Thinking Out Loud

October 15, 2013

A Man Who Cut Out His Eyes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:35 am

 If your eye offend you

When Jake arrived in the South Carolina beach town, he knew he’d found the place where he wanted to spend his life. While you can’t see the beach from his home, it’s about a five minute walk. There’s a kind of boardwalk, set way back from the water, which offers a handful of rides and places to buy snack foods and almost a mile of uninterrupted beach which is halted at both ends by private condo resorts.

And as it turns out, there are lots of young girls in somewhat skimpy outfits, even in winter.

If your eye offends you…

Jake can’t remember when he first realized that the beach attire of females was becoming a problem. Admittedly, sometimes he was attracted to the beach by the prospect of seeing healthy bodies, and other days he would avoid the beach for the very same reason.

If your eye offends you, cut it out…

Years in, Jake realized that the buzz of living in a beach town could be experienced at places other than the beach. The town had a certain vibe that extended to storefronts and restaurants on the main street. It attracted writers and painters and musicians. Some of the same young women would frequent the downtown as well, but at least there they were dressed. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

It is better for you to lose one part of your body…

But a few more years in, Jake realized the incredible amount of temptation that was lurking in public places. Forget the internet, reality had a high-definition Imax-styled panorama. He decided to be a bit reclusive, for the sake of his soul.

It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

It was then he started thinking about the scripture in Matthew 5 about plucking out, or gouging out your eye. He noticed that the part about the arm talked about cutting off. He reasoned that if he could cut off his eyes from the things that caused him to lust he would be better served. He went back to the beach, but in the early morning when the traffic consisted of seniors and dog-walkers, or in the evening when offshore breezes caused people to cover up.

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.

And then, unexpectedly came the day at the grocery store. She wasn’t particularly attractive to the point of being a “10,” but there was something about the cut of her dress that begged attention. He thought, ‘Isn’t that just what fashion designers do? Garments are made to highlight certain parts of the body.’ He looked away. And then he looked back. And looked again. He couldn’t believe what he was thinking.

Sin is crouching at the door…

Avoiding the grocery store? Not as easy to do if you want to eat. He tried ordering groceries online, but it was expensive, the order was missing a few items, and the driver made it really clear he expected a tip each visit.

Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

Jake realized we live in a reality that is filled with temptation. At the North Carolina beach. At his inland home in Indiana. When you are young. When you are old.

There is nothing outside someone that can corrupt him

Just as Adam and Eve faced the temptation of the tree in the garden, so also do we face similar temptations; in fact, each one of us has a tree; a particular area of spiritual vulnerability.* Jake decided that while the scriptures teach avoiding temptation, he was expected to prosper spiritually in his environment; he was expected to be salt and light in the middle of it.

There is nothing from outside of the man, that going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man.

He would gouge out his eyes, but he would do it figuratively, not literally.

He would not allow the things he sees to lead to sin.


Scriptures:  Matt. 5:29, Gen. 4:7, I Cor. 10:12, Mark 7:15

* There is always a tree: The Tree in the Garden (April, 2010), Your Tree, My Tree (Sept., 2013)

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November 4, 2010

So Why Exactly Does Scandal Hit Pastors and Religious Leaders?

Mark Barger Elliott tries to deal with this question — “How can we clergy explain such egregious transgressions?”  this week on the CNN Belief Blog.   He feels there are two culprits, “the work and the person.”

Take the first one:

As a pastor I identify with the pitfalls of “the work.” Fifteen years ago I took vows “to love God, my neighbor, and to serve the people of God with energy, intelligence and imagination.”

Today, however, my job description reads like the director of a mid-size non-profit. A million dollar budget needs to be raised and a monthly payroll of 12 employees met. To tread the churning waters of shrinking resources and demands for excellent programs, I take classes on strategic planning as often as classes on the Bible.

As to the second issue:

How do we explain the moral transgressions of a profession charged to teach morality?

In my years as a pastor I have witnessed marriage vows made and betrayed. I have visited those in prison and those trapped in a prison they have made for themselves. I’ve prayed with the lost and the found, watched fortunes flow and ebb.

“Broken” is a word that describes many of the people I have been privileged to walk alongside as a pastor.

I have also spent a great deal of time with other clergy; from preaching stars who soak up acclaim for their oratory gifts to pastors in inner-city churches barely making ends meet.

The solution to the first problem seems more simple:

One option is to intentionally separate the clergy from the church’s financial matters. Teaching people about God’s love while shaking a fundraiser’s tin cup seems to ultimately undermine one’s credibility. People suspect a bait and switch.

I wish he had been given more space to flesh this out.    He identifies a tension here, but it’s just one, and pastors are stretched physically and emotionally in so many different directions.  Is the point financial responsibility specifically, or the inconsistencies of the job?

The second solution is not so easily dealt with:

Clergy typically fall into one of two camps.

Those who, in the face of the brokenness that surrounds them, come to identify their own brokenness and in humility choose to “live with the questions,” to borrow the poet Rilke’s phrase. This person is reluctant to offer quick answers to the hard questions of life.

