Category Archives: 21st Century Evangelicalism

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

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

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

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

Jesus said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Letter To My Grandson

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

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

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

Here goes . . .

Sebastian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And,

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

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

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

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

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

Papa Ted

Tagged , , , , , ,

How To Build A Stronger Core In Turbulent Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Is Lent For Us?

This morning a friend sent a text asking if we should participate in Lent. At that moment, I realized that we had so understated so many Christian holidays in our church that it would be good to write a blog to refresh our knowledge of this Christian tradition.

This year the first day of Lent happens to be today, March 1, 2017, Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day for us to remind ourselves of our mortality, sinfulness, and ultimate demise without Christ ( . . . from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. . . ). Lent, then, is a season when Christians have historically focused on simple living: limiting excesses, paying more attention to prayer and the Scriptures, participating more in church, and fasting in one way or another. Lent lasts about one tenth of the year. It is a tithe of our time set aside to focus on God’s priorities in our lives instead of worldly pleasures and living. It’s a season of devotion to God that roughly spans the forty days before Easter, excluding Sundays, because Sundays are a weekly mini-Easter celebration. The final day of Lent this year will be April 15th, the day before our resurrection day celebration, which of course is Easter.

Many Christians see the Lent season as a time to give up some type of food or guilty pleasure, or to begin doing something to strengthen their walk with Christ, which is always a good thing. During this season I often think of the story of the rich man who came to see Jesus. When he asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied, “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18: 18-23).

Three things stand out to me in this response: 1.Give something up, 2. Give it to someone who needs it, and 3. Follow Christ.

Gayle and I have decided to give up most of our television watching. It’s true our TV is currently broken–but that is what got us thinking about what we gain when we’re not watching it.

It gives us more time with our family and friends.

In Christ’s response, he wanted the rich man to give up his things for the benefit of others. When our TV broke, we spent more time at our table having meals together. We also discovered we had more time to read, write, go on walks, jog, and talk. And, much to my delight, we even started going to bed earlier which made us feel better in the morning.

Some of you might want to consider other forms of electronic media. Gaming, texting, Facebooking, surfing, etc. All of these consume mass amounts of time. Slow down. Read. Visit. Think. Rest. Regroup.

It keeps the news about current events from dominating my home-life.

With the 24-hour news programs, everything is micro-analyzed and scrutinized. I watched the President’s speech last night (on my son Jonathan’s TV in his bedroom), and this morning when I read the news on my news ap, many of the analyses were slanted very differently than the speech I watched last night. Everything is political right now, and I need time away from endless hype.

That’s what Gayle and I are doing for Lent. Now what about you? If you or your family would like to use the Lent season as an opportunity to go without something in order to be able to give to others, you might discover some unexpected blessings in your life. Some of you might choose to devote the Sunday mornings of Lent to attending church, or some of you might start attending Wednesday evening Bible studies for Lent. A staff member just came in my office and announced he and his friends are giving up eating out at restaurants for Lent.

It’s your decision, and Lent gives all of us a great opportunity to let go of what is not needed, and embrace more of Christ in our lives.

I love serving Him with you.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Proactive Paradigm for Contemporary Ministry

The next twenty-five years may present great opportunities for humanity to alleviate some human suffering, and we Evangelicals are positioned to seize the day.

Right now we are in two major transitions in the medical field. First, Prior to this generation, our physicians have focused on healing us from diseases, sicknesses, and the results of accidents. Increasingly, though, our physicians are working on making us happier, helping us live longer, and improving our cognitive abilities. Secondly, when we visit doctors, we are dependent on their knowledge and the expertise of their team. However, within a few years, Watson, a super computer that will possess data from thousands of similar patients as well as the results of the most current research, will assess our symptoms and assist our doctors in determining the plan that will work best for us.

Soon we will be able to lower the propensity for many diseases in our children because of breakthroughs in assisted reproductive technology. For example, if there is a heart problem in Dad’s family, or a tendency toward cancer or mental illness in Mom’s, we can identify that risk and improve the odds for greater health in our children, even before they are born. This development is not bad or evil. It’s beneficial for alleviating suffering.

