Friday, November 11, 2016

This Is Not The End

One of the most contentious and vicious presidential election years is now officially behind us.

The President-Elect is Donald J. Trump.

The House of Representatives is under Republican Control.

The U.S. Senate is under Republican Control.

Presidential hopeful Hillary R. Clinton gave a very nice concession speech.

Current President Barack Obama stated that he has accepted the results.

So naturally, it's all over, right?

Sadly, for many people, this is not the end of the season of fear they walked into when Trump became the Republican nominee. These folks are focused upon the rhetoric that came out of Trump's campaign, and the horrible things stated in Clinton's campaign advertisements. They are looking at Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, and his alleged affiliation with various groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. They are replaying in their minds the things stated about Muslims, homosexuals, lesbians, Hispanics, and certain women during the campaign.

For these people, this is the end of the world- Or their world, at least.

Friends, I would like to bring to you today some very good news: This Is Not The End.

President-Elect Donald Trump

Yes, Donald Trump ran a nasty, spiteful and inflammatory campaign. He managed to anger nearly every societal and cultural group in the nation. He exhibited some of the worst behavior ever seen in a presidential candidate in the history of the nation.

I will say that at least he didn't challenge his opponent to a duel as happened a couple times in the late 1700's, but that's not really saying anything, is it?

Nevertheless, let us be encouraged by the fact that our government is structured in such a way as to prevent Trump from being able to enact or implement much of what he said he wanted to do. Moreover, those things he spoke of which would be beneficial for the U.S. economy, tax code, and more- These things will be examined and scrutinized. The checks and balances of this country are in place for just this sort of event, and as such, I look forward with a great deal of hope.

More on why this is a little later.

Hillary Clinton

While Clinton began her concession speech saying that the results were "...painful, and will be for a long time," she also went on to say that the citizens of the United States "...owe him an open mind and the chance to lead." She went on to encourage her supporters to remain involved with the political process, stating "...let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear. Making our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top, protecting our country and protecting our planet. And breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams. ...our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek. "

Clinton ran a campaign that was, in many respects, as dirty and nasty as Trump's. If you are a regular reader, you know that I supported neither major candidate; I always vote my conscience, and I always will. With that being said, much of what Clinton had to say Wednesday morning was excellent; it was encouraging; and though she did talk about the pain of losing, she also spoke a great deal about hope.

Once more, I find myself agreeing with Clinton; moreover, I applaud her intestinal fortitude and her refusal to sink to the lows that supporters from both sides have seen and surpassed.

President Barack Obama 

"I had a chance to talk to President-elect Trump last night -- about 3:30 in the morning, I think it was -- to congratulate him on winning the election. And I had a chance to invite him to come to the White House tomorrow to talk about making sure that there is a successful transition between our presidencies.

"Now, it is no secret that the President-elect and I have some pretty significant differences. But remember, eight years ago, President Bush and I had some pretty significant differences. But President Bush’s team could not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition so that we could hit the ground running. And one thing you realize quickly in this job is that the presidency, and the vice presidency, is bigger than any of us.

"So I have instructed my team to follow the example that President Bush’s team set eight years ago, and work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the President-elect -- because we are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country. The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. And over the next few months, we are going to show that to the world.

"...I'm confident that this incredible journey that we're on as Americans will go on. And I am looking forward to doing everything that I can to make sure that the next President is successful in that. I have said before, I think of this job as being a relay runner -- you take the baton, you run your best race, and hopefully, by the time you hand it off you're a little further ahead, you've made a little progress. And I can say that we've done that, and I want to make sure that handoff is well-executed, because ultimately we're all on the same team."

Genuinely speaking, this is the proudest I have ever been of our current president. All that I can say is well done, Mr. President. Well said, and well done.

The U.S. Senate

The Senate of the United States had 36 seats open to change this past election cycle, and though largely eclipsed by the presidential election, the race for Senate was just as contentious in some places. In the end, the Republican party maintained control of the Senate, which was a joy for some, and a painful defeat for others.

Republican control of the Senate has had many people concerned over the direction the nation could turn, given the election of Donald Trump. With one party holding control of Senate and the White House, there has been speculation that the United States is about to undergo tremendous change; and potentially not the sort that they'd want to see. Verbalized fears of border walls, banned homosexuality, criminalized abortion, and deported Muslims have been the most common that I have overheard.

However, there is reason for hope, my friends. I'll get into why before too much longer, but believe me when I say that things are not as bleak as they may appear.

The House of Representatives

Not many networks talked about this much, and mainly due to the fact that they were too busy covering the antics of the presidential candidates. Nevertheless, all 435 seats in the House were open to change in this past election. Just as with the Senate race, the competition between Representative hopefuls was quite a spectacle in its own right.

When the dust cleared, the Democrats had won 192 seats in the House. The Republicans took 239 seats, holding onto their majority control. Again, this has caused a great deal of fear in the hearts and minds of many people, for the same reasons as the Republican controlled Senate raises.

What is important to note in the wake of this Republican "sweep" (as some have called it), is that many of these Representatives have a track record. Why is that important, you may ask; it is important for the same reasons as the track record of Senators and Presidential candidates: The track record tells the story that people and various media sources will try to hide.

Where's The Good News?

If you are a Democrat, a Liberal, or like me are simply fed up with both major parties, you may be asking exactly where the good news in all of this resides. Where is it? More importantly: What is it?

To begin with we live in the United States of America, which is perhaps the best place that an election result such as this one could possibly happen. I'm not promoting some hyper-exceptionalism or ultra-nationalistic pride when I write this. What I am saying is that our government is set up in such a way as to almost perfectly handle such events. Look at this diagram with me.

According to some folks I have spoken with, their children's schools are not teaching the structure of the United States government. (I have heard from some teachers that this is not taught until high school, but I'm sure it depends upon districts and school systems.) So whether you never learned this; or if you are like a few friends of mine who actually requested I include this section as a refresher; here is a simplified layout of how our government's branches work.

This is called the system of checks and balances, and this is what keeps everyone playing by the rules, more or less. A President does have the ability to introduce legislation to be made law; but Congress must approve that legislation both in the House and in the Senate. Congress can introduce and pass legislation with the intent of making it law, but the President must first sign it before it actually becomes law. The court system, specifically the Supreme Court, can declare laws unconstitutional; and contrary to popular opinion, they can do so without a case coming before them. A President can utilize Executive Orders, (and these are among the "presidential acts" in the diagram), but the Supreme Court can render them invalid by declaring them unconstitutional.

So let's look at a few of the scenarios that people are most concerned about under a Trump administration:

  • Trump Introduces Legislation To Build A Wall - Many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agree that this country has an immigration issue. Many also agree that part of that issue is illegal immigration, or people crossing into the United States without proper documentation. Much of that illegal immigration does come from Mexico, though there are illegal immigrants in the United States from all over the world. However, most lawmakers do not support the building of a wall along the Mexican-U.S. border. As President, Trump could introduce legislation providing for the building of a wall, but based upon the track records of those in Congress, it would never become law; they would instead debate, argue and haggle for some other method of immigration control, and we would likely see the issue die on the House floor, never making it to Senate. 

  • Trump Issues An Executive Order Banning Homosexuality - Due to the nature of his campaign, many people are concerned about the issue of homosexuality and the free practice thereof. (For the sake of this illustration, I am addressing homosexual practices only, and will explain why shortly.) Let us say that as President, Trump issues an Executive Order that bans homosexuality. It would certainly create a public outcry, but it would have no effect- Why? Because the Supreme Court has already ruled in a number of cases involving homosexuality, homosexual practices, and the rights of homosexual men and women. As a result, the moment that the Order is issued, the Supreme Court would immediately declare it unconstitutional and render it void. This also applies to any attempt by Trump to criminalize abortion.

