Category Archives: 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.

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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.

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My Thanksgiving Letter to You

My Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Ted

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Rescuing The Dying American Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

David wrote about it in Psalm 51:17,

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

Ezra 9:6 says it perfectly.

 I prayed,

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

Isaiah 57:15 says,

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

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

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

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

Psalm 97:10 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harvey Weinstein, Stephen Paddock, and Richard Dawkins

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

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

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

Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Letter To My Grandson

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

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

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

Here goes . . .

Sebastian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And,

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

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

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

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

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

Papa Ted

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How To Build A Stronger Core In Turbulent Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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