The last few weeks have provided a fascinating insight into U.S.-Israel relations and how the leaders of both countries see the Iran nuclear threat. Monday’s Oval Office meeting was important, but it needs to be put in context with recent statements by CIA Director Leon Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Let me explain.
If this was the first meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, it would have been great. The President was warm and friendly. He reaffirmed the “special relationship” and “unbreakable bond” between the U.S. and Israel. He said he trusted the Prime Minister and appreciated the steps Mr. Netanyahu is taking towards peace and security. Netanyahu publicly invited Obama to come to Israel and meet there, and Obama smiled and said, “I’m ready.”
With the advent of the Internet, advanced telecommunications and satellite uplinks, technology has changed how we communicate. Most of us never would have imagined these developments would also impact how we worship. However, in recent decades, the church has entered a new era: technology.
Traditionally the church brought the people to the message; now the challenge is taking the message to the people, regardless of geographic location or status. Today technology enables the church to reach multitudes worldwide through various modes: movies, television, podcasts, satellite, streaming and social Web sites such as Facebook.
The church is using these advancements to bridge the generational gap. Although baby boomers are accustomed to human interaction, this new generation isn’t. Progressive churches must use both the personal and the technical contact of the times. This generation will sit at the dinner table and text one another, even though they’re sitting nearby. Because churches are beginning to utilize technology, they are now able to effectively reach younger and older generations globally.
For the church to continue reaching people, we must be willing to change with the times. The Bible says for us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but who would have thought that the assembling could one day include a chat room called the sanctuary?
Bishop T. D. Jakesis pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas.
It is a decision that is both disappointing and troubling. By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court dealt a damaging blow to First Amendment law for religious organizations in the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.
The Supreme Court was presented with the following question: "May a public law school condition its official recognition of a student group-and the attendant use of school funds and facilities-on the organization's agreement to open eligibility for membership and leadership to all students?"
Christianity has always had its controversies and robust debates. The charismatic movement alone has been riddled with arguments over flamboyant ministers, the so-called prosperity gospel and modern-day apostles and prophets.
The same types of debates also have rattled atheism. The most recent major controversy was the defection of the late Anthony Flew—once called the most famous atheist in the world—who in 2004 said evidence and science led him to conclude there was a God.
Everyone needs encouragement. Encouragement helps you reach goals that you thought were impossible. Discouragement will cause you to operate at a lower level than your optimum potential and it will limit your vision.
I read the story of a man who was told by a teacher that he was not very smart. He needed to quit school and learn a trade. He followed the advice of the teacher and became an itinerant worker for 17 years. When he was in his 30s he took an IQ test and discovered that he was a genius. He later became the chairman of the Mensa Society, which requires an IQ of 140 for membership. For so many years of his life, this man operated far beneath his potential. Why? Because someone discouraged him. How different could this man's life have been if he had received encouragement.
Things are tough for many people right now. Give someone a word of encouragement. Give that person a word of hope. Meet their need for encouragement and watch that person achieve a great goal in their life.
In 2020 the church will have to rebuild families in an unprecedented manner. We will have to specialize in deeper mentoring, inner healing and deliverance ministries for men who have been captured by the allure of pornography, promiscuity and, in some cases, prostitution. The open struggles of Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Larry Craig and others show us the emerging need of this for the future generation of men.
Just as natural technologies evolve every few years, so our spiritual technologies for ministry must evolve to keep pace with cultural challenges. We must place greater emphasis on Christian courtship and youth discipleship. In 2020 I believe the average age for Christian marriages will actually decline.
Parents, pastors and young people must better understand the wholesome expression of sexuality in the context of marriage. In a nutshell, the church will rebuild broken men and women while launching younger, stronger couples to create a new culture of marriage within the church. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken, but the things of the kingdom will endure forever (see Heb. 12:27).
Harry Jackson is senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD.
