"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Avoid at All Costs the Soul Virus Called "Stiff-Neck"

At the heart of the gospel message is transformation. God is in the business of changing lives, taking what is broken and fractured due to our self-destructive habits and hang-ups, and transforming us to look more like Jesus (see Romans 8:29). 

Our conformity to Jesus isn't natural. Sin and selfishness are inherent to us all. Jesus is selfless and sacrificial, and we are not. That's why God is in the business of transforming lives. God, by His grace and for His glory, transforms us to conform us. Over time, we look more like His Son in character and lifestyle. That's God's purpose for us.

God forbid we resist.

God calls any resistance to His transformational work by the name stiff-neck.  For example:
  1. "I have seen these people," the Lord said to Moses, and they are a stiff-necked people." (Exodus 32:9). 
  2. "You are a stiff-necked people." (Deuteronomy 9:6). 
  3. "He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord." (II Chronicles 36:13).
  4. "Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to Me" (Jeremiah 17:23). 
  5. "You stiff-necked people! You always resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51). 
Stiff-necked is used as a description of God's people when they resist the Holy Spirit and refuse to do what they know God desires.  We don't use the compound word "stiff-neck" often today, so Christians have little understanding of its meaning. Let me see if I can help bring some clarity to this soul virus to help us avoid it.

This word is transliterated from the original Hebrew as qesheh `oreph. It literally means "hard of neck." We use the English phrase "bowed-up" to describe someone who gets angry or defensive. "Bowed-up" is similar to what the Bible calls "stiff-necked." It's becoming hard to the truth. It's obstinacy. It's defensiveness. It's a spiritual condition of hardness to the truth of God. 

I'm a lover of God's people. I'm also a vocational pastor. My role is to simply speak the truth in love. I am never the transformational Agent for God's people. That's the job of the Holy Spirit. I speak the truth in love, but it is between God and His people whether they receive it or not.  

In religious circles, pastors and people play God. They speak the truth and then they "goad" people to obey the truth. It's God's job to goad, not pastors.

Let me explain. 

The term "stiff-neck" (qesheh 'oreph) came from ancient farming when the Hebrews used oxen to plow their fields. The farmer tied the plow to a pair of oxen, and the oxen pulled the plow. Sometimes, an ox would move to slow so the farmer would use a goad to poke the oxen in the hind legs to pick up the speed. The goad was a long pole with a pointed end, and when an ox got poked on the rear end or hind legs, it became quite uncomfortable, even painful for the ox. Every now and then, a "stiff-necked' ox would "kick against the goad" and literally stop and fight the farmer. The farmer, with reins in one hand and the goad in the other, always won the battle. But the fight could sometimes be intense. 

When Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus and transformed Saul's life, Jesus said something to Saul that is interesting: 
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads." (Acts 26:14). 
Three things I learn from Christ capturing Saul, things that are always helpful to me in pastoral ministry. 
  1. Christ is the one wrestling with Saul. Nobody else even heard Jesus speaking.
  2. Christ has more than one goad in His arsenal of change, for it's "goads" (plural).
  3. Christ moves in mercy toward Saul, revealing "it is hard for Saul" to fight Him. 
I'm reminded of the Scripture verse that should put every Christian at ease when it comes to other people and their relationship with God. "Being confident of this, He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion" (Philippians 1:6). God's got this; we don't. We should be confident He'll always win the fight in the end.

One of the ways I always know if I love my brother or sister in Christ unconditionally is by measuring my ability to tell people the truth without playing the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives. 

God's people are only truth-tellers. We are not the Holy Spirit. 

If we become stiff-necked and decide to go our own selfish way and do our own destructive thing, God will intervene. He sends people like prophets (eg. Jeremiah) and others to plead with His people "to change the way they are thinking."  God will sometimes take direct action, without any intermediary, like He did with Saul on the road to Damascus

God's got this.

When we stop playing Holy Spirit and simply love people where they are, loving them enough to always speak the truth, but accepting them whether they obey God or not, then we can relax and rest in the confidence that the God who began His transformational work will finish it. 

The goads of God are always effectual in their purposes. We'd be wise to avoid the painful soul virus called "stiff-neck" ourselves, but we should rest easy if others are infected. God knows how to cure.

Do you see the picture at the top of this post? It's an actual drawing of ancient Englishmen plowing with oxen. The prayer says this: 
"God speed ye plow; bring us corn now." 
The fruit of one's life (corn) is in the hands of the One who carries the goad (God), and when I wish someone God speed, I am asking God to "prod them along" the path of what is right, for the good of all.

God speed.

Victims Don't Conquer So Christians Aren't Victims

"In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).

