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Evangelism and Disabilities: A Personal Perspective

24 Apr
English: A collection of pictograms. Three of ...

English: A collection of pictograms. Three of them used by the United States National Park Service. A package containing those three and all NPS symbols is available at the Open Icon Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last fall, I received an email that raised an important question about Evangelistic efforts to people with disabilities.  The question was born out of some discussion about Young Life and it’s efforts in this area (Caperneum).

Here’s some of what they wrote:

” I apologize if this is a long e-mail.

Well I came across your blog when I was googling YL stuff. To give you a little bit of background, I recently graduated from a faith based college but I only spent two years there. It was quite a cultural shock since I was raised Catholic. This college didn’t have you sign anything, so there were a fair amount of non-believers at the school. Near the end of my last year, I was really thinking of writing some sort of book that highlights some of the bad stuff that goes behind the scenes and Christian schools/camps.”

“I also wanted to add a little bit of my personal experience in there as well. I also was raised with a disability (cerebral palsy to be specific) but its a very mild case of it. I also came to experience a fair amount of super fake Christians at the college as well. I personally think my disability had a lot to do with it. I’m not sure how much you touched on disabilities and Christianity in your blog, but I personally think it would interesting to explore the dynamic between the two. Since moving back I’ve been hesitant to join a church because of what I had experienced with the people at my college so it’s been a little bit of, well do I still believe in the “God” they were preaching at the college, and are all Christians going to treat me this way?”

First off, thank you for sharing a bit of your story and about your disability.  It’s a topic close to my heart because I have a child with a mental disability.  If you read early on, here at the ChristianAgnostic, then you may remember a series of posts called Staring Into the Abyss.  It was a three part series, chronichling the birth of my youngest and his struggle to come home from the hospital alive.  You can read them here, here, and here if you care to know more about his story.

While all ends well and he recovers to come home with us….it’s not the end of the story.  You see, right before he was discharged, my wife and I were informed that we needed to sit down with his doctor.  We assumed it was just to go over all the relevant details before sending us off unto the sunset for a happily ever after.

Instead, we were given a quick medical lesson on the dangers of Oxygen and the possible side effects of Cerebal Palsy.  For nearly two months, the only reason our son was able to survive was because of the feeding tubes and Oxygen pumps that helped sustain him.  What our doctor explained, is that Oxygen is actually poisonous over it’s normal 22% level and can cause permanent side effects and even brain damage (Cerebal Palsy).

This was quite a shock.  We assumed that we were out of the woods, and now, just as we are about to punch out and head home, we we’re being told that our son may have permanent physical and mental disabilities.  We were crushed.

One of the issues, was pyhiscal.  He was not responding normally to the physical check ups and his legs and arms were unable to extend normally.  We were told by a nurse that she doubted if our son would ever walk.  I couldn’t beleive my ears.  We had come all this way, cheated death three times, and now I was bringing a son home who would be in wheel chair for life?  Not that I wouldn’t have done it, but it was just such unexpected news and it hit us like a cement truck.

But wait, there’s more, said the doctor…not only is it possible that his physical abilities will be limited, but there was a large chance that he would suffer from mental disabilities as well.  We had heard of Cerebral Palsy, but he explained that it was a general term and that it could manifest itself in a wide range.  On the extreme range was a vegetable like mental state, on the mild side, disabilities like dyslexia or ADD might manifest as he grew up.

We were floored and tried to digest the news.  When I got home from the hospital, that day, I dropped into my bed and wept and moaned so loud, that my other children came running started crying too.  I tried to stop, I didn’t want to upset my kids, but I couldn’t help it.  I was in too much shock and overwhelmed by emotion.

As the Years Rolled On

In his first days home, my son had physical therapy sessions and was soon able to extend his arms and legs.   He actually began to walk before he was nine months old.  Yes, to everyone’s amazement, he was developing faster physically than most children that were born without incident.  His brushes with death didn’t slow him down and he soon began to walk, run, and climb.  In fact, he is so adept physically that sometimes we joke about the original prognosis that he wouldn’t even walk.

I am amazed whenever I see him run like a deer and remember back to that day we were told that he probably never walk!!!

But on the other side of it, we did notice that he seemed “off” to us.  He was slow to speak, and then when he did begin, it was almost a compulsive monologue of quotations from various cartoons he had watched.  We had him evaluated and he was diagnosed with Autism.  We’ll never know if the autism was linked to his early struggles for life (as an aside, I do not believe there is any merit to the idea that autism is caused by vaccinations) but the warning that he might have a mental disability was coming to pass.

Autism:What’s It All About?

For the last decade, we have become well acquainted with autism and it’s many forms.  For our son, he is very functional and is able to be in a normal classroom setting for 90% of his school day.  He does have some support, but it is more on the social side of things that he fluctuates.   He can be hyperactive and was a risk for running straight out our door, down the block, and out onto the highway.  It was scary because he was both fast and unaware at the great danger he was putting himself into.  Somehow, we managed to help him learn boundaries and some basic safety.

I could go on and on about his unique struggles and talents as it relates to autism, but I’ll leave that to move on the question of Evangelism to folks (like my son) that have a disabilitiy.

In my son’s case, another effect of his autism is his extreme literal thinking.  He struggles mightily to understand metaphoriocal speech and exxageration.  Forms of speech that you or I might instinctively know were just examples, he might take as literal truth.  The other struggle, is that once he has an idea in his head, very often he can not rid himself of it without flying off the handle emotionally or having a “meltdown” as we call it.  Any parent dealing with an autistic child will know exactly what I mean by this.   It is extremely frustrating and takes great effort and patience to help him move beyond his current thoughts or expectations.

This scares me when I think of how he might try and apply the Bible and some of it’s sayings.  What would happen if someone told him he needed to read the Bible and obey it’s teaching?  How would he react to Jesus when he says to cut off your hand or foot if it causes you to sin?  

To you or I, we may try and reason though such a saying. But to my son, his disability can hamper his reasoning skills and get him stuck on a horrific thought with lasting consequences if he follows through with literal obedience.

I’ve rambled on and have many more thoughts on the subject…but I would seriously like to hear from folks that have disabilities and how the Evangelistic efforts of Christians have affected them or their loved ones with a disability.

Thanks again for the emails and the awesome question!

 

 

Musicman Part 3-The Bitter End of My Years in Sovereign Grace

12 Dec
Titanic Eisberg

Titanic Eisberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is part 3 of posts that I wrote for SGMSURVIVORS in 2008.  You can read my previous posts here and here.  As a reminder, I wrote these posts while still a Christian and have left them unedited.  If you are interested in reading about how I put aside my Christian faith, you can read My De-conversion and When You Lose Your Faith

.

So back to the story….. after our fateful first meeting in a member’s home, we started settling into a routine and lowered our expectations from our outreaches. It’s hard for me to be exact and chronological after this point because so much happened in such a short time period (about 1 year). When I was discussing with my wife all that happened and could be written about-we laughed and shook our heads at how much crazy stuff happened.

