Tag Archives: Bible

What? That’s Not What Happened!

Improving Our Perceptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blaming Won’t Help You

I gave my life to the Lord in June of 1972. Since that time, I’ve enjoyed learning the Scriptures, functioning in the body of Christ, and growing in my relationship with the Lord. But to my surprise, as the years passed and I became stronger in my faith and my walk, I discovered I had inadvertently surrendered Jesus’ Lordship in my life to others.

I lived a successful life until 2006. My spiritual growth was healthy and my relationships were strong. My wife, Gayle, and I enjoyed a loving relationship, and we enjoyed raising our five children together (and continue to delight in our relationships with them to this day).

But in 2006, I crashed. When I crashed, I did what I thought was right and surrendered my family, all of my accomplishments, personal power, and influence to others. For the first time since childhood, I became totally dependent on others. Now I reflect back on that season of dependence upon others as the greatest mistake of my life. In my weakness, I hoped others would do what I was responsible to do. By resigning, repenting, confessing, and submitting I inadvertently forfeited Christ’s Lordship to people and, as a result, so many, including myself, suffered unnecessarily.

As a result, the church I now pastor, St. James Church, is thriving under the philosophy that each of us carries the responsibility to become stronger, more capable people in Christ. This philosophy is developing a unique church in a national culture that encourages blame, weakness, victimization, and entitlement. St. James Church stands apart from those who give people excuses for the failures in their lives as being the result of disappointing or dysfunctional relationships, trauma, pain, and/or past experiences. Instead, we have learned that in Christ we can be filled with the power of God and renewed in our minds, which gives us the motivation to overcome the impact of past traumas and to grow in competence and strength. As a result, we can then discover effective tools or steps that enable us to live in freedom, and to thrive and grow in the Lordship of Christ, rather than under the power of alternative lords.

For example, if I say, “My boss makes me so angry,” I am saying that my boss is lord over my emotions, not Christ. It may be true that my boss might do things that I don’t like, but I don’t have to give him or her power over my emotions, I do have other choices.

If I say, “I have an addiction problem because of a trauma I suffered 10 years ago,” I am saying that I am incapable of overcoming that trauma, that my trauma is now lord over me, and I will be identified by it and victimized by it the balance of my life.

We don’t have to be that weak. For example, it might be true that trauma has impacted us in a significant way, but that does not mean we must surrender to the effects of that trauma for the rest of our lives, making that trauma lord over us. We don’t have to be defined by our traumas. That is, we don’t have to surrender to the lordship of trauma when Jesus is, in fact, our Lord. Identifying trauma may help us understand certain behaviors, thoughts, and difficulties, but we can make choices to disempower trauma’s lordship and establish Jesus’ Lordship over us.

When I learned that a traumatic childhood experience resulted in some incongruity that I dealt with as an adult, others assumed it was an excuse, a way of evading responsibility. I never saw it that way; instead, I saw it as information which gave me the understanding I needed so that, empowered by Christ, I could overcome the effects of that trauma and live a healthy life. I’ve done that.

So my word of caution is: if you are talking to a pastor, counselor, or friend about an issue in your life and they allow you to blame your situation on another, dismiss their counsel. Then go talk to someone else who will explore your options with you. If their intent is to help you get to a better place, even with the facts as they are, then you will be empowered to make good decisions and improve your situation. You can’t control others, and you can’t change your past, but you can control, or gain control, over yourself, your choices, and your responses. And you can improve your future.

As soon as you blame others, you are acknowledging their lordship over you, and you’ll find yourself powerless and victimized.

But you always have options. The Lord will never allow you to be in a situation where there is no way of escape. He will always point us in the direction of healing.

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Christians De-Throning Christ

I gave my life to the Lord in June of 1972. Since that time, I’ve enjoyed learning the Scriptures, functioning in the body of Christ, and growing in relationship with the Lord. But to my surprise, as the years passed and I became stronger in my faith and my walk, I discovered I had inadvertently surrendered Jesus’ Lordship in my life to others.

