Category Archives: Ministry

The Heartbreak of Exposed Sin, or What’s With All this Blackface Stuff?

I grew up in Denver, not in the racially divided south. I remember all the race riots in the late ’60s but racism wasn’t really a part of my world. My first real job was at a radio station in downtown Denver. The station played what was known then as “soul music.” Today, it would probably be “hip hop,” although I know little about music genres. I reported the news. Along with a guy called “Funky Frank,” we were the only two white guys who worked at the station, and I never gave it any thought. The only roommate I had in college was black.

When it was time to go to seminary, Sharon and I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and I experienced my initial encounters with segregation. One experience that stands out clearly was when a friend went to interview with a church in Georgia about being their pastor. He told me that the only question he was asked was what he would do if a black man wanted to join the church. This was about the time that Jimmy Carter’s church in Georgia was in the news because black people wanted to join.Blackface

I was flabbergasted that my friend wasn’t upset about the question. He was from Georgia, so he wasn’t surprised. I told him that it would have been the only question they would ever ask me because I would immediately leave. I’ve always been kind of hot-tempered that way.

They did invite him to be the pastor, and later when we visited, I came across something else new to me. All the white people in town sent their kids to private schools, so they didn’t have to attend a segregated school. Although his only child at the time was young, the church promised to provide the funds for private school when he became school age.

This would have been in the mid-’70s. In my own naive world, I thought racism was a thing of the past. It wasn’t, and it still isn’t.

Now, here we are in 2019 holding people from the south accountable for things they did back in those days. It certainly doesn’t surprise me that people were doing racist things at that time, it was their way of life. I doubt if you must look very hard to find a politician in Virginia, or Georgia, or Alabama, or a myriad of other places in the south who grew up believing they were better than blacks.

To be honest, I’m a bit conflicted about whether dragging up the embarrassing past is a good thing. All of us have done things in the past that were stupid, and we don’t want them to be used against us now that we have more sense. If you didn’t do something stupid when you were young, then you were probably boring and had few friends.

On the other hand, if what you did was something that continues to cause hurt and embarrassment then you probably need to do something about it. For example, if you made an unwanted pass toward a girl when you were in college, it might be a good idea to apologize and seek her forgiveness before you are forced into contrition by outside forces. In other words, don’t wait until you’re caught before making something right.

A politician today has known for years that dressing up in blackface is wrong and hurtful to many. The apology should have been made years ago. Since it wasn’t, now they must face the music. Admittedly, some who turned out to be good people when they finally matured are going to be dragged down by all of this. However, if they really are good people, perhaps a confession prior to getting caught would have been helpful.

James 1:16 provides some helpful guidance about the value of being honest within a community: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

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The Silence of God

During my first few years of college, my father changed jobs. He went from being pastor of a local church to what was called, an “Associational Missionary.” Old-time Baptists will know what that means. For the rest of you, he was essentially a resource person for the Denomination to help churches in the state of Colorado.

He moved his office to the basement of our house. This meant bookshelves filled with interesting books, a virtual playground for a young man who had always loved to read. I distinctly remember one of the books that captured my fascination. It was a book of sermons by a German pastor, Helmut Theileke, titled, “The Silence of God.” Theileke was a pastor during the war, and the book was a collection of sermons preached to a congregation trying to survive Allied bombing.the_silence_of_god

The sermons are thoughtful, and I’ve re-read the book several times (I see it on a self as I write these words). However, I think it’s the title that made the book stick in my mind. In the five decades since I first read that book, I have heard the silence of God many times. If I’m honest, the silence of God is more common than the voice of God. In fact, even when He speaks, it’s often little more than a whisper.

I’ve heard the silence of God several times recently.

Yesterday afternoon we drove the few blocks to the nursing home where my mother lives. She’s soon to be ninety-three years old. After breaking her hip a year ago, she only gets around via a wheelchair. Other than that, her health is remarkable for a woman her age. If only her mind were as healthy, then I would not be writing about the silence of God.

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Faith Healers

Anyone who knows anything about me is aware that I am physically handicapped. As a consequence of a bout with polio, I have spent my entire life walking on crutches or sitting in a wheelchair. I’m not saying that because I want sympathy—I don’t need or want it. I refer to my physical condition to indicate that I have some experience with the subject at hand.

My mother told me a long time ago that it would break her heart when I saw a preacher named Oral Roberts on TV healing people. She told me that she couldn’t help me understand why that kind of healing never happened for me. If healing was the result of prayer, then something was wrong because I know my parents prayed endlessly for me.