Syrian Christians are being tortured, crucified and beheaded in Aleppo, Syria because these Christians are reaching out to their neighbors with the love of Jesus. This isn't a bible story. It is happening now. Radical Islamicists in Aleppo ordered Christians in their city to leave or face death. These followers of Jesus refused to leave their hometown, choosing to remain in the city to provide aid in the name of Christ to survivors of the carpet bombings.

When the deadline to leave Aleppo passed, these Christians were apprehended, and their torture began. One Syrian Christian father watched as his twelve-year-old son's fingers were cut off. When the father still refused to renounce Christ and convert to Islam, the radicals then beat both father and son, and crucified them with a sign above their heads that read "infidels." During their torture these Syrian Christians sang, prayed for their torturers and displayed super-human inner strength. One eyewitness said the way these Christians died astounded their persecutors. They died as conquerors, not victims.

Meanwhile, we American Christians sip our lattes and nibble our pastries, but find it impossible to overcome the "hurt and pain" we've experienced in life. Most of us can't even spell Aleppo, much less see the difference between the pain and suffering in their lives when compared to ours. We complain about the songs we sing in church,  the lack of Facebook likes we receive, and the various ways people disrespect us. We find it easier to point our finger at someone else as the cause of our pain than to look within ourselves to find the reasons for it.

We American Christians have become masters at playing the role of victims.

Jesus said,  "Things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart" (Matthew 15:18).  To express "I'm a victim" in life is the ultimate sign of a void within my heart. When I see myself as a victim, I have little or no comprehension of God's love for me in Jesus Christ.

Oh, sure, I may say I understand God's love for me. Maybe I'll even sing about God's love. But the proof is in how I live. When crunch time comes, if I find my satisfaction and happiness in other people, or other things, or in my ability to control life, then I'll play the role of victim. I must play the victim because I am. That in which I trust for my happiness and security has been stolen from me.

Never find the source of your happiness today in what you may lose tomorrow. 

I can never lose the love of Christ.
 "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither heights nor depths, nor anything else in this world, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). 
If I'm void of a comprehension of Christ's love for me, then when things get out of control - like a son's fingers being cut off by a radical Islamicists - I'll scream and fight, seek to control and manipulate, lie and steal, look back and payback, and ... well, you get the picture. But when "I know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, then I am filled up with all the fulness of God" (Ephesians 3:19).

And when filled with the love of Christ, then what comes out of me when squeezed by painful events is the love of Christ. So God will sometimes allow the heat to surround me to reveal the heart that is within me. 

Now for the Good News.

God is at work in all His people, turning us from a mindset of victimization to a mindset of being "more than conquerors."  The same passage in Romans 8 that points us to the love of Christ trumpets what it means for Christians to be "more than conquerors" in this life. Read it carefully:
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Romans 8:35, 37). 
The little phrase "more than conquerors"  translates one Greek word - ὑπερνικ. I'll transliterate the root words of this compound Greek word in English - SUPER NIKE.

Super is the Greek preposition which means more than or superior.
Nike is the Greek word for victory. Nike is more than a logo; it's a state of mind.

Christ's love for me makes me "more than victorious" in my mind, no matter the troubling situation that comes my way in my life.

This is really Good News.

The gospel is not just about "going to heaven." It's about being able in this life to be "more than victorious" even when your son's fingers are cut off. It's about having the ability to pray for those who are in the process of actually crucifying you. It's about having the power to be kind to those who hate you and cause you affliction or distress (trouble),  famine or nakedness (loss), and danger or sword (harm).

By pointing my finger at someone else as the reason for the loss of my happiness, or the source of my pain, or the one I believe is responsible for my struggles in this life, I am playing the role of victim and am losing any sense of being more than victorious through Christ's love for me.

I must stop it.

For when I rest in the love of Christ - something that no one or no thing can ever take away - I will find that this life's troubles, losses, and painful events only give me an opportunity to show the world that I am more than victorious through Jesus Christ who loves me.

My New Year's resolution is to go through 2017 with a mindset that I am never a victim of my circumstances. I am always more than a conqueror through Him who loves me.

A Defense of the Enid News & Eagle's Endorsement of Hillary Clinton on the Basis of a Higher Principle

I voted for Donald Trump.

For many people, including some of my own family members, the fact I voted for Donald Trump is upsetting. But as an American citizen who participates in the political process, I vote for a President every four years. This year I voted for Donald Trump.

I live in Enid, Oklahoma where the editorial board of the Enid News and Eagle, Enid's city newspaper, endorsed Hillary Clinton for President. In the 2012 Presidential Election, not one of Oklahoma's 77 Counties voted for Obama. Very few people in the city of Enid were going to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. One would assume the newspaper's editorial would know this fact. 

