Category Archives: Authentic New Testament Solutions

Prayer Guide For America: The Trump Administration

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 

Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 

This is good and pleases God our Savior, 

who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. . .

In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.

(1 Timothy 2: 2-4, 8)

What we are to pray for:

  1. Ask God to help them.
  2. Intercede on their behalf.
  3. Give thanks for them

The promised results from this text:

  1. Peaceful Lives
  2. Quiet Lives
  3. Ability to be godly with greater ease
  4. Dignity
  5. Catalyst for people to come to Christ
  6. Greater understanding of the truth

The Administration

The Cabinet

  • Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson
  • Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin
  • Secretary of Defense James Mattis
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions
  • Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke
  • Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
  • Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr.
  • Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Benjamin S. Carson, Sr.
  • Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
  • Secretary of Energy James Richard Perry
  • Secretary of Education Elisabeth Prince DeVos
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin
  • Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M Nielsen
  • Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric D. Hargan
  • White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly
  • S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer
  • Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats
  • Representative of the United States to the United Nations Nikki R. Haley
  • Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney
  • Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Mike Pompeo
  • Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt
  • Administrator of the Small Business Administration Linda E. McMahon

(This post is designed to be printed out to be placed in your Bible or devotional, posted on your mirror or prayer wall, posted on Facebook for your friends, distributed to your small group or church, or randomly given to others in public to remind them that God’s response to prayer will benefit all of us. Let’s pray.)

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Repentance Changes my Desires

Repentance begins with a decision to turn around.

Repentance is deliberately turning away from sin and coming to God for redirection.

Repentance gives us a new purpose and determination.

Repentance is the first step in retraining our lives to be godly.

Repentance gives every one of us hope.

The catalyst for me to repent is to accept moral responsibility for my actions and character and want an improvement. I cannot put the blame on others for what I have done, nor can I blame God for my sin. I agree with God’s judgment that I am a responsible, free moral agent.

The Bible says in James 1:14-15,

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

Taking responsibility for my actions rather than blaming others puts me in a position of power over my life because I can change my environment, associations, and other influences. I also know that the renewing of my mind that comes with repentance can dramatically change the way I respond to the things in the world that trigger me to sin. In Luke 15:18, the prodigal son makes the decision to leave the life he created for himself and return to his father’s home. All of us have the power to make that decision. The prodigal stated:

I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you.

All of us have the power to make a decision like this, but we might need assistance to walk it out in order to improve our lives. That’s where we need a supportive group of friends, our church, therapy of some kind, or other resources available to help us walk out our decision to eliminate certain behaviors and live for Christ.

Why? Because we need God’s power and a group of friends to stand with us to follow-through on repentance. Typically, repentance requires us to leave friends who were supportive of sinful activities and develop new friends who are supportive of our repentance. Friends influence the way we think and respond to various influences, which can ultimately change our desires and transform the way we live.

We begin to understand that the appeal of sin is a trap, and that it acts as a snare to grip us and then enslave us.

In Romans 13:12-14 Paul writes,

The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So, remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.

As a pastor, I witness repentance all the time. As people walk out their repentance, their desires change—and when their desires change, their lives are changed forever.

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Repentance Changes the Way I Think

As I grow in Christ, I am so grateful that the Lord caused a revolution in my viewpoint. I love my life. Gayle and I serve a wonderful church filled with sincere believers; I have a wonderful family that is loving, respectful, and responsible; and Gayle and I are in our early 60s with exceptional health, and we are at peace with life.

I woke up at 4:00 this morning with a desire to listen to the Word. I slipped out of bed and came downstairs and listened to four chapters from 1 Timothy. Afterwards, I felt so grateful for the freedom God has given me in my life.

Hosea 14:1-2 talks about how God provides healing for the repentant,

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for your sins have brought you down.

Bring your confessions, and return to the Lord.
Say to him,
“Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us,
so that we may offer you our praises.

When he writes, “so that we may offer you our praises,” it helps me realize that being able to be thankful, to pray, to worship, and to be grateful, are gifts that so many never enjoy. Here I am in the early morning hours, with the cold wind blowing outside and everyone else in our home sleeping soundly in their comfortable beds, thanking God for his goodness. It’s a gift. It’s the fruit of repentance.

