Beyond The Pale

Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Beyond The Pale - Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Fear: Do You Live Your Life Afraid?

fear (1)There was a very good reason that whenever Jesus or an angel suddenly showed up in the Bible the first words out of their mouth seemed to always be “Don’t be afraid!”

Most people, whether they admit it or not, live in fear.

You’re afraid

* someone will hurt you

* someone will hurt your family

* someone will take something that belongs to you

We often live as if life were some cosmic game of Musical Chairs.  We know the music will stop at some point and there are never enough chairs to sit in when it happens.  Thus our journey through life, rather than being one of wonder and joy, instead takes on a form of apprehensive, and preemptive, nervousness; always eyeing a chair that we can nab when the music does stop before someone else gets it.

For Example: The Girl With The Porcelain Doll

I saw a news report yesterday about a neighborhood in California where a number of beautiful porcelain dolls showed up on the doorsteps of some of the houses in the community.  What seemed to concern everyone was that the dolls in some way resembled the little girl who lived at the particular house.

The news clip showed police investigating, frightened parents protecting their kids, and the news host commenting that authorities where confused to whether this was a prank or the work of a “sexual predator”.

Are they kidding? Like the motivation could only be one of those two possibilities!

My immediate thought was “Why is everyone’s first reaction that this is something bad? That the assumed motivation is malevolence?  I bet someone was just being thoughtful and kind.”  

I was right…

In the following news clip on Morning Joe Mika Brzezinski explains that it eventually discovered that the perpetrator was an old woman from a local church who was cleaning out her doll collection.  She thought she’d surprise the girls with an anonymous gift of a doll.


I’m not suggesting their are not bad people out there.  I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be wise.  But I am suggesting that Jesus was right when he said we don’t need to live in fear!

Fear will steal your life and keep it from being filled with innocence, wonder, and awe.

So don’t be afraid!



When Someone Uses The Term “True Christian”……Run!

truechrist“Well of course you would believe that…if you were a true Christian”.

Have you ever heard that term?

True Christian?

Recently some of my Beyond the Pale posts have been geared toward making people aware of warning signs to be on the look out for when engaging in your faith.

Someone using the term “true Christian” is one of those warning signs.

Religious people like to use that term.  It helps clarify “us” as opposed to “them”  and keep clear what side God is on.  It’s a form of “team jersey” so to speak…

For example in a recent Charisma News article columnist Matt Barber uses the term to qualify who he believes to be a true Christian,

Let’s see if we can make this abundantly clear. Christians, true Christians—regenerate, Bible-believing Christians who strive their level best to maintain fidelity to the word of God and honor His commands—will not—indeed cannot—participate in, approve of, facilitate or encourage certain behaviors deemed by the Holy Scriptures to be immoral or sinful.

The Coming Christian Revolt

Of course it stands to reason that a guy that would distinguish true Christians from regular Christians would also entitle an article The Coming Christian Revolt!  

Pharisees Play Book

When Christians engage in this kind of language they take a page right from the Pharisee Handbook.  That religious group was constantly dogging Jesus’ steps testing to see if he was true to their beliefs and practices.  Like Mr. Barber’s criteria above they were looking to see if Jesus:

* maintained fidelity to the Scriptures

* facilitated or approved of behavior deemed immoral

* would be on their side when the “revolt” occurred

Jesus failed their criteria and tests on all accounts…

He frequently sidelined or ignored scripture in order to reveal God’s mercy and compassion.  How many times did Jesus say “the scriptures say one thing but I say another”?

Many times…


Jesus even addresses the issue of the Pharisee’s spiritual test head on at one point:

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine and you say, ‘He has a demon. The Son of Man (Jesus) came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ Yet wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Luke 7: 33-35

Jesus is saying that John came and passed the Pharisee’s morality test, but because he refused to join their team they smeared his name.  Jesus came in a different way and instead flunked their morality test. (Interesting to note that Luke says wisdom was proved right in both ways)  Jesus enjoyed good food and wine, hung out with corrupt officials and was a friend to those that the religious leaders had labeled sexually and morally corrupt.

Note Jesus wasn’t just witnessing to these people, he was their friend!

What really drove the religious leaders crazy was God in Heaven affirming Jesus’ “Way” and not theirs.  There is possibly no jealousy stronger than religious jealousy.

In the Pharisee’s eyes though he was not a true believer.