With the explosion of innovation all around us, we Evangelicals need to be intentional about motivating our children to fully participate in cutting edge scientific development because we want intelligent Christians in the room as these advances are taking place. It will not serve anyone well for them to be outside critiquing the newest innovations after the fact.

When I was a little boy my Dad, along with many other evangelical Christian conservatives, was not supportive of Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights’ movement because King was an adulterer and opposed the Viet Nam War. Now we know that King probably kept America’s cities from burning because King, a Baptist preacher with an earned doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston University, provided leadership for non-violent protests to challenge racial inequality. If King had not been dominant, Malcolm X, the violent Muslim civil rights leader, would have led the movement and we might have had a second civil war. My Dad missed the point: winning civil liberties for all was more important than King’s shortcomings.

I do not mean to minimize the importance of personal holiness, but I do believe we evangelicals have been sidetracked. Many of the developments of modernity have proven to be the friend of the human race, yet we evangelicals often ignorantly position ourselves as resistors when humanity is on the brink of improvement. I thank God King was able to move race relations forward, even though for the most part evangelicals didn’t help him. Likewise, we Christians are lackluster and lagging behind in support of the benefits that will come from human genome research, or even self-driving cars that will help the poor like few other innovations.

We Christians have enjoyed being the creative force of the world in the past. Christianity promoted the idea that all humans were equal before God, thereby influencing human political structures, social hierarchies, and even gender relations. Furthermore, we elevated Jesus’ teachings that God favors the meek and oppressed, thus turning the pyramid of state power on its head, and providing impetus for generations of revolutionaries against tyranny, as well as the underpinnings for democracy as we know it today.

In addition to the many social and ethical reforms that sprung from the hearts of God-fearing Christians, economic and technological innovations are also rooted in Christian ideas. The Catholic Church established medieval Europe’s most sophisticated administrative system, and pioneered the use of archives, catalogues, timetables and other techniques of data processing. The Vatican was the closest thing twelfth-century Europe had to Silicon Valley. The Church established Europe’s first economic corporations — the monasteries — which for 1,000 years spearheaded the European economy and introduced advanced agricultural and administrative methods, and were the first institutions to use clocks. Furthermore, for centuries monasteries and the cathedral schools they operated were the most important learning centers of Europe, helping to found many of Europe’s first and finest universities.

Many of the ideas that constitute civilized society sprang from biblical theology: care for the disabled instead of believing them cursed, care for the sick instead of believing them demonized, universal education because all are created in the image and likeness of God, orphanages because of the biblical exhortation to care for orphans, social safety nets because of the biblical exhortation to care for the widows and the poor, etc.

Now we are teetering into a time period where understanding biotechnology and computer algorithms is going to be key to success and influence. The main products moving humanity forward in the twenty-first century will be bodies, brains, and minds. I think it’s time for our youth groups to teach more than abstaining from sex before marriage, and teach our sharpest and brightest that they can use the moral compass instilled in them by God’s Holy Spirit to advance the human condition through technology and economics. Many in our current leadership lack the breadth of understanding to encourage the teaching of technological innovation and creation-care (environmentalism). Because of it, our students are often blind-sided when expected to understand why we need Watson in every medical facility and self-driving cars to help everyone travel safely.

Frankly, when I read the posts or comments of many Spirit-filled Christians, I think they are ideologues who have no idea where the Cheerios come from in their local grocery store. Christendom laid the foundation for the enlightenment, representative government, and the scientific method, and the benefits we’ve received from innovation, creativity, the growth of representative government, free and fair trade, law and order, and an inventive and productive marketplace. But the gap between those who know how to engineer bodies, brains, and minds and those who limit their Scriptural exposure to passages predicting future disaster and collapse will widen.

Those who use ideas and insight that comes from God’s Spirit within to learn, study, grow, invent, produce, and create will move the human race forward. Those constantly obsessed with the morality of others, the destruction of the world, and the demise of 1950s values will be the cave dwellers of the future — totally irrelevant.

