Tag Archives: Mercy

Systemic? In Part or in Whole?

I took some flack for a video in which I expressed appreciation for law enforcement and said it is wrong to demonize all law enforcement for the wrongs done by some law enforcement officers or agencies. I shared my own personal experience of how helpful law enforcement has been when I needed to call them. On two occasions we have had to call them after break-ins, one when I was actually at home. I also shared the story of a former white church member, who was a state trooper, who helped deliver the baby of an African American woman who couldn’t make it to the hospital in time. She affectionately and jokingly referred to him as her “baby’s daddy” thereafter.

I didn’t share my experience to say that because I’ve had or heard about good experiences that there really are no problems as someone accused. The point I was making is that people in minority communities also need and want to be able to call the police for help. They also want a prompt and professional response. While polls on the general perception of confidence in the police is far lower, especially among blacks than whites, a 2011 study by the the Department of Justice revealed that there was no significant difference in satisfaction among whites, blacks, or Hispanics who actually called the police for help. Overall, about 85% said the police were helpful and over 90% believed the police acted properly. Moreover, 90% said they would be likely or more likely to call the police again. This study, done during the Obama administration, is a bit dated and no study reveals the complete picture, but this is part of the picture that needs to be considered and studied more as well.

People in minority communities also need and want good police protection. Demonizing police with sweeping generalizations and pushing for unnecessary scrutiny and drastic changes will lead to higher rates of crime that will disproportionately affect minority communities. As I was saying in the video, this is what the more recent work of Professor Roland Fryer, Jr. of Harvard reveals. It could cost hundreds more lives in some communities, and those black lives matter too, not to mention the black lives lost to murder at the hands of rioters and looters and the black livelihoods destroyed by the same. This is a justice issue too. If trying not to be racist is also racist as someone I once read argued, surely this is a case in point.

I’m not arguing that systemic racism doesn’t exist; I’m arguing that as a construct it can’t explain everything, and not everyone who uses that term means the same thing. More precise parsing is desperately needed. A friend shared a video explaining an example of systemic racism with regards to economic disparities that lead to disparities in educational opportunities, etc. The problem identified is only part of the picture, however; and my guess is many people would find what would likely be my friend’s libertarian solutions unacceptable.

The concept of racism itself also needs to be parsed out more clearly than much of the rhetoric does. Conflating racism in the heart with “systemic” racism such that all, including the racists themselves, are mere manifestations of the “system” is unhelpful. I don’t deny that there are systemic issues. In today’s society it’s not as obvious as it was during the horrific days of slavery and Jim Crow. But we do need to parse out prejudice in the hearts and minds of people from policies, procedures, and laws, especially when the issue is the partial and biased application of impartial laws. This is not to say there are no interactions between the different constructs, but the parsing is required to study the potential interactions carefully.

When people talk of the evils of systemic racism, for transparent and honest debate we need to know exactly what is meant. In a world under the curse of sin, of which racism is a only a subset, that is easier called for than accomplished. When someone is talking about systemic racism, it would be helpful to know if they are talking about part(s) of the system that need to be amended or saying the system as a whole needs to be abolished and replaced.

I just saw a post of a progressive friend who is at a protest in Washington D.C. It read, “Ending racism is not political, there should be no debate. It’s not right or left, it’s life or death.” Seems like a weird thing to say as you are marching on Washington D.C. At any rate, the historical civil rights movement was deeply spiritual and moral, but it was also political; so is this movement today. As clever as the statement above is, it is pure sophistry. We need to parse out the spiritual, moral, and political, but not pretend that politics is not very much in play. As much as we would like to continue to believe the Enlightenment lie that we can can, much less ought to, completely compartmentalize the spiritual from the political, we just can’t.

So when people talk about the system, we need to know exactly what they are talking about. Are they talking about adjustment (major or minor) to imperfect parts of an overall decent and just system as far as can be expected in this fallen and sinful world? Or do they mean the whole system needs to be abolished and replaced?

In my last article I mentioned Harvard professor, Cornel West, a Christian socialist, who believes the whole system needs to be replaced. Professor Willie Jennings of Yale just recently shared some of his views on the current crisis. Professor Jennings was one of my professors at Duke Divinity School. I thoroughly enjoyed his class, not least his passion and his infectious laugh. I also appreciate his honesty regarding his views. He certainly opened our eyes to the horrific and inhumanly brutal realities of the slave trade and slavery itself, from capture to slave ship, to slave auction to slave quarters and life on plantations and beyond. He also opened our eyes to the toll it took on the bodies and psyches of African Americans, as well as the toll it took on the general American psyche in terms of the devastation it brought on the consciences of slaveholders and their proponents. It also warped the Christian imagination in ways that have kept far too many of our churches segregated and prohibited us from bearing full witness to the gospel of reconciliation.

