Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

The Value of Love

The Love Series #1

The Value of Love

A teacher who wanted to do her part to avert school shootings asked her students every Friday to make a list of four other students in their class they wanted to sit with the following week and to nominate one student who they thought had been an exceptional classroom citizen. As she looked over the lists, she would take note of which students were never chosen by others, the ones who were left out, rejected, alone, and those who never could think of anyone to request.

Why? Because that observation informed the teacher who may need her attention the most. She was wise enough to know that when people are alone and isolated, it may lead to difficulties in their lives. It might indicate past or current difficulties, and it is certainly a signal of future trouble. This teacher knew that we human beings don’t do our best when we feel alone, but our outlook improves when we are connected to and valued by others.

As a pastor for many years, I’ve been involved with the rejected, the lonely, the depressed, the mentally ill, as well as those who thrive. I’ve watched as people have enjoyed great successes and endured devastating disappointments. And in all of these stages, I’ve concluded that no other experience has more impact on a person’s life—their happiness and health—than success at loving and being loved and feeling valued by oneself and others. Love makes us vulnerable, but it also makes us safe and strong.

Our grandparents knew the life-giving power of long-term loving relationships, and how to develop them. But this generation is experiencing a tsunami of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. We seem in so many ways to be lost in our attempts toward love and commitment, while we exalt emotional independence, self-protection, boundaries, and blame. We’re exhorted to love ourselves first and foremost. We’re becoming distant and dismissive people in spite of our successes in other arenas. People seem to have lost hope in having love relationships. They’re no longer a priority. Some think they don’t have time for them anyway.

We’re in trouble. We have more professional marriage and family counselors than ever before in our history, but often upon discovery, those very professionals have been married multiple times, and their own children are often suffering from anxiety and depression. We have more books written by highly educated professionals and professional educators telling parents and children how to be successful, as those very professionals have often crashed in their personal lives and in their families. That indicates some gaps in their understanding.

We may have lost our way in how to develop healthy relationships, and we’ve minimized the value of doing so.

I believe that we are made in the likeness and image of God, who is three persons in such close relationship with one another that they are one. As a result, we, too, are most natural, healthy, and productive when we are in loving relationships, and we do not function at our best when our relationships are broken, strained, or non-existent.

Bottom line, love is vital to our existence.

From the Scriptures, I have deduced that love is simply living for the good of another. Certainly, love may include compelling emotions and overwhelming feelings, but it is fundamentally logical and understandable. It’s adaptive and functional. Moreover, it’s malleable, repairable, and durable. To me, love makes sense. It can be perceived, felt, known, measured, observed, and grown. What’s most significant is that it gives us direction and helps us find our way.

Since God is love and we are created in his image and likeness, love is a basic survival code, and our brains are created to read and respond to others in order to increase the likelihood of survival as well as other essential tasks with the greatest ease.

In contrast, rejection and abandonment are danger cues that plunge us into real physical pain and discomfort. My experience in my own life and in observing the lives of others is that even the most distressed people can be repaired if they are guided to deal with their emotions and relationships a little differently. The exception would be the truly mentally ill. But if their cognitive abilities are within normal ranges, most people can find healing and satisfaction in life by learning to love and developing themselves so they can be loved.

In conclusion, a stable, loving relationship is the absolute cornerstone of human happiness and well-being. A good relationship is better health insurance than a careful diet and a better anti-aging strategy than taking health supplements. A loving relationship also is the key to creating a family that teaches the skills necessary to support and maintain a civilized society – trust, empathy, and cooperation. Love is the lifeblood of our humanity and our world.

Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). We all have many ways that we measure our lives. Jesus was exhorting us to measure our lives by our love for ourselves and others.

So the teacher is right: the student that is alone and is not valued by others is in danger. Let’s let the teacher’s wisdom teach us to be intentional in our loving others and in being loved by others. We’re created to do that; we need it.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

On Being Stable

God has established two institutions to help us all live healthy and strong lives—the family and the church. Since human beings make up our families and our churches, there are glaring flaws in both. Even so, those who mature wisely draw great mental, physical, and spiritual stability from participating in these institutions. And interestingly, the two entities work well together. If the family becomes dysfunctional, the church has the ability to make up the gap. If the church becomes dysfunctional, the family has the ability to make up the gap. So ultimately, we can all live better lives and be more stable in every way by learning how to build healthy families and churches.