  • Trump Demands Congress Deport All Muslims - Let us imagine that out of all the vitriol that came from the Trump campaign, the expressed desire to deport Muslims actually materializes in the form of a President Trump ordering Congress to find a way  to do just that. At this point, Congress will almost unanimously laugh at him. The orders of a President are not the same as those from a King or Emperor: In short, they do not have to be followed in the same manner. Could Congress work something out that Trump would sign into law, such as a national registry, a public identifier or a special tax? They most certainly could, but in that unlikely event the Supreme Court would step in declaring the law unconstitutional.

As we look forward in time to the administration of Donald J. Trump, I urge everyone to remember something important: The President of the United States has very little absolute power. The only absolute power that a President does have is his/her ability to pardon, and to a lesser extent, initiate foreign policy.

President Obama was able to accomplish what he did in his eight years because he had like-minded people in control of Congress; he didn't do it on his own. His Executive Orders crossed lines of propriety in many respects, but the large majority of them stopped just shy of snubbing the Constitution of the United States.

Trump does have a Republican controlled Congress, but he does not have a Congress controlled by like-minded people. Unless he proves himself a much more capable leader than he presented during his run, it unlikely that he will ever get such a Congress, let alone a second term.

If you still feel the need to take refuge in Canada, that is entirely your decision; I understand that there are a couple people I'm acquainted with who are planning that move now. I do not condone such action, as I personally see it as a type of cowardice; however, neither will I condemn it in such broad strokes as to suggest that everyone holds my view. If your last act as a U.S. citizen is to run, then my response is "May your legs not grow weary, may your heart never faint, and may you find what you seek." To further clarify: If I were to run, I would consider myself a coward, for that is my personal standard; if others choose to run, I wish them the best.

But make no mistake: This is not the end.

NOTE: If you are a Christian, the following section is especially important.

How Christians Should Respond

As believers in Christ, we know the Bible tells us that we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of peace, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). We are told that perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). We know that we are also told not to worry about what is to come (Luke 12:25-31), and that God is ultimately in control (Psalm 27:1; Romans 8:38-39; John 16:33). Finally, by way of reassurance, we are told that God exerts authority over our rulers (Proverbs 21:1).

We are also told that we are to be lights in a dark world (Matthew 5:14-16). Paul encourages us to live at peace with one another (Romans 12:18) and not to be a stumbling block to our brethren (1 Corinthians 8:9) or to anyone else (1 Corinthians 10:32)! We are also told to share in another's joy and in their sorrow (Romans 12:15), not to treat anyone as beneath us (Romans 12:16), and not to repay evil for evil (Romans 12:17).

Bearing all of these things in mind; taking into account that we as followers of Christ are to be His reflections on earth; factoring in that we who believe are often the only Gospel that some people will ever read; I believe it is our solemn and sacred duty to look at this time in history not as a burden, but as a time to shoulder the burdens of others. We ought not look upon these coming four years with fear, but with hope in our God, who alone can change and turn the hearts of men. We should not gloat over the despair and despondency of those who mourn, but seek to comfort, encourage and uplift them.

Doing anything less than this is to misrepresent Christ and place ourselves as a stumbling block before a world seeking Him- Though they know not what they seek.

In conclusion, Christians: We must behave and respond as Christ. He exemplified Isaiah 61:1, and promoted justice as Isaiah 1:17 said- He stood for the oppressed, championed the widow and provided for the orphan (even if symbolically). Christ then told His disciples, and by extension all who believe: "These things and more shall you do." (John 14:12) He did not say that we would do things He did not do and not do things He did; or more clearly stated, "some of these things and less." We are to follow His example- Period.

So let's start today by bringing hope to those in despair.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Blood of Christ

There was an article going around social media about six years ago that detailed the seven places Christ bled, and just recently this was used as the basis for an excellent message in my church. It got me thinking about the sacrifice that Christ made, certainly. It also got me thinking about how many unbelievers refuse to accept the account; some going so far as to dispute the very existence of Jesus Christ.

Sadly, it also inspired thoughts of how many Christians simply do not take the time to consider the magnitude of His suffering and death, choosing instead to focus solely upon His resurrection. I understand that some may find the suffering of our Savior to be an unpleasant topic to discuss, much less meditate upon; a great many of us would prefer to forget our own suffering, let alone dwell upon that of another! However, it is vital for believers today to not only recognize how and where Christ bled, suffered and died; but also to understand the full scope and magnitude of why.

Start with the basics of His suffering and the tools of His execution, but do so with the understanding that the Jewish people are as guilty of killing Him as you and I; more importantly, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that it was certain Jewish leaders who sought His death, and not the nation as a whole. Finally, His execution was carried out by the Romans, thus certain tall tales about His suffering and crucifixion must be necessarily laid aside.

A Quick Note: There are those who claim that Christ was only given 39 lashes; indeed, the article referenced in the beginning of this article utilizes this thought. However, this is more a traditional teaching beginning within the Roman Catholic Church, and is not supported by history, nor by Scripture. It should be noted that the Jewish leaders handed Christ over to the Romans for the singular reason that they could not execute Him themselves, and as such abandoned Him to Roman executory custom.

The Suffering of Christ

Jesus' suffering initially began within the Garden of Gethsemane, where He was under such immense emotional and mental strain that the capillaries beneath His skin ruptured into His pores, causing His blood to mix with His sweat. This extreme response to intense stress is still seen today, and is known as Hematidrosis. There are variations of the name for this phenomena, but they are documented and very real.

His indirect suffering, defined as suffering incurred at the hands of others without violent contact, began after His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Throughout the course of the night, Jesus was forcefully marched more than two and a half miles from trial location to trial location. This was done without sleep and very little nourishment, so far as we are aware.

The direct suffering He endured at the hands of others via violent means began after His first hearing. This took place before the political Sanhedrin, where He was found guilty of blasphemy. After the finding, He was blindfolded and punched about the face by the temple guard. His second trial was before the religious Sanhedrin, and though He was not subjected to violence, He was forced to march.

After His trial before Pilate, Jesus was subjected to scourging. This was usually carried out by two soldiers, called lictors, using short whips of braided leather, with bone fragments and small iron balls incorporated into the weapon. The area that was flogged was the back, buttocks and legs of the condemned; the recipient of the punishment was usually chained to a post by his wrists, causing him to hang painfully when the strength was beaten from him. The purpose of this flogging was to bring the subject to the point of collapse or death, without causing either. The end result of this beating were multiple, quivering ribbons of flesh and torn muscular tissue bleeding profusely. This was no less true in the case of Christ, and we do know from studying the Greek that this particular scourging was harsh even by Roman standards. Some have suggested that the whips were slightly longer, allowing the lashes to reach around to the front of Christ, possibly even causing damage to the face, torso and genitals.

A Quick Note: There are those who claim that Christ was only given 39 lashes; indeed, the article referenced in the beginning of this article utilizes this thought. However, this is more a traditional teaching beginning within the Roman Catholic Church, and is not supported by history, nor by Scripture. It should be noted that the Jewish leaders handed Christ over to the Romans for the singular reason that they could not execute Him themselves, and as such abandoned Him to Roman executory custom.

After the scourging, the soldiers mocked Jesus. Perhaps they were acting out of nationalistic pride, given that the charges against Him were that He claimed to be king. Perhaps they were simply amused by having a Jew handed over to be executed by them, and chose to make an example. Or perhaps they were simply barbarous brutes intent on inflicting as much pain and agony as they possibly could. Regardless of their intent, we do know that after inflicting a particularly harsh flogging, they chose to beat Him further.

