Reflection after confession

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Yesterday I posted my confession on what the horror of the 2016 election had done to me.

Now that five days have passed since my worst fears were realized, the horror has not decreased. Every new day thus far has brought a new source of fear. For example, Mr. Trump has appointed Myron Ebell as the leader of the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency — a  person who works for Big Coal and Big Oil, and used to work for Big Tobacco. He is a man who has been recognized as one of the most dangerous enemies of efforts to protect the environment and to reduce the impact of global warming.

Early reports of hate crimes add an ominous atmosphere, which is not being dispelled by any calming remarks by the President-elect. And the sense of gathering doom is accentuated by reports that the likes of Rudolph Giuliani, Christ Christie and Newt Gingrich will be appointed to powerful cabinet positions.

I would like to be able to say unequivocally that anyone who cares about truth and justice is horrified and saddened by this turn of events. Unfortunately the problem we all face, and the reason for the “death of my naiveté”, is that the leading cause of this political earthquake is actually a valid part of the moral structure of the church and the world. (I’m well aware that there are also many racist elements, some of which are indistinguishable from the Evangelical movement) — but the largest single segment are people of legitimate high moral tone who chose to vote for Trump in spite of his obvious faults. In my essay, I stated opinions I know to be out of harmony with the Bible. I broke Jesus’ dictum of Matthew 7:1 — Judge not, that you be not judged.

I’m confident God knows and understands the righteous element in my anger — but somehow I have to move forward in a world where I cannot “refuse to call a Christian” anyone who would ignore Mr. Trump’s obvious immorality and help get him elected to the highest office in the land. I need to exercise more patience than I thought possible. I need to keep trying to “let everyone be fully persuaded in their own mind.” I need to try to stay in step with the methods I think God is using to educate destroyers of the planet, elevate the poor, and eradicate false systems while calling to his people to “come out.”

By far the biggest factor which forces me to back away from my extreme declaration is the fact that long experience with a great many of these brethren in Christ has convinced me that they are indeed authentic Christians. Jesus has touched them, listens to them, answers their prayers, comforts their affliction, guides their lives.  I can sit here and name dozens of families I know whom I love, who I’m pretty sure supported Trump, if reluctantly. These are good people — I love being with them, admire their character, love their children, laugh at their jokes, respect their judgment in other matters, and fully expect to serve and celebrate with them in the heavenlies when our toil and trouble is completed. And Jesus has shown me my own unworthiness as an arbiter of character. I knew I was wrong to express a judgment, to disfellowship fellow believers, when I wrote yesterday’s post, but I needed to put it down in writing anyway, to be truthful about how I feel.

That being said, if my friends and brethren indeed are thinking and acting wrongly, I do not need to exonerate them in order to move forward. I need to rebuke them, and I intend to do so.

I also need to make that rebuke effective, persuasive and factual. It needs to be encouraging, calm, kind and gracious.

The challenge before me, if I wish to call to account such a large swath of the Christian world, is to up my own game and pay the full price it will take to be the kind of representative of the good that I aspire to be.

Since I am obviously not equal to such a task, I must apologize for bringing the anger of man to bear against many people whom I know have good intentions, and acted in harmony with their long-held principles.

That they could accept Trump, and be willing to work with such a man, remains incomprehensible to me. But what I intend to do now is approach my long-standing friends and brethren with compassion, with open ears, with vigorous research, and with a deep commitment to get to the bottom of this perplexing set of issues.

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Confession of a watcher

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Note: I wrote this confession on the eve of the election. My worst fears were realized… but this is not the last word on what I am thinking. I will write something more conciliatory and more mature after my thoughts have gestated a bit more.

Personal confession. Watching the rise of Donald Trump has drastically impacted my peace of mind … negatively. As I think about it, two things weigh heavily on my heart.

First, I am experiencing the death of my own naiveté. I’ve been a guy who, when he says the Lord’s prayer, imagines a bright future that will solve the horrors and evils in our world. But I’ve always felt, deep inside, a present peace that was largely based on a positive and hopeful belief in the basic goodness of people, and the power of truth and love to conquer error and hate. The last several months have shaken that optimism in ways that leave me upset, disoriented, and deeply saddened.

It is as though my best friends, “Disarming Integrity” and “Accepting Communication”, had died a violent death while I watched. It leaves me fearful, like a Roman soldier who has lost his sword and his shield. My ENFP temperament wants to believe in 95% of the people I meet, trust their essential goodness, believe that reality will defeat their prejudices, and hope that even before that kingdom comes, we’ll all discover we are really on the same, winning team. My productivity during these months has suffered along with my sinking faith in the human race.