ABC News reports that eighty-three percent of Americans self-identify as Christians. Most of the rest, 13 percent, identify as having no religion. That leaves just 4 percent as adherents of all non-Christian religions combined — Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and a smattering of individual mentions. That means that 83% of our population shares some degree of common direction by believing that the Bible at least includes the Word of God and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who demonstrated for all of us what God is really like.

Inherent in having a foundation of Christian faith is the core value of embracing forgiveness and kindness instead of revenge and fear, and contributing to the health and strength of our families and our churches. Doing so creates a very different world than many human beings currently survive in. I believe everything we do is a combination of five desires within all of us: survival, love and belonging, freedom, power, and fun. When we do our part to create a healthy family, everyone in the family can have those five basic needs satisfied. When we do our part to create a healthy church that our family participates in, more people in our community can have those five basic human needs satisfied. In contrast, when the family and/or church gets sick, we start trying to survive without having our needs being met in a healthy way.

So how do we do our part to build a healthy family and participate in a healthy church? We read our Bibles, ourselves, to glean life-giving ideas that “teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. The Bible corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16b-17).

The first few verses of the book of Proverbs explain the purpose of the proverbs. We can apply this explanation to all of Scripture, which is a strong motivation to read the whole Bible and apply it. Proverbs 1:2-6 says,

“Their (the Proverbs) purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair.

“These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles.”

What a wonderful world we would be living in if we who identify as Christians would simply read and apply the Scriptures. To grasp this idea, read and re-read, then think about the previous two paragraphs from Proverbs. Maybe you could talk about those two paragraphs with someone. Why? Because sometimes we have a tendency to read the Bible just to pick up a few nice ideas, or maybe find good points or suggestions for addressing meetings or preparing sermons. Certainly that is better than never being exposed to the Scriptures. But generally that approach does not get rid of our ignorance of the true meaning of the Scriptures, and leaves the Bible unnecessarily ineffective in our lives. That approach engenders superficiality, both mentally and spiritually.

I’ve seen it too many times. People live their lives as they please until tragedy strikes. Then they randomly ask God to give them guidance through Scripture, or to intervene supernaturally in their situations to relieve their pain. When I see this, I’m reminded that it’s too late to think about fire prevention after your house is burning down, or to start thinking about your health after your second heart attack. You still might be able to get help, but it would have been better for you if you had prepared before your bad day.

Same with the good life God has for all of us. The Word of God was never meant merely for hurried consultations. The Bible was written for study and contemplation, and it was compiled so we can know the Word of God as a whole. Becoming a student of God’s Word can give any of us knowledge of God’s personality and dealings with others so that we can gain depth, richness, and fullness to every dimension of our lives. It teaches us, so we can enjoy full, informed, and satisfying lives. And so that during difficult times, we can stay steady.

I have enjoyed pastoral ministry with significant effectiveness most of my adult life, and I’ve experienced the stabilizing power of God’s Word and Spirit during difficult times. But I can say that the greatest sermons usually come when I am not looking for sermons but simply studying the Word of God for the sake of its own vital truth. Then I can teach the Scriptures in a life-giving way that is both powerful and effective. People love it, and more importantly, God loves it!

Begin today reading the Word for yourself and letting the Scriptures instruct you in a way that builds your life into a tower of strength and integrity. If your local church has a good discussion based systematic study of God’s Word, attend and participate. Then apply those truths so that you can contribute to the health of your family and your church. This will enable you to draw stability from the institutions God has ordained for us—our families and our churches—and within those institutions have your needs met for survival, love and belonging, freedom, power, and fun.

Categories
21st Century Evangelicalism

Stability, Strength, and Insight

Several years ago I was invited to attend a small meeting of key Free Methodist pastors to discuss the future of America, the church in America, and how we could best build healthy believers within our churches with the future in mind.

The conclusion was that we could not predict the future due to our current volatile political transitions, but that we could help build strong Christians no matter the outcome. Since Christian believers have proven to thrive in Communist countries, Islamic countries, and secular nations, perhaps we should stop assuming that our waning Judea-Christian cultural influences will continue to support the message of the church. Maybe we should begin training believers in our churches to be strong in their faith regardless of our cultural environment.

During our discussion I made a conscience decision to enhance the understanding of the Bible within our church. And as a result, we launched an intentional effort for every believer in our church to ingest the Scriptures into the fabric of their lives—in a life-giving way—instead of simply being exposed to the Scriptures. My unspoken assumption was that they might find themselves without access to a Bible in their lifetimes.