Professor Jennings also clearly and inextricably, however, tied the European/American slave trade and the development of modern racial categories with private ownership of property in general and the development of capitalism in particular. When I with qualms asked how we could understand even the commandment against stealing without some notion of private property, he just laughed it off with his infectious laugh as silly biblicism.

In the recent interview where he expressed his views about the current crisis, Professor Jennings once again traced the problems of what he declares to be our “white supremacist-infested country called the United States” ultimately to private property and capitalism. He decries what he sees as a prioritization of property over people. He seems to pit protection of people’s lives against the protections of property as if it is a zero sum game. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge that destruction of property means the destruction of livelihoods, including those generated by black owned businesses. At a superficial level he says no one should be happy about the burning of businesses and the loss of businesses, but that side note is followed with a huge “BUT.” And that seemingly dismissive “BUT” allows him a segue way into saying “Maybe what the burning of buildings and the destruction of property ought to say to us is that things cannot stay the same.”  He goes on to call for a new order; and  it is clear that he doesn’t see the current system as flawed only in part but amendable. For Jennings there is something which is far worse than murderous rioting and looting in the streets.

Professor Jennings says:

Everything built in this country is built on the sinking sand of race and class and greed, and is now under the control of merciless financial capitalism. No amount of rhetoric around the virtue and glory of small businesses can hide us from the precariousness of economic life or the need to change an entire structure built to enhance profit at the expense of the health of a common life.

So there it is. The fight against systemic racism for Professor Jennings is one and the same as the fight against capitalism, which Professor West condemns as legalized loot. But systems that have abolished private property and capitalism have led to more than their fair share of injustice and horrifying atrocities. And slapping a Christian label on them will likely do little to stop them from happening again, especially in a climate of  strong anti-Christian sentiment.

Clearly for many the fight against systemic racism is largely political because it is simultaneously a fight against capitalism. For some the fight against racism is the fight against capitalism. They seem to be one and the same. For some, like Professor Jennings, the system requires much more than some adjustments. Others, of course, would not see the need for change to be that drastic. Thus we need to be precise—surgically precise— about what kind of systemic change we’re actually talking about.

As I also mentioned in my previous article, there is a great spiritual danger of vengeful rage that looms large. Professor Jennings also speaks of his own anger and compares it to the righteous indignation of God. He rightly cautions against the danger of conflating our own anger with God’s and allowing human anger to be poisoned by hatred. Make no mistake, it is a grave danger. My concern is that some of the anger is drifting in that dangerous direction. Over the last couple of weeks I have been warning about a spirit of rage that could engulf our whole nation. I have seen the rage among some whites bubbling to the surface in memes saying “All Lives Splatter” in regard to running over protesters that block traffic, for example. That kind of thing is actually happening in reality on both sides it seems, as some have plowed through protesters and others into police. This is only the beginning of evil unimaginable that can get far, far worse.

I’ve also heard forgiveness selectively downplayed and even problematized to one degree or another in progressive theological circles for many years now. That forgiveness may be used as an excuse for continued sin and injustice is true and always has been (see Romans 6), for people personally and for the wider community. God forbid that we should continue in sin in the name of grace and forgiveness. But if there is going to be reconciliation and peace, forgiveness is not even optional much less dispensable; it is essential.

But I am hearing the downplay if not rejection of forgiveness even from the more popular cultural centers of the country now too. A basketball player was rebuked sharply for calling for prayer not only for justice for George Floyd but also the police officers involved in his death, that their hearts may be changed. Former football player and sports commentator on the show Undisputed, Shannon Sharpe recently said Drew Brees should not be quickly forgiven for expressing sentiments against players taking a knee during the national anthem even though Brees recanted and apologized. Sharpe said, Brees should be required to earn his forgiveness. Sharpe was criticizing former NFL coach Tony Dungy for being “too forgiving.” Sharpe was clearly wrestling with the relationship between mercy and justice in the case of Brees, not wanting to condemn him completely but not really wanting to forgive him either. Startlingly, Sharpe also asked, “We have taken the highroad for 400 years, what has it got us?”

