We are living in brutal days. Hate, rage and violence are everywhere. Our country is being destroyed one life at a time. You will be destroyed if you allow it. There is only one antidote to the poison that is flowing everywhere. Several years ago, while I was writing my book, Day of the Wolf: Unmasking and Confronting Wolves in the Church, I was drawn into a deep study of what the Bible says about forgiveness. These are the chapters that came out of that study. I hope they will help you as you prepare for the days ahead.
The Iron Discipline
Little boys dream about being warriors. But dreaming is not the same as being and doing. Christians may dream about being spiritual warriors. But dreaming means nothing if there is no daily preparation. That preparation involves spiritual discipline. And there is one discipline beyond all others that must be part of your life if you are going to confront a wolf. Because it is such a challenge, I’ve called it The Iron Discipline.
The Iron Discipline is forgiveness.
What is the proof that there is so little real love for Jesus in the church today? Lack of forgiveness, both getting it from God and giving to others. Spiritual wolves feast on flocks of delicious, backbiting, unforgiving sheep. Instead of real forgiveness there is a lot of fake forgiveness among Christians. But the truth of what is actually in the heart will not stay hidden.
Many years ago, I knew a Christian woman who blamed a doctor for a particular medical procedure that she had experienced. As time went on it became scientifically clear that he had done nothing wrong, but evidence didn’t matter. She had made a decision about the man and her heart was full of deep hatred for him. Though she had no contact with him from the time of the procedure, for decades his name could not be mentioned without rage spewing out. Her hatred grew with the years.
As the trials of life accumulated, which they always do, her anger generalized to include each new negative situation and each new person whom she considered responsible. While she could be charming and very sweet and gave much to her family, anger was always just under the surface and it was expressed in many different ways. Ultimately, her rage and vindictiveness blinded her to reality and helped bring sorrow and destruction to her own family, a family she truly loved.
Unforgiveness guarantees that we will fall victim to evil delusions that are temptations of Satan. As we view any negative situation we will seek to justify our anger, bitterness, and self-pity. In doing so, often we reconstruct what we think others have done to us to vindicate our sinful attitudes and actions. Partial truths become “memories” and we will fight to the death in our belief that they are all 100 percent accurate. We will compound the effects of any negative situation by demanding that others accept our view as reality. When they refuse, it offers a new opportunity for hate, rage, bitterness, self-pity and a desire for revenge. Do not be fooled. Satan will be happy to cover all of this in a lovely, spiritual wrapping.
To have a congregation full of unforgiving and unforgiven people is very possible in the modern evangelical church where everyone is invited to “say ‘yes’ to Jesus” with no serious preaching about sin and its deadly eternal consequences. Unforgiving and unforgiven congregations grow from shallow preaching about the Cross. Unforgiving and unforgiven congregations do not experience the true work of the Holy Spirit who, according to Jesus in John 16:8-11, came first to convict the world of sin, not just to help us speak in tongues or “worship”.
Without the humiliation that comes with true conviction of sin there is no sense of need for repentance. When our understanding of God’s forgiveness is shallow, our forgiveness of others will be shallow. We forgive in the same way that we have experienced the need to be forgiven.
An unforgiven church is an unforgiving church. Pastors and spiritual leaders who refuse to preach and teach about sin and repentance because they don’t want to offend people and drive them away, deserve the vicious, gossiping, backbiting, divisive congregations they will get. If they think they can ease people into an understanding about sin in a way that guarantees no one will be offended, they are foolish and do not understand the New Testament. Though they may not be wolves, they shouldn’t be in leadership.
Spiritual wolves are master legalists in part because they are masters of unforgiveness. What may appear to be forgiveness in them is simply waiting for the right moment to exact revenge or execute a quid pro quo. They’ll “forgive” if the offender does something for them. Wolves do not forget the weaknesses and sins of others. They catalog them for future use. In this, they are like their father Satan.
Satan uses his wolf attacks to bring wounds that he hopes will never heal, taking away all joy and leaving nothing but bitterness and self-pity. In that state, we are susceptible to even deeper wounds and greater delusions. We are in danger of becoming spiritual wolves ourselves.
Are you carrying a spiritual/emotional wound? Whether it has come from a wolf attack, from some other source such as bereavement or another kind of loss or misunderstanding, left untreated it will destroy your life and your effectiveness as a servant-warrior for Jesus in this world. The only healing for such wounds is real forgiveness. But I’m afraid many Christians don’t have the slightest clue about what that looks like.
What Does Forgiveness Look like?
In 2012 there was a striking interview on the U.S. television program 60 Minutes. It was with a most unusual man. He had been released from prison after serving 18 years for a crime that he didn’t commit. He had been wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. The Innocence Project had spent five years trying to get the courts to re-examine his case based on new DNA evidence that proved conclusively that he was not the killer.
Far worse than the long, unjust battle to reopen the case, it was discovered that during his trial the district attorney, in a criminal act, consciously withheld exculpatory evidence that very likely would have kept him from being convicted.
So an innocent man full of horror and sorrow over his wife’s murder went to prison due to a false accusation and conviction. But that wasn’t all. His little son had been three years old at the time of his mother’s death and had witnessed the terrible crime. He had told what he saw, at that young age even accurately describing the real murderer. But his testimony was part of the evidence that had been withheld. To add even more sorrow, as the years passed and the little boy became a teenager, he wrote to his father telling him that he didn’t want to visit him in prison anymore.
The 60 Minutes interviewer asked this poor man, “How did you deal with all of that? So much was taken from you. It seems more than a person could bear.” The man replied that he had spent years brokenhearted, enraged, full of hate, wanting revenge. But one day he woke up and realized that carrying this awful burden was destroying him. He couldn’t live with it any longer. He didn’t want to be the man that he was becoming. There was only one answer. He had to forgive all of the people who had done such terrible things to him. Apparently, he came to this conclusion before there was any hope that he would be exonerated and set free.
So he did it. He told the interviewer that when he forgave everyone it was as though a giant weight had been lifted off his heart. As the camera came in close, it was very clear. His eyes were filled with peace.
I call forgiveness The Iron Discipline because it does not come naturally to us and must be applied over and over, sometimes with great difficulty, throughout our lives. When someone does something bad to me or my loved ones what comes naturally is stoking my anger until it turns into rage soaked with bitterness. What comes naturally is the desire for revenge. I want to hurt the person who has hurt me or those close to me.
What does it mean to forgive? Here is a dictionary definition: Forgiveness means to excuse a fault or offense, to pardon, to renounce anger and resentment, to absolve from the payment of a debt.
