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Authentic New Testament Solutions

Black History Month Prayer Guide

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

Pastor Terry Thomas

Lifting Up Jesus Church

Colorado Springs

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

James 5:16b

Daily Prayer Guide

February:

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

 

The Black Prayer Network

P.O. Box 26583

Colorado Springs, CO 80936

TBPN2015@gmail.com

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


 

This and other blogs by Pastor Ted Haggard are available at http://www.tedhaggardblog.com as a ministry of St. James Church. If you would like to strengthen the ministry of St. James Church and Pastor Ted Haggard by giving, please use the “give” tab at http://www.saintjameschurch.com.

 

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Authentic New Testament Solutions

The Divine Flow

Love Series #3

Job said, “. . .  when God comes near, I cannot see him. When God moves by, I do not see him.” This could be the testimony of thousands of Christians. They want to be used by God, but do not recognize his presence and guidance when it comes. The Lord is so near, yet they don’t perceive him.

I love God’s people and desire to help everyone of them find the best for their lives. And I believe that every believer, regardless of their occupation, can be a minister to others. God wants to use all of his people to serve others. Every one of us are called into ministry.

But very often we don’t recognize God’s Spirit working in our lives to help us minister to others. Most of us are convinced that God will work through someone else to reach the people we care about. But no one has the relationships and the credibility we have to reach the people in our world. We are special. We are called. We are right where we are supposed to be, the age we are supposed to be, and with the relationships we are supposed to have. With that confidence, we can uniquely help the people around us.

You can reach people no one else can reach. God wants to use you to make your specific world a better place. It starts with your sphere of influence. You are God’s instrument.

But how do we know who we are to minister to and how we are to minister to them?

Matthew 14:14 says, Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 20:34 says, Jesus felt sorry (had compassion) for them and touched their eyes. Instantly they could see! Then they followed him.

In Mark 8, Jesus said, I feel sorry (have compassion) for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. After this, he multiplied the loaves and fishes and fed the multitudes.

There are 21 Scriptures in the New Testament that talk about miracles happening through Jesus after he felt a strong, loving emotion toward people. It’s the same with us. When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior and ask him to fill us with the Holy Spirit, we receive love in our hearts like never before. In other words, we have a greater desire to make the lives of others better. We want to heal those who are sick and give to those in need.

All of my ministry life I’ve watched people be filled with God’s loving Holy Spirit and they always do the same thing: hug people, love people, pray for people, give to people, serve people.

Why is that? It’s because God is love. And when we ask God to take dominance in our lives, love takes over. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are filled with his love.

And just like Jesus was moved by love and compassion toward others, so are we. I call this the divine flow. In the Scriptures listed above, and many others in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus felt love flowing out of his spirit toward others. He followed the flow of that love and ministered to the multitudes. The end result was that the healing love of God brought deliverance and healing to the suffering people of that day. Love directed his life. It led him constantly.

The Devine flow of God’s love in our hearts can move us toward the people God wants us to reach..

2 John 6, quoted here from the Amplified Bible, says,

And what the love consists in is this, that we live and walk in accordance with and guided by his commandments, his orders, ordinances, precepts and teachings. This is the commandment, as ye have heard from the beginning that you continue to walk in love, guided by it and following it.

All of us have had someone come to mind and, when we pick up the phone and call them, or send them an unexpected gift, or visit them, the result is some form of healing. This, I believe is the way we are guided by and follow God—by being guided by and following love.

Let me urge you never to follow hate. Never follow evil thoughts or impulses to get even. Never return evil for evil. Never follow that which is selfish or that which is full of greed and covetousness. These are not of God.

Instead, pay attention to the prompting of the love that is in your spirit. It might be the Holy Spirit guiding you.

I am sure that at some time you have felt God’s love tugging you. God is nearer to you than you may think, and he is directing you through love to share his grace with others.

Don’t miss that blessing. You are experiencing God.

Be guided by love.

Follow love.

God’s love is stifled when we are selfish and mean, unwise or manipulative, lustful, covetous, self-seeking, or deceitful. It doesn’t flow through us when we argue and fight or have ill-will and malice.

Instead, love is living for the good of the other.

Jesus is the perfect example of love, yet he was friendly to some, but not to others; he rebuked some, but not all; and he healed some, but not all. Love is serving others, but it does not mean we are mushy. Love does not make us weak; it gives us strength so we can serve others (see blog #1 in this Love Series).

So, fill up with love by being continually filled with God’s Spirit. Get rid of any bitterness that may be in your heart and avoid strife, filth, darkness, and hurt, and forgive those who have hurt or disappointed you. Think of ways you can gain skills to help you serve people better. This is how you love them. And finally, be open to the flow of God’s love through you, so you can sincerely make life better for others.

Love does lead us, which is why all of us need a secure attachment style (read blog #2 in this Love Series for more explanation of this important idea). When we have a secure attachment style, the love of God can work without hinderance in all of our lives, and we can respond to that love with the wisdom that also comes from God. This is how God will use you as a minister to heal yourself and others. With long-term life-giving relationships and long-term participation in a life-giving church, you’ll gain the wisdom and power to let love direct your life, and you will discover the abundant life God has prepared for you.

