Tag Archives: Christian

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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People Crumbling Internally

I think too many people are emotionally weak. Of course, I was raised on a farm with three older brothers, so I don’t recall anyone getting away with the type of whining that makes news today.

In the past we were kept somewhat sober because disease, famine, and war highlighted our vulnerabilities. They were brutal reminders that we were not in control. However, ours is the first generation in which more of us will die from eating too much than from eating too little; from old age rather than from infectious diseases; or from suicide rather than from soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined. My friends and I are far more likely to die from binging at McDonald’s than from drought, Ebola, or an al-Qaeda attack. We’re the first generation in which starvation, epidemics, and violence continue to be serious, but are, in fact, manageable. In response, it seems as though we are replacing our external fears with internal conflicts, which makes us increasingly appear like babies.

We’re getting soft. I just saw a news story on ABC about an over-weight elementary-age boy whose mom brought him to see Santa. He asked Santa for an I-Pad and a Play station, both of which produce sedentary activities that would keep him in the house, looking at screens, and probably eating snacks. Santa teasingly responded that he would give the boy his request if he would lay off the hamburgers. The story went on to report that the kid cried all afternoon and even cried himself to sleep that night. Apparently Santa wounded him. In response, the boy’s Mom demanded Santa apologize (which he did) and that he be fired. Certainly there are multiple causes for obesity and I don’t know her son’s reasons. But what I do know is that now her son’s emotional sensitivity is empowered.

I’ve noticed the church also having to deal with a heightened emotional sensitivity among worshippers. When I was growing up, we went to church because we were Christians . . . period. We did not go for entertainment, soothing, or therapy. As I think about attending First Presbyterian Church in our small farming community, I don’t think anyone cared how we felt about it. We needed to know the facts to live well, so we learned the Scriptures, worshipped, served, and returned the next week to worship again. I never remember my parents discussing whether or not we would go to church, or even whether or not they liked the church. Their view was that the church provided an important and firm foundation for our lives. It was based on the truths of the Scriptures and timeworn logic and wisdom. It was fundamental because the alternatives were not acceptable. It was reasonable and had a core of conviction about it and was not subject to our whims or approval . . . and certainly not our feelings.

But today it seems as though we have replaced the Scriptures and logic with emotional sensitivity and personal exaltation. I don’t know if this comes from television, humanism, social media, or all of us feeling entitled because we’ve been raised with benefits earned by others, but we sure seem spoiled.

Even Saturday Night Live is now mocking this trend. Their recent skit “Wells for Boys,” is a spoof advertisement of “toys for sensitive boys,” so sensitive little boys can “live a more examined life.” These toys include a wishing well for little boys to sit beside and contemplate, a broken mirror to remind our boys of “the complex contradictions of their being,” and a plastic balcony so they can express themselves. The SNL skit mocks the overly sensitive way we’re creating weak children.

I don’t typically watch Saturday Night Live, so for me, the tipping point was the emotional response to Clinton losing the presidential election. I have to admit, Trump’s victory caught me by surprise. I knew Clinton had the experience, money, and machinery that would be difficult to overcome. As a Republican, I accepted the expectation that Clinton would win the presidency, Democrats would retake the Senate, and the Supreme Court would move left.

But the actual results were very different. It turned out that Trump won the White House, the Republicans kept the House and the Senate, and the conservatives will have opportunity to fill one seat, maybe two, in the Supreme Court.

When Democrats started blaming their losses on others, protesting in the streets, burning police cars, and damaging private property, I questioned what they expected to accomplish and if they were emotionally healthy. If these responses were, in fact, intentional, then the protesters looked like leftists in third-world countries overthrowing democratic processes because, in their arrogance, they could not understand another point of view – believing everyone else must be ill informed or misled. Or, if they were upset and reacting emotionally and spontaneously, then they were just throwing a fit because they didn’t get their way and wanted everyone to know they were angry.

Either way, we need more adults in the room.