Let me just comment-that even after such a crazy and disappointing start-my wife and I were still hopeful and very committed to trying to make a real go for helping to establish this new church.

As a church, we settled into our new rented building and began to learn all of the small details that go into the logistics of doing church. We set up chairs, sound equipment, made coffee, set up Sunday school rooms, practiced worship, hosted the actual service, greeted each other and visitors, and then cleaned up everything we had just set up a few hours earlier. It was very busy and at times we were very stressed and pressed for time to keep up with all the commitments to establish the church. I had a good friend from our sending church ask me what I was learning spiritually from being on the church plant. I told him that I learned that God is present at every church meeting, but that God won’t set up the chairs. Anyway, it was in the midst of doing church on Sunday, care group, and prayer night that things relationally, started to become strained with our Pastor and his wife.

In my last post, I mentioned how my wife had started to feel that her good friendship with the pastor’s wife had started to change for the worse. When we actually arrived to the plant-it went even further downhill. It seemed that the only time that she (the pastor’s wife) wanted to relate to my wife was if she was giving advice on how my wife was raising our 1 year old son. My wife tried telling this to her and that she wanted to still be friends and the PW told her flatly that she should expect not to be friends. She then went on to explain that the pastor’s from our sending church had counseled them about this and told her that to be in leadership (or in her case, married to a pastor) would mean that she should start relating more to those in leadership and less to others (even old friends). My wife was flabbergasted and hurt, but tried to express her hope to still spend some time together. Eventually the PW told my wife that she’d be willing to get together once a week to go thru a book on Child Discipline-because she was concerned about my wife and her parenting. My wife agreed to, not because she wanted to read this book, but because she still held out hope for the relationship. What was even weirder in all this, was that our Pastor often times would state in his sermons-that our new church was going to be built on close personal relationships with each other. This was confusing to us-how are we going to build relationally if we should expect to not be very good friends because they were now in leadership (?).

Other random memories form this first year-

The couple who was put under church discipline for not being able to sell their home and move out with the rest of the team to do the plant. I never figured out how that worked or how they were to be disciplined. But I was told by our pastor so I know it happened. They never did sell their house. Lucky them!

There was the time we exhausted our little church to put on a free concert with a major Christian musician. We drew over 500 people and the concert was great. We were certain that this event would cement us in the community and bring in more families to the church (1 person on the leadership team even commented that this event might increase our tithing base). To our dismay-only one family visited the week after the concert and they didn’t even stay for the whole service.

There was the prayer meeting that was hosted at our home-in which one of the church plant team members stormed out before we started. He was offended because I told him I believed that the Dow Jones was likely to reach 8,000 (this was back in early 1997) within the next couple years, based on some research I had done to counter Christian authors that were predicting a stock market crash. I thought we were having a friendly chat. He stormed off in a huff, because he had sold all his stocks because his prophetic gifting told him that a crash was imminent and therefore sold all his stock holdings. He insulted me and told me I couldn’t possibly know, because I didn’t own stocks and was in debt. Not a great way to start a prayer meeting.

There was the couple who started attending and would fight at the beginning of just about every church service. For some reason our pastor would greet them from the front with the microphone, just as worship was getting started. He’d ask them how they were doing and the wife would answer that she was doing horrible because of her husband and begin listing all the ways that she felt neglected by him. They’d begin to argue, our pastor would smile, and I’d start the worship set to the sound of bickering in the background.

There was the prophecy mic-our local school board member who felt led to hone his prophetic calling on us-would read entire chapters of prophetic judgment towards the ancient nations from the book of Isaiah. He not only read these often-but would annunciate them with great fervor and spit, about the impending doom that was to befall those woeful nations. Ah-good stuff.

There was the time the worship team got into a heated debate over whether or not there could be alien life in outerspace.

There was the time my pastor said he was concerned about my doctrine. When I asked him which doctrine, he couldn’t be specific. But he then said he was concerned about where I was getting my doctrine from. I was too busy to be doing any outside study apart from church-so I told him that the only doctrine I was getting was from him. He grew quiet and then changed the subject.

Not all that happened in this first year was bad-we did see a couple of new folks become Christians and it is always sweet to see a new creation in Christ come to be. One was an older Gentleman who was related to a couple I knew. Larry Tomzcak had come to our small church to encourage us, but he also did a small public outreach on a Saturday night, and this older man responded to the gospel and became a Christian. At first he was excited in his new faith and was at every church meeting for many months. After a few months, he would still attend church, but his Daughter in law commented at care group, that she was concerned for him. She said that she thought he was not growing spiritually and had stopped reading his Bible. When she asked him-he was evasive-and she asked us to pray for him because she was worried for him. About 1 month later, an editor/journalist for Soveregin Grace’s magazine called some of us to write about all that was going on at our church plant. When I read the article (it was short) I couldn’t believe it. The article was fairly non-descript, but at the end it included the story of this older gentleman, how he came to Christ (thru Larry), and then ended the article by saying he was now a regular part of our church (which was true) and that he was flourishing spiritually (which was not true). I asked his Daughter in law about it and she said she had told the editor exactly what she had told us as was just as confused as we were about the article and it’s misrepresentation.

Another nagging thought from this period in our lives-is just how much pressure we were under and just how exhausted we had become. The job I took to move for the church plant fell thru after 3 or 4 months. It was a small business and the owner’s wife had fallen ill and could no longer afford to keep my division open. No problem-I started working 2 full time jobs and parking cars on weekends at a Golf course to make ends meet. It was while I was working like a dog, that I had time to be apart from the church and all that went into running it, and actually think about what was going on. I was working at a restaurant and became a shift manager after a month. While running one of the shifts-I befriended on of the other cooks and he eventually found out about why I had moved and the new church I was part of. He showed some interest and we had a long conversation about faith (he had some Christian friends whom he respected) and music. I remember thinking to myself that I’d love to find a way to share my faith with him more…I thought about giving him some free music lessons, I began thinking about maybe starting a small Bible study to go thru the gospel of John and then it hit me, that the one place I did not want to take him, was to my church. Yes-the very church that I was straining to build up-was the last place I’d want to take him. It hit me hard-because it was the first time I admitted (at least to myself) that maybe this church planting thing was not all that it was cracked up to be. It also hit me how silly all the puffed up talk about our church really was-as I worked my jobs-I met hundreds of people who could’ve cared less about where I went to church. My only hope of sharing Christ, was to be available and open to them right there on the job-not with some crazy hope that they’d come to a church meeting first to meet Jesus and believe the good news. I did get to share Christ with some of my co-workers that I parked cars with-some were interested in what I shared, none were very interested in coming to church.

