Note: This post was originally used as a sermonette for Freedom Life Church’s Good Friday service. The topic of the night was the Seven Last Words of Christ. I was asked to speak on one of Christ’s sayings that depict his vulnerability, his humanity, and anguish in the face of unimaginable horror enacted upon his body on crucifixion day some two thousand years ago.
Our Lord, The Crucified Christ
Two Thousand Years Ago…
Last week, Jesus entered the small village of Bethpage on a donkey. Those present welcomed him with opened arms, waving palm branches, saluting Jesus as the next best thing; as the long-awaited Messiah sent to oust the oppressive Roman Empire and restore Israel to its former Davidic glory.
Jesus then spends his week focused on a series of adventurous events, cursing fig trees, and sharing parables about children, tenants, wedding feasts, virgins, and talents.
He encourages religious leaders to pay their taxes. He expounds on the realities of the resurrection to men who deny the possibility of an afterlife.
He issues seven woes, public condemnations levied against the corrupt religious leaders of his day. He speaks fondly of Jerusalem, weeping over her as if the city were a helpless orphan, and then proceeds to prophesy its imminent destruction. He spoke authoritatively about his second coming, the end of the world, and the final judgment.
Jesus then disappears from the limelight to a more private setting in the home of Simon, a former leper who Jesus had healed earlier in his ministry, and in that house, he is honored and anointed by Mary, who pours a priceless balm over his head, to his disciples’ bewilderment.
One of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, the treasurer, plots against him, and in return, Jesus washes Judas’ feet and then feeds him a satiating Passover meal.
The Lord’s Supper is instituted, promises of fealty and loyalty to Jesus are made by Peter, only to be broken hours later. Judas Iscariot is possessed by the devil to finalize his betrayal of our Lord. Jesus then leaves Simon’s home and settles in Gethsemane where he wars with the spiritual world in prayer, and struggles with thoughts of discouragement, at the horrors to come.
Judas arrives with armed men in tow, a kiss is exchanged between the Rabbi and the traitor, and in return, Jesus calls him “friend.”
An arrest takes place, a beating, mockery, spit, and harassment follows Jesus as he is dragged into a kangaroo court in the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest. He is then tossed at the feet of the Romans, and a demand for his execution is made before Pilate. Pilate resists and tosses Jesus to Herod where he is humiliated further, and once done, they send him back to Pilate where he is flogged with a lead-tipped whip in hopes of appeasing the bloodlust of the Pharisees. A choice is made, Barabbas goes free, and Jesus is forced to carry his cross to Golgotha where he is to be crucified.
After hours upon hours of suffering, beatings, floggings, abandonment, nakedness, hunger, thirst, and pain, Jesus now hangs on the cross, the shame of his day, for all to see.
It is here, upon unimaginable pain and horror, after hanging on the cross for at least three hours, Jesus experiences debilitating loneliness, however minute, however indecipherable to us it may seem, he feels, under the weight of asphyxiation and impending doom, isolated from the joy of the presence of the Father, his heart is given to absolute destitution.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
The Hebrew-Chaldee pronunciation exclaimed by Jesus from the cross was the first few words of the twenty-second Psalm, a song of David. Both David and Christ had exclaimed that which simmered in their hearts in a time of utmost desperation in the face of insurmountable odds. In a moment of utmost anguish, Jesus utters words only those familiar with the local language would understand. Some presumed he was calling out to Elijah, the prophet, or perhaps, Jesus’s throat was so dry and his body so weak that his words were unintelligible to those present at the foot of the cross.
“Why?” Jesus asks from the cross. “To what end? For what reason?” Was he deserted and left to feel so helpless and vulnerable to the mercilessness of man? Jesus’s humanity was in full view for all to see.
Dualists, Gnostics, and Manichaeans would have us believe that Jesus was a spirit who worked through the motions of a man, who only resembled a human being on the cross, thus making him unaffected by the cruelty of a crucifixion. But the gospel narratives inform us that he bled, he wept, he felt pain, and here, at this particular moment, after hours of torture and excruciating pain, he felt anguish. He was under severe physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual duress.
“We have here, however, the purely human feeling that arises from a natural but momentary quailing before the agonies of death, and which was in every respect similar to that which had been experienced by the author of the psalm. The combination of profound mental anguish, in consequence of entire abandonment by men, with the well-nigh intolerable pangs of dissolution, was all the more natural and inevitable in the case of One whose feelings were so deep, tender, and real, whose moral consciousness was so pure, and whose love was so intense.” – Heinrich Meyer
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.” – Hebrews 4:15
Our Lord, the crucified Christ, demonstrates to his audience then and us now the frailty and fragility of his human nature on the cross, reminding us that we are free to express our hearts to God in the most honest ways possible because he understands our brokenness.
David uttered the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And God rescued him from his enemies.
Jesus uttered the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And on the third day, he rose from the tomb, resplendent and triumphant, as Christ eternal, King of the Jews, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Jesus teaches us from the cross that we must not be weary nor afraid of approaching him with our brokenness for He hears us.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18
I recall spending hours upon hours of my free time either consuming Left Behind books, second-guessing who Nikolai Carpathia was intending on killing next, or listening to Grace To You sermons and teachings. I was twenty or twenty-one, highly impressionable. I’m still impressionable today. You place bacon in front of me and I’ll eat it. It doesn’t take much to convince me. But things were different then. I had little to my name; not that I have much more now, but I was fine-tuned to be led somewhere by someone because I had nowhere to be and no one to go ‘there’ with. What does a religious-minded twenty-something do with his or her free time? There were no summer camps to attend. Some of them were far more expensive than I could afford and the nightlife did not suit me. I thought alcohol was an avoidable pitfall that needed forgetting so life became rather glib. Hard drugs were never an option either so I threw myself into learning more about God and the Bible. Little did I know, the man from whose biblical foundation I intended on learning from was a religious sycophant who belittled Christians, mocked Catholics, maligned Muslims, and disregarded the plight of the oppressed and disadvantaged for the sake of preaching heaven-onlyism to avoid confronting the issues of the world, and had a personal mission against homosexuals. An obsessive agenda against homosexuality to the point of auditory discomfort.
After years of listening to his teachings, I became like him. Not like Jesus, of course, because Christ was and is different. Christ ventures into murky waters to seek and save that which is lost. He does not distance himself from the filth of sin for the sake of clout. Jesus dives in headfirst to deliver. This man, on the other hand, seemed more willing to stand aloof, above it all, supercilious and unapologetic, deriding the failings of others, to the point of becoming famous in Christian circles for doing so. After listening to his teachings for as long as I had, I began to exhibit the same behaviors as a means to accomplish the same level of status and respect in my Christian circles.
My tone changed. I would go from curiosity about other religious groups and their teachings to showing contempt for them. I was no longer willing, in my heart, at least, to sit down with these wonderful unknown people and their concepts, philosophies, and ideas to discuss life, love, joy, and soccer. I wanted nothing to do with their ideas and the worldview that made them who they were because, I was taught, I was informed, I was trained to believe, without wavering, that to associate with them in peace and fellowship, absent my public and outspoken denigration of everything they believed, was a sin.
I was so incensed by this new desire for God, or so I thought it was God, that I went out of my way to seek more of this man’s teachings. I tuned in to his radio show on my way to work, I listened to his ministry’s podcast while I worked, and I looked up YouTube videos of him publicly confronting or shaming other public figures, Christians and non-Christians alike. I spent well over one hundred dollars on the purchase of a study bible he published (New American Standard Bible) with his notes along the bottom of each page. I craved his intellect on so many passages of scripture as if he were the only reliable source of biblical truth outside the bible and the Holy Spirit. I also bought his bible commentary, which espoused well over one thousand pages of his notes and thoughts on biblical knowledge. While at the register at the Christian bookstore, the clerk asked me why I was purchasing a bible with MacArthur’s notes and a commentary written by MacArthur since they’re essentially the same thing. I simply said why not? I was too ecstatic about the possibilities, the opportunities, the chances I would get to devour this bible teacher’s ideas and concepts so that I could regurgitate them to the Mary worshipping Catholic next door, the hellbent homosexual at work, or the satan oppressed Jehovah’s Witness from school, and the bomb-strapped radical Muslim who attended mosque every week. I couldn’t wait.
And I didn’t.
I went through my social media accounts spewing every which type of condemnation against just about anyone who believed differently from me, or rather, from MacArthur. I publicly condemned gay people and engaged possessed dissenters in the comment sections of my posts as if I were a crusader on a mission from God. I joined Meta (then Facebook) groups that espoused satanic ideas. What I didn’t know was that those Satanists in the group I joined were not the theistic kind of Satanists that American media and sensationalist Christian circles had taught me about. They were atheistic Satanists who only used the dark prince’s name or title as a means of philosophical rebellion against institutionalized religious and irreligious systems. I am not vouching for the concept, I’m simply stating that I was misguided about their intentions and their philosophy. I proselytized to these random faces and names on my screen as if I were the spawn of Billy Graham, wishing every which one of them a gospel-filled weekend, hoping that at least one would venture onto Christ’s path for my sake, or rather, their sake. Hubris, you see, had hijacked my intentions. Knowledge, however, crippled by hate and youthful zeal without guidance, had dominated my mind, and with it, corrupted my heart.
Perhaps my heart was already corrupt and I just so happened to find a medium through which I could disseminate my corruption further.
I met some lovely people in those groups. People who love gaming, metal, and movies. We argued a lot. I have private messages that could, with a bit of Hollywood glamour and TBN cringe, be turned into a classic Christian movie that would rival the unlovability of the God’s Not Dead movie series. I was living, in my mind and my social media life, the certified rottenness of Rotten Tomatoes movie rankings. I was living the life of a Christian superhero, damning one pagan to hell via Facebook at a time.
Damned was every person who challenged me. And I damned them. Laughing through it all, of course. Amicable, of course. Because I was taught to share the truth with people even if it meant leading them to existential suicide and philosophical implosion. I mean, didn’t Christ disrupt apostle Paul’s life in the same way by blinding the man on his way to Damascus? Who was I to present a different way? If I had to burn every bridge to tell someone that they were going to hell then I burnt the bridge with a smile on my face.
Granted, my fundamentalist upbringing within the Brazilian Assemblies of God (Bethlehem Ministry) did not help. Fundamentalism in any state, philosophy, political group, or ideology is problematic, and in many cases, deadly, so it did not help to listen to the likes of MacArthur, at all.
I mean, I consumed just about everything made by Grace Community Church, Grace to You, the Master’s Seminary, Strange Fire conferences, and Q&A sessions, and its partnerships with other churches, like that of the great late R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries. (Still fond of R.C.’s work)
By the way, there are 72 million registered Democrats in this country who have identified themselves with that party, and maybe they need to rethink that identification. I know from last week’s message that there was some response from people who said, “Why are you getting political?” Romans 1 is not politics. The Bible is not politics. This is nothing to do with politics; this has to do with speaking the Word of God to the culture in which we live. It has nothing to do with politics. It’s not about personalities. It’s about iniquity and judgment. And why do we say this? Because this must be recognized for what it is: sin – serious sin, damning sin, destructive sin.
You say, “Well, our society cultivates tolerance, and you’re giving hate speech.”
What I’m saying is not hate speech. What the Democratic Party is saying is hate speech because they must hate the homosexuals if they will allow them to go the direction they’re going, affirm that, knowing that it’ll take them to hell. That’s hate speech; this is love speech. You either warn them or you affirm them. And Romans 1 warns them. And any faithful Christian warns, “This is dangerous; this is deadly.” It’s better to warn them than to affirm them. You might be the nice guy to affirm them, but that’s not love speech; that’s hate speech.
I would listen to MacArthur for hours on the topics like the bible’s authority, inerrancy, sufficiency, primacy, and immutability as it relates to Divine revelation. I listened to him speak on creation, the Godhead, providence, sovereignty, Calvinism, baptism, glossolalia (or rather, his derision of anyone who practiced the gift of speaking in tongues), the crucifixion, and the virgin birth of Christ. I would spend eight-hour workdays, sometimes longer, listening to him speak on sexuality, single life, engagement, marriage, homosexuality, manhood, womanhood, and how to raise one’s children. He spoke authoritatively on the value and benefit of a family unit where the man of the house obeys Christ, the woman obeys the man, and the children obey their parents; but the man’s decisions ultimately trump the woman’s decision in any matter every single time. Always. Anything other than this God-given hierarchy of submission in the Christian household was considered demonic. Women were never allowed to speak over a man, and God help the church where a woman was allowed to teach and preach to men. It was likened to the devil’s work, MacArthur espoused. Anti-biblical heresy.
Nearly all the teachings distinctive to the Charismatic Movement are unadulterated mysticism, and nothing illustrates that more perfectly than the way charismatics themselves depict the gift of tongues. They usually describe this gift of speaking these ecstatic syllables that have no meaning as a sort of ecstatic experience that has no equal. They would tell us that it’s a way to experience an emotion and a feeling that is beyond anything else that you will ever experience.
Well, on the one hand, there really isn’t anything particularly evil or immoral about it. If you just disassociate it from the Bible and disassociate it from Christianity, and if you get some pleasure out of standing in a corner all by yourself, or sitting in your room alone and talking gibberish to yourself, and that does something for you, then I suppose in and of itself, from a psychological standpoint, that’s – it’s not a moral issue; it may be harmless. If something makes you feel good, or makes you feel somehow better in control of your life, or like you’ve had some warm experience, so be it. But don’t call it intimacy with God; don’t say it makes you spiritually stronger; don’t say it makes you delirious with spiritual joy.
I learned about angels, demons, and the devil, about dispensationalism at work, and how it was the only way I ought to teach eschatological events in scripture. Any other interpretation of end-times texts was heresy. Seldom were varying ideas discussed authentically. Mid-tribulation or post-tribulation teachings were never tackled honestly, nor were the adherents of those teachings, reliable teachers trained to discuss those interpretations in a professional setting, ever quoted within context. The hearer was simply taught to believe that dispensationalism was taught from the book of Daniel, through the gospels, through Revelations, and up to date. Whoever veered from this teaching was better off facing the Anti-Christ himself.
Regret lives in my heart over just how much contempt I held for Muslims and other Christian sects. I recall listening to MacArthur, in my mind conjuring the model of an archetypal Muslim in arms, ready for jihad, Qur’an in one hand, the decapitated head of a Christian in the other; Allah, the mysterious deity of the faith, ever distant and hate-filled, calling his servants into submission through fear and intimidation. I recall mocking Mohammed. I cannot recall whether I mocked him on social media or from the pulpit, but I spent so much time mocking him. I, of course, knew little to nothing about Islam other than what was taught to me by MacArthur and a select few other prominent figures, all Christian, of course. I couldn’t reconcile the hatred of Muslims I held with the select few Muslims I had met and befriended. They were amazing human beings, better than me, in many ways. But, without cause, illogically, I always suspected they were one step away from converting me or killing me. I mean, Islam was Christianity’s mortal enemy, was it not? I had no idea that the geopolitical structure of Islam in antiquity was not hostile to Christians but to Christendom. The two are radically different ideologies, but I was never taught that. Christendom sought to use Christ’s name to conquer the ancient world through violence. I was never taught the difference. I was never taught, well, MacArthur is no historian therefore he never ventured into contrasting biblical Christianity and the nefarious geopolitical nightmare that was the Holy Roman Empire and its colonialist grandchild, imperial Europe. But here I was, destined to win a war, by debate or martyrdom, against the Muslim girl on my friend’s list who had no idea I viewed her in that light, and the way she treated me as a friend instead of as a mortal enemy, made things more complicated than I wanted to admit.
Ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the already ecumenical climate in America has reached new heights. In an effort to distinguish between the extremist Muslim terrorists and the mainstream Muslim population, the media has called for an even higher level of tolerance and acceptance of the religion of Islam than usual.
Sadly, the influence of this sentiment can be seen even in the church. In fact, in a relatively recent Christianity Today article, Wheaton College professor James Lewis recommends that Christians “seek Muslim prayer partners and together beseech the true, one and only God to have mercy on us” (“Does God Hear Muslims’ Prayers?” Christianity Today, February 4, 2002, p. 31).
When evangelicals capitulate and attempt to soften the offense of the gospel in this way, they blur the lines between the god of Islam and the God of the Bible. But now is not the time for blurring lines. Now is the time to draw lines—lines between truth and error, and between the one path to heaven and the many paths to hell.
It doesn’t make sense to me now but it sure as hell did back then.
MacArthur spoke with authority, an unchallenged and what seemed like divinely inspired attribution of homiletic anointing to do just what he did. He is the nephew of the great white American World War II general Douglas MacArthur who helped tilt the war in the Pacific against the Japanese in America’s favor. So the spirit of strength, grit, pride, and ‘nobody gone tell me nothing’ runs through his veins. And this astuteness would cost him, his listeners, myself included, greatly very soon.
He taught against charismatic movements, once saying he was forcibly removed from the pulpit at a charismatic church he was visiting for telling them that speaking in tongues was mumble-jumbo fool’s talk. Not sure if that ever really happened. Here’s why. He spoke about participating in Civil Rights marches and gatherings. Many people have called his accounts into question considering where he was, his age, and his sentiments toward the continual struggles for Civil Rights to this day. So if one story does not add up you begin to question the man and his integrity with it.
MacArthur maligned the emerging church, prosperity movements, seeker-sensitive church environments, word of faith movements, and the young, restless, and reformed craze that swept America in the 2000s. And I was there with him, condemning the living and breathing essence of everything around me if it didn’t match up with how I saw the world, through MacArthur’s lens.
Psychology, Mormons, Muslims, Catholics, Christmas, abortion, racism, feminism, crime, and just about anything you can think of, MacArthur covered it and I consumed it like a seminary student on Adderall. I was a disciple of Jesus but a graduate of MacArthur’s biblical interpretation school. Unapologetically so. Deplorably so.
I recall moving to Canada and befriending my boss at my first job in the Maple leaf country and experiencing an existential crisis. My boss was a Muslim fella, my age, just about, and one of the most down-to-earth personalities you will ever meet in your life. I mean, he was chill. Great family, wonderful wife, and now they have a beautiful little daughter and he has a sense of humor that rivals mine. We were meant to meet and annoy each other. And this friendship helped me better understand that a lot of what MacArthur had been saying about Muslims was in fact nonsense. It was white American folk religionist hysteria amplified by the presence of innocuous immigrants and brown people mixed with religious rhetoric, Jesus sayings sprinkled in between, and nationalist propaganda regurgitated as godly patriotism. I had generalized an entire faith and grouped an entire race of people, well, now looking back, I hadn’t realized that Muslims were white, black, brown, Asian, and Latino as active terrorists or terrorists in the making. Muslims were everywhere, in every facet of life, living and striving for a better life, just like me. But I hated them for existing… not entirely sure why.