Well, what did it get Jesus and his followers? What about the countless white and black followers who prayed and worked tirelessly and gave their lives to end the slave trade and slavery in his name? What about those who worked along side Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others for civil rights in that same spirit of peace and reconciliation? Nowhere? Really?

This is dangerous theology that will only add fuel to the fires of human vengeance in which mercy is infinitely less certain and reliable than God’s. This is the reason a contrite King David preferred the wrath of God over the wrath of his human enemies (2 Samuel 24:14). The current generation can’t afford to pay for all the horrific sins of all previous generations for the past 400 years up to and including our own. In God’s eyes we can’t even afford to pay for our own sins as individuals.

Jesus, who was wrongfully accused and unjustly tried and condemned to a torturous death did not come back from the grave with a vengeance; he came back with forgiveness to bring about reconciliation and peace for people of all nations, tribes, and tongues. We are all sinners in need of a forgiveness that we cannot earn. It has to be a gift received from God in Christ and freely given for the sake of Christ to others. Forgiveness is not a payment to be earned; it’s a gift of grace to be received through repentance and faith with thanksgiving; it is also a gift to be shared freely with all. And it is a gift that calls for a changed life. The good news is the gift of God’s forgiveness by the blood of Christ includes the gift of the Spirit who enables and empowers the changed life for which the gift calls.

We need to pray to be delivered from evil, including the evil of racism; we all need to pray always to be forgiven our own trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (See Matthew 6:9-15; 18:21-35). An unwillingness to forgive is a grave danger for all parties involved. It will prove to be especially dangerous among those who view those with whom they disagree politically to be as irredeemable as the system that they so deplore.

Some are already expressing skepticism of white Christians who have recently jumped on the bandwagon in the fight against systemic racism. I’m afraid it’s not going to be acceptable to progressives for conservative white and black Christians only to work to change hearts and to merely amend part of the current system. As Marc Antoine Lavarin put it in his article entitled, “Why I’m Skeptical of New Christian Allies,” “An individual’s need of repentance will never be enough to redeem or rectify an entire system that is in need of salvation” (emphasis mine). Mr. Lavarin seems to indicate that anything less than full acceptance of the progressive vision of justice in its entirety will be unacceptable (Consider BLM statement of beliefs regarding gender, sex, marriage, and family).Vehicle-Systems-diagram

While we are fighting to change the system it would be good to know whether we are fighting to fix broken parts in an otherwise decent vehicle, or whether we’re working to send the vehicle to the junkyard and replace it with an entirely different one to be driven in a completely different direction. Be careful what bandwagon you jump on, it may take you to a place you really don’t want to go.

May God have mercy on us, and in his mercy enable us to be merciful and forgiving of one another until Christ comes with the one and only perfect system, the kingdom of God. Maranatha!


Mercy for Christmas

We didn’t get the sermon recorded this morning, so I thought I’d share the essence of the message I preached this morning here.

As you read through Luke chapter 1, especially Mary’s song of praise during her visit with Elizabeth who was in the third trimester of pregnancy with her son John the Baptist and the prophecy of John’s father, Zechariah, the word mercy appears repeatedly. As the virgin mother, Mary, who was just a few months behind Elizabeth in her pregnancy with the Messiah, Jesus, extols the virtues of the Lord she refers to God’s mercy twice. Mary and Elizabeth

“And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Luke 1:50 ESV

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, ..  Luke 1:54

Zechariah, as his tongue is mercifully released after being stricken mute by the angel Gabriel, also praises God. Zechariah too describes God’s action in bringing the Messiah into the world as an act of mercy (1:72, 78). In both cases, Mary and Zechariah speak of future deliverance as if it had already happened, interestingly as does the prophet Isaiah in his prophecy of the child to be born who would inherit the throne of David and reign in justice and righteousness forever (Isaiah 9:1-7).

The mercy of which Mary and Zechariah spoke was an essential part of the fulfillment of long awaited promises made to their ancestors, Abraham and the long line of his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. The fulfilled promise of mercy brought great joy, and with it the promise of greater joy still to come.