Other relational strains began to hit the fan. Because I was working so late-I was sometimes late for meetings and was occasionally reprimanded for being a poor example to the worship team. I accepted the reprimand and made extra effort to be on time for worship rehearsals before church. One Sunday morning, my wife and I were rushing to be there on time when our 1 year old wet thru his pants and needed to change his clothes. It caused us to be late and once again I was reprimanded, but not given the chance to explain. I stuffed it-but it really bothered me to be treated like a child. Another incident occurred soon after that floored me. Another church plant team member, took it upon himself to reprimand me about my commitment to the church. I was confused because the pastor had recently thanked my wife and I for our support on the plant. He said he could feel our support. I don’t remember all this other man said, but I’ll never forget that he kept raising his voice at me to the point of yelling at me about how I needed to be more committed to the church and to this man (referring to the pastor who was now sitting quietly not saying anything in my defense). What was worse was that he was yelling at me at a public food court in a busy shopping mall. My own Father (who could be a yeller) had never yelled at me like this, let alone in a mall-I think I said very little and maybe even started to cry. I don’t exactly remember-but I can still feel remember the absolute shock that I felt. He then proceed to yell at me some more and say that the only reason he was doing this was because he loved me. What? Love me. This is love? Publicly humiliating me by yelling at me because you don’t think I’m doing enough? This is love? I was truly hurt, confused, and maybe even depressed after this incident. What hurt the most was that my pastor said nothing in my defense. He actually seemed to approve of what was being said and made no comment about the delivery style. Why did I put up with this? I’ve asked myself this question many times and I still don’t know why I let someone treat me this way.

Later, this same man interrupted me mid sentence, as I tried to offer an opinion on an upcoming event the church was planning. Again, the pastor I was speaking with just started talking to this man and never finished our conversation. Later that morning, the whole worship team (which included our pastor and his teenage child) were back stage to pray for the upcoming service. It was very apparent that there was some tension between the pastor and his teenager. Both seemed visibly upset and agitated. One of the sweetest women on the worship team, graciously asked if there was something wrong. Our pastor said no. She graciously asked again, because his teenager ducked out right after we started praying. He said that there was something going on-but that he couldn’t say. It was frustrating to see him be so evasive. Here was a man who had allowed me to be raked over the coals and yelled at in a mall and he couldn’t even be honest about a family fight or whatever it was that occurred that was disrupting his Sunday morning. I actually snapped at that moment-I couldn’t even pray as the rest of the team tried to pray for him in a nondescript way for ”whatever” was going on. I actually huffed and I thought my stomach would explode because I was so frustrated and angry. He looked up at me during prayer and grabbed me to stay after everyone had left. I was so mad at him that we started to argue harshly. I remember flailing my arms in disgust and telling him “how could he lead us when he can’t even be honest about his own life?”. He gave me some hairbrained answer about how it wouldn’t be appropriate for him as pastor to do such a thing. The church service was now 5 minutes behind schedule because the worship leader (me) and the pastor were verbally fighting backstage behind a curtain. Somehow-we managed to tone it down and go out and pull off the church service. We did manage to talk after the service and we forgave each other for the argument that we had backstage. I never did learn what had caused all the fuss between him and his kid, but I felt guilty for expressing myself in such anger and never pursued it or about the recent incident in the mall.

The hardest part was still yet to come- my wife decided that she needed to confront my pastor’s wife about their relationship and the way she seemed to be judgmental towards us and our parenting choices. I called our pastor and he and his wife agreed to come over. I took some time off work and the 4 of us sat down and had a very long and emotional conversation. My wife expressed her feelings and gave specific examples of how she felt her friend had wronged my wife or simply been judgmental in things she said about us. We had prayed ahead of time and were committed to trying to follow Matthew 18 in hopes of being heard and working through these things. I still believed that we would be a part of this church for many years to come and we wanted to be right with these folks. The best way to typify what happened is to tell you what happened at the end of our time together. After hours of us being as honest as we could -about how we felt wronged -and trying to be clear and gracious so that forgiveness could occur. Our pastor’s wife ended the meeting by saying she really wasn’t sure if she agreed with us and that she’d have to pray about and get back to us. She then got up and left our apartment. After saying goodbye to our pastor I closed the door and actually felt like we might get thru this and see our relationships grow. A week or so went by and no follow up occurred. We didn’t press it at first because we were trying to respect their wishes to pray and think about what we said. Another week and a couple more awkward church services-I decided to call our pastor. I asked him about the conversation and asked him if we needed to talk. I apologized for maybe pushing, but we didn’t want to pretend everything was fine-if in reality- we had made his wife mad or bitter or if she felt we were mistaken. He said he didn’t think she was mad and he never really answered me about getting back to us. We eventually left the church plant a few months later, not because of all that had happened but because my employment situation was putting us deeper in debt. My parents offered to let us stay with them rent free so we could get back on our feet. We felt bad for leaving the church plant after only a year, but saw little option because of our financial crisis.

We talked to our pastor and his wife-they understood our situation and since we were moving near CJ’s church-we agreed to get together when they were in town for leadership training. We then moved and started attending CLC. A few months later, we heard that our pastor and his wife were going to be at a pastors’ conference, so we called and left 2 or 3 messages saying that we’d really like to get together and work things out. They did attend the conference, but they never called us back. Later that year, I landed employment back at my old job before the church plant-so we moved and started attending the church that had sent us out to plant. It was here that I approached our pastor to see if he would help us reconcile with our now former pastor and his wife. He seemed eager and we arranged to meet that week. When I laid out all that had happened and how we had tried following Matt 18 as we had been taught-he seemed like he wanted to help. I expected that he would call our old pastor and arrange a time to meet and work it thru. Instead, he told me to write out all the ways I had sinned against this pastor and his wife. Then I should call my former pastor and confess my sin to him. Then once that was out of the way-then he could help me work thru our issues. I was confused as to why I needed to do this-but in the interest in trying to reconcile I agreed to do this. It wasn’t hard to think of ways I had sinned so I wrote them down-but what was hard, was that I had already confessed these things to this man and his wife at our meeting. I hemmed at calling him and put it off for a while. I did call and leave a voice mail and said I wanted to talk-he didn’t call back.

After a month or so-I finally made up my mind that I would try again to call this man, way my pastor suggested. Later that day-another strange twist in the saga-the same man on the church plant team that had yelled at me, walked thru the door at the retail store I was now managing. It had been almost a year since we had left and he told me that he had left the church plant as well. I told him this didn’t surprise me because of the tension I had seen in his relationship with the pastor. We stepped into a back room and he began to tell me some of the details of why they had left, in particular the major problems he and his wife had in relating to the pastor’s wife. I told him that I understood what he meant. He asked me for more details and I rebuffed-saying that I didn’t want to say because I was in the middle of trying to reconcile with these folks and had sought help from our sending church. He kept asking for details-I again explained that I didn’t want to get into it and jeopardize the process. He then swore to me that he didn’t even see our old pastor anymore and that he could be trusted. I then chose to confide in him-I explained some of what had gone on and he confirmed some of the things that my wife and I had tried to work out. It felt good to feel like I wasn’t crazy-and even wondered if maybe I had misjudged this fellow because of his harsh tone in the mall. He shared some more of his trials and decision to leave the church and then he went on his merry way to a business meeting. My conversation with this old church plant member encouraged me to call our old pastor and stand firm.

