Monday, November 30, 2009

Basic Theology of Salvation and Sanctification

Why is there so much confusion about practical Christianity among Believers? In fact, even many Pastors are confused about how people are saved and how they can be sanctified. I hear it every day and I see it in many Clergy. I must be frank and admit that I was as confused or more confused than most by this question. I grew up among people who loved a good argument about theological issues. Well, we loved a good argument anyway.

It was not until I met a Lutheran Theologian from Thousand Oaks, California that I found a system that allowed me to put a lot of theological loose ends together. The man's name was Dr. James Kallas. He was a theological lecturer on a cruise ship loaded with Christians coasting from port to port from Holland to Germany to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and the USSR. In every place Dr. Kallas taught about how its culture, society, legal system and social structure had been influenced by a particular theological stream of thought.

When I heard his system I was immediately struck by how well it described the various people who came to counselors and pastors for help with personal problems. Dr. Kallas' system was broken into three streams or emphases based on how they perceived fallen nature. Some people, and thus nations see "sin" and personal problems as Rebellion that must be stopped by laws and constraints.

Others see problems as proof that they are Guilty and must be punished. Finally, some countries see bad behavior as the result of brokenness or sickness that cannot be altered by punishment or by passing new laws but people who just need to be medicated, taught or healed.

These three basic problems, so said Kallas, could be summarized as Rebellion, Guilt and Bondage. His teachings opened my eyes to the different ways people conceive of their problems. If I, as a Minister/Counselor, perceived their problem differently it goes without saying that my advise would be unwelcome, unheeded and ineffective.

That cruise was designed to be a Study Leave for me. I had signed up to accompany and learn from a famous pastor and writer. I did follow him and listen to his lectures but the real reason God had me on that boat was to meet Dr. Kallas.

Next time? More ways to understand and bring the good news to people and nations.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Put Christ in Christmas

I intentionally say, "Merry Christmas" to people and I also try to remember to emphasize the fact that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world not just a time to promote retail sales. I recently heard a reporter say that in past years many retailers were changing from promoting a "Merry Christmas" by saying "Happy Holidays" but that has changed with the economic downturn.

This shows us that economic realities put Christians in the driver's seat on this issue. And, according to the polls, we are in the majority.

Amidst all the holiday shopping craziness, most Americans at this time of year want to see holiday signs that wish them a "Merry Christmas." A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 72% of adults prefer "Merry Christmas," while 22% like "Happy Holidays" instead.

Marketers would be crazy to insult Christians and those of us who like the traditions of our childhood. Some 72% of us want to stay with the traditional greetings. So, let us all make sure we remember the focus of Christmas and keep our greetings warm, loving and Christ centered.

It might not be a bad idea to remind the current resident of the White House that his constituency wants us to have a Christmas Tree not a Holiday Tree.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Thanksgiving Proclamation

George Washington

City of New York, October 3, 1789

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th. day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Where have all the Terrorists Gone?

Frank Goig, is a man I met when he was a Chaplain at Ground Zero. I was there ministering to the First Responders. Frank sent me a very interesting email. I must admit that the contents of the email shocked me.

It included a link to an Internet site that contains a report on the National Security Team that advised the President Obama as to what he needed to do after the Inauguration. The Internet site is run by George Washington University, one of the best schools in America.

I will let you read the report without my guidance or editorial input, but go to page 29, Appendix C and read the names of the members of the task force. Look carefully and see if you notice any names that have been in the news recently. Then write me a note and tell me what you think when you find the name of a man who was advising the new President and his team how to deal with terrorism.

Some days I think I am being a bit paranoid but others it seems as though I am not suspicious enough. Of course my many visits to the former USSR have taught me that authoritarian leaders will stoop to any and all kinds of evil.

Gary Sweeten

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Marriage for Thanksgiving

Today is November 21, 2009 and it is 48 years after Karen Judy Mayer and I said, "I do!" Karen and I had known each other for a few months when we decided to marry. It is popular for counselors and "experts" to insist that people date for a long time and really get to know each other before tying the knot. In fact, some even suggest that living together for a year or so before marriage will really cement things. The research data indicates otherwise. People who live together "without benefit of clergy" are most likely to divorce and more likely to find that they are really incompatible.

