link: avp #9 - "dealing with the unthinkable" with pastor DeVon Mills

In the era of #metoo, sexual scandal, and abuse in every corner of society, it seems like a distinct possibility that this will manifest itself in the church as well. Based on a suggestion from a friend on Twitter, Ryan and I decided to interview Pastor DeVon Mills from the Atlanta, GA area, who also is a doctoral candidate and a licensed therapist who deals with victims of this very issue. We have a candid conversation about what the church should do to help protect victims, prevent these sorts of tragedies, and the right way to minister to those affected by the horrible sin of sexual abuse. 

 

LINK: "AVP #8 - The Screwtape Letters"

Sorry for the delayed link. Also, sorry for the really long podcast. Ryan and I sat down and started talking about the C.S. Lewis classic, "The Screwtape Letters." And we kept talking. And talking. And talking. Then we filled up our hard drives, bought new ones, and kept going some more. The result was an insanely, ridiculously long conversation that I masterfully edited down to a mere 2 hours. 

Yeah, I'm sorry about that. Anyway, we had a lot of fun, and we barely scratched the surface. But take a listen, send us some feedback, leave a rating in iTunes, and buy the book and read it yourself. Because it really is terrific. 

Above All Else

When I was in rehab in California, I prayed a prayer:

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the Lord?" Or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God."

Proverbs 30:7-9 (ESV)

Thankfully, God has answered this prayer. When I have wandered from Him, and become prideful and arrogant, He has brought me low. The things I've tried to accomplish didn't prosper, and I spiral down as the objects of my pride crumble. When I repent, submit to Him, and (do my best to) walk uprightly, He blesses me and things go well.

The most important thing, above anything else, is to be saved. Paul talked about this - that he could preach the Gospel to others, but by his own lack of discipline and self-control, find himself cast-away. (I Cor. 9:27) Jesus talked about it in the Sermon on the Mount, telling those present that, if your hand or your eye offends you, you should cut it off or pluck it out, because it would be better to be maimed or half-blind than to be separated from God and spend eternity in hell.

We're working with reality. This life, it's heavy stuff. It's not a game. The stakes are as high as can be. And we can't be flippant or casual with how we live.

Recently, my pastor made a comment during a sermon that really sort of stuck - if he were living in some sort of hidden sin, he would rather have it exposed and be humiliated if it led to repentance, than for his ego and reputation stay intact but end up in hell.

I haven't been able to get away from this. Is my pride more important than salvation? Am I more concerned with reputation and doing what I want than I am with being saved?

All week, I've been singing this old song.

Above all else I must be saved.

Above all else I must be saved.

Whatever You have to do to me

Don't let me be lost for eternity.

Above all else I must be saved. (emphasis added)

It's had me rocking on my heels all week. Nothing else matters. Are you serving Jesus or yourself? Are you following His will or yours? And what matters most to you?

Link: AVP #5 - "Kicking the Devil in the teeth"

We're back again, this week with an interview with Rev. Joe Campetella, where we discuss campus ministry, soul-winning, and altar work. Take listen. 

As always, I recommend listening through Overcast, a brilliantly designed podcast player with terrific features and a great color scheme. 

Link: AVP #4 - “I’m Very Proud of my Humility”

Everyone’s favorite Apostolic bro-cast returns with a pointed discussion about humility. Both Ryan and I are experts on the subject, so we share our valuable insights with you. Take a listen and enjoy.  

If you haven’t subscribed, please do. I recommend the podcast player Overcast for your iOS devices. It’s wonderfully designed, intuitive, and easy to use.  

The Idolatry of The Future

In “The Screwtape Letters”, C.S. Lewis articulates a sin that I think so many people fall into. I call it the Idolatry of the Future. In Letter 15, Screwtape writes to Wormwood, and encourages him to prevent the Patient from focusing on Eternity (which means being concerned with God) and from focusing on the Present (the point at which time touches eternity). Rather, Wormwood should seek to focus to keep the Patient focused on the Future, because “biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the future inflames hope and fear.”

