Tag Archives: Scandal

The Honor of Pastoral Service

Julie’s despair was mounting as her two pre-adolescent boys were becoming increasingly demanding, her husband was working out-of-state, and the strains on her time seemed beyond her ability to perform. She had worked at a local para-church ministry for years and was a committed Christian with supportive friends, but a dark cloud of hopelessness was growing in Julie’s mind.

While at work Julie increasingly spoke with her coworkers about the relief being in Heaven would provide. One day she told a woman who worked closely with her that she had decided to take her own life. The woman reminded Julie that she loved her two sons and would never want to be without them. Julie’s response alarmed the woman. She said she planned to take them with her.

As Julie walked to her car at the end of the day, her co-worker called the police and reported to them that Julie was suicidal and threatening the lives of her children. When Julie arrived home, the police were there and, as required by protocol at the time, took Julie to our local hospital for a psychological evaluation.

Oddly, the hospital cleared Julie within a few minutes. Later that evening while the children lie sleeping, she shot both of them to death and then took her own life.

Within a week three coffins—one large and two small—were stationed in the sanctuary of our church. I performed the funeral as Julie’s husband, the father of their children, sat shocked on the front row. After the burial, he sold the house and left town.

A few weeks later one of my friends in the police department told me that he was at Julie’s house that day and had taken her to the hospital. He said typically they place people on a 72 hour hold for evaluation, but in this case they didn’t. He did not know why.

Another friend, who worked in admitting at the emergency room at the hospital, told me that when they brought Julie into the hospital, a friend of Julie’s happened to be overseeing the psychological evaluations that evening. She reported overhearing Julie and this women talking and laughing together in a hallway around a corner. Afterwards, the woman in charge filled out the paperwork reporting that Julie was fine and released her to go home . . . resulting in the deaths of the two children and Julie’s suicide.

I did not blame the hospital, but I thought they should be informed of the situation and consider improving their systems to ensure this didn’t happen again. Yet when I contacted the hospital administration, they received my concern as a threat and issued a public statement that all legal requirements were met. Later our local news reported that I had accused and blamed the hospital for the tragic event. The public perception was that I was grandstanding.

I backed off because I knew the hospital was concerned about liability—which was not my intent in contacting them. I also wanted to protect the confidences of the people who shared privately with me, and to avoid feeding the press a sensational and grizzly public confrontation between a pastor and our local hospital. I was simply seeking an improved system at our hospital, knowing that another Julie would one day arrive at their door.

That was over 10 years ago and I still carry it. Since I did not respond, the story died in the press, leaving the appearance to the public that I had baselessly accused our hospital. Julie and her children were buried in our local cemetery, and the hospital quietly improved its systems a few months later. I called Julie’s husband from time after that to see how he was doing. He just wanted to leave the pain of the past behind and build a new life. The families that left the church because they believed the press account—I’ve not heard from since. But I, as a pastor, feel gratified that our systems were quietly improved after the glare of the press was lifted, and to my knowledge, there have been no cases like Julie’s since.

This is the honor of pastoral service. There are typically facts behind pastoral decisions that cannot be publicly known, but the goal is to improve the lives of others, apart from grandstanding or glory. It’s an honor to serve; it’s the way of Christ.

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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.

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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.

 

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Genuine Restoration (Part 3)

#7 in Q & A Series

Question: How do you believe New Life Church could have handled your situation better?

“Begin with the End in Mind” is Habit #2 in Stephen Covey’s, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Just about every church in the nation has taught some version of this, if not used the text itself as a leadership guide. But when it comes to restoring another, most Christian restoration teams not only are confused about New Testament guidelines instructing them, but also about the purpose of the process. As a result, many, particularly leaders, who have been subject to restoration in a church find the process nonsensical and are left discouraged, despondent, and some so bitter they seethe.

Galatians 6:1 is the most relevant Scripture in the New Testament addressing the subject of restoring another.

“Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also” Gal. 6:1 AMP.

So what is the goal? Restoration. The Greek word in this verse is Katartizo, which means to re-set, restore, as we would a disjoined limb. It means to make perfect, to restore. Thus, the translators are correct when they use the English word, “restore,” in this verse. The New Living Translation and the Amplified are correct when they say, “help that person back onto the right path” or “set him right and restore and reinstate him.”

Carnal-thinking people punish, embarrass, dehumanize, and humiliate those they are commissioned to heal. Because they are untrained in the application of the Gospel in these situations, they make demands and design activities to occupy the fallen without a constructive end in mind. Paul strongly warns against this, and says genuine spirituality is displayed through gentleness and humility as it restores another. Otherwise, the “restorer” will take on an aura of spiritual and moral superiority and rationalize why the fallen cannot  and should not be restored. Typically they say the fallen are unrepentant or unsubmissive. Then, they too often see themselves as more important than they are, which is specifically warned against in Galatians 6:2-3 where Paul concludes his thought regarding restoration: “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”

Paul’s caution might be here because the self-righteous leader is unable to appreciate the power of the resurrection of the fallen, and will end up thinking of themselves as more important than they should in light of the sins of the fallen. This is one of the sins of the Pharisees.

