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

You Can't Forgive Foolishness: James McDonald on 'Spiritual Authority' Invested in the Church Elders

Christianity Today reports that James McDonald, pastor of Chicago's multi-campus Harvest Bible Church, has apologized to his church for the public discipline of three elders last year. The elders were disciplined in September 2013 after speaking out against a “culture of fear and intimidation” and a lack of transparency in the church, including their concerns over nearly 60 million dollars in construction debt.

Pastor McDonald and a majority of the elder board publicly disciplined the three elders. In speaking to the church about these men in September 2013, the elders and Pastor James McDonald were very expressive and deliberate in describing these three men to the congregation at Harvest Bible Chapel. They used phrases like:
*"What the men are saying is Satanic to the core and must be dealt with very directly."
 *“We warn the people of Harvest Bible Chapel to separate themselves from these false messengers."
*Please avoid these former Harvest elders at all costs lest you incur great detriment to your own soul.”
Unless you have been on the receiving end of intentional character assassination from leaders of an institution who are fearful that you may disrupt their plans, it is difficult to imagine the pain inflicted on these three 'disciplined' elders and their families, as well as the damage done to their reputations. Harvest Bible Chapel members should be grateful that their pastor apologized for the above character assassination statements, and should forgive him based upon his repentance.

Unfortunately, the real problem at Harvest Bible Chapel has yet to be addressed. The people of HBC should be asking the question: "Why were we our elders ever in the position of making such statements about these three men to us in the first place?"

The answer to that question is seen in the foolish theology regarding 'spiritual authority' held by the pastor and elders of Harvest Bible Chapel. Their views can be clearly seen in the prefacing words Pastor James McDonald used when the majority of elders publicly disciplined the three minority elders in September 2013 (you may watch the actual video if you desire):
"I just want to remind you that God has entrusted spiritual authority to the local church."
"We believe that (this) authority of the church is invested in the elders."
"When the elders speak collectively in agreement, they speak for God to our church."
"That's about as serious as serious gets."
"These elders are now going to speak on behalf of God to our entire church."
The elders then proceeded to explain why the minority caucus of elders in their midst were 'Satanic to the core,' were 'false messengers,' and everyone was to avoid them lest "you incur great detriment to your own soul."

Truth be known, Harvest Bible Chapel members, the problem at your church is not that three men were publicly disciplined because they were asking for greater transparency and financial accountability. The problem is that you have leaders who tell you that when they speak they are speaking on behalf of God. That's yet to be addressed.

Spiritual authority, according to Jesus, is never invested in titles, positions of power (think elders), or other offices within an institutional church. Jesus was clear about this.
"Jesus called all the followers together. Jesus said, "You know that the rulers of the non-Jewish people love to show their power over the people. And their important leaders love to use all their authority over the people. But it should not be that way with you. If one of you wants to become great, then he must serve you like a servant" (Matt. 20:25-26).
The apology that still needs to occur to the people and congregation of Harvest Bible Chapel would sound like this:

(1). We apologize for saying that we always speak for God, when the truth is, we are all susceptible to our own personal agendas, our own selfish desires, and other inner conflicts that sometimes prevent us from ever hearing from, much less speaking for, our God.
(2). We apologize for teaching you that spiritual authority is invested in titles and positions within the local church, rather the New Testament truth that spiritual authority is always invested in the giftings, service, and love of Christ's people, regardless of title or position.
(3). We apologize for setting up ourselves as vicars of God on your behalf. Though we told you in September 2013 that it we were speaking for God, it should be obvious to you that (a). God never makes mistakes, and (b). God never has to apologize. We repent of thinking more about our positions and titles than what God thinks of them.

Now that would be a refreshing New Testament apology. However, Pastor McDonald and the elders don't yet see that the real problem is their view of 'spiritual authority.' In my opinion, the greatest problem within the evangelical Christian church is this foolishness regarding spiritual authority.

I'm not sure you can forgive foolishness until it is at least uncovered and called what it is. For help with the New Testament teaching of spiritual authority in the local church download this free PDF.

