Conceal or Reveal: Is there ever a right action?

After conceding having an affair on his wife, Pastor John Gray of the Relentless Church, took to the pulpit to defend himself. In an article by Paul Mason published in the Empowering Everyday Women (EEW) Magazine, Gray in a sermon titled “Graveyard Shift states” I saw people—bless their hearts—online talking about, Pastor John talked about suicide. I didn’t say that I went and got a gun. I didn’t say I bought pills. I said the enemy put thoughts in my mind, and people tried to make that like I was out of my mind…“And you know what’s funny? It wasn’t devils that made me feel that way; it was people.” Gray went on to quote scriptures from Genesis and Proverbs as a defensive response to those who chose to speak out about his situation. In both quotes, Gray misappropriates scripture towards those he sees as not being faithful Christians for not concealing the matter. While I am all for keeping home business in the home, this is not one of those moments.

Gray raised his profile from lowly preacher to mid-level celebrity after co-starring on the daytime television talk show “The Preachers” alongside Dr. E. Dewey Smith, Dr. Jamal Bryant, and Orrick Quick. From there he and his wife have starred in their own reality television series on the OWN network. It was these and other church platforms that propelled him into the national spotlight and brought the added scrutiny of his public and private life. Going from preacher to pop culture shifted the culpability of his actions to full public commentary. This is not to say that he is entitled to such, but it comes with the territory (and should I ever get to the level that he is I should expect the same).

Scripture presents us with case scenarios of how we should deal with individuals who have failed because of public or private sin of some kind. While the Old Testament provides plenty of case studies in the human frailty of highly gifted persons, the New Testament provides better insight because Jesus of Nazareth and Paul the Apostle both had personal interactions with those people. In John 4, Jesus was brought a woman who was caught in the act of adultery to which he responded to her accusers by writing something in the sand and giving the famous quote “he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He later meets a single Samaritan woman at a local well, engages her in conversation, and after telling her of her past and current relationship status, helps empower her to become an evangelist on his behalf. It appears that Jesus was more concerned about the victim being oppressed than those who would call out the cause of their oppression.

Apostle Paul seemingly has a different approach. In his first response letter to the church of Corinth, he directly addresses an issue of sexual immorality and stated that “although absent in body but present in spirit, I have already judged him who has committed this as though I were present” (I Corinthians 5:3). Paul had proclaimed appropriate condemnation and punishment for the individual even though he was not physically present to do so. He had written that because the Corinthian church had more pride in themselves they had chosen to not adequately address the direct inflammation of sin that had become a part of their church body. Paul later writes in Galatians that individual believers should be so interconnected that whenever one sees another brother or sister overtaken in any trespasses that we should reach out to that person regarding our own sensitivity and culpability to sin in like manner (Galatians 5:25-26, 6:1-10).

This dichotomy presented by Paul is what we see being played out in the contemporary church. There are those who would love to call judgment and justice for the moral failures of church leaders and there are those who will not be so quick to act or condemn because they are aware of their own human frailty. We live in an age where social media intrudes on the private lives of everyone. Social media has a way of complicating the nuances of personal and public interactions. Choosing to conceal or reveal is up to individual choice. We all know someone in church leadership who has had a moral failure. We can be discreet in addressing it to those we care, or we can be proud and self-righteous in addressing it. While both can be seemingly done in love, one leads to self-fulfillment, and the other leads to repentance for all.

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Will You Remember the Last Days of September?

 September 2015 has is considered as a month to go down in history. There are those who are making deep connections to end time events such as the Rapture of Christians, an asteroid/comet collision with Earth, the rolling out of a global currency, empire, and New World Order, the rise of the Anti-Christ, and at the very least, the destruction of the United States of America as we know it. I have literally watched dozens of hours of videos all seeming to collaborate that between September 21-30, 2015 and early October 2015 that the world as we know it will no longer exist. I must admit some provided some very good arguments, and others were just plain old good fashioned entertainment. I have been amazed at the depth of creativity and research that has gone into many of those YouTube videos. The creators ranged from Evangelical Christian to agnostic anarchistic conspiracy theorists. What they all shared was a common thread of both fear and vigilance.

