Tag Archives: Tim Ralph

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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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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