'The Identical,' Shoddiness, and Faith Shaming

Periodically I vent when I write. I truly don't like it, but sometimes inner irritation bursts out like 'Old Faithful's' waters. Prepare yourself for a written geyser.

The faith-based family move The Identical is currently in theaters. It features some well known Hollywood actors, including Ray Loitta and Ashley Judd.  Last night my wife and I were thinking about going to see a movie, and I did a quick search on reviews of The Identical. Rotten Tomatoes critics gave the movie a 5% rating, one of the lowest ever in the history of the movie review service. Interestingly, the audience gave the movie a respectable 76% rating. I thought we might go based upon the audience appraisals.

As I began to read the reviews, I thought something along these lines, "Well, maybe Hollywood just doesn't understand faith-based, family value movies like The Identical."

Then I read that Christianity Today gave The Identical one star out of five.  The review is worth reading. Words like 'lame,' 'surreal,' and 'odd' are sprinkled throughout the review. Again, not having seen the movie, I am not passing judgment, just information. Christianity Today's review gives a synopsis The Identical in four closing paragraphs which are worth quoting:
Weirdest of all, when Ryan  has a rock-bottom moment and goes to a bar and orders a whiskey (thus proving it’s a genuine “rock-bottom moment”), he is confronted and comforted by a dwarf. The little man, played by Danny Woodburn (an actor with dwarfism best known for his Seinfeld role as Kramer’s volatile friend Mickey), actually says to Ryan, “You’re lookin’ for somethin’, aren’t you? Let me give you a hint, Ryan Wade. It ain’t here. But keep lookin’. You’ll find it eventually.”
It’s lame dialogue, yes. But you won’t really care. Because you’ll be dwelling on the fact that there was a specific filmmaking choice to have a dwarf, shorter than the barstool, suddenly appear out of thin air, just to give a pep talk to our hero at the film’s climactic moment. It’s so strange and surreal and startling, it’s as if Rhett Butler had said, “Frankly, my dear, pull my finger.” Or if Darth Vader had told Luke, “I am your father’s chiropractor.” It’s just head-shakingly odd.
 If you really want to see a great movie about twins separated at birth, re-watch Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Or either version of The Parent Trap.In press materials, The Identical describes itself as “a redemptive movie,” “a captivating story about a family restored, and a life discovered,” and “a drama . . . that powerfully explores two questions that constantly tug at our souls: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I here for?’”
But it doesn’t answer the question that’s tugging at mine: When I hit rock bottom, will a kindly, wise, cliché-spouting, hippie dwarf come and save me too?

Surprisingly, I was still inclined to see the movie, even after reading Christianity Today's review. What soured me, and what gave rise to my inner angst was an article I read by an irreverent comedian who took to task the movie's producers. I found myself agreeing with the irreverent comedian.

The producers of The Identical are telling Christians that 'The Identical" is a wonderful faith-based, family movie! They are putting the first 15 minutes of the movie on-line - for free - and declaring:
Mainstream film critics did not care for ‘The Identical,’ while Christian reviewers and audiences loved the movie. We are putting the first fifteen minutes online to let you decide for yourself.
I went to the official website for The Identical. Immediately I was turned off. Like many modern evangelical Christians, the producers of The Identical seem to be under the impression that if you make a movie that doesn't glorify sex or violence, make use of generous profanity, or flaunt nudity, then Christians should love the movie!

Not even close.

Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." C.S. Lewis quoted Aristotle, and then opined, "The devil understands this well. Thus his strategy is to gently nudge us in the wrong direction. He knows that if we truly saw where we were headed, we would immediately turn away. So, he just softly leads us in the wrong direction, knowing that momentum is a difficult thing to change."

Christian filmmaking seems to be headed in the wrong direction. Evangelicals seem to have not yet developed the habit of producing excellent films, settling for shaky dialogue, shoddy acting, and sharing the belief that Christians will be 'shamed' into seeing such Christian movies because we are in a 'culture war.'

