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21st Century Evangelicalism

Stability, Strength, and Insight

Several years ago I was invited to attend a small meeting of key Free Methodist pastors to discuss the future of America, the church in America, and how we could best build healthy believers within our churches with the future in mind.

The conclusion was that we could not predict the future due to our current volatile political transitions, but that we could help build strong Christians no matter the outcome. Since Christian believers have proven to thrive in Communist countries, Islamic countries, and secular nations, perhaps we should stop assuming that our waning Judea-Christian cultural influences will continue to support the message of the church. Maybe we should begin training believers in our churches to be strong in their faith regardless of our cultural environment.

During our discussion I made a conscience decision to enhance the understanding of the Bible within our church. And as a result, we launched an intentional effort for every believer in our church to ingest the Scriptures into the fabric of their lives—in a life-giving way—instead of simply being exposed to the Scriptures. My unspoken assumption was that they might find themselves without access to a Bible in their lifetimes.

In this process, we learned that many of our members enjoyed Christian books and movies, as well as the inspiration they found in the body of Christ, but didn’t have a practical, applicable knowledge of Scripture. Thus, when faced with life-altering decisions, they made their choices based on cultural trends and the worldly advice of their friends or counselors instead of Scripture. Although they claimed to be Christians and believe the Bible, they were worldly. They enjoyed the positive aspects of our faith, but were not constrained by the dictates of Scripture. In my view, they wanted the eternal security offered by our most popular speakers and authors, but were not reading and applying the Scriptures to every aspect of their lives. They liked the comfort of their faith, but were not allowing themselves to be transformed by it.

So at St. James Church, we emphasize that it is of no use to read Christian books without reading and understanding the Bible itself. To simply listen to Christian messages without a serious contemplation of Scripture could inadvertently lead a believer to miss the point of their faith altogether. What we have decided is that our goal is to understand the Bible by reading it and contemplating its teachings chapter by chapter, and then reading and contemplating each chapter several times over. Then we meet weekly to wrestle with the texts and then have life-giving discussions of a 21stcentury application of the Scripture. So any Christian movie, book, or discussion would be viewed through the lens of biblical understanding, rather than worldly ignorance of biblical teachings.

Our hope is that some, who have not yet studied through the Bible on their own, would be motivated to devote time each week to exploring the truths of the whole Bible, book by book, as we follow our congregational Bible study program. Add to that practice sermons, discussion groups, breakfast meetings, and retreats, and they will find themselves more and more rooted in God’s Word. Then, should the benefits of a life-giving local group of believers be denied them in their futures, they will have God’s Word in their hearts and be grounded in their faith regardless of the culture surrounding them.

Let’s get stronger, and stronger, and stronger.

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21st Century Evangelicalism

How Much Are You Worth?

I am currently reading Saul Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals, because it seems to be an increasingly dominant influence in American politics. Rules for Radicals promotes a “win at any cost” message, which causes many Christians like me to take great exception to it. However, one of the goals of the book is to empower powerless people, which I can appreciate. I don’t like his methodology, however. Alinsky coaches powerless people to increase their effectiveness at being heard by disrupting the status quo. In other words, he encourages them to do or say whatever is necessary to get their way, or to gain power (sound familiar?). This is how they increase their worth to their causes.

Systems for giving voice and defending the worth of average people are nothing new. Since the Magna Carta, representative governments have increased the political value of average people. I am writing this blog during an election season in which political parties, candidates, and entities behind ballot initiatives and proposed constitutional amendments are striving to get people’s votes. Every time we advocate, vote, and participate in our political process we increase our worth. Representative political systems increase the value of people.

Free Market Capitalism has also increased the value of people. Apple, Facebook, Coke, Ford, and Target are just a few of the thousands of companies that compete to provide us with the goods and services that we want and need. And when they do, they prosper. Serving the needs and wants of people is the key to success in our system, which empowers all of us as consumers. Every time we buy anything, we send a market signal. That increases our value.

It appears, however, that we are entering into an era where others are increasingly attempting to determine our value, as well as how and maybe even if we will be allowed to live. (That has always been the case in nations where governments project greater constraints and control over their people.)

I’ll give you an example that, in my mind, is indicative of the trends we’re seeing. MIT media lab just analyzed 40 million responses to an experiment they launched in 2014 to help determine the algorithms that will direct our self-driving vehicles if they are involved in an accident. Obviously, damage occurs and lives are changed when vehicle accidents occur. Because vehicles are becoming more autonomous, for the first time we need to formally pre-determine where a vehicle should be directed in the midst of an accident and, as a result, who is more likely to be injured or killed.

