Friday, June 23, 2017

Treating the Spiritual Cancer in the American Church

Here's some background on my story:

In the language of the American institutional church in 2017, I am the "leader" of a house church community.

I also have a full-time job apart from my involvement in our gathering.

You can't call me bi-vocational because I earn no money from the gathering for my service to Jesus and God's Kingdom.

In our gathering, I don't see myself as a parish priest/pastor. In our gathering, we are all responsible to be priests to each other.

At my job, my focus is on being a man of God's Kingdom. On the job, I see myself as an ambassador of the Kingdom of God in a spiritually foreign place.

----------------

On that job, one of my coworkers has recently been diagnosed with cancer and her diagnosis has brought back a flood a memories.

Seven years ago today, Evie, my wife, was undergoing chemo treatments, expecting to have cancer surgery in September and radiation treatments after surgery until the end of the year.

She had Stage 3C breast cancer so her survival was, by no means, certain. (Stage 4 is when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.)

Praise God. Seven years down this road, she is cancer free.

---------------

The process of the diagnosis of Evie's cancer was a tense time. Her mammogram showed a tumor that was 5.2 cm. x 3.7 cm., (2+ inches x 1 1/2 inches). Later, cancer was discovered in some lymph nodes.

Here's where all of this background is leading...

AT THE VERY BEGINNING, EVIE'S ONCOLOGIST SAID:

"WHEN THE DIAGNOSIS IS COMPLETE, IF WE THINK YOU CAN SURVIVE, WE WILL ALMOST KILL YOU TO CURE YOUR CANCER. 

BUT, IF WE THINK YOU CAN'T SURVIVE, WE WILL GIVE YOU MILD TREATMENTS TO ENSURE THAT YOU HAVE THE HIGHEST QUALITY OF LIFE POSSIBLE FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. 

--------------

The American church has cancer.

Attendance at its services, its measure of health, is declining--and declining rapidly and tragically among people under the age of 40.

Even more tragically, based on the lifestyle Jesus commanded and modeled, the American church has turned most church attenders into passive consumers of religious products and services.

---------------

In my denominational tradition as an example, congregations are failing, that is, churches are closing, at a historic rate, and, according to denominational leaders, 80% of remaining churches are either stagnant or declining.

We acknowledge that our denominational body has cancer.

The question is: Can the denomination survive?

---------------

As I read the Word and study church history, I believe that if our cancer can be beaten, the only hope is through radical treatment that will leave what exists now all but dead in the hope that what remains can recover and thrive.

Sadly, to my knowledge, in my Conference, the only remedy being proposed by our leaders is a tweaking of what already is with the creation of yet another in a series of Strategic Plans and a restructuring of a failing Conference hierarchy.

This is the equivalent of the approach Evie's oncologist described if survival isn't possible. It's mild. It extends life but acknowledges that death is inevitable.

It will lead to, at best, a managed, longer and less traumatic process of dying.

--------------

The Word is clear. It describes the process that leads to salvation where there is spiritual death in a church.

Paul said it this way:

"Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret." (2 Cor. 7:10)

--------------

If what exists as Christianity in the West today is to reverse its decline and thrive again in the future, it will have to go radical in attacking what's killing it from within.

It can't tweak.

It must attack the cancer that is alive and thriving in the body now and kill it off so that what is of the Lord can, again, thrive.

In the denominational body that I love, the killing of the cancer in the body isn't being contemplated.

My heart is breaking.

We must repent.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

ERC Leadership: Humility or...something Else

The word hubris is one of those ancient Greek words that actually appears in the New Testament and is used in English today.

In English today, it's a $100 word, no doubt, but it is a New Testament Greek word that you can find in its Greek spelling in your English dictionary.

It appears three times in the New Testament and its verb form, hubrizo, appears five times.

Hubris is a nasty word.

Among the Greeks, it described pride so extreme that it offended the gods. In fact, a common theme in Greek drama saw extreme pride leading to a person's downfall.

(I've posted here that we are fans of the, now concluded, BBC series Lewis. A whole episode of that series centers on hubris.)

The biblical truth is that hubris was condemned in the Old Testament long before it was the focus of Greek tragedy.

Proverbs 16:18 declares that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.

In the Septuagint, the ancient translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek, the word translated pride is hubris.

---------------

It seems to me that the CGGC/ERC leadership community reeks of hubris.

I suspect that no one reading this and who knows one or more mountaintoppers personally is agreeing.