A spiritual wolf has attacked you. (Or someone else has hurt you in some way.) You have determined that the person has sinned against you. That sin could be anything from besmirching your character to something far worse. In your mind, you have sustained real injury. Perhaps it was to your reputation or your sense of peace and security. Perhaps you are living with the hell of false accusations that everyone believes. Perhaps it was physical abuse that has polluted your memory and emotions. Or maybe it was done to someone you love. There are many possibilities, but what was taken was important.
There are people who think forgiveness is based on emotion. “I can’t forgive until I feel forgiving.” Since they never feel forgiving, they never forgive. And let’s be honest. It feels good not to forgive. I get dark satisfaction from nursing the anger that comes with evil memories and desires. To give that up takes the very Power of God. I have heard people say, “I’m just not ready to forgive.” That may be honest, but it’s just as foolish as saying, “I’m not ready to give up the cancer that is killing me. I’m going to enjoy it awhile longer.”
True forgiveness starts by realizing and accepting the fact that it is not based on emotion at all. It is an act of the will. The spiritual wolf owes you a debt because of the injury that he has inflicted. He hasn’t admitted it and maybe he won’t. You are preparing for a confrontation with him. Spiritual failure is guaranteed if forgiveness is not an essential part of your preparation.
But what does forgiveness require? It requires kneeling before God in prayer and placing a person into His Hands, trusting Him to be the Righteous Judge. It requires giving up your right to exact payment for the emotional debt that a person owes you. It means renouncing your right to be angry any longer.
Though deep emotion is involved, true forgiveness is a judicial decision. Like all judicial decisions it is made once. But very likely, you will have to remind yourself of that decision many times. When memories return, hurt returns and anger with it. Each time, you choose to remind yourself of the decision you made and give that person to the Lord. Though it may be reaffirmed many times, the act of forgiveness is accomplished once.
Imagine that you are a judge in a court. The prisoner, the person who has sinned against you, stands shackled in the dock of your mind. Forgiveness is setting that person free, letting him walk out the door unchained. A year later, you don’t run after him, dragging him back and chaining him up again for the same offense. You may want to do that, but when you do, you remind yourself of the decision that you made. You recommit him into God’s Hands, praying blessing upon him. In a sense, the person who has sinned against you is a prisoner that you are holding in the dungeon of your mind. As you set him free, you are freeing yourself, because as long as he is kept in that dungeon you are imprisoned with him.
In the middle ages, a terrible justice was exacted on murderers. The dead body of the victim was strapped to the murderer’s back to rot until it killed him. When we do not forgive, it is as though the dead body of the one we hate is strapped to our soul. As it rots, it kills us with anger, bitterness and self-pity. The most horrible reality is that Satan can make that rot actually taste good to a soul on its way to hell.
But even knowing all of this, there are many who will say, “I have a right to my anger and desire for revenge. Why should I give it up? My anger protects me. If I give it up, I’ll just be hurt again. Doesn’t the Bible say an eye for an eye? And the one who did this to me hasn’t asked to be forgiven anyway, so I don’t need to forgive him until he does. Isn’t that what the Bible teaches?”
Many times this leads to disastrous confrontations. Because we believe that we don’t need to forgive until the perpetrator asks to be forgiven we decide, “I’ve got to get this individual to acknowledge and accept what he has done to me. Then he’ll ask to be forgiven. Unless that happens, my wound will never heal and I don’t have to forgive.”
This puts forgiveness and healing into the hands of another person who may never want forgiveness and who may even be dead. As long as we believe this lie our wounds will never heal. Could Jesus have taught something that would put us into such a bind? He didn’t. So what did He really teach about forgiveness?
Vertical and Horizontal
As we deal with the damage done by spiritual wolves, it’s vital that we have a clear understanding of what Jesus taught about forgiveness. He taught two kinds and both work together. To misunderstand either one is to misunderstand what forgiveness toward others means in the New Testament. The teaching of one kind to the exclusion of the other has been disastrous in the church.
The first kind that Jesus taught has been called “Vertical Forgiveness” and it’s found in Mark 11:25-26:
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
This kind of forgiveness is between you and God, that’s why it has been called “vertical”. In your opinion, someone has done something that damaged you. You hold something against that person. From your viewpoint, the individual has caused you palpable loss. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that your view of the situation is accurate. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but that doesn’t matter.
The person who did these things to you may never ask to be forgiven. He or she may be dead. They may not believe that they have done anything wrong. Maybe the wrong done to you was intentional, as in the case of a spiritual wolf, or maybe it wasn’t, but you thought it was. It may be people in a faceless institution. There are endless permutations. Whatever the case, in your mind with your view of the circumstances, you believe that you have a right to be angry and, if possible, to require justice of some sort. At the very least, you believe that you are owed a serious apology.
However, in obedience to Jesus’ command in Mark 11, in humility and faith, you give up what you consider to be your right to require justice. In prayer you unconditionally release the offender into God’s Hands, forgiving him once and for all, for the debt that he owes to you. You set him free.
This is done in dependence on God’s Justice knowing that He is the only one who understands what happened. You release the individual to God not with the angry hope that He will punish that person, but that God will work in his life to bring him to repentance so that he can receive eternal forgiveness and blessing. It acknowledges that you do not know the whole truth and if you are wrong in any way about what happened, you want God to do what is right.
This act of forgiveness acknowledges that all sins are really against God and He is the One who has the right to judge and punish the wicked. Based on the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, who died to the pay the penalty for the sins of the world, God’s Justice has been satisfied and He can forgive.
This act of forgiveness on your part acknowledges one overwhelming fact. Whatever is owed to you, you owe much more than that to God. Whatever sins have been committed against you, you have sinned much more against Him. Whatever it costs you to forgive, it cost God infinitely more to forgive you. It cost the death of His Son. Since He has forgiven you for so much at such a price, you must forgive others.
This is clearly taught in Jesus’ parable found in Matthew 18:21-19:1.
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Notice at the end Jesus doesn’t say anything about the trespassing brother coming to ask to be forgiven. In the Lord’s prayer there is nothing about it. When He was dying on the cross and forgave those who were killing Him, they hadn’t asked to be forgiven. Those who believe that you can’t forgive until someone asks to be forgiven are making a terrible mistake.
What is the end result of vertical forgiveness? Where should it lead us? We pledge to God that we will deal with the one who has offended us in sacrificial love.
