Pastor's Corner

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What Really Matters?

You are not the contents of your wallet.

You are not the sum of your resume.

You are not the vehicle you drive.

You are not the value of your home.

You are not the level of your education.

Your identity must rest in something more real than these things, or when they no longer matter, neither will you. If they can be taken away, or they are temporary, you are placing your hope in something fleeting. Have you ever read the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of your Bible? It is Hebrew poetry written to cause you to think and feel the state of grief the author is feeling as he writes. He has had everything, explored all that time and limitless money could possibly allow. In the end he discovered to major points.

Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 “For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? 23 Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity.”

First, all of the stuff people chase after in this life, is just a waste of time and energy, vanity the Bible says. This word “vanity” means it is empty, unsatisfying. Through his extensive efforts and experience, the writer, who was a great king of a wealthy nation, discovered that all that everyone values in this life like money, pleasure, power, and position – are all a huge waste of time and never satisfy the longing in your soul. Every day the marketing ads we are bombarded with try to tell us the complete opposite; have this car, this gadget, this whatever and you will be powerful, attractive, and desired. Solomon tells us, it is all a lie. You will get to the end, and discover it did not satisfy… it is all empty.

There is of course, always someone who thinks they will be the exception, but they too will discover emptiness when they arrive. So what is the second thing Solomon discovered? He encourages us throughout the book to love the wife or husband God has given to us, and enjoy the simple benefits of the labor of our hands instead of the constant treadmill for more. But the second major point is this,

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this {applies to} every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”

What has God blessed you with? What has He gifted you to do? Do that, follow after God and do as He has shown you to do. One day you will stand in judgment, don’t let the rat race get you off course. Treasure what God has given you in this life, this is important, but don’t let those good things define you. Let God provide your identity, and it will be of eternal value. 

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Making America Great Again

The campaign theme currently trending is “Make America Great Again.” It is a popular statement made famous through campaign repetitiveness. But the assumption is America was once great, and no longer is, so we must make it so again. No one seems to know exactly how that is going to happen, but the statement makes people feel better. In fact, many Christians are jumping on the bandwagon, and joining in the chorus. Me, I think Christians need to know their history.

In the first century, early Christians did not rise up seeking to restore a once great Roman Empire. They held out the truth of the gospel, and a biblical model of living. The result of this was the overthrow of Roman power and the rise of Christianity. Rome was changed through this Christ-like influence, not politics.

In 1517, Martin Luther, a fairly unknown Augustinian monk posted a protest letter on a front door in Germany. Four years later, his arguments of Christian truth forever altered human civilization, and caused a shift in human understanding that continues to have rippling effects. He did not argue for a restoration of a better Germany, he argued for the truth of the gospel. Not politics.

In 18th century England, John Wesley preached the truth of the gospel and saw a revival take place which prevented a revolution in England that would have matched what took place in France. The same thing happened in the Americas under the preaching of George Whitefield, revival radically changed civilization. Whitefield and Wesley did not seek to restore a better England or America, they sought to preach the gospel and live it out in truth. This Christ-like influence changed their nations, not politics.

These are some of the mountain peaks in Christian history. Preach the truth of the gospel, and live it out in truth, and you will see a change for the better. Christians seeking to use politics is never good. Go look for yourselves. Be careful what you are placing your trust in, you just might get it.

 

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The Call to Abide

When I think about the people I know, I often stop and recognize I know some incredibly brilliant people. Seriously, I have some really smart friends who are very capable human beings. Software engineers, chemical research scientists, mechanical engineers, and so on – really smart people. I know people who have created things from a simple idea, and then had the nerve to follow through with their idea to formulation. I’m quite privileged really to have such friends.

To these people, and people like me, Jesus says,

John 15:4-5 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither {can} you unless you abide in Me. 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

We spend so much of our lives working through life, pulling from our knowledge, resources, and various abilities to get somewhere or to accomplish something. And being Americans, we have some of the best opportunities provided for us, some of the best resources, and some of the best people to work alongside. We are very capable people, and quite honestly, we have opportunities here that many other folks will never have. Yet, Jesus’ words still call out to us, “come, and abide in me.”

We can make it through each day on our own living in America. We still live in a country where for the most part if you work hard, no matter who you are, you can make it here. Yet Jesus tells us to abide in him, and relates this to be like a vine and its branches. We must attach our lives like a branch to a vine, rely upon Him for everything as our life source, and trust in Him to bring life. While this is not a call to sit idly by and do nothing, it is a call to turn to Him completely and in the depths of who we are – trust in Him as the primary source of our lives. As Christ-followers, we can go through life imagining we are doing fine because we are not committing any serious sins, we can settle into that and not really abide. Many people constantly make this mistake, I know, because I meet with them in counseling when it has gone on too long, or they cut off any close contact with other believers.

