My Own Hot-Mic Moment

trump-hot-mic

In case you haven’t heard, Donald Trump lost a lot of votes recently when a 2005 video surfaced of his vulgar comments about women. Trump’s campaign wasn’t going so well anyway, but he seemed to have a chance. Barring a miracle, his hot-mic moment has now made victory extremely unlikely.

I once had my own hot-mic moment, so I’m pretty sensitive to this sort of thing. I don’t make lewd comments about women, so my personal hot-mic episode had nothing to do with anything like that. It happened more than 20 years ago when I was a pastor going through a nasty church split.

If you’ve never gone through a church split, you are very fortunate. All I can say is that Christians seldom act like Christians when a massive split is underway.

One of the disgruntled members of our church had once been a very good friend of mine. I’ll call him Ralph to protect is identity, because I don’t think he would want me writing a blog about him.

One day Ralph came, unannounced, to my office at the church and said he wanted to talk.

“Jim, I know the source of the problem that’s been causing the church’s disunity,” he told me quite earnestly. “You’ve been operating under a Jezebel spirit, and the disunity has been coming from you.”

If I had been having a better day and was full of the Holy Spirit, I may have reacted with more grace and humility. Or perhaps I may have even chuckled a little that he would make such an unfounded accusation.

But I was weary that day…frustrated…and irritated that this once-upon-a-time friend would now be one of my greatest adversaries.

“Ralph, you may be right about that Jezebel thing,” I shot back at him. “But I’m not the one it’s coming from.”

The conversation quickly degenerated as I listed three or four people who seemed to me to be operating in a divisive spirit. Defending myself as a man of peace and integrity, I slammed those I saw as troublemakers.

As you can imagine, Ralph left even more agitated than he came in. He was convinced I had stubbornly rejected the heaven-sent message he had brought me in the name of the Lord.

Within 24 hours, I learned that Ralph had secretly recorded our unseemly conversation with a hidden recorder. He played back the recording for his disgruntled friends as clear evidence that I was slandering members of the church.

Although more than 20 years have passed since my hot-mic moment, the memories still hurt. I’ve long since forgiven Ralph, and hopefully he has forgiven me as well. But I was disappointed at him, and even more disappointed in myself.

What a painful lesson. And what a reminder that we probably should treat every conversation as if it was being recorded for public consumption.

In fact, everything we speak is being recorded, as Jesus warned: “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36 ESV).

Have you ever had a hot-mic moment? Have you said something that did great damage to other people or to your own reputation?

Ironically, Hillary Clinton has had her own problems with unwise words. While she seemed to take great delight in Trump’s problems with the hot mic, WikiLeaks is now releasing hacked transcripts of her Wall Street speeches and confidential email communications of her staff. Some of her top staffers have written derogatory things about Catholics, evangelicals, Hispanics, Bernie Sanders’ supporters, and just about everyone else you can imagine.

The leaked emails from Hillary’s campaign make it clearer than ever that she is a very dishonest person, taking completely different positions in private than in public. And the emails demonstrate that the Clinton Foundation undoubtedly was involved in pay-for-play access to Hillary’s connections while at the State Department.

It’s a bit troubling that privacy is apparently now a thing of the past for any of us. Yet this wouldn’t be such a problem if we were heeding Jesus’ warning: “There is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light” (Mark 4:22).

So very true. And at times so very painful.

The apostle Paul said it this way: “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT). Let’s never forget that our words are incredibly powerful, able to impart either life or death to others (Proverbs 18:21).

If anything good can come out of this election, perhaps it will be a reminder to each of us to be careful of what we say or write. You never know when someone may be watching, listening, or even recording.

And even if no one on earth hears our words, we can be sure the tape recorder in heaven is running 24/7.

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What Kind of Missionary Are YOU?!

All of us who profess to be followers of Christ are missionaries, whether we realize it or not. We may be good missionaries or bad ones, but the Lord has left each of us on this earth as part of His mission to spread the gospel and fill the whole world with His glory (Habakkuk 2:14).

In the mid-1970s I was just completing law school, and was given my first client in the school’s legal clinic program. It was a traffic violation, and my client, Geneva Clark, had been charged with rear-ending another vehicle. Not only that, but her driver’s license had been suspended and was invalid at the time of the accident. And, to make matters worse, Geneva was drunk at the time of the accident.