The human race is moving forward. It’s time for our churches to be catalysts for think-tanks of innovation and creativity again in order to improve human existence, rather than producing reactionaries capitalizing on every opportunity to raise a concern, criticize, and blame. We’ve been beating the same dead horses for two generations now. It’s time to move forward.

Researchers say 70% of the students who grow up in our church youth departments walk away from their faith during their university training. Why is that? I think it’s because many of our church leaders subtly believe innovation and the future are our enemies. God is an orderly God. He created the heavens and the earth so the scientific method works, he has given us intelligence to understand and produce in order to bless all, the godly and ungodly alike. Because of this we evangelicals should make positive contributions to help alleviate human suffering in the time we have on planet earth rather than waste our lives as nay-sayers scrutinizing the sinners that surround us.

Let’s move forward.

 

Recommended Reading: How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let Them Eat Cake

Freedom of religion is a valued tenet of American life. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the government from making any law respecting an establishment of religion or impeding the free exercise of religion.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage, which caused many Christians to fear their first amendment protections were eroding. Following this ruling, two Christian bakery owners refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. They believed they were demonstrating their personal convictions and their faithfulness to the Scriptures. Another situation has been in the news where one Christian owner of a flower shop refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding on the basis of their religious convictions. Though the vast majority of Christian business owners serve the general public without hesitation, conservative Christian pundits have praised the few who have denied service to same-sex couples saying they are standing for their faith. But are they?

As I’ve participated in missions work around the world, I’ve stayed in hotels and eaten at restaurants owned by Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and a long list of other faiths. In the United States, I’ve often stayed in Marriott chain hotels, which are owned by Mormons. The gracious hospitality these establishments showed me did not indicate to me that they endorsed my Evangelical Christian faith. It meant they recognized me as a customer and treated me courteously and humanely. I appreciated it. Their willingness to trade with me earned them income and provided me the things I needed to fulfill my Christian calling. If they adopted the ideology of only doing business with those who believe and practice their same convictions, we Bible-believing Christians would be out in the cold and hungry, having been discriminated against because of our faith.

So let’s take this ideology to its logical conclusion. If we Bible-believing business owners refuse to serve those with whom we disagree or who violate our Christian convictions, we will run into a problem. Jesus taught that anyone who marries a divorced person is committing adultery (Paul gives us limited exceptions). So should Christian florists avoid selling flowers to those who are celebrating their second, third, or fourth Christian wedding? The Bible teaches that we should not forsake the gathering of ourselves together. So should a Christian bakery refuse to provide pies and cakes to a family that does not attend church? And the Bible is very clear about the necessity of praying without ceasing. Does this mean we should refuse to do business with people who do not have a consistent prayer life?

Of course these examples sound absurd. But they are no more absurd than a business owner refusing to serve someone in the public under the guise that the customer violates their core religious beliefs. Where do we draw the line? Just with same-sex couples? Or with those who don’t participate in our denomination? Or with those who are in our denomination but don’t practice their faith the way we think they should? With this way of thinking, a devout Catholic car salesman wouldn’t sell to a Protestant, a good Baptist would refuse to rent a room to a Church of Christ member, and the Dalai Lama would starve to death trying to travel in Europe, America, or the Middle East.

Religious leaders mislead Christians when they state Christians are being denied religious liberty when the businesses and corporations they established for the purpose of serving the public, are, in fact, required by law to serve the public. Serving the public is simply serving the public.

Nothing in the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage requires us as individuals or churches to attend, support, endorse, or perform same-sex marriages. Actually, the Supreme Court decision articulates that this decision must never be construed in any way to restrict religious worship or expression. But just as Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu hotel owners rent me a room and provide me meals while I am in their cities for Christian meetings, so should Christians who own public business serve the public, without passing judgment on their customers’ personal choices. This practice does not violate our Christian faith.

