Responsible Christian Citizens In A Constitutional Republic

On my desk right now is The Voice of the Martyrs magazine that reports on the plight of Christians in countries that do not practice a government by and for the people. Today I’m reading about Hindu radicals attacking and killing Christians, about eight year old Nankpak who watched his mother lie face down on the ground pretending to be dead as screaming Islamic extremists surrounded her, about 10 year old Luis and his brother, who hid under their bed from guerrilla fighters who were mercilessly killing Christians in their village, and about Christian children who have been attacked in their homes by mobs led by Buddhist monks.

The difference between these situations and those of us Christians living in America is the Judeo-Christian culture and the constitutional government from which we all benefit. So, I’m never upset by the results of fair, legal elections in the United States. I’m grateful. And considering the plight of Christians in other nations, I’m not sympathetic to the whiners, on either side of our political debates.

Politics matter, and elections are important. Political ideas lead to benefits or consequences; and political policies lead to prosperity or poverty, responsibility or dependence, peace and safety or rebellion and mayhem.

My personal political philosophy is based on ideas that I believe provide the most opportunity, along with the most goods and services for the most people, at the best value. I’m not a communist or socialist because I believe those ideas create poverty, discourage innovation, and limit opportunity. Simply put, I’m a conservative Republican. I like that we are a republic and not a simple democracy. Some might see me as fiscally conservative and socially moderate, but I’m a strict constitutionalist and believe that we are a nation of laws that should be enforced equally and uniformly, regardless of who is in office. I am a law and order guy. I want the judiciary to be independent and the economy to be based on free and fair markets with free and fair trade. I believe in opportunity. I like good government that does what it does well, but not expansive government with excessive intrusion. Why? Because I believe individuals, and the businesses and benevolent organizations they form, provide most of the goods and services we all need.

I’ve seen the consequences of naïve political policies. I’ve led believer’s meetings in Communist countries, Islamic countries, socialist countries, secular-humanist countries, and so-called Christian countries. Most Christian people are wonderful people wherever you find them, but the political and cultural differences they have to deal with are remarkably diverse, and sometimes deeply painful.

Which brings me to my point: since I am a Christian, my faith informs my politics. I know a quality political philosophy is good for all of our citizens and for the world; it’s not just for guys like me. So we need to be competent thinkers when it comes to assessing our politics . . . especially when political activists use our religious leaders to mobilize voters.

Bear with me now, and think with me, for a few paragraphs.

In this last election, Bible-believing Christians passionately participated on both sides of our democratic debate.

The confessing Christian, Hillary Clinton, who carries a Bible, forgave her one and only husband’s infidelities and says she stayed in her marriage because of her Christian faith, who regularly quotes Scripture with accuracy and familiarity, and who is an active member of the Methodist Church, lost. Politically, she’s liberal.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, who has children by all three of his wives, who claims to have never asked God for forgiveness, who is an inactive Presbyterian who attended church with regularity only when his father took him as a child to hear Norman Vincent Peale’s messages on positive thinking, and who does not know the meaning of the bread and wine at church, won. Politically, he ran as a conservative.

Political elections are primarily about political ideology. With a high percentage of our population being people of faith, faith leaders often use their influence to convince their followers that God has chosen the candidate that aligns with their own political ideology.

And sadly, faith leaders often willingly participate because they deeply long to be influential and powerful. They want their followers to believe political leaders respect them, so a photo op for many religious leaders is like whisky for an alcoholic. Many religious leaders, especially media driven religious leaders, thrive on media impressions of influence.

It’s all part of persuasion.

We must be above all of that.

Let’s all go to church this week and be responsible Jesus followers. Let’s be wise citizens, not rabid activists. Regardless of what the nations do, we know how to be the church in the midst of it all. We know how to be steady, wise, consistent, contented, and faithful. Let’s be Responsible Christian Citizens in our Constitutional Republic.

Never Underestimate the Power of Mediocrity

Recently my wife, Gayle, and I were on vacation in Virginia. We had no set schedule so we enjoyed leisurely mornings, the World Series, a couple of movies, a dinner theater, walking tours through Jamestown and Yorktown, and carriage rides through historic Williamsburg.