Christmas is about God’s gift of mercy, given in the most intimate and personal of ways. In fact Christmas reveals and confirms that the God who made covenant with Israel for the blessing of the whole world, really is a God of mercy. Mercy is at the heart of who God really is and what God is really like. And this is what God claimed to be like all along. As he reveals himself to Moses after making covenant with Israel in the first place, God describes himself thus:

….. “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

Although grace seems to get more attention, mercy and grace are really two sides of the same coin. Grace is divine unmerited favor and blessings. Grace is receiving something good that we do not deserve and could not earn. Mercy, on the other hand, is the withholding of or relief from deserved punishment. Mercy is the removal of something bad that we do deserve.

Neither mercy nor grace should ever be used as an excuse to continue in sin, although it often is. We see warnings about that very thing all over the New Testament itself (i.e. Romans 6; Jude among other places). It’s certainly not true that God really doesn’t care about what we do. God does indeed care what we do. He does because he really cares about us. God cares about what we do, but not as a pitiless taskmaster who just wants to get all the personal benefit he can out of us.

One of the most important aspects of the Gospel, the Good News, is that God really doesn’t need us anyway. Now that may leave you wondering how that’s good news, but it really is. God is by nature a personal being, one God in three persons, a tri-personal being, who is completely sufficient in himself. God needs nothing outside of himself. God doesn’t need us, but the good news is, God really wants us because he loves us. Creation wasn’t born of any necessity in God; creation was born of love, you and I are the product of love when it comes to the Maker of us all.

God loves us, therefore God has compassion for us, knowing our frailties. Knowing our sin and rebellion, every bad thought, desire, and deed we’ve ever done, he loves us anyway and offers us mercy.

Mercy is about relief, relief from suffering and punishment because of sin in the world in general or specific sins in our own lives individually. Jerry Clower told the story of coon hunting with his friend John who liked to climb trees to knock the raccoon out amongst the coon dogs. Once when John had climbed a really tall tree to knock the coon out, he soon realized it wasn’t a coon at all; it was a wild cat! After a long struggle, John yelled down for somebody to shoot the thing. They said, “No! We can’t really see good enough; we might shoot you.” John yelled back, “Well, just go ahead and shoot up here amongst us anyway, ’cause one of us has got to have some relief.”

God’s mercy is about relief, but it’s better than what Jerry Clower’s friend was asking for! On Christmas day, mercy was born and could be found in a manger. On Good Friday mercy pleaded from the cross to which he had been sentenced and nailed unjustly by those he came to save, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)

Do you need mercy! “Mercy there was great and grace was free!” (Hymn “At Calvary”) God in Christ offers each of us, who deserves far different, the gift of mercy.

Sometimes, even at our best, we feel like we just haven’t quite done enough, that somehow God loves us less because we haven’t perfected our performance. In times like this we need to remember God’s mercy. It’s not about the perfection of our performance, it’s about the sincerity of the efforts that we make in faith. All of us will fall far short of perfection in our attempts to please and represent God. We will make mistakes. But God’s love for us is none the less. God looks own our hearts and our efforts and rejoices as much as parents or grandparents do over their own portraits drawn by their small child or grandchild. Even before we’ve done anything at all, God’s loves us, and he knows our frail frames and has compassion (see Psalm 103).

Mercy is never earned – it is a gift – but it must be received. Even when we sin egregiously and give into temptation, mercy is still there for us. When we repent and confess our sin, God in his mercy forgives us (1 John 1:9). But mercy is received in the presence of God. We must turn away from sin and turn back to him! And mercy is all that we will receive! Justice is what we get when we refuse to repent and confess our sin, when we continue to try to justify ourselves rather than seeking to be justified by God. Justice and punishment only happens outside of the presence of God; in God’s presence there is only mercy (Luke 15) and therefore joy!

R.C. Sproul, the wonderful Reformed theologian and teacher of the faith who recently went home to be with the Lord, said this of mercy:

“God does not always act with justice. Sometimes he acts with mercy. Mercy is not justice, but it also is not injustice. Injustice violates righteousness. Mercy manifests kindness and grace and does no violence to righteousness. We may see nonjustice in God, which is mercy, but we never see injustice in God.”

In Christ God provides all of us mercy! It is never earned and never deserved. That would be justice. Mercy is God’s gift. It’s a gift that must be received. And it’s also a gift that must be given and shared with others. That’s one way you will know you’ve trully received God’s mercy in the first place (see Matthew 18:21-35), when you are eager and willing to extend mercy to others, even those who have hurt you or seek to hurt you or the Church deeply. Even when it comes to people who actively conspire against the Church and the people of God, we are called by God to offer mercy in compassion. Mercy is a gift to be received and a gift to share with others.