In today’s vernacular Jesus wouldn’t be considered a true Christian.

The Pharisees were so sure they had God on their side and were the arbiter’s of his will and yet when God himself showed up and stood before them, they rejected him, denounced him, and ultimately crucified him.

It scares me knowing if Jesus came back in the same manner today the same thing would happen with pastors and ministry leaders leading the charge.

Lets face it, Jesus wouldn’t be considered a true Christian…

In the following video clip Greg Boyd highlights one of these “tests” the Pharisees used to determine whether Jesus was true or not.  (Thanks Brook P. for sharing this today)

So be wary of anyone who distinguishes true Christians from any others…and if, on the off chance you find yourself being accused of not being a true Christian, take heart in the fact that you are likely sharing a seat with Jesus.


Being Delivered From “Finding The Will of God”

Freedom-breaking-chainsThe Paralysis of Analysis!  That term coined to describe someone who is frozen in a particular situation because they can never come to a definitive decision as there is always another “angle” to consider.

Christianity has it’s own Paralysis of Analysis.  It’s called Finding the Will of God! 

What does God want me to do?  What does he want me to be?  Who does he want me to marry?  What university should I go to?  Or does he even want me to go to university?  Should I become a missionary?  Should I become a pastor?  Do I need to quit my job…or find a new one?

Should I stay…or should I go?

You get the picture.

Having been in charismatic circles for almost 40 years now I can’t tell you how many revival meetings I have gone to were I have watched thousands of people race to the front alter hoping the man or woman of God will have some “Word from the Lord” that will help them divine some sense of purpose and direction in their lives.

We Christians like to decry astrology and fortune telling but we have recreated our own elaborate oracle system in attempt to discern when the gods favor rests upon us.


Sometimes it feels like we are using a cosmic “Magic 8 Ball”

The “Free Will” part is we get to choose

Believe it or not, sometimes I think God doesn’t care what we choose…just choose!

Twenty five years ago I started my work in Christian ministry by attending a 6 month program in Melbourne Australia with Youth with A Mission.  At the end of 3 months our group of 23 was to divide into 3 teams with one going to India, one going to Malaysia, and one staying to journey around Australia.

We were instructed to pray about where God wanted us to go and we were further encouraged not to discuss it with others lest we decide to go to a particular location because a friend was and not because God had led us there.

I wanted to go to Malaysia… but was that what God wanted?  Could the fact that “I” wanted to go be a sign that God didn’t want me to?  Or was it a sign that he did?  Maybe God wants me to “deny myself” and go where I don’t want to go.  And even more important, what if I go to Malaysia but God intended me to meet my future wife on the Australia trip?

It’s a typical 23 year old single male in ministry’s prayer:

“Lord If I don’t hear you right on this someone else might end up marrying my wife…the girl you intended for me.”

Oh, Lord what is your “will”? It’s so confusing…

In the midst of this angst a leader at the base but who was not part of our training program asked if I decided yet what outreach trip I was going on.  I conveyed to this leader all the conflicted emotions and agendas I was struggling with just trying to “hear God’s voice on it.”

Suddenly without any religiosity or spiritual jargon the lady popped my religious bubble by saying, “Steve, if you want to go to Malaysia, go to Malaysia. God probably doesn’t care which one you choose as he’ll bless you on any of them. Its an 8 week outreach not a lifetime commitment.” 

God might want me to make the decision.  Oh sweet relief…

I went to Malaysia! (And had a fantastic time!) In fact it was in Malaysia that I picked up a book on China that ultimately led me to Hong Kong a few months later where, surprise, I did meet my future wife!

It’s a Free Range not a Cattle Drive

Many Christians today have become so used to being driven by a leader’s vision that our life in Christ has started to resemble a cattle drive.  We are herded in a uniform direction and we become accustomed to thinking that is how God leads us.


But Jesus is referred to as the “Good Shepherd” not the “Good Cowboy”. He doesn’t “drive” or “herd” us, no, our Good  Shepherd lets his sheep graze and roam free;  We go where we want listening to our Master’s voice for pastures of new life or when our wandering could lead to trouble.

 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand

John 10:27-28

Interestingly enough Paul the Apostle seemed to choose himself where he moved and preached the Gospel only occasionally being guided from above.  Jesus told him to stay longer in Corinth (Acts 18:9), warned him about entering Asia (Acts 16:6),  and was given a prophetic warning about entering Jerusalem (Acts 21: 11)…which Paul then ultimately chose to ignore (Acts 21:13)

But other than these few occurrences Paul spent years traveling and preaching where he felt he should go!