Jesus would have us use all of our available resources, abilities, and natural talents God has placed in us for living this life. There is no doubt about that. But at the core of who we are, He calls us to bond to Him, abide in HIm, because in the end He says, “apart from Me you can do nothing.” And it is only when you come to the end of yourself you realize, that yes, it must be in Him I rest. Abide in Him today, He waits for you. 

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Choosing God's Will

If you are not driven by the will of God, then you are moving according to your own will, or the will of others who are manipulating you. Which means you are living according to the will of a selfish, personally broken, and limited existence human being instead of God. Your gauge for living and right and wrong will be your emotions, limited knowledge, and brokenness. And that will never end well. You will live in a way that continually guards those broken areas of your life, and keeps you from recognizing where you are driven by your own willfulness and sin. You will protect your brokenness, push away anyone who might touch those areas, or let them near only if you believe you can keep them from touching those areas of pain.

Psalm 34:18 “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

While it tends to be, that it is not safe to expose those broken areas of our lives because people are not always safe, God knows where you are broken. Whether it is the drive to be accepted, to be noticed, a painful childhood, to chase whatever lust drives you, or whatever – God knows and can bring healing if you would simply come. You keep ruining relationships, you keep trying to self-medicate through whatever is your chosen means to dull the pain (alcohol, drugs, sex, careers, shopping), and this is all because you are protecting yourself. God knows it, and so do you.

God is waiting, He will not force change in your life, so you need to come. Confess your pain, sin, and inability to fix yourself. Abandon yourself to His will, allow God to work in your heart, mind, and soul. No it will not be easy, but obtaining something good or great is never easy. God is a compassionate healer, a wounded healer who knows our frailty because He has shared in our humanity.

Hebrews 4:15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin.

Trust Him with your heart, let His will be what guides your life.

 

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Politics, Politicians, and Hope

He took the fall for a number of other people, and went to jail. He was made a public disgrace, shamed by all of the Washington insiders of his day. But he gladly committed his crimes at the time he said, because he truly believed it was for the good of the nation for the president to remain in office. Ends justified means for him, and as a good Marine, he was willing to pay the price. It was in this place he met Jesus Christ – Chuck Colson was Born-Again and everything changed for him.

One of the primary things he came to realize when he came to Christ is there is hope, but it is not found in politics and politicians. Such people generally lack integrity, they are only men and women, and they cannot achieve perfection, nor can they bring salvation. If they are virtuous men and women, they can establish something good, though it has imperfections. Our nation’s founding fathers did this. But in less than three centuries corrupt men and women have tainted the good of what was intended through deceit and threat, and we find a broken system.

Chuck Colson knew what the realities of Washington D.C. are, he had lived in the midst of it for a number of years. And this former Washington insider declares, “Don’t place your hopes in elections, as important as they are.” If you think some presidential candidate is going to come into office and save the nation, you are fooling yourself. We can speak out, and we should. We can pray, and we should. We can vote, and we should. The early Christian Church brought about radical change in the first and second century, including the overthrow of Rome. Not by violence, not by legislated change, but because they lived out the reality of their faith in a broken world. Recognize there is hope, but it is only found in Jesus Christ. 

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The Season of Lent

Coming from a very non-traditional church background as a Calvary Chapel pastor, sometimes I think about the activities of the traditional church seasons. For instance, today is the beginning of the season of Lent, which is a forty day period. Ash Wednesday, which is today, starts the clock and this season continues until Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. Many folks in the modern protestant church believe this to be more of a Roman Catholic season. But the truth is for many Christians of the more traditional type of Protestant church; it is a season of repentance, fasting, self-examination, and preparation for Easter that reflects back to Jesus’ time in the wilderness before beginning His earthly ministry. The tradition is tied into some Old Testament themes as well, but primarily from the life of Jesus.

Jesus fasted for forty days and nights. After this, He was very hungry. The devil came to Jesus to tempt Him, saying, “If You are the Son of God, tell these rocks to become bread.” — Matthew 4:2–3

So during this season, folks will give up certain things such as a favorite food or a life habit they are trying to control. It is a sacrificial offering of sorts in their personal lives being offered up to God during the season of Lent. No, it is not to gain God’s favor, Christ has already done that on the cross. Nor is it an attempt at self-righteousness. It is a humble offering to God from your life given to Him for a period of time.

In a culture of ease and self-indulgence, this does run counter to the lifestyles of many people, but this is the point. A prominent word that highlights this season is “sacrifice” because we are remembering the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us. All throughout the Old Testament we see countless sacrifices being offered to God, and Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us which brought to an end the need for sacrifices in order to be redeemed back to God – His sacrifice accomplishing this once and for all. (Hebrews 10:10) For this reason, any sacrifice we offer during this season is an act of worship, not a required offering for the purpose of redemption.