The facade began to break but it hadn’t shattered entirely until 2019-2020. Listen, my religious fanaticism goes back a long time, and my newfound faith in Christ, aside from its flawed fundamentalist foundation, is rather new and recent. I was a slave to Christian fundamentalism of every stripe for a great deal of my life. I had learned to hate (not people, per se, but everything they believed) from my religious leaders, and that hatred shaped much of my interactions with people of other faiths and people who do not subscribe to any faith at all.
I was fortunate enough to have the personality of an amicable individual so I was blessed with the grace of maintaining so many of the friendships my fundamentalism worked hard to destroy. Atheists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, agnostics, Muslims, and more, all amazing people (not all, some were jerks, but that had little to do with their beliefs and more to do with their personalities) who I had met, befriended, cherished, and still converse with to this day. Many of them quite forgiving of my religious idiocy in its most fervent and damaging phase, whereas others were, rightly so, offended by my bigotry at work.
I regret it. I regret so much of what was said because it came from a place of ignorance, on my part. But little did I know then was that much of it came from a man, a man with an agenda, a religious empire, who used his platform to indoctrinate people into hate, suspicion, ignorance, and tribalism, all in the name of Jesus.
And listen, as to my Christianity? It is firm in the person of Jesus Christ. I am more confident in the work of Jesus today than I was then. Living in religious fear, want for control, want for religious dominance, believing I was sovereign enough to tip someone else’s eternal scales and my failure to do so would fall back on my head was a cyclical waking nightmare.
I’m not there anymore because I have come to the assured realization that Jesus has more knowledge, more power, more know-how, and a better grasp of how to convince someone of His love for them, in his own time, in his way… without the presence of a cantankerous fundamentalist to interrupt his beautiful process of inner transformation and redemption.
I am not Jesus. Thankfully.
Today, I can look back at MacArthur and see him for what he is:
A privileged old man, a white man, of wealth and prestige, who was smart enough to master a craft, use it for hubris and financial gain, and continues to deny the efficacious redemptive work of Jesus Christ in his life by refusing to repent of his many, many, many, many wrongs done as a pastor, bible teacher, counselor, and seminary president.
MacArthur is now in hot water because in the early 2000s he excommunicated a woman from his church, shaming her from the pulpit, quite publicly. After all, she refused to reconcile with her husband and refused to accept the man back into her and their children’s lives.
A woman at GCC was living in sin, MacArthur alleged. And though shaming her publicly was “sad,” MacArthur said it was necessary to maintain fidelity to God and His Word.
So, as men were distributing the elements for communion, MacArthur stated: “I want to mention a sad situation, a person who is unwilling to repent. And the church bears responsibility before God to be the instrument of discipline. . . . This is what the Lord wants. He wants discipline . . . to be put out of the church, to be publicly shamed, to be put away from fellowship. In this case it applies to Eileen Gray.”
The problem is that her husband was a prominent figure in the church who, for years, had abused his wife and also abused his children. Police reports were filed. Confessions were made. The man was eventually arrested for his criminal conduct and is now serving twenty-one years to life sentence for his violent behavior against his wife and kids. This same man is the man MacArthur and his staff wanted this woman to go back home to so that he would continue beating the living hell out of them. Her refusal to accept the man back unless he dealt with his issues professionally, was seen as a spiritual rebellion on her part and the church excommunicated her for it.
Grace Community Church paid for the abuser’s bail, and his legal fees and they continue to assist him, in many ways, even now as he is behind bars, a convicted felon who abused his wife and kids.
MacArthur also attempted to violate local health and safety state mandates by opening his church and maintaining the usual steady flow of programs and services in the middle of a global pandemic. His attitude toward the virus is that of a man who is unafraid and unaffected by the coronavirus. Members of his church were hospitalized, some possibly died, others were in critical conditions as a result of the virus, possibly acquired at his church, but MacArthur refused to adhere to measures that could have kept many in his congregation safe. Having one of the world’s most advanced television and online teaching networks, it would have been the easiest thing for MacArthur and their church to progress with their programs via online/virtual settings. But hubris keeps a man before his people because he feeds off of them. Not to mention the money made from it all.
“Our pastor and the conference team is committed to your health and safety at all the conferences we host,; consequently, we want to update you concerning the 90-year-old Shepherd’s Conference guest who recently passed away. The doctors confirmed that he passed away from COVID-19.”
MacArthur also contracted his son-in-law’s audio-visual firm to run his church’s AV team. This creates an aura of him and his church favoring family members in a setting where doing so only creates more problems. Financial and ethical problems for the church as a community and Grace Community Church as a business.
In 2017, the auditor highlighted as a “significant deficiency” that there were several instances of management overriding or circumventing controls that were in place to process payments or contracts outside established policies. Further, the report noted that there was the appearance of conflicts of interest with the President’s son-in-law supervising a contract from which he benefits, as well as institutional aid being awarded to related parties exceeding typical award amounts, but there was no evidence at the time of the visit that these concerns had been addressed in more than a cursory manner…
MacArthur told prominent bible teacher Beth Moore to “go home” because one, she was a woman; two, she was a bible teacher; and three, she was a female bible teacher willing to challenge the unbiblical teachings in the church that portray women as second-class Christians. His anti-women teachings, sentiments, and pride, (mind you, he said this in front of a packed conference auditorium) are more reasons that his idea of Christianity is shaped more by white American toxic masculinity than it is shaped by the proper biblical interpretation that honors members of both sexes instead of pitting them against each other with improperly interpreted texts from scripture.
He was speaking at an event meant to honor his 50 years of ministry called the “Truth Matters Conference,” but things took a turn when the panelists—including MacArthur—were asked to a play a sort of word association game. They would each be given “two words” to which they had to react to. The first words given to MacArthur were “Beth Moore.”
MacArthur responded, “Go home.” The audience laughed. Another man on the panel accused her of being a narcissist because of her preaching style.
MacArthur then launched into a diatribe about how “the church is caving in to women preachers.” He went on to compare her to a TV jewelry salesperson and then went on to criticize the #MeToo movement.
MacArthur admitted to failing to study for his many teachings, multiple times. Pride is evident in his speech, because, according to him, he is so comfortable with bible knowledge that he could stand in front of a crowd and preach on just about any topic for an hour without breaking a sweat. Not the fruits of a spirit-filled man whose reliance is on the Spirit of God but the fruits of a man who has perfected a craft for personal gain and clout.
News later came out from a former member of his bible commentary team that MacArthur never edited nor added much to the commentaries and books he landed his name on. In some meetings, he was seen entering, looking over notes other scholars put together, agreeing to the structure and content therein, and then taking all the credit for the entirety of the commentaries in question. The commentaries I spent all those dollars on wasn’t even put together and written by the man whose name was on the cover and that’s embarrassing.
Its a well known fact that John Macarthur’s books are not written by John Macarthur, but by Philip R. Johnson at GCC.
I don’t see anything wrong with having research assistants or with making a concerted effort at marketing a book, that’s fine. I have students proof read my own stuff, I ask friends and colleagues for feedback, and get advice from editors. I also work hard at promoting my work on the blog, you.tube, social media, and the like because I hope what I have to say will influence and help others. However, there should be limits.
If you’re name is on the cover, then it means you wrote it, not your staff, secretary, assistants, lieutenants, executive officer, or minions. If you had help in putting the book together, then at least acknowledge the hard working men and women who worked so hard to make you look good.
If you’re book gets on a best seller list, its because people other than you, your church, and your lackey’s actually went out a purchased a copy for themselves.
MacArthur also hired ghostwriters to write his books. Not all of them but some. This creates an idea that MacArthur is a pastor, teacher, president, counselor, and scholar who isn’t much of any of those things at all.
John MacArthur, the man who I had shaped my biblical formation for years, nearly a decade of my life, was himself a ghost of something or someone else. Perhaps he is a victim of his own doing, a victim of his pride.
Or, he is as culpable as the rest of them, those who take from widows, orphans, abuse victims without remorse. Trample the weak, malign the immigrant, minority, and women. Who mock and deride theologians who hold to different interpretations of the same texts. Who belittles media personalities because they’re famous. He stands tall above the church to inform his congregants that to mask up, social distance, receive a life-saving vaccine, and attend virtual services is to give in to fear.
As if Christ did not inform the woman at the well that worship is done in the Spirit and in Truth, not in a temple or an edifice.
But hubris is a hellish thing and MacArthur thrives on it.
This isn’t necessarily a case against MacArthur because he is simply one of the more prominent figures in a line of men just like him. And his disciples are everywhere. I mean it. Unapologetic brute force in the name of Jesus is the strategy and damned be anyone who thinks different.
Had I not distanced myself from this man’s anti-Christ teachings and habits, I would have possibly lost my faith in the true Christ of scripture and tarnished the image and name of my Lord even further with my unabated, unrepentant, unapologetic, unexpected, and unnecessary religious fundamentalism, which, thanks to MacArthur’s teachings, was sharpened just enough to cut everyone out of my life.
Jesus saved me. No doubt. MacArthur’s teachings, however, helped amplify my fears and my ignorance, pushing me onto the path of destructive hate for people that God loves and cares for.
The hate you teach, MacArthur, is not of God.
And if it’s not Godly, then it’s… well… I’m sure you know.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” – Matthew 17:22
On Palm Sunday Christ entered Jerusalem with one goal in mind: the cross. Short on sleep, high on stress, and seated on a donkey, Jesus enters the city on a hill to the shouts of jubilee, joy, and celebration as Jews welcome him with open arms. They wave palm branches the same way Jews generations before waved them for Judas Maccabeus who organized a successful rebellion against Seleucid tyrants and demigods, ousting them from Israel. This sign, this extended branch, was a show of hopefulness in the face of oppression. A desire for national sovereignty in the face of Roman imperialism.
“Hosanna!” They shouted. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!”
What the Jews signaled to Jesus on that day was that they were eager for him to be their messiah, the deliverer who would take on the Roman empire and free the Jews from an oppressive regime. A Jewish leader who would restore Israel’s glory and national splendor. A man sent by God to wage war against the Roman fiefdoms of the day.
Little did they know, the same people who were waving palm branches on Sunday would soon be deriding and cursing Jesus on Friday, as he walked, bloodied and bruised, carrying his cross out of Jerusalem and onto the destitute calvary hill on which he would die.
“It’s such an interesting experience to sing happy songs and songs of celebration even on this side of resurrection when we know that Jesus entered Jerusalem with the shadow of the cross-bearing down on him.” Dan
Those are the words of my friend and brother in Christ, Dan, who struggles with the realities of the cross (as do I) and our posture to it this most important week of the year. Our culture has made Holy Week into Dollars Week, in the sense that we have industrialized religion for the sake of capital. Bumper stickers, necklaces, bracelets, anklets, leatherette bibles with initials engraved into them, personalized bedazzled “Jesus Lives” jean jackets, and the ubiquitous presence of the cross on just about everything marketable and sellable.
We’re like the money changers hanging around temple grounds, selling commentaries instead of pigeons. Anything to make a buck off of God’s people for the sake of Mammon.
But how are we measuring our understanding of this event, the crucifixion of Jesus, the Son of God, with our very limited perception of pain in light of festivities and celebrations that only last a week. Things that distract us from the brutality and finality of death. Why have we made the greatest event in human history, according to Christians, at least, only something we focus on for one week out of the year. For some of us, we only think of the Via Dolorosa, that dreadful walk from Jerusalems center to the outskirts of the town, the path Christ walked to be crucified, on a Sunday morning for forty minutes. That’s if we don’t doze off for twenty of them.
What must we do with the grandiosity and the tenebrous nature of the cross?
The shadow of the cross stretched over him, a reminder that death had a bounty on his head.
I cannot imagine his mindset then. Having traveled with his disciples for three years, covering a great deal of Palestine on foot, ministering, teaching, sleeping outdoors, or having to lodge at a stranger’s home for safety and security from exposure and low temperatures without pay or recompense. Jesus healed, preached, operated miracles, restored sight to the blind, stopped hemorrhages, brought men and children back from the dead, and forgave sins. He fed hundreds, and another time he fed thousands. He spoke to the masses from a boat that sailed easily along the shore so that all could hear. He sat with widows, welcomed children, embraced the diseased, and uplifted those caught in sin. Jesus spoke lightly to those whose burdens were heavy, asking that they let them go and take on his yoke, his burden, which was light and consisted only of love and the transformation of the heart. He spoke firm words of rebuke to religious clerics whose goal was power, dominance, and control. He chided them for their hypocrisy which led them over land and sea to make more disciples who would only resemble hate and bigotry. Jesus reprimanded priests and high priests, informing them that their religion was their food and their god their gut. They fed on the destitute and produced misery in the process. Unwilling to lift a hand to help the widow and the orphan, only demanding of them more subservience under the threat of expulsion and derision.
Jesus was, in all, God in the flesh, standing up for the forgotten and abandoned people of Israel.
But here he stood, past the gates of Jerusalem, under the shadow of the cross, looking forward to nothing more than death.
We mustn’t run from this painful scene, Jesus didn’t. We have the habit of slithering our way out of the gravity of the pain on the cross. Pain in general. And this is not something we ought to fetishize either, as some fundamentalist churches have done. Nor is it something we use as a cultic indoctrination tactic, fearing people into heaven, as Great Awakening preachers attempted to do.
We must look at the horror of the cross because the cross begs us our attention. Knowing that death was imminent, looming over him, as people celebrated his ascendence, must have been tormenting for Jesus, yet Jesus walked toward his destiny, not away from it. He confronted the cross, even though in the garden of Gethsemane he asked if there was a better way, a way in which to maintain the constant awareness of the presence of the joy of the Father without interruption was possible, for the cross did interrupt that presence, even if for a split second. The cross would sap Christ of joy, it would ruin his body, it would wound his soul and pierce his heart. The cross would show the world who was a devout follower of Christ and who had abandoned him. The cross demonstrated to the Romans that no one, not even an innocent man, would survive this monstrous machination of execution. Not even the so-called Son of God, the King of the Jews, would evade the painful flesh-tearing realities of the wooden cross. Christ did not shun the imagery of it, he welcomed it. He did not run from the height of this task, he walked toward it, breaking bread with a traitor and deceiver, teaching Olivet discourses to spiritually corrupt clerics, and healing people as he went, ever so humbly, to the cross.
The shadow of the cross has not disappeared. It echoes through eternity.
The cross is the constant reminder that Christ could have walked away from it all, from us all, and he would have been justified in doing so. The cross is there to remind us that there is no distance Christ will not travel to prove his point, his mission, and his love for humanity. The cross stands tall, bloodied, bits of flesh glued to its structure, fixated on us as much as we are pulled to its enormity, to remind us that we deserve its punishment.
A reminder that God opted instead to make us vessels of his love.
Shadows never shift but we do.
Love will remind us of Christ’s commitment to this grotesque act of inhumanity, namely, the crucifixion. Love will remind us that the shadow of the cross now whimpers in the light of the resurrected Christ. We needn’t worry about the presence of the shadow that killed our Lord. We must confront it, we must walk toward it, we must see it for what it is, it is ours, it has our name on it, and yet, it does not.
I pray we spend more time ruminating on the consequences of Christ’s cross. The instrument on which Christ’s life was extinguished.
It is perfectly fine to mourn the beginning of the end of Christ’s life on earth. We needn’t focus on the resurrection just yet, per se, for we are the product of the resurrected Christ already. We are transformed, quickened in the spirit because of his selfless love.
But for now, we can live in the morose reality of Christ’s impending lynching.
We too must consider walking in the shadow of the cross for it is only there, in that paradox of life for death and death for life that we truly understand the love of God for the world.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see.” – Lamentations 1:12
It was brought to my attention that yet another wave of systematic violence was enacted upon yet another group of innocent, non-combative, civilians. The town of Bucha, in the outer regions of Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv, has become another name on a long list of city-towns that has fallen prey to men’s susceptibility to animalistic behaviors. We needn’t blame the devil for this. This is man’s doing. The one pulling the trigger was not a spiritual being. The force behind the man tying up women and children before shooting them in the head was not metaphysical. It was a physical force driven by a physical need, a chemical need, an interpersonal need on the part of a soldier and his compatriots to kill. But this was not the ordinary killing we witness on the battlefield. No. This was not a mortar bomb that mutilates the body and soul of a soldier mid-combat. This was not the sort of killing spree where men in uniform gun down other men in uniform, bullets ricocheting from bunker walls, tank impediment structures, and dirt. Not the kind of killing where man faces man, grit visible, rage present, teeth bare, and bayonet bloodied. No. This was not that kind of killing. There was no trench warfare here. No bunker, unless, that is, you consider a home a bunker. Its drywall and wooden frame protecting its resident from wind and rain showers. But what of bullets and bombs?
These killings were done by men, soldiers, the youth turned violent killing machine ready warriors aimed at bystanders, civilians, grocers, salesmen, chefs, custodians, dads, moms, daughters, and sons, who just so happened to exist on one side of a field at the wrong time. Their crime is their geography.
What do we say of this? What can we say of this? What words are wordy enough to explain away this horror? Are words only useful for us to explain horrors away? Are we to use them to then accept horrible deeds? Perhaps. But if we do not want to accept these egregious horrors are we to then understand them? But what is the point in attempting to understand the mutilated body of a child, mutilated not by teeth of wild beasts in a forest or a jungle but by bullets from the guns of domesticated beasts in uniform? Are we to produce bookcases worth of information to help us categorize, stylize, name, organize, timestamp, and geo-stamp these events, the belligerent party(ies), antagonists, victims, method(s) of death, method(s) of torture, method(s) of desecration, and method(s) of burial or cremation simply for us to understand what happened at site A to group B?
Where do we store this information? What library, what cloud provider service, what server room, or what entity is responsible enough, ethical enough, mature enough, selfless enough to manage this information?
What will we do with all of this horror?
My wife and I got into an argument over whether we should call Russian soldiers guilty of crimes against humanity Nazis. Are they Nazis?
My wife said yes, she believes they are. The killings were systematized enough. The tying up men, women, and children, then rounding them up on city streets or in dank basements, not far from torture chambers to shoot them behind the head was cruel enough to liken these killers and their acts to that of Nazi SS soldiers from World War II. The indiscriminate killing of civilians is likened to what the Germans did in Poland, Russia, France, and more.
