My Thanksgiving Letter to You

My Friends,

Today is the day we set aside to express thanks for all that is in our lives. Even when things aren’t going so well, there’s so much to be thankful for. The power of thankfulness and gratefulness can get us through the snares of success, prosperity, and ease, as well as the pitfalls of lack, disappointment, and pain.

I recently read about a guy who started making a “Gratitude List” a few weeks ago and he’s been adding to it each day. He put some bad things on his list because those bad things led to personal growth that helped him move forward in life. There’s a saying, “He who has not tasted the bitter cannot appreciate the sweet.”  There’s some truth to that.  Difficult times can sometimes be seen as a blessing when viewed through the lens of hindsight.

Today, because we know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself, we can take a few minutes to think about our lives and be thankful for his amazing gift to us. If we make a “Gratitude List” like the guy I just mentioned, we might be surprised by the length of our lists. Everything God has done by adding us to his family, by sending Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God to us, was for our benefit. And since Christ purchased our lives for God, our determination is to share his truth because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” So, speak today, and every day, about the hope we share. We’ve been chosen to function with others in the church, so as God’s grace reaches more and more people through us, there will be greater thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. Let’s take on this task together.

Saints, no matter what, we need never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs any troubles we will ever face on this earth, and his glory in us will last forever!

So, we don’t focus on the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the troubles we are experiencing now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Today our nation pauses for Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful. We are blessed.

Pastor Ted

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Rescuing The Dying American Church

We are what we love. If that’s true, the church is off track. We’ve stopped highlighting repentance, humility, holiness, self-sacrifice, and eternal judgment and have replaced these core values with wealth, influence, leadership training, fun, marketing, and lust.

The Bible says a double-minded person is unstable, and should not expect to receive anything from the Lord (see James 1:7). So since we’ve confused attendance and political connections with spiritual authority, and we’ve exchanged pleasing God with pleasing people, we’ve entered into a death spiral as a church. Prayer rooms are empty unless the music and leadership are just right, and consecration to God is treated as obsolete or boring.

The admonitions that “believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position, and the rich should be humble because, after all, they will pass away like a wild flower” are ignored because we’ve become a backslidden worldly church.

But there is always hope. James 4:8 writes, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

But our current church leadership is so deceived they don’t perceive that they are the sinners, nor do they believe they need to purify their hearts. Why? Because their churches are full, their bank accounts are bulging, and they are surrounded by people who think their leaders are godly.

I’ve seen this first hand. Humble, kindhearted men of God love service, prayer, and the Scriptures. But that all changes when the cameras come on. It’s as if they become drunken with the spirits of this world for power, money, and prestige. Then they spiral into a stupor of superficial appearances of godliness, but the true spiritual power is gone. No longer is depending on the power of the Gospel the basis of their existence, but the influence they have on others takes its place.

David wrote about it in Psalm 51:17,

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Ezra 9:6 says it perfectly.

 I prayed,

“O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens.

Isaiah 57:15 says,

The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
the Holy One, says this:
“I live in the high and holy place
with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.

As I am writing this blog, I am reminded of a young man who was living in squalor. His family had provided a house where he lived with his young son, who was increasingly delayed in his development because of the environment of immorality and drug abuse in his home. Every bedroom was filled with trash, dirty mattresses, discarded condoms, and used needles.

The man needed help and was willing to repent and return to Christ, but he didn’t know where to begin. A crew from our church helped clean his house, and then funded the young man and his son to move out of state to a dependable family member where they could get a fresh start. The church also worked with him to get his teeth fixed, get free from his former addictions, and to start his education. Now time has passed. The young man is now gainfully employed, married, has a beautiful new son. His other son is now in above normal ranges cognitively and behaviorally. No more developmental delay.

Every one of us who has been bound by the power of depravity and selfishness and then set free by Christ knows exactly why we deeply despise sin and earnestly love the Lord and his people.

Psalm 97:10 says,

You who love the Lord, hate evil!
He protects the lives of his godly people
and rescues them from the power of the wicked.