In this process, we learned that many of our members enjoyed Christian books and movies, as well as the inspiration they found in the body of Christ, but didn’t have a practical, applicable knowledge of Scripture. Thus, when faced with life-altering decisions, they made their choices based on cultural trends and the worldly advice of their friends or counselors instead of Scripture. Although they claimed to be Christians and believe the Bible, they were worldly. They enjoyed the positive aspects of our faith, but were not constrained by the dictates of Scripture. In my view, they wanted the eternal security offered by our most popular speakers and authors, but were not reading and applying the Scriptures to every aspect of their lives. They liked the comfort of their faith, but were not allowing themselves to be transformed by it.

So at St. James Church, we emphasize that it is of no use to read Christian books without reading and understanding the Bible itself. To simply listen to Christian messages without a serious contemplation of Scripture could inadvertently lead a believer to miss the point of their faith altogether. What we have decided is that our goal is to understand the Bible by reading it and contemplating its teachings chapter by chapter, and then reading and contemplating each chapter several times over. Then we meet weekly to wrestle with the texts and then have life-giving discussions of a 21stcentury application of the Scripture. So any Christian movie, book, or discussion would be viewed through the lens of biblical understanding, rather than worldly ignorance of biblical teachings.

Our hope is that some, who have not yet studied through the Bible on their own, would be motivated to devote time each week to exploring the truths of the whole Bible, book by book, as we follow our congregational Bible study program. Add to that practice sermons, discussion groups, breakfast meetings, and retreats, and they will find themselves more and more rooted in God’s Word. Then, should the benefits of a life-giving local group of believers be denied them in their futures, they will have God’s Word in their hearts and be grounded in their faith regardless of the culture surrounding them.

Let’s get stronger, and stronger, and stronger.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

In Order to Understand the News, We Have to Understand the Bible

It’s impossible to understand our modern world without some understanding of the Bible. Every culture has theological influences that have informed its laws, traditions, perceptions of justice, cultural norms, and educational systems. The Bible has been the dominant theological influence in western civilization.

The Bible was written over a period of 1,600 years by at least 40 authors from three different continents and various backgrounds — including shepherds, kings, farmers, priests, poets, scribes, and fishermen — yet the texts are in perfect harmony with one another.  More people read the Bible today than any other book in the world, and more people have read the Bible throughout history than any other book in the world. It has been translated into 532 languages, and partially translated into 2,883 languages.

When people read it with open hearts and minds, God speaks into their lives. The Bible is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. Humble people appreciate the Bible. It’s helpful, encouraging, instructive, and corrective. It’s not just a book of ideas, but also consists of stories containing lessons that help life make sense. It’s not timid, nor does it gloss over the failures of biblical heroes. It’s honest about our human condition and provides help and hope in the midst of every story. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. Not only is it a good book, but it’s “the” good book.

The nations that have strong Judeo-Christian influences are distinguishable in many ways when compared to nations with strong Islamic, Buddhist, or Hindu influences. And each of those have important differentiating world-views that cause demarcations which can confuse those who don’t understand faith.

Since the 20thCentury, we’ve vividly observed the impact of atheism on some nations in contrast to those that respect faith. Atheistic nations often forbid Bible reading and persecute people of faith, where secular nations, like the United States, accommodate and encourage religious practice, but attempt to be even-handed  between various faiths. However, since the majority of Americans are Christians, Christianity naturally exerts a significant influence on our culture.

Observers place differing values on the influences religious beliefs produce within cultures. Secularists cannot fully grasp world history or current events because they do not understand how faith profoundly influences human behaviors and thoughts.

Without the knowledge of the Bible, many holidays are a mystery and our masterpieces are misunderstood. Jesus taught the idea that power is to be used to serve instead of dominate others. To understand why we protect those with special needs instead of rejecting them requires an understanding of the New Testament. In the West, our desire for equality under the law, our resistance to racism and sexism, our appreciation for charitable organizations that serve, and our desires for mutual respect and our love for music all come from a biblical base.

Many would say that biblical faith is the enemy of many of these ideas and progressive developments, which is why I think people need to read the Bible themselves and discover what it says. A life-giving reading of the New Testament with a foundation of Old Testament understanding is illuminating to everyone I’ve ever known that actually reads the Bible for themselves. The Bible is a unique book in many ways, which is why it is foundational for anyone wanting to be educated.

So why are so many critical of the Bible? I think one reason is because people who are not spiritual choose not to receive truths from God’s Word. Biblical truths sound foolish to them and they cannot understand them.