They say the diversity we have always had in America has morphed into bitter divisions. Perhaps this idea is due in part to political parties, scholars, and the press who have grouped us by our age, our race, our gender, our faith, our education, our professions, our sexuality, etc., in order to highlight and contrast the severity of our differences. No doubt, it makes their presentations more interesting. When there is tension, more people pay attention than when there is peace. As a result, those institutions, which rely on followers, students, and ratings, have no incentive to help America be a melting pot where we all can benefit from and enjoy one another’s strengths in an atmosphere of respect. Oh, they do give it lip service, but with every newscast and opportunity in our classrooms, pundits and lecturers irritate their audiences by pitting groups against one another. They encourage us to feel like emotionally damaged victims and, in effect, be selfish children willing to defame Santa because he doesn’t give us what we want and make us feel good.

I suggest that instead of simple emotional reactions, maybe we ought to think and let wisdom dominate our emotions. We have a choice. We can crumble internally, yell, scream, block traffic, hurt people, burn police cars, and bust out the windows of our businesses to show the world we did not get what we wanted. Or we can grow up, toughen up, and respond constructively to life’s circumstances. When we are emotionally strong, we can build peaceful communities, solid churches, and a great country. I think we should opt for the latter. Our survival in a brutal world may depend on it.

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Christians In A Post-Truth Era

Are we living in a generation in which feelings and impressions are as significant as facts? Scholars are beginning to talk about this phenomenon in our culture — which they label the Post-Truth Era.

We see evidence of this phenomenon in the church world as well. A generation ago when people were looking for a church, they wanted to know the creed of the church—the facts, the foundation of the church’s belief system. Now, though, researchers tell us that over 95% of people in our generation choose their churches based on how they feel as they leave the service.

Over 70% of Christians think the purpose of the church is to meet their human needs, and over 50% of Bible School and Seminary students think their calling is to meet these human needs. This is a stark departure for the church. We’ve always believed that the role of the church is to glorify God, and that the calling of our Christian leaders is to help people find their greatest fulfillment by learning to glorify God. Glorifying God is the door through which Christians have always walked in order to have their own needs met and to meet the needs of others. To reverse this order fundamentally changes the centrality of Christ in our lives and our calling to serve him by serving others.

We are the Church, the eternal institution God established on the earth that provides stability and consistency in our changing world. We know how to be the Church in free- market, democratic countries, and in Islamic countries, Communist countries, Socialist countries, rich countries, and poor countries. We know how to be the Church regardless of the trends we see in the world. At least we have known how to be the Church in times past. However, our greatest threat might be upon us—a post-truth world where foundations don’t matter, and core truth is no more significant than an impression or a feeling.

Jesus warned us about this in Luke 6:39-49:

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 the 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.

He went on to say,

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 thorn-bushes, 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.

He concluded these thoughts with an exhortation for us to establish a firm foundation that will endure any societal trends:

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 flood-waters 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 without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.

I believe the god of the American church has become money and attendance (or size of audience), and that the role of leaders has become image management and damage control. I fear many church boards spend their time accumulating assets and/or protecting them, and that we in the Church have spiraled into a delusion thinking worldly approval and influence is our charge. This is an unstable foundation that God’s work cannot be built upon. If we continue on this path, the unintended consequences will be diminishing influence and loss of purpose, which will leave our churches empty, our leaders worldly, and our hearts cold.

Now is the time to return and be faithful to our foundations.

The writer of Hebrews said,

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.

What?!?! These issues are not interesting to the modern attendee of the American Church. We need videos, lights, emotion, contemporary illustrations from news, sports, and other relevant happenings in our lives that inspire a fresh, prosperous atmosphere that makes us feel good. We need Starbucks in the lobby and bright colors to make our kids happy. We need relevant topics intermingled with some Scripture. After all, that’s the way to grow a church.

I don’t believe it.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Starbucks, bright colors, and relevant topics IF they are used to establish people firmly in the facts and faith of the Gospel . . . but they must not replace it. The evidence indicates that most Christians have been duped into believing that inspiration equals core conviction. That’s not going to work.

Hebrews 5:12-13 says,

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.

