Tag Archives: evangelicalism

The Value of Taking A Gap (TAG)

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

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

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

  • 90% are likely to return to college

 

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

 

  • 88%are more employable upon graduating college

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Could Islam Become Peace-Loving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Why Gayle and I Give

When Gayle and I were married 36 years ago, we decided to be givers. I was 22, she was 21, and we made two core decisions: 1. The local church was the most important institution God had established on the Earth, so we wanted to be participants in it, and 2. We were going to be faithful givers and tithers.

Now I’m 58 years old and Gayle and I continue to hold these foundational decisions as fundamental practices. One reason is that we don’t believe ministry should ever be a burden to anyone. When we see churches go broke, church workers go unpaid and church leaders struggling to meet basic financial needs within the church, we don’t want to be part of that problem. As a result, we have chosen to consistently give 10% of everything we earn to our local church. We see our church as a storehouse of resources from which all of us draw and out of which we serve others. It’s like an armory to strengthen us during weak times, or a granary from which we all feed when hungry. Cities are better when there are an abundance of local church based youth ministries, men’s and women’s fellowship groups, Bible studies and prayer meetings. One time our district attorney told me he had never had to prosecute anyone who had been in Sunday School the week before. Think of that. By simply increasing Sunday School attendance, crime rates go down. The impact of local church work is important, so we don’t want the men and women working in those efforts distracted with lack.

Gayle and I paid attention to the ideas Malachi communicated when he wrote, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! Your crops will be abundant . . . “.

How does God do it? I’ve watched people who faithfully and consistently tithe to their local church experience three vivid developments in their lives.

First, they become increasingly responsible and their responsibility leads to greater earnings. It holds true that those who make significant money usually have greater earning power because they carry responsibility well. Tithing develops responsibility, and being responsible is rewarded in every area of life. When people demonstrate they are responsible, they are compensated for it. Jesus addressed this in Luke 16:10 when he said, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones . . . “ This is the famous passage that concludes with Jesus saying we can’t serve both God and money.

Secondly, I’ve noticed that givers develop greater skills. God wants to bless the work of our hands. He values the development of our skills. When he wants something done, he calls on people who can do a good job. In other words, he rewards us for developing skills. God will place in us a desire to read, obtain an additional degree, or develop a technical skill. Thus, as we develop these skills, we make ourselves increasingly useful and improve our earning power, and we often end up enjoying greater prosperity.

Third, givers are gracious. I have no idea how this works with certainty but givers have attractive personalities. Tithers seem to grasp the big picture of what is truly important in life and are willing to invest in others. Tithers know the importance of strengthening the ministry of the church, the body of Christ. Tithers directly invest in the family of God because they know what it really is in a community and in eternity. As a result, they are not crass, crude, rude, or brutal. Instead, they know the application of love, because they invest in it.

I think this is why Paul was so extravagant when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 9: 6-10, “Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’ And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, ‘They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increases your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.”

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Sex, Ducks, and Dignity

Duck Dynasty’s Robertson family is standing with its patriarch, Phil, saying that if A&E will not allow Phil to tape any additional episodes because he identified homosexual activity as sin, then the rest of the family will not tape any new programs either. The family press release emphasizes that Phil would never “incite or encourage hate.” The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and their supporters are outraged and are congratulating A&E. Now many Bible-believers are crying fowl. They are saying Robertson had a right to say what he said, was just referencing the Bible, is a loving guy and is, himself, being treated unfairly and is being discriminated against.

Why the confusion? I believe Robertson does not want to encourage hate, but because of our history, the LGBT community does not hear him as loving. Instead, they know that talk like his has led to laws that hurt people like them. Could they have cause for alarm?

About the same time Phil Robertson’s remarks were published, American Evangelical Christian leaders encouraged the parliament in Uganda to pass a bill to toughen the punishment for homosexual acts to include life imprisonment. This bill also makes it a crime, punishable by a prison sentence, not to report gay people to the government.

Parliamentarians in Uganda argue that they compassionately weakened the bill, which is true. It originally proposed the death penalty for some offenses, such as if a minor was involved or a homosexual partner was HIV-positive. The parliament removed the death penalty and replaced it with life in prison. It should be thought provoking to all of us, though, that there is no similar law for heterosexuals who are sexually active with a minor, or if a heterosexual partner is HIV positive. Why?

