Day 19

In yesterday’s article we hear of the tawdry tale of two pastors going at each other in what can only be described as a bad episode of a Lifetime Movie Network movie.  This wasn’t a situation where one pastor was heart-sick over the sin of another fellow pastor and he tries to help by “restoring him gently” [Galatians 6].  

This is a tale of blackmail and intrigue, spying and retaliation.  As tough as it is, try to set aside all the backstabbing and sexual acting out and focus on this:  by the very act of one brother not loving another brother – even in the midst of sin, even if it required church discipline, these guys are apparently acting in opposition to God.

 

How many times have we judged another for acting in opposition to God over issues related to our own opinions about things such as politics or religious affiliations or even biblical interpretation?  Haven’t we all lost friendships over judgments on one side or another about matters of strongly held but frankly personal beliefs?

 

Setting all bad behavior aside, neither of these men were able to act as ambassadors of Christ as they relate one to another.  This is perhaps the MOST scandalous if not salacious part of the story.  Let’s review:  “Swaggart’s exposure came as retaliation for an incident in 1986 when Swaggart exposed fellow Assemblies of God minister Marvin Gorman, who had been accused of having several affairs. Once exposed, Gorman was defrocked from the Assemblies of God, his ministry all but ended. As a retaliatory move, Gorman hired his son Randy and son-in-law Garland Bilbo to stake out the Travel Inn on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge.”

 

WHAAAAT?  

 

Examples like this one give others the legitimate right to ASSUME that these two are standing in opposition to God.  It’s sad, confusing, difficult to understand.  Yes, it is spiritual warfare.  And many would say that these are two “weak-willed” guys whom Satan tempted into sexual sin.  But we could also argue that here are two guys who are not practicing what they preach in one of the most basic precepts of the Christian faith:  love your brother as you love yourself.  

 

Today, can we start there?  How could we love more, judge less?

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Day 18

Do you remember Jimmy Swaggart?  He was an Evangelist who spoke often and vehemently against sexual immorality.  A man of God, a preacher, an evangelist, many saw him as a guy who would never stand in opposition to God.  But it turns out that Swaggart had issues that indicated that he was not practicing what he preached.  Here’s a portion of an article that talks about his fall from grace.  The man who had spoken so vehemently against sexual sin was in fact participating in acts of sexual sin.  What I find equally interesting his why all this misbehaving actually came to light.  

Swaggart’s exposure came as retaliation for an incident in 1986 when Swaggart exposed fellow Assemblies of God minister Marvin Gorman, who had been accused of having several affairs. Once exposed, Gorman was defrocked from the Assemblies of God, his ministry all but ended. As a retaliatory move, Gorman hired his son Randy and son-in-law Garland Bilbo to stake out the Travel Inn on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge. A camera with a telephoto lens was placed in the window of the motel’s Room 12, and was draped with a black cloth. When Swaggart arrived, he reportedly went into Room 7. Randy Gorman and Garland Bilbo let the air out of the tires on Swaggart’s vehicle. They called Marvin Gorman, whose church was located nearby. Randy Gorman and Garland Bilbo had taken photos of Swaggart outside Room 7 with Debra Murphree, a local prostitute. Gorman arrived at the Travel Inn a short while later and asked Swaggart what he was doing there. According to Swaggart: The Unauthorized Biography of an American Evangelist, by Ann Rowe Seaman, Gorman secured a promise from Swaggart that he would publicly apologize to Gorman and start the process of Gorman’s reinstatement to the Assemblies of God. Gorman offered to remain silent if Swaggart would state publicly that he lied about Gorman’s affairs. Gorman waited almost a year, then hand-delivered a note to Swaggart informing him his time was up; Swaggart did not respond. On February 16, 1988, Gorman contacted James Hamil, one of the 13-man Executive Presbytery of the Assemblies of God, who called Raymond Carlson, the Assemblies Superintendent. Carlson summoned Hamill and Gorman to fly to Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, Missouri and arranged for an emergency meeting of the presbyters. He was shown photos of several men coming in and going out of Room 7 at the Travel Inn Motel in New Orleans. This was done to establish the fact that the room was being used for prostitution. One of the men seen leaving Room 7 was Jimmy Swaggart. The presbytery leadership of the Assemblies of God decided that Swaggart should be suspended…https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Swaggart

Woah.  This sounds more like a soap opera or reality television.  Let’s unpack this tomorrow and see what we uncover.  

