The Global Leadership Summit Is Coming to Fort McMurray- Some Concerns

This weekend thousands of Churches across the world will be opening their doors and hosting  men and women who are supposedly experts in leadership. They will be inviting them to teach them how to develop leadership skills. The intent is that once they’ve absorbed these leadership skills and have utilized them for personal edification and growth, they will then be equipped to unleash them within an ecclesiastical setting. This is the Global Leadership Summit, and several Churches across the city will be taking part in it.  I’ve had several weeks now to think about this whole affair and I think there are some real concerns to be had. For that reason, I wanted to ask a few questions;

1. What if the tips, tools and techniques that these men and women wish to focus on are contrary to the biblical model of leadership? Are the same characteristics and qualities that a capitalistic corporate world finds invaluable the same ones that the Bible focuses on and in which we should develop?

2. Is there an elevation of man and a focus on his abilities,  his wisdom, his will, and his perseverance? To what extent does it focus on psychology, sociology and personal development that may have as its foundation an unbiblical view of mankind and his nature?

3. Do the leadership ideas and ideals from a secular corporate world necessarily translate to the Church, and should we want them to?  Does getting leadership advice from the CEO of a large corporation and implementing it in a Church run the risk of turning the Pastor into the CEO, the Elders into the CFO’s and board members, and the congregation into consumers? Does this treat the Church like an organization that needs to be run, managed, analyzed  and grown? Is that the message that is being tacitly or explicitly encouraged?

4. These speakers, as well as speakers in the past, have been a curious mix of conservative pastors, liberal emergent pastors, seeker sensitive church leaders, oneness heretics, atheists, agnostics, and people possessing all manner of spiritual gradation in between. Are these the best examples of leaders we have, and how will their religious worldviews bleed into their presentation and theology of leadership? For certain pastors, what role will their currently pragmatic, unorthodox approach to ministry play? If there are some who are very good at twisting the Bible to suit their needs, is this something that will be pointed out and watched for?

5. Do we really want to support  Bill Hybels and emulate his leadership ideals? I think his tenure at the Willow Creek Community Church has in many ways been utterly and completely disastrous. This was no more evident than when the Reveal Now studies came out and showed that the biblical illiteracy, ignorance and spiritual shallowness of the members of his Church had reached Corinthians levels. Can a case be made that Willow Creek’s methodology seems to multiply the number of almost-converts who dabble in spiritual matters until they are no longer amused, and then fall away without ever coming to authentic faith in Christ? Having failed so publicly in so many areas of ministry, can it be said that this man is a Christian leader?

Ultimately I think that people can go to this conference and learn much. I am not denying that there are lessons to be learned, and I imagine from a certain perspective this could prove fruitful for many people, at least on a certain level. I think the choice to go and attend is ultimately up to a person and in fact I wish I could attend, but work prevents me from doing so. At the same time it seems to me that if a pastor wants to show himself a leader, I think a great place to start would be to caution his Church about the very real dangers of this event. A leader would shepherd them through this, pointing out the briers and pitfalls before they occur. There are some real, legitimate concerns here, and I think a pastor would be wise to share them with his congregation, before they descend into the Global Leadership Summit world.

Jesus sees us as we could be, not as we are??

The Fellowship Baptist Church, in keeping with its tradition of putting up church signs, has one that reads “Jesus sees us as we could be, not as we are”. And what I wanted to do today is ask the question -is that true? I’m not trying to kneecap anybody, but I am hoping to have some robust dialogue on this point.

I’ve been thinking about that sign and trying to put the best construction on things. I’ve been rolling it around in my head as verses of scriptures hiss and pop in my mind, trying to uncover all the nuances of such an expression. It’s possible it could mean different things to different audiences, but the fact that it is posted publicly for both believers and unbelievers to see and interpret in their own way limits its ability to be nuanced. While I think the perception and misconstruction of such a statement is important and would probably yield some interesting results, I wanted to focus on the theological precision of such a statement. Namely, is it true that Jesus sees us as we could be, and not as we are?

