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The Blame Blog

I gave my life to the Lord in June of 1972. Since that time, I’ve enjoyed learning the Scriptures, functioning in the body of Christ, and growing in relationship with the Lord. But to my surprise, as the years passed and I became stronger in my faith and my walk, I discovered I had inadvertently surrendered Jesus’ Lordship in my life to others.

I lived a successful life until 2006. My spiritual growth was healthy and my relationships were strong. My wife, Gayle, and I enjoyed a loving relationship, and we enjoyed raising our five children together (and continue to delight in our relationships with them to this day).

But in 2006, I crashed. When I crashed, I did what I thought was right and surrendered all of my accomplishments, personal power, and influence to others. For the first time since childhood, I became totally dependent on others. Now I reflect back on that season of dependence upon others as the greatest mistake of my life. I believe that in hoping others would do what I was ultimately responsible to do, I forfeited Christ’s Lordship and as a result, so many, including myself, suffered horribly.

As a result, the church I now pastor, St. James Church, is thriving under the philosophy that each of us is responsible to become stronger, more capable people in Christ. This philosophy is developing a unique church in a national culture that accommodates blame, weakness, and victimization. We stand apart from those who give people excuses for the failures in their lives as being the result of disappointing or dysfunctional relationships, trauma, pain, and/or past experiences. Instead, we have learned that in Christ we can be filled with the power of God and renewed in our minds, which gives us the motivation to overcome the impact of past traumas and to grow in competence and strength. As a result, we can then discover effective tools or steps that enable us to live in freedom, and to thrive and grow in the Lordship of Christ, rather than under the power of alternative lords.

For example, if I say, “My boss makes me so angry,” I am saying that my boss is lord over my emotions, not Christ. It may be true that my boss might do things that I don’t like, but I don’t have to give him or her power over my emotions, I do have other choices.

If I say, “I have an addiction problem because of a trauma I suffered 10 years ago,” I am saying that I am incapable of overcoming that trauma, that my trauma is now lord over me, and I will be identified by it and victimized by it the balance of my life.

We don’t have to be that weak. For example, it might be true that trauma has impacted us in a significant way, but that does not mean we must surrender to the effects of that trauma for the rest of our lives, making that trauma lord over us. We don’t have to be defined by our traumas. That is, we don’t have to surrender to the lordship of trauma when Jesus is, in fact, our Lord. Identifying trauma may help us understand certain behaviors, thoughts, and difficulties, but we can make choices to disempower trauma’s lordship and establish Jesus’ Lordship over us.

When I learned that a traumatic childhood experience resulted in some incongruity that I dealt with as an adult, others assumed it was an excuse, a way of evading responsibility. I never saw it that way; instead, I saw it as information which gave me the understanding I needed so that, empowered by Christ, I could overcome the effects of that trauma and live a healthy life. I’ve done that.

So my word of caution is: if you are talking to a pastor, counselor, or friend about an issue in your life and they allow you to blame your situation on another, dismiss their counsel. Then go talk to someone else who will explore your options with you. If their intent is to help you get to a better place, even with the facts as they are, then you will be empowered to make good decisions and improve your situation. You can’t control others, and you can’t change your past, but you can control, or gain control, over yourself, your choices, and your responses. And you can improve your future.

As soon as you blame others, you are acknowledging their lordship over you, and you’ll find yourself powerless and victimized.

But you always have options. The Lord will never allow you to be in a situation where there is no way of escape. He will always point us in the direction of healing.

More about this next week.

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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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Facts, Context, and Truth Matter

Earlier today I received an email from a woman asking my opinion about a blog she had read. She attached the link so I could read it too. Her note opened with the line, “Did you hear that Obama is going to run for a third term?” Later in her cover note she wrote, “Obama is an evil man. . . ” and that, “I have studied End Times for a number of years and I believe that we are living in the last days.”

When I opened the link to the blog at nowtheendbegins.com, I immediately saw the headline: “Democrats Introduce Bill ‘HJ RES 15’ to Give Obama A Third Term.” I called the lady who sent it to me and told her I didn’t believe it. Then I told her I wanted to make an agreement with her: If it turns out to be true, I would give her $1,000, but if it was false, she would agree to stop sending things like this to others. She said she would think about it.

Then I called the office of our local congressman, Doug Lamborn, to ask about the bill. The aide who answered Lamborn’s phone said that the bill had, in fact, been introduced, but that it had been introduced annually by the same congressman for the last ten years or so, but had never gotten out of committee. His expectation was that the bill would not get out of committee this time either. He pointed out that the congressman had introduced it multiple times regardless of the party of the person in office. And based on that fact, his thought was that the congressman wanted to remove the constitutional limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President as a matter of principle, not exclusively for the benefit of the current President.