Our hope is for our leaders to go unannounced to the mountaintop with no publicity, no cameras, and no publicly announced agenda, to press through for a private and powerful meeting with God. Most of them will need to unwind from the adrenaline that has been driving them. They will also need to leave their cell phones, energy drinks, caffeine, “medications,” and assistants at home, and stay until they push past boredom and then, like Isaiah, cry out in desperation,

It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

This can only happen by divine revelation, divine encounter, and divine devastation.

But here is the problem. Should they have an encounter like this, they will be tempted to return from the mountaintop and market this experience.

Maybe it’s time we start a new kind of secrets in the body of Christ. Maybe our leaders need to encounter the Lord, be quiet about it, and let the Lord reveal in public what has happened to them in private. That would be a refreshing change of pace, and might rescue our dying American Church.

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Everything Influences Everything

Several months ago I was teaching a class on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Techniques for Retraining Your Brain. One of the core foundations of CBT is the biopsychosocial model, which is a new word that combines our biological, psychological, and social lives. Typically we diagram this as the CBT triangle with our biology at one point, our psychology at another, and our social relationships at the third point. The premise of the triangle is that everything influences everything else on the triangle. In other words, our biology influences our social and psychological selves, our social lives influence our biological and our psychological functions, and our psychology influences our social and biological functions. There you have it. You are a biopsychosocial person.

When I teach this triangle, I can see the lights come on in people realizing that they may choose from a great number of options to improve their lives. For example, they can strengthen their mental heath through physical exercise, or improve their biological functions by thinking more positively about their lives, family, and work conditions. Everything influences everything else. Then I tell them what I think—that this model is right, but still incomplete. After all, we are spiritual beings and our spiritual lives play a dominant role in our lives, whether we realize it or not.

So I modify the CBT triangle into the Haggard Diamond. I draw a diamond with our spiritual lives at the top, then the other three dynamics at the other three points, pointing out that everything influences everything else on the diamond. In this discussion, I explain that there are professionals that advocate that any one of the four can individually heal us, but it’s not true. Everything influences everything.

Jesus was hinting at this same idea when he said in Matthew 22:37-38,

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.

To me, this is why our repentance has to be thoughtfully applied to every area of our lives to produce total change. A repentant thought life improves not just our thinking, but also our physical lives, our social lives, and our spiritual lives. When we apply repentance to our bodies, we treat our bodies increasingly like they are temples of the Holy Spirit, which ultimately strengthens our clarity of thought, our social lives, and our spiritual lives. When we apply biblical principles to our relationships, our spiritual lives grow, our bodies become healthier, and our thinking improves. And finally, the obvious—repentance is fundamentally the spiritual decision that influences everything else in our lives—resulting in the other changes, or should I say, improvements.

This is why we are never trapped—we always have hope. This is why I believe:

  • Repentance is the most positive word in the English vocabulary. 
  • Repentance is the most hopeful idea in all of humanity. 
  • Repentance causes some of the most positive feelings anyone can experience.

Repentance is a gift God gives us to improve every area of our lives. He made us so everything in our lives impacts every other area of our lives. Let’s begin again today.

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Continuing the Reformation in Our Generation

Religious tradition is sometimes more potent than Scripture itself. For that reason, we, as seekers of the truth, are compelled to question any tradition that is not based on Scripture.

Around 250 AD, the Roman Emperor demanded that Christians sacrifice to him as a god. Many Christians, out of fear of persecution or death, conceded, which resulted in a lapse in their relationship with the Church. Later these Christians regretted their actions and repented. The Church was not sure how to respond to them since many of its members who had not conceded had either been killed or suffered greatly. So the Church was not kind to those who repented, but decided to allow them back into fellowship if they would demonstrate their repentance with displays of humility through penance, sometimes for extended periods of time.

One of these acts of penance required these repentant sinners to lie across the threshold of the church door as the other worshippers who had not lapsed stepped over them to enter the church. This demonstrated the humility of the repentant and the spiritual superiority of the faithful. Other penances required by the Church varied greatly and sometimes included periods of prayer and fasting and the wearing of sackcloth and ashes.

This practice of requiring penance transitioned the Church from being a source of redemption, forgiveness, and healing into serving as a purveyor of judgment and punishment. The unintended consequence of this initial response communicated that repentance was inadequate to appropriate the benefits of the cross. Works had to be added. A belief developed in the Church that if believers sin, they have to do penance to earn forgiveness, which reflected their genuine regret and sorrow for their sins.