Jimmy Swaggart endured his scandal in 1988. His denomination constructed a restoration program, which he rejected for reasons to which we may not be privy. Then he was caught yet again in a compromising situation in 1991. Since that time, as far as we know he’s been actively involved in ministry and has been faithful to his wife and to God. It’s interesting to me that so many Christians hate Jimmy Swaggart. When I ask pastors’ groups why they think so poorly of him and don’t trust him, they always say it’s because he didn’t go through his denomination’s restoration program. I then ask what the purpose of that program might have been? They always respond by saying that the purpose of the program was to heal Jimmy Swaggart, help him find the moral strength to overcome his sin problem, and help him return to ministry again. I then point out that the 1991 repeat was predictable and that virtually every therapist teaches that relapse is part of recovery, and that he has been faithful to his wife and ministry for 22 years since that relapse. My follow-up question to the pastors . . .  “Is the purpose of the process the process itself, or the RESULT of the process?”

Then we talk about the real reason we question his integrity. Could it be that our real issue is that he did not cooperate with our program, which would have given us the ability to take credit for his sobriety and ministry? Were we more concerned about managing our image than restoring our brother? Did we elevate his submitting to our control over our helping him to achieve the goal of his repentance and to return to the ministry to which God had called him? Or did we really just want him out of ministry–either because we were envious of his accomplishments or embarrassed by his human failings? After all, ultimately we tend to manage our image and reputation. Perhaps we should ask ourselves if we are managing a Christ-like image and reputation or a worldly one based on self-righteousness.

The English word “restore” means to “bring back to a former, original, or normal condition. “ It means “to put back to a former place, or to a former position, rank, etc.” This is the correct interpretation of the word Paul used, Katartizo. So why would it benefit the church to follow through on his admonition to gently restore a fellow believer (even a leader) who has been trapped by a sin?

It is because it models resurrection, hope, redemption, and life.

The fallen give us opportunity to model Christ’s resurrection among us, and to demonstrate Christ’s heart toward humanity. Christ has restored all of us. When we, who are spiritual, competently model restoration among ourselves, others see the Gospel with clarity. We’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God should get the credit for restoring leaders. We should not position ourselves to receive glory. Healing, sobriety, holiness, and integrity are the goals. God’s work moving forward is the goal, the purpose, the end. We can begin with that end in mind

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Love is Our Marker

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

When Jesus said this to his disciples, he was launching a revolution. He didn’t say that education, power, or even theological persuasion would identify his disciples. Nor did he say that training in cross cultural communications or evangelism would prove discipleship. Even though all of these things are important, Jesus said love was the marker of a disciple that would prove to the world that we are, in fact, believers. Interestingly, Bible schools, seminaries, church conferences, and churches have vibrant discussions about many important subjects, but often love is an addendum if mentioned at all. Most evangelicals embrace the need to reach others for the cause of Christ, but this exhortation from Jesus is not central to most discussions on evangelism.

Why? I believe it’s because love is confusing. It’s easier to be committed to a religious ideology, political position, or even a social norm than it is to be loving. Love isn’t a test when the others around us respect us, look like us, act like us, or are socially appropriate around us. Neither is love difficult when it is something we market and sell to reach “those people” or the “little people.”

Christ’s love in us is authenticated when we’ve been insulted, slapped, offended, disappointed, or challenged by someone outside our normal circle of those we like. I think this is why Jesus exhorted us to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and to care for the “least of these.” Christian love is something that differentiates us from everyone else because we refuse to hate, label, judge, demonize, and dehumanize. Insisting on respecting others who are very different than we are is a core revelation of Jesus’ exhortation to all of us. We claim that we are the ones set apart because we have Christ in us, which means we’ll leave the 99 to rescue the 1, spend our free time with the socially unacceptable and those who could never benefit us. To identify, as Jesus did, and lose our reputations to become despised and rejected by those who are well respected for the sake of another is Christlike.

We are not believers because we were God’s project. Instead, out of love for us we became the subjects of his heart. He identified with the worst parts of us. To be like him, we might consider doing the same. We break out of the pack when we love – when we demonstrate that we are not part of the world’s system by choosing to love – not as a technique, but because we do, in fact, want to invest our lives in the well being of others regardless of who they are.

My wife and I went through a horrific tragedy in 2006. Prior to that tragedy, I was perceived as a benefit to the body of Christ, was socially acceptable, and, as a result, was deeply loved by many . . . or so I thought. After my failure, Gayle and I noted that theology made no statistical difference in the way people were responding to us. Certainly some were motivated by their commitment to Christ, but not in disproportionate numbers compared to those who did not claim any belief in Christ who also demonstrated hope and kindness toward us. There was the same amount of kindness and support from non-believers as believers. And there was the same level of hatred, judgment, suspicion, misinformation and condemnation from believers as non-believers. Based on the percentages, theology, or claiming to be a born-again Christian, didn’t seem to be a determining factor in the way people responded to us.

