Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

On Being Stable

God has established two institutions to help us all live healthy and strong lives—the family and the church. Since human beings make up our families and our churches, there are glaring flaws in both. Even so, those who mature wisely draw great mental, physical, and spiritual stability from participating in these institutions. And interestingly, the two entities work well together. If the family becomes dysfunctional, the church has the ability to make up the gap. If the church becomes dysfunctional, the family has the ability to make up the gap. So ultimately, we can all live better lives and be more stable in every way by learning how to build healthy families and churches.

ABC News reports that eighty-three percent of Americans self-identify as Christians. Most of the rest, 13 percent, identify as having no religion. That leaves just 4 percent as adherents of all non-Christian religions combined — Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and a smattering of individual mentions. That means that 83% of our population shares some degree of common direction by believing that the Bible at least includes the Word of God and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who demonstrated for all of us what God is really like.

Inherent in having a foundation of Christian faith is the core value of embracing forgiveness and kindness instead of revenge and fear, and contributing to the health and strength of our families and our churches. Doing so creates a very different world than many human beings currently survive in. I believe everything we do is a combination of five desires within all of us: survival, love and belonging, freedom, power, and fun. When we do our part to create a healthy family, everyone in the family can have those five basic needs satisfied. When we do our part to create a healthy church that our family participates in, more people in our community can have those five basic human needs satisfied. In contrast, when the family and/or church gets sick, we start trying to survive without having our needs being met in a healthy way.

So how do we do our part to build a healthy family and participate in a healthy church? We read our Bibles, ourselves, to glean life-giving ideas that “teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. The Bible corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16b-17).

The first few verses of the book of Proverbs explain the purpose of the proverbs. We can apply this explanation to all of Scripture, which is a strong motivation to read the whole Bible and apply it. Proverbs 1:2-6 says,

“Their (the Proverbs) purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair.

“These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles.”

What a wonderful world we would be living in if we who identify as Christians would simply read and apply the Scriptures. To grasp this idea, read and re-read, then think about the previous two paragraphs from Proverbs. Maybe you could talk about those two paragraphs with someone. Why? Because sometimes we have a tendency to read the Bible just to pick up a few nice ideas, or maybe find good points or suggestions for addressing meetings or preparing sermons. Certainly that is better than never being exposed to the Scriptures. But generally that approach does not get rid of our ignorance of the true meaning of the Scriptures, and leaves the Bible unnecessarily ineffective in our lives. That approach engenders superficiality, both mentally and spiritually.

I’ve seen it too many times. People live their lives as they please until tragedy strikes. Then they randomly ask God to give them guidance through Scripture, or to intervene supernaturally in their situations to relieve their pain. When I see this, I’m reminded that it’s too late to think about fire prevention after your house is burning down, or to start thinking about your health after your second heart attack. You still might be able to get help, but it would have been better for you if you had prepared before your bad day.

Same with the good life God has for all of us. The Word of God was never meant merely for hurried consultations. The Bible was written for study and contemplation, and it was compiled so we can know the Word of God as a whole. Becoming a student of God’s Word can give any of us knowledge of God’s personality and dealings with others so that we can gain depth, richness, and fullness to every dimension of our lives. It teaches us, so we can enjoy full, informed, and satisfying lives. And so that during difficult times, we can stay steady.

I have enjoyed pastoral ministry with significant effectiveness most of my adult life, and I’ve experienced the stabilizing power of God’s Word and Spirit during difficult times. But I can say that the greatest sermons usually come when I am not looking for sermons but simply studying the Word of God for the sake of its own vital truth. Then I can teach the Scriptures in a life-giving way that is both powerful and effective. People love it, and more importantly, God loves it!

Begin today reading the Word for yourself and letting the Scriptures instruct you in a way that builds your life into a tower of strength and integrity. If your local church has a good discussion based systematic study of God’s Word, attend and participate. Then apply those truths so that you can contribute to the health of your family and your church. This will enable you to draw stability from the institutions God has ordained for us—our families and our churches—and within those institutions have your needs met for survival, love and belonging, freedom, power, and fun.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

In Order to Understand the News, We Have to Understand the Bible

It’s impossible to understand our modern world without some understanding of the Bible. Every culture has theological influences that have informed its laws, traditions, perceptions of justice, cultural norms, and educational systems. The Bible has been the dominant theological influence in western civilization.