I don't know all the mountaintoppers well these days. But, I am a geezer and I entered the Eldership more than 40 years ago. I knew some of the mountaintoppers when they were students at seminary and I was acquainted with others before they started in their first pastorates.

For the most part, today's mountaintoppers are introverts who have reserved and temperate personalities.

They are quiet, some even shy. And, as individuals, they appear to be gentle even meek.

And, in their reserve and gentility, they may seem to be humble.

But, on the big-picture level, as a leadership culture, or community, what they do smacks of hubris--of pride, of arrogance and self-concern.

----------------

Many times, I have accused the mountaintoppers of being church, not Kingdom, focused.

Based on recent ERC mountaintop action, I'm reaching the conclusion that I've been far too generous.

ERC mountaintoppers are showing themselves to be mountaintop-focused, not even church-focused. 

The mountaintop's response to the disaster that is the old, new 2015 Strategic Plan has been to try to save the mountaintop so that the chief mountaintopper, at least, can keep his salary and corner office.

----------------

What would they do if they were driven by humility, not hubris?

They'd do something like stand as one before the Conference with slumped shoulders, bowed heads, struggling to achieve eye contact and mumble:

Two years ago we presented a new Strategic Plan to you with great pomp and fanfare and we believed in it. But, it has failed. WE HAVE FAILED.

In those two years, many of the churches you attend, or, if you are a pastor, you serve, have declined.

We now realize that that Strategic Plan is nothing more than words on a page. And, we acknowledge the Strategic Plan's failure is our failure.

We beg you, in the love of Christ, to forgive us for our sincere failure.

Because we love the Lord and His Kingdom and our church and because we love you, we submit to you, the delegates of the Eastern Regional Conference, our resignations.

Nevertheless, as we offer our resignations, we tell you that we believe that we still can lead our Conference to good things but we need to receive your forgiveness and we will only move forward in leadership with your permission.

----------------

That would have been the humble way for the mountaintoppers to have approached the Conference this year.

It's precisely what they did not do.

What they did do is not fruit of humility or of love for the Lord or the Kingdom or even the Conference or its churches.

It is fruit of self-love, of love of the institutional mountaintop.

It's hubris.

Self-concern and pride.

-------------

I often conclude a post saying that we must repent, not you must repent or that they must repent.

The essential truth about the mountaintoppers' performance at Conference this year is that the whole Conference bought into the mountaintoppers' desire to preserve the mountaintop.

The whole Conference is still letting the mountaintoppers have their way.

And, as I also often say, the Lord of all authority and power and grace and mercy and blessing is not blessing.

WE must repent.

Monday, June 19, 2017

I Should be the Poster Boy for CGGC Ministry

I walk the CGGC mountaintoppers talk.

It stuns and, at times, amuses me when I view Dr. Richardson's videos and read Lance's eNews articles and see their vision casting for wildly progressive approaches to ministry which they are convinced will transform the ERC/CGGC into healthy/growing bodies...

...and I realize that they are describing who I have been and what I have been doing...

...FOR YEARS!

Multiplication?

We, at Faith, began to walk that path, what, three? four years? ago now?

Multiplication is startling, radical and cutting-edge, there, my ERC friends. Of course, except that the expelled whackoes at Faith Community have already embraced it.

Lance's June 16, 2017 eNews highlighted the importance of, I guess, mature church leaders, such as himself, investing themselves in the lives of "young leaders."

With the understanding that I have noted that in a Kingdom, the only actual leader is the King, I have been doing what Lance advocates--to about the tenth power--FOR YEARS. 

By saying that I do it to the tenth power, I mean that I do it as a full-time and as a lifestyle.

-----------------

If you look at this from 40,000 feet, you have to believe that the behavior of the CGGC is insane.

And, well, I suppose mine is too.

Here's a big word I recently learned: Laicized.

Rumor has it that, in 2016, the ERC laicized me.

You want to get into trouble in the CGGC? Walk the mountaintoppers' talk and do it openly and passionately.

If you're on top of a CGGC mountain and someone actually puts what you say into action?

Shepherd whack that person.

----------------

By all rights, I should be the Poster Boy for CGGC Ministry.

Instead, in the insane CGGC world, I'm on a Wanted Poster.

Do we laugh or cry?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Update on Mom's Health

A few weeks ago I journaled here that my mother fell in the middle of the night.