But I disagreed. I do not think the Russians are like the Nazis. No, of course, I understand just the same way you do. My wife is German. She was born in that majestic country, she was raised in it, educated there, and formed by its Teutonic culture. She knows the history connected to her native land, she was informed of the societal guilt and shame that once lingered but has since dissipated from the German social conscience. Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung! They’ve worked off their past. My wife is aware of the responsibility she bears in knowing that history but not being guilted by it. There is no collective shame or guilt in her heart about it but there is a collective responsibility of making sure what the Germans of yesteryear did will not be forgotten nor excused, ever.
Yet, I disagree.
I do not believe Russian civilians want this war, this, what shall I call it, waste of resources, and the international debacle that Putin has enacted upon the Ukrainian people. Russian citizens disdain their military’s conduct in the Kyiv Oblast region whereas others have come out in protest of the entire series of events, many facing arrests, torture, perhaps, too. There is not a collective sentiment in Russia to eradicate Ukrainians. Ukrainians are not seen as sub-human, although many of them have been treated as such by Russian soldiers. Russian civilians do not attend university to learn about the facial structure of Ukrainians and how they might resemble rats. They’re not taught that the Ukrainians are responsible for Russia’s financial woes. They’re not taught that to woo, romance, date, court, wed, or sleep with a Ukrainian man or a woman is a crime punishable with imprisonment on top of hefty fines because to mix with them is a moral offense. One cannot visit St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, or Kazan and find concentration camps where Ukrainians are held as enemies of the state and forced into back-breaking manual labor. One cannot find death camps in the remotest regions of Russia’s snow-covered tundras where Ukrainian nationals are tossed into industrial ovens and burnt to a crisp, their ash littering the sky above. There are no mass graves consisting of Ukrainian bodies in Russia nor are there people in Russia digging up holes for Ukrainian corpses to fill them.
What happened in Germany in the 1910s and 1920s made what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s possible. What I mean is that Germans who survived World War I and dealt with the shame of their loss and financial ruination were ripe in body, mind, and soul for what Hitler offered them in the 1930s. The nation, collectively, voted in a demagogue and followed him into hell. Those who made it back alive were still stained with the soot of the devil’s work on their lives. Germans came together to make what happened in Europe possible. It would not have been possible if only the Gestapo set out to arrest Jews, political dissidents, homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people with mental health issues. It required a national and cultural effort on the part of German citizens of every stripe.
The Nazi regime existed because the German people as a collective made it possible. Germany’s politicized Christianity, its state religion, its sciences, its cultural make-up, its racial make-up, its ethnic composition, and its mythical understanding of itself made Nazism as we understand it today, as it was understood then, possible.
Russians, civilians at home and abroad, do not want to harm Ukrainians.
Their soldiers, the ones who are committing these crimes, are not acting like Nazis because before Nazis existed, soldiers killed civilians this way. We must be wary, cautious, even, of thinking the pinnacle of evil existed for a quick and short-lived period of thirteen years in Germany alone. The Schutzstaffel (SS), Gestapo, Luftwaffe, and the Wehrmacht are not the only exemplars of human cruelty and evil.
They’re just our easiest scapegoats.
The greatest indicator of human evil stands tall in the mirror, gazing back, hoping not to be seen in the limelight of opportunity and intent. Seldom are we placed in the same positions, under the same conditions, infused with the same intentions, driven by the same social-cultural motivations, and incensed by opportunity, impunity, and heroism no matter the act we’re asked, no, obligated to achieve for God, king, and country.
So we stand, looking at the mirror or rather, being studied by he or her who looks back, hoping, praying, begging, that we are never given the same graces to murder because God knows we would, with impunity.
I say these things not to excuse the horrors perpetrated by Russian murderers. No. Their acts are damnable. Their crimes will not go unpunished. Should they die on the battlefield, they will then face God. Should they die in a prison cell, they will then face God. Should they live a long, hearty, and fulfilling life after this war, moving on to attain wealth and prosperity, fathering many children, and becoming members of high repute in their communities, they will, at the end of their days, face God for their crimes against humanity.
God will not allow a person to pierce a child through with a spear or a bayonet and escape judgment. God will not allow a man to ravage a woman and not face consequences for such a vile act. God will not allow men who sit in rooms pointing to maps and nodding commands, as bombs drop on residential buildings mutilating some and displacing uncountable others. God will not sit idly by as thousands upon thousands of people are erased from the face of this earth for the sake of lucre and land.
That is without question, Bucha. That is without question.
Your men, women, and children are not forgotten dear city. Your corpse-ridden streets have not gone unseen. Your blood-soaked gardens are not invisible. The basements you harbor where bodies were tied up and shot dead are known to us. We know. We have seen. We are witnesses to your demise.
But you are not alone.
The same way Abel’s blood cried out to God from the earth so does the earth beneath Bucha cry out to God for justice! Justice! Justice!
Bucha, your daughters will not have died in vain. Their sufferings, their screams, their catatonic fixated faces are not in vain. Their ravaged bodies, assaulted and violated, their souls violated, also, are not forgotten.
Your children, burned alive, executed in cold blood, tossed and desecrated as if they were filthy rags, are not forgotten. Their last moments of life, moments of fear, uncertainty, shattered dreams, shattered hope, tears, and wet diapers, will not, will not, cannot be forgotten.
Your elderly, your brittle, your infirm, your wise ones, who were killed by bombs, others killed by exposure as they fled those same bombs, are not forgotten.
Those gaunt faces who stare into infinity seek and cry for justice, their bloodless appearances begging for a reason, a cause, a purpose, an explanation for all of this senseless violence that took from them that which was most precious, life. They beg for words, for a meaning to it all.
Bucha, we have looked upon your misery and we see you. One of many, many in one. Your horrors are here to stay and we will gaze upon them.
We will gaze and we will weep.
God will act on your behalf.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
If you grew up in an evangelical setting, you must have heard of white American globe-trotting evangelist Billy Graham. If you are unchurched but alive today, chances are, you’ve heard of Billy Graham. Graham was for the white American evangelical world what Elvis Presley was for white American Rock n Roll in the 50s. A myth, a legend, a star, and also, many forget, human.
Billy Graham traveled the world over speaking about the restorative and redemptive work of Jesus Christ and preaching a gospel of personal transformation. You too, he would say, can be born again. Your sins will be forgiven if you will accept Jesus into your heart.
“Come as you are.” Was quite the famous line in his crusade. Always a welcoming environment for people seeking change, seeking religious reformation.
A very personal gospel message that beckoned the individual to turn her life over to Christ for eternal security and reconciliation between the person and God.
Graham’s sermons were beautiful and if you listen to them today you’ll find they are just as convincing and powerful as they were then. If the man had anything he had conviction.
Thankfully, I am not here to discuss Graham’s gospel preaching or his evangelistic efforts. For that, the man deserves credit because his ministry has produced a plethora of testimonies, many of which, we shall only understand and rejoice over in Glory.
But I am here to discuss how white American culture, more so, how white American 1950s and 1960s culture and its understanding of gender norms and expectations formed a set of social rules then that impact us in the evangelical sphere to this day — negatively so. Around the same time, Billy Graham and his team, assisted by Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and Grady Wilson, met in Modesto, California to develop a ministry morals standard for themselves and other evangelists and leaders in their vocation. This was put together to reduce the number of scandals in the evangelical world and produce an inner and outer appearance of moral rectitude, which had been missing or compromised by felled religious leaders of the day.
Now, considering the acceleration of Christian circle scandals that riddled the news, it seemed appropriate for a group of believers to come together with a better understanding of what is required of them in modern times throughout their ministerial undertakings and personal responsibilities. And in this meeting, the men came up with four ideas or metrics by which to judge the health of their ethics and ministry.
The Modesto Manifesto
The first was financial transparency in an age of Christian greed; the second, sexual purity in an age of sexual liberation; the third, ecumenical efforts in an age of fundamentalist tribalism; and the fourth, the accuracy of events, numbers, and credentials in an age of duplicity, lying, and dishonesty for popularity’s sake.
Again, these are honorable efforts put forth by the group to make sure that their ministries, and their personal lives, were above scrutiny, as the Bible demands of followers of Christ.
But sometimes, not always, sometimes, certain corrections, without nuance or clarification, when they generalize and offer little explanation as to how those corrections were formed over cultural and traditional, national and racial lines, can become over-corrections, thus, creating even more problems for those who adhere to them.
The second rule in Graham’s Modesto Manifesto deals with sexual morality, or rather, one that grapples with the temptation of sexual immorality. It is the rule that this entire segment became known for, a rule Billy Graham followed to the very end, if it was up to him, while he was in control of his mind. This rule would be followed by numerous evangelical leaders and ultimately make national headlines again when Donald Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, would celebrate it from the White House.
“We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife. We determined that the Apostle Paul’s mandate to the young pastor Timothy would be ours as well: “Flee … youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 1:22, KJV).”
It’s interesting to note that from that day forward, Graham did not travel, meet, nor did he, according to him, eat alone with a woman other than his wife ever again. This is revealing, one, because of the level of commitment, it takes a man to avoid being alone in a room with someone of the opposite sex, whose sex estimates well over three billion people on the planet. There being three billion of anything is cause enough for awareness, but isolation and separation? Impossible.
Graham’s second rule, where a man is not to be alone with a woman other than his wife, is ripe with condemnation without even knowing it.
One, this rule generalizes women as sexual deviants who, left alone with a man in a room, no matter the room or the setting, work, campaign trail, lunch meeting, or as a nurse in a doctor’s office, will, without that man’s consent, ravage him. This notion is asinine because it portrays women as agents lacking self-control, moved by licentious desires, unashamedly promiscuous, according to those who adhere to Graham’s line of reasoning.
Women are not vessels of unrestrained lusts. Women are entirely in control of their thoughts, actions, compulsions, and desires. They’re not animalistic brutes who descend to sensual madness at the opportunity of being alone in a room with a member of the opposite sex.
What a farce.
Two, this rule, again, places the blame on women. This is age-old escapist nonsense men have plagued women with for centuries, if not millennia. If something does occur between the two individuals who are left alone in a room, it must have been the woman’s fault. As the only one able to consent or resist — because men are unable to restrain their boyish desires — if they fail to scream out for help or fail to stop things from progressing, they are solely at fault.
Once the ministry leader’s sexual scandal makes the airwaves, he’ll peg the woman as a “seductress” whose “promiscuous” advances were too powerful for him to resist. Resembling the work of a “she-devil” she entrapped him, grabbing him by the “unmentionable,” and from there, it was all history. And that’s why we are taught to forgive the man because he’s the victim here, his assailant, a 110 lbs sex witch that caught him alone in the lunchroom and proceeded to violate him while he sipped his tea and read his Bible.
It’s nonsense. I’m using sarcasm and humor here because blaming women for men’s inability to control themselves is a sad and resilient virus that refuses to die in our culture. So to cope, I make light of a grave and grievous situation.
Three, a man ought to be in control of his moral compass. In control of his faculties. If a man, especially a man of the cloth, cannot control himself when alone with a member of the opposite sex, then, by God, he ought not to be in ministry. He should not be in a position of influence, power, or authority ever again. He’s a predator in the making.
I cannot imagine Jesus, meeting the Samaritan woman at the well and thinking to himself, “Maybe I should wait for my apostles to get back before conversing with this woman. I mean, she might trip on that bucket l and land in my arms, where we kiss, romance, wed, make dozens of babies, until, the next woman I meet at the well comes around and trips on something else.”
That’s so stupid. No, I’m not sorry.
Jesus met with that woman alone because He had integrity, even if, EVEN IF she did not, He would have remained integral. And I’m not suggesting she was a sexual deviant or a saint, she could have been one or the other, it would not have changed Jesus’ posture toward her while the two sat and conversed by the well about faith, God, life, water, worship, and relationships. Jesus upheld His part of the ethical bargain, independent of the same being reciprocated or not.
Therefore… therefore… there… fore…
As I conversed with a friend via Instagram about the Billy Graham Rule, specifically rule number two, we got into discussing that the rule would have been more helpful and wise if it required individual integrity over distanced suspicion and isolation.
You see, when someone is integral, they’re complete, whole, satisfied, undivided in their attentiveness to honoring people made in the Image of God. They’re honoring, just, and kind, in the face of someone else’s vulnerability.
“If you, being a pastor, are counseling a woman who is experiencing a great deal of trouble in life and in the middle of a counseling session she stands, begins to undress, is nude and vulnerable before you, and the two of you are alone, where does your mind go? Where does your heart go?”
The question, I admit, is answered in two different places.
One, we answer this question publicly and openly, “I would tell her to dress up and get out of my office! That temptress! Damn her!”
The other, we answer in our hearts, in the place no one but us and God can see, and God knows what our answers tend to be. Too often, we have read reports, cover-ups, and lawsuits concerning what happens in these situations. Men in power, men with influence, men with authority, instead of portraying the likeness of Christ in the presence of the vulnerable, become the devil, ravaging and devouring people looking for help.
“Come to me,” Says the morally complicit pastor counseling the vulnerable woman. “And I will give you rest. But keep this between the two of us or else…”
So we must admit that Billy Graham’s Rule is problematic. It’s an over-correction, not a solution. It’s an escape, not a confrontation. It displaces blame, shifts blame, and generalizes women as sexual deviants, who, as I said earlier, given the opportunity, according to Graham’s rule, will devour men whenever alone with them.
There is, of course, wisdom in not placing oneself in a situation where, without a doubt, it seems suspicious.
Houston, We Have A Liquor Problem
Hillsong’s main pastor, Brian Houston, has been caught in hot water because he attended a meeting of some sort and after this meeting, he went for drinks and after drinking himself nearly blind, he went up to his hotel room for the night. Once there, he either misplaced his room keycard or was unable to properly use the keycard he had in hand to access his room. Under this fog of inebriation, Houston proceeds to a church colleague’s room, a woman, knocks on her door and then enters. There they remain alone for more than forty minutes. Both denied anything happened. And we have no evidence of anything having happened, because, no evidence was ever produced. Nor has the woman admitted or come forward with the fact that the two engaged in anything even remotely sexual.
But this scene, of course, is the extreme any married AND single person has to avoid because it does create an aura of suspicion. I mean, considering our current hook-up culture and the history of evangelical sex scandals, Houston should have known better. It is without a doubt that it was possible, in those forty minutes, that one’s moral compass could have wavered, their ability to resist temptation, dissipated, and there, a sexual act or several, could have taken place. And the truth, no one knows.
Brian admitted to the idiocy of his choices that night, having drunk too much, and then mixing sleeping or anxiety pills with his liquor, before proceeding to his coworkers’ hotel room. The two of them alone. His wife was nowhere in sight.
The curiosity here, and I’m being frank, not critical, even if I do end up sounding critical, for that I apologize, because there are certain things I do not understand and that’s fine because my intelligence is limited and finite. But here’s the thing, why blame moral failings on alcohol, drugs, anxiety, mental illness, and the opportunity of that woman being there.
“Abusers and abusive organizations may concede the basic reality of the wrong—“Yes, this happened”—but quickly add statements that either soften their responsibility or promote their integrity: “We value all people and only want what is best for everyone involved.” If these concessions do their job, the accused will stay in power, stay in favor with the community, and stay far from the shame their actions deserve.”
And listen, I’m not here to say that people are beyond redemption and reconciliation, but we must better understand what those things mean when people fail, morally, I mean.
One, take responsibility for your failings, instead of, say, blaming some agent or narcotic. Or worse, blaming your victim.
Here’s a healthy, albeit imperfect example I’ve come up with in my mind:
“Listen, everyone, I was sexually repressed or sexually uncontrolled and I enticed my coworker (or classmate, students, etc), under the guise of trust, bypassing the reality of our power-dynamic relationship, and I engaged in what I now understand as a non-consensual act with her. I am now resigning from my position to seek counsel, professional counsel, and I do not look forward to returning to leadership, but to fellowship, in God’s time. I’m sorry to all, and most all, I apologize to the victim of my uncontrolled passions. You did nothing to deserve this. It was my fault.”
Now, that sounds dreamy, almost, to consider someone admitting to the reality of their intentions and the gravity of their actions with such brevity and transparency, and that would do wonders for us instead of covering our mistakes over with alcohol, Ambien, seductresses, etc.
Graham’s Rule would and could be revised to state:
“No matter what situation you are in and who you are with, for however long, you must reflect the character of Christ in that environment. If the person you are with fails to live up to Christ’s calling, more so, His admonishments on sexual ethics, that is not an excuse, nor a vote of confidence, for you to forego your integrity. In every situation, interaction, relationship, friendship, and meeting, whomever you are with, man, woman, or child, reflect Jesus.”
That seems more prudent. More wholesome. That way, whenever someone does step out of line, should they ever, it will not be a woman’s fault or society’s healthy understanding of social interactions’ fault.
Every woman we meet, no matter the situation, deserves to see Christ reflected in us. And this does not mean we proselytize or evangelize every woman we meet, say, a woman stopping by a vending machine for grape soda only to have Mr. Jenkins show up to ask her if she has sipped from the fountain of life yet or not.
No. That’s creepy.
It means we reflect Christ’s integrity in every interaction. We befriend, we respect, we listen, we learn, and we… well… we act like normal people. There’s no need to sexualize everything in the world, conversations with co-workers, colleagues, classmates, and strangers of the opposite sex.
If you’re afraid that any or most interactions with a member of the opposite sex will devolve into a sexual act, then, my friend, the issue here is within your heart, not with socially acceptable interactions and meetings between two people of the opposite sex.
You need professional counseling and spiritual advice to help you determine why you see women (or men) as sexual objects to be perverted and abused by you. From there, professionals will guide you further toward recovery.
And we must, at all costs, as Dr. Diane Langberg states, combat the notion that we must return flawed characters to power. We must strive and strain to hold wrongs and sins accountable in hopes of restoring that person to fellowship, not power.
We’re often plagued by this lust for power and results that once our most talented advocate succumbs to a scandal we want nothing more than to see them forgiven, celebrated, and restored to their position of mass production. It’s the temptation of the evangelical industrial complex.
But that is unbiblical and to be honest, it fails to bring that person to a state of true repentance and change. They’re just re-platformed and given a new license through which they will abuse and tarnish the sheep again.
In all, allow Christ to be in your heart and mind when with friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Do not, under any circumstance, use that situation as an excuse to compromise your morals, ethics, and faith, for the sake of fleeting passions, only to then blame a substance or a woman for your very personal and spiritually compromised decisions.