I will be the first to admit that I am a skeptic. I grew up watching the left behind movies of the 70’s and early 80’s that showed how the world would be in a post-Christian church society. I read the books of Hal Lindsey and others that predicted the great fate of the planet earth.  I later followed a pre-millennialist view of end time prophecy that was always dating and naming said events getting every Christian who subscribed to their view rapture ready. I reveled in watching shows like John Van Impe, Perry Stone, and just about any Church of God Prophecy broadcast on television. These persons were clear experts and authorities on all things end times. They marked every new invention, world leader, world event, and anything else as being another sign of the times (with the exception of Prince’s album of the same name). Some had set dates like the infamous October 1988 rapture date. Others simply warned against the use of credit cards with the readable stripes on the back or purchasing groceries from stores that used bar codes. It literally drove many people crazy.

One would think that with all the failed predictions and inaccurate interpretations of scriptures that people would give up trying to predict the end of the world, the rapture, or the return of Christ, but they haven’t. The 2000’s brought the bestselling Left Behind series of books and movies and made some people very wealthy while promoting a misguided sense of urgency for rapture preparation. I witnessed churches showing the movies to youth at lock-ins and conferences. While it brought many people into the church, it also created a warped sense of Christian faith and end time events. It may have also created more problems regarding sinful behaviors among youth and young adults believing that they could sin and still be rapture ready perhaps even without suffering the consequences of that behavior (I’ll sin today and be raptured tomorrow! LOL). The reality has been that The Lord has yet delayed His coming and we must still live with the consequences of our sin and must be in a consistent state of repentance regarding them.

What if September 2015 is the game changing event that leads to a dramatic change in the world, as we know it? Scripture is clear that as believers, we should be prepared as a bride prepared for her bridegroom. We’ve read the story of the 10 virgins, five wise and five foolish, but are we prepared as we need to be? Is there enough controlled chaos in the world that God is ready to end it all just as He did during the days of Noah? Is He ready to create such massive destruction that only He can restore? That has yet to be known, but what is clear is that there is no better time to align oneself with God than at present. There is no better time than now to, as we African Methodists solicit at the call of our sacrament of Holy Communion, “truly and earnestly repent of your sins, walk in love and charity with your neighbor, and intend to lead new life following the commandments of God and walking from henceforth in His holy ways.”

The dates and scenarios may be different, but the message is an unchanging one. There will be an end. It may come with a raptured church. It may come with a one-world government. It may come with a massive extinction level event. It may come with no global disaster at all. It remains that if it does come, will you be ready. It doesn’t matter to me where you are a Christian following end-time prophecy or an agnostic/atheist simply hoping to escape mass extinction, are you prepared for the end?

The Risk of Discovering Your Purpose

When a man thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:3

Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt. Paul Tillich

Recently I had several restless and sleepless nights that I surmised to be simply nothing more than my body clock was off because of some excessive ministry related activities. A dear friend of mine challenged me to seek the Lord regarding this unusual restlessness. I of course did not because I didn’t believe it was anything more than just me needing to get back on my sleep schedule. I was wrong. I began to seek God rather awkwardly because I was so sure that I didn’t really need to. I mean after all, everyone has a few sleepless nights sometimes.

Well I eventually got some very good sleep the following night, but it was accompanied by an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame from sin. I was confronted by the Holy Spirit to remember that although I had believed I was ok and didn’t really need God at that moment, I was actually sinning against Him and grieving Him.

The two quotes above summarize my experience. First, I didn’t think I needed to pray. Scripture is clear that man should always pray and faint not (Luke 18:1). It doesn’t matter what you pray about, you should always be talking to Abba because in Him you live, move, and have your being (Acts 17:28). I believed I was just capable of handling my own affairs without truly trusting God for help.

The second quote by Tillich really is the driving force of this post. As a pastor, it is my job and purpose to empower believers to become stronger and better in their walk of faith. This takes courage. It takes the courage to actually let go of the fear of being unable to do so. When I reluctantly prayed, I realized that I had a great fear-Fear of Failing God by trying to be something or someone I wasn’t. That may be what many of you are experiencing at this moment. You may believe that if you pray too much, read and study scripture too much, that you may get puffed up and fall from grace. The reality is that you’ve already fallen as far as you can go, and God has still kept you. Proverbs 24:16 says that a righteous man will fall seven times but gets up again. God also promises to keep you from falling and excitedly present you before Himself as someone who has no faults (Jude 24).

That beloved is the risk of discovering your purpose. You step and walk by faith and not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7). The walking is your’s but the direction and leadership is the Lord’s. Take the risk and make the mistakes, ask for forgiveness, but keep walking, praying, singing, and especially trusting and you will discover your courage to be your authentic self in Christ.