I lived a successful life until 2006. My spiritual growth was healthy and my relationships were strong. My wife, Gayle, and I enjoyed a loving relationship, and we enjoyed raising our five children together (and continue to delight in our relationships with them to this day).

But in 2006, I crashed. When I crashed, I did what I thought was right and surrendered all of my accomplishments, personal power, and influence to others. For the first time since childhood, I became totally dependent on others. Now I reflect back on that season of dependence upon others as the greatest mistake of my life. I believe that in hoping others would do what I was ultimately responsible to do, I forfeited Christ’s Lordship and as a result, so many, including myself, suffered horribly.

As a result, the church I now pastor, St. James Church, is thriving under the philosophy that each of us is responsible to become stronger, more capable people in Christ. This philosophy is developing a unique church in a national culture that accommodates blame, weakness, and victimization. We stand apart from those who give people excuses for the failures in their lives as being the result of disappointing or dysfunctional relationships, trauma, pain, and/or past experiences. Instead, we have learned that in Christ we can be filled with the power of God and renewed in our minds, which gives us the motivation to overcome the impact of past traumas and to grow in competence and strength. As a result, we can then discover effective tools or steps that enable us to live in freedom, and to thrive and grow in the Lordship of Christ, rather than under the power of alternative lords.

For example, if I say, “My boss makes me so angry,” I am saying that my boss is lord over my emotions, not Christ. It may be true that my boss might do things that I don’t like, but I don’t have to give him or her power over my emotions, I do have other choices.

If I say, “I have an addiction problem because of a trauma I suffered 10 years ago,” I am saying that I am incapable of overcoming that trauma, that my trauma is now lord over me, and I will be identified by it and victimized by it the balance of my life.

We don’t have to be that weak. For example, it might be true that trauma has impacted us in a significant way, but that does not mean we must surrender to the effects of that trauma for the rest of our lives, making that trauma lord over us. We don’t have to be defined by our traumas. That is, we don’t have to surrender to the lordship of trauma when Jesus is, in fact, our Lord. Identifying trauma may help us understand certain behaviors, thoughts, and difficulties, but we can make choices to disempower trauma’s lordship and establish Jesus’ Lordship over us.

When I learned that a traumatic childhood experience resulted in some incongruity that I dealt with as an adult, others assumed it was an excuse, a way of evading responsibility. I never saw it that way; instead, I saw it as information which gave me the understanding I needed so that, empowered by Christ, I could overcome the effects of that trauma and live a healthy life. I’ve done that.

So my word of caution is: if you are talking to a pastor, counselor, or friend about an issue in your life and they allow you to blame your situation on another, dismiss their counsel. Then go talk to someone else who will explore your options with you. If their intent is to help you get to a better place, even with the facts as they are, then you will be empowered to make good decisions and improve your situation. You can’t control others, and you can’t change your past, but you can control, or gain control, over yourself, your choices, and your responses. And you can improve your future.

As soon as you blame others, you are acknowledging their lordship over you, and you’ll find yourself powerless and victimized.

But you always have options. The Lord will never allow you to be in a situation where there is no way of escape. He will always point us in the direction of healing.

More about this next week.

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When Paul Said “Our Flesh,” Could He Have Literally Meant Our Flesh?

“Ted, you do not have a spiritual problem. You are spiritually strong,” said the lead therapist of a team of counselors who met with me in 2006. My goal in being there was to determine why I struggled with an incongruent issue in my life.

“You test in normal ranges on all of our tests. You are mentally and emotionally healthy,” he continued, “your ability to reason is substantial. If your struggle was spiritual or rational, you would have settled this long ago. But it is neither of those – it’s physiological.”

