The Things Done in Secret

“The Things Done in Secret”

 AshleyMadison.com launched a web site in 2001 as a place for people, in ostensibly committed relationships to go if they wanted to cheat on their spouse or significant other.  Their marketing slogan was “Life is short.  Have an affair.” The additional allure was the promise of anonymity/secrecy.  Alas, once again the things done in secret were shouted from the housetops.  The Ashley Madison database was hacked.  Their records were distributed in the public domain.  This time the national expose of secret sins has not resulted in the shaming of anyone who is particularly well known. Josh Duggar was the only person ‘outted’ of whom I had heard and I would not have known his name except for his public confession, a few weeks earlier, to the molestation of his little sisters during his teen years.

Rather, this time the dark shroud of immorality has been stripped away exposing the sad lies and secret lives of a staggering 30,000,000 individuals who are mostly regular folks.  The population of the United States is only 310,000,000!  This means one in ten people in our country were implicated in this scandal. It means that no matter who you are, you probably know someone who has pursued this quest to experience marital or relational unfaithfulness.  For some it is just a fantasy, you say?  They would never act on their fantasy, you say?  Listen up, if you shop, there is no guarantee you won’t buy.  If you flirt, there is no guarantee you won’t seduce or be seduced.  If you chase a fantasy, you will probably capture it, sooner or later.  For many, their secret life of shame became common knowledge.

During the same week as the Ashley Madison hack, an Old Dominion University fraternity made the news by welcoming new female students and their fathers to the campus with garish black letters scrawled on white bed sheets hanging from frat house balconies, “Freshman daughter drop off” and “Drop off mom too”.

An ominous harbinger of the very real danger faced by college girls, 25% of whom, according to a survey of graduating seniors girls done by the University of Iowa, were subjected to sexual molestation, sexual abuse or date rape during their four years of college.  So, dads, entrusted with the protection of and provision for your daughters, what do you think of these odds?

I remember the late 60’s and the ‘free love’ movement in the culture.  It was dubbed the ‘sexual revolution.’  Ed Stetzer is right, “A revolution means that a war is being fought. In revolutions, bombs are dropped, attacks are launched and there are thousands of casualties. Sadly, today the war is being waged against the way of Jesus;  that marriage is between a man and a woman, becoming one flesh, in one marriage, in one sexual relationship, for one lifetime.”  For those who have failed to follow the Jesus way, His cross stands in time and space as a tangible reminder that regardless, a way was still made.

So, if you were on the list, or know someone who was, four words in order: Brokenness. Forgiveness. Wholeness. Righteousness.  In closing, here is an infinitely better slogan than Ashley Madison’s: Psalm 90:12, “Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise.”

 

 

 

 

A Control Freak in the Church?

“A Control Freak in the Church?”

3 John 9 & 10, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.  So, when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us.  Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” NIV

 Here in the content of the very personal letter of 3 John there is a warning about a man in the early church named Diotrephes.  He is described as someone who ‘loves to be first.’  He is described as someone who is standoffish and critical… John says he ‘will have nothing to do with us’ and that he is ‘gossiping maliciously about us.’  In fact, John said, Diotrephes ‘refuses to welcome any of the believers… and he stops those who want to be welcoming and puts them out of the church!’

Wow, this guy, Diotrephes, has some major spiritual blind spots! He is self-serving and self-projecting.  He loves to be pre-eminent, the center of attention, occupying a place of power.  He is what we might call a ‘control freak.’  He wants to call the shots.  He expects people to defer to him.  He is aloof.  He is an armchair general.  He uses his verbal skills to manipulate and intimidate others. He does not want the church to grow.  He is not a welcoming presence to say the least.  He even actively opposes those in the church who want to be welcoming of others.  He excommunicates people who are hospitable! He is the furthest thing from a Spirit-filled disciple of Jesus and he is wreaking havoc in the life of the infant church.

Thankfully church people with attitudes like Diotrephes are few and far between.  They are the exception, and certainly not the rule.

However, when they do surface, they need to be firmly, but lovingly, confronted.  As the apostle John promised, “If I come, I will call attention to what he is doing.”  (This is a former ‘son of thunder,’ so I’m pretty sure he can handle it.)  Without an apostolic presence in the contemporary church, this task of loving, but firm confrontation falls on the elders/pastors.  It must be entered with a spirit of humility, but it must be done.