When we use “sin” as the basis for civil law, we probably should be consistent, but we are not. This last summer, the Colorado legislature removed the law that made it illegal to commit adultery. There was no outcry. It seemed the Christians did not care even though adultery is clearly sin (1 Corinthians 6:9). Jesus said, “For example, a man who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery. And anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18). I’m 57 years old, and I do not recall any efforts on the part of our leaders to prevent those who Jesus says are living in perpetual adultery from having equal rights under the law.

No doubt, we Bible believing Christians understand that all sexual activity outside a heterosexual monogamous marriage is sin. We also know that there is a great deal of sexual sin within heterosexual monogamous marriages (Matthew 5:28-30). So where is our New Testament imperative that we sinners, saved by God’s grace, use civil law to make others godly? It seems as though Jesus’ point is that all of us are sinners and we only become righteous by his grace and mercy. But I think that because most of us are heterosexuals, we don’t insist on laws that punish us for our immorality. Yet, the evidence suggests that we do want to add legal burdens on those who are not like us.

Most New Testament believers know that external threats do not change our hearts, but instead we are changed from the inside out by repentance, the blood of Christ, the renewal of our minds, and by becoming a new creation in Christ. To think we can force our beliefs on others through civil law is often an error. The sponsor of the Ugandan bill said, “Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way. It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill . . . ” Supporters of the bill say it is needed to “protect traditional values,” and, under that banner have banned miniskirts and sexually suggestive material such as music videos. I am all for propriety and societal morality, but we have to remember that when legally mandated, this type of thing can go awry very quickly. Now local newspapers in Uganda have started publishing the names and addresses of people they think might be gay.

I know, I know. The United States is not Uganda. In this country we have fought a long, hard struggle for various groups to gain equality under the law. Certainly our civil laws do need to protect what is right and good, and they need to be moral. But not every Christian conviction is best promoted through civil law. All Christians should have a sophisticated, thoughtful process to determine when our biblical beliefs should be inculcated into civil law. It’s not an automatic “yes.” Sadly, we Bible believing conservative Christians have found ourselves on the wrong side of this discussion too often.

If the government wanted to take the vote away from women based on the New Testament teaching that wives should submit to their husbands and that women should not usurp authority over men, would we Christians support that? No. But that was the accepted position of many not too long ago.  What about denial of African-Americans’ basic freedoms because some Bible scholars say they are descendants of Ham, whose descendants were cursed by God and thus relegated to serve? Would we white Christians support that? Absolutely not! But many did. And what if the government wanted to limit the freedoms of Jews in our communities because they reject Christ? Would we allow that? No. Could it be that we Christians, raised in modern multi-cultural churches with wholesome families surrounding us, have no idea how people who have suffered hear us when we speak?

All of us who believe the Bible is the Word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that we must be born-again, have to decide who we want to be in this chapter of world history. We have to consider: when is it “Christian” to protect people who will never be like us and will probably never be persuaded to be a Christian? “Now” would be my answer.

In 1959. Howard Griffin, a white guy, artificially darkened his skin to pass as a black man as he traveled by bus and hitchhiked through the racially segregated south. His journal of that experience was published under the title, Black Like Me. That book helped many whites learn what it was like to be a black man in America during that era. His book helped the cause for equality for African-Americans.

I had a similar experience, but the issue was not racism, and I have not yet written my book. However, I’ve discovered that our experiences do form how we hear other people.

Unless you have been the recipient of religious hatred, you cannot imagine the ruthless brutality. When I went through my crisis in 2006, some Evangelical leaders targeted me for permanent removal. Since I submitted to church authorities who required that I not respond to or explain anything, or even acknowledge that I had ever been in ministry, the flurry of random indictments flooded my way and to the public, all without response. I received up to 80 hate letters a day, the majority from Bible quoting Christians. My e-mail, twitter, and Facebook filled with threats, accusations, and condemnations, the vast majority of which were baseless. I am guilty of sin, and therefore, I am grateful for the healing Christ offers all if us. Sadly, though, condemnation from the church does not help healing (Romans 2:1-4). That season of my life convinced me that I never wanted to support any form of theocracy. It is too irrational.