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.

For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— he was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

The scriptures make it clear that before the foundations of the world God has elected and predestined some to salvation. God sees us exactly as we are- children of wrath who live in the passions of our flesh and are slaves to sin- and out of his great love and mercy he saves us anyway. Romans 9:13 states “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” I would suggest that if you read Romans 9:13 and you are bothered by that last phrase, then you didn’t read Romans 9:13 closely enough. Instead, what should be amazing to anyone who understand the holiness of God and the justice of God against sin- what should be amazing to anyone who recognizes the depth of their own depravity, is “Jacob I loved“.

There was nothing in Jacob that was lovable. There was nothing in Jacob that was particularly attractive to the love of God. What should amaze us then is not that God hated, but that he loved. There are those who like to throw out objections to the Christian faith like “Why does God allow bad things happen to good people?”  My normal response is;  the Bible says  there are “none righteous, no not one”. There are no good people. The real question should be why does God allow good things to happen to any of us at all? We have to have a right understanding of the God that Isaiah saw upon his throne.  The angels circled the throne and what did they say ? Morning, noon and night, “Holy holy holy is the Lord God Almighty”. We underestimate his holiness and we greatly overestimate our goodness.  We  have no goodness, and any goodness we do have comes from God. That is why when we are dead in our trespasses and sins- when we are being ugly and cruel and selfish- blasphemers, god haters and god deniers, it should amaze us that Christ loves us as we are, in those moments of filth and scorn, and adopts us and brings us into a relationship with him.

God does not look into the future, see that we will become believers, and then goes back in time and elect us based on what we will be one day- covered in his Son’s righteousness, or a two-fold son of hell. God does not passively take in knowledge that way, or learn what we will become.  The quote reads as if God sees our potential to be moral, or our potential to do good works, or even our potential to be Christians, and then based on that he acts upon us accordingly. I would make the case that God sees us as we are. All the time. His eyes are wide open. He is “clear headed” He is under no delusion. He sees us exactly as we are, and still he saves.

And so I would love some discussion on that church sign.

Do you agree with it? How do you read it? Am I reading it wrong? What impression does it give to unbelievers or believers? Is it theologically and biblically accurate?

The Gospel-less Litany of Pat Robertson Concerning Alzheimers and Divorce

There is an article in Christianity today about Pat Robertson who, being true to form, gave some nasty and foolish advice. Condemnation has come sure and swift. John Piper tweeted “Pat Robertson’s view of how Christ loves the church and gives himself for her. Leave her for another”. Albert Mohler  likewise chimed in  “This is what happens when you abandon Scripture and do theology and morality by your gizzard. Let’s call it what it is.” During his show “The 700 Club” Pat Robertson advised a viewer to avoid putting a “guilt trip” on those who want to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer’s. We read;

During the show’s advice segment, a viewer asked Robertson how she should address a friend who was dating another woman “because his wife as he knows her is gone.” Robertson said he would not fault anyone for doing this. He then went further by saying it would be understandable to divorce a spouse with the disease.

“That is a terribly hard thing,” Robertson said. “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things because here is a loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years. And suddenly that person is gone. They’re gone. They are gone. So, what he says basically is correct. But I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”

Co-host Terry Meeuwsen asked Pat, “But isn’t that the vow that we take when we marry someone? That it’s For better or for worse. For richer or poorer?”

Robertson said that the viewer’s friend could obey this vow of “death till you part” because the disease was a “kind of death.” Robertson said he would understand if someone started another relationship out of a need for companionship.

There is much to be disappointed about regarding the whole affair. The first is the question of the co-host. Why wasn’t the question, instead of asking about “for richer or for poorer” vows, say something like “But isn’t that what the bible teaches? That divorce is only permissible in cases of sexual infidelity and willful abandonment?” [there are those who take an even more conservative view of divorce and remarriage] I’m not sure what Robertson’s response would have been, but having abandoned biblical fidelity long ago and being a man who at this point just likes to make things up about God and Christian doctrine, I doubt it would have been anything remotely sound. There are no excuses for this- this is just another statement in a long litany from a man whose purpose it seems is to bring reproach upon the name of Christ and his Church.