Karen and I were incompatible but we have lived together very successfully for 48 years. I am a man and she is a woman. That alone sets up enough incompatibilities to make divorce certain if other factors were not also available. Add to the male/female thing our differences in Temperament, (I am an ENTP and she is an ISFP), our family backgrounds, (She was reared by a single mother with one sister and I have two brothers and no sisters). But we had a very important commonality: Christ and Christian values.

Karen and I were married on the Thanksgiving holiday because I was a teacher. So, we always celebrate our anniversary with great thanks to God. Today we were able to be with daughter Julia's kids, Jacob 14 and Lily 7. It was a blast. And, HH Gregg delivered a new refrigerator to the lower level of our house as my anniversary present. (This allows our son Tim and family to come home for special occasions and stay with us. In other words, family makes it all worthwhile.

Karen and I also had a tendency to laugh a lot and have lot of fun. This and a deep attraction to each other overcame a lot of differences. Vivie Le difference!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Islamic Terror Knocks on our Door

I have been a therapist involved in the healing ministry for several decades. During that time I have seen thousands of men and women whose mental states were a mixture of angry, depressed, bitter and despairing and some whose behavior was often compulsive, hopeless, hurtful and self defeating. In the case of Nidal Hasan, whom I never saw in therapy but whose mindset was familiar, the mental state was a mixture of fantasy and extreme bitterness.

Hr. Hasan was following in the footsteps of other terrorists who have flown airplanes into buildings full of workers, blown themselves and others up in marketplaces and homes and mosques, led suicide attacks on hotels and churches and acted in other seemingly inexplicable ways. But is it a mystery why these men do such things? Not according to the Bible, God's book of psychology and behavior.

Read this prophetic passage in Hebrews 12: 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

In the passage above the writer encourages the sick and feeble to prepare for healing. In many instances people with problems and pain need to work at getting better. Mr. Hasan did the opposite. He diligently pursued illness of mind and soul.

14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Verses 14 and 15 tell us exactly what will cause murder: self pity, unforgiveness, hatred and bitterness. Mr. Hasan had evidently rehearsed his perceptions of US mistreatment of fellow Muslims and it drove him to madness and murder. It literally did what was predicted in Hebrews by causing a bitter root and that causes trouble and defiled many families.

What else can drive so many Muslims to murder thousands of innocent men, women and children? Anyone who ruminates over and over on being a supposed victim will develop a deep suspicion or even paranoia about the people who have, in his fantasy, victimized him. Mr. Hasan was paranoid and complained often and loudly about how the American Army, of which he was a well paid officer, was persecuting Islam and Islamic countries.

The people who suffered as a result were men and women standing unarmed and helpless in a line at an Army base in Texas. Let his mental, emotional and moral derangement be a warning to all of us that the Bible is right when it comes to the main causes of violence: a root of bitterness from a refusal to forgive past wrongs by offering others mercy and grace.

By grace we are saved, healed and delivered not by works lest anyone should boast.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hasan and The Afterlife

According to ABC News, the terrorist Nidal Hasan was ready to die.

United States Army Major Nidal Hasan told a radical cleric considered by authorities to be an al-Qaeda recruiter, "I can't wait to join you" in the afterlife, according to an American official with top secret access to 18 e-mails exchanged between Hasan and the cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, over a six month period between Dec. 2008 and June 2009.

Other messages include questions, the official with access to the e-mails said, that include when is jihad appropriate, and whether it is permissible if there are innocents killed in a suicide attack.

"Hasan told Awlaki he couldn't wait to join him in the discussions they would having over non-alcoholic wine in the afterlife," the official said.

Cable TeleVision's Top Jocks

Whos is the most popular TV shows on cable? You might be surprised. I was but here are the data from the Drudge Report.