The greatest test of the American church is looming on the horizon. The upcoming election and its results will continue promoting a dramatic cultural change away from our Judeo/Christian heritage. Christian political activism will not change that slide, but the church being the church will help. If we have a solid foundation in the Word and Spirit in our lives, we’ll do fine being salt and light. If we don’t, our emotions will motivate us to be worldly power-players like everyone else. We will continue to be consumed with the speck in the eyes of others, unaware of the plank in our own. It’s time to let truth prevail in us, even in this post-truth era.

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Can The Police Do What We Can’t?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honor of Pastoral Service

Julie’s despair was mounting as her two pre-adolescent boys were becoming increasingly demanding, her husband was working out-of-state, and the strains on her time seemed beyond her ability to perform. She had worked at a local para-church ministry for years and was a committed Christian with supportive friends, but a dark cloud of hopelessness was growing in Julie’s mind.

While at work Julie increasingly spoke with her coworkers about the relief being in Heaven would provide. One day she told a woman who worked closely with her that she had decided to take her own life. The woman reminded Julie that she loved her two sons and would never want to be without them. Julie’s response alarmed the woman. She said she planned to take them with her.

As Julie walked to her car at the end of the day, her co-worker called the police and reported to them that Julie was suicidal and threatening the lives of her children. When Julie arrived home, the police were there and, as required by protocol at the time, took Julie to our local hospital for a psychological evaluation.

Oddly, the hospital cleared Julie within a few minutes. Later that evening while the children lie sleeping, she shot both of them to death and then took her own life.

Within a week three coffins—one large and two small—were stationed in the sanctuary of our church. I performed the funeral as Julie’s husband, the father of their children, sat shocked on the front row. After the burial, he sold the house and left town.

A few weeks later one of my friends in the police department told me that he was at Julie’s house that day and had taken her to the hospital. He said typically they place people on a 72 hour hold for evaluation, but in this case they didn’t. He did not know why.

Another friend, who worked in admitting at the emergency room at the hospital, told me that when they brought Julie into the hospital, a friend of Julie’s happened to be overseeing the psychological evaluations that evening. She reported overhearing Julie and this women talking and laughing together in a hallway around a corner. Afterwards, the woman in charge filled out the paperwork reporting that Julie was fine and released her to go home . . . resulting in the deaths of the two children and Julie’s suicide.

I did not blame the hospital, but I thought they should be informed of the situation and consider improving their systems to ensure this didn’t happen again. Yet when I contacted the hospital administration, they received my concern as a threat and issued a public statement that all legal requirements were met. Later our local news reported that I had accused and blamed the hospital for the tragic event. The public perception was that I was grandstanding.

I backed off because I knew the hospital was concerned about liability—which was not my intent in contacting them. I also wanted to protect the confidences of the people who shared privately with me, and to avoid feeding the press a sensational and grizzly public confrontation between a pastor and our local hospital. I was simply seeking an improved system at our hospital, knowing that another Julie would one day arrive at their door.

That was over 10 years ago and I still carry it. Since I did not respond, the story died in the press, leaving the appearance to the public that I had baselessly accused our hospital. Julie and her children were buried in our local cemetery, and the hospital quietly improved its systems a few months later. I called Julie’s husband from time after that to see how he was doing. He just wanted to leave the pain of the past behind and build a new life. The families that left the church because they believed the press account—I’ve not heard from since. But I, as a pastor, feel gratified that our systems were quietly improved after the glare of the press was lifted, and to my knowledge, there have been no cases like Julie’s since.

This is the honor of pastoral service. There are typically facts behind pastoral decisions that cannot be publicly known, but the goal is to improve the lives of others, apart from grandstanding or glory. It’s an honor to serve; it’s the way of Christ.

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Is Trump the Antichrist?

I received an e-mail from a journalist asking, “Ted, do you think Donald Trump is the anti-Christ?”

I chuckled thinking that in my lifetime someone, somewhere has accused every President and Pope of being the Antichrist. And now, with fear being generated from terrorism and political confusion, it’s inevitable that people will start thinking in terms of the end times again.

