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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Harvey Weinstein, Stephen Paddock, and Richard Dawkins

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

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

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

Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Las Vegas Shooter

Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured almost 500 last Sunday night after his shooting rampage from the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino overlooking the Route 91 Harvest Festival. So far, no motive has been established. But a few preliminary facts have been reported about the shooter:

  1. He had no religious affiliation or core religious beliefs,
  2. He had no political affiliation or core political beliefs,
  3. He had few, if any, long lasting interpersonal relationships, and
  4. His favorite activity was gambling.

As I’ve read the news about this shooter, it seems to me that he subscribed to the belief that all of life is based on chance. It might be that in the coming weeks we’ll learn that he did possess a belief system that motivated him. But thus far, based on the reports I’ve read, he didn’t believe anything that would have constrained him from shooting people at the festival. It appears that to him shooting people was no different than shooting fish in a barrel, birds in the sky, or animals in the woods just for sport.

Atrocities happen, but at least we can make some sense of these atrocities when they are motivated by political or religious ideologies (however misguided), or because of a mental illness. To have someone reduce all of life to chance, making it no more than a series of random, meaningless events, and viewing people as no more meaningful than ants in a field, is alarming to all of us.

In recent blogs I’ve been describing what the writer of Hebrews lists as six basic experiences we must have with Christ that are fundamental to God’s perfect plan for our lives (Hebrews 6:1-2). I think these six experiences create foundations in our lives that allow us to become healthy participants in society. These experiences are described for us in the Scriptures to ground us, and when embraced by society, ground an entire culture. These ideas establish us, causing us to be firm and unwavering, and give us a solid footing upon which we can build our whole lives. They also cause us to value our lives and respect others’ lives, which promotes safety among all of us.

They are:

  1. Repenting from evil deeds,
  2. Placing our faith in God,
  3. Believing the doctrine of baptisms,
  4. Practicing the laying on of hands,
  5. Understanding the resurrection of the dead, and
  6. Acknowledging eternal judgment.

Each of these encounters with Christ transforms us, relieves us of impulsive living, and brings stability and goodness into our lives. And they build a world-view that empowers us to serve others. These ideas elevate humanity, cause us to value life, and result in us bringing goodness into the world instead of terror.

Our world would be very different today if Stephen Paddock would have repented of his evil deeds just two weeks ago. Think of it. If he had placed his faith in God, gone to a local church and been water baptized, and had the church leaders lay hands on him imparting God’s blessing and life, he would have never been in the news and many of those now in coffins would be alive.

If two weeks ago, Stephen Paddock would have been convinced that there is resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment, he would have become one more baby Christian, a new creation, a brand new man, maybe even attended a men’s Bible study instead of gambling. And, when he would have died, which probably would have been years in the future, he would have experienced the reality of his redemption instead of an eternal sentence of punishment and suffering.

These six foundational experiences and beliefs are key to building a good life. We don’t become instantaneously perfect, but instead we become increasingly like Christ, full of his goodness and life. We are changed for the better, our lives are not given to chance, but become purposeful, and we are able to produce good and not evil in our world.

Let’s all go to church Sunday morning and invest something good in our lives.

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A Letter To My Grandson

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

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

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

Here goes . . .

Sebastian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And,

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

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

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

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

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

Papa Ted

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How To Build A Stronger Core In Turbulent Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Lent For Us?

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

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

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

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

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

It gives us more time with our family and friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love serving Him with you.

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The Reality Is — Donald Trump is Our President

Since January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump has been my president. Prior to that, Barack Obama was my president, and prior to that George W. Bush was my president. I joyfully supported Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. And I vividly remember loving my America while Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and LBJ were in the White House. I know, I know, in today’s society where people claim their individuality by saying the New England Patriots are not their Super Bowl Champions and, here in Colorado, pot smokers claim everyday life as “not my reality,” it’s convenient not to carry much responsibility ourselves and to blame others for our disappointments. Life is real, and the mark of maturity is to respond to it realistically and responsibly. I know. I’ve been around since JFK and Eisenhower were also my presidents.

It seems harder to respect presidents nowadays. Not because they don’t deserve it, but because the news media prospers by promoting everything bad. One of our leaders might be perfectly healthy, but experience an upset stomach. The news media will highlight every detail of the physiology of upset stomachs, attach sinister ways the upset was created, add a contrarian view that the upset stomach is a deceptive manipulation that reveals the wickedness of the sick one, and finally advocate that the person with the upset stomach should be thrown out of office, don’t ya think! With these types of journalists, it’s no wonder to me that America, possessing the strongest military in the history of the world, has not won a war since the advent of television news.