Second, my core belief in the essential goodness of most Christians has been even more violently assaulted. The ugliness of authoritarianism, the malaise of blindness both to the faults of one candidate and the virtues of another; the greed for increasing American exceptionalism, power, and privilege; and most important, the deplorable and in my view, utterly inexcusable tolerance of male dominance of women – including both verbal violence and physical objectification, has forced me to rethink my attitudes toward any person who dares invoke the name “Christian”.

I should be almost infinitely patient with that blind spot [unequal treatment of women] among Christians – after all, I misread the Bible for 40 years. Anyone can. But it’s one thing to mistakenly think that men have been given more power in a church or a marriage, as I did for far too long – and it is another thing entirely to ignore the actual bragging about sexual assault and the actual participation in rape culture.

For 40 years I’ve been willing to extend the olive branch of fellowship to folks who were convinced, because of things the Bible actually seems to say, that God is planning to send billions of people to hell. I have destroyed my reputation in the minds of many Christian brethren who believe as I do, because of my willingness to extend grace to those who have not yet seen a more loving and successful plan of God in the pages of the Bible. But rightly or wrongly, I confess that the rise of Trump, and his embrace by both Evangelicals who consider me a heretic, and by Bible Students who shock me with their authoritarian leanings, has forced me to reexamine my habit of tolerance.

Forgive me, but I cannot and will not call you a Christian any more if you are willing to accept Donald Trump as a spokesman or leader of anything. He doesn’t deserve to be President of your bowling league, let alone the most powerful person on the planet. And if he gets to that position on Tuesday, I guarantee you that Jesus’ permission or elevation of that charlatan to power is not because of Trump’s merit, but because of Jesus’ desire to expose the fraudulent nature of so-called Christian people. The vine of the Earth is about to be trampled by the suffering servant from Bozrah.

I have advocated the view that the differences of belief among Christians do not require us to be divided; that an honest heart and a love of Jesus is sufficient to help us gain the victorious kind of character that God calls us to. Watching Christian organizations turn themselves into moral pretzels to embrace an obviously immoral narcissist as their leader; and watching close Christian friends be, as nearly as I can see, willfully ignorant of the most obvious kinds of facts – all of this has, I confess, forced me to re-evaluate every relationship and every assumption I have ever had. It’s as though the very ground I walk on has turned to swamp, and I must pull myself out by finding vines and tree branches above the muck to propel myself forward.

I don’t care if I have known you for 50 years. I don’t know how to face this crevice as I would have done last year – tethered with you in the same ropes. If you jump for Trump, I hereby disconnect from your rope. You may pull the rest of your friends down that crack in the earth, but I’m not coming with you, and I’m sure as truth, sure as goodness NOT going to call you a Brother in Christ.*

*Again, this is not my final answer. But I’m willing to let everyone see how I felt on the eve of the election, and a few days afterward. Much as David did when he wrote Psalm 109 and 139.

All Tears Wiped Away

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1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

As with many of the visions of the Bible, this one from near the end of the book of Revelation (Chapter 21) appears too good to be true — or at least too big and broad to be believed.

To make sense of it, we’ve got to find a way to limit it. First, it can’t be referring to the planet, and the known universe, because the literal statement here is that heaven and earth… that is, everything in the Universe, will cease to exist. And then, just like that, a new heaven and earth is created… except the new one doesn’t have any oceans. (Which with what we know of life on earth as we know it, simply couldn’t happen. The ocean is the key to biological life.)

And to complicate the picture, we have a description of a city arriving on planet earth from some distant place in the cosmos. But how could this be, because the cosmos just ceased to exist. Also, verse 3 says that God is now going to live with mankind…. but how could this be? Didn’t we just lose the earth? Where are the people now?  Is this why they’re crying… because the earth ended?

So let’s try viewing this as metaphorical. Let’s think of heaven as the spiritual or religious realm of human society. Turns out if we do this it can help dozens of places in Revelation and elsewhere in the Bible seem more reasonable.

A new heaven would then mean a new way of thinking about religious things, and therefore new people in charge, new rules, new values, new perspectives. The old religious scene is simply gone. “Imagine there’s no heaven.” John Lennon could picture this, and I can too.

And a different earth … the physical part of human society. That’s gone, too. No republicans and democrats arguing about who is right. No supreme court justices needed to interpret laws, because … well Jeremiah and Isaiah saw the picture with all the laws written in people’s hearts. No courts are needed to explain or enforce obedience among reluctant citizens. And thus no angry youth afraid of police, and no police harassing them.