Every one of us who have come so far because of him have great reasons for celebration.

Repentance changes the way we think. And for that, I am grateful.

 

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Continuing the Reformation in Our Generation

Religious tradition is sometimes more potent than Scripture itself. For that reason, we, as seekers of the truth, are compelled to question any tradition that is not based on Scripture.

Around 250 AD, the Roman Emperor demanded that Christians sacrifice to him as a god. Many Christians, out of fear of persecution or death, conceded, which resulted in a lapse in their relationship with the Church. Later these Christians regretted their actions and repented. The Church was not sure how to respond to them since many of its members who had not conceded had either been killed or suffered greatly. So the Church was not kind to those who repented, but decided to allow them back into fellowship if they would demonstrate their repentance with displays of humility through penance, sometimes for extended periods of time.

One of these acts of penance required these repentant sinners to lie across the threshold of the church door as the other worshippers who had not lapsed stepped over them to enter the church. This demonstrated the humility of the repentant and the spiritual superiority of the faithful. Other penances required by the Church varied greatly and sometimes included periods of prayer and fasting and the wearing of sackcloth and ashes.

This practice of requiring penance transitioned the Church from being a source of redemption, forgiveness, and healing into serving as a purveyor of judgment and punishment. The unintended consequence of this initial response communicated that repentance was inadequate to appropriate the benefits of the cross. Works had to be added. A belief developed in the Church that if believers sin, they have to do penance to earn forgiveness, which reflected their genuine regret and sorrow for their sins.

This practice expanded over time. When lapsed sinners (those who left the practices of the Church) returned to the Church, their confession transitioned from confession and forgiveness into an interrogation in which the severity of their sins was assessed. During confession, the Church would decide the amount of penance they were required to do in order to be forgiven. Church leaders determined that without a demonstration of sorrow and proof of a resolve to do better, repentance might not be genuine. Thus, the absolution of the sin did not occur until after the penance was completed.

As this practice became the norm, penances were sometimes protracted to the point they could not be done in a lifetime. Thus the departed remained in Purgatory (a place where, according to tradition, sinners continued to suffer until their sins were completely atoned for before they could enter Heaven). To shorten or remove suffering in Purgatory, a family member could do penance for their departed loved one, or buy indulgences (credits provided by the Church) to pay for their sins.

See the progression over time—repentance and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross were seen to fall short of redeeming the sinner who was required by the Church to perform additional acts of penance that equated with the gravity of their sin in order to receive forgiveness.

It sounds repulsive now, but penance became the way for sinners to earn God’s grace. This belief obviously led to abuses. And it was these abuses that led to the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation rejected penance as the sure path to forgiveness because it promoted the idea that repentance based on faith in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross were not adequate to redeem a sinner. The practice of penance required that sinners needed to perform additional work in order to earn forgiveness. Protestants, on the other hand, celebrated the power of repentance based on the redemptive work of Christ alone on the cross as taught in Scripture, and therefore, rejected penance.

But did we Protestants really do this?

I don’t think so.

To this day, Protestants, just like Catholics, punish, shun, excommunicate and exile sinners, we just never say it. And if a sinner is to be forgiven, we require penance for them to be restored to fellowship with the Church. Though we Protestants don’t typically institutionalize penance like the Catholics, nor do we call it that, we practice it through inflicting punitive judgments, contractual agreements, or simple silence toward the sinners which results in social stigma. This is why the biblical definition of repentance is important.  

In 332 AD Pope Damasus I ordered Jerome, a priest and theologian, to translate the Bible into Latin in order to give the Church a standard translation—which we now call the Vulgate. Jerome translated the Bible in relative seclusion in Bethlehem, completing it in 405AD. Afterwards, it became the Catholic Church’s officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible which has influenced the western Church to this day.  Yet Bible scholars believe Jerome’s biggest error was in mistranslating the Greek word metanoete as “do penance” where “repentance should have been. Metanoete literally means “re-think, or change your mind,” which is the meaning of the word repent. Therefore, repent is a more accurate translation.