The next day I began to worry about whether I should have trusted this man and given in to his questions. I didn’t want to be accused of gossip. So I took my afternoon break and decided to make the phone call to confess my sins and to try and re-open lines of communication before any damage could be done.

With many butterflies in my stomach, I dialed my pastor’s office number and he answered. I mumbled a hello and started, in a semi scripted fashion, to explain why I was calling and that I wanted to confess some things to him. He interrupted me and told me that, while he wanted to do this, he couldn’t because he was aware of my conversation with this other former church plant member and that he was afraid I had gossiped. I was floored-that man had lied to me-he still got together for breakfast once a week with our old pastor. He had flown home the night of our conversation and had spilled the beans the next morning at breakfast. My heart sank and I was speechless at first. My old pastor started to give me a mini sermon on gossip and bitterness. But I couldn’t say anything-I was shell shocked. I did manage to say that I couldn’t believe this…he was perturbed because I hadn’t answered his question related to his mini sermon. He angrily asked me what I couldn’t believe, I told him I couldn’t believe all that had happened in the last 2 years and how terrible the whole thing had been. I then found my courage and told him that I thought he had gossiped by listening to this man tell things I told him in confidence and that was going to hang up and call the other pastor involved and tell him the whole deal. I slammed down the phone and did just that… but to no avail. This other pastor didn’t seem to know what to do-he promised to talk to this other pastor and get back to me. He never really did get back to me, and despite living less than a mile from our apartment-he consistently put me off for over 4 months. By then we decided that there was little else we could do-to either reconcile with our old pastor or to have our current pastor help us either… I informed our pastor that we were leaving the church. We did talk for hours about many issues, including theological that had been born out of our troubles-but in the end he “released” to go and prayed with me.

I feel sad as I write this-because it has now been 10 years since trying to reconcile with people we loved, and had committed our loves to serve with-only to be turned out with silence and basic indifference. And in leaving SG-we essentially lost all of our friends. Some who had been in our wedding-one whom I considered the brother I never had. This is too painful to recount-needles to say-he hasn’t returned my phone calls in a while.

So why write all this-why not forgive and forget? Well I do forgive them and I actually pray for the many folks I know who are still in the movement. But I write it for those who are going through some of these same types of situations-so that they know

hat they aren’t crazy. So that they know that SG and their theology of leadership leads to these types of outcomes.

“Nothing matters except faith, expressing itself thru love”

Peace-Musicman

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Musicman Part 2-The Church Plant Years

14 Nov

You can read the first post here.

Next Update-The Church Plant Years….

Ok-so my wife and I had our first baby on the way- when it was announced at church, that our best friends at our SG church would be leading a church plant to a mid-sized city in the mid-west. We were very excited for them, and spent a week talking about signing up for the plant. We genuinely loved these guys and I thought the husband would make a decent pastor, if he showed the same type of love to others that they shared with us. My wife and I also felt like our new marriage and involvement with our larger church was good, but had led us away from being able to share the gospel and befriend anyone outside of our church circle. I think we even agreed ,that we were both feeling dry spiritually and wanted to be used more by God in building his kingdom-we thought this would be a perfect step towards doing just that. We shared our desire to go and we were given the green light to pursue being a part of “the team”.

In general, there was a lot of enthusiasm and much earnest prayer with the team of folks that began to consider making the journey. It was exciting to be with like-minded people, risking life as we knew it to launch out in to something new-all with the hope that a new church would be born that would live out the vision of Godly community in our new city. And we would get to be part of it all-not just spectators or Olympic style applause meters-no, we’d be actual participants in God’s chosen vessel, the local church. And we were truly excited about it!

But there were other happenings that began to serve as red flags to what we were about to experience. One of the couples considering coming was told that they could not come on the plant. It was obvious there was much tension, but few details were given. I just happened to know the husband of the couple from care group, so I was aware of the sending church “intervention”. They were eventually given the go ahead at the last-minute and went west with us. More on this later…

Another thing happened, there was a subtle shift in our relationship with the couple leading the plant. We were still friends, but they began to speak more about how we’d have to submit to them. My wife also began to feel a growing disconnect with the person she knew the future pastor’s wife to be, and how she (the pastor’s wife) began to carry herself and speak to my wife. I just chalked it up to some nervousness and the couples reactions to being in a more prominent leadership position. “New Leader Mistakes” is what I’d say to my wife, to calm her growing doubts. I assured her that any differences would be worked out because of the way SG desired to work things out orderly and relationally. It became especially hard for my wife-I’ll explain.

My wife began to have doubts about the church plant and was feeling more distant from this future pastor’s wife. But at the same time she was asked to speak at a special ladies event-which was set up to honor the new pastor’s wife. She was asked to please speak at the end of the event about how God had used this woman and their friendship. My wife agreed, only after I convinced her to speak about the past grace and not to worry about the current state of the relationship. She eventually “submitted” to my leadership and agreed to speak. When I picked her up after the event-I asked how it had gone. She said it was a very frustrating night for her because she felt like she had been a phony. I asked her what she meant. She replied that another pastors wife kept praising my wife’s friend, about how much God was using her and especially how wonderful to see “such good friends” now joining together in this amazing endeavor, to church plant together. My wife then got up and read her honest appreciation for all this woman had done and how much she meant to my wife-the only reason it really got to my wife-is that it hit her during her homage to her friend, that they were truly growing apart and my wife felt like a total phony for pretending that things were still as they used to be. She said many women came up to her afterwards and heartily encouraged her about being “such good friends” and how good it was to see “such good friends” going off to do ministry together. It truly became the buzz catch phrase after that night-it must’ve been said to me 100 times from my pastors and lay people alike.

Besides some of the red flags-we pushed ahead. As the target launching out date neared, we were constantly praised for what we were about to do. At one point our Senior Pastor had called us (the church plant team) on stage. He pointed to us and said we were his heroes of the faith. In our final weeks before leaving the sending church we had meetings with pastors, church leaders-it all seemed so important-like we were going on an Apollo mission or something. We were warned that they’re might be trouble ahead-but not to worry-the home church would never leave us nor forsake us. They would always be available and especially to resource our new pastor-who would lead and guide us thru these truly exciting and amazing times. I know some of you are thinking that I’m being too flip-but I need you to understand that it was such a heady type of atmosphere that surrounded the sending out of this team. It truly felt like we were on a mission from God-historymakers, pioneers, spiritual heroes were some of the praises that all of us on the team were told.

Finally, the day comes, the final cut of those who not only had a desire, but actually quit jobs, found new ones, said goodbye to friends and family and moved out to plant a new church. My new pastor preached with passion about the city we were moving to-the racial reconciliation that would occur, the lives that would be touched, the desire to preach the gospel, and be a new testament local church. Special songs were sung, prayers prayed, and a total of 3 couples and a handful of single folks in their 20′s launched off……..

