Casting Sanctimonious Stones

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Last week many of us were somewhat shocked to read that Israel Houghton and his wife Meleasa have divorced after nearly twenty years of marriage.  Together they formed New Breed and have won numerous awards including several Grammys.  Israel is also the Worship Leader for Joel Osteen’s church.  The author of Friend of God and other Worship standards heard in many churches today implied through his confession on social media that he had stepped out on his marriage a few years back and had broken the trust and the covenant he made to his wife and to God. His confession was to serve as an apology to his fans, a request for mercy from the church and a warning to believers everywhere that those of us involved in ministry are vulnerable to vicious attacks by the enemy, and subsequent attacks by unsympathetic siblings in Christ.

As you might imagine the social media outlets were lit up in response to the news.  Most I’ve read showed mercy and love to the Houghtons, careful not to judge lest they become victims of their own indiscretions. But others were quick to condemn their marital failure citing scriptures and offering Monday morning quarterback type feedback to a situation they have never faced, the ugliness of divorce in the church. It’s simply amazing to me how we can be so merciless and judgmental when it comes to publicized failures within the church body. We place God on our lap like a ventriloquist puppet and utter “Thus sayeth the Lord” quotes just as damaging as the practice of stoning in Biblical times. We hide behind a scripture all the while holding the heaviest stone we can loft. What we fail to realize is that the Houghtons and others like them have already been stoned by the unrelenting attacks of  spiritual warfare.

Do not misinterpret my sentiments-I strongly believe that vows made to each other and before God to love in good times and bad, better or worse until parted by death are sacred and should be entered into solemnly and broken only with great angst.  The fact that divorce within the church is nearly the same as outside it is another issue for another day. But it’s highly hypocritical to stand in judgment over things one has not personally encountered, especially when each of us have our own skeletons hidden away.  Jesus was very clear about this in John when He uttered the famous quote about “he being without sin casting the first stone”. Israel made it clear that he and his wife had attempted for several years to overcome the demons of his indiscretions-there had been some attempt at restoration.  Only those closest to them know why it wasn’t successful enough to save the marriage. We have no idea the lengths they went through, the prayer, the counseling, etc. It is disappointing indeed but there are some insights I’d like to offer with all humility.

When I played ball back in the day we would scout the opposing team.  We knew who their best defenders were and we knew who their leading scorer was and how he was going to get his points. So we would key our defense to that player to limit his effectiveness on the court and enable us to overcome the opposing team by rendering their offense ineffective. Pastors, clergy and worship team members are leading scorers.  That is in no way to imply we are more important as each member of the body plays a role, but simply more visible. Our job is to encourage, exhort and lead others into the courts of praise through music and through the spoken Word. When one of us fails it has a ripple effect through those who look to us as spiritual leaders.  Consequently we ae always in the cross hairs of the enemy who is just waiting for the right moment, the right compromising decision, that area in our armor that is most exposed to damage if attacked.  With most of us that would be our marriage or our families. What better victory for our adversary than a pastor having an affair of a musician addicted to substance abuse or, fill in the blanks. It can be a crushing defeat for many.

This should also serve as a warning that we may not be as strong as we believe.  An alcoholic who has been sober for ten years is fooling himself to think he can walk into a bar and still not feel the tug of the addiction and the temptation for just a sip. I’m convinced that some in ministry feel they are so “spiritual” that they are beyond temptation and they drop their defenses. Do we need to mention Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker or King David?  The lust of the eyes is a powerful narcotic that can fool the strongest to think they can have just a taste without doing any damage. We need not look any further than the Apostle Paul, the inspired author of most of our New Testament as he lamented that even he was vulnerable to temptation. Our own unrighteous nature should always be a sobering reminder to be on alert against the one who knows how to attract us most.

If anything of comments I read is true it’s that God indeed hates divorce.  He hates anything that results in the destruction of our relationship to Him and He hates anything that causes His children unnecessary pain. There’s nothing more hurtful than broken trust between a husband and wife and nothing that takes more time to heal from than the injury of rejection.  And as someone engaged in visible church ministry, I can assure you there is certainly nothing more distracting. The only thing worse than battling your own demons of failure is trying to dodge the stones being cast by those you have blessed previously.  The Houghtons and those like them deserve our compassion and our prayerful support as they enter their season of restoration. If you’ve never been there, you would not want to walk a mile in the same shoes-trust me on this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m Truly Sorry

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A famous Pop artist once wrote a hit song entitled Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. When offered up in genuine humility and remorse it can be a difficult word to cough up.  When withheld due to pride it can be the cancer that costs us the very things or people we hold most dear.  And if pondered too long it won’t bring the onlyremedy that will heal us.