I’ve been re-reading “The Screwtape Letters” as of late, in preparation for a podcast that we’re recording. Reading it critically in anticipation for conversation has caused me to consider and think about things in a way that I wouldn’t if I were just reading for my own personal enjoyment. As such, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this issue. The issue of the Future, of living in the future, and of Idolizing the Future. This manifests, I think, in two similar, but distinct, ways: “If Only” and “Just as Soon As”.

If Only

That’s the lie we tell ourselves. Most of the time, we don’t realize it’s a lie. 

"If only" is an excuse we use to justify and excuse our lack of action or engagement with a problem or situation. It's what we use to push back the call of God on our life, or from going after a dream or a goal. It's what keeps us on the bench, sitting on the couch, restless and ambitious. "If only" feeds our fears and saps our faith and deprives us of the life that God wants us to have. 

"If only I were married."

"If only I had more money."

"If only I had gone to college."

"If only I had a better job."

"If only my kids were better behaved."

"If only I were better looking.” (This isn’t something I personally can relate to, but I know some people who are surely afflicted by it.)

When we say “If only,” we elevate some currently not present condition in our lives as the key to happiness, satisfaction, and joy. It idolizes something that’s not real, and passes the blame of our unpleasant situation onto something else, something that’s outside of our control, and it binds us. 

Just As Soon As

I used to say this all the time. “Just as soon as” … what? For me, it was finish college. Or get married. Or have kids. Or get out of debt. I used it as an excuse for my financial struggles, for my relationship struggles, for my lack of engagement in evangelism and teaching bible studies. I read a quote once - “An excuse is never hard to come up with when you’ve decided you can’t do something.” 

The problem with Just As Soon As is that we get to beg off of whatever it is that we know that we ought to do now with a future promise and good intentions. But things never happen the way we think they will, and we'll never be in a perfect situation where we can do the things we should without obstacle or distraction. Just As Soon As is also a lie, and it prevents us from ever accomplishing anything, because Just As Soon As never comes true. 

Idolatry

All sin is idolatry, because all of our life is worship. Everything we do is an act of worship, either to God or to the Self. We don’t live in a vacuum, so we don’t have neutral actions. By not living in the present, and fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives, instead we tell God that we can’t serve Him right now because we’re not equipped properly (as if His plan ever depended on our abilities). That’s idolatry. It’s sin. 

Furthermore, when we say If Only or Just As Soon As, we are anticipating a perfect Future. We have, as Lewis says, persuaded ourselves that the Future is going to be agreeable. What happens, then, if the conditions we’ve established for doing the things we ought are never met? What happens if you don’t get the new job or the new car? What happens if you don’t have more money or get married? Are you never going to submit to God’s will? Are you going to perpetually live in rebellion and idolatry? 

We can’t wait. We can’t delay. God doesn’t need us to be perfect - He needs us to be willing. 

The Apostolic Voice Podcast

For some time, I've been working on a project with a friend of mine. We started a podcast

I listen to a lot of podcasts. I love podcasts. I listen to a lot of preaching podcasts, which are great. But sometimes, I want to listen to something that isn't preaching, but is still redemptive. I enjoy my tech podcasts, and my nerd podcasts, but I want more gospel-centered conversations in my media diet. 

So, in conversations with my friend, we decided to start work on a new venture. Ryan has a great platform established, and we decided to build this into his established brand. If you're interested, you can find all episodes of the Apostolic Voice Podcast here. The first two episodes (Ep 1 and Ep 2) are an interview with me, where Ryan allows me to share my stories of idiocy and redemption. In Episode 3, we interview Pastor Steve Showalter about his book, Escaping Fantasyland, and his testimony of overcoming an addiction to pornography. If you don't want to hear my story, this is a good place to start. 

Our plan is to offer a variety of material - book reviews; interviews with authors, pastors, and evangelists; bible study tools; and to address issues, theological questions and errors, and other topics. 