One evening while strolling through Williamsburg, I concluded that the best things in life come from the things we might not consider extraordinary. Walking through a peaceful historic site holding the hand of my favorite person, cleaning out the garage with my kids, tidying the yard on a Saturday morning, riding bikes with friends, loading the dish washer while the kids play, and going to church on Sunday mornings all took on special meaning. And even though the culture we live in increasingly demands that everything be sensational, big, meaningful, dramatic, and life-altering, I’ve started to believe that our lives are strengthened or ruined on average, mediocre days and that the power of our mediocre days shouldn’t be underestimated.

Certainly we also need special days like Christmas and Thanksgiving, but Christmas and Thanksgiving are either delightful or painful depending on what we did on our average, mediocre days. If an adulterous affair started on an average Tuesday, Christmas is no longer the celebration it used to be. If a drug addiction took hold on an average Friday night, the silence from the empty chair at the Thanksgiving table is felt by everyone in the family. If a baby was conceived during an illicit sexual encounter on an average Wednesday afternoon, several families will never be the same.

On the other hand, if we endeavor to read and learn on average days, to do our work well, to be contented with family life, to be satisfied with an evening at home or a nice game of dominos with our family or friends, and to enjoy a predictable church service, we might experience more fulfillment on our special days. Could it be that being satisfied with the basics of life sets the stage for greater personal security, greater financial success, more meaningful careers, and a secure family with a trusted set of friends?

We Christians have a challenge. Now that market forces are demanding that our churches be more sensational and extraordinary, expectations are changing and we’re increasingly thinking our believers’ meetings should be like the news, football, and the movies– dramatic! exciting! moving! life-changing! As a result, those who are in leadership are increasingly expected to entertain and be sensational, rather than be fathers, able to nurture healthy spiritual families.

No doubt, we still need to climb the mountains, run the marathons, and achieve competence and excellence. But to compliment achievement, we also need to value a foundation of strength and stability that isn’t driven by the latest sensation. Again, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of mediocrity.

I pastor St. James Church in Colorado Springs, and I actually embrace mediocrity. I don’t need more drama from people who believe Facebook friends are truly friends, the current social media gossip, the latest revelation of a television preacher who second-guesses scholarly Bible translators, a seminar to inspire me or a conference led by so called “super-apostles” to teach me family life . . . especially when they have had multiple wives and their children are taking another trip through rehab. I don’t blame them, nor do I condemn them. I’m glad they are serving the body the best they can. But actually I prefer cleaning out the garage with my kids, and maybe we Christians need church leaders who enjoy doing the same.

I like everything the church is doing to reach the un-churched, to be authentic and relevant, and to serve those who want to grow in Christ. I also occasionally enjoy emotionally charged services. I enjoy them, but I don’t need them. I am contented.

Maybe we would all be wise to discover the value of our families in our local churches again. Learning those relational dynamics might be more valuable for strengthening our lives and demonstrating the gospel than the latest revelation, popular speaker, Christian television program or blog.

This morning Gayle and I dropped by our son, Marcus, and his wife, Sarah’s, home for a late breakfast. Afterwards, I settled in on the sofa to write this blog with Gayle reading next to me. Marcus sat down to his computer, still in his pajamas, to finish working on a legal memo; Sarah and her Mom, Meg, are on the back porch swing talking about the grandkids. My granddaughters, Hadessah and Norah are painting with Sarah’s sister, Emily, who is home on leave from the Air Force, and my grandson, Emerson, is taking a nap. It’s the kind of Saturday that creates great lives.

The plaque on the wall over their breakfast table reads, “Enjoy the little things in life . . . for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”

I treasure mediocre days.

Christians In A Post-Truth Era

Are we living in a generation in which feelings and impressions are as significant as facts? Scholars are beginning to talk about this phenomenon in our culture — which they label the Post-Truth Era.

We see evidence of this phenomenon in the church world as well. A generation ago when people were looking for a church, they wanted to know the creed of the church—the facts, the foundation of the church’s belief system. Now, though, researchers tell us that over 95% of people in our generation choose their churches based on how they feel as they leave the service.

Over 70% of Christians think the purpose of the church is to meet their human needs, and over 50% of Bible School and Seminary students think their calling is to meet these human needs. This is a stark departure for the church. We’ve always believed that the role of the church is to glorify God, and that the calling of our Christian leaders is to help people find their greatest fulfillment by learning to glorify God. Glorifying God is the door through which Christians have always walked in order to have their own needs met and to meet the needs of others. To reverse this order fundamentally changes the centrality of Christ in our lives and our calling to serve him by serving others.