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Authentic New Testament Solutions

Attachment: The Key to Love

The Love Series #2

One of the most disheartening experiences of being a local church pastor is observing people who can’t seem to connect with others. As they desperately try to be liked, accepted, and loved, their lack of relational intuition leads to misunderstanding and disappointment. Some mistakenly declare their closeness to others who obviously don’t share their affection. The ones I know are typically sincere Christians who have learned about the importance of supportive relationships, but they don’t relate to others the way other people do. They try, but they just don’t integrate. Often they think they do, but after a while, conflicts begin, and when they leave, feeling rejected, few even notice or care. Actually, it’s worse than that. Healthy people with healthy relational skills are relieved.

This inability to connect with others is often the result of an an attachment difficulty, and many people struggle with this.

Typically, when a new member in a church who unknowingly suffers with a difficulty attaching starts attending, I can spot it. They try to get involved, but soon the developing new relationships appear strained. As time passes, they start to talk about the people in the church with whom they’ve had conflicts, or about those they think have misrepresented them, or challenged them. Sadly, I discover that their family members, if they have them, have seen it before and know that it’s only a matter of time before social difficulties will make church attendance awkward. They also know that their attachment-challenged family member often chooses which church they will attend and they also know, deep inside that something is not right. No doubt before long, they will be motivated to switch churches again. Family members may eventually get tired of this process and find their security elsewhere. This always breaks my heart for the well-intentioned person with the difficulty, as well as for their family.

These attachment difficulties may show up in any of our relationships. As children, we all develop attachment styles, and the most recent research has identified the three dominant attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant.

Social psychologists say forty years ago, about 55 percent of the population had a secure attachment style, largely because most families stayed together, extended families lived nearby, and children grew up in secure, wholesome environments. Now, with new social trends in our country, research reports that up to 60 percent of our population suffers from some measure of an attachment challenge, and that number is steadily increasing.

This fact obviously contributes to the development of our entertainment, consumer-oriented churches, transitional Christians who don’t stay in a local church for any length of time, and professing Christians who prefer self-oriented Christianity instead of giving, serving, sacrificial, family-oriented Christianity. People with attachment challenges are self-protective and they have a difficult time connecting in a life-giving way for the long-term.

I embrace the Scriptures that exhort us to love one another and to grow in love. I believe love can be very emotional, but more importantly I believe that love is choosing to live for the good of another. As I’ve observed people struggling to connect to others in a life-giving, empowering way for everyone involved, I’ve increasingly had to encourage people to learn to stay steady whether they are comfortable or uncomfortable with others. I encourage them to learn healthy relationships, to be healers and restorers, rather than accusers and judges. Under the banner of “staying steady,” I’ve seen many who have struggled to develop healthy relationships learn to grow in love and life-giving relationships. It takes time, and it is very difficult for some. But if they try, they can make it. If they don’t, they typically repeat their pattern.

The best, most succinct explanation of attachment styles I know is described by Dr. Sue Johnson in her book, Love Sense. Below is a quote from her book describing the three styles—secure, anxious, and avoidant—so you can identify yourself and perhaps be more understanding of others.

Dr. Johnson says:

Secure, the optimal style, develops naturally when we grow up knowing that we can count on our main caregiver to be accessible and responsive to us. We learn to reach for closeness when we need it, trusting that we will be offered comfort and caring much of the time. This loving contact is a touchstone, helping us to calm ourselves and find our emotional balance. We feel comfortable with closeness and needing others and aren’t consumed by worry that we will be betrayed or abandoned. Our behavior says, in essence, ‘I know I need you and you need me. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s great. So let’s reach out to each other and get close.’

Some of us, however, had early caregivers who were unpredictably or inconsistently responsive, neglectful, or even abusive. As a result, we tend to develop one of two so-called insecure strategies – anxious or avoidant – that automatically turn on when we (or our partners) need connection. If we have an anxious style, our emotions are ramped up; we are inclined to worry that we will be abandoned, and so we habitually seek closeness and ask for proof that we are loved. It’s as if we are saying, “Are you there? Are you? Show me. I can’t be sure. Show me again.’

 If we have an avoidant style, on the other hand, we tend to ramp down our emotions so as to protect ourselves from being vulnerable to, or dependent on, others. We shut down our attachment longings and try to evade real connection. We are apt to see other people as a source of danger, not safety or comfort. Our attitude seems to be ‘I don’t need you to be there for me. I’m fine whatever you do.’

. . . Secure people see themselves as generally competent and worthy of love, and they see others as trustworthy and reliable. They tend to view their relationships as workable and are open to learning about love and loving. In contrast, anxious people tend to idealize others but have strong doubts as to their own value and their basic acceptability as partners. As a result, they obsessively seek approval and the reassurance that they are indeed loveable and not about to be rejected. Avoidant folks, meanwhile, view themselves as worthy of love – at least that is their conscious stance. Any self-doubt tends to be suppressed. They have a negative view of others as inherently unreliable and untrustworthy. Even in their stories and dreams, anxious people portray themselves as apprehensive and unloved, while avoidants see themselves as distant and unfeeling. (From pages 43 and 45 of Love Sense by Dr. Sue Johnson, bold emphasis mine.)

