Saturday, March 31, 2012

Good Night & Good Luck

I remember reading an article a few years ago where the author asked the reader to name five famous critics/cynics... then to name five influential people. Which was easier? Exactly. Negative people do not make a difference in life... and this last year has been a process of putting this into practice after a particularly horrible experience in a local church the year before.

The point is that this blog is going to be discontinued after years of semi-regular updating. I have done my best to engage in the discussion to change the minds and hearts of Pharisees and institutions but have arrived at the conclusion that Jesus tells us he did in Matthew 22:1-3: the "right" people don't want to come to the marriage feast. In truth I am sorry for them because they worship systems instead of the Savior of the world.

There are two types of people who read this blog: my friends and my enemies.

To my friends: thank you for your support, love, and tolerance of me- I don't deserve you.

To my enemies who read this to dig up dirt on me: I know who you are (it's not too hard to find out where internet traffic comes from), I love you, I forgive you, and I pray one day you finally reach the end of your system and find there the beginning of Jesus.

As a parting gift to all of you I leave you the first major stone on my path towards finally embracing the Gospel of grace: by Wayne Jacobsen.

Jesus loves you regardless of your age, race, gender, position, income, sexual orientation, or political stances. You cannot make him love you more or love you less no matter how good or bad you behave.

I'm signing off now to go focus on people who want to bring positive change whether it's mental, physical, or financial. Good night and good luck.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Bad Self-Portrait & the Mirror

Recently, I heard a quote, "Intentions don't matter. Only results." 

We should stop and think about that line for a few moments. It's harsh. Direct. Unyielding.

"I meant to spend time with my family. I wasn't trying to offend them. I wanted to love my wife better." I used to hear a line all the time during my years as a pastor, "They mean well."

This may be best identification of evil there is. Yes, I wrote "evil". This is a word we are typically only comfortable apply to Hitler, Stalin, and terrorist but, once applied to anyone we know, we shy away from it- not wishing to pass judgment. However, when Hitler woke up in the morning he did not twist his weird tiny mustache, cackle to himself, and rub his hands together whilst gleefully planning the next stage of his pogrom. He woke up, looked at himself in the mirror, and said, "I am doing these things for the greater good." and never questioned his actions because he was convinced of his intentions.

Evil people are the greatest of all self-deluders. The evil do not look in the mirror, they paint a false portrait and then claim it is their reflection. They know their actions and history but masterfully excuse each disaster by denying its existence, denying responsibility, or denying their motives in the first place.

After evil people have successfully lied to themselves, lying to everyone else is an easy task because the very person they are presenting to the world is an enormous lie. This is why evil people, by and large, are, socially, very nice people (hence Hitler was named Time's "Man of the Year"). They have to be because they are continuously trying to manipulate other peoples' perception of themselves to match the lie they tell themselves every morning when they get up.

The only time you will see the true inner demon of an evil person is if anyone attempts to stand in front of their "self-portrait" with a mirror and show them what they are truly like. At this point they will follow three predictable steps: 1. deny, deny, deny. 2. claim that the refection is an interesting perspective on what is happening (negotiating with the person holding it). 3. viciously attack the person holding the mirror.

The most evil people I know I have found in the most respectable of social circles and, most certainly, in church buildings. All of society understands that the true value in respectable social circles is "being nice". Therefore, these circles are also typically self-deluding. This is why such quotes as, "I don't trust a man who doesn't drink." from John Wayne ring so true to many of us who have known people who touted such "values" as teetotalling only to have other wild, far more serious, moral failings come to light later.

By no means do any of us have a complete, objective, view on ourselves but by looking at our current and past relationships and listening to friends that tell us the painfully and difficult truth we can question our own motives and admit, publicly and openly, our faults.

If you don't care for that method of living perhaps I can recommend a paint store so you may officially begin your self-portrait. You can call it a mirror. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Theses to Holiness Denominations

Many years ago Martin Luther posted Thesis to the Roman Catholic Church. He did not wish to cause a split, he was truly attempting to get people to see the issues, address them, and change them. My heart is the same. These are very serious problems, I am writing this seriously. My heritage is found in these denominations but they must address if they are to not just survive but enter into the Kingdom & regain their purpose. 