When I was a teenager, a group of friends insisted that I go to a revival meeting with them in downtown Denver. The preacher was a man named Morris Cerullo. I had never heard of him, but apparently, he had a reputation for healing people. I wasn’t too excited, but I went with them. When we arrived at the arena, we couldn’t get in because the crowd was too large. Perhaps if my friends had been more like the men who cut through the roof to get their friend around their crowds to see Jesus, things might have turned out differently for me.Faith Healers

As I came to recognize God’s call to the ministry, one of the biggest challenges I faced was my physical limitations. Friends encouraged me in different ways. Some assured me that God would provide and make it possible. A few others suggested that it meant God was going to heal me and allow me to walk. That would have been quite a jump start to ministry.

While in college to prepare, some well-meaning friends organized a special prayer meeting for my healing. They gathered around me as I sat in a chair and we all prayed. I can honestly say that as far as possible, I believed. I remember thinking it was important that I take the first step, so I mustered up as much strength as possible in my legs and tried to stand. Instead, I fell to the floor.

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We Need to Demand Better

Last week the Texas Rangers played the Los Angles Angels in California. One game ended when a Ranger slid into the Angel’s shortstop trying to break up a double play. It was a hard slide, and the infielder received a small cut from the runner’s spikes. The crowd was angry, and a fight almost broke out.

The next night, that infielder who had been cut by the runner’s spikes, slid into the Ranger infielder in an attempt to break up a double play. The crowd once again came to life; not with anger this time, but with glee. The attitude among baseball fans is if your guys does it then it’s a dirty play. If our guy does it, then it’s just good hard baseball.

The same attitude prevails in politics.

One of the issues of discussion floating around social media this week was the crude, racist remark made by TV actress Roseanne. This was followed up a couple of days later by a similarly crude, hateful remark made by Samatha Bee on her TV show. Let me begin my discussion by listing what I see as similarities with the comments and then the differences.

Similarities:samatha bee

  • Both were inappropriate
  • Both were expressions of anger and hate
  • Both were public
  • Both were directed toward a public figure
  • Both are the kind of things we don’t want our children to say
  • Both were made by women who have a history of making crude comments
  • Both apologized within hours of making the comment

Differences:

  • One had racial implications, the other did not
  • One was made within the context of a TV show, the other was on personal time
  • One was made by a Republican, the other by a Democrat
  • One resulted in immediate loss of job, the other didn’t

Arguments Made:

  • The apology by one was more sincere than the other
  • One only apologized because she lost her job
  • The racial comment was worse because it was directed against a whole race
  • The other side is unfair toward my side
  • One has a longer history of saying terrible things

I’m sure you could come up with more under each category. But, here’s the thing that disturbs me. It’s not surprising that Republican-leaning folks are supportive of their teammate, and it’s not surprising that Democrat preferring folks are supporting theirs. I expect that; in fact, I would be shocked if that were not the case.

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The Southern Baptist Convention: One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

For the majority of my life, I considered myself a Southern Baptist. I was proud to be so identified, and even spent a great deal of my time and energy promoting the work of the SBC. That ended a few years back, so if you want to claim that I’m not qualified to speak on this subject, I’m willing to accept your criticism. But, I will speak anyway.

SWBTS

This morning, I saw the announcement that the Trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary finished what they started (and should have finished) last week—terminating their relationship with Paige Patterson. To be honest, this should have been done a decade ago since the incident that precipitated their action occurred that long ago. Any objective observer who didn’t have the need for Patterson’s tenacity to fight other unrelated battles knew that his actions and attitude disqualified him for the position.

However, it took ten years for the Trustees to see the need to nudge him aside, and then another, even more, disturbing revelation, to realize he needed to be gone entirely. It was a slow, hesitant step, but at least it was a step forward. Probably too little too late but at least a move in the right direction.

Then two steps back.

A sizable number of Southern Baptist leaders were accepting of the Trustees’ original move to nudge Patterson aside and even celebrated that he would be allowed to hang around and enjoy the seminary’s generosity. Talk about being tone deaf. Many failed to recognize that his attitude and actions were a problem. It’s like they were saying, “Ok, in order to hold off bad publicity, we’ll make it look like we solved a problem even though we don’t really think it’s a problem.”

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect some of these are the same people who think Donald Trump’s sexual dalliances don’t matter and that the women involved in the #metoo movement should just shut up. Their continued support for Patterson was one step back for the SBC.

Step number two was taken by Al Mohler. Mohler appeared as the new President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville about 25 years ago—a few years after I graduated. Since that time, he has become one of the leading voices for the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Staring Death in the Face

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. (Proverbs 3:7)

During my seminary days, I had the unique opportunity of living next door to my pastor. He was my neighbor first. We were both students living in seminary apartments. Fuller Hall was a first-class apartment building, or at least it had been about a hundred years ago.

Our two apartments were located in the corner of the basement, isolated from the remainder of the building. Fred latched on to us the day we moved in. He helped carry our stuff into the apartment and then he assisted me in maneuvering the campus in my wheelchair.