Day 17

Do you remember how the guy who got this whole conversation started called his wife and children WEAK?  And when I happened to stumble upon his own porn useage he called himself WEAK?  This is a form of scapegoating.  He is blaming his family and even himself for WEAKNESS.  

But it is also a dodge.  If we convince ourselves that we are WEAK and HELPLESS, then what can anyone expect us to do?  

There is a difference (or at least let’s try to make it different) between FEELING weak and helpless and thinking we ARE weak and helpless.  Thinking we ARE weak and helpless is self-shaming; knowing that we FEEL weak and helpless during times when our insides (core values) are out of alignment with our behaviors makes us….human.  Paul certainly understood this concept in Romans.

What do we do when we are filled with shame?  We blame.  We attack.  We defend our position.

What can we do when we realize we are human?  We can trust in our higher power and ask, “OK, what next?”  We can begin to take action to move our beliefs and our behaviors into closer alignment.  This may mean going to “any lengths” – which in some cases is quite extensive!

Is spiritual warfare part of the struggle we experience?  Absolutely!  But unlike the man who (sort of) thought technology was the devil in disguise, I want to suggest that spiritual warfare is far more effective in another arena:  confusion around what it means to stand in opposition to God and how to handle it when it happens to us or those we love.  Tomorrow, a seriously cautionary tale….

Day 16

(Please read yesterday’s post in order to understand this one!)

This idea that “sin” is bigger than me, as in, it is something that once I know it is wrong I may want to stop doing but perhaps cannot control, is an ancient concept.  Many have tried to understand their own compulsions to do the very things they do not want to do by moving beyond the idea that it is a human condition that defies self-control and decide that the best way to understand it is to say “the devil made me do it” AND SOMETIMES IT FEELS THAT WAY!

Paul continues his discussion of sin in Romans 7:  13 So did something good bring death to me? Absolutely not! But sin caused my death through something good so that sin would be exposed as sin. That way sin would become even more thoroughly sinful through the commandment. 14 We know that the Law is spiritual, but I’m made of flesh and blood, and I’m sold as a slave to sin. 15 I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. 16 But if I’m doing the thing that I don’t want to do, I’m agreeing that the Law is right.17 But now I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it’s sin that lives in me. 18 I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. 19 I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. 20 But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it. 21 So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me. 22 I gladly agree with the Law on the inside,23 but I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body. 24 I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse? 25 Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I’m a slave to God’s Law in my mind, but I’m a slave to sin’s law in my body. Romans 7:13-25 CEB

I’m going to break this down some more tomorrow, but for today – can you relate?  Can you think of ways that, as much as you hate it, you APPEAR to stand in opposition to God?  What’s up with that?  Is the devil MAKING you do it?

Day 15

Does the devil make us do bad things? For that answer, let’s turn to the seventh chapter of the book of Romans.  7 So what are we going to say? That the Law is sin? Absolutely not! But I wouldn’t have known sin except through the Law. I wouldn’t have known the desire for what others have if the Law had not said, Don’t desire to take what others have. 8 But sin seized the opportunity and used this commandment to produce all kinds of desires in me. Sin is dead without the Law. 9 I used to be alive without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life, 10 and I died. So the commandment that was intended to give life brought death. 11 Sin seized the opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and killed me. 12 So the Law itself is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good. Romans 7:7-12 CEB

Let’s be clear.  The law didn’t cause Paul to all of a sudden become a covetous goon.  The law gave vocabulary for the concept of coveting, and at that point Paul understood that what he was doing was actually standing in opposition to God. Why is he in opposition to God?  Because God, through the law, teaches that we should not covet our neighbor’s things.  Prior to Paul learning this, he could and did covet but he didn’t see anything wrong with it.  It was his human condition.  Now Paul has an increased awareness of his own vulnerability to become opposition.  This is painful for him.  Before coveting happened sometimes to Paul; afterwards, he becomes hyper-aware of his coveting ways because he knows that with the knowledge that God is opposed to it, he as God’s follower needs to be opposed to it as well.