Jesus sacrificed everything so that we could be closer to Him. During Lent, we are sacrificing so that we can be closer to Him? What time are we spending with various activities that we can replace with time spent with God? Discover a sense of the meaning of sacrifice by having less of yourself, and more of Christ. This is a wonderful opportunity to put this idea of sacrificial living to work in your life. God bless you during the Lenten season.

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Socialism and the Republic

There is a lot of unknown and misunderstood terminology coming out of our current political debates regarding government and its forms. We can primarily thank Bernie Sanders for this, but in the battle for political power, there are some deliberate propagandist statements being made on all sides. For instance, take the terms socialist and democratic socialist:

Socialism is a variety of social and economic systems which are characterized by social (the people) ownership and democratic control of the means of producing goods; as well as the political ideologies, theories, and movements that aim at making this happen. Social ownership generally refers to forms of public, cooperative, or collective ownership; to citizen ownership of equity; or to a combination of these. Social ownership is the common element shared by its various forms.

Democratic socialism is a “political ideology” advocating a democratic political system, alongside a socialist economic system. Sometimes used synonymously with "socialism", the adjective "democratic" is often added to distinguish itself from the Marxist-Leninist brand of socialism, which is generally viewed as non-democratic. Many good European nations have some form of this form of government, and are our allies.

Hitler took what was supposed to be a democratic socialist agenda to strengthen Germany in a time of acute weakness, turned it, and formed another power structure system of government known as Fascism once he had achieved dictatorial control.

Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism that surfaced in early 20th-century Europe. Influenced by a national movement to transfer the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution to worker’s unions, fascism originated in Italy during World War I, in opposition to liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism. Fascism brought stability and economic growth to Italy, but at the cost of freedom for the Italians who were under the control of the government.

Also battling for power and position in the political realm of early 20th century Europe was communism.

Communism is a term (from Latin communis, "common, universal") and is a social, political, and economic ideology whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a communist society, which is supposed to be a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state.

“The substance of socialist democracy lies in the efficient socialist organization of all society for the sake of every individual, and in the socialist discipline of every individual for the sake of all society.“ – Leonid Brezhnev, Communist Russian Leader

Communist Russia’s leaders always spoke in socialist terminology, because they always pushed forward the propaganda they were for the people. Socialism in all of its forms always has the pretensions of being for the people, against the rich elites, as does communism. But those who would lead such forms of political governing, are more often all about power. This fact is undeniable from everything we know of history.

Why do so many people in the older generation have such an aversion to any talk of socialism or democratic socialism? Because many are old enough to remember what these forms of governments have done to nations. Because today, all over the world, there still remains millions of people who suffer under such forms of government. Because we know people who have come from such countries, and can tell you how there is no human flourishing, there is only government control. There is always a pointing to the handful of nations where democratic socialism is has worked, but there is no admission to the far greater number where it is failing.

The men and women who formed the United States created a Republic that was genuinely of the people and for the people, not the pretensions of being so.

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Talk Them into College if You Can

I recently read a blog article from a mom to her kids. In this article she encouraged her children to not go to college, her words were, “I don’t care if you do…” She then went on to encourage them to go out and enjoy life, travel, have a great time. It all sounded good, pretty emo for a guy to read, but it was written by a mom. I cannot judge her motives, but I can address the problems with what she said. I disagree with her advice, so just a few points to consider on this side of the education thing.

First, and I know this is going to sound harsh, but someone is going to have to pay for all of that travel and good time. Who is going to do that? Where are they going to get the money? Doing odd jobs, working in a café, and where – like maybe France where the unemployment rate is triple what it is in the U.S.? Pimps and abusers are lined up waiting for the next kid who has a dream walking the streets. Again, I know that sounds harsh, but there is as good a chance your child could end up in trouble, than actually traveling the world and having a great time.

Second, to all of those parents who are afraid your child will lose their faith in college, you are wrong and I will tell you why. The reality is they probably lost their faith before they arrived on the college campus, college just gives them permission to walk away. The average teen in youth group across the country has lost their faith before leaving public education high school. The likelihood is they have learned how to be compliant in your home, and fit the mold until they can get out.

Third, all of the research and facts point to the reality that your education level has a direct connection to your capacity to earn an income. As you view the unemployment rates, the higher your education, the less likely to be out of work you will be. We have known for years that just finishing high school makes it possible to earn hundreds of thousands more than someone who does not.

Fourth, by getting a decent education in a valuable career field, you are enabled to earn a decent wage. Instead of demanding to be paid $15.00 an hour for flipping burgers, you learn how to do something that will provide a living wage. And then, with that living wage, you have the capacity to pursue what you would like to do for the rest of your life… whether paid or not. Ancient Jewish culture believed that if you did not train your son in a trade, you were teaching him to be a thief. So the apostle Paul was trained to be a tent maker, which he used throughout his missionary career.