FOXNEWS BECK 2,512,000
FOXNEWS SHEP 1,980,000
FOXNEWS TOTAL 18,000,000--WOW!!
CNNHN GRACE 1,036,000
CNN KING 835,000
CNN COOPER 611,000

Who do you watch? who does President Obama watch?

How is Obama Doing

I just wrote a post on my Seasoned Believers blog about Obama's talk in China. Take a look and see what you think.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Growing up in Christ

I am writing again on my other blog. It has my thoughts on being a Seasoned Believer with maturity, talents and gifts that God will use to change the world.

Many of my friends are Seasoned Believers with no place to unleash their ministry skills. The world is dying for a lack of Christian service and many churches are dying for want of ministry. At the same time there are multiplied millions of well off, mature believers with enormous personal experience and business acumen who are wanting to find meaningful places to help people.

What is the hold up?

Who is to blame?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Jesus Movement

What difference does it make that we are in the midst of The Fourth Great Awakening? Well, it makes a big difference. Every world wide revival brings major changes. Revivals have babies called Awakenings where spirit filled believers grow up and change society. This means that everything we have grown used to in church life is changing before our eyes.

Here is the problem, most Bible schools, seminaries, books and media are still operating on the old paradigm.

Pastors, Professors and Church Leaders are stuck in an outmoded, old fashioned and failing approach to life and ministry. Starting in the rebellious Sixties and continuing in the Seventies, Christianity made some radical shifts in focus, practice and process. The anti-authoritarian mood of students, radicals, Viet Nam protesters and young believers turned everything upside down. The result was dramatic, especially in college campuses.

Campus ministries shared the good news of Christ with millions of students and many came to faith in Christ. Inter varsity Christian Fellowship, the oldest of all the groups, increased its focus on college Campuses and their annual missionary gathering at Urbana grew to over 20,000 in attendance. The world is a different place because of IV and their emphasis upon missions. And, the IV students took their new ideas overseas.

The radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)drew about two hundred students at their conference. That paled in comparison to Urbana but received all the publicity from a media interested in promoting politics.

Bill Bright's Campus Crusade for Christ recruited thousands of staff and started aggressive evangelism programs on hundreds of campuses all over the USA. Their Four Spiritual Laws and disciplined follow up studies showed all of us how to reach out with the gospel.

Young Life joined Youth for Christ as dynamic forces for evangelism, Bible study and good works in high schools across the land.

These changes were powerful because millions of young people came to Christ. However, the impact was much greater than simply evangelism. I think they did something that was even more far reaching and it led to The Fourth Great Awakening.

What could be more important than reaching millions for Christ? Establishing a new, focus with a new process of discipleship and growth for those who had come to faith. The new process proved that young, lay persons could do effective evangelism and discipleship. These campus groups were led by non clergy and proved that the Bible's call to "Equip all the believers to DO the WORK of MINISTRY" works. It is possible, effective and essential.

In the First Reformation, God took His Word out of the control of the few and gave it to all His people.

In this New Reformation, God has taken His Works out of the hands of the control of the few and given it to all His people.

This is the essence of the Fourth Great Awakening and it is largely due to the outpouring of the Spirit on young people and their leaders in the Sixties and Seventies.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Take Every Thought Captive to Christ

I am again teaching the classic course, Rational Christian Thinking, that I first developed and wrote back in the eighties. Pastor Brad Rosenberg asked me to train his staff and lay leaders how to live in the freedom of Christ and I agreed.

Because his wife Angie had gotten so much out of the training before she asked Brad to let everyone attend so young mothers like her could benefit from the training and rear their children free of fear and anxiety. So, we are teaching over 100 adults each Wednesday evening at Tri County Assembly of God in Fairfield, Ohio north of Cincinnati.

It is a thrill to be able to "Equip the saints to DO the work of ministry" and I love training them in ways to "Renew their minds" according to the Bible. The students are eagerly lapping up the information and responding with great interactions in the class.

