Tag Archives: Chris Hodges

Are Christians Hateful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thank You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Selling Service

“I do not want you to use my shame for your gain,” I told the missionary who hosted us in his home. I thought he had generously offered his home to my family and me when church overseers required us to move from our home in Colorado Springs in 2007.  After living there a couple of months, I learned that our host was marketing the fact that he was helping us. As a result, he received favor from his donors and denominational leaders. When I learned that I was his project for gaining notoriety, we moved out. I needed a place of safety.

Paul writes in Galatians 6:12 – 13, “Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others . . . They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples.” Sometimes I wonder if God is conflicted. He wants to work through people, but the New Testament solution to our sin problem works best through those who are willing to let God get the credit. In verse 14, Paul writes, “As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.” I believe one of the greatest hinderances to effective ministry for those who need to be healed, as I did, is that the healers have to struggle with who gets the credit . . . which is why most restoration attempts fail.

No, that’s not true. Most restoration attempts don’t fail, but very often the restorers say they have failed. It’s because these restorers have their sights more on the process than the end result of restoring. The Word of God doesn’t fail, it does its work, and the Holy Spirit does his work. But if God’s restoration path does not fit the design of the restorers, they typically say the sinner was unrepentant, not adequately submitted, or that he or she did not complete the prescribed process. I have come to believe that in these situations, Jesus insists on being the head of the church, and he is unwilling to forfeit that role to those who want to use it for their own promotion or gain.

It seems as though we have a fundamental misunderstanding. Jesus said “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Luke 5:32). Paul reminds the Christians at Rome that, “No one is righteous -not even one” (Romans 3:10). So when people in the church are dealing with the fallen, it’s not the righteous who are working with the fallen, but the fallen working with the fallen. To presume that the “sinner” designation does not include the restorer is a major misunderstanding of the New Testament. The first of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses says, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” This acknowledges the pressure of sin in every believer’s life. Was Paul lying when he wrote, “. . . God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone” in Romans 11:32? No doubt, we as believers are free from any obligation to sin. I know that we are righteous and saints by faith, but to lord over others as though we are perfected before we see Jesus face to face, is negligence.

Our Reformation fathers wanted to end the abuse of the Roman Catholic Church and establish authentic New Testament expressions of faith and worship. Interestingly, in just about every Reformation movement, the reformers felt as though rigid church discipline was necessary in order to maintain integrity. Since the New Testament does not say much about the need for or the practice of church discipline, Reformation leaders filled in that gap with historical church practices. As a result, our Protestant churches regularly fail to apply New Testament solutions in our response to Christians overcome by some sin. Today, it appears our attitudes and actions are just as random and ungodly toward sinners as that of many of the reformers who successfully applied New Testament life to much of their theology and practice, but failed to do so in this area.

But this is our generation. Though it is 500 years later, maybe it’s time we build on the revelation of the Reformation and let the Gospel inform the way we respond to those we consider “fallen.” Every application of the Gospel requires courage, because Pharisees always demand punishment instead of grace, typically under the banner of “integrity” or “justice.” They seem to forget that we are not prosecuting attorneys or journalists, but ministers of the Gospel, ministers of healing and restoration. In forsaking the Gospel when its application is most needed, we might actually become the enemies of the Gospel.

Many Christians who claim to embrace the desire to be Christ-like seem to neglect two fundamental questions: 1) How did God initially respond to us as sinners? And, 2) How does God respond to us as Christians when we sin? The answers to those questions demand contemplation of two additional questions for all who want to be Christ-like: 1) Do I respond to sinners the way God did to me? And 2) Do I respond to other Christians who sin the way the Holy Spirit responds to me when I, as a Christian, sin?

No doubt, all Christian leaders can preach the necessary sermons and write articles trying to convince the Christian market that they believe in God’s restoration. But the proof is in their actions with the fallen. Do they respond to them in the same way Christ does? Do they protect their dignity as fellow human beings and brothers and sisters in Christ? Is their aim to restore them so they can continue on in their God-given gifts and callings? Or do they negate the work of God in them, shame them, and embarrass them? Would the person submitted to them say the leaders helped them heal, or added burden to their lives?

I can answer these questions because I have heard from thousands of believers who have stumbled and been subject to ministry restoration. They all point to the Word and how it addresses and strengthens them. They all marvel at the faithfulness of God and how he draws closer to them in their crisis. But only a few of them will say the Christian leaders responsible to help them actually assisted.

Are too many of our leaders only in sales? I suggest we not sell the ministry of restoration, let’s just do it and let the restored tell the story.

It’s time we see the fallen as an opportunity to help, which demonstrates that we are, in fact, Christian.

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