We are the Church, the eternal institution God established on the earth that provides stability and consistency in our changing world. We know how to be the Church in free- market, democratic countries, and in Islamic countries, Communist countries, Socialist countries, rich countries, and poor countries. We know how to be the Church regardless of the trends we see in the world. At least we have known how to be the Church in times past. However, our greatest threat might be upon us—a post-truth world where foundations don’t matter, and core truth is no more significant than an impression or a feeling.

Jesus warned us about this in Luke 6:39-49:

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 the 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.

He went on to say,

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 thorn-bushes, 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.

He concluded these thoughts with an exhortation for us to establish a firm foundation that will endure any societal trends:

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 flood-waters 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 without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.

I believe the god of the American church has become money and attendance (or size of audience), and that the role of leaders has become image management and damage control. I fear many church boards spend their time accumulating assets and/or protecting them, and that we in the Church have spiraled into a delusion thinking worldly approval and influence is our charge. This is an unstable foundation that God’s work cannot be built upon. If we continue on this path, the unintended consequences will be diminishing influence and loss of purpose, which will leave our churches empty, our leaders worldly, and our hearts cold.

Now is the time to return and be faithful to our foundations.

The writer of Hebrews said,

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.

What?!?! These issues are not interesting to the modern attendee of the American Church. We need videos, lights, emotion, contemporary illustrations from news, sports, and other relevant happenings in our lives that inspire a fresh, prosperous atmosphere that makes us feel good. We need Starbucks in the lobby and bright colors to make our kids happy. We need relevant topics intermingled with some Scripture. After all, that’s the way to grow a church.

I don’t believe it.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Starbucks, bright colors, and relevant topics IF they are used to establish people firmly in the facts and faith of the Gospel . . . but they must not replace it. The evidence indicates that most Christians have been duped into believing that inspiration equals core conviction. That’s not going to work.

Hebrews 5:12-13 says,

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.

The greatest test of the American church is looming on the horizon. The upcoming election and its results will continue promoting a dramatic cultural change away from our Judeo/Christian heritage. Christian political activism will not change that slide, but the church being the church will help. If we have a solid foundation in the Word and Spirit in our lives, we’ll do fine being salt and light. If we don’t, our emotions will motivate us to be worldly power-players like everyone else. We will continue to be consumed with the speck in the eyes of others, unaware of the plank in our own. It’s time to let truth prevail in us, even in this post-truth era.

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Living On The Margin

The BBC headline today read “I woke in a stranger’s bed, says university rape victim.” The lead on the story says, “Alice Irving woke up in a stranger’s bed after a night out drinking during her second year as a graduate student.” The article goes on to report that Alice accused the stranger of rape, stating she had been in no fit state to give consent for sex.

No doubt, having a sexual encounter while drunk and unable to give consent is rape and should be punished accordingly. I have no intention of excusing any rapist’s behavior. I do, though, believe there is a lesson to be learned that could help prevent these types of events from happening. That lesson is—everything we do and everywhere we go changes our odds for certain events to take place.

I am the father of five adult children, and I’ve always taught them, “Nothing good happens past midnight.” Obviously, that’s not totally true, but it is true that if teenagers are home in bed asleep between midnight and sunrise, the chances of them getting into trouble, or being harmed in a car accident, or involved in late-night violence decreases significantly.

People who are in Church on Sunday mornings are very seldom killed in hunting accidents on Sunday mornings.

People who never take heroin do not overdose on heroin.

Our choices change our odds, and when we make choices, they are our responsibility whether they are thoughtful decisions or the result of foolish impulses.

All adults know that alcohol lowers inhibitions. So is it surprising that most date rapes happen after people have been drinking together? As I said earlier, it does not justify the rape, but it does involve a conscious decision to lower your inhibitions and be around other people who are also lowering theirs. Thus, everyone is choosing to take greater risks.

Trinity Gay, the 15-year-old daughter of Olympian Tyson Gay, was tragically shot and killed at 4:00 in the morning. No excuse for it, and the shooters need to be arrested, tried, and convicted. There is simply no justification for a tragedy like this, but if Trinity had been in bed at 4:00 in the morning, she would have increased her odds of avoiding this tragedy. But instead, by choosing to be out at 4:00 in the morning, she lowered her odds for safety.

I know it’s true that people also get shot at 4:00 in the afternoon, but the odds are lower for anyone to be shot at 4:00 in the afternoon than they are for someone to be shot at 4:00 in the morning. That’s my point – we can all affect our odds.