The Book of Ephesians tells us “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” It further goes on to say “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church…” I would suggest that if  Christ does not abandon or leave his Church when she is being disobedient, sinful, and faithless, then to love our wives as Christ loves the Church would dictate that we too should not leave our wives  when they are being likewise. That is worst-case scenario. In this case though the wife has done nothing wrong. Her mind is being ravaged from within- her neutrons and synapses withering and dying against her will, even as she seeks to be loving, sanctified and faithful.

What a great and monstrous evil it would be for a man to do this thing- or  a woman to do likewise to her husband. What a foul stench of sin. This worldly, sub-biblical and selfish mindset ought to bring shame upon the soul of  a man, even as he seeks to justify it under the guise of loneliness and need for companionship. It is Christ-less. It is cruel. It is  irresponsible advice. Most importantly, it is Gospel-less. As Russel Moore says, “A woman or a man with Alzheimer’s can’t do anything for you. There’s no romance, no sex, no partnership, not even companionship. That’s just the point. Because marriage is a Christ/church emblem, a man loves his wife as his own flesh. He cannot sever her off from him simply because she isn’t “useful” anymore.” Instead he is to walk in love as Christ loved him-giving his very life.

Right now there is a woman taking a sponge and washing the backside of her husband of 63 years, the stench of feces assaulting her senses as she roils in nausea.  Later she will wipe the drool from his chin, even as he flinches because he does not know her, and he is scared. Later still she will talk to him for hours on end and pray for a spark of recognition that will never come-  as vacant eyes stare back at her. She will do this for years because she knows that Christ has done as much for her and for her beloved husband. When she was poor, helpless and lost- when she was dead in trespasses and sins, Christ came and saved her. He took care of her. He fed her. He clothed her. He nurtured her and treated her gently. He bound her wounds. He washed her in the water of the word. He spoke words of love and said “live”.  Christ gave his life for the dead men and women he loved- how could she not do likewise?

That is the Gospel applied to Alzheimers and Divorce.

What Pat Robertson believes looks nothing like that.

the savagery of grace

the savagery of grace

helpless cries of new elation
a harder sound. a contemplative mumble
grunts passed off for words of love
gentler means to thrive and humble
and oh those places where belphegor creeps
they dream in courtship, but in wedlock wake
to ask the spirits held back in unison
in quiet-
“will we ever find our way…?”

bended knees lie slightly crooked
the forms are robbed from those old saints
the echelon of vagaries are plied
but somehow filled with the modern mistakes
and mournful briars rise up, and touch us
until they carry us away
the provocation of bruising beauty
and the savagery of grace

new resolve holds sacred interest
the ophanim watch. the cherubs cry
wrapping themselves in skin-stained blankets
their chests are caved but the eyes are dry
and keep watch now as sidragasum seethes
the priests are rent, but still they say
as one emerges where two were spent
if only-
“we hadn’t lost our way”

lifted hands are wrapped in sorrow
with hips that rhymed and rolled in blood
it was only a small amount, they say
but the ache of unity says it was enough
and the holy worries have overtaken
have these angels come to stay?
to raid these hopes and memories
with the savagery of grace

The myth of the Shepherd breaking his sheep’s legs

There is an illustration that I’ve heard many times throughout the course of my life, and that is the illustration of the shepherd and the way he disciplines a wayward sheep. The story has several different variations and applications, but the long and short of is that if there is a sheep that is constantly running off and being chronically disobedient, that the shepherd will break the legs of the sheep so that it can no longer run off, and then the shepherd will nurse the sheep back to health so that the sheep will come to love and trust the shepherd.