It’s like this.  If you tell me shoplifting displeases God (stealing), and I have never stolen anything, I can jump right on board with acceptance of God’s preferences and perhaps, maybe, just a little, feel a bit superior to those who keep shoplifting even when they learn it is naughty. However, if shoplifting was a family skill set utilized to feed my family as a child and I was in the habit of shoplifting because I had been taught that it was not only normal but a way to eek out some revenge on a world that seems hostile, this habit might be hard for me to break.  But if I love God’s ways and I hear that stealing is not his way, my pain increases.  Because now I have a certain way of living paired with a new way of seeing.  What’s a girl to do?  To be continued…

Day 14

Take for example the fellow who initiated a coffee shop conversation with me about Satan.  He felt he had a sympathetic ear because he saw my open bible and thought, “One of my people!”  Which is awesome.  It was quickly apparent that we had some differences when it comes to thinking about what it means to be part of a tribe that follows Jesus.  Sometimes this is just disagreement over interpretation and application.  These situations need to be worked through graciously and respectfully; oftentimes both parties decide to agree to disagree and HOPEFULLY keep loving one another.  That’s cool and normal and perfectly fine.  

But there are other times – times when we have to acknowledge that no matter where we spend our time on  Sundays – even if we are of the same faith and even denomination, there are times when various ones of us APPEAR AS IF WE are standing in opposition to God.  This, in fact, may or may not be true.  But what is absolutely guaranteed is that someone is judging someone else, which is bad form and we have the scriptural support to prove it (Matthew 7 if you are interested). It also means that spiritual warfare may indeed come into play. NOT because we disagree on an issue, but because our disagreement may tempt us to judge and withdraw our respect and love towards others. And on any given day, we need to be careful lest we are the one who stands in opposition God.  In that moment, it gives the impression (whether true or not is debatable) that evil is present even if he isn’t whipping around a long tail while trolling the internet.  

Is it true?  Is the devil having a field day?  Or is it also possible that human people are easily confused, misdirected, and incongruent?  Does this create an environment that is ripe for evil to flourish?  And…why do these questions matter?

To be continued…

Day 13

Does Satan exist?  Sixty six verses before John 10:10 in the 8th chapter of John, Jesus says that he does exist. Prior to this passage, Jesus was speaking about himself.  He compared himself to light and said that those who follow him will have the light of life and not walk in darkness.  But the Pharisees challenged him, seeking to invalidate his witness.  Jesus has quite the discussion with them and at one point says this…43 Why don’t you understand what I’m saying? It’s because you can’t really hear my words. 44 Your father is the devil. You are his children, and you want to do what your father wants. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has never stood for the truth, because there’s no truth in him. Whenever that liar speaks, he speaks according to his own nature, because he’s a liar and the father of liars. John 8:43-44 CEB

How do we make sense of all this talk of the devil?  I think we can pare it down to a simple but powerful reality:  there has been “from the beginning” opposition to God and his plans.  This conflict is in the past, the present and I presume will continue into the foreseeable future.  People act in opposition to the Father of Light on a regular basis.  The confusing part comes when we realize that those who were seeking to invalidate Jesus were actually part of the religious establishment of the day.  That isn’t great news.  We’re going to talk more about this in a couple days but think about this:  when any of us act in ways that are in opposition to God’s way of seeing, we LOOK LIKE people who stand in opposition to God.  This gives people the opportunity to perhaps believe that we are God opposers.

This is no small thing.  We have the reality that the enemy of God is one who opposes God and yet…can we admit this?  Sometimes by our own behavior it looks like we are the enemy.  

For today – can you think of how some of your behaviors might be seen as confusing to those around you?  Are there any folks in your life who confuse you with their God talk combined with questionable behaviors?  This isn’t intended to be a question of judgment, but hopefully one that opens up our hearts to empathy and compassion.  Even when we say we love Jesus, sometimes, like the Pharisees, we act like we don’t.