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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For Christians Everyday is Halloween

361535-slasher-films-halloween-resurrection-screenshot  It’s here again already-Halloween. It’s a time for scary costumes, trick-or-treaters, classic movies and ghost tales.  Oh, and the whole church debate thingy which takes scary to a whole new level. Say what you will-I have fond memories of my days as a kid in Indy gathering as much candy as I could-I still struggle with sweets! And I recall taking the boys out when they were old enough to enjoy the experience. It’s funny to me how this particular holiday causes many to seek out the thrill of being scared senseless.  Even as church youth we went to the scariest settings we could find for that ultimate chase for the annual feeding of our dark side.

One of my favorite movies and all time classic scream traditions is the Halloween series with one of my favorite actresses Jamie Lee Curtis, the reigning scream queen. In her movies there seemed to be nothing she could do to escape, outrun or kill the demon Michael Meyers as he kept coming back to life episode after episode, sequel after sequel. She was haunted by him from her early teenage babysitter years through the time when he had a teen of her own. The character Michael Meyers was ruthless, persistent and seemingly impermeable to death or destruction.  I still don’t know if he’s dead.  I fear as long as Jamie is alive, Michael will pursue her.

This movie series is the classic metaphor for the Christian experience.  We are told in scripture that our battles on earth are not against flesh and blood but rulers of the earth, demonic forces unseen but very real. No matter how much we may pray, attend church or read scripture, there are battles going on within us and around us by the Michael Meyers of the unseen world.  I’m convinced that the more devoted one is to their faith and practice, the more vulnerable to attack by our haunting enemies.  It’s a classic battle strategy to take out the strongest first.

Spiritual warfare doesn’t have to manifest itself in our lives ala Linda Blair and the Exorcist. More times than not the attack is subtle in nature-that quick glance, the one drink too many, that innocent flirtation with someone other than your spouse.  You tear down defenses one brick at a time until there is a large enough hole for a full on attack. The Apostle Paul was engaged in these battles as he recorded for us that the things he knew he should do, he didn’t, and the things he knew not to do he did anyway.  If you walk through life as a believer but are not tempted, not tested or challenged in any way, you are disengaged in your faith, and the battle, for the enemy has evaluated you and deemed you not to be a real threat.

The good news is that we also have unseen Heavenly protectors who will battle for us.  In 2 Kings 6 Elisha prays the God will open the eyes of his young assistant and when He does, the young man sees a host of Heavens armies in chariots of fire encamped around the hillside ready for battle. We are told that the war is already won, but the battles until then can be fierce.  Halloween may be a man made and fake holiday with no real substance, one we know to be artificial, thus the constant pursuit of the ultimate scare. But for believers, the scares can be real if we don’t properly prepare for war.  So be careful and keep your defenses up at all time against incoming attacks, even when they look like Jamie Lee Cutis.

The Healthy Fear of a Sovereign God

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As a young boy much bigger for may age than average, there was little I was afraid of, at least from my peers. I got into very little trouble growing up. It might have been that I was in church so much there was little down time to get into any mischief. Or it may have been the one thing I did fear-those six words that evoked the fire of God whenever I heard them-“just wait until your dad gets home”. You see, at 6’8″ and 300 lbs my dad too was bigger than average! For greater impact I would hear my mom relaying the details of my latest waywardness to my dad when he called while on break, so I knew he would be planning my punishment for several hours before ha came home and played the role of disciplinarian. In every single case the wait was more dreaded and effective than the punishment.

As a believer I am grateful for a God who we can approach as Abba Father-one who is often described as loving, gracious, merciful kind, forgiving, patient-all attributes which are scriptural and true. We are told and can bet our life on the scriptures that tell us nothing can separate us from the unconditional love of God.  But, I wonder if the church, both the institutional church and the body of believers that make up the church, have so embraced the message of grace that we have completely disregarded the unchallenged sovereignty of God. We don’t want to consider the Old Testament God of jealousy , vengeance and wrath because it doesn’t fit into our 2015 definition of a more tolerant, sociable, politically correct, changing with the times God that we have created to better fit our conscious-one that allows us to fit in and be more widely accepted and considered for office, for promotion and for more likes on our social media outlets.

It’s ironic that those who oppose or deny the concept of God are first to point out accurately that God killed people in the Old testament simply because they did not follow His commands. The Mega-churches have apparently lost that section of the Bible. Don’t get me wrong-I believe that those who are looking for the truth and for eternal hope should not be scared into salvation at the thought of an angry God just for eternal insurance purposes alone. The message of the cross is one of forgiveness, of hope, of reconciliation and restoration of a sinful people to a loving, caring God whose desire is that none should perish needlessly. But to properly appreciate the loving and merciful side of God one must balance it against the judging, jealous and total rule of the same God who created a race of people to worship Him and Him alone and to fear Him who has no equals.

The stories of God’s wrath against an unruly people are too numerous to list. There were complete cities destroyed for their shameless disobedience. The armies of Israel were often decimated when they turned their backs on God.  Even Moses was prohibited from entering the Promised land because of a procedural error.  God was and is a stern God who demands fear, allegiance and obedience-nothing has changed in His expectations.  The difference today is God’s gift of His Son who took our sin punishment on the cross and acts as our advocate by covering us who accept Him with His righteousness so that the wrath of God is thwarted before being administered.

We are living in a time of great arrogance and brazen boldness as a church in general and as a nation as it relates to the issues and spiritual challenges of the day.  In order to boost attendance and keep our nonprofit status we have put forth a God who more resembles a Disney character than a God who is described in Revelation having hair white as wool and eyes blazing like fire-with feet like burning bronze and a tongue like a double edged sword. When I was younger and in church I hated always hearing sermons about hell-about how you could leave the church building and be struck by a car and enter into eternity.  The message left me uncomfortable and uneasy about the true motive for following in the path of Christ.  But the message was and is that God can’t be ignored forever just because His ways and laws are inconvenient to us or socially irrelative to the current culture.

In Him there is a life of abundance. But outside of Him, there is danger-there is peril-there is judgment. Some might ask “why would God do that” or how does a loving God allow this or that”. And my answer would be simply, I don’t always know.  He is God, I’m not. He’s in charge-I’m under His loving rule. I don’t try to argue with God.  I have many questions, but who Am I to demand answers or justification from God. I accept my role and love the promise of what is waiting.  And yes, I fear God.  Not in a panic fear but in the realization that apart from Christ, I am worthy of no less than the punishment I read about in the Old Testament.

We are living in perilous times. The Word of God is being dissected and voided of all hateful appearing verbiage. The Government is trying to tell us how we can interpret and practice our faith in complete defiance of the first Amendment to practice without interference. The entertainment, educational and political systems are lining up against the church in what will eventually play itself out as a major war for the saints that may change the face of the church as we know it now.  It is time like never before to have or develop a healthy fear of God, His word, His commands and His judgment.  The popular t-shirt is so right on-“Only God Can Judge Me”. What a horrible notion for those living in opposition to His nature and His sovereignty.