We have several more episodes recorded, and it is released each Thursday morning. If you have any comments or questions, you can contact me here, or through Twitter or Facebook

I use a new program for encoding the podcasts called Forecast, a free tool developed by Marco Arment. I like it a lot, and if you are a podcast producer (using MacOS), I recommend checking it out. If you're using iOS, I recommend checking out Overcast as a podcast player. It's my preferred app, and it's also developed by Marco Arment. 

Giving Thanks

I wish I had something really brilliant or profound to share, but I don’t. I just want to share the things for which I give thanks.  

Family

I have an amazing family. I’ve written in the past about my wife and her love and persistence, but a lot of that extends to the rest of my family, as well. I know a lot of people who battled some of the same addictions I did, whose family disowned them or wrote them off. Despite it all, my family never did. My parents, my brother and his wife, my in-laws, they all persisted in faith and love and prayer, never letting believe I was okay in my sin, but never feeling like I wasn’t loved or that they didn’t care. That’s a difficult line to walk, but by the grace of God, they all did. And I love them for it. 

NOTE: In addition to blood relatives and my in-laws, I’m also blessed with amazing friends and a church family that has made my life so rich and wonderful.  

Plenty

Lately, when I’ve paused to give thanks before a meal, I’ve been really moved by how much I have and how blessed I am. I have a great job, and so does my wife. We have benefits, and good health, and a nice home, and reliable vehicles, and plenty of toys and clothes and gadgets and entertainment and resources to achieve really whatever we want. In my life, being “broke” means eating at home instead of eating out for a few days until payday. The freezer, refrigerator, and cabinets are all full. I don’t go to sleep worried about where my next meal will come from. I don’t fret over how I will get to work or get my kids to school. I’m blessed with so much more than I need, and I’m thankful for that.  

Leisure

A corollary of plenty is leisure; because I have more than enough, I have time to do nothing. I have time to rest and read and imagine and daydream. I have time to watch TV and Netflix. I have hours in most days where I can sit and do nothing at all, enjoy the company of my wife and my kids and my friends. It’s a blessing to be able to rest and to clear your mind, and I’m thankful for the blessing of leisure time. 

I hope everyone has a happy thanksgiving and a wonderful weekend. My condolences to the retail workers dealing with crowds this weekend - may God be with you. 

lyrics - "this my soul" by the gray havens

A voice came and spoke to the silence
The words took on beauty and form
The form took its shape as a garden was born
Then man from the dust came reflecting
All goodness and beauty and life
But he lowered his gaze
As he listened to the face of low desires 

This my soul you were born
You were born into
What this man has done
It all extends to you
Let the words shake on down along your spine
And ring out true that you might find new life 

The voice came and swords blocked the garden
None could return with their lives
A curse there was placed upon every man to face
For all of time
No wisdom of man or rebellion
Could deliver new life out of death
But the voice with the curse
Spoke a promise that the word would take on flesh 

This my soul you were born
You were born into
What this man has done
It all extends to you
Let the words shake on down along your spine
And ring out true that you might find 

Then the perfect son of man
Took the place the voice had planned
Since the garden and before
He took the swords and cursed the grave
There’s nothing more to separate us from the promise
The words of a living hope

And this my soul you were born
You were born into
What this man has done
It all extends to you
Let the words shake on down along your spine
And ring out true that you might find

I love good music. I love great lyrics. I love Christian music that shares the gospel. This song - and this band - have occupied my mind and imagination for the past several weeks. 

honor where honor is due (or, why i love my wife)

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.

If any woman has a husband for an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife. For how do your know, wife, whether you will save your husband?

1 Corinthians 7:13-14, 16

As I’m sure that everyone who reads this blog knows, I walked away from God seven years ago. I was regularly abusing alcohol; I was engaged in all manners of blasphemous, reckless, and sinful behavior; and I was angry, bitter, and condescending. I made being at home with me a chore on a good day, and a hell-on-earth on a bad day. And yet, my wife stayed. She had every right and reason to leave me, and yet she stayed.