The results from 40 million responses suggested people preferred to save humans rather than animals, spare as many lives as possible, and tended to save young over elderly people.

The surveys also revealed smaller trends of saving females over males, those of higher economic status over poorer people, and saving pedestrians rather than passengers.

These split-second decisions about the lives of others have always been a part of our driving purview. But now we’re formalizing the value of others in our algorithms. The point of this blog is that we all have different values in the minds of others and we need to realistically assess our own value and consider what we can do to improve our value in the minds of others.

God values each of us, and that gives us intrinsic value. But other people view us differently. I do not believe it is realistic for us to assume anyone else will respect our intrinsic worth. Instead, we may need to accept the responsibility of creating our value in the minds of others with the decisions we make.

Saul Alinsky recommends that you do and say whatever it takes to get your way. He casts doubt on virtue, nobility, and altruistic motivations. He thinks love for others and kindness are myths that are culturally required by the Judeo-Christian heritage in western civilization.

I would differ. I believe in the transformed life that Christ offers that changes our hearts and implants sacrificial service, love for others, and an authentic desire to see others better off. Alinsky firmly believes in the power of selfish ambition and seems to believe honorable motivations are smoke screens. It’s obvious why he is so popular among secular political activists.

But he obviously misses the Holy Spirit’s ability to transform lives from selfish ambition, deception, and manipulation to integrity, responsibility to serve others, and honor. How valuable are we? Our ultimate value is based on our desire to serve Christ by competently serving others. Taking the responsibility for ourselves and serving others ultimately determines our worth, our value, our power, our influence, and our position.

So what should we do to increase our value? Start by reading the Bible, God’s Word, and seek wisdom and perspective in its pages. In addition, learn to pray and to think. Meditation on the Word and praying to your heavenly Father on a regular basis will open your heart and mind to his ideas. In addition, make a commitment to regularly meet with a local gathering of Christian believers. This will give you depth in relationships that will inform political and social ideas and roles.

As you do these things, your life’s foundation will become increasingly firm and your relationships will improve. This foundation will allow your priorities to be better defined, your aptitude to improve, your abilities to increase, and your skills to strengthen. As you become more competent, you will become a pillar of strength and trustworthy. And in this, you will be worth so much more.

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21st Century Evangelicalism

Christianity Today Validates Positive Trends In Church (with a strange negative slant)

Part #1 of my response to Christianity Today

While reading the December 2013 cover story in Christianity Today (CT), I applauded its advocacy of Evangelicalism trending toward a more thorough embrace of social concern and the centrality of authentic relationships within the local church. Those are trends I have encouraged throughout my lifetime. The disappointment was the simplistic and dishonest contrast of New Life Church between the first 22 years and the years since Brady Boyd has been pastor.

John Bolin, our youth pastor for many years while at New Life, and his wife Sarah, wrote and produced a Passion play titled “The Thorn” for Easter. Over 10% of our county’s population came to see it each year. It was a production that communicated the resurrection of Christ so effectively that since its inception, tens of thousands have come to Christ. We would perform the play for the four weeks leading up to Easter, then, on Easter Sunday morning we would use the resurrection scene to communicate the Easter story. It was dramatic. Pastor Brady used the same production after his arrival. Strangely,  the CT article gives a disparaging and distorted view of that in its opening.

National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)

I became the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) because I missed an executive committee meeting in Minneapolis, MN. I was asked to speak at a local church’s missions meeting, which I did. When I returned, I discovered I had been elected the new president contingent on later approval of the whole board. That soon happened. I do not believe in self-promotion (thus no radio programs, tv programs, evangelistic ministries or missions ministries named after myself, not even a major donors list, and no capital campaigns). I have a high view of God’s Sovereignity. Thus, when asked by godly people to do something, I typically respond with “yes,” and I try to do the best I can to serve. Consequently, one of my responsibilities as president of the NAE was to explain evangelical positions in sound-bites for media outlets. In my mind, those were opportunities to communicate the Gospel on the other side of the cultural wall–in other words, in secular settings and through secular media to those who wondered why we Christians were doing some of the things we did. The CT article infers that this attempt to be faithful was somehow negative.

