Tag Archives: Ministries Today

Rescuing The Dying American Church

We are what we love. If that’s true, the church is off track. We’ve stopped highlighting repentance, humility, holiness, self-sacrifice, and eternal judgment and have replaced these core values with wealth, influence, leadership training, fun, marketing, and lust.

The Bible says a double-minded person is unstable, and should not expect to receive anything from the Lord (see James 1:7). So since we’ve confused attendance and political connections with spiritual authority, and we’ve exchanged pleasing God with pleasing people, we’ve entered into a death spiral as a church. Prayer rooms are empty unless the music and leadership are just right, and consecration to God is treated as obsolete or boring.

The admonitions that “believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position, and the rich should be humble because, after all, they will pass away like a wild flower” are ignored because we’ve become a backslidden worldly church.

But there is always hope. James 4:8 writes, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

But our current church leadership is so deceived they don’t perceive that they are the sinners, nor do they believe they need to purify their hearts. Why? Because their churches are full, their bank accounts are bulging, and they are surrounded by people who think their leaders are godly.

I’ve seen this first hand. Humble, kindhearted men of God love service, prayer, and the Scriptures. But that all changes when the cameras come on. It’s as if they become drunken with the spirits of this world for power, money, and prestige. Then they spiral into a stupor of superficial appearances of godliness, but the true spiritual power is gone. No longer is depending on the power of the Gospel the basis of their existence, but the influence they have on others takes its place.

David wrote about it in Psalm 51:17,

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Ezra 9:6 says it perfectly.

 I prayed,

“O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens.

Isaiah 57:15 says,

The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
the Holy One, says this:
“I live in the high and holy place
with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.

As I am writing this blog, I am reminded of a young man who was living in squalor. His family had provided a house where he lived with his young son, who was increasingly delayed in his development because of the environment of immorality and drug abuse in his home. Every bedroom was filled with trash, dirty mattresses, discarded condoms, and used needles.

The man needed help and was willing to repent and return to Christ, but he didn’t know where to begin. A crew from our church helped clean his house, and then funded the young man and his son to move out of state to a dependable family member where they could get a fresh start. The church also worked with him to get his teeth fixed, get free from his former addictions, and to start his education. Now time has passed. The young man is now gainfully employed, married, has a beautiful new son. His other son is now in above normal ranges cognitively and behaviorally. No more developmental delay.

Every one of us who has been bound by the power of depravity and selfishness and then set free by Christ knows exactly why we deeply despise sin and earnestly love the Lord and his people.

Psalm 97:10 says,

You who love the Lord, hate evil!
He protects the lives of his godly people
and rescues them from the power of the wicked.

Our hope is for our leaders to go unannounced to the mountaintop with no publicity, no cameras, and no publicly announced agenda, to press through for a private and powerful meeting with God. Most of them will need to unwind from the adrenaline that has been driving them. They will also need to leave their cell phones, energy drinks, caffeine, “medications,” and assistants at home, and stay until they push past boredom and then, like Isaiah, cry out in desperation,

It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

This can only happen by divine revelation, divine encounter, and divine devastation.

But here is the problem. Should they have an encounter like this, they will be tempted to return from the mountaintop and market this experience.

Maybe it’s time we start a new kind of secrets in the body of Christ. Maybe our leaders need to encounter the Lord, be quiet about it, and let the Lord reveal in public what has happened to them in private. That would be a refreshing change of pace, and might rescue our dying American Church.

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

How To Build A Stronger Core In Turbulent Times

Today we’re watching the Caribbean, Texas, Florida, and Mexico try to recover from hurricanes and earthquakes. Portions of the western United States are engulfed in forest fires. North Korea threatens new war while we continue fighting our longest war in the Middle East. Every evening on the news we see law and order challenged, protesters marching in the streets, vandals burning businesses, and the media using its freedoms to manipulate the public.