After the long drive and moving everyone in to our new locale-the adventure began. After about a week into my new job, someone familiar with the fact that I had moved to be a part of a new church, asked me about the town we planned to meet in. I told him all about our vision to preach the gospel, be a multi-cultural/ multi-racial church and told him where we were located. He practically laughed at me when I told him the town. He laughed because he didn’t know how we were going to do all those great multi-cultural out reach ministries in an almost all white, upper class suburb that was called “the bubble” by those who lived there. I was slightly shocked and asked another church plant member if he knew about “the bubble”. He said he did and that it was true (he had grown up near by).

Other things began to happen as well-we began doing “outreach” in the neighborhoods. We passed out free cofee and flyers about our church in front of a drug store. We passed out batteries in another nearby neighborhood (for peoples’ fire alarms) and offered an invite to our church -as we awkwardly explained why a brand new church, with no affiliation to the local fire department, was passing out batteries and offering spiritualized reminders about fire safety. It was so weird. What was even weirder is that we were calling this evangelism and spending an inordinate amount of time obsessing with our outreaches and upcoming new church. We rented a table at a local outdoor grocery market and passed out flyers about our new local church. We all had to sign up and do our time at the table. As I remember-there was a lot of bickering over whether or not we should have some sort of gospel tract made available at the table. After much infighting between a few of us-I think our pastor agreed mid-day to have chic tracts or something to that extent on the table. Whew-I’m sure you can all imagine how inviting we must have seemed with all our wrangling over whether or not to have gospel tracts at our “grocers” table. As I write this-I’m still amazed at how absurd so much of this actually was and that I spent months being a part of this nervous energy.

Well the official launch day came-after month’s of prayer, music practices (I was one of the worship leaders), and evangelistic outreaches as described above-we held our first service. But it didn’t go totally as planned. At the last minute-the building we were going to rent changed their mind and pushed us back a week. Not to worry-we could not cancel because of all the new folks that might come from our evangelism and batteries. It was decided that our first meeting would be held at someone’s house instead-and a few scouts would go to the advertised meeting spot to direct the newcomers to the proper location.

Another detail-since we’d been prepared to set up chairs and full sound system for the worship band in the rented building-we stayed on track and set up around 40 chairs and a full sound system in this person’s house (no joke). Besides being very labor intensive-it was also extremely cumbersome to have a full-blown worship band (and sound system) crammed into our friends new home in “the bubble”.

We anxiously waited for our scouts to arrive with all the new people. But here’s the strange thing-nobody ever showed up at the advertised meeting place. But instead of packing things up or scaling back for the 12 or so adults-our new leader launched us into a full-fledged church service patterned after our sending church (whose attendance was over 500 people). We passed out printed programs, the worship band played, we had feedback that caused everyone to go temporarily deaf, we even had our pastor turn over the announcements to another worship leader and we all were instructed to continue speaking in the microphones for the service. The worship leader had originally planned to give a welcome to guests-but since there weren’t any, he thought he’d skip it. Oh no-our pastor instructed him to go thru the whole deal. You know-”Is anybody here for the first time, if so, we have a packet just for you, if you’d just stand so the ushers can see you….”

And then our pastor launched into a 30 minute sermon about the church (and it was obvious he had geared it towards visitors)- it was absolutely insane

Not that what we actually did was insane-just that we were “pretending” there might be visitors, that we were “pretending” we were still in a rented auditorium and not in someones house-thus the need to speak to all 6 people in the cheap seats with a microphone. Never mind we were only 5 feet apart-why let reality set in? “Pretending” that this was what we had signed up for…….I could go on. It was one of the more “twilight zone” moments of my life.

But as my title suggests, this was just the start…………to be continued.

When You Lose Your Faith-Guest Post at Reverie Slice

1 Oct

 

English: Lost in Reverie by The Bay of Naples ...

English: Lost in Reverie by The Bay of Naples by Giuseppe Castiglione Oil on canvas, 90.2 cm (35.51 in.) x 162.6 cm (64.02 in.) Retrieved from http://www.the-athenaeum.org, 28 February 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

A big thank you to Crissa over at Reverie Slice for allowing me to write a guest post!

 

You can read my post titled “When You Lose Your Faith” here.

 

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

“American Winter”…New Trailer and Kickstart Campain

10 Sep

With so many millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet, this film puts a human face on those families living this nightmare, as they free fall out of the American Dream.

Here’s a glimpse from the new trailer:

Here’s the link for the kickstarter campaign for those of you moved to help get this film out.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1158154396/american-winter-a-documentary-film

Peace to all of you that struggle just to live….

Christian Music-A Personal History-Part 2

5 Sep
DSC_0100

DSC_0100 (Photo credit: c.a.muller)

After dipping my toe into the Christian music scene via Steve Taylor and Stryper, I began exploring the racks of my local Christian bookstore for other musical gems that lay hidden behind the displays of Sunday school pamphlets and Jesus wall decor.

Stryper wet my appetite for metal music, and I began buying up cassettes from groups on the Pure Metal label.  To be honest, I bought the cassettes based on how cool their covers were.  I bought Leviticus and Messiah Prophet  because of the covers.  One had a beast rising out of the ocean with an ominous stormy sky in the background. (Correction: The group with a beast rising was Saint-thanks freedom for that nugget!) The music itself was pretty awful and the recording quality was pretty bad.

I quickly learned that the cool covers from groups on Pure Metal was about as far as it went.  There were some nice attempts at metal, but most of the groups were just poor rip-offs of mainstream acts that were big at the time.  Yes the lyrics were about God (and actually, quite a few were about the Devil and how awful he was)…but the music was not good enough to hold my interest.

Michael and Amy

I did get into Michael W. Smith after his The Big Picture was released.  His vocals were sometimes awful, but his layered synth pop was pretty amazing and overcame his lack luster, nasal vocal lines.  It didn’t hurt for Michael that he was a kind of Christian version of George Michael.

His life-size cardboard standup , promoting his latest recording, was lingered upon by many a female fan.  As one fan told me, Michael W. Smith was rather easy on the eyes.  I once saw an interview with Michael in which late night host, Jay Leno, asked Michael what it felt like to be a Christian Sex symbol.  Michael kind of stumbled in his answer as he laughed and told Jay he’d never been called a sex symbol before.  But Jay Leno was right,  Michael W. Smith was a sex symbol to Christian music fans in the 80’s and early 90’s.

As was Amy Grant….

In the late 80’s, she gave up the ghost on her soft rock and blue jeans.  She turned over a new leaf by putting on the leopard skin jacket and assembling a new band of synth-guitar rockers.  The album was called Unguarded, and it marked the first time Amy would storm the top 40 single charts and also climb into Billboards top 200 album charts.  Quite a feat for a Christian artist in the 80’s.

Her status as a rock star and sex symbol brought her love and success with her teen audience, but scorn and condemnation from many older Christians who saw her new sound and style as worldly and too sexual.

As far as Christian music fans were concerned, Amy’s new direction was just what CCM needed.  The music was in synch with the pop music of the day and the cool look was just what the doctor ordered in a post Jesus-freak world.

