Humble Forgivevness

I posted an article today on my other blog that tells the story of the pastor that baptized and visited Jeffrey Dahmer in jail before he was executed. This pastor wrote a book titled Dark Journey, Deep Grace that is about Dahmer and asks this question on the book's cover: "Can God Forgive Even Jeffrey Dahmer?" The question reminded me of this story that Jesus told:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'

"But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:10-14)
Forgiveness is acquired by humbling ourselves ... often we get it when we don't even know what we are doing ... we are just beating our breast in repentance ... throwing ourselves on the mercy of God. Religious people like this Pharisee often lose sight of this ... lose sight of people like Dahmer who desperately need forgiveness ... and sometimes we shy away from people in prison.

I am thankful for Roy Ratcliff, minister of the Mandrake Road Church of Christ in Madison Wisconsin, who looked on this serial killer and helped him beat his breast and repent. I am glad that he could get past his preconceived ideas about Jeffrey Dahmer and share Jesus with him in friendship. It is what life is all about - sharing Jesus and making new friends.

Heart Soil

On her blog Rose asked this question:

Why Does One Believe and Another Doesn't?

You can follow her post and long comment thread at her place. Below is the way that I answered her question.

I think that the softness or hardness of one's heart is the major reason for one's reaction to the gospel.

Jesus spoke directly to this in the parable of the sower and the seed. Now as to why some hearts are soft and some hard I must say that there is no clear-cut answer - hence all of the dialog.

For me though I think that this is where the 'made in the image of God' thing comes into play. Like it or not we are most like God (in a sense) when we obey or disobey.

Adam in the garden had a choice - harden his heart or keep it soft. Disobedience hardens and obedience softens. The problem with this line of thinking is that it can lead to self effort and works based salvation (salvation based on our choices).

So, I think that I usually arrive at a place that says that man is responsible for the condition of his own heart but even the purest/softest of hearts will not take the first step ... God initiates the offer ... in grace he sows the seed ... in grace we receive the seed depending on the softness of our heart soil.

In a sense all of life is about heart soil:

  • trials often come like giant blades of a plow and crush and pulverize the hard soil of our hearts
  • the rains of adversity and turmoil come providing water capable of providing softness
  • in a sense all of life is geared at softening our hearts ... giving us an opportunity to trust God.

It is a mystery why our hearts sometimes stay hard in bitterness and why sometimes they turn in repentance. I wish we all repented when the gospel was presented ... sometimes our hard hearts simply choose not see His goodness and repent.

Invisible Ministry

"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. -- Jesus of Nazareth

"When you preach, you are not to be like the televangelists; for they love to stand and preach in front of TV cameras and in convention centers so that they may be adored by men. Truly I say to you, their egos have been stroked too much. -- Bob of Kansas

For years I have battled with a phenomenon that I call "Invisible Ministry" ... you know, doing the stuff when no one is looking and doing the essential nonpublic forms of ministry. Much of this work comes under the heading of 'pastoral ministry' and I love doing it ... but ... I am almost choking as I write this ... I have been in a fierce battle with a dark part of me that wants to be 'visible'.

The desire to be visible is a dark side of the ministry ... wanting to be seen and appreciated by people is a dark force that permeates much of American church leadership. Many large ministries and churches, as well as small ones, are led by men which have surrendered to the dark side of visible ministry. These men were, at one point in their lives, seduced by public ministry.

The problem is that many who are drawn to public ministry are ill-equipped for non-public shepherd-like ministry. Many of these are narcissistic and are drawn to ministry to be seen rather than to see. As a result these folks are often blind to the needs and pain of those around them. They are so focused on themselves and their ministries that they can see little else.

Back to me. It may surprise some of you that I have been battling this for so long ... you know how spiritual I am :) Maybe I'll give you a glimpse of what this looks like. Resentment has sometimes embraced me (or I it) when others are given speaking opportunities. Feelings of inadequacy and rejection accompany resentment. Subtle criticism of others accompany those feelings and I become bitter. Those feelings trouble me because at a gut level because I know better.

