Lament of a Speed Bump

I was at my first missions conference in Honduras and feeling a bit out of place amongst a slew of veteran missionaries when an old man alone in the corner beckoned me over. I can’t recall his name and I never saw him again. But I’ll call him Jeremy.  Jeremy had been in Honduras for over 40 years and was pushing 80. He looked me up and down and asked, “so what do you do?” then cut me off before I could speak.  “You see all these people here? All they talk about is themselves and what they do! No one talks about the Bible! They couldn’t care less”. I just stared not really knowing what to say. After all I talked a lot about what we do. “You know what? You’re a speed bump too.” I can see it in your eyes.

No one likes a speed bump.

I was in prison the last time I’d heard something like that. People imagine all sorts of things about prison. But prisons have their own culture where merchants artists and musicians thrive in a booming underground economy. You can get almost anything you want from heroin to shampoo provided you know the right people. Shampoo especially Pantene was a primary obsession and status badge.  I never did grasp the obsession with Pantene shampoo. It seemed the compulsion to barter and hoard was just innate. They called it “running store”. Running store was forbidden and could get you thrown in “the hole”.  The hole is jail inside a prison.

It seemed absurd to me that the rich and powerful were determined by the ability to stockpile shampoo in a footlocker. There was tremendous pride among store owners and the inmate leaders that allowed them to operate. It was as if they were building a legacy. Legacy is important in the criminal world. Cash was prohibited of course and therefore useless. Cigarettes and porn were the primary currency in which most products were trafficked. Porn was technically forbidden but most guards simply turned their heads. Individual pages from porn mags were placed in plastic document protectors and traded like baseball cards.  The only rule in conducting business was an implicit agreement to live by lies. That’s how trust was built. Prosocial behavior was always embellished especially in front guards. The nicer and more respectful the inmate the more bad was concealed. “Good morning sir. How’s the family? Is there anything specific we can pray for you today?” meant the guy probably had a shank or drugs under his mattress.

“No need to look here, sir. I worship Jesus.”

“It’s us against them so shut your mouth.” was the number one rule.  If there’s a shakedown and we get caught someone has to take the fall. Volunteer to get thrown under the bus if you want to move up in rank. Be a “stand up guy” and people will respect you. But “Snitches get stitches.” Other than that anything goes. At the end of the day assenting to this culture amounts to walking in quicksand.

The further one steps, the deeper one sinks.

Those who step in rarely get out.  I was one of the few who realized that the only way I would escape the revolving door of recidivism would be to reject every aspect of the culture in which I was immersed

and resolve to live not by lies.   

Obviously, this put me at odds with everyone around me including some of the guards.  And don’t think for a minute it was because I prayed and talked about a loving Jesus. Everyone in prison knows that Jesus. You might get mocked or ignored but there is rarely a problem with sharing  “God so loved the world…” “The joy of the Lord is my strength”, Or He has plans to prosper you to give you a future and a hope… Inmates love that Jesus.

Problems only arise when darkness gets exposed.

So I set up camp in Ephesians 5.

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible…” Eph 5:11-13

I won’t speak about the specific things I saw. Some of you would vomit. Suffice it to say it didn’t take long before I realized that turning one’s head is synonymous with “taking part”. My motto became,

“You want me to shut up?! Kill me!”

Believe me, they wanted to.

There were two Matson containers on each side of the prison yard. They were welded together to form “classrooms” in which we addressed our addictions and criminal thinking errors. One particularly poignant moment was the  day I entered the container and was greeted by 50+ men clapping their hands and stomping their feet chanting,

“We’re gonna eat you alive!”

There was always something. “Hey, you know – I was just thinking,” began the three hundred pound Samoan who’d just beat a former college running back turned crackhead in the 40-yard dash. “I wouldn’t want to do or say anything that would make someone want to kill me when I got out.” Coincidentally this was right about the time another Christ professing inmate was released.  They’d found him dead, shot in the back of the head execution-style in the parking lot behind his church. As always the inmates knew it before the media did.

One day a guy who’d already done 20 years for murder called me over and said, “Hey Gray, You know what my favorite part about shooting people is?” He showed me his finger. “It’s sticking this finger in the bullet hole.” he pressed his figure hard into my chest and laughed. It must have been Holy Spirit that anesthetized the fear but I just stared blankly into his eyes. “But you know what?” He continued. “Ain’t no one here gonna mess with you. I can see it in your eyes.”

There was fire in my bones in those days.

I had a fire in my bones when I started my missionary journey and proclaimed Isaiah 6:8 “Here I am send me!” Back then I thought it was a call to give stuff to the poor, sell Jesus door to door, and proclaim God’s unconditional love due to people’s inherent awesomeness.  Today I know it marked Isaiah’s acceptance of a call to proclaim a hard and unpopular word to a stiff-necked, sinful, and dismissive people. It was followed by God’s judgment.

Most people don’t believe God judges anything or anyone today.

He just wants to bless their hearts after people allow Him in.

Jerimiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” was another misused feel-good favorite of mine. It was usually spoken over people whom I knew absolutely nothing about and flowed out of warm fuzzy feelings proceeding from what seemed like obedience to Holy Spirit. I called it prophetic. It was probably projection. Like so many others I prophetically proclaimed this scripture over the lives of others without ever examining the original context let alone the condition of their lives.  Of course, God wants the best for us. That’s why He sent His son to die in our place. Tell me,

Why is that never enough?

It’s only been in the last year or two that I finally internalized that Jeremiah 29:11 is not a healing and prosperity proof-text.  Like the father who takes the time to explain why he is grounding his child for a week, Jer 29:11 is part of God’s explanation for His discipline. ‘This spanking is for your good son’  He had “grounded” Israel, meaning He sent them into captivity for 70 years as a result of their spiritual adultery and sexual sin. You see, the Israelites faithfully worshiped God in the temple as was required. That was a good thing. The problem was that they’d leave the temple and head for the hills to have wild orgies in the high places. The goal was to create a pornographic show that would excite the pagan gods Baal and Asherah into doing the same. Apparently fornicating demons were good for fertility and the harvest. The same relationship between porn and idolatrous worship today might be worth noting.