Discovering the Courage to Be: Your Authentic Self

Self discovery is centered in the courage to being authentic to one’s self. The greatest obstacle is the encountering of the emotional self. This includes the emotions of anger, pain, sorrow, grief, fear, and despair. There may be others that are not listed that one may encounter. These emotions are strong and rooted in the pathos of life experience. The process of self authentication should lead to those emotions. There is no way around that. However the key is expressing those emotions positively, allowing the emotions to help you become a communion within oneself, one must experience emptiness and chaos before experiencing
authentic self. To borrow from the world of aesthetics, it is what Friedrich Schiller calls the Sublime Pathos. It is embracing and acknowledging those emotions so that one becomes authentic. It is not simply acknowledging them and masking them as most do. It is engaging them and owning them leading to an empowerment like nothing else one can experience.

When a person begins the process of communion with the self for authentication, they
begin the process of what Paul Tillich writes as discovering their courage to be. It’s this courage that then is expressed in the selfless acts of love towards God and others. One is no longer bound by the cares and concerns of one’s own pathologies but is given away to the liberation of God’s Spirit and empowered to live abundantly. Faithful is the God who gives life, and so He will also be faithful to make your life a fruitful one. The courage to be
begins with the courage to live God’s life or purposeful death. It is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, the bearing of one’s cross, the suffering of the saints leading to the redemption of the soul. To become one’s authentic self means learning to die while living.

Remember to live is Christ, but to die is Gain.

After May 21, then what?

If you have not heard or seen yet, Harold Camping, founder of Family Radio has been promoting may 21, 2011 as God’s Day of Judgment when the true Christian believers will be raptured away and the wrath of the Lord’s tribulation period will begin ultimately culminating in the Earth’s destruction by fire on October 21, 2011. To many this is a sure event; one that will usher in the glory of Christ’s New Millennium  kingdom. For others, it is nothing more than a sincere but fanatical preacher ignoring the fallacies and failures of past end time prediction prophets. Camping has managed to incite the hopes and fears of sincere yet Biblically ignorant people to the point of  extreme excesses such as quitting jobs, leaving families, and criss-crossing the  country spreading the word of Earth’s last day. Where does Camping’s prediction  rank amidst the more recognized and well received predictions of the ancient Mayans, Nostradamus and other cultures regarding December, 21 2012 as Earth’s last days? Another more pressing question for me is “How will this prediction, if proven false, affect the Christian view of end times and the authority and authenticity of the Christian faith and Gospel message?

Camping, 89, said of the rapture in a May 11 interview with New York magazine, “The Bible has every word in the original language – it was written by God. Incidentally, no churches believe that at all, they don’t hold the Bible in the high respect that it ought to  be.” He went on to say, “When we get to May 21 on the calendar in any city or country in the world, and the clock says about – this is based on other verses in the Bible –  when the clock says about 6 p.m., there’s going to be this tremendous earthquake that’s going to make the last earthquake in Japan seem like nothing in comparison. And the whole world will be alerted that Judgment Day has begun.” This of course implies that only those who are in the know regarding his calculated and articulated view or  revelation of this significant event are eligible for salvation, rapture, or whatever you want to call it.

There is no shortage of rebuttals to Camping’s claims with and without scriptural support. Tim LaHaye, author of the popular “Left Behind” book series recently on his website wrote a letter to the public advising them not to buy into Harold Camping’s prediction that May 21 is the beginning of the end of the world. He remarked that it “is not only wrong but dangerous.” He also said the claim that God will destroy the world on October 21 “is not only bizarre but 100% wrong!”

According to Jason Boyett, Christian author of Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse and speaker on End Times, writing in the Washington Posts’ On Faith Page, “Camping’s faith will survive the impending disappointment, as will his ministry and radio empire. He’ll make excuses and set another date. I don’t worry about him; I worry about his
followers and their families.”

There are some within Camping’s own organization, Family Radio, who have not succumbed to the irrationality of his prediction. Many like Anthony Hernandez, a frequent speaker on Camping’s Family Radio, are acknowledging the fears, doubts, and concerns of their families and friends but still clinging to the assurance that the event will happen just as Camping predicted. What Hernandez and others are experiencing is what social psychologists call cognitive disequilibrium/cognitive dissonance: when experiences clash with expectations. A relevant example of this is found in the book When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. The authors infiltrated a group that was expecting the imminent end of the world on a certain date. When that prediction failed, the movement did not disintegrate, but grew instead. By sharing cult beliefs with others, they gained acceptance and thus reduced their own dissonance.

