I was informed a week or so ago that my blog was being posted all over forums, printed & distributed, and causing issues. It's funny how that happens. Once a thought is out there, whether written or spoken, it's out there for good. No chance of recall. We choose to stand behind our words or crumble under the weight of them. I'm too much of an idealist to crumble.
I went to the forums & read what was said. For some I was a crusader for their cause. I was a name they could drop to further their agenda. I could see where it was going already: They would ride the wave of my words until it no longer gave them a thrill, then they would move on to the next wave and leave me washed up on the shore. For others on the forums I was, at the very least, a wayward warrior leading soldiers far from the cross, and at the most the very personification of evil.
It's a strange feeling being both destroyed & glorified at the same time. Just strange.
My words were causing some joy & others pain. They were helping some & hurting others. Blessing & Cursing. Things I assumed were private (and intended to be kept private), as a form of semi-private diary between friends & preachers, had now entered the public arena. And the public can be harsh. They can be harsh for 2 main reasons: Misinterpretation & Frenzy.
Words are spoken in contexts. They are carefully framed with purpose & certain hearers in mind. When words are read outside of those contexts or by other hearers many things can go awry. Motives are assumed. Tone is read into. Other things including the personality of the writer, the purpose of the writing...etc, are either misconstrued or not even considered. Misunderstanding language is the reason the Catholic church kept the Bible from translation into common language for so long - if people, who were unfamiliar with solid hermeneutical principles, translated it, they could easily misinterpret its original meaning, misapply it into their lives, and mislead others into heresy.
Simply put, when I write blogs, I'm sometimes writing things from a 'devil's advocate' perspective (I may not even agree with the thoughts myself) - stirring up thought to catch reactions and make people think outside the box (ie: my blog on 'Cursing'). Sometimes I'm opening my heart & soul & bearing my fears, frustrations, and joys (ie: my blog on 'Holy Hair' & 'The Parade'). And sometimes I'm just having fun! This is why the blog was meant to be private - for people who know me & understand my personality & can identify with my struggles while offering an outsider's perspective and bringing balance to my sometimes outlandish ideas.
But when these kind of words are carried from their safe place of rest and marched into the town square for a public hearing, it's no wonder why they can cause drama, riot & frenzy. "The person is rational, people are not." The mob can create an energy that builds a tower or destroys a city. The mob tears and pulls and yells 'crucify him!' The mob can be very destructive.
Just as my words on issues were a blessing to some & a cursing to others, so I have now been blessed & cursed. But my words were spoken towards issues (I never mentioned names in my writings of frustration - it is not in me to defame people or destroy ministries, whether or not I agree with them). My goal was debating topics, approaches to scripture, and getting feedback.
I got plenty of feedback.
What is sad to me is the fact that people can say all manner of things against others, without addressing their words or even responding directly to their blogs. They can sneak in through the window & kidnap your words out of their bed. They can attack others in their gardens of solitude and march them into the court for an illegal trial at night. The nature of the Pharisee has not changed much, just the masks they wear. They can be ruthless, tactless, and gutless as ever. They will never learn - it's in their nature.
What is even more heart-wrenching is the annihilation the mob leaves in their wake. Ministries, relationships, and confidences may be completely destroyed. They don't care. They have had their fill, and their cannibalistic appetites are only temporarily satisfied. The gossip-mongers live the high-life of clandestine meetings and pseudonyms...
...Pseudonyms! Why didn't I think of that! Instead of posting my picture & name all over the place, I could have just thrown out thoughts under a name like... uh... JL Vicente or Theophilus.
Now I am left with more rebuilding to do than my hands can perform. The tornado came through my town & now I'm sitting on my knees in an open field, amidst the ripped apart buildings and felled trees & roadsigns. The clarity of the moment is poignant. I see things for what they are without all the facades. My eyes are open as I sit here in the path of this tornado, looking at the damage surrounding me. The powerful truth of the moment is so painful. But I can't sit here forever...I have to rebuild this town, heal the wounded, love the enemy & minister by living this gospel. It's time to forgive those who don't know what they do. It's time to bless those who curse. It's time to ask for mercy from those who I've injured (though that was never my intention). It's time to bring a clarion voice to the confused & disturbed.