Jeremiah warned them repeatedly for years. Meanwhile, expedient positivity prophets of the day proclaimed, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’ Jer 14:13.  God called them liars. Israel got sword, famine, and captivity.

To paraphrase Art Katz, ‘true prophets are the most irrelevant people in the room until the day when they are the only relevant people in the room.’

Just recently we learned that a smiling, praying supposedly spirit-filled father of multiple children at a house we repaired fathered at least one of them with his teenage daughter.  There’s another abused girl we heard rumors about months ago but have no actual proof.

As it turns out this is common in our area .

The guilty include those like me who turn their heads.

Thump, thump, discordant bump...

Like so many in Honduras, the people in the mountains near us have been evangelized to the utter brim. Most have accepted Jesus into their hearts more times than they can remember and certainly every time an American missionary showed up. There are passionate tear-filled calls for God’s anointing, power, healing, and provision, etc. There are extensive sermons on God’s power, prosperity, healing, and deliverance, from generational curses especially curses that block prosperity. It makes perfect sense. This is the gospel they’ve received from the USA.  Nothing is ever spoken about sexual sin even though a vast majority of families are headed up by single mothers.

What is the point if there is no transformation?

A drunken, incestuous, fornicating bride is the fruit of a gospel devoid of reverence, and repentance – a gospel that preaches the power and benefits of God without ever mentioning His requirements. No one was ever persecuted for preaching identity, healing, and prosperity while feeding people, building houses and handing out free stuff. People are persecuted for exposing sin and warning of its consequences. Lets face it, most of us  don’t want to be persecuted.

We want to be successful in Jesus’s name.

To be honest, sometimes I look around at the church and its culture and I don’t see a whole lot of difference between it and the culture in prison. 

Bump, bump discordant thump.

I just watched a prominent Pastor for whom I have always had the utmost respect. He gave an excellent sermon on YouTube regarding the times in which we are living and what we can expect in the coming years.  He applied Psalm 2 and Mat 10 to the events of today. He was spot on regarding the fact that we must be wise as serpents not just gentle as doves. Then he lost me.  He began outlining his strategy to save the business side of his ministry when the nations rage. He said he was encouraging other ministry leaders across the country to do the same. His idea is to have a handful of designated people who would be targets. These people should forfeit any official position or title so they can be free to say the hard biblical truths that need to be said and face the consequences on their own without endangering the business.

In effect, ministries should have designated people whom they can throw under the bus as needed.

I mean I get the “there is no greater love..” theme but come on. That’s what criminals do in prison. What about trusting God?  I’m thinking 1 Cor 3:13-15 applies.

“each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

If the business side of a ministry is worth saving then God will save it. Other wise it’s going in the fire guys. Hebrews 12 is worth considering too.

“Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” Heb 12:27

Christianity began in the context of a relationship in Jerusalem, moved to Greece where it became a philosophy then spread to the west as a business. In many cases, marketing and strategic business plans supplant scripture and prayer. Charismatic celebrity preachers inspire young people to be like them and supplant the Holiness and Sovereignty of God. Today almost anything goes. We’ve got CRT and Enneagrams, a Universal Christ, and even Christian Witches selling Christian Tarot cards. The church is a lot like Israel in Jeremiah’s time. 

Changing direction now will require a seed to fall to the ground and die.

No one wants to hear that the activity of Christianity is first and foremost about facing everything that is wrong within ourselves individually and corporately and teaching others to do the same. This is our primary function and foundation. The rest is up to God. 

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! 139:23-24

Christianity is not an invitation and commission to market a warm fuzzy, cute and cuddly, laughing, “love is love” Jesus who came to heal and prosper His children, and make them feel heard and seen. Its definitely not about systems, and power.

It’s about Witness not whiteness. 

Thump, thump discordant thump.

Jesus was pretty matter-of-fact in speaking about the inevitability of sin in the world. One might even say He sounded fatalistic.  Yup, you can’t fix it. But,“woe to the one through whom that sin comes.”

“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Luke 17:2

Some might say the “him” in this passage is the devil, devil, devil, everything is the devil. Others think of pedophiles. I think he was talking to us.

It doesn’t matter if it’s inflated numbers of people saved, children housed and fed or numbers of sick people healed, we live by truth or we live by lies. We can rationalize in a Machiavellian “the end justifies the means” sort of way and say ministry takes money and people give to things that are working not broken. But the gospel is not a strategic business plan. It is not contingent on our success but on our willingness to be broken poured out, and utterly dependent on God.  At the end of the day embellishing the positive to conceal the negative for fear of appearing ineffective, losing support, or damaging one’s legacy is like trying to walk on quicksand with a hundred-pound pack. The stated intentions may be for the greater good.

Yet the further one steps, the deeper one sinks.

We see this dynamic repeatedly playing out in big-name, high-dollar ministries all the time. Most recently RZIM was destroyed for hiding the serial sexual sin of its founder Dr. Ravi Zacharias. After all, Ravi was brilliant and helped to lead millions to Christ. His apologetic approach was particularly effective in the Muslim world. He even evangelized one of the Sheiks that founded Hamas. Ravi was one of my heroes and I attended RZIM academy online. It was heartbreaking when he died and sickening when he was exposed. It’s no coincidence that Cathy pulled me away in the middle of writing this paragraph. “You need to watch this!” she said. It was an old 1990s YouTube documentary about four Iranian pastors who were martyred and the resulting explosion in the growth of persecuted churches in Iran. Ironically, it featured Ravi Zacarias as an authority on the Muslim world. He was actively engaged in sexual sin when he spoke. Today his ministry and the legacy he’d built over at least four decades have been sucked beneath the sand.