The Bible was written over a period of 1,600 years by at least 40 authors from three different continents and various backgrounds — including shepherds, kings, farmers, priests, poets, scribes, and fishermen — yet the texts are in perfect harmony with one another.  More people read the Bible today than any other book in the world, and more people have read the Bible throughout history than any other book in the world. It has been translated into 532 languages, and partially translated into 2,883 languages.

When people read it with open hearts and minds, God speaks into their lives. The Bible is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. Humble people appreciate the Bible. It’s helpful, encouraging, instructive, and corrective. It’s not just a book of ideas, but also consists of stories containing lessons that help life make sense. It’s not timid, nor does it gloss over the failures of biblical heroes. It’s honest about our human condition and provides help and hope in the midst of every story. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. Not only is it a good book, but it’s “the” good book.

The nations that have strong Judeo-Christian influences are distinguishable in many ways when compared to nations with strong Islamic, Buddhist, or Hindu influences. And each of those have important differentiating world-views that cause demarcations which can confuse those who don’t understand faith.

Since the 20thCentury, we’ve vividly observed the impact of atheism on some nations in contrast to those that respect faith. Atheistic nations often forbid Bible reading and persecute people of faith, where secular nations, like the United States, accommodate and encourage religious practice, but attempt to be even-handed  between various faiths. However, since the majority of Americans are Christians, Christianity naturally exerts a significant influence on our culture.

Observers place differing values on the influences religious beliefs produce within cultures. Secularists cannot fully grasp world history or current events because they do not understand how faith profoundly influences human behaviors and thoughts.

Without the knowledge of the Bible, many holidays are a mystery and our masterpieces are misunderstood. Jesus taught the idea that power is to be used to serve instead of dominate others. To understand why we protect those with special needs instead of rejecting them requires an understanding of the New Testament. In the West, our desire for equality under the law, our resistance to racism and sexism, our appreciation for charitable organizations that serve, and our desires for mutual respect and our love for music all come from a biblical base.

Many would say that biblical faith is the enemy of many of these ideas and progressive developments, which is why I think people need to read the Bible themselves and discover what it says. A life-giving reading of the New Testament with a foundation of Old Testament understanding is illuminating to everyone I’ve ever known that actually reads the Bible for themselves. The Bible is a unique book in many ways, which is why it is foundational for anyone wanting to be educated.

So why are so many critical of the Bible? I think one reason is because people who are not spiritual choose not to receive truths from God’s Word. Biblical truths sound foolish to them and they cannot understand them.

On a more humorous note, though, I think there are at least three things about the Bible that you really don’t need to know. One is that the Bible is the most commonly stolen book in the world. Two, some say that nearly all of the villains in the Bible have red hair. And third is that the longest word in the Bible is Mahershalalhashbaz (Isaiah 8:3).

Read the Bible yourself. Start with the book of John and enjoy getting stronger and better

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

The Importance of Having Fun

A therapist once told me that destructive behaviors develop in a person’s life in response to pain. That might be true in some cases, but I think many people get in trouble because they simply want more fun, more adventure. We all have taken risks seeking some type of thrill.

  • Alcoholics start by taking a drink for fun.
  • Drug addicts start by taking a drug for fun.
  • Porn addicts start by watching pornography for fun.

However, since fun is a basic human need, we all need to be more thoughtful and intentional about how we have fun so it benefits us, and doesn’t hurt us.

I think Jesus laughed a lot, but we don’t hear much about his humor because overly serious people lead most of our seminaries and Bible schools. The Scriptures are delightful, but some may fear they will appear lacking in spiritual depth if they highlight the funny situations Jesus often created.

Many of Jesus’ confrontations were, in fact, him jabbing his detractors in a clever way that probably left the boys, who were his disciples, snickering. We read those confrontations as sober prose, but I think the actual events might have been Jesus mocking the powerful – with a twinkle in his eye and a playful grin as he glanced at the disciples. In addition, many of his parables that have been analyzed to death by those in suits sporting furrowed brows, pursed lips, and wrinkled foreheads, reveal his sense of humor in confronting the troubled leaders of his day.

