Tag Archives: Christianity Today

Is Lent For Us?

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

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

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

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

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

It gives us more time with our family and friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love serving Him with you.

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The Reality Is — Donald Trump is Our President

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough about me? Now more about me. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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.

In the class I am teaching on “Renewing Our Minds, How To Change Our Brains,” we are learning about Paul’s exhortations to think certain ways and how this actually changes our physical brains and, as a result, our behaviors. Along with biblical insight, we are discussing 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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The Four Questions

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.

More next week.

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The Blame Blog

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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