1. When Jesus said "repent" he meant that believers should live a whole life repenting
2. Sin will always remain until we enter Heaven... "Simul justus et pecator."
3. Many holiness movements claim to be egalitarian, however, few women are seen as heads of local church bodies.
4. The church through church penalties and stances is producing a ‘human crop of weeds’ that can correctly answer doctrinal questions or social stances but are wrecked inwardly. 
5. Someone might have bad/incorrect thoughts against the church and they will be scared. This fear is enough penalty without maligning these people or simply labeling them as "bitter".
6. Many people have been hurt by politics, liars, and hypocrisy within the church.
7. Until these hurts have been made known, acknowledged and apologies made the church and denomination may never move forward- like an alcoholic who will not admit they have a problem. 
8. There is no proof that a person is free from sin.
9. Adhering to The Discipline will not save a person.
10. Many who believe (and say) they are "entirely sanctified" do so at their own peril by falling into the sin of pride.
11. If Jesus readily broke Mishna Law how can our leaders say that if Jesus was here he would submit to the "spiritual authority" of the denomination/s? He didn't for the Jews, he would not in this case either. 
12. If the saying, "Love the sinner, hate the sin" then why aren't these denomination's relationships with the gay and lesbian community better? why aren't there more on-going prison ministries? how have they reached out to the pornography industry?
13. People who believe that abiding by the denomination will let them live in salvation will always be damned - along with those who teach it.
14. A man can be free if he sincerely repents - a "membership covenant" is not needed.
15. A true repenter will be sorry for his sins and happily give back to others of their resources and talents. Preaching mandatory "tithes and offerings" trivialize this issue.
16. A Christian who gives to the poor or lends to those in need is doing better in God’s eyes than one who gives "tithes" to a church building campaign.
17. This is because of loving others, love grows and you become more of who God created you to be. A person/church tithing and/or paying USF does not become a better person by these actions.
18. A person who passes by a beggar but pays their "tithe" will gain the anger and disappointment of God.
19. Christians should be taught that they do not NEED to tithe but are allowed to freely give.
20. Headquarters should have more desire for devout prayer than for ready money.
21. It is blasphemy that the words of Jesus are preached less than than those of Paul. Paul is to be interpreted in the light of Jesus, not Jesus in light of Paul. 
22. The wealth of some of the "holiness denominations" is not wildly known among believers and attenders who are struggling financially in a time of recession. People are losing homes & our headquarters and colleges are building bigger and better buildings. 
23. Salvation can be sought for through the church as it has been granted this by Christ... but people can be saved outside of the church walls. 
24. District Superintendents (DS) and bishops have to enforce United Stewardship Fund to keep their jobs and perks (as they currently stand). 
25. Why is there a sliding scale of membership requirements depending on a person's position, title, wealth, and last name? If they are requirements they are for everyone, equally.
26. Don't membership requirements- by their very nature- create a tiered form of Christianity?
27. If DS and General Superintendents had worked as they should have and led by example (with a FEW notable exceptions) the above problems would not exist. 
28. The voting process needs to allow far more accountability for our DS and GS positions.
29. All those who say there is no problem must go. Problems must be tackled.
30. Christians must follow Christ at all cost- even if in disobeying the denomination. 
31. Let Christians experience problems if they must - and overcome them - rather than live a false life based on present holiness teaching.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Frodo Had Already Left the Shire

I sat in the white sedan, speeding through the black country night. Cigarillo smoke curled around the interior and then was sucked out of the cracked driver's window like a fleeing spectre.

"Did you ever get any closure from your deal with the denomination?" I asked.


He was either letting the word sink in with the shock or just taking a drag but I didn't look to see which.

He continued. "I was dead wrong, that was my closure. Oh sure, they may have constructed the gallows, thrown the rope over the top, and shown me where they were, they may have a dysfunctional view of holiness and a terrible way of working it out but I made my choices and put my own head in the noose. The truth is I lacked integrity and submission to authority."

Now I was frustrated. I had a picture in my mind I wanted this to fit and this wasn't helping it. When this stuff happens it's better just to remain silent. Talking as you are having your world rocked usually makes you look dumber.

"And Devin- you need to know this- you need to let this bitterness go. Are a bunch of those guys jerks? You BET. They have been for years. But they aren't losing any sleep over you. Stop losing it over them. God wants to take some of that edge of arrogance off of you. They didn't take anything from you that you hadn't already given up. Did you walk too boldly? Maybe. Did you shove the dysfunction in their collective faces? You bet.

