Tag Archives: Scandal

The Movement and the Institution

The Movement and the Institution (CaD 1 Sam 2) Wayfarer

But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod.
1 Samuel 2:18 (NIV)

As a follower of Jesus, I have been both grieved and incensed as stories continue to break regarding rampant, systemic child abuse that was both pervasive and systematically covered up by the Roman Catholic Church. No one really knows how pervasive it was nor how long it has been going on. The system still has its wagons circled all the way to the Vatican.

And, it’s not just the Roman Catholic Church. The Southern Baptist Denomination recently released a report of all the cases of child abuse and sexual assault that they had been keeping under wraps for years. To their credit, the leaders not only owned up to the truth, but also released a list of all pastors, leaders, and/or employees who were accused of sexual abuse over two decades. It is over 200 pages long.

I was a young man when I made the observation that ministry is a profession. A person with no real spiritual calling, gift, or even faith can go to school, get a theology degree, and get a job leading a church. Along my journey, I’ve met a few that fit this very description. They aren’t serving God. They’re just earning a living.

I would later go on to observe in my study of history that ever since the organic Jesus Movement became the both religious and political institution known as the Holy Roman Empire, professional ministry was conferred with a certain amount of worldly power. The higher up in the institution the more absolute the power became. You know what has been said about power: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Give a man a robe, a title, a dark place, and the perceived power of salvation, damnation, and absolution over a scared and weak child. Bad things happen. Sadly, the stories of Bill Hybels and Ravi Zacarias prove that I’ll find examples of this in any religious institution. The church is not only filled with sinners, it’s led by them as well.

Today’s chapter is a testament to the fact that the problem has existed forever. In the Hebrew religious system God set up through Moses, the priesthood was held by descendants of Aaron. The Tabernacle was served and maintained by the tribe of Levi. You didn’t choose the role, you were born into it. And so we end up with a couple of hypocritical dead-beat priests named Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of the High Priest Eli.

The author of 1 Samuel is careful to contrast the two adult sons of the High Priest and the boy Samuel:

Hophni and Phinehas demanded that people give them their uncooked meat designated for sacrifice. The fat was supposed to be burned as part of the sacrifice and the meat was boiled to get rid of the blood. Eli’s sons threatened pilgrims and worshippers to give them the uncooked and unsacrified meat so they could enjoy a nice, rare steak on the grill.

“But Samuel was ministering before the LORD – a boy wearing a linen ephod.” (vs 18)

Hophni and Phinehas also used their positions of power to coerce and seduce, or perhaps it was that they actually assaulted women who served at the entrance to the Tabernacle just like modern-day priests and pastors who abuse their power and position to prey rather than to pray.

“Meanwhile the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD.” (vs. 21)

Eli confronted his sons, rebuked them, and demanded that they change their ways. They were unrepentant and refused to listen to their father.

And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with people.” (vs. 26)

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but meditate on this contrast. The paradigm that Jesus created with his initial followers was that of spiritual disciples whose lives had been committed and changed by the indwelling Holy Spirit and a dedication to love, humility, generosity, and spiritual discipline. His followers then passed it on to disciples who followed them who then passed it on to their own disciples.

When the organism became an institution Spirit was replaced by human knowledge, calling was replaced with credentials, humility was replaced with power, discipleship was replaced with academia, and spiritual authority was replaced by human bureaucracy. In the forty years that I’ve been a disciple of Jesus, I’ve watched many of the mainline church institutions and denominations splinter and implode. I personally don’t think this is a bad thing at all.

Personally, I have found myself avoiding institutional entanglements on my earthly journey. I like being a wayfaring stranger following Jesus where His Spirit leads me. And so, I press on pursuing that Spirit leading with as much love, humility, and spiritual discipline as I can increasingly muster.

May I never be a Hophni or Phinehas.

May I ever be a Samuel.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Justice

 

Justice (CaD Rev 10) Wayfarer

I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.
Revelation 10:10 (NIV)

Over the past couple of days, I have been watching a documentary about Roman Catholic priests who committed terrible acts of child abuse and subsequent horrific crimes to cover it up. The institutional church also aided in stonewalling the victims, as did the local authorities. There have been multiple times that I’ve come close to turning it off and walking away. It’s hard to watch.

Our fallen world is full of injustice. It always has been. And, the institutional church has been complicit. Just a few weeks ago the Southern Baptist Convention announced the results of an independent investigation which revealed that the denomination had hidden countless acts of sexual abuse by pastors and volunteers for decades. Even in the conservative small town where we live, there has been scandal and cover-up.

Our children’s generation has championed social justice, and they’ve been critical of previous generations of believers, and the institutional church, for not doing enough to address injustice. My ears and my heart are open to this critique. This world will never be found wanting as it relates to the need for justice. The Great Story is filled with cries for justice from Abel’s blood to the prophets, Job, the psalmists, and Jesus.