We’ve got to apply to others the idea that while WE were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Because of that, we, too, can be like Christ and extend a hand of kindness to another simply because they are human beings. They may never choose to receive the full blessings already purchased for them by Christ, but even so, why should we make their time on Earth more difficult? If God Himself left Heaven, came to Earth to become one of us in order to save us, protect us, and help us, isn’t it logical that we, too, can leave our places of comfort to show some dignity to another. . . like Christ did? I think so.

I do not believe for one second that Mr. Robertson wanted to encourage hate, bigotry, or would support anything that would intentionally cause pain for someone else. But we are all old enough to know that people suffer horribly when government gets it wrong. We Christians can make the lives of others better by simply being who we say we are, Christ-like. God designed our Earth so that the blessing of rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. We can follow his example.

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The Value of Sin

Romans 11:32 reveals God’s priorities. “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone” NLT. Think about this and read it again in the NIV, “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”

God hates sin in us so much he sent Jesus to die on the cross for us. So what would motivate him to bind us over to disobedience? He answers it himself. He wants to make sure we see his response to our sin, which reveals his heart of mercy. Could it be that our comprehending his mercy is of greater value to him than our sinless perfection? Could he be communicating that without him we are flawed, and our conscious realization of that fact motivates us to gratitude? He doesn’t want us to be weak, but even more, he wants us to know that he is our strength.

20th Century Evangelicalism rightly emphasized the destructive power of sin and it’s consequences, correctly encouraging all of us to repent. 21st Century Evangelicalism can now build on that foundation and teach us to respond to the sins of others like Christ does. Christ’s response to our sin is redemptive. Therefore, if we in the church start responding to one another’s sin in a redemptive way, we might better communicate the true solution to the sin problem.

Several years ago a globally known pastor with a large mega-church came to visit me. He said, “Ted, I want to encourage you. I don’t think I would say this to anyone else, but I believe there are two types of sin. One type, the easy type, is the kind we repent of. It’s the kind you have dealt with. The other kind is the kind I have. I have sins that build my ministry, increase my income, and actually cause me to be more respectable. They are the kinds of sins we don’t repent of, sins like– me actually believing I know more than others and am a pretty good guy. I believe I have the answers for everyone. I exaggerate church attendance and hype the impact of my ministry in order to encourage supporters. I blame sinners for the things I don’t like, and condemn people. We don’t repent of these sins because they are respectable. But guys like you get to repent. I envy you” (paraphrased).

This pastor demonstrated to me the point I had observed–those who address sinners in public, appearing to be without sin, often have more grievous sins than the sinner to whom they are responding. Again, the Bible is true. . . all have sinned. Without question, sin is evil. We all need to turn from every form of sin in our lives with resolve and not live in them any longer. But based on this Scripture, could it be that our response to another person’s sin reveals more about us than we think? Based on God revealing himself in response to our sin, could it be that our core is revealed by our response to the sins of another? I think so.

Our response to another person’s sin is the #1 way OUR hearts are revealed.

Our response to another person’s sin is the #1 way OUR character is revealed.

Our response to another person’s sin is the #1 indicator of whether we understand the New Testament.

God sent Jesus in response to our sin, revealing the essence of God which is love. The depth of our sin forced a public affirmation of the depth of his redemptive nature. Our weakness gave him opportunity to demonstrate his strength on our behalf. Our rebellion gave him opportunity to prove himself.

For us to authentically reflect Christ, we will have to see the sins of another as an opportunity to demonstrate the Gospel rather than using it as an platform to rail against the evils of sin and our need to rid the world of the sinners. It’s just not going to happen because. . . we are the sinners, though gratefully redeemed. We are the broken, though being healed. We must not respond to another’s sin as though we ourselves are not in need of mercy. If we imply self-righteousness in our response to others, we inadvertently deny the fundamentals of the Gospel in us and might have actually become an enemy of the Gospel in the one we are condemning. When we respond with smugness or arrogance, we deny the heart of Christ. I propose instead that when another person sins, we use it as our opportunity to demonstrate that we are, in fact, Christ-like.

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Is saying the salvation prayer actually being Born-Again?

During the last two generations of Evangelicalism, we’ve exclusively emphasized that our view of being born-again is the key to eternal life, and we’ve simplified the definition of being born-again so much that there is no measurable difference in life-style between those of us who claim to have been born-again and those who do not. Jesus was clear in John 13:34 when he gave us a new command, “. . . Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” There are markers for those who are Christians. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). In John’s first epistle, he drove the point home by saying, “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 John 4:7-8).