In my response to the journalist, I explained that there are many antichrists, and then gave him four Scriptures to examine:

  • “Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come” 1 John 2:18.
  • “And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist” 1 John 2:22.
  • “ 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” 1 John 4:3.
  • “ I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist” 2 John 1:7.

Undeterred, the journalist pressed further saying he wanted to know if Trump could be the one Antichrist referred to in the book of Revelation (see Revelation 19 and 20). I told him that certain Christian Bible teachers continually point to current events believing they prove that the return of Christ is imminent; yet many of their predictions have not come true. Then I told him that Jesus’ comment in Matthew 24:14 makes me think we have more work to do here on the earth before the Antichrist will surface.

Jesus said,

‘And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”

This verse has been taught two different ways:

One emphasizes the word “nations” could also be translated “people groups” or “ethno-linguistic groups,” which are groups of people who have their own ethnicity and language. In other words, for this Scripture to be fulfilled, there has to be a witness for the Gospel within every people group on the planet, and then the end will come. As a result, many stragic churches and missions organizations have made lists of the remaining unreached people groups and identified them for focused prayer, evangelism, and church-planting. Because of these efforts, the list of unreached people groups is getting smaller. But there are still unreached groups.

Another interpretation of this verse is that the Gospel will circle the globe, and then the end will come. Advocates of this position emphasize how the Gospel launched in Jerusalem, spread throughout the Middle East, then expanded to Europe and portions of Asia and northern Africa, then to the Americas, the rest of Africa and Asia, and is currently growing rapidly in China and India, with the expectation it will return to Jerusalem through Chinese and Asian missionaries. Thus, the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout (around) the whole world.

The modern Sunni – Shia conflict in the Middle East that is terrorizing the region and much of the world is a strong geographical, political, and theological barrier between the Chinese and Asian Christian missionaries and Jerusalem. If this interpretation is correct, it would highlight the significance of this conflict as an attempt to slow or block the completion of this biblical prophecy.

Both of these interpretations are closer than ever to being fulfilled. However, today neither of them are complete. Thus, it’s my guess that the end times figure, the Antichrist from the book of Revelation, is not currently on the scene. As a result, for this and many other reasons, I don’t think Trump is the Antichrist.

I concluded my email exchange with an dissatisfied journalist. Just as many friends of mine have been disappointed that the Lord has not yet returned, so this journalist seemed dismayed that his story idea lacked foundation. (I hope he doesn’t find someone that will agree with him about Trump and use his material as a basis for an upcoming article.)

I do believe that we are in the last days, and that the return of Christ is closer than it’s ever been. I also believe that we don’t know everything about the second coming of Christ, just like the first century Bible scholars who didn’t recognize Christ the first time. Thus, my admonition is that we all need to live our lives as if Jesus is returning today, but plan our lives as though he will not return in our lifetimes. That way we will conform to Jesus’ command to always be ready, while avoiding foolish speculations that keep us from fulfilling our present duties.

(All of the italics and bold emphases in above Scriptures are mine.)

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The Value of Taking A Gap (TAG)

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

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

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

  • 90% are likely to return to college

 

  • 60%of gap year students say their gap year impacted the choosing of their major

 

  • 88%are more employable upon graduating college

 

  • And, 75%report being happy or extremely happy, following their gap year experience.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Could Islam Become Peace-Loving?

(Some of this blog is reprinted from my blog, “Is Allah God?”)

Pundits, politicians, and a few scholars say Islam is a peace-loving religion. When they say it, I detect a tone of rosy optimism that subtly reveals they are either hoping it’s true or trying to spin reality in order to appease moderate and non-practicing Muslims.

But many believe that in order for Islam to be authentically peace-loving, it would need a reformation similar to the one Christianity experienced 500 years ago that provided the theological underpinnings for western civilization. The pundits, who sincerely believe what they are saying, are seduced by their lack of belief in spiritual power. The reason Islam cannot experience a reformation is that the spirit behind Islam will not allow it.