Now, a major change in this new imaginary scene is where God is. In the old picture, the one we’ve grown up with, God is basically nowhere to be found. He “hides himself”, as Isaiah puts it. And those who claim to have found him have trouble convincing others that they really have. Is it because the ones who seem to know about God aren’t very good examples of what we would logically expect a spokesman for God to be — or is it because the people who they are preaching to are just plain bad … and don’t want to know about God, no matter how nice the preachers are? Or maybe could it be a mixture of both?

So now we have this new picture, and in it God isn’t hiding somewhere or speaking through ancient Jews or weird people who show up on TV or surrounded by stained glass, dress funny, ask for donations, smile too much, and generally just irritate us. All those folks are gone, but God is living with us. Right next door. Maybe even in our spare bedroom.

Now who are the people of God? Is it still the church folks… a small percentage of the population? No, the way John seems to see this picture, all the people are now God’s people.

We know this because they’ve been crying, they’ve been dying, they’ve been in pain… but God is suddenly standing there next to them, wiping their tears. He’s removing their pain. He’s ending death.

How many of the tears are being dealt with in this way? All of them.

How much of the pain is being eradicated? All of it.

How much death is being thwarted? All of it.

Now, here’s where the picture makes us furrow our brows and clench our fists.

Wait a minute! I understand the picture that is being painted. But why is this artwork being created? What does it mean to me? Is this really a true picture of the way things are going to be, or is this some kind of cruel joke? Is this really just saying that the ones who are already setting them up to be the God-people are going to have THEIR pain and tears wiped away, but the rest of us are just going to see them off in the distance, wishing we could be there … and suffering on forever and ever while the lucky few get to live in their own paradise?

The Hope Diamond.

Boston+WashDC_trip_2592_w1920

Well, the guy who painted this picture thought of this… so he put the Jesus followers into the picture too. He put them in there as the “holy city”, which comes out of heaven — the religious world … and comes down to earth. It’s a city with some features like Jerusalem, with its protective walls and its government buildings and its houses and its festivals where lambs die to restore people to God — and its temple where priests mediate between God and man … restoring everyday people to full fellowship and access to God, by making payment for their sins.

And this picture doesn’t only refer to the truly good guys as Jerusalem… he also compares them to a bride who is married to the Lamb… Jesus. How is this bride pictured? Well, she is dressed in white, and she’s beautiful, and the Lamb really, really loves her. What does this bride do? She is attractive to her husband … and that leads her to become like a mother to the rest of the human race. It might even be thought of as the new mother of humanity, in the same way that the Lamb is the new father.

The human race in this picture was orphaned when their first father messed up, and left them outside of paradise, living under curses that mom and dad are to blame for. Now there’s a new father and mother … Jesus and his bride. And all the people who were related to the original father … every human who has ever lived … are released from their curses and welcomed back into this expanded, updated Garden. A garden with no Serpent. A garden with no weeds. And with no Angel of Death to keep people from living there forever.

Too good to be true? No, redemption is the plan. A redeemed and restored earth is precisely what we must learn to expect, to hope for, and to pray for. And whether we pray or not, believe or not, even whether we survive until it arrives or not … it’s a gonna happen.

When friends die

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When friends die it always comes too soon. At least, that’s been my observation. There was a next conversation that didn’t happen. A hoped-for connection that was short-circuited by the insistence of a selfish, demanding Enemy.

This week, one of my friends died. Ryan came into my life through his friendship with my kids. His picture was on their refrigerator. I met him at their house. He was engaged to Kristen, both beautiful, both outdoors people, both literate and talented and a gift to the human race. On their wedding night Ryan was struck with headaches. They spent the night in a hospital, and received a diagnosis of brain tumor, most likely terminal.

For me it was hard to imagine a more diabolical life script. Yet amidst the sadness, and the lonely weeks of desperation, multiple graces emerged. True friends and sensitive strangers brought food and companionship without the intrusion of well-meaning dietary fixes or insulting pleas to bargain with God. Ryan fought hand-to-hand with his anger and regrets … until in the end he had astounded all of us with his warmth, hospitality, transparency, and gratitude for daily blessings. When a man has no discernible future, it forces him to find comforts in his past and appreciate his present. Ryan did that better than I could imagine myself doing, if our situations were exchanged.