As our society advances various social experiments, not knowing yet whether they will advance or harm humanity, we’re experiencing a record number of young people committing suicide, and more people than ever taking drugs to be happy. With careers, families, communities, and nations experiencing increased turmoil, each of us must take it upon ourselves to build a core set of beliefs that will guide us through these troubled waters. It’s the way to stay stable and sane when our lives and world are shaking. Otherwise, we’ll spiral into confused victimization like so many around us.

I think that is why the Bible exhorts us to continually grow stronger. The Bible says in Hebrews 6:1-3,

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.

We all see the world through the lens of our belief systems and our values. This text in Hebrews says we need to know something solid and dependable that will enable us to respond to the challenges of life with strength instead of weakness. As a pastor, the challenge I face is that our culture has opened the door to subjectivity, allowing wrong to be right, and right to be wrong. The result is despair and confusion.

In order to live a successful life, we must develop a foundation, or a core based on wisdom and strength, that will instruct and guide us through the tumult of an uncertain world. We can become pillars that support others needing strength, or we can meld with the crowd of the entitled who depend on others to take care of them. I am saddened when I talk with those who are needy, but it is often their belief systems that leave them exposed to nonsense that is destructive to them, their relationships, and creates for them a more difficult future. We read in Luke 6:39-49,

Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?  I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.  It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.  But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

Here Jesus is saying that the ideas and philosophies we embrace and act upon determine our lives. Ideas are important. Adolf Hitler and Billy Graham embraced contrasting ideas. Adolf Hitler ignited a war that marched millions to their deaths, and Billy Graham sparked a spiritual renewal that inspired millions into life. Both impacted the world, but in very different ways. Ideas matter.

So how do we build a strong internal core? We identify sources of wisdom that have proven strength and stability over time. And we listen to people who have earned the right to be heard through their consistency, their ability to overcome life’s challenges, and their strong and stable lives. In my life it means I read and study the Bible to get ideas that strengthen my core, and I listen to those who have successfully done what I would like to do.

All of us are impacted by the challenges of our shifting world. If we want to succeed in life, we must build a stronger core.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Is Lent For Us?

This morning a friend sent a text asking if we should participate in Lent. At that moment, I realized that we had so understated so many Christian holidays in our church that it would be good to write a blog to refresh our knowledge of this Christian tradition.

This year the first day of Lent happens to be today, March 1, 2017, Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day for us to remind ourselves of our mortality, sinfulness, and ultimate demise without Christ ( . . . from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. . . ). Lent, then, is a season when Christians have historically focused on simple living: limiting excesses, paying more attention to prayer and the Scriptures, participating more in church, and fasting in one way or another. Lent lasts about one tenth of the year. It is a tithe of our time set aside to focus on God’s priorities in our lives instead of worldly pleasures and living. It’s a season of devotion to God that roughly spans the forty days before Easter, excluding Sundays, because Sundays are a weekly mini-Easter celebration. The final day of Lent this year will be April 15th, the day before our resurrection day celebration, which of course is Easter.

Many Christians see the Lent season as a time to give up some type of food or guilty pleasure, or to begin doing something to strengthen their walk with Christ, which is always a good thing. During this season I often think of the story of the rich man who came to see Jesus. When he asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied, “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18: 18-23).

Three things stand out to me in this response: 1.Give something up, 2. Give it to someone who needs it, and 3. Follow Christ.

Gayle and I have decided to give up most of our television watching. It’s true our TV is currently broken–but that is what got us thinking about what we gain when we’re not watching it.

It gives us more time with our family and friends.

In Christ’s response, he wanted the rich man to give up his things for the benefit of others. When our TV broke, we spent more time at our table having meals together. We also discovered we had more time to read, write, go on walks, jog, and talk. And, much to my delight, we even started going to bed earlier which made us feel better in the morning.

Some of you might want to consider other forms of electronic media. Gaming, texting, Facebooking, surfing, etc. All of these consume mass amounts of time. Slow down. Read. Visit. Think. Rest. Regroup.

It keeps the news about current events from dominating my home-life.