Over the next few posts I will write some of the basic principles of biblically renewing the mind so the readers can start getting free from cultural, social and devilish ideas. I am amazed at how many Spirit filled Christians are ensnared in old fleshly ways to thinking, feeling and acting yet believe they "Have the mind of Christ."

A mind of Christ is a peaceful mind. It is Free from worry, free from anxiety and free from letting others put them down. They could care less what others think because they know what Jesus thinks.

So, read and reflect on how Gos can set us free from the "Stinking Thinking" that keeps us in bondage.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Grand Parenting

Karen and I are in Pittsburgh with Jack and Emma, our son's children while he and Shelley are in California. It is a lot of exhausting fun. I had forgotten how much work two kids are and how much joy they bring at the same time.

I awoke at 5:00 AM and Jack was already up. That means it is a long day. Getting him and Emma washed, dressed, fed and ready for the day was a challenge. Jack attends Covenant Presbyterian Pre-School so I had to find it and get him there in time. I met his teacher and saw the great program that Covenant has for kids and the way they preach the gospel in so many avenues.

Emma is MY girl. At age 14 months she loves her Papa. Her big smile anytime I am near melts my heart and we have a great time.

Children are messy. Very messy. They love to get their toys out and spread them liberally around the house. In five minutes the house is a wreck and they could care less.

But grand parents are not surprised or upset. It is just the way they are and we love it.

So, I am not writing about the Great Awakenings. I am just trying to stay awake.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

My Jesus Movement Story on Revival

When I first read the review of Nobel Prize winner Robert Fogel's book, The Fourth Great Awakening, I experienced a range of emotions from stunned, excited, frustrated and fascinated to saddened. Here was an expert in economics from the University of Chicago whose studies convinced him that revivals and awakenings in American history were having an amazingly high impact on our economy, the ways we work and how we see life. That is the exciting part.

I was frustrated because it took my over ten years to even hear of Dr. Fogel and I think I am well read about such things. Even more frustrating was the fact that I have never even met another Christian leader or scholar who has heard of Fogel or the Fourth Great Awakening. Wow! No wonder the church is losing its impact on the culture. We are unaware of one of the most important works about contemporary society that has ever been written.

Here is the third reason for my sadness and frustration. I am a product of the Jesus Movement and it was that national and international move of the Holy Spirit that spawned The Fourth Great Awakening. For many years I had a hunch that the move of God among Baby Boomer college students and young adults was a significant event in God's overall plan to redeem the world but Fogel gave me a historic perspective as well as economic insight into how God moves nations and their institutions.

I am a microcosm of how God works and how God did work to change millions in the Jesus Movement. Reading that book gave me an understanding how God used organizations, movements, governments and churches to push a larger agenda in the world and how long it takes to move all the pieces around on the chess board to accomplish His will. (For example, how many generations it took to rid America of slavery through revivals, education, books, magazines, marches and awakenings.)

I came to Cincinnati as an Associate Dean in 1967. God's Spirit was moving on me but I was so young and unlearned that the inspiration He offered me was not focused or wisely released. I was asked to leave my church because I was actually but unknowingly practising one of the most important tenets of an awakening.

I started Bible study groups in homes and that radical step of independence from church authority scared the leaders who gave me "the left foot of fellowship". These groups focused on encouraging members to 1. Seek God directly in prayer; 2. Hear God directly through the Bible. 3. Take actions directly o witness, serve, care for each other, etc because all Christians are called to be ministers.

These are the primary marks of the Fourth Great Awakening and they were great threats to the clergy and religious power brokers. They still are. Especially in the large mega churches and the mainline churches.

Unleashing God's people to do God's work in the world led to the most powerful and far reaching Awakening in history and I was excited to be part of it. I still am.

On October 2 Equipping Ministries International had a big reunion weekend with a time of honoring me and others who were involved in founding the organization in 1979 at College Hill Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. I left EMI in 1994 to found Sweeten Life Systems but the ministry keeps moving along and says that over 500,000 people have graduated from our programs. Every class, groups and talk is based on what I learned in the Jesus Movement. We must "Equip the saints to do the work of ministry."