On a more humorous note, though, I think there are at least three things about the Bible that you really don’t need to know. One is that the Bible is the most commonly stolen book in the world. Two, some say that nearly all of the villains in the Bible have red hair. And third is that the longest word in the Bible is Mahershalalhashbaz (Isaiah 8:3).

Read the Bible yourself. Start with the book of John and enjoy getting stronger and better

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

The Importance of Having Fun

A therapist once told me that destructive behaviors develop in a person’s life in response to pain. That might be true in some cases, but I think many people get in trouble because they simply want more fun, more adventure. We all have taken risks seeking some type of thrill.

  • Alcoholics start by taking a drink for fun.
  • Drug addicts start by taking a drug for fun.
  • Porn addicts start by watching pornography for fun.

However, since fun is a basic human need, we all need to be more thoughtful and intentional about how we have fun so it benefits us, and doesn’t hurt us.

I think Jesus laughed a lot, but we don’t hear much about his humor because overly serious people lead most of our seminaries and Bible schools. The Scriptures are delightful, but some may fear they will appear lacking in spiritual depth if they highlight the funny situations Jesus often created.

Many of Jesus’ confrontations were, in fact, him jabbing his detractors in a clever way that probably left the boys, who were his disciples, snickering. We read those confrontations as sober prose, but I think the actual events might have been Jesus mocking the powerful – with a twinkle in his eye and a playful grin as he glanced at the disciples. In addition, many of his parables that have been analyzed to death by those in suits sporting furrowed brows, pursed lips, and wrinkled foreheads, reveal his sense of humor in confronting the troubled leaders of his day.

He liked troubling them.

I think that’s awesome!

Think about his actions after his resurrection. One was when his disciples were hiding in a locked room fearful of the Romans, and then Jesus suddenly terrifies them by appearing out of thin air — only to say  peace be unto you. Yeah right! He knew what he was doing, and it reveals to me that he was having fun with his followers. My guess is he laughed while they were composing themselves.

Just as our lives must be liberated from excessive gravity, so must our reading of the Gospels and our worship experiences. Jesus came to give us abundant life that is loving, joyful, and satisfying. His faithfulness makes me smile. His provision keeps me in wonder at his majesty. It’s hard to be a Christian and be sad about it. Christ is excessively pleasing. And, as he cleanses our consciences from acts that lead to death, he gives us a strong core, as well as an ability to see humor and laugh.

Aristotle defined human beings as creatures who are risible, ones who provoke laughter. We laugh, not just because we can be silly, but because we can find enjoyment and healing when we have some fun.

I love being a pastor because, for me, it’s loads of fun. Certainly I don’t want to minimize the serious calling and duties associated with competent pastoral ministry. But because I know I’m called, I look for opportunities to strengthen people’s relationships with God and with each other. One way I try to do this is by setting the stage for people to have fun with one another. Hurt, disappointed, and discouraged people can change perspectives and become delightful in a good church. As they connect with other individuals who are healthy and life-giving, they learn, and they grow toward more enjoyable lives.

I am a fan of Dr. William Glasser, the psychologist who developed Choice Theory and Reality Therapy. He connects fun with learning. He said,

We are the only land-based creatures who play all our lives. And because we learn all our lives, the day we stop playing is the day we stop learning. People who fall in love are learning a lot about each other and they find themselves laughing almost continually. One of the first times infants laugh is when someone plays peek-a-boo with them. I believe they laugh because that game teaches them something very useful. They learn, I am I and you are you.

This is one of the reasons I love the way God grouped us: families, communities, churches, nations, etc. God is a trinity, three persons in such close relationship with one another that they are, in fact, one. We are the same way. Families share the same last name, members of a church identify under the name of that church, and citizens identify with their city, state, and nation. God created us to be like him in that our greatest effectiveness in life occurs when we are in healthy, constructive relationships with others. When those relationships are healthy, we are happy. When they are broken, we don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable.

I believe this is exactly why God created all of us in intergenerational groups, families, where we must continually learn wisdom to keep the relationships. When we all learn, we are able to laugh, have fun, and experience peace and joy, and sorrow if necessary,  together. If the relationships are not wisely developed, they fracture; people get uncomfortable and use alcohol or some other drug to artificially create the appearance of fun.

We all know that often doesn’t end well.

Fun and sound relationships go hand-in-hand. I am a 62 year-old pastor with a church that is growing primarily with people in their 20s and 30s. Years ago I bought a couple of ATVs so I could have fun with my children. Now I have five ATVs so Gayle and I can have fun with couples from the church, or I can go with a group of guys from the church. Why? To have fun. Why? Because I understand our basic human need to have fun, and I know that fun connects us. We have fun in the mountains, and that improves our Sunday morning worship services.