During that season, I received requests from media outlets and sometimes federal government officials who were seeking an explanation about Christian stances and activities. I took these as opportunities because they needed to hear from Christians about why we believed, spoke, and acted as we did. George Bush was President at the time, and his evangelical position as a Methodist sometimes needed explanation. For the press, I developed an overly simplistic but useable definition of an evangelical (A person who believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that we must be born-again.) Some in the media did not know the difference between local churches and missional ministries like Focus on the Family, Compassion International, or the Navigators. And when a group of Jewish scholars protested the movie presentation of Christ’s life in theaters, I defended freedom of speech and religion in the public square. I never once called any reporter for coverage, I just said “yes” if their request seemed authentic.

I no longer believe the press is innocent.

I no longer believe the press is innocent. During that season of my life, I sincerely participated in working sessions with Ariel Sharon on Israeli security and Palestinian civil rights concerns, strategy meetings with Tony Blair and his staff on free market approaches to poverty relief in Africa, working sessions with President Bush on how to lower steel tariffs (so the poor worldwide could afford tin sheets for their roofs, and refrigerators and cars at a more reasonable price, without inflaming the steel worker’s unions who had high steel prices propped up by our tariffs to protect their own salaries), ways to provide AIDS relief in Africa, and how to make public school more available to religious groups without violating separation of church and state issues. I did not do photo ops with these guys, nor did I arrive with TV cameras or send out reports in newsletters, but I did tell our church where I had been when their pastor was not available from time to time, because I considered the church my primary focus. I think CT’s negative slant in its portrayal of that time is inaccurate.

Even though the media presented Colorado Springs as having significant influence on the global body of Christ, it was not due to the activities of New Life Church, which operated as a local church serving our city, with no television or radio ministries. This image may have been felt more because of Focus on the Family (#1 radio broadcast in the world at the time), and other global para-church ministries. Some said Colorado Springs had more international evangelical para-church ministries than any other single city in the world. I do not know if that it is true, but the press seemed to think so. And I know that during that era, all of those ministries were growing . . . not necessarily in influence in Colorado Springs, but around the world. Since we were the largest church, we were a picture the press could use that communicated this image. Those pictures were more powerful than endless cubicles of warehouse space at Focus. Thus,  we as a church ended up being the poster image.

The power of prayer, worship, and the Word

I did and I do believe in the power of prayer, worship, and the Word. Back then the book, The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson, President of Walk Thru The Bible Ministries, was popular. Dick Eastman from Every Home for Christ was promoting the ideas in this book, and other prayer books heavily. New Life also cooperated with Peter Wagner, who had recently resigned from Fuller Seminary and was was leading a massive global prayer effort through Luis Bush’s World Prayer Track. We also built the World Prayer Center as a place for worship and prayer for the nations and ethno-linguistic people groups world-wide. There we served communion 24 hours a day, and promoted prayer and fasting at the World Prayer Center and Praise Mountain, a prayer and fasting center in the mountains. Since Patton Dodd, the author of this article, was a young man at the time, maybe the Prayer of Jabez seemed self-centered and ungodly in his eyes. That is the impression CT gives.

Were there internal and external conflicts during this time? Yes indeed. I think it’s inherant in the fact that God works through people like all of us who are fallen. By placing His divinity within our humanity, and then leaving us on the Earth to try to do what he is doing and say what he is saying, a monumental task develops . . . especially if increased numbers of people keep showing up in our churches.

I think I’ve said enough today to communicate that I respect Patton Dodd and Christianity Today in their attempt to encourage the core imperatives of our faith. I regret that they created an artifical contrast between my values and the wonderful improvements Brady Boyd and his team have made at New Life. Frankly, I think it’s unfair, but it does reveal a core problem in our evangelical culture. Why did Christianity Today present this the way they did? And to use it as their cover story in December, the month we all celebrate God coming to us in human form, seems to communicate an odd priority at CT. Though misrepresented, I know how Christ works through me and others by his grace, and I am confident that in the end, Christ will be glorified, the Bible will be read by an increasing number of people, and as they read, they will respond to His wonderful offer of sins forgiven and eternal life.

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21st Century Evangelicalism

Why We Have Fewer Billy Grahams and more Shooters

The beauty of a democratic society was on display the last two weeks as we contemplated ideas promoted by Billy Graham in contrast to the actions of Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old Florida school shooter. At the core of the differences between men like Billy Graham and Nikolas Cruz are the ideas and emotions that guide them.