So, over the past several years I have continued to go to the Lord and search out with Him the why of my reactions to invisible ministry ... it has not been a comfortable journey. Looking back I realize that I had been deceived early in my Christian life ... I bought into a religious economy that is the opposite of the ministry that Jesus calls me and you into ... this economy had a stranglehold over me.

This year has already been the best of times and the worst of times. Worst because of health and family issues but best because I have finally conquered (and am conquering) the need to be seen ... I am finally comfortable (and getting more comfortable) with Invisible Ministry ... and it is such a great release :)

For those of you out there that struggle with invisible ministry, I suggest that you reread the sermon on the mount. In that sermon Jesus lays bare the thoughts and intents of our hearts ... our need to be seen ... our earthly motives that truly get in the way of real ministry. I commend you to Invisible Ministry ... people all around you need you and this kind of ministry.

On Losing Our Prophetic Voice

James Dobson had a brief interview with Newt Gingrich yesterday on the Focus on the Family Radio show. The transcript of that session follows but before you read it I want to ask you this question:

"What is the christian definition of perjury?"

You will understand why I ask the question after you read the transcript.
DOBSON: Let me ask you about your family life. This is very, very personal and delicate and I appreciate your willingness to address it again. But you've been married three times under some circumstances that disappointed some of your supporters. And there are some questions associated with that era that remain unanswered with regard to an affair or maybe more than one. Would you take a run at that for our listeners?

GINGRICH: Yeah. And it's a very painful topic and I confess that directly to you. And it has some elements of it that I'm not in any way proud of.

In fact, some elements that, in the past, you know, I wouldn't … I'm now a grandfather. I have two grandchildren: Maggie who's 7 and Robert who's 5. And I think you get to a point – I'm 63 years old now – and you get to a point in life where you look back and there's some elements you want to caution your children and grandchildren not to follow you on. And things you need to learn. And I was married very young and had my first daughter when I was very young. In fact, at the end of my freshman year in college. I have two wonderful children and we're very, very close. And after a period of time, about 18 years, things just didn't work out and it's difficult. Although we do share both our two daughters and we share the two grandchildren. I then remarried and went through a very difficult time, some of which was covered even in news media coverage, and we had a big difference about public life. And that was, frankly again, very painful.

I think what I found difficult in going through all this is that I don't believe in situation ethics and I don't believe in saying, "Well, this was right and that was wrong" and then changing the rules according to my behavior, according to what … you know, to justify what I've done. And I'd have to say in all honesty, as I said to you the other week, there were times when I was praying and when I felt I was doing things that were wrong. But I was still doing them. And I look back on those as periods of weakness and periods that I'm not only not proud of, but that I would deeply urge my children and grandchildren not to follow in my footsteps.

DOBSON: On that occasion I asked you a pretty bold question. And I appreciate the fact that you didn't seem offended by it. But I asked you if the rumors were true that you were in an affair with a woman obviously who wasn't your wife at the same time that Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were having their escapade.

GINGRICH: Well, the fact is that the honest answer is yes. But it was not related to what happened. And this is one of the things the Left tries to do and one of the places, where frankly, I think the way this report of the special counsel was written weakened the case.

The president of the United States got in trouble for committing a felony in front of a sitting federal judge. He was involved in a sexual-harassment lawsuit in which his behavior was a direct question of whether or not the woman who had accused him was telling the truth. The president of the United States, who was a Yale-graduated lawyer, had been attorney general of his state, knew better, deliberately committed perjury. Perjury is at the very heart of our legal system. And is very often punished very intently by the courts. I was very aware of this because of the very painful thing you've raised, which is I had been through a divorce. I had been through depositions.