Ryan was embarrassed about what steroids did to his body. He shouldn’t have been. Ryan was self-effacing about his comments at the recent Health Summit — he shouldn’t have been. His comments were earnest, relevant and incisive. Ryan was apologetic when I asked him what he was thinking about. “I’m thinking about death. It’s very macabre.” I assured him it was not, and told him about my experience with the death of my best friend David in 10th grade, after a 4-year battle with lymphoma. I shared with him how angry I had been at God — angry that such a bright soul was lost. Angry that David had died and not me. And transformed by the experience … I told Ryan how radically it shaped my life. He seemed grateful that we could actually talk about those emotions. I wanted to continue the conversation but other friends arrived and it was time to move on. I asked if I could return in a few days to read him some poetry. He said that would be lovely. I kissed him on the forehead and told him that I loved him. He told me he loved me.

But I didn’t love him all that much… my work week fell apart and the time I thought I would have off disappeared… and with it our next conversation.

Here is one of the poems I wanted to read to Ryan last Thursday or Friday.

Antidote to fear of death

Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.
Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
Already there
But unconstrained by form.
And sometimes it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.

–Rebecca Elson — a promising young astronomer whose life was cut short by cancer while in her 30s.

Ryan died Sunday morning. I missed our next conversation… and hope for another one, sometime, someplace.

 

 

 

 

The Agony of Climate Scientists

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One of the blogs I follow is “Climate Denial Crock of the Week”.

This weekend’s post talks about the fear and frustration of climate scientists. It discusses articles which have recently appeared in Esquire and Slate, documenting the angst and even despair of scientists who every day are looking at evidence that, to them, points toward environmental apocalypse. The article says,

Ultimately, what scientists are after is truth, even if that truth is personally devastating. For that reason, being a climate scientist is probably one of the most psychologically challenging jobs of the 21st century. As the Esquire article asks: How do you keep going when the end of human civilization is your day job?”

“The end of human civilization.” Have you noticed this specter lurking lately, in places other than science fiction? According to Wikipedia preppers seem to be multiplying, and global warming has added a whole new level of fear — with its mechanism of disruption that appears both adequately powerful and apparently unavoidable.

While it’s still possible to ignore these storms and even joke about them, I’d like to go on record with some pretty outlandish claims:

  1. The nature of the catastrophes has been unambiguously predicted.
  2. The extent of the catastrophes, and their impact on the various sectors of society have been predicted.
  3. The time of these catastrophes has been predicted, and while our collective ability to interpret the message of timing has been spotty, remarkable logic, evidence and insights have been emerging and gaining clarity for the last three centuries. I find the total evidence which anchors recent past and near-future data points of Bible prophecy now to be quite compelling.
  4. Most importantly, the ultimate goals and outcomes of the troubles that are daily more difficult to ignore have been predicted in surprising detail. Though the fairy-tale ending that is actually outlined in the Bible is veiled by some of its own symbolic language — and disregarded by most authentic Christians (not without good reasons) — I feel compelled to try and spread a little hope. If you care what the Bible says — and my main intended audience is those who do — try to let “all” mean “all” as you review the promises that the Bible contains. I find it really delightful to be able to take comfort in Biblical promises like all in the graves shall come forth” … “God shall wipe all tears from their eyes.” … “God is the savior of all men” … or that there will be “a feast of fat things for all people.”

“Love Wins” is how Rob Bell put it in the title of his widely-ridiculed but worth-reading book. “The Times of Restitution of All Things” was Peter’s phrase as recorded by Luke. Personally, I am convinced that “they all lived happily ever after” is the best phrase the languages of the world give us to describe what is coming.

Hopefully I’ll be able to expand and defend the above list of claims in coming posts.

Cosmic web

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I stumbled upon this lovely video today. It is called The Millennium Simulation, an animation run in 2005 by the Virgo Consortium, “an international group of astrophysicists from Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and the U.S. A virtual cube of 2 billion light years on a side was “filled” with 10 billion “particles” whose evolution was computed using the physical laws expected to hold in the currently known cosmologies”.

Turn up your sound to enjoy Jon Anderson’s Vangelis, “Heaven and Hell, Part 1”

How to love yourself

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My quora answers sometimes seem like they may have value on their own.

Last week I answered a person who seemed genuinely to be struggling with feelings of worthlessness. She asked, “How can I overcome the feeling that life is unnecessary?”

I answered:

If you begin to love yourself, which the Bible encourages, you will at least recognize that you have an important role to play as a member of the human race and, one day, a joint participant in the noble obligation of protecting a world and contributing to a community. Your unique perspective, including the sense of failure you are feeling now, is valuable and necessary to the balance that will one day characterize the human race.

And if you begin to love your neighbors as much as yourself, as the Bible also encourages, you will find that many, many of your neighbors near and far desperately need significant contributions that you can make… And that would be lost without your help.