“Don’t rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters with all purity.” 1 Timothy 5:1-2
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
“The Nazis were not the first to burn children. God’s people did so long before.” – Dr. Diane Langberg, Redeeming Power
“Then the Lord said to me: ‘Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go! And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:
‘Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.’
‘I will send four kinds of destroyers against them,’ declares the Lord, ‘the sword to kill and the dogs to drag away and the birds and the wild animals to devour and destroy. I will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah did in Jerusalem.’” Jeremiah 15:1-4
Those of us familiar with Old Testament literature understand the tragic history surrounding Jewish monarchs who ascended to power only to squander their name, leadership, and faith in hopes of attaining favor with local sovereignties or in pursuit of fleeting pleasures.
King Manasseh began his rule over Judah at the age of twelve. A boy, an adolescent, with the keys to the kingdom. The son of a popular and well-liked king Hezekiah, whose honorable religious reforms had spread throughout Judah had died and left the young boy-king with large shoes to fill. Set on leaving behind his distinct legacy, Manasseh set off to accomplish the necessary tasks required of every Jewish king since David. Love God, learn God’s laws and commandments, observe those laws, protect God’s people, the Israelites, more so, those belonging to the southern kingdom of Judah (and Benjamin), and under no circumstance break any of the edicts listed under the Ten Commandments.
When Manasseh began to instill the opposite of everything required of a Jewish king, his legacy would be riddled with wickedness. He incensed the people’s desire for idols, gods, and spirits that other nations worshipped and sacrificed grain and animals to for the continuance of blessings over land, wealth, and fertility. The young king went on to rebuild the “high places” his father, Hezekiah, had torn down during his reign. These hills, mountain tops, and cliffs served as prominent places of worship, where people would visit them, build structures, and serve at their altars and the feet of obelisks erected for Semitic deities, Baal and Asheroth. They worshipped the “host of heaven,” more firmly, they worshipped spiritual entities, celestial beings, spirits, and wraiths, serving them however the spirits influenced them.
Understanding Jewish theology, you must remember that the only place in which the Jews were allowed to worship God or at least offer sacrifices to the Creator God was in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Anyone who dared worship anywhere else was considered an outcast, a heretic, a pagan. So the fires that littered the horizon of Judah; abhorrent symbols of worship and service to other gods in the land of monotheism, were an affront to everything the Abrahamic faith and Mosaic laws stood for.
Manasseh went on to further incense the pious clerics he was sworn to revere by erecting altars for the “host of heaven” in the two courts in the Solomon’s Temple, where sacrifices and worship were offered to the omnipotent Yahweh. A sacrilegious act, forced upon the people of Judea at the hands of their king. Unchallenged and relentless, the young king would not listen to his pious counselors, nor the priests in the temple they ministered in.
What came next was, at the time, previously unheard of, even for a morally compromised Judean king.
Manasseh, the young king, would grow, would wed, and father many children. A number of these, the Bible does not state how many, were offered as a sacrifice in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. Although historians question the explicit meaning of “offering one’s children to the fire” we can understand that whatever process that ensued was not for the benefit of Manasseh’s children. Other historians dictate that a particular sect in that region would start a fire in a pit, and at the mouth of the pit stood a bronze bull or a statue with its arms extended over the fire. Once its extended arms turned red hot from the heat emitted by the flames, a child was tossed on them, burned, and then rolled into the pit as a sacrifice to the deity in question. This process, the barbarity with which religious zealots killed their children seems a bit far-fetched if we didn’t have evidence of similar grotesque sacrifice rituals taking place in other, more recent cultures as well.
It seems inconceivable that the leader of Judah, the people after God’s heart, selected from the many, reduced to such a small, albeit very powerful and geographically strategic location in Palestine, could be known for worshipping the God of deliverance and protector of life whilst sacrificing children in the fires of paganism in the valley of death.
Manasseh went on to seek seers, fortune tellers, omens, sorcerers, and mystics as if there were no prophet of God in the land, nor words etched in stone by the fingers of God for guidance and encouragement.
The young king sought the spiritual advice of mediums and necromancers, people who delved into the dark arts, the mysterious aspect of conversing with the dead to gain influence over the living. A practice punishable by death in some cultures, the Jewish one included. But who could challenge the young king? Who would dare speak up against the monarch whose power and influence was unmatched and rarely questioned?
If he was willing to throw his children into the fire what then could he do with a serf? A peasant? A religious cleric?
The last knowable defilement Manasseh brought to his name and his people was instilling a carved image of an idol in the temple of God. Previously, he had left some altars, however large or small, in the outer courts of the temple, but here, he progressed, not just in depravity by killing his children, but also killing his spiritual well-being but outing Yahweh from the throne of his heart and substituting the Divine with something less, something mundane, handmade to suit his desires.
Again, Dr. Langberg’s quote rings true in history and haunts us in the present.
“The Nazis were not the first to burn children. God’s people did so long before.”
Those of us who are students of history, however amateur our endeavors may be in the science, understand that what Nazi Germany accomplished via the Holocaust will stick with humanity for eons, until, that is, something more nefarious and systemic replaces it in our history books.
Is it too difficult to believe that what happened under the Nazi regime will never happen again under a different regime? Are we so blind to our humanity to believe that we are beyond that level of hatred for a neighbor today?
We want to believe that what the Nazis did was unique to Germany in the 1930s-1940s. No other civilized group has ever devolved to such a horrendous sequence of murders to that scale. But to understand human beings we must understand the perpetual human potential for violence and that it is never beneath us to devolve or perhaps evolve to that level of violence again.
Dr. Langberg makes an accurate observation that we want to avoid at all costs.
“God’s people did so long before.”
The people of God would never!
We always say.
They would never harm children! But they offered them as a sacrifice in the fire to Baal.
They would never harm the poor! But they exploited them for the sake of wealth.
They would never harm women! But they raped them, in the village, in front of a house, in the king’s palace.
They would never harm someone of another faith! But the European crusades.
They would never harm someone who believed differently! And the Catholic inquisitions.
They would never harm a mystic! But they burned them at the stake, drowned them, threw them from buildings, and stabbed them where they fell.
They would never discriminate based on race or ethnicity! Sir, have you not studied the doctrine of discovery, manifest destiny, chattel slavery, Reconstruction, or Jim Crow? Better yet, have you not studied the last four to five hundred years of European imperialism and Western colonialism?
They would never harm women! What of the hundreds, if not thousands of years of sexist traditionalism that has become canon in the church? The numerous cases of protecting wife beaters by not believing women when they come forward with the stories of their abuse?
They would never harm children! Have you not studied the abuses of the Catholic church? The Houston Chronicle’s investigative report on the Southern Baptist Convention’s willingness to hide, protect, and platform predators? Have there not been volumes upon volumes of lawsuits against religious institutions for hiding the criminal conduct of sexual predators against children?
The Legacy of Burning Children at the Altar
Yes, Manasseh’s series of depravities indeed forced God’s hand into destroying Jerusalem. He used the Assyrian kingdom to lay waste to the ten kingdoms of the north, known as Israel. And then he used Nebuchadnezzar and his nearly indomitable Babylonian army to decimate the two kingdoms to the south, Judah and Benjamin, and take their remaining survivors into captivity for seventy years. One king’s efforts, his collective influence, Judah’s gullibility, and their religious clerics’ lack of integrity, and the overall national embarrassment of being known as God’s chosen people only to behave as the opposite would be the legacy Manasseh left behind.
God’s people were people who burned children alive.
But we burn people on the altar too.
Fair, we aren’t bowing before beasts made of bronze, silver, or gold. Those are the idols of the ancient world. No. Today our fires burn in the pits of systems, institutions, and celebrities. We sacrifice our women at the altar of male leadership, our children at the altar of predatory youth ministers, our corporate integrity at the altar of political syncretism, and our evangelistic outreach at the altar of doctrines formed by culture and geo-political events.
Like the young Jewish king, we seek the advice of mediums and necromancers, but we don’t use those names, we call them secular humanist life coaches spewing pantheistic teachings for gain and astrologists keeping the masses idiotized by looking up instead of forward, whose varied advices usher us toward a search for meaning and purpose in a finite universe with nihilistic philosophies.
In her book, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, Dr. Diane Langberg mentions the sad events of the Rwandan genocide. She visited Rwanda to help, assist, and be part of the recovery process which followed the nightmare situation that unfolded in Rwanda as nearly a million people were slaughtered in less than one hundred days.
The world stood by and did nothing as thousands were hounded, rounded up, and massacred, at times, in front of cameras.
She mentions how churches opened their doors to victims only for those refugees to be slaughtered inside. The church, the safest place in a community, second only to a police station or a healthy home environment, became a tomb for people seeking refuge from bloodthirsty machete-wielding mobs. Church leaders considered the victims subhuman (cockroaches) and an unworthy, filthy ethnic group that deserved annihilation. Clergy and laity sanctioned the killings while others participated, some in their churches, lifting axes and machetes or whatever sharp utensils turned to weapons they could get their hands on to destroy the lives of innocent neighbors whose only crime was being born a Tutsi.
The church became a slaughterhouse and not just one church in an isolated event. Throughout the one hundred-day massacre, multiple church sites were used as entrapment areas to lure people seeking safety to their doors only to kill them when they arrived. If machetes did kill them from within, up close and personal, a barrage of bullets would pepper them from without, at a distance.
The sanctuary was a place where men, women, and children were offered up to the fire.
What I want us to be aware of is the ease with which we can offer our neighbors to the fire today.
Manasseh sacrificed his children to Molech, Baal, Asherah, or the host of heaven. He stood and watched as his offspring, the babies made of bone, flesh, blood, and life, filled with potential and a future, body covered with nerves and skin, perfect in their development and their progress, thrown in a pit of flames, its yelps and screams swallowed by scorching flames.
A man responsible for overseeing the nation God, this man, this leader, in the most influential position of the land descended to the darkest stretch of Jewish history for the sake of religious blessings. False religion to be exact.
So what makes us believe that we are not just as capable of committing such atrocities within our circles? We have created our fiefdoms with our varied denominations. We have gatekeepers watching for who is in and who is out depending on how one interprets a select passage of scripture. Others use ex-communication as if it were the only tool in the box of church disciplinary action.
The church is ripe with abuse of power and new idols.
Systems that invoke power, influence, dominance, and control. Systems that were produced initially to benefit some have been used to exploit others. Church bodies become oppressors instead of siding with the oppressed, just to get a piece of the power pie. To challenge political systems, policies, and concepts is to challenge the very church because the line between the two systems is non-existent now. Those who speak up are called anti-this or contra-that. Iconoclasts and disgruntled apostates. Not realizing that the very existence of the system-hungry church is apostate in theory and practice.
Institutions, colleges, seminars, faculties, and colleges that do no wrong. Teachings and teachers who hold on to their traditions and doctrines formed in one region of Europe are held as the only sound method of interpreting and understanding theology, killing anyone on the altar who dares challenge those precepts. The killing, here, isn’t done with sword or gun, it is done with derogatory statements, degrading comments, dismissive tones, and mockery.
Celebrities, in form and habit, take center stage, their victims not far behind. Bodies pile up beneath the altar, as worship bands play louder, smoke machines work in overdrive, and song bridges are repeated ad nauseam to dampen the lucidity of the sheep. Churches are plagued with the idolization of talented men and gifted women. Favoring the results-driven ministries over those focused on discipleship and integrity. Number build churches into megachurches, and megachurches become empires in their cities and states. Buildings and churches are made in the image of their teachers, following their every word as if it were the words of God. And when the truth of their misconduct, their wrongdoing, their coverup comes to light we cover for them because their giftedness supersedes their flaws.
In the same breath, we are more willing to restore broken men and women to power than we are to restore them to fellowship.
Damned, be power. It corrupts. Those who are corrupt already and take on the mantle of leadership further corrupt everyone around them.
The churches they lead become mass graves, spiritual mass graves as abuse runs rampant behind celebrity leaders.
From apologists to hipster Manhattanites to Quiverfull proselytes and televangelists hucksters, the cult of personality, celebrity status pastors and teachers, the Jesus 2.0 apostles, are surrounded by corpses.
They stand knee-deep in the blood, suffering, and spiritual disillusionment of the people they were called to serve but who they have delivered to the fires for the sake of power, influence, network time, conference seats, book deals, and front-page newspaper exposure.
What is a celebrity leader without a scandal? Who is the celebrity leader without a very public failure by which to round up the most ardent and loyal disciples around him? If failure will not unite the corrupt, success will. And a redemption story rakes in cash and new friends does it not?
Rwandan churches had compromised their integrity for political and cultural gain, but what is to be said of the German church that existed comfortably throughout the Nazi regime’s reign of terror?
What is to be said of the church in Germany where Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, wanderers, and those struggling with mental illnesses sought refuge in the church only to be loaded into train carts instead by clergy and laity?
The connection between the German church and the Nazi party was so well established that many avoided the church for fear of being apprehended by clergymen with ties to the Nazi regime.
Can you imagine men and women fleeing the church because it represented capture, imprisonment, torture, deportation, and extermination?
Before Hitler asked that children be burned in the fire, God’s people were burning people in the fire.
Things have yet to change, except, how we kill one another has advanced to the point of perfection. Our hands are often absent of ash and blood but still, the trail of bodies stretches behind us.
The young girl who was subjected to volleys of sexual assault by the talented youth leader is told to keep quiet because she probably deserved and enjoyed the “interaction” between them. The youth leader will be protected from law enforcement, vindicated by the church board, and later re-platformed as a champion of Christian ethics because look at the spiritual assault here endured! Consider how the youth program has swelled with new and fresh faces over the years! Should we now hamper this progress?
Consider the young woman who is the victim of constant battering and physical abuse at the hands of her husband, a choir director at their church, who will come forward with her abuse and be thoroughly silenced by the church board. How dare she go against her husband so publicly. Plus, the bruises she incurred were probably self-inflicted. Who are we to believe? The successful and charismatic choir director or the reclusive and embittered wife who seldom attends church anymore? The church will side with the husband when the wife contacts law enforcement, the church will even pay for his lawyer fees and bail. The church is here to care for those behind bars is it not? So it will financially support the wife-beater, pray for his soul, pray against his disgruntled wife, shame her from the pulpit before the congregation, and finally excommunicate her for not forgiving her husband as a godly wife is expected to.
Consider the young black minority member in the church, who, after enduring years of overt and covert racial animosity from fellow church members, is asked to leave the church or shut up about racial inequities in the world. The church does not condone such divisive talk. Anything that references racism is most likely a Marxist ploy to undermine the church anyway. Therefore, that member will be ostracized and blamed for the racial uproar in the church, although their only sin was believing a church-run by racists was capable of repenting of its hatred. Racist church members will grow fat with hubris as they pat one another on the back, explaining to everyone how there isn’t a racist bone in their body, nor one of racial animosity toward any member of a minority group. They say these and other things, of course, from the comfort and safety of their racially monochromatic church body. White pastors, white teachers, white choir directors, white board members, white worship band members who sing worship songs written, produced, and recorded by white people who live in white people’s havens. They will claim ignorance because they are ignorant and damned be the colored person who dares accuse them of racial awareness. To them, being color-blind, blind even to their race, is their safest bet in the world. Should anyone point it out, they will have to deal with the reality of their surroundings and the many people they have kept away from their church.
The bodies pile up. Their scent festers. Their rot is laid bare for the world to see.
Is this what the church does to people? Is this what God’s people are capable of, in the name of Jesus?
What To Do With The Bodies
The church sites in Germany where many were carted away from, led, usually, under the threat of corporal punishment if not death, were either destroyed by allied forces firebombs or demolished after the war. Those that survived the war were rebuilt and remodeled. Some that were razed to the ground were rebuilt. There is seldom a memory of the horrors that occurred within them because those sites are either home to new churches that have different goals or they have become visitor centers where services to God are seldom held but tourism and picture taking are welcome. A sitting priest or cleric welcomes all in, to gaze at the marvels of ancient cathedrals, walking to and fro, from stainless glass window to spire, in awe of a structure that once represented lofty piety and later horror and now ambivalence and distant memories.
German churches have moved on from their horrid complicity of yesteryear.
Church sites in Rwanda, however, have remained mostly untouched. Some of them house pyramids of skulls within. Bones of the deceased litter the inside of the church, piled up, some, five bodies high.
Their gaunt, skinless, lifeless structures gaze back at us as we look at them. We, of course, walk into the church, watch them watching us, and we leave, minding our next destination, not caring much for the gravity of the mass grave found within the church.
It’s easy, is it not, for us to move on from such a sight. How we look on, our minds barely touching the surface of the screams, the blood, the severed limbs, ruptured skulls, and crushed bones. Did boots stomp on those tiny skulls to deform them? Were those tiny skulls deformed before they died? How about the bones that are split in half. Did that violent act take place before that poor soul expired or after? What about the bullet holes found in the back of skulls? Were those mercy killings, to save the person from the horrors of rape that often took place before the altar? Did that bullet, hurling faster than the speed of sound, fired from no more than several feet away from the victim’s head, travel across that bridge of space and time in an act of love? Bullets travel with love too, you know. Love of country, family, race, and political party. They travel to stop the evil-doer next door. Evil with a name and a face, a family, and a future. Evil, of course, is a minor ethnic difference, in this case. One that doesn’t elevate nor diminish, it is something, well, determined merely by local leaders and national politicians. A whim. They determined who was evil and who deserved a hug from the projectiles launched from their guns over several days.
What do we say in the presence of such horror? More so, what does such horror say in the presence of God?
If one looks to the walls in these churches they will see pictures of saints, crosses hanging from nails, and the occasional scripture etched into them but in the center of the room you find bodies, dead, long dead, but still speaking.
Who will speak for us? If not God’s people then who?
If fact, I ask the same. If God’s people, the ones who have been ushered into the world with a message of hope, love, restitution, conciliation, redemption, and more, fail to live up to those admirable virtues only to turn on them, taking up instead, the mantles of hate, violence, power, oppression, armaments, machetes, and rape, what then?
If the children of the light are more depraved than the children of darkness, what hope has the world?
If the church, a symbol of hope, of love, of Christlikeness is hellbent on murder, rape, assault, abuse, and coverup, where are we headed?
Where Will God Go?
I’m reminded of the sequence of events in the Old Testament where Israel’s perpetual backsliding leads God’s Spirit to exit the sanctuary because God would not tolerate the worship of a wayward and corrupt people. He would not sit idly by, sanctioning intrepid idolatry, male prostitutes offering their services from the temple grounds, the poor growing poorer, the wealthy growing fatter at the poor’s expense, the Laws of Guidance and Fruition serving no other purpose than enslaving the masses and empowering religious autocrats.