That one error created a practice that has plagued the Church for centuries because it changed the Church’s role from recognizing God’s grace toward a sinner and acknowledging God’s forgiveness to assessing sinful violations and mandating punishment. Repentance was replaced with works to demonstrate humility on the part of sinners to church leaders and the devout, or maybe self-righteous, Christians. This error helped lay the foundation for wide-spread misconceptions of how the church should respond to sinners.

This is where we need to continue the Reformation in our generation.

What do the four words in the original languages of the Bible, translated correctly as repentance really mean? This answer is critical for every Christian whose faith is based on the Gospel.

The two Hebrew words used in the Bible that we translate repentance are naha and shubh. One communicates the emotion of repentance, and the other emphasizes the decisions associated with repentance.

  1. Naha—means “to feel sorry, to lament, to grieve, to sigh, or to groan.” The word literally refers to difficulty in breathing while one experiences intense emotion. It usually results in a change of behavior and character. David did not stop with feeling bad – he turned around.
  2. Shubh—means “to turn back, to make a radical change in attitude toward sin and God.” It involves both the conscious moral separation from God, and the personal decision to return to God. This word was most often used by the Old Testament prophets when they called God’s people to return to God.

There are also two Greek words that we translate repentance—metanoia and epistropho. The first word reveals the power of choice that we have to respond to God, while the second describes a change in our position and relationship with God after repentance. Combined, these two words communicate the miracle transformation that takes place in our lives when we repent, both internally and relationally.

  1. Metanoia—which expresses the internal, intellectual, and spiritual change that occurs when a sinner turns to God. The actual meaning of metanoia is “to have another mind,” “to re-think” or “to change one’s mind, attitude, and purpose regarding sin.” I believe Hebrews 9: 9, 14, 15b describe this miraculous transformation by saying,

For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer [under the Old Covenant] are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them. . . Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. . . For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant.

  1. Epistropho—which describes the distinct change of position in relation to God that takes place as a result of repentance. This word can be summarized as a spiritual positional transition into being seated in Christ (see Ephesians 2:6).

See what a denial of the Gospel we created when we translated this life-giving idea into punitive works that believers must do for the Church to prove they are repentant! We must intentionally correct this.

God revealed his heart by the way he responded to our sins. We reveal our hearts by the way we respond to another person’s sins.

We deny the Gospel when we respond to another person’s sin by demanding that they work to prove themselves repentant, or work to receive forgiveness. We are the Church. We are not the accusers of the brethren. We are not journalists who expose the sins of others, nor are we District Attorneys who are required to punish others for their sins. We are the Church, God’s institution that provides healing, restoration, redemption, and grace.

Righteousness is given to us freely by God. It is not a result of our works—which keeps us from boasting or believing that we are spiritually superior to others.  God’s authentic Church in the earth is not the gathering of the self-righteous, but of the gratefully redeemed. And our charge is to freely offer that same grace to others.

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Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Repentance?

“Repentance is an about face from sin and dead works to the living God.” That’s what theologians say. They also say, “It’s an entire change of mind resulting in a total change in life.” I think they are right, but I would also add:

  • Repentance is the most positive word in the English vocabulary. 
  • Repentance is the most hopeful idea in all of humanity. 
  • Repentance causes some of the most positive feelings anyone can experience.

So why is our culture forgetting the power of repentance and instead embracing punishment, shame, and public embarrassment as the popular responses to wrongdoing—as if those have ever produced anything good?

As we have learned recently from our politicians, enemies will highlight a person’s weaknesses and ignore his or her strengths or the good that also marks their character. And as we have also seen in the media, a person learning from mistakes, changing, and growing are given little expectation or value. The media calls it flip-flopping or being deceitful. But I know people change for the better every day. I watch it constantly. I’m a pastor, and as a Christian, I know the value, power, and hope of repentance.

This is why Paul, when preaching in Athens, as recorded in Acts 17:30b, told the people that God “. . . commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.”. 

Why? Because God wants the best for us, so he, like any good parent, wants us to get rid of the things that hurt us. So as we meet him and get to know him, his goodness motivates us to turn away from the things that are dark and destructive . . . sinful. . . in our lives.