This practice expanded over time. When lapsed sinners (those who left the practices of the Church) returned to the Church, their confession transitioned from confession and forgiveness into an interrogation in which the severity of their sins was assessed. During confession, the Church would decide the amount of penance they were required to do in order to be forgiven. Church leaders determined that without a demonstration of sorrow and proof of a resolve to do better, repentance might not be genuine. Thus, the absolution of the sin did not occur until after the penance was completed.

As this practice became the norm, penances were sometimes protracted to the point they could not be done in a lifetime. Thus the departed remained in Purgatory (a place where, according to tradition, sinners continued to suffer until their sins were completely atoned for before they could enter Heaven). To shorten or remove suffering in Purgatory, a family member could do penance for their departed loved one, or buy indulgences (credits provided by the Church) to pay for their sins.

See the progression over time—repentance and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross were seen to fall short of redeeming the sinner who was required by the Church to perform additional acts of penance that equated with the gravity of their sin in order to receive forgiveness.

It sounds repulsive now, but penance became the way for sinners to earn God’s grace. This belief obviously led to abuses. And it was these abuses that led to the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation rejected penance as the sure path to forgiveness because it promoted the idea that repentance based on faith in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross were not adequate to redeem a sinner. The practice of penance required that sinners needed to perform additional work in order to earn forgiveness. Protestants, on the other hand, celebrated the power of repentance based on the redemptive work of Christ alone on the cross as taught in Scripture, and therefore, rejected penance.

But did we Protestants really do this?

I don’t think so.

To this day, Protestants, just like Catholics, punish, shun, excommunicate and exile sinners, we just never say it. And if a sinner is to be forgiven, we require penance for them to be restored to fellowship with the Church. Though we Protestants don’t typically institutionalize penance like the Catholics, nor do we call it that, we practice it through inflicting punitive judgments, contractual agreements, or simple silence toward the sinners which results in social stigma. This is why the biblical definition of repentance is important.  

In 332 AD Pope Damasus I ordered Jerome, a priest and theologian, to translate the Bible into Latin in order to give the Church a standard translation—which we now call the Vulgate. Jerome translated the Bible in relative seclusion in Bethlehem, completing it in 405AD. Afterwards, it became the Catholic Church’s officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible which has influenced the western Church to this day.  Yet Bible scholars believe Jerome’s biggest error was in mistranslating the Greek word metanoete as “do penance” where “repentance should have been. Metanoete literally means “re-think, or change your mind,” which is the meaning of the word repent. Therefore, repent is a more accurate translation.

That one error created a practice that has plagued the Church for centuries because it changed the Church’s role from recognizing God’s grace toward a sinner and acknowledging God’s forgiveness to assessing sinful violations and mandating punishment. Repentance was replaced with works to demonstrate humility on the part of sinners to church leaders and the devout, or maybe self-righteous, Christians. This error helped lay the foundation for wide-spread misconceptions of how the church should respond to sinners.

This is where we need to continue the Reformation in our generation.

What do the four words in the original languages of the Bible, translated correctly as repentance really mean? This answer is critical for every Christian whose faith is based on the Gospel.

The two Hebrew words used in the Bible that we translate repentance are naha and shubh. One communicates the emotion of repentance, and the other emphasizes the decisions associated with repentance.

  1. Naha—means “to feel sorry, to lament, to grieve, to sigh, or to groan.” The word literally refers to difficulty in breathing while one experiences intense emotion. It usually results in a change of behavior and character. David did not stop with feeling bad – he turned around.
  2. Shubh—means “to turn back, to make a radical change in attitude toward sin and God.” It involves both the conscious moral separation from God, and the personal decision to return to God. This word was most often used by the Old Testament prophets when they called God’s people to return to God.

There are also two Greek words that we translate repentance—metanoia and epistropho. The first word reveals the power of choice that we have to respond to God, while the second describes a change in our position and relationship with God after repentance. Combined, these two words communicate the miracle transformation that takes place in our lives when we repent, both internally and relationally.