Thus, I’ve committed to being loving toward those in the most difficult moments of their lives. When people are nice, it’s easy. When people are struggling, that’s when I can differentiate from the crowd, go the second mile, and sacrifice something valuable to me to make their lives better. I think I’m experiencing a love reformation.

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Is saying the salvation prayer actually being Born-Again?

During the last two generations of Evangelicalism, we’ve exclusively emphasized that our view of being born-again is the key to eternal life, and we’ve simplified the definition of being born-again so much that there is no measurable difference in life-style between those of us who claim to have been born-again and those who do not. Jesus was clear in John 13:34 when he gave us a new command, “. . . Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” There are markers for those who are Christians. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). In John’s first epistle, he drove the point home by saying, “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 John 4:7-8).

So we wonder why born-again believers are not known for their love? A few weeks ago, I did a debate on a Jewish web site and said that one of the great qualities of an authentic believer in Jesus is to serve, protect the rights of, and do what we can to improve the lives of people who are not like us. I illustrated it by saying it’s an honorable and noble role for Evangelical Christians to secure the rights, safety and security of everyone, whether they be willfully disobedient and sinful, or groups like the Jews, Muslims, secularists, agnostics, and others who are not persuaded that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Bible is the Word of God. Using our voices and strength to protect and serve others is not a validation of their beliefs or practices, but a demonstration of our faith in a Savior that saved us while we were yet sinners. It’s Christ-like on our part to serve others, even those whom we’ve not persuaded.

When my comments were covered in the press with typical excessive drama and misinformation, one wrote me out of concern for my soul, “Satan must have clapped his hands, having found another victim from inside church which he is now successfully using to establish his anti-christian and anti-biblical filth. May God have mercy on you!” I have no doubt that non-believers and those who don’t strive to live according to the Bible will not receive everything Christ has for them, but I do believe that the Bible instructs all of us to do everything we can to make life better for others, whether they are in the faith or not. After all, John wrote that “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning” (2 John 1:6).

Why don’t we who are born-again know much about love? I think it’s partially because our leaders inadvertently equate the importance of Old and New Testament Scripture for us as 21st Century Christians, which has resulted in modern evangelicalism becoming a new religion based on a strange amalgamation of the Old Testament and, what I call, “New Testament Torah.” Sadly, the central aim isn’t abiding in and reflecting the life of Christ, birthed from a dynamic relationship with him producing fruit and life, but instead being correct according to our knowledge of what is good and what is evil . . . which we should know by now is deadly.

Secondly, I think it’s because our leaders don’t know much about love. To my knowledge, there is not one seminary or Bible school class, or even a workshop in a mega-church conference, exclusively devoted to training leaders in biblical, New Testament love and it’s application on a bad day. The application of biblical love in the midst of difficult situations is central to “proving to the world that we are his disciples” (John 13:35). Most of our leaders and teachers have never seriously contemplated the application of biblical love when responding to a non-believer, a sinning Christian leader, or what we might perceive as an ungodly social trend in our community. Thus the vacuum. We who have said the salvation prayer to receive eternal life as a free gift from God have been ushered into a discipleship process that didn’t teach us New Testament life and relationship, but instead Old Testament death often cloaked in “standing for righteousness” or “church discipline.” Thus, in the midst of New Testament grace, we died.

In 2006 when my wife and I went through the most difficult time of our lives, there was no difference between those who were born-again and those who were not in their response to us, our situation, or our family. Both groups had some supportive and helpful people among them, and both had incredibly hateful and meanspirited people among them. Both groups had some who tried to lighten our load, and both had some who tried to hurt us as much as they could. Bottom line, whether a person had been born-again or not, by our modern definition, didn’t make any difference.

Maybe we need to rethink what it means to be born-again? Maybe we need to transition our thinking of being born-again from a one time experience where we recite a prayer, and contemplate whether or not being born-again might be an arduous process of his loving hand transforming us from glory to glory as we grow in his lordship and grace. If our view of living in God’s kingdom isn’t for the good of others, even though we have said a salvation prayer, maybe we’ve not been born-again. When Jesus spoke of eternal life, he said the difference between the sheep and the goats was in the way we respond to socially unacceptable people (Matthew 25:31-46). When asked about eternal life, Jesus taught that it included giving all we have away to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22). Some of you may say that exhortation was specifically to the rich young ruler. I think I would respond that we don’t think Jesus’ word to Nicodemus that he needed to be born-again was exclusively to him, but to all of us.

No doubt, prayer is necessary to be born-again, but we can measure the effectiveness of that prayer in our lives. It could be that the evidence is obedience to his command to “love one another.”

This may be important for 21st Century Evangelicalism.

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