Here is the good news: The Gospel and the body of Christ can help all of us grow out of our attachment difficulties and find health and strength by growing increasingly secure in our relationship with God and others. But the problem is the dysfunctional person often leaves too soon, thinking they’re self-protecting, and rather than being healed, they simply remain in the types of superficial relationships where they don’t feel threatened. It’s very sad because these people miss the healing strength and security that long-term, healthy love relationships provide. I’ve watched it for over 40 years, with increasing frequency. But Christ and staying in a good life-giving Church provides dynamic and effective solutions. The secret is staying steady and being open to the healing power of love. People who have insecure attachment styles can become secure over time. In future blogs, I’ll give you the information needed to help you live in the love God has for you, and to help you grow in loving relationships with others as well.

 


 

This and other blogs by Pastor Ted Haggard are available at the above referenced website as a ministry of St. James Church. If you would like to strengthen the ministry of St. James Church and Pastor Ted Haggard by giving, please use the “give” tab at http://www.saintjameschurch.com.

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Authentic New Testament Solutions

The Value of Love

The Love Series #1

The Value of Love

A teacher who wanted to do her part to avert school shootings asked her students every Friday to make a list of four other students in their class they wanted to sit with the following week and to nominate one student who they thought had been an exceptional classroom citizen. As she looked over the lists, she would take note of which students were never chosen by others, the ones who were left out, rejected, alone, and those who never could think of anyone to request.

Why? Because that observation informed the teacher who may need her attention the most. She was wise enough to know that when people are alone and isolated, it may lead to difficulties in their lives. It might indicate past or current difficulties, and it is certainly a signal of future trouble. This teacher knew that we human beings don’t do our best when we feel alone, but our outlook improves when we are connected to and valued by others.

As a pastor for many years, I’ve been involved with the rejected, the lonely, the depressed, the mentally ill, as well as those who thrive. I’ve watched as people have enjoyed great successes and endured devastating disappointments. And in all of these stages, I’ve concluded that no other experience has more impact on a person’s life—their happiness and health—than success at loving and being loved and feeling valued by oneself and others. Love makes us vulnerable, but it also makes us safe and strong.

Our grandparents knew the life-giving power of long-term loving relationships, and how to develop them. But this generation is experiencing a tsunami of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. We seem in so many ways to be lost in our attempts toward love and commitment, while we exalt emotional independence, self-protection, boundaries, and blame. We’re exhorted to love ourselves first and foremost. We’re becoming distant and dismissive people in spite of our successes in other arenas. People seem to have lost hope in having love relationships. They’re no longer a priority. Some think they don’t have time for them anyway.

We’re in trouble. We have more professional marriage and family counselors than ever before in our history, but often upon discovery, those very professionals have been married multiple times, and their own children are often suffering from anxiety and depression. We have more books written by highly educated professionals and professional educators telling parents and children how to be successful, as those very professionals have often crashed in their personal lives and in their families. That indicates some gaps in their understanding.

We may have lost our way in how to develop healthy relationships, and we’ve minimized the value of doing so.

I believe that we are made in the likeness and image of God, who is three persons in such close relationship with one another that they are one. As a result, we, too, are most natural, healthy, and productive when we are in loving relationships, and we do not function at our best when our relationships are broken, strained, or non-existent.

Bottom line, love is vital to our existence.

From the Scriptures, I have deduced that love is simply living for the good of another. Certainly, love may include compelling emotions and overwhelming feelings, but it is fundamentally logical and understandable. It’s adaptive and functional. Moreover, it’s malleable, repairable, and durable. To me, love makes sense. It can be perceived, felt, known, measured, observed, and grown. What’s most significant is that it gives us direction and helps us find our way.

Since God is love and we are created in his image and likeness, love is a basic survival code, and our brains are created to read and respond to others in order to increase the likelihood of survival as well as other essential tasks with the greatest ease.

In contrast, rejection and abandonment are danger cues that plunge us into real physical pain and discomfort. My experience in my own life and in observing the lives of others is that even the most distressed people can be repaired if they are guided to deal with their emotions and relationships a little differently. The exception would be the truly mentally ill. But if their cognitive abilities are within normal ranges, most people can find healing and satisfaction in life by learning to love and developing themselves so they can be loved.

In conclusion, a stable, loving relationship is the absolute cornerstone of human happiness and well-being. A good relationship is better health insurance than a careful diet and a better anti-aging strategy than taking health supplements. A loving relationship also is the key to creating a family that teaches the skills necessary to support and maintain a civilized society – trust, empathy, and cooperation. Love is the lifeblood of our humanity and our world.

Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). We all have many ways that we measure our lives. Jesus was exhorting us to measure our lives by our love for ourselves and others.

So the teacher is right: the student that is alone and is not valued by others is in danger. Let’s let the teacher’s wisdom teach us to be intentional in our loving others and in being loved by others. We’re created to do that; we need it.

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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.

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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

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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.