It is to our benefit that God distances himself from the corruption of the soul.
He will either annihilate us all or distance Himself from us for a time, for our benefit.
Hope In The Face of Desolation
A strange thing happens in the life of the young king. Toward the end of his misery, the life of wickedness no longer suits him. The sin that festered in him began to chip gnaw at his soul.
After living with such depravity for so long, a person learns that there is no glory, no fame, no existential fulfillment at the end of it. The seeking after the wind, pursuance of sounds in the shadows, and the hope that the dead speak back to us are all, in the end, futile ventures.
Manasseh had sold his soul and his children to Mesopotamian spirits, searching after something only Yahweh could provide: rest for a weary soul.
He prays a prayer we have no record of, recorded only in the “records of the seers” and some presume the recorded prayers that have withstood the test of time are apocryphal, thereby not authentic and extra-biblical.
We have no resolute and accurate idea of the prayer but attempting to reach his mind in that state of repentance, we can come up with an idea of what his prayer might have sounded like.
What Have I Done? – A Prayer by Manasseh
“O, God, my God, Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Creator and Deliverer, Life-Giver, Rescuer of my soul. How I have sinned against you, My misery fills the air around me, Wickedness chokes the joy from me. Where will I go to find relief? Who will hear the complaint of a murderer? I have sought the death of my children for gain, And have lost more than I ever dared and wanted. I sought the council of witches, seers, and the dead. I have yet to hear the truth. I have yet to see light. O, God, my God, What have I done? Is there forgiveness left for me? Am I destined for the end I surely deserve? No matter how harsh, how grim, how destructive, I have merited it, and more! Destroy in me the me who sought after idols, Those of stone, wood, silver, gold; Of jade, ruby, and pleasure. Burn up from within me the lust for power, The greed for control, the haste for disobedience. My children, my children; How I wish I could join you in that fire, That the flames would consume me and deliver you, How I long to be by your side and you by mine. Will there be an end to my suffering, Lord? I hope not, for I surely deserve more. Forgiveness, I need it, but I am undeserving of it. Hear the rending of my heart, the failing of my soul, And relieve me, O, Lord, of the burden of life itself. From you, from all, I deserve woe. I deserve woe.”
We know not what it was Manasseh said but prayers, however intelligible or not, lucid or mumbling about, baby-like, are heard by God. He seeks and searches the depths of a man’s heart; He understands the wallows, fright, and desperation found in a woman’s heart; He comprehends the unspoken-ness of brokenness derived from sin and He bends down toward us and heals.
Where God finds it in His being to forgive such ills, I do not know. I cannot know for I am not God but I know that I seek this love, this selflessness, this giving of liberation, daily in my life.
God restored Manasseh to glory, respect, and honor. Not without temporal consequences, of course.
And God can restore the church too, you know.
The residence of bones and dried blood can be a residence of restoration and hope, again.
The structure where babies were massacred can be revitalized as a place where babies are saved and protected.
They can, yes, they can, if we dare, if we will, if we decide to return to God.
And this isn’t a televangelists’ call to open air-tent preaching with hell-fire and brimstone invective.
This is an opportunity to see the church be that which we all expect of it. To behave as the world demands it. As Christ commanded it.
Outside of this, outside of this hope, namely, Christ’s love reflected on His people, we will see nothing more, nothing less, than bones and death in the church of “god.”
Not Yahweh the Deliverer, the I AM, but the god of death.
If we change not, we will be servants in the slaughterhouse of god.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Have you ever met a Christian who speaks fondly of a place he or she has yet to visit? Say, heaven?
And no, I am not referring to the place Americans go to get hefty tax cuts; avoid communing with brown immigrants; where they get to sip diesel cocktails and bathe in nuclear waste just because they can.
No. That’s Texas, sir.
I’m referring to the people who attend religious gatherings at least once a week all around the world, lifting hands in worship, singing their hearts out to God. Those people. The ones who carry Bibles, read Christian literature as if it were the news, and listen to contemporary worship music as if it were canon.
Have you ever heard them speak about the glorious hope that awaits the faithful once they step into the void of death and cross the bridge of hopelessness into everlasting light?
Yes. Christians. More so, Western Christians.
And by “Western” I mean North, Central, and South American.
We (western Christians) sometimes discuss heaven like kids discuss Disney Land or Disney World. Or the way parents discuss upcoming holidays and steakhouses and burger joints we want to visit. You know, “I can’t wait to try the triple-deck bacon extravaganza at Honkies. It has sixty thousand calories and that’s just the burger. The onion fries are fried in bacon grease! O, the heart attack! Honey! Bring my Tums tablets. No, the extra strength ones!”
Listen, I’m not dismissing the beauty of heaven. I’m not dismissing the undecipherable blessings that await us in the beyond either. I very much look forward to the day in which I will no longer have to pay taxes to a government that seldom assists the disadvantaged with the funds it deprives me of. I will no longer have to see people go hungry because of greed or famine or drought. I will no longer be a witness to the horrors of cancer, AIDS, plagues, war, and genocide.
I mean, no more death. That is amazing.
What a beautiful hope. A dream, almost, to live in a place where suffering no longer exists. We become immortal hedonists. At least that’s what some Christians make it sound like.
But seldom do we reflect on the direct cause and purpose of heaven: Christ.
I want us to consider the validity of a Christocentric understanding of heaven and life here on earth instead of a heaven-centric understanding of existence.
What I mean is that far too many of us succumb to an idea that heaven will just become a hangout, a place where we kind of, well, just hang out. Where we can walk over to a celestial ice cream parlor or a sanctified bar (no alcohol for the Baptists) wherein which we get to indulge without gaining weight or suffering through hangovers the day after. But this line of thinking is ludicrous. We have turned heaven into an eternal amusement park whereas others have turned it into an eternal choir show where we’re compelled to worship God, together, forever.
The issue here is the compulsion, not the fact that we’re worshipping God or lack of time involved in it. Also, yeah, the concept of time won’t even be a thing once we cross over the threshold of life and death, and time into eternity. There’s no such thing as time in a place where time does not exist. It’s strange, really, but frightening. I won’t know whether I’ve rested for an hour or six centuries. It’ll be something new to us but we will adjust… without time.
Our understanding of the beyond, of heaven, has been warped by medieval artwork, American consumerism, pop culture, and the seeker-sensitive evangelical industrial complex (EIC) mania.
This myopic view of heaven prioritizes our comfort over our relational posture toward God, not just that, but it diminishes the value of Christ in our theology. The collateral damage from this line of thinking also diminishes our willingness to focus on temporal matters, namely, our neighbors and our environment.
I recall listening to minister, John MacArthur, I cannot recall which series it was but I recall his sentiment about environmentalists, condemning their efforts to stymie pollution and stall environmental disasters caused by human activity because, according to MacArthur’s interpretation of eschatology, the world was going to be incinerated by Jesus someday anyway. So, considering the finitude of our planet, in MacArthur’s mind, there was no point in attempting to stall current events or endeavor at a combined venture to make things better for people now or the next generation because the planet, as he saw it, was doomed.
Others have avoided the push for racial equity because racism, in its interpersonal and its structural state, would only be remedied in heaven. Some have thwarted efforts to dismantle exploitative systems that historically disadvantage the poor and racial minorities. They believe, and erroneously so, that because Jesus said to his disciples a week before his crucifixion, “You will always have the poor with you,” that by that we needn’t strive to end world hunger and poverty.
Theologians and ministers have shunned the idea of combating sexual abuse in the church and sexual abuse outside of it because sexual deviancy will only be corrected if not outright annihilated in the afterlife. What’s the point of pushing for policies, laws, cultural and systemic changes to our institutions here on earth if they will always fail because of man’s sinful nature? Shouldn’t we focus on heaven and heaven alone where these problems will cease to exist?
Man’s sinful nature is only corrected by supernatural transformation therefore the complete redemption and transformation will only take place in heaven so until then we need to focus on the gospel message and that alone.
Forget about poverty. Forget about racism. Forget about sexism and misogyny.
I understand this escapist and apathetic (also pathetic) line of reasoning because I lived it. I used to disseminate it. Again, as you read above, I used to listen to John MacArthur and his cadre of heaven-onlyists for years, thinking that any attempt to remedy current problems was a waste of time. A waste of “God’s time.”
I believed that because this world would one day cease to be and I would escape its demise and destruction that the only thing for me to focus on was to get as many people into Noah’s Celestial Ark as soon as possible before a world-altering cataclysmic event unfolded. Anyone unfortunate enough to get stuck outside of that cosmic redemption carriage was, well, lost. Not just lost in eternal separation but also lost in their current state here on earth.
“Damn the earth,” I thought. “It’ll be reborn anyway.”
The poor would remain poor, because, well, heaven was better.
The battered and sexually abused woman would remain, well, battered and sexually abused because heaven was her only hope. I mean, her abusive husband would soon dispatch her to heaven, along with her kids, (thank domestic abuse for that one) so there wasn’t much to worry about. She’d have cake, beef stew, and another patriarch to rule over her in heaven.
The black teen who was racially profiled by police, handcuffed, beat, and tossed behind bars on false and trumped-up charges, with an unnecessarily lengthier sentence than his white counterparts, would not need to stress about the system that disadvantaged him because heaven has no racism. All the racists from earth would then become race-loving Teletubbies in heaven. The policeman who beat him with a club on earth would greet him with cake in heaven.
The absurdity of this mindset, which removes the focus of our life and goal from Christ and places it in a place instead is such a perversion of the gospel yet we endure it. We drink its filth, swallow its bile, and defecate its heresy for millions to follow.
Heaven-onlyism turns us away from the blind, the naked, the battered, the prisoner, the downtrodden, the outcast, the immigrant, the refugee, the widow (and widower), the elderly, the sick, the vilomah, and the orphan. It creates an escapist mindset where we’re not that much interested in Christ nor that interested in people created in His image but focused on a place where we are delivered from our responsibilities for our neighbor and our planet.
We’re more focused on getting the ‘hell outta dodge’ than we are on living as Christ lived. More focused on allowing the ship we’re on to sink to the throes of misery because we believe we’re promised safe passage through murky waters, unstained by obligations of selflessness.
The problem is… and what many people fail to understand, is that God commands us to care for our neighbor and our planet. He commands us to care for our land, the land we share with our neighbors. He commands us to be the good Samaritan, well knowing those in our care may never pay us back. He demands that we visit the “least of these” lest we be forsaken on Judgement Day.
We need to focus more so on Jesus than on WHAT Jesus will do with the planet and WHEN.
No one knows the day nor the hour and until then, we need to work. We need to move mountains. We need to open seas. Part them in half with what God has given us as gifts and talents to help our neighbors. We need to care for our surroundings and our environment not as if we idolize or personify nature but because God has given us this bucolic planet for us to enjoy, not exploit.
There’s a difference.
God does not bless exploitation and He does not merit individuals the grace of salvation AND the right to exploit. Once saved, our responsibility to live like Jesus is immediate, from here through eternity and that will demand we confront the wrongs of our time.
“Jesus never confronted the Roman empire, nor did he abolish slavery.”
But Christians did. Real Christ-followers refused to bow a knee to imperial power, greed, and exploitation.
Heretics and exploiters bent the knee at the river of exploitation by enslaving men and women in the name of Jesus and then telling the same groups to expect relief and redemption in Heaven only.
“Endure your chains. Save your soul!”
That’s a damnable offense in the eyes of God and His people.
Be wary of ministers, pastors, theologians, and clergymen who speak so lofty of heaven and its many gifts but turn a blind eye to God’s people here on Earth. Admonish them to focus on Christ and not on escapism, because, as we have seen through history, many of them have come to faith in Jesus not for the love of the Lord but because of their fear of hell.
The fear of eternal separation, whatever that may entail, has done more damage to the Christian psyche than it has led people into a loving and eternal life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.
Heaven may be full of people who will wander the streets of gold not knowing who exactly it is they’re there to meet.
And that is an embarrassment. Of course, I’m exaggerating, playing coy, but please entertain this next thought for just a moment.
Image a man named John entering heaven, having suffered some calamitous death on earth, and now he graces the fields of the beyond the same way Maximus dreamed of walking through his field of grain. He wanders here and there, seeing joy-filled faces, laughter, peace, tears of relief, and restfulness everywhere. He watches people who have made a perilous journey from one end of the universe to the other, losing thousands, if not millions of their numbers, having since reached safer shores in God’s eternal rest.
John comes across this blinding light, a man, or at least someone in the shape of a man walking toward him, surrounded by resplendent glory.
“Welcome, John.” Says Jesus. “Oh, uh, hi.” “I’m glad you made it. I’m so happy to have you here.” Jesus continues. “Yeah, uh, hey, where’s the fluffy cake stuff we were promised back on earth?” “The what?” “Excuse me. I think I see a poutine waterfall over there.” John bumps into Jesus on his way to what he presumes is a waterfall spewing gravy, cheese curds, and french fries.
How daunting a sight.
But that’s how many of us see heaven and operate as such.
Others yet see themselves dressed in white robes singing, for ions, possibly innumerable songs.
“When will we get a break from this singing to finally grab some cake or something.” Said Sandy, in singsong. “Not sure, but here’s the 1,045,095th repetition of the bridge.” Said another heavenly apparition, in falsetto. “Right. Sorry. ‘And on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on…” For eternity, they sang.
Our minds are so fixated on sanctified mundanity that we may be shocked when we get to heaven and realize that we’ll still be required to relate to one another and also with the Principle Host of it all, Jesus.
Granted. Our newness will remove from us the selfishness that is so prevalent in us here on earth but I cannot imagine the face of thousands of redeemed folk looking around expecting plush couches, white robes, and cake everywhere until they realize that heaven is much more, more than what we think, more than what we can comprehend.
But heaven’s main focus isn’t the place, the timelessness, or the absence of pain and suffering.
Heaven will be Jesus. Jesus will be Heaven.
And if we’re not focused on Jesus here on earth, not in the sense that we want to escape from the troubles of the world kind of mindset. No. No one wants to be in a relationship with someone who is just with them because the alternative, namely, singleness or some less entertaining lover was the option or whatnot.
No. We want to be the focus of their love and adoration. Their time. Their friend, best friend even.
But we’re not focused on befriending Jesus. We’re focused on the benefits that relationship grants us. No different from friends with benefits here on earth. Except, instead of trading up sexual favors we want to trade up for celestial cake.
And damned be everyone left behind.
Please, for the of Jesus and your neighbor. Direct your attention to Christ and you will then be forced to confront the issues still happening here on earth. The people still need food, shelter, medicine, rescue, and love. Be sure that you develop of healthy and evident relationship with Jesus while here on earth. That relationship, or rather, the health of that relationship will be evident in how you treat Earth’s citizens and the planet they inhabit.
Now go and some eat cake.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Repost: This post was originally posted on Facebook on January 30, 2017.
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34
Christians, let us be honest about refugees. And by Christians, I don’t mean people who just use the Bible when it suits their political agendas. I mean the people who have devoted their lives to the historical Jesus Christ.
Jesus would have taken in the refugees. Jesus would have received them with open arms, independent of their race, nationality, gender, or social status. Absolutely.
Jesus would have given His life for them. In fact, He has. When Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this: to lay his life down for his friends.”
Further yet, “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus, without a hint a doubt or hesitance called and still calls us to lay down our lives for our friends, to love our neighbors no matter who they may be or what they believe, and also to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us in the good faith that His love will triumph over their hate.
So in reality, from a Godly and biblical perspective, if you hold the Bible as the very words of God, we ought to love and protect all men and women from oppressors when the chance is given. Hospitality should be our highest esteem and merit so that the world may look to Christians everywhere and say, “Even though we disagree in every fundamental thing, that Christian has treated me like royalty and family.”
Christ died on the cross for us and that revelation ought to transform us.
And that truth cost Him His life. Jesus, though loving was no spineless or chest-less man. He bench-pressed time and existence into being and set a new eternal bench-press record for all the cosmos.
He would state, with love that others were wrong within their erroneous presumptions. While doing such, He showed them love and fed them not just physical for for their much need nourishment but also spiritual food, revitalizing their souls.
So if it comes to pass that refugees fleeing war-torn nations beg to reside next to you, work with you, attend the same events as you, love them. Befriend and pray for them. Discuss life, love, conflict, sadness, reality and listen to what they may say in return. Be ready also, at all times to give a response as to what you believe and how it can and will remedy the world of its fundamental crisis of the heart.
Jesus would have us, through the Great Commission to go into all the world and preach the good news of His redemptive work through the cross and His resurrection. If we will not leave our fox holes to cross into enemy lines where imminent danger is everywhere, He will send the enemy, whether in the physical or ideological stance, into our communities, events, schools, etc. He will use every method and avenue available so that perhaps one of the millions may be saved.
So in regards to the refugees, let them come in. If our faith is weak, it will perish. But if our faith in Him is strong, as it ought to be, we will not only lead the world in the forms of love and hospitality towards those in need, but we will also lead countless neighbors from around the world to a relationship with Christ Jesus, their everlasting Creator.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
I’ve had the privilege of meeting, befriending, wooing, dating, and later being engaged to and finally marrying the love of my life.
Her name is Irma. No one knows how to pronounce her name, and honestly, the way she pronounces it is probably wrong too.
We met on social media, namely, Instagram, then Facebook, then Skype, and finally in person. She wasn’t a serial killer so I survived our initial meet and the second time we met up I asked her to marry me. We met in February of 2014, got engaged in June, were married in court on September 29, and celebrated that marriage with friends and family on October 18 of the same year.
That was seven years ago!
We’ve lived in Florida, vacationed in Brazil, visited Toronto together, and now live in Edmonton, AB, Canada. Our first little girl was born in Naples, Florida, the next two in Edmonton, and the fourth is slated to be born here as well if we don’t just so happen to move to Japan in the next week or two.
My heart is full. Everything I dreamed of and wished for in a partner I can gladly celebrate in my wife. The humor, the chemistry, the beauty, the proactive maturity, the effort, and the awareness of all things.
She’s my friend, my best friend and I’m glad we’ve made it this far but it’s not far enough since I hope to spend the rest of my life with her before I end up on a Cold Case file somewhere.
Anywho… what can I share with you from seven years of marriage?
Through thick and thin, ups and downs, wealth and almost sure poverty, health and sickness, life and well, abundant life?
What can I impart to you, my dear friend?
Nothing that concerns you anyway.