I pastor a large, conservative evangelical church in Enid. I preach the good news of Jesus Christ every Sunday and dare not stain the gospel with politics. However, in our day of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, a pastor would have to be blind and deaf not to know the preferences and personal biases of church members, whether it be about politics, entertainment or religion. I'm well aware that many people in the church I serve have been upset with the Enid News and Eagle's endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

The New York Times recently reported on Enid's newspaper's endorsement of Hillary Clinton with the headline "It Hasn't Been Forgiven." The Enid News and Eagle lost at least 162 annual subscriptions and nearly a dozen business advertisers over its support of Hillary Clinton. A few people angered by the endorsement are quoted in the New York Times. These offended folks may be strangers to many, but they are friends of mine. 

In the early 20th century, a young man named Marquis James left his work at the newspaper in Enid, Oklahoma and went on to become a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author, eventually moving to New York, to help establish The New Yorker magazine. Now a New York newspaper is coming back to Enid suggesting that the people of Enid "have not forgiven" its local newspaper for the endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

I suggest there is nothing to forgive.

There is a greater principle at stake for all of us.  The freedom of expression, or better known in America as "the freedom of speech," is at stake. This fundamental principle guarantees that all people live in true freedom. The First Amendment to the United States Consitution states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech." 

ABC News is reporting that at least 1,656 people have been arrested in Turkey for posting on social media their support of political candidates other than those already in power. That's what happens in a country where there is no freedom to speak one's mind. 

Some might object by saying, "But we are angry at a newspaper, not a government!" Yes, but we the people are America's government. That's what our Founding Fathers made very clear in America's Constitution.

If "we the people" force a newspaper to endorse only those whom we want them to endorse, or if a newspaper writes only those articles that we the people want them to write, then that newspaper ceases to operate in perfect freedom and becomes a public relations magazine for a community. The city of Enid has a Public Relations firm. We need our newspaper operating differently than a PR firm. 

It matters not if the weapon is a bullet or billfold, for a government (people) to exert tight control over what a person or institution is allowed to write or say is a loss of freedom to any community. None of us should want a newspaper who sacrifices its institutional integrity on the altar of community comfort. There is a higher principle at stake, and that's why I will defend the Enid News and Eagle and their endorsement of Hillary Clinton. 

A few years ago our church leadership made a decision on the basis of principle. We knew that for the good news of Jesus Christ to reach more people in an ever changing world, we would have to change our methodologies. Some older methods of conveying the gospel were shut down. New methods were begun. The truth didn't change, but the manner in which it was communicated did. Our leadership knew that if our methodologies didn't change, people would wake up one day, look around, and ask "Where did everybody go?" The answer is "New people were never reached." 

So changes came to the church I pastor.  New methods meant discomfort to some. But church leadership pressed forward because there was a higher principle at stake. We exist for the purpose of reaching the most people with Good News, not for the comfort of those people who already know the news. Our church is now reaching more people with the Good News than ever before. Some members uncomfortable with the changes left, taking their money with them. The cost of living by principle is sometimes steep. Yet, in the end, all of us must respect any institution which places higher regard on fundamental principles than community comfort.  

So, Enid News and Eagle, this subscriber who voted for Trump will keep my subscription out of respect for the higher principle of freedom of speech.

POST PUBLISHING EDIT (Again): Jeff Funk, Publisher of the Enid News and Eagle called me and told me that the editorial endorsement for Hillary Clinton was written by him using bullet points from CNHI, and after discussing the issue with Jeff (who was very gracious), I believe Jeff and Rob wrote the editorial reflecting their personal beliefs. Without the encouragement of CNHI, Jeff Funk would have most likely not endorsed anyone, but any implication that the editorial was not Jeff's opinion and expressed his personal beliefs is off-base. I stand by this article that we should defend freedom of speech. 

The Greatest Gifts Are Those I Receive from God

Merry Christmas! 

As we open our Christmas presents, we would do well to pause and consider that the Bible teaches the greatest gifts we'll ever receive are the gifts given to us from God. A general meditation on these unique gifts will bring some real Christmas cheer.

1. "Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!" (II Corinthians 9:15).

This inexpressible gift from God is His Son Jesus Christ. Understanding when God gave us His Son ("while we were still sinners" - Romans 5:8), how God gave us His Son ("freely and graciously" - Romans 8:32), and why God gave us His Son ("for God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son" - John 3:16) becomes our incentive to love freely and give generously to someone unworthy. Until I find my soul's satisfaction in God's inexpressible gift, I'll never never be able to give my soul to someone else in unconditional love. Talking about this inexpressible gift on Facebook is not the evidence I have it, for it is inexpressible.  Jesus gives us the evidence we truly have received Him as a gift when He said,  "By this will all men know that you are My disciples, when you love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).

2. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

When is the last time we've heard a sermon on "life eternal," or immortality? Some of the best Hollywood movies are about man's search for immortality, but for whatever reason, Christians wrongly assume that all men are inherently immortal. Not so, according to the Bible. Immortality is a gift. As Martin Luther put it, "We shall sleep, until He comes and knocks on the little grave and says, "Doctor Martin, get up! Then I shall rise in a moment and be with Him forever." (The Christian Hope, 1594, p. 37). Immortality is a gift to those with faith in Christ. The wicked will be raised, judged for their sins, and then handed over to "the second death" (Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:14). "Only one life, twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last." (C.T. Studd). Thinking about my life for eternity puts into perspective some of my low points in history.