I had once had a lawyer tell me, "Well, you can just fudge on this," and I said, "No! You can't fudge on this!" You're at the very heart of our legal system. If you don't tell the truth under oath the whole system breaks down. And the challenge I was faced with wasn't about judging Bill Clinton as a person. I'm not going to cast the first stone, and I clearly know that I can't cast the first stone.

Because I have, in fact, as I think every member of every jury in America, has had weaknesses and if that was the standard our whole system would collapse. That's not the standard. The standard is in a court of law, should somebody who's popular get away with committing a felony? And if this week it's perjury, and next week it's theft, and the week after that it's having somebody beaten up, then what morning do we end up as a corrupt country like Nigeria where the corruption is so deep that it eats at the very fabric of our society?

And I drew a line in my mind and again, our listeners may not agree with me. But I drew a line in my mind that said, "Even though I run the risk of being deeply embarrassed, and even though at a purely personal level I am not rendering judgment on another human being, as a leader of the government trying to uphold the rule of law, I have no choice except to move forward and say that you cannot accept felonies and you cannot accept perjury in your highest officials."

DOBSON: Well, you answered that question with regard to Bill Clinton instead of referring to yourself. May I ask you to address it personally? You know, I believe you to be a professing Christian and you and I have prayed together, but when I heard you talk about this dark side of your life and when we were in Washington, you spoke of it with a great deal of pain and anguish, but you didn't mention repentance. Do you understand that word, repentance?

GINGRICH: Absolutely. And I answered … maybe it was the way the question was posed in terms of how the cross-parallels of the two things. In terms of my own life, let me say that I was raised initially as a Lutheran and I ended up converting and becoming a Southern Baptist when I was in graduate school at Saint Charles Avenue Baptist Church with Dr. Avery Lee, who was just a great, great preacher and moral leader. And so that's my background.

I believe deeply that people fall short and that people have to recognize that they have to turn to God for forgiveness and to seek mercy. Somebody once said that when you're young you want justice and that when you get older you want mercy. I also believe that there are things in my own life that I have turned to God and have gotten on my knees and prayed about and sought God's forgiveness. I don't know how you could live with yourself and not end up breaking down if you didn't find, try to find, some way to deal with your own weaknesses and to go to God about them.

DOBSON: Well, I appreciate your allowing us to delve into that. Obviously the reason that I ask is that you are a national leader, despite the fact that you're not in public office at this time. And many of the concepts and ideas that you've expressed, last time and today, are things that I agree with, and I think it's really important and will be for many of our listeners to know your responses to that point of disappointment back there someplace. And I really appreciate your willingness to do so.

GINGRICH: Well, if I could just for a second, let me just say that I think that the most important form of leadership is to be a servant. And there are times that I have fallen short of my own standards. There's certainly times when I've fallen short of God's standards and my neighbor's standards.

But I think my job is to try to do for my country and on a very personal level for my children and for my grandchildren and for their future, try to do everything I can to be a servant in helping this country deal both with, with the domestic challenges to our very identity and that's what "Rediscovering God in America" is all about and to foreign challenges to our very survival. And I hope, you know, within that framework, as you know, you and I have worked together for many, many years.


GINGRICH: I hope that people will see me in that context. I'm not trying to be a leader in the sense of rising above my fellow Americans, but I am trying to serve, particularly as a teacher and as a developer of solutions, and as somebody who is trying to find how we get through the next 10 or 15 years in a way that makes us safe and free and prosperous, and gives our children and grandchildren the kind of extraordinary freedom that you and I have had.

DOBSON: Well, it's a pleasure talking to you. I enjoy every time we have a chance to be together and I think our listeners have really learned a lot today and I hope we can continue the dialogue.

GINGRICH: I look forward to it. And I'm always available for you because of the extraordinary work you've done across this entire country.

DOBSON: God's blessings to you, my friend.