When you take your wedding vows before God, you assume that both you and your spouse will be standing together as Christians, enduring the good and the bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, until death do you part stuff as a team. But no one imagines the bad times being when your spouse walks away from God, and is addicted to porn, and is drunk all the time and getting high all the time. No one imagines that sickness includes depression and thoughts of suicide. No one dreams that for poorer is because your spouse lost yet another job and won’t stop drinking. But that was what Heidi faced. She stood by herself and upheld our wedding vows, even when I wouldn’t. I don’t understand why. But she stood for that. And she stayed.

She consented to stay married to me, even though I didn’t deserve it. Every Sunday for years, she woke up and got first one child, then both kids, ready for Sunday School, and I kissed them all goodbye and she went and stood between God and me and prayed and cried and pleaded for Him to work on my heart, to turn me around, and to bring me back to church. She said, “I don’t know who that is, but he’s not the man I married.” For five years, she prayed. For five years, she asked God to help.

In that time, none of the things I was propping up was working right in my life. Everything I tried to do fell apart through my own pride and ego. Job after job came crashing down. The drinking got worse, I got angrier and more combative. And then everything finally came crashing down. My lies and sins and drunkenness all came together to leave me a broken, defeated wreck of a man, and Heidi was faced again with a choice - “Do I stay with my husband, or do I leave now to protect myself and my children?"

She stayed. In my desperation and brokenness, I finally returned to church. I resented it and didn’t want to be there, but slowly, my heart began to turn. In my brokenness, in my humiliation, I found repentance. And then I found joy. I found peace in the Holy Ghost. And my marriage began to heal. And all the ancillary things in my life, the things in my life that had been falling apart and slipping through my fingers, began to come together and work again. I stopped drinking. I’m not angry or lonely or hopeless or depressed anymore. I’ve built friendships again. And all because she stayed.

She prayed for me. She loved me. She didn’t give up on me. I’m alive today, and serving God today, because my wife wouldn’t leave.

Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.

Thank you, Heidi Beth, for being the most amazing wife. And happy birthday, today. You’re my queen, and I love you. Thank you for not giving up on me.

Confess Your Faults

    What does this mean? According to Dr. Constable, this isn't (a) a public confession of all your dirty laundry, or (b) confessing all of your sins to the clergy in a Roman Catholic sense; rather, it's confessing your sin to those who the sin has influenced. Have you sinned against your brother? Confess it to him. Your spouse? Do the same. Do what you must to make it right. A public sin should be confessed publicly; private sins should be addressed between those who it affects.

    But we put on a front. We pretend often that we're perfect now. We put on our suits. We put on our dresses. Got our hair done up, a fresh shave, our shoes polished. We look good. We put on a good front. But it's a lie.

    We all are struggling with different sins. We are all battling on different fronts and in different ways, but for a few hours a few nights a week, we practice behavior modification and put on our masks of Christian perfection and pretend that everything is perfect. We might be able to fight the behavioral sin for awhile, but we don't deal with the heart issue, largely because we're not honest with each other about what we're struggling with.

    We've probably all heard the Sermon on the Mount at some point in our lives, but have you really ever examined it? It's all about breaking down the cycle of behavior modification and masks of piety; it's about dealing with the heart. How many of us have ever committed murder? But how many of us have ever lost our temper, or flown into a rage, or screamed at that guy in front of you who won't get out of the left lane even though he's going the speed limit and I'm on my way to work and if he doesn’t get out of the way I’m going to....

    How many of us have committed adultery? (Don't raise your hands). But how many of us have looked twice at that new coworker, or the receptionist, or snuck off onto the internet late at night or watched a TV show that showed more than was appropriate or read a trashy novel or magazine article? (Again, don't raise your hands).

    How many of us have held onto a grudge while speaking kindly to someone who offended us, or owes us money, or borrowed your lawn mower and didn't return it full of fuel? How many make promises we never intend to keep? How many of us worship in church while harboring resentment towards a brother or sister?

