Category: Christianity

Who through Faith…

Why do we think of faith as an abstract? And why do we doubt the power of faith?

It makes no sense to downplay the importance of faith, nor does it make sense to doubt its power, not with so many tangible examples of how faith has changed our nation.

Today, our nation honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who through his faith forever transformed our nation from a society of systemic racism and segregation to a nation that aspires to live up to its founding principles.

It would be naive to say that we live in a post-racial America, and I believe that there is still much to be done to achieve the racial healing and reconciliation of which Dr. King dreamed.

However, it would be self-defeating to fail to recognize the progress that has been made, and the cause of that progress.

Dr. King was motivated by a dream, a dream built on the foundations of his core convictions, which were born of his faith.

That faith was in the God almighty, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To deny this is to deny the sermons Dr. King preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, or his belief in the power of Agape love to not only bring about racial equality, but reconciliation as well.

To deny Dr. King’s faith as his motivation is to deny an entire paragraph of his “I Have A Dream” speech, which states, “This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with.

“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

“With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

To deny the faith of Dr. King and to deny the scriptures as the source of that faith is to deny the Biblical imagery that defined his speeches, whether the carving of the stone of hope from the mountain of despair, to the mountaintop Dr. King said the Lord took him to, allowing him to see the promised land.

To deny the faith of Dr. King is to deny his optimism, fully communicated in his speeches, which came from his belief that God would bring his dream to fruition, even if not fully realized until the coming of the Lord.

Dr. King’s legacy of racial equality, national repentance, and racial reconciliation cannot be denied. Neither can the faith be denied which moved him to lead this national transformation. Faith in the Lord brings amazingly great things.

Hebrews 11:33 says, “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, and stopped the mouths of lions.” Hebrews 2:20 says that faith without works is dead. In other words, faith motivates action, and when faith motivates action, great changes happen.

As we remember and celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. King, and the transformation he led America through, let us not forget the faith that birthed it all.

Furthermore, let’s remember that the next great advancement in our society, whatever it may be, will not be born from a desire for significance, a desire for change, or a change at the ballot box. The next great advancement will come when the people of God act on their faith and carry God’s amazing message to the people.

With this faith… we advance.

I’m Dying: What I Learned from My Diabetic Diagnosis

“It’s probably no big deal,” my doctor told me. “Any blood sugar reading below 100 means you’re okay. 100-125 means you’re pre-diabetic, and above 125 means you’re diabetic.”

The reading came back on the monitor… 200.

“Okay, so you’re a diabetic. Here’s what we’re gonna do…”

The following words were a series of prescriptions the doctor would recommend, the recommendation for exercise (run 30 minutes per day, four times per week) and a dietary recommendation (no simple sugars).

I wish I could say that this all came as a shock. It didn’t. I wish I could say I am just a victim of circumstance, the recipient of bad DNA. I can’t. I wish I could claim I wasn’t warned. I was.

Two years prior, I sat in the same doctors office after having a life insurance application denied due to a high A1C. Back then, we tested, and I came out okay. Diet and exercise would save the day. I started out well, but I didn’t finish.

Ten years prior to that, I registered a high blood sugar during a visit with the same doctor. I corrected my diet then, returned for a follow up, and was fine.

The doctor warned me that this day was coming. I was told to eliminate fried foods, not to drink my calories (sodas), and to exercise. After each warning, I would start out well, but after a couple of months, the disruptions would get to me, and I’d fall off my program.

A headline involving dying and diabetes may sound melodramatic, but it’s not. This is a terminal illness, but it’s one that can be managed. Diabetes is a disease where your body no longer breaks down the blood sugar. The result is a thickened blood that fails to reach the capillaries, resulting in organ damage. Also, the sugar itself damages tissues within the body.

Diabetics suffer from nerve damage, vision loss, and ultimately heart attacks and strokes, if not managed properly. Once the damage is done, it does not heal. Lost vision does not get restored. Damaged nerve endings never regain function.

My doctor and I have a plan, and I am confident in his ability to help me manage this diagnosis, but receiving this diagnosis has taught me a few things.