A crown of thorns was woven for Him to wear. It is not known for certain which plant supplied the materials for the crown of thorns, though tradition suggests it was a plant known as Euphorbia milii. While this is contested, the plant is decorative, pliable, and the thorns are quite sharp and fairly long. These facts suggest a plausibility to the tale, given the Roman's fondness for decorative plants. What we do know is that this crown of thorns was woven and placed upon Christ's head and a robe was draped across His back. After mocking Him, the soldiers proceeded to beat Him with the "scepter" they had given Him and then ripped the robe from Him. Apart from the beating He took from the stick, violently removing the robe would have reopened the wounds He received during His flogging, resulting in further blood loss.

A Quick Note: This is not the first recorded Roman execution that utilized methods not generally prescribed by their usual execution practice. For instance, one historian recorded the crucifixion of a criminal coated in honey to attract insects; another recorded a condemned man made to walk to the place of execution in sandals made of rope and bone fragments.

It is recorded in the Gospels that Christ was made to walk up the hill to Golgotha while carrying His cross. This has translated to a tradition wherein Christ carries a full cross; though Jesus was certainly strong enough to have done this in peak condition, it is not supported by historical fact. The cross that Christ and every other condemned man carried was actually the cross beam itself, as the vertical beams were semi-permanent fixtures on the hills and roads around the Roman Empire. This exertion alone would have certainly caused Him to collapse along the way.

Once atop Golgotha, The beam was laid on the ground and Christ stretched across it. The first arm would have been stretched without much effort to a specific point, and a spike measuring five to seven inches was driven through His wrist. The point of insertion was very specific, and every Roman soldier was taught this: The point on the wrist was chosen because of its strength, and also because of the pain that it caused due to the severing of a specific nerve. This pain would have been immediate, causing Christ to impulsively recoil towards the wound. At this time, a leather thong would have been tied around His other wrist, and the soldiers would have forcibly wrenched that wrist to the point of the beam where it too was impaled.

A Quick Note: Here again we see tradition doing a great disservice. Traditionally Christ was pierced through the hands, and most Christians can name at least one song that speaks about His pierced hands. The disservice is in relating something that is not possible when telling the Gospel story. It is physically impossible for a human to support his weight on a pierced hand; the hand would very literally tear apart. Remember that for Christ's sacrifice to mean anything, He had to give His life as fully man- Thus, something physically impossible in the course of that sacrifice would invalidate the sacrifice. He was pierced through the wrists- Not through the palm of His hand, as tradition so poorly recounts.

Once fastened to the cross beam, Christ would then be hoisted to the notch in the vertical pole. In many such crucifixions, the arms of the condemned were tied to the vertical beam to allow for easier hoisting without risking the condemned dying on the way up of asphyxiation. That may or may not have happened in the case of Christ, though it is likely as we are told that not a single bone was broken: Often during this hoisting process with an untied victim, bones in the arms would break under the stress. However what is certain is that on the way up the vertical beam, the wounds incurred during the scourging were violently and painfully reopened. It is also very likely that due to the weathering of the vertical post, Christ would have also suffered multiple splinters of wood. Small splinters in such damaged skin would certainly be painful, but these were more likely to be long, wide and jagged depending upon the age of the post.

After being suspended, His arms would have been untied, allowing Him to sink fully onto the spikes in His wrists. The soldiers would have immediately taken His feet and raised them slightly, keeping Him from suffocating, while preparing them for the next and final stage of the process. His feet were placed either on a block of wood, or on the post itself, and a spike about seven inches long was driven through the center of his feet; fastening them one atop the other, and both to the cross.

After this final torment at the hands of the soldiers, the death process began in earnest. In order to breath, Christ had to place all of His weight onto the spikes in His wrists and the one in His feet to draw Himself up to inhale. He would have had to do the same thing to exhale. In this way, blood loss and exhaustion gradually stole life from the condemned man. Christ also spoke, adding further stress and strain to His body. It was during this process that Christ would have, as the Gospels tell us, "Breathed His last."
Peter counsels us to be prepared to give a reason or defense for the hope that we have, and this applies not just to those who are openly hostile to the Gospel, but those who have questions about what they believe. More importantly, answering the questions of fellow believers; regardless of their maturity in the faith; is a vital and integral part of discipleship, which is one of the basic points of the Great Commission.

Why Was A Sacrifice Necessary?

The need for a sacrifice has long been questioned, not only by skeptical unbelievers, but also by Christians. While many followers of Christ will time and again proclaim their faith, it is natural for questions to arise; especially for those new to the faith. Sadly, much of the Christian Church responds to this sort of question with answers falling into one of two categories: The "Just Have Faith" category, or the "Never Question God" category.

These two categories of questions do more to weaken the foundation of faith than strengthen it, and I believe that it is well past time to straighten this out. Peter counsels us to be prepared to give a reason or defense for the hope that we have, and this applies not just to those who are openly hostile to the Gospel, but those who have questions about what they believe. More importantly, answering the questions of fellow believers; regardless of their maturity in the faith; is a vital and integral part of discipleship, which is one of the basic points of the Great Commission. Thus, my challenge to the Christian Church as a whole is this: Whenever our response to a question falls in one of the two categories mentioned above, let us interrupt ourselves and find the actual answer to the question; very often this sort of response-by-rote is an indication of a deficiency in our own study, and we owe it to ourselves and to the one who asked the question to faithfully search out the correct answer.

To answer why a sacrifice was necessary, we must first understand something of the nature of God Himself. To start, He is completely righteous, holy and good. To illustrate the magnitude of this point, the statement that "God is Love" is not stating that God embodies love as we know it, but rather that He is the definition of love; our understanding is flawed unless we know love as defined by God. Likewise, righteousness, holiness and goodness are defined by God; our understanding of these attributes are inherently flawed unless He is our standard.

Now we must understand sin's nature. Sin is literally rebellion against God; not so much His laws, but rather His nature. To illustrate this point, think of a genuinely good police officer. His purpose is to protect and to serve, and if we politely comply with his request ("stop and identify yourself, please") we are very likely to be treated fairly, respectfully, and mercifully. However, if we choose to run off, we are likely to be on the wrong end of a baton, taser or worse; the degree of our immediate pain is commensurate with how much rebellion we exhibit.

Now, using our two illustrations, God is very much like that genuinely good police officer. The difference is found in the fact that though even the most good cop is still a flawed human being; and thus able to look past some minor infraction they themselves may have committed; God is the absolute standard of holiness, and thus unable to overlook any act of rebellion without a commensurate punishment being levied. As a result, sin acts as a barrier between mankind and God. Since God is life itself, sin is death. Because sin is death, it requires death; in many ways, blood is the currency of sin.

sin acts as a barrier between mankind and God. Since God is life itself, sin is death. Because sin is death, it requires death; in many ways, blood is the currency of sin.

However, God is also the absolute standard of mercy. In keeping with His nature, He provided laws by which mankind could measure its sin. God is also the absolute standard of grace, and in keeping with this, provided a means of atonement: Literally, of paying for one's sin without the need to shed one's own blood.

Throughout the Old Testament, this was accomplished through the sacrifice of animals. Animals are not guilty of rebellion against God, and thus they have no sin. However, they are still under the effects of the curse brought into the world by sin, and as such are imperfect sacrifices; imperfect in part because they are under the curse of sin, and also because sin did not enter in through the animal kingdom, but through mankind. Because of this, a sacrifice did not cover all sin; it only covered the sin for which it was offered. The only sacrifice that would cover all sin had to come from a perfect human being- But as we've already stated, all of mankind is tainted by sin; by rebellion against the very nature of God.

Once again, it is the absolute grace and mercy of God that come into play. Obviously, no human born of a human union could make the necessary atonement, so God orchestrated one of the greatest miracles since the creation of the World: Christ was born, fully God, yet fully man. The perfect human to make the ultimate sacrifice for all sin.