The doctor continued, “You experienced a traumatic incident when you were a child that you have never addressed. That trauma conflicts so much with who you are, your faith, culture, commitments, and relationships, that you have ignored it until now. But now it’s demanding expression. That’s why you thought it was spiritual. It was so contrary to everything you stand for, you couldn’t imagine it being part of who you are. But it is. It’s physical, and we know how to work with it. You’ll go through trauma resolution therapy while here. It will force your brain to deal with an incident in your life that you’ve resented for over 40 years. Once this is integrated, it will effectively give you relief, and as time passes, that relief will be progressive. This will be an answer to your prayers.”

This conversation changed my life. It gave me the explanation I needed to go forward because it explained so many things Paul said about himself, and it clarified my own growth process in Christ.

I had been confused in 2006 about the events that transpired because I was sincere in my beliefs and commitments, and at that time I thought my sincere devotion was enough to help me overcome anything. I was not a hypocrite or a manipulator. I sincerely loved God, the Scriptures, and the Church. But I struggled with unwanted, intrusive thoughts and compulsions that kept me from fully being the man I wanted to be. When my sins became public in 2006, I readily resigned, confessed, repented, and submitted to church authority. My goal was to grow in sanctification.

Since that time, I’ve become even more convinced that we can do everything Christ wants in our lives if we’ll take responsibility to pursue him at any cost. In my case, it’s been costly, but my prayers have been and are being answered.

So why do we do the things we do? As committed Christians, we hope that all of our actions, attitudes, thoughts, and words are a reflection of Christ’s lordship in our lives. But we human beings are growing and developing, knowing that we’ll only be perfected one the day when we see Jesus face-to-face. But in the meantime, as Paul said, we have opportunity to renew our minds.

Renewing our minds involves neuroplasticity, which is the ability of our brains to structurally change. I think this is the dynamic Paul addressed when he told us to think on certain things (Philippians 4:8), to renew our minds (Romans 12:2), and to develop the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). In other words, we must overcome the natural tendency in our minds that motivates behaviors that are not congruent with our Christian call (Romans 7:14-25, Galatians 5:19, 2 Corinthians 12:7).

For over 2,000 years, Bible scholars have struggled with Paul’s use of the Greek word “sarx” in his writings. This Greek word has been traditionally translated into English as “flesh,” and in some newer translations the “old sin nature.” Both of these translations are, of course, accurate and helpful. But now, with our developing understanding of how brain physiology impacts our lives, the word “sarx” takes on a new depth of meaning.

In Romans 8, Paul exhorts us to be dominated by the Holy Spirit as opposed to our “flesh” or “old sin nature.” Due to advances in neural science, we now understand how biblical references to our minds can improve our brains, and thus transform our lives. Our brains are repositories of natural thinking, survival instincts, unforgiveness, trauma, and fear. They physically store the portion of our lives that we Christians want to crucify in order to live a stronger Christian life. Our minds, our brains, can be rewired so our lives can be transformed. When Christ fills us with his life by his Word and Spirit, our old sin nature and our new nature in Christ conflict. But the potential for transformation is the reality that the Bible encourages, and now we are beginning to understand how that works.

Could it be that Paul meant EXACTLY what he wrote, and that we can, in fact, be transformed in every area of our lives by the renewing of our minds? I’ll write more about this in the future and explain the renewal Christ has given me.

 

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Is Allah God?

God is the creator of the universe. He sent his Son, Jesus, to reveal himself to us. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to infuse his life into us. But he is not the only spirit in this world. There are other spirits masquerading as God.

Our world has five types of spirits in it;

  • God’s Holy Spirit,
  • human spirits,
  • angels,
  • demons, and
  • Satan.

The one true almighty God, who created the universe, created us to reflect him. We are spirits who live in bodies for a while here on this earth, but our bodies are not us. We are human spirits who have the capacity to be infused by God’s Holy Spirit and receive his life. Angels are spirits who serve the one true God. They are messengers who do his bidding.

In contrast, our spirits can also be infused by the “god of this world” (see 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 1John 5:19) or many other spirits who have evil intent and pollute people with bad ideas, deadly motivations, and darkness.

Evil spirits are commonly referred to as demons. Most Bible scholars believe demons were angels who rebelled against God and are now fallen. They are submitted to Satan, who is the god of this world.