Because of his servant heart and our developing friendship, we became interested in the church he served as pastor. It was a small congregation on the edge of Louisville; a typical seminary pastorate. We joined the church and immediately began to serve alongside Fred and his wife Valeria.Grim-Reaper

One afternoon, Fred knocked on our door. He had been called to make an emergency hospital visit to one of the church members and he wanted me to go along. We hopped into Fred’s little yellow car and drove to downtown Louisville.

I have never enjoyed hospital visitation. Showing compassion is not one of my strengths. I really do care about people when they suffer but it is difficult for me to express those feelings.

The family we needed to visit was in the lobby, waiting for a report from the doctor. We exchanged greetings, expressed our concern, shared in prayer, and joined the wait.

A woman who was causing a commotion in the hospital lobby caught my attention. She was bouncing from person to person, requesting money for a pay phone. I watched for a few minutes and then started toward her in order to provide a quarter. Before I arrived, someone else gave her the change. She walked over to the phone and everything quieted down to normal.

The doctor finally arrived with good news for the anxious family. We shared a short prayer of thanksgiving, excused ourselves and walked to the car. We had successfully accomplished our ministry objective. Like experienced pastors, we had comforted the family, blessed the Lord, and left everyone with renewed faith. Even though we were still students, we sensed that we had a real grip on ministry.

As Fred maneuvered through the parking lot, he turned into the driveway that led to the street and immediately slammed on the brakes. The boisterous woman from the hospital lobby had jumped in front of our car, waving her arms for us to stop.

Relieved that his reactions were quick, Fred got out of the car to speak with the woman. She was even more excited than she had been earlier inside the hospital. Sorting through her ramblings, Fred determined that her greatest need was a ride home.

He opened the door to allow her to climb into the back seat. From the front passenger seat, I smelled that her immediate problem was alcohol. After a few moments, the woman was finally settled into the seat, holding a large leather bag in her lap.

The woman provided directions to her house and Fred, being somewhat familiar with the city, drove toward her destination. The woman, sitting in the back seat, continued her aimless conversation.  We were still several blocks away from her house when she began to talk as if life were not worth living. Fred and I both thought that she was contemplating suicide.

As her words became more serious, we tried to reason with her but she was not interested in listening to a couple of inexperienced seminary students. As her words revealed more and more despair with her life, she began to rummage through the large bag in her lap. We were convinced that she was going to pull a gun from the bag which meant our future was also in question.

I quickly positioned my crutches between the front seats so I had a clear shot to hit her hand the moment I saw a gun. Fred was reaching underneath the driver’s seat for a tire tool. We thought we were ready.

Suddenly, without any warning, the woman shouted: “Stop!” We did. Fred slammed on the brakes and I tried to crawl underneath the seat. We were convinced that life was over.

As it turns out, the woman did not pull a gun from the bag. Rather, she did not want us to miss the turn to go to her house. “Stop” was her way of giving directions. Fortunately, the house was only a block further. Fred pulled into the driveway, helped her out of the car, and we sped away.

Ministry can be frightening. Or, at least our feeble attempt at ministry scared us. Hopefully, this woman’s despair was eased by sobering up. It was a very sobering experience for two seminary students who thought they were ready to handle any problem the world had to offer.

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Gullible Christians

There have been far too many articles written explaining why Christians have thrown their support behind Donald Trump. There’s nothing about his lifestyle, attitude, demeanor, language, or actions that should be appealing to anyone who professes a commitment to the “narrow way” Jesus called us to follow. Yet, polls make it clear that it was Christians who provided the margin of victory in his election and even today polls show that the majority of Christians continue to stand with him.

Why?

There are many reasons but let me offer one that I’ve not heard from anyone else. I’m not professing to any political brilliance or unique insight. In fact, I’ve always lived by the concept that if you espouse an idea no one else holds, then it’s probably wrong. But I’m going to throw caution to the wind, as they say, and put it out there anyway.

The first thing I need to say is that Donald Trump is nothing more than a con man.

A con man like Victor Lustig who lived in the early part of the 20th century. He is known for selling the Eifel Tower to a scrap metal dealer for $70,000 (a handsome sum in 1925), a box (several of them, actually) that printed genuine hundred-dollar bills, and even conned gangster Al Capone out of thousands of dollars.Snake Oil

Lustig has long been considered at the head of the list of con men. But now, Donald Trump has taken the art of the con (pardon the pun) to even greater heights. Rather than scamming a scrap dealer out of thousands of dollars he is scamming the entire country (probably even Russia at the same time).

He won the election with promises to accomplish whatever people wanted to hear. If health insurance was your concern, then he was going to replace Obamacare with a plan that would cover everyone for less money. If jobs were an issue, then he promised to reinvigorate the coal industry, bring foreign jobs back home, and provide money for big companies to invest in employees. If worry about safety kept you awake at night, then he promised to eliminate terrorists, crack down on drug dealers, and throw more people in prison.