The Apostle Paul described what our attitude should be in Romans 12:17-21: Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Many people misunderstand what Paul meant when he said “give place to wrath”. They think it means that it’s all right to be full of anger toward an enemy. But that isn’t what it means at all. It means to give up your anger. Set your anger aside and give place to God’s wrath if He chooses to exercise it because all vengeance belongs to Him. In the meantime, insofar as it is possible, do nothing but good for your enemy.
When someone does something that hurts us it is normal to feel angry. God knows that we are going to get angry. That’s part of being human in a fallen world. If you don’t ever get angry about anything, something is wrong with you. There is a place for anger, but it must be strictly limited. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27:
“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.
After a brief period of being angry, set it aside. Don’t even hold it overnight. One form of holding on to anger is the carrying of grudges. How destructive that has been in the church!
During the 1940’s in my mother’s hometown of Tonkawa, Oklahoma, all of her family went to the little Presbyterian Church that is located there. This was during the great modernist/fundamentalist war that raged in the major denominations. Her family in Tonkawa split. One brother-in-law and his clan left the church to start a new non-denominational church a few blocks away. Another brother-in-law and his family stayed Presbyterian. The rancor between these families became so intense that they rarely spoke to each other, though they lived only two miles apart in that little town. The brothers-in-law never spoke. When my family would come down from Chicago to visit in the summer, we would bounce back and forth between the warring clans. It broke my mother’s heart.
Finally, that generation began to die off. One brother-in-law passed away in 1967. In the mid-1980’s my wife and I visited Tonkawa and spent time with the other aging brother-in-law. In my presence he said, “If Ernest is in Heaven, I don’t want to go there.” I hope he repented of that. He’s been dead now for years.
The second kind of forgiveness that Jesus taught has been called “horizontal”. It takes place between people and it’s found in Luke 17:3-4: Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
Horizontal forgiveness is conditional forgiveness. Conditional? But wait, didn’t we just say that real forgiveness is unconditional? Horizontal forgiveness is conditional in the sense that we verbalize it when the offender asks to be forgiven. After the individual acknowledges his sin against you and asks for forgiveness you can speak the words of release, “I forgive you.”
But preparation to forgive in this way has already been made through vertical forgiveness between you and God. In prayer you have forgiven the person so you are ready to complete the action when he asks for it. That’s how the two types of forgiveness that Jesus taught work together. But be cautious, serious mistakes have been made by well-intentioned Christians who rush up and forgive someone when that person hasn’t asked to be forgiven and may not want it.
There are times when we should tell someone they are forgiven though they haven’t asked for it. Often, those are times when the perpetrator is filled with so much sorrow for his actions, is so humiliated or is so damaged, that he can’t imagine you could ever forgive, yet you do. This can be the most powerful witness to the reality and Love of Christ. The Holy Spirit will guide.
In horizontal forgiveness, the request to be forgiven should be real. How do we know that it’s real? There is some kind of honest attempt to make things right or to change. This comes from a humble attitude of the heart. Watch for the smallest change and desire to make things right. That may be in the request for forgiveness itself. The very request may be a major step for that individual. When you see it, accept it as evidence.
In Jesus’ parable about the servant who was forgiven a huge amount by the king then refused to forgive someone who owed him only a little, the man’s actions proved that there was no real gratitude or repentance in him. But in watching for true repentance, we should never stand over a person waiting for him to fail. This is not forgiveness and proves that “vertical forgiveness” has not taken place.
After asking to be forgiven, if your brother or sister does fail and asks to be forgiven again you are to do so. As Jesus told His disciples, a person may stumble many times a day and if he repents, he must be forgiven. There will be no strength to do this if the judicial act of real forgiveness isn’t taking place between you and God.
Over and over, Jesus gave the most serious warning possible about forgiveness. If we refuse to forgive others, our Father in Heaven will not forgive us. This is echoed in the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We might read that “in the same manner” in which we forgive our debtors.
How would you like for God to forgive you? Would you like for Him to say He’s forgiven you, then years later or maybe when you die, shove all your sins back in your face? Do you want Him to forgive you conditionally? “I’ll forgive you as long as you never do anything that hurts Me again?” Is that what you want? If not, then as you pray to the Father, forgive others in the same way that you want God to forgive you, unconditionally and completely. That means no strings attached. Forgive others as though your eternal life depended upon it.
Was Jesus Serious About Rebuking?
I’m afraid so. The horizontal (conditional) forgiveness that Jesus teaches in Luke 17 assumes that we are going to rebuke the person who has sinned against us. The Greek word that is translated “rebuke” means to censure and/or admonish. Those are strong words. Censure is to vehemently express disapproval about the thing that was done. Admonish means to strongly urge someone to do something that he should do to make a situation right. That is the heart of confronting a wolf and is an essential part of working toward forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.
What kinds of rebuking are Biblical? None of them are easy. First, there is the kind that Jesus taught when dealing with a brother or sister who has sinned against you. We’ll talk about that kind of personal confrontation in the next chapter. The rebuking that takes place there is done after vertical forgiveness has been declared and is never done in anger or with vindictiveness. The wrong kind of “rebuking” is not of God and will do great damage. Satan loves such rebukes because they bring destruction to everyone involved.
But there is another type of godly rebuke.
In the introduction to this book, I wrote about the New Tribes missionary who had been convicted of creating and distributing child pornography, photographing little girls in the Amazon, children to whom he had been sent to minister in the Name of Jesus. After being caught by federal authorities, he repented. There are Christians who believe that such a person shouldn’t be rebuked publicly by the church. The state should do its job, while the church simply should love this man and assist in his healing. To rebuke him would be “piling on”. While this sounds loving, is it Biblical?
The rebuke that takes place first between two people alone is designed to re-establish a relationship that has been broken due to a private matter. There are two other purposes for rebuking within the church. The first is to end a sin that is taking place and bring about repentance and the second is to instill righteous fear in others.
There is no doubt that the church should love an individual and accept his or her repentance. However, the New Testament is clear about publicly rebuking those whose sins are not private and that affect the entire body. When the sin has been public and has affected many people, the rebuke and the statement of repentance should be public.
Our problem with rebuking is the manner in which we imagine it being done. We imagine that the only way to rebuke is harshly with cold eyes and cold hearts. After Peter denied the Lord three times, all it took was a single look from Jesus. I’m sure that in that look was the deepest sorrow and love. Not a word was spoken, but it was the heaviest rebuke he could ever have received and it was without condemnation. Peter’s repentance was real and came with tears.