I was so glad the woman hadn’t accepted my deal! But I was embarrassed that I had jumped to the wrong conclusion. The truth was the bill had been introduced, but the impression from the headline was misleading, and the woman’s fear of Obama and her looming concern about end times events was fueled. I don’t remember any headlines saying “Democrats Introduce Bill to Give Bush A Third Term” when a similar bill was repeatedly introduced during the Bush presidency.

Do you remember hearing that Madeline Murray O’hare was working to get Christian radio kicked off the airwaves? She wasn’t, it never happened. But rumors kept well meaning Christians calling the FCC for 10 years on that one.

We do have to be careful. It’s true, we are in the end times, but we have been in the end times for over 2,000 years.

I appreciate eschatology and those who promote the necessity of being prepared. Eventually those who believe current events are proof that the second coming is imminent will be right. But I’ve been reading apocalyptic materials closely since The Late Great Plant Earth was published in the 70’s, and little of it has hit the mark thus far. But eventually it will, so we all need to watch and be ready for Christ’s wonderful return.

I apologized to the lady who wrote me, and she was very gracious. But when she wrote, “I have lived here (in Colorado Springs) since 2004 and have never found a church that will teach End Times Prophecy and there are so many that have no idea what is about to happen,” it made me think. There are approximately 350 churches in our fair city. The majority of the pastors here are thoughtful and committed Bible teachers. I think she may be wise to wonder why none of those pastors accept her view. I do agree, however, that there may be many who have no idea what is about to happen. Sadly that group includes many of those who think they understand end time prophecy.

When we become aggressive advocates of a product or idea, the temptation to edit or distort facts in order to be persuasive is powerful. But that methodology is counterproductive in the long term. Communicating facts, maintaining context, and undergirding the overall truth builds trust in our hearers. People need to know that what the church says is trustworthy. For too long, too many of the things we’ve heard about the second coming of Christ have not turned out to be true.

For the teachers of end time prophecy, it might be wise to be cautious about:

– changing the meanings of words in the Bible,

– presuming to have revelation about types, shadows, and symbols in the Bible,

– making too many predictions,

– acting like no one remembers when previous predictions did not come true,

– and stretching, distorting, and editing facts to demonstrate preconceived conclusions.

I think we would all be wise to live as if Christ were coming back today, but plan as if he’s not coming back in our lifetimes.

Stay steady. Watch and pray. We can be confident, Jesus is coming again.

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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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Our Re-Election of President Obama

After President Obama’s re-election, pontification in extremis saturated the airwaves and print media. Some claimed the election was determined by the economy, others, changing demographics. Social media, government payouts, racism, and innovative get-out-the-vote efforts have been thrown into the mix. Others simply say Obama communicated a more appealing role of government than Romney. I don’t think any of these were the dominant reason the election went the way it did. And now that emotions have calmed and this discussion is yesterday’s news, I want to give you my view and why I believe it.

I think Obama won the election primarily because his culture was more appealing to most Americans. Obama communicates fun thoughtfulness, empathy with a smile, strength with a hug. His family would be the Focus on the Family model if they were Republicans. Since President Obama beat the odds of being raised by a single mom and grandparents, and still became the President of the United States, he models American opportunity. When he was younger he smoked, drank, used drugs, and enjoyed the girls, while at the same time excelled in school. Many people relate to some portion of that, and some admire it. He’s competent and hip, both at the same time. He’s just as relaxed speaking to a joint session of congress or to a foreign leader as he is to David Letterman, Jon Stewart, the ladies on The View, or Conan O’Brian. He’s pleasant.

Romney, on the other hand, avoided the pop culture media outlets for good reasons. He and his message were way too serious to be discussed in those formats, and he doesn’t connect with the culture of those shows. He doesn’t watch them. He doesn’t drink Coke, coffee, smoke, drink alcohol, or lust. We’ve all had pastors, teachers, or principals who were responsible like Romney in our lives. These are our authority figures who are concerned about how our decisions will negatively impact our future. They are right, but we are not so relaxed with them or smile so warmly seeing them. Having to talk to them at the supermarket is slightly awkward, and it would actually seem mildly gross to see them shirtless on a beach.

But not Obama. He comes across like a friend. He bothers people who are too serious. He makes us Republicans appear grumpy. He would be loads of fun to vacation with, is relaxed on the beach, but can kill, without hesitation, the Osama Bin Ladens of the world. I’m not discussing his specific political philosophies or governance decisions here, because I don’t think they were the determining factors in the election. I’m talking about the way he connects as a person. Obama coming to a barbeque at the house would be fun. If Romney were coming, we would have to paint, clean, upgrade, and improve. They communicate different auras. I believe this subjective intangible is what determined the election.