  1. The day of reckoning is coming. For so many of us, we know that the consequences of our actions are coming, but we deceive ourselves into thinking that the consequences are far away, and we will be better able to manage those consequences when they finally arrive. This is one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves. Whether we think we are delaying the consequences of poor health choices, or delaying the consequences of our spiritual choices, we tend to put off making the decisions that we need to make. However, the day is coming, and it will come as a thief in the night, at a time when we least expect it.
  2. We must make the right choices today. As I just mentioned, the day of reckoning, when we will receive the full consequences of our choices is upon us, and it is coming faster than we think. We can no longer afford to say, “I’ll start that diet tomorrow,” or “I’ll open that retirement account next month,” or “I’ll start going to church and get right with Jesus next week.” We must make those decisions today. First, we don’t know that we have tomorrow, next week or next month. Our day may creep up on us sooner than we think. Secondly, the sooner we make those choices, the more beneficial they will be for us.
  3. To follow those choices, we must learn to manage the disruptions in life. When my doctor asked me why I hadn’t been able to get my diet in order, I told him about the upheaval in my family, last year’s COVID outbreak at church, career issues, and the ongoing turmoil that I have found to be life. I told him, “I just did not do a good job of managing the disruptions in my life.” We can no longer afford to use those disruptions as excuses, because disruptions are part of every day life. As Agent K said in Men In Black, “There’s always an Achillian Battlecruiser or an intergalactic plague about to wipe out our planet. The only way these people get on with their lives is that they do not know about it.” Over the past few years, we’ve seen economic and political disruptions, and our entire society shut down by a global pandemic. This is the new normal, and such disruptions will continue, in addition to your personal disruptions. We have to learn to manage these disruptions and move forward.
  4. What was death to me has now become life. Prior to my diagnosis, the idea of being fit sounded good, but I was happy being chubby and lazy. Sure, healthy food will make me feel better, and there’s nothing like the rush of finishing an ultra-marathon, but have you ever enjoyed a bowl of Blue Bell Ice Cream and a Netflix movie on an overcast Saturday afternoon? I chose the latter. It was easier, simpler, and more delicious. However, with my diagnosis, I now see that health foods and medications are not a way to a better life, they are the only way to seize and maintain life. With each salad, vegetable, and lean grilled meat, I am extending my life, and with each medication, I am helping my body restore its function. Over the past few decades, churches have sought to sell potential converts on the benefits of Christianity by saying that it leads to a better life. It does. But Christianity is life. Faith in Jesus is the only way to avoid eternal damnation. And just like my diabetic diagnosis came suddenly (but with warning), our last day of life and the day of judgment will come upon us suddenly. Don’t get shocked by a negative test result that day. Turn from your sin and trust Jesus as your Savior.

The diabetic diagnosis can be a life sentence or a death sentence. My doctor told me that in those exact words. And with God’s help, I will manage this disease and live to serve Him well in my life. However, this whole experience has taught me that I need to wake up, and start taking care of what matters, regardless of how I feel. I can no longer make excuses, I can no longer procrastinate. And the same goes for you.

If you have been putting off the decision to turn your life over to Christ, make that decision today. And if you have been putting off your health and financial decisions, you will avoid catastrophes and reap better benefits if you make those choices today. Don’t follow in my footsteps. You have the opportunity to do better.

May God bless you.

The Jesus Revolution

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Seriously, listen to any Billy Graham sermon from the 1970s, or any J. Vernon McGee sermon from the 1960s, and you will find the same issues being addressed from the pulpit.

The breakdown of the family, the rise in sin and immorality, an up and coming generation that seems unreachable, with a lifestyle and value system that seems incomprehensible, a deeply divided country, civil unrest, economic uncertainty, and foreign threats… these are all issues that plagued our country back then, and they are issues that haunt us now.

The upcoming film, Jesus Revolution, depicts how the ministries of Chuck Smith and Greg Laurie were revolutionized by the introduction of Lonnie Frisbee. Smith is depicted as struggling to establish Calvary Chapel in California as a Biblical-centered congregation, who struggles to understand the hippie movement of the 1960s. Smith then meets Frisbee, who encourages him to engage the marginalized youth and preach the Gospel to them.

History records what followed as The Jesus Movement, recorded by Greg Laurie in his book Jesus Revolution. There was a revival among the Hippie communities of California, which sparked a new wave of evangelism and worship music. The result was countless converts, the rise of Calvary Chapel as we know it today, and contemporary Christian worship music.

Jesus Revolution is a film based on a true story, it is not a documentary. How the film will tackle the controversies surrounding Smith’s ministry, Calvary Chapel, and Frisbee’s issues with sin have yet to be seen. All are worthy of discussion as we come to a fuller understanding of God’s grace and redemption.

However, the theme of the movie appears to be how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is exactly what our dark and deeply divided nation needs to hear, and if we are willing to reach out to those whom we fear or don’t understand with the Gospel, souls will be saved and lives will be changed.

In essence, if the church of God will re-center itself on the Gospel and return to the mission of God, which is the preaching of that Gospel throughout the world, who knows what kind of revival we may see in our day.

Like our forerunners in the 1960s, we face a rise in sin and immorality, a rise in Godlessness, a rise in darkness and division, with an up and coming generation with a lifestyle and values system that scares the very generation that brought us the hippie movement.

Our options are simple. We can, like Kelsey Grammer’s depiction of Chuck Smith early in the film, sit back on our couches and complain about the direction of society. Or, we can, like Jonathan Roumie’s depiction of Lonnie Frisbee, reach out into that darkness with the light of the Gospel and show a lost generation that God’s door is open to those who repent and believe.