Meanwhile, the underground church in Iran is the fastest-growing one in the entire world.

Today back in Babylon everyone is redefining, redesigning, reimagining, rebranding and rediscovering but definitely not repenting. One prominent Pastor just blamed his error on the understanding of his followers. Tell me, what exactly is so hard about saying,

“Hey, you know what? I was wrong.”

The answer is that being wrong is bad for business. Especially for people who’s business is dependent upon with a personality cult following.

Jesus sends us out as witnesses, not businessmen. We are to proclaim His Holiness and His Coming Kingdom. “Repent!” is our primary message without which no other message matters. Not even one. It is the job of Holy Spirit to bring conviction. People repent and are saved AFTER they realize they deserve and are destined for hell and that God wants to save them because of HIS IRRESISTIBLE GOODNESS, not ours. We are God’s enemies, children of wrath until we are saved by grace from HIS, inexorable wrath. Eph 2

No one repents because they are awesome in the eyes of God.

They just raise their hands and make a transaction. Maybe they find a comfortable church later. None of it means much. The fact remains that only 6% of Americans today subscribe to a biblical worldview. Something is deeply wrong. Maybe the church is so sick because they are taught that once you accept Jesus into your heart the deal is closed and you don’t need to repent anymore. Just help build the business…I mean kingdom. There are couple-three preachers I can name off the bat who claim they never sin. Yet Paul pulled no punches when he called out sin among believers especially sexual sin in the church of Corinth in 1 Cor 56. He was very clear regarding how we should treat those who don’t repent. Paul was a speed bump.  Uncomfortable speed bump sermons like his have never been popular in the postmodern era.

They never will be. 

Hence the Greek word for witness is “Martyr”.

Stephen was a speed bump. He wasn’t even supposed to preach. He was supposed to wait on tables. Instead, he was stoned to death after he preached the gospel and told the religious leaders,

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Acts 7:51-53

Stephen and the other disciples were loving men because they were loyal to the TRUTH alone rather than men. They were also hardened, bold, fearless men who didn’t back down and didn’t mince words to make them more palatable and politically correct by

“Speaking in love”.

Truth is love the opposite of which is fear. Get over it!

Jesus didn’t weep or scream when Herod mixed the blood of the Galileans with the sacrifice. He didn’t howl “how dare they murder my children whom I loved and planned to prosper” Instead, He told those present,

“the same thing will happen to you unless you repent”. Luke 13

In fact, he said it twice

My point is that if we really loved people more than our miracles, ministry, money, success, and legacy etc. then we’d risk being hated or even killed to warn people of what is coming. 

“Then he (Jesus) began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done because they did not repent.” Mat 11:20

Jesus is the same yesterday today and forever. Heb 13:8

To be honest, I’m not sure how we are going to address what has recently come to light. We are lone rangers up here. and believe me, I am fully aware that pointing a finger means I have three more pointing back at me. I only know that we must do something. Right now I feel like Ezekiel, as I imagine it when he discovered the abominations in the Temple. Ezekiel 8. It could be just the tip of the iceberg.

As Cathy just said,

“People will want to kill us. Maybe they will.”

Phil 1:21

I need prayer for fire in my bones like I had in the days when I was first saved and didn’t give a rip about who liked me and who didn’t. Cathy pointed out that we can’t effectively address the situation if we are angry. We need to weep for the lost and not in our flesh. Still, part of me wonders if I’m not angry enough? I mean what am I afraid of? Looking back I can see how God preserved me even when people conspired to kill me. He can preserve me now. Still, I’m older now and softer, more grandfatherly and I guess it just hurts more when the proverbial car wheels hit my edges and run me over.

Who am I kidding? I don’t ever give people a reason to run me over anymore.

I need to repent!

Thump, thump, discordant thump.

This is the lament of a speed bump

MARANATHA

Begin With The End In Mind

“A church that is not eschatologically focused is a negligent culture.” 

Nick Franks

I just finished reading 1 Samuel and all the corresponding Psalms. I find this to be one of the most fascinating stories in the Bible with mentorship being just one underlying theme beginning with that between Samuel and Eli. God used Eli to teach Samuel to discern His voice. Yet Eli’s life was a disaster. Ironically the first message Samuel received from God and was told to proclaim was that Eli and his family would be cut off and that no sacrifice could be offered for forgiveness.

When was the last time you heard a prophetic word like that?

Samuel went on to anoint and mentor Saul and finally David both of whom committed the most abominable sins.  Saul disobeyed God then made excuses to justify his actions. So God rejected him as King. Amazingly, Saul was more concerned with how people viewed him than he was about his status in the eyes of God. 1 Sam 15:30  He had zero interest in God’s ultimate plan beyond his own role in it.

David committed adultery with his friend’s wife then had him killed. His actions were not without consequences but God forgave him because he repented. Even so, a gentle displacement story did not work and David only repented when Nathan confronted him directly. 2 Samuel 12. Later David is mentioned by Paul in Acts 13 as “a man after God’s own heart.” and his faith is acknowledged in the Heb 11 Hall of Faith.

Eli and Saul not so much.

It occurs to me that I have had one or two Eli’s, a couple three David’s, and a whole slew of Saul’s for mentors since I first surrendered to Jesus. All of the Saul’s were gifted and charismatic men who exert tremendous influence over people in Jesus’s name. My immaturity magnetized me to become attached to them. Some were tremendous teachers. Others were gifted in prophecy and healing.  Still, others could raise financial support in ways reminiscent of Moses bringing forth water from a rock. A few of these men behaved in ways that would result in an immediate loss of following and financial support were people to witness what lay just behind the Man of God façade. As is so often case they fell into the trap where their purpose and livelihood became contingent upon their being honored by men rather than God.

That’s a lot of pressure.