 Pray with me.  Father in heaven, we know that people seeing Christ in us and hearing about Christ from us is the hope of the world.  May we never have a down day or a moment of weakness that would cause us to identify with the alien spirit of Diotrephes.  As Jesus was, may we be ‘full of grace and truth.’  In His Name, amen.

 

The Battlefront for Christian Leaders

The Battlefront for Christian Leaders

 As church leaders, we are on the front lines… engaged in a battle, not with flesh and blood, but with spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12).  Thirty-two years ago, in 1985, I delivered a cautionary message to the Ozark Christian College faculty where I served as president.  It concerned my deep-seated apprehensions for the destructive influence of the Humanist Manifesto.  The Manifesto was an intellectual product of over 30 secular minds articulating and documenting a developing point of view in the American culture that has radically changed our values and behaviors over the last several decades.  It has gone through two additional revisions [the latest in 2003), taking our culture even further down the slippery slope of selfishness and unbelief.

Here are a few of the basic tenants (in their own words) of the Humanist Manifesto:

  • The universe is ‘self-existing’ and not created by God.
  • Mankind is a part of nature and not the special creation of God.
  • Man’s religious culture and civilization are determined by his social heritage and interaction, not Divine revelation.
  • Religion must formulate its hopes and plans with accountability to science.
  • Fulfillment must be experienced in the here and now, since there is no hereafter.
  • Religious emotions must be expressed in a heightened sense of personal life and efforts to promote social well-being, not belief in God.
  • Learning to face the crises of life depends on our education and customs, not unreal hopes and wishful thinking.
  • The joy of living depends on creativity and achievements, not ‘faith.’
  • The goal of humanism is a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good. Humanists demand a shared life in a shared world.

Of course, this is all so high minded and sophisticated.  However, any young Christian, with an elementary faith could shred the logic found in these tenants that are based on presuppositions that require far more blind faith than the reasoned faith articulated in and supported by the historical narrative of scripture!

The Manifesto describes a utopian society designed by ivory tower, pseudo-intellectuals who live in perpetual denial about the existence of good and evil in a fallen world, marred by sin and desperately need of Divine intervention in order to be redeemed.  The Manifesto looks good on paper.  Just one problem– it does not work when applied in real life!  As these tenants are given a wider embrace, and are applied at both a national and personal level, everything begins to come apart. Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death.”

The flawed and naïve logic represented in the Manifesto has influenced decisions by Supreme Court judges, themes in books and movies, lectures delivered by college/university professors and the teaching of impressionable young minds at both the primary and secondary levels.  The ‘trickle-down’ effect of humanistic doctrine is being felt in virtually every family.  As the teachings and values of the Bible are rejected or marginalized, the culture will run downhill.  And it is happening fast in this generation!

Pray with me. Great God, our Father, You have revealed Yourself to us in nature, in Jesus and in Your Word, the Bible.  Thank you, Father, for letting us know You, love You, worship and serve You while we live.  We pray for more and more people to have the eyes of their hearts opened so they may know the joy of living in Your grace.  Thank you for the knowledge that we can be forgiven and empowered to live abundantly, that we have purpose in this life and the hope of heaven in the greater life to come.  In the Name of Jesus, amen.

 

DUE BILLS

DUE BILLS

 We all get them, sometimes monthly and sometimes annually, but no one likes to receive them!  They typically come in the mail, in plain white, letter-sized envelopes, with a clear widow on the front that displays our name and address.  I am talking about ‘due bills’.

The due bill is a printed statement that documents and details an amount owed by a buyer to a seller for merchandise received or services rendered.  It includes a stated timeframe, which obligates the buyer to send a check, or other form of payment, to fully satisfy the balance owed, or some acceptable portion of it, by a certain date.  Failure to pay a due bill, for whatever reason, will have consequences in the form of the repossession of goods, a lawsuit (resulting in greater financial liability), garnishment of wages, bankruptcy, or even imprisonment.  I have personally never put this to the test.  I have disputed/refused payment on a few rare occasions.  Unfortunately, this refusal to pay has usually not usually resulted in my satisfaction.  Thus, I have often wound up paying to either protect my witness as a Christian or my credit rating!