I could keep going, but as a little balance, I think there is great value in a teen running off to do something right after high school like travel or do mission work somewhere in a third world country before entering college. Skip a semester or take a summer and go see something beyond your small world. Now, I do not know what that woman’s income level is who wrote the article, but someone is going to have to pay for all of that really cool stuff she is telling her kids to go do instead of college. Because of our good friends, we were able to send our daughter to England for nearly a year to work as a type of nanny with some mutual friends. This cut the costs right out of the deal for us.

Telling your child no education is setting them up for a hard road. No, not everyone is prepared for what college demands. That’s fine, send them to a trade school and let them learn something that will make them enough money to live their lives, and not have to demand the government pay for it.

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CHANGE IS GOOD, NECESSARY

There comes a time when you must stop blaming your parents, stop blaming society, stop blaming everyone else, and take responsibility for yourself. It is not the white man, the brown man, the black man, the immigrant, it's you. You have become the reason you are not moving forward; you are the reason because of your bad choices and faulty thinking. You are ruining your own life – and no one else. If you get up and do what you can do today, and then do the same thing tomorrow – giving it all you have to give – things will change for the better.

I know a color blind man who became a graphic artist, I know handicapped people who have become warriors; what will you do with what God has given you? Where you are doesn’t have to mean you are “no good,” you just have to get up, dust yourself off, and get going.

Be real about who you are and what you have done, admit it to yourself and those around you, especially those you have hurt. Commit yourself to making a change and reaching for some realistic goals. Get rid of those folks who keep bringing you back to that place you don’t want to be, no excuses, no hate, just walk away. Get some trusted friends around you who will help you reach your goals and ask them to be a support system for you with the goal of going to some place better. Some folks would say “Turn to a higher power.” But I won’t, because I know His name, so if it were me… I would turn to Jesus. Confess your sins, repent of them – stop doing them, no excuses, no hate, just walk away. Admit you are not all that… Those folks who think they are all that, yeah, well they are not all that either. We are all broken in some way. Change your heart, change your mind, and let God’s Spirit work in your life.

Jesus caused the demonized man to return to his right mind (Mark 5), Jesus showed the woman at the well real love after five broken marriages (John 4), and Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Jesus can turn your life around as well.

Change is right around the corner, go get it!

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Talking and Listening

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Communication is a two-way activity, and yet many people talk while no one is listening. There is someone physically present, but their attention is not on the person speaking. Someone must talk, and someone must listen, or it is not communication. Unfortunately there is a real problem with listening in most relationships. Many folks are just not good listeners, and some folks rarely listen to others at all. We all know what it is like to be talking and realize the other person is not listening; they are looking passed you, or they are preoccupied with their phones.

Do an act of kindness for someone, listen to them. Everyone wants to be heard. All of us long for the connection that comes from actually being heard. You can see it in their eyes, they are hearing you and you are being understood, and it’s fantastic.

For the talkers:

  • Consider your audience, what can you say and how can you say it so they will hear you?
  • Speak in such a way that it is possible to be heard; speak clearly, speak plainly. For instance, if you are a woman speaking to a man, get to the point, most men don’t want a long extended conversation about things not currently on their agenda – men want subject matter material.
  • Timing can easily be an issue; make sure you are not trying to talk to someone who cannot provide you with the necessary attention at that moment – for example, talking at your spouse when they have just walked in the door from work is not usually a good time to be heard, especially if it has been a bad day or it is a negative subject.
  • Do not speak in a way that sounds aggressive, or that comes across as attacking the other person. This is especially true if you are bringing up a complaint or something negative about the other person, “speak the truth in love” as Paul wrote. (Ephesians 4:15)

For the listeners:

  • When people talk, listen completely until they are done.
  • Don’t be thinking about your response.
  • Don’t be thinking about your defense.
  • Listen so as to understand the other person, listen so that you know the topic, the point, and the feelings behind what was said.
  • Your body language should communicate that you want to listen.
  • Reflect back what you are hearing so they know you understand them, but do not interrupt the person speaking.

In a marriage, be aware that if you are both really busy, the tendency is going to be to reduce the conversation to immediate and practical issue in the home. You will talk about problems with the kids, or problems with the house, and not about your love for each other. Relational conversation for the sake of spending time together will disappear. So you will need to commit to making time to be together and make enjoyable conversation possible.

Listening is a gift to be given, show someone you care and really listen.

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Passion and Apathy

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I saw a t-shirt one day and on the front of it were the words,

“What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?”

And on the back it read,

“I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

I didn’t laugh out loud, but I did laugh to myself and smile because of the humor. But honestly, apathy is not a laughing matter, and it is a very present element in American culture. Apathy can be defined as the absence of emotion. It’s like white noise. Not happy, not sad, not angry – and certainly not passionate. On the societal level, apathy is everywhere to be found. For example, despite the amount of noise about the candidates running for president in 2016, many Americans are apathetic about the political process.