3. "For by grace have you been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8).

R.C. Sproul tells the story of walking the streets of Philadelphia and being stopped by a young man who asked, "Sir, tell me, are you saved?" Sproul, realizing the young man was a Christian street evangelist, asked him "Saved from what?" The young evangelist stammered and stuttered, not quite sure how to answer. Let's be clear about it.  God told His people in Leviticus 26:27-28 - "But if you walk contrary to Me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury." Let's be very clear. We all need deliverance from God's righteous fury against our selfish sins. We have it. It's a gift. Deliverance from God's righteous fury for walking contrary to God's will in this world is a gift of grace through faith in Christ's work, not my own works. The greatest evidence that I have received this gift is that I continually give this same grace of forgiveness to others who walk contrary to me (Matthew 6:15).

4. "...you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit of God is indeed a great gift. At salvation, God grants His Spirit to abide in me, for I become "the Temple of the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit's indwelling presence in me brings forth "the fruit of the Spirit," which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Notice, this gift of the Spirit brings the "fruit" (singular) of the Spirit. I can't be good without love; I can't be gentle without self-control, I can't be patient without kindness. In other words, I can't pick and choose among "nine fruits," for it is but one "fruit of the Spirit." The fruit becomes my character. The evidence I've received this great gift is in the fruit-pudding (pardon the pun).

5. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17). 

All the good things in my life come from God. The difference between good and perfect is important. Good means "that which is benevolent in its character." Perfect means "something which is complete, or whole." Here is the remarkable thing "good and perfect gifts" in my life. Some things that come my way that are not good. They are evil and painful, not good and comforting. Yet, my Father is able "to work all things for my good" (Romans 8:28), In times of seemingly awful problems and unbearable pain, I need to remember that the complete story of my life has not yet been written by my Father. Everything that comes my way (even the evil that does not originate from Him),  God perfectly orchestrates (that's the Greek word for "works" in Romans 8:28) for my ultimate good.

These five gifts from God are the greatest gifts I'll ever receive. 

And they make for a Merry Christmas indeed.

The God Who Blinds Works Within Human Minds

"The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see 
the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (II Corinthians 4:4)

Orthodox Jews call the fallen angel who deceived Adam and Eve by the name "Samael" - a compound name which means "the god who blinds." Paul, a teacher of the Jewish Law, may very well be referring to Samael in his second letter to Christians living in the city of Corinth when he mentions "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving" (II Corinthians 4:4).

We may think we understand physical blindness, but what does it mean for someone to be "blind in the mind"? 

If a physically blind person has never experienced the ability to see, he's hard-pressed to describe the pain of his blindness. Those who've first tasted of sight before going blind can easily describe their pain over the absence of light. 

So too, the person blind in the mind from birth has little ability to understand "the light of the glorious good news in Jesus Christ" (II Corinthians 4:4). He can't describe what he doesn't have because he doesn't know what it is he's missed.

So how does the "god who blinds" keep a person from seeing the beauty of this life through receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord?

A blind mind remains blind through a shared apathy. When blind people get together, they help and encourage one another, and convince themselves nothing else is needed, particularly any talk about a cure. Life is what it is. Those apathetic about Christ often gravitate toward others apathetic about Him. The blind in the mind don't care about any alleged good news. They're blind. They don't know they are, and the last thing they want is for someone to feel sorrow for them.

Then a blind mind continues in blindness through a strong enmity. When the good news of Jesus Christ is mentioned to one "blind in the mind," apathy turns  quickly to enmity. Anger toward the message of Christ is only secondary to animosity toward the person sharing the good news of Christ. Blind in the mind people don't like it pointed out they're blind and need the Light.

Finally, a blind mind remains blind through a substitute ecstasy. This, to me, is the most tell-tale sign of blindness. When I get my joy, my happiness,  my purpose,  my identity, or my hope in something other than Jesus Christ and the love of God for me in Christ, then I am "blind in the mind." However, when the anchor of hope for my life is Jesus Christ, I see this life the way it's meant to be seen, for I have found my source of contentment from the One thing I will never lose - a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius had a servant follow him around and whisper in his ear, "Remember yourself mortal," when people became effusive in their praise of the emperor.

I wonder if every time we have apathy toward the Person and work of Jesus Christ, or when we find ourselves angry over the teachings of Christ, or during those times we lose ourselves in the idolatry of finding our happiness and security in things other than Christ, if God might send someone to whisper in our ears, "Remember yourself blind."

