Archive | Ministry Pet Peeves

The Misnomer Righteous Anger

Who first coined the term “righteous anger”? It’s not in Scripture. In fact, the only Scripture that links the term anger and righteousness says, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Why do Christians so regularly call something righteous that God says never accomplishes righteousness? I am coming to absolutely despise the term “righteous anger.” I’m biased. I have baggage. I’ve watched “righteous anger” used as a justification for some very bad behavior by Christian leaders in particular, and I want to stand up and shout out from the mountaintop to stop it all. I want to exercise my own version of “righteous anger” against their “righteous anger.” Sin against sin. That’s the Christian way, isn’t it? The last time I wrote about this, I was angry. Oh the irony of it all.

Instead of writing angrily about anger once again, I’m going to lay down my personal sword and attempt to pick up God’s. If I can throw off my own baggage and look objectively at Scripture, I think I will be much better equipped to deal with my own anger as well as others.

The Bible does not use the phrase righteous anger. It never prescribes anger, and it never says an angry response was good. The only thing in Scripture that comes close is Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 4:26,

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

So you can be angry and not sin. And the way to be angry and not sin is to DEAL WITH IT quickly, before the sun goes down. Note that this does not say you must deal with it and settle it with whomever you are mad. Otherwise, it’s an impossible standard because it would be utterly dependent on the cooperation of someone over whom you have no control. I used to think that if I was angry at bedtime with my husband, I HAD to talk it out with him before we turned the lights off. He did not hold the same opinion, and often was not nearly as mad with me as I was with him. And when he didn’t want to talk, that made me REALLY mad. He was forcing me to sin, or so I thought. It’s taken a while, but I’ve learned that I can well deal with my anger without my husband’s help. In fact, I really must. He and I can talk about the issue underlying my anger once I stop being angry, but it’s never once worked for us to talk about it while I am angry.

So far, we’ve read that the Word says that if you are angry, do not sin. Deal with your anger before much time passes. That passage in Ephesians ends with a discourse on forgiving others as God has forgiven us through Christ. But how do you get from point A (raging anger) to point B (forgiveness)? Thankfully, we do have an outlet for our anger. It is God Himself. And He has left us many examples in the Psalms of believers crying out to Him in their anger and frustration.

Psalms 73 gives us an example of a guy who is vexed at the wicked.

12 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.

The Psalmist is frustrated about legitimate sins. Why are these evil people prospering?! He takes his vexation to God Himself, and God meets him in it and transforms him.

Consider also Psalm 10.

v 1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

And Psalms 42.

v. 9 I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”

If God didn’t give me these psalms in His inspired word to instruct me, I would never have thought it OK to bring such raw hurt to Him in prayer. Yet, in His mercy, He invites me to pour out my raw emotions to Him. While much of my anger is caused by my own selfishness, some of my anger is legitimately caused by other’s sins that deeply wound myself or those I love. I must pour out my frustration, my disappointment, and my fears to someone. And God tells me that, in Christ, I can boldly and confidently pour it out to Him. THAT alone is my hope for transforming it from anger (which God says in James absolutely will NOT accomplish anything righteous) to some other emotion or resolve that God can use for His kingdom purposes.

The great justification for righteous anger is Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. We Christians love to go all angry-Jesus-on-the-temple. But here’s the problem with that. We don’t attempt to forgive other’s sins like Jesus did. We don’t attempt to turn water into wine or raise the dead back to life. There are a whole string of things Jesus said and did that we do not do ourselves because they were things that were evidence that JESUS WAS GOD. Jesus was Lord over the temple. You and I are not. We are infringing on things that are only His as God when we use His cleansing of the temple to justify acting out on our anger. Again, think through why you would not tell someone that you are forgiving their sins. What is the difference in telling someone that you forgive them of their sins and, say, washing their feet? Well, one Jesus did to show He was God, and the other He did to give us an example of servant leadership. That’s the same difference between cleansing the temple and turning the other cheek.

In summary, Scripture teaches that the only righteous anger is anger that is not exercised. The only outlet for righteous anger is God Himself. The only righteous actions that stem from anger are those that come out of the other side of the sieve of God Himself—vexation poured out to Him that He transforms into something else (resolve, burden, compassion) that He can then use for His kingdom.

Short Man Syndrome

In a recent sermon from I Corinthians on our bodies, one of our pastors gave the most honest assessment I have ever heard of the struggles we face when we can’t reconcile ourselves to the body God has given us.