People often experience apathy when expectations continue to be unmet. Loss of hope and apathy can be two sides of the same coin. If you believe you will never reach your goals, you may experience apathy. If you feel your plans won't work, you may experience apathy. If you have lost faith in yourself or another person, you may experience apathy as well. It is easy to see then how so many Americans have become apathetic about the political process. But it is important to know, apathy can precede depression. People can also experience apathy out of sheer boredom, but it is the same thing again; they expect little satisfaction because they have expended a lot of energy doing something to the point they are bored with it and apathy settles in.

Apathy is a temporary state of being. Apathy doesn’t define who you are, only how you feel right now. You won’t feel this way forever. You have to make a choice to not remain in that condition though, to take deliberate action to step away from apathy. There are some things we can be apathetic about that don’t really matter like some sporting event, but other things like our marriage or family, we cannot afford to settle into apathy over.

Accept what is and cannot be changed, deal with reality; but make the effort to change what can be changed. Draw closer to God, seek the heart of God, because it is there you will discover what is important and God will give you the passion you need for whatever it is. God said that David was a man after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), meaning he cared about what God cared about, was passionate about what God was passionate about. This is where we need to be.

We expend a lot of energy on an awful lot of things in this life that simply do not matter, at least not from an eternal perspective. And worse, we can too easily fall into the trap of being apathetic about the things of God. Cry out to God and ask Him to stir your heart for what matters to Him, and the Holy Spirit will begin to do just that. God bless. 

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Sexuality, Teens, and the Risk of HIV/AIDS

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So I am doing some research and what do I find? In the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s booklet for HIV-positive youth entitled “Healthy, Happy and Hot” it says, “Young people living with HIV have the right to decide if, when, and how to disclose their HIV status.” It continues: “Sharing your HIV status is called disclosure. Your decision about whether to disclose may change with different people and situations. You have the right to decide if, when, and how to disclose your HIV status.”

In their reasoning, Planned Parenthood thinks it’s your human right to risk exposing other people to a potentially deadly disease without telling them. But, “Healthy, Happy and Hot” also goes on to say,

“Some countries have laws that say people living with HIV must tell their sexual partner(s) about their status before having sex, even if they use condoms or only engage in sexual activity with a low risk of giving HIV to someone else. These laws violate the rights of people living with HIV by forcing them to disclose or face the possibility of criminal charges.”

The pamphlet then gives tips on how to protect yourself from criminalization, and admits the best way to protect yourself (which is apparently more important than protecting your partner) is to tell your partner that you are infected before you have sex. This section ends with the statement, “Get involved in advocacy to change laws that violate your rights.”

So not only is Planned Parenthood making a lot of money killing babies in the womb, they are also advocating people risk killing other active adults and young adults by exposing them to HIV/AIDS without their knowledge – and labeling this as their right. Finally, the pamphlet also states,

“Sexual and reproductive rights are recognized around the world as every person living with HIV is entitled to these rights and they are necessary for the development and well-being of all people and the societies in which they live.”

This is the reasoning of fools, how is it possible that such rights are necessary for the development and well-being of all people, when what they are advocating is directly placing all sexual partners at risk? It’s sex, it’s not breathing or eating. The whole pamphlet is about how young people have the right to sexual pleasure, and apparently, even if this places your partner at risk because you did not tell them before engaging in sexual activity. Medically, there have been tremendous advances in the treatment and control of HIV/AIDS over the last decade. But to imagine that someone’s sexual “rights” take precedence over the life of another human being is simply ridiculous. Gonorrhea and syphilis will not likely kill you, but you are required to disclose this information. HIV/AIDS is the only sexually transmitted disease that is politically protected in the United States as far as I know. Talk to your teens, warn them this type of advice is being given to other teens and placing them at risk. God help us against such insanity. 

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Knowledge and Humility

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1 Timothy 1:5 “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.”

I encountered another one of these types of experts today, speaking about things they do not know or understand. You have encountered them, answers for everything, and judgement for anyone who does not agree with their view of things. It is always a test for me, because I desire the goal that Paul speaks of here in this passage, and not to be the problem he is addressing.

Over the years I have learned to say, “I don’t know.” I am asked a lot of questions by folks, and often I know some answers, but not always. So I say I don’t know. And the older I get, the more I realize how much I do not know. And I am often humbled by those I get to know who are so brilliant and insightful on various subjects I wish I knew more about.  I know some pretty amazing people, and the more I get to know folks, I realize the people at the church I pastor are really quite incredible. And you know what, they let me say I don’t know, and they are alright with that.