Any kind of rebuke in the Body of Christ should be given with deep sorrow, deep love and without condemnation. In particular, this should be true of a public rebuke. Such a rebuke is a statement of the facts and how the sinful actions have damaged many. Then there is the call for repentance and, if possible, restitution. After the rebuke and public repentance, the person who has sinned should be shown public forgiveness through the love of Christ and acceptance by the entire body. This is the beginning of real healing. Such a public rebuke and repentance calls on all who have witnessed it to examine their own lives as they forgive.
But caution should be exercised. What the young man did in the Amazon to little children who were under his care are the actions of a spiritual wolf, a vicious predator, and, possibly, a psychopath. After he returns to society from prison, the church should watch him with great loving care until his repentance is confirmed by godly actions over a very significant period of time. Born wolves, psychopathic personalities, are quick to “repent” even with tears, but it’s all an act. There is no change of heart and they will attack again.
Clearly, the Apostle Paul believed in the proper role of rebuking within the church.
2 Timothy 4:2: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
Titus 1:10-14: For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth.
Titus 2:11-15: For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.
In dealing with false teachers and their followers, Paul commands the most confrontational form of rebuking. He wanted their mouths stopped. But there were proper times for that kind of rebuking and times when other approaches should be used.
Paul tells Timothy: Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
The Greek word that is translated “exhort” means to call near, to invite, to implore, to entreat and beseech. It includes strong pleading. These people are not false teachers/spiritual wolves, they are doing things that are wrong and need correction. If Biblical exhorting and rebuking were taking place today perhaps there would be far fewer wolves in church leadership and more believers growing toward maturity.
What most of us want is for those who have sinned against us to realize what they have done and ask to be forgiven without our doing anything except, perhaps, forgiving them before God and praying for them. Forgiving a person and praying for him is meant to prepare our hearts for the important step of rebuking.
No one likes to be rebuked. No spiritually healthy person enjoys rebuking others. But where it is possible (and there are situations where it isn’t possible) godly rebuking with love and sorrow is essential. The purpose is to bring repentance which means a change of life direction. Godly rebuking is an act of self-sacrificing love. Godly rebuking cannot be accomplished without God’s Love working in us. Do we love someone enough to take the risk of confronting and rebuking that person when he has sinned?
When I was a young man, during the time that I was Supervisor of Production and Talent at the Christian radio station, WMBI in Chicago, one of our most gifted freelance writer/producers began having an affair with a woman who was also a free-lance writer for us. The writer/producer’s wife was part of our freelance talent team as well. These three people were all my friends. I looked up to the man who had instigated the affair. I didn’t want to offend him or be rejected by him, so in the face of his sin I was silent. I even went to a party hosted by this “couple”.
Sadly, I wasn’t the only one who remained silent. In fact, there was only one man at WMBI who knew about the situation who cared enough and had the courage to confront our adulterous friend. The confrontation was a step toward his repentance. Later he asked why no one else had cared enough to confront him with the truth. I was silent. All I could do was repent.
I had convinced myself that the adulterous situation really wasn’t my business. None of these people were full-time employees of the Moody Bible Institute. I came up with all sorts of reasons to say nothing. But as members of the Body of Christ, what happens to one of us affects us all.
We are living in insane times. How insane? Consider this: Progressives believe that Russian agents infiltrated the U.S. through computer hacking to influence the U.S. election, consciously working to damage our American system of democracy and way of life. To prove this, they point to specific reports from the intelligence community. Conservatives on the other hand, dispute the entire allegation. Following their leader, they do not trust the reports and refuse to believe that Russia was a threat or even involved. Many of them like the idea of a new friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Jump in my time machine.
We are now back in the 1950’s. (I was a child then, but I remember.) What is happening? Conservatives are inflamed because of intelligence reports that Russian Soviet agents have infiltrated the U.S. government and the media. Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities committee are holding hearings trying to root out the foreign agents that want to influence and destroy our way of life. Liberal Progressives on the other hand refuse to believe the reports and decry all of it as nothing but a “witch hunt.” McCarthy is proven to be a fraud and many lives are damaged by false allegations and undeserved punishment.
But what was the truth then and what is the truth now? First, anyone who thinks that Vladimir Putin is vastly different than the communist leaders of an earlier Soviet era is frighteningly ignorant. His values, goals and strategies were shaped by the KGB. He is our enemy just as much as the Soviet leaders were in the 1950’s. The evil excesses of 1950’s conservative anticommunism served to hide the real threat of Russian spying that existed. Anticommunism created brutal distractions that actually helped our enemies. The real Russian threat led to the Soviets stealing American nuclear secrets and creating their own bomb.
Both progressives and conservatives need to stop acting like vicious gangs of street urchins out to destroy each other. The external threats are real. Now they come from both Russia and the People’s Republic of China, a country well-known for infiltrating the U.S. with their agents. Donald Trump is not going to negotiate us into great relationships with these countries. Greed is the driving force of the U.S., but there are far deeper forces at work in both Russia and China.
Russian intrusion into our election should be a wake-up call for progressives. While they were right to stand against oppression and false accusation in the 1950’s, they were dangerously wrong to discount the threat entirely, just as conservatives are dangerously wrong to discount the threat right now.
Our collective immaturity has metastasized into collective insanity. We cannot survive this way for long.
Part I: Seeing the Story
Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears,
That I might weep day and night
For the slain of the daughter of my people!
Oh, that I had in the wilderness
A lodging place for travelers;
That I might leave my people,
And go from them!
For they are all adulterers,
An assembly of treacherous men.
“And like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies.
They are not valiant for the truth on the earth.
For they proceed from evil to evil,
And they do not know Me,” says the Lord.
“Everyone take heed to his neighbor,
And do not trust any brother;
For every brother will utterly supplant,
And every neighbor will walk with slanderers.
Everyone will deceive his neighbor,
And will not speak the truth;
They have taught their tongue to speak lies;
They weary themselves to commit iniquity.
Your dwelling place is in the midst of deceit;
Through deceit they refuse to know Me,” says the Lord.
The words of Jeremiah, the prophet. (Jeremiah 9:1-6, The Old Testament)
In 1948 a novel was published entitled, Cry, the Beloved Country. Critics considered it one of the top three novels published that year. I read the book many years ago and have never forgotten it. The author was Alan Paton and the story is about the tragedy of South Africa. The novel was a call for social justice, but on the deepest level it was a call for compassion, understanding and unity between races. Shortly after it was published, Apartheid was institutionalized. Cry, the Beloved Country is a very “Christian” novel by a white man who loved his country and all the people in it. It is a heartbreaking story about two fathers, white and black, and the tragedy of their sons. It’s a story about forgiveness and reconciliation. Paton mourned for his country. I have taken his title for this essay because any far-sighted person who loves America will be crying out in mourning for her right now because, as with Jeremiah’s nation of Judah so long ago, she has become a nation of slanderers, adulterers and liars who practice nothing but deceit. Her people have chosen just such a man to be their leader and the father of their country. In such a nation, who is left to mourn?