He liked troubling them.

I think that’s awesome!

Think about his actions after his resurrection. One was when his disciples were hiding in a locked room fearful of the Romans, and then Jesus suddenly terrifies them by appearing out of thin air — only to say  peace be unto you. Yeah right! He knew what he was doing, and it reveals to me that he was having fun with his followers. My guess is he laughed while they were composing themselves.

Just as our lives must be liberated from excessive gravity, so must our reading of the Gospels and our worship experiences. Jesus came to give us abundant life that is loving, joyful, and satisfying. His faithfulness makes me smile. His provision keeps me in wonder at his majesty. It’s hard to be a Christian and be sad about it. Christ is excessively pleasing. And, as he cleanses our consciences from acts that lead to death, he gives us a strong core, as well as an ability to see humor and laugh.

Aristotle defined human beings as creatures who are risible, ones who provoke laughter. We laugh, not just because we can be silly, but because we can find enjoyment and healing when we have some fun.

I love being a pastor because, for me, it’s loads of fun. Certainly I don’t want to minimize the serious calling and duties associated with competent pastoral ministry. But because I know I’m called, I look for opportunities to strengthen people’s relationships with God and with each other. One way I try to do this is by setting the stage for people to have fun with one another. Hurt, disappointed, and discouraged people can change perspectives and become delightful in a good church. As they connect with other individuals who are healthy and life-giving, they learn, and they grow toward more enjoyable lives.

I am a fan of Dr. William Glasser, the psychologist who developed Choice Theory and Reality Therapy. He connects fun with learning. He said,

We are the only land-based creatures who play all our lives. And because we learn all our lives, the day we stop playing is the day we stop learning. People who fall in love are learning a lot about each other and they find themselves laughing almost continually. One of the first times infants laugh is when someone plays peek-a-boo with them. I believe they laugh because that game teaches them something very useful. They learn, I am I and you are you.

This is one of the reasons I love the way God grouped us: families, communities, churches, nations, etc. God is a trinity, three persons in such close relationship with one another that they are, in fact, one. We are the same way. Families share the same last name, members of a church identify under the name of that church, and citizens identify with their city, state, and nation. God created us to be like him in that our greatest effectiveness in life occurs when we are in healthy, constructive relationships with others. When those relationships are healthy, we are happy. When they are broken, we don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable.

I believe this is exactly why God created all of us in intergenerational groups, families, where we must continually learn wisdom to keep the relationships. When we all learn, we are able to laugh, have fun, and experience peace and joy, and sorrow if necessary,  together. If the relationships are not wisely developed, they fracture; people get uncomfortable and use alcohol or some other drug to artificially create the appearance of fun.

We all know that often doesn’t end well.

Fun and sound relationships go hand-in-hand. I am a 62 year-old pastor with a church that is growing primarily with people in their 20s and 30s. Years ago I bought a couple of ATVs so I could have fun with my children. Now I have five ATVs so Gayle and I can have fun with couples from the church, or I can go with a group of guys from the church. Why? To have fun. Why? Because I understand our basic human need to have fun, and I know that fun connects us. We have fun in the mountains, and that improves our Sunday morning worship services.

Gayle likes to hike with groups of women from the church. When they hike, they talk. When they talk, they learn. And the women that hike with her are happier because as they connect with each other, their enjoyment in life becomes more attainable, and their own relationships are improved. Fun and learning make everyone happier.

Earlier this year Gayle and I went to Israel with some people from our church. Among those who went, there is more vibrant discussion before and after church on Sundays. Why? Because we shared fun, memorable experiences together. We learned, we had fun, and now we are more connected, and thus, happier. Now it’s easier to laugh and have fun together.

We should avoid believing that fun is superficial and shallow and that it does not create intimacy because it does not involve more intense levels of shared feelings. The opposite is actually true. Fun provides common ground to build upon when the need comes for deeper sharing.