My marriage is none of your business therefore you can go out there and marry the love of your life and you’ll realize that it’s more important to spend time with them than it is to write about it for others.
So go live your life. Enjoy the ice cream and wine. And by ice cream and wine I mean sex.
Enjoy it and thrive in it.
Happy Anniversary, my love. You are my waking dreams and when you don’t salt the rice well enough, you become my waking nightmare. But that’s okay. Love suffers all things. Especially unsalted rice.
I cherish you, I praise your wisdom and intellect, I value our conversations about ideas, concepts, systems, structures, peoples, theology, eschatology, soteriology, race, childrearing, and yes, 90 Day Fiancé on TLC.
Distance dating was our story but that seems like a distant memory now because I cannot imagine life without you now.
I could not have found a better friend, a better partner, a better wife, nor a fellow conspiracy to commit… well, you know what than I have found in you.
To ice cream and wine.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Last Sunday, Freedom Life Church pastor and bible teacher, Rohan Samuels covered the Lord’s Prayer. This was the second installment of FLC’s Teach Me How To Pray series where we study whether prayer is efficacious or not.
Some of us spend time on our knees doing nothing but mumbling unintelligible things to God and falling asleep where we are without realizing what happened until we wake up snoring and drooling all over the place.
Prayer sleep is some of the best sleep I’ve ever gotten and hey, listen, taking a nap before God is a great thing if that’s what we went there for. But if our initial pursuit was to seek God’s providential will for our lives in this humbling medium of communication and the result was our brain slipping into a catatonic state then something went wrong somewhere.
Prayer involves communication, not just monologues where we dispense our righteous anger, relay our seasonal depression to God, divulge our momentary anxieties and then wipe our tears, stand up or lay down from our one-sided FaceTime session with God and off we go with our lives or into oblivion to dream about other things.
Prayer is more than one-sided monologues and information dumpster fires we drop at God’s feet. If we’re not making time to stand or kneel or time to just ‘be’ in the presence of the All-Mighty then we’ll find it harder and harder to receive Guidance and Perspective from Someone we seldom stop and sit long enough to listen to and understands our destiny.
Dr. Derwin L. Gray, pastor at Transformation Church, Indian Land, South Carolina, defines prayer this way:
“Prayer is more than talking to God. Prayer is a sacred journey of becoming who you were meant to be.”
Pastor Rohan with the Lord’s Prayer in mind deciphers a better way for us to communicate with God and at the same time dispels the harmful ideas we’ve come to make tradition and doctrine over time regarding prayer that is not true and eventually turns out to be not biblical as well.
Here are just a few ideas from Last Sunday’s message I managed to jot down to add to my prayer life.
“Prayer is not about us even though it requires our participation.”
This is true. Biblically speaking, prayer is truly about us being conformed to the will of God.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
Prayer is not just a means through which we communicate with God but also a place, an act, an action, a state of being in which we are molded into the person God has created us to be and also where we align our will to His will, which, thankfully, is always good for us. [Romans 8:28]
“You are not entitled to what you pray for.”
This point is critically important but emotionally damaging if our goal in prayer is to gain everything we want from God without knowing for sure if what we want is within His will.
When we bow a knee (which isn’t necessary) to pray we are again called by God to commune with Him and walk with Him. This intimate act calls for us to subjugate our will, which isn’t always in the right place, to His direction.
Us asking for that multi-million dollar residence in Texas, the three Mercedes -Benz Brabus rockets, and a multi-million dollar business to run without ever having taken a business management course, not knowing how to properly administer funds, and never having taken driving lessons, acquiring a driver’s license, having no auto insurance will only place us in a legally and financially compromising situation.
God sees the future as if it were the past. We must trust that when we ask for things or blessings we must first adhere our hearts and aspirations to the will of God and trust His best for our lives otherwise we’ll end up getting everything we want and not knowing how or what to do with these things.
Imagine someone asking for kids and once they’re blessed with them their kids are neglected, abused, and dismissed. We need to be in a state of peace and contentment with God over the things we get from God.
“Everyone should enter the school of prayer but no one graduates from the school of prayer.”
This is a given. No one is a prayer warrior as if there were a school somewhere where men and women go to train like samurai of yesteryear to kneel and stand for hours on end. Where they practice crying, on and off, and raising hands to strengthen their shoulders for lengthy intercessory prayer sessions. Where they carry on hours-long standing sessions to demonstrate their ability to withstand twelve-hour vigils. There isn’t a place where men and women go to train their speaking voice and then their praying voice.
Prayer is a lifelong commitment to communicating with and listening to God. Understand also that God listens to you.
You won’t graduate from a prayer program the same way one graduates from a Ninja Warrior class on how to climb walls and free-run across the surface of a building.
Humility in the life of a believer is demonstrated in this way: he or she is always willing to seek God for guidance in all things instead of relying on their history, wisdom, know-how, etc.
We are all here to learn from God and learn more about how He guides us through His word and His Holy Spirit. The moment we step away from these and onto our wisdom, we have damned ourselves to our folly.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Way to pray not the words to pray.”
Pastor Rohan recites the Lord’s Prayer, the one easily found in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
The beautiful message Jesus portrays in this passage is that we needn’t get caught up in the religiosity of prayer where performance and eloquence are the goals.
Jesus relays to his disciples then and us today the simplicity of prayer: we acknowledge our Creator and are also acknowledged by Him by the grace of being heard.
We are blessed with the grace of His will, which reminds us that we are not alone in this journey without a guide or direction.
We are blessed with the grace of honesty in our moment of need. When we lack or when sustenance is something we rely on, which we do, we can gladly ask of it of God. Pastor Rohan alludes to the reality of how a first-century Jew would read this prayer, one who did not have the convenience of supermarkets and logistics we do today to get food and bread. Back then, if harvest went sour or if war swept the land, there was a very high chance you or your neighbor would die from starvation and malnutrition. So understand that sometimes we go through thirst or hunger of sorts, which may or may not pertain to physical hunger, where we desperately need to present this need to the Lord.
It is comforting to know that God accepts these petitions and hears them.
Our relationship with God is measured also by our relationship with our neighbors. Vertical only faith is no faith at all. When we place an emphasis on relationships we need to be aware that we are earthly beings with heavenly blessings, meaning, we need to care for both. Meaning, we need to properly administer both.
We must not only forgive others, but we must also love them as well. Displaying a forgiving character toward all, as hard as it may be.
We are graced with the ability to seek refuge in our Heavenly Father from spiritual uncleanliness and filth. We seek refuge and protection from spiritually impure and tenebrous spirits whose sole purpose is to disrupt our relationship with our Divine Creator.
God listens to us. And because He listens to our heart and our words, we ought to then communicate our innermost workings with Him more freely.
There is nothing that you can say that’ll surprise Him nor anything you can say that will hurt Him.
This is liberating news.
So you don’t have to pray this exact prayer as if it is holier, brighter, better, more effective, and somehow a talisman against evil itself, because it is a way for us to pray, not THE WORDS we ought to pray.
Jesus set forth a foundation for us to approach God our Father, but you are free to express your heart before Him your way, without using someone else’s words.
Give it a go!
Praise Him. Trust Him. Walk with Him.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Professor Wade Mullen, Ph.D., wrote a book on deciphering the veiled tactics abusers and abusive institutions use to maintain power and deceive victims into submission and silence. This book opened my eyes to the sketchy behaviors corporations and their ilk of lawyers and suits use to deviate blame, shift shame, and avoid guilt at all costs, all while saving face in the face of evidence, wrongdoing, malpractice, and abuse.
“Abusers and abusive organizations may concede the basic reality of the wrong—“Yes, this happened”—but quickly add statements that either soften their responsibility or promote their integrity: “We value all people and only want what is best for everyone involved.” If these concessions do their job, the accused will stay in power, stay in favor with the community, and stay far from the shame their actions deserve.”
There’s always that ‘but’ in our apologies, is there not? I believe it’s a defensive mechanism to protect our ego from one, being exposed for what it is, two, admitting wrong, and three, having to deal with the consequences of that initial or sequential wrongdoing we’re responsible for.
I’m guilty of this as well. Many times over.
I’ve apologized to others with the intent of protecting my image for the sake of my ego. No one wants to be destroyed in the public sphere or the public marketplace. Nowadays, being denied social capital is at times worse than actual capital because of ostracism from people on social media which, if left unchallenged, can last years, if not decades; or a lifetime.
“I’m sorry I did that to you but you kind of asked for it.”
“I’m sorry you felt that way but that wasn’t my intention.”
“I’m sorry this happened, it did, and I’ll put it behind me. You do have to forgive me, you know.”
These are just a few of the facades and barriers we create and put up to defang the brunt of our consequences. We’re not only afraid of the ramifications of our wrongs but we’re resistant to any form of discipline, especially if that discipline is meted out by the victim of our wrongs.
They pinpoint 23 identifiable traits abusive leaders can exhibit which, after a closer look, are patterns and behaviors we see in our own lives as well. I mean, I see a few of these in mine. It’s daunting.
Take a look:
Doublespeak—Language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts or reverses the meaning of
words using euphemisms, inflated language, jargon, or just plain nonsense
Unteachable Spirit—Claims to want to hear people’s opinions, yet talks down to and/or argue with the people who share them; pretends to listen, agree, and learn, yet makes no significant change
Corrective Theology—Use meetings or written messages to correct things that were said by others
Semantics—Distort and distract from what they and others say and/or mean by parsing every word
others say while refusing to allow their own language to be dissected
Blame-shifting—Refusal to take real responsibility; often directly blames other people and/or use
statements such as, “They just don’t understand my heart,” or “You are not listening”
Demand Loyalty/Respect/Trust—Often remind others of all the good they have done even as they
demand unconditional and blind loyalty/respect/trust
Sabotage—Ministries are secretly undone, content they can’t control is criticized, relationships are
Distorted Relationships—Heavy demands may be put on relationships, relationships tend not to be
reciprocal, they may speak well of you in-person while talking badly of you when you are not present
Demand Unity—Sincere sounding calls for unity turn out to be demands for conformity to the leader’s beliefs, ideas, and preferences
Gaslighting—Specific forms of manipulation intended to cause others to question their perception; may take the form of “remembering things differently,” withholding information, denying having said or done something, and/or lying
Credential Flashing—Degrees, position, titles used frequently to establish an air of authority
Paranoia—Concern that others are undermining their authority, talking behind their backs, or leaving them out
Image Obsession—Inflated concern about how others perceive them; often takes the form of public
name-dropping (though in private they may berate the very names they drop) and building a façade as a godly and/or deeply religious person
Blackmail—If challenged will used whatever he/she thinks he has on the challenger to quash the
challenge; may take the form of forcing a resignation, tying severance to NDAs
Public Admiration of Others—Publicly make highly positive comments about others (often fellow
leaders/co-workers) while privately tearing them down
Entitlement—Claim the right to the highest-ranking positions without having to do the actual work to achieve the position
Absence of Conflict Resolution—When approached about conflict swiftly and deftly to turn the conflict into the other person’s problem entirely
Distress is Highly Distressing—Often unable to handle the difficult emotions of others and will shut them down swiftly
Purposely Provocative—Will intentionally provoke distressing situations/emotions for/in others to
accomplish their own ends
Multiple Personas—Who they are in public, private, and specific ministry situations changes as if they are chameleons; when confronted about this lack of authenticity they will deny having multiple personas
Persistent—Above all, abusive leaders persist, don’t take no for an answer, overtly or covertly, passively or aggressively pressing themselves and their agendas on others
Best & Brightest—While not necessarily the best and brightest by training or ability, abusive leaders
work to be seen as the best and brightest in every room they enter
False Vulnerability—self-disclosures about past sin, attempts to evoke tears and emotionality in others
Now you may have noticed that the descriptions above reflect an array of leadership abuse traits within any structure but the authors focus primarily on leadership structures within faith communities. Namely, Christian church environments.
I believe it is critical to be aware of these deviations and character malformations because in the church we tend to value leaders based on their gifts instead of their character. If their performance and the results of their theatrics bring people to faith or balloons the attendance within our church circles, then, by all means, let us ignore their shouting bouts behind closed doors. It’s okay if the leader manipulates the board into giving him or her more executive and financial power without boundaries or accountability. It’s alright for the leader to exhibit multiple personas inasmuch as they visit the elderly, the imprisoned, and the orphan. It’s seen as a minor moral scruple when they sabotage relationships in the church, are obsessed with corrective theology; namely, his perspective of the ancient book is the only correct one, as long as the church stays full and tithes keep rolling in for years.
I mean, just look at the new church building we purchased! Isn’t just grand?
That is why it is so important to confront leadership abuse and abusers in every facet of society but more so within religious circles because leaders in this sphere are seen as intermediaries between us and God.
They’ve been given the keys to privileged access to the Divine. When they pray for guidance, Providence listens. When they preach the Word it seems as if the very Creator is present to reemphasize the gravity of the truth within the homiletical utterances of the minister behind the pulpit. When they counsel it is not the counsel of man but the very words of God.
And this isn’t a divinely ordained calling. These are positions, attitudes, and authority structures we create and honor and place men or women in the center of because we want palpable identifications of God here on earth.
Because our reliance on the supernatural is only efficacious if we can find a man or a woman of God to corroborate our faith. When that happens we then elevate them above the rest and call them Men of God or Prophetesses of God.
The problem with this spiritual sucking-up, if you will, is that the nefarious agents, namely, abusers who are talented, gifted, and amazing liars and chameleons of every form of good abuse their power every chance they get. They shape-shift their way through social tests of affirmation and acceptance, end up finding a way to lead the flock just by being performative.
Their results speak for them and in a results-driven society, they tend to rise to the top. Every. Single. Time.
It always ends up this way because church people are too gullible, conflict-avoiding, and kind-hearted to confront one another on these issues.
“Let us maintain the peace, please, brothers, let us have peace.”
And I am not innocent here. I have exhibited quite a few of these traits as a leader.
From unapologetic arrogance in being the corrective theologian in the room to being obsessed with how others viewed me in the church or para-church ministries. I’ve had my fair share of cringe-worthy public admiration of others moments, theologians and apologists I had never even met, who I would glorify and elevate to near-divine status. I avoided conflict because I didn’t want to confront the issues in me and less so in others, therefore so many issues would go without resolution in my circles.
I was only an authority over them as a teacher or youth leader but what the hell was I supposed to do about their personal lives? I’m not a guru!
The host and co-host of this podcast asked the authors of this list if these traits are mistakenly attributed to abusers alone because they have exhibited them from time to time as well.
The authors of the list stated that we humans tend to dip our fingers into selfish or self-preservative behaviors from time to time but these are just regular human mistakes we tend to make.
What they depict in this list of twenty-plus leadership character flaws are red flags that are persistent aspects of a person’s nature and how they deal with life and people on a daily basis.
The abusive traits we exhibit from time to time ought to be contradictory to our character, not complementary to it. There’s a difference.
In a moment of weakness or stress, we may lean on a certain practice because of a weakness or stress. We’re not naturally prone to sabotaging relationships, yelling at people who disagree with us, obsessed with correcting someone else’s theology, obsessive double-speak behaviors depending on the group we’re with. We’re not known for having multiple personas, one at home, one with a secretary, one with the board, one with the preaching team, one with this and that group. We’re one and the same all the time, just more professional in one sphere and more relaxed in another.
Our morality doesn’t change depending on who we’re with or around.
We’re not given to moral virtue signaling in front of the church in the morning and then off to rob banks, abuse kids, and cheat on our spouse in the afternoon.
We are all guilty of exhibiting one or more of these traits but out of a moment or a sequence of character weakness. We can find redemption from this by desisting from them immediately, confessing the wrongs, and rebounding within the community.
We’re here to restore people to fellowship, not power, remember that.
But if you find you are exhibiting these traits on a daily basis, that you are wholly reliant on them to control the narrative in your life and that of others, perhaps it is time to admit that you are an abusive leader. Or that you are obsessed or controlled by abusive traits.
And in that admittance, in that openness, it is time to seek help.
You can be helped but you must want it.
Again, we’re here to restore broken people to fellowship, not power. Fellowship helps build the individual. Power destroys the individual and their community.
So seek professional counseling today. Be it in the church or outside of it. Seek help to get your life and your character, back on track.
Because if you wait any longer your victim count will only increase with time. Eventually, you will lose the people you love and you will also lose yourself on this journey of life and faith.
Today marks five years since my wife and I (and our little Maya) moved to Canada. Who were we five years ago? What motivated the move? Do we regret leaving the sunshine state of Florida for the blizzardy winters and smoky summers of the far north?
So, we were broke five years ago. Not that we’re rich now but back then we were living with family, working two jobs, and barely making enough to pay our car and auto insurance every month. We struggled to have enough for diapers and formula. Yes. We saved a ton of cash by living with family but the alternative was to live in our spot, in abject poverty, under a bridge somewhere in the second wealthiest water-side city in the country.
Life was great in one sense. We lived no more than twenty minutes from the Naples Pier. Fifteen minutes from Coastland Center Mall. Twenty-five minutes away from Mercato and Waterside Shoppes.
We lived in the most beautiful city in all of Florida. Yes. My bias is kicking in here and I loved that city. We loved it. My wife still dreams about it too and would love to have a summer home there, just to escape the distasteful winters here, not that she’d move back though. But you know, have a place to go back to visit once in Naples. She loved it while it lasted. She has a thing for luxury. I mean, look at me.
My most prized friendships were formed in this city. Some of my most prized memories are from there as well.
But with such a life and city comes the cost of living there and we could live comfortably there. The industry I worked in, which didn’t pay me very well; and my wife not having the documentation to work in the US, would have eventually led us into poverty, without a doubt.
So we decided to move to the great white north to see if life could be more prosperous outside of the false American dream narrative.
Let me add, as a family of faith, we believed in following God’s voice to make this move when the opportunity presented itself. Long story short, as I received a prophetic word on two separate occasions to have my bags packed and be ready. We had peace amidst all the unknowns when the opportunity presented itself with the great family trip to Brazil, to make our move.
We spent a few weeks in Brazil after we left the US. We left nothing behind but a few furniture pieces and a ton of books that I miss dearly, but other than that we had no other earthly possessions to take with us. Our car loan was taken over by someone else. Like, we had nothing to our names so it was easy to leave. This was a bittersweet realization.
And, while in Brazil we applied for my visa to go to Canada. We left the US without knowing for sure if I would be granted access to Canada, to begin with. We could have been living in Brazil right now, for all we know. Maybe Germany, if Canada had not granted me access.