So we wonder why born-again believers are not known for their love? A few weeks ago, I did a debate on a Jewish web site and said that one of the great qualities of an authentic believer in Jesus is to serve, protect the rights of, and do what we can to improve the lives of people who are not like us. I illustrated it by saying it’s an honorable and noble role for Evangelical Christians to secure the rights, safety and security of everyone, whether they be willfully disobedient and sinful, or groups like the Jews, Muslims, secularists, agnostics, and others who are not persuaded that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Bible is the Word of God. Using our voices and strength to protect and serve others is not a validation of their beliefs or practices, but a demonstration of our faith in a Savior that saved us while we were yet sinners. It’s Christ-like on our part to serve others, even those whom we’ve not persuaded.

When my comments were covered in the press with typical excessive drama and misinformation, one wrote me out of concern for my soul, “Satan must have clapped his hands, having found another victim from inside church which he is now successfully using to establish his anti-christian and anti-biblical filth. May God have mercy on you!” I have no doubt that non-believers and those who don’t strive to live according to the Bible will not receive everything Christ has for them, but I do believe that the Bible instructs all of us to do everything we can to make life better for others, whether they are in the faith or not. After all, John wrote that “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning” (2 John 1:6).

Why don’t we who are born-again know much about love? I think it’s partially because our leaders inadvertently equate the importance of Old and New Testament Scripture for us as 21st Century Christians, which has resulted in modern evangelicalism becoming a new religion based on a strange amalgamation of the Old Testament and, what I call, “New Testament Torah.” Sadly, the central aim isn’t abiding in and reflecting the life of Christ, birthed from a dynamic relationship with him producing fruit and life, but instead being correct according to our knowledge of what is good and what is evil . . . which we should know by now is deadly.

Secondly, I think it’s because our leaders don’t know much about love. To my knowledge, there is not one seminary or Bible school class, or even a workshop in a mega-church conference, exclusively devoted to training leaders in biblical, New Testament love and it’s application on a bad day. The application of biblical love in the midst of difficult situations is central to “proving to the world that we are his disciples” (John 13:35). Most of our leaders and teachers have never seriously contemplated the application of biblical love when responding to a non-believer, a sinning Christian leader, or what we might perceive as an ungodly social trend in our community. Thus the vacuum. We who have said the salvation prayer to receive eternal life as a free gift from God have been ushered into a discipleship process that didn’t teach us New Testament life and relationship, but instead Old Testament death often cloaked in “standing for righteousness” or “church discipline.” Thus, in the midst of New Testament grace, we died.

In 2006 when my wife and I went through the most difficult time of our lives, there was no difference between those who were born-again and those who were not in their response to us, our situation, or our family. Both groups had some supportive and helpful people among them, and both had incredibly hateful and meanspirited people among them. Both groups had some who tried to lighten our load, and both had some who tried to hurt us as much as they could. Bottom line, whether a person had been born-again or not, by our modern definition, didn’t make any difference.

Maybe we need to rethink what it means to be born-again? Maybe we need to transition our thinking of being born-again from a one time experience where we recite a prayer, and contemplate whether or not being born-again might be an arduous process of his loving hand transforming us from glory to glory as we grow in his lordship and grace. If our view of living in God’s kingdom isn’t for the good of others, even though we have said a salvation prayer, maybe we’ve not been born-again. When Jesus spoke of eternal life, he said the difference between the sheep and the goats was in the way we respond to socially unacceptable people (Matthew 25:31-46). When asked about eternal life, Jesus taught that it included giving all we have away to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22). Some of you may say that exhortation was specifically to the rich young ruler. I think I would respond that we don’t think Jesus’ word to Nicodemus that he needed to be born-again was exclusively to him, but to all of us.

No doubt, prayer is necessary to be born-again, but we can measure the effectiveness of that prayer in our lives. It could be that the evidence is obedience to his command to “love one another.”

This may be important for 21st Century Evangelicalism.

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I AM WHO I AM

Moses was one of the most educated people in his generation. He was educated as the future leader of the most powerful nation on earth. He had been raised as the son of the world’s most powerful man and was groomed to rule. Consequently, he understood not only the political, economic, scientific and social dynamics of his day, but he also understood the accepted contemporary spiritual practices. He knew and had worshipped the gods of Egypt. He understood God, or so he thought.