Since then, she's had Xrays twice because her pain level has been intense.

Before she fell, she had two broken vertebrae. The Xrays show that she worsened the break in what we members of the medical laity know as her tail bone. Now, rather than calling it broken, we're being told it's crushed.  She's undergoing physical therapy which she doesn't like because it increases her pain to an even higher level.

In addition to her physical pain, she has related physical problems and, as is often the case with people suffering from dementia, the physical trauma has created a rapid decline in her mental state.

Her memory, at least for the moment, is gone to the degree that it is dangerous. When we ask her if she's had physical therapy that day, she always says that she has. She has absolutely no memory of the previous day.

Because she's in so much pain, her appetite is gone and she doesn't want to eat many meals. Dad is so far into his dementia that he has lost awareness of the concept of meal time and doesn't ever seem to be hungry, though he eats if you give him food. And, he's losing weight.

Mom often tells the staff from the home that they don't want a meal and, based on the rules, it appears that she can refuse meals for both of them.

All of this works together to create an unsafe situation.

It's very stressful for the family.

That's the latest from our version of Lake Wobegon.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Kingdom Focused Giving: A Follow Up

Two weeks ago, I entered a post describing ways that we were planning, as subjects of the Kingdom, to contribute financially to the needs of people we know.

In that post, I described what we did for one family.

In the case of my coworker who's been ill, we decided to make a gift of cash.

We tried to do it anonymously this time.

(Don't try that. The whole thing got messy and, in the end, more people became aware of what we did than had to know and, it appears that we put someone in the company I work for in an uncomfortable position.)

Anyway, Evie and I considered, in the Spirit, the size of the gift we should give and quickly agreed on a number of dollars. Curiously, the number we agreed on is a sort of round number but certainly not an obvious number if rounding off is your goal.

So...

We got the cash together and arranged for it to be given to my coworker.

Today is the day that the money was going to be given.

And, about two hours before my coworker received our gift, she sent me a text with a prayer request. She had a sudden, unexpected expense. She begged me not to think she was asking for money.

THE SUDDEN AND UNEXPECTED EXPENSE SHE DESCRIBED WAS EXACTLY, TO THE PENNY, THE AMOUNT INSIDE THE ENVELOPE FROM US!

We are intentional about living, as Paul says in Galatians, "by the Spirit," and there are times when the Spirit lets you know that you got it right.

Amazing!

To the PENNY!!!!!!!!!!

My coworker was amazed by the to the penny part of it, more than the amount of the gift.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

One Thing I Mean when I Accuse CGGC Mountaintoppers of being POPISH

It's likely that I lost a heap of sympathy across CGGC in late 2012 when I sent out an email in a furious response to the 2013 Credentialing Proposal saying that it was the result of a "popish process" led by the current CGGC E.D..

If you are one of the dozens to whom I sent that intemperate note, and if you remember it, you'll recall that I actually observed that, at times, CGGC mountaintoppers claim authority over the CGGC that Roman Catholic Popes don't claim within their institution.

I actually went so far as to apologize to the Popes of history for lumping them in with recent CGGC authoritarians.

Needless to say, at the moment, I was highly agitated. And, while I apologize for the tone of that note, I stand by my assessment of the Credentials Document. It has mired us in Medieval, church-focused ways and impeded any effort to focus us on the Kingdom.

----------------

What does the adjective popish mean?

As that sort of term does, it means many things.

Specifically...

...In the context of the ERC 2015 old, New Strategic Plan and the new, New Strategic Plan now percolating among ERC mountaintoppers, it has to do with the Middle Ages idea that some in the church are providers of religious products and services to be consumed by others.

One way to understand the admission of the mountaintoppers at Conference in 2017, as it has been conveyed to me...

...is that in 2015 the mountaintoppers regarded themselves as providers of religious products and services at the top of a pyramid scheme that functions very much like Mary Kay, or Amway in which everyone below them will fall in line and consume and, in turn, sell the religious product they were selling.

---------------

Their Pastor as Parish Priest idea of how the local church runs is an integral part of that scheme.

Pastors provide religious products and services to the laity, who are on the bottom of the pyramid, and are the ultimate consumers.

In the mountaintoppers' scheme, theoretically, then, the pastor parish priests consume the religious products and services developed by those in the hierarchy...

...and, ultimately, those lower in the hierarchy consume the products and services by higher ranking CGGC bureaucrats so that when the Executive Director belches, everyone, all the way down the mountain and into the deepest CGGC valley, says, "Excuse me."