So to everyone who sought to bring me glory or shame, I love, forgive, and bless you.
I'm sorry to all my friends & family who my words have injured. My father & mother, whom I respect & love dearly. My uncle & General Superintendent who is a true Christian and and incredible leader. To ministers that have shaped my life like Tim Wachtstetter, Jeff Garner, Sam Moelenpah, Lee Stoneking. For those of you who have loved me & believed in my ministry, I'm more thankful than you may know. I love you all & I'm sorry for any pain I've caused.
It was never my intention to bring confusion into any flock or to cause a schism in the body. I love the Bride of Christ with all my heart. If you love Him, you will love His church...you will honor & defend her, protect her and bless her. Tearing down people & ministries does not accomplish this goal - that's a far cry from defending truth and fighting for ideals. I'm truly sorry if my words or actions have ever failed in that attempt.
Growing up I viewed salvation as my golden ticket to an afterlife version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I sang song’s like, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through…” Experiencing the New Birth was a result of the ultimate cost-benefit analysis: ‘Get Saved = Go to Heaven, Refuse = Go to Hell.’ The Christian life was composed of an act of Salvation, followed by adhering to all the rules; then riding out the rest of your life, holding on to principles of holiness, maturity & evangelism until the end. Why? Because that’s what it was all about.
It never surprised me when people waited till their deathbed to give their “lives” to God. I, for one, made it my periodic goal to get into Heaven with as much Hell in my life as possible. I gave because it was supposed to multiply my cash-flow. I prayed because I needed to have relationship (I didn’t want God to tell me “Depart from me, I never knew you”). I witnessed because it was the right thing to do & I did not want people to go to the lake of fire. Life was built on black & white suppositions. Life sucked.
I lost my faith at Seminary, I left my God shortly after.
After a while, by God’s grace, and the love & prayers of the incredible, true Christians in my life, I came back around. But I had to reassess this approach to salvation. When I did, I realized some things.
I realized our system is broken. It’s not working. Divorce rates are much higher among Christians than any other group, religious or not (1). In general, our souls might be saved but our lives are not. This raises a question. Is this the Gospel Jesus went everywhere preaching? A gospel that ‘s good for later, but not right now? A gospel that saves the soul in eternity, but leaves the life here & now in ruin?
This approach is strikingly similar to that of the Gnostics, who believed that we are souls and our flesh & bodies are merely vehicles of sorts. Their idea was grounded in Greek Philosophy, not Scripture. If you listen closely, this same idea saturates much of our preaching. This doesn’t sound like the words of Jesus to me. Isn’t this gospel Jesus preached, good news for my life here & now, as well as Eternity?
There are other areas that showed me our approach to salvation is weak. Firstly, because it was not how Jesus approached the subject; secondly, because salvation had come to mean something entirely different to us than it did to the early church.
Today, we approach things from a consumer-individualistic slant. We hook people with a gospel of personal salvation built on self-interest, lure them (along with their time & finances) into our churches to be involved in ministry, and hope & pray they see a need for world missions.
Jesus’ approach was much different!
According to Scripture, Christ enters human history with saving love for the entire world. Out of that love he calls a people, then invites you & I to be a part of it. Redemption. Reconciliation. Recreation. This is the point. And we wonder why it’s hard to get people passionate about doing gospel work…
In the creation poem we see a world of harmony, in which relationships between Humanity & God, Humanity & Creation, and Humanity with Each Other, are fruitful and self-sustaining. The poem goes on to tell how these relationships were broken. Mankind rejects God. Man seeks his own and ignores his neighbor. We destroy creation. Things are falling apart.