“I grew up in a neighborhood full of boys, and the way you gained respect in my neighborhood was through physical prowess. You had to be the strongest, the most athletic, and because I was smaller, not only because I was younger but because of genetics, I was often ostracized. I was made fun of, and I remember those moments. … I at an early age decided the way I would deal with the pain is by becoming someone who is more athletic than you, smarter than you, who is better than you. That has defined my life and brought all kinds of chaos and trouble.”

In his case, the issue was height and stature. But this struggle can be generalized to a myriad of issues, real or perceived, we have with our bodies–weight, height, shape, fertility, or whatever.  For my pastor, this wasn’t a perceived problem. It was how he was really treated by his peers in his neighborhood. And women know too that we regularly get treated better or worse based on our appearance. Not long ago, I went to a fast food restaurant with a trim, attractive blond girlfriend. The same cashier waited on both of us, and the night and day treatment when he switched from my order to hers was about the clearest demonstration of it I’ve ever seen. Um, wow! That was … clear. I wasn’t bothered by it, but it did strike me and cause me to ponder these things.
In his sermon, my pastor pointed out that issues with our body are carried with us at all times. We have moments away from spousal problems, kid problems, or work issues. But we carry our body with us everywhere we go all day long. In response, we develop all kinds of coping mechanisms to deal with our perceptions of our bodies which, as my pastor put it, can bring all kinds of chaos and trouble. In contrast, the gospel equips us to view our bodies in a totally different way, NO MATTER their shape or size, strengths or weaknesses.

I Cor. 6: 13-20 … The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! … 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. … 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

The specific issue Paul is addressing involves sexual immorality. But consider how the principles he teaches transcend just sex and create an all-encompassing view of our bodies.
First, in Christ, our body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body. There are all kinds of implications to that teaching that I am only beginning to comprehend. “What?! God, I know you are FOR me, but you are also FOR my body?” This implies that me and my body aren’t distinct from one another. That what’s good for me is good for my body and vice versa. This challenges a monastic view of our bodies and desires that marks them as bad and the squelching of desire as the necessary path to superior Christianity. The good feelings I get from a pedicure or time in a warm jacuzzi are not opposed to godliness. I can and should worship God even then. Especially then.
Second, as God raised the Lord, He will raise up our bodies. Implied is the acknowledgement that my body right now is broken and missing the mark of perfection. And yet I KNOW it will not always be so. It’s helpful to think of myself not in a completely different perfect body, but in the very body I have now in its own perfected state. It may seem weird, but it is very helpful to me to think of what my very own body, hair color, and shape might be like in the resurrection.
Finally, my body is a member of Christ and the dwelling place of God Himself. My BODY. However I perceive my body and its flaws, God has spoken something over it altogether different. His good word to me through Christ encompasses all of me, including the parts of me physically that bother me the most. And just as His lavish grace gives me a new perspective on my soul and emotions, it does so for my physical appearance and limitations as well.
This is a good word to me right now because my body is letting me down. I want to despise my feet that continue to pain me day in and day out and affect my ability to serve my children. The things to help my feet hurt my back. My attempts to lose weight and get back some semblance of a waistline hurt my neck, which affects my sleep, and so forth. Turning 40 was rough on me physically. But right now, I’m meditating on the promise that THIS body of mine will be made new in perfection. These ankles won’t turn in. This neck will stop hurting and start feeling strong to carry me upright. I’ll pull my insulin pump out of my stomach and throw it into the abyss never to be needed again (and I’m thinking I will no longer have a saggy chin). Most importantly, in the meantime, the God of creation is living in me and boldly declares that He is for both me and my body.  He has said a very good, sustaining word over my body that transforms how I think about it.  

The Vanity of Loveless Prophets

Conservative Christians love their gifted leaders. We love inspirational sermons that make us think. We appreciate teachers who can deconstruct arguments and analyze trends. We love leaders who sacrifice. We flock to hear messages from those who have endured loss or lack for the sake of the ministry. And we LOVE great music—good bands, inspirational choirs, or talented worship teams.

But I’m not sure we really love what God loves.