More than one of these men was prone to dishonesty, childish, and even violent outbursts when things didn’t go their way. Still, the issue was not the improprieties that can always be forgiven but the prideful refusal to acknowledge the sin and repent. Each time we parted ways. I haven’t heard from any of them since. Though I am told one of them is still periodically asks if I am saying anything bad about him.

David is the model.

I will admit that having my belief and trust violated has at times tempted me to believe that God delivered these men into my hands by exposing them like He delivered  Saul onto David twice. Still, responding like David is my goal and it is not my right let alone my responsibility to expose them to the world. Hence, I will not be naming names. The relevant point that I am working toward is that Saul and all of these contemporary typological Saul’s had zero interest in eschatology. One of them loudly declared,

“Let me tell you something! I don’t give a rip about eschatology!!”

If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha. 1 Cor 16:22

I’ve written about Maranatha before, the Aramaic word that depending on how it is pronounced means Jesus has come – Jesus is coming. It brackets the Christian life and history as a whole.  All that occurs in the space between is ancillary to the truth maranatha represents. Furthermore, It is utterly impossible to comprehend the Bible and especially the the New Testament apart from an eschatological Maranatha focus.

This past Sunday I gave a message to the children and staff from our alma mater, the City of Refuge. I began with the question, “If you don’t know where you are going how will you get there?” It was a very brief, shoot from the hip outline of history beginning in Gen 3:15 with an emphasis on the origin, meaning and significance of Jesus’s reference to Himself as the Son of man and the culmination of human history in a wedding and the final declaration of victory in Rev 22:17.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

That said, it wasn’t teaching as much as a taste that hopefully inspired some to Acts 17:11 “Bereanhood”. The point that I hope everyone got is that Jesus’s declaration “It is finished!” does not mean everything is fulfilled.  The gospel of the kingdom will only be fulfilled in its entirety upon His return in accordance with Dan 7:13-14, Mat 24:30, Acts 1:11, 1Cor 15:50-58, etc. Until then the primary task at hand is the preparation of a spotless bride, otherwise known as the church. Those with an exclusive focus on “Jesus has come” are usually just selling cheap grace, fire insurance, and the false promise of “your best life now”. The true gospel is at its core future-oriented. Therefore all Christians are called to a solid eschatological orientation.

How do we do that?

We can start by resolving to not reinvent the wheel by repeating all of King Solomon’s lessons in the book of Ecclesiastes.  If you’ve never heard of King Solomon, he was the richest and wisest man in history. He experienced and possessed all the worldly things that a human being possibly could. Not because he was a hedonist. But because he sought the ultimate meaning and purpose of life. His conclusion? Nothing is new. Anything you think is new has already been done. Everything is meaningless including wisdom. But wisdom can save your life. Our only hope, meaning and purpose is to remember our Creator in the days of our youth, love God and keep His commandments.  This is the whole duty of man. 

“If you love me keep my commandments.”

– Jesus –

So what does that look like?

It certainly doesn’t mean a perfect adherence to 613 rules. If you are confused about this stop reading now and go to Eph 2 and Rom 7and 8. The Old Testament proves that fulfilling the law by ourselves is impossible. Jesus’s triumph on the cross frees us from that burden. That said, I submit that

the most concise daily plan for living in preparation for the wedding is outlined in Prov 3:5-8.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

As I explained to the kids, trusting in the Lord with all your heart rather than our own understanding means believing what God’s word says. It is our map. Of course, a map is useless if you don’t know how to read it. Believing means that regardless of how external circumstances look, Jesus not Satan has all authority in heaven and earth.  “It is finished!” means Satan is defeated. Whatever happens today is according to the will of God.  I explained that the devil did not shut the world down last year. God did. I said I believe it was a call to repentance that for the most part went unheeded. Trusting Him with all one’s heart means believing that everything that happens is advancing His kingdom toward its ultimate fulfillment in the eschaton. Rom 8:28 That final destination appears at the coordinates Rev 22:17. Hence Paul said we are to keep our eyes fixed on things above, not below. Col 3 Things above involve God’s plans.

Things below involve ours.

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths means not just giving lip service to His majesty but making the pursuit of an intimate relationship with Him our primary focus in every moment.  Intimacy “with” begins with knowledge “of”. This has been our aim in Honduras and we have testimony after testimony of Him guiding our steps and making our paths straight. It’s not that we don’t ever wrestle in our minds. Only that the repetition of this principle over time increasingly overrides our natural thinking especially in a life or death moment of truth. We used the landslide that destroyed our home as an example and explained how it has yielded so much spiritual and relational fruit in our community. I told them how people siphoning gas from our ministry vehicle had caused us to move it down the mountain less than 24 hours before the landslide.  That we have a ministry vehicle at all today is the fruit of stolen gas.

In case you didn’t know “All things” means all things. Rom 8:28

Be not wise in your own eyes; means we should avoid casting ourselves in the role of what Oswald Chambers called an “amateur providence”.  We are never to assume we have it all figured out, that we or anyone else is exclusively anointed to hear from God or that any spiritual gift overrides human frailty. Any ability we may have is contingent on our weakness and total dependence on Jesus apart from whom we can do NO-THING. The gifts may be without repentance. But our constant need for repentance remains.

But that is not a popular message to preach if for no other reason than it would require preachers to forfeit their dreams of pulpit stardom and repent in the presence of their followers. One of the most prophetic moments for me last year was when the previous Vice President sugar-coated 2 Chron 7:14  and omitted “from their wicked ways” during a MAGA rally prayer. That so many leaders fail or refuse to acknowledge the wickedness of our nation and instead declare our supreme righteousness before God is an assurance that we are a nation under God’s judgment.  That so many fail to understand how that could be, is a direct result of negligent church culture. There would be no fake prosperity gospel, CRT, or Qanon Christians if the church was eschatologically focused. If that were the case fear the LORD and turn away from evil” would apply and dominantly so. The fruit of an eschatological focus is always the fear of God. The fear of God births repentance and repentance, a further conformation to the image of Christ.

