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Authentic New Testament Solutions

When Paul Said “Our Flesh,” Could He Have Literally Meant Our Flesh?

“Ted, you do not have a spiritual problem. You are spiritually strong,” said the lead therapist of a team of counselors who met with me in 2006. My goal in being there was to determine why I struggled with an incongruent issue in my life.

“You test in normal ranges on all of our tests. You are mentally and emotionally healthy,” he continued, “your ability to reason is substantial. If your struggle was spiritual or rational, you would have settled this long ago. But it is neither of those – it’s physiological.”

The doctor continued, “You experienced a traumatic incident when you were a child that you have never addressed. That trauma conflicts so much with who you are, your faith, culture, commitments, and relationships, that you have ignored it until now. But now it’s demanding expression. That’s why you thought it was spiritual. It was so contrary to everything you stand for, you couldn’t imagine it being part of who you are. But it is. It’s physical, and we know how to work with it. You’ll go through trauma resolution therapy while here. It will force your brain to deal with an incident in your life that you’ve resented for over 40 years. Once this is integrated, it will effectively give you relief, and as time passes, that relief will be progressive. This will be an answer to your prayers.”

This conversation changed my life. It gave me the explanation I needed to go forward because it explained so many things Paul said about himself, and it clarified my own growth process in Christ.

I had been confused in 2006 about the events that transpired because I was sincere in my beliefs and commitments, and at that time I thought my sincere devotion was enough to help me overcome anything. I was not a hypocrite or a manipulator. I sincerely loved God, the Scriptures, and the Church. But I struggled with unwanted, intrusive thoughts and compulsions that kept me from fully being the man I wanted to be. When my sins became public in 2006, I readily resigned, confessed, repented, and submitted to church authority. My goal was to grow in sanctification.

Since that time, I’ve become even more convinced that we can do everything Christ wants in our lives if we’ll take responsibility to pursue him at any cost. In my case, it’s been costly, but my prayers have been and are being answered.

So why do we do the things we do? As committed Christians, we hope that all of our actions, attitudes, thoughts, and words are a reflection of Christ’s lordship in our lives. But we human beings are growing and developing, knowing that we’ll only be perfected one the day when we see Jesus face-to-face. But in the meantime, as Paul said, we have opportunity to renew our minds.

Renewing our minds involves neuroplasticity, which is the ability of our brains to structurally change. I think this is the dynamic Paul addressed when he told us to think on certain things (Philippians 4:8), to renew our minds (Romans 12:2), and to develop the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). In other words, we must overcome the natural tendency in our minds that motivates behaviors that are not congruent with our Christian call (Romans 7:14-25, Galatians 5:19, 2 Corinthians 12:7).

For over 2,000 years, Bible scholars have struggled with Paul’s use of the Greek word “sarx” in his writings. This Greek word has been traditionally translated into English as “flesh,” and in some newer translations the “old sin nature.” Both of these translations are, of course, accurate and helpful. But now, with our developing understanding of how brain physiology impacts our lives, the word “sarx” takes on a new depth of meaning.

In Romans 8, Paul exhorts us to be dominated by the Holy Spirit as opposed to our “flesh” or “old sin nature.” Due to advances in neural science, we now understand how biblical references to our minds can improve our brains, and thus transform our lives. Our brains are repositories of natural thinking, survival instincts, unforgiveness, trauma, and fear. They physically store the portion of our lives that we Christians want to crucify in order to live a stronger Christian life. Our minds, our brains, can be rewired so our lives can be transformed. When Christ fills us with his life by his Word and Spirit, our old sin nature and our new nature in Christ conflict. But the potential for transformation is the reality that the Bible encourages, and now we are beginning to understand how that works.

Could it be that Paul meant EXACTLY what he wrote, and that we can, in fact, be transformed in every area of our lives by the renewing of our minds? I’ll write more about this in the future and explain the renewal Christ has given me.

 

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21st Century Evangelicalism

Is Allah God?

God is the creator of the universe. He sent his Son, Jesus, to reveal himself to us. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to infuse his life into us. But he is not the only spirit in this world. There are other spirits masquerading as God.

Our world has five types of spirits in it;

  • God’s Holy Spirit,
  • human spirits,
  • angels,
  • demons, and
  • Satan.