Repentance is a wonderful gift, so when we have opportunity to repent, we need to take advantage of that opportunity. Notice that after Peter saw a group of Gentiles be baptized in the Holy Spirit, he reported, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life” (Acts 11:18, emphasis mine). When Paul was exhorting young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:25, he said, “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth” (emphasis mine). God gives us opportunity for repentance. We choose to respond or not.

This is why we should all embrace repentance with grateful hearts, and why we as a society are making a mistake by not validating repentance.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he modeled God’s gift of repentance for all of us. After he committed destructive and devastating sins, he reveals the hope we all can receive from God if we will embrace repentance. Read this passage slowly and thoughtfully, then consider going back and praying through it:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me—
now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me . . .

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

Sin is not only the negative, inappropriate, or destructive thoughts, words, and behaviors that violate our lives and those around us, and sometimes society as a whole, but it is also a violation against God and his perfect, wonderful, uplifting plan for our lives. No one wants the best for us like God does, so when we know him, we can repent, and live better lives.

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Can The Police Do What We Can’t?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Value of Taking A Gap (TAG)

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

In 2015, the Free Methodist Convention in Orlando voted to receive me as an Elder in the Free Methodist Church. Immediately after that confirmation of my calling, I started looking for a way to serve. I only noticed one missing component—they did not have a program for the students in their colleges and universities, or for the young people in the Christian community in general, to take a gap year. This is a time for young adults to develop Christian depth, along with life-experience, adventure, and fun outside of the formal classroom.

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

  • 90% are likely to return to college
  • 60%of gap year students say their gap year impacted the choosing of their major
  • 88%are more employable upon graduating college
  • And, 75%report being happy or extremely happy, following their gap year experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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Leveraging Your Money

Yesterday was Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season. All day yesterday, while I was enjoying my family’s Thanksgiving celebration, my phone kept beeping with an endless stream of e-mails beaconing me to buy online now so I could save huge amounts of money. It seems every retailer and benevolent organization is aimed at extracting funds from me in light of the generosity this season elicits. In response, I’ve made this the only time of the year I teach about money. Why? Because we all want to give and spend wisely. So, here is my plea: give cheerfully and generously as your heart leads, and remember to leverage your money for you and your family’s future instead of foolishly spending it.

God’s perfect will for all of us is partially revealed in three key verses:

  • John 10:10 where Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life”,
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9 where Paul writes, “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich, and,
  • 2 Corinthians 9:8 where he also writes, “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”

These and other powerful Scriptures reveal God’s will for us, but I’m always reluctant to teach them because others abuse them. Paul addresses our response to abusive leaders when he writes, “After all, you think you are so wise, but you enjoy putting up with fools! You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face.” But since God’s Word is true, I realize I shouldn’t allow those who misuse these Scriptures keep me from encouraging fellow believers to be blessed by obeying them.

So I met with a group of businessmen from our church and we reviewed the Scriptures relating to this subject, (see Deuteronomy 28:12, Malachi 3:8-12, Matthew 6:24, 23:23, and 25:29, Luke 6:38 and 16:10-12, John 10:10, Acts 20:35b, Galatians 6:7, 2 Corinthians 9: 6-11a and 11: 19-20, Hebrews 7, 2 Timothy 2:20-21). Then I asked them how, from their experience, God blessed them and others they’ve known who are givers.

As you might imagine, the men gave me a long list of ways God has multiplied their giving through the years. Three ideas stood out to me as they spoke:

  1. Tithers become increasingly responsible. The highest earners in the world are paid well because they are reliable. They have safe hands and can be trusted to get the job done. They are stable, dependable, and faithful to complete tasks. People who are responsible are obviously positioned to earn more than those who are irresponsible.
  2. Tithers develop marketable skills. When God wants tasks done here on earth, he calls on people who are capable of doing them. God inspires givers, they said, with a desire to do quality work, and with the desire to learn and improve their skills. People who are competent earn more than the inept.
  3. Tithers develop social skills. These men reported to me that through the years they have observed that when people give to their local church, their social skills improve. It’s an interesting observation, but they said when people consistently invest in their local church, the group dynamic they are investing in gives them motivation to improve their manners. And of course, a person with manners has an advantage over the one who is socially unacceptable. Thus the giver who has developed social skills has greater earning potential.