Acknowledging God means loving God. Loving God begins with learning everything we can about His character, history, ways, and plans to align our lives with Him and His end game.  Not loving God means being obsessed with MY self, MY history, MY opinions, MY ways, and especially MY goals and plans such that I imagine MY goals are his goals instead of making HIS goals mine. While the most blame will be assigned to those who teach, it does not absolve us as individuals of the responsibility to search the scriptures and studying ourselves approved. But don’t take my word for it. Be a Berean and check my work.

If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha. 1 Cor 16:22

Anathema means accursed. Accursed means going to hell

Begin with the end in mind.

Maranatha!

The Hammer and The Lamp

“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” James 4:14

It’s been over five years since I’ve seen or heard from my old best friend Jason Oyler. Our lives were a wreck when we met and we surrendered to the Lord together in prison. Jason was my best man at our wedding and he lived with us for over a year. Today he’s in a coma for the second time following two back-to-back surfing incidents. I have no idea if he will ever read this let alone if I will have an opportunity to speak directly with him again. 

Jason in the white T-Shirt

As personalities go, I was and still am a hammer in a world of nails.  In contrast, Jason was a ten million lumen lamp that brightened the surroundings where ever he went. My attitude was and is like Paul’s in Lystra. Acts 14:19-20  Jason’s was one of “love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Pet 4:8. I would rant.  He would smile. I would argue. He would diffuse my intensity with a joke. 

I eventually became a school-based adolescent substance abuse counselor and then a clinical supervisor overseeing six schools on Kauai. Meanwhile, Jason became a journeyman carpenter, then a licensed contractor building million-dollar homes.  I only saw him twice during that time. Once when he needed advice on setting boundaries in his relationship. The next was when his first wife died. Other than that neither one of us had the time. That’s my excuse anyway.

I’ve always been good at boundaries. Boundaries are what made me a successful counselor.

The CHAIR

The chair was the secure and confidential place in my classroom at Kappa Middle School. It sat behind a partition next to my desk. It was a place where hundreds of hurting children poured out their hearts and souls. A place where I tried to impart hard-earned wisdom and prevent children from choosing paths that Jason and I barely survived.  There wasn’t an inch of the chair that didn’t have a name. Many of them faded through the years and were signed over. Naturally, their lack of concern for their own confidentiality was a function of their being children. They were transparent, naïve to the realities of future adult life and the façades required for success in that world.

Still, I am reminded as I write that Jesus made being childlike a prerequisite for Heaven.

Jason was always childlike. He’d have been a great adolescent counselor.

I was a good counselor because nothing ever freaked me out. I could listen to the most heart-wrenching stories, often horror stories, and remain calm, rational, and detached.  I lasted ten years in a field where most people burn out in less than two. I’d still be working there if I hadn’t left for the mission field.

“How do you stay so straightfaced Mr?” the kids would ask. 

I got even better at boundaries as time went on and more clients died. Clients who OD and commit suicide cause counselors to quit. Yet I even videoed one funeral for the family of a child with whom I’d worked closely for years. “How do you do that and not cry?” people asked. “I’m crying inside.” I replied.  I wasn’t lying. I remember the sheer number of people who showed up to grieve his death. I guess they were crying inside too. Still, I wondered, as his friends poignantly poured his ashes into the sea, where were all these people before he put that noose around his neck. Where they repenting now?

Intimacy

Intimacy is something I mention a lot. But the truth be told I suck at it. Not with God in my secret place.  I’ve got that down.  But with other people.  I can give the impression of intimacy because I care enough to read and listen to what people think, analyze it, ask questions, and explain exactly how and why I think it is or isn’t true. Yet I rarely go deep into the discomfort of bearing the burdens of others. I rely on Cathy to do that. When people like Jason move on and out of my life it never seems to bother me much.  If I am perfectly honest, one thing I liked most about counseling was that intimacy is forbidden. Most people require years of training in how to avoid it. Not me. I’d have an easier time getting beheaded than weeping with those who weep. And don’t offer me the “man” excuse and blame it on the society in which I was raised. Society has, in my opinion, already overdosed on estrogen and gender is just another excuse. It’s even easier to shut off my emotions in a crisis, call a spade a spade, or remain cool as ice during a disaster. Sure it’s handy if you’re staring down the barrel of a gun or surrounded by spear-wielding Shuar in the Amazon. People always said I was the one guy they would want with them if they were attacked in an alley. The thing is I cried when I heard about Jason and I’m choking back tears now. Only no one knows it, not even my wife. At least not until she read this. Like most people I have all sorts of reasons for being the way I am. You’d probably agree with most of them if I laid them all out. Still, it’s just an excuse.

Somewhere in the course of the trauma that Jesus guaranteed, I made a decision.

I chose to be who I am.

“For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.” Mat 25:3-7


Every sermon I have heard on these verses focused on the oil being representative of Holy Spirit. That may be true. Yet the purpose of a lamp is not to store oil. Lamps burn oil to shine light. Biblically speaking, light is representative of truth. I always imagined that “trimming their lamps” meant dimming them to preserve precious oil. However, trimming a lamp involves cutting away the tar and impurities from the wick and shaping it to reduce the smoke and soot that dims the glass and achieve the hottest, cleanest and brightest flame yielding the most light.

Light exposes what is hidden in darkness.