I believe it’s wise to treat people with respect, have manners, and respond when any authority asks us to do something. Those ideas increase our odds for living a long, prosperous life. However, if we choose to be disrespectful to others, or to be belligerent in public, or to challenge authority, our odds change.

You are safer if you drive the speed limit, wear your safety belt, and pay attention to the road. Certainly, some people do this and still get killed in car accidents. But the chances of getting killed in a car accident goes up for those who speed, don’t wear their safety belts, or are distracted.

Your odds of having the funds you need to live a comfortable life are also better if you have an education or training that gives you marketable skills. My friend Peter Sekovski says some think an education is too expensive, but he argues it’s not nearly as expensive as ignorance. But then again, it’s the odds.

Football players have a greater chance of having knee and brain problems later in life. Basketball players can look forward to greater chances of lower back pain as they age. People who have children out-of-wedlock have a greater chance of needing counselors and lawyers later in life to work with their kids. It’s the odds. We all need to be aware of them.

Going to a party? How will the people and activities at the party change your odds of having a bright future? How would those odds change if you went to a Bible study instead? Just a thought.

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Can The Police Do What We Can’t?

We have a law and order crisis in America. Daily we hear about the tensions growing between law enforcement and the communities they serve. We hear about the over-reaction of scared police officers, the random shooting of police officers in response, and the burning and vandalization of neighborhoods by protestors. We are all aware of disorder in so many homes and schools. Disrespect and abuse of power is making it increasingly dangerous for families who simply want to live a good life. Many are wondering if pervasive mistrust is becoming our cultural norm.

Recently, I received a letter on the stationary of the “El Paso County Sheriff’s Office” that opened by saying,

“We are experiencing a major change in our society from a posture of respect for law enforcement to a volatile attitude of extreme disrespect. Thankfully, not everyone in our nation fits the category mentioned above, but there is a segment that does. Their malevolent thoughts and actions often are the seeds that spawn tragic events.”

The letter went on to say that authorities are removing “Sheriff” from the decals on official chaplain’s  vehicles for the safety of their volunteers, and that the “fire departments and search and rescue organizations are also changing their uniforms so their personnel will not be mistakenly targeted as law enforcement.”

In pastoral ministry, I see the rise of arrogance and self-exaltation, and the crumbling of mutual submission, trust, and common courtesy. I value living a submitted life and enjoying the security of submitting to authority. But when I have to exercise the authority God has given me, I get nervous, in this cultural environment.

Good parents feel it too. They are often frustrated by the fear that if they discipline their wayward children, the government will punish them. Too many of our children are learning how to manipulate parents, police, school personnel and other authorities. While police departments are having to deal with defiant, lawless, arrogant misfits who know their rights, well-intentioned parents are frantically looking to houses of worship or community centers to help them keep their kids safe and on the right path.

I long for better manners and the return of personal humility and shame when it comes to wrongdoing. My mother ensured manners in all her children with the power of a glance that we knew meant business, and my grandmother used to say, “shame on you” to me when I would go outside to play with messy hair or unkempt clothes. Now, being caught misbehaving produces defiance toward authority instead of humility and an expectation that our authorities are helping us right our wrongs.

With the dysfunction and disintegration of our nuclear families, kids are learning to play their warring parents against one another, and the police departments are being asked to enforce laws in public that parents can’t, or are not allowed to, enforce at home.

If parents find it difficult or impossible to enforce the rules around the house, it’s unreasonable for them to then blame a police officer for struggling to enforce laws in public with their disrespectful and disorderly children. Why would parents think that their child will be orderly in public when they can’t get their child to make their bed, brush their teeth, or carry out the trash at home?

It’s sad to see broken hearted parents weeping on television because a police officer was afraid of their lawless child and over-reacted — even when the parents did not understand how to get their child to obey the laws of their own home. I know it’s a generalization, but if parents can’t control their own child with civility, why would they think the police department can? It’s a pervasive problem we all share.

Understand, I’m not defending the abuse of state power by the police. But, I am saying that we can’t raise disrespectful, lawless hoodlums and expect the police to treat them like they are model citizens.

Seeing the parents of criminals weeping on television about their “wonderful” child being abused by the police when their rap sheet reaches from the podium to the floor concerns me. It might be true that the child’s offense is minor this time, but the officer’s actions might also reflect that the police officer just wanted an honest days work for enough pay to feed his or her kids, and ended up dealing with a defiant hoodlum.