As the god of this world, Satan wants people to believe he is THE all-powerful God. He rebelled against God because he wanted God’s authority, just as he does today. But he is not God, nor is he like him. He is a deceiver and a liar, and gains his power by lying to people and pretending to be light, when in fact, he is not. Paul wrote, Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14b-15a).

John addressed contrasting spiritual influences when he wrote 1 John 4:1-8

Dear Friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

 But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.

 Dear Friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

I define love as “living for the good of the other.” Since God loves us, he lives and cares for our good. If we, in turn, love him, we live our lives caring for his good. When a man and woman love each other, they live for the good of the other. This is one way Jesus (God’s Son) contrasted himself with Satan. He identified Satan as “the thief” and said, The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life (John 10:10).

The world is in a clash of civilizations, which might be the manifestation of a clash between the ideas of people who submit their lives to contrasting spiritual influences. The west is influenced by the ideas of Christendom; the Islamic world wants to please Allah. Some believe that Allah is just a translation of the English word, “God.” But that is not entirely accurate. When a Muslim learns English, they don’t start referring to God instead of Allah, but instead maintain the name, Allah, as the name of God.

Several years ago, political scientist Samuel Huntington published his famous book, The Clash of Civilizations, which gave a gloomy prediction of our future. In contrast, Thomas Friedman gave us a compelling counter-argument in his writings, that the forces within freedom, liberty, prosperity, free-markets and globalization would make the world more prosperous and safer for all. His implication was that Muslims would choose comfort and prosperity instead of adhering to the growing fundamentalist Islamic movement.

During that time I developed a series of talks contrasting these views, and interjected within them the role of the Church, Islam, the necessity of Christian missions and education, and the importance of the Church for the success of western ideals in the future. In addition, I participated in a series of decision-making discussions with major global leaders on what we referred to as the Huntington/Friedman contrast of the global geo-political situation and thus, our futures. Back then, I hoped that Friedman was right, but I also said that it was contingent on the wisdom of our Christian leaders. At that time I was concerned that evangelical leaders were distracted, that they had taken their eyes off of our primary global responsibility. Sadly, that opportunity is now past for the Church, and based on current geo-political indicators, global events indicate that Huntington was right.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the popular author of the best-selling book, Heretic, Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, has hope. She is urging the Islamic world to have a reformation similar to that of Christendom. She wants Islam to:

  1. Amend Muhammad’s semi-divine status, along with the literalist reading of the Quran.
  2. Amend the supremacy of life after death.
  3. Amend Shariah, the vast body of religious legislation.
  4. Amend the right of individual Muslims to enforce Islamic law.
  5. Amend the imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.

I do not believe this will happen. Christian reformation happened because the practices of the Church had veered away from Scripture and the reformers were demanding a higher view of Scripture in both faith and practice. In other words, our reformation facilitated an emphasis on the Scriptures and thus, the life-giving Spirit of God. The opposite is the case for Islam. When Muslims adopt a higher view of the Koran, they are radicalized, not for representing the love of God, peace, respect for others and forgiveness, but for a harsh demand of obedience to Allah and annihilation of those who don’t comply.

For there to be a reformation of Islam comparable to the Christian reformation, its adherents would need to grow away from the tenets of their faith and adopt a lower view of the Koran’s teachings. In other words, they would need to separate themselves from the spirit of Allah and turn, instead, to the Spirit of life. When Christians become devoted, they increasingly adhere to the teachings of the Bible that encourages them to love, forgive, turn the other cheek, be healing, and be kind. When Muslims become devoted, they tend to go a different direction.