After committing murder and abandoning his relationships and responsibilities, he lived in exile in the desert for forty years, God met with him and identified himself as “I AM WHO I AM,” If we in the modern age wanted to say the same thing, we would say, “I am who I am, and you have to accept me as I am.” In order to fully grasp this encounter, we have hear God speaking to Moses with some attitude in his voice; ” Are you humble yet? Stop thinking you know who I am and what I’m like. You don’t know me, and neither do those who say they know what I do and do not do. They think they know me and can represent me, but they misrepresent me and don’t know me as well as they think they do. I am who I am. Let me speak for myself and represent myself.

I know the problems that develop when others presume to represent another. In the 2006 scandal that shook my world, I resigned, repented, confessed, and submitted. Consequently, it allowed others to speak for me without consulting me or knowing actual facts. As a result, the web is filled with distortions, misrepresenting my actions, personality, motivations, and relationships. Building on false presuppositions, many have taken broad liberties with my story without reading my books, listening to my sermons, or meeting with me, and have come to flawed conclusions. If someone tries to determine my belief systems by reading skewed reports on the web, they would be deeply mistaken. Everyone should have the liberty to represent themselves. I think God doesn’t appreciate being misrepresented and wants to represent himself to each of us as well.

So for us to understand him, we have to be willing to accept that God is who he is, whether we like him or not, and whether we like what he does . . . or doesn’t do. He enters into a relationship with us just the way we are. Then the authenticity and dynamic of that relationship improves our lives. But for that relationship to be legitimate, our response to Christ’s call must be, “and I am who I am.” Then and only then can there be the beginning of a trust saturated, life-changing bond.

Every child has to dismiss their fantasies about their parents in order to actually meet them. Every spouse has to realize that dating their spouse was incomplete, and as the years pass they actually meet one another. It’s in the acceptance of each other that we all have authentic relationship. Christ is faithful never to leave us in our worst or best days. He is always faithful.

We need to stop the pretense and be honest about who we are so we can have authentic relationships and grow. We have to practice genuine family relationships. With authenticity we can proactively learn how to invest in each other’s success, have the courage to identify with one another, and the wisdom to encourage one another in the most difficult situations. . . just like Jesus. To know Christ, we must accept that he is who he is. For us to be his family here on the earth, we have to realistically be willing to invest in one another in the midst of the realities of our strengths and weaknesses, good days and bad, successes and failures. We are a family.

That’s 21st Century Evangelicalism.

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21st Century Evangelicals

It’s a new day. During the 20th century Evangelicals spent more money spreading the Gospel than ever before. We printed more Bibles, built more Bible schools, seminaries, hospitals, and camps than in any other century. We now have more television stations, radio stations, missionaries, bumper stickers, t-shirts and churches than ever before. We did a great job spreading the message that the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus is the Son of God, and that all of us need to be born-again. One would think we should be headed into a positive future.

But as every political campaign and, sadly, too many sermons remind us, if we get off message, we lose. 20th Century Evangelicalism got way off message. Now our gods are attendance and money, our core aim is maintaining a good reputation, and our message is some strange amalgamation of Old Testament Law, New Testament grace, and the most recent cultural trends. As a result, we are powerless, mediocre, and many of our so-called bishops and apostles are nothing more clouds without rain.

It’s time for a 21st Century Evangelicalism to arise. But it can’t be the message of the 20th Century made cool with graphics, videos, jeans and goatees. Simple iEvangelicalism or Evangelicalism 2.0 won’t do. I believe 20th Century Evangelicalism is known as a hate group by so many because. . . we actually became a hate group to many. We don’t need a repackaging, we need to discover our New Testament center. We need to start again, and evaluate the New Testament in light of current realities and revisit our purpose in Christ. The focus of this blog is to contemplate the central themes of Evangelicalism– theologically, socially, and structurally– and suggest some New Testament revisions. Many of these ideas we have explored at the Roundtables on Life-Giving Leadership, which are springing up around the country. My intent with these blogs is a life-giving journey. My prayer is that this journey causes us to become exactly what Christ intended, an authentic body of believers, all gratefully redeemed.

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