These men also described supernatural favor with others in key positions, how God gives opportunities to givers, and the flow of good ideas that are evident in givers, all naturally resulting in increased income. I gathered from their discussion that God is very pragmatic in the ways he blesses those who give.

So my conclusion: If every one of us would tithe 10% to our local churches in response to biblical principles, invest 10% of our income in financial investments, improving our skills, or earning a marketable education, and then live on the 80% that’s left, we would leverage our funds so well that, relatively quickly, our investments would produce more income than our labor, and we would have “ . . . everything we need and plenty left over to share with others.”

Now that would be a “Merry Christmas!”

(Typically readers don’t read the Scriptures referenced in blogs like this. I hope today will be an exception for you. In this blog are several references. If you would look those up and study them and think about them, it might change the course of your life in such a powerful way that you, your children, and your grandchildren would all greatly benefit.)

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What? That’s Not What Happened!

Improving Our Perceptions

Perception is reality, or so it seems. I’ve served as a pastor for thousands of people over the past 40 years, yet I continue to be amazed when I hear people recount an experience or recite something they heard someone else say with a slant that reveals more about them than the actual story. Why do we do this? Because all of us see through the filters of our own knowledge and values, and we judge based on our perceptions.

And since our perceptions are distorted to some degree, we all need good churches and friends who can speak deeply, and sometimes confrontationally, into our lives.

I once spoke with a woman who was making damaging decisions for her family. She reminded me of the second half of the Bible verse, “A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish women tears it down with her own hands” (Proverbs 14:1). I gently tried to point out to her the direction her decisions were taking her and the outcome they could produce in her family, but she rejected my comments and refused to see her situation apart from her own perception. She’s now alone, divorced, and estranged from her children.

Through the years, I’ve observed many wise women who’ve learned the skills necessary for building a stable and strong home and family. And through the years, I’ve also observed many women who have unwittingly torn down their own homes and families. In most cases, the foolish ones never know what they did and typically they blame others for their family’s demise. (Others, no doubt, share the blame, but we all must ask what our part is—how do we help to build or heal rather than contribute to the destruction.)

This idea applies to men as well. It applies to all of our lives, families, and relationships.

I taught a class on “Renewing Our Minds, How To Change Our Brains.” In that class, we studied Paul’s exhortations to think certain ways and how that actually changes our physical brains and, as a result, our behaviors. Along with biblical insight, we discussed materials from reality and cognitive therapists who emphasize how our behavioral responses reflect our thinking.

Below are a few of the cognitive distortions we’ve discussed in class that impact how we see ourselves, our circumstances, and others that may cause us inadvertently to harm those we care about.

  • Maximize/Minimize: In Matthew 23:24 Jesus warns against “straining at gnats, but swallowing camels.” He is referring to us filtering events. For example, we take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation; or we maximize what is insignificant while minimizing what is truly significant.
  • Polarized Thinking: In polarized thinking, we see things simplistically. Things are black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. Polarized thinking avoids gray areas and nuances. It’s easier to have this kind of certainty, but it’s seldom accurate.
  • Overgeneralization. All generalizations are false. When we overgeneralize, we often come to a conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence rather than accepting that everyone and every situation is in a continuum of change. When we overgeneralize, we overuse words like “always” and “never.”
  • Jumping to Conclusions. This cognitive distortion causes us to think we know what others are feeling or their motivations. We think we know, but in fact, we are simply presuming to know.
  • Personalization is a distortion where we believe that everything others do or say directly relates to us.
  • Blaming. We hold other people responsible for our decisions or our happiness. For example, “Stop making me feel bad about myself!” Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our emotions and responses.
  • Fallacy of Change. We expect that other people will change to suit us if we just pressure or cajole them enough. We need to change people because our hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.

So how do we change our perceptions to make them closer to reality? How do we change them so we can respond to others in a more Christ-like way?