And that brings me to Revelation. The judgments envisioned and prophetically predicted for the end times are God’s judgment on a corrupt, unjust, and unrepentant world.

Today’s chapter is an interlude between the sixth and seventh “trumpet” judgments. A giant angel descends to earth holding a small scroll. John is told to eat it. It tastes like a treat from the dessert bar, but once it’s finished it turns his stomach sour. The prophetic words of the scroll are what John is told to proclaim and prophetically predict. The final stomach-churning judgments. Seven bowls of just reckoning and Judgment Day.

Kind of like the documentary I’ve been watching, it would be easy to shut the book and walk away. Revelation is not an easy read. But, it’s a necessary read in understanding the whole of the Great Story.

In the quiet this morning, I circle back to the stories of adults wracked with pain and anger because they were victimized by men who were supposed to be God’s servants. On one hand, it has my heart crying out for Judgment Day. On the other hand, I’m reminded of my own sins, my own complicities, and the injustices I’ve not only failed to address, but to which I’ve contributed either by word, act, or omission.

I hear the question of Jesus’ followers echoing in my heart: “Who then can be saved?”

“With man it is impossible,” Jesus replied, “but with God all things are possible.”

I sit in the quiet and ponder what this means for me on this day. The words of the prophet Micah rise within my spirit, words that Micah proclaims are God pleading his just case to the mountains and the hills:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

And so, I enter another day of this earthly journey intent on doing so.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Envy: The Pretty Sin

Envy: The Pretty Sin (CaD Ps 73) Wayfarer

When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

Psalm 73:16-17 (NIV)

Wendy and I were having a conversation early in our relationship and she used a metaphor that I’d never heard before. She spoke to me of “ugly” sins and “pretty” sins. It gave language to something I’ve always inherently understood but never really knew how to simply express.

Ugly sins are those types of moral failures that, when brought to light, are typically accompanied by public shame and humiliation. Ugly sins generate scarlet letter status within a community. We not may make modern day Hesters stitch the letter on their clothing anymore, but it doesn’t mean others haven’t stitched it there with their hearts and minds. Ugly sins generate gossip, slander, and hushed whispers behind the sinner’s back long after the secretly committed sin was made public and created sensational community headlines.

Pretty sins, in contrast, are shortcomings we largely ignore because we all do it and so there is an unspoken social and spiritual covenant we have with one another to turn a blind eye. No need to notice the speck of it we might perceive in the eye of another so that no one will point out the log of it in my own. Pretty sins are typically overlooked, dismissed if noticed on occasion, and sometimes we even find ways to make them virtuous.

Envy is one such pretty sin, and it’s at the heart of the song lyrics of today’s chapter, Psalm 73.

With Psalm 73, we start Book III of the Psalms. What’s cool is that the editors who compiled the Psalms put three symmetrical groupings together: six songs, five songs, six songs, with the middle song as the “center” of Book III. It’s the same way an individual Hebrew song would be structured. So they made Book III one giant psalm with individual songs as the “verses” of the structure. Psalms within psalms.

Psalm 73 is an instructional psalm in which Asaph confesses to the sin of envy. He looks at the lives of the wickedly rich and famous living in their Beverly Hills mansions, driving their Maserati, and jetting off to their summer homes on Martha’s Vineyard or their yacht in the Caribbean. Life is so easy for them. They don’t know what it means to struggle. On top of that, they are so arrogant looking down their noses on the rest of us.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had a week or two ago with a friend of mine who is a retired CEO. He lives near an elite golf club that caters to the jet-set and took a part-time job driving club members from their private jets to the luxurious private golf club. He told me how amazing it was to drive these billionaires around and routinely get treated like crap and stiffed for a tip. That’s the kind of people Asaph is singing about. Like Asaph, I confess that I’m envious to know what that kind of life must be like, even as I feel contempt for them.

As Asaph’s song continues, he goes into God’s Temple and it’s as if the Spirit of God gives him an attitude adjustment. He stops looking at the objects of his contemptuous envy with earthly eyes, and he opens the eyes of his heart to view them with an eternal, spiritual perspective.

Jesus taught that we who follow Him should maintain a similar spiritual perspective. On multiple occasions, he told parables warning about spending our lives “gaining the whole world” while we “lose our souls.”

Asaph ends his song of instruction understanding that it’s “good to be near God.” Along my journey I’ve discovered that contemptuous envy of others leads to destructive ends on many different levels. When I stick close to God, as Asaph instructs, it’s easier for me to keep both the eyes of my body and the eyes of my heart focused on things of eternal value. I can see my contemptuous envy for what it is, and can better perceive the spiritual price paid to gain this world and the things of this world.