There are multiple problems with this concept, chief among them the lack of any documentation or primary sources whatsoever that suggest such a thing even happened. As far as I can tell it is pure myth, much like the myth of the disruptive Corinthian women, and the myth of the eye of the needle gate. It is certainly not a biblical practice and has no scriptural attestation, and yet it is often repeated by pastors and teachers wanting to offer insight into the sheep/shepherd relationship. Good intentions side, it seems to me that unless this story and practice can be corroborated as legitimate, then you are lying to your congregation and to other people when you say it.

The earliest record of it I could find [and seemingly the origin] was in the 1955 book “What Jesus Said” , written by Robert Boyd Munger.  The illustration was popularized in 1979 when Paul Lee Tan included it in his book for pastors Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations. It appears in Munger’s book, verbatim:

“A Foreigner traveling in Syria who became acquainted with a shepherd. Each morning he noticed the shepherd taking food to a sheep that had a broken leg. As he looked at the animal, he asked the shepherd, “How did the sheep break its leg? Did it meet with an accident, fall into a hole, or did some animal break its leg?”

“No,” said the shepherd, “I broke this sheep’s leg myself.”

“You broke it yourself?” queried the surprised traveler.

“Yes, you see, this is a wayward sheep; it would not stay with the flock, but would lead the sheep astray. Then it would not let me near it so I had to break the sheep’s leg so that it would allow me, day by day to feed it. In doing this it will get to know me as its shepherd, trust me as its guide, and keep with the flock.”

That’s it. No primary or secondary sources. In fact it doesn’t even claim to be factual or historical, but rather is recounted as a quaint vignette.  Perhaps the illustration appears earlier than that, but I’ve yet to be able to find it.

Other problems are those that involve  biological practicality and theological accuracy.

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ Luke 15:4-6.

The scriptures doesn’t insert somewhere in there that after he finds his sheep, lays it on his shoulders, and rejoices  “Then the almighty graspeth the forelegs of the naughty sheep and snappeth them.”  Instead we see love and tenderness and joy. Breaking a four footed creatures leg is a risky thing. The animal may well die from the trauma of the injury, and if not trauma then infection can set in and kill it that way. Or the sheep could very well be crippled for life, or have his legs heal in a deformed manner. One variation of the story is that the shepherd carries around the sheep on its back until it is ready to walk again. That works in a story where a shepherd leaves the rest to find one, and then carries it back home. But carrying a 50-75 pound weight on your shoulders is extremely impractical to do for weeks if not months at a time while you wait for the leg to mend.  And what if there are two sheep that go astray? Or six? Will the shepherd break all their legs and carry them all? The story presupposes that there is only one sole solitary bad sheep in the flock, but with flocks capable of being up there in the hundreds or thousands, it doesn’t seem likely.

Exegetically, all of Luke 15 is linked. The characters change…a shepherd finds a lost sheep, a woman finds a lost coin and a father restores a lost son…but the theme doesn’t change and the main point is the same. The main point is the joy of Heaven over lost sinners being restored. Listen, the first two-thirds of John 10 is all about our relationship to Christ as his sheep. Verse 11 says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” Verse 14 says “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” We’re mixing metaphors here, but the story itself mixes them, so we need to be aware of them. The scripture reveals that Christ is known to the sheep, and that they know him. He doesn’t need to break their legs to get him to follow him; especially after he finds and saves them. If they are indeed his sheep when he finds them they will necessarily follow him. Not as misbehaving recalcitrant animals, but rather as willing, eager and imperfect heirs. The illustration of believers being sheep occurs hundreds of times in the New Testament, and depending on the application of this leg-breaking illustration, can mean to refer to different categories of who and what is a sheep, how the Lord treats them, and their relationship to him.

But one thing is certain, absent historical records,  primary sources, or even the most basic support for the accuracy and legitimacy of this illustration, this story remains a myth. It you can’t back it up from your pulpit, then you shouldn’t say it.