Certainly, there’s plenty of crying going on.
Many are shedding tears of shrieking fury, calling for retaliation, confrontations, boycotts, even violence. Putative “defenders of liberty”, they are bent on attacking and destroying anyone or anything that symbolizes their loss and impotence. If they can’t have the “America” they want, they would just as soon annihilate her. Many of these hate-filled ranters lust for the brutal martial law of progressive fascism in order to stop the cold, iron fist of conservative fascism, not realizing that they are conjoined to their conservative twin, locked face-to-face with him, even as they try to beat him to death.
Then there are those utterly blind “patriots” who are crying out with joy and hope, believing that their way of life has been saved. Their political messiah is rising to power. They gloat over the hand-wringing and enraged wails of those they despise. After the dark orgasm of their unexpected electoral victory, with beating hearts and glazed eyes they stare eastward toward their Rising Son in Washington, rigorously choosing conscious ignorance of the evil they have unleashed, looking only for evidence that their desperate choice was right. Predictably, at this moment they are finding it. But what is the reality? Addicted to fantasies about America, they have begged for a wolf to shepherd them. They will get what they have desired. These are the two Americas that now exist. If you can’t find a home in either one, you are a person without a country. But it is only those without a country who will understand how to mourn for the one that is lost.
A bloody line has been drawn in the sand. It is the line of demarcation between the past and future. Our national heritage has been burned to ashes by both the left and the right. What hulking, twisted monstrosity will rise from those ashes is yet to be seen, but it is forming quickly out of a vicious, primordial ooze. I love America, therefore I mourn over her death. And I ask this question:
Who is this man who has been “anointed” to lead us?
Who is President Donald Trump? Who is he really? Both his ranting enemies and his gushing sycophants think they know him. His enemies view him as nothing but an ignorant, dangerous, brutal buffoon. Dangerous and brutal he is, but an ignorant buffoon he is not. During the campaign, his most successful strategy was to hide his true intelligence behind a screen of aggravating rants, making his enemies believe he is only a tweeting fool. That strategy will go on through his presidency. While these rants display his dark and dissolute soul, they also serve a powerful strategic purpose. They are a screen of propaganda that turn his opponents into a gaggle of outraged, gibbering halfwits. While they are focused on the foul odor of ugly trivialities, a river of moral sewage flows past totally unnoticed. During the campaign, his opponents were guilty of the most dangerous mistake that can be made when confronting an enemy, they minimized him, refusing to take him seriously until it was too late.
At the same time, Trump’s ranting propaganda screen served another vital purpose. His fearless, thug-like performances gave voice to millions of enraged citizens who had been strangled into silence by Barack Obama and his snide, preening coterie of sophisticated political enforcers in government, media and the academic world. Trump was entirely successful in making a majority of Americans, lost and living in pain somewhere between New York and California, believe that he understood their frustration and was concerned about their plight. How wrong they are will be revealed. So back to our question, who is this man? Who is he really?
When I wrote back in July of 2016 that Donald Trump’s election was inevitable, most thought I was deluded. I based that conclusion on his long-established character and the terrible moment in history in which he has appeared. In other words, his vile story and how it meshed with our sin-reeking national agony. What I am writing here is a continuation of what I wrote then. But before I begin, let me explain how I have come to my conclusions.
They control everything. Believing the wrong stories is at the heart of so much individual and collective heartbreak and destruction. Believing the wrong story will lead you to hell, both now and forever. There are no new stories, only variants of age-old premises and themes. There is no new sin, no new evil, only variants of age-old temptations that promise pleasure and fulfillment, but lead to destruction. I believe that President Trump and his rise to power is just another iteration of a story that has played out in other countries in other times. What I see for him is based in part on those previous stories.
Every story flows out of the characters that live within it. So before you read what I have written here, I suggest that you read two previous essays on this blog. The first is How to Elect a President from Hell, written in February of 2016 and then, Over Man: The Temptation of Donald Trump, written in July of 2016. Think of them as character descriptions.
Nine principles that lead to a story from hell.
There are nine principles that have provided the superstructure for my projections about President Trump and the story that all of us will live out with him. I’m sure you will recognize most of them.
- When you are trying to understand a person, the past is predictive of the future. Without radical transformation, usually compelled by deep suffering in one form or another, people continue to be who they’ve always been as they grow older, only more so. Deep suffering doesn’t necessarily make you a better human being. It can turn a good person into a demon. But one way or the other, it is an important agent that guarantees change. Barring radical transformation, the longer people live, the more entrenched they are in patterns both of success and failure. Those who continuously fail see no way out. Even in their agony, they are comfortable in patterns of failure because it’s all they have known. Conversely, if a person construes that his attitudes, values, choices and actions have brought great success, he is not going to change them even if ultimately they lead him to hell. Saddest and most dangerous of all are people who convince themselves that their greatest failures are their greatest successes.
- Lord Acton’s famous rule is true. Here it is in full: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Of course, there are different degrees of “badness” and even the most evil have had some good traits. We don’t like to believe this. We have been trained to believe that a powerful leader is fully one or the other. Consequently, when we face reality we are confused.
According to Adolph Hitler’s last personal secretary who spent several years in close contact with him, he was a man who truly cared about his staff and was deeply concerned for their personal welfare. In her case, he tried in the most fatherly way to help her choose the right husband. He never abused his staff and was always kind. When she heard about the heinous genocide that he had perpetrated, she had a difficult time accepting that it could be true. It was so opposite from her knowledge of the man. It is dangerous to stereotype demagogues. They never reappear in quite the same form. For instance, calling Donald Trump Hitler is foolish. When he doesn’t act like Hitler or share all of Hitler’s values, that kind of rigid stereotype, when proven false, hides the real danger of the man.
That old moralist, Lord Acton, understood a great truth. People are always tempted toward corruption when they are given power, even if it’s only a little power. But this corruption is never a 180 degree redirection. It’s based on who the person has always been, but did not have the opportunity to fully reveal until power was conferred.