In the quiet this morning I am looking forward to a simple feast with a few family members tomorrow. I’m looking forward to being home surrounded with love, joy, peace, and gratitude.

Wherever this finds you, I wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m taking the next few days off. See you back on this chapter-a-day journey next week.

Cheers!

Answering Accusation (or Not)

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
1 Corinthians 6:7 (NIV)

When the first phone call came from a co-worker, I was taken completely by surprise. My head was still spinning when the phone rang again. This second call came from my closest friend.

Dude,” he said immediately when I picked up, “I’ve got your back.”

That was the beginning of a particularly dark stretch of my life journey. Accusations had been broadcast among family, friends, and colleagues. Things were about to get really ugly, and I was faced with many decisions of how to respond.

Almost immediately I received, unexpectedly, some wise counsel from a person who’d traversed a similar stretch of rocky terrain earlier in their own life journey. I will never forget that bit of advice. Let me paraphrase: “Don’t fight back,” said the sage. “Make like a turtle. Pull into your shell at need and let the words, insults, accusations, and suspicions bounce off your shell. Just be true to yourself, and keep pressing on one step at a time. Make like a turtle. Slow and steady wins the race.”

In today’s chapter Paul, in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, is addressing similar sticky situations. Accusations are flying among the small group of believers. People are pointing fingers. Sides are being taken. Private arguments are turning into public lawsuits. In all the hubbub, the local gathering is suffering a black-eye.

Paul asks the believers an interesting question: “Might it be better for everyone to just allow yourself to be wronged?” In a nutshell (or, more aptly, a tortoise shell), Paul is echoing the sage advice I received many years ago. Don’t escalate an already bad situation by publicly answering insult for insult, accusation for accusation. Rather, do as Jesus proposed:

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.” Matthew 5:38-42 (MSG)

It’s not easy. Step-by-step, day-by-day I simply endeavored to be true to myself and to be a follower of Jesus to the best of my ability. Slow and steady I pressed forward letting the public suspicions, accusations, and tossed rocks bounce off the shell. “Don’t answer,” I had to keep telling myself as I protectively pulled inward. “Keep moving.”

In the quiet this morning I’m privately enjoying a tremendous compliment I recently received from an individual who, during those dark days, wouldn’t speak to me or give me the time of day, as the saying goes.

Slow and steady wins the race.

(Note to my regular readers: I expect my posts to be a bit erratic through the holidays. our kids and one-year-old grandson are visiting from the UK until New Year’s. Grandpa’s daily schedule might be appropriately messed up on a regular basis.)

Responding to Speculation and False Accusations

Tabloids a Twitter
Tabloids a Twitter (Photo credit: noodlepie)

Let them know that it is your hand,
    that you, Lord, have done it.
While they curse, may you bless;
    may those who attack me be put to shame,
    but may your servant rejoice.
Psalm 109:27-28 (NIV)

Those who live life as public figures or in the spotlight of leadership are likely to find ourselves in the midst of a whirlwind of speculation and suspicion at some point in our lives. People are people, and whether you lived some 30 centuries ago in Jerusalem or live in rural Iowa today you will find that some experiences are common to humanity. There is a particular kind of insanity producing frustration that comes with finding yourself at the center of others’ misguided gossip and false accusations.

King David, who penned the lyrics of today’s psalm, was no stranger to the spotlight of popularity and leadership, nor was he a stranger to scandal and public ridicule. For certain, some of the public ridicule David brought on himself. Like all of us, David made his share of boneheaded mistakes. Yet, even in the tornado of gossip the truth often becomes distorted and inflated into crazy tabloid speculation.

In my experience, there are only a few things you can do when you find yourself the subject of local gossip and speculation:

  1. Plead your case in the right place. Vent your frustration to God. That’s what today’s psalm was all about for David. Psalm 109 is an ancient example of a screaming, venting, thrashing Metalcore anthem. Get it out. Express your feelings. Tell God what you’d really like to see happen to those lying gossips talking about you behind your back. It’s okay. God understands your emotion and isn’t surprised by your feelings of vengeance. It’ll be good for you.
  2. Let it go. Once you’ve vented your anger and frustration, take a deep breath and then let it go. Believe me, there is nothing you can do to chase down and confront every source of gossip and every false accusation that you hear on the streets and behind your back. You’ll ultimately fail, drive yourself crazy in the process, and your efforts will only fan the flames of speculation. Like David, don’t just plead your case to God but also relinquish your desire for justice to the only True Judge.
  3. Stay the course. When Wendy and I were married (Eight years ago this New Year’s Eve!), it created a fair amount of talk in our neck of the woods. I was recently divorced at the time and I admit that the timing of our quick courtship did not do anything to quell the rumors and idle gossip. We heard the whispers and felt the self-righteous judgment and disapproval of others. At that point in time, Wendy’s mom gave us a sage piece of advice: Make like a turtle. Toughen up the shell, let it bounce off, and keep plodding towards what you know is right. Slow and steady wins the race.
  4. Give it time. Just this past week I was told that a young adult, who has watched Wendy’s and my marriage for the past eight years, commented that they see our relationship as an example of the kind of marriage they want for themselves. Wendy and I talked about that last night and marveled at how far we’ve come from those days when it was whispered that ours was a flash-in-the-pan rebound relationship doomed to failure. If you find yourself falsely accused, remember that what is true about you will be revealed in the test of time as others observe your faith, love, life, actions, words, and relationships.