Once I left the Canadian consulate in Sao Paulo I was both ecstatic and uncaring about the future. Never before had my life been in such uncertain circumstances and for some reason, I felt at peace. Granted, being a person of faith you must understand my ease of trust in God through these times of utmost anxiety and stress and I had no other alternative. I trusted God and well, whether we got into Canada or not, I knew God would keep watch over us.
The visa didn’t take long to arrive and I used its arrival as a way to scare my mom into thinking I got denied and that my wife, my daughter, and I would stay in Brazil. This idea frightened the life out of her. Thankfully, however, it was a prank.
My parents helped purchase our tickets from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Toronto, Canada and we left Brazil. My uncle and aunt drove us to Sao Paulo from my hometown of Campinas and dropped us off at the airport. We hugged everyone. Thanked everyone for their help, their care, their hospitality, their food, and love. All without charge. It was so good to be with family, surrounded by people who spoke the language you grew up with and a culture you had come to love so much.
It was great but we had to go. We were somehow divinely ushered into these next steps.
Once we arrived in Canada, after my wife got into a verbal skirmish with a customs officer about her permanent residency status and whatnot; I was scared something was going to kick off and we were going to get deported before we even left Toronto. But we were granted access into Canada once in Toronto. We left that lovely and massive airport and flew to Calgary, Alberta.
And for you to understand just how delicate a situation we were in just check this out.
Once there, I realized it was very cold out. I didn’t like this because I left Brazil, in October, and it was warm out. We arrived in Calgary, in October, and it was cold. Ha. I hated it already.
But returning to the delicacy of our move. We set off to rent a car to drive from Calgary to Edmonton, where we would stay with my in-laws.
The car rental company accepted my payment for the car and whatnot but because I was using an American debit card and not a Canadian credit card they requested I place a damage deposit of something around 400 Canadian dollars or something.
I didn’t have that. I had little to no money left. No dollars to my name to buy my wife and my daughter a juice box, a sandwich, or a gumball. I had nothing to my name.
I walked outside as light snow began to fall. Tears welled up in my eyes as we were well over 200 kilometers away from our new home with my in-laws and there was a chance we would not be able to make it out of Calgary nor have a place to stay in that night because we were broke.
America has this sad mesmerizing power of making people very rich but the truth is that the American dream makes a lot of people rich but in the meantime, it makes millions more very very poor. We left America and charted north in a delicate financial situation.
I pulled my phone out and reached out to a friend to explain to him the delicacy of our situation, the cold, the snow, and the inability to rent the car. This friend, a gentle soul, wired me the money without question and suggested I never pay him back.
Through tears, I thanked him and promised to pay him back, well knowing I had nothing left to my name to honor this statement. With time, however, I did pay him back.
We rented the car and then drove north through the cold Albertan plain.
We arrived at our in-laws, hugged each other, ate a hearty meal, rested, and then lived for a time, without worry. Like, a day or two, because my wife had to find work because our work situation had flipped.
In the US I could work but she could not. In Canada, she could but I couldn’t. We needed money to apply for my papers (work permit and permanent residency). So she applied in one place and then another. Applied here and then there. And she finally got a job at a car dealership. A fancy one at that.
Problem is that we didn’t live in Edmonton just yet. Well, my in-laws didn’t live in Edmonton. They lived in a country area 70 kilometers south of Edmonton. And her new job was on the northwest side of Edmonton which meant she would drive about 80 kilometers to get to work and then 80 kilometers to get back home. We borrowed enough money to buy a car, cash, off of some wealthy guy in town, and by this point, it had begun to snow outside.
I would wake up around 5 am, drive this dusty and rusty old Hyundai Sonata through the snow for ten to fifteen minutes and then come back so that once my wife got into the car, the engine was warm enough and the heat was blowing hot in it. And off to work, she went. And she would get home very late at night because her job was so far away.
Eventually, this car would break down. I kept hearing creaks and cranks, metal bending and twisting, and I would tell my wife about the noise, how the car would veer to one side more than the other, and how it would groan when we turned this way or that way. She said it was nothing to worry about because Edmonton roads are just full of holes and whatnot.
They were. They are. Roads up here are horrible.
And one day, while driving nearby her work, caring for chores and whatnot, the car began to make louder sounds and my wife suggested we pull into the nearest Canadian Tire car shop for an inspection. Once there, I pulled into the parking lot and when I put the transmission in reverse, the front end of the car dropped to the floor and the car would not budge.
My wife saw the car drop and saw the panicked and desperate look in my eyes, as she stood outside trying to help me with reverse parking it slowly and she began to laugh a kind of laugh I hadn’t heard before. Whether it was stress or panic or fear or just pure comedy, I don’t know, but she laughed so much. She could not control herself. It’s the kind of laugh that happens when you sit in church and something embarrassing happens and you know you shouldn’t be laughing, but you can’t help it and it bursts out. But times 10 in this case.
This happened late in the day and it was so cold out. I kept the car on so that Maya, our little one, could stay warm in the car. Our gas was running low and we didn’t have money for a cab back to Wetaskiwin, where we lived with our in-laws. We were in a rut. We were stuck. Literally. It was snowing out. There was ice on the sidewalks. Ice. That’s the strangest thing ever. You could die if you slipped on that stuff.
Anyways, my father-in-law, that gentle soul, who also worked in Edmonton was on his way home to Wetaskiwin when we called him to rescue us in Edmonton. He turned his car around and drove toward us, picked us up, and well, we went home.
That car experienced so many issues. We borrowed money from family and paid to have it towed from Canadian Tire to Wetaskiwin and then somewhere else and finally to a Hyundai dealership. We dropped it off at the Hyundai repair shop because a buddy of mine from Lehigh Acres diagnosed the issue after a brief conversation and determined the issue was a recall which placed the fault of the malfunction on the manufacturer. The repairs cost us nothing. The tow truck costs were eventually covered by Hyundai. The car was repaired. It broke down again and again but Hyundai covered those costs as well. At that point, we were allowed to trade that old junk in and get a newer car, which, we did on the spot.
We ended up getting a tiny Hyundai Elantra that suited our family needs just fine… had we not been living in a polar vortex. Driving a tiny front-wheel-drive car in flat sun-scorched Florida is an amazing experience. But driving that four-cylinder baby up a hill through a blizzard is one of the most devilish things one can attempt. Many a time I thought the car would stall mid-climb and we would slide down an icy road to a wintery death in the Edmonton Saskatchewan River.
Thankfully that never happened. We got close, but never.
We eventually saved enough of my wife’s recent earnings, to the last penny, to move into Edmonton so that we could be closer to my wife’s work. We looked into one apartment after another and we found one where the owner was understanding of our delicate situation.
I mean I wasn’t working. My wife was and we barely made enough to cover our costs but he saw that we were honest folk struggling to get by. His life story in moving from India to Canada, he would later tell us once he invited us to his home for tea and cookies, was similar to ours. His heart in all this was a heart of gold.
We got the apartment, my wife was pregnant, and wait, yes, my wife got pregnant again. How? I don’t exactly know but here we were in Canada, newly moved into the country, a newer car, added costs, it’s winter, and while we moved from Wetaskiwin to Edmonton a blizzard descended upon our vehicles thus proclaiming to us that to get to Edmonton we would have to sacrifice our firstborn.
We didn’t, of course.
We moved into our two-bedroom apartment, without a bed frame, just a mattress. No table, just, linens, sheets, a couple of plates, and cutting utensils. No TV, no cable, no internet. My mother-in-law was kind enough to take my wife and Maya to the store to purchase our new home essentials for us. From towels to dishes and pots and whatnot.
We had barely enough food in the fridge because, again, we had borrowed so much cash just to cover things, borrowed money to apply for my residency and work permit, borrowed money for a damage deposit on the apartment, but only paid the owner half and promised him the other half in two weeks when my wife got paid. We couldn’t afford it and so we were behind on a lot of things. We survived on the graces and food of our in-laws and the random acts of kindness from a select few church people we had met along the way.
My wife revealed to her employer that she was pregnant and within two weeks they had dissolved her position in that company.
My wife comes home after that depressing revelation, jobless and pregnant with our second child. I was home with Maya, jobless and unable to work. Bills were looming over us. Stress. Hunger. Stress. Worry. And so on.
My mind was not in the best of places.
Anywho, a few days later, miraculously, my work permit arrived in the mail and the very next day I set off to apply for work everywhere. I set up a new bank account, updated all of my info to reflect my residency in Canada. And I applied everywhere. I applied in so many places that I lost count.
One place was willing to hire me on the spot and at another firm, the finance guy who would oversee my work wanted to have a sit-down and chat.
I was exasperated for work and this dude sees me and wants to just chat. Like… I don’t have other places to be, dude.
That guy would hire me the following week and would also become one of my friends.
We worked at this construction association for just short of two years before this same guy helped me get a better paying job within a better work environment in a different company.
At this point, we had met a faith community that welcomed us in (we would later leave this community for many reasons) and we had made so many friends that we cherish to this very day.
As we worked, earned, paid back some people, borrowed here, lent there, helped here, were helped there, we moved to a bigger place, got a better car, and a better job, we kind of just kept moving forward.
Five years in and we’ve added three girls to our family. Four girls under our belt!
We’re not rich. Not even close. We’re not wealthy. Not even close either.
But compared to our life in sunny Naples, Florida, (aka, paradise) we are lightyears ahead in life. Like seriously, I’m not putting the US down but life and lifestyle up here are a thousand times better because, by God’s grace, we managed to accomplish in five short years in Canada what would have taken us ten-to-twenty years in Florida.
Life was a struggle there but it was an embarrassing life because all you saw around you was exuberant wealth.
Here, even though we struggled at first, and continue to do so (we are able to actually support ourselves and live in our own place now), we see that everyone is pushing and growing through something of their own. It feels more normal to work and strive and push and grow through things up here knowing that everyone is in the same boat.
Except for the Chinese-Canadians. They’re on another level of affluence that is equal to or greater than the wealth of Naples folk.
We still lend money to friends. Friends return the favor. Debts are canceled. People are helped. And whatnot.
That part of our lives is still a work in progress we hope to one day overcome.
But what I love about living up here is that the dream of actually making it is still very much possible and attainable. And I don’t mean Bezos or Musk kind of making it. I don’t mean Gates or Jobs either.
My wife keeps assuring me that we will make it one day, whatever that means. She has that Naples mindset.
No, what I mean is the opportunity at a normal life is attainable in Canada without sacrificing life and limb.
Plus, should that be the case, I can just rush to the nearest hospital or clinic where I will be attended to and cared for at no added cost because my taxes pay for my healthcare.
That’s unheard of in the US.
My kids visit their pediatrician and there’s no co-pay involved. Nothing like that. They go, get their check-up, get prescriptions for whatever, we pay cents on the dollar for their drugs because my work benefits… work.
I can get eye exams and dental check-ups for free. To an extent. New glasses and frames, covered.
I can fracture my knee into ten places and go in for surgery and come out without a single bill.
In Naples, when Maya was born, we spent three days in the hospital. Once we got back home we receive two bills from the hospital totaling up to $30K.
How…. how could we ever pay that off? We didn’t. We wouldn’t. We couldn’t. We never will. Trust me on that one.
We’ve had two babies here in Canada and the only bill we had to pay was the parking spot for our car at the hospital parking lot.
A third baby is on her way to be born here and we’re not worried about $30K bills coming in the mail.
Life is different up here. I’m not saying life is better for everyone but it has been better for us. We have struggled and we will continue to struggle and strive for sustainability so we can give our girls a better opportunity at life up here, the same way my family moved to the US to give us a better opportunity at life.
Every generation makes a sacrifice for their kids and not the other way around.
I thank my parents for going through what we went through but for decades when they moved from Brazil to the US. I can’t count the many jobs they worked, cleaning offices, laboratories, clinics, on top of their day jobs just to provide for us. Kept us in school and well-nourished, fed, loved, and cared for.
But when we, my wife and I, set off to start a life for ourselves, the US just wasn’t as profitable or as conducive a place for our wellbeing as Canada has been so far. I’m generalizing the US, and for that, I apologize, but the wealthiest country in the world also produces a hell of a lot of homeless people too.
Something’s wrong there.
Either way, Canada has been good to us in the sense that the opportunities promised to us by a meritocracy like the USA were only attainable and fulfilled outside of the USA.
I don’t know how many struggles we’ll face in the near future but we’re somewhat a bit more prepared, maybe, to tackle them now.
I’m older now. My wife got younger in the face but older in the heart because of my antics. We’re wiser. Four kids in. Fourth in the womb but still with us.
If someone were to ask us if we’re ready to leave Canada we’d say, no.
If someone were to ask if we’d be willing to move, say, to Germany. I mean, I love the place and I’ve never been. I’d say I would visit, first, and, this depending upon my immediate disdain or unabashed love for the country, I would pray about it.
I am not averse to the idea of moving to Europe someday or anywhere else.
It’s just I feel we’re not done doing what we’re meant to do here.
I don’t have that same agitation in my heart as I did when we were beckoned to leave Florida.
That utterance that pushed us enough to consider leaving the US.
My heart is at peace here.
And I’ve also played in a band!
Anywho, do pay us a visit. Don’t just show up because we won’t open the door. Visit Jasper, Banff, Calgary, Edmonton, and well… yeah, that’s about it for Alberta. Ha. Visit Vancouver, Whistler (winter, preferably), and Toronto.
Canadians aren’t all nice, you know. Some of them have a nasty temper. They’re just like you and me with the exception of the moose riding fetish thing. It’s a cultural thing. Don’t try to understand it.
Other than that, give the Canadian way of life a chance. We did and it worked out… so far.
Side note from my wife; if anything, this season only strengthened and grew her faith and trust in God. You’d think a life filled with struggles, month after month would make a person bound to give up, to doubt. However, she reiterates, indeed it proves rather how every time we were close to breaking God came through. She sees his hand in everything. I mean the times we’d see no food in the fridge and $0.04 in the bank account and the confidence she would have by saying “God’s going to provide” and He sure did. Somehow, someway we saw him working where obstacles and struggles came yet He made a way for us to be here, right now.
Welp, that’s five years in Canada for us. Let’s see what happens in the next five!
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Someone needs to hear this: God is love and God loves you.
Some of you were taught otherwise and it shows. The myopic view of God as a spiteful, rage-filled deity has discouraged many from seeking God.
Many of us grew up in faith communities that spoke bounteously about God’s punitive justice (abatement of evil) and sparingly about God’s reparative justice (restoration of good(s) lost in the sinful state).
And God’s justice is not punitive alone as many of you have been taught to believe. (Hellfire and brimstone preaching, anyone?)
Here is Timothy Keller on Herman Bavinck’s interpretation of divine justice:
“In his magisterial work on God’s attributes, Herman Bavinck argues that in the Bible, God’s justice is both retributive and reparative. It not only punishes evildoing, but it restores those who are victims of injustice. Yet interestingly, “God’s remunerative [restorative] justice is far more prominent in Scripture than his retributive justice.” God stands against “perverting the justice due the poor… slaying the innocent and righteous… accepting bribes…. oppressing the alien, the widow, and the orphan…” God “raises them to a position of honor and well-being… Doing justice with an eye to the needy becomes an act [also] of grace and mercy.” And therefore, God’s restorative justice “is not, like his anger, opposed to his steadfast love but is closely akin and synonymous with it.” His justice is “simultaneously the manifestation of his grace (Psalm 97:11-12; 112:3-6; 116:5; 118:15-19).”
One of the reasons why some of us hold hostile notions toward organized religion and suspicious sentiments toward communities of faith is because our understanding of God’s love and justice was twisted by nescient individuals within these institutions whose goal was to enslave us, not liberate us with the gospel message.
Our receptivity of God’s love for us is either amplified by a healthy understanding of God and His word or crushed by men (and women) who improperly use that same word to control people.
God reassures us that justice is a great thing. Especially when that justice is meted out to thwart and abate evil. God’s justice is also reparative in the sense that it is necessary to restore dilapidated souls, relationships, families, and communities.
God is not only in the business of neutralizing evil in the human heart. It is just of Him to stop evil. We need God to stop evil ‘out there’ in the world, physical and metaphysical, and, His grace allowing, ‘in here’ in reference to our community and also to the human heart.
God is love and this love demands that justice must exist and that it must be effective in a fallen world. We’re taught that sin breeds evil and that sin is entrenched in every heart thus postulating that every person has the propensity for evil.
Justice demands that sin be excised and abolished because its ramifications if left unchecked, spreads in the heart of the individual and in his community thus producing sinful structures.
Sin is destructive to the self and it creates systemic evils.
God’s punitive justice demands the sin in us be abolished but that sin is so engraved in our nature that to destroy sin God would have to destroy us. That’s normally what many of us know about the gospel and about redemption. Outside of the substitution of the cross, we are left on this earth as the receptacles of the full weight of God’s punitive justice; deservedly so.
That’s all some of us know. That’s all some of us were ever taught.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Divine Justice = Punishment.
Learning about God must entail we learn as much as has been made available to us about God, meaning, learning more about divine justice being both retributive and reparative.
Meaning, God’s justice is set in motion not only to confront evil, which is actually an amazing thing, but also to restore that which was lost, stolen, hijacked, kidnapped, and ruined in us by sin.
Imagine a court is set in motion to hold criminals accountable for their crimes, which is a necessary aspect of a civilized society. But we must also remember that the judicial system exists to restore that which was stolen, pay back that which was sifted, repair that which was broken, remunerate where and when possible in accordance with the law.
Our earthly courts have demonstrated just how problematic it can be to only exhibit one form of justice whilst ignoring the other.
Take, for example, an innocent man wrongly convicted and forced to serve a twenty-year sentence for a crime he did not commit. Someone falsely accused him of something, his public defender was too over-encumbered with other cases to take him seriously, he was offered a plea deal to lighten the time spent behind bars, evidence was falsified against him by law enforcement, and the jury was biased against him because of the color of his skin.
Imagine fifteen years into his sentence he is exonerated. His name is cleared by his initial accuser, who still walks about free. The court does not apologize for its missteps. His public defender abandoned him years earlier. The police officers who falsified his confession have since retired with hearty pensions, without consequence. And this exonerated soul is set free into a different world from the one he left once he was incarcerated and he has no money or land to his name.
The courts did right by punishing evil (or at least it thought it did by punishing someone for a crime) but it failed to restore and repair that which was broken once the truth came out.
Justice must punish wrongdoing and at the same time, it must repair the breach the initial wrong caused.
Divine Justice is equally retributive and reparative.