Into this broken world, God sends His son to bring change. The central message of the Gospel that he preaches is Love & Otherness (but if we are not careful we center it on self). The aim of Christ’s Gospel is reconciliation: “To wit God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself….And has given us the ministry of reconciliation…” (but if we are not careful our aim is celestial-escapism) Our calling is not just getting people to stand in line for their tickets to cross Jordan; our calling is bringing order to chaos, healing to pain, reconciliation to every relationship: God, Others, Creation.
This goes to the very core of the issue.
Step outside of modern America for a moment & think of salvation from a Hebraic mindset. When salvation was spoken of in the OT, it was referring to salvation from enemies, sickness, and oppression. This is not to say they had a low view of resurrection. Resurrection is a very real hope & reality for every believer. This IS to say that the EMPHASIS on salvation was more focused on the here and now: Salvation that begins in this life.
We see this exemplified in the fact that Jesus taught on things like how to use our money more than Heaven & Hell combined. We see this in His prayer for God’s Kingdom to come & His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We see this in the testimony throughout Scripture that Gospel Proclamation, received in faith, resulted in tangible, drastic life-transformation.
Salvation works here & now...
Our definition of salvation…our self-defined “Whole Gospel” simply does not.
We are guilty of malnutrition. We feed our children their daily dose (& sometimes more) of Vitamin C, but we neglect Vitamins A & B, Iron & Potassium, Phosphorus & Calcium. Then we weep for them as their lives & marriages fall apart before our eyes and attempt to comfort them with visions of a better life in heaven.
We take the “whole gospel to the whole world” in places like Africa, where hundreds of our brothers & sisters receive Christ and are filled with His spirit, and then we leave them in their poverty & pray they stay strong in their faith. Doesn’t the good news have something to say about their poverty as well? Didn’t Gospel proclamation always accompany salvation with healing and attitudes of sacrificial giving? Are we really delivering the whole gospel to them?
And isn’t salvation a process? Doesn’t it begin at faith & end when we have made it to the other side and hear the words, “Well Done, my good & faithful servant”? Yes. It’s a process of growth & maturity, identifying more & more with Christ, taking up our cross & following Him until we trade it in one day for a crown. Salvation is as much about this life as the next.
I got born again, again.
This time it wasn’t an emotionally-charged tongue-talking experience (although, I must admit, nothing compares to that marvelous moment when humanity touches deity and that relationship is restored). This time it was a rebirth of purpose; a reckoning of my previous ‘Christian’ lifestyle with a new direction – a new focus – a new life. For the first time, I began living this abundant life I had heard so much about. I tasted and saw and wanted to share that God was good.
Salvation became tangible, palpable, and dimensional. I saw it at work in my hands & feet. I could hear it in my speech & feel it in my heart. I saw it march boldly into my relationships. I was a better father & husband. I cared about things like obeying the speed limit. I felt pricked in my heart when I started to litter. I felt a drive toward social justice…not just giving money, but getting involved physically. I wanted to change my world, to help relationships, to restore & rebuild. I was a new creation that wanted to re-create. I had been reconciled & now I wanted to reconcile the world around me.
I was saved.
I am still being saved. God is still at work redeeming parts of by life. My eyes are being opened to areas that have long been blind-spots. God is taking me back to places of pain & failure in my past that I have tried to forget & He’s redeeming those moments. He's redirecting my future. He’s bringing all things under His rule & reign. Each day He’s becoming more & more my God, and reconciling more & more of me to Him. Life is new, free & abundant.
All that to say this: Salvation is holistic. It is for your whole person. It is for your whole life, past – present – future. It is for everyone you come in contact with. It is for the whole world and should spill-out, everywhere you go, from your overflowing vessel. Salvation is God at work in time redeeming all things to Himself. Jump on board & enjoy the ride!
*1) Study by The Barna Group: http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_dira.htm
To laugh is to risk appearing the fool. To weep is to risk appearing sentimental. To reach out to others is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self. To place your ideas, your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To live is to risk dying. To hope is to risk despair. To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to do nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes, they are a slave, they forfeited their freedom.