Certainly we’ve seen that not all of those who claim to be Christians are immune to demonic ideas themselves. But our historic mistakes have not been representative of Christ or the New Testament Spirit-filled life he offers, even though some Christians will try to use the Scriptures to defend their own atrocities. President Obama was right when he reminded Christians at The National Prayer Breakfast of what we as Christians do when we are not operating in the life-giving Spirit of God, but are religious ourselves. He said, “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Jesus experienced this when Satan tempted him in the wilderness by using the Scriptures against him. God’s good work within the human heart is a spiritual uplift, an enlightenment, an ascent to a higher way of thinking. It lightens the load of life and provides encouragement. It is not the religious bigotry that some wrongly promote.

An open hearted reading of the New Testament offers God’s solution to wickedness in the human heart and removes the opportunity for outside evil influence, if and only if we submit to the Lordship of Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit. If not, we’ll find ourselves hating and warring just like all who follow the “god of this world.”

Bottom line, any time we human beings depart from the Spirit of the one true God who is loving, redemptive, forgiving, healing, and kind, we find ourselves manifesting our own fallen natures influenced by the deadly god of this world. But this is the opposite of our Christian faith. Christian reformers had only to point to the Scriptures to teach us this. To what do Islamic reformers have to point their followers?

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Genesis 1, Pope Francis and Evangelicals

Pope Francis stimulated interest in Genesis 1 with his comments on the Big Bang and Evolution, especially among conservative Evangelicals. We tend to defend a more literal interpretation of Scripture and are a movement that highlights the centrality of the Word in our faith and practice, so some evangelicals are concerned that the Pope is compromising biblical authority.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the first sentence of the first book of the entire Bible. It establishes one of the first great truths God wants all of us to understand—that he created everything.

Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Does this describe the first condition of the earth after its creation? And what of the six days which follow in this first chapter? Do they describe the process of the original creation?

Note that in verse 1, the Bible highlights creation, where God created the heavens and the earth. Later verse 21 describes the creation of the animals, and verse 27, the creation of people. The Bible differentiates between the original creation of the earth and its subsequent reconstruction making it suitable for people. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the six days in this first chapter do not necessarily describe the original creation of the earth.

When verse 2 describes the earth as formless, empty and dark, it doesn’t mean that is the condition of the earth immediately following its initial creation. Actually, there is no way of knowing how many millions, or maybe billions, of years might have passed between verses 1 and 2. For us to assume that all God has ever done is create the universe, the animals and all of us is too limiting for the Eternal, Almighty God. He is God. This universe might just be one of his creations, and there are obviously mighty things he did before our Genesis account, and that he will do after the accounts in Revelation conclude. Remember he always has been and always will be. He was before the creation of the world as we know it, and will be long after we pass into eternity and the earth enters a new phase that is far beyond the final accounts in the book of Revelation. The Bible gives us an understanding of God as we need to know him for our salvation, so that revelation is not thorough in every other subject. We will all learn more when we step into eternity, and still more when we see him face to face.

The English Bible translators could have translated the third word in verse 2 “became.” “The earth became formless and empty, . . . “ The same Hebrew word is translated “became” in Genesis 2:7b where the Bible says, “He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” In other places, translators use “and it came to pass” when translating this Hebrew word. So Genesis 1:2 could read, “And it came to pass that the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. . . “ That would have given the average English Bible reader a grid for understanding when visiting the Natural History Museum.

The first verse of Genesis simply states the fact of the original creation, and leaves it there, in the dateless past. Then verse 2 tells of the chaos which came to this earth later. And then the six days which follow describe the re-formation of the earth with a view of earth becoming the habitation for people having the history of which we have a biblical record.

When I was in high school, my pastor taught that scholars guessed regarding the cataclysm that disorganized God’s original creation between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. He called this the Gap Theory, and speculated that maybe some pre-Adamite rebellion of which we have no record, or maybe the judgment of Lucifer, and the angels that followed him, created the disorder described in Genesis 1:2. We don’t know, but if you are interested, study Isaiah 14:9-17, Jeremiah 4:23-27, and Ezekiel 28:12-18. These passages certainly communicate that much could have gone on during this period that may not be explained to us by God until eternity.