1 Corinthians 8:1b “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.”

There is always a danger with knowledge, there is a risk of arrogance around the corner if the ego is left unchecked. Self-righteousness and judgment generally follow as well. And it is not like this is an encouragement to be ignorant, the Bible actually encourages learning, especially learning more about God and drawing close to Him. (2 Peter 3:18) But you should know that there is a wrong turn on the road to knowledge to be fearful of, the turn toward arrogance and becoming destructive with that knowledge. God is pretty clear and direct about many things in the Bible, but there are some things God provides principles to guide our lives by rather than direct commands – which make for honest variations in our faith and life. Revelation 7:9 tells us there will be people from “many tribes, tongues, and nations” who will be in heaven. So this tells me that Christianity is far more nuanced and varied than what is represented by American culture alone. In an age where there is incredible mass communication coming from all directions, but where no one is listening, only speaking – God help us to be people who have pure hearts, good consciences, and a sincere faith.

Oh Lord, help me to realize how little I know about this aspect of the faith I hold to, and remain humbled by the extent of your gracious reach across all cultures, nations, and peoples. 

 

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Real Change for the New Year and All Year

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This is the time of the year when people are making New Year’s resolutions, for some it is an annual event that quickly ends, but for others the start of something good. Humanity is amazing for its ability to adapt and change to successfully continue on in this life. I have watched folks walk away from serious addictions to drugs and alcohol, and others walk away from varying types of destructive life habits – none of it easy, but they did it. I know others who have moved from one part of the world to another, and they have taken on all new cultures and cultural ways of doing life which are quite foreign to their own. Yes, humanity is quite capable of adapting to its environment.

But there are some things in all of humanity that is deep within them, inherently a part of who they are which cannot be changed. Oh, you may witness the efforts of some who have done all of the work to effect an outward change of appearances or life habits, but inside nothing has changed. For example, we are inherently the race we are, or the gender we are regardless of what we do to alter our outward appearances. And so it is with our sin nature. There is an inherent pull toward sin within all of humanity – no matter how much we may clean up the outside.

Jeremiah 13:23 "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”

If it were possible to change those inherent characteristics, we could also change our inclination to sin. But the reality is no force of will, no best efforts can change what is so deeply embedded within the human soul. On our own, we will only always find that despite what we may convince others of regarding our changes, God knows the reality of our hearts. And this is why God sent Jesus into the world to save us from ourselves, our sin, and death.

“God did not send Jesus into the world to make bad men good, He sent him to make dead men alive.” – Dr. Ravi Zacharias

Real change can take place when Christ enters a life, redeems a person from their sin, and becomes the Lord of their life. Paul writes about this.

1 Corinthians 6:9 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor {the} covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

God takes all of those [us] sinners, in whatever form their sin took, saves them, and makes them into His people. Change takes place, real change, because we have become new in Christ. Not change just to make us better, but real change because God has made us new. Not change because I forced it, but change because God is at work in me. This truth makes for a great new year, and tremendous possibilities because God is at work, and it’s not just me with a few resolutions. Ready for some real change? 

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Prayer for You

I pray you know what it is to enjoy your family like never before, even appreciating those small irritatingly odd quirks in each one. I pray you enjoy the moment instead of being overwhelmed by the pressures of the holiday. I pray you are grateful for what God blesses you with, and that you are generous with His blessings towards others. I pray you can eat all of the good things God has provided for you with a guilt free soul. I pray you know the love of God in a real and personal way, so much so that your life is guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit instead of ungodly passions. I pray the voice of God is the loudest voice in your head and heart, and that you are strong enough to obey Him when He calls. And finally I pray that God reveals Himself in meaningful ways to you, that each have a deep impact upon who you are all year long. Amen.
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Star Wars, Christmas, and Contentment

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Over the weekend, the latest edition of the Star Wars film series made its debut with as much as $528 million in worldwide ticket sales, and with more than $100 million in advanced ticket sales in the U.S. alone. Everyone is talking about the film, and this movie promises to break almost all money records for a single film before it’s done. This will make Star Wars the greatest financial success Disney Corporation has ever had. Quite the feat considering Disney Corporation has long been the leading innovator of films for the family.

Congratulations Disney on your success…

As I thought about this over the weekend, something became glaringly obvious. People have more spending money than they think they do in America. Or perhaps I should say people spend a lot of money on non-essentials despite the perception of “poverty” being spoken of in American society. To hear politicians like Bernie Sanders speak, you would think we were a nation of poverty stricken oppressed people. But the reality is that before Christmas is over, Americans will have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on gifts – much of which will be non-essentials. Quite a financial achievement for a poverty stricken bunch of oppressed people.