  1. Metanoia—which expresses the internal, intellectual, and spiritual change that occurs when a sinner turns to God. The actual meaning of metanoia is “to have another mind,” “to re-think” or “to change one’s mind, attitude, and purpose regarding sin.” I believe Hebrews 9: 9, 14, 15b describe this miraculous transformation by saying,

For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer [under the Old Covenant] are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them. . . Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. . . For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant.

  1. Epistropho—which describes the distinct change of position in relation to God that takes place as a result of repentance. This word can be summarized as a spiritual positional transition into being seated in Christ (see Ephesians 2:6).

See what a denial of the Gospel we created when we translated this life-giving idea into punitive works that believers must do for the Church to prove they are repentant! We must intentionally correct this.

God revealed his heart by the way he responded to our sins. We reveal our hearts by the way we respond to another person’s sins.

We deny the Gospel when we respond to another person’s sin by demanding that they work to prove themselves repentant, or work to receive forgiveness. We are the Church. We are not the accusers of the brethren. We are not journalists who expose the sins of others, nor are we District Attorneys who are required to punish others for their sins. We are the Church, God’s institution that provides healing, restoration, redemption, and grace.

Righteousness is given to us freely by God. It is not a result of our works—which keeps us from boasting or believing that we are spiritually superior to others.  God’s authentic Church in the earth is not the gathering of the self-righteous, but of the gratefully redeemed. And our charge is to freely offer that same grace to others.

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Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Repentance?

“Repentance is an about face from sin and dead works to the living God.” That’s what theologians say. They also say, “It’s an entire change of mind resulting in a total change in life.” I think they are right, but I would also add:

  • Repentance is the most positive word in the English vocabulary. 
  • Repentance is the most hopeful idea in all of humanity. 
  • Repentance causes some of the most positive feelings anyone can experience.

So why is our culture forgetting the power of repentance and instead embracing punishment, shame, and public embarrassment as the popular responses to wrongdoing—as if those have ever produced anything good?

As we have learned recently from our politicians, enemies will highlight a person’s weaknesses and ignore his or her strengths or the good that also marks their character. And as we have also seen in the media, a person learning from mistakes, changing, and growing are given little expectation or value. The media calls it flip-flopping or being deceitful. But I know people change for the better every day. I watch it constantly. I’m a pastor, and as a Christian, I know the value, power, and hope of repentance.

This is why Paul, when preaching in Athens, as recorded in Acts 17:30b, told the people that God “. . . commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.”. 

Why? Because God wants the best for us, so he, like any good parent, wants us to get rid of the things that hurt us. So as we meet him and get to know him, his goodness motivates us to turn away from the things that are dark and destructive . . . sinful. . . in our lives.

Repentance is a wonderful gift, so when we have opportunity to repent, we need to take advantage of that opportunity. Notice that after Peter saw a group of Gentiles be baptized in the Holy Spirit, he reported, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life” (Acts 11:18, emphasis mine). When Paul was exhorting young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:25, he said, “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth” (emphasis mine). God gives us opportunity for repentance. We choose to respond or not.

This is why we should all embrace repentance with grateful hearts, and why we as a society are making a mistake by not validating repentance.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he modeled God’s gift of repentance for all of us. After he committed destructive and devastating sins, he reveals the hope we all can receive from God if we will embrace repentance. Read this passage slowly and thoughtfully, then consider going back and praying through it:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me—
now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me . . .

17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Sin is not only the negative, inappropriate, or destructive thoughts, words, and behaviors that violate our lives and those around us, and sometimes society as a whole, but it is also a violation against God and his perfect, wonderful, uplifting plan for our lives. No one wants the best for us like God does, so when we know him, we can repent, and live better lives.

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Harvey Weinstein, Stephen Paddock, and Richard Dawkins

Harvey Weinstein, Stephen Paddock, and Richard Dawkins all have something in common; they have all rejected Jesus’ exhortation to love and serve God. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is the most philosophical about it in his books explaining that God does not exist, that only delusional people could believe in God, and that science is a candle in the dark. No doubt, science has given us many blessings, advances, and light. But science is the method we use to learn about his creation, so science is not the light of the world, it’s creator is, who is Jesus.