The one true almighty God, who created the universe, created us to reflect him. We are spirits who live in bodies for a while here on this earth, but our bodies are not us. We are human spirits who have the capacity to be infused by God’s Holy Spirit and receive his life. Angels are spirits who serve the one true God. They are messengers who do his bidding.

In contrast, our spirits can also be infused by the “god of this world” (see 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 1John 5:19) or many other spirits who have evil intent and pollute people with bad ideas, deadly motivations, and darkness.

Evil spirits are commonly referred to as demons. Most Bible scholars believe demons were angels who rebelled against God and are now fallen. They are submitted to Satan, who is the god of this world.

As the god of this world, Satan wants people to believe he is THE all-powerful God. He rebelled against God because he wanted God’s authority, just as he does today. But he is not God, nor is he like him. He is a deceiver and a liar, and gains his power by lying to people and pretending to be light, when in fact, he is not. Paul wrote, Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14b-15a).

John addressed contrasting spiritual influences when he wrote 1 John 4:1-8

Dear Friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

 But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.

 Dear Friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

I define love as “living for the good of the other.” Since God loves us, he lives and cares for our good. If we, in turn, love him, we live our lives caring for his good. When a man and woman love each other, they live for the good of the other. This is one way Jesus (God’s Son) contrasted himself with Satan. He identified Satan as “the thief” and said, The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life (John 10:10).

The world is in a clash of civilizations, which might be the manifestation of a clash between the ideas of people who submit their lives to contrasting spiritual influences. The west is influenced by the ideas of Christendom; the Islamic world wants to please Allah. Some believe that Allah is just a translation of the English word, “God.” But that is not entirely accurate. When a Muslim learns English, they don’t start referring to God instead of Allah, but instead maintain the name, Allah, as the name of God.

Several years ago, political scientist Samuel Huntington published his famous book, The Clash of Civilizations, which gave a gloomy prediction of our future. In contrast, Thomas Friedman gave us a compelling counter-argument in his writings, that the forces within freedom, liberty, prosperity, free-markets and globalization would make the world more prosperous and safer for all. His implication was that Muslims would choose comfort and prosperity instead of adhering to the growing fundamentalist Islamic movement.

During that time I developed a series of talks contrasting these views, and interjected within them the role of the Church, Islam, the necessity of Christian missions and education, and the importance of the Church for the success of western ideals in the future. In addition, I participated in a series of decision-making discussions with major global leaders on what we referred to as the Huntington/Friedman contrast of the global geo-political situation and thus, our futures. Back then, I hoped that Friedman was right, but I also said that it was contingent on the wisdom of our Christian leaders. At that time I was concerned that evangelical leaders were distracted, that they had taken their eyes off of our primary global responsibility. Sadly, that opportunity is now past for the Church, and based on current geo-political indicators, global events indicate that Huntington was right.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the popular author of the best-selling book, Heretic, Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, has hope. She is urging the Islamic world to have a reformation similar to that of Christendom. She wants Islam to:

  1. Amend Muhammad’s semi-divine status, along with the literalist reading of the Quran.
  2. Amend the supremacy of life after death.
  3. Amend Shariah, the vast body of religious legislation.
  4. Amend the right of individual Muslims to enforce Islamic law.
  5. Amend the imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.

I do not believe this will happen. Christian reformation happened because the practices of the Church had veered away from Scripture and the reformers were demanding a higher view of Scripture in both faith and practice. In other words, our reformation facilitated an emphasis on the Scriptures and thus, the life-giving Spirit of God. The opposite is the case for Islam. When Muslims adopt a higher view of the Koran, they are radicalized, not for representing the love of God, peace, respect for others and forgiveness, but for a harsh demand of obedience to Allah and annihilation of those who don’t comply.

For there to be a reformation of Islam comparable to the Christian reformation, its adherents would need to grow away from the tenets of their faith and adopt a lower view of the Koran’s teachings. In other words, they would need to separate themselves from the spirit of Allah and turn, instead, to the Spirit of life. When Christians become devoted, they increasingly adhere to the teachings of the Bible that encourages them to love, forgive, turn the other cheek, be healing, and be kind. When Muslims become devoted, they tend to go a different direction.

