Tag Archives: Church

My Thanksgiving Letter to You

My Friends,

Today is the day we set aside to express thanks for all that is in our lives. Even when things aren’t going so well, there’s so much to be thankful for. The power of thankfulness and gratefulness can get us through the snares of success, prosperity, and ease, as well as the pitfalls of lack, disappointment, and pain.

I recently read about a guy who started making a “Gratitude List” a few weeks ago and he’s been adding to it each day. He put some bad things on his list because those bad things led to personal growth that helped him move forward in life. There’s a saying, “He who has not tasted the bitter cannot appreciate the sweet.”  There’s some truth to that.  Difficult times can sometimes be seen as a blessing when viewed through the lens of hindsight.

Today, because we know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself, we can take a few minutes to think about our lives and be thankful for his amazing gift to us. If we make a “Gratitude List” like the guy I just mentioned, we might be surprised by the length of our lists. Everything God has done by adding us to his family, by sending Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God to us, was for our benefit. And since Christ purchased our lives for God, our determination is to share his truth because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” So, speak today, and every day, about the hope we share. We’ve been chosen to function with others in the church, so as God’s grace reaches more and more people through us, there will be greater thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. Let’s take on this task together.

Saints, no matter what, we need never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs any troubles we will ever face on this earth, and his glory in us will last forever!

So, we don’t focus on the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the troubles we are experiencing now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Today our nation pauses for Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful. We are blessed.

Pastor Ted

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

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

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

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

Jesus said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Las Vegas Shooter

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

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

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

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

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

They are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.

Last Christmas I remember a news story 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. He was fired and had a stress based heart attack the next day because of threats directed at he and his family. Certainly there are multiple causes for obesity and I don’t know the boy’s reasons, but what I do know is that now her son’s emotional sensitivity was 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.

During that season, even Saturday Night Live mocked the hyper-sensitive. Their Christmas skit, “Wells for Boys,” was a spoof advertisement of “toys for sensitive boys,” so sensitive little boys can “live a more examined life.” These toys included 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 fully expected 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 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 in all they do. 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:

Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch?

America seems to be buying into an abstract philosophy that there are no absolute truths. I don’t believe it. Let me explain.

I see all ideas fitting on a diagram including three concentric circles.

At the center of these concentric circles is small circle containing the absolutes–facts and truths that are just as true from one century to another, in any earthly culture, and in outer space. Truth is an absolute.

In the next larger circle surrounding the absolutes are interpretations–our ideas and beliefs based on truth. These ideas might be true for one, but not for another; or they apply in one culture, but not another, or in one time period, but not another. They’re our attempt to interpret life and truth, but they are not as universally true as the core absolutes, which are always true and factual.

In the third and larger circle are deductions–ideas based on a combination of factors which fit in our if/then world or philosophy.

Deductions have a greater likelihood of being wrong than interpretations, which have a greater likelihood of being wrong than absolutes, which are never wrong because they are absolutes.

Outside these three circles are ideas inside all of us that move us deeply, but may not be based in reality at all. They are:

  • Personal preferences
  • Subjective opinions
  • Cultural norms
  • Feelings

Please understand. I am NOT saying these are unimportant. I’m just saying they are not necessarily always based in fact. Just because a person feels safe jumping out of an airplane at 35,000 feet without a parachute does not mean that it is safe for them to do so.

The problem that we face in a post-truth era is that people don’t distinguish between the absolutes and deductions, or they think a feeling is as important as an absolute, even if it’s irrational. But interpretations, deductions, and feelings are not as important as facts.

If we don’t distinguish between these ideas in our teaching within the church, congregants will believe the Lordship of Jesus is equivalent in importance to some new theory on the second coming of Christ. And in society, people will believe a hyper-sensitive person who is offended by a blog is as important as the idea of freedom of speech. One person’s opinions are not as fundamental to a good life for all as freedom of speech.

We need to know where the ideas within us fit in a priority system or we don’t know what’s true, thus we have no foundation on which to build our lives.

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 ideas 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 out well for them during times of trials and testings.

 

The greatest test of the American church is looming on the horizon. Our Judeo/Christian heritage built on facts, reason, responsibility, love, kindness, and giving is being transformed before us. Christian political activism will not change that slide, but the church being the church could. 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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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 Allah God?

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

Our world has five types of spirits in it;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Could Losers be Losers for a Reason?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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