If we accept the premise that human beings are animals, then what is the problem with eugenics, racism, and sexism? I doubt that film producer and alleged sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein or mass shooter Stephen Paddock thought much about it; but it appears they both decided that other human beings could be used for their pleasure, without much, if any, concern for the value of the others’ lives or well being.

Since many trends in society have a theological basis, I think most of the negative trends we see could be the result of individuals rejecting the reality of God and, instead, living according to animalistic tendencies.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27,

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.

When we choose to establish Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of our lives, the vast majority of the time we experience improvement. With that fundamental choice, we experience an uplift that gives us dignity and a desire to improve ourselves and to serve those around us. That decision alone seems to give us greater internal power.

When we add the teachings of apostles and prophets in the Bible to the cornerstone of Christ and his Word in our understanding, we lay a firm foundation for our lives. These foundational teachings become pillars of strength within us, transforming and empowering us to lead solid lives regardless of the difficulties that may come our way. They consist of the following:

  • Understanding the importance of repentance from dead works, which removes negative thoughts and actions from our lives and enables us to live more constructive lives.
  • Embracing faith, which engenders hope.
  • Identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, which empowers us to overcome addictions, negative tendencies, and random thought patters that consume so many.
  • Acknowledging that a loving touch actually allows virtue to flow to those we love and care about and enables us to become more empathetic, caring people. This foundational truth adds value to relationships and challenges selfish and abusive actions. Understanding the value of other human beings can transform a simple handshake into a welcoming experience.
  • Grasping the reality of our own eternal lives and the reality of the resurrection of the dead rather than cessation of existence gives meaning to our lives as well as others’ lives.
  • Knowing that we were purposefully created and will exist forever—that we are spirits living in bodies, and that someday our bodies will release us and we’ll go into eternity to live forever—and that in eternity we will face judgment by God adds responsibility and accountability to our private and public lives. It helps us understand the importance of living purposeful and meaningful lives.

The tendency we all have after reading a blog like this is to assume it’s a nice, devotional reading that is encouraging. I don’t think so. I think these ideas are vitally important for any human life to work well. It’s a matter of life and death. Last night our local news here in Colorado Springs had three lead stories:

  1. A 19-year-old boy was arrested for the stabbing deaths of his two younger siblings, both young children, and for wounding his father with the same knife. The news said he had hoped to kill his entire family and bury their bodies in the backyard so he could have the house to himself.
  2. An intoxicated man on a bridge, who was threatening others, shot at the police officers attending the situation. He was finally taken into custody, but he was probably so drunk he won’t remember much this morning. Yet after shooting at the police, he may spend the rest of his life in jail.
  3. Authorities are trying to determine which crimes a man accused of threatening people with a hatchet has committed that we don’t know about. He may have killed a popular bicyclist here in Colorado Springs as well as two little girls on a railroad bridge in Delphi, Indiana. Again, he may spend the rest of his life in jail.

Why are all these lives wasted? Perhaps it’s because of a lack of foundational truths.

We human beings need a firm foundation or our lives will crumble. Not only are we facing an opioid epidemic, but also authorities are now reporting that an anxiety epidemic is even more widespread and destructive. It’s time we understand the life Christ offers and secure our stability in him. It’s not just a good idea. It’s critical for our lives and our futures.

Once we establish Jesus as the cornerstone of our lives and lay a strong foundation based on biblical teaching, then we can build strong lives of integrity—lives which are trustworthy and dependable and can withstand any storm.

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Middle School Students Arrested for Guns and “Kill List.”

Earlier this week, parents of Sabin Middle School students here in beautiful Colorado Springs were alarmed to learn that two 13-year old boys were arrested for plotting to kill people in their middle school. The police uncovered guns and kill lists naming the people the students specifically planned to target.

This story is increasingly becoming the norm in our society and points to the fact that we human beings need a foundation in our lives much more powerful than a humanistic plea to be good. We human beings are spirit beings who will live forever, and we were created by God for fellowship with him. Otherwise, our capacity for depravity seems unlimited. I’m now convinced that any society without Christ for just one generation can easily revert to primitive values, and any person without Christ can become animalistic in their behaviors.