The news media has refined criticizing and complaining into marketable skills. They have made nagging public figures a favorite pastime, and have become experts at blame, which is interesting because most journalists have never held the positions of those they critique. They give the impression that they are experts on everything. They’re like little kids on the 3rd grade playground who get their giggles telling everyone some tantalizing secret – remember, “you heard it here first.”

Typically, when I have attended an event covered by the media, or experience an event live on TV or radio, then listen to the news coverage and analysis afterwards, I am dismayed. My concerns about an irresponsible press devoted to the advocacy of their own views instead of accurate reporting are reinforced. One nationally known journalist told me that her peers were incestuous and lazy, copying the work of others and slanting it to fit their own narrative of the world. I’ve watched firsthand as they distort events. But in my world, facts matter and I long for our news media to actually report the facts.

Ok, enough about them. Now about me . . .

I am an establishment Republican and a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. I’ve worked and paid taxes all my life, been married to Gayle since 1978, and I tremendously enjoy every member of my family. I live a great life. I like the red barn by my house and the horses in the field. I’m proud of the Air Force Academy across the road and the Olympic Training Center downtown. I am proud of our police and fire departments, and the businesses that provide what we need. I’m grateful for our quality city and state government. I like learning, writing, traveling, speaking, exercising, fighting my fat, and sleeping. I enjoy the people at the church I attend. I especially like the elders and staff in the church I serve. Imagine that! They make ministry a delight. And I like going to New York City and Hawaii for pastors’ meetings with our denominational leaders. I like living in Colorado, and I like hiking the Colorado Trail with my wife and friends. I think bills should be paid, homes and cars should be maintained, and kids should be loved, cherished, and molded into responsible adults. I drive a Ford F-150 pick-up truck, have a gun in my bedroom, and like dogs. I don’t need to vote for change in my culture, I like it the way it is. Go ahead. Hate me.

Enough about me? Now more about me. . .

Now for my reality and my current president — I totally blew it predicting this election. I don’t want to replay the campaigns, and I’m sure you don’t want me to. But this election cycle totally surprised me. When Trump was nominated, I predicted Hillary Clinton would win 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, not because I was for Clinton, I just couldn’t imagine Trump winning. I was wrong. Trump won.

But how did he do it? I think Forbes Magazine’s article on Jared Kushner (December 20, 2016 issue) is the best explanation I’ve read yet on the Trump strategy that won the election. (It’s excellent and deserves to be studied by everyone). So much has been written and debated about this election, but I have some additional thoughts:

  1. I think the press helped elect Trump: Gayle and I watch DVR recordings of Meet the Press and Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square every week. As we watched these shows and other mainstream media outlets align against Trump and blatantly assail him, it actually endeared us to him. Surprisingly, their prejudice, arrogance, and disrespect triggered our kindness and forgiveness toward Trump. Although he’s offensive to many of our values and even inconsistent with many of my political preferences, when the unelected elites in the press became so passionate that their view of America was the only authentic view, I had to reconsider.

Since I believe in the power of checks and balances, and that our republic will survive and there will be other elections, I’m not troubled by any one single election. I am, though, troubled when we put people on the Supreme Court who do not believe the constitution means what it says. My interest was the Supreme Court, not political personalities. When the press was openly calling a guy like me an idiot, a racist, and a sexist for thinking I wanted a president who would appoint a strict constructionist to the Supreme Court, they impacted me. Was I “nuts” and a “buffoon” to think Scalia’s seat should be filled with someone who believed the constitution should be closely followed? I had, and have, very good reasons not to prefer Trump as president, but the Supreme Court is more important to me than those concerns. The press helped persuade me.

  1. I think Sanders helped elect Trump: I think Sanders had better manners and answered questions more directly than Trump or Clinton, but I’ve traveled the world and know that the compelling language of socialism does not deliver as promised. Since Clinton allowed Sanders to pull her further left, I was again motivated to disregard my concerns about Trump. I believe we are in the early stages of the socialization of America, but I did not want to contribute to that slide. When I learned that 85% of Sanders supporters switched to Clinton, that helped persuade me to shift the other direction.
  1. I think Hillary Clinton helped elect Trump: Clinton’s resume was impressive, and I’m not the guy who is going to hold someone else’s sins against them. And I’m not a sexist, so gender did not play a role in my contemplation. But when she identified aborting children as the “women’s issue” of our generation, and refused to differentiate between someone who immigrates to our country legally from those who come here illegally, I became disenchanted. I just couldn’t support her generalizations or determination to characterize guys like me as enemies of Americanism. It appeared to me that the Democrat party had perfected identity politics (dividing people into groups: women, men, college educated, high school educated, native Americans, blacks, LGBTQ, Hispanics, whites, immigrants, students, etc.), and Clinton repeatedly implied these were warring interest groups instead of diverse Americans who value that we all flavor one another, like various ingredients in a melting pot. I like diversity, but I don’t like politicians who assume differences inherently promote competition and hate.