If I were a police officer today, I would think twice about pursuing anyone who is of a different race than me so as not to be accused of racism, and I would hesitate to risk my personal safety or future with someone intoxicated or high.

I think police officers are having to make the same decisions to protect themselves. Crime rates are skyrocketing in areas where the police are under close scrutiny. High early retirement rates among police officers are getting the attention of even our politicians. And our police academies are having trouble recruiting cadets.

The mayor of Colorado Springs, when he was our district attorney, visited our church years ago and said that he never had to prosecute anyone who had been in church the prior Sunday. I know some churches have changed since then and are now promoters of victimization, hatred, and disrespect. But I am convinced a return to biblical New Testament Christianity and a renewal of emphasis on inner transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit would be more helpful than simple social activism. Spirit-filled people are respectful, turn the other cheek when wronged, and seek justice and mercy.

We need a 21st century revival so our police officers will no longer be scared of the citizens they are charged to protect and serve. I do want law and order in our homes and communities, but it has to start with the internal restraint of evil in our hearts which is stirred by an understanding of the Scriptures and God’s conviction of sin. The outcome produces manners, shame about our own wrongdoing, and better behavior. Spiritual revival leaves the police with little to do. And the result would be that the cars and uniforms of our public servants can once again be marked and be a source of pride and dignity in our communities.

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The Honor of Pastoral Service

Julie’s despair was mounting as her two pre-adolescent boys were becoming increasingly demanding, her husband was working out-of-state, and the strains on her time seemed beyond her ability to perform. She had worked at a local para-church ministry for years and was a committed Christian with supportive friends, but a dark cloud of hopelessness was growing in Julie’s mind.

While at work Julie increasingly spoke with her coworkers about the relief being in Heaven would provide. One day she told a woman who worked closely with her that she had decided to take her own life. The woman reminded Julie that she loved her two sons and would never want to be without them. Julie’s response alarmed the woman. She said she planned to take them with her.

As Julie walked to her car at the end of the day, her co-worker called the police and reported to them that Julie was suicidal and threatening the lives of her children. When Julie arrived home, the police were there and, as required by protocol at the time, took Julie to our local hospital for a psychological evaluation.

Oddly, the hospital cleared Julie within a few minutes. Later that evening while the children lie sleeping, she shot both of them to death and then took her own life.

Within a week three coffins—one large and two small—were stationed in the sanctuary of our church. I performed the funeral as Julie’s husband, the father of their children, sat shocked on the front row. After the burial, he sold the house and left town.

A few weeks later one of my friends in the police department told me that he was at Julie’s house that day and had taken her to the hospital. He said typically they place people on a 72 hour hold for evaluation, but in this case they didn’t. He did not know why.

Another friend, who worked in admitting at the emergency room at the hospital, told me that when they brought Julie into the hospital, a friend of Julie’s happened to be overseeing the psychological evaluations that evening. She reported overhearing Julie and this women talking and laughing together in a hallway around a corner. Afterwards, the woman in charge filled out the paperwork reporting that Julie was fine and released her to go home . . . resulting in the deaths of the two children and Julie’s suicide.

I did not blame the hospital, but I thought they should be informed of the situation and consider improving their systems to ensure this didn’t happen again. Yet when I contacted the hospital administration, they received my concern as a threat and issued a public statement that all legal requirements were met. Later our local news reported that I had accused and blamed the hospital for the tragic event. The public perception was that I was grandstanding.

I backed off because I knew the hospital was concerned about liability—which was not my intent in contacting them. I also wanted to protect the confidences of the people who shared privately with me, and to avoid feeding the press a sensational and grizzly public confrontation between a pastor and our local hospital. I was simply seeking an improved system at our hospital, knowing that another Julie would one day arrive at their door.

That was over 10 years ago and I still carry it. Since I did not respond, the story died in the press, leaving the appearance to the public that I had baselessly accused our hospital. Julie and her children were buried in our local cemetery, and the hospital quietly improved its systems a few months later. I called Julie’s husband from time after that to see how he was doing. He just wanted to leave the pain of the past behind and build a new life. The families that left the church because they believed the press account—I’ve not heard from since. But I, as a pastor, feel gratified that our systems were quietly improved after the glare of the press was lifted, and to my knowledge, there have been no cases like Julie’s since.

This is the honor of pastoral service. There are typically facts behind pastoral decisions that cannot be publicly known, but the goal is to improve the lives of others, apart from grandstanding or glory. It’s an honor to serve; it’s the way of Christ.