This is clearly what may happen after May 21 comes and goes. It is sure to put the  eschatological aspect of the Christian faith to the back of the average church goers mind. It may contribute to an already decline in attendance and financial contributions for mainline and evangelical Christian churches. I only hope that does not delineate the authentic Gospel message to continue to be preached and heard by all persons and nations. As Christ himself said “Let him who has ears to hear, hear.”

Bin Laden’s Dead:Now What?

Millions of Americans watched Sunday night as President Obama addressed the nation with the news that Usama Bin Laden, the master mind of terror attacks around the world was killed during a US Special Forces covert operation at his million dollar compound in Pakistan. First, credit and congratulations are in order for President Obama’s decision as Commander in Chief, the military and CIA Intelligence leaders who spent months planning the operation. This is truly the epitome of the mourning, unity, and action following the terrorist acts of September 11, 2oo1. How Bin Laden evaded capture as long as he did while living in open secrecy for the past six years is a question that has many pundits, politiicians, and people wondering and waiting for more answers. While President George W. Bush began the action, President Obama has brought it to a close.

The question still remains-Now What?

We have been witness to civil unrest throughout the Middle East and the Muslim world for the past four months. We have watched as presumably horrible regimes have been outsted (with the exception of Libya’s Qaddafi). We are seeing countries such as Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain’s leaders recoup with violence on their own people. We are increased tension between Israel and Palestine. All of this unrest in the Middle East is pointing towards something that we must all be cognizant of. That something could be the end of the world as we know it.

The End or the Beginning?

We are witnessing a global crisis that has not been experienced since the beginning of the Second World War. Those familiar with history know that at the end of both World Wars, there was the establishment of a global united government movement. Post WWI was the League of Nations championed by President Woodrow Wilson. Post WWII was the establishment of the United Nations championed by President Franklin D Roosevelt. Neither of those men lived to see either organization to its full fruition, but the seeds they planted have deep roots in the world’s governance, military, economy, and diplomacy today. I am of the belief that in the upcoming future, we will see an even greater world government come into power that will exceed the expectations of both of its forerunners. This united world government will be something that most will rejoice to see, but could also lead to the decimation of the sovereignty of nations as we know it. It would literally be the end of the world as we know it.

How then should we prepare for this? Scripture shares much of what should be expected in the last days. Paul, addressing first century believers about the imminent return of Christ writes: “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5: 1-5) [NKJV] It is clear that he as others expected universal turmoil as a sign of preparation for Christ’s return. It is no different for believers today. We are witnessing a great shifting in the world-economically, governmentally, militarily, and in many other ways. We should be preparing to hear the words of peace that will beckon all to celebrate. It is when we hear these words or discern these signs that we should know that the time is drawing near and that Christ’s return is at hand.

Two millenia have passed since the world last saw the remnants of Christ’s promised return. The words of Jesus entreating his disciples of the last days are even more pertinent to those of us who are believers today: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into”. (Matthew 24:42-43) [NKJV]

Seminary/Grad School of the Week

Biola University/Talbot School of Theology

13800 Biola Ave.La Mirada, CA9063

1-562-903-6000     www.talbot.edu

Dr. Dennis R Dirks, Dean

Mission

The Mission of Talbot School of Theology is the development of disciples of Jesus Christ whose thought processes, character and lifestyles reflect those of our Lord, and who are dedicated to disciple making throughout the world

Talbot School of Theology is a theologically conservative, evangelical seminary in Southern California near Los Angeles. With almost a 60-year heritage of biblical fidelity, the seminary couples solid evangelical scholarship with intentional character development to prepare students for a lifetime of relevant, effective ministry. The seminary’s six master’s degree programs and three doctoral degree programs are led by a faculty of nationally renowned, widely-published and actively engaged ministry leaders.

Biola University was founded on February 25, 1908 by the Rev. T.C. Horton and Lyman Stewart, founder of Union Oil Company, the non-denominational school offered degrees in Bible training, hosted the nation’s largest Christian magazine, The King’s Business, and aired the first Christian radio program west of the Mississippi, which later became known as The Biola Hour. Enrollment grew rapidly under the direction of Biola’s first dean, R.A. Torrey (1911–1925). Talbot was founded in 1952 by Dr. Louis T Talbot during his last year as President of Biola University as a three year accredited seminary to combat liberal Christian teachings that had plagued the church.