"Think of it like this- you're a nerd, right? You like Lord of the Rings. "

I parried with a smirk, "You have the sword of Aragon from the movie."

"Yes," he drawled, "but you read the book." He grinned back.

I laughed. Literally, the day before I had started rereading The Hobbit.

"When Frodo leaves the Shire with Gandalf to go destroy the Ring, remember?"

I nod.

"It's like you're Frodo, you've left the Shire for something huge, bigger than yourself, to do something that you aren't trained to do and will test you like never before. It's scarier and bigger than you could have ever imagined and you are having a blast.

"It's like all of that happened and then the other people [I refrained from correcting him and saying, "Hobbits"] got together and said, 'Well, we are kicking him out!' ... after you've already left. You decided to leave. You were already gone. They did the only lame thing they could think of and took your credentials. You had already left the Shire.

"... I wish I would have left like you did: with integrity."

If the confession's brutal honesty had floored me the analogy and closing buried me. No one took anything I had not laid down. 

Sometimes we (and by "we" I mean "I") are so busy playing victim we fail to own up to our own choices. In a culture of shame we ("I") are so ready to assume that we did wrongly that it is often other's that have to point our our value.

And this is what I find so jarring about Jesus. He looks at me, through all of my stuff, and not only says, "I love you," but that he actually likes me and is even proud of some things I have done.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Local Boards, District Leadership, and Mecca

Have you ever noticed that, inevitably, the people who claim to "hate drama" are the most dramatic people in your life? ... which lends me to have concern for my own self as it seems, for the last few years anyway, my life has been highly dramatic. I left the ministry, joined the USMC, left the USMC, was unemployed, moved in with my in-laws, worked entry-level jobs, then  another church on the north side of Indianapolis... and just this last month began work as the GM of a restaurant start-up (I am blogging about those experiences here).

What I want to write about here is our recent spiritual and church journey. A couple of years ago a friend of mine left my then denomination rumors abounded regarding his departure that- to this day- I am asked about. To help dispel any rumors about my situation I would like to to take this opportunity to tell it from my side.

When I came to work at the church (we will call it, "Northside") in Indy last spring there will red flags a'plenty: the senior pastor (we will call him, "Ryan") was an old school guy that had been in ministry over 30 years, he had had staff leave badly twice within the last 18 months, attendance was dropping, he seemed depressed, the board was comprised of denominational leaders or relations/friends of denominational leaders, and- almost from the first day- I told of Ryan's failings by members of Northside. After about a month Ryan asked me what I was thinking about in my new role. I told him that I believed the church and leadership were very unhealthy and that he probably needed a professional coach to talk through some issues. 

Within a few weeks that personal coaching (we will call the coach, "Rob") turned into an "intervention" for Northside as a whole. This act was approved by the staff, the board, and the district leadership. The staff supported this act so strongly that they said that if any of them (myself included) were part of the problem, they would immediately leave. We also trusted the coach/interventionist so much that we told Ryan that if- whatever Rob recommended- was not followed to the "T" we would en masse resign. 

So the day of the intervention came. There were two options based on the statistically provable fact that Northside was one of- if not THE- most unhealthy church Rob had ever worked with: one, we could shutdown, sell the assets, and church plant about 4 churches or; two, revisit everything that we were doing from the top down and the bottom up and the board could resign. Ryan stood up at the end and said that if option one or two were not carried out then the staff would resign. 

During a board meeting a week later the district leadership and the board told Ryan he was the problem and called for a vote of confidence. The staff all resigned during the following month.

As I was trying to leave and help Northside transition my position both the board and the district leadership attempted to cut my vacation time, verbally berate me, and emotionally intimidate (they didn't have nothing on the USMC ;-). After I repeatedly attempted to reach out to the denominational leadership for support or protection I was finally forced to threaten legal action and only then was the situation resolved. 

Now, it is at this point that the reader should note that my wife and I had prayed for only one door to open for my next job. Before I had evenly officially resigned at Northside my job opportunity with Hearthstone had opened up. I applied at over 50 churches and not one interviewed (not surprising in this economy). However, the job with Hearthstone opened hard and fast.