- The masses always demand a king and thirst to be ruled. “King” may not be the title given to a national leader, but it comes down to that. Why do we want a king (or queen)? Because collectively without such a leader there is chaos. We are sheep without a shepherd and we want a father(mother)shepherd to take care of us. Without a king we have no collective identity. We don’t know who we are. We worship kings with our passionate allegiance. This has been true throughout history. For centuries in England, the common people viewed the King as their protector against the great lords who oppressed them. Whether this was true or not, whether he was worthy or not, they clung to their king as their father, during some periods even believing that he could physically heal them with his touch. When a wise, compassionate and disciplined person is raised to such a position of authority, a country is blessed. When an evil man or woman is raised up, nations are taken down to the pit. But one thing is certain, bad or good, once he is established in their minds and hearts, people will follow their king no matter where he leads, even to destruction. The President of the United States truly is the father of his country and his children bear his resemblance.
- What a king or president worships will determine how he uses power. And every king or president worships something or someone. In fact, this is true for all of us. Who or what we worship determines everything in our lives. By worship, I mean revering and placing deep faith in something or someone. It could be a powerful person, religion, philosophy or ideology. It could be a myth. Adolph Hitler worshipped a fantasy Germany that he constructed in his own mind, an ancient land of power and greatness that was far above all other lands. He worshipped the German “Volk”, the Aryan people, and viewed them as infinitely superior to all other races, which gave them rights over others. He viewed himself as ordained to be their father and protector. His idolatrous worship controlled every decision he made and destroyed the country that he loved.
It is clear from his actions that Barack Obama worships an ideology and considers himself the Chosen One to plant it around the world leading America and other nations out of darkness into his enlightened worldview. The worship of his ideology made him a teacher constantly lecturing the less sophisticated. It informed every decision in his use of power. It blinded him from understanding that he was creating the perfect environment for the rise of Donald Trump.
Worship includes accountability. To what or to whom does a king or president view himself as accountable? In democratic societies, we love to believe that a leader answers to the people. However, until elections occur this is a vacuous generalization. The truth is that most modern democratic leaders worship the power that keeps them in office. That power is money and the people who provide it. In the case of Donald Trump, because he is wealthy, he claims to answer to no one but the voter. But does he really believe that he is accountable to them? Of one thing we can be certain, what President Trump really worships will control his every action in office, just as it has done for the 70 years of his previous life.
- Cults of personality are essential to spiritual wolves and demagogues. When you see these cults, whether in churches, businesses or governments, it is a prime indicator that you are dealing with a ravenous wolf in leadership. No matter how far back you go in history, or where you go, the most brutal kings have established and maintained their power by the creation and promotion of cults of personality. Modern dictators have done the same. Demagogues want everyone to worship them and they promote their deification through very specific strategies.
In America, we are not used to blatant cults of personality relating to Presidents. Certainly, they have existed, but in more subtle forms. Blatant forms have been limited to relatively trivial groups such as Hollywood stars, celebrities, sports figures, and musicians. We now have a President who has been committed to the creation of a blatant cult of personality throughout his adult life. He calls this cult his “brand.” As President that cult will only grow and his followers will be anxious to help it grow.
- America has become a “B” level Hollywood movie. Hollywood has swallowed the nation. The irony is that the masters of Hollywood hate what they have created in Donald Trump. And to a massive degree, Donald Trump is their creation. Without his Hollywood stardom he would be nothing. But, if possible, the influence of Hollywood on the politics of America is far more subtle and devastating than even the Trump election. On both the left and the right, a simplistic Black Hat/White Hat definition of reality now controls all political/governmental thinking and actions. Like the protagonists of cliché Hollywood films and television, the politicians we choose to follow can do no evil, while those on the other side, the antagonists, can do no good. (Actually, the concept of “evil” no longer exists in America. We consider use of the term to be “judgmental” and “narrow-minded.” The only acceptable time it can be used is applying it to politicians and political parties that we hate, the Black Hats.) There can be no compromise with our opponents because heroes don’t compromise. Hollywood has taught us that our protagonist in the white hat must destroy his adversaries in order for the story to have a satisfactory ending. This spells the ultimate doom of a government built on the need for compromise. Barack Obama had little interest in compromise, neither has Donald Trump. The pendulum swings toward destruction.
- In 21st century America, pure emotion trumps wisdom every time. (Pun intended.) This goes hand-in-hand with point six. How we feel controls all our choices. Like Pavlov’s dogs we have been conditioned to have specific desires, lusts, hungers, hatreds and fears. This conditioning has come through the storytelling of popular culture and carefully executed strategies designed to market products, people and ideas. While we are certain that it’s otherwise, logic and rationality play little significant part in our conditioned decisions. We follow blindly and believe the lies of leaders who promise to give us what we have been indoctrinated to “need”. We hate truth if it does not agree with our emotions. At the most destructive spiritual level, we have been programmed to call truth falsehood and falsehood truth. We are no longer able to discern between good and evil. In fact, on any objective level, such concepts do not exist in 21st century America. Good and evil are only what we want them to be. Emotion is all that matters. Social media collectivizes and inflames our emotional responses. Like cattle going to slaughter, through Social Media we obediently group ourselves into separate pens and think that we are free.
- Democracy doesn’t work. The United States government cannot function as originally intended. The miracle is that it has staggered along as far as it has. How was it intended to function? People of goodwill and strong opinions, representing constituencies of goodwill and strong opinions, would come together, discuss, negotiate and find compromise in order to govern. This assumed that no issue would be absolutely intractable. That was proven false with slavery, which developed into issues of racism and discrimination. These remain intractable today. Adding to this is the intractable issue of abortion on demand and a range of other moral issues over which there will be no compromise.
What national unity existed in our distant past was based on the shared morality of Judeo/Christianity. Such shared morality is long gone, leaving us with the chaos of a moral and political paganism, the worship of many ideological gods who war against each other. As the influence of Judeo/Christianity waned through the decades, only two potentially unifying factors remained, war and prosperity. After the Civil War until Vietnam, a common danger and a common enemy could unify the nation. It no longer does so. Which leaves only one potentially unifying factor, prosperity.
Though various groups had specific agendas in their support for Donald Trump, there was one desire that unified them all. He was elected based on the promise of renewed prosperity, which he termed, “Making America Great Again.” What will happen when this project fails?
- Though the mills of God grind slowly; yet they grind exceeding small; though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all. (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) This is the Ultimate Principle that will determine the national story of President Donald Trump. You may not believe what I’m going to say because you are not a “religious” person. But your belief or lack thereof doesn’t mean a damnable thing as far as whether it’s true or not. Time will tell. So here it is: God has established a moral order, a set of equations if you will, that govern human life. I’m going to present one of them here that governs all our choices including our choice of leaders. We disregard it to our everlasting peril. With the election of Donald Trump it was utterly disregarded, most of all and worst of all, by so many in the Christian church, people who claim to believe the Bible, but clearly do not.