It can’t be overstated just how big and important Amy Grant was to Christian music.  Whenever she released a new record, it was like Christmas for Christian bookstores.  The bookstore I worked at usually stocked 5 to 10 copies of a new recording.  But when Amy had a new one, we would literally throw a release party with around one thousand copies on hand.  We’d have record flats, banners, and a life-sized cardboard cut out of Amy on hand.  Our store literally looked like a shrine to Amy Grant whenever her newest offering was released to the masses.

Not only was Amy Grant important to Christian bookstores in terms of her massive sales, but she also served as the patron saint to many a new Christian artist.  She helped launch the careers of Michael W. Smith, Rich Mullins, Degarmo & Key, Kim Hill to name a few of the artists that would rise.  All thanks to Amy, and the exposure she gave these artists through her tours and their guest songwriting on her records.  Without Amy Grant, the explosion of artists and the sales growth of Christian bookstores in the 80’s and 90’s would have been greatly diminished, if not impossible.

On a personal note,  I had become a music buyer for a chain of Christian bookstores while in college.  Being a buyer gave me a front row seat to all the growth and explosion of Christian artists during this period.  Beside the popular success of artists like Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, the newest genre of Christian music that I discovered was dubbed Christian Alternative.

Against the Grain

Artists like the 77’s, Undercover, the Swirling Eddies, and the Choir quickly became favorites for Christian fans that enjoyed edgy rock and lyrics that were more about questions of faith, instead of the typical proclamations of certainty that dominated Christian pop and radio at the time.  While never huge sellers at the Christian bookstore scene (in fact, many bookstores wouldn’t even stock Christian alternative) these artists did have a loyal following and many helped to build the Christian festival scene.  Thousands of fans would travel to Cornerstone or to Creation Fest to get a glimpse of these emerging Christian rockers and their twist on the pop-punk scene.

I first caught a glimpse of the new Christian alternative scene at a Degarmo & Key concert, when a punk band called The Altar Boys took the stage as the opening act.  While most of the D & K fans stood there with their mouths wide open, about 100 fully decked out punkers descended to the stage in an all out mosh pit.  I was at the front of the stage as an observer, in awe at the raw emotion of the band, and admiring the reaction of the punkers that were in an all out mosh mode.  It’s safe to say that most of the D&K fans were either amused or scared at what was taking place.  I enjoyed myself and quickly became a fan of the group and their heart wrenching, throaty lyrics about feeling desperate for God in their brokenness.

At the time, it seemed like Christian music was poised to take over the world.

More on this next time….

Christian Music: A Personal History-Part 1

1 Sep
The Controversial I Predict 1990

The Controversial I Predict 1990 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Music has always been an obsession in my life.  I was five when I stumbled across my mom’s old collection of 45’s and began listening to Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley.  At age 6, I discovered the Beatles when Yellow Submarine was shown on Television on July 4th.  What better way to spend Independence day, hamburgers, sparklers, and then a psychedelic soundtrack in pure Beatles harmony.

At age 8, I bought my first 45 with some money I had saved from allowance.  I bought “She Loves You” by the Beatles on Parlaphone.  I played both sides until I had memorized every note and word.  My first LP purchase was the double LP soundtrack of the movie Grease.  I loved the old 50’s style with a twist of Olivia Newton John.  What a combination!

From ages 8-14. I spent most of my free time glued to a record player or radio, soaking in the best of the old and new sounds of popular music.  Groups like Soft Cell, A ha, Billy Joel, and U2 began to fill up my own record collection.  If I wasn’t listening to music, I was reading about it.  I used to go to the library on a weekly basis to read Billboard magazine and to see the Top 200 album charts.  Other than Billboard, I read bios on the Beatles and had Rolling Stone’s massive encyclopedia of rock.  I read it almost as much as I read the Bible.

Christian Music

Somewhere in my early teens, I began to become aware of  something called Christian Rock.  Rock music that was from a Christian point of view and a more hip look to the covers-well sort of…  My first taste of Christian music was Amy Grant and Sandi Patti.  I enjoyed some of Amy’s early stuff, but a little too soft.  Sandi was just so canned and opera sounding that I hated it instantly.  It didn’t help that I had a Baptist aunt (we were Presbyterian-after all) who insisted that Amy Grant was not Christian and that Sandi Patti was the best thing since chocolate.  It only made me hate Sandi and like Amy more.

These early tastes, left me with the impression that Christian music was pretty much limited to soft rock.

Steve Taylor & Stryper Rock My World

I think it was a Sunday school teacher who told me about Steve Taylor.  He said I might like it, so I trekked on down to the Christian bookstore and found a $4.99 cassette (blue-kind of cool to see a blue one) by Steve Taylor called I Want To Be a Clone.

I took it home and popped this blue meanie into the cassette player…and it shocked me.  It was actually kind of cool. The music was modern (at least, modern for 1984) and the lyrics were biting and sarcastic.  What teen couldn’t relate to biting sarcasm?

I played the tape to death and was fascinated by Taylor’s Christian worldview put to a pop rock soundtrack.  I was hooked….

My next trip to the Christian bookstore, I spent over an hour just browsing all the different artists, meticulously studying the covers to try to pick my next purchase.  I think the manager thought I was trying to shoplift, because she kept poking into the section and asking if I needed help.

Actually, I did…since I didn’t know what any of these groups sounded like.  I told her I liked Steve Taylor and she directed me to the rock cassettes.  She also pointed me to a cassette deck and told me that they had demos of all the groups.  I was free to listen to the demos to help me find my next big group.

I wasn’t really a metal fan at this point, but I had vaguely heard of a group called Stryper.  The cover looked very cold war meets Motley Crue and the title was Yellow and Black Attack.

I purchased the Stryper cassette and hoped it would live up to its repuatation.  I stuck it into my player at home and the thrashing and slashing came pounding through my stereo as Stryper launched into “Soldier Under Command”.  At one point, I ran over to the player and switched it off.  Michael Sweet was screaming Jesus so loud, that I wasn’t sure if it was ok or not.  I had never heard anything like it.  Could you really play metal music and still be a Christian?  These guys sure seemed to think so.  But the spandex, screaming, and feminine make up and hair doos had me wondering if this was really Christian at all.

A few times through the cassette, and I began to enjoy the intricate guitar work and layered vocals…even if I wasn’t into the spandex, I was willing to overlook it.  These guys were good and the music rocked, while not being raunchy.  If anything, they were down right Evangelical in their lyrics.

This was my first foray into Christian music and began a journey that would last over 25 years.  A journey that started as a fan and turned into a profession.  One that had many strange twist and turns.  One filled with many fun and musical moments.  Others filled with politics, money, and the hypocrisy that seems to follow.

One that I enjoy remembering in one sense, but also fills me with a measure of regret.  I’ll explain more as I get the chance.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

Claude: Criminal, Christian, Calvinist….

14 Aug
John Calvin

John Calvin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From Prison to Praise

I was around ten years old when Claude came to live with us.  Claude had been discharged early from the State Penitentiary for good behaviour.  He had been sent to prison for armed robbery and theft.  While in prison he became a Christian and had been discipled through our church prison ministry.  My dad helped disciple him and sponsored him to be released to early probation.  During his first few months of probation he lived with me and my family.