Truth be told, the average American spends more than they earn every year. Why? Because they “want” more than they have, always more, which accounts for the retail industry’s financial success. Americans are not poverty stricken oppressed people, they are personally in bondage to envy and greed. Which accounts for the rich getting wealthier and not taking personal responsibility for the conditions of the non-so-rich, and the not-so-rich continually living in a way that benefits the rich who are taking advantage of them.

Ecclesiastes 5:10  “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.”

Greater wealth and possessions never lead to contentment, they only lead to a greater desire for more. This is one of the overarching problems in American culture, and why Bernie Sanders is a welcome sight to so many people. He is promising a lot of “free stuff” to everyone, and is claiming it is going to come from the rich.

Truth:   There is no free, someone is going to pay for it. Historically the people who pay for it are not the rich, just look at the amount of taxes people in those countries Sanders touts like Sweden and Denmark pay, and you will discover they are paying upwards of 50-60 % of their income in taxes. Overall, extreme poverty does not exist in America, only “relative poverty” does, we are all rich in comparison to the rest of the world.

Chasing the American Dream is a pipedream, it is no longer a realistic concept because we keep wanting more and more. Folks want $15.00 dollars an hour to flip burgers with no education and no real specialized training – which leads to increased costs to run businesses, which leads to inflation and higher prices at the counter, making the pay increase worthless. It’s a vicious cycle that leads to further bondage and discontentment.

Hebrews 13:5  “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

As we move closer to Christmas and those final gifts are being purchased, remember contentment does not come from spending more, it is rooted in gratefulness for what you have already been blessed with. 

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Faith, Questioning, and Reasoning

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Angela Blount in her book, “Once Upon a Road Trip” had one of her characters make the following statement,

“At least you earned your belief in something... Most people around here just say they believe whatever their family believes. They don't bother thinking for themselves... And the less they know, the louder they believe it.” ― Angela N. Blount, Once Upon a Road Trip

Blount’s observation presents two problem issues; one there are some folks who only have some sense of belief because it is how they were raised, and two there are some folks who claim belief but have no idea what that means… and in ignorance they proclaim what they don’t know, loudly. Oh, there is one other issue which is people who don’t think for themselves, don’t ask questions, and choose to hold to their positions in ignorance. Whether this is simply habit, laziness, or a trust in those from whom they took their position from, nevertheless it is a belief held in ignorance.

Unfortunately we live in an age when the claim is that all people of faith are like this, and it is socially accepted as an overarching truth – despite the pronouncement of these same skeptics there is no overarching truth. The media in all of its forms projects this view of people of faith, and in particular, Christians.

But this view is quite removed from the reality, despite the folks living out this stereotype constantly found film, print, and on the air waves. Some of the greatest minds of science have been men of Christian faith, and this remains true today as well. Men like Dr. Francis Collins, head research doctor of the Human Genome Project, (a team that is mapping out the human genetic code), are committed Evangelical Christians. For men like this, science affirms their faith, it does not come in conflict with it. Questions and questioning are a way of life for Dr. Collins and others, I rarely encounter those who follow Christ out of “blind faith”.

"The key to wisdom is this—constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth." – Peter Abelard, Medieval theologian

People of faith have always asked questions, even questioning God Himself at times as did the prophets. (see Habakkuk 1; Jeremiah 5:28) In Luke 1, when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary she would bring forth a son, she asked, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (v. 34). Her question led to the angel's answer: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God" (v. 35). God is unafraid of our questions, and the only bad questions are those we do not ask. When we ask our questions, we position ourselves to receive God's answers and to know God better.

Despite what skeptics claim, Christianity is a reasoned worldview built on objective truth. So ask your hard questions of a loving God. Know that Christ our Savior understands your struggles and doubts (Hebrews 4:15). In fact, God invites us, "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord" (Isaiah 1:18).

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Growing Up

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We live in an age when people mock maturity and growing up. There are media catch phrases and statements people make such as, “I may grow older, but I refuse to grow up.” There is an attitude toward growing up which contends it is not all that it is cracked up to be. It is not fun, and it is too much work taking on the responsibilities of adulthood. It is a determined adolescence, a refusal to accept one’s place in society as an adult.

I get this struggle has to do with being unwilling to stop having fun, and I appreciate that. I appreciate fun. But this “growing up” process is a natural course of life, and one of the signs of maturity is that we are not so self-focused, and we think of others and their needs.  Consider the Apostle Paul’s words.

Ephesians 4:28 “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have {something} to share with one who has need.”

A transformation should take place as someone matures; self-centeredness diminishes, and people are able to think of others. Maturity brings with it a sense of how everything is not about you, and a part of adult existence involves having empathy and compassion for others, including doing something to meet their needs. Notice the steps here in Ephesians 4: first you stop doing what is wrong, next you start doing what is right, and then you do something productive and use the benefits of that to bless others. This is a big part of what growing up should look like.