Gayle likes to hike with groups of women from the church. When they hike, they talk. When they talk, they learn. And the women that hike with her are happier because as they connect with each other, their enjoyment in life becomes more attainable, and their own relationships are improved. Fun and learning make everyone happier.

Earlier this year Gayle and I went to Israel with some people from our church. Among those who went, there is more vibrant discussion before and after church on Sundays. Why? Because we shared fun, memorable experiences together. We learned, we had fun, and now we are more connected, and thus, happier. Now it’s easier to laugh and have fun together.

We should avoid believing that fun is superficial and shallow and that it does not create intimacy because it does not involve more intense levels of shared feelings. The opposite is actually true. Fun provides common ground to build upon when the need comes for deeper sharing.

Sadly, fun is underrated in both the therapeutic and church communities. Most therapists I know could use more laughter in their lives, and I’m convinced most pastors could too. I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of trauma, pain, and disappointments in life. And certainly, therapists and pastors work to help others heal and recover from these negative experiences. But as successful frontline soldiers and missionaries who are almost daily faced with human tragedy report, one of the secrets to their success is a good sense of humor, which includes having fun. Maybe more people could recover from serious situations by finding ways to laugh more.

We human beings have a core need for fun and enjoyment. That’s why entertainment is a welcome relief for all of us. When we can have fun, laugh, and enjoy ourselves and other people, we enjoy life more.

No doubt, life will present pain, suffering, and disappointment to all of us. In order for us to stay healthy in the midst of the hurtful realities of life, we need people around us who have laughed with us, laughed at us, and get a kick out of our foibles.

It’s the Christmas season. Relax, and have some fun.

Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

Thanksgiving

Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.

This is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi in Philippians 3:1 as he was preparing to explain the value of our relationship with Christ. I particularly like his exhortation because he says we can rejoice in the Lord in the midst of whatever happens! 

In Romans 8:28, Paul wrote,

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day regardless of their faith. But Christians can be especially thankful because we are assured that because we are in Christ, all things do, in fact, work together for our good.

We often hear about the blessings that are available to us in Christ. But on this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to remind you that there are natural benefits available to everyone who is thankful.

Secular articles I’ve recently read have pointed to the fact that being thankful can:

  • make us more patient and better able to make sensible decisions
  • improve the number and quality of our relationships
  • enhance our feelings of empathy toward others
  • reduce our aggression
  • improve our ability to sleep
  • improve our confidence and self-esteem
  • boost our immune systems
  • lower our stress levels
  • lower the intensity of emotional and physical pain
  • increasing our happiness
  • improve our circulatory systems
  • help our autonomic nervous system function well

We are all made in the image and likeness of God. So all of us, regardless of our faith, can receive great benefits by embracing the core purpose of this Thanksgiving Day — being thankful.

I am grateful for you.

Happy Thanksgiving

Categories
Responsible Citizens

Elections and Wisdom in Our Great Country

I like being a middle-aged man. I don’t get as excited about current events as I used to. For example, though some elections go my way and others don’t, I have learned that as long as they are free and fair, the right person ends up in the right place most of the time. And when we elect the wrong person, our constitutional system of checks and balances works just fine. So I’ve participated in every election since I was 18 years old. I vote, but I don’t scream at others in the street.

The same is true with my faith. I know the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus is the Son of God, and that Earth is not Heaven, so events on Earth don’t get me all bothered. Here on the Earth, there are lots of influences that do not reflect God’s best plan for people. But in Heaven, God’s perfect goodness dominates all. Here on Earth, I’ve seen nations come and go. Some have lost their freedom; others have gained it. Some spiral into chaos; others find order and good government. I have a strong political philosophy that protects people’s freedoms and allows them to acquire the goods and services that they need. But I’m not the only one possessing conviction, so sometimes others prevail.

Personally, I’ve had very good days, and very bad days, but in the midst of both, I stay pretty steady. I’m not saying I don’t get mildly emotional sometimes, but I have never been mad at God. I’m secure in God’s forgiveness and love, so I can rest.

Job said to his counselors (whose advice sounded good and would be popular today, but in God’s estimation missed the mark),

Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old. But true wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are his.

We witnessed contrasting opinions and motivations play out in the highly politicized Kavanaugh hearings. For those of you who don’t remember, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump to the Supreme Court during the passionate 2018 mid-term election season. From the outset Democrat senators opposed his nomination and Republicans favored it. After the private and public hearings, FBI investigations, validation by the American Bar Association, and the predictable bantering of special interest groups, the judiciary committee was ready to vote pretty much along party lines.