She wrote back: “How do we love ourselves? Help me!!!”

This is my reply. I hope she found it helpful:

Read psalm 139. There it talks about each human being in the womb. How each of us is made in secret so to speak. The truth is that you are a miracle. If your creator loves you, why shouldn’t you love yourself?

You should love yourself for what you mean to your family. Most likely, there are family members who dearly love you.

You should love yourself for who and what you are. The way you contribute to your world. You make more contributions than you are aware of. Allow others to tell you what these contributions are… and don’t dismiss them.

You should love yourself for what you can do or become — your talent, nascent character, aspirations. If you begin to do one thing, every day, for 15 minutes… to help another, or to make the world better … such as learn to whistle or play a song, become well-informed on a topic and teach it to others, work an extra hour and give it to someone who needs it, read to a child, paint an abandoned fence or clean up a dirty section of the roadside. Write a story or a movie; join Big Brothers/Big Sisters and mentor a kid. There is no end to the possibilities. By far the most useful investment of time, if you feel drawn to it by God, is to study the Bible, obey the correction it gives to your heart, and share what it teaches you … in a way that does not condemn people, but builds their hope and goodness.
And you should, even on your worst days, love yourself for what God, your creator has invested in you. As Martin Luther put it, if you want to know how big your sins are, look at the price God used to atone for them. He applied the most precious substance in the world — the blood of Christ. That makes you incredibly valuable. And God will get his investment in you. God is a patient investor in the human race and planet earth. He’s been working toward his goals for almost 14 billion years, and a little human depression is not a roadblock to him.
Your current ambivalence will not be used against you. God — who holds and protects your destiny — is smiling and happy, knowing that in the fulness of time your sins will be blotted out, and your value will grow like the lily, the cedar, or the pearl.

Hope for the best

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My friend Jim Henderson has been playing the base drum for several years now… a steady deep voice that kept social media pressure on Mark Driscoll, one of the founding pastors of the recently defunct Mars Hill Church. For a period of time I was one of many people who enjoyed Driscoll’s video sermons.

I never liked his theology, mind you. I was disgusted by his apparent love of the hell doctrine, once in grace, always in grace, etc. But as I’ve found with a lot of preachers, the “how to live” and “value of faith in Christ” parts of a Bible-believing preacher’s message deliver value, even though I must personally filter out the parts that I feel demonstrate ignorance of how much love God plans to unleash on the unbelieving world in the future.

For me, I stopped listening to Driscoll after I heard him on video in an over the top rant against men who abuse their wives. (Not that I’m at all soft on that issue). The out-of-control anger he displayed, combined with his method of preaching on the subject of marital sex in his Song of Solomon series, made me realize that there was something significantly wrong with his spirit. He was totally hateful in his message against the guys he was trying to correct… and it made me realize that therefore, he can’t truly be in touch with God’s grace, though he talks about it a lot. And the human, emotional anger he showed in that outburst made me begin to suspect that he is guilty of this very kind of emotional if not physical abuse toward others, perhaps even his own family.

I have never been abusive toward my wife. Never guilty of violence of speech or action. But in my ministry I had been convicted in past years of being too strident at times in my rhetoric, too focused on argumentation. Then, about 15 years ago, I got called up short by Paul’s counsel to Timothy: “The servant of the Lord MUST NOT STRIVE.” Paul insists to gentle Timothy that he must be gentle to all. When I saw that I was being too combative in all my ministry efforts, I repented and have attempted ever since to be at peace with all, including those who oppose me unfairly or dishonestly.

Now I firmly believe that there is no category of sinner that a preacher has the right to eviscerate. Jude, Jesus’ brother uses an archangel as an example to state that even if we are speaking directly to the Enemy, we must stop short of “railing accusation”. If even archangels are cautious, “The Lord rebuke you” is all the power we need to wield. This must be what Alexander Pope had in mind when he wrote, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” In my view Driscoll’s violent speech disqualified him as a servant of the Lord. And I have not listened to him since.

A year or two after I made that decision, my friend Jim Henderson stepped up his efforts to pull Driscoll out of his lair by publicly challenging him to engage in a mediated dialog with Paul Young… a godly man whom I have the privilege of calling a friend. After all, Driscoll had gone after Paul publicly with ad hominem attacks in his sermons. Driscoll refused, but Young didn’t use his opportunity to speak against Driscoll. Which is as it should be. Ad hominem is always wrong, and godly men [almost] never engage in it.