The Bible does not say evolution is impossible, and it’s within biblical parameters that there might have been several big bangs in the development of the universe, with more to come. During the first four days in Genesis 1, no creative acts are recorded. It’s only when we come to the animals and the human race that the Hebrew word for “create” is used. It is not a stretch that these six days give the account of a new beginning, but they are not necessarily the first beginning.

As a conservative Evangelical with a high view of Scripture, I believe the Pope might be right on this one, without compromising biblical authority.

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Could Losers be Losers for a Reason?

It’s election season, which is an opportune time for us to think about success, security, the role of government, and our overall philosophy about what is important to us. As a pastor, I often think about these ideas because I want everyone I know to be better off, to be able to enjoy their families and their relationships, and to be free from worry and fear.

I understand the realities of earth in contrast to Heaven, but it’s sometimes frustrating to watch people destroy their own families, relationships, potential for greater earning, and future security. I’ve watched some live life well and enjoy the benefits; and I’ve watched others live without intentionality, often resulting in failure. The vast majority of the time, though, those who win are those who invest in making life what they want it to be.

I think Jesus revealed a major life principle when he said, “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29).

I tell my kids that all good things are earned, but bad things will happen all by themselves.

I am aware of and don’t appreciate the shallow portrayals of success. I understand that the poorest American lives better than the royalty of 100 years ago, so I’m not writing this to promote the American “we’ve all got to have more stuff” idea. I know we all have reason to be grateful. I am, though, persuaded that God wants our lives to improve. I appreciate Jesus saying, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10b).

No doubt, people who know their heavenly Father and consistently participate in their local church have greater potential to do better in life. Why? Because in church we learn that we are here for God’s purpose, that God’s grace is in us, so we have the power to obey him . . . which results in a better life. Yes, there are exceptions. All generalizations are faulty. But these ideas do help us live better lives.

I know there are some who believe all things should be equal for everyone, but I think they are delusional. We’re all born within varying circumstances, with different bodies, brains and socio-economic statuses. Human beings are born into different families, nations, and situations. Every one of us is unique and different, and we decide what we’re going to do with our own circumstances. I think the only potential realistic equality is our great American experiment striving for equality for every citizen under the law. But let’s face it, equality under the law is where equality ends.

So we can whine, complain, blame and compare, always pointing out where we are inadequate or not given the opportunities others have. Or we can take what we have and invest to build the best possible lives for ourselves and those around us. Whining, complaining, blaming and comparing weakens us. It displaces our responsibility and gives us an excuse for our failures, which removes our motivation to improve.

I think that’s what Jesus meant when he talked about us using well what we have been given. I hear folks from every race, socio-economic status and background, blame, complain and fight against those whom they blame. Black against white, white against black, rich against poor, poor against rich, conservative against liberal, and liberal against conservative. Those folks rarely enjoy the lives they could have lived. Then I see others who are better off because they appreciate the things they have and invest them to create their futures.The blamers call these folks “lucky” because they seem to have things naturally fall their way.

In Deuteronomy 28, God tells his people what will happen to them if they line up with him, and what will happen if they go their own way. In Matthew 25 Jesus clearly teaches what will ensure loser status, and what it takes to win. It’s not rocket science. And in 2 Corinthians 9, Paul is perfectly clear. Some of you will study these references, figure them out and build a great life. Others will go on to the next thing and assume the future will work for you. Yesterday you created most of the elements that are in your life today, and today you are creating your tomorrow. It’s your choice. You have more power than you might realize.

We evangelicals have so emphasized salvation by grace through faith, I think we might have unintentionally downplayed the importance of what we do and do not do, and how our actions impact our future. True, we’re saved by grace, but both the Bible and life teach that other universal laws give us opportunity to make life better for ourselves and those around us, or to make life worse.

It’s our choice to determine what we are going to do with what we’ve been given. We can do what leads to greater success, and peace and joy in our lives, or we can do the things that increase the probability that we will lose. Winning is work, but we can do it. Let’s win.