The last tidbit of information that would be helpful is that the denomination yearly has all of the pastors fill out a report in which they are asked "accountability questions". I have answered these questions honestly for years and this year was no different- not only did I say that I was not meeting the extra-biblical standards they had set but I declined to meet with the district leadership that had forcibly removed Ryan and the rest of the staff. 

Within the district- and even some general- leadership had made sure that my credentials would not be transferred (the same trick they pulled with some friends who are now safely in CA) and that my name was removed from the roster. I'm not a big believer in coincidences so the fact that this all took place on the last day I received pay from Northside was just not shocking at all. Full disclosure here: I did write a communique that asked pointed questions about both the district leadership, board leadership, and general leadership removing Ryan... I also claimed that two individuals in particular were incompetent and liars (proven by evidence that several of us have in our possession). 

So, "no" I am not with the denomination anymore. I find many of the actions I witnessed to be contemptible. Already I am being blamed for things I didn't do but, hey, I don't work for them anymore. I have learned that the leadership I was under was far more concerned with finding scapegoats than dealing with issues. Too bad, it could have been different. That's my story. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

So I Guess We Won't Be Going in First After All...

'"A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw... a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of... trash... and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. [But at the] end was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right... They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away... In a moment the vision faded... In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah."

'What a radical idea! The 'freaks and lunatics' going to heaven before the morally upright tribe? But Jesus said the same thing, when he announced to the shocked religious leaders of his day, 'I tell you the truth, the tax collectors, and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you.' (Matt. 21:31)"

-Tim Keller, The Reason for God

Monday, December 06, 2010

(Real) Olde Timey Revival

I've been in the church for 28 years but most of the time it feels longer. I've heard a LOT of sermons/talks but one of the subjects I have seen rarely covered has been repentance and confession- I mean real repentance too, not the typical "repent and be saved" watered down Gospel soup usually reserved for pew fillers either; this is intense, soul-searching, if-you-want-to-God-you-have-to-admit-you-cannot-do-it, in your face call to a reverse Kingdom. Oh, we in the church, are GREAT at calling this "sinful world" to repent of its drunken, over-sexed, self-reliant, greed-driven, ways but once they do, once they get inside those church doors most of us immediately stop the practice (with the exception of our more liturgical brothers going to "confession" as a spiritual discipline). 

One of my particular faith communities is going through a time where there has been- from a few corners- calls to repentance and confession. That to be healed, to move forward, and to become functional we must first admit that we-no, not we- but I am the problem. Me. That this is MY stuff, that I have done, I was wrong, I sinned, I ________________(fill in the blank of the sin). 

What is amazing about confession and repentance is that it is the basis for our faith in Christ; it begins it, and should follow us throughout our spiritual journey. Our tendency, however is to neglect it because it is uncomfortable and difficult. 

As a pastor and long-time follower of the Rabbi I think I may have a few reasons why we are bad at this spiritual discipline that our faith literally with rise and fall on:

1. Courage- many don't have the courage to step forward first and say it. Since no one goes first, no one goes at all. We lack courage.
2.. Execution- how many times over the years have we seen another brother, sister, spiritual leader, or pastor confess a sin or get caught then they are "helped" by having their careers, livelihoods, and relationships shot in the face. The church then likes to ask the question, "Anyone else need to confess?" Shockingly, the answer is often, "No."
3. Oppression- we cow to the lie that no one else struggles like we do, that it has gone on too long, or was only one time, that we are the exception.
4. Downplay- "Everyone has these issues." So what? Therefore, we don't have to discuss, repent, and confess? Doesn't that make us taking them seriously all the more seriously?

Recently, I heard tired prayer for revival and in the middle of it asked myself, "Do we really want revival? What would we do if God really showed up?" John and Jesus are continually calling people to repent for "the Kingdom of God is at hand" but today we don't really need to repent. We don't have to rely on God. 

And so our own ability to extend grace to ourselves and to, therefore, to others, is greatly lacking. We fall into the lie that other peoples' sins are worse than ours (especially abortionists, liberals, fornicators, homosexuals, drunks, and drug abusers) because we never really face our own sins that are listed right along side theirs within our Scriptures (e.g. lying, gossiping, slanders, those given to wrath, gluttons, etc.). 

Want to start that revival? I do. It starts with all of us confessing our own sins first and remembering that grace is all we have to rely on and love is all we are called to.