Though I’ve occasionally worried that Jim was stepping on the ragged edge of ad hominem with Driscoll, I have cut Jim slack because he spent 25 years as a pastor, and he knows the disease of pride when he sees it. He has a personal aversion to the damage a bully can do… and he knew from his wide personal correspondence just how much damage Driscoll was inflicting on his congregants. Also, my own experiences with dishonest people in the church, and the great difficulty of making them accountable for their actions, caused me to be sympathetic to Jim in his campaign to keep people aware and alarmed about the activities of the Mars Hill leaders.

For most of the last 2 years Warren Throckmorton has picked up the gauntlet, providing a journalist’s sober observations of Driscoll’s activities. Jim has mostly been able to provide links to Warren’s blog, which has been a wealth of insight into what has really been happening. When the ship finally cracked open, and the people he has victimized began to go public with the facts, I followed it with interest, and not a few sympathetic tears.

And now that there is a legal push to bring the Mars Hill corporation to accountability before it can bury its tracks behind a dissolution of its assets, Jim is being accused of being a hypocrite on a scale that compares to Driscoll. And I feel compelled to speak up.

First, a humorous poem from Piet Hein on the issue of evil speaking:

AN ETHICAL GROOK
 
 
I see
   and I hear
      and I speak no evil;
I carry
   no malice
      within my breast;
yet quite without
   wishing
      a man to the Devil
one may be
   permitted
      to hope for the best.

The best, which both Jim in his public opposition and I in my private resistance hope for, is repentance. Not the sleazy metamelomai that we all saw when Driscoll spoke a few months ago, but a true metanoia … a change of mind and action which has yet to happen. If and when it comes, healing can begin.

Until then, expressions of sentiment like those in the “Open Letter to Jim Henderson” [below] are counterproductive, in my view.

Alex Crane writes:

(skipping down to the scriptural issues he raises:)…

I read most of your posts eagerly looking for any shred of evidence that you would like to see Mark Driscoll redeemed. You have given no such indication.

I believe you are very wrong in your attitudes towards Mark. While I do not expect anyone to excuse Marks wrongdoings, I do expect them to respond in a respectful, Biblical manner. The governing scriptures are as follows:

2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

Luke 17:2-4 If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.

Galations 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

Romans 14:1-23 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

I hope you see the theme here. Moving on from here, I am going to ask a couple of questions, and I would like an honest answer.

I skipped over the more accusatory elements of Alex’s remarks and wish to address instead his suggestions of relevant scriptures.

The 2 Thessalonians texts tell Christians to avoid contact with “unruly” people. Perhaps Alex is suggesting that Jim is unruly for speaking up about the Mars Hill situation? I would argue that unruliness as Paul used the term means not working for a living, but instead living off of other brethren. I think that describes Mark Driscoll perfectly, since he got something approaching a million a year from his congregants, and evidenced has surfaced that he colluded with others to fraudulently extract donations that enriched the inner circle through the “Global Fund” campaign. He also used the church’s money to promote his book, which contained documented plagiarism (a form of theft) and produced personal income for him. Unruly people according to Paul’s definition should be disciplined and if they do not change, excommunicated. Paul knew that this would be the way the “man of sin” would expand its work and gain control of the church once the apostles were off the scene. And so it was.

The Luke text advocates open rebuke. Since Driscoll has refused any contact with his accusers, the only way to rebuke him is through the social media. Has Driscoll repented? Everything I have seen is the most transparent kind of sham repentance.

The 1 John 2 text states that we must love God’s people. People who do what Driscoll did do not act like God’s people, and if they are attached to the church of Jesus, need to be rebuked. “[Leaders] that sin [publicly], rebuke before all.” Dozens, hundreds of witnesses have come forward in godly ways to share the damage Driscoll has done to them. He has no shred of righteous authority left to hide behind.

The Romans 14 text is not relevant as it is talking about matters of conscience that are not clear moral imperatives. It is aimed at Christians who tend to get judgmental of their brethren over issues that do not have a clear mandate in scripture, or which have a dispensational dimension. For example, some Christians believe that worship on the 7th day is a dispensational truth. Neither side of a controversy like that has the authority to judge their brethren for either accepting or rejecting that practice… it is clearly a case of individual conscience.

The 2 Timothy and Galatians texts provide basic guidance for how to deal as leaders with assembly brethren who are immature in their moral growth. They don’t really address the appropriate tactics for an egregious case of pride run amok who has gathered the momentum of a freight train and is hell-bent on imposing his will on thousands of people.