Let’s call this the Reciprocal Law of Greed and Ruin.
When you disobey this law you will get the exact opposite of what you had desired. What is the first element of this moral equation? 1 Timothy 6:9-10 states: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
When you love and worship money, you may experience great success for a while, but ultimately what you will get is ruin. America worships money. With every lottery ticket sold, every visit to a casino, every family carrying massive credit card debt, every Black Friday mall mob shrieking and tearing at each other, every “prosperity” preacher flying in a private jet, every usurious, multi-national bank and ravenous corporation, every intimidating panhandler, every mega-church with a Starbucks in the lobby, every burglar who steals and sells, every Congressperson who enters office with little and leaves a millionaire, with every lust for things we cannot afford and do not need, we prove that money is the god of America and of our lives. Let’s be honest, the word “prosperity” as it is used in America today, is nothing more than a sophisticated term for the love of money and all that we think money will provide.
How does ruin come to money worshipers? Our Bible passage warns that such love of money will blind people, causing them to fall into deadly snares and traps. Not “may” fall into them, will fall into them. Foolish and harmful lusts will drown the worshipers of money in destruction and perdition. If this is true for individuals, certainly it is true for a nation entirely populated with such individuals. We are warned that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. That means evil choices of every sort, including what leaders we follow.
So the first element in the equation is spiritual and moral blindness caused by the love of money that leads to hellish decisions, and, ultimately, to destruction and perdition. But for a moment, let’s think about that word “root.” We are warned that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Plants grow from roots. This leads to the second element in the equation.
Jesus said that people are like plants and every one of us bears a particular kind of fruit. In Matthew 7:15-20 He warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
But wait! This assumes one important fact, that we are able to distinguish good fruit from bad. But if we are under the control of the first element of our equation, blinded by the love of money, worshiping the god of prosperity, all such ability to discern is lost. Very easily we could think that bad fruit is good and good fruit is bad. We may look at a false prophet who presents himself to lead us and think the evil fruit of his life is wonderful, even proof of God’s blessing. False prophets come in many forms, but one trait is found in them all. They lie to blind people, telling them what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. This describes the blind American electorate on both the left and the right. It describes much of the Christian church in America.
Blinded as we are, we cannot stop hearing and believing pretty lies. We do not have the ability to see the real fruit growing from the life of a false leader. We don’t want answers to the most important questions. Has our chosen leader lived to fulfill his own lusts? Has he destroyed and damaged people around them? Has he set traps to snare the foolish and advance himself? Has he worshiped money? Jesus warns not to follow such a person because he will be cut off and thrown into the fire and will take many with him.
The second element in our equation that leads to ruin logically follows the first. To morally and spiritually blind people add an attractive false leader who tells them lies that they believe.
When these two elements are in place, what is the guaranteed sum and product of the equation? What will be the end result for those who disbelieve and disobey God’s warnings? It’s found in Galatians 6:7-8: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption…”
The mill of God grinds slowly, but it grinds exceedingly fine. This is true for both individuals and nations. America is entering that crushing mill.
So back to our question, who is Donald Trump and where is his story headed?
Of all the men who have ever been president, Mr. Trump has worshiped money and the power it brings more than any other. His life is one of overweening arrogance, lavish opulence, stunning greed and gross excess. He has been proud of his lusts and moral failures. He has grown fat and wealthy in large part by ensnaring foolish, greedy and addicted people into believing his lies. What man who has ever entered the presidency who so fits the pattern that guarantees God’s promised destruction as Donald Trump? Foolish people think that because it has not come yet it never will. Because of our national choice, when the poison cup arrives, we will drink it with him to the dregs.
So who is President Trump really? He is the perfect leader to bring America to destruction. Look in his face, listen to his words, examine his life. Not only is he Nietzsche’s Over Man, he is the human personification of the false pagan god, Mammon.
And what madness is this?
Untold millions of American Christians have placed their faith in such a man to save their country. Clearly, for them, God can be mocked with impunity. In placing their faith in President Mammon to bring prosperity, they have directly disobeyed the commandment found in Psalms 146:3-4: “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish.”
If ever a United States President has sown to the flesh over the course of his entire life it is Donald Trump. By our choosing him to save us and “make America great again” we have totally disregarded the guaranteed outcome of an eternal equation. Since we have chosen him to be our national father, his ultimate corruption will be ours.
In Part Two the analysis will continue followed by the projected story.
Mourn for the beloved country. Over Man is here.
One of Donald Trump’s mansions
Stories rule the world. Which stories we believe and which ones we refuse to believe control everything we do. They control all relationships, either building or destroying them. Obviously, some stories are true and others are not. Choosing to believe the true ones and rejecting those that lie should be the core of human existence. And each one of us is living out a very personal story. For too many, those personal stories are so filled with pain that the man or woman in the middle of them can barely stand to live. They do whatever they can to escape. The entertainment industry of Hollywood is built entirely on stories and not just the ones that make it to the screen. It’s built on the personal stories of the creators. Out of those flow scripts. And out of scripts flows a view of life.
I’m a professional storyteller. Right now the focus for that is The Burning Zone podcast. I named it after a short-lived series I created that appeared on UPN back in the mid-90’s. What happened writing and producing that series is a little story about hell for me. I won’t tell it right now. Several of my Facebook friends were involved in that series. They know.
Comments are coming in from people who are listening to the podcast. I appreciate all of them. I talk about a lot of things on it that sane humans are afraid to touch. For instance, I get into near death experiences, night terrors, UFO’s and abduction and dark spirit healing. And that’s only the start.
One of the craziest TV series I worked on was called M.A.N.T.I.S. Running the show was my old friend, Bryce Zabel. He’s a past president of the Television Academy and creator of the Dark Skies TV series. A couple of years ago he co-authored the book A.D. After Disclosure that deals with the potential impact of UFO disclosure on the world. He was kind enough to ask me to write a couple of paragraphs for his book about the Christian perspective toward the UFO phenomenon. He’s one of the most knowledgeable people around on the subject and we spent many hours in deep conversation. Those were great talks. That’s one of the things I love about Hollywood people. We don’t care if anyone thinks we’re crazy.