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel - Jacob

Someone recently pointed out to me that years ago in small groups, whether it be Sunday School or independent Bible studies, Christians would talk openly about the dangers of living like a Pharisee. It seems, however, that many of us in evangelical churches struggle with a subtle rise of Pharisaical feelings toward sinners who cry for mercy from God. Jesus taught on this subject very clearly in Luke 18:9-14
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Some might ask, "But is not the shame and guilt of sinners such that God would want us not associate with them, even if they cry out for mercy from God?"

I am reminded of the story of Jacob. He lied and deceived the people closest to him. He sought instant gratification instead of patiently finding contentment in his relationship with God. He failed his family, including his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham. He was by adulthood, in almost every sense of the word, a failure. 

Yet God loved him, and God pursued him.

In a wrestling match with God, Jacob found the very thing upon which he relied (his own strength), God broke. God crushed Jacob's hip. Literally, Jacob became a cripple. Yet, it was in his brokenness and through the crippling process that an utterly crushed Jacob "met God face to face." So it is that often in our brokenness and pain caused by sin we really meet our God. 

Interestingly, after the breaking, God changed Jacob's name to Israel. The lying, deceiving, and self-absorbed man God pursued became the father of the 12 Tribes of Israel, the chosen people of God in the Old Covenant.

Yet, throughout the Old Testament, when the prophets would urge the nation of Israel to repent, they never identified God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Why? It seems God Himself wished to be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Listen to how God revealed Himself to Moses and the people of Israel on Mt. Sinai - at the very moment of entering into a covenant with them.
"I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." Exodus 3:6
Israel is who Jacob became, but God kept Jacob's name before His people to remind them that He loves and pursues sinners. I believe it is always helpful for us to remember that God identifies as the God of sinners who cry for mercy.

He is the God of Jacob.

Giving Others Endless Mercy and Unrelenting Love

We sing a song in REFUGE written by our friend Lauren Daigle. It's entitled Dry Bones, and it's much easier to vocalize with our singing mouths than it is to actualize in our sinful lives.

God of endless mercy,
God of unrelenting love.
Rescue every daughter,
Bring us back the wayward sons.

God of endless mercy. "The Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10), and therefore, "We approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence, that we will receive mercy for our failures and grace to help in the hour of our need" (Hebrews 4:16).

God of unrelenting love. Unrelenting is defined as "never softening, or never letting up in vigor." The Scripture tells us God demonstrates His unrelenting love for us "In that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). We who are wayward sons and reckless daughters (Dry Bones) are made alive "...because of His great unrelenting love for us and His rich mercy" (Ephesians 2:4-5).

We will often hear the word "godly" at church. "He's such a godly man," or "She's such a godly woman," or "They live such godly lives." We use the word, but I'm not sure we understand it. A godly person is one whose life mirrors God's endless mercy and unrelenting love. That's godliness. The Apostle Paul begs us in Ephesians 4:1 "to live a life consistent with our calling." Paul has spent the first three chapters of Ephesians describing God's endless mercy and unrelenting love toward us while we were yet still sinners.  Paul then begs us to live our lives consistent with (Greek: axios) our calling.

A few years ago a young man in our church left his wife. For a few weeks he pointed his finger at his wife as the cause for the break-up of their marriage, but he hid the fact that he had a secret girlfriend. When he finally revealed to me that there was another woman in his life, we asked him to step down from his leadership position at Emmanuel. He totally stopped coming. His shame was intense.

In a few months his divorce was finalized. This young man moved in with his girlfriend. His weight ballooned. He was in hiding from his former friends and from his former life. By his own admission, he was severely depressed. He eventually married his girlfriend, and he became the topic of conversation around many dinner tables, coffee shops, and community groups. People talked about him, but not to him.

I disciplined him.

The word discipline is rooted in the word disciple. For a year I discipled this young man. I texted him words of encouragement. I sent emails letting him know I missed him in church. Monthly I would ask him to lunch. Over barbeque sandwiches I would talk with him about his sin and how to reconcile with those he'd harmed. I was unrelenting in my love and endless in my mercy toward him. Discipline is not punishment; it's the same word used by the Greeks when mending a broken limb. After the mending, the broken bone is stronger than before it's brokenness.  

People might ask, "But did you disciple the people he'd harmed?"

People in pain don't need discipline, they need healing. Unrelenting love and endless mercy is for sinners. Those who see themselves as innocent victims and believe that the source of their pain and trouble is the sin of others need "the balm in Gilead" and "the leaves of the Tree of Life" (Jesus Christ) to bring healing.  So, the answer to the question is "Yes," I encouraged those wounded by the actions of this young man to find their security, identity and happiness in Christ alone. I desire always to be compassionate, patient and encouraging during the process of their healing. When life brings a left-hook that knocks us flat, the process of getting back up is seldom easy.