No longer Shackled by Prophetic Words

Tammy and I have had a number of “prophetic words” given to us over the years and I’ve come to learn these “words” can be a doubled edged sword.  On one hand they can give us the “peace” that we are where God wants us but it can also lead us to stay in a bad situation because we haven’t “heard God say leave yet!”

After years in Boulder Colorado where arguably things never ever quite “clicked” for us despite all the prophetic words that led us there in the first place I was still hesitant to return to China when an open door became available because we hadn’t heard God say “leave”.

What if we left and somehow “missed God”?  What if God had something for us to accomplish that we won’t if we go?

I remember the day I made a conscious decision not to be bound by the “What if God…” questions anymore.  The day I decided I was not longer going to shackle myself or my family’s joy, peace, and stability to “prophetic words”, “words of knowledge”, or “a call”.

Oh, sweet relief!  Like chains falling off…

I can point to a myriad of blessings God has shown us since we left Boulder and ultimately returned to Hong Kong.  I can also point to many friends and acquaintances that are in tough or damaging situations but won’t leave because they believe that is where God has them.


Over the years I have seen so many poor decisions made simply because someone was convinced it was God’s Will.

Ugh…its hard to watch

Understand I still seek God’s direction and guidance but I refuse to get paralyzed over trying to figure it out all the time.  I think Getty Lee from the rock group RUSH sums it up best in their song Free Will

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill

God gave us free will…but its still our choice to use it!



What You Have To “Do” To Get God’s Approval?

Ever feel like you need to do something for God?measure up

As a Christian pastor, speaker, and writer I have the opportunity to talk with a lot of people about their faith and their walk with God.

Sad to say I see to many people crippled in their relationship with their Heavenly Father because they have this nagging feeling that “they aren’t doing enough for the Lord”.

Although they would never admit it in these terms the attitude can be “well, considering everything Jesus did for me, I owe God more than what I am currently doing.”

Oh, if only they could know the joy that their just “being his child”  brings to God.  That we don’t have to do anything to earn the favor, acceptance, and the honor to be called his son or daughter.


Zero Performance Needed

Jesus, as always, shows us how this happens

Sonship (and daughtership) is, at its root, a declaration.  A statement not from son to father but from father to son which says, “I love you, you are my joy, and you will never be alone.”

It’s not surprising then that God the Father declares his love and pleasure with Jesus at two very distinct points in Christ’s ministry; at the beginning and near the end.

In Matthew chapter 3 we see the first declaration of the father’s love towards Jesus.

 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3: 16-17

Interestingly enough Jesus hasn’t done anything of note at this point.  He hadn’t healed any lepers or restored sight to any any blind.  He hadn’t calmed any storms, forgiven a person of their sins, or preached one sermon yet announcing the coming Kingdom of God.

We have no record of his having done anything for God at this point!

And how do we know this?

Well, probably because no one was following his every footstep, plotting to make him a king, or trying to kill him yet.  Three things he seemed to constantly deal with when his ministry really got going and he was doing stuff for God.

No, when he was baptized by John the Baptist he was just this guy….

…a carpenter

True, he did seem to have a gifted knack for understanding scripture (Luke 2:47-49) but other than that, he was just the local handy man who probably made his neighbours kitchen table or set their door frame.

Jesus had, as Isaiah 53 would predict, nothing that would naturally draw people to him.

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

But he had something that transformed him and the way he engaged with the world and it was this;

He walked in the absolute assurance that he was God’s son and that his Father in heaven absolutely adored him.

Father and Son

Jesus knew he didn’t have to do anything to prove himself to God.  He didn’t have to earn his father’s affection.  He knew he already had it before he had done anything…

This is the son that I love and I am very pleased with him.

Jesus experiences the exact same affirmation at the conclusion of his ministry just before he enters Jerusalem for the last time.

Taking Peter, James, and John up a mountainside the disciples witness the Father once again pronounce his love and pleasure

 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son,with whom I am well pleased listen to him.”  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Matthew 17: 7-9

At this point Jesus had accomplished great things.  He had healed the sick, cast out devils, showed power over nature, and proclaimed the Kingdom of God had come.