All human beings need Christ, and we need to be intentional about knowing him in obedience and fear. Paul said that the love of Christ constrained him, and he also said that it was because of the terror of the Lord that he persuaded men. That balance, love and fear, seems to be a necessary combination for guiding our human behavior.

Jesus said,

Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

This text combines the importance of a personal relationship with Christ with an emphasis on obedience, along with the sobering truth of eternal judgment. Accountability to God, justice, and the finality of heaven or hell—these all have a sobering effect on all who know Christ provides forgiveness, redemption, and eternal judgment. This is why EVERY HUMAN BEING needs to understand and lay a firm foundation in biblical principles. We need to build our lives on solid principles, otherwise our lives are sure to crumble.

Three thousand years ago, Isaiah the prophet stressed the importance of human beings building their lives on a reliable foundation. He says that there is a way we can structure our lives so that we “need never be shaken.” He writes in Isaiah 28:16,

Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.

So with the opioid epidemic infiltrating our entire culture, our police officers and service members being publicly disrespected, and racial tensions dominating our sporting events, the security of our lives, our families, and our society is threatened. Our world is going crazy. Late night comedians have become political annalists; tiny, insignificant nations threaten thermal-nuclear war; and hurricanes, floods, and fires ravage our most prestigious cities. It might be time for us to be more intentional about our purpose in life.

But in this environment, how do we build solid lives?

When Paul was coaching young Timothy he emphasized this principle of laying a strong foundation. In his second letter in 2 Timothy 2:19 he wrote,

But God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his” and “All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.”

We are all living a new normal that is pressing us to build strong foundations in our lives now.

At St. James Church we are addressing this issue. On Wednesday nights, we have a discussion based men’s Bible study that is a hard knocks, no nonsense, gritty examination of Scripture to extract the nuggets men need to be strong, mature men of God in our confused culture. All men, 13 years old and up, are invited to attend this meeting in order to move from the current trends of endlessly learning and listening and still not knowing to building firm foundations for our lives.

When I read news reports like the ones from Sabin Middle School, I would like to think every grandfather, father, son, and grandson would recognize the benefit of being in that meeting as often as possible. In our current culture, it might need to be a priority for the survival of sanity in your families.

In our current society, how can we take tomorrow for granted?

Too many of our men are still boys, and our boys are going off the rails. They never grow up. If, instead, we choose to build strong foundations, then these words of Hebrews 5:12-13 will not apply to us:

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right.

Middle School kids preparing for a massacre at their middle school?

We must unashamedly place Christ as the cornerstone of our lives, build a foundation consisting of strong stones of faith, and construct lives on that sure foundation that can stand in the midst of societal turmoil. Then, and only then, can our lives be the stable buildings of the Lord our families, cities, and nation need us to be.

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The Las Vegas Shooter

Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured almost 500 last Sunday night after his shooting rampage from the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino overlooking the Route 91 Harvest Festival. So far, no motive has been established. But a few preliminary facts have been reported about the shooter:

  1. He had no religious affiliation or core religious beliefs,
  2. He had no political affiliation or core political beliefs,
  3. He had few, if any, long lasting interpersonal relationships, and
  4. His favorite activity was gambling.

As I’ve read the news about this shooter, it seems to me that he subscribed to the belief that all of life is based on chance. It might be that in the coming weeks we’ll learn that he did possess a belief system that motivated him. But thus far, based on the reports I’ve read, he didn’t believe anything that would have constrained him from shooting people at the festival. It appears that to him shooting people was no different than shooting fish in a barrel, birds in the sky, or animals in the woods just for sport.

Atrocities happen, but at least we can make some sense of these atrocities when they are motivated by political or religious ideologies (however misguided), or because of a mental illness. To have someone reduce all of life to chance, making it no more than a series of random, meaningless events, and viewing people as no more meaningful than ants in a field, is alarming to all of us.

In recent blogs I’ve been describing what the writer of Hebrews lists as six basic experiences we must have with Christ that are fundamental to God’s perfect plan for our lives (Hebrews 6:1-2). I think these six experiences create foundations in our lives that allow us to become healthy participants in society. These experiences are described for us in the Scriptures to ground us, and when embraced by society, ground an entire culture. These ideas establish us, causing us to be firm and unwavering, and give us a solid footing upon which we can build our whole lives. They also cause us to value our lives and respect others’ lives, which promotes safety among all of us.