Driscoll has run afoul of the most basic commands of scripture. All of the admonitions of Paul and Peter and John and Jude together barely scratch the surface of what to do as a called-out assembly (which was all the early church ever was) when a wolf is at the controls. Jesus said “by their fruits you shall know them.” He warned that in the Day there would be MANY who would say, “Lord, we did many wonderful works in your name”… and he will say “I never knew you.” So take your pick. Let’s hope Jesus never knew Mark Driscoll. Then he’ll be resurrected with the rest of the world of mankind and learn Christianity the right way… with love and acceptance of all. Or, if you think Mark was once a godly Christian and went rogue, you might want to look at how Jude intoned against those who were “twice dead, plucked up by the roots”. I prefer to think Mark is just a product of a whole system that has a corrupt view of Jesus that is popular but not really imbued with our Lord’s saving grace.

How should we as Christians react toward those who claim to be Christ’s but who lie, defraud, use violence and vituperative language, browbeat the consciences of those who do not approve of liberal sexual practices, steal other people’s words, reputations, and money, etc. — all of which appears to be what Driscoll has done? … Pray for them, expose their evil deeds, and courageously warn others about them, as the Apostles did by name in several cases, and as Jim Henderson and Warren Throckmorton have done.

But don’t give up on Christian fellowship. Don’t abandon “church”. Abandon Churchianity, but stay in fellowship with godly people who have made Jesus the Lord of their lives in actual fact. Christianity has ALWAYS been a “little flock.” Don’t throw out the tiny baby of real disciples with the ocean that God is draining right now… an ocean of worldly, unregenerate Christians-in-name-only.

As for Driscoll, anything he gets from his victims and the courts and the public exposure of his misuse of his pulpit is well deserved in my view… and probably a mild foreshadowing of the shellacking he will get on the judgment day. Fortunately the true God is much more forgiving than the one he preaches and tweets about. Mark has so much good that he has done, and if he doesn’t come to real repentance in this life I am confident he will in the next. When he learns, when he grows, will all depend on how much real manliness he can show.

And Alex? I’m confident God will give you more experiences that help you have a more discerning view of the antics of misguided Christians. It won’t be fun but it will be valuable. In a separate post, I’ll address the 4 questions you ask Jim.

 

Heresies, Schmeresies, And Letters From Pharisees

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I’d like to quote from an excellent blog post from John Pavlovitz’ blog, “Stuff that needs to be said.”

I hope you subscribe to his blog. I love his approach.

Heresies, Schmeresies, And Letters From Pharisees.

[quoting near the end…]

The tough thing for any of us who seek God and desire to do what’s right, is that we almost never assume for one second that we could possibly be the Pharisees. We never court the idea that we could be faithful, and earnest, and knowledgeable… and wrong.

I try hard to court that idea every single day. Heck, most days I don’t have to try very hard.

Sure, I may have extremely strong opinions about what I believe, and may feel like I’ve done my homework (reading, studying, praying, listening), but I strive to never let that yield a Pharisaic self-righteousness; the kind that so easily calls people I disagree with “heretical”, or the kind that would lead me to write letters or post comments that imply that I’ve figured God out.

I’m always quite willing to believe that I could be wrong.

Just as it was back then, the Pharisees never are. They always have Truth pegged. They’ve shrunken God down, until He’s become small enough to fit into the traditions, and rules, and the neat and tidy answers that they’ve decided settle things for them and for everyone.

Then Jesus comes along and up-sizes God for them.

Maybe my letter-writer is right, and maybe she isn’t. But for her, maybe isn’t even an option, and that’s what worries me about her and about so many Christians in the world today.

Faith is a wonderful thing. The seeking of Truth, the desire to discover God, and the act of translating that belief into a nuts-and-bolts of life are all precious pursuits.

I’m just not satisfied that absolute certainty is ever part of the deal.

Christian, as you seek to live out your religious convictions, be very careful if you begin to think you’ve contained God, or that you speak for Him. Before you write that letter, or post that comment, or feel that moral superiority over another; pause.

You may indeed be absolutely right, but you may also be the Pharisee; devoted and faithful, but wrong.

* * *

Thanks, John, for saying what needs to be said!

 

Get ready

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Last Christmas I snapped these photos of a nativity scene in the town where I live.

It struck me as odd, and I wanted to write a blog post about it… but I wasn’t ready.

My first question was intent. Why would a nativity scene — something that calls to mind “good tidings of great joy to all people” — carry an admonition with it?

My instinctual response may not be yours. I grew up, steeped in a tradition of conflict with mainstream Christianity. I grew up using the phrases “nominal Church” or “Churchianity” to describe all the other guys.