Also on this podcast I talk about the Bible, the strangest and most wonderful book in the world. But you should know that I don’t do it from the perspective of being a theologian or professional Bible scholar. I’ve never been a pastor. Churches should be thankful for that. I could never put up with all the crap that pastors, priests and rabbis have to deal with. I’d just kill people and let God deal with them. Hang a few idiots from the choir loft and the whole congregation would settle down. It’s so much easier to be patient and understanding of dead people. So here’s what I do on the podcast. I approach all the subjects, including the Bible, from three sets of experiences:
First, as an old soldier. All soldiers, especially old combat soldiers, are endless storytellers. Get a group of old soldiers together and it doesn’t take a couple of beers before for the stories start flowing. Several years ago, we were visiting the Washington, D.C. area. Carel got a chance to meet a group of her cousins that she’d never met before. They invited us to their home for a barbecue. Several of her cousins were vets from my war era. One of them had been a combat helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Needless to say, the old vet crap started flowing. “Got yourself shot up, huh? Couldn’t keep your ass down. Yeah, you took a couple of bullets, but you got to sleep in a nice, dry bed every night. I slept in the mud.” There’s an old adage, women compliment each other and don’t mean it. Men insult each other and don’t mean it.
At the barbecue, all of us old vets were given a simple assignment. Go outside and cook the meat on the grill while the women prepared the rest of the meal. After an hour or so, the women came out wondering what in the world was taking so long. We hadn’t even started cooking. We were telling one dark, awful story after another and screaming with laughter. These were guys that I had just met, but we were instant old friends. Every vet will understand exactly what I’m saying. So I approach all the subjects on the podcast including the Bible as an old soldier. How do you stay alive and sane in a world that’s growing darker and more dangerous by the day? Why am I a Christian? In the face of life and death, I consider it the only rational alternative. But the stories of old soldiers can be very dark.
Second, I approach subjects on the podcast as a mentalist. As you may know, I am a member of the Academy of Magical Arts at the world-famous Magic Castle of Hollywood. What is a mentalist? A mentalist is a specialist in illusion and delusion. It has been said that a mentalist uses the five senses to create the illusion of a sixth. As a mentalist I can appear to read minds, control free choices, predict the future, and even make inanimate objects obey my mental commands. These are demonstrations of strange power. Some of my Facebook friends have experienced one of my programs.
As a mentalist you realize how easy it is to utterly fool people. Even the most intelligent people are like sheep. For me this is a problem. As a mentalist, in doing a program I can never allow people to go away believing I have psychic power. While never telling anyone exactly how I perform strange demonstrations, at a certain point I stop and as clearly as possible inform my audiences that everything they have seen is an illusion, a trick of the mind, and that I have no more psychic power than a wooden chair. I just know simple and subtle secrets about how to create illusion and delusion.
Do you know that even after being as clear as possible about all of that, after a program there have been people who have come up and said, “I know you told us it was a trick, but when you looked at me I could feel you entering my mind.” I would argue with them. THAT is the illusion. Whatever you felt it was completely inside your own skull and I was never there. If I really had such power, why would I say it was all a fake? And on and on.
Mentalism is built on weaving stories that take control of your mind. Why is it so powerful? Because people don’t want to know the truth. They want to believe lies. I can’t live with that which definitely limits opportunities to perform. I insist on telling the truth. Ultimately, that means in a presentation that I talk about Jesus Christ, who said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” There’s going to come a day, and it isn’t far off, when I will have to answer to the Greatest King of the universe for everything I’ve ever said and done. I’ve got quite enough to answer for without consciously lying to people about my “psychic” power.
Many years ago, Carel and I did a series of mentalism programs in northern Minnesota. They were sponsored by Youth for Christ and had been advertised in the local newspaper. I made a sealed prediction weeks in advance about headlines, with the newspaper keeping my prediction until the night of the show when it was opened by a committee. (My mentalist friends will know exactly how all of this is done.)
The first show was in a theater and it was one of the strangest performing experiences of my life. I didn’t realize it, but half the audience was made up of New Age occultists who hated me because they thought I was a debunker (partly true) and the other half was made up of Christians who hated me because they thought I was a psychic out to corrupt their faith. The first person I called to come up from the audience to help with a demonstration glared at me and said, “I’m not helping you.” That was a fun night.
Carel and I performed Beyond Reality, for churches and other groups across the mid-west. Then we moved to California and it ended. Partly that was because my career got very busy and I didn’t have the time to maintain the craft. But there was another reason as well. Churches were afraid to invite us in. I discovered that California evangelical/charismatic/Pentecostal Christians were some of the most frightened, superstitious people I had ever met. In one of the few programs we did in recent years, I had people get up and leave in fear before I could get to the point in the program where I told them what was going on.
So I approach the podcast with a mentalist’s understanding of how powerful stories can be, especially lying stories. But I am not a materialist or rationalist. I know from my own deep study how Dark Powers of evil really work and what they can do. And that is very frightening indeed.
Third I approach the podcast as a Hollywood storyteller, a former writer, executive producer/showrunner and television series creator. During my career over the span of just a few years, I sold three dramatic series to various networks. Each of those series was the only new dramatic series that network picked up for the fall season.
My friends in the industry know how impossible that is. It borders on the miraculous. Many excellent television writers go through their entire careers and never see a single series that they have created appear on the screen. What it meant for me was brutal conflict. I’ve been shot so many times I think my body is mostly air. Why was it so? Because the great battle of the world is between opposing stories and storytellers. If you care more about telling the truth than you do about success, well…get ready for war.
So the things I talk about on the podcast that deal with the Bible are things I have learned on the battlefields of life and story. As you listen, you will learn what I believe and some of what I have experienced. That may be disturbing to you. All I can promise is that it’s honest. In a month, I turn 71. In The Burning Zone (the fiery zone of my life and career) I tell you what I have learned and what I know to be true.
Thanks for listening.
They cover strange subjects such as what I have called, The Cult of Spirit Healing, terror that comes in the night and near-death experiences. I wrote a scene on The Equalizer television series that was based on a true near-death experience. I talk about the basis for that scene in one of these episodes. If you would like to see that Equalizer scene, here it is.
Several years ago I began giving monthly talks to a group of Hollywood professionals. They covered a wide range of subjects, everything from strange events and manifestations in the distant past, to disturbing things that are happening now. We talked about culture. We talked about the Christian faith and how to live it in a difficult environment. Of course, I included many Hollywood stories from my career.
While the talks were geared toward people in the entertainment industry, much that was said applies to everyone. I thought that you might find them interesting, so I’m kicking off The Burning Zone podcast by posting them. The series was entitled The Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Hollywood. The first four are up and I will be posting about one a week. I hope you enjoy them.