Obviously, no person or institution, including the therapist, the school system, the police department, the FBI, the NSA, the Florida Department of Children and Families, nor any of the other students who knew him could intercept the bitterness brewing in Nikolas. I think a good youth pastor would have had the best opportunity to help shape his thoughts and ideas, and the text I quote below explains why I believe this. It also may explain why good youth pastors are often thwarted and frowned upon by therapists, schools, and social workers. Interestingly, good youth pastors typically contribute to making kids good kids. Granted, some will find that concept confusing.

While so many were screaming their solutions to our current societal problems, I went on vacation and read a good book, 12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson. My good friend, Randy Welsch, had recommended it to me while we were watching the Super Bowl with our wives. Peterson’s book describes the chaos that is being created in our society because we seem determined to remove social norms that create order and then are confused by the resulting chaos. It’s an excellent read.

The foreward was written by Dr. Norman Doidge. (I was familiar with him because I read his book, The Brain that Changes Itself, which I used as a resource for a class I taught on renewing the mind at St. James Church.) Reading Doidge’s foreword to Peterson’s book gave me a new perspective on the differing ideas that impacted Billy Graham’s generation and Nikolas Cruz’s. I also think it explains why the influence of a good youth pastor has been left out of our national debate—influence that might help constrain and redirect people like Nikolas Cruz. Here I quote extensively from Doidge’s foreword. I underlined certain portions for emphasis.

Dr. Doidge wrote,

“The hunger among many younger people for rules, or at least guidelines, is greater today for good reason. In the West at least, millennials are living through a unique historical situation. They are, I believe, the first generation to have been so thoroughly taught two seemingly contradictory ideas about morality, simultaneously – at their schools, colleges and universities, by many in my own generation. This contradiction has left them at times disoriented and uncertain, without guidance and, more tragically, deprived of riches they don’t even know exist.

“The first idea or teaching is that morality is relative, at best a personal “value judgment. Relative means that there is no absolute right or wrong in anything; instead, morality and the rules associated with it are just a matter of personal opinion or happenstance, “relative to” or “related to “ a particular framework, such as one’s ethnicity, one’s upbringing, or the culture or historical monument one is born into. It’s nothing but an accident of birth. According to this argument (now a creed), history teaches that religions, tribes, nations and ethnic groups tend to disagree about fundamental maters, and always have. Today, the postmodernist left makes the additional claim that one group’s morality is nothing but its attempt to exercise power over another group. So, the decent thing to do – once it becomes apparent how arbitrary your, and your society’s, “moral values” are—is to show tolerance for people who think differently, and who come from different (diverse) backgrounds. That emphasis on tolerance is so paramount that for many people one of the worst character flaws a person can have is to be “judgmental.” And since we don’t know right from wrong, or what is good, just about the most inappropriate thing an adult can do is give a young person advice about how to live.

“And so a generation has been raised untutored in what was once called, aptly, “practical wisdom,” which guided previous generations. Millennials, often told they have received the finest education available anywhere, have actually suffered a form of serious intellectual and moral neglect. The relativists of my generation and Jordan’s [the author of the book], many of whom became their professors, chose to devalue thousands of years of human knowledge about how to acquire virtue, dismissing it as passé, “not relevant” or even “oppressive.” They were so successful at it that the very word “virtue” sounds out of date, and someone using it appears anachronistically moralistic and self-righteous.

“The study of virtue is not quite the same as the study of morals (right and wrong, good and evil). Aristotle defined the virtues simply as the ways of behaving that are most conducive to happiness in life. Vice was defined as the ways of behaving least conducive to happiness. He observed that the virtues always aim for balance and avoid the extremes of the vices. Aristotle studied the virtues and the vices in his Nicomachean Ethics. It was a book based on experience and observation, not conjecture, about the kind of happiness that was possible for human beings. Cultivating judgment about the difference between virtue and vice is the beginning of wisdom, something that can never be out of date.

“By contrast, our modern relativism begins by asserting that making judgments about how to live is impossible, because there is no real good, and no true virtue (as those too are relative). Thus relativism’s closest approximation to “virtue” is “tolerance.” Only tolerance will provide social cohesion between different groups, and save us from harming each other. On Facebook and other forms of social media, therefore, you signal your so-called virtue, telling everyone how tolerant, open and compassionate you are, and wait for likes to accumulate. (Leave aside that telling people you’re virtuous isn’t a virtue, it’s self-promotion. Virtue signaling is not virtue. Virtue signaling is, quite possibly, our commonest vice.)