How ’bout a little mercy for Christmas this year. Receive it and give it in the name of Jesus and for his sake.

This doesn’t mean that we pretend like evil actions don’t matter. It doesn’t mean that we should not speak against sinful actions or demand that perpetrators cease and desist from committing evil. Indeed, mercy would demand that we warn evildoers about the consequences of their actions and the judgment to come. We can renounce evil actions without hatefully condemning evildoers to life devoid of our compassion and mercy. Whether it is received or not we are called to offer it. After church today, I saw a report that radical Muslim suicide bombers attacked a Methodist church in Pakistan. I pray for the victims’ families, and also the terrorists. I pray that the victims may be comforted by the hope and peace of Christ. I also pray that the terrorists would be convicted of the sin of murder in their hearts and repent and receive the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Contempt long harbored in the heart can quickly metastasize into hate, and hate will eventually consume all who stew in it.

The one born and laid in a lowly manger (Luke 2:7) grew in the wisdom of God (Luke 2:52), and eventually taught:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:27-36

How about some mercy for Christmas this year?

My Testimony Part 4: The Miracle of Mercy

I spent a little over a decade in the anti-Trinitarian ministry called “The Way International” (TWI) after that conversation with my United Methodist pastor.  I was one of its most ardent supporters; and I had plans of committing my life to it in an official leadership capacity.

My wife, Christi, and I first meet when she and her parents and brother moved into a two story white house on Elm Street, only a couple of blocks from the East Carolina campus.  It was love at first sight, but in this case only for Christi.  I was a 20 year old junior in college and she was only 16 and a junior in high school.  At the time the idea of dating a high school student just seemed out of the question.  The fact that she’s now my wife obviously means something changed.

It was that fall in 1995 when I really began the rapid advancement into the deepest teachings of TWI.  Christi’s parents had just completed in-residence training in The Way Corp, at TWI’s campus in Rome City, Indiana, which is a little less than an hour north of Fort Wayne.  The Way Corp was TWI’s leadership training program, and Christi’s parents were the new Branch Coordinators in Greenville.  They had oversight of their own fellowship, which met in their home on Elm Street as well as some other home fellowships in Eastern North Carolina, each of which had their own leader called a Household Fellowship Coordinator (HFC).

This was a major period of transition in TWI because they were fading out the “Power For Abundant Living” (PFAL) class to replace it with a new series of classes taught by its current president at the time, Rev. L. Craig Martindale.  Martindale, formerly a Southern Baptist, was a graduate of the University of Kansas where he also played football, and where he first got involved in TWI in the early 1970’s.  The new series of classes was called “The Way of Abundance and Power” (WAP).  It was similar to PFAL before it, but definitely much more straightforward and confrontational with regards to TWI’s rejection of the Trinity among other things in the traditional Church.

I took the new foundational class in January of 1996, and a special topics class called “Defeating the Adversary” (TWI’s preferred name for the devil) a couple of months later.  After a special weekend session taught by local leadership, which substituted for the PFAL intermediate class that TWI no longer offered and the new intermediate class that hadn’t yet been completed, I traveled with Christi’s brother to Rome City, Indiana to spend two weeks at TWI’s campus there to take the advanced class in the PFAL series, which had been updated to have Martindale rather than Wierwille as the teacher on the video.  During that time Martindale visited and in addition to the video sessions we got to hear him teach live.  Similar to what I had heard the previous summer, his live teaching included a few profanity laced tirades, much against mainstream Christendom, which he liked to call “ChristenDUMB.”

By August of 1998 I had gone through all of the main TWI classes, some of them multiple times, as well as other special topic classes.  I completed the WAP advanced class in August of 1998, which was held over several weekends in the middle of the state beginning in April.  Christi and I had started this advanced class as fiancees; we completed it as husband and wife as we were married on May 23rd 1998, a year after I had graduated from college, and a couple of weeks after she had completed her freshman year at ECU.

We almost literally got married in a whirlwind.  The day of our wedding a tornado came through the area in a thunderstorm that knocked out the power and almost blew Christi’s grandparents and uncle off the road as they drove from Ohio to eastern North Carolina for the ceremony.  There in the candle light and little bit of sunlight coming through the windows of an old historic train depot in Grifton, North Carolina, with a portable radio with weak batteries for music, we said our “I do’s.”  This day would in many ways portend many other dark clouds of a different variety in our future.