------------------

So, in 2015, and this is vastly oversimplified. There is much more involved,  but...

...the mountaintoppers produced their latest religious product, the old, New Strategic Plan...

...and, the consumers didn't buy it. They never have bought it.  But, the degree of putrefication and decline of the Conference has become do great that now it matters.

HOW DARE THEY!?

So, by 2017, the mountaintoppers appeared at Conference admitting that the old, New Strategic Plan was only "words on paper."

Their admission meant, whether they get it or not, that, in at least this one instance, they realize that they aren't popes.

This is an important moment for the ERC because it might lead to a crisis moment in which the mountaintoppers experience the godly sorrow that produces the sort of repentance that leads to salvation.

----------------

So far, that hasn't happened.

The hierarchs have merely reached into their old bag of failed tricks and pulled out another Strategic Plan.

They're still behaving popishly in the way that allows them to regard themselves as providers of religious products and services to be consumed further down the mountain...

...not, as Jesus described the greatest in the Kingdom as those who are slaves of all.

We must repent and change our ways.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Dr. Richardson's Video on Multiplication

As you will see, I take some of this very personally, and I considered not posting this for that reason but this, I believe, is too important. 

Forgive the personal part if you must, though I think what's personal to me reveals an essential truth. 

--------------- 

I received, from several sources, Dr. Richardson's latest video featuring his efforts to lead the new New Strategic Plan. The video certainly isn't a secret thing. It's the feature of the latest ERC Newsletter.

In it, Kevin encourages the people of the ERC to be about the work of multiplying disciples, leaders, ministries and churches.

I have three thoughts about what he says and how he says it.

1. I doubt Kevin's heart is in his message.

It was seven years ago, when Kevin was the Executive Director of the ERC, that we at Faith began our journey to revamp our ministry.

What we did was inspired by a desire to obey Jesus and to mimic the ministry of the early church.

Our refocused ministry was, secondarily, aligned with CGGC and ERC doctrine, and, the CGGC's Mission and Vision Statements.

To this day, the Ministry at Faith continues to embrace CGGC doctrine and Mission and Vision.

The CGGC Vision Statement specifically highlights the importance of multiplication and we have pursued multiplication.

Dr. Richardson's response to what we have done

At first, Kevin ignored us. Ultimately, though, he fought us. 

In the end, he became the mouthpiece for those challenging my credentials and, then, a cornerstone in the effort to expel Faith's multiplication-focused ministry from the Conference.

Amazingly, Kevin's letter to Faith announcing that it had been expelled arrived only two months ago.

Kevin's talk doesn't match his very recent walk.

2. You have to wonder, don't you, if Kevin even owns a Bible.

I've watched video several times now. And, I'd say that it is representive of Dr. Richardson's leadership of the ERC over the past nine years, in one way in particular:

Kevin, not even once, cites Scripture as the authority for what he is doing or for how he wants to do it.

The essence of what the Church of God does has always been, according to Winebrenner and even the 2013 Statement of Faith that, "the Bible is our only rule of faith and practice."

It may be our only rule of faith and practice, but, clearly, it's not Kevin's.

To listen to Dr. Richardson, the Bible plays no role in either the faith or the practice of the Eastern Regional Conference.

Many times over the years, I've described the mountaintoppers of the CGGC as hypocrites. This video provides a perfect example of that hypocrisy.

Why in the Word would a disciple of Jesus follow Kevin and the new New Strategic Plan?

Kevin supplies no reason. He doesn't cite Scripture.

3. Kevin's video is the incarnation of the the Characteristic of the CGGC Brand that I have labeled, Ecclesiolatry, that is, the worship of the church, not the Lord of the church.

Here's a tip:

If Las Vegas oddsmakers set the over/under line on appearances of the name of Jesus and mentions of the Kingdom of God at 1 in Kevin's video, BET THE UNDER!

On the other hand, I tried to count the number of times Dr. Richardson used the words church and churches but I couldn't. I ran out of fingers and toes with about 30 seconds left in the video.

The word church is absent from three of the four Gospels while the Gospels are filled with Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom of God.

Clearly, Kevin cares about the church. If he loves Jesus and the Kingdom of God, he doesn't tell us in this video.

----------------

From the top to the bottom and from side to side, we must repent.

And, based on this video, ERC mountaintoppers are still following their old and fallen ways.