What would make this case end on a brighter note is to imagine the man exonerated, his accusers jailed and tried for falsifying evidence, statements, perjury, and fraud. And also, that the court apologizes for its initial mistake and then repays the man the millions and millions of dollars owed to him for the harms he suffered behind bars all those years and as a means by which he can restart his life with something rather than nothing to his name.
The police officers involved must then lose their pensions for falsifying evidence. This seems extreme but perjury is a crime that deserves a consequence.
Justice is set in motion to hold wrongdoing accountable and deliver the victim of these wrongs into a place, a state of being, an identification of being restored by the systems set in place to restore righteousness to the land.
Justice is righteous, you know.
The cross is where punitive and reparative justice intersects to benefit us spiritually and physically.
Christ is punished for our sins and Christ is also the avenue by which we are restored not only to God but also to one another.
“Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelations 21:5 is not indicative of just the new heavens and the new earth, but of a new people, transformed into the likeness of Jesus, living, breathing, operating, and working to live as He did on earth.
So, in light of this renewal, this indwelling, this transformative Person guiding us through life, we must walk as He did, restoring, repairing, and restituting wherever possible.
This is hope-inspiring for victims of abuse, mistreatment, violence, terror, and all categories of wrongs. It is refreshing to know that God is bent toward justice and He seeks not only to obstruct evil but also the infrastructure created by sin on which evil travels.
God’s justice abates evil and repairs brokenness.
If you are a victim, a destitute soul who has been harmed by a sinful world, seek God’s justice, not just in this life but the next.
To rectify wrongs and heal wounds.
Thank God we can seek both.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
What am I to you, World, but a passing stranger? A vagabond hitchhiking through your darkest corridors, going about shining the light of my Master. What have I to offer you World? A corpse. That’s all. Have I brought gifts; absolutely. Invitations really, to the greatest of all festivities, the grandest of all banquets; yes, even the largest supper you’ve ever witnessed, dear World. But, the truth is you will not accept this invitation from above, no, you will willingly crumble under the sins of past and present; oh yes, even the sins yet to be committed. Tell you what, soon to be destroyed World, the Lord is gracious and has promised to make you new as well. Did you really think the Creator would only focus on us humans? Absolutely not! Yes, your hopes are up even though you endure intense pains. Despair not World, for as a flower is crushed a perfume is made. With your death and destruction, a new place will be made and you will be new just like in the beginning. I cannot wait to meet you then and enjoy your beauty.
I launched this blog one year ago today. It began as a medium by which to better understand a craft, understand how I think and how those thoughts come out on paper (or on-screen), to better develop my prose, and practice just enough to the point where I don’t feel miserable when writing my first book.
By the way, I’m almost halfway through that first book. More to come about that in the future.
Looking back I am so happy that I started this page. It helps me think and perhaps it confuses me even more. Tackling history, church history, theology, faith, and relationships often lead the inquirer to more questions than answers.
And from time to time, that’s okay.
We were never to have all the answers all to ourselves. We learn best in a community and we grow better in a healthy community. And this blog is one of many communities.
I hope to improve my craft not only for myself but for you, dear reader, as well. Stories shape us. Great stories encourage and inspire us. I hope to inspire not just you but my girls. So that one day, when they decide to read their dad’s shenanigans they can understand the man I am, the man I was, and the man I aspire to be, through my writings.
108 posts down. Here are some of my favorite ones since Olivet Theory officially launched one year ago today!
The “Gospel+” Movement: Why Simplicity Matters
“The simpler the gospel becomes the closer we are to it. Whenever we add an idea, belief systems, a depraved ideology or rules by which to attain that which Christ has already accomplished we are lightyears away from the truth.”
MTD vs Christianity Proper
“MTD isn’t a religion, like Islam or Judaism. It is more of a disintegration of one particular faith, namely Christianity, that melts into ideals that have been spiritualized and inculcated into American religious circles.”
Marital Advice for the Uninitiated
“Far too many problems arise in marriage because people want so much to live like, behave like, be empowered by, attain the same level of status like, promote a sense of stability like and be unimaginatively in love like power couples they see on social media or in their community.”
How “Policy Over Character” Destroys Our Christian Witness
“White evangelicals within the United States have lost their witness to the world by voting for a vile and abusive bully who paid a porn star hush money to keep his affair a secret.”
Avoiding Extremes: A Word of Caution From a Former Fundamentalist
“Therefore, an extreme effort was undertaken by the male-led authoritarian ministers’ caste to shame, denounce, vilify, and destroy people into submission to modes and methods to separate the church from the world.”
Giftedness vs Fruitfulness: The Hidden Dangers of Following Gifted Church Leaders
“Check and see if what you seek, who you follow, and what you promote is reflective of the biblical Christ or if it is but a dim and dreary shadow of our savior poorly illustrated by gifted leaders.”
My Top Ten Rules for Girl Dads
“Love, be patient, listen, play, and yes, mess up from time to time so that she can see that dad is human and that dad knows how to humble himself enough and apologize for his mistakes.”
“We cannot allow truth to die in darkness for fear of losing influence and money. That was lost the day we decided to trust in the influence and giftedness of man over the eternally restorative and transformative power of Christ.”
A Painful Rediscovery: A Look Into Where My Heart & Mind Are Today
“Mumbling some sort of prayer up to God, not sure if I asked for forgiveness for my feelings, my words, my rage, or if what I felt was a fear of these words making their way on to the screens of the very people who had hurt me. In my fear I wanted to avoid offending them, for having offended me.”
The Burden of History & The Curse of Heritage
“It is easier to remove a commandment from the law of God than it is to distance Southern Baptists from their southern heritage of racism, hate, and evil.”
Olivet Theory’s Bad Advice Series: Chapter 3 – How to Talk About Race and Racism
“Disregard those notions. Go ahead and say what you have to say however you want to say it. Interrupt their conversation and speak as loud as possible. Do it all without the slightest urge to listen to anything they might have to add to this discussion.”
I Am A Neo-Evangelical
“I am a neo-evangelical and God has rescued me from fundamentalism and delivered me from stagnant middle-stance, middle-class centric Christianity that accomplishes much while it accomplishes nothing in mainline evangelicalism.”
Here Is Why We Left Mill Creek Christian Assembly
“t would be foolish to think that racism was the sole reason behind my family leaving a white church. It was a lack of compassion that led me to an irrevocable decision. A decision that brought me angst.”
Here’s to another year of blogging, story-telling, craft-development, book reviewing, and trouble-making!
I cannot emphasize this enough therefore I will allow the words of the King to re-emphasize it for me: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
Fox News opinion casters have been re-demonizing Muslims and Christians from Afghanistan because there’s an unfounded theory that undocumented brown refugees will begin to flood into the United States of America because of this Taliban crisis.
Most of the people who watch Fox News adhere to some form of a Christian or Judeo-Christian moral framework where they believe that God exists, Jesus walked this earth, that we should live by high ethical standards, sexual standards, and respect our neighbors.
Something like that.
But at the same time, these same viewers will swallow a building-sized gnat of hatred that Fox News spews against, you named it, immigrants.
And the darker their complexion the spicier the vitriol gets.
I don’t care if you watch Fox News to further numb the dead or dying heart inside of you. I don’t mind if your soul is so dark that the only thing that brings you warmth is watching millionaires discuss their hatred for the disenfranchised, poor, colored, and immigrants but if that’s the case I hope you’re not at the same time ascribing to a worldview that espouses love, kindness, redemption, and holiness.
The crisis in Afghanistan is so complicated and the United States of America’s participation in the formation and the financial backing of the Taliban in previous proxy wars has only made things worse. The United States does not walk out of this situation with clean hands.
I understand that this crisis is more complicated than we dare admit, collectively speaking. Some of us will blame Muslims for the bloodshed. Others will blame Russia. Others yet will blame Americans. And Americans will blame the Afghani people for not developing quickly enough to defend themselves against an insurgency like the Taliban.
The blame game works itself into a wheel spin that is hard to slow down once it’s in full steam. I’m concerned with the catalysts, yes, I’m concerned about the agencies that led this nation and its surrounding communities to such dire straits. Insurgents only become insurgents because every other way of life has been taken from them by bombs dropped by other insurgencies or government agencies.
American ones included.
It’s perfectly fine to feel overwhelmed by not knowing what to do or how to do what needs to be done in a situation as problematic as this.
We’re all on the same boat when it comes to this stalemate, this uncertainty surrounding Afghani lives still in Afghanistan, who, at any moment, might be massacred for whatever reason by Taliban foot soldiers.
We’re in agreement there! We’re all worried about these vulnerable people.
But what disturbs me greatly is the ever virulent diatribe that ebbs and flows from Fox News and like-minded news stations about these unfortunate souls.
If 30 million (the actual number is somewhere around 2.5 million) Americans watch Fox News every day and they believe half of the stuff that spews out of that channel then we have 30 million Americans who have little to no compassion for immigrants seeking refuge in America, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Turkey, and so on.
We begin to see people as animals and from there we then view them as insects. It isn’t far fetched to then believe that their decimation and massacre at the hands of Taliban terrorists is equal to that of cockroaches under our boots.
The rhetoric surrounding immigrants, especially brown immigrants coming out of Fox News, Newsmax and One America News pundits or whatever other hyper-nationalist news stations are is a rhetoric of hate.
Hate the immigrant. Say you’re sorry for their demise. Tell them they’re not welcome in your country and then smack their backside as they move on to another humanitarian crisis camp that you will call dirty, filthy, and deserving of the people who settle there.
And then go on about your life telling everyone how much your country needs Jesus because Jesus is love, kind, just, merciful, and holy.
People, for the love of God, love one another.
Love the men who are fleeing for their lives so they don’t fall under gunfire or the sword. Love the women fleeing for their lives so they do not become breeders for a terrorist organization and their sex-deprived lunatic foot soldiers. Pray for the children, boys, and girls, who are petrified and will possibly be traumatized for life because of it.
Love them. Love them because they are people.
Instead of complaining about immigrants coming into your country to take your jobs look at them, not through them, as extended family members who need rescue and help.
Canada is a nation large enough to possibly fit the population of the planet in it twice over. Just don’t send people to the North West Territories because there’s nothing up there but land, bears, moose, and the occasional horror story stalker.
But fill Canada with people who need help. The United States of America, too.
Why we’ve come to think of them as undeserving of our resources because they were not born here is insane and cruel. I understand nations have national sovereignty and borders but we’re all on the same planet, sharing the same air, eating the same foods, and drinking the same water, albeit, cleaner water in some places than others.
We’re all one race stemming from one place. People with an intrinsic value whose worth supersedes international and national borders and laws.
We need to love our neighbors and help them in their time of need. Not because one day we’ll need them; because we might, but because it’s the right thing to do.
We cannot settle for news stations whose personas non grata proclaim faith, liberty, freedom, the pursuit of happiness, humanity, love, and yes, supposedly, a Christian faith, but then say and report everything contrary to it.
Love your neighbor.
Be on the side of compassion and empathy. Gun powder and sword are great at making soldiers of children but love and compassion are better at making people of character, principle, and morals.
If we want to see fewer insurgencies then we might try and start by extending a friendly hand to our neighbors.
Even when that love isn’t reciprocated, we love them. We love them well.
I’ve placed a few photos of Afghanistan in this post. Bucolic settings, breathing taking ones, just to remind the reader that there’s more to a land when it is not constantly bombarded with terror attacks. More to it when it isn’t portrayed as a forgotten wasteland occupied by dirty brown immigrants who worship a different god. (I’m talking about you, Fox News).
Afghanistan is an extension of our land and our land an extension of theirs. Same planet, beautifully full and fully beautiful in all of its parts.
An argument can be made that there is an unhealthy level of hypocrisy in the pro-life movement concerning its response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Now, to our western mind the portmanteau pro-life means that the person values life from conception all the way through to the grave. Conception through birth, through life, and so on.
And there’s disagreement on why some of the most adamant pro-lifers fail to appreciate life as much once the person is struggling to pay bills, find lodging, facing eviction notices, in need of healthcare, education, unemployment assistance, and whatnot.
That’s not my argument here. That hypocrisy is evident in these areas and more before all. I needn’t argue the case there.
My beef is with pro-life American and Canadian Christians who use their faith and their freedoms during the COVID-19 pandemic to promote a lifestyle that is antithetical to a God and neighbor honoring ethic. They use their faith and rights to promote unwise habits which lead to the death of others.
“The Christian motive for hygiene and sanitation does not arise in self-preservation but in an ethic of service to our neighbor. We wish to care for the afflicted, which first and foremost means not infecting the healthy. Early Christians created the first hospitals in Europe as hygienic places to provide care during times of plague, on the understanding that negligence that spread disease further was, in fact, murder.”
Again, in his words, understanding that negligence that spread disease further was, in fact, murder.
I am shocked by every news article or tabloid post that informs the general public that another Covid denier, Anti-Vaxxer, and anti-establishment extremist with a Bible in one hand and the American constitution or the Canadian charter in the other has passed away from Covid related complications.
Stone, again, reminds us of just how far Christians and their Christ-centric ethics have come through the years whenever faced with moral or natural evil:
“During plague periods in the Roman Empire, Christians made a name for themselves. Historians have suggested that the terrible Antonine Plague of the 2nd century, which might have killed off a quarter of the Roman Empire, led to the spread of Christianity, as Christians cared for the sick and offered an spiritual model whereby plagues were not the work of angry and capricious deities but the product of a broken Creation in revolt against a loving God.
But the more famous epidemic is the Plague of Cyprian, named for a bishop who gave a colorful account of this disease in his sermons. Probably a disease related to Ebola, the Plague of Cyprian helped set off the Crisis of the Third Century in the Roman world. But it did something else, too: It triggered the explosive growth of Christianity. Cyprian’s sermons told Christians not to grieve for plague victims (who live in heaven), but to redouble efforts to care for the living. His fellow bishop Dionysius described how Christians, “Heedless of danger … took charge of the sick, attending to their every need.”
Christians have often been at the forefront of disaster without the push from government entities, without the assistance of political agencies, without funds from wealthy corporations and yet they ventured past the green zone and into the circle of death to assist those most vulnerable, motivated by nothing more than love of God and neighbor.
The history of altruism found within Christian communities is so imitable. Their love for the destitute, the sick, the broken, the diseased, without much care for their own well-being was quite the example to follow. This nonpareil altruistic movement is what attracted so many, to the faith to begin with.
The difference, however, is that something has shifted our Christian witness. We have gone from petitioning for the sanctity of life to petitioning for the rights and freedoms of selfish living, which, in turn, and as a direct consequence of, has caused the spread of the coronavirus in so many communities that could have gone without it if we had been more Christ-like to begin with.
In ancient Israel, in the book of Leviticus in particular, the Jews required anyone with an infectious disease to quarantine away from the camp for seven days or more. Some, having a very infectious disease, would live outside the camp indefinitely so as to preserve the wellbeing and life of both parties.
And somehow, somewhere along with the development of the western Christian mind, this altruistic selflessness has gone out the window, and with it, compassion and empathy for neighbors.
Modern medicine has shown us how diseases work, how they spread, how they affect the body, disrupt certain bodily functions, and from there, how some of them can lead to death. We now know chemists can develop antibodies in the form of a vaccine to counteract the spread of diseases or the damage these pathogens wreak on society.
And one of the mechanisms we have developed over time and learned how to use better is the victimless tool of quarantine; which helps reduce the rate a pathogen transfers from one person to another by isolating and caring for the sick. On top of that, we have been blessed with access to masks, which have also proven to reduce the transmissibility of infectious diseases.
Social distancing and masks.
These are the two crosses we have been asked to bear by our society and even these have become steps on which we tread to cause the death of others.
Distance and face coverings are too heavy a burden for us to carry.
How does that make any sense?
In the onset of Christian monasticism, in the era in which Christian converts would disappear into the desert to seek God, and once there they would form communities that would open their doors to assist and house outcasts. It was there that many relinquished so many rights and privileges just to help their neighbor.
They would give up wealth, give up status, give up work, and yes, even safety to wander through the unknown for days and nights to reach a place where trauma existed, where abused and bruised souls needed refuge, a place where so many had lost family and friends and found a new family and new friends.
Christians for years upon years had given so much from their lives and personal comfort even if it helped someone else just a little.
However, the tides have shifted and today we’re trying to take as much for ourselves and even the little that would have gone to our neighbor and their stability in life as possible.
Had we been asked to give blood, relinquish the rights to our bank accounts, leave our jobs, turn in our citizenship and residency, face deportation and exile for the sake of Christ and the betterment of life of our neighbor we would.
But a vaccine shot, social distancing, and masks are too many steps too far.
Our pro-life stance is only pro-life when it deals with the rights of the unborn but let us not be challenged to protect the life and well-being of our neighbors who are already here.
Apostle Paul asked the first-century church in Galatia a question that I ask of our generation today:
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? […]” Galatians 3:1 NRSV
He confronted a church that began with the salvific gospel and ended up with traditional legalism. Paul was curious about where and who tricked them out of the gospel and seduced them into a religion of works.
I, too, ask the same question of our fellow western Christian minds today.
“You foolish Americans! You foolish Canadians! Who has bewitched you?”
Who has sapped your Christianity of empathy? Who has taught you to reduce your neighbor to a number on a board? Who has asked you to see dollar signs instead of the elderly? Who has robbed you of love for your neighbor and taught you to believe that minor inconveniences like social distancing and mask-wearing are persecutory aspects of a democratic society?
You’re living with a persecution complex in a hedonist society. You’re more in love with and entrapped by comfort and rights than you are with Christ’s character of selflessness.
If you’re asked to carry your brother’s burdens you not only refuse to lend him a hand but you castigate your brother for being in the predicament they’re in, to begin with. And, at times, you’re the direct cause of their troubles.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 NRSV
We see so many people pass away from Covid and much of that spread is due to our gross negligence of brotherly and sisterly love.
Christianity has thrived through thousands of years of strife, persecution, famine, war, social ostracism, pestilence, and plagues and we have shown outsiders time and again just how much love God has placed in our hearts as we care for our neighbors.
But something happened. Something went wrong somewhere and we’re too unbothered or too preoccupied or too distracted to stop and think about what and why went wrong.
Stone compares our gross negligence in spreading a pathogen we could have helped combat and stop a year ago, saving countless lives in the process, as gross negligence equal to murder!
And I agree!
There are pro-lifers committing murder. Either as direct agents of death or co-conspirators with it.
When we fail to help our world through a time like this… through a pandemic like this one… we help kill it.