Damage Control

I will be careful to live a blameless life—
    when will you come to help me?
I will lead a life of integrity
    in my own home.
Psalm 101:2 (NLT)

Politics has always been a dirty business. Things have not changed in the nearly 3000 years since King David penned the lyric to this song. As I began to read the lyrics I was initially impressed. David is making several declaratory statements about who he is and what he stands for. Click on the link to the psalm above and count the number of times “I will” appears. At first I was intrigued and impressed at the statements, and then I get to the last line:

My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked
    and free the city of the Lord from their grip.

It was then that it struck me. Psalm 101 is a campaign commercial.

It’s morning in Jerusalem.
Hope. Change. Forward.

This psalm is a set of idyllic promises that only the Son of God could meet. Scholars muse that the song may have been written as David took over the tenuous united kingdom of Israel which, in middle-eastern style reminiscent of today’s headlines, had two major factions and several smaller tribal factions threatening his power. They think it might be David’s inaugural address, if you will. Everything is looking up. Everyone is excited. It’s a political honeymoon for the golden boy, the shepherd turned warrior, the national hero turned monarch. David steps into the spotlight and declares that his reign will be the ideal. He will be different than his maniacal predecessor. It fits. I get it.

Perhaps I’m cynical when it comes to politics, but as I read it over in light of the last verse I wondered if the psalm might have served a completely different purpose. Fast forward about twenty years after David’s idyllic inaugural. His life is falling apart. His own home is fractured. He is beset by multiple scandals in his personal life and administration. In almost Shakespearean fashion, David’s own son is leading a bloody coup against him. We are a far cry from the hope and glory of his early days.

It leads me to wonder. Could this psalm have been a way of publicizing his repentance and spinning his way out of the public scandals that threatened his reign. It’s damage control. You can almost hear the political consultants whispering in David’s ear:

“David. Your majesty. I know it looks bad but you’ve got to go back to what made you popular in the first place. Write a song. Get back onto the Billboard charts. People loved your rock star image. You’re not too old. Think Elvis in Vegas. The big comeback. You gotta make the people fall in love with you again.”

Today, I am thinking about my own cynicism. Whether you want to think of this song as an inaugural address or as damage control, it reminds me of the inescapable truth that we are a fallen people. All of us fall short. We want the ideal. We want to believe that the ideal is attainable in our leaders and in ourselves. We fall for the idyllic campaign promises only to be grossly disappointed. Then we start the cycle all over again.

But the truth is that my own life reads like David’s on a smaller, less public scale. I’m no different. I’ve made countless declarations to which I’ve fallen short. We all fail, disappoint, and fall short.

We don’t need a politician. We need a savior.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 19

Chuck Colson On that Day, there will be a highway all the way from Egypt to Assyria: Assyrians will have free range in Egypt and Egyptians in Assyria. No longer rivals, they'll worship together, Egyptians and Assyrians! Isaiah 19:23 (MSG)

Charles Colson is well known in Christian circles for his teaching, his writing, and his ministry through Prison Fellowship. As the years go by, fewer and fewer people remember his incredible story. His life journey led to a pinnacle position among the conservative republicans and the political elite of the Nixon administration. Then came a rapid, deep descent he did not foresee. Colson was the first person convicted in the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon's resignation. Alone, broken, sitting in prison, Colson entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ and struck out on the path of redemption which would forever change his life and the lives of countless others.

What is often forgotten in Colson's story is the name of the person who visited him in prison and shared God's Message with him. It was not one of his political cronies. They all fled when he was convicted. His friends had also abandoned him in fear that they might be soiled by the Watergate scandal. The man who reached out to Colson was his political enemy. Harold Hughes was a liberal democrat, former governor of Iowa, and recovering alcoholic. Hughes visited Colson in prison, shared God's love with the pariah, and introduced Colson to Jesus.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to see Colson and Hughes reunited and hear them speak together. They were as opposite as opposites could be. Hughes the long-haired, liberal hippie and Colson the horn-rimmed, straight-laced conservative. I imagine that there was a lot on which the two disagreed. I was touched by watching the two of them together sharing their agreement on the single-most important truth. They were a living example of what happens when we follow Jesus' command and love our enemies.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and speakingoffaith