This is why a sacrifice was necessary.

The Magnitude Of Christ's Sacrifice

You will remember that we mentioned that the method of covering sin through sacrifice is called atonement. This was such an integral part of the plan for the removal of sin from this world that it played a major role in the life of the nation of Israel throughout the Old Testament; indeed, sacrifices were made prior to Israel's existence as a nation.

It was with the nation of Israel, however, that the atonement practice was codified. While sacrifices were offered for individual sin whenever necessary, there was a single day set aside every year for a sacrifice on behalf of the nation as a whole; a sacrifice covering all twelve tribes of Israel. This day is known today as Yom Kippur, but in the Old Testament it was known as the Day of Atonement.

Allow me to walk you through this for the sake of illustrating just how truly amazing, awe-inspiring and incredible is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

On the Day of Atonement, one bull, two rams and two goats were sacrificed. The amount of blood spilled for this specific sacrifice averages to about twelve gallons; that's approximately one gallon for each of the twelve tribes. Please note that that is twelve gallons for the sins of one nation over the course of a single year.

Now, this sacrifice was presented from the time it was commanded to what is known as the "Silent Period" (about 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ), which was a span of approximately 898 years. This means that for a single nation's yearly sins, roughly 10,776 gallons of blood was spilled. For one nation, and for a temporary covering.

Now jump with me to the present.

It has been estimated that from the time of Creation, approximately 108 billion people have lived on the planet Earth. That is from the time of Creation to the present, and growing; but for our purposes, we'll stick with the estimated figure.

In Luke 17:3-4, Christ tells His disciples that if a brother wrongs them seven times in a single day, and seven times asks forgiveness, they are to forgive that brother seven times. So as an unbelievably conservative estimate, we'll say that the average person commits seven sins a day. Only seven sins. With me so far?

So if the average person commits a mere seven sins a day, that means (not including leap years) that a person commits 2,555 sins in a year; and over an average lifespan of seventy-five years, commits 191,625 sins in a lifetime. Bear in mind as you look at these numbers that we are using conservative estimates for the number of sins committed in a single day, and a shorter lifespan than are being offered for the modern man- And these numbers are for one, single person.

When Christ was crucified, He was bled of nearly all of His blood. This statement is based upon forensic examinations of the historical accounts of Roman crucifixion practices and the accounts from the Gospels. (One such examination can be found here.) Should this hold true, this means that approximately one and a half gallons of blood was shed by Christ.

This means that one and a half gallons of blood shed by Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, covered an estimated 78 quintillion sins and growing. For illustration purposes, that is 78,000,000,000,000,000,000 plus sins since the beginning of time- And growing.

That should boggle the mind.

It gets even more amazing, however. We are told in the Gospels; by the lives and deaths of Christ's disciples; and by the testimony of countless others; that Christ rose from the dead. If even one sin could not be covered by His sacrifice; if even one sin was the one too many; Christ would never have risen, because the sacrifice would not have been perfect.

Yet Christ rose.

What Does All Of This Mean? (Or: TL;DR)

What this means, friends, is that not one single reader of this blog is without hope. It means that not a single non-reader of this blog is hopelessly lost. It means that the blood of Christ is pure enough to cover all sins.

It means that though our daily sins might hit double or triple digits, Christ can and will save us from sin's requirement of death. It means that the mercy and grace of God extends to all people, at any time, everywhere, until the end of time.

It means that our God is not only the absolute standard of holy, righteous, and good; but He is also the absolute standard of love, mercy and grace.

This means that one and a half gallons of blood shed by Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, covered an estimated 78 quintillion sins and growing. For illustration purposes, that is 78,000,000,000,000,000,000 plus sins since the beginning of time- And growing.

It means that God's love, mercy and grace extends so far as to envelop all of Creation; that through Christ's sacrifice even nature itself will be redeemed.

It means that because God is the absolute standard of all that is good, we have no reason to fear anything that is wrong, evil or just bad.

It means, my friends, that God loved and cared for you enough to "make a way where there was no way," and provide a bridge for you to cross over the divide into His loving arms.

The easy part is accepting the sacrifice that Christ made for us; as simple as praying "God, I recognize that I am a sinner, and that I fall short of perfection. I repent of my sins, and ask you to forgive me of my sins through the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross. I ask You to be the Lord of my life, and help me to live a life that reaches for You. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen."

The hard part, my friends, is living that life- But once again the grace and mercy of God is there, because just as He made a way to cross the divide, He is the absolute standard of faithfulness: He will strengthen us to live that life.

One of  the most beautiful representations I have come across. All credit to the original artist.

Note: This article has been edited for spelling and grammatical errors; however, it is not beyond the realm of possibility for some errors to have been overlooked. Please feel free to let me know if you find any. Thanks, and God bless!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Considering Erick Erickson's Reconsideration

AUTHOR'S NOTE: After having published this article, a friend was observant enough to draw my attention to a few issues. I have edited these changes in, but for the sake of being able to see how it may have read prior to those changes; and thus why said changes absolutely had to be made; they will be made in this type. Thanks again to all who have read and responded, and by all means, keep it coming!

Recently a good friend shared an article via social media written by one Erick Erickson. It is a good article, and it is worthwhile reading as I agreed with many of the points and issues he brings up. However, I also found it necessary to take issue with some of what he said.

Below are those which I take issue with and my reasons as for why. I have also included a few of the points I agree with for the sake of balance.

"I believe the founders of this country recognized individual liberty as negative liberty." ~ Erick Erickson

Individual liberty IS what the Constitution has laid out; it is NOT what has been lately defined. Individual liberty is the individual being free (reasonably) free of government restriction, invasion and micro-rule. I interject "reasonably" because there is a need for law- Just not on the level that we see today. There is a need for enough stricture to convict criminals and safeguard life and liberty; what we have now is too much stricture, meant to protect wealthy and elite criminals and rob the average citizen of precisely what law is meant to protect.

Mr. Erickson goes on to clarify what he means by this statement, writing the following:

"It was not what individuals could do if government helped them that made this country great. Rather, it was what individuals could do if government left them alone."

It is strange to me that in an article which begins by examining compromise, the author seems to compromise on the language and tone of the article. Just my personal take on how this section's communication was constructed; you get it free of charge.

What I believe Mr. Erickson may have originally been going for is that the founders of this country recognized government mandated liberty as negative liberty; that is certainly what was going on in the British Empire under King George, and precisely what said king was attempting to accomplish within the American Colonies. I firmly believe in clear communication, but I also believe in factual communication. Even when factual communication requires more writing, it is far better to be accurate than to propagate a false dichotomy, pretense or idea.

"I am under no delusions. With Clinton as President, the church in this country will be in for a difficult time, besieged from the outside. The forces of Mordor will be fully on the march." ~Erick Erickson

First, let me just award 100 points to Mr. Erickson for the Lord of the Rings reference. Well done sir, and a terrific analogy. I do not disagree with this statement, but I do believe that it does not go far enough. The problem with this statement is that Mr. Erickson seems to believe that the church would only be besieged from without, yet due to Ms. Clinton's self-affiliation with the Methodist Church, there is grave danger of Christianity being besieged from within.