The other camp is clergy who choose instead to offer confident solutions to life’s struggles. The clergy I have watched transgress their ordination vows typically fall into the second camp. The temptation is to shift from speaking about God to speaking for God. When that line blurs in a pastor’s mind, all bets are off.

On this point, I wish he’d had space to discuss the “personality” as well as the “person.”   I’ve heard it said that the very personality traits which cause someone to want to be in the pulpit are the very personality traits that leave them vulnerable to temptation.   (My personal belief is that anyone in business leadership, or in a position where they are “upfront” before a crowd of people is equally prone to the same conditions.)   The second paragraph above is certainly an interesting insight into how that might play out.

To me, this is the question all of us — laity and church staff — need to be asking each time we hear a story about another fallen leader.   And “hearing” is key, because we tend to focus here in North American on Canadian and American stories, but Elliott points out there are similar stories in Europe that we’re not always being told.

I also wish he’d had time to broaden out the ending.  While pastors have made vows to serve God vocationally, each one of us has promised to honor God’s name and serve Him with devotion.   The moral collapse of a Christian leader may make headlines, but when it happens to any one of us, it is not any less significant to God.

To read the full piece, in context, which I encourage you to do, click here.

Mark Barger Elliott is Senior Pastor of Mayflower Congregational Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and author of Creative Styles of Preaching.

Comments left at the original article come from the widest possible readership at CNN and should be read with discernment.

“Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout, but is usually the result of a slow leak. ” ~source unknown

March 8, 2010

When Pastors Lie

Over the years, I’ve heard stories where people will say something like, “My pastor looked me straight in the eye and lied through his teeth.”   I’ve personally experienced things where a pastor can claim palpable denial of having said something, when in fact they did.   I’m not sure that “lied through his teeth” is the phrase I would choose, but there’s no doubt that these days the art of spin-doctoring is highly cultivated among professionals of all stripes.   Others claim to have been lied to outright by their priest, rector or minister.

The problem is, I still respect the office.  You may not respect the individual, but I still think you have to respect the sovereignty of God in placing people in charge of shepherding a portion of God’s flock.   At least until proven they are guilty.   In general though, most of the pastors I’ve met  had a considerable degree of integrity and most of the ones I know today are worthy of my trust.

But they aren’t perfect.   There are stories told by people in the hospitality industry of how pay-per-view screenings of pornography in hotels is either the same or higher than normal when there’s a pastor’s conference in the house.   That’s not the subject for this discussion, but if a pastor — presumably traveling at church expense — can think nothing of requesting Debbie Does Dallas (and it’s not a movie about the seminary) on the hotel’s movie-on-demand service, then they are clearly capable of doing anything else unethical.

So what does it look like when a man of God looks another man straight in the eye who is committing adultery with his wife?  How does he justify that action?

I can’t show you what it looks like, but I can let you hear what it sounds like.   This weekend I came across the website yourpastorlied.com aka Pastor Mike Hylton Lied to You Just so He Could Sleep with My Wife.   Last updated in the summer of 2009, it’s a very sad story of a woman swept up in the arms of another man.   Both have children.

David Gray, the website’s author, sticks to the facts in what must be an otherwise emotional time for him.   But the highlight — about 3/4 of the way down the webpage — is the mp3 file of a phone call he made to both his wife and her pseudo-husband.    While the minister in question doesn’t try to lie to Gray, he is living a lie.

This is what justifying sin sounds like when you hear it over the telephone.   This is what rationalization sounds like when it’s spoken out loud.    You need to read a bit of the text to understand the story, but then you really need to hear the 6-minute (or so) audio transcript of the call.

People — all of us included — are capable of minimizing the most blatant sin.   Even people who’ve worked in vocational ministry, who have taken vows to be the shepherds of God’s flock.  Pray for your pastor, that he does not fall into sin, and if you take time to click and listen, pray for repentance, confession and forgiveness to take place in this particular story.

James 3: 1

(The Message) 1Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards.

(NLT) 1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.

(Amp.) 1NOT MANY [of you] should become teachers (self-constituted censors and reprovers of others), my brethren, for you know that we [teachers] will be judged by a higher standard and with greater severity [than other people; thus we assume the greater accountability and the more condemnation].



February 16, 2010

Confronting Todd Bentley

Todd Bentley announced his separation from his wife, Shonnah, in August 2008,  and resigned from the Board of Fresh Fire. A statement released by the remaining Board members said ‘Todd Bentley has entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff’, and that he will ‘refrain from all public ministry for a season to receive counsel in his personal life’. ~Wikipedia entry on Todd Bentley

Several months ago, this blog crossed paths with the blog, Bene Diction Blogs On (BDBO) because of my personal history with the individual behind the Ponzi scheme that affected several of the staff at Crossroads Christian Communications.

For awhile, I had BDBO on the blogroll here, but was reminded by a reader that just as many bloggers won’t post anonymous comments, so also is it difficult when a blog host is an unknown commodity.   I shared a number of off-blog e-mails with Bene at the time, but if I’ve ever actually known who Bene is, the name now escapes me.   I have no idea who I’m dealing with when we correspond.

