross appropriating grace for all of us, is God’s way of dealing with our sin.

In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, Paul wrote, “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.” Paul argues that this needs to be done so “that Satan will not outsmart us” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Of course quoting this verse seems self-serving since I am the sinner, but I hope it is as true for me as it is for you and everyone else.

We can all thank God that Paul defended himself. As a result, we’ve all benefitted from Paul’s inspired letters.

In that light, I suggest you read these articles and then the comments. Don’t judge or condemn the people who expressed their views. Stick to working with ideas. These articles and the comments following can serve as a mirror that motivates us to choose the cross, to be a friend of the gospel in others, and to fully embrace the application of the New Testament. Links below:

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/elephant-church

http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/december-online-only/going-to-hell-with-ted-haggard.html

Another’s Sin Is Our Opportunity

Humanity’s sinfulness was God’s opportunity to demonstrate his great love for us. When others sin, it gives us an opportunity to be like Christ in their lives and demonstrate his healing love. Too often roles are confused and we think the sins of another are our opportunity to demonstrate our moral superiority, our intellectual supremacy, or our power and influence. If we enjoy lording over others, then their sin is our opportunity to rule over them. But if our primary role is to be reflective of God’s Kingdom on earth, then another’s sin is our opportunity to be like Jesus by identifying with, healing, and serving the sinner.

Every time we break rules we give power and rights away and, to some degree, lose control of our lives. In the church, when we sin against God and consequently our brethren, we lose influence and inadvertently give others authority over us. In society, when we break the law or violate social norms, we forfeit our rights and lose the power to make the choices for ourselves that would have been assumed prior to breaking the law, thus making us more vulnerable to others.

No doubt, it’s our responsibility as Christians to do all we can to grow in Christ so sin diminishes in our lives while holiness increases. Simultaneously, we should grow in obedience to civil law and do everything within our power to build an honorable reputation. Often we focus on this personal process, which we assume is a reflection of our character and godliness. No doubt, to some degree, it is. But that might not be the core reflection of our faith that reveals our eternal destiny.

People with good parents, good citizens, and good students become better people and better citizens as they mature. Many non-believers are just as moral and law abiding as believers. God highly values our personal integrity and he also values others, especially the weak, which is why it’s our response to others in their most vulnerable moments that might reveal whether or not we understanding and embrace the core New Testament message with power. Our response to the sins of another might reveal more about our godliness than the common measurement systems we are all so used to using.

Jesus teaches us in Matthew 25:31-46 that the difference between the sheep and the goats in the final judgment will be based on how we responded to others. The idea here is that our response toward others in a difficult position reveals whether we are biblically inspired satanic judges deceived into believing that our personal righteousness proves that we are genuine believers, or if we are indeed the healing heart and hand of Christ. In other words, when others have lost their power because of catastrophe, whether self-imposed or something outside of their control, our response to them reveals the true “us.” Certainly, when another is vulnerable because of their sin, our responses reveal whether or not we embody the Gospel, or if we have intellectually assented to a set of religious values that, in reality, condemn us as we condemn others (Romans 2:1-4). The sins of others afford the opportunity that reveal our core. It’s our response to others in their weakened state that reveals whether we are a sheep or a goat.

When another sins, the weakness that will accompany that sin gives each of us an opportunity to either distance ourselves and be their accusers, pointing out their weakness and failures, and using it against them; or we can be like Jesus and actually draw closer to them in their distress and offer a hand of love, kindness, and some practical support to make their lives a little better. It’s our choice. I think we’re learning about how to have a Love Reformation.

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Love is Our Marker

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

When Jesus said this to his disciples, he was launching a revolution. He didn’t say that education, power, or even theological persuasion would identify his disciples. Nor did he say that training in cross cultural communications or evangelism would prove discipleship. Even though all of these things are important, Jesus said love was the marker of a disciple that would prove to the world that we are, in fact, believers. Interestingly, Bible schools, seminaries, church conferences, and churches have vibrant discussions about many important subjects, but often love is an addendum if mentioned at all. Most evangelicals embrace the need to reach others for the cause of Christ, but this exhortation from Jesus is not central to most discussions on evangelism.

Why? I believe it’s because love is confusing. It’s easier to be committed to a religious ideology, political position, or even a social norm than it is to be loving. Love isn’t a test when the others around us respect us, look like us, act like us, or are socially appropriate around us. Neither is love difficult when it is something we market and sell to reach “those people” or the “little people.”

Christ’s love in us is authenticated when we’ve been insulted, slapped, offended, disappointed, or challenged by someone outside our normal circle of those we like. I think this is why Jesus exhorted us to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and to care for the “least of these.” Christian love is something that differentiates us from everyone else because we refuse to hate, label, judge, demonize, and dehumanize. Insisting on respecting others who are very different than we are is a core revelation of Jesus’ exhortation to all of us. We claim that we are the ones set apart because we have Christ in us, which means we’ll leave the 99 to rescue the 1, spend our free time with the socially unacceptable and those who could never benefit us. To identify, as Jesus did, and lose our reputations to become despised and rejected by those who are well respected for the sake of another is Christlike.

We are not believers because we were God’s project. Instead, out of love for us we became the subjects of his heart. He identified with the worst parts of us. To be like him, we might consider doing the same. We break out of the pack when we love – when we demonstrate that we are not part of the world’s system by choosing to love – not as a technique, but because we do, in fact, want to invest our lives in the well being of others regardless of who they are.

My wife and I went through a horrific tragedy in 2006. Prior to that tragedy, I was perceived as a benefit to the body of Christ, was socially acceptable, and, as a result, was deeply loved by many . . . or so I thought. After my failure, Gayle and I noted that theology made no statistical difference in the way people were responding to us. Certainly some were motivated by their commitment to Christ, but not in disproportionate numbers compared to those who did not claim any belief in Christ who also demonstrated hope and kindness toward us. There was the same amount of kindness and support from non-believers as believers. And there was the same level of hatred, judgment, suspicion, misinformation and condemnation from believers as non-believers. Based on the percentages, theology, or claiming to be a born-again Christian, didn’t seem to be a determining factor in the way people responded to us.

Thus, I’ve committed to being loving toward those in the most difficult moments of their lives. When people are nice, it’s easy. When people are struggling, that’s when I can differentiate from the crowd, go the second mile, and sacrifice something valuable to me to make their lives better. I think I’m experiencing a love reformation.

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