And yet he received the exact same declaration of love and affirmation as when he had done nothing.

Jesus had the impact he did with people because he communicated the total adoration and compassion God had for his children without an added nagging sense of obligation… a sense of burden the Pharisees and religious leaders often did lay on them.

We don’t accomplish great things and then God loves us, no, it’s when we understand how much God loves us that we are empowered to accomplish great things.

It’s really, really important to understand that!





4 Reasons Why The “If 7:14″ Prayer And Revival Campaign Is Not Such A Good Idea

if714-sidebarThis week there was a major prayer and revival campaign in the United States called “If 7:14″ In fact Iowa governor Terry Branstad even signed a proclamation calling on the nation to pray on Monday July 14.

The moniker “7:14″ comes from the well known passage in 2 Chronicles 7:14 where God promises Solomon:

 if my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Hey, prayer is a good thing and I want to encourage more of it…

… but I see some warning signs when it comes to this “7:14″ revival campaign.


1) If you are using 2 Chronicles 7:14 as your prayer foundation…you’re starting off on the wrong foot

I’ve really learned from my friend Paul Ellis to watch for the “if-then” promises of the Old Testament. “If” we do something, “then” God promises to do something.  Back then God’s blessing and favor was contingent on Israel’s performance, which arguably was pretty shoddy at best.

Not unlike ourselves today.

The point of that period of time was to show how we can never perform well enough to be sufficient in our own rightousness.  However now in Christ we rest in his performance not ours.  We can point to Jesus and know we are always in his favor and blessing.

The 7:14 campaign website is called “If 7:14″ with the “If” putting “the ball” of God’s response in our court…a place I never, ever, want to be.

2) The use of fear to heighten people’s emotion and generate a response.

If you go to the “If 7:14″ website you’ll see a video clip called The Need for Revival.  The very first image you see (after the Earth) is that of Osama Bin Laden followed by the twisted carnage of the World Trade Center.  After that there are some pictures from the more heinous gun massacres of the past few years followed by images of job loss and homelessness.


Snake oil salesmen have known this trick for years.  Make people fearful and then offer them the antidote which (surprise) the salesman just happens to have.  Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t be praying for some of these issues affecting the world (we should) but we should primarily be Christ’s Body addressing and bringing life to these problems affecting society using the Holy Spirit which he has already given us!

If714 The Need from If 7:14 on Vimeo.

As the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Tim 1:7

Lets engage the community around us in compassion and self control rather than fear


3) America is not Israel

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but some Christians will be startled to learn that 2 Chronicles 2:7 was about Israel not America.  In the Old Testament God dealt with the world in a different way…through Israel.  And Israel was supposed to bring that light to other nations. In fact the rest of that passage is God promising that if Israel turned from His ways the temple they had just dedicated would be destroyed and made an object of ridicule by other nations.

Which was what happened…

God now deals with the world through his Son (Hebrews 1)  It’s a much better deal.  Let’s embrace this better covenant and quit trying to point to terms on an expired contract that never applied to us to begin with.

4) The underlying root of Nationalism

Couched in the language of repentance and revival is the not so veiled theme of nationalism and American Exceptionalism.  There is a message being promoted in many corners of American Evangelicalism that says something like, “America is Great but we are in danger of losing our greatness”

We need to repent so God will revive us and make us Great again!

The prayer goes beyond asking God to intercede for our neighborhoods and communities; Its a call as in the days of ancient Israel for God to make America’s name remain great among the nations.

But we need to understand God is building only one Kingdom…

…and its his.

He is now calling every man, woman, and child from every tribe and tongue to be a citizen of it.

God does want to bless America!

…and Canada…and China…and… India…and South Africa…and so on and so on

So if your agenda for prayer and revival is to see America stay #1…you may not be getting the big picture.

I believe it’s important for people to pray, but when we do let’s make sure we are doing it in a manner that brings life and redemption that advances Christ’s Kingdom. 

Let me just finish by quoting Jesus, “You don’t have to be afraid!”

The Things We Don’t Think Of As Being “Church” Are More “Church” Than We Thought

Little 3 yr. old Sau Yat  (Sherlock) lives on same little Island in Hong Kong that sau Yat2I do.  I had never heard of Sau Yat before this week…there are 15,000 of us living on Park Island after all.

But this week we’ve all been touched with his story!