The church is sometimes gathered but it is most powerful when it is dispersed. When ordinary Christians realize they have an extraordinary God and take Him at His word to do His works. This is the essence of The Fourth Great Awakening and why Fogel won that prize in Economics.

Pass these articles on to you family and friends. Thy need to know what God is up to. If you know of a non-defensive, open to learn clergy person also ask them to read up on these things. If you are really brave, read Fogel's book. It will blow your mind.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Hope for a Christian Future

You may wonder why I am writing some of this dry history about what scholars call, Great Awakenings in American history. First, most Christians do not know about our spiritual history in America. Second, that history is exciting, faith building and hope generating. Third, we are in the midst of The Fourth Great Awakening for which I am very happy.

Understanding how God seems to operate in nations can help us think more effectively about ways to share the gospel, build disciples and gain insight into the daily news. Review the past Great Awakenings and notice that theology and actions by ordinary Believers mark each stage of change. Second, revivals and awakenings do not happen suddenly or out of the blue sky. They come about through our prayers, planning and openness to God's Spirit.

So, don't give up. Share God's good news with those around you and do good works with your neighbors and friends. The Holy Spirit will use the energy and prayers as well as the good works and weave together a beautiful tapestry of spiritual truth, love and power.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Second American Awakening 1800-1920

Another cycle of rising and falling spiritual power.

1800-1840: Rise of belief that anyone can achieve saving grace through inner and outer struggle against sin; introduction of camp meetings and intensified levels of revivals; widespread adoption of ethic of benevolence; upsurge of millennialism.

1840-1879: Rise of single issue reform movements, each contribute to making US fit for the Second Coming. (Included the nativist movement, the temperance movement which was successful in prohibiting the sale of alcohol in 13 states, and abolitionist movement that culminated in the formation of the republican party); sweeping reform agendas to eliminate all barriers to equal opportunity; antislavery; attacks corruption; Civil War; women's suffrage; continue belief in equality

1870-1920: Replacement of prewar evangelical leaders; Darwinian crisis; urban crisis

First American Awakening 1730-1830

1730-60: Weakening of predestination doctrine; recognition that many sinners may be predestined for salvation; introduction of revival meetings emphasizing spiritual rebirth; rise of ethic of benevolence.

1760-90: Attack on British corruption; American Revolution; equality of opportunity (accepted inequality of income & circumstances of life as natural, held that persons of low rank could raise themselves up—by industry, talent, perseverance, and right behavior—to top of the economic/social order); established egalitarian ethic.

1790-1830: Breakup of revolutionary coalition

Enemies of Christianity

Despite, or perhaps because of, the rapid growth and influence of Christianity around the world, there has been a parallel rise in its combative and aggressive enemies. Dr. Richard Dawkins along with other atheists and secular humanists have launched what is often seen as a cerebral, academic and scientific assault against the Bible and a supernatural world view.

Such an attack has cause anxiety among some Believers. Many of us fear that talks by such brilliant scientists and academic heavyweights will win the battle against our faith. I admit that I too have sometimes experienced anxiety over these attacks and need to take my concerns to the Lord.

I read a recent quote by one of the main antagonists today that gave me reason to feel very confident that God's words and works will and are winning the battle. Here is the quote found on the Discovery web.

"Mother Theresa spent her whole life saying (that what Calcutta needs) is a huge campaign against family planning. I mean, who comes to that conclusion who isn't a complete fanatic? She took - and I would directly say stole... millions and millions of dollars and spent all the money not on the poor, but on the building of nearly 200 convents in her own name around the world to glorify herself and to continue to spread the doctrine that, as she put it -- when she got her absurd Nobel Peace Prize -- that the main threat to world peace is abortion and contraception.

The woman was a fanatic and a fundamentalist and a fraud, and millions of people are much worse off because of her life, and it's a shame there is no hell for your bitch to go to."

Christopher Hitchens is a regular contributor to The New Republic, The Atlantic and Vanity Fair.

Why do you think this quote gives me confidence in our side of the debate? Let me know what you think.