Speaking purely from a man’s perspective-well, we can be pig headed at times and downright oblivious at others. We are often given way too much credit for being clairvoyant or all knowing.  Sometimes the pain we cause is immediately apparent but sometimes we simply have no clue until it’s too late. And while a sincere apology goes a long way in eventual forgiveness, the damage done is sometimes irreversible.

The best grandpas often times were not the best dads, as was the case with me.  It took years of mistakes and miscues as a father to learn how to be a beloved Papa.  The years spent in error as a dad can not be recaptured.  Grandchildren become the benefactors of a life long learning process full of blunders they never know of. Smart men take full advantage of this second chance and relish in the perceived image that we know is not always fully disclosed.

The best spouses were not born that way. It comes with years of trial and many errors, grace and forgiveness, humility and servanthood and selflessness that few possess, least of all me. The simple words “I’m Sorry” spoken in sincerity are the best remedies for damage control in any committed relationship, as well as a good sense of timing. Great men master this process quickly in their relationships-good men take a little longer but eventually get it right before it’s too late. Foolish men sadly never acquire the skill before differences become irreconcilable, and only after they are left alone with their thoughts do they realize that indeed, they are truly sorry.

The Apostle Paul showed us that even he, the author of the majority of our New Testament, didn’t always get things right.  He openly confessed that he didn’t do the things he knew he should do, and often did the things he knew he shouldn’t, referring to his acts as despicable. Sometimes we are held to such unattainable standards that failure is eminent. In Christ there is grace, patience and forgiveness but in life we are sometimes left sitting in the ashes. The sooner we can grasp the concept of humility and remorse the sooner we can reduce the collateral damage left behind otherwise.

Jesus taught us in His prayer that asking for forgiveness should be a part of every prayer.  The notion that our grace covering eliminates our need to have a humble and contrite spirit when approaching Him is simply bad teaching.  This same principle of humility and self-awareness of our actions will also serve us well in every day life.  You can stand on false principle and withhold your apologies when they are deeply needed the most, or, you can spend the rest of your life apologizing to people who are no longer around to hear.  It’s your choice-choose wisely.

 

My Life as a Christmas Tree

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For nineteen years now I’ve been putting up our Christmas tree.  It’s a daunting and physical task and it takes the better part of a day, sometimes two days to complete it. Yet each year it’s a ritual I truly welcome and look forward to for many reasons, but I think this year something occurred to me while putting it up.  I think me and this old tree are a lot alike, I just never saw it before now.  Allow me to elaborate.

When people see our tree for the first time they are moved-it’s a beautiful creation. But being the one who puts it up each year I see the things no one else sees, the flaws and imperfections that are covered by the decorations. Only I know the work it takes to cover or make up for these imperfections so that they will not be noticed by others.  First, some of the limbs are getting old and are difficult to bend back into place. A few of the hinged limbs have fallen completely and are held up by wire I used that no one else can see. The tree has also lost many of its bristles.  Having nearly two thousand tips it’s hard to notice bald spots but when you put the tree up and then take it down you can fill a vacuum bag with fallen bristles.  I can relate.

Ours it a pre-lit tree with  built-in lights. However, through the years many of the lights have faded and some don’t work at all. This year there was a new section void of any light at all and I had to insert a new string of lights to compensate for the dark areas. I replaced the fuses of the bad lights but nothing I did seemed to be enough  to get the old lights working again. Yet with all that is wrong with our tree the base in which the tree stands remains sturdy and secure and the tree is safe from total collapse for now. Again, I think I can relate.

The ornaments used to dress up the tree are a plethora of pieces collected during the nineteen years of the tree’s existence and represent quite the array of diversity and change. The  plain, simple but sentimental ornaments from that very first tree as well as the strands of colored beads are still displayed on the tree now and are among the first things placed on the tree each year. They may not be as appealing or noticeable as some of the newer or more expensive ones, but they will never be replaced because of what they represent and the memories associated with them. Some of the ornaments are imprinted or engraved with certain important dates from years past for our recollection. Some are one-only ornaments, hand-crafted by artisans as unique and irreplaceable. Others are a bit more common but necessary in helping to maintain the theme of the tree. Some of the ornaments we picked out together and we can recall when and where we acquired them, and others I chose myself along the way to enhance the appearance and add to the creation.

Then there are the silk florals, the “never die” roses. There must be close to one hundred of them, and they are the last things to go on the tree. I use them to fill in the bare spots where no ornaments exist. I take a few steps away from the tree so I can get a better perspective.  Any area I deem as void gets one of these roses to help cover the otherwise bare branch. There are some years when it’s hard to find those void areas and there are a few years when the bare spots are quite obvious. The simple insertion of a rose makes the tree much fuller.