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Genuine Restoration (Part 3)

#7 in Q & A Series

Question: How do you believe New Life Church could have handled your situation better?

“Begin with the End in Mind” is Habit #2 in Stephen Covey’s, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Just about every church in the nation has taught some version of this, if not used the text itself as a leadership guide. But when it comes to restoring another, most Christian restoration teams not only are confused about New Testament guidelines instructing them, but also about the purpose of the process. As a result, many, particularly leaders, who have been subject to restoration in a church find the process nonsensical and are left discouraged, despondent, and some so bitter they seethe.

Galatians 6:1 is the most relevant Scripture in the New Testament addressing the subject of restoring another.

“Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also” Gal. 6:1 AMP.

So what is the goal? Restoration. The Greek word in this verse is Katartizo, which means to re-set, restore, as we would a disjoined limb. It means to make perfect, to restore. Thus, the translators are correct when they use the English word, “restore,” in this verse. The New Living Translation and the Amplified are correct when they say, “help that person back onto the right path” or “set him right and restore and reinstate him.”

Carnal-thinking people punish, embarrass, dehumanize, and humiliate those they are commissioned to heal. Because they are untrained in the application of the Gospel in these situations, they make demands and design activities to occupy the fallen without a constructive end in mind. Paul strongly warns against this, and says genuine spirituality is displayed through gentleness and humility as it restores another. Otherwise, the “restorer” will take on an aura of spiritual and moral superiority and rationalize why the fallen cannot  and should not be restored. Typically they say the fallen are unrepentant or unsubmissive. Then, they too often see themselves as more important than they are, which is specifically warned against in Galatians 6:2-3 where Paul concludes his thought regarding restoration: “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”

Paul’s caution might be here because the self-righteous leader is unable to appreciate the power of the resurrection of the fallen, and will end up thinking of themselves as more important than they should in light of the sins of the fallen. This is one of the sins of the Pharisees.

Jimmy Swaggart endured his scandal in 1988. His denomination constructed a restoration program, which he rejected for reasons to which we may not be privy. Then he was caught yet again in a compromising situation in 1991. Since that time, as far as we know he’s been actively involved in ministry and has been faithful to his wife and to God. It’s interesting to me that so many Christians hate Jimmy Swaggart. When I ask pastors’ groups why they think so poorly of him and don’t trust him, they always say it’s because he didn’t go through his denomination’s restoration program. I then ask what the purpose of that program might have been? They always respond by saying that the purpose of the program was to heal Jimmy Swaggart, help him find the moral strength to overcome his sin problem, and help him return to ministry again. I then point out that the 1991 repeat was predictable and that virtually every therapist teaches that relapse is part of recovery, and that he has been faithful to his wife and ministry for 22 years since that relapse. My follow-up question to the pastors . . .  “Is the purpose of the process the process itself, or the RESULT of the process?”

Then we talk about the real reason we question his integrity. Could it be that our real issue is that he did not cooperate with our program, which would have given us the ability to take credit for his sobriety and ministry? Were we more concerned about managing our image than restoring our brother? Did we elevate his submitting to our control over our helping him to achieve the goal of his repentance and to return to the ministry to which God had called him? Or did we really just want him out of ministry–either because we were envious of his accomplishments or embarrassed by his human failings? After all, ultimately we tend to manage our image and reputation. Perhaps we should ask ourselves if we are managing a Christ-like image and reputation or a worldly one based on self-righteousness.

The English word “restore” means to “bring back to a former, original, or normal condition. “ It means “to put back to a former place, or to a former position, rank, etc.” This is the correct interpretation of the word Paul used, Katartizo. So why would it benefit the church to follow through on his admonition to gently restore a fellow believer (even a leader) who has been trapped by a sin?

It is because it models resurrection, hope, redemption, and life.

The fallen give us opportunity to model Christ’s resurrection among us, and to demonstrate Christ’s heart toward humanity. Christ has restored all of us. When we, who are spiritual, competently model restoration among ourselves, others see the Gospel with clarity. We’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God should get the credit for restoring leaders. We should not position ourselves to receive glory. Healing, sobriety, holiness, and integrity are the goals. God’s work moving forward is the goal, the purpose, the end. We can begin with that end in mind

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Left Behind?