Grifton Train Depot

Among other things, including a quite extensive demonology (TWI preferred to refer to demons as devil spirits though), we had both been steeped in the “law of believing.”  This again is the supposed law of the universe that directs the blessings and curses of life.  Positive thinking and confession bring blessing, positive results; negative thinking and confession bring cursing, negative results.  I would later learn of the virtually identical principle taught in Wiccan and New Age circles called “the law of attraction,” popularized by a book called “The Secret” with the help of Oprah Winfrey.  The difference is that TWI centered it’s teaching in theory around the Bible, but the basic principle is more or less the same.

The idea is if you believe correctly by thinking and speaking positively then you will be blessed with success; but, conversely, if you believe wrongly by thinking and speaking negatively then you will be cursed with failure and tragedy.  You control your destiny, success or failure, health or sickness, by your attitude, thoughts, and words.  In the PFAL class Wierwille used the positive example of someone who prayed for and claimed through positive thinking and confession exactly the kind of apartment she wanted right down to the color of the curtains, and lo and behold that is exactly what she got.  Wierwille and TWI taught that you have to be specific and get “clear and concerned” about whatever it is you are “believing for.”

The negative example Wierwille used was a woman who constantly fretted and worried about her son getting killed and when he actually did, Wierwille insisted that it was the mother’s negative thinking that led to the tragedy.  The mother’s worry and fear, he insisted, led to her son’s death.  Similarly, Wierwille and TWI frequently referred to Job 3:25 as a prooftext that fear brings on calamity.  The idea again being it was Job’s fear, which led to tragedy in his life, which, of course, included his children being killed.

The allure of this teaching is the control and power of being able to command one’s own destiny in terms of success or failure.  TWI did teach that one can only pray and believe for things according to God’s will, but the way they interpreted the Bible left this pretty open ended.  For instance, they interpreted 3 John 2 (KJV), which says “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth,” to be a blanket assurance that God promises prosperity, material and spiritual, and health in this life now.  In reality, this verse is more like a standard greeting to a letter that would include general well wishes along the lines of “I wish you the best.”

Likewise TWI interpreted Jesus’ promise of abundant life in John 10:10 along similar lines.  The idea is that God wants people to be blessed but he can only bless as people’s positive thoughts and confession dictate.  Conversely, negative thinking keeps God from being able to bless someone, and also opens the door for the devil to bring calamity.

The problem with all of this is that it is not the teaching of the Bible itself; rather it is a foreign lens through which the Bible is interpreted, which causes one to filter out or distort the parts of the Bible that don’t fit that worldview.  For instance, if you read the entire book of Job you certainly don’t get the impression that Job did in fact do something to deserve the calamity in  his life.  In Job 2:3 God himself declares, after he once again boasts to Satan of Job’s faithfulness, that Job suffered “without cause.”  He had done nothing to deserve what had happened.  TWI and others who interpret Job 3:25 to mean that Jobs’s fear caused the calamity in his life end up joining the ranks of Job’s friends who became his accusers, insisting that he must have committed some kid of heinous sin for him to be suffering the way he was.  In the end Job’s friends found out how wrong they were.  Likewise it is simply wrong to interpret Job 3:25 as Job’s admission that his fear caused his suffering.  In reality it is simply a poetic way of saying my worst nightmare, the worst thing I could imagine has happened to me.  Throughout the book Job maintains his innocence and integrity; in the end God vindicates him.  It helps to read the whole book and not just pull one rather obscure verse out of context.

Nevertheless, the issue in Job, in the Bible in general for that matter, is obedience and disobedience to God, not positive or negative thinking.  According to the Bible the general rule is that faithfulness and obedience to God’s commands bring blessing and unfaithfulness and disobedience bring cursing.  Just read Deuteronomy 28.  But even in this case the story of Job and other passages of Scripture (i.e. Psalm 37) reveal that in this world even this is not a hard and fast rule.  Sometimes in this world the righteous, the wise like Job, who fear God and shun evil, often suffer as if they were unrighteous (see Ecclesiastes 8:14).

Much more could be said and I’m sure I’ll say more in other posts.  Nonetheless, don’t get me wrong, I do think there is value in the principle of positive thinking, it’s just not a hard and fast, be all, end all law of the universe that is guaranteed to place one’s destiny entirely within one’s own control.  And it’s certainly not a principle that can guarantee perfect results even if someone perfectly practiced the principle any more than Job’s outstanding and admirable faithfulness, described in the Bible as perfect (KJV) and blameless (ESV), guaranteed that he would never experience calamity.