Sadly, fun is underrated in both the therapeutic and church communities. Most therapists I know could use more laughter in their lives, and I’m convinced most pastors could too. I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of trauma, pain, and disappointments in life. And certainly, therapists and pastors work to help others heal and recover from these negative experiences. But as successful frontline soldiers and missionaries who are almost daily faced with human tragedy report, one of the secrets to their success is a good sense of humor, which includes having fun. Maybe more people could recover from serious situations by finding ways to laugh more.

We human beings have a core need for fun and enjoyment. That’s why entertainment is a welcome relief for all of us. When we can have fun, laugh, and enjoy ourselves and other people, we enjoy life more.

No doubt, life will present pain, suffering, and disappointment to all of us. In order for us to stay healthy in the midst of the hurtful realities of life, we need people around us who have laughed with us, laughed at us, and get a kick out of our foibles.

It’s the Christmas season. Relax, and have some fun.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

Thanksgiving

Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.

This is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi in Philippians 3:1 as he was preparing to explain the value of our relationship with Christ. I particularly like his exhortation because he says we can rejoice in the Lord in the midst of whatever happens! 

In Romans 8:28, Paul wrote,

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day regardless of their faith. But Christians can be especially thankful because we are assured that because we are in Christ, all things do, in fact, work together for our good.

We often hear about the blessings that are available to us in Christ. But on this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to remind you that there are natural benefits available to everyone who is thankful.

Secular articles I’ve recently read have pointed to the fact that being thankful can:

  • make us more patient and better able to make sensible decisions
  • improve the number and quality of our relationships
  • enhance our feelings of empathy toward others
  • reduce our aggression
  • improve our ability to sleep
  • improve our confidence and self-esteem
  • boost our immune systems
  • lower our stress levels
  • lower the intensity of emotional and physical pain
  • increasing our happiness
  • improve our circulatory systems
  • help our autonomic nervous system function well

We are all made in the image and likeness of God. So all of us, regardless of our faith, can receive great benefits by embracing the core purpose of this Thanksgiving Day — being thankful.

I am grateful for you.

Happy Thanksgiving

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

A Brief Exhortation on Faith

We are created in the image and likeness of God. As a result, we are capable of being rational and relational, of communicating with words—not just actions, and of bringing order to chaos. However, because of our inherent power as human beings created in his likeness, we Christians sometimes confuse our ability to influence our futures using our thoughts, words, and actions with faith. In other words, some confuse faith with the power of positive thinking and emphasize our human power to change things. Often Christians equate these ideas, which have some validity, with faith. But faith is different. Biblical faith is significantly more.

Faith is much more powerful than our human abilities. But the confusion between faith and our God given human power to influence the future has caused some Christians to believe that their own imaginations are the visions God has for them. Then when those imaginations don’t materialize, they are disillusioned.

Faith is believing in and acting on God’s plan before it materializes and recognizing God’s involvement throughout history and in our lives. It’s the ability to believe God—to trust his character and to take his Word as true and reliable. It’s being persuaded that God is who the Bible says he is. This is our response to the work of the Holy Spirit who enables us to hear God’s Word. It requires thoughtful consideration—it is neither blind nor naive. This persuasion results in an unshakable confidence—a knowing—that God’s Word is true. Faith is ultimately God’s revelation inside us that enables us to manifest his kingdom and his will here on the Earth

  1. Faith is a persuasion that God is both truthful and trustworthy.

Faith comes from the Greek word pistis (pis-tis) which means firm persuasion; strong and welcome belief; conviction of the truth of anything.

In 2 Timothy 1:12, Paul said,

. . . I am not ashamed of it [suffering in prison], for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.

When Paul says, I trust, and I am sure that he is able, he is expressing faith. In other words, he is fully persuaded. He is sure. He’s past hoping.

  1. Faith is substance and reality.

Faith is not imagination, nor is it just wishing things we want into being.

Proverbs 12:11 says,

Ahard worker has plenty of food,
    but a person who chases fantasies has no sense.

And Proverbs 28:19 says,

A hard worker has plenty of food,
    but a person who chases fantasies ends up in poverty.