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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The Planned Parenthood Shooter

Yesterday Robert Dear from North Carolina killed police officer Garrett Swasey, a former athlete turned police officer, near the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs. Though the two were within yards of one another, they saw the world very, very differently. At the same moment, only two miles away in the comfort of my office, I was also experiencing a different world.

Today I expect to start hearing projections as to why this gunner targeted Planned Parenthood, and why he chose to shoot and ultimately kill and injure people in our community.

As my wife and I were falling asleep last night, we spoke at length about the way people see situations so differently. I see this contrast in perceptions regularly, even among the people of our church. Different people see situations and others differently based on their own values, experiences, and educations that filter their perceptions.

In addition, we all have, to varying degrees, cognitive distortions, which are thought patterns that cause irrational or exaggerated conclusions. Whoever this shooter was, I’m sure we’ll learn more about his cognitive distortions that caused him to justify, in his own mind, the tragedy he created yesterday. And with each one, we’ll shake our heads wondering how he could possibly think that way.

I teach a class on Sunday nights on Renewing Your Mind: How To Change Your Brain. A portion of that class deals with our seeing things realistically and then responding responsibly. Therapists that emphasize how behaviors are influenced by our thinking (Cognitive Behavioral and Reality Therapists) often use a list of cognitive distortions to help clients identify their own cognitive distortions so they can respond to life more rationally.

Two week ago I wrote a blog entitled “What? That’s Not What Happened!” listing a few of these cognitive distortions.

As Gayle and I were talking last night, we reviewed how our awareness of cognitive distortions can help all of us think through events and choose our responses with greater wisdom. In the context of yesterday’s craziness on the first day of this Christmas season, I thought a more thorough review might be helpful for all of us (This is my adaptation of the checklist by David Burns from Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy)

  1. Polarized thinking: When we look at things in absolute — all or nothing categories, we are typically thinking too simplistically. Things are seldom exclusively good or bad, black or white, right or wrong. Instead, there are exceptions, explanations, and nuances that cause most people and situations to fall into a gray area between the extremes.
  2. Overgeneralization: When we overgeneralize, we use words like always, never, everyone, best, and worst. Generalizations are seldom, if ever, true. There is typically at least one exception. 
  3. Discounting the positives: When we  discount the positive accomplishments or qualities of ourselves or others, and focus only on the negative, we or they feel insignificant and powerless.
  4. Jumping to conclusions: (A) Mind reading – we assume that we know what other people are feeling or thinking. When we do this, we think we know the motivations of others. Since we rarely understand our own motivations, to presume to know the motivations of another is a significant projection that is seldom accurate; (B) Fortune Telling – we arbitrarily predict the outcome of events or future development in the lives of others.
  5. Magnification or Minimization: We blow things way out of proportion or we shrink their significance, which distorts their value.
  6. Emotional Reasoning: We draw conclusions based on how we feel, assuming our feelings reflect some reality.
  7. Should Statements: We judge others using words like should, shouldn’t, must, and ought. “Have to” is a similar offender. These are sometimes necessary for personal application, and we may sparingly and cautiously use them in reference to those within our chain-of-command, but they can reveal a major distortion of personal significance when used randomly toward others.
  8. Labeling: We draw comfort by simplistically seeing people and situations in categories, boxes, silos, classifications, or stereotypes. This leads to sexism, racism, bigotry, and other generalizations that do not take into account the uniqueness of individuals or specific situations.
  9. Personalization: We assume that what people are doing or saying is about or because of us, when in fact it might not have anything to do with us.
  10. Blame: Our greatest potential for choice is between some event and our response to it. We choose our responses. They are not forced upon us, which is why we are responsible for how we choose to respond. So when we blame, we are giving more power over our lives to others, and denying our own abilities.

It’s too early to know why the Planned Parenthood shooter did what he did. But now we have an opportunity to comfort those who have been hurt by his actions, pray for healing in the lives of those involved, and do everything we can to learn from this horrific tragedy how to respond to actions and views we disagree with in constructive, godly ways.

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Leveraging Your Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(If you would like more on this subject, you can order my booklet, “Serve God, Uses Money” on Amazon.com)

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