And that's just Matthew chapter 5.

    Getting to Matthew 6, how many of us make a show of our worship so that people will see us and think we're doing great? How many of us talk about how much we fast, or how much we give in offering, so that people know?

    It gets uncomfortable, but that's the difference between good behavior and a transformed heart. The message of the Gospel isn't that you can live right - it's that you get your heart right. Because if you get your heart right, you'll live right. But, as T.S. Eliot says, "The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason." Intentions matter. Why you do something matters. It gets down to the heart, not the act.

    I believe that it would be beneficial if we talked more openly about our struggles. If we were honest about the trials or the temptations. We don't get explicit, we don't have to embarrass ourselves. But what if we didn't always pretend we were perfect all the time? What if we had less judgment, more love, and more transparency within in the church, where we trusted each other enough to say "hey, say a prayer for me. I'm struggling right now. I'm going through a situation right now. I need you to lift me up. I need you to help me bear this burden. I need you to encourage me." How much stronger would the body be if we didn't attack each other, or mistrust each other, but instead loved each other with the grace that God has showed us? What if we dealt with the heart?

The Arrogance of Impatience

Abraham had a promise from God - he would have a son. God made a covenant with Abraham, and Abraham, in his own mind, didn't understand how God was going to fulfill His end of the deal. So, in his own wisdom, Abraham and his wife took matters into their own hands: Abraham took advantage of a pagan custom of the day and bedded Sarah's servant, Hagar, and she gave birth to Ishmael.

Of course, in His time and in His way, God fulfilled His promise to Abraham, and Sarah did have a child - Isaac. The descendants of Isaac are the Jews - the Children of Israel - and the descendants of Ishmael are the Muslims. And for thousands of years, these two nations, these two families, these two brothers, have been at odds with each other.

I am an impatient person. At this moment, I'm waiting on news about a promotion and transfer at work. I have to wait another seven hours for the news, and I'm going nuts. I want to grill everyone who might have any idea about it and find out what I can. I want to talk about it and speculate about it, and have everyone on my side tell me why I'm a shoe-in; I want everyone who doesn't think I'll get it to enumerate the reasons why someone else is better qualified for the job. I will obsess over this issue for the rest of my shift until I find out.

I'm okay with the answer - I have a contingency plan and I'm confident in my future in the company. But I just want to know.

I've been in and out of church. I've walked away from and back to God a number of times. But about two years ago, I was broken in my own sin. I came back to the Church, and to Jesus, and basically said, "I give up." When I came back, I never thought I'd be in a position of leadership or ministry again. I didn't want to get into a teaching or preaching position. The fascination and the curiosity were gone. I wasn't interested, and even if I was, I was sure that I had screwed up too grandly and too deeply to ever be used of God again.

After about a year, though, God started using me again. It was little things - He started using me in the gifts that I'd been used in before. That curiosity returned. The fervor for the Word and for teaching. My conversations with friends changed, and I began to spend time in the Scripture and asking questions and doing research and thinking and studying. My writing and journaling and unfocused musings changed to thinking about Jesus and serving people and seeing people saved.

So now I have the fire I had before. I have the desire to teach and preach that I had before. And while there's always the nagging doubts of Satan telling me how bad I am, how far I fell, how much I don't deserve God's grace and the opportunity to minister (and he's right!), I have another voice telling me "The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former." I have a pastor who tells me that I can't imagine what God will do with me, and that there's no time in these latter days for soldiers to sit on the sidelines, full of misgivings and doubts.

I believe again. I'm ready to serve, ready to fight. But God says "Not yet."

I want to make things happen by force of will. I want to move the ball forward by whatever means I have at my disposal. I don't want to wait, because I'm ready and eager. But God says "Not yet."