I know this now, but when I was involved in TWI I was a true believer in the “law of believing” and it made me feel powerful, confident, and eventually pretty arrogant.  Long story short, for a while things seemed to be going great.  Through my believing I seemed to be accomplishing a lot with great success.  But in time it would seem that the wheels were coming off everything as challenges, negatives circumstances, and seemingly unanswered prayers continued to mount.

In theory TWI did qualify their teaching on the law of believing a bit.  They did, for instance, teach that in the present world still under the influence of the Adversary (i.e. the devil) and his minions that sometimes the law of believing doesn’t always work like it is supposed to.  There is also the problem of general human weakness that keeps people from achieving perfect believing all the time.  Nonetheless, the general rule still very much applied and encouraging and building up people to be positive and discouraging negativity was essential.  The blessings of God, material and spiritual, and avoiding or overcoming the attacks of the devil depended on it.

So while in theory there should be compassion for TWI believers facing hardship, the reality was quite different practically.  Even with insignificant things positive believing was demanded.  Once a group of home fellowship coordinators and assistants like me were harshly reprimanded for not believing strong enough when their was technical difficulty with a conference call with the state coordinator.  Another time my wife was harshly rebuked for not believing for a closer parking space when we were on the way to a fourth of July event in the Grenville town park by the Tar River.  I dished out much of this kind of reproof and “encouragement” myself.

The worst of this kind of rebuke came against Christi after we discovered that our first child, our daughter, Grace, had congenital hip dysplasia, which would require surgery.  One of the home fellowship coordinators cornered my wife and insisted that it was her own negative thinking that caused this problem with our daughter.  The person also insisted that we should just believe God and not have the surgery.  The person meant well according to what she believed, and she probably thought God had given here a special revelation to share with us, but it was a incredibly hurtful experience for Christi, who had a long family history of depression with a strong tendency toward it herself.

Shortly after we discovered Grace’s hip problem, my father was diagnosed with cancer.  He had his larynx removed in an eight hour surgery in July followed by radiation treatment; Christi, Grace, and I soon moved back to Pinnacle to be closer to my parents so I could help them.  The day we moved in the water source to my parent’s house and the apartment behind the old store that we were moving into dried up.  This was only a couple of weeks before Grace’s hip surgery at Baptist hospital in Winston-Salem, and while my father was still recovering from his surgery. Things continued to spiral in an incredibly challenging direction from there.  As I said it seemed like everything was going wrong.

Christi descended further and further into a gloomy, deep depression.  Undoubtedly blaming herself more and more for the increasingly negative circumstances we were facing.  Things seemed to spiral out of control in spite of my positive thinking and the positive spin I tried to put on everything.  One co-worker during that time when he heard of all the things that were happening accurately said, without knowing all the details, “man, you must not be living right.”

One thing that did go right during that time was the birth of our son Ian.  He was born in Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem on June 20th, 2003.  But not much else seemed to go right, especially according to the way I had been taught by TWI.  “Were we just big miserable failures as ‘believers’?”  We would wonder out loud from time to time.  Christi repeatedly broke down, sometimes, to my shame, under my own scolding rebuke, and openly doubted that God could possibly love a loser and a failure like her.

After Ian was born Christi attempted suicide twice, once by swallowing a full bottle of pills, and later by trying to slash her wrists, which I forcibly prevented.  The first incident led to hospitalization; the second stayed just between us.  The disappointments – not receiving whatever it was we were “believing for” – kept coming.  No matter how much I tried to deny it and how many positive confessions I made, during this time I felt a general sense of dread, living life just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I was an assistant home fellowship coordinator in Winston-Salem during this time and eventually I would take on the responsibility of coordinating a home fellowship of my own.  I took over this position from a couple who, we would come to find out, had gone through many of the same experiences that Christi and I had gone through.  I gladly took on the position, but I often felt like a complete fraud and failure.  I didn’t feel like I was even close to being a good example of a positive “believer” because of all the negative results in our lives.  Eventually I did step down, but continued to try to ward off the Adversary by faithfully attending TWI meetings.

Challenges continued, but there was another blessing as well.  Christi was pregnant again with our third child!  At first, because of the already difficult circumstances, I didn’t really see it as a blessing; but it wasn’t long before I came around.  We excitedly anticipated the arrival of our third child, not knowing that it would be a blessing beyond anything we could then imagine.