Certainly we’ve seen that not all of those who claim to be Christians are immune to demonic ideas themselves. But our historic mistakes have not been representative of Christ or the New Testament Spirit-filled life he offers, even though some Christians will try to use the Scriptures to defend their own atrocities. President Obama was right when he reminded Christians at The National Prayer Breakfast of what we as Christians do when we are not operating in the life-giving Spirit of God, but are religious ourselves. He said, “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Jesus experienced this when Satan tempted him in the wilderness by using the Scriptures against him. God’s good work within the human heart is a spiritual uplift, an enlightenment, an ascent to a higher way of thinking. It lightens the load of life and provides encouragement. It is not the religious bigotry that some wrongly promote.

An open hearted reading of the New Testament offers God’s solution to wickedness in the human heart and removes the opportunity for outside evil influence, if and only if we submit to the Lordship of Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit. If not, we’ll find ourselves hating and warring just like all who follow the “god of this world.”

Bottom line, any time we human beings depart from the Spirit of the one true God who is loving, redemptive, forgiving, healing, and kind, we find ourselves manifesting our own fallen natures influenced by the deadly god of this world. But this is the opposite of our Christian faith. Christian reformers had only to point to the Scriptures to teach us this. To what do Islamic reformers have to point their followers?

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21st Century Evangelicalism

Could Losers be Losers for a Reason?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q and A

Why Do I Feel So Much Guilt?

#2 in Q & A Series

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

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

Guilt can be a motivation to improve our lives. In Romans 3:19, Paul writes,

. . . the law is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God.

Paul is saying that all of us need to take responsibility and not excuse our own ungodly thoughts, words, and actions. We all fall short of God’s ideal and need Christ’s righteousness for us to be in right standing with God.

Once his righteousness is in us, we experience great confidence. In I John 3:20-21, John writes,

Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence.

Feeling guilty is our state outside Christ or in disobedience to Christ, but as we abide in His righteousness, we are cleansed and gain great confidence in him. This is easy. It is a relief.

In Matthew 11:30, Jesus said,

For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

In II Corinthians 11:9, Paul said,

I have never been a burden to you, and I never will.

So if you are part of a local church and are enjoying your walk with the Lord, you are able to be free from guilt, have the power to do what you ought with joy, and function with a clean conscious. That is, unless your local church imposes guilt on you.

I decided early in my ministry career that I wanted my Christian service to be like Jesus’ and Paul’s in this respect. Every ministry I have ever led has been structured to be an uplift, an encouragement, a relief to people. Life is difficult enough, we don’t need Sunday worship to be a burden as well. And on Sunday mornings, when we as believers gather to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and, consequently, our own resurrections, we worship, fellowship, give, and publicly read the Word together, but we don’t impose guilt. It’s not the purpose of a church to add a burden to people’s lives. Our worship experience can be done freely, joyfully, and without pressure. That is why I am opposed to religious leaders imposing guilt in order to increase attendance, extract funds, or motivate people to action by using guilt.

Sadly, many Christians do not feel guilty because of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, but because of leaders who impose guilt in order to control them. These types of leaders have been in the church from the beginning, and very often they are our most popular leaders. Paul warned Timothy about them by saying,

They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires (II Timothy 3:3-6).

I notice these leaders scrutinize the weaknesses of others and present themselves as morally or spiritually superior. Watch out!

Our modern culture demands justice and public ridicule for some sins, while other sins are embraced. Immorality, theft, and addictions demand punishment. Judgmentalism, lovelessness, and blame, however, are lauded . When our leaders model socially acceptable sins, they appear sinless in our culture, while other sins are scorned. This duplicity makes worldly “Christian leaders” appear spiritually superior by discreetly highlighting their own self-righteousness and subtly focusing on the inferiority of others. Everything about this is contrary to the New Testament.

We all need Christ. 1 John 1:8-9 says,

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

New Testament Christianity is an uplift to people. It lightens our load and offers a solution for guilt. The cross sets all of us free from the need to humiliate others, even the unrepentant. It’s just not our role. We offer dignity, confidence, and joy because of the love and righteousness of Christ. Remember the fruit of God’s Spirit within us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Because of the reality of the cross, our lives are a Sabbath rest.

I’m going to take some time in my back yard and gratefully enjoy Him. I’ve lived long enough now, that I feel no need to be an expert in anyone else’s sin. I only feel compelled to let others know the freedom they can find in Him. That’s it. And that’s not hard.