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Is Trump the Antichrist?

I received an e-mail from a journalist asking, “Ted, do you think Donald Trump is the anti-Christ?”

I chuckled thinking that in my lifetime someone, somewhere has accused every President and Pope of being the Antichrist. And now, with fear being generated from terrorism and political confusion, it’s inevitable that people will start thinking in terms of the end times again.

In my response to the journalist, I explained that there are many antichrists, and then gave him four Scriptures to examine:

  • “Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come” 1 John 2:18.
  • “And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist” 1 John 2:22.
  • “ But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here” 1 John 4:3.
  • “ I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist” 2 John 1:7.

Undeterred, the journalist pressed further saying he wanted to know if Trump could be the one Antichrist referred to in the book of Revelation (see Revelation 19 and 20). I told him that certain Christian Bible teachers continually point to current events believing they prove that the return of Christ is imminent; yet many of their predictions have not come true. Then I told him that Jesus’ comment in Matthew 24:14 makes me think we have more work to do here on the earth before the Antichrist will surface.

Jesus said,

‘And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”

This verse has been taught two different ways:

One emphasizes the word “nations” could also be translated “people groups” or “ethno-linguistic groups,” which are groups of people who have their own ethnicity and language. In other words, for this Scripture to be fulfilled, there has to be a witness for the Gospel within every people group on the planet, and then the end will come. As a result, many stragic churches and missions organizations have made lists of the remaining unreached people groups and identified them for focused prayer, evangelism, and church-planting. Because of these efforts, the list of unreached people groups is getting smaller. But there are still unreached groups.

Another interpretation of this verse is that the Gospel will circle the globe, and then the end will come. Advocates of this position emphasize how the Gospel launched in Jerusalem, spread throughout the Middle East, then expanded to Europe and portions of Asia and northern Africa, then to the Americas, the rest of Africa and Asia, and is currently growing rapidly in China and India, with the expectation it will return to Jerusalem through Chinese and Asian missionaries. Thus, the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout (around) the whole world.

The modern Sunni – Shia conflict in the Middle East that is terrorizing the region and much of the world is a strong geographical, political, and theological barrier between the Chinese and Asian Christian missionaries and Jerusalem. If this interpretation is correct, it would highlight the significance of this conflict as an attempt to slow or block the completion of this biblical prophecy.

Both of these interpretations are closer than ever to being fulfilled. However, today neither of them are complete. Thus, it’s my guess that the end times figure, the Antichrist from the book of Revelation, is not currently on the scene. As a result, for this and many other reasons, I don’t think Trump is the Antichrist.

I concluded my email exchange with an dissatisfied journalist. Just as many friends of mine have been disappointed that the Lord has not yet returned, so this journalist seemed dismayed that his story idea lacked foundation. (I hope he doesn’t find someone that will agree with him about Trump and use his material as a basis for an upcoming article.)

I do believe that we are in the last days, and that the return of Christ is closer than it’s ever been. I also believe that we don’t know everything about the second coming of Christ, just like the first century Bible scholars who didn’t recognize Christ the first time. Thus, my admonition is that we all need to live our lives as if Jesus is returning today, but plan our lives as though he will not return in our lifetimes. That way we will conform to Jesus’ command to always be ready, while avoiding foolish speculations that keep us from fulfilling our present duties.

(All of the italics and bold emphases in above Scriptures are mine.)

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The Value of Taking A Gap (TAG)

I have become a Free Methodist (not a United Methodist). For those of you who don’t know, the Free Methodists are Spirit-filled evangelicals who have a high view of Scripture and education. The American schools they are affiliated with are Azusa Pacific University and Seminary, Seattle Pacific University and Seminary, Central Christian College of Kansas, Greenville College, and Spring Arbor University—all highly respected schools.

The Free Methodist Convention in Orlando last year voted to receive me as an Elder in the Free Methodist Church. Immediately after that confirmation of my calling, I started looking for a way to serve. I only noticed one missing component—they did not have a program for the students in their colleges and universities, or for the young people in the Christian community in general, to take a gap year. This is a time for young adults to develop Christian depth, along with life-experience, adventure, and fun outside of the formal classroom.