Both of these proverbs emphasize the importance of competent work in contrast to chasing fantasies. Faith is not a fantasy—it gives us direction and confidence in our work. Faith is hearing or seeing what God is doing and believing it. It is the conviction of facts by the inner working of the Holy Spirit, who persuadesus to believe what actually exists. If God gives us faith for something, we can be sure that in the mind of God, it really exists, and as we work in cooperation with God, it happens.

Hebrews 11:1 says,

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

When we have authentic faith, things happen—things that are substantive and real.

  1. Faith is a gift from God.

We cannot work ourselves up into believing. It is not the result of mental gymnastics. The Holy spirit must place the ability to believe God within our hearts as we read the Word and seek God.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8,

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 

  1. Faith is the response to hearing.

God communicates his thoughts through his Word. When he enables us to hear what he is saying to us by the Spirit, this creates within us the response of believing, of being persuaded that what he is saying is indeed true and directed to us.

Paul wrote in Romans 10:17,

So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

So what should we do? Expose ourselves to God’s Word, learn to hear God’s voice, grow in our persuasion that God’s Word is true, and have the confidence in God to let our faith be tested by the realities of life. In other words, faithis living our lives with the confidence that God’s Word is true.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

We Are Easter People

 

In 2006, while suffering the humiliation and consequences of my own sinfulness, I received an email from a Los Angeles Times reporter, whom I’d never met, with this message:

“Remember, we are Easter People!”

Easter is the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and his resurrection allows us to come alive in him. So on Easter Sunday morning we are celebrating his resurrection and his life in us. Resurrection lets us all begin life anew.

With Christ’s redemption comes the assurance of eternal life and of Heaven when we depart this earth. And because of that assurance, as we grow in the reality of God’s resurrection power within, we grow in freedom from fear of death, as well as freedom from the sins that used to darken our lives and separate us from God.

This is why we Christians celebrate our experience in him every Sunday morning. Sunday reminds us of our new beginning in Christ. It’s the first morning of the week, which is a natural start for a new beginning. It reminds us that since Jesus rose from the dead on the first morning of the week, we too can experience that resurrection power. As we celebrate being forgiven, renewed, re-created, refreshed, empowered, and uplifted by his Word and his Spirit, we see hope for our future. We gather world-wide on the first morning of the week to experience a new morning in us . . . a new life through Christ, our risen Savior.

Christians believe in resurrection, even on our darkest days. I am reminded of a two-page hand written letter I received from Oral Roberts in the midst of my 2006 scandal. He enclosed $200 as a seed for my future ministry and encouraged me by writing that I would indeed resurrect. He wasn’t talking about eternal life. Instead, he was talking about my future life of meaningful ministry here on earth after most thought I was as good as dead and buried. Actually, I was. But Jesus resurrected me from the dead. Now I can say with grateful resolve,

“I, too, am an Easter person!”

What’s more, resurrection life not only impacts our personal lives, but it also influences the world we live in here on the Earth.

As many of you know, when we experience Christ’s resurrection power in our hearts and minds, we forgive, we heal, and we love. That process empowers healthy, long-term relationships, better family dynamics, and increased self-control. We delight in helping others, and in pursuing justice, peace, and contented lives. We also are grateful for the opportunity to get back up when we stumble, and to extend that same opportunity to others. We delight in using the power and grace God gives us to serve others. And we know that Christ is indeed risen from the dead and alive in us because we have become the living proof of his resurrected life.

God also often gives us the ability to change the world around us. It was, after all, Christ’s message that leveled the status of every individual, making slave and master, rich and poor, weak and powerful equal before God. The Christian reformation proclaimed that even the royal families (who typically claimed superiority over others as God’s special representatives) were equal to all others before God. When we emphasized that all have equal access to God through Christ Jesus our Lord, resurrection not only influenced individual people, but changed entire nations.

As a result, the foundation of Western law and society is the inherent worth of each and every person. According to Harvard professor, Jordan B. Peterson, in his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, that was not the case in the past, and is not currently the case in most places where the church lacks influence. It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that many of the hierarchical slave-based societies of our ancestors reorganized themselves, under the sway of an ethical/religious revelation, such that the ownership and absolute domination of another person is now viewed as wrong.