I want government to help responsible people who need a hand, to aggressively retrain people so we can be competitive in a changing marketplace, and to help the disadvantaged, like my special needs son who, without a miracle, will never be able to help himself. I believe our laws need to be equally applied to all of our citizens regardless of race, gender, or religious or sexual preferences. But when Clinton assumed I was against those needing help or those who were different than me, she sent me the other direction.

I want to be a giver, not a taker. There are lots of good people who pay taxes, obey the laws, and support as many benevolent activities in our communities as we can. We pursue our educations so we can serve others, and keep working past retirement age because we think it’s honorable to work hard. We patronize quality businesses and support those in need. By seeming to come against these good folks, Clinton, in effect, helped Trump.

I think it’s too early to tell if Trump is going to turn out to be a good president, but he is our president. Note that in my opening paragraph that listed all the presidents who have served in my lifetime, I didn’t mention their party. Why? Because once they are elected, it does not matter to me. That’s my reality, and my hope is that regardless of your political party, Facebook friends, or age — regardless of the group you belong to, you’ll see the benefit of making our country work. If you are only accustomed to helping when the person or party you prefer is in power, it might be time to talk to some older folks and learn the value of serving people who are different from you. We have a great country. Let’s all serve it well.

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A Proactive Paradigm for Contemporary Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s move forward.

 

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

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Year End Charitable Donations

Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, when so many dollars will be spent on soliciting your charitable giving, I just want to encourage you to prefer your local church. I understand your church probably does not have a marketing agency designing web promotions, billboard, and television ads to encourage you to give. Most churches do not spend money on graphic artists selecting emotionally moving pictures to encourage you to give. And most churches do not even spend funds to send you Christmas pictures. But research has shown that local churches are the most accountable with expenditures, most effective at actually impacting a community for good, and more focused on providing goods and services to their communities per dollar spent than any other type of group.

Certainly many organizations are doing good work, and we thank God for the good that’s done through all charities, but often we take our local churches for granted.

I know that we go to a variety of styles of churches, or maybe none at all. Research shows that the greater the variety of churches in a community helps the community even more, because more people (with varying preferences) are served. Churches facilitate volunteerism more than any other type of charity, thus maximizing impact. Churches also provide multi-generational services, providing a family dynamic that few other charities have. And churches, of course, promote Christ and His Word, where many others are forbidden to do so, or choose to minimize the Gospel because they fear offending those who are not believers.

As far as I know, churches produce more quality lives and families than any other institution. They are just as effective, if not more effective, at combating drug and alcohol abuse, keeping families together, helping troubled students become successful, productive adults, and caring for those in need than any other institution. Studies are showing now that churches have the same success rate at helping the addicted find sobriety as the PhD controlled, high dollar rehab residential facilities. But churches compliment that with supportive families that are there for the newly sober, without needing to be paid. The best results are a combined effort, professional counseling in harmony with a community of faith that infuses spiritual strength.

So even if you are not a believer, just because you care about living in a civil society with good people, you would be wise to fund your local church. We all fund our schools, whether we have students in them or not. Why? Because we hope that well educated people produce a better world than people who don’t know. It’s even more important with churches. People who have been transformed by God’s gracious love, set free from selfish thinking and living, are motivated by love and accountable for their thoughts, words, and actions make better people. Everyone benefits when there are life-giving, Bible believing churches influencing the people in their community.

I once had a district attorney from a large city tell me that he had never brought charges against anyone who had been to church the week before. We all know that is not always the case, but it is certainly the trend. That is why it’s newsworthy when a person who goes to church commits a crime. It’s unusual.

Few of you reading this have ever seen a community without churches, or a community that has not had churches for generations, and you don’t want to. God’s salt and light in any community transforms. The simple public reading of God’s Word every week makes a difference in the atmosphere of a community. Funding a local church near your home is the best investment any of us can make in our lifetimes.

I’m not talking about media ministries. I’m talking about the local church in your community teaching people to worship God.

Churches are important. So please remember your local church when giving this season. It’s the best “Merry Christmas!

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