The church is about to experience a paradigm shift in preparation for life in 2020. I believe the season for larger and larger houses of worship is coming to an end, as is the Field of Dreams ministry strategy that says if we build it, they will come. The idea that bigger is better, especially as it relates to bigger buildings, may be an approach to ministry that is about to transition into history.
Today’s technological advances present options for doing ministry unknown in times past that can revolutionize life in the kingdom here on earth. What most of us in megachurches see on Sunday mornings—thousands of worshippers gathering in one location—is not a New Testament model. As the New Testament church grew, the mass gatherings with the Temple as the focal point of worship were replaced by smaller gatherings like the church in Aquila and Priscilla’s house. Certainly this shift was precipitated by the unique non-Jewish cultures of these young fledgling congregations, but I think there is a more universal principle being implied: In order to impact a city or culture, it may be more effective to shift from the church gathered in one large location to multiple smaller settings scattered throughout the community and connected by the prevailing technology of the day. If we were to corner some of my big-building, megaministry colleagues when the cameras aren’t rolling and the reporters aren’t taking notes, many would admit that if they had it to do again, they would not build as big. I don’t think we were out of the will of God; it may just be that we were par in a season whose time may be coming to an end. We shall see.
We love to hear sermons and speeches about change. We love seminars that encourage us to change. We even enjoy traveling different paths in order to change our scenery. The problem is that we don't like to change.
A Canadian neurosurgeon discovered some amazing truths concerning the human mind's reaction to change. He found that when a person is required to change a fundamental belief or opinion, the brain experiences a series of nervous sensations similar to enduring torture. Our minds simply do not enjoy major changes.
Sydney Harris was an American journalist. He was also a drama critic, lecturer and teacher. Harris once said, "Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we want is for things to remain the same but get better."
It is not surprising that things do not remain the same. Many times situations may actually get better. Prepare for change. Although your mind may react as if you are being tortured, you are not. You are merely in the midst of change—for the better!
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's strategy is now clear.
After the worst week in U.S.-Israel relations in 35 years, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington Monday and gave a powerful and effective speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) gala dinner at the Washington Convention Center, warning the world to stop Iran - or Israel will - and respectfully but directly challenging the Obama administration on Jerusalem and the peace process.
Netanyahu received scores of standing ovations from the 7,800 guests in attendance, the biggest event in the history of AIPAC. More than half of the members of the U.S. House and Senate were there, as were ambassadors from more than 50 countries and many top Israeli officials, including defense minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni. The longest and most sustained came when the prime minister firmly resisted the policy of President Obama, who seeks to divide Jerusalem and stop Israel from building "settlements" in East Jerusalem.
Two people have been overlooked in the middle of the Tiger Woods scandal. The consequences of his actions upon their lives will only be seen years down the road. Of course, I am referring to his children.
Family breakdown is not limited to celebrities or the rich and famous. I know this all too well.
Although Valentine's Day is meant to celebrate love, it can bring bittersweet memories and pain.
For kids, Valentine's Day is a time to exchange funny cards and eat boxes of chocolate. For adults, it's often much more than just a time to send flowers and buy heart jewelry, chocolates and cards—it's a time to rededicate your love to one special person. But when you're a widow or widower, or have lost your love due to an unfortunate life circumstance, Cupid's arrow can pierce your heart in a very different way. What was once a holiday of "warm fuzzies" can turn into a sorrowful day to overcome.
It's true that Valentine's Day holds significance for most couples, but it was particularly special for my husband Gordon and me. After losing my father in February, the whole season had become fraught with painful memories. Then a young man with a lot of heart came into my life, and it just so happened that Valentine's Day was right after our first date. When I got home from work, Gordon had left a bouquet of pink carnations on my front porch. So, it became a yearly ritual for us to use Valentine's Day as the anniversary of our first date together.
Have you ever wondered why pornography seems to hypnotize the male brain, or why it can override all logic, sometimes to the point of ruining a guy's life? William Struthers has the answers. A neuroscientist and professor at Wheaton College, Struthers has researched what goes on in the mind of a man when he looks at pornography. His findings are enlightening. Our conversation with him hit on a variety of topics, such as why porn seems to be worse for Christians than non-Christians and how single men can find hope. Don't miss this interview from New Man E-magazine.