My prayer is that we do the latter, which is why I am excited about this film. I hope it inspires our current generation of churches, and a new generation of churches to truly commit to, and do, the Great Commission.

Yes, Virginia, You Can Go to Therapy

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Progressive pastors never miss an opportunity to enrage the fundamentalists, and the fundamentalists never miss the opportunity to be enraged. Such was the case recently on Twitter when a progressive pastor of whom I have never heard posted a tweet encouraging people to attend churches where the pastor goes to therapy, and encourages the congregation to go to therapy. The result? An onslaught of fundamentalists decrying this pastor’s statement, saying in essence, “all you need for mental health is the Bible.”

I’m going to be real about this. If I were to ever find myself in a position where I needed therapy, I would probably remove myself from the pulpit. I would feel that I would not be fit for Spiritual leadership, and that the church deserved better. But that’s an expectation I place on myself.

As for therapy and the Bible, let’s begin by setting the stage by defining what the Bible is and what the Bible teaches.

First, the Bible is the inspired word of God, penned by prophets and apostles who had God’s word given to them either through vision, angelic message or by direct dictation by God Himself. You can see the inspirational process in action when you read Revelation. The Apostle John, banished to the Isle of Patmos, saw the resurrected, glorified Jesus. Jesus then told John what to write. Throughout the book of Revelation, John sees things and tries to describe them. Angels tell him what to write, and at times, the Lord dictates to Him as well. However, the entire thing came from God, and thus is God’s word.

The Bible, being God’s word, is all we need for faith and practice. It’s all we need to learn more about God, to build our faith, and to live our lives in accordance with that faith. However, to say that all we do is drawn from scripture is an error. Not all church traditions come from scripture, neither are all of our personal choices.

Scripture did not teach the church to open the worship service with Doxology, recite a creed, do a responsive reading, sing three hymns, collect an offering and receive a sermon from the professionally paid pastor. There are a lot of beautiful traditions in the church that I believe praise and honor God, but many of these traditions are not explicitly laid out in scripture. Some point to certain passages and say that it can be inferred that these traditions were in place among the apostles, but that is a mighty big assumption to make.

Since we find that, in the church, we can make decisions and do things that scripture did not specifically teach, but still honor God in so doing, it follows we can do the same thing with our personal lives. Scripture says very little about how to pick a career, how to choose a college, or whether to send your kids to public school or private school. Scripture does teach us how to work (do all for the glory of God), but it does not tell us how to go about choosing what kind of work to do. The lesson is that you can still honor God by making these choices.

Does that mean that scripture lacks direction for believers? As Paul would say, “No, in no wise!”

Scripture was not given to teach us how to do church, how to live life, how to make money, etc. Scripture was given to teach us how to have a right relationship with God. And that right relationship comes through two steps, (1) learning, understanding and accepting the Gospel as truth, and (2) repentance and faith.

The central message of the Bible is the Gospel. All scripture either sets up the Gospel, illustrates the Gospel, explains the Gospel, or declares the Gospel. The Gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

Jesus Christ died for our sins, meaning that His death on the cross satisfied the judgment and wrath of God for man’s sin, thus we can walk away scot-free from His judgment, if we believe. Christ took that wrath upon Himself and shielded us from it. The fact that He rose again proves his power and victory over death. By defeating death, He brought in eternal life, so we can have the confident expectation (hope) that we will be received into His Kingdom (Heaven) when we die.

The Gospel teaches that I am broken, that I am a sinner, that my rebellious and selfish choices have inflicted harm upon myself, and those around me. However, through the Gospel, Jesus can heal my broken spirit, wash away my sin, and restore me and those around me from the harm I’ve caused.

Since many mental health issues stem from the issues of sin and brokenness, it is entirely possible, and very common to find healing in the Gospel and the Gospel alone. As a pastor, I counsel individuals through this process. I can, using only the Bible, show the source of the pain an individual is in, show how comfort and healing can be found in the Gospel, and give my congregant hope. I can, from the scriptures, demonstrate God’s divine purpose in suffering, and in so doing provide comfort for the one seeking my help.

And while I have seen people healed through this ministry multiple times, I can also say that there is a time when one needs to seek a qualified therapist who believes the Bible. I say this because I can demonstrate everything I have listed, but I cannot teach someone how to identify and control triggers.

In the Bible, I can show hope, but I cannot manage a chemical imbalance, or the brain patterns of someone whose mind has been altered by repeated mental, emotional and physical trauma.

In the Bible, I can listen and be non-judgmental, but sometimes people want to talk to a stranger for another view, another set of eyes and expertise.

And that is okay. I have on a couple of occasions referred people to qualified counselors who hold a Biblical worldview. And those folks got the help they need.

So, if you’re having issues, let’s talk. If I cannot help you, or you need more intense therapy, let’s get you to a counselor.

So, yes, Virginia, you can go to therapy.