1 Corinthians 13
 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Paul’s words indict our Christian culture. And it indicts me personally. It indicts me when I am self satisfied by how I articulated an argument, when I applaud my abilities to discern a root issue when I see a spiritual conflict, or when I quietly congratulate myself for a sacrifice I made for the ministry. Paul indicts me, and he indicts our Christian culture that fawns over well spoken, articulate, winners of spiritual arguments. Paul makes it clear that giftedness is NOT enough. Musical talent—not enough. Gifted speaking ability—not enough. Prophetic discernment—N.O.T. E.N.O.U.G.H. Hear Paul clearly. When these giftings are not accompanied by love, it is NOTHING. You are nothing. You gain nothing. Paul’s words, not mine. Your efforts become only disruptive noise in the landscape of the kingdom of God. Just noise.

I lose sight of this so easily. Giftedness so often gets more attention than love, and it is probably the number one thing that undermines all ministries, including mine. A friend from another state brought this to my attention this week after an eloquent analysis of her struggles to figure out how to think about a ministry in which she was involved. The Spirit finally gave her clarity as she read this passage from I Corinthians. Yes, this ministry seems to be making an impact. Sure, leaders there are gifted speakers able to hold the attention of large crowds. The music reflects great talent and gifting. But they aren’t loving. Their ministry is not characterized by the I Corinthians definition of love.

When Paul says that if I don’t have love, then I am and have nothing in terms of accomplishments for Christ, he doesn’t leave us wondering exactly what he means. He then clearly spells out what he means when he uses the term love.

Love is patient. It has a long fuse and is not easily angered. Which implies something has happened in my relationship with the one I am called to love that tempts me to not be patient and to get angry. Something is wrong, uncomfortable, or aggravating. There is an irritant in the relationship. Yet I keep my temper and deal patiently with the one who is angering me.

Love does not envy. There is a situation in which someone got something I want. Or got something they don’t deserve. And I am tempted to despise them for it instead of rejoice with them.

Love is not rude. It doesn’t cut down others with sarcasm. It treats others with the inherent value God has placed on them as created in His image. This is a big one. If someone is gifted enough in how they speak, we often accept very rude behavior from them (until it’s aimed at us). But Paul says here that such rudeness undermines completely the value of their giftedness for the kingdom.

Love does not rejoice in evil. We don’t gloat over other’s mistakes. Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. Love is ever ready to extend the benefit of the doubt to someone.

Love, after all, is the greatest command. So it makes sense to me why it is such a deal breaker when we want to accomplish something for God’s kingdom by way of our giftedness. Hear Paul’s warning clearly. Wherever you see your giftings, it will come to nothing apart from sincere love—not token words but the real, deep love for another that causes you to lay down your sword, endure for the long haul in trying circumstances, ever ready to believe the best of the one to whom you are called to love. For gifted Christian leaders, this often means slowing down—in fact, slowing down is inherent to the meaning of patience. Sometimes, you have to slow down and endure for the long haul, which may seem counterintuitive to your vision of your mission. Yet apart from such love, Paul’s warning is sober—you gain nothing of kingdom value. Your efforts just become noise, distracting from mission rather than facilitating it. I recently got to watch a ministry go through this type of slowing down out of obedience to this command to love. It took a great deal of patience, and yet the kingdom results were beautiful to watch.

Now, I’m tempted to end this post there, yet everything in me says that I need to say much more. I know people who are there. I can’t leave you (or me) with only an analysis of the problem. So here is the good news of God’s answer.

When Paul says the most gifted of people ARE nothing without love, a knife goes into my heart. He’s stabbing at our identity and that is a very sensitive place. Yet, he’s exactly right. Your giftedness does not bring you sustainable identity. In terms of identity, you are nothing if you are resting on giftedness alone. But repentance is for such a moment as this. And it works! Repent. Find the sole source of your identity in who you are in Christ, which has nothing to do with your talents or giftings. When you know who you are as God’s adopted child alone, then you are free to face your sin. You were rude, you didn’t bear long in love, and you believed the worst instead of the best of the one to whom you were called to love, all for the “sake of the ministry.” The gospel is for such a moment as this, and it gives us great hope. Simply confess your sin.