I think I know better than God. And that's arrogance. That's pride. That's sin. It's the same pride that led Abraham to sleep with Hagar. It's saying "God's ways are subject to my ways, and my plans are greater than His plans." Pride is the root of all other sins, and out of it comes idolatry. If I build a ministry by my own hand and personality and charm and charisma, who is glorified? And how much smaller will it be than if I let God direct it and plan it and lead the way?

Be patient. Be humble. Wait on the Lord.

 

NOTE: I didn’t get the promotion. There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’ve gone round in circles a dozen times and tried to plan my next steps and strategy to get to where I think I want to be. Then, one day, God spoke to my heart through three different sermons and an off-the-cuff conversation with my boss and simply said “Wait.” So this blog turned out to be especially prescient.  

LINK: Jonathan Martin - "our resistance, is repentance"

There's a lot in this essay that I appreciated. There's a lot that frustrated me and that I disagreed with. It's also not the best writing that Martin has ever put forward. But I was moved by two points: 

"The most basic terms of loving our neighbors as ourselves does not require theological degree—but a restoration of the sacrament of footwashing. If you deem Muslims as your enemy, your call as a disciple is to wash their feet. If you have thought LGBTQ folks are your enemy, your call is to wash their feet. If you think fundamentalist Christians are your enemy—and I am especially sympathetic to this view in the moment—your call is to wash their feet."

Years ago, a good friend of mine preached a sermon that I remember often: "The Master says 'Love'." His point was this: if you don't have love - or charity, for the KJV-only crowd - then everything else is nothing but empty religious pageantry. We're called to love our friends, love our families, love our neighbors, and the hardest part, to love our enemies. 

Love without expecting anything in return. Love when people hate you for your beliefs. Love when they want to take away your rights. Love, and give, and be gracious, so that the religious elites look at you and say, "You're a friend to sinners and tax collectors." Love the way Jesus loved. 

Martin goes on to say that we should have conversations with those with whom we disagree, we should invite them into community, not to normalize them, but to demonstrate the love of Christ. This means that conservative Christians should engage with liberals and sinners and progressives, and those of us who are frustrated by the Evangelical Right need to reach out to them, even when doing so is anathema. Martin says:

"But I will not have the terms of those conversations dictated to me by whatever was drafted in the smoky backroom by people who are mostly just mourning the loss of a civil religion I believe Christ came to overthrow, or from people who don’t know the devil when he’s kissing them hard on the mouth."

I believe Martin is wrong on some points in this essay, but he's spot on with his analysis of the pro-Trump evangelical right. Christianity has, for a long time, enjoyed a place of favor and privilege in the United States, and that has led to some really bad theology. It's also allowed folks to claim Christianity without any real sacrifice. I understand why the changes in our culture lately make some people uneasy, but at the same time, I can't help but feel like it's a good thing.

Martin's essay messy and a little disjointed. I also feel like he's conflating different, unrelated issues in his discussion of the hurricane, white supremacism, and the Nashville statement. But he's right about this. In the face of adversity, the Church needs to respond with love and kindness and grace and charity.  

What's Next?

Recently, a close friend of mine lost his grandfather. When I was visiting with the family at the nursing home, I noticed the peace that they all had with his passing. He was nearly 100 years old, and a faithful Christian man who had served God and his family for decades.

 

Sure, they’re going to miss him - he was a great man with a kind heart and a quick sense of humor. But they know that he’s gone on to his reward. He has run his race, he has fought the good fight, he has kept the faith. The next thing he’s going to hear is “Well done.”

 

Of course they’re comforted.

LINK: Certitude: A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Brian Zahnd:

At first glance it might appear that the move from fundamentalism to atheism is a tremendous leap of faith, but this may not necessarily be so. Fundamentalism and atheism are two sides of the same thin empiricist coin.

I referred to this blog tonight while having a great conversation with a friend. Faith isn't knowing; faith is trusting; it's being persuaded. I don't believe that anyone has ever been converted by a factual argument; people follow Jesus as a result of an experience with Jesus. The evidence, as it were, is what Jesus said to Nicodemus: "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."