“Intolerance of other’s views (no matter how ignorant or incoherent they may be) is not simply wrong; in a world where there is no right or wrong, it is worse: it is a sign you are embarrassingly unsophisticated or, possibly, dangerous.

“But it turns out that many people cannot tolerate the vacuum – the chaos – which is inherent in life, but made worse by this moral relativism; they cannot live without a moral compass, without an ideal at which to aim their lives. (For relativists, ideals are values too, and like all values, they are merely “relative” and hardly worth sacrificing for.) So, right alongside relativism, we find the spread of nihilism and despair, and also the opposite of moral relativism; the blind certainty offered by ideologies that claim to have an answer for everything.

“And so we arrive at the second teaching that millennials have been bombarded with. They sign up for a humanities course, to study greatest books ever written. But they’re not assigned the books; instead they are given ideological attacks on them, based on some appalling simplification. Where the relativist is filled with uncertainty, the ideologue is the very opposite. He or she is hyper-judgmental and censorious, always knows what’s wrong about others, and what to do about it. Sometimes it seems the only people willing to give advice in a relativistic society are those with the least to offer.

“Modern moral relativism has many sources. As we in the West learned more history, we understood that different epochs had different moral codes. As we travelled the seas and explored the globe, we learned of far-flung tribes on different continents whose different moral codes made sense relative to, or within the framework of, their societies. Science played a role, too, by attacking the religious view of the world, and thus undermining the religious grounds for ethics and rules. Materialist social science implied that we could divide the world into facts (which all could observe, and were objective and “real”) and values (which were subjective and personal). Then we could first agree on the facts, and, maybe, one day, develop a scientific code of ethics (which has yet to arrive). Moreover, by implying that values had a lesser reality than facts, science contributed in yet another way to moral relativism, for it treated “value” as secondary. (But the idea that we can easily separate facts and values was and remains naïve; to some extent, one’s values determine what one will pay attention to, and what will count as a fact.)

“The idea that different societies had different rules and morals was known to the ancient world too, and it is interesting to compare its response to this realization with the modern response (relativism, nihilism and ideology). When the ancient Greeks sailed to India and elsewhere, they too discovered that rules, morals and customs differed from place to place, and saw that the explanation for what was right and wrong was often rooted in some ancestral authority. The Greek response was not despair, but a new invention: philosophy.

“Socrates, reacting to the uncertainty bred by awareness of these conflicting moral codes, decided that instead of becoming a nihilist, a relativist or an ideologue, he would devote his life to the search for wisdom that could reason about these differences, i.e., he helped invent philosophy. He spent his life asking perplexing, foundational questions, such as “What is virtue?” and “How can one live the good life?” and “What is justice?” and he looked at different approaches, asking which seemed most coherent and most in accord with human nature. These are the kinds of questions that I believe animate this book.

“For the ancients, the discovery that different people have different ideas about how, practically, to live, did not paralyze them; it deepened their understanding of humanity and led to some of the most satisfying conversations human being have ever had, about how life might be lived.

“Likewise, Aristotle. Instead of despairing about these differences in moral codes, Aristotle argued that though specific rules, laws and customs differed from place to place, what does not differ is that in all places human beings, by their nature, have a proclivity to make rules, laws and customs. To put this in modern terms, it seems that all human beings are, by some kind of biological endowment, so ineradicably concerned with morality that we create a structure of laws and rules wherever we are. The idea that human life can be free of moral concerns is a fantasy.

“We are rule generators. And given that we are moral animals, what must be the effect of our simplistic modern relativism upon us? It means we are hobbling ourselves by pretending to be something we are not. It is a mask, but a strange one, for it mostly deceives the one who wears it. Scccccratccch the most clever postmodern-relativist professor’s Mercedes with a key, and you will see how fast the mask of relativism (with its pretense that there can be neither right nor wrong) and the cloak of radical tolerance come off.

“Because we do not yet have an ethics based on modern science, Jordan is not trying to develop his rules by wiping the slate clean – by dismissing thousands of years of wisdom as mere superstition and ignoring our greatest moral achievements. Far better to integrate the best of what we are now learning with the books human beings saw it to preserve over millennia, and with the stories that have survived, against all odds, time’s tendency to obliterate.

“He is doing what reasonable guides have always done: he makes no claim that human wisdom begins with himself, but, rather, turns first to his own guides. And although the topics in this book are serious, Jordan often has great fun addressing them with a light touch, as the chapter heading convey. He makes no claim to be exhaustive, and sometimes the chapters consist of wide-ranging discussions of our psychology as he understand it.