Now, let me make some bigger connections. Because of the age we live in, that sinful angst in human nature drives social norms, and not just the individual sinner. As an example; capitalism can be a powerful force for good, and we see how it is able to transform a society that is struggling into a productive and strong community of people. Ask anyone who is working in a third world country (i.e. microfinancing), and they will tell you how this is a quantifiable reality. But capitalism under the weight of the sinful angst within the human heart is intensely greedy and self-absorbed, there is little consideration of others and what their needs are. This is what we see in American culture today, and a large part of why the gap between the rich and the poor is growing while the middle-class is disappearing.

This lack of maturing, this uncontrolled sinful angst within the human heart permeates all of society in every sector. Why are there so many children growing up in fatherless homes? Why are so many people so incredibly in debt? Why have so many national leaders become so obviously corrupt? This is the fruit of a society that rejects God in all of those sectors, the only restraining force able to change that sinful heart has been pushed away. This maturing I am speaking of only rises in a society where the majority embrace faith, embrace God.

Some within society would convince us that God and faith are hangovers from days gone by, and something we need to grow past. I would say the opposite is true, the farther from God we depart, the worse the problems will be because no one will be growing up – we will see a society locked in adolescent self-centeredness unable to move away from its own self-destructiveness. And if you are a believer, well, I would encourage you that it’s time to grow up and think of others. 

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C.S. Lewis and the Bond Connection

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Many of you know I am a fan of C.S. Lewis, I have read much of his work and this year I finished a biography written by Alistair McGrath. Lewis was above all others, the greatest mind in the Christian Church in the 20th century. If you have read anything of his life, you know he served in the British forces during WWI, during which he was wounded in battle. But nothing I had read previously reported that he secretly served the British government during World War II.

Recently a discovery was made revealing this story: When British soldiers took control of Iceland, U.K. authorities needed to convince the citizens that they should serve the Allied cause. This would allow the British to redeploy their much-needed troops closer to the front lines. Someone in the British government knew that Lewis was a scholar of Icelandic literature, so they enlisted him in the cause. Lewis recorded a lecture in May 1941 that demonstrated the common cultural ties between the U.K. and Iceland. We know this now only because a noted Lewis historian, Harry Lee Poe, has discovered a 78 rpm recording of part of Lewis's lecture. We don't know how well the lecture was received in Iceland, but the people there did help. Lewis never talked about this, keeping this lecture hidden from even his closest friends.

Here's the cool part: The clandestine government agency that enlisted Lewis in the Allied cause is popularly known as MI6. You know, the agency for which the mythical James Bond works. But an Oxford professor known to the world for his intellect and creativity also served that agency, using his genius for a greater cause. Suddenly C.S. Lewis is even more cool… yes, Lewis, C.S. Lewis the MI6 spy service agent… without all of the hot babes hanging on him. 

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You and Your Fear

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God created all of humanity with a wide range of emotions; love, hate, anger, compassion, sympathy, and so on. These emotions are driven by our experiences, circumstances, relationships, and what is circling in our heads. Let’s look at one of these emotions which is a topic of current conversations.

Fear is an emotion which is often confusing and misunderstood. Some call it a weakness, and it is a mocked characteristic. Others play on our fears, encouraging them and using our fears to take advantage of us. Advertisers and the media do this as a common tactic to stir us up or to sell us something. The truth is fear can be our enemy, or it can be our ally in living life. Fear can keep us from doing things we should be doing, or moving on in life in ways which would be better for us. But fear can also keep us from making foolish decisions or taking foolish action as well.

When fear is our enemy, it haunts us with irrational thoughts of things or events which will never likely take place. Can you remember your childhood fear of the monster under the bed, or in the closet? This fear wraps up our hearts with what feel like uncontrollable emotions, or feelings of paranoia, and can cause us to literally seize up. In times like this we are no longer thinking or acting rationally or in accordance with reality. And if allowed to continue, our lives can come to a complete stop.

When fear is our ally, it is based in reality and upon an actual need to be afraid. It is this fear we should pay attention to and act accordingly. The electrician has a healthy fear of electricity, the surfer has a healthy fear of the ocean, and these healthy fears enable us to act appropriately in connection to these powerful forces. In fact, the first and foremost healthy fear we should all have, is of God. Like all powerful forces, we should have a healthy respect for who God is and what He is capable of doing – and act accordingly.

Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

If we are going to use fear as an ally, we must recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy fear, rational and irrational fear. The thing we fear must be based in reality, not some abstract imagination gone wild. When this is the case, our healthy fear should lead us to make productive plans on how we will deal with possible problems and threats to what we are trying to accomplish. We consider what could go wrong, or what could come against us, and we act accordingly to prevent these things from getting in our way.

In the end when we have made our productive plans, and have set out with an appropriate course of actions, we must trust God all along the way and not give in to our unhealthy fears. 

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