Sherlock Ng used to be a healthy little boy living around us. Before he celebrated his second birthday, he was diagnosed with Pineoblastoma, an extremely rare and vicious brain cancer. Despite 8 chemotherapy treatments and 2 surgeries, recent MRI shows his cancer is growing and has spread to his spine. Oncologists in HK have given up on further treatments, but not his parents. They have been actively seeking medication abroad. Hospitals in the US and UK with previous experience in curing this cancer have given positive feedback to Sherlock’s case. All the Ng’s need right now is your kind donations to sponsor his large medical bills.

- From Sau Yat’s Charity Facebook Page

As the father of a 3 year old myself my heart breaks over the agony Sau Yat’s parents must be going through.  Fortunately a lot of people around here feel the same way

So my home neighborhood, Park Island, (Ma Wan)  had a charity bazaar Sunday afternoon to raise money for Sau Yat’s medical expenses.  I had to stay home as I’m contagious with Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease (another story) but Tammy went over to make a contribution and support the community.  She said it was absolutely wonderful to see so many people come out to support their neighbor during this difficult time.

As she shared with me about the turnout, the number of people from varied cultural backgrounds, and the compassion of those attending I started thinking about “church” and “community”  and even the nature of “communion”.

At the Last Supper Jesus gave an example to his followers by giving them everything he had to give…his body and his blood!


Many evangelical traditions (my own included) tend to put the focus of Communion on examining one’s individual heart before partaking of the wine and the bread.  However the Communion Table is so much more;  it is the antidote for injustice and need in our midst.  When we go beyond our “self” and also examine our community, church group, or neighborhood before enjoying communion we create opportunities to corporately address areas of need in our often ignored immediate surroundings.  Blind spots are revealed!

Best selling author and speaker Rob Bell was asked if he were to pastor a church again would he do anything different.  He responded:

“I would have Eucharist (communion) a lot. .. if you have the bread and the wine, and on a really regular basis, you put the bread and wine on the table and you say “Okay everybody – here you go: Body broken, blood poured out…Has everyone got their rent paid?  Anyone have any medical bills”

On Sunday our community came out to support Sau Yat and his family and in the process I feel a bit of the communion Jesus talked about was shared.

Sometimes the things that we don’t consider “church” I think were more what Jesus intended to be “church” than we had thought.

Sau Yat1

Sau Yat and his father

The charity bazaar raised HK $120,000 (US$ 15,500) in just 3 hours for little Sau Yat.  Please pray for this little boy and his family as they go to Japan for treatment.

P.S. The donation link for Sau Yat is in Chinese but if you would like to consider helping the family please contact me and I can provide donation details

9 Warning Signs Your Pastor May Be Building His Own Kingdom


People like to be controlled!

People want to be controlled!

My last post raised the question of why Christians would allow themselves to be abused in church systems that wreak havoc in their lives and those around them.

Simply put, because deep down many Christians want a pastor who tells them

* what is right or wrong

* what God wants or doesn’t want

* what they should or shouldn’t do with their life

In 1 Samuel 8 the people of Israel demanded that Samuel give them a king. Samuel goes on to explain to the people that a king will control them, abuse them, and use their lives to further his own.

And yet, surprisingly they replied, “We still want a king over us!”

You see the pattern?

There are many Senior Pastors and church leaders who model Christ’s example of servant- leadership (Matt. 20: 25-26)… but there are still far too many who “lord over” their congregations.

Now laying aside the fact that Paul the Apostle wrote 9 epistles (letters) to specific churches that are chapters long and never mentions a Senior Pastor, Lead Pastor, or Lead Elder (which may hint that we’ve got some foundational flaws inherent in the modern church structure) …

here are 9 warning signs that your Pastor is leading you away from Christ’s Kingdom and towards his own


1) The Pastor is more vocal about taking the nations, country, or city “for Jesus” than loving individual people

Mike Anderson, former leader with Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church, explains in a blog post that they thought they were “changing the world.”  This is something I see often in leaders (and at times myself when I’m honest) where the “mission” and importance to the world gets promoted more than compassion for people; which is often regulated to those few people in the church who are “called to do that sorta stuff”.


Does your pastor talk about “God’s love for the world” from the platform on Sunday morning but seems a little lacking in just simple love for a neighbor the rest of the week?