And from there, be encouraged to know that love is not a work that you have to muster up in yourself. It is a FRUIT of the SPIRIT. Love in your life will be the overflow of your connectedness to God and understanding of HIS love. Connect to the root, grasp what His love looks like, and then watch it flow out of you as a fruit of this healthy connection you have with Him. Meditate first on God’s love for you, which is definitely most obvious when contrasted to what you and I deserved instead. And from understanding His love, you will be equipped to really love those in your life – not fake, poser love that is a happy smile when all is going well but fades into hopelessness or condemnation when things go south. I Corinthians 13 love is by definition for when things go south – when conflict comes, when all is not well, when you are provoked, when life is not easy, when annoying long term problems continue week after week, month after month. Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” And love IS possible, but only through our union with Him.

*I’ve linked to this sermon before, but here is a great message on the fruit of the Spirit, love, that has its origins in God Himself.

My prayer for Christian fundamentalist leaders

A story involving sexual child abuse that came to light last year opened the door to the underbelly of Christian fundamentalism in which I spent a number of years in my teens and twenties. The topic hasn’t been well addressed by fundamentalist leaders, and it’s a ticking time bomb for them in my humble opinion. Many have argued (correctly) that all brands of religion and even life in general are sullied by child abuse, but my firm conviction is that it’s the bomb in your own backyard that will most wound you and those around you and from which you have the best chance of rescuing people. So this post reflects my burden for friends that are still in Christian fundamentalism and are now in positions of leadership and influence.

I wasn’t personally abused during my years in Christian fundamentalism. In fact, it provided much needed structure at a time when I lacked self worth, self confidence, or any kind of personal security. What disturbs me deeply now is that I knew people who were abused (I was actually very good friends with a few), but both they and I somehow felt that whatever they got at the hands of the fundamentalist authorities in their life, no matter how unreasonable or harsh it seemed to us, must be OK. Why? Because the authorities around us who weren’t the abusers seemed OK with the ones who were. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” I don’t really care to speak to abusers in this post. Instead, it is the SILENCE by others that I want to address.

To clarify, I’m not talking about general oppressiveness when I use the term abuse. I am talking about genuine physical and sexual abuse, especially of children. I didn’t have just one friend so abused, but several, four that are particularly on my mind as I write this. From different states. Beaten bloody and/or bruised by their parents. Sexually abused by parents or siblings or church leaders. And most disturbing of all, telling the appropriate Christian leaders in their lives about said abuse and either being put off and ignored or told that they shared the blame.

In particular, while working at a respectable fundamentalist Christian camp, I had a camper share with me (in repentance, trying to repair her reputation with me), that she didn’t mean to have sex with a guy. That she hadn’t dressed provocatively. In fact, she had had holes in her undergarments when their sexual encounter took place. Obviously, sex with him wasn’t on her mind when she got dressed that day. And she had even protested and said no. But at some point, because of her moral weakness, she gave in. At least, we both kind of accepted that view of it. And she was brought up for church discipline with the guy. She “repented” and was left with a reputation she worked hard to repair.

Now, with the maturity of an adult living in the real world, I think of that with a cold knot in my stomach. She was caught by surprise and embarrassed by the poor condition of her dress that day. She said NO. She was underage. This wasn’t sexual immorality. It was rape. But her sexual abuse from her past and the acceptance of it all as her fault by the authorities in her life (her fundamentalist parents, her Christian school, her pastor, camp counselors, and so forth) led her to truly believe it was her fault, as did I. She was CHURCH DISCIPLINED for it.

I say all that simply to establish that there is a problem, and that I’m not speaking from gossip or hearsay on the issue. Children were physically and sexually abused, and when they came forward, they were told it was their fault. Then they were the ones held accountable while the authorities in their lives who either did the abuse or allowed others to do it were not held accountable.

As I’ve written in other posts, authorities are ALWAYS the one held to the higher standard, the greater accountability. They are called to restrain their authority and use their power as a force for the abused and oppressed. Many leaders in Christian fundamentalism have not held authorities to the higher standard. In fact, the exact opposite seems the norm (and I deliberately chose the word “seems” because I do not know what conversations among fundamentalist leaders are going on in the background, and I am hopeful that genuine change on this issue is taking root privately).

In light of all this, I have been praying a very specific prayer—that leaders WITHIN fundamentalism will start leading publicly on this issue. I’m praying for a few of you by name, though I won’t name you here. I’m praying specifically that Christian fundamentalist leaders would do a few important things.

First, I pray that God will move leaders to clearly name sexual abuse as sin (and the disciplining of abuse victims as sin) and especially that they would clearly affirm that statutory rape is still rape. That should be obvious, and I’m disturbed that I even have to write it. Yet, apparently it’s not obvious to some. It needs to be stated clearly and boldly.