A lot of people are talking about the church today. Why is it so broken, divided, and powerless?  Why are there so many false gospels emerging in Jesus’s name and so many Christians deconstructing in the name of love? Why do so many millennials do “community” so well yet succumb to the most appalling and heretical theologies? The easy response is “because they were never taught.” Hence, I originally began writing and framing the problem based on the history and hypocrisy of the church, its burning of brethren at the stake in Jesus’s name before the Pilgrims sailed for Plymouth rock. I was going to focus on it’s railing against transgenderism today in defiance of Rom 2:1 while celebrating Ishtar, the god of the transgender movement with bunnies and painted eggs in Jesus’ name.  Not because I’m pro transgenderism in the church but because judgment must come first to the house of God. I was going to talk about repentance, that true repentance is rooted in the right belief. Right belief comes from studying oneself approved. True as that may be belief is also rooted in a divine revelation – of Holy spirit conviction. This is what gives us the right to become sons and daughters of the living God. Not knowledge derived from study alone. Interestingly the 5th Step of 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, a group that is marginalized by many evangelicals today and whose origins can be traced back to the Welsh revival in 1904, is perhaps one of the most biblically sound descriptions of repentance anywhere. After writing out a “fearless and searching moral inventory” of oneself in the 4th step, the 5th step that comes straight out of James 5:16 says that we must admit “to God, ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”. Anyone who has done this knows the fear and humiliation that comes with reading every sin you can recollect to another. Ideally you trust the person to whom you confess based on the fact that they have undergone this same humiliating process themselves. Even more interesting is the statement in the Book Alcoholics Anonymous that one’s ultimate ability to abstain from alcohol in the future is contingent upon how thoroughly this step is done. This is consistent with 1 Cor 11:28-30 regarding our participation in Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

“A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead.”

Once again the light of the great Oiler, a.k.a. Holy Spirit is shining on me – exposing me, prompting me to repent.  That it was prompted by my friend Jason Oyler is perhaps the irony of God. When Jason left our home it was with a smile on his face and gratitude in his heart. I was mad. I thought we were going to build a ministry together. My pride was hurt and I felt betrayed.  Of course, I never told him how I felt and I certainly didn’t give him reason to believe I wanted to hear his heart. Deep down I knew he was tired of the incessant hammering. I don’t know if I will be able to confess my sin to him so I am confessing to all of you now.

I was selfish, self-centered, prideful and a really bad friend.

There’s a trail of people like Jason strewn in the wake of my laboring for God.

In case you are wondering I am not on the verge of deconstructing, or repenting for being a hammer. I’m just reflecting on why I am a hammer in the first place and maybe recounting the cost. There certainly is a place for not backing down, for not loving one’s life even onto death – especially today. The truth will always be a stumbling block to some. When I hear of celebrated theologians like Dr. Paul Maxwell and so many others who have publicly deconstructed and formally rejected Christianity, my initial reaction is “well I guess he never was one of us.” 1 John 2:19  That’s probably true. Still, I have to wonder. Am I just making excuses for being the way I am? After all, that love covers a multitude of sins especially when loving hurts is as much the truth that Paul wrote, we only “know in part” as is boldly declaring it while haters hurl stones.

Haters hurling stones is never proof in itself that one is right.

Being conformed to His image involves considering these things.

I know that God will show me as I continue to pray and ask Him to “search me” Psalm 139:23-24. Jason and I used to pray that together during Cleansing Stream seminars as we brought our filthy lives before the throne of grace in a more evangelically approved version of the 5th Step. I don’t necessarily agree with their theology now. But one thing is certain. They’ve got James 5:16 down

More truth be told, this past year has been an ongoing cleansing stream for us, a time of deep searching and repentance for both me and Cathy. And while it may not be a twenty six page catalogue of abominations like my first humiliation, it was none the less profound and in many way more powerful. I’m not talking about the typical “oh yeah I did that, sorry God” and move on entitled type of repentance. I’m talking about deep “Oh what a wretched man I am who will save me from this body of death!” repentance. The kind of repentance that makes the fear and humiliation of telling another human your dirt seem absurd. Many in the church believe it shouldn’t apply if you are truly saved. Yet I submit that it is evidence of sanctification and deep calling to deep. A divinely appointed encounter with Acts 2:43 “awe” that more correctly translates to TERROR like one experiences the first time in the ocean when your not a great swimmer, the tide pulls you out and your feet can’t touch bottom. Long story short God showed us where we had been apathetic toward His word in the past and redacted it to make it fit what we wanted it to say like getting married after both being divorced. No we are not going to go all legalistic and try to fix a sin with another sin by divorcing again. But don’t go trying to make excuses for us ether. The words of Jesus are the words of Jesus. It wasn’t as much the physical sins that can most easily be taken before the throne of grace, but rather the flippancy with which we had regarded parts of His word and His commands. It was the kind of repentance where we stood confidently clothed in the righteousness of Christ one minute and the fear of God was upon us in the next. It happened separately and months apart. On one hand, it was the most terrifying experience in which we didn’t know how we could go on. On the other, we were saddened when it’s intensity receded. I say receded because it is still working in us now. In my case, it was a clear view, and recognition of who God is and exactly what I look like in contrast with His Holiness and most importantly apart from the shed blood of Christ. I know it’s all the rage to worship a self-esteem-affirming God today. The “ME in him” God who “chases ME down and fights ’til I’m found” and who erases every bad feeling I might ever have about myself. But I’m not talking about a middle school giddy, glory cloud and gold dust blowing from air ducts to the beat of “No Longer Slaves” kind of encounter.  I am talking about a supernatural revelation of His holy severity without which His grace and love are impossible.  A 1 Cor 3:10-23 dross burning, Heb 12 shaking by the “consuming fire” who’s discipline we dare not refuse!

Exposure Time

Here’s the point. I can not claim to be a missionary let alone a minister of the gospel and not walk my talk. That’s why I’m sharing my faults instead of promoting a false image of super missionary moral perfection in pursuit of a celebrity pulpit. Transparency, confession, and repentance are foundational to not only our faith but our salvation. They are better modeled than preached.  And while I know my friend Jason will probably just smile because love never keeps a record of wrongs, I hope and pray I get the opportunity to repent to his face, to say I’m sorry for taking our friendship, our brotherhood in Christ for granted. I want him to know I am grateful for the lessons God taught me through him and is teaching me now. I know that “God causes all “things” to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” And while some might argue that those “things” are predestined by God. I can not help but wonder if some might be better if we made different choices along the way and didn’t feel so darn entitled to have God to clean up our mess.