That doesn't motivate me. Evangelical Christians above all others should be producing the most stunning artistic expressions of film and music that our world experiences!  Think of Bach and Beethoven. Think of Tolkien and Lewis. Forget the division between 'secular and sacred." If the universe is all God's then the arts are all His and are sacred.

It is the cheesy that denigrates God, and demotivates me to see a movie. Cheesiness is just as cheesy whether it comes wrapped in nudity or fully clothed people; with hellish curses or mind-numbing banal blessings that both take God's name in vain; with gruesome violence or cheesy heavenly visions. I don't wish to see cheesy, even if the package comes wrapped with a faith-based, family bow around it. Even more, I'll never go see a movie where Christian producers shame me into believing I should see it - in spite of its shoddiness - because we are in a 'culture war.'

After reading the attempts by the producers of The Identical to shame Christians into seeing it, I came to the conclusion I have more in common with an irreverent comedian than I do reverent Christians when it comes to watching poorly crafted movies. Give me professionalism. Give me excellence. Don't make an excuse for the absence of either, particularly if you are a follower of Jesus Christ who radiates the glory of God and sustains the universe by the power of His Word.

He deserves better.

And so do we.

Help for Team Enid and the 2014 FIREBALL RUN

America's 2014 FIREBALL RUN (September 26 to October 4, 2014) is a gripping and emotional 8 day, 2,000 mile, life-sized trivia game, where America serves as the game board and 40 driving teams compete for glory, bragging rights, and a plastic road sign.

The mission of the race is a massive nationwide effort to recover America's missing children.

The race is streamed live to a world-audience and begins in Frisco, Texas and ends in Independence Missouri. Enid, Oklahoma is one of just 8 city destinations during the race, serving as Chapter 4 in the FIREBALL RUN. All forty race teams and a nationwide audience will be in Enid, Oklahoma on Tuesday, September 30, 2014.

Enid, Oklahoma also has a team in the race. Dr. David Vanhooser and Aaron Brownlee will be driving a 2009 Aston Martin in the race, representing the city of Enid.

Team Enid needs your help!

The race revolves around the teams being given clues from a list of 2,500 TRIVIA questions regarding America's frontier. The team that solves the trivia questions the quickest has a distinct advantage in getting to the finish line first. No car can exceed the speed limit (monitored by the race and penalties for exceeding the speed limit), so the only true advantage is solving the trivia questions faster than the other teams.

I am leading the TEAM ENID'S TRIVIA TEAM, and I need your help. If you would be available to receive private Facebook Messages from Team Enid's Website from Sunday afternoon, September 28 through the end of the race on Friday, October 3, 2014 and help solve the trivia questions given to the racers, then I need you to sign up to be a part of Enid's Trivia Team. The messages will be PRIVATE to keep other teams from taking advantage of our collective brain power.

If you can help, please CLICK ON THIS WEBSITE (Team Enid's Facebook Page) and send a FRIEND REQUEST - Let us know in the 'comment column' that you will help us by serving on the Trivia Team. Then, Shelby Unruh, Communications Director at Wymer Brownlee, will add you to a PRIVATE PAGE of TEAM ENID'S FACEBOOK PAGE

During the race, you will receive Trivia Questions and we simply ask that you respond on TEAM ENID'S PRIVATE FACEBOOK PAGE  with appropriate answers!  It's that simple. If there are multiple good answers, it will ultimately be my responsibility to determine the BEST answer - and send our racers on their way!

Come on Facebook peeps! I have friends all over the nation (and you have friends too) who are excellent at trivia!

Let's lead TEAM ENID TO VICTORY and win the national 2014 FIREBALL RUN!

And possibly help find a missing child!

Hear ISIL and Share 'Israel's Statehood Is Lasting'

There is a growing controversy on the Internet due to President Barak Obama's use of the acronym ISIL in referring to the brutal terrorist organization most commonly referred to as ISIS. Some are proposing that Mr. Obama is intentionally denigrating Israel by using ISIL, which stands for “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant" rather than ISIS, which stands for "“Islamic State in Iraq and Syria." Al-Jeezera, the Islamic broadcasting arm of most Arab Muslims, solely uses ISIL in their media broadcasts.