This is just one example of what Jesus’ resurrection has done for us. Since, in fact, Jesus’ resurrection provided access to God for all who believe, it gave dignity to all, and provided the way for us to become better people.

Don’t get me wrong, however, I am not saying that our application of our faith has always been perfect either in our personal lives or in our civic engagement. History proves otherwise. But, historically speaking, the problems created by our misplaced application are often the sort of problems that emerge only after an entirely different set of more serious problems has been resolved. We grow in resurrection from glory to glory, and our civil application of our faith develops over time as well too.

Let’s all be faithful believers and let his resurrection power be alive in us individually and as we serve others, after all . . .

We are Easter People.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

Why is Good Friday “Good”?

I’m writing this blog on Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s earth-shattering words, “my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” as he identified with humanity’s separation from God. He experienced tremendous sorrow so that we could be reconciled to God.

After over forty years of pastoral service, I taught my first series on Hell and eternal judgment a few months ago. It was the most counter-cultural set of sermons I have ever taught, but interestingly the crowds grew, the church strengthened, and an appreciation for grace, mercy, the cross, and Heaven intensified dramatically. As we wrestled through the Scriptures, our joy in worship increased, prayer meeting attendance improved, and our youth department grew significantly. I was mystified. Then I saw it: darkness had to be contrasted with light, and thus it follows that there had to be a death on the cross for resurrection to take on real meaning.

The value of Adam and Eve walking with God in the Garden of Eden is realized when the snake deceives them into disobeying God and they suffer the consequences. Abel’s love for God, the blessing on his life and the favor he enjoyed is seen in perspective when Cain kills him because, after all, doesn’t the rejected one often want to hurt the accepted one? Elijah performing the miraculous feat of killing 300 prophets of Baal becomes more vivid when we see him running from Jezebel in such fear that he wants to die. And King David’s majesty is measured against his having sex with the wife of one of his faithful officers, and then having that officer killed so David could escape the exposure of his sin.

  • It is the constant encroachment of chaos that makes us value order.
  • It is the darkness that makes us value light.
  • It is Hell that makes Heaven increasingly attractive.

Good Friday is Jesus experiencing you and me. On Good Friday, Jesus fully identified with us. He experienced our darkness, our separation from God, and our endless toil to shield ourselves from the vulnerability the future holds for us. Aging, accidents, disease, and conflict are in our futures. All of us know what it’s like to be fearful, and angry, and resentful, and bitter. We know what pain means. Not only do we experience these feelings in our own lives, we produce them in others. Even though our parents and our culture told us that we were good and everything would be ok, the suffering of Good Friday reminds us that we have a propensity toward corruption, and that we too often are capable of tormenting and corrupting others.

Good Friday is all about God’s sacrifice for us so that we are not swallowed by darkness. Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil, and the resolve he displayed during those 40 days proved his goodness to us. He experienced every temptation that we have experienced, with complete victory. That gives value to the holiness he builds in us. He paid for our power to be clean.

Good Friday proves that regardless of where we are in life, there is hope and a future.

Gethsemane communicated Jesus’ willingness to do it alone, without support, love, understanding, or kindness. At Gethsemane he was not strengthened by his family, friends, or a supporting group. He did it alone, and that gave value to the reality that we who were not a people have become a people, a family, an assembly, a group. As a result of his aloneness, we now belong to each other.

One of our Elders, Col. Sam Barringer, USAF, was walking our congregation through Hebrews 11, the chapter that lists the heroes of our faith. He noted that the Bible makes an obvious and intentional effort to communicate the failings and struggles of its heroes. Then he emphasized that it was those failures that actually qualified those listed to become the heroes of our faith the Bible describes.

Why in the world do we call the Friday that reminds us of sacrifice, murder, depravity, betrayal, and the deception of humanity toward God’s Son “Good Friday?” Maybe it’s because the badness of Friday is required for us to realize the goodness of Sunday morning. I think so. It does take understanding the depth of human depravity to fully grasp the value and significance of Christ’s resurrection and, consequently, our redemption. Good Friday shows us how bad we human beings are without Christ’s righteousness infused into our lives and graciously dominating us. Good Friday is good because Christ demonstrated perfect love for us in his suffering, and in suffering he purchased every possible blessing for us.