I remember having a conversation about religion with one of the older girls in the neighborhood (I was in 2nd grade, she was an “older girl” in 3rd or 4th grade) on our street. She said, “I’m a Christian. What are you? I think I said, “I’m not a Christian, I’m a Bible Student”.  She was concerned. It was obviously a bad thing not to be a Christian. I went home and asked my mom: “Am I a Christian?” Mom’s answer was too complicated for me to remember but my takeaway was that yes, in some way I was a Christian, but different. And in some way she thought we were better.

I remember a conversation with my sister, maybe a year later. By then my best friends on the block were two boys, Mike and Mark, who lived about 6 houses away. They were Catholic, whatever that was, and went to a different elementary school — St. James the Less. I was curious why a saint would be called The Less, and I wondered what it was like to have nuns as teachers. In those days I saw them at the store. They wore black and white robes and were known for being very strict. Mike and Mark were scared to death of them… and seemed to get in trouble a lot.

I found an agate the size of a football that looked a lot like this when I broke it open. I suspected a “bad Catholic” of stealing it.

There was another boy our age, three houses away from my house, who I passed every day on my way to Mike and Mark’s. I suspected him of stealing my dinosaur footprint fossil and my agate the size of a football. I’ll call him Sammy. My sister and I discussed it, and the fact my parents would not confront Sammy’s parents about the theft. I said to her something like, “Why would Sammy steal my stuff, but Mike and Mark would not?” And I remember my sister, 7 years older and the official wise child in our family, explained the whole thing to me in religious terms. “Mike and Mark are Catholic, but they’re good Catholics.” Hmmm. That was a new idea. For some reason I had never thought of Catholic as anything good. She went on, “Sammy is a Catholic too, but he’s a bad Catholic.”

I wasn’t ready to get any of what my sister said about religion. In some ways that’s still true. 🙂

Time painted over the grief, but not the soul-wound that remained. Mark and Mike moved away, a year or two after Tommy’s dad (another bad Catholic who we rarely played with) had a fistfight with Ricky’s dad in the middle of the street on a Saturday morning. Something about whose kid was the bully. I think Ricky’s dad was Methodist. Mark, Mike and I watched this surreal altercation with half a dozen other kids (and a few parents). No one called the police. Kennedy hadn’t died yet. It was a Free Country. Fools could fight… and it was mildly entertaining.

But we stopped playing at Ricky’s. And I now had a new category of bad Christians at the tender age of 9.

When I was 16 my best friend David died. I’ll tell you that story someday. But the result for me was that, surprisingly, I got interested in religion. It could have gone the other way, but it didn’t.

As David was struggling with his lymphoma, I was reading a ton of stuff about the Bible. And I even read the Bible, too! I was interested in religion but I never went to “church”. I went to “class”. We sat around and took turns trying to be polite while saying what the Bible really meant. On New Years’ eve we had “watch night” where everyone shared their testimony of God’s Love in Our Lives while the kids played games in the basement.

Then David died, and I was angry at God that it was him and not me. One day, a few months later, I was home on a Wednesday evening while my parents were at “class”. The doorbell rang. Our best friends — I’ll call them Jim and Don — stood at the door.

They said “We want to give you this.” They gave me the box of hymnals that for years I had helped to pass out at the Sunday meeting. The handmade wooden box with the brown alligator vinyl covering and the round metal corners. And they gave me the money box, and an envelope with the donations that had been in it neatly accounted for in pencil.

That’s all that happened. It felt odd, because they normally went to Wednesday class and could have given the stuff to my parents there. It was also weird that they didn’t come into the house when I invited them. No pleasantries… they just gave me the stuff politely and left.

I was barely conscious that the Sunday before, one of the two elders in the class had not been elected in the annual vote for leaders. They and almost half of the class simply stopped coming. No more monthly get-togethers. No more home-made noodles that Jim’s wife used to make. My parents never explained it to me, and barely mentioned Jim, Don, the other elder and his wife, for years. Sometimes I heard crying, behind my parents’ bedroom door. But stoicism was my main observation.

Our best family friends, who had a boy my age, also stopped coming. And at our monthly conventions around Ohio, I lost my friends Donny Lee, Cherry Sue, John, Susie, and a bunch of others … because the split didn’t just happen in my class. It happened in almost every class across the country.

As with the Saturday morning fisticuffs, I was old enough to form immature opinions about why this surreal altercation happened. I was convinced one side, and only one side, didn’t love The Truth. Of course my parents, a few friends, and me were Faithful. We didn’t want the division, but The Truth was more important than friendships.

Suddenly the issue of “Who are the Christians?” had a new meaning for me.

But I still wasn’t ready to get what “get ready” means.

to be continued….

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