“So why not call this book of “guidelines,” a far more relaxed, user-friendly and less rigid sounding term than “rules”?

“Because these really are rules. And the foremost rule is that you must take responsibility for your own life. Period.

“One might think that a generation that has heard endlessly, from their more ideological teachers, about the rights, rights, rights that belong to them, would object to being told that they would do better to focus instead on taking responsibility. Yet this generation, many of whom were raised in small families by hyper-protective parents, on soft-surface playgrounds, and then taught in universities with “safe spaces” where they don’t have to hear things they don’t want to – schooled to be risk-averse – has among it, now, millions who feel stultified by this underestimation of their potential resilience and who have embraced Jordan’s message that each individual has ultimate responsibility to bear; that if one wants to life a full life, one first sets one’s own house in order; and only then can one sensibly aim to take on bigger responsibilities.”

To me, Doidge’s foreword to Peterson’s book, as well as the book itself, thoughtfully explains some of what has gone awry in our society, as well as the perpetual rage in so many of our students. It also helps all of us understand the philosophy behind the political conflict between those who promote personal responsibility versus those who don’t. In addition, it explains the philosophical foundation in our schools that results in a disregard for youth pastors, who are probably the most undervalued workers in America who train young men and women to be productive citizens and contribute positively to the lives of others. Instead, most youth pastors are underpaid, neglected, and not part of the conversation when kids shoot kids in government schools.

Every Christian student (and Christian, for that matter) would be well served to understand these ideas, so they will understand why they are mocked, threatened, and enticed to conform.

It does make sense.

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21st Century Evangelicalism

Black History Month Prayer Guide

Black History Month is a special time in which we all look into the history of the black community and reflect upon its contributions, heritage, and culture. We believe this is a period that the Lord wants to use to tear down strongholds and make a difference in the spiritual climate of black people globally. We need every believer in Jesus Christ to partner with us in a prayer effort focusing on the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of blacks throughout the world.

The Black Prayer Network

P.O. Box 26583

Colorado Springs, CO 80936

TBPN2015@gmail.com

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James 5:16b

Daily Prayer Guide

February:

  1. Pray for black pastors and their churches; ask for more wisdom, unity, and courage. Psalm 133:1-3
  2. Pray for the downfall of false religions and the growth of Christianity in the black community. Ephesians 1:17-19
  3. Pray and thank God for righteousness within our criminal justice system – judges, district attorneys, lawyers, police. John 8:34-36
  4. Pray for righteous leadership in all areas of society – both national and local leaders, corporate leaders, etc. 1 Timothy 2:1-4
  5. Pray against institutional and unconscious racism. Numbers 12:1-6
  6. Pray for the destruction of the enemy’s power over men, women, and children. Psalm 27:1-14
  7. Pray that families grow in the knowledge of the Lord. Ephesians 1:18-21
  8. Pray that black communities globally respond to the great commission with boldness. Matthew 28:18-20
  9. Pray that men would take responsibility for their homes and families. Ephesians 5:25-26
  10. Pray and thank God for mothers, wives, sisters, and all females. Proverbs 31:10-31
  11. Pray for hopelessness, frustration, and stress to be replaced by hope and peace of mind. Philippians 3:12-21
  12. Pray for grace and mercy for teenagers, and pray against teen pregnancy. Hebrews 4:15-16
  13. Pray for educators and students on all levels – elementary through university. Genesis 18:19
  14. Pray against restlessness and anger – which are the cause of many murders. Romans 12:17-18
  15. Pray for the salvation of prisoners. Isaiah 61:1-4
  16. Pray against defeat, and ask for God’s hope to be seen. Jeremiah 29:11-14
  17. Pray for the unity of the body of Christ. John 17:20-23
  18. Pray for poverty to change into abundance and abundant giving. Luke 6:38
  19. Pray for the expansion of business opportunities. Deuteronomy 8:18
  20. Pray that love, truth, sincerity, and confidence eradicate betrayal, distrust, and deception. John 17:20-23
  21. Pray that destruction and deception be replaced with peace and truth. Psalm 119:127-128
  22. Pray for victory over substance addiction. Isaiah 54:17
  23. Pray for power to overcome even the most severe adversities. 2 Corinthians 1:9-14
  24. Pray that blacks extend forgiveness, like Joseph did to his brothers. Genesis 50:14-21
  25. Pray for stable marriages, and pray against separation and divorce. Ephesians 5:22-33
  26. Pray for God’s direction and purpose in the lives of individuals. Proverbs 3:5-8
  27. Pray that the net worth of blacks begin to increase. Joshua 1:1-8
  28. Pray that racial barriers and walls that separate will be broken down. Philippians 2:1-5