Those first months were supposed to help him get back into society and give him time to find a job ,without the pressure of rent and bills.  It also gave Claude time with his new wife and to go to church and meet his brothers and sisters in Christ that had helped him through his prison sentence and his journey to a new-found faith.

Claude didn’t just become a Christian, he fully immersed himself into the historical roots of my Presbyterian church and became a full-fledged Calvinist.  His ability to espouse this nuanced theology was on display whenever he spoke publicly about his criminal past and his new life in Christ.

Claude was the perfect poster boy of what a new life in Christ is supposed to look like.  From a hardened street criminal to a soft-spoken family man.  If anyone doubted the power of God’s love…Claude was the closest thing to absolute proof you could ask for.

Calvin and Claude Celebrate Thanksgiving

A few months after Claude’s release, he and his wife moved out to a nearby town.  His wife was working, but Claude was still struggling to find a job.  Not an uncommon plight for someone with a long rap sheet.  We didn’t see them much after they moved, but we did get an invitation to hear Claude speak on Thanksgiving, at a nearby Presbyterian church.

I was excited to see Claude again and to find out how he was doing.  The service was typical Presbyterian, but with a little more liturgy than my own church.  When it was time for the sermon, Claude was introduced and he wowed everyone with his stories of neglect and crime.  And how he had been rescued and transformed by the Gospel.  I noticed that Claude had geared his testimony to the 5 points of Calvinism (TULIP).  He would tell a little of his story that would demonstrate each aspect of Calvinism.

He even took a jab at Arminians, claiming that Jonah must have been an Arminian and that’s why the whale spit him out (I didn’t realize ocean creatures could detect good doctrine through their taste buds-who knew?).  When he was done speaking, there was a crowd after the sermon that wanted to shake his hand and congratulate him for his new found faith.  It was a happy moment for Claude…

Trouble Brews

A few weeks after Claude’s sermon, I noticed my parents on the phone.  They were speaking in their concerned voices.  I made out from their side of the conversation ,that they were speaking with Claude’s wife.  She was upset and frustrated that Claude seemed to no longer be taking an active role in finding a job.  She wanted to be a supportive wife, but she wasn’t sure what to do.

These calls seemed to happen on a weekly basis.  I asked my Mom about it, but she assured me that they were just having normal struggles as a new couple.  Being that I was only ten and had never even kissed a girl, let alone been a couple, I assumed that all would end well for Claude.  After all, he was a Christian now.  God would help him to do the right thing.

It was weeks before I would hear anything else about Claude.  I quickly forgot about the whole thing and returned to my world of Beatles records and baseball cards.

Final Phone Call

I still remember the last time I spoke to Claude.  He called collect and I accepted the charges.  Claude asked me how I was doing and I told him I was fine.  He sounded nervous and he asked me if my Mom was available to speak.  I told him to hold while I trekked upstairs to tell mom that Claude was on the phone.

When I told her Claude was on the line, she looked worried and then did something that she has never asked me to do, before or since.  She asked me to lie and tell him that she wasn’t home.  I was confused, but did what I was told.  Claude now sounded desperate, and pleaded with me to make sure my parents called him back.  I hung up the phone and then turned to my mom to find out why she had made this strange request.  Why did she have me lie to Claude?

Mom sat me down at the kitchen table and began to explain that Claude was back in prison.  I couldn’t believe it…what happened?  Was it just a mistake?

No, this was no mistake.  Claude had taken up crime again.  But this time, he wasn’t just stealing, he had also raped a woman during a robbery.  The testimony at trial was that he had a metal pipe and told his victim he would sprinkle her blood across the snow if she didn’t let him have his way.  He was a monster, a raping, stealing, lying son of a bitch monster.

Just months after standing in front of the church and busting Arminian theology, he was now raping and stealing his way across the Philadelphia suburbs.  I was shocked and frightened that I had actually lived under the same roof with the man.

Lessons and Questions

I can’t say I have a wealth of lessons from this experience with Claude.  But I do know one thing that I learned.  Doctrine doesn’t mean you are living a good life.  You can quote all the saints and reformers you want…I don’t care.  Meaningless in my book.  Show my what you believe by your actions, not your esoteric theology.  I couldn’t care less.

Piper, Grudem, Luther, Calvin, Augustine, Peter Pan….I don’t give a rip.  Claude taught me that you can articulate a complex theology and still be a rapist at the same time.

One of the questions that Claude’s story leaves me, is this….Why is God so bad at making people good?

I mean, scripture teaches that we are new creatures in Christ.  We have the mind of Christ and the righteousness of Christ.  But how can that really be true when people like Claude can claim Christ and still rape and steal?  I just don’t understand how Christians can claim that faith makes all the difference, when it clearly does not in so many instances.

In the end, neither Christ nor Calvin could help Claude.  One thing I know, there are victims of his crimes that wish he would rot in hell.  I can’t say that I blame them.

Stand Over There…And I’ll Throw Rocks Over Your Head

9 Jul
shot_through_the_heart_-_and_youre_to_blame

shot_through_the_heart_-_and_youre_to_blame (Photo credit: sillydog)

I was five years old and my friend Nate, who was only four, came over to my house to play.  It was summer time, and we found ourselves bored, with nothing much to do in my front yard.

We were hanging out around a recently planted tree that was surrounded by mulch and a ring of medium to large rocks.

An Idea is Born

As I looked down at the rocks, an idea was  born for our next round of fun.  I picked up a  heavy rock and surmised that if Nate stood about ten feet away, I should still be able to throw the rock over his head.

“Hey Nate!” I yelled over.

“Yes” Nate shouted back.

“Go stand over there, ” I pointed to about 10 feet away.  He dutifully moved to right where I pointed.

“I’m going to throw this rock over your head!” I shouted across the yard.

“Ok” said Nate, without any hesitation or doubt in his voice.

As Nate stood his ground, I picked up a large rock and heaved it with all my might.  I distinctly remember that I was 100% sure that the rock would simply sail far over his head, and that my superior rock throwing ability was about to be confirmed.

As the rock flew through the air I stood in awe…but then something happened.  The rock begun to descend sooner than planned and  it hit Nate square upon his mouth.

Shock, just utter shock descended upon my five-year old mind.

Shock, just utter shock is what I saw on Nate’s face, as he stared back at me.  It seemed like time stood still as we stared at each other, both shocked at what had just transpired.

Then…blood begun gushing down Nate’s face from his lip. It had been gashed open by my misfired rock and he was now bleeding all over his shirt and white shorts.  As the pain of his injury overtook him, he screamed and cried as he ran into my house to seek assistance from his mother.

The next few minutes are a blur, as I was vacillating between the shock of learning that my rock throwing abilities were not up to snuff and the thought that my injured friend my was probably going to get me in trouble.

My Mom stormed out of the house with a mild scolding, along with the unanswerable question of  “What were you thinking when you threw that rock?” coupled with “Were you trying to hit Nate with that rock?”.