On August 8, 2016, Snopes published a fact checking article debunking a rumor that Ms. Clinton stated Christians must deny their faith in a speech to the Women in the World Summit in New York City. Yet, though Snopes was correct in debunking this as a direct quote, the fact remains that Hillary Clinton did in fact suggest that traditional Christian values, morals and ethical codes of conduct must be changed to fit the world today. The pertinent quote is below, and I have taken pains not to emphasize or leave out any aspect of this statement:

"Yes, we've nearly closed the global gender gap in primary school, but secondary school remains out of reach for so many girls around the world. Yes, we've increased the number of countries prohibiting domestic violence, but still more than half the nations in the world have no such laws on the books, and an estimated one in three women still experience violence. Yes, we've cut the mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth.
"All the laws we've passed don't count for much if they're not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.
"As I have said, and as I believe, the advancement of the full participation of women and girls in every aspect of their societies is the great unfinished business of the twenty-first century, and not just for women but for everyone — and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States." ~Hillary Clinton 

Please note that though the forum of this speech implied global context, she finishes this quote by saying "and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States." Note also what she believes must be done to ensure the closure of gender gaps, the end of domestic violence, mortality rates and proper reproductive health care: "Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed."

Snopes and other political fact checking sites can dismiss this as not being a direct attack on Christianity because from an outside viewpoint, it is not such an attack. From an outsider's vantage point, this is an observation on the state of women's rights and what must be done to achieve equality. Furthermore, liberals of all stripes can argue that this is not an attack because their worldview would have them believe that Jesus Himself would be at the forefront of this movement; indeed, I have heard liberal Christians make this very argument.

However, conservative Christians view this as an attack because of the very sections of the quote I point out: The call for cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases to change "not just in far away countries but... in the United States." Liberals and fact checking sites do not understand how and why this constitutes an attack, but those of us who recognize that the Scripture does not change to fit societal demands also recognize this as a call to delegitimize the Bible itself. This, readers, is the very definition of an attack on genuine Christianity.

Now why would I bring up the Methodist Church as being something of note when examining Ms. Clinton's impact upon Christianity?

During her time as First Lady, Ms. Clinton attended Foundry United Methodist Church, a body which in their own words rejects aspects of the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline: Specifically when it comes to views on homosexuality. The Methodist Church she is currently listed as being a congregant with is also reported as being "liberal, forward-moving and freethinking." I will add a caveat here: As that church's website is nothing more than a blank page as of this writing, I cannot verify the statement- Take with a grain of salt.

The church in which she spent much of her adult life in Arkansas would also be described as liberal; for example, it supports interfaith meetings claiming "we are more alike than different." Finally, the church in which she spent much of her earlier life also embraces homosexuality in opposition to the UMC's Book of Discipline.

Finally, in an address to the United Methodist Women's Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky, Ms. Clinton stated that her love of the UMC is due in part to its promotion of "social gospel." So what is this "social gospel?" Social gospel in a traditional sense was a movement to awaken the Church to the plight of the destitute, the widows and orphans and others to whom the Lord Jesus showed deference and kindness. Today, the original meaning of the phrase has been co-opted to include gay rights, reproductive rights, and other such things that the Bible specifically speaks to as sin, iniquity and abomination. It is this form of social gospel that Ms. Clinton supports, evidenced by her own actions, deeds and stated agenda. (You can read more about social gospel here.)

This is why I believe that Mr. Erickson is remiss in his assessment of Ms. Clinton's total impact upon the Christian Church within the United States.

"...I see the election of Hillary Clinton as the antithesis of all my values and ideas on what fosters sound civil society in this country. Further, she should be in jail." ~Erick Erickson

I heartily agree with this statement, and would reference anyone who wishes to argue the point to simply look at every documented instance of her lies, misrepresentations, and outright attempts at deception. They are many, they are evident, and they are very much accessible to anyone with the ability to access Google.

I urge everyone to keep this one, vital fact in mind regardless of their faith: Ms. Clinton is a pathological liar, and voting for her is very much an ethical crime for all but the most ethically and morally corrupt.

"A Clinton Administration may see the church besieged from the outside, but a Trump Administration will see the church poisoned from within. ...I do recall God choosing Abraham, Samson, and David and all of them repenting of their sins. That repentance stands in studied contrast to Donald Trump who has three times said he never had to ask for forgiveness and only recently said his advance of the church, if he is elected, might be the only thing that gets him into Heaven." ~Erick Erickson (emphasis E.E.)

I understand where Mr. Erickson is coming from on this point. It is a terrible choice being offered those who do not feel that a third party candidate has any chance to attain the White House. In fact, those who do vote third party are likely to do so in full knowledge that if either of the two major candidates succeed, they will be blamed by family and friends. This is not an enviable position for any of us to be in, nor is it one that any of us would willing choose if we felt that we did indeed have a choice.

With this being said, it is a flawed example that is being used here in my estimation; both for and against. While Mr. Erickson does an excellent job of showing why such arguments for Mr. Trump are flawed, he fails to see why his argument using the same examples is equally invalid.

Mr. Erickson seems to forget that while these men did indeed seek forgiveness and repent, they continued sinning. While I am not suggesting that he intended to suggest that the examples were perfect upon seeking forgiveness, I find it frustrating that so many, not just Mr. Erickson, turn to such biblical examples as to why or why we should not support a specific candidate.

Abraham was the father of a nation, and yet his sins continued until the day he died. Sampson was a judge of Israel, yet his sins not only caused his downfall but also brought on his death; the consequences of his sin were felt even as the pillars toppled, in spite of his repentance. David was a king of Israel, and yet his sins so stained his entire life that God refused to allow him to build the temple.

I would remind Mr. Erickson, and all who would utilize such examples, that we do not live in a Theocracy, as did Israel during the time of the Judges. We do not live in a Monarchy, as Israel was during David. We live in a nation originally conceived as a Democratic Republic; a nation wherein the popular vote elected officials, while the Constitution ruled the land.
It is not in error that Mr. Erickson later states:

"And, in truth, I... have concluded we are already past the point of redemption... The seriousness and virtue of the voter is in the grave already and my Christian brethren for Trump yearn for an idolized past that never existed in a future that is not theirs, but God’s, to shape." ~Erick Erickson

I have stated this many times, and I will continue to make this statement: This nation only came into existence through the concerted efforts of Christians, Deists, and Atheists who worked in unison to birth a nation wherein freedoms unseen in much of the world existed without the government's approval. Today, we live in a nation wherein the government is slowly removing those freedoms; so it was in the early 1800's, when the Danbury Baptist Association wrote to the newly elected Thomas Jefferson, a Deist, of their concerns regarding religious freedom and the agendas of those within the government he now led.
Jefferson, a man who denied the deity of Christ; the possibility of divine power on display through the Holy Spirit; and stated that he viewed much of the Bible as little more than folklore; also reassured the DBA and history shows that he worked to ensure religious freedom in his presidency. Indeed, it was during his tenure that many Supreme Court decisions were made which are still referenced today. Many of the protections that local churches enjoy today are the direct result of Jefferson and his peers; yet he was a man of sin, of vile wickedness, and of questionable moral and ethical character.

In short, I do not agree that Mr. Trump is poisoning the Church from within based upon the examples given by Mr. Erickson, though his observations do serve as a warning to all Christians to keep their eyes upon the Lord. These same arguments were made for and against President Obama; for and against Bill Clinton; for and against George W. Bush; and on back. They are arguments that are old, tired and worn out, simply given new life for yet another election cycle. I am not suggesting apathy, by any means; rather I am simply pointing out fact. To reiterate, I believe that the points which Mr. Erickson brings up are worthy warnings to the Church.

So, my question then is why people believe that the whole of the choice becomes this: Do we vote for a candidate that will uphold the law of the land and seek to rein back the federal government's encroachment? Or do we vote for a candidate that will expand the government's reach, strengthen its grip, and further reduce the sum total of freedoms?