With the 24-hour news programs, everything is micro-analyzed and scrutinized. I watched the President’s speech last night (on my son Jonathan’s TV in his bedroom), and this morning when I read the news on my news ap, many of the analyses were slanted very differently than the speech I watched last night. Everything is political right now, and I need time away from endless hype.

That’s what Gayle and I are doing for Lent. Now what about you? If you or your family would like to use the Lent season as an opportunity to go without something in order to be able to give to others, you might discover some unexpected blessings in your life. Some of you might choose to devote the Sunday mornings of Lent to attending church, or some of you might start attending Wednesday evening Bible studies for Lent. A staff member just came in my office and announced he and his friends are giving up eating out at restaurants for Lent.

It’s your decision, and Lent gives all of us a great opportunity to let go of what is not needed, and embrace more of Christ in our lives.

I love serving Him with you.

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

The Reality Is — Donald Trump is Our President

Since January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump has been my president. Prior to that, Barack Obama was my president, and prior to that George W. Bush was my president. I joyfully supported Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. And I vividly remember loving my America while Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and LBJ were in the White House. I know, I know, in today’s society where people claim their individuality by saying the New England Patriots are not their Super Bowl Champions and, here in Colorado, pot smokers claim everyday life as “not my reality,” it’s convenient not to carry much responsibility ourselves and to blame others for our disappointments. Life is real, and the mark of maturity is to respond to it realistically and responsibly. I know. I’ve been around since JFK and Eisenhower were also my presidents.

It seems harder to respect presidents nowadays. Not because they don’t deserve it, but because the news media prospers by promoting everything bad. One of our leaders might be perfectly healthy, but experience an upset stomach. The news media will highlight every detail of the physiology of upset stomachs, attach sinister ways the upset was created, add a contrarian view that the upset stomach is a deceptive manipulation that reveals the wickedness of the sick one, and finally advocate that the person with the upset stomach should be thrown out of office, don’t ya think! With these types of journalists, it’s no wonder to me that America, possessing the strongest military in the history of the world, has not won a war since the advent of television news.

The news media has refined criticizing and complaining into marketable skills. They have made nagging public figures a favorite pastime, and have become experts at blame, which is interesting because most journalists have never held the positions of those they critique. They give the impression that they are experts on everything. They’re like little kids on the 3rd grade playground who get their giggles telling everyone some tantalizing secret – remember, “you heard it here first.”

Typically, when I have attended an event covered by the media, or experience an event live on TV or radio, then listen to the news coverage and analysis afterwards, I am dismayed. My concerns about an irresponsible press devoted to the advocacy of their own views instead of accurate reporting are reinforced. One nationally known journalist told me that her peers were incestuous and lazy, copying the work of others and slanting it to fit their own narrative of the world. I’ve watched firsthand as they distort events. But in my world, facts matter and I long for our news media to actually report the facts.

Ok, enough about them. Now about me . . .

I am an establishment Republican and a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. I’ve worked and paid taxes all my life, been married to Gayle since 1978, and I tremendously enjoy every member of my family. I live a great life. I like the red barn by my house and the horses in the field. I’m proud of the Air Force Academy across the road and the Olympic Training Center downtown. I am proud of our police and fire departments, and the businesses that provide what we need. I’m grateful for our quality city and state government. I like learning, writing, traveling, speaking, exercising, fighting my fat, and sleeping. I enjoy the people at the church I attend. I especially like the elders and staff in the church I serve. Imagine that! They make ministry a delight. And I like going to New York City and Hawaii for pastors’ meetings with our denominational leaders. I like living in Colorado, and I like hiking the Colorado Trail with my wife and friends. I think bills should be paid, homes and cars should be maintained, and kids should be loved, cherished, and molded into responsible adults. I drive a Ford F-150 pick-up truck, have a gun in my bedroom, and like dogs. I don’t need to vote for change in my culture, I like it the way it is. Go ahead. Hate me.

Enough about me? Now more about me. . .