I was raised in a caravan of a certain Christian tradition. Our nomadic theologians had ventured off from their comfortable homes to find God in a strange new land. Somewhere along the way, this pursuit had become more about things they found along the journey and building a bigger caravan than actually finding God. The journey drifted toward a different direction. Some split, sickened by that reality, and rejoined the adventure of exploring God's territory. Those that left were often demonized and the caravan became an organization bent on maintenance instead of mission.
Recently, I was invited to a young ministers' meeting for this organization I belong to. This certain denominational organization, like many others, has been slowly passing off the scene one elder at a time. It's been refusing to embrace change or to entertain questions from the younger ministers who are leaving by droves. Reactively, the older generations have begun to parade this caravan down a narrow road of denial that leads to an inevitable cliff ahead. Through the noisy show of the parade, a few alarmed elders have seen the approaching despair...so with legs that continued to dance to the music and voices that continued to sing the praises of this dying organization, they made their way to San Diego to call a meeting for us few remaining youngsters.
The meeting was held at the District Superintendent's Church, and only ministers 40 yrs. and under were allowed to attend. Dress was to be "Business Casual." There was a loose schedule. Food. Fun. A 10-minute presentation on 'Postmodernism.' Then an "open forum" that was labeled a 'safe haven' to discuss questions and concerns about the organization from within.
I was skeptical.
When I showed up, I realized I had forgotten that we were on SoCal Time...I was alone...in my business casual attire. That was a fun topic of conversation for me and the first 5 couples that arrived in suits & ties. After some awkward conversations about my 'Justin Timberlake' look (...skinny tie and stubbly wiskers...) we went downstairs and ate glorious Mexican food (which is one positive point about this organization: The food is always good!). The attempt at fellowship & games was a bit clunky, but attempting to have fun at a minister's meeting was a first & I don't think people knew how to respond. All-in-all, it started off much better than expected! It was somewhat disarming.
I was relaxed.
The 10-minute presentation on 'Postmodernism' was a decent primer on our generation from an older, outsider's perspective (It was fairly anemic and demonized a few traits that I believe are fully redeemable...but it was decent). The 2 elders present seemed to connect with it on a deep level. I was glad for them-it seemed like they were really trying to understand us. Then we made our way upstairs for the 'open discussion,' which I expected to include several minutes of preaching/teaching followed by 5-10 minutes of panel discussion. I did not expect any kind of organic format...
I was wrong.
One of the elders opened it up for about 2-3 minutes about the need for trust and vulnerability. Then they actually opened it up for questions...like a real honest-to-goodness round-table. I didn't really buy into it, but I played the game and opened up the meeting with a 'safe question' about the lack of true accountability within the organization: how it seems much of the rule book deals with how to give 'fallen ministers' the boot, but not how to restore their ministries or how to be proactive before immorality becomes something that's acted upon. This first question opened up the flood gates of dialogue. Questions our generation has been wrestling with started coming to the forefront...and not in a "we need the answer" way, but in an "organic, deep, spiritual-learning" kind of way. This was actually working...
I was re-imagining.
For the next 20-30 minutes, we discussed things like the obvious generation gap, the mistrust between those generations, the possibility of revisiting rule books and regulations. We began to dream. Hope. Re-engage our faith in the context of this dying organization (maybe we can resurrect it...maybe we can stop the parade and pull the caravan back onto the right road...). We felt safe. We opened up our fears and expressed them. A flame of expectation began to flicker.
I was appalled...
...Because, after 30 minutes, one of the elders had finally heard enough. He was the chief of the caravan. He stepped up to the mic with a heavy heart. In his way of thinking, he didn't see a group of honest young ministers opening up and drawing strength from one another's struggles; He saw confusion. He didn't see progress, he saw fear and regress. Where I finally saw a sense of direction, he saw an 'untoward generation.' He told us of his heavy heart...that we were imagining problems that didn't exist...we were making mountains out of mole-hills and 'shadow-boxing'...that every elder he knew, in fact, trusted the young ministers coming up in the ranks of the organization...they wanted to give us an equal voice (which was curious to me, because I felt he was shutting ours down). He actually belittled our opinions. He was standing right there in front of us, stomping out this newborn fire of hope. A cold, wet blanket fell on the room.