Then, everything exploded when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward accusing Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a high school drinking party. At the time our nation was already sensitized to sexual abuse by the powerful against vulnerable victims and, no doubt, Americans did not want a sexual abuser on our highest court. I’ll spare you the drama that went on as a result of this accusation, and the bandwagon effect that created other similar accusations. Rather let’s fast forward to today.

Kavanaugh is now on the Supreme Court, and the cameras, hype, and spin associated with Judge Kavanaugh have moved on to newer stories. Those accusers who jumped on the bandwagon have all been discredited, and Dr. Ford has become a millionaire. And it’s been reported that she will write a book, which will probably lead to a book tour.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a massive 414-page report revealing their findings. Among them, the report summarizes a statement from a man who believes he may have been involved in an encounter with Dr. Ford around the time of the sexual misconduct incident she attributes to Kavanaugh.

Interestingly, Dr. Ford testified that the assault was hampered because she was wearing a bathing suit under her clothes, and that Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, playfully jumped on top of them and they fell off the bed, stopping the assault.

The man mentioned in the 414-page report, whose name was redacted in the publicly released document, claimed exactly that scenario. The man told the investigators that when he was a 19-year old college student, he had visited Washington over spring break and kissed a girl he believes was Dr. Ford. “He said that the kiss happened in the bedroom of a house which was about a 15-to 20-minute walk from the Van Ness Metro, that Dr. Ford was wearing a swimsuit under her clothing, and that the kissing ended when a friend jumped on them as a joke,” the report said.

Senate Investigators interviewed this man before Dr. Ford testified before the committee, which was before these details were publicly known.

According to the report, this man and Judge Kavanaugh looked very much alike at that time.

The man also reported to investigators that the encounter was consensual.

The point of this blog is not to validate Judge Kavanaugh or the Senate Report. These reports might be mitigated in the future. But the point of this blog is to simply say that we Christians need not be emotionally moved by every trending story. Instead we need to be powerful in prayer, active in responsible participation in our democratic system of government, and, regardless of what happens, trust the Lord.

With that in mind, it might be wise to:

  • Read your Bible every day for perspective,
  • Pray every day, which will give you peace,
  • And attend church at least once a week, which will center your life.

Proverbs 3:7 says,

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.

Let’s do that.

Categories
21st Century Evangelicalism

How Much Are You Worth?

I am currently reading Saul Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals, because it seems to be an increasingly dominant influence in American politics. Rules for Radicals promotes a “win at any cost” message, which causes many Christians like me to take great exception to it. However, one of the goals of the book is to empower powerless people, which I can appreciate. I don’t like his methodology, however. Alinsky coaches powerless people to increase their effectiveness at being heard by disrupting the status quo. In other words, he encourages them to do or say whatever is necessary to get their way, or to gain power (sound familiar?). This is how they increase their worth to their causes.

Systems for giving voice and defending the worth of average people are nothing new. Since the Magna Carta, representative governments have increased the political value of average people. I am writing this blog during an election season in which political parties, candidates, and entities behind ballot initiatives and proposed constitutional amendments are striving to get people’s votes. Every time we advocate, vote, and participate in our political process we increase our worth. Representative political systems increase the value of people.

Free Market Capitalism has also increased the value of people. Apple, Facebook, Coke, Ford, and Target are just a few of the thousands of companies that compete to provide us with the goods and services that we want and need. And when they do, they prosper. Serving the needs and wants of people is the key to success in our system, which empowers all of us as consumers. Every time we buy anything, we send a market signal. That increases our value.

It appears, however, that we are entering into an era where others are increasingly attempting to determine our value, as well as how and maybe even if we will be allowed to live. (That has always been the case in nations where governments project greater constraints and control over their people.)

I’ll give you an example that, in my mind, is indicative of the trends we’re seeing. MIT media lab just analyzed 40 million responses to an experiment they launched in 2014 to help determine the algorithms that will direct our self-driving vehicles if they are involved in an accident. Obviously, damage occurs and lives are changed when vehicle accidents occur. Because vehicles are becoming more autonomous, for the first time we need to formally pre-determine where a vehicle should be directed in the midst of an accident and, as a result, who is more likely to be injured or killed.

The results from 40 million responses suggested people preferred to save humans rather than animals, spare as many lives as possible, and tended to save young over elderly people.