Studies have shown that when students take a gap time away from home just after high school or sometime during their college or career training, it allows them to mature and find direction for their studies. Then when entering or returning to college, these students are more mature, more responsible, and have more life experience than their peers. The popularity of gap intensives is increasing worldwide, and it’s no wonder. According to research conducted and compiled by the American Gap Association, students who participate in gap programs enjoy these benefits:

  • 90% are likely to return to college

 

  • 60%of gap year students say their gap year impacted the choosing of their major

 

  • 88%are more employable upon graduating college

 

  • And, 75%report being happy or extremely happy, following their gap year experience.

 

In addition, the positive effects of participating in gap programs are shown to endure throughout the college experience as reflected in gap year students’ improved grade point averages.

Of course, I believe there is no better place than the Colorado Rockies to set aside some time for Christian discipleship and fun. Thus, St. James Church has decided to start the process of offering a gap program, now called the Colorado TAG (Take a Gap) Intensive.

Our goals are to encourage our students to have an authentic relationship with Christ, an appreciation for the authority of Scripture, and an understanding of the importance of the local church and Sunday morning worship—all in a life-giving, non-judgmental environment.

On Saturday, July 9th, a few 18-24 year-olds will arrive in Colorado Springs from around the country to experience our first TAG intensive. They will experience three weeks of the best of Colorado (hiking, camping, climbing, rafting, etc.) along with life-giving Christian discipleship and life skills training.

If you know a student who might benefit from attending this summer’s three week Colorado TAG Intensive, log onto Saint James Church. In the upper right hand corner, click on Ministries and then from the drop down, click on Colorado TAG Intensive and explore our site. Or you may log on directly to Colorado TAG Intensive, or call Aaron Wright, our Colorado TAG Intensive Director, at 1(334) 202-1512.

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Could Islam Become Peace-Loving?

(Some of this blog is reprinted from my blog, “Is Allah God?”)

Pundits, politicians, and a few scholars say Islam is a peace-loving religion. When they say it, I detect a tone of rosy optimism that subtly reveals they are either hoping it’s true or trying to spin reality in order to appease moderate and non-practicing Muslims.

But many believe that in order for Islam to be authentically peace-loving, it would need a reformation similar to the one Christianity experienced 500 years ago that provided the theological underpinnings for western civilization. The pundits, who sincerely believe what they are saying, are seduced by their lack of belief in spiritual power. The reason Islam cannot experience a reformation is that the spirit behind Islam will not allow it.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the popular author of the best-selling book, Heretic, Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, has hope. She is urging the Islamic world to have a reformation similar to that of Christendom. She wants Islam to:

  1. Amend Muhammad’s semi-divine status, along with the literalist reading of the Quran.
  2. Amend the supremacy of life after death.
  3. Amend Shariah, the vast body of religious legislation.
  4. Amend the right of individual Muslims to enforce Islamic law.
  5. Amend the imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.

I do not believe this will happen. Christian reformation happened because the practices of the Church had veered away from Scripture and the reformers were demanding a higher view of Scripture in both faith and practice. In other words, our reformation facilitated an emphasis on the Scriptures and thus, the life-giving Spirit of God. The opposite is the case for Islam. When Muslims adopt a higher view of the Koran, they are radicalized, not for representing the love of God, peace, respect for others and forgiveness, but for a harsh demand of obedience to Allah and annihilation of those who don’t comply.

For there to be a reformation of Islam comparable to the Christian reformation, its adherents would need to grow away from the tenets of their faith and adopt a lower view of the Koran’s teachings. In other words, they would need to separate themselves from the spirit of Allah and turn, instead, to the Spirit of life. When Christians become devoted, they increasingly adhere to the teachings of the Bible that encourages them to love, forgive, turn the other cheek, be healing, and be kind. When Muslims become devoted, they tend to go a different direction.

Certainly we’ve seen that not all of those who claim to be Christians are immune to demonic ideas themselves. But our historic mistakes have not been representative of Christ or the New Testament, Spirit-filled life he offers, even though some Christians will try to use the Scriptures to defend their own atrocities. President Obama was right when he reminded Christians at The National Prayer Breakfast of what we as Christians do when we are not operating in the life-giving Spirit of God, but are religious ourselves. He said, “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Jesus experienced this when Satan tempted him in the wilderness by using the Scriptures against him. God’s good work within the human heart is a spiritual uplift, an enlightenment, an ascent to a higher way of thinking. It lightens the load of life and provides encouragement. It is not the religious bigotry that some wrongly promote.

An open hearted reading of the New Testament offers God’s solution to wickedness in the human heart and removes the opportunity for outside evil influence, if and only if we submit to the Lordship of Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit. If not, we’ll find ourselves hating and warring just like all who follow the “god of this world.”