It was a rather difficult pregnancy for Christi as she experienced a lot of nausea and severe heartburn, but all indications were that the baby was fine.  We had prayed for the baby to come early, but to no avail.  The first two had both been born a couple of weeks before the due date, but not this one.

It was the day after Christmas 2005, Christi’s due date, and I was at Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse where I was a manager.  It was one of those nights when Murphy’s law was working just as hard as I was.  My phone rang; it was Christi.

“Have you gone into labor?”  I immediately asked.  She hadn’t, but she was a little concerned.  She said she felt like something was wrong; she hadn’t felt the baby move much all day.  She wasn’t sure if something was wrong, just concerned.  I said it was probably nothing because it was so late in the pregnancy the baby was out of room to move too much.  I told her to just call the hospital to see what they thought.  They too thought it was probably nothing, but suggested she come in just in case.

As we pulled into the hospital we both felt confident that everything was okay.  We were wrong!

After they got Christi hooked up to the monitor they quickly realized that something was indeed terribly wrong.  The baby’s heart beat was dangerously erratic.  Within a few minutes we were in the middle of a delivery room and Christi was having an emergency C-section.  They delivered the baby; it was a girl.  Anna Hope was the name we had already picked out if we had a girl.  Anna didn’t cry; she didn’t make a sound.  They quickly took her over to another area where a team of medical personnel frantically worked with her.

Christi couldn’t see what I saw, but I could tell from the look on the faces of the doctors and nurses that something was terribly wrong.  Christi kept crying out, “What’s wrong?” “What’s wrong with my baby?”

After a few minutes I left Christi’s side to see what was going on.  There where they were working with her I saw that our newborn baby girl was lifeless and as blue as a smurf.  As I turned to make my way back, my mind already thinking about a funeral for a stillborn and wondering whether this would be the deathblow for my extremely emotionally fragile wife, Christi looked to me for answers as she cried out frantically and repeatedly, “What’s wrong with my baby?”  I just grabbed her hand with her abdomen still partially open and said in despair, “Honey, let’s just pray.”

At this point I was all out of faith in my own believing.  I was all out of answers of my own.  I guess I knew I couldn’t count on anything in me.  I didn’t “believe for” anything; and I didn’t really ask for a miracle, which is exactly what Anna needed.  My heart’s prayer was quite simply,”God, be merciful to me a sinner,” although my mind and my mouth never articulated those words.  I cried out to God for mercy as Christi in her heart just cried out for God to help her baby.  I just wanted God to help us get through what looked to be a hopeless and heartbreaking situation.

At that moment when we cried out to God for mercy, not a little before and not a little after, but at that moment God almighty showed up in a powerful way.  Our baby girl, Anna Hope, was revived to the surprise of everyone, after having been dead, without a heartbeat and without breathing, for at least 10 minutes.  The presence of God was palpable.  I knew something amazing had just happened.

After letting us get a quick peek at our baby girl who was looking at me with those beautiful dark blue eyes, they frantically rushed her away for treatment for the obvious trauma that her internal organs had been through.  The doctor with 30 years of experience who delivered her came to us a little later and said that he wasn’t sure what had happened, but that we shouldn’t expect her to make it.  He thought the internal organ damage would be too great, even after the whole body hypothermia treatment.  There were signs of organ damage including part of the lining of her intestines coming out with her first stool.

The next day, however, he said it looks like she’s going to make it but we would need to be prepared to have a special needs child.  Not long after that social workers came to talk to us about caring for a special needs child.  But everyday seemed to bring with it an increasingly improved prognosis.

One night while in the NICU at Forsyth Medical Center a nurse, who knew full-well Anna’s history, who was looking at Anna with me, with tears streaming down her face, simply said, “It’s a miracle!”  “It’s a miracle!”  Indeed it was!  At the end of two weeks the NICU doctor said, to his amazement, “She checks out just like any normal newborn.”


That was almost 10 years ago.  It was a miracle indeed.  But I knew, even then, it wasn’t because of our great faith; it was because of God’s great mercy.  There is so much more that I could say about all of this, but suffice it to say for now that this miracle set us on a course that would change our lives forever.  Through this miracle of mercy God saved Anna’s life, and because of that several months later He would save my soul.  Stay tuned …

Anna on last day of third grade with Christi.
Anna on last day of third grade with Christi.