Second, I pray for leaders within the movement that would clearly teach the origin of sexual abuse as the heart of the abuser. There is an emphasis on women’s dress in Christian fundamentalism that teaches that men lust because women dress provocatively. The only problem is that some men are still lusting over girls in denim jumpers and turtlenecks. Lust is a heart issue. Period. This is not to say that a wise woman will have no restraints on how she dresses. Modesty is a very real concept in Scripture, though I have rarely heard it taught correctly in conservative circles. True modesty flows from a woman’s heart that is confident in her standing in Christ, the well loved daughter of the most trustworthy Father of all. She has nothing to prove with her dress, but I’ll write more on that another day. My point here is that to directly correlate hemlines and necklines with lust and sexual immorality is naive and unbiblical. Which is why 50 men can walk by the same attractive woman and have a variety of reactions in response. They likely all notice her (For Women Only has a good discussion on this topic) and even admire her. But for some it stops there. For others it becomes sin in their minds. And a smaller group won’t just think it but actually act out on it. What causes the difference in their responses? You could argue the difference was simply opportunity or accountability. But the Bible says the difference is our HEART. That’s why underdeveloped girls in denim jumpers get raped in the back seat of a car. It’s not how they were dressed but the heart of the perpetrator.   Fundamentalist leaders need to boldly take the emphasis off of women’s dress on the issue of sexual immorality.

Third, I pray that leaders would understand and teach how to minister real grace to the victim. I won’t go into details because, honestly, it takes a lot more training than I’ve had to get a good grip of how that looks. I will say that it begins with an honest affirmation of the truth of what the victim experienced and feels as a result. If you don’t know what else to say, at least teach your congregations to say a genuine “I’m so very sorry” to the victim followed by a sincere embracing of them.

Fourth, I pray that leaders would build a culture that gives potential abusers an avenue to get counsel and help BEFORE they act out on things. We attach so much shame to even having these thoughts, that we set up abusers for failure sometimes. Again, I’m getting past my education and experience, so I won’t say more on this except that it’s a need.

Fifth and maybe the most important of all, I pray for leaders who will teach the value of authentic REPENTANCE. There are many well known situations floating around that leaders seem more interested in deflecting, excusing, and generally talking their way out of than facing head on and eating it. Just REPENT. Just say, “Yes, under my watch, this specific thing did happen. It was wrong. And I did not protect the widow and orphan. I participated in injustice. And I am very sorry.” Then CHANGE. Do things differently. Repair what you can. You know what?! That very gospel we talked about so much in fundamentalism (at least in the schools, churches, and camps that I knew) empowers us to face our sin head on, to admit it, to lay it at the foot of the cross, and to walk away changed. It equips you and I to get up and go in a new direction without shame. Christ’s death frees us from the chains of our own sins. And His life applied to our account lets us walk forward in the truest righteousness of all–HIS!

In summary, simply REPENT, CHANGE, and REPAIR.

Oh, fundamentalist Christian leader, if you happen to be reading this, take up the call in Isaiah 1 that is echoed in James. Right wrongs. Correct injustice. Protect widows and orphans. Defuse the bomb in your own backyard before it blows up in your face. The true gospel really does equip us to do this!

The Terrible Sin of Eisigesis

If you are not familiar with the term eisigesis, here’s the wiki definition (poorly edited, by the way, yet it at least communicates the basic idea).

Eisigesis means reading into the (Biblical) text; which means that while reading the text, one would understand the text in accordance to his (or her) own presupposition and agendas. Eisigesis is widely used to prove a point rather to search for the truth. On the contrary to eisigesis, exigesis means reading out of the text. That means putting aside all presuppositions, agendas, and ideas, and looking for the truth of the matter, although it might be something we disagree with.

If anyone has a wiki account, that definition could use some serious editing. The idea behind the word eisigesis is best understood in contrast to Biblical exegesis, which is more clearly defined among theologians. Exegesis in the vernacular is letting Scripture set the agenda on how a verse or chapter is interpreted and applied. When a pastor exegetes Scripture, he sets aside his personal agenda as he studies Scripture. He looks at the context of a passage. What was the author talking about in the previous section? How do the previous verses inform the passage in question? Who was it written too? How does their background and culture inform what the author is saying to them? What do the actual Hebrew or Greek words mean? Does the author use those same words any where else in Scripture? Is this passage actually quoted anywhere else in Scripture. And so forth. It is reading OUT OF Scripture.