GINGRICH: Thank you

Mr. Gingrich, like many politicians, believes that the definition of perjury is lying to the courts. It seems that, in his mind anway, the great sin that President Clinton commited was lying to the courts. I found his focus on perjury to be very telling ... it revealed how he could so righteously pursue and attack President Clinton while he was in the middle of an adulterous affair.

Apparently Mr. Gingrich's definition of perjury didn't include (continually) lying to his wife, the country, himself and to God ... how convenient. Mr. Gingrich eventually married the woman (20 years younger than he) after he divorced his wife ... and if I remember President Clinton sought the forgiveness of his wife and reconciled with her. How sad that the Clintons are looked down on by conservatives while Gingrich is the star of many conservative talk shows (like Focus on the Family) ... could it be that our conservative politics have become the proverbial log in our eye that is causing our vision to be impaired?

Another aspect of this interview that I found so troubling is the pass that Dr. Dobson gave Gingrich on this issue and how he allowed Gingrich to speak in generalities about repentance. How is it that he couldn't really get in his business for treating his wife the way he did? Why give him a pass and subtly endorse Gingrich's political aspirations? Why?

I believe that this interview is yet another example of how the church is ceding it's prophetic voice for a political voice. You know, when John the Baptist called out Herod for adultery he was exercising a prophetic voice ... and it got him killed. Many of the Old Testament prophets were also persecuted and killed because of this kind of a prophetic voice.

It seems that, in our nation, Martin Luther King Jr. was our last prophetic voice. After Dr. King all we seem to have is ambitious political Christian leaders who have been very ineffective in bringing any substantial change to America. Interviews like this one with Newt Gingrich are really part of the problem. I am sad that such hypocrisy is supported by an influencial Christian leader.

Thanks for Praying

Just a follow-up to my January post where I told you of how I was once again having to flow with weakness. Firstly, thanks to everyone who has been praying ... even if you just prayed a short prayer. It has been a difficult time for Ann and I because progress seems a bit slower than it has been in the past. Ann is better and getting stronger. She is working with a physical therapist and beginning to transition a bit from a walker to a cane. Please continue to pray for us both.

Many Blessings, Bob

Does God Heal?

Following are some great thoughts from Tammy McDonald. Tammy I serve together on the pastoral staff of our church.

Does God heal? This is a good question. I know what the bible says, “by His stripes you are healed”, “He bore all your sickness and diseases”, etc., etc., etc. Ok, I know that I am sounding kind of cynical. But tell me, doesn't the Bible say “lay hands on the sick and they will recover”? And, “call the Elders of the church and anoint the sick with oil and the prayer of faith shall heal the sick. What if…what if I do all of this and still no healing? What if I confess, confess, confess and still no healing? What if I believe with all that is in me to no avail? What if I believe with the faith of a mustard seed and still… no healing? Where does that leave me? Where does that leave you? Or even better, where does that leave God?

Is God a man that He should lie? Then what is up with this deal? Do I know people that have been healed? Yes! Even I have experienced healing personally, but why not more? Why not every time I ask? I was faced with this dilemma recently… again! I sat at home “confronting” God, “why do you tell us to do this stuff, you know, pray for the sick, and you don't do your part?” And I felt He led me to Habakkuk 3:19a

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength;”
What do you mean? The Sovereign Lord is my strength? I am asking about healing. I felt He said read it again. The Sovereign Lord is my strength…again, the Sovereign Lord is my strength…again, the SOVEREIGN Lord is my strength…again, the SOVEREIGN Lord is my strength… Sovereign, Sovereign, Sovereign. Oh, I get it!

Lord, You are Sovereign! You do things differently than I would do them. Your ways are higher than my ways, your thoughts are higher than my thoughts. You know the big picture, you know the heart of man, you know the secret places of each of us, you know how to refine us and make us in your image. You know how to be glorified in our lives, or in our death. Who am I to tell you what to do? So, what do I say? Lord, You are Sovereign and I will believe your Word for healing and continue to pray and believe for it, but also, I will trust You in all your ways. What will you do?