Finally, if we are going to fix what is broken, weak and sick, and dead and bring hope and salvation to a rapidly dying world we have got to begin by dropping our façades. That starts with a concrete, real time practice of James 5:16.

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

And don’t tell me you don’t have a façade. That’s like smoking a cigarette then telling a former smoker you don’t smoke. Do we want the revival everyone has been praying for and prophesying for years? The only way it will happen is if we are broken before God and each other. And as much as I’d like to frame it in the context of “don’t do this – do that!” I don’t think what is required is going to come by the usual charismatic conjuring or knowledge or any other act of human will but only by the sovereign hand of the God who was crucified for our sin, was resurrected, predestined us for adoption and will judge us in eternity.

That said we can make our hearts willing and we can pray.

Lord let your holiness, severity and the fear of you fall. Shake us Lord. Burn off the dross and grant us the gift of repentance in Jesus’s name.

Please also keep my friend Jason in your prayers.

Maranatha!

Report from the Wall

The majority of my time in Honduras is spent bringing food to the foodless, roofs to the roofless, school to the schoolless, and hopefully sparking people to ask us “why the heck are you doing this?” so that we can tell them who sent us and thereby bring hope to the hopeless. Still, I am by nature, if not appointment a watchman on the wall. Hence my blogging usually takes the form of warnings to the body of Christ, and those who mock us. I sometimes wonder how I happen upon the information that I do as certainly don’t go looking for it.  This week my wife listened to a sermon by one of America’s most prominent pastors who gave a sermon where he explained that it was NOT God’s will for the Apostle Peter to be martyred. 

He said Peter died because no one prayed.  

The longer we are on the mission field the more grateful we are that we took the time to go to a missionary school in Africa before coming to Honduras.  We learned from so many different teachers with different points of view. One particularly poignant moment during this time was when Indonesian evangelist and author of Like a Mighty Wind Mel Tari walked into our classroom pavilion occupied by two hundred young student missionaries sprawled out on the cement. Some were on their faces in prayer.  Others lay slain in the spirit. Still, others sat uncontrollably twitching and rhythmically proclaiming  “Woah!” – “Woah!” as evidence of some deeply intimate interaction with Holy Spirit.  None of this was happening to me as I stood skeptically watching while at the same time double-mindedly chastising myself for my lack of faith. “Who am I to question God?” I thought as I quenched my internal dissent.  Imagine my surprise when this pastor who had verifiable experience with seeing people healed and raised from the dead when he prayed, suddenly began yelling

“Get up!” “Come on! Knock it off!” “You know what you are doing! Get up!!

Mel seemed quite unperturbed by their offense as they scrambled to their feet and he began to teach from the Word of God about the importance for missionaries to both know it and rely upon it.

I am tempted to call him a modern-day Paul, yet given the current wave of exposed sin among celebrity leaders within the body of Christ, I should probably point out that this is not an endorsement of Mel Tari beyond what I saw and heard him teach that night. I am passionate about the Word of God. That being said 1 Cor 2: 14-15 is clear. Do we serve a supernatural God who expresses His love, power, and sovereignty through giftings in His people today? Most definitely!  Are fake signs and wonders rampant today? Most definitely! No one counterfeits a counterfeit. Bottom line; there is no room for the real if we are satisfied with the counterfeit.  The problem as I see it is that amidst a shift from dead legalism to renewed spiritual authenticity sparked by the Jesus People movement in the ’60s and ’70s, at least two generations inadvertently ended up with an epistemology based on emotion, experience, and appearance instead of scripture.

Epistemology Matters

Instead of calling a spade a spade like Mel Tari we pretended the fake was real. Instead of raising Bereans who tested everything and based truth on the inherency of scripture regardless of how it feels, we gave our children a post-modern poetic license to “have it your way” provided no one’s feelings get hurt. Our failure to teach truth has produced a celebrity pastor-driven trans-truth that soothes itching ears where everyone is confused.  Today Christians either  condone or quietly recoil from what society has has become all the while denying the church’s complicity in leading our children straight down the path of Romans 1:18-32.

Sin is a path not an event. 

Celebrity Sausage.

Ordinarily, I would have been surprised when I happened upon BiteLabs.org a company that has been in business since 2014. But I’d already heard Bill Gates say that everyone should shift to eating synthetic meat as a means of fighting climate change.

In their own words, Bite Labs plans to,

“start with top-quality ingredients and time-honored recipes for the creation of fine cured meats. We mix celebrity and animal meats, grown in the house through a proprietary culturing process, into curated salami blends. Starting with biopsied myoblast cells, we grow our healthy, rich, meats in Bite Labs’ own bioreactors. Our process yields high-quality, luxury protein, in a sustainable manner that eliminates the environmental and ethical concerns associated with traditional livestock production.”

No, it’s not the Onion or the Babylon Bee.

While I don’t think they are cleared to produce human meat for your consumption just yet. The point is they are seriously trying and are thus far mostly unopposed by the public at large. 

Science fiction buffs over 50 might remember the 1973 film Soylent Green set in a future NYC in 2022.

“Soylent Green is people!!!”

The seeds of the past seem to be germinating everywhere today.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a book written by a Marxist Brazilian educator named Paulo Freire in 1968.  For some reason, I still have a clear mental picture of it sitting on my parent’s bookshelf.  I was maybe 8 at the time and never gave it a second look.  That such an obscure memory is still fresh in my mind seems weird enough. It’s even weirder because my dad was a mechanical engineer for the military-industrial complex who worked on nuclear submarines and other top-secret projects during the Cold War.

Back then an imminent Soviet nuclear holocaust was almost as scary as COVID is today.