The surveys also revealed smaller trends of saving females over males, those of higher economic status over poorer people, and saving pedestrians rather than passengers.

These split-second decisions about the lives of others have always been a part of our driving purview. But now we’re formalizing the value of others in our algorithms. The point of this blog is that we all have different values in the minds of others and we need to realistically assess our own value and consider what we can do to improve our value in the minds of others.

God values each of us, and that gives us intrinsic value. But other people view us differently. I do not believe it is realistic for us to assume anyone else will respect our intrinsic worth. Instead, we may need to accept the responsibility of creating our value in the minds of others with the decisions we make.

Saul Alinsky recommends that you do and say whatever it takes to get your way. He casts doubt on virtue, nobility, and altruistic motivations. He thinks love for others and kindness are myths that are culturally required by the Judeo-Christian heritage in western civilization.

I would differ. I believe in the transformed life that Christ offers that changes our hearts and implants sacrificial service, love for others, and an authentic desire to see others better off. Alinsky firmly believes in the power of selfish ambition and seems to believe honorable motivations are smoke screens. It’s obvious why he is so popular among secular political activists.

But he obviously misses the Holy Spirit’s ability to transform lives from selfish ambition, deception, and manipulation to integrity, responsibility to serve others, and honor. How valuable are we? Our ultimate value is based on our desire to serve Christ by competently serving others. Taking the responsibility for ourselves and serving others ultimately determines our worth, our value, our power, our influence, and our position.

So what should we do to increase our value? Start by reading the Bible, God’s Word, and seek wisdom and perspective in its pages. In addition, learn to pray and to think. Meditation on the Word and praying to your heavenly Father on a regular basis will open your heart and mind to his ideas. In addition, make a commitment to regularly meet with a local gathering of Christian believers. This will give you depth in relationships that will inform political and social ideas and roles.

As you do these things, your life’s foundation will become increasingly firm and your relationships will improve. This foundation will allow your priorities to be better defined, your aptitude to improve, your abilities to increase, and your skills to strengthen. As you become more competent, you will become a pillar of strength and trustworthy. And in this, you will be worth so much more.

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Q and A

Is Water Baptism Relevant to Your Eternal Life?

I like to take groups of believers to Israel to see and experience the places where so many biblical events took place. A highlight is always water baptism in the Jordan River. Because Jesus was baptized in the Jordan—in honor of his example and as an expression of our own rejection of worldliness and our desire to live under his lordship—many of us have opted to share in this experience as well.

Before Jesus was baptized, John the Baptist came preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. He said people should be baptized to show they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. This act prepared people’s hearts to receive Jesus, who enabled us to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven—a kingdom where God rules supremely, where there is no sickness, disease, betrayal, sadness, or pain.

While living our earthly lives, we suffer in the midst of many negative influences. John the Baptist’s message opened the door for us to repent of our sinful living so that we can experience some of the Kingdom of Heaven even while still here on the Earth.

He preached,

Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near (see Matthew 3:2; 4:17).

This message is appealing because all of us experience suffering here on Earth, yet we long for order, peace, and prosperity. In other words, we desire more of Heaven here on Earth.  Most of us want to be good and to promote goodness in the midst of the evil, betrayal, greed, violence, and pain associated with living on Earth. And many of us assume that if our lives demonstrate more good than bad, Heaven will be available to us after death.

But John’s message was that we all have evil within us (which is why human attempts to establish order have often led to tyranny). So, John was saying that we all need to turn from the evil that is within us and seek God’s goodness in order for our own hearts to be transformed. Our human goodness is insufficient, even if we express our goodness by trying to please God. As every student of history knows, human attempts at goodness in the name of God often result in horrific tragedy.

That’s why John the Baptist introduced a new way. He emphasized that we all need to turn away from our own attempts to make life better, and submit to God’s way of transforming us into better people.

Until the time of John the Baptist, the Jewish people thought they could make their lives and the world a better place by obeying the Law, cooperating with the Priesthood, and worshipping in the Temple. But with John the Baptist, God was doing away with this system because it lacked the power to change hearts.

John communicated that we all need to let go of our old ideas about achieving goodness, admit our own weaknesses and failures, and allow God to transform us in a new way. In John’s and Jesus’ time, this meant that the people had to go outside the sacred city of Jerusalem to be immersed in the River Jordan.

John’s authority to minister was from God himself, not from the religious leaders. For this reason, most of the leaders opposed him, but the multitudes flocked to him. They knew what they had been doing was insufficient.

John 1:29-34 says,

The next day John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! . .  . Then John testified, ‘I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Sprit.’ I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.