They are:

  1. Repenting from evil deeds,
  2. Placing our faith in God,
  3. Believing the doctrine of baptisms,
  4. Practicing the laying on of hands,
  5. Understanding the resurrection of the dead, and
  6. Acknowledging eternal judgment.

Each of these encounters with Christ transforms us, relieves us of impulsive living, and brings stability and goodness into our lives. And they build a world-view that empowers us to serve others. These ideas elevate humanity, cause us to value life, and result in us bringing goodness into the world instead of terror.

Our world would be very different today if Stephen Paddock would have repented of his evil deeds just two weeks ago. Think of it. If he had placed his faith in God, gone to a local church and been water baptized, and had the church leaders lay hands on him imparting God’s blessing and life, he would have never been in the news and many of those now in coffins would be alive.

If two weeks ago, Stephen Paddock would have been convinced that there is resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment, he would have become one more baby Christian, a new creation, a brand new man, maybe even attended a men’s Bible study instead of gambling. And, when he would have died, which probably would have been years in the future, he would have experienced the reality of his redemption instead of an eternal sentence of punishment and suffering.

These six foundational experiences and beliefs are key to building a good life. We don’t become instantaneously perfect, but instead we become increasingly like Christ, full of his goodness and life. We are changed for the better, our lives are not given to chance, but become purposeful, and we are able to produce good and not evil in our world.

Let’s all go to church Sunday morning and invest something good in our lives.

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A Letter To My Grandson

Christy, our oldest, and her husband, Javier, have one child, Sebastian. For his 1st birthday, Christy and Javier asked family members to write Sebastian a sealed letter that he would open on his 18th birthday. We all had to imagine what the world might be like in 17 years, what Sebastian might be like as an 18 year old, and even whether or not we would still be alive. This letter might be the only way Sebastian would have of knowing us.

Those letters have now all been tucked away in a box to be opened in 17 years. I spoke with Christy today and asked her permission to share my letter to Sebastian with you. Writing this letter is important to me because, as many of you know, my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all died of unexpected heart attacks when they turned 58. As a result, I consider myself particularly blessed at 61 to be able to write this letter to my grandson.

This is a great idea Christy and Javier used to bless Sebastian. Some of you might want to adopt a similar plan. It certainly forces the family to do an analysis of itself, its values, and its future.

Here goes . . .

Sebastian,

This is Papa Ted writing you on your first birthday. We all love you so much, and always will. We think your Mom and Dad are two of the most wonderful people in the world. Now that you are 18, I hope you see them with the same love that we have for them. And your dad’s parents are people we greatly admire as well. Now that you are 18, I hope you appreciate the lovely family you have and how loved and appreciated you are. Your Nana, Gayle, prays God’s blessing on your life every day, just as we all do.

As I write you today, I am in the St. James Church office. Your grandmother and I live in the same house in Colorado Springs where we have lived for the last 17 years. Donald Trump is president, the war with Islamic Fundamentalism is concerning to all of us who love the freedoms we enjoy, and North Korea is threatening a nuclear attack. By the time you read this, I hope all of these issues are settled and you are able to grow and develop in an atmosphere of peace and safety.

Regardless of the family, economic, or political situations you will face in your generation, you can be a strong, godly man. Every generation needs men like you to live honorably. Our family loves the Scriptures, which have provided the direction we all need for a positive relationship with Christ so our lives can be somewhat stable in the midst of turmoil. While thinking of you as an 18 year old, three sets of Scripture come to mind.

In 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, Paul is speaking to the people in the church at Corinth saying,

“For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building. Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.”

This scripture applies to you Sebastian. You are not a mistake. You are not just the biological result of your Mom and Dad getting together. You are here on this earth for a very important reason. You have no obligation to failure, but instead, you are God’s worker, God’s representative, and you will fulfill that calling as you let Christ himself be the cornerstone of your life.