I’m also pretty sure we are not supposed to “take” or “take back” anything Jesus hasn’t already paid for 2,000 years ago

Something to consider…


2) Family members seem to fill key church job openings

I was reluctant to include this one as I know MANY great churches with family members serving together in gifted capacities…but I also know that nepotism is a rampant problem within the Body of Christ and so I need to include it.

Hey, what pastor doesn’t want their wife, son, daughter, husband, aunt, uncle, nephew or niece ministering beside them? I have two sons who I would love to see with me in some capacity some day.

I get it..

But when church positions seem to come quicker and with higher pay and perks for family members, things have gone off the rails a bit.


*I know of a church school who paid a qualified principal less than market wage but the principal gladly did it “for the Lord”.  When the principal later left he was replaced with the much less qualified pastor’s son.  Miraculously then the funds became available to pay a market wage! Funny that …

* I know a lady who served as a church secretary for years.  When the pastor’s daughter became old enough to work the secretary was encouraged to move on. Amazingly though, when the daughter assumed the position the post now came with a church paid for S.U.V. My friend laughed when she shared the story, “All those years I never got a car for the job, but daddy’s little girl sure did.”

If too many of your church leaders are calling the Pastor “dad”, this may be a warning sign!


3)  The Pastor is not enthusiastic about uniting with other churches in their geographic region

Pastor’s building their own kingdoms have little interest in corporate gatherings which involve other churches. Sure they love to have people from other churches come to their “special event” but show little interest in having their folk attend an event sponsored by another church.

Big name speakers coming through can sometimes get promoted though because they’ll leave town after all and can’t take any sheep with them on the way out.


4) Your proximity to the Pastor is directly related to your ability to further the church’s vision.

This kinda relates to point 1.  If you make money, if you can give money, if you look right, if you will attract other people, if you solve problems, if you don’t make problems, and if you have marketable skills that the church won’t have to pay you for, you will get all kinds of “face time” with the Pastor looking to build his own kingdom.

If not, you’ll be one of the few people encouraged to attend another churches’ “special event”


5) The Pastor positions himself as having just a little better revelation of God’s will than everyone else

Even though Jesus had total revelation of God’s will he always engaged people with humility and compassion.  A Pastor promoting his own vision though takes the (incomplete) piece of revelation he thinks he has received and uses it as a hammer to convince his people they are right in following him as well as validation as to why they are just a little more right in God’s eyes than the Christians at the church down the street.

Rather than humbly seeing other congregations as having different, yet vital, understandings of the nature of God that they need to have as well, this Pastor sees other Christians as just not “getting it”…otherwise they would be at his church after all.


6) In the Pastor’s eyes you are viewed as either “in” or “out”

The Christian life is not about a New Life and a journey with the Creator of the Universe, heaven forbid no, it’s about furthering the vision of the church.  So in a warped model the Pastor is not a facilitator and a builder up of the gifts of the saints but a pilot who is taking his passengers to a particular destination… “and we’re all going to the same place!”


In this expression the church member who begins asking questions about the Pastor’s vision is akin to a passenger attempting to open the cabin door at 30,000 feet. And the result tends to be the same.  Fear and anger in the other passengers lead them to take down the obviously deluded person until the pilot can have him arrested.  Crazy nut!

In this type of church you are either “on board” or not.  You are “in” or “out”. There is no wiggle room for other journeys, destinations, or paths.


7) There is passive or aggressive pressure by the Pastor not to associate with others who have left the church

Pastor’s building their own kingdom’s suffer from a bit of paranoia.  Someone is always talking behind their back… someone is always plotting...someone is always out to get them.

Trust between pastor and church members begins to break down.

Eventually people have enough of the control and manipulation the paranoia produces and they leave…or are kicked out!


The last thing then the Pastor in such a church wants is for “untainted true believers” to be talking to the black sheep who could never appreciate or understand the Vision to begin with.

Anytime a pastor calls you, e-mails you, or arranges a coffee chat to warn (or threaten) you not to associate with former church members be afraid…be very afraid!


8) The Pastor requires you to have your understanding of God, the Bible, and “the world” be in total agreement with his

When the pastor is less than tolerant on you holding a position in conflict with his be warned.  When it is expected that you have the same views on:

* political party affiliation

* eschatology 

* women in ministry

* sexual orientation

* environmental concerns

* hell

or a myriad of other issues Christians of good conscious disagree on…

…chances are you need to find another group to fellowship with.


