Encouraging Holiness

With all her charges cared for, Joan turned in early to get in some much-desired reading time. She has become engrossed in a book about one of her favorite “mentors.” She is reading the new biography of Elisabeth Elliot. (I did good. I saw it featured through “Revive Our Hearts” and donated to secure a copy for Joan.)

I also decided to turn in early after seeing the Brewers lead over the Cardinals jump to 4-1, figured the rest of the game probably wasn’t worth watching. (I was right. At 4:59 this morning I checked the score to find they had been trounced, 18-3. Ouch.)

Back to last night: I reached into my nightstand and pulled out a copy of Christianity Today. “What Real Leaders Look Like” – that opinion piece grabbed my attention, and this is how it opened…

“Something doesn’t smell right in Lynchburg, Virginia, home of Liberty University and its controversial president, Jerry Falwell Jr. According to a September report in Politico:

“Everybody is scared for their life. Everybody walks around in fear,” said a current university employee who agreed to speak for this article only after purchasing a burner phone, fearing that Falwell was monitoring their communications…. “Fear is probably his most powerful weapon,” a former senior university official said.

After reading several troubling revelations about the leadership of Jerry Jr, I suddenly stopped. I flipped to the front cover to see the date of publication. November 2019! This was written a full nine months before inappropriate selfie became big news, before his wife’s affair was revealed (permission for it to continue given by Jerry) – more than nine months before he resigned.

They knew – the board knew there were problems! Lots of people knew. And not just for nine months, but probably for years. No wonder Cal Thomas asserted that it isn’t just Jerry who should step down, but the whole board of Liberty University should resign.

But it is always this way, isn’t it? It was true of James MacDonald, of Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll and just about every other such leader who was eventually forced to resign. There were lots of clues and even more than clues. Others knew. It should have been dealt with years before, but it wasn’t. And why?

Take a few seconds and read this verse – God is speaking through the prophet Jeremiah.

The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? (Jeremiah 5:31 NIV)

If you want a fuller description of what these prophets were like, read Jeremiah 23. Let me give you a taste of what is there…

And among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.” (Jeremiah 23:14 NIV)

So, how is it that Falwell and guys like him aren’t confronted (unless forced to because the PR has gotten super bad)? God gives us the answer in 5:31. “My people love it this way.

As the CT editorial points out: “We want ‘movers and shakers’ who can ‘make a difference.’ We hire not for humility and service, but for boldness, innovation, and creativity. Big is beautiful.” Falwell was the kind of guy was strong in the areas of finance and construction. He made Liberty bigger and greater. He gave them what they wanted most. What else matters? Well, “It’s time to remember the qualifications of biblical leadership.”

I would suggest there is another reason beyond the desire for “movers and shakers” that makes us willing to set aside biblical qualifications. As one fellow told me: “I like the fact that my pastor is just a regular guy who has all the same weaknesses that I do.” Okay, so we’re all human – I get it. But would we like it as much if our human pastors also had a passion for holiness, if they were to be careful to watch both their “life” as well as their doctrine? Instead of messages having lots of stories that reveal that our pastors are less than perfect (as if we needed to know that), what if the focus was more on showing us Jesus?

Remember when Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Scripture has lots of examples of people being extremely uncomfortable with the “holy.” Think: the mountain that smokes, Moses’ face that glows, an ark that causes people to die when they peek inside, etc.

Chapter 5 of my book, “Have we lost out Head?”, is entitled: “My People Love It This Way.” We don’t always want Jesus to be the head of the church – at least, not really. It is more comfortable to have our churches be the kind of place that fits us better. Therefore, we keep Jesus a little disconnected from how we function. But, without connection with him the church has no real life. “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

In Chapter 7, I suggest one (of seven) remedies for this disconnect – that leaders “Be Examples Of What is Good,” subtitled, “Growing in Holiness.” In other words, the most important thing our leaders can do for us is to help point us to Jesus. They can’t do this very well if they aren’t pursuing Christlikeness themselves.

Although it can be uncomfortable for us (holiness often is), let’s encourage leadership that cares more about becoming like Jesus above all other things.

By the way, among the wonderful people who were a model of growing in holiness and encouraging holiness was Elisabeth Elliot. She understood that this was the goal for all believers. For women, she reminded them of the truth of Titus 2 and what holiness looks like in everyday activities, of showing affection to husband and children and in the work they do at home.

Joan stops her reading from time to time to tell me how she is certain I would also really enjoy “Becoming Elisabeth Elliot.” I’m sure I will! I kind of had reading-it-myself in mind when I bought the book. We all need godly examples before us (both past and present).

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