Now for my reality and my current president — I totally blew it predicting this election. I don’t want to replay the campaigns, and I’m sure you don’t want me to. But this election cycle totally surprised me. When Trump was nominated, I predicted Hillary Clinton would win 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, not because I was for Clinton, I just couldn’t imagine Trump winning. I was wrong. Trump won.

But how did he do it? I think Forbes Magazine’s article on Jared Kushner (December 20, 2016 issue) is the best explanation I’ve read yet on the Trump strategy that won the election. (It’s excellent and deserves to be studied by everyone). So much has been written and debated about this election, but I have some additional thoughts:

  1. I think the press helped elect Trump: Gayle and I watch DVR recordings of Meet the Press and Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square every week. As we watched these shows and other mainstream media outlets align against Trump and blatantly assail him, it actually endeared us to him. Surprisingly, their prejudice, arrogance, and disrespect triggered our kindness and forgiveness toward Trump. Although he’s offensive to many of our values and even inconsistent with many of my political preferences, when the unelected elites in the press became so passionate that their view of America was the only authentic view, I had to reconsider.

Since I believe in the power of checks and balances, and that our republic will survive and there will be other elections, I’m not troubled by any one single election. I am, though, troubled when we put people on the Supreme Court who do not believe the constitution means what it says. My interest was the Supreme Court, not political personalities. When the press was openly calling a guy like me an idiot, a racist, and a sexist for thinking I wanted a president who would appoint a strict constructionist to the Supreme Court, they impacted me. Was I “nuts” and a “buffoon” to think Scalia’s seat should be filled with someone who believed the constitution should be closely followed? I had, and have, very good reasons not to prefer Trump as president, but the Supreme Court is more important to me than those concerns. The press helped persuade me.

  1. I think Sanders helped elect Trump: I think Sanders had better manners and answered questions more directly than Trump or Clinton, but I’ve traveled the world and know that the compelling language of socialism does not deliver as promised. Since Clinton allowed Sanders to pull her further left, I was again motivated to disregard my concerns about Trump. I believe we are in the early stages of the socialization of America, but I did not want to contribute to that slide. When I learned that 85% of Sanders supporters switched to Clinton, that helped persuade me to shift the other direction.
  1. I think Hillary Clinton helped elect Trump: Clinton’s resume was impressive, and I’m not the guy who is going to hold someone else’s sins against them. And I’m not a sexist, so gender did not play a role in my contemplation. But when she identified aborting children as the “women’s issue” of our generation, and refused to differentiate between someone who immigrates to our country legally from those who come here illegally, I became disenchanted. I just couldn’t support her generalizations or determination to characterize guys like me as enemies of Americanism. It appeared to me that the Democrat party had perfected identity politics (dividing people into groups: women, men, college educated, high school educated, native Americans, blacks, LGBTQ, Hispanics, whites, immigrants, students, etc.), and Clinton repeatedly implied these were warring interest groups instead of diverse Americans who value that we all flavor one another, like various ingredients in a melting pot. I like diversity, but I don’t like politicians who assume differences inherently promote competition and hate.

I want government to help responsible people who need a hand, to aggressively retrain people so we can be competitive in a changing marketplace, and to help the disadvantaged, like my special needs son who, without a miracle, will never be able to help himself. I believe our laws need to be equally applied to all of our citizens regardless of race, gender, or religious or sexual preferences. But when Clinton assumed I was against those needing help or those who were different than me, she sent me the other direction.

I want to be a giver, not a taker. There are lots of good people who pay taxes, obey the laws, and support as many benevolent activities in our communities as we can. We pursue our educations so we can serve others, and keep working past retirement age because we think it’s honorable to work hard. We patronize quality businesses and support those in need. By seeming to come against these good folks, Clinton, in effect, helped Trump.