The word 'levant' comes from the French language and means "rising." In ancient history, the word was used to refer to the lands where "the rising of the sun" occurred, or more generally, the eastern lands. However, it is a word that Muslims have historically used to refer to the land bridge between Africa and Europe (see map). Most Muslims believe the Jews have no rights to Levant land and refuse to recognize Israel as a state. ISIL is an acronym that some believe calls into question Israel's right to exist as an independent state.

The southern part of the Levant was once called the land of  Canaan, and the people who lived their were known as the Canaanites. When the Jews conquered Canaan after leaving their Egyptian captivity under the leadership of Moses and Joshua,  the land became known as "the land of Israel" (eretz Israel). Israel stretched from  Dan to Beersheba during Old Testament times, about 150 miles north and south along the Levant landbridge. When Rome defeated the Jews during the Jewish Wars of the 1st Century AD, the Romans renamed the region Palestina, after Israel’s most bitter enemy (the Philistines), to humiliate the Jews. The word Palestine comes from the Latin Palestina which means “land of the Philistines.”

So, it seems throughout history, Israel has been slighted by their enemies. It very well could be that ISIL is a slight against Israel. However, the prestigious Journal of Levantine Studies is published by Jews in Jerusalem, so one cannot be dogmatic that the word "Levant" is an insult to the Jews themselves.

Regardless, for those who believe ISIL is an insult to Israel, I propose every time ISIL is used to refer to the Caliphate that radical Muslims are attempting to establish, we should share with others- -


Joan Rivers, Death, and the Hamptons

It was sad to hear that Joan Rivers suffered a heart attack while undergoing a medical procedure, and is now in critical condition at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. The eighty-one year old comedian is known for her biting sarcasm and verbal scorching of other famous people through comedic quips and barbs. She says that comedians should never apologize for their jokes, because they’re here on Earth to make people laugh. I'm not sure if the targets of her jokes actually laugh, but that's another story.

Joan Rivers says that she reads the New York Times obituaries every day. She's looking for people she
can't date any more. She carries her humor over to the funerals she attends. "My friends are all dropping like flies," says Joan. "I go to the funerals of my girlfriends and I hear the minister say, 'She’s in a better place.' What?  Are you kidding me? No, she’s not. She had a house in the Hamptons!"

I've long thought that many Americans have lost all sense of the eternal by being sucked into the spinning whirlpool of temporal comfort and pleasure. It's an extraordinary privilege to live in American prosperity, but if the Kingdom of God seems stagnated and useless in America, it could be because Americans are satisfied and comfortable in their affluence.

What most forget is that the treasures of this life don't last. The proverbial 'moth and rust' of ancient days has become the 'debt and decay' of modern stuff. Nothing is forever. Skin sags. Investments go bust. Homes decay. Life on earth always ends. Americans fight hard to keep temporal things looking new, shiny and fresh. It's a losing battle, but affluence whispers its lie that the temporal can last. As long as affluence abounds, heaven seems an appropriate target for a comedian's joke.

It's one of the reasons that no Christian with a concern for the eternal welfare of others should ever fear economic disaster, world war, or major catastrophes in this life, such as cancer, heart attacks, or other serious illnesses. When bad thing happen to people, it always makes the eternal come into sharper focus. If America is in for a very rough time in the near future, it simply means people might become more aware of the truth that death can be the door to a better place. It requires Jesus to transform a person's life from the inside out. Isaac Watts, a Jesus follower and a man who understood the futility of lusting after the temporal, once wrote:
Cheerful in death I close my eyes, 
To part with every lust;
And charge my flesh whene'er it rise
To leave them in the dust.  
Or to put it in pictorial language: "When America's distended affluence bubble bursts,  heaven will no longer be the butt of a joke about the Hamptons."