New Man: What goes on in a man's brain when he's looking at pornography?
Struthers: I think even before you answer that question you have to know a little bit about how a man's brain is built. Obviously it starts developing in the womb. The critical part in making a masculine brain is testosterone. It causes the brain to develop along a certain pathway. That's what makes little boys different from little girls. You'll notice that a baby boy likes to look at things, but a baby girl likes to look at faces more.
The next big chemical changes take place during puberty, when the brain becomes cued in to sexual maturity. Every brain has certain parts that are more masculine or feminine. What you find during this time is that the masculine parts of the brain are really triggered by visual stimuli. This goes back even to the example of babies—the boys are more interested in looking at things. This visual preference shows up very clearly with pornography.
In tests, when men are placed in brain scanning devices and look at stills of naked women or video of couples engaged in intercourse, the visual parts of a man's brain light up more than a woman's. The example I use in the book is that, to a man, pornography is like a high definition television. For whatever reason, it tends to draw in men reflexively and maintain hold over them. Just like when you're looking at TVs in Best Buy, the HDTV is going to grab your attention more than the standard definition. To a woman's brain, it's all standard definition. So pornography lends itself to a man's brain.
Another critical thing for a man's brain when looking at pornography is that many men will use pornography to masturbate. Once again, when you look at what goes on in the brain around an orgasm, it is the parts of the brain that are involved in reinforcement. They are the same parts that activate when a person eats or drinks or takes addictive drugs.
So when you start pairing the visual image of pornography, which men see incredibly well and are almost hypnotized by, and if you combine that with the reinforcement of masturbating or acting out sexually, you're laying down a powerful neurological habit where the orgasm reinforces the response to pornography.
Within our larger Christian worldview, the purpose of the brain reinforcing the response to an orgasm is to bind a man to his wife. This response ties you to whatever is sanctioned with it. In the context of marriage between a husband and a wife, this binding is a good thing. If, however, this sexual response is bound to something else, like a pornographic image, you are bound to it and you develop an attachment to it. This is a neurological process as much as a spiritual one.
New Man: Does this process only happen when looking at extreme pornographic images—such as naked pictures or video—or does it apply to anything we are sexually drawn to?
Struthers: A lot of that is culturally defined. All men are drawn to look for nudity and the female form, but how much depends on the culture you grow up in. If you are in a conservative culture where the female form is taboo, a little female skin may get you sexually aroused. If you are in a culture where there is a lot of sexual imagery, you may need even more than a naked body in order to elicit a sexual response. To continue the metaphor, if you've been watching HDTV for a while, you want a bigger screen. You've gotten used to it.
In our culture, which is hypersexual, many men will need to escalate their pornography usage. Some men will develop fetishes and go to specific Web sites or look at particular types of women. They are training their brains to only respond to that one thing. Other men will view multiple Web sites with multiple different models and types of pornography, training themselves to only be aroused by lots of women doing lots of different things. Then, when they go to their one wife whose appearance doesn't change and generally keeps to the same sexual script, it doesn't arouse the man anymore.
New Man: That's fascinating. Why does it seem sometimes like Christian men can have a greater struggle with pornography than non-Christians?
Struthers: If you don't see sexually acting out as a spiritual matter, then you don't have the same issues as a Christian, who sees it as sin or a moral failing. Christians will have emotions like guilt and shame related to their pornographic use, and that can make it worse. They feel a self-loathing because of their issue, and they try to soothe that loathing by acting out sexually. That momentary orgasm response of relief and pleasure gets rid of the shame for a moment. It's a cycle that gets worse over time, even more so for men of faith.
Another important thing to understand is that viewing pornography and sexually acting out is not just done because it causes pleasure. It can be done as a way of relieving stress, dealing with depression, or done just out of a compulsion. Some men see it as a reward. They've been good all week and they deserve it.