In his defense I think his leadership training just took over. I believe he saw a storm of confusion & felt he needed to step to the bow of the ship like a good captain and take control. The problem was, what he saw as a typhoon really seemed to me to be the last hope that many of us had in this organization. It wasn't confusion; it was expressed frustration from people who had suppressed dreams and ideals because those did not fit into the box of the religious subculture they found themselves bound to. It was a beautiful chance for bridging gaps and healing wounds. Instead it further spread generational gaps and left newly reopened wounds gaping.
I was gone.
I regrouped with my good friend at Starbucks where we processed the whole experience. I was not alone in my opinion. He felt betrayed, like he had taken a big chance opening up and was taken advantage of. It felt like there was a plan that had existed from the beginning to give us the illusion of a voice, so we would feel like we were being heard and would join in their parade. It seemed like they just wanted to act like they were listening so we would shut up and comply. I wished I had remained skeptical, then I wouldn't feel so shut-down, unimportant and hurt. I had really seen hope there for a few minutes...I had been genuinely ready to give this whole thing a shot. Oh well. They have their agendas. They have their bureaucratic responsibilities to attend to. They have their parade.
I am moving on.
Now I find myself looking for God along the mountain paths where the air is fresh and people still have a sense of wonder. I am running into people everyday who are hungry for an authentic experience with God, not a religious experience with man. I hold to the distinctives of the childhood scriptures that shaped my mind and fashioned my theology. I'm letting the Spirit guide me as I take this new birth message, that my grandfather bled for and my family has sacrificed for, along for the journey with me. I am seeking God alone. I'm looking for His approval. I'm happier than I've ever been on this road high in the mountains overlooking the distant parade below. It's lonelier now, but I see others coming this way. We're going to meet up on the path....it's going to be an incredible pilgrimage. I feel the anticipation in the air.
I took my friends to a neighboring church to hear an evangelist last night. They were hungry for a positive spiritual experience with God and all they got was a negative legalistic experience with Man. It was an evening full of disappointment. The worship service was beautiful (although for me, the surplus of patriotic music accompanied by people standing everywhere- arms raised, worshiping made me ask myself if we were, in fact, worshiping God or our Nation). Nevertheless, it started out good enough and you could feel the Spirit of God strongly present to minister. I had high expectations for one of my friends to receive the Holy Spirit.
The preacher took the stage and I was excited as he began with his opening remarks about convictions and how the supreme court had defined them as beliefs nothing could sway you from: not family, friends, threat of lawsuit, imprisonment or death. I anticipated a sermon about martyrdom and the spreading of the Gospel message. My mind was wondering if he would include modern examples like the shooting at Columbine. This was going to be an incredible night, I could just feel it in the air...
What started out as a beautiful experience quickly went downhill. Apparently his convictions were more aimed at holiness and a separation from the world...not necessarily in belief or in action...but specifically in outward appearance. I understand that it could be argued that our appearance is an integral part of holiness, but this was the whole point of his sermon. Apparently this is the conviction he would take to courts & prison & death. Ok. I'll buy that. But where was the gospel message? Why wasn't he preaching the power of Christ and the blood and the cross? Instead he began preaching a different power...a power that centers on us... specifically: Hair
These were his points/arguments without all the rhetoric...