9) The Pastor uses pulpit teachings to address conflicts that should be dealt with personally or privately.

Call this a “pet peeve” but for years I’ve been particularly annoyed when pastors use the Sunday sermon as a bully pulpit to attack a particular person or issue because they were to afraid to deal with it directly. As a lead pastor I would often ask myself if a sermon I prepared was instead prepared for a particular person to hear.  If not…then I would preach it!


The problem with this type of Pastor is that the person or person’s to whom the message is directed just end up getting ticked off more.  It also leads to insecurity in the rest of the church who begin to wonder who the Pastor is talking about and is it them.

Final Word

I sent a draft of this post to a good friend to get his take and input before publishing it.  He wrote back:

Your 7 (now 9) signs are exactly that of the how Israel was strutted under the law. We are now free from that curse. Jesus made it clear we are not to organise ourselves in this way just as Samuel warned Israel. The system has a king, a vision, a mission and is hierarchical in nature. By definition it’s an institution and that means to gain unity you must require conformity. To gain conformity you must gain control….

Maybe the system is a contributor to the abuse and manipulation we see in the church today.  Samuel the prophet told the people what comes with an earthly King…

And yet we still seem to want a King!

My final word is this though:

God gave you a life; Live it…or someone else will live it for you!

Mark Driscoll’s House of Cards and How My Atheist Brother Was Right All Along


Image courtesy David Hayward

More than 5 years ago I wrote a blog post on Mark Driscoll when he and his Mars Hill Church were at the height of their game.  If you read the post you can see I was a bit of a fan of Pastor Mark at the time (you can also see how much my own journey has changed since then).

What is interesting though is a comment from my brother Andrew who contrasted my “pro-Driscoll” views with a prescient understanding of what was later to come:

I don’t wish bad on the guy (Driscoll), but when anybody spends as much time as he does ripping on other people, saying you have to follow his model, is abrasive because he thinks its funny or makes him macho…. I just keep waiting for the other shoe to fall…. I smell a Swaggert coming on. Those who squawk loudest seem to lay some huge eggs eventually. 

My brother wrote that prophetic thought more than 5 years ago when no one could foresee the turn of events befalling Mars Hill and Pastor Mark.

My point though is not to highlight that downfall in a perverse way.  Indeed certain statements from Driscoll have given me hope that God can redeem this situation.  There is perhaps nothing more I enjoy seeing than forgiveness, redemption, and restoration.

No, the issue I want to raise is why we will continue to see this type of control, manipulation, and abuse in churches as long as there are sheep in those churches willing to be controlled, manipulated, and abused.


The Problem isn’t just Mars Hill

Because of it’s size and reputation Mars Hill gathers a lot of media attention but across Christianity there are thousands of churches with people trapped in similar systems of control and manipulation.

Having been a Christian for 40 years and in ministry leadership for 25 I can’t claim to have seen it all…

…but I’ve seen a lot!

I write this post because I’m tired...

I’m tired of right theology trumping a right heart

I’m tired of the Bible (word of God) which is supposed to point us to Jesus (Word of God) used instead to keep people in bondage and containment

I’m tired of watching anointed and skilled church leaders delude themselves and their flock with their own vision because there is no accountability or friends who can just tell them “no”! 

I’m tired of watching good people burn themselves out fulfilling a man’s (or ministry’s) vision convinced it’s God’s plan

I’m tired of watching those that are burned out being discarded and replaced by newer, and younger, “true Believers”

I’m tired of watching people who are supposed to be “set free in Christ” simply swapping one set of chains for another.

 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.

John 8:35,36

So why do people who have been made sons and daughters of God allow themselves to be coerced into ungodly systems that wreck havoc in their own lives, their families, and the world around them?

Well that my friends will take a whole other blog post… stay tuned!

The Hobby Lobby Decision Reveals “Progressive” Christians Can Be Just As Narrow Minded As Conservatives

Hobby-Lobby-for-Culture-FailI’ve avoided discussing the Hobby Lobby controversy till now if for a couple different reasons.  First, its a local American issue and half the Beyond the Pale readers are not from the U.S.  But more importantly, because I could easily argue either side of the debate.