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

Now, smile a grateful smile, and rest.

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Q and A

What are your thoughts on Shame?

#1 in Q & A Series

I appreciate the way the Blood of Christ and God’s Spirit free us from shame. No doubt, I, for one, am grateful for the forgiveness of sin and the opportunity to have a clear conscience.

I know a lot about shame. I spent four years dominated by shame. Then I realized that Christ was not shocked at my sins, that he had forgiven me for them, and that he had positive plans for my future. Key people in my life decided to forgive me. So for me to allow shame to lord over my life was a denial of my faith and a repudiation of those who had confidence in Christ’s resurrection power in me. What followed that realization was an interesting process to watch. There were those who had publicly fueled and promoted my demise, actually wanting shame to control me, who did all they could to promote shame in my life. Others, though, promoted resurrection in me and did what they could to encourage healing and restoration in my life. It seemed to me as though some proved to be enemies of the Gospel’s work in me, and others proved to be friends and true believers of the Gospel’s power to work in me. This dynamic altered the way I respond to someone else’s sin: I want always to be the guy who encourages resurrection in others.

As I went through this process of deciding who would have a determining voice in my life, I decided that Jesus’ life was more powerful than my shame, and that those who said what Christ says should have influence over me, not those who wanted only to accuse and take advantage of me. It was a glorious process as the influence of Christ and authentic believers set me free to pursue God’s plan for my life.

The New Testament talks about the dynamic shame plays in all of our lives. In I Corinthians 1:27 Paul writes, ” . . . God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” Paul uses the word “shame” twice in this verse, both times talking about the embarrassment and humiliation that will come to those who are impressed with themselves.

In the fourth chapter, Paul turns his warnings about pretension directly at the Corinthians. In verses 8-13, where he mocks the arrogance of the Corinthians, he concludes his sarcastic rebuke by saying, “I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children” (verse 14). He doesn’t want to shame them, but he is warning them about looming dishonor if they do not reflect on his admonitions.

In Ephesians 5:12, Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to avoid bringing shame on themselves by talking about what ungodly people do. He said, “It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret.” Here, Paul is encouraging the church to constrain it’s own speech in order to be honorable.

I think this is exactly where we are in the American church. We have transitioned from being the body of gratefully redeemed believers encouraging honor and life in Christ, into being the self-righteous group that scrutinizes, criticizes, whines and complains about “those sinners.”

I am convinced that under the guise of hating sin, some have inadvertently switched from being ministers of reconciliation and hope in Christ to being advocates of holding people accountable for their sin. I know it sounds good, but that might leave us as enemies of the Gospel in others and leave us positioned in Satan’s role . . . accusing the brethren.

We must be careful not to become the enemies of Christ’s work in the lives of others, because he does know how to shame his enemies. Chapters 10-18 of Luke include significant warnings for “religious leaders,” “teachers,” and “Pharisees” (those who use the Scriptures to condemn others), all of which provide ample warning to modern leadership. In the midst of his text, Luke notes, “This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did” (Luke 13:17). Here, we have Jesus intentionally shaming the religious leaders, teachers of the Scriptures and the Pharisees, while the common followers were able to see it and rejoice in him.

Christ had the courage to give his life for us, identifying with us as sinners and taking on our shame. He doesn’t impose shame on repentant sinners, only the self-righteous. When describing himself in Luke 18:32, he said, “He (Jesus) will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon.”

He demonstrated Courageous Grace (my wife’s latest book title). Jesus had the courage to identify with us, while we were yet sinners, even though he had full assurance that we would not be 100% free from sin until we see him face to face. I don’t say this to excuse sin, only to explain our role in being Christ-like and relieving shame from those who are in Christ. Probably the strongest identifying markers of an authentic follower of Christ is a willingness to be identified with the sinner and invest in healing and restoration. This identification is contrary to the false Christian leaders of our day who distance themselves from sinners and use the Scriptures to impose shame, actually using the appearance of their own moral superiority to gain power and influence. In doing so, they are denying the Gospel and instead promoting an appearance of godliness that woefully lacks the power of God.

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21st Century Evangelicalism

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 in 2006 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, 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 2006 scandal. Those were some of the best Sunday’s Gayle and I have enjoyed. We were forbidden to attend the church we’d loved. 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.