Monthly Archives: September 2013

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.”

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,