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Erickson when he writes:

"Christians looking for a strong man to protect the church instead of the strongest man who conquered death is a terrible thing to see. ...They seemingly argue that if the nation falls, the church falls and for the church to rise the country must rise. But Christ has already risen so the true church is in no danger of falling." ~Erick Erickson

With that agreement being voiced, I wish to point out to him and all who agree with him: If this statement is true, neither candidate poses a threat to the Church. If you, dear reader, hold this statement to be true, then you have no reason to fear either candidate. I personally hold this statement to be true and thus fear no candidate; instead, all I attempt to do in my writing is to shine a light on the practical effects of each candidate's agenda.

"Scripture tells me (and you) that believers should have nothing to do with any person who holds himself out as a Christian and is unrepentant." ~Erick Erickson

It Scripture does tell us that we are to shun an unrepentant believer (2 Thessalonians 3:6) and 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 tells us to avoid the company of one named a brother. This last passage also tells us that we are not to operate the same way with those outside of the Church, because God judges them Himself. So if Scripture tells us this, as Mr. Erickson correctly states, then how are some people still supporting Mr. Trump while also claiming Christianity?

They do so in much the same way that others claiming to be Christian support Ms. Clinton: They find loopholes. In the case of Ms. Clinton, I can find no justifiable loophole. In the case of Mr. Trump, I can find only one justifiable; and even that is a stretch. Yet this loophole is one which I have heard referenced time and again. (Allow me to reiterate for clarity: I do not support the idea of loopholes. This is an argument which I have heard many times before, and in which I find an understandable plausibility for Christians who support Mr. Trump. However, I do not subscribe to the notion.)

The basic premise of the "Trump Loophole" is that the context of this passage from 1 Corinthians is for those who have been upstanding members of the Body of Christ who have fallen into unrepentant iniquity. If Mr. Trump had been such a person, then Mr. Erickson would have a valid point; yet if the "Trump Loophole" is accurate, then Mr. Erickson has invalidated his own argument by previously suggesting that Mr. Trump has never been such a person.

One might ask at this point if I am arguing for or against Mr. Trump; I am doing neither, as I do not believe him to be any better or worse for this country and the Church than his opponent. Their impact upon both would simply take different forms.

"All Christendom should be ashamed we are putting our needs in this temporary place ahead of saving a soul bound for eternity." ~Erick Erickson

This is perhaps the most accurate statement ever made for this election cycle, and yet it is applied in the strangest manner: It is directed as supporters of but one candidate, when supporters of both are as worthy of this criticism.

"God did not tell the Jews to throw open the gates of Jerusalemn (sic) for Nebuchadnezzar. God did that himself." ~Erick Erickson

Yes he did, Mr. Erickson. It's found in Jeremiah 38:17, and before anyone says that God did not specifically state that Jerusalem should open its gates, first one must know what surrender at that time entailed. A rather brief time of research will reveal that in order to surrender, King Zedekiah would first need to send a messenger, then open the gates of the city, receive the Babylonian envoy, and hand over his crown before the people. So yes, God did in fact tell them to open the gates to Nebuchadnezzar.

I am not saying this to pick at the man, but as Mr. Erickson has stated, "This is the inerrant word of God..." If one makes a statement based upon the Word of God, then it must be accurate. (Some have suggested that this is nothing more than a distraction and a low-blow; comments from two different sources. I do not believe it is. I believe that an article calling out misrepresentation of Christianity and the Word of God should in no way misrepresent the Bible itself- That is why I correct the Jerusalem argument. If I were simply being petty I would have gleefully pointed out another mistake; which I did not do then, and will not do now.)

The final word I have on this matter is well said by Mr. Erickson, and I believe it is a fitting end to this article. Bearing in mind that I believe all Christians must do as the Holy Spirit leads:

"If God wants Trump in the White House, he does not need my vote or a violation of my conscience to get Trump there."

As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and questions. Feel free to share this across social media also. God bless!

Some have requested that I distill my opinion for easier consumption. They pointed out that when they initially read this, they were coming off of a double shift and coming out of a three day bout with insomnia, respectively. So for the sake of tired minds and bodies everywhere, it all seems to boil down to this for me personally.

Mr.Trump is not a Christian, no more than is President Obama. Thus, in my view he cannot be held to the same standards. With that being said, everything said in Mr. Erickson's article for why Mr. Trump should not be supported actually applies more aptly to Ms. Clinton; I am not saying that because I dislike her, but because she is a professing Christian; has attended a local body of believers her entire life; and supports these individual churches financially. She should not be supported for the reasons in this article; Mr. Trump should not be supported for the simple fact that he is a textbook functional sociopath. 

For me personally, it truly is a moral and ethical issue; it seems that my reasons and logic are simply different from those of others. Hillary Clinton is a "No Vote" because of every reason in Mr. Erickson's article. Mr. Trump is a "No Vote" because he embodies everything the Lord hates. Trampling the poor and the widow, despising the orphan- Just a few examples of this. 

So what is the choice? Many states allow a write-in, and I personally may utilize that option for my preferred candidate. Others have third-party candidates on ballot; perhaps I will place a vote for one of these. Regardless of what I personally will do, I urge all who read this to vote- Simply do so in such a way that does not violate conscience or the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Contrast Within Pastoral Leadership Part 2

In continuing with the contrast of pastoral leadership, allow me to quickly recap the inspiration for these posts and the first three points I looked at in part one of this series. If you would like to read the first part, you can do so here.

I recently received a list of seven points explaining why the Christian Church does not need a senior pastor. While I agree with each point, I also saw a need to point out why they do not apply across the board. Painting with a broad brush is useful when seeking to point out a problem, but having done this many times I understand also that doing so can cause unintended repercussions. Knowing the author of this list would certainly not intend to cause division within a local body headed by a genuine servant-leader under the direction of the Lord, I am in this series seeking to list each point, give examples, and show exceptions to what are fast becoming generally true observations within the Western Church.

The points already mentioned are as follows:

1. Power Tends to Corrupt.

2. The senior CEO Pastor role just propagates the outdated power of the denomination / institution.

3. Holy Spirit instruction and direction trumps ALL other forms of authority.

Now continuing from the list...

4. Horizontal fellowship trumps butts in the pews and facing forward to our “King” Pastor.

The struggle for spiritual relevance and significance is usually not a people problem but a system problem. The answers aren't always going to be found in and from existing human leadership – but those who actually can hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Even the smallest child who can speak – [and] has the potential of speaking the words of the Holy Spirit. If only the 'leaders' are speaking during the fellowship time – it is guaranteed that MOST of what the Holy Spirit was saying during that time is missed. The answer is to create a space of fellowship for the Holy Spirit to speak through whatever means He sees fit!
I have been present in local bodies wherein a child spoke words of great encouragement and also of great conviction. The idea of a child speaking may seem foreign to some, but I harken back to the words of the Apostle Paul when writing to Timothy: "Let no one look down on you because of your age." There should certainly be something in place to a child from running wild through service, but much of that discipline ought to be instilled at home through the attention of loving and godly parents.
I personally see nothing wrong in requiring a child to speak first to their parent(s) before being allowed to speak so that the adult in authority over them may discern the accuracy of what the child believes to be from the Lord. However, we should not be so demanding as to reprimand a child for speaking in the moment if that word is indeed prompted by the Holy Spirit. A reprimand is in order if their speech is not in line with the Word of God, but in this way they are being taught in the assembly what the voice of the Lord sounds like, as opposed to their own minds creating something they believe to be profound.

In much the same way, any adult ought to be able to speak up when the Holy Spirit prompts such speech. No pastor is ever justified in shushing an adult if the word they give is backed by Scripture and prompted by the Holy Spirit. However, a good pastor will also take time after the service to take aside an adult who was in error and reprimand them privately, in humility and love. Anything else is a violation of the pastoral role, unless the word spoken was so grave in its error that correction must be given immediately.
An example of this last statement: There was a time when a woman in my church spoke up, stating matter-of-factly that the End Times, the final Antichrist, and the tribulation, could all be staved off or avoided entirely if the Body of Christ joined in prayer against it. Due to the gravity of the statement, correction was needed immediately; yet even in correcting the error of what had been spoken, those who held the woman accountable did so with love and humility. In this instance, it was clear that they did not wish to embarrass or shame her, but rather show why the statement was in error. This is immediate correction of a false statement done right.