Recently, I have been reading about the due bill that has come in for Mr. Bill Cosby.  His name and reputation have been universally vilified in recent weeks as details have surfaced about his sexual victimization of about 50 women. Cosby, once called ‘America’s favorite dad’ has been exposed by his own confession in a 2005 deposition for drugging and assaulting multiple victims.  Even the President of the United States took time in a press conference about an unrelated national security issue, to indict Cosby’s character.  The due bill for his past admitted immoral and criminal behavior has arrived.  Let it be a lesson to thinking people.  Scripture speaks to the fact that secrets have a way of becoming headlines. It’s just true, the things done in secret will be shouted from the housetops.

Number 32:23 says, “…you may be sure that your sin will find you out.”

Luke 8:17, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

Ecclesiastes 12:14, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

Sobering passages but so important for us as spiritual leaders to remember. As we live each day and make decisions that will be the rewards we will receive or the consequences we will face in the future.  James 3:1 reminds us, “… we who (preach and) teach will be judged more strictly.”  It has been said that we all face three judgments: the judgment of God, the judgment of others and our judgment of ourselves.  This passage is a reference to the judgment of others who expect us to personify, to embody the truth that we (preach and) teach.  Let’s not disappoint or disillusion them by living in such a way to invite unnecessary due bills.

Pray with me. Father God, we know that everything is open, all things are known and laid bare before your eyes.  We humbly promise to confess and forsake our secret sin to receive your forgiveness and live in your grace day by day.  In the name of the One who makes this possible by His death and resurrection. Jesus, thank you for paying our sin debt in full on the cross.  Amen.

SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE

SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE

I remember like it was yesterday my first ministry call in 1966, 50+ years ago.  I had just finished my freshman year at Lincoln Christian College.  I was 18 and brimming with zeal, but short on both maturity and experience, when I received the much anticipated phone contact from a tall, stately farmer named Verlin Owen inviting me to serve as the summer youth pastor at Medaryville Christian Church.  With a full head of snow-white hair and a face weathered by the wind and sun, I remember how distinguished he looked the first time I met him.  He was chairman of the elders, chairman of the youth committee and a very kind man.  So the following summer I lived by myself in a run down little cottage in the rural Indiana town of Medaryville, IN, population 500, to serve a church of about half that number as their youth minister. In 2016 I finished where I started in the same state [but 217 miles south in Evansville, IN].  Where have the last 50 years gone?  I am sure I do not know the answer to that one.  I don’t even know where the last 10 have gone! Today I am reflecting on the eleven lessons God has taught me in five decades of serving Him in the local church, the Bible College and back in the local church:

 

  1. Leadership is heavy, but it is not lonely. I began as a fledgling youth pastor expecting it might be lonely.  The Old Testament prophets seemed to be marginalized.  The apostles in the New Testament struck me as often having to be stand-alone spiritual leaders.  And I was even warned by one veteran pastor “Do not make close friends in the congregation you serve.”  Well, my perception of the prophets and apostles was inaccurate and the counsel of the veteran pastor was incorrect.  Jesus was relationally connected/close to many. The Apostle Paul was not isolated.  He had deep and significant friendships and partnerships in the churches he served.

He received prayers, embraces and even kisses from the Ephesian elders in their final meeting! (Acts 20:37; I can honestly say that I have never been lonely.)   I have deeper and truer friends than I could have ever experienced in any other context than the church of Jesus.  I have people in my life today that have been there since I was a teenager!

 

  1. Leaders must grasp the importance of doing diligence. I think David McKenna, past president of Asbury Seminary, was the first one I heard say it.  “The best indicator of future performance is past performance.”  It is not the only predictor, but it is the best  When choosing elders, pastors, staff and recruiting volunteers, it is good to remember this axiom.  In Acts 6, the deacons had to have a ‘good report’ as well as be ‘full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and faith.’  About Timothy, Paul said, “All the people speak well of him.”  So I have learned to trust the objective research of a potential coworker’s personal history more than my own subjective feelings.

 

  1. Leaders must regularly impress reality. When you have several people in your charge or under your care, you could be impressing reality on someone weekly!  Joseph Greany calls this exercise ‘crucial conversations.’  I call it the agony and ecstasy of ministry: confrontation.  At the same time, I have also learned to value the people in my life who are willing to occasionally impress reality on me!  It is tempting to take a day or two of personal time when a problem presents itself.  However, if you think a problem will ‘just go away’, it won’t.  If you think a problem ‘can’t get worse’, it can.  So, I have learned that if I get into necessary loving confrontation early, I am halfway to solving the problem.  I am not talking about micro-management here; picking fleas out of the hair of others (like chimps in the zoo) but thoughtfully and courageously ‘speaking the truth in love’ at the times when it is necessary.