The truth is, I had no intention of hitting him and I was having a hard time explaining what I was thinking, because I was still in shock over my poor estimation of my arm strength.

Unfortunately for Nate, our rock throwing adventure ended our play date prematurely, as he got a trip to the Doctor for seven stitches and I got a trip to my bedroom for a grounding.

It wouldn’t be the last time in my childhood that I had a hair-brained idea involving rocks…but that’s for another day.

And the Point of all of this?

Besides being a perfect example of why children should be taught to think about their actions before running headlong into adventure, it’s also an example of what happens when we believe ourselves to be infallible.

You see, the same mindset of my five-year old mind, is very similar to the many ministry leaders and pastors I have known in my life.  They are similar in that often times, they overestimate their abilities and in doing so put others at risk.

An infallible mindset never considers the question of  “what happens if I am wrong?”.  And this is dangerous.

Some Examples

“You have marriage trouble, no problem, set up an appointment I’ll explain to you the Biblical way to save your marriage.  Never mind that I’m only 28 years old and have only been married for 15 months.  Not to worry,  I’m a pastor and I graduated with a degree in Biblical counseling.”

“What do you mean your husband is ignoring you?  It may mean that you’re not submitting enough.  He hit you?  Well he wouldn’t have just hit you unless he was very frustrated with you and your behavior.  Here’s a book on submission.  We’ll read it together and I’ll meet with you weekly so that you can begin to have a Biblical marriage again.”

“You’re having financial troubles?  Can I ask you a question?  Do you tithe?  Have you considered that maybe you’re having financial troubles because you’re not tithing to God’s House?”

“What do you mean you’re having suicidal thoughts?  That’s demonic…think of your children and family and the sort of testimony that would be.  You need to commit to reading your Bible and praying every day.  Then the Joy of the Lord will be your strength.  You don’t need counseling, you need the Holy Spirit.”

I could go on with more examples, but I think it suffices to say, that many a Christian leader has overestimated their ability to help counsel people who are in serious trouble.  Often times with disastrous results.

Pastoral Disaster

I witnessed this first hand, as a pastor (who was also my neighbor) counseled a couple who’s twin babies were facing almost certain death.  As their health deteriorated in the hospital, my pastor friend encouraged the couple and their church to pray harder for healing.  One church member had even prophesied that the twins would live (which would have been a medical miracle) and the church encouraged the couple to blog, so that God’s goodness could be shared with the world (since they were 100% sure the babies would be healed).

Rock to the face…the babies died, the church was in shock, and the pastor was unprepared to deal with the crushing disappointment that his counsel had caused.  The couple left the church and was understandably angry.  Other members left the church.  Some of the elders remained but told me that they didn’t think that God answered prayers.  The whole church was bleeding like Nate’s gashed lip.  All because they had adopted an infallible mindset at the behest of the pastor in my neighborhood.

A couple of times during this episode, I had actually tried to convince this pastor to consider, if what he was doing was wise.  I even asked him, what he would do if he was wrong.  He didn’t seem to know, but he also seemed pretty sure that he wasn’t going to have to worry about being wrong.

After the deaths and funeral,what surprised me most, was how this pastor was more in shock that his counsel had not worked, than he was in grief over the loss of these dear children.  He was just like me at 5 years old, completely confounded that he wasn’t as good at this as he had thought.

So the next time someone tells you to “just do this” or “just pray that” to solve your problems.  Remember, people aren’t always as good as they think they are…

Just stand over there and I’ll throw a rock over your head, if you don’t believe me.

Nobody Expects An Inquisition!

26 Jun

It was almost closing time and I was out on the sales floor straightening up my department.  When all of the sudden…..

Jesus Tweaker

I was approached by a young man in his twenties who began to barrage me with questions about my beliefs and the Lord.

The following is my best recollection of that conversation…

The Inquisition

Jesus Tweaker:  “Do you know the Lord?”

Me: “Uh….that’s a complicated question.”

JT: “Well, I’m here to tell you that the Lord loves you..I’m a messenger of love.”

Me: “Well, I won’t fault anyone who wants to share love.”

JT: “Do you believe there’s evil in the world?”

Me: “Yes, but I don’t believe in thought crimes.”

JT: “Did you know that Jesus talked about our thoughts and said if we even look at a women lustfully we have committed adultery?”

Me: “Well, that’s what I’m talking about.  I think that Jesus is teaching a form of thought crimes.  I personally think morality is based on consent.  If you harm or do something to someone without their consent, you’re immoral in my opinion.  Demonizing, natural sexual attractions is a form of thought crime and I think it’s only purpose is to make people feel guilty, even though they haven’t done anything wrong.”

At this point Jesus Tweaker seems confused and begins to talk about right and wrong.  He’s talking so loud and with a huge smile…that it reminds me of when I’ve talked to people who were massively drunk.  After skirting some more on morality, the inquisition continues.

JT “Do you believe in a higher power?”

Me “No”

JT “No…why not?”

Me: “Because, I don’t have any evidence that sems to indicate a higher power exists…”

JT “But do you have a wife or kids?

Me: “Yes”

JT “You love them don’t you…well, how can you explain your love for them?”

Me “I’m not sure how that’s relevant.”

Again, my answer seems to have thrown Jesus Tweaker a bit off track and he changes course.

JT “Well, I’m just here to tell you that God wants a relationship with you.”

Me: “And how do you know this?”

JT: “Because the Bible is God’s word and it tells us about God’s love.”

Me “OK…but why am I speaking to you and not God himself?  Doesn’t he have the ability of making that clear to me.”

JT “Well…I’m a messenger of the Lord, a messenger of his love.  I don’t believe it’s an accident that we’re speaking right now.  I didn’t come here on my own.”

Me “Hmmmm…..but you did walk in on your own 2 legs?  You did come in here by your own choice, didn’t you?

JT ” I just want to tell you God loves you and sent his Son, Jesus to die for you.  I’ve seen demons cast out and I believe that I will see the dead raised.”

He then proceeds to tell me about how he prayed for a woman with one leg shorter than the other.  She asked for him to pray for her back, but he refused and they prayed for her leg and it grew out 2 inches.

Me “So it grew out 2 inches?  What about an amputee, have you ever seen one healed by having their leg grow back?

JT “No…I did ask a couple of amputees in the city if I could pray for God to heal them.  But they seemed offended and wouldn’t let us pray.”

At this point, a concerned shift leader stops by to make sure I’m ok.  I indicate that I am and I begin to try and wrap up the conversation.

Me “Well…it’s been nice chatting but I need to close up my department.”

JT “Can I just pray for you?”

Me “No..I don’t think that’s appropriate since I’m on the clock.  You can feel free to pray on your own time.”

JT ignores me and prays loudly “I just bless you in JESUS name. THANK YOU FATHER! I bless you”

At this point he walks away to a cash register, where he loudly proclaims his love for the Abba Father, and begins asking employees and customers if they beleive in God.

I turn away and wonder if I was ever that “crazy” for the Lord.