So how can one know if one's church is quenching the Holy Spirit, and thus dead in many respects?

If one's church would be disrupted by a single "amen" during the preaching of the word, it may be dead.

If one's leadership refuses to acknowledge and pray for a need if it disrupts the order of service, one's church may be dead.

If one can set one's watch by where one is in service, one's church may be dead.

The pattern herein should be clear at this time.

5. We need humble spiritual leaders/elders, not power hungry rulers/CEO Senior Pastors.

Do I think the role of pastor is not needed? No. I think it is a gift to the Body – but it is not a dictatorial/authoritative model role –but one as a fellow sheep who always points you to the true Shepherd/Jesus, and always is looking out for your best interests and looks to give His love to you on every occasion. Think of it as not a 'leadership' role but as a personal assistant who is there to make sure you have everything you need. That perspective is HIGHLY different that how it is currently viewed and used. Think Jesus washing his disciple's feet. Actually Paul lists 4/5 gifting roles in the Body that are there TO SERVE, not to rule. The actual scriptural role of a 'pastor'/shepherd is greatly different than what we see in the American Church currently. ...Leadership by example will always be healthier than leading by authoritarian rule. The former allows for the blossoming of the human spirit under freedom. The latter blocks the flourishing of the human spirit under rule of tyranny. Real leaders don’t need followers. They don’t even need power. They lead by prestigious example and slip out of the strangleholds of power like a snake shedding its skin.

Humility is the callsign of a genuine leader of any sort, but is especially important for those within the pastoral office. As is mentioned in the above quote, Christ modeled this in stark contrast to the stereotypical pastor of today by washing the feet of His disciples.

There are genuine servant-leaders out there. They often go unseen because it is not the limelight they seek, but rather the Light of the World shining into whatever life they are able to impact. I am blessed to say that I have personally known a few of these men and women, and they are truly led by the Holy Spirit. (To those who were just now horrified that I would include women as I am speaking about pastoral leadership: That is another topic for another day.)

The fact of the matter is that leading from the "authoritarian role" as stated above is generally a poor model to pattern pastoral leadership after; not only because Christ did not do so, but also because we can see the ill effects of this kind of leadership all around us. Corporations fail, federal governments grow corrupt, and organizations of all kinds implode due to placing a great deal of the steering power (authority) in a single individual. "A true leader is one who leads by example," is a quote that most have heard at least once in their lives, and it is based upon Scripture. So if that sort of leadership is based upon Scripture, then what sort of defense can pastors that lead by intimidation, fear, or authority offer?

If one's church demands absolute  and blind adherence to those in authority, it may be unbiblical.

If one's pastors demand the flock take their word in place of God's Word, it is unbiblical.

If one's church leadership is appointed by popularity and not by qualification, it may be unbiblical.

6. Bestowing the role of a Senior CEO Pastor leads to apathetic pew sitters and goats.

“The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.”
~Stanley Milgram 
A community leading itself tends to be a proactive community. A community commanded by a leader atop a hierarchy tends to be an apathetic, politically and spiritually myopic, and civically inert / salt-lost-its-usefulness community. So it goes with the “Senior CEO Pastor” tossing dictates down an ill-conceived chain of command. We have an entire American Church playing the victim, caught-up in a viciously codependent chain of obedience.

 Contrary to popular opinion, the opposite of love is not hate, but rather apathy. Hate most often comes from love, whether genuine or twisted, and is directed at whatever is perceived as harmful to the object of that love. This is why God hates sin; why the Psalmist as able to say that he "hates with a holy hatred"; and why we can honestly say that there are things we hate. If one is allergic to gluten, for instance, it may not be uncommon to hear one give voice to their hatred of it; it is to be expected, as gluten for that person causes harm.

Apathy, in contrast, is bred through accepted, learned or forced codependence upon an individual or group of individuals. The example often used in political circles is the current condition of the United States, wherein a large percentage of people are entirely apathetic in the face of the coming election; they have grown so due to their codependence upon the federal government, and so long as it continues to give them what they believe they need, nothing really matters. The politicians meanwhile are dependent upon the citizens for their position and income, and thus the chain of  apathetic codependence is forged.
It is much the same in a poorly operating church: The people grow dependent upon their leader for spiritual guidance and direction, while the leadership are dependent upon the people for their continued authority, and in many cases, their income. None of those within the flock are interested in stepping forward as a leader, or as a servant; and the leadership have no interest in being a follower or of losing their (oftentimes) laborless income.

The image used for this section is exceptionally appropriate, as the quote on the left comes from a meme created using the transcript of a large and well-known church; led by a larger-than-life and well-known pastor; who misquoted Joel 2:25. Those within the flock seemingly accepted it as Gospel, and no one in the entire auditorium (at least, no one caught on camera) were looking at their Bibles: They were too busy looking at the celebrity pastor. Someone from that service created a meme from it, they were so moved; and yet, their apathy is on display for all their posterity. For as long as the recordings of this sermon exist, this terrible misquote will continue to lead astray those looking to this specific man for guidance. On the right is the actual text of Joel 2:25, and the egregious error of the pastor in question can be seen in full detail; yet so too can the pitiful and genuinely frightening apathy of his flock.

If no one in one's church opens a Bible at any time during service, one's church may be apathetic.

If the pastor does not quote Scripture accurately, or paraphrase properly, one's church may be apathetic.

If one simply doesn't care, just as no other member of one's church cares, one's church is apathetic.

7. A Senior CEO American Pastor role just isn't scriptural in NT theology.

Paul sets up an elder requirements for Timothy and Titus to follow, not a top-down Pastoral executive structure for the setting up of 'churches' or fellowships. The fellowships were community based and meeting from house-to-house. Sure there were evangelists, prophets, and apostles that would come through the towns and cities and speak/teach and fellowship with the groups. And as we read Paul's epistles and John's and Peter's we can get an idea of the style of each of them. They were all different – as we all are. But those apostles and other gifts to the Body came through to serve and equip NOT to be served.

Herein is the crux of the matter, though it may at first be a bit confusing.

A properly running church has a top-down structure only when one lays it out on paper. This is, in some ways, the result of the servant-leadership of the church operating as they should; but also because human nature requires an authority structure of some kind, even if it is solely for the purpose of rebellion. Thus, in a properly functioning church wherein the servant-leaders are regularly seen meeting the needs of the church body, they would be considered the highest point of that church on paper.
In actual practice, however, it looks much different. The pastor as a servant-leader does not guide by authority but rather by example. The elders, deacons, and any assistant pastors do the same in such a church, while the rest of the body benefits from their ministry. In turn, the individual members of the body are instructed, encouraged and strengthened to take on servant-leadership positions of their own; and in this way, the church grows.

In my own church, it is not uncommon for our pastoral leadership to tap a member of the congregation to give a message; share a devotion; help to lead worship; or a dozen other things usually expected to be done by the leadership of the church. A foreign concept in the eyes of many mega-churches today, yet very biblical and sound. By doing this, the pastors are fostering, encouraging and challenging the congregation to grow and move into the calling that God has placed upon their individual lives.

In truth, all other forms of leadership in a church are very much new age in their approach; while I understand the need for structure and leadership, this fact remains incontrovertible. Another term for this sort of structure is Nicolaitan, and in Revelation 2:6 and 15 Jesus Christ tells the churches of Ephesus and Smyrna that this is something He hates. The Body of Christ is not intended to be housed in a single building to which believers drive an hour to attend service; it is meant to be a living organism that spreads across the globe.