We Republicans were convinced that no one could win re-election with the unemployment rate, excessive government spending and national debt all sky high. We thought the ties to left-wing socialists and the sluggish recovery made a wholesome responsible businessman like Romney a sure winner. We drone on and on about particulars that don’t matter to many. Those specifics feel like “make your bed,” “brush your teeth,” and “do your homework” so your future will be bright, facts. These facts don’t feel relevant to daily American life because we are not having to pay back our debt right now, and the food stamps and unemployment checks spend just like real money.

I am sensitive to the reality that facts don’t really matter in certain situations because of the misrepresentations to the general public of my 2006 scandal. They said I spoke weekly with President Bush. I didn’t. They reported that I was a hateful preacher. I wasn’t. They said that I was a televangelist. I’m not. They said I had an adulterous “relationship.” I didn’t. They reported that I was a political activist. Never. I could go on and on but it would bore you because. . . facts don’t always matter. I was not innocent of wrongdoing, but it was the imagery and drama that stirred emotion, drew attention, landed my story on the front page and formed opinion. I had to accept the reality that the facts of my story were not necessarily relevant because I had become a symbol in people’s minds. The information that conflicted with the accepted story line felt like irrelevant minutia. I actually had a journalist tell me he didn’t want to talk to any primary sources in my story because it might influence his reporting.

I do not believe this last election was determined by hard realities, but by symbolism, world-view, philosophy, feeling, and culture. This realization is important to all of us in church leadership. Church growth experts tell us that 90% of Americans who choose to attend a church do not base their decision on the core message of the church, or its creed, but rather on the way the church makes them feel. The culture of the church is the dominate factor. I think we probably choose our spouses, grocery stores, hair salons, malls and athletic events based more on culture than we realize . . . and I believe, this is what resulted in our re-election of President Obama.

How Many Will God Heal?

Last Wednesday night we held our first prayer meeting at St. James Church in which we focused on praying for the sick. It was incredible to sense the presence of the Lord fill the room and begin to minister to people. As that happened, God began to manifest himself in the lives of those who had opened their hearts for a touch from God.

I love the way God reveals himself. After God rescued the people of Israel from Egypt, he revealed his desires for them in Exodus 15:26 by saying, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

In Exodus 23:25-26, after God provided so many miracles, he repeats his desire that his people be strong by saying, “You must serve only the LORD your God. If you do, I will bless you with food and water, and I will protect you from illness. There will be no miscarriages or infertility in your land, and I will give you long, full lives.”

Thousands of years later, God reveals that he rewards those who trust him and have faith in him by saying in Hebrews 11:6, “. . . it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” The rewards he offers are infinite. To sincerely seek him is a powerful action that strengthens every one of us. James 1:6-8 encourages all of us to be focused when we petition him by saying, “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”

God loves every one of us so much he puts all of us in positions where we can choose him. He likes that, and he doesn’t lie about it. In Numbers 23:19, the Bible says, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” In contrast to our current culture where we are accustomed to people saying things they don’t mean, or not keeping their previous commitments because circumstances have changed or a situation has evolved, God says exactly what he means and always keeps his word. In 1 Kings 8:56, the Bible reminds the people of Israel that . . . “not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises he gave through his servant Moses.” And David expresses gratitude toward God in Psalms 119:89 by writing, “Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven.”

Some would say, “If this is God’s plan, why are there so many sick people?” It’s because earth is not heaven. In heaven, no one is sick. God’s perfect desire for us is fully manifested in heaven. But here on the earth, we have had sickness among us since the fall of the human race. As a result, we not only have God’s will, but our own will, the work of evil, and natural law that combine to create our current reality. As a result, we have to take the initiative to stay well and appropriate as much of heaven as we can while on earth. That is why Jesus instructed us to pray in Matthew 6:10, “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” We know he wants us all well.

So how many will God heal? Everyone who responds to him is ultimately completely healed, if not here on the earth, then in heaven. In the meantime, we can all know that he wants the best for us. That’s why we pray. Not because we are noble, but because we are needy. That’s why we meet with the brethren to celebrate on Sunday mornings. Not because we are perfect, but because we are not and are in need of fellowship with him and fellow pilgrims. Prayer stimulates the Holy Spirit’s activity, and the Holy Spirit delivers into our lives everything Jesus appropriated on the cross for us. God is for us, and with that knowledge, even life on earth can be a little better. So let’s pray and trust.

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