#3 in Q & A Series

Question: “Do you believe the Left Behind series is based on our western culture which is generally free from persecution toward Christians? The series implies God will shield Christians from trials and persecutions, whereas Christian history and modern history are filled with examples of horrible persecution, even unto death.”

The Left Behind series are novels, fictitious prose. Fictitious means it’s not real, it’s imaginary. Prose means it is written using ordinary language.

Obviously, the arts can communicate powerful messages, which is what this series of novels has done. Many who were uninterested in God or had no interest in the end times came to Christ or became interested in biblical eschatology (the study of the end times) by reading the Left Behind series. Others who had never read the Bible gained new interest and began reading it. Many began attending home Bible studies or churches.

Here is my view. When evaluating the work of other Christians, I use a chart of three concentric circles with four characteristics on the outside of the circles.

The center circle is labeled “absolutes”. Absolutes are the unchanging foundations of our faith. These are the truths specifically articulated in the Scriptures that have not changed throughout the centuries, will not change as time passes, and remain the same regardless of cultural or political trends.

The second circle surrounds the first and is labeled “interpretations”. An interpretation is an explanation and application of the Scripture. We usually are interpreting when we read a passage and say, “this means . . . ” Bible scholars have developed a thoughtful process for us to determine reasonable interpretations from Scripture. Every responsible Bible teacher, from a home group leader to the most influential Christian leader, has a responsibility to teach credible interpretations from Scripture.

The third concentric circle is labeled “deductions”. A deduction is a conclusion we create from a variety of sources. Our deductions may come from our experience combined with our personal study of Scripture. Or they may come from listening to or reading the work of another who takes a selection of Scriptures, compares them and puts them together, and comes to what seems to be a logical conclusion. That’s a deduction.

Deductions have a greater capacity of being incorrect than interpretations, and interpretations have a greater potential of being wrong than absolutes, because absolutes are never wrong.

But that’s not all. On the outer edges of these three circles, are subjective opinions, personal preferences, feelings, and cultural norms. If we are not consciously aware of these differences, we might make the grave error of forming judgments about someone who teaches their deductions, which might differ from ours, even though we both believe Jesus Christ is Lord and that the blood of Christ was shed for the remission of our sins, which are absolutes.

As teachers, if we are not aware of the absolutes we believe in contrast to our interpretations and deductions, we will confuse our listeners because they might not be able to differentiate between the absolutes, which are 100% correct, and our interpretations, which actually might change as we grow in understanding.

Most eschatology being promoted in the American church today is a combination of deductions and cultural norms. Sadly, we often teach deductions and cultural norms with the same authority that we teach the absolutes. This weakens our credibility. For example, if we take Scriptures from Daniel, add Scriptures from Ezekiel, put them together with material from Matthew and Revelation, and then change the meaning of the words by saying, “this stands for . . .” or “this is a symbol for . . . “, we could be teaching pure fantasy.

I have met both Tim LaHaye and Larry Jenkins. Both seem to be wonderful men of God. Both wrote the Left Behind series believing it would be beneficial to others. They both value the absolutes of Scripture, and include many of them in their novels about the end times. Thus, we should read the series as it was intended: entertainment with a biblical theme, based on deductions from the Bible, which include subjective opinions and cultural norms.

So what are some of the positive benefits of the Left Behind Series?

It teaches some powerful absolutes.

It teaches respected interpretations.

The deductions it draws are clearly deductions.

The cultural norms, feelings, subjective opinions and personal preferences are the creative license of the authors as in all novels.

Therefore, trust the absolutes, consider interpretations, and take deductions with a grain of salt. As for subjective opinions, personal preferences, feelings, and cultural norms, take them for what they are, but never confuse them with absolutes. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this. You are welcome to comment below.

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