We intentionally grow in Christ, renew our minds, and develop quality friendships.

If we think about it, we can identify our distortions. Others have been pointing them out to us for a long time—either verbally or through their actions. But if we don’t know, we should ask someone we trust.

I have often said that if our enemies are the first ones to tell us the truth, then we don’t have any authentic friends. If we have friends, they can help us see more clearly what our distortions are so we can make changes to improve our lives and relationships. If we don’t have friends, we can start taking steps in our local church and community to make friends that will help us build healthy, stable lives and relationships.

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What Do You Want? And the Other Three Questions That Will Change Your Life!

I discovered four questions in William Glasser’s Choice Theory several years ago that have helped me identify solutions in my life, and I’ve used them to help others do the same. In public meetings and private counseling sessions, I’ve found these four questions initially get some laughs, but then they challenge all of us to think intentionally about creating more satisfying and productive lives for ourselves. As we grow in Christ and in wisdom, our answers to these four questions can help us develop the lives we want.

1. What do you want? For most Christians, their answers are connected to their faith and calling. But I encourage them to think beyond that, about their desires to be physically safe, secure in their relationships, and accepted and respected by others. It always makes Christians smile when I ask them about the amount of money they want (because, of course, everything is more convenient when they have more money), and how much influence they think they need to be happy. I also ask them whether they have enough control over their lives at home or at work (or maybe on Facebook) to experience the significance they desire. I ask them how much freedom they want in contrast to the amount they have and if their desires for adventure and fun are being met.

Asking people what they want always leads to engaging conversations. People come for counseling because they are unhappy with something in their lives. Giving them permission to identify what they want often causes them to contemplate their answers seriously.

Because we Christians are trained to serve Christ first, others second, and ourselves third, we are sometimes deeply dissatisfied but don’t understand why; after all, we are faithful Christians and that, we believe, should suffice. But if we are unhappy, dissatisfied, or empty inside, we need to talk that through in a non-judgmental setting or we might make some horrible mistakes. This leads to the second question.

2. What are you currently doing to get what you want? Sadly, most of us do things that do not lead us to the life we really want. If we live according to instinct or as a reaction to others, our lives often become the opposite of what we intended. So I ask people to realistically assess their behaviors. And that leads to the third question.

3. So, how’s that working out for you? This question always makes people laugh (or cry) because they did not come for counseling because everything is ok. They came because something is not lining up with the life they envision for themselves.

For most of us, some of our behaviors are helping, and some are not. I tell people that negative things happen naturally, but good things require intentionality. If we need to make changes, it actually does not matter where we are in life currently, what matters is the trajectory we establish to go forward toward what we want.

At this point we discuss how everything in their lives affects everything else in their lives — that their spiritual life will give them ideals, motivations, and power, but then they have to make choices that will impact their thoughts, their emotions, and their behaviors. And these four elements (spirituality, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors) can work together to get them where they want to go if they are intentional.

This concept is always a relief because it communicates that no one is trapped, victimized, or without power over their future. We have God-given abilities to move our lives in the direction we want to go, but we must be intentional. If we are random, we might be the ones creating misery in our own lives. This idea leads to the fourth, very helpful question:

4. What can you do, that you are not currently doing, to get you what you want? At this point, biblical principles come to life in a powerful and meaningful way. We always have choices to make that can move us forward and help us achieve what we truly want. None of us are ever trapped. Regardless of our current situations, we can make choices that will move us in a positive direction.

The inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the directives of Scripture help us set priorities and motivate us to improve our lives. But very often we have difficulty identifying the practical steps necessary to achieve our goals. These four questions can help us create a path that leads to the deep satisfaction and happiness we’re seeking.

These questions give us direction about who and what we should love, and where we need to place boundaries. The answers to these questions establish how we should spend our time, our money, and our energy. The answers to these questions tell us whether we need to receive an additional degree or certification, lose weight, exercise, or memorize the Scripture.

The point is these four questions give us a framework for intentionally achieving what we truly want in our lives. Our spiritual lives give us power and motivation; these four questions help us discover a methodology for getting there.

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