If one must get approval from one's pastor before opening a Bible study in one's home, one's church may be Nicolaitan.

If one must get approval from one's leadership to attend service at another church, one's church is Nicolaitan.

If one must get permission to speak the Gospel outside the four walls, one's church is Nicolaitan, and to reiterate, hated by God.

This concludes this series. As always, please feel free to share across social media, and comment below. May God bless you abundantly as you seek to do His will and continue in obedience to His Word.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Contrast Within Pastoral Leadership Part 1

Recently I was sent a list of seven points explaining why the Christian Church does not need a senior pastor. As I read, I found myself in an unusual position: One in which I agreed wholeheartedly with each point and argument made, but was also able to see why they could not be applied across the board.

As amazing or fantastical as it may sound, there actually are pastors out there that have never taken a cent from the church they lead; who have never used their "power" for the purposes of manipulation; and who genuinely perform their roles as an honest-to-God servant-leader. I know this because I have been under the leadership of at least two of these pastors, and my life is so much the better for it. As a direct result of these people, I am able to say that I know what true leadership within the Body of Christ is, because I was able to see it exemplified.

However, the points are still very much accurate for the vast majority of hyper-publicized churches around the world. This is a sad statement to make, yet it is unfortunately a true statement also. The facts, figures, eyewitness accounts, and very public self-destruction of such churches all support this statement also.

Because of this sad truth, I would like to present to you the seven points I received, and contrast these with genuine servant-leaders that I have known. It is my hope that by seeing the examples and the exceptions, you might come to recognize what sort of leader your local body sits under.

1. Power Tends to Corrupt

From the list:
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”   
- Lord Acton

This is the biggest reason why we do not need a Senior CEO Pastor. The
average human simply cannot handle power. As Abraham Lincoln observed, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Authentic power empowers others. Honest power has no need to cling to power, it releases it instead. It
spreads it out. It expiates it. It empowers others. Besides there truly is only ONE shepherd and His name is Jesus, all the rest of us are His sheep. God's Kingdom is upside down in comparison to the world's institutional model dealing with leadership. Soooo... top down authority models within the Church only create more problems.

Now, there are definitely churches that have this problem. I don't think any of us would have too hard a time of naming off some of the most visible examples, as they are in the news regularly.

However, it should be noted that there are senior pastors out there that do not utilize power with corrupted motives. I will certainly acknowledge that most of those senior pastors who have enjoyed the limelight are often there for a reason, and that not all of those reasons are noteworthy for their Christ-like qualities. With this said, it is often the pastors of small churches, with an outward focus for the community and an inward focus of service, that use the power their office has entrusted to them with humility.

So how can one tell if the pastor of one's church is utilizing power in a corrupt manner?

Well, if that pastor calls names from the pulpit, they may be power corrupt. (There is rarely a proper time for this to happen, and I personally have seen it only once in twenty years.)

If that pastor demands that people refer to them by their office at all times, in and out of church, and will publicly shame those who don't, they may be power corrupt. (It is one thing to teach about respect for a position; it is entirely different to be consumed by it to the point of hurting those that office is meant to protect.)

These are just two signs, but I believe you can see the pattern.

2. The senior CEO Pastor role just propagates the outdated power of the denomination / institution.

If anyone has ever visited an institutional or denominational church, then chances are they are very much aware of what they were visiting. However, those who attend such churches regularly, and perhaps were a part of it prior to it fitting in this category, may not realize this to be true. Thus, allow me to share from the list once again:

The Institutional / Denominational Church has followed the same structure and power hungry struggle as the 'State' (Government). The Church has become exactly like the State. The state: billions of people elbowing each other through the codependent wretchedness of hierarchical violence. The state: a propped up entity of ominous design, placating its citizens with freedom like a carrot dangling on a stick. ...Alas, the accumulation of the state has led to the erosion of individual freedom, and the Church institution / denomination has taken away the individual's freedom to be led by the Holy Spirit. A bottom-up approach toward reclaiming individual power, and thus individual freedom, should come first. But that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to what must come second (if there is to be anything left to be free in at all) –a systematic collapse from the top-down. Maybe that's why there are SO many different denominations – people want to be 'free' and thus just started another.

Once more, I can understand and appreciate where the writer is coming from. More and more, I see the writing on the wall for the Western Church, specifically those with an institutional, denominational or combination approach. Allow me to be clear: I have been to institutionalized churches that have run well; that have allowed the Holy Spirit freedom to move; and that have been full of genuinely caring people seeking the will of the Lord. Unfortunately, these have been few. I have also been to denominational churches wherein the denomination's name on the sign simply informed others of what they actually believed; and within the walls of these churches I found some of the most godly, Christ-like people I've ever come across. Again, these have been few in number.

So how can one tell if one's church has reached this point of religious depravity?

If one's church has a "if you're not for us, you're against us" attitude, it may be depraved.

If one's church leadership (that is, everyone in leadership, not just the senior pastor) lords their authority over the "peons," it may be depraved.

Again, I believe you can see the pattern.

3. Holy Spirit instruction and direction trumps ALL other forms of authority.

The problem with the institutional denominational senior CEO pastoral model is that it propagates blind obedience to --- human control, rather than individual Holy Spirit control. Is there a greater chance of mistakes being made with no 'head' senior pastor's 3 step weekly sermon to follow and just relying on the Holy Spirit? Absolutely yes. But I'd rather have more mistakes with more freedom, than less mistakes because of less freedom. ...Spiritual covering comes from God – not a human leader. Real accountability comes from very close intimate friendships, which our culture, Church, and society admittedly has lost.
Once again, this list is dead on point, and the writer touches on one of my personal hot button issues: Accountability.

In a properly operating church, the pastor is accountable to the flock, just as the flock is accountable to the leadership, and all are accountable to one another. In a poorly operating church, the pastor is above (or beyond) accountability of any kind, yet holds the flock accountable for the smallest infractions. I have been in churches wherein the pastor was carrying on two different affairs with women in the church, and everyone knew about it! Yet, that same pastor had the nerve to hold everyone else accountable for their various addictions- Sexual and otherwise. Because of his brutish approach to his position, everyone within the church had become terrified of confronting an obvious issue.

In the church I attend now, our pastors hold themselves accountable to not only their flock, but also the authority which they have voluntarily placed themselves under: Specifically, our bishop. No, this is not a bishop such as those within the Catholic church have; instead, it is based very much upon the model laid out in Acts and other Pauline letters. Yes, there is a proper method of approaching a pastor on a perceived issue; but there is also a proper method for holding anyone within the church accountable, regardless of their title or position.

As pertains to freedom, a properly operating church allows the Holy Spirit to rule the service. God is a God of order, and thus we may expect a certain order of service. However, when the Lord draws someone to the church for the purpose of ministry to their specific need, the pastor must not quench the Spirit by rigidly adhering to five hymns, four hers and an hour long sermon with four collections. Instead, the pastor ought to allow the Holy Spirit to change the flow of service according to His will, not to the comfort of the pastoral staff.

So how can one tell if one's church is stuck in its ways and refusing to allow the freedom of the Holy Spirit?

If one's service can be expected from Sunday to Sunday regardless of who walks through the doors, one's church may be stuck.

If one sets aside a certain amount of money with a specific bill or check for each collection, one's church may be stuck.

If one finds oneself excited because the annual "Holy Spirit Sunday" is coming ever closer, one's church may be stuck.

Again, the pattern here should be clear for most readers.

This has been the first three of a two part series taken from these seven points. I will post again soon, but until then, I value your feedback. Feel free to share on social media, and pose comments or questions below. I will strive to respond in a timely manner.