All of us base our decisions on ideas we believe and relationships we develop. In this passage, Paul exhorts all of us that we are God’s workers. Our lives are where God plants seeds of life and reaps a harvest. We are his field. We are God’s building, meaning he puts pieces together in our lives to cause our lives to be something significant. And in the context of this scripture, we know that seeds can also be sown into our lives by others, and we must ensure God’s seeds grow in our lives, and that negative seeds don’t. And then we, in turn, can sow seed into the lives of others to help them be strong and successful, godly.

You, Sebastian, were chosen by God to be a worker for him. For God’s purpose for your life to be achieved, continue to make Christ and Christ alone the foundation of your life.

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus,

“Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself” (Ephesians 2: 20).

This text says that Christ is your cornerstone. A cornerstone is the strongpoint in a foundation. It’s the marker for the building, as well as an indicator of its strength. In this passage, Paul is saying that as Christ becomes the central source of strength, forgiveness, healing, power, life, hope and peace in your life, then the writings of the apostles and the prophets, the Bible, will breathe direction and stability into your heart. Sebastian, this passage, if embraced by you, can make you a pillar of a man—a leader, a role model, and a source of life and strength to many. Trust the Scriptures with Christ as your cornerstone.

Then finally for your 18th birthday blessing, St. Peter writes,

“You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.  As the Scriptures say, 

‘I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,
chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
will never be disgraced.’

Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’

And,

‘He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.’

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them” (1 Peter 2: 4-8).

There are many important ideas here, but I think for you, a key idea is that human acceptance and rejection cannot be your guide. Popularity cannot be your guide. Pleasing God is your guide—with the wisdom to be as effective as possible at encouraging others in positive, life-giving living.

Years ago I wrote a book entitled, “Letters from Home.” If you can find a copy anywhere, you might enjoy it.

I love you Sebastian. And if I am in Heaven by the time you read this, be assured I’m praying for you.

Papa Ted

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How To Build A Stronger Core In Turbulent Times

Today we’re watching the Caribbean, Texas, Florida, and Mexico try to recover from hurricanes and earthquakes. Portions of the western United States are engulfed in forest fires. North Korea threatens new war while we continue fighting our longest war in the Middle East. Every evening on the news we see law and order challenged, protesters marching in the streets, vandals burning businesses, and the media using its freedoms to manipulate the public.

As our society advances various social experiments, not knowing yet whether they will advance or harm humanity, we’re experiencing a record number of young people committing suicide, and more people than ever taking drugs to be happy. With careers, families, communities, and nations experiencing increased turmoil, each of us must take it upon ourselves to build a core set of beliefs that will guide us through these troubled waters. It’s the way to stay stable and sane when our lives and world are shaking. Otherwise, we’ll spiral into confused victimization like so many around us.

I think that is why the Bible exhorts us to continually grow stronger. The Bible says in Hebrews 6:1-3,

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.

We all see the world through the lens of our belief systems and our values. This text in Hebrews says we need to know something solid and dependable that will enable us to respond to the challenges of life with strength instead of weakness. As a pastor, the challenge I face is that our culture has opened the door to subjectivity, allowing wrong to be right, and right to be wrong. The result is despair and confusion.

In order to live a successful life, we must develop a foundation, or a core based on wisdom and strength, that will instruct and guide us through the tumult of an uncertain world. We can become pillars that support others needing strength, or we can meld with the crowd of the entitled who depend on others to take care of them. I am saddened when I talk with those who are needy, but it is often their belief systems that leave them exposed to nonsense that is destructive to them, their relationships, and creates for them a more difficult future. We read in Luke 6:39-49,

Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?  I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.  It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.  But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

Here Jesus is saying that the ideas and philosophies we embrace and act upon determine our lives. Ideas are important. Adolf Hitler and Billy Graham embraced contrasting ideas. Adolf Hitler ignited a war that marched millions to their deaths, and Billy Graham sparked a spiritual renewal that inspired millions into life. Both impacted the world, but in very different ways. Ideas matter.

So how do we build a strong internal core? We identify sources of wisdom that have proven strength and stability over time. And we listen to people who have earned the right to be heard through their consistency, their ability to overcome life’s challenges, and their strong and stable lives. In my life it means I read and study the Bible to get ideas that strengthen my core, and I listen to those who have successfully done what I would like to do.

All of us are impacted by the challenges of our shifting world. If we want to succeed in life, we must build a stronger core.

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