In contrast, eisigesis is projecting ONTO Scripture. Instead of Scripture speaking out to us, we speak into it. We inform how it is read. Our agendas apart from Scripture inform how we interpret and apply it. And it is a horrible yet common sin. It’s a perversion of Scripture. Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself TO us. We don’t get to project our reflections onto it. IT illuminates US. Not vice versa.

The problem with eisigesis is that when we emphasize things Scripture doesn’t, we minimize the focus on what Scripture really does say is important.

After hearing a few sermon series from Old Testament books that were classic examples of eisigesis, I recognize it easily now. But a negative side effect is that I also tense up now when my pastor wants to preach from any Old Testament passage. During a recent sermon from Jeremiah, I sat listening to my pastor trying to figure out why I trusted the applications he was making for today from Jeremiah 29. Why is it that I can hear instructions from 3000 or so years ago on seeking the welfare of some city in the middle east (and not David’s example of cutting off Philistine foreskins or Nehemiah’s scalping of his enemies) and embrace it for me today?

I have particular baggage on that question after hearing a sermon series from Nehemiah a few years ago that was about the worst example of eisigesis I’ve yet experienced. The preacher projected his life onto the story of Nehemiah and allowed his personal experiences rather than a gospel hermeneutic to decide how he applied it. The results were devastating. Years later, when my pastor announced he was going to preach through Exodus, I immediately tensed. But after going through a few Old Testament series taught through the lens of the gospel and life of Jesus, I have come to understand that the difference is really quite simple. Correct exegesis and application of Old Testament passages will never deny New Testament explanations or commands. When you have to deny New Testament instructions to make Old Testament analogies, you are in problem territory.

In the Nehemiah example, the preacher drew the conclusion that going postal on your spiritual opponent is Biblical because Nehemiah did. But that conclusion ignored the distinction between what Scripture DESCRIBES and PRESCRIBES. Scripture describes a lot of things that we aren’t to do, and sometimes it describes it without commentary. Though the guy in Judges cut up his concubine’s corpse and distributed it among the tribes, we know better than to suggest others do that today. Judges described what happened, and be very certain that everything that the Bible describes it does not also prescribe.

In reference to the description of Nehemiah’s harsh reaction to his opponents, it was a good day when I read what Scripture in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 actually prescribes when dealing with your opponent.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Weird stories in the Old Testament are very relevant today. Some simply point to the character of our God. While most of us will never go through the same trials that Joseph did, our God is the same, and what others mean for evil, He uses for our good (Gen. 50:20). That’s His character. Some OT stories point to our need for King Jesus. For instance, the entire book of Judges, which is a compilation of depressing stories summed up with the phrase, “there was no king and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” We need King Jesus. We need His life lived out before us because apart from His standard of righteousness, the things we come up with as righteous in our own eyes are woefully inadequate and often quite perverse. Then there are the abundance of stories that reveal little glimpses of what King Jesus will look like when He comes. The entire OT sacrificial system does this. The Psalms give us glimpses. Ruth’s story of the kinsman redeemer or Hosea’s pursuit of Gomar all do this as well.

The Bible is the best commentary on itself and the most helpful tool for avoiding personal eisigesis. Once we stop projecting onto the Old Testament, it has so much to project onto us. And it is beautiful and redemptive. I’m very thankful to the godly men (and women) who have pointed me to the cross from Genesis to Malachi.

The Answer to a Works Righteousness Approach to Mission

Our pastor started a sermon series on I Corinthians today with the general theme of Threats to Mission. Today’s focus was how a cult of personality can be a threat to authentic mission. The answer was that, not only is salvation by grace, but mission too is by grace (not personality, or gifting, or vision). If you have 30 minutes and would like to hear a gospel centered message on living out our mission in our culture, this is a very helpful one. The text is I. Cor. 1:1-3, 10-17; 3:1-9.

Cultiness defines a cult as a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader. It’s a loaded term when it gets used with Christians. Scripture indicates that God is doing something in His people that gives true children of God different values and practices from much of those who reject Him. So in some sense, all believers can expect to be viewed as culty (a word I just made up) by the world. But there ARE Christian groups who have earned the right to be called a cult with every negative connotation of the word. The Branch Davidians are obvious. The trajectory of other Christian groups toward cultish behavior is a bit subtler. They are often oblivious of all the ways their current practices put them much more in line with cults than with the historic church. Here are some warning signs that you should not ignore.