I think it’s too early to tell if Trump is going to turn out to be a good president, but he is our president. Note that in my opening paragraph that listed all the presidents who have served in my lifetime, I didn’t mention their party. Why? Because once they are elected, it does not matter to me. That’s my reality, and my hope is that regardless of your political party, Facebook friends, or age — regardless of the group you belong to, you’ll see the benefit of making our country work. If you are only accustomed to helping when the person or party you prefer is in power, it might be time to talk to some older folks and learn the value of serving people who are different from you. We have a great country. Let’s all serve it well.

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

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. 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.

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

Smith Wigglesworth: Disqualified?

God confirmed Smith Wigglesworth’s ministry through powerful signs and wonders, including the creative formation of missing limbs and the disappearance of cancerous growths. His words continue to provide spiritual, financial, emotional, and physical healing as they inspire and build faith.

Graham Jeffs, a solicitor from England who is now an elder at St. James Church in Colorado Springs, attended church less than a half-mile from where Wigglesworth lived and preached. He recently gave me copies of the hand written correspondence between Smith Wigglesworth and the leaders of the Pentecostal Missionary Union (PMU) written after Wigglesworth had been accused of misconduct by two separate women at the peak of his ministry career.

After the situation became known to the leaders of the PMU, they demanded his resignation from the denomination, from ministry, and from public life. In a letter dated October 18, 1920, Wigglesworth repented, asked for mercy, and claimed that God had forgiven him. He also expresses dismay that the leaders failed to stand with him by saying of Cecil Polhill, the leader of the PMU, “I am afraid he is not the strong character I have believed him to be.” What was Polhill’s weak character to which Wigglesworth referred? Perhaps Polhill assumed a position of moral superiority and used his chain-of-command position to supersede a godly response and the respect due Wigglesworth as a fellow brother in Christ.

Two days later on October 20, 1920, Polhill responded to Wigglesworth’s “repentance”. Polhill wrote on behalf of the PMU leadership, “We do not think your statement (of repentance) I received this morning adequate” (underlined by Polhill). He continued, “In a few days I hope to send your draft of one we propose to ask you to sign. . . in any case you ought to send in your resignation to the P.M.U.” He continued, “In the event of your sending in your resignation to P.M.U., we should do our best to avoid any, in our judgment, unnecessary publicity.” Then, he used traditional church methods rather than biblical mandate by writing, “We think also that you should abstain for a prolonged season from participation in the Lord’s public work; and seek to retrieve your position before God and man, by a fairly long period of godly quiet living, so showing works meet for repentance” (underlined by Polhill).

Some speculate that we received the benefit of Smith Wigglesworth’s ministry only because the PMU did not have the ability to command attention in the press or publish their views on the internet to discredit Wigglesworth’s ministry. They certainly did what they could within their own spheres of influence, but Wigglesworth believed in the priesthood of the believer and concluded it unwise to submit to them. This serves as a warning to all of us: God chooses whom He uses, and our self-righteous judgments are typically wrong. Maybe humility, kindness, and helpfulness would be a better approach than the one Polhill took with Wigglesworth. That way, we are advocates for resurrection in the lives of others. It’s the scandal that often makes the man the person he’s always prayed to be. A church scandal seldom excludes the central figure of the scandal from the Kingdom of God. It often strengthens them in their faith walk. Just read the stories of the Bible greats.

Every time someone else sins, our response positions us in their story. We either contribute to their suffering and work with others to hurt them, or courageously stand outside the crowd and help them with their resurrection. I believe there is a time for discipline and justice, but in general, our role as Christians is to lift their burden and help them.

The next day, October 21, 1920, Wigglesworth wrote to Polhill, “The Good Hand of God is upon me & I will live it all down. . . I shall go forward deer [sic] Brother and I ask you be carfull [sic] that the Gospel is not hinderd [sic] thrue [sic] you . . . Do not truble [sic] to send any thing to sign. I signed my letter to you that [is] all” (underlined by Wigglesworth). The documents prepared by the PMU and the character Polhill displayed by his response to the scandal prompted Wigglesworth to send a hand written note dated October 21st to a recipient unknown to us saying, “He (Polhill) rules PMU and everyone else. I think he will have truble [sic] later.”