Not so anonymous however are a series of copyrighted posts on BDBO by reporterRick Hiebert.

Rick has been following the career of charismatic (in more ways than one) evangelist and faith-healer Todd Bentley.   Rick’s posts are lengthy, and I don’t read them all, but a recent one led me to the website Confronting Todd Bentley, which in turn led me to a series of videos posted on YouTube.

The videos consisted of a number of scriptural rebukes made during one of Bentley’s meetings at Morningstar in Charlotte, NC.    Yes, this interrupted the meeting, and yes, that’s not the ideal way to bring confrontation; but given what these men have come to learn, they could not be silent.   Because of this, many more of Bentley’s followers have an opportunity to hear the other side of the story online.

But will they?   Probably not.   In Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, the person who occupies the stage, who holds the microphone, whose name is on the marquee; that person owns all the marbles and  commands all the respect.  “Touch not the Lord’s anointed;” is an oft-repeated phrase in this particular church culture.    Even in small, rural churches, the Pentecostal minister can be revered in a way that rivals Catholicism’s papacy.

So it was no surprise that the many rebukes against Todd did nothing to sway the people in the audience.    The website also carries the text of a pamphlet the protesters distributed that day.    Even if only half of their allegations are true,  all of this raises the question of Bentley’s mentor, author Rick Joyner.

Joyner purchased the former Heritage Village (PTL Club) property in Charlotte once operated by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.    A number of apologetics ministries such as Apologetics Index find theological problems with his various writings.   But his endorsement of a “restored” Todd Bentley certainly clouds his credibility further.

In a recent, lengthy “Special Bulletin” from Morningstar Ministries, Rick Joyner gives reasons why he felt it was right to release Bentley back into limited “Local Church” ministry prior to the end of the restoration process.   Much of his argument makes a razor sharp distinction which separates the qualifications for “being an elder” from the manifestations of  “having a ministry.”

The oldest post by Hiebert at BDBO is 19 months ago (BDBO posts are sadly undated) and is a reprint from a publication, The Report Magazine supposedly dated April 30th, 2001.   If this dating is correct, Hiebert has been following Bentley’s career for a long, long time.

In the Bible we’re instructed to worship God with the Spirit and with understanding.   Our faith is at times emotional, and there are things in the realm of the Kingdom of God that — as the Apostle Paul, a superb intellectual said so clearly — are seen by the world as foolishness.   But our faith also has to be grounded in the Word of God and our lives have to maintain an internal cohesiveness to give credibility to the work of Christ in our lives.

My personal belief is that Todd Bentley represents the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements at their worst.   Like the ones who disrupted Bentley’s recent North Carolina meetings, I find there are times when one simply cannot be silent.

You’re invited to follow Rick Hiebert’s writings at BDBO, and can also find some of the earlier posts at The Shotgun Blog at WesternStandard.ca You may also wish to read a recent article (with video link) wherein Bentley’s current wife, Jessa, claims to have communicated with the deceased, in particular one Oral Roberts.

January 14, 2010

Haiti – The Pictures

Presidential Palace before and after the quake from i.Telegraph.co.uk

It’s hard to get enthusiastic today about blogging when the world has just witnessed one of the saddest catastrophes we’ve seen in a long time.

Of the various media online, Boston’s Big Picture website probably brings the story into most vivid focus.   There are about 40 full-screen photos here, all taken within hours of the earthquake.

Boston.com – The Big Picture – Haiti Earthquake Devastation.

I was going to choose one of the pictures to include in this blog post, but I decided that I really want you to click the link.   However [update Friday morning] I decided to show this picture of contrasts — from a different source — before and after at the Presidential Palace, the one building in the country you would think would be the most fortified.


Coincidentally, I was going to link to another Big Picture picture yesterday, but the directions for finding the picture — the 37th in a longer collection — were a little too complex for the link list.  Without taking away from the Haiti story, I want to share it today.

This picture connects to me and to this Christian blog as it relates to John 8; the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, or Acts 8, the stoning of Stephen.   I had never thought about the fact that in a similar situation, most of us might try to raise our hands to deflect the rocks, so in this picture of a Muslim man being stoned for committing adultery — though not stated, the caption says “illicit sexual intercourse” — he is buried halfway in the dirt to stop him from doing anything to protect himself.   The picture shows his lifeless body being removed afterward.

I think for me, this changes my whole future perspective when I hear someone talking about someone being stoned.   As I watched this I thought about the New Testament phrase, “They took up stones…” in reference to Jesus.    Justice of this type was carried out quickly, and the only preparation required was that of finding rocks the right size.

Boston.com – The Big Picture – Best of 2009 (Part 3) SCROLL TO PICTURE #37 and click the link to view it.

I also thought it was interesting that this picture was only one of a couple in the whole series (all three parts) that was considered too graphic.   Boston.com seems to feel some sensitivity toward pictures of dead people, yet the media in general has no problem sharing with us the faces of grief.

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