We are resurrection people.

  • Is there a snake in our garden like the one in Adam and Eve’s garden?
  • Will there always be “Cains” in our lives who seem to have it rough, who are rejected and never quite “in,” who quietly allow resentment to grow toward the “Abels” of the world who seem to live easier lives? Do we know “Cains” who want to hurt the “Abels?” Could we be Cain or Abel, depending on the situation?
  • Will we, like Elijah, want to run and hide, or maybe even be tempted to kill ourselves in the midst of depression, after a wonderful demonstration of God’s might?
  • And might we be tempted to satisfy our most basic sinful desires immediately after perfect worship like David?

The answer to all of these questions is YES. That is why Good Friday is so good.

Jesus saved us on Good Friday, so we could resurrect with him on Sunday morning.

And Sunday is coming.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

False Expectations

False Expectations – Palm Sunday shook me up.

After leading Palm Sunday worship services in church for 40 years, it finally dawned on me that the celebration of Palm Sunday was based on the false expectations of the crowd in Jerusalem. They believed Jesus was the Messiah, but their expectations were that the Messiah, Jesus, would use his authority to vanquish the pagan Romans, establish himself as ruler, give the Jews supreme standing above other people groups, validate centuries of belief that the Jews were worshiping the One True God, and vindicate them for the suffering they had faced for centuries.

They were right about the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, but their mistaken expectations of him led to such deep disappointment that they wanted him dead by the following Friday evening.  Those who had loved him switched to hating him because he disappointed them.

My experience as a pastor is that the inevitable disappointment of unspoken and unfulfilled expectations is why most marriages dissolve, why people hurt and blame one another, why most people shift jobs and leave churches, and why revolutions happen. I’ve watched people become dismayed because it’s dawned on them that life, or something in their lives, will not turn out the way they’d hoped. When we don’t do what others want us to do, or they don’t do what we want them to do, our natural response is to become unhappy and do something about it. That’s often our transition from “Hosanna in the Highest” to “Crucify him!”

We all have hopes, expectations, and dreams that are not going to be realized, so we have to cope well with disappointment, or we might start looking for someone to crucify.

I think this is life.

Genesis 3:16-19 records,

Then he [God] said to the woman,

“I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy,
    and in pain you will give birth.
And you will desire to control your husband,
    but he will rule over you.”

And to the man he said,

“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
    whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
    All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.
It will grow thorns and thistles for you,
    though you will eat of its grains.
By the sweat of your brow
    will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
    from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
    and to dust you will return.

All of my life I’ve watched believers try to keep this reality from happening, hoping that the cross undid its effect in their lives. But as a pastor, I’ve known that even though we are redeemed from the curse of the law, we will continue to confront some element of the curse while on Earth until we see Jesus face to face.

Don’t get me wrong. I know we all live with a huge deposit of heaven in our hearts and enjoy the blessings of his Kingdom. We have been translated out of the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of His Dear Son, and we have been liberated from the tyranny and bondage to sin, no longer with any obligation to it. We rejoice in his righteousness planted in our lives, and the freedom and liberty that follows.

As believers, we are, in fact, aliens on this Earth. But we are, still, on this earth. Even though we know there are miracles, we are most often fully subject to natural law. Even though we have our Bible and the Holy Spirit’s counsel, we sometimes make mistakes because of bad ideas. Even though we know the Devil was defeated at the cross and we are dominated by God’s Spirit, not our flesh, temptations still come our way from time to time. And even though we have committed our lives to the Lordship of Christ, we may find ourselves needing to repent for a thought, word, or deed that came from within us, to our own surprise.

I enjoy experiencing the gift of faith, so none of these present realities are discouraging to me. What is discouraging to me, however, is the way some believers cling to a particular faith position and try to impose it on others, while they are in such a dramatic process themselves. Having an expectation of others when our own lives need so much repair leads to grave disappointment and blame.