The PMU demands gave Wigglesworth opportunity to demonstrate his tenacity under fire and his faithfulness to God’s call on his life. Smith Wigglesworth resigned from the PMU, had the strength to keep Polhill from hindering his ministry by disregarding the church’s attempt to discipline and/or restore him, went to the train station to go to his next meeting, and continued doing what God asked him to do. From that time to this day, he is lauded as a pillar of godly strength.

Spoiled goods? Many today would have considered the Wigglesworth scandal, which would not have been kept quiet like it was in the 1920s, disqualifying. And his strong responses to his spiritual authorities would be interpreted as proof of his guilt and lack of repentance in the minds of many leaders in our modern church movement.

The dilemma our religious leaders face in trying to determine who should be used by God and who should not is that God uses problem people. Adam and Eve launched the human race, obeyed the devil and raised a murderer. Noah, the guy who saved all living creatures from wrath, was alone, drunk, and naked in his tent. What in the world was going on in there?!  Moses worshipped foreign gods and was a murderer. Abraham often lied, Isaac did too, and Jacob was a deceitful thief. David misused his official position, committed adultery and murder, and raised insubordinate sons. Many of the prophets whose books we read today were hated and rejected by their contemporaries, for good reasons.

To keep from belaboring a well understood point, I’ll just highlight the Apostle Paul for New Testament purposes because he wrote two-thirds of it . . . he was a religious leader who murdered people of faith with whom he disagreed, for the glory of God of course. Long after Paul’s conversion experience and great success in ministry, he had a messenger of Satan tormenting him, frustrating him so greatly that he maintained that sin had an independent life in him that was not reflective of his new life in Christ. We would not accept that explanation from anyone else, but for Paul, we rationalize it. Most evangelical Bible scholars teach that he found relief before he was martyred, but that’s a theological construction, not a sure fact. We all hope it’s true, but it might not be. Regardless, we all accept that a perfect God uses imperfect people. I don’t say this to excuse any of our own sin, but it might explain how we should respond to fellow believers, even fellow leaders, who find themselves trapped in sin. No doubt, we all need to grow in personal holiness, and we will, in fact, be completely perfected when we see Jesus face-to-face. But until then, might our current Christian culture be missing the point? And, is it possible we have apathy about our most deadly sins?

1 John 5:16-17 says, “If you see a Christian brother or sister sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it. All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death.”

What is the sin that leads to death? Any sin from which we do not repent. What sin’s might those be? Sins we do not think serious.

Based on the volume of warnings Jesus had for religious leaders, it might be that religious leadership has the most significant potential for undetected sinfulness than any other group. In 2007, I had a global Christian leader visit me. He told me how blessed I was that I had dealt with the type of sin from which people repent. Then he wistfully said that his sins were the type people did not repent of, because they actually strengthened his ministry, increased his income, and increased the respect of others for his ministry. He explained that the more judgmental, loveless, critical, and dogmatic he was, the more Christian people complimented and supported him. He explained how simplistic judgments drew applause, where nuanced explanations cost him support. He said it would be the end of his ministry if he repented of his sins.

The basis of our salvation is that Christ alone is our righteousness. But since sin and self are so deceitful, how can we tell if we are self-righteous? I suggest that it is our response to another’s sin. I’ve learned that to the degree we are impressed with ourselves, we respond to another’s sin punitively. And to the degree that we are dependent upon Christ alone, we respond to another’s sin redemptively. Our responses to another’s sin reveals whether we trust in our righteousness or the righteousness of Christ. God revealed his heart in his response to our sin. We reveal our hearts every time we respond to another’s sin.

Smith Wigglesworth’s life embodies both of these ideas: the way God uses dependent but flawed people, and the way we religious leaders often miss our opportunity to model the Gospel by our response to another’s sin, thinking we are being godly. When we Christian leaders respond to another’s sin, we must choose whether to crucify the sinner or to facilitate their resurrection. It’s our response in this matter that reveals whether or not we are Christlike in our leadership.

 

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

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,