“Step right up, folks, I’ve got the miracle cure for whatever ails you.”

You can hear the medicine man hawking his elixir every time Trump holds a rally or press conference.

Everyone knows he lies incessantly. He tells people what they want to hear, and they leave happy, and he forgets he even had the conversation. He tells people what they need to hear in order to give their support.

Unexplainably, Christians are his most passionate supporters.

I think it’s because Christians are the most gullible people in the world. The dictionary definition of gullible is “easily persuaded to believe something.”

Let me provide examples of Christian gullibility.

  • Jim Jones. The infamous cult leader who led 918 of his followers to commit suicide, began as the pastor of a Methodist Church. Many of his followers thought they were following a Christian teacher, even to the point of killing themselves.
  • Joel Osteen. Tens of thousands of people gather to hear him preach every week and hundreds of thousands buy his books. Osteen is nothing more than Norman Vincent Peale on steroids. He has taken the notion that everything is good because God is good and turned it into a multitude of devoted acolytes who line his pockets with gold.
  • Prosperity Preachers. They twist Scripture to support some cockamamy doctrine that God wants all of us to be prosperous. They then use that teaching to sucker people into sending them millions of dollars, even though they spend it on private jets and luxurious houses. The real doctrine they preach is that God wants them to be wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
  • Christian Businesses. I learned years ago not to do business with anyone who promotes themselves as a Christian business. It is often used as a gimmick to make people feel like they are doing something spiritual when they buy their product or utilize their service. Over the many years of my life, I’ve been cheated more times than I can count. However, the clear majority of those times it was by a professing Christian. Even in the work I do now, I have a policy of not doing a job until I’ve received payment primarily because I’ve been cheated by Christians I wanted to help.
  • Amway. This company deserves special consideration because they turned soap distribution into a multi-billion-dollar business with the help of a Christian-infused pyramid scheme. When I was a teenager, I was recruited by a man to sell Amway. I paid the fee, ordered some soap, and got to work. He wanted me to contact all the women in the church where my father was pastor and get them to sign-up. It was one of my first lessons about doing “Christian business.” I’ve heard folks describe Amway meetings as revival meetings, complete with Christian testimonies and altar calls. However, I’ve never met anyone who actually made money as an Amway distributor, but Christians keep signing up.

The reason I know Christians are most gullible is because I’ve been one of them. It’s built into our beliefs. We want to be giving, help the underdog, minister to the needy, and care for the poor. Those are all good things. But in doing so, we have allowed ourselves to be gullible.

Neither am I suggesting that Christians are the only ones who are gullible—there are gullible people all over the place. It’s just that Christians seem to excel as this skill.

Every pastor has a file cabinet filled with stories of people who came to them or the church for assistance only to learn that they are running a scam. It happens every day. The reason is because we are gullible. We fall for con men often.

Donald Trump understands this as well as anyone. He knew if he promised to appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposed abortion, Christians would flock to his side. He allowed preachers to gather around him with anointing hands because it made a great photo opportunity that would make its way to churches around the country.

He’s selling snake oil and Christians are drinking it by the gallon.

Victor Lustig convinced Al Capone to give him $50,000 to invest in a sure-fire project that would double his money. Lustig took the money, stuck it in a closet for two months never intending to invest, and then returned it to Capone explaining that the investment failed but he wanted to return his money. Impressed with Lustig’s honesty, Capone gave him $5,000.

Trump is running the same con on Christians, and they are so gullible that they praise his honesty and continue to provide support.

I have little hope that things will change. At this point, Christians are so far out on the limb in support of Trump that they would have to swallow too much pride to turn away. In fact, in order to cover the fact they were scammed, they say things like pastor Robert Jeffress recently proclaimed that Trump’s immorality doesn’t matter. I can’t think of one previous pastor of the church he pastors who would have said anything resembling that remark.

We should all be aware of the danger. Sons of some of the most influential moral Christian leaders of the past, i.e., Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, have become some of the most gullible.

The phrase “snake oil” originated with Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. They brought a medicinal product that was made with oil from a Chinese snake, and it actually had beneficial properties. However, an entrepreneur, Clark Stanley, used rattlesnakes to create his own medicinal oil which was eventually proven to be useless. In fact, his product didn’t have a drop of snake oil. Before he was exposed, he sold thousands of bottles to gullible customers.

P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum and Baily Circus reminded us “there’s a sucker born every minute.” After more than 100 years, the Barnum and Baily Circus folded the tent last year. Yet, the circus didn’t really shut down, it simply moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Con men always leave bruised and battered people in their wake. Our country will survive, and we’ll find a way to regain our integrity and reputation in the world. However, I’m not so confident the American church will be as fortunate.

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