Some men are narcissists. Actually, that's a personality type that attracts a lot of pastors. We have to be careful when dealing with pastors in recovery because sometimes they'll talk too openly about it so that they can be admired, but they will draw others unnecessarily into the issue.
The point is that you wouldn't treat a heroin addict the same way you would someone who is depressed or someone who has a compulsive disorder. So when we rightly understand the particular reason why men are viewing pornography, we have a better chance of helping them. Rather than just saying, "It's an addiction," we have to find the reason why men are acting out and develop behavioral patterns to deal with the issue.
New Man: Is there hope for men who are stuck in this habit to rewire their brains?
Struthers: Just as you are creating neurological habits out of your sexual immorality, so too can you also create neurological habits out of sexual purity. The same rules that govern how you got to this point can also be used to get you out.
Imagine that you were addicted to purity and compassion. You would feel the same lack of freedom to control yourself, but you wouldn't be able to stop yourself from doing good things. That process of being neurologically unable to fall prey to temptation is called sanctification. As I make small decisions, they have long-lasting neurological consequences for me. That can be good or bad.
The other important part is having a right understanding of what our sexuality is for. It is not primarily about reproducing. If that were the case, every man should get married, no man should have sex with his wife after menopause, and there would be no place for single men and women.
Also, you hear all kinds of crazy things about men being wired to spread our seed [or our] being biologically promiscuous and women being more selective. That's just rubbish. When you look at the statistics, women are just as promiscuous as men. It's just that men tend to over-report their experiences and women tend to under-report them.
The other thing is, it's not just about pleasure. If that were the case, men should just sit around masturbating all day. Neither reproducing nor pleasure is the primary purpose for sexuality.
The primary nature of our sexuality is tied to the fact that we are made in the relational nature of the image of God and that sex is about knowing and being known. It is about speaking goodness into someone else and having them speak goodness to you. That takes place in a unique way in the context of marriage between a man and a woman, and it models God's exclusive love for His people or Jesus' exclusive love for His church.
But we also need to move away from understanding sexuality as solely between mates. Sexuality affects every relationship we have. I can be a father figure to many young men on my college campus, but I'm a father to my son in a different way. I'm a son to my parents, but I can be a spiritual son to older men and women. I can be a spiritual brother to women who aren't my wife, but I have a unique relationship with my wife that is exclusive. All these relationships are affected by our sexuality. It's about intimacy that is being made into a relational image of God.
New Man: Single guys have a unique situation. Any advice for them?
Struthers: In our culture, and this is exacerbated in the church, single men feel trapped because they don't have an outlet for their sexuality. This is because they only see their sexuality as genital. When they can see their sexuality in a relational context, like I was talking about a minute ago, then they can be freed up of feeling the weight of having a sexual outlet. They need to understand that sexuality isn't just about pleasure and that they can channel that energy into their relationships and service. Combine that with the fact that the sexual drive will die down with age, and there's hope for them.
That's also important for the rest of the church. When we understand they can be ministers for good in a way that a married man can't be, then we give them greater esteem and a higher place in the church. Just because married is the norm, it doesn't mean it is the ideal. The church doesn't value chastity as a lifelong decision anymore, it only sees it as a holding pattern until marriage. That's not biblical. The church desperately needs the service that single men can give. Without it, the church cannot become what it is supposed to be.
Concerned Americans have been shaken by sobering images from ubiquitous news footage of rubble and rescue in Haiti after a magnitude 7 earthquake rocked the tiny poor Caribbean nation earlier this month, prompting many to ask, "Where is God and why would He allow such extensive suffering?"
Whether it is an earthquake or some other adversity that turns our lives upside down, Christians grapple with trying to reconcile God's sovereignty and His role in human suffering, including our own personal afflictions. I believe there are important truths about God and suffering that we need to keep in mind.
In the aftermath of what the Red Cross, United Nations and other agencