Pray for the Victims Appealing the Dismissal of the Suit Against SGM, CLC, and Mahaney

Just over a year ago the Second Amended Complaint against Sovereign Grace Ministries, Covenant Life Church, C.J. Mahaney, et al was dismissed by a judge due to the statute of limitations. It was not the evidence itself but the success of the guilty causing the suit to be dismissed. The suit alleges the cover-up of sexual abuse. Grant Layman, who is named in the suit, has already admitted he and the other pastors should have but did not alert the authorities to the crimes of sex abuse against children committed by Nate Morales. The goal was to keep victims and their families quiet. The guilty were so successful the case was dismissed due to the statute of limitations. An appeal was filed soon thereafter.

On Monday, June 9th at 9 am, the appeal made by those represented in the civil suit as outlined in the Second Amended Complaint will be heard.

Please be in prayer for the victims, their families and those representing them. Pray the judge will rule in favor of the victims and hear their case, let evidence be presented and justice prevail. Pray the guilty would repent and that God would be glorified no matter what.

Family Photos and A Need for Good News

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Ask my wife. I hate having family pictures made. They always make one of us mad or frustrated at the kids. The smiles and laughter and beauty of the kids captured is only part of the story of those moments. Behind the scenes there is bribery, threats, and more threats of punishment.

Last night I was looking at some pictures my wife took on a short family vacation with some friends. In most of the pictures we are smiling in front of monuments and have our arms around each other.

There were a few times smiles were hard to come by. My daughter got sick because of some medicine she is taking that aggravated anxiety. The boys fought. Tempers flared. Mine especially. We were all tired. Sometimes , I couldn’t tell the difference between being upset because my kids were being disobedient and being just embarrassed of their behavior in front of friends and strangers in public.

You’ve probably seen all the posts on Facebook of awkward family photos. Some are disturbing. Some are just plain disgusting. All of them make us laugh. Sometimes I’ve laughed to the point of tears.

Why do I laugh at them? Why do I keep going back to these familial train wrecks? They make me feel a little better about my own family and the issues we have. It’s the parental version of the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. “We may have out moments, but at least we aren’t like THEM.” It’s a self-righteous moment in which I feel a little better in comparison to those I can laugh at.

There is another kind of family photo that ends up on Facebook and Christmas cards. It’s the photo we try to take ourselves and many pay really *good* money for. It’s the picture perfect family photo. Everyone looks happy and tan and clean on the beach. You cannot see a blemish. Those photos look like joy.

I hate those photos.

Honestly, jealousy tends to raise its head. They are at the beach. Too expensive. Professional photos. Too expensive. Matching white outfits. Too expensive. They are probably about to go out to eat a nice seafood dinner when done. Too expensive.

But really it’s just me condemning myself with laws I’ve either borrowed from the world around me or I’ve made up myself. The law of looking good. The law of good vacations. The law of wealth. Laws we all look at and then despair of keeping. It is hard for me to look at these photos and not compare and feel like we aren’t measuring up.

Both self-righteousness and self-condemnation will eat away at the soul. We all know it. So we then look for some good news. Facebook will certainly unveil the cruelty of self-righteousness and the despair of self-condemnation. But one good thing it has done is show us we are not the only ones. Sure some people use it to show off and brag and get as many likes as they can for being a good parent (I do too). But there are those refreshing moments when parents are honest about their struggles. Some are funny. Some are raw and painful. But they all help us feel better. Knowing you are not alone is good news. And it feels like a kind of justification.

But it’s not. Misery loves company. True. It’s true. We all know it is. But that self-justification, while more respectable, is not really any better that self-righteousness or self-condemnation. All of them are reflections of a false gospel – good news that is false.

The good news of you’re family not being as awkward as other families.

The good news that holds out the hope of a better looking family.

The good news of others having the same parenting problems as you.

What we need is good news that humbles us so we will not be self-righteous when confronted with other peoples parenting issues. We need a gospel that gives us a real and lasting hope when we fail as parents. And we need good news that encourages us when the suffering.will.not.stop.

The good news of what Christ has done for us in his life, death, and resurrection is the gospel our souls are looking for. His righteousness has been credited to us, we do not need another righteousness. And “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” – even though we don’t always feel that to be the case. We have been “justified by his grace as a gift, through his redemption in Christ Jesus.”

When I don’t believe these things as a parent, I loss my temper, grow impatient, and parent as one who wants to stand justified before God and all those I imagine are watching, justified because of my abilities…my kid’s abilities. But when in those rare moments I parent as a “justified sinner” (simul iustus et paccator), I can love them as they are and not in comparison to other kids. And I can then parent them without comparing myself to other parents.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with all the other “pictures” of family we will see on social media. But my heart is shot through with the desire to take them as the gospel truth and then live accordingly.

But really, the truth of the gospel is so much more for us.

And our kids.

All This Defeat

Last week when all this started happening with Tullian and The Gospel Coalition, I, of course began looking into him a little deeper. I knew very little about him, did not follow him on Twitter, and didn’t think I had read anything by him. Turns out I read a book by him years ago called Unfashionable. I’d forgotten he was the one who wrote it, though I remember really enjoying it. So my exposure to him was minimal and foggy at best.

But then I remembered I had downloaded a free kindle edition of his book, Glorious Ruin, a while back. I began to dig in.

Because of the current controversy over Sanctification, this book probably deserves a thorough review. You will not get that here though. But I do want to tell you about two things I learned. Actually, it’s only one lesson with two implications.

At one point in the book, he says, “The gospel is for the defeated. Not the dominant.”

My first reaction was to be comforted. I know what defeat feels like. For two years defeat has been our staple. Our companion. We have spent the last two years looking at the scoreboard and seeing defeat. I tell you that for honesty’s sake. Not pity’s. I am one of those people who doesn’t like to make others feel uncomfortable, so usually when someone asks how we are doing, I respond with something that will be less than honest because defeat is uncomfortable.

And our defeat has been varied. Thankfully our marriage and our church family has been a refuge for us. But nearly every institution has been marked by a defeat. Some probably of our own making. But much of it feels like it is out of control and could not have been predicted or deterred.

Misery may want company. Defeat wants to be alone for the most part. It wants to sit under the canvas of black and look for stars, listen to the blues, feel the cold. Feel the heat.

It took a while, longer than I wish, but it pushed me to the point of needing some hope. At some point, you look around and get tired of all the things breaking and look for something that will not break. Something fixed and strong and a light to dispel the darkness that not only hides good things but keeps you from seeing things as they really are.

So I began reminding myself of who I am in Christ…who I am because of Christ. You can call it “preaching the gospel to yourself” I guess. That’s what I was doing, I was reminding myself that all the defeat I could possibly experience cannot compare to the riches I have in Christ.

Now, you might be expecting me to say that the dark clouds of defeat are lifting. Nope. Hasn’t happened. It may never happen. Which to be honest is very inconvenient right now, because I’d like to return to the pastorate and I’m not sure there are many churches that want someone who feels defeated. Maybe there are, I don’t know. I’ve looked at the job descriptions and tried to shoehorn it in between the lines and it’s not easy to see it happening.

What I will say is this, the clarity of the gospel of grace for the defeated is before me. You have to get pretty close to the gospel being the only good news in your life before you can see the defeat as a gift. I wouldn’t call it a gift you hold, so much as a gift of sight. The more acute the suffering, the better the good news can be seen.

That’s the first lesson. The book didn’t tell me something I didn’t already know. But it did give me some words to say what I already knew.

The second lesson is this, I am not the only one feeling this way. Pastors and plumbers alike are dealing with defeat. Defeat as parents and bread-winners and spouses and friends and artists and workers and ministers and followers of Jesus. Defeat sits at my desk everyday, sometimes in tears and sometimes in rage. Defeat will put on a proud face too.

There’s a song by The Gaslight Anthem in which the words, “all this defeat…” are sung with all the emotion needed. And I think about those words when I run back over all the stories confessed across the expanse of cheap pressed wood of a desk I sit at all day. Just a lot of defeat. They come to me looking for good news in the form of refunds and loans.

So even outside of all the Sanctification discussion flying around social media and the blogs, I have found help unlooked for. This recognition of the gospel being for us who wake sopping wet in defeat and fight for sweet dreams, pushing against the defeat. This knowledge of a hope when all other hopes have shattered as we were defeated.

All this defeat? I’ll take it.