Honestly for me, there are legitimate concerns on both sides

For my non-American friends, the issue involves a recent Supreme Court case which held that Hobby Lobby, a business corporation, could be exempted from having to provide mandated employee health care that covered certain forms of contraception (specifically those used after conception) on the grounds of religious conviction. (I know what you’re thinking? *yawn*  But try to stick with me)

The moment the decision was announced my Facebook feed was immediately filled with the usual impassioned updates from friends, either celebratory or vexed, depending on their political and / or religious persuasion.

As I mentioned though, I stayed out of the debate simply because I could see legitimate concerns on both side of the argument…

but it seemed almost no one else could!  Sadly this included progressive Christian bloggers.

One of the things that has made me attracted to “progressive” Christianity in the last few years is it’s ability to be more critically thinking and nuanced in its engagement with the world.  I expect “conservative” Christianity to be rigid in it’s positions but I’ve come to realize “progressives” can be just as set in their ways.  For example blogger John Shore leaves no quarter given when he states:

History will not be kind in its memory of today’s Supreme Court ruling, a travesty of justice grounded in the same brutish sexism and classism that has always informed the most egregious and shameful rulings of the highest court in our land.

If based upon its moral convictions Hobby Lobby is allowed to pick and choose the medical benefits it covers, why in the world wouldn’t any other company be allowed to do the same?

A travesty? Mr. Shore, a corporation has simply been exempted for, essentially, having to pay for “the morning after pill.”  You may disagree with the decision but in the pantheon of Supreme Court cases this hardly constitutes a travesty.


Now I don’t disagree with John Shore on everything.  I agree that corporations should not be allowed to “pick and choose” at whim but historically the law has made, at certain times, concessions for deeply held religious convictions. For example Conscientious Objectors from various religious (and non-religious) backgrounds have been exempted legally from conscription.  The Selective Service policy reads:

Beliefs which qualify a registrant for CO status may be religious in nature, but don’t have to be. Beliefs may be moral or ethical; however, a man’s reasons for not wanting to participate in a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest. In general, the man’s lifestyle prior to making his claim must reflect his current claims.

Obviously people can’t “pick and choose” but thats why we have law and the courts; to determine legitimate grounds for exemption in a pluralistic society.

Frank Schaeffer then comes out swinging by saying in his blog:

Pope Francis must have vomited when he heard the Hobby Lobby news. Nothing could undo the good he has recently done the Church’s image more than yet another case of anti-woman lashing out by a cabal or far right Roman Catholic activists– this time in the Supreme Court.

Pope Francis vomiting?  Over the fact that a corporation will not be forced by the government to pay for what amounts to an “abortion pill”??  I don’t think so…


In Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s blog he simply poses 10 questions to the Supreme Court in “couch potato lawyer” fashion with no concession to any legitimate argument made by the majority holding.  One could easily pose an alternative 10 questions to dissenting Justice Bader-Ginsburg because this is such a difficult and nuanced case.

A Plague on Both Your Houses

Here’s the thing.  I agree in principal with most of the arguments made by Shore, Schaeffer,  and Wilson-Hartgrove.  What I find distressing is not their positions but the fact that there is no nuance in their positions.  There is no:

* I realize this is a difficult and complex issue…

* As a Christian who values human life in all forms I admit I am torn…

* I concede that the other side has a legitimate concern in …

Now, as I noted previously, I expect the “conservative” bloggers to be rigid and single minded but I am finding “progressive” writers can often be just as set in their ways.  It feels not so much like they critically thought through their position as much as they have picked a side and are fighting for their team colors.

The result is “progressives” end up being just as narrow minded as their “conservative” counterparts.

I’ve given the “conservatives” a good ribbing lately saying if Jesus showed up today, they wouldn’t like him very much.  I’m starting to think the “progressives” wouldn’t care much for him either.

So in the immortal words of Shakespeare’s Mercutio I say, “A plague on both your houses”.

Can You Be Gay & Christian?


Same-sex relations and marriage is a divisive topic within the Body of Christ with passions running high on both sides.  At Beyond the Pale I don’t steer clear of questions that are pressing in on the church so I thought I would share a debate, Can you be Gay and Christian?,  that has gone viral in the blog-o-sphere the this week.

The debate pits Matthew Vines, a gay Christian and proponent of same-sex relations being recognised within the church against Dr. Michael Brown, a Christian apologist who takes the position that same-sex relations contradict Biblical teachings.

I’ve listened to the whole debate and it does serve as a good primer into the arguments being used on both sides of the issue, arguments that I feel Christians need to become aware of.

Comments are welcome!