The last thing to go on our tree is our angel who we named Hope from the onset. The tree isn’t complete until Hope takes her place on top, surrounded by a host of smaller angels just below her.  And just like the rest of the tree Hope has had to be restored through the years. One year she lost her harp, her music. Another year it was her wings that had fallen off and had to be restored. Although the tree is sturdy and straight, some years it is more difficult to get Hope to remain upright without leaning or falling off all together. Because she sits so high on the eight-foot tree she is the hardest thing for me to reach and maintain-it’s a real stretch for me touch her at times and straighten her, but the tree isn’t complete until Hope is established and secured.

At this point our tree is finished and ready to be enjoyed once again.  There is just one final step in the process. You see, as pretty as the tree is, the true magic doesn’t happen until I flip the switch and the lights come on. It is the light that brings the creation to life. Each ornament, simple or ornate changes under the glow of the lights. All the shadows of the tree are chased away by the light. All the imperfections and flaws that only I know about and work so hard to make up for, a seemingly impossible task at times, are hidden once again as the light reflects on the good parts of the tree to such an extent that the bad areas are barely noticeable. It’s the light that transforms the dark spots into a magical wonder fitting for the cover of a high end catalogue, a wonder that is the envy of many who view it.

So now you can see my life as a tree. Our tree has changed significantly over nineteen years.  It’s not the same tree it started out as, though much of what made the first tree so special remains on it today. And it’s likely not the same tree it will be years from now as we continue to add things to it, but it’s our tree, full of memories, imperfections and light. Just like the little tree in Charlie Brown’s Christmas, it may not seem like much at first, but with a blanket of love and some well placed lights it has become a holiday legend.  My life, our tree.  I think I’ll keep it a little longer.

 

The Twice a Year Husband

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I must say I’ve been blessed with a pretty amazing, forgiving, gracious and still attractive wife. Ours may not be the perfect relationship. We have weathered some storms that few know of and can only boast that we survived. But I can’t imagine sharing my earthly life with anyone else.  She keeps me grounded, motivated, inspired and loved, and I strive to do the same for her.  To quote an old song, Me and Mrs. Hill got a Thing Going On.

As important a role she plays in my life, I’ve tried to imagine what our relationship would look like if I only acknowledged her two or three times per year, maybe on her birthday or our anniversary or Valentines Day. What kind of a marriage would we have if I only spoke to her, wrapped my arms around her, acknowledged her or in any other way interacted with her only on certain annual occasions? What would the state of our marital bliss be if she waited for me to come home from work so we could be together but I completely ignored her as I headed for the dinner table or to my room to relax?  And heaven forbid, what if she tried talking to me each day but I only responded to her communication attempts twice each year?  I think I can say with all certainty that we would be just another divorce statistic.

Last week most of us celebrated Easter. Churches cleaned up and put their best foot forward in anticipating the larger than normal attendance of biannual visitors.  Facebook and social media was lit up with memes and images and the traditional posts that go along with the Easter reflections. Retailers offered sale prices for those who would buy that once a year dress or suit for church.  Television offered up the usual King of Kings, Ten Commandments, The Robe, The Passion and other Easter themed programming. Even CNN got in on the act with their series on Jesus.  And oh the goodies and specials given at Easter at the local eateries, knowing there would be long lines waiting to dine after the Easter services. Don’t get me wrong-I am grateful anytime Christ is glorified and acknowledged-He is surely worthy of our accolades and so much more.

Revelation 5:12-  And they sang in a mighty chorus: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered–to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”

In considering the implied ramifications of being a twice per year husband as it relates to the marital relationship, how can we defend biannual reflections on our faith or expect any different results if we choose to be twice per year believers?  Are we just as guilty of acknowledging the divine work of redemption and the ultimate sacrifice of our Savior at Christmas and Easter?  Are we too engrossed in our lives to take a few minutes to converse with God each day?  Do we forego the opportunity to unite with our brothers and sisters in corporate worship each week? Do we boast of the various Bible translations we have on our shelves but rarely spend time in devotion of scripture?  If we tended to our wives or husbands the way we tend to church would our relationships be stronger, or much weaker?  And if we tended to our faith in the same manner we do our mates, would we be weaker or much stronger?

Being engaged in your faith and in the universal and local church is critical to the health of your spiritual walk. The Bible is not shy about church attendance and involvement:

Hebrews 10:25-Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near

Matthew 18:20-For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them

Colossians 3:16-Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God

Psalm 92:12-The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

I can’t imagine how I would get by if I only interacted with my beautiful wife twice each year. I am so grateful for the knowledge that even on less than perfect days, she is there and I can approach her, speak to her, spend time alone with her and enjoy the fruits of the relationship we have with each other. There is no greater joy in my earthly life than pleasing her and being in her company.  How much more, given the world we live in and the continuing martyrdom that we hear of daily, am I grateful in knowing that I can commune with God daily, and that He cherishes the time I devote to Him.  My faith, though still weak at times is strengthened through engagement and my soul is nourished in corporate worship.  What a mess I would be if I only met with God at Christmas and Easter.