God seems to allow hurtful and painful events to bring me to the place of finding my personal security, identity and happiness solely in Him. When people I love, material possessions, or possibly even my stellar reputation is lost, I am forced to find my source in Christ.  The good news is that after Christ brings me healing, His power begins to flow through me. When my cups is truly filled up by Him, I find His endless mercy and unrelenting love for me beginning to spill out from me toward others.

When I am in pain, I will sometimes mistakenly attribute my healing to the actions of another person (e.g. the sinner).  "If he would only truly repent..." or "If she would only change her ways." For this reason, unrelenting love and endless mercy toward sinners sometimes will sometimes offend me, particularly if it is toward someone whose hurt me. It feels right (and natural) to run and shun. But God's ways are different than my ways. He's a God of endless mercy and unrelenting love.

My father recently shared with me that he tells people that "we should say what needs said, do what needs done, and live the way we ought to live with our focus "Never About The Outcome" (NATO)."  If we focus on the outcome - for example, whether other people are really changing, or whether my terrible circumstances are improving, or whether the sinner is sincerely repenting - then our focus is misplaced. Our gaze should always be inward, looking to see if we have within us  "His divine power that has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (II Peter 1:3). If I can't give unrelenting love and endless mercy to sinners, as well as patience and compassion to the wounded, then somethings out of kilter within me.

One year ago, over lunch at a restaurant in North Enid, I asked this young man where he and his new wife were attending worship. He told me that recently they'd begun praying together, but they weren't attending corporate worship anywhere. I invited him to Emmanuel.

He looked at me intently and said, "Wade, if I walk in those doors, people will be offended. I've caused a lot of hurt."

I told him that worrying about the reactions of others is to ignore what is needed in his own life. Then I suggested, "When you come, walk down to the front of the church and you and your wife sit in the first three rows of the center section."

He looked at me incredulously. "Wade, people will be upset that we are even in church, not to mention we have the gall to walk to the front and sit."

I responded, "We bring prisoners to church every Sunday - we call them offenders. They sit on the first three rows. If anyone says anything to you about where you are sitting, just tell them, 'Wade invited us to come and we are sitting where the offenders sit.'"

Last Christmas this young man and his wife came - and sat where the offenders sat.

The process of bringing this man to repentance has been long and arduous. I have encouraged him to take ownership of his sin - quit blaming others for it - and seek forgiveness, resting in God's forgiveness of Him.  He has, but of course, there will be some who question whether his repentance is real or sincere. We can only live our lives consistent with our calling. God is responsible for the outcomes.

At least from my observation, through endless mercy and unrelenting love, this wayward son's dry bones have come alive.

Dry Bones should be more than just a song we sing on Sunday.

Christmas, the Trinity, Husbands and Wives

I have written before on the doctrinal error of the eternal subordination of the Son, but my father (Paul Burleson) has recently written an excellent post that shows how one's view of the Trinity affects your understanding of both Christmas and marriage! Read ... and enjoy!

Image result for Christmas garland

Christmas, the Trinity, Husbands and Wives
Paul Burleson

Christmas is coming. It's a celebration of Jesus coming to do a redemptive work. It's a mystery, but some things can be ruled in OR out of that mystery.

Some Christians have mistakenly applied a subordinate relationship to the persons of the Trinity in their eternal nature. I.e., even before the Logos became incarnate as Jesus born in Bethlehem, He was subordinate [they say] to God the Father, though the Persons of the Godhead were equal in essence or nature. Thus, [they say] a relationship of authority and submission, a kind of chain of command if you will, is present within the Trinity by nature. If the Son IS eternally begotten by the Father, then, they would say, His very existence in some way depends on the Father, thus the submission.

So the concept of eternal subordination would seem to be a natural corollary with this kind of thinking. And, for them, this leads to an interpretation of marriage that would make the husband LIKE the Father, ruling, and wives LIKE the Son, in submission, because [they say] the Son's submission is an ETERNAL thing. [But they're also forgetting that marriage has no eternality about it as there is no marriage in heaven.]

In my judgment this is NOT a correct understanding of the Incarnation. The many passages that could be cited that certainly do show the subordination of Christ to the Father are to be understood as a reference to the role of SERVANT which the Logos VOLUNTARILY assumed as a result of the incarnation. [Which, by the way, is to be the role of BOTH husband and wife to each other, SERVING one another. See Ephesians 5:21 resulting from the imperative in 5:18] There is no relationship of subordination among the three Persons of the Trinity before the Incarnation to be found in the scripture. It has to be ASSUMED because of our human view of Parent/Child relationships transferred on to an eternal level.