In 1963 FBI agent Cleon Skousen presented a 45 point American Communist party plan to congress. In the decades that followed the best conservative minds in America went into government, law enforcement, and the military to fight the emerging communist threat. 

“Better dead than red!” they used to say.

Meanwhile, as Mary Graber explains, in Bill Ayers: Teaching Revolution real communists suspended their bomb-building and assassination plots and set their sights on the nation’s youth. Education became their primary field of battle.  Bill Ayers focused on school curriculums. Of course, education would also be important when they took control of the government because millions of Americans would need to be placed in reeducation camps in the southwest. Interestingly, the Weather Underground whom Bill Ayers was a founding member, estimated that approximately 25 million Americans would cling to capitalist ideals, and would subsequently need to be killed. As I explained in my previous post. Critical Race Theory and all its Social Justice stepchildren invaded academia, culture, the church, and now government in that order and is nothing more than rebranded Marxism dressed in a suit of pseudo compassion.

For the record, I am going to beat that horse until it turns to dust or I do.

Jesus said,

“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Luke 16:8

We Christians are supposed to be wise as serpents.  Too often we are dumber than doves.

In related news, California is scheduled to vote on a statewide proposed Ethnic Studies Curriculum that calls for the “decolonization” of American society and includes having students chant to the Aztec god of human sacrifice asking for “a revolutionary spirit” and the power to become warriors for social justice.

Will it pass? Who knows? As in the case of Celebrity Sausage, the mere fact that it is being seriously considered should be enough to qualify as a serious concern.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that this Ethnic Studies Curriculum, is based on the book  “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” and instructs students to “challenge racist, bigoted, discriminatory, imperialist, colonial beliefs” and critique “white supremacy, racism and other forms of power and oppression.”

One of the program chairs R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, labels the United States a “Eurocentric, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal, heteropatriarchal, and anthropocentric paradigm brought from Europe.”

The programers assert that whites began by “grabbing the land,” “hatching hierarchies,” and “developing for whiteness”.  This resulted in “excess wealth” that “became the basis for the capitalist economy” and subjected minorities to “domestication” and “zombification.”  White Christians committed “genocide” against indigenous tribes, destroyed their gods, and replaced them with Christianity.

If the curriculum is passed 10,000 public schools, serving 6 million children will be taught to “name, speak to, resist, and transform the hegemonic Eurocentric neocolonial condition” and engage in “transformational resistance” that includes a final solution of…

“Counter genocide” against whites.

Obviously, there is some truth to claims regarding ancestral sins. Isaiah was clear in chapter 64 and Paul quoted Isaiah in Romans chapter 3.

No one is righteous. Not one.

That’s why Jesus came.

That Mat 24:7 ethnos versus ethnos has been a recurring motif since Cain killed Able is a no-brainer. While Cain is ironically the originator of the victim stance that drives today’s CRT and intersectionality, ethnos against ethnos is not a systemic issue. It is a sin issue. That said the problem with Critical Race Theory is not so much in its identification of relational errors and exposure of ancestral sin but in its eternalizing them for the sake of retribution, reparations, and power. Mostly it’s power. They call this justice. The insistence that Western civilization and culture ARE its previous sins is a strawman. Critical Race Theorists ignore positive contributions while framing the sins of “yesterday” as the existential realities of “today” on computers and smart devices invented by those whom they despise. That every past sin committed by so-called white European males was done in the name of Jesus or in any way reflects His teachings is at best a false equivalency. 

Of course, we could just quote Solomon and say there is nothing new under the sun. All of this has been said and done before. But that would be another false equality because that same truth applies to Y2K and the Holocaust. The fact is that false hermeneutics and 2 Tim 4 ear-tickling teachings are more rampant today than at any other point in my lifetime and maybe even since the Gnostics threatened to subvert the gospel.  Think I’m exaggerating? I just listened to an ordained, previously orthodox minister of the gospel with 132K followers on Tik Tok explain that Jesus was a racist who was corrected by a Syrophoenician woman when she spoke truth to power in Mark chapter 7.

If you can not explain why his interpretation is utter heresy then you are among those to whom I had in mind to help when I began this particular rant.  That’s ok. It’s not your fault. Message me and I’ll be happy to explain the error along with why challenging it may one day get you thrown in prison or worse.

Paul was clear that all who desire to live godly will be persecuted. 2 Tim 3:12. It is my opinion that contemporary western culture is on the verge of experiencing persecution in ways that most still do not believe are possible. Yet anyone alive today who survived a Marxist regime will not hesitate to tell you that it is not only possible, it is now almost inevitable.

Even so,

If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; If anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. Rev 13:10

No this is not a political post, a mark of the beast freak-out post, or even a rallying cry to oppose evil.  Not because I don’t think people should but because it’s probably too late. This is just a Mat 24:6 “see that you are not alarmed”  weather report, a “hey guys I see a storm brewing from my proverbial perch on the wall” fig tree rant.  Mostly this is a call for true Christians to 2 Tim 2:15 study themselves approved so they can rightly divide the word of truth if and when the Bible goes down the neo-Marxist deconstruction toilet with Dr. Sues and the Potato heads. Therin lies another dead horse that I will continue to beat. We need to prepare.  Richard Wurmbrand memorized 365 verses countering fear, one for each day of the year in anticipation of the Russian Communists taking control of Romania long before they invaded. Little did he know he would need every one of those verses fourteen times over. We’ve ministered in Romania.  Our friends there are very concerned about the future of the USA.  And while there is a prideful part of me that sometimes fantasizes about looking my mockers in the eye, and saying “I told you so.” when the events in the Olivet Discourse become undeniably real. In truth, it’s because I know the greatest revival the world has ever seen will also take place during this time. ( Joel 2) Even so, I hope that someone takes what I write to heart now, turns to Jesus, and repents before it is too late.  Time is short. Make no mistake,

There is a divinely appointed future point in time called “TOO LATE”.

Maranatha