(A pastor friend of mine in Colorado Springs brought me a prayer calendar that included this copy. After hearing his heart of love and concern for his family and community, and his sincere request that all of us at St. James Church and those within our sphere of influence join with him in prayer, I decided to share this with you. You may consider printing it out and sharing it with your Christian friends, keeping a copy in your Bible, or distributing copies at your prayer meeting. Obviously, this is a helpful guide any month, not just February. Thank you! Pastor Ted.)

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21st Century Evangelicalism

I’m Grateful to be a Christian

I was 16 years old when Bill Bright led me to the Lord. It was in Dallas, Texas. I had come to a rally with our youth group from Yorktown Baptist Church. Bill walked us through the Four Spiritual Laws and that night the Holy Spirit spoke into my heart saying he wanted to have a personal, very special relationship with me. I was honored. I said yes. And I was born-again.

That night I changed. I went home and broke up with my girlfriend because she wanted to continue our dating relationship the way it had been. I stopped drinking with my friends, and I stopped playing poker. It wasn’t because I was trying to be a good guy or anything like that. I had changed. I didn’t want to do those things any more, and wanted to do different things.

I asked the pastor of our little church for keys to the church so I could go to the church late at night to pray.

I would meet with my old buddies and we would study the Scriptures all night.

I loved my new life. I was hungry for God. I loved the church and the Scriptures. Everything in my life seemed new.

When Paul describes this experience in 2 Corinthians 5:17, he says,

. . .  anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

This was so true for me. I was well known in my high school, so when I came to Christ, many of my friends joined with me, and the youth group in our little church soon outnumbered the adults. Dozens of my fellow students experienced what I did. Paul described what was happening to us in Colossians 1:13,14 where he writes,

For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

On Friday nights, hundreds of us would gather spontaneously. Together we would destroy our secular music, pornography, drugs, and booze. Afterward we would sing, pray for one another, repent and worship. Then we would spontaneously read the Scriptures we had recently discovered in our paperback One Way Bibles. All the Scriptures were new to us, so every verse was a new discovery. We were like miners digging gold out of the side of a hill. We were enthusiastic about anything we could learn in the Word.

All of this took place before comedy teams were formed to mock the church, and before instant publishing allowed every critic to have a voice. We didn’t have iPods or the internet to let us know about corruption. We were child-like teens, discovering life in Christ. Paul described the changes taking place in us in Ephesians 2:12-13:

In those days [prior to finding our new lives in Christ] you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

I’m glad I got saved. I’m glad I went on to a Christian university. And I’m glad that I’m spending my life in the church. Now, decades later, I am still growing in the fresh life Christ has given me. . . given us.

Categories
21st Century Evangelicalism

Repentance Changes the Way I Feel

A repentant life keeps us in touch with him. When I meet with the Lord and he coaxes me to continue growing in him, very often the feelings develop in me that the Bible talks about in the following verses:

Psalm 51:17

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

Isaiah 57:15

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.

Repentance can be an agonizing experience, but a deep revelation of humility can be life-giving. When God so deeply ministers to us that we feel broken, contrite, and ashamed, then we can be sure that the Holy Spirit is transforming us. And afterwards, this transformation brings empowerment. Note in the verse above where it says, I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.

Restoration of our spirits and a revival of courage in our hearts builds within us as we are repentant. That’s a core confidence that no human being or circumstance can diminish.

Sometimes as I begin to pray, I approach God with confidence; yet as I enter more into his presence, I feel the focus transitions to illuminating me in ways I didn’t initially anticipate. In those situations, I identify with what Ezra 9:6 says:

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.

And in my repentant state, I feel the strength of humility.

In the past, I didn’t know hatred. Now I experience a hatred of sin and a renewed love for the cross. The Bible says in Psalms 97:10,

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

Because of repentance, my feelings align with God’s Word, and I feel stronger because of my hope in God alone.

Categories
21st Century Evangelicalism

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

Categories
21st Century Evangelicalism

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.

Categories
21st Century Evangelicalism

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.