How do we know? Because of the way Jesus responded to sinners. Just one of many New Testament examples is in Matthew 9:10-11 which reminds us, “Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher [Jesus] eat with such scum.’” Another would be when Jesus fed the multitudes, he did not exclude any particular sinners. Certainly Christ had no problem at all serving the general public, even sinners. He did that very thing on the cross.

I am confident the Christian owners of bakeries and flower shops are well aware that it is not their self-righteousness that saves them, but Christ’s righteousness freely given to them by God’s grace. It might be wise for all of us who are enjoying the grace Christ has given us to extend that same grace to others. We might even go so far as to let them eat cake and enjoy some flowers too.
——————————————————————————————-
Others are interested in your response and I appreciate your feedback. Please ensure that your comments are are informed and contribute constructively. Your thoughts after reading the blog are certainly welcome, and I read all of them, but they will only be published if they are helpful to the discussion. At times, after reading a comment, I go back and correct or improve the blog. Thank you.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Is Allah God?

God is the creator of the universe. He sent his Son, Jesus, to reveal himself to us. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to infuse his life into us. But he is not the only spirit in this world. There are other spirits masquerading as God.

Our world has five types of spirits in it;

  • God’s Holy Spirit,
  • human spirits,
  • angels,
  • demons, and
  • Satan.

The one true almighty God, who created the universe, created us to reflect him. We are spirits who live in bodies for a while here on this earth, but our bodies are not us. We are human spirits who have the capacity to be infused by God’s Holy Spirit and receive his life. Angels are spirits who serve the one true God. They are messengers who do his bidding.

In contrast, our spirits can also be infused by the “god of this world” (see 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 1John 5:19) or many other spirits who have evil intent and pollute people with bad ideas, deadly motivations, and darkness.

Evil spirits are commonly referred to as demons. Most Bible scholars believe demons were angels who rebelled against God and are now fallen. They are submitted to Satan, who is the god of this world.

As the god of this world, Satan wants people to believe he is THE all-powerful God. He rebelled against God because he wanted God’s authority, just as he does today. But he is not God, nor is he like him. He is a deceiver and a liar, and gains his power by lying to people and pretending to be light, when in fact, he is not. Paul wrote, Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14b-15a).

John addressed contrasting spiritual influences when he wrote 1 John 4:1-8

Dear Friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 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.

 But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.

 Dear Friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

I define love as “living for the good of the other.” Since God loves us, he lives and cares for our good. If we, in turn, love him, we live our lives caring for his good. When a man and woman love each other, they live for the good of the other. This is one way Jesus (God’s Son) contrasted himself with Satan. He identified Satan as “the thief” and said, The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life (John 10:10).

The world is in a clash of civilizations, which might be the manifestation of a clash between the ideas of people who submit their lives to contrasting spiritual influences. The west is influenced by the ideas of Christendom; the Islamic world wants to please Allah. Some believe that Allah is just a translation of the English word, “God.” But that is not entirely accurate. When a Muslim learns English, they don’t start referring to God instead of Allah, but instead maintain the name, Allah, as the name of God.

Several years ago, political scientist Samuel Huntington published his famous book, The Clash of Civilizations, which gave a gloomy prediction of our future. In contrast, Thomas Friedman gave us a compelling counter-argument in his writings, that the forces within freedom, liberty, prosperity, free-markets and globalization would make the world more prosperous and safer for all. His implication was that Muslims would choose comfort and prosperity instead of adhering to the growing fundamentalist Islamic movement.

During that time I developed a series of talks contrasting these views, and interjected within them the role of the Church, Islam, the necessity of Christian missions and education, and the importance of the Church for the success of western ideals in the future. In addition, I participated in a series of decision-making discussions with major global leaders on what we referred to as the Huntington/Friedman contrast of the global geo-political situation and thus, our futures. Back then, I hoped that Friedman was right, but I also said that it was contingent on the wisdom of our Christian leaders. At that time I was concerned that evangelical leaders were distracted, that they had taken their eyes off of our primary global responsibility. Sadly, that opportunity is now past for the Church, and based on current geo-political indicators, global events indicate that Huntington was right.

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?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,