Josh Harris and “The Handling of the Nate Morales Issue”

Yesterday Josh Harris of Covenant Life Church spoke publicly about the Nate Morales trial. Honestly, I want to see nothing but sincerity in his words. I have always liked Josh Harris. Even when I didn’t agree with him, I liked what I saw in him.

Brent Detwiler and others, including myself, said that Josh had made an admission of knowing about Nate Morales and the issue of his abuse.
Soon thereafter people were saying they heard no such admission. Joe Carter, of The Gospel Coalition called it a fabrication. Some said we were spreading rumors. Lies even.

Why did we think he admitted he knew about Nate Morales and his sexual abuse of children? The following is what he said around the seven minute mark:

“The three other men who had any connection to handling the Nate Morales issue are ready to do the same thing (take a leave of absence). This is me, Kenneth, Corby and Robin.”

This statement means one of two things. Either all four had to handle the issue of Nate Morales or just the “three other men” did. And since you cannot handle an issue you do not know about, either Josh and the “three other men” knew or Josh did not know and he is throwing them under the bus. And the latter seems unlikely. I just see Josh doing that unless they gave him permission. And in that case, I would expect him to make that point clear. But none of that really jives with everything else he said. The only meaning that makes sense to me is that they all four were “handling the Nate Morlaes issue” and therefore knew.

I’m willing to entertain other opinions as to what this statement could mean.

Being Plagiarized and Reverend Ames

Last week I stumbled upon evidence that some of my writing had been plagiarized. And my first reaction was a strange anger. Anger mixed with flattery. Maybe that’s what it was. Pride too.

Plagiarism requires repentance. Just like theft. In the pulpit, more so. It was disheartening listening and reading men doing what I want to do, using my writing without giving me credit. I was mad. And then just got more mad.

And then I read the following from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead:

“I fell to thinking about the passage in the Institutes where it says the image of the Lord in anyone is much more than reason enough to love him, and that the Lord stands waiting to take our enemies’ sins upon Himself. So it is a rejection of the reality of grace to hold our enemy at fault. Those things can only be true. It seems to me people tend to forget that we are to love our enemies, not to satisfy some standard of righteousness, but because God their Father loves them. I have probably preached on that a hundred times.”

So I’ve decided to pray for them as pastors to fight my own anger and pride. I’m still mad. Give me a week.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

 

 

1) My youngest child has begun doing some serious stuttering in the last few months. I’ve never looked into whether this is something handed down from parent to child but my own struggles and difficulties with stuttering make me hurt for him. Those who ridicule stuttering cannot know what they are doing. It is a painful thing to live with. Daily pain. It affects you socially in ways you cannot even know until you are an adult. I go through seasons where I stutter very little. But the fear is always there that I will be talking with someone and the words will not come out. And there are the seasons where you have to forgo saying certain things because you know words that start with ‘h’ will never pass across your lips without the repetition that makes people uncomfortable or induces ridicule. Do you know how many greetings start with words beginning with ‘h’?

2) I’ve been doing really well at work but it’s been hard to enjoy. A guy I work with is not doing well and he is getting very discouraged. It’s painful to watch because I’ve been there. You’re just waiting to get called into the boss’ office while you watch someone else succeed. The business world can be a dark place.

3) Watching someone struggle with belief can be attractive. It seems to be the thing to celebrate nowadays. But we need to understand that clarity of conviction is also attractive. At least it should be. In a world of shallow and soft thinking, clarity of what you are convinced of, should be prized while being patient with those who are sincerely struggling to get there.

4) Prediction: Kids in little league will soon have agents.

5) I’ve been reading Calvin’s Institutes for a couple of weeks and so of course I’m thinking about what is typically considered Calvinism. And I’ve been thinking about objections people have to the “5 points.” I sympathize with the objections since I was once an objector. But there are two things that I want these people to see outside of the goodness of “Calvinism.” People often complain that it doesn’t make sense and logically cannot be true. I usually respond with a question, “Do you hold any other beliefs that are hard to understand?” And then I ask if they believe Jesus is both God and Man and if they believe in one God that is three persons. The second thing I want them to see is specific to those who like to describe faith and belief and the Christian life as “messy.” These are people who revel in the contradictions. I like these people. In many ways these are my people. But one seeming contradiction that is just too messy for them is predestination/election. They often ask “how could a loving God do…” and they do not want a messy answer. They want squeaky clean answers. Bleached. I like these people but I fear they use “messiness” as a soft place for their unbelief to land.