1) Your church or ministry thinks it’s doing something particularly unusual or unique from other churches. They celebrate that uniqueness and protect it as core to their ministry.

The truth is that God has been effectively building His church and discipling His children for 1000’s of years. “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). If you think you’ve stumbled upon something new, unique, and utterly distinct from what’s going on in the Body of Christ outside of your particular church or ministry, be warned. You are adopting an unbiblical view of the Church of God. That separatist view is a strong indicator of a pride that will lead to many unhealthy, unbiblical responses to those who leave your church or ministry, to family who are outside your church or ministry, or to other churches or ministry that don’t fawn over your church or ministry. If you have Christian family that is concerned by your involvement in your church or ministry (maybe you can’t even bring it up with them anymore in conversation), think hard about why that may be.

2) Your church acts like a business. All churches need good, ethical business practices. But when your church adopts business practices to govern and minister to its people, start thinking hard. When the pastor see himself as a CEO rather than an undershepherd of God, um … that’s bad!

And the opposite is bad too — when your ministry business or nonprofit that is not a church starts trying to exercise church discipline style control over its people. God’s plan for community, discipleship, and accountability is through the elder/deacon authority structure of a local church. You get into troubled water quickly when people who are not under the authority structure of a church try to exercise spiritual authority over you. They can encourage you, support you, point you to Christ, and so forth. But they cannot discipline you. And if they try, be very wary.

3) Your church or ministry over claims one or more of these ideas to justify itself against its critics. “God spoke to me about this (or about you).” “I have discernment on this issue that you don’t have.” “I’m an apostle with a special word from God.” “This is demonic oppression to stop the work of God.”

These ideas (special words from God) easily become justification for not obeying God’s clearly expressed will in His Word. If Pastor A thinks he’s an apostle of God being oppressed by Satan in a certain conflict, he feels instantly justified in using harsh words, unloving statements, and ungracious actions to fight off Satan. When a leader’s experience in a particular circumstance trumps God’s clear instructions on how to handle conflict as laid down in Scripture, be VERY wary.

4) Your church or ministry becomes your identity. This is pretty important because it zooms in on not the cultiness of the overall ministry but the dangerous idolatry of our own heart. Do you push down your concerns with the ministry because to exam them closely makes your heart constrict in fear as you contemplate possibly getting out? I’ve been there. Twice. I couldn’t consider the truth of the church’s/ministry’s problems because I felt so threatened by the idea of moving out of their safety and security. They had become my protectors, and I wasn’t confident that God alone could assume that role adequately for me. I thought no one else could minister to me or meet my needs the way they did. That is idolatry, friends. All my relationships were in the group. My finances were tied to it. My IDENTITY was tied to it. The truth is that there is godly Christian community throughout the world. I am continually awed at the healthy Christian community I find in the shadows of unhealthy ones.

Such idolatry can happen with healthy ministries. It becomes an indication of cultiness when the church/ministry FOSTERS that kind of dependence. They WANT you to find your identity in them. They want all of your resources to flow into them and all of your ministry work to flow out of them. They want you to be proud of them and feel that what they are doing is superior to other groups.

5) Your church or ministry uses the Lord’s name in vain. When “Jesus” and His “glory” are cited for enduring attacks, bearing long with someone, or confessing your sins, that’s healthy. In contrast, when you justify firing someone “for Jesus’ name” or to preserve “the glory of God”, um, you’re traveling at light speed down the trajectory of cultiness. Jesus name is high and mighty. It’s to be used with precision and care. If your church or ministry uses Jesus’ name to justify actions that have NO OTHER REAL BIBLICAL JUSTIFCATION for them, that’s a big time problem.

6) Your church or ministry protects its authority at all costs. It is not safe to say certain things. And truth is no excuse for saying them. In contrast, according to Scripture, GOD sets up authorities (Romans 13). He sets up those in our government, and He sets up those in our churches. And it’s God’s job to preserve those authorities. God’s authority can handle questions. God’s authority doesn’t need to circle the wagons to protect itself.

If these things ring true in your heart yet you FEAR leaving, let that be the final indicator that you are in an unhealthy place. God says it best in I John 4, and it’s a good word to end these thoughts.

18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.