1) Every great move of God has been one that began with a movement towards holiness… 2) Hair die allegedly causes cancer 3) Make-up is a 'mask' and people who wear it have deep psychological issues 4) Makeup is from a rebellious heart that’s un-submissive to their original creator's intent 5) In the animal kingdom, the animals that mate for life don’t flaunt themselves like animals that are always looking for new mates... animals that mate for life look identical, "with no distinguishing characteristics" (Doesn't this kinda sound like an argument FOR unisex fashion?) 6) "Defile," according to Vines' Bible Dictionary, means "to stain, tint or dye with another color as of the staining of glass…." - Hence, if any man "stain, tint, or dye this body, Him shall God destroy! THAT IS POWERFUL!!!!" (this referred to tattoos...which I've previously blogged about) 8) Charismatics buy more porn in motels than other Christians 9) Charismatics have more gawdy, made-up women, which opens them up for perversion 10) Churches that "go charismatic" do so because the men want to exploit the women 11) Hollywood knows what theologians don’t: "the difference of what a good woman looks like vs. a prostitute" (ie: Jesus of Nazareth: reference to Mary of Magdalene's transformation from prostitution to discipleship) 12) The Occult Dictionary talks about womens' hair & its role in casting spells 13) It's a well known fact that Male Hippies who grow their hair long are attacked by a demon of homosexuality 2 years into the "long hair" stage 14) The word ‘endued’ means “clothed” and the word ‘perfect’ means “tailor made” 15) In Greek, 'Adopted' denotes a "change of dress code" 16) Only eternity will tell how many times a woman’s uncut hair saved someone in their life because of angels 17) The only exegesis from the sermon (if you can honestly call it exegesis and not proof-texting) is below: Then the Bible goes on to say, "For this cause, ought the women to have power on head because of the angels." That is a fascinating and intriguing study. "For this cause, ought..." "Ought" in the Greek means to "owe or be indebted". "For this cause, ought the women to have power." The word "power" means, "authority, ability, authority, rule". "...on her head because of the angels." The word "because" is translated to mean, "through, by or with". So, if you put it together, what I Cor II:10 is saying, "For this cause ought the women to have power on her head because of the angels." Therefore, the women is indebted or owes her authority on her head with the angels. "Power." The original meaning is the "ability to perform and act, the right, the authority". Now, get this, "and the permission conferred upon her by a higher court".
"For this cause, the women is owing or indebted to the inward power, which is conferred upon her by a higher court with and by the angels."
What?!? How did he arrive at this?…Where is the hermeneutical ethic? This is the only exegesis he even attempts & he destroys it
Ten minutes into the sermon, My friend who was expecting to receive Christ's Spirit turned to me and asked, "Where the heck is he going with this (and he didn't say 'heck')?" We tried to laugh and get involved with the sarcastic comments about aging women and depleting make-up skills. We stayed as long as we could out of respect. It was interesting hearing points from every type of writing (historical documents, magazine, the Occult dictionary) with very little from the Bible. (*When he pointed out the occult dictionary and how hair is used in spells, he said witches would twirl their hair in the wind to doubly increase the impact of their spells! - interesting.)
Part way through I turned to look at one of my friends who came with us. She's a cosmetologist by trade...make-up & hair styling are her livelihood. He was destroying everything she lived for. Apparently (according to him) she had deep psychological problems because she wore make-up and tried to hide herself behind a mask in open rebellion toward her creator (Whom she serves everyday of her life in beautiful, tangible ways). The Evangelist's line of logic (that uncut hair on women has saved their babies and relatives from disaster) lead to the logical conclusion that relatives of hers, who may have perished in accidents, could have been her fault....When I looked at her, she was crying. They were not tears of joy in the Gospel Message. They were not tears of conviction. They were tears of hurt, disappointment and pain.
It was a destructive moment. All the hopes for the evening - new life, spiritual awakening, growing depth in Christ, Healing in the Spirit of God, Faith in the Gospel Message... All of them - were being destroyed. Irreparable damage was being done and I had to be an instrument of God to try and stop the bleeding and heal the gaping wounds of my disappointed and confused friends.
We left as soon as the crowd stood. As we walked out I saw two women twirling their long hair in the air, trying to increase the power of their prayers. The Church I had held in high esteem momentarily felt like a cult.
We went to Bennigan's and processed the night. I felt the Holy Spirit move and comfort hearts as we talked about scriptures, bad interpretations, and the Gospel. We have a great group. They'll be alright (with a bit of therapy...j/k). But it will be a while before I feel comfortable bringing my friends to this church again...