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 5–6. 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.”
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.