Talbot School of Theology is located in La Mirada, California, a Los Angeles County suburb ranked by Money Magazine as one of America’s 100 best places to live. Situated on the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties, the seminary is a matter of minutes from all that Southern California has to offer — including beaches, entertainment venues, cultural attractions and a wealth of diverse ministry opportunities.

Student Profile
1,235 total students

57% Caucasian
25% Asian
4% Hispanic
4% African-American
10% International

71% Male
29% Female

Faculty: 96% of full-time have doctorates

Campus: 96 acres, located in Southern California, approximately 20 miles from Los Angeles

Library Holding: Over 300,000 titles

Seminary/Grad School of the Week

Moody Bible Institute-Celebrating 125 years of Excellence in Christian Education

Moody Bible Institute-Dr. Paul Nyquist, President
820 N. LaSalle Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60610

www.moody.edu (800) DL-Moody (800-356-6639)

 

Since its founding in 1886 as the Chicago Evangelization Society, by Christian Evangelist and Revivalist Dwight Lyman Moody and Emma Dryer, Moody Bible Institute’s Bible-based education combined with real ministry experience has prepared thousands of students for Christian service. Moody’s education legacy is rich with graduates boldly reaching the world for Christ, paving the way for future generations to do the same.

Moody offers certificates, undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Biblical Studies, Christian Education, and Ministry. The main campus is located in Chicago, IL but it has sattelite campuses in Spokane, WA and Plymouth, MI. Students can also complete courses online or through modular sessions in designated areas.

MBI has been vigilant to maintain integrity within our walls and guard against potential outside threats. The school has a legacy of being held accountable to the standards of the Word by the people of the church. Academically, Moody is accredited by highly trusted agencies. Professionally, every branch of ministry is affiliated with the most revered associations in their respective industries.

Rediscover the art of rhetorical criticism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the day, we encounter signs, symbols, and sounds that engage us and cause us take actions and communicate our thoughts and opinions on certain matters. Each time we participate in this process, we are participating in a skill that has all but gone extinct. It is the ancient skill of understanding and effectively communicating the symbols, signs, and sounds
around us.  This skill is called rhetorical criticism. When the average person hears the word rhetoric, most automatically assume that it means, talking in pompous, bombastic, and seemingly irrelevant words to evade answering questions or just simply sound like a know it all. In reality, rhetoric is simply communication and has been used for centuries as a means of persuasion. In the philosophical world, rhetoric is a way of teaching through communicating. In politics, rhetoric is the persuasion of potential voters to a particular point of view. In religion,
rhetoric is the symbolic actions of believers as they profess their religious beliefs through sacraments, liturgies, and devotions. Every living human being is engaged in rhetoric and as a result, also engaged in rhetorical criticism.

We live in a world where information is transmitted so quickly through 60 second sound bites that there is little to no chance of fully understanding authentic knowledge as it presented. Symbols and signs that once meant something positive are being usurped and their meaning and message changed to convey new thoughts and messages that may directly or indirectly
counter the original meaning or message. The question then becomes why should we be aware of this rhetorical criticism thing and how can we use it to better communicate? The answer is because our world is more interconnected than before and understanding how and what is being communicated empowers the person to control the knowledge they receive and share. This is a much needed powerful skill to have because more individuals have access to the means of delivering and sharing rhetoric (blogs, twitter, social networks, news media, and cell phones) and it is almost impossible to control the content of that rhetoric (unless you live in China or other places where the government controls content).  When we use rhetorical criticism, we become better at investigating, understanding, and explaining our responses to the symbols around us.

Rhetorical criticism isn’t a hard skill to learn and master. It involves two main processes: 1) asking a question, and 2) analyzing something that relates to the question we have asked. Each time we ask a question about anything, we have begun the process of rhetorical criticism. The
question does not have to be anything deep or fantastical, it can be something as simple as why did a band choose a particular logo design, or why a certain color of lipstick looks better than another color. This sets in motion the second process. It is the action (either actual or symbolic or a combination) that we do following the question we ask. It is here that we examine something related to the question we asked. We formulate hypotheses around it and attempt
to understand it better. There are several ways to accomplish this, but the most common is through the written form (email, text message, academic writing, blog, etc). Once we have completed this, we communicate it with those around us. This is done in several ways also. The entire act results in the full communication of our response to the initial symbol that led to the rhetorical criticism.

When practiced regularly, rhetorical criticism can be a way of empowering people to influence in their world. It can be a way of countering what a person believes to be the wrong messages sent out by the wrong people. It can be a way of helping others to be proactive and engaged in all the symbols, signs, and sounds around them.