When the police officers arrived at the accident scene, they reported that Geneva was “strutting boisterously and unclad” in the center of Broad Street, one of the main roads in town. When they charged her with disorderly conduct, she resisted arrest—so they charged her with that too.

Here I was, an intern with the legal clinic, wanting to do well in my first case. Approaching Geneva before we went before the judge, I told her my pessimistic assessment of her case. “Well, Mrs. Clark, I have reviewed your file, and as far as I can see, you have no defense at all.”

Geneva listened politely, and then with a twinkle in her eye started rummaging around in her oversized purse. “Don’t worry, young man,” she assured me calmly. “I have something to show the judge that will help.” She finally found what she was looking for, a rather crumpled-looking card of some kind.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, this is my missionary card,” she replied seriously. “We’ll show this to the judge and he will understand that I’m a missionary…doing God’s work!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. There may be some areas of the world where a missionary can be effective by “strutting boisterously and unclad,” but Broad Street in Columbus, Ohio, was definitely not such a place. All I could reply to Geneva was, “Somehow I don’t think that will help your case.”

This admittedly is a rather extreme example, but it shows how the world often looks at those who name the name of Christ. Instead of allowing Him to transform our character and manifest His sweet aroma, we end up living like the devil and then trying to use the name of Jesus to cover up for ourselves.

There will never be an impactful revival of Biblical outreach unless it is accompanied by a revival of Biblical character. Before Isaiah was ready to say, “Here am I! Send me,” his sins were purged by burning coals from the altar of God (see Isaiah 6:1-8). Before we can spread the holy fire, it first must be allowed to do its work in our own lives.

So, what kind of missionary are you?  When people look at your life, do they truly see Jesus or just a repulsive religious caricature?

In order to influence people for Christ, they must want what we have. I pray you are living that kind of life today, full of the Holy Spirit and radiating His fruit in every situation (Galatians 5:22-23).

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President Obama and the Cherry Tree

As a kid, one of my favorite stories was the one about George Washington cutting down his father’s favorite cherry tree. According to the famous legend, when George was about six years old he wielded his new hatchet to enthusiastically chop down just about anything in sight.

His biggest accomplishment was chopping down a beautiful cherry tree, much to his father’s dismay. When confronted about this, young George hesitated but said, “I cannot tell a lie. I’m the one who cut down your cherry tree.”

Rather than punishing George for destroying the cherished tree, his father said his son’s honesty was worth more than a thousand trees. The story displayed a lesson in integrity and accountability, showing the virtues of our nation’s first President.

I still love the story, even though most historians think it is sheer fiction. And I’ve been reflecting on the cherry tree story lately as I see how President Obama and other national leaders respond when confronted with scandals or the negative outcomes of their policies.

When something goes awry with the IRS or the Secret Service, officials often say, “I take full responsibility.” Of course, if such apologies actually meant anything, the officials would immediately resign or be fired. But that seldom happens.

And it seems President Obama is the least accountable person in our nation’s capital. After six years in office, administration officials still give the impression that the country’s economic malaise is the fault of George W. Bush or the Republicans in Congress.

And when Syria and Iraq were overrun with ISIS terrorists he once likened to Al Qaeda’s “JV team,” did President Obama take any responsibility? Not at all. Instead of shouldering any blame for the fiasco, the President explained Iraq’s downfall as the fault of National Intelligence Director James Clapper.

Not surprisingly, the intelligence community didn’t like being thrown under the bus by the President. As more of the facts came out, it became clear that Obama had been warned about the rise of ISIS for over a year. Yet he chose to ignore the warnings until there was a public outcry when ISIS started beheading people on video.

Do you see why I’ve been reflecting on the old cherry tree story? If it had been Barack Obama cutting down the cherry tree instead of George Washington, what would his response have been when confronted with the evidence?

“I cannot tell a lie,” Obama might begin. “It was James Clapper who cut down the cherry tree.”

Although the story about George Washington might be a fabrication, it reflected a commonly held view about his honesty and accountability. However, it’s hard to imagine any legends like this developing about our current President. Nothing is ever his fault. He is never the one to blame. There is always some explanation to let him off the hook and blame someone else.

But before we get too agitated about the lack of character in the oval office today, we each need to reflect on our own lives. Are we more like George Washington or Barack Obama?

If we are more like President Obama, we will want to take any credit, but never any blame. Yet that’s not true leadership. We need greater integrity than that—first in our own lives, and then in our national leaders.

 

 

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