Assumptions cannot be allowed that would present a Son or Spirit with anything LESS [even authority] than the Father. Thus, the subordination of the Son to the Father is to be seen as FUNCTIONAL ONLY and ONLY for His earthly sojourn and not ONTOLOGICAL at all. [Within the nature of the Trinity] It has to do with the Son’s office and work on EARTH and not his PERSON in pre-time or post-time. [Eternity]

What we have in scripture is an Eternal-Sonship that is totally UNLIKE any sonship we have on planet earth. So whatever "submission" Jesus experienced on this earth to the Father was assumed and limited to His earthly sojourn. Jesus Christ the God-man, as the Son of Man, is the Father’s servant, and he does the will of the Father; but this is an aspect of the humiliation that he freely chose to endure for the sake of our salvation. It is NOT a testimony to His Eternal Nature OR FUNCTION as there is Eternal Equality in the Three Persons of the Godhead.

Castro, the CIA, and Christ's Second Coming

There are true stories so bizarre they read like fiction.

This is one of them.

Fidel Castro died this past week (November 25, 2016). This brutal communist dictator had been an enemy of the United States government since he seized power in Cuba in 1959. President Kennedy attempted to overthrow Castro by promising military support for Cuban exiles who would launch a coup against Castro. In the greatest failure of Kennedy's administration, the Cuban exiles invaded Cuba on April 27, 1961, but were left to die at the Bay of Pigs without the promised U.S. support ever materializing.

On November 30, 1961 a second attempt to overthrow the Cuban dictator commenced. It was called Operation Mongoose, and was led by U.S. Air Force General Edward Lansdale of the United States Department of Defense (DOD). Lansdale worked closely with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to implement the 33 individual phases of Operation Mongoose. The end goal was the overthrow of Castro.

Here's where it gets weird.

General Lansdale and his agents designed a plan to try and convince the people of Cuba that:
  1. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ had arrived.
  2. Fidel Castro was the anti-Christ.
  3. Jesus wanted the people of Cuba to overthrow the anti-Christ.
How the DOD and CIA proposed to execute a fake Second Coming of Jesus Christ to overthrow Castro is revealed by Assistant Deputy Director for National Intelligence Programs Thomas A. Parrott in his 1974 report to the United States Senate.
"Lansdale's plan consisted of spreading the word that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent and that Christ was against Castro who was anti-Christ. And you would spread this word around Cuba, and then on whatever date it was, that there would be a manifestation of this thing. And at the time – this was absolutely true – and at the time just over the horizon there would be an American submarine that would surface off of Cuba and send up some star-shells. And this would be the manifestation of the Second Coming and Castro would be overthrown.”
Star-shells are powerful pyrotechnic flares designed to fill the skies at night with widespread illumination. Parrott reported to the Senate that Lansdale intended for a U.S. Navy submarine to project images of Jesus Christ onto low lying clouds off the coast of the Cuban capital of Havana. While the image of Christ appeared over Havana, a crew from a U.S. military plane - camouflaged by the clouds and using new technology that muffled the plane engines - would broadcast  messages from Jesus Christ over a loudspeaker to the people of Cuba (in Spanish of course), ordering them by the authority of God Himself to overthrow Castro the anti-Christ and renounce communism.

The operation was never executed out of fear that either the submarine or the airplane might actually be discovered by the Cuban military and the potential loss of American life was too great a risk.

Castro's death and the 45th anniversary of Operation Mongoose this week have led me to some reflection. I realize that today's America is mostly pagan and we are ruled by many pagan political leaders. 45 years ago we had many professing Christians in government leadership, including General Lansdale. Which America is more conducive to the growth of true Christianity?
  1. An America where the government and political leaders are hostile to the message of Jesus Christ and to those people who follow Jesus? or
  2. An America where the government and political leaders concoct a covert plan to fake the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in order to overthrow a communist dictator.
I think the former.


Jim has given me permission to share his story.

He's a big reason why I'm grateful this Thanksgiving 2016. Jim illustrates why a Kingdom focus is so important for churches like the one I pastor. The Lord calls us to be transformational, not comfortable. Salt and light, that's who we are. Yet, too often, we preachers are more interested in pleasing people and making budgets than we are in pleasing God and making disciples.

Jim reminds me of the power of God's grace and the transformation through Jesus centered ministry.

7 years ago Jim came to see me. He told me he didn't wish to live. Every day Jim would get up and tell his wife, "Today's the day I'm going to kill myself."  His threats were real. He had attempted suicide seven times. When you hear his story, you'll understand why. He came to see me at the request of his wife.

Jim was beaten by his mother beginning at the age of 3. Not spanked; beaten. The physical abuse intensified over the years. At age 12, after his mother caught him at an R-rated movie, Jim was told to remove his pants and underwear and bend over the kitchen counter. His mother removed Jim's metal three-pronged belt from his pants, and she proceeded to beat him with the metal end on his bare buttocks.