After portraying the significance of this baptism, Jesus

began demonstrating that he was the Son of God through a series of miracles. He also challenged the religious leaders of his day about the authority of John the Baptist. Matthew 21:25-27 says,

Jesus said,

Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?

They [the leading priests and elders] talked it over among themselves, ‘If we say it was from heaven, he will ask us why we didn’t believe John. But if we say it was merely human, we’ll be mobbed because the people believe John was a prophet.’ So they finally replied, ‘We don’t know.’

One reason the religious leaders of the day were upset was because the crowds were responding to the power of the transformed lifethat emerges when people repent, believe, and begin to hear the Spirit of God in their hearts.

Hebrews 8:10-13 says,

But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord:

I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.’

When God speaks of a ‘new’ covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.

The power of this is highlighted in Hebrews 9: 9 and 14 where the Bible says,

For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them . . . Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God.

This explains why billions of believers from every nation on earth gather to worship. They are not constrained by duty, but are motivated by grateful hearts.

John’s baptism was radical. It opened the door for believers to be forgiven and transformed, which is why John said to those coming to be baptized,

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire (Luke 3: 8-9).

The trees that John was addressing were people’s confidence in their genealogies and their religious rituals. Every culture and generation has ideologies and practices that promise a better life, but most of them betray those who believe in them and fail to produce. Communism, alcohol, and greed promise a better life, but they always betray and disappoint.

But Jesus doesn’t ever disappoint. When we make a public confession of sin and repent, with a determination to

  • participate in Christ’s body in our community,
  • grow in the Word of God, and
  • develop a personal relationship with Christ through prayer,

our lives as we knew them never recover. We change.

By stepping into the waters of baptism, we announce to everyone that the solutions of this world are insufficient to produce the goodness we desire.We admit that we fall short and need God to do something inside our lives to change us. We joyfully confess our sins and declare that we need God’s Spirit within to achieve genuine goodness.

Water baptism is a physical demonstration of this turning point in our lives.

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Q and A

Will Only Those “In Christ” Be Resurrected?

No. Both those “in Christ” and those who have died without being reconciled to God will be physically resurrected. Death is not the end for either the believer or the unbeliever. However, the Bible does encourage/warn all of us toward godliness by revealing some important differences in the resurrection of those who are in Christ and those who are not.

The first thing we all need to understand is that what we do in this life determines the nature of our resurrection. Jesus said in John 5: 28-29,

Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.

Those in Christ as well as unbelievers will rise from the dead, but they will do so during different events. The Bible teaches that the dead in Christ will rise from the dead when Christ returns.

Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16,

We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from Heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves.Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

Then John writes in Revelation 20:5–6,

This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.

So the first resurrection will involve Christians rising from the dead at the return of Christ, and the unbelieving dead will not be resurrected until the end of the thousand years (often called the millennium, see Revelation 20 and 21).

We all die when we leave our bodies and step into eternity, which all of us will experience if we die before the second coming of the Lord. Believers, though, will never experience a second death. Unbelievers, however, will experience a second death. Revelation chapters 20 and 21 both vividly describe it.

Revelation 20:11 says,

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 21:8 also describes the second death,

But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars – their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.

Since everyone who rejects Christ’s redemptive work on the cross (which is available to all of us) continues to live in disobedience to God, which is sin, they will be thrown into the lake of fire. Believers, however, have received God’s forgiveness and are victorious, which means we have overcome the grip of sin. So when Revelation 21 describes the fate of believers, it says in Revelation 21:3-6,

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’

And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega – the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

We human beings never cease to exist. Instead, we all will continue exist past our initial death, so we should understand that the quality of our everlasting life will be decided according to our actions that reflect our relationship with Christ or our actions that reflect no relationship with him. In Daniel 12:2-3 the Bible says,

Many of those who bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace. Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.

Eternity continues the trajectory of our lives here on the Earth.If we love God, his people, and his purpose, we continue on that path in eternity. But those who resist God, reject God, and refuse to seek him, will have a very different experience in eternity—they will be separated from God and everything good.

So, in answer to your question, everyone will be resurrected. Those who have been reconciled to God through belief in Christ’s suffering, death, burial, and resurrection will be resurrected to eternal life; while those who do not believe in Christ will be resurrected and enter into eternal damnation.

Jesus came to save all of us. His will is that we all believe that truth, repent of our sins, give our lives to Christ, and live forever with him. However, he will respect our choice not to spend eternity with him should that be our decision.