Bottom line, any time we human beings depart from the Spirit of the one true God who is loving, redemptive, forgiving, healing, and kind, we find ourselves manifesting our own fallen natures influenced by the deadly god of this world. But this is the opposite of our Christian faith. Christian reformers had only to point to the Scriptures to teach us this. To what do Islamic reformers have to point their followers?

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The Planned Parenthood Shooter

Yesterday Robert Dear from North Carolina killed police officer Garrett Swasey, a former athlete turned police officer, near the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs. Though the two were within yards of one another, they saw the world very, very differently. At the same moment, only two miles away in the comfort of my office, I was also experiencing a different world.

Today I expect to start hearing projections as to why this gunner targeted Planned Parenthood, and why he chose to shoot and ultimately kill and injure people in our community.

As my wife and I were falling asleep last night, we spoke at length about the way people see situations so differently. I see this contrast in perceptions regularly, even among the people of our church. Different people see situations and others differently based on their own values, experiences, and educations that filter their perceptions.

In addition, we all have, to varying degrees, cognitive distortions, which are thought patterns that cause irrational or exaggerated conclusions. Whoever this shooter was, I’m sure we’ll learn more about his cognitive distortions that caused him to justify, in his own mind, the tragedy he created yesterday. And with each one, we’ll shake our heads wondering how he could possibly think that way.

I teach a class on Sunday nights on Renewing Your Mind: How To Change Your Brain. A portion of that class deals with our seeing things realistically and then responding responsibly. Therapists that emphasize how behaviors are influenced by our thinking (Cognitive Behavioral and Reality Therapists) often use a list of cognitive distortions to help clients identify their own cognitive distortions so they can respond to life more rationally.

Two week ago I wrote a blog entitled “What? That’s Not What Happened!” listing a few of these cognitive distortions.

As Gayle and I were talking last night, we reviewed how our awareness of cognitive distortions can help all of us think through events and choose our responses with greater wisdom. In the context of yesterday’s craziness on the first day of this Christmas season, I thought a more thorough review might be helpful for all of us (This is my adaptation of the checklist by David Burns from Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy)

  1. Polarized thinking: When we look at things in absolute — all or nothing categories, we are typically thinking too simplistically. Things are seldom exclusively good or bad, black or white, right or wrong. Instead, there are exceptions, explanations, and nuances that cause most people and situations to fall into a gray area between the extremes.
  2. Overgeneralization: When we overgeneralize, we use words like always, never, everyone, best, and worst. Generalizations are seldom, if ever, true. There is typically at least one exception. 
  3. Discounting the positives: When we  discount the positive accomplishments or qualities of ourselves or others, and focus only on the negative, we or they feel insignificant and powerless.
  4. Jumping to conclusions: (A) Mind reading – we assume that we know what other people are feeling or thinking. When we do this, we think we know the motivations of others. Since we rarely understand our own motivations, to presume to know the motivations of another is a significant projection that is seldom accurate; (B) Fortune Telling – we arbitrarily predict the outcome of events or future development in the lives of others.
  5. Magnification or Minimization: We blow things way out of proportion or we shrink their significance, which distorts their value.
  6. Emotional Reasoning: We draw conclusions based on how we feel, assuming our feelings reflect some reality.
  7. Should Statements: We judge others using words like should, shouldn’t, must, and ought. “Have to” is a similar offender. These are sometimes necessary for personal application, and we may sparingly and cautiously use them in reference to those within our chain-of-command, but they can reveal a major distortion of personal significance when used randomly toward others.
  8. Labeling: We draw comfort by simplistically seeing people and situations in categories, boxes, silos, classifications, or stereotypes. This leads to sexism, racism, bigotry, and other generalizations that do not take into account the uniqueness of individuals or specific situations.
  9. Personalization: We assume that what people are doing or saying is about or because of us, when in fact it might not have anything to do with us.
  10. Blame: Our greatest potential for choice is between some event and our response to it. We choose our responses. They are not forced upon us, which is why we are responsible for how we choose to respond. So when we blame, we are giving more power over our lives to others, and denying our own abilities.

It’s too early to know why the Planned Parenthood shooter did what he did. But now we have an opportunity to comfort those who have been hurt by his actions, pray for healing in the lives of those involved, and do everything we can to learn from this horrific tragedy how to respond to actions and views we disagree with in constructive, godly ways.

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