6) I long to be a pastor again. Sometimes it’s painful. But I’m content to be where I am and do what I can where I am.

7) I think we are coming to a point in the history of our country where the most evangelistic endeavor we participate in will be faithfulness to our creed and love for those who despise it. Both will be very difficult.

8) There are a number of things I do not like about myself. But the thing I despise the most is when I laugh at other people’s expense. Making fun of people. Ridiculing them. It’s a short-term solution for my insecurities. Couple that with my own inability to laugh at myself sometimes…

9) Some: Theology is divisive.
Me: (shrugs shoulder) OK.

10) My wife’s birthday was yesterday. She is a joy to hold and a joy to behold.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1) Really, outside of hitting, pitching and fielding the Cardinals are having a great April.

2) It is no Alarmism to assume pastors may soon risk much when preaching the Scriptures.

3) I walked into my daughter’s room and she was singing along to U2, so I’m winning, right?

4) In the new heavens and earth the way we think about ourselves will be a perfect reflection of how we really are. We will not overestimate our abilities nor undervalue what we can offer to others. We will, without irony or arrogance, see ourselves as we really are, reflecting the glory of the Holy King.

5) Vegetable hungry is harder than potato chip hungry.

6) If the purpose of Heaven Is for Real is to help people believe just that. My question is why did they not believe it before? The Scriptures are clear on its existence and goodness. What other fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith is not then believed in the Scripture that needs a multimedia campaign to be believed?

7) Read everything by Rod Dreher, especially this.

8) I know the “Five Points of Calvinism” are out of fashion, but I’m still thankful for them. Starting with our Total Depravity is a good practice in all our endeavors. It keeps us humble and reminds us the problem lies within us and not merely outside us.

9) Sometimes the kindest thing I can do for my kids is to not let them do what they want to do. Every parent knows this, if only instinctively. Why would we not expect the same kindness from God, our
Father?

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1) My hearts tendency to legalism is manifested most clearly when I look in the Bible for what to do, as if Holy Writ was given to me as a self help book. What needs to happen is for me to go to the scriptures and listen for what God is saying about himself and myself and my neighbor.

2) One of the more staggering stats of the young baseball season is Andrelton Simmons having 49 plate appearances with no strikeouts. Back in 1929 Joe Sewell went 115 games without a strikeout. I’m not sure how many plate appearances that was but it was 437 at bats. He only struck out 4 times that season. And averaged only 1 K every 62.6 at bats over his hall of fame career making him the hardest batter to strikeout in MLB history.

3) While April is a little colder than I’d prefer, springtime in Birmingham is really glorious with all the azaleas and lilies and irises blooming and the trees are a blinding green. It’s hard to sit at a desk, you feel like your body is about burst with the need to sit outside and laugh with friends.
Spring is great everywhere but hometown Spring is singular.

4) Obscurity with my wife in a quiet room with a book is preferable over out with the movers and shakers.

5) I got a note this week from a pastor who has been taking his small group through my book. That group has among its members a banker and a plumber. So my week has been made. If those two were encouraged at all it’s worth it. The royalty checks are nice. And necessary. But hearing that? It’s a particular kind of wealth that cannot be earned or bought.

6) Went to a ball game downtown last night. Had a hot dog and an orange drink. We have some serious award inning restaurants in town but I’d chose a ball game, a dog and an orange drink over them every single time.

7) Over the past week I’ve helped a 75 yr old lady with $2 to her name and another elderly lady in tears, who lost a daughter in law to the long battle of cancer. I’ve sat between two broken marriages. And I’ve spent 2 hours talking with a woman whose drug-addicted son has been stealing from her and she has to bolt her bedroom door from the inside when she sleeps at night, when she can sleep. I would not have chosen this preparation for the pastorate, but it is the wisdom of God.

8) The Psalms are full of the Blues and sometimes you can hear Mississippi John Hurt and Son House and Big Bill Broonzy in them.

9) I long for a vacation the way a fat kid longs for cake.

10) It sounds like some tired cliche but work is far more tolerable when I am praying for my fellow employees and my bosses. Sometimes those prayers are more like the groans of creation waiting for redemption, but still.

11) The songs sung by the characters in the The Lord of the Rings are very different than the songs sung after the adventure begins.

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