She told Jim she would keep beating him until he cried. "I'd been beaten so much by her I was determined to die before I cried," Jim told me. The beating didn't stop until Jim's older sister finally intervened and grabbed the belt out their mother's hands. Enraged that her pre-puberty son had not yet cried, Jim's mother yelled, "You two clean up this mess." It took more than an hour to clean Jim's spattered blood spots from the floors, countertops, and ceilings.

The physical abuse was nothing compared to the sexual abuse. From age 8 to age 11, an older male cousin repeatedly sexually violated Jim. Unless you've experienced sexual abuse, it's difficult to imagine the soul-crushing agony. At the age of 12, Jim's mother began sexually abusing her son too. It would be inappropriate for me to detail how his mom sexually abused him, but Jim's psychosis began around the time he grappled with why his drug-addicted mother crossed over from inflicting physical pain to demanding sexual pleasure.

At the age of 13, Jim began to get in trouble with the law. The police arrested him for setting fires and other acts of vandalism. "I was arrested too many times to count," Jim said.  The fights were frequent and fierce. "I once put a boy in the ICU for bashing his head with a brick on our way home from school." Jim's anger was uncontrollable. On those occasions he managed to suppress it and not express it, Jim plunged into deep depression. He turned to drugs and alcohol for relief but found none.

That's when he began to have actual mental breakdowns. "I've been institutionalized nine times. I've been diagnosed as bi-polar. All I know it's been difficult to even want to live." His suicide attempts were frequent and often the cause of his institutionalization.

Seven years ago, when I first heard Jim's story, my heart went out to him. Jim could barely look me in the eye. His voice was so quiet I strained to hear him. I knew he was a wreck inside. I encouraged Jim as best I could. I recommended that Jim begin attending a new recovery program that Emmanuel Enid was beginning.

Fast forward to this evening, Thanksgiving week 2016.

I went with Jim to a local mental health facility that Jim visits each week.

He is no longer a patient. Jim goes every week to minister to patients. Jim is now Emmanuel Enid's recovery minister.

I listened as Jim shared his story of abuse, addiction, psychosis  and recovery through Jesus Christ to the patients in the mental health facility. I watched the mental health patients listen intently as Jim shared his story. I mean, they really listened.

Jim captivated them with the message of God's grace in Jesus Christ. One man wore a shirt that said, "Nothing to fear, but the loss of beer." But in listening to these men open up to Jim after, I realized that they all feared so much more. Many of them had been sexually abused like Jim. All of them faced addictions like Jim. These men connected with Jim because he was one of them; the walking wounded.

I too listened intently as Jim explained to the men how he began attending Emmanuel Enid's recovery program seven years ago at my request. Four weeks into the step recovery program participants are asked to pick an accountability partner. The recovery leader at the time asked everyone to stand and look around and find someone to be their accountability partner.

"I ran to the bathroom and hid," said Jim. "I did what I always did. I withdrew. In that bathroom, I committed to taking my life that night. I determined to kill myself, and this time to make it a successful suicide. I washed my face and walked out of the bathroom. That's when two men in Emmanuel's recovery program were standing there in the hall waiting for me. 'Jim,' they said, 'We want you to be our accountability partner. We love you.'"

Jim cried all the way home. "If these men actually loved me, maybe God could love me too." That night, Jim gave his life to Christ. Jim surrendered to Christ everything; his life; his hurts, his hang-ups, and his habits. Jim's recovery was beginning.

The last seven years have been transformational for Jim. "Jesus Christ has worked miracle after miracle within me."

I saw the transformation in Jim tonight. As Jim spoke, he looked men in the eyes. As he shared, the hesitant, embarrassed man full of shame that I met seven years ago was gone. The Spirit of God was now in control of Jim.

It was my privilege to pray with the men tonight as we finished our time together. I couldn't help but get emotional as I prayed for Christ's power and love to transform these men's lives, just as He had transformed Jim's life. The men all hugged Jim and me before we left.

As we were leaving the hospital I said, "Jim, it's absolutely amazing to see the impact you had on these men tonight. You are so totally transformed from the man I first talked to seven years ago."

Jim smiled and said, "We serve a very big God, don't we?"

As an adult, Jim didn't avoid the mom who'd inflicted so much pain. Christ gave him the power to love her, in spite of her sins. Jim's now aged mother recently sought forgiveness of Jim. The power of God's grace in Jim has been seen in his ability to forgive.

When you and I walk the halls of the church building on Sundays, there are many people just like Jim who are walking those same halls. They are unimpressed with outward appearances because everything inside them is falling apart.

I'm grateful to pastor a church who thinks about everything we do, with the primary focusing on being transformational rather than comfortable.

I'm grateful for friends like Jim who continually remind me that the grace of God makes us all "more than conquerors through Him who loved us."

I'm grateful that after 35 years of vocational ministry, I'm finally learning that the measurement of a great ministry is the people whose lives have been transformed by Jesus Christ.

I'm just simply grateful today.

Happy Thanksgiving!