 

  1. The leader must be a tireless communicator. Communication is the basis of trust and good relationships.  Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”  I am talking about transparency here. About letting people know what is in the wellspring of your heart.  People will follow those whose motives they trust and whose character they respect.

 

  1. The leader’s greatest authority is moral authority. You lead best from the overflow of your character.  Trust is your greatest leadership capital.  When you ignore your moral compass or lose your moral footing and fall, the loss of trust is nearly always a fatal blow to your effectiveness.

 

  1. A leader must recognize the sanctity of the Sabbath. I believe God is serious about this!  Life must have God’s rhythm or it will eventually go off the rails.  Under the old covenant it was a capital crime to break the fourth commandment.  [Numbers 15:35]  So I try to observe one hour a day and one day a week to routinely Sabbath.  After several years of ignoring the need for Sabbath rest (a day off each week and an annual vacation), I have learned that I do much better when I periodically disconnect from responsibility.  I have known ‘driven’ leaders and I have known ‘called’ leaders.  I want to be called.  Driven leaders usually pay a high price in one of two areas: loss of health or disappointments in marriage and family life.

 

  1. A leader must experience the joy of self-sacrifice. In the movie, City of Joy, a doctor from the United States tries to escape the rat race by moving to India.  There he gets involved with a family in the low caste system.  At first he was repulsed by the self-sacrifice necessary on the mission field, but then he got caught up in it, declaring in a poignant moment, “I have never felt more alive!”

 

And I have also learned that people easily and naturally defer to a leader who is perceived to be self-sacrificial.  Self-sacrifice begets trust.  Trust produces a followership.

 

  1. A leader must know the importance of balancing periods of progress and periods of pause.  I have learned how important it is to monitor both vision and tone.  John Fisher calls it being both transformational (taking the next hill) and transactional (holding the ground you have gained).  Being sensitive to the climate in the community you are leading and being flexible as a leader is important.  I have learned to be aware of the seasons when it’s time to accelerate and the seasons when it’s time to take my foot off the gas pedal.

 

  1. A leader should put people first, after Him. It is important to build the team over time and make it an ‘A team.’  I have learned to try to hire people better than me and then to do my best to take care of them, to retain them, to capitalize on their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses.   I have learned that the most important times in any relationship is how you say ‘hello’ and how you say ‘good-bye.’  At the same time, I have also learned that while someone may be invaluable, no one is irreplaceable!

 

Never forget that anger is the great divider.  It wastes your limited leadership capital.  ‘Show yourself’ and you are spending it with both hands.  I have also learned the value of a ‘maverick’ to the mission.  Hans Finzel identifies failing to recognize the value of a maverick as being one of the ‘top ten mistakes leaders make.’  So, people of all kinds, put them first.

 

  1. A leader’s legacy matters. In the past, I have been a cynic about legacy.  After all, who can even remember the names of their great grandparents?  But, although we cannot remember who they were, we are all affected by what they did.  This is the value of legacy.  It influences succeeding generations.  As leader, I want to bear in mind that my compromises, my corner-cutting, my casualness will become the foundation on which the next generation will build.

History is the ultimate measurement of leadership.  What we leave behind matters.  To leave division, unmanageable debt, moral failure and unsolved problems, is to fail to leave a positive legacy.

 

  1. You must have an identity apart from your role as a Christian leader. Ministry can be all consuming, but it is possible to be faithful to a leadership calling without having your identity fused with the church.  If a man is too tied to the institution, he will overstay. Staying past effectiveness will mean hurting the work that he has served long and well.  Four questions to ask periodically: 1) What needs to be done?  2) Can I do it?  3) Should I do it?  4) Do I want to do it?  Great people who overstay can become tragic figures.  When I was 59, it was the right time for me to retire from Christian higher education.  When I was 69, it was the right time for me to retire from mega-church leadership.  And, of course, I was retiring from leadership, but not service.  My theme verse used to be Colossians 1:28-29; now it is Philippians 1:22, “As long as I am alive in this body, there is good work for me to do.”  Right now I still have more dreams for the future than I will have years to live them out.
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