I pastor an excellent church that enjoys life-giving sanctification unlike any local church I’ve ever observed. We are holiness people. We enjoy remarkable power and life because we decided to read and teach the Scriptures from a first person singular point of view. In other words, we don’t read or teach the Bible projecting the ideas on the lives of others, but instead we read and teach the Bible with our own growth in mind continually working to clean our own houses before we presume to know how the other guy should clean his.

This approach removes the tendency of expectations of others which may lead to disappointment, and keeps all of us grateful to be growing in his grace.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

Slender Man: The Holy Spirit Can Help You With Him

On a beautiful Saturday morning, May 31, 2014, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, two 12-year-old girls lured another12-year-old friend into the woods and stabbed her 19 times in an attempt to impress Slender Man, a fictional character. The two girls who attacked their friend were later sentenced to 40 years in a mental institution.

Gayle and I watched the 20/20 special on this tragedy. As I watched the program, I couldn’t help but wonder if all of their lives might have turned out differently if they had been more involved in a healthy life-giving church.

I pastor St. James Church in Colorado Springs, and enjoy watching the lives of those who attend improve. As any of us develop a healthy walk with the Lord, God’s Holy Spirit motivates us to discard negative thoughts and behaviors and cultivate life and service for God and others. It’s life changing as God’s Holy Spirit works in our lives.

I love the Holy Spirit. He is the third person of the Trinity who is present within us and among us. He is the source of the still small voice of the Lord in our hearts; he is the one who gives us strength when we are weak; and he is the one who comforts us.

Isaiah 11:2 lists some of his characteristics as wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord, all of which he willingly shares with us. No doubt, it’s the Holy Spirit who delivers into our lives the goodness the Lord Jesus appropriated for us on the cross.

The Holy Spirit reveals the love God has for us, and the reality that God sent his Son to the earth to rescue us from the pitfalls that could trap any of us.

No doubt, little girls who confuse a fantasy character like Slender Man with reality are in great need of the Holy Spirit’s friendship.

The Holy Spirit was poured out on the whole earth over 2,000 years ago; but God’s ministry in our lives only becomes dominant when we invite him to be our Lord. It’s then that he saves us from our own dark and sinful desires.

That’s why Paul wrote in Romans 8:13b,

. . . But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.

That life is available to all of us IF we know we have a need and take action. When we participate in a life-giving local church, learn the Scriptures, and invite the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, we grow in God’s loving nature instead of the world’s violent, power hungry, dark view of life. And we can trust the Holy Spirit to illuminate our lives so we can see ourselves accurately. David’s famous prayer from Psalm 139 can serve all of us well. David wrote,

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Now this is where we all have opportunity. Once we become self-aware and acknowledge that we need to eliminate certain aspects of our lives while building other, more positive aspects, we are able to judge ourselves. Then the Lord helps us with the process of becoming better people.

In the case of the 20/20 report we saw, life-giving spirituality may or may not have provided a complete solution for the two young attackers, but healthy spirituality would have certainly helped.

Very often, our spiritual lives give us a desire to improve, a desire to be better people than we currently are, and a desire to serve God by serving others. But the Holy Spirit does not always give us the steps to get there. So often, the Holy Spirit’s ministry gives us the motivation that launches us on a journey to greater goodness, but then we are responsible to identify and then walk the path that eventually gets us there.

If, however, we reject the Holy Spirit’s counsel and involvement in our lives and decide not to deal with our destructive issues spiritually, then we may very well lack adequate motivation and power to change, and are more likely to suffer the consequences. However, if we cooperate with God, he will help us, and sometimes he will discipline us just like competent earthly fathers assist their children in growing in goodness and shunning evil.

In Hebrews 12:9-10, the Bible says,

Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.

So we have a choice. We can try to avoid God’s counsel completely, avoid church, God, the Holy Spirit, and good Christian people, and live according to our best guesses, or we can ask the Holy Spirit to become involved in every area of our lives and enable us to grow in God’s goodness.

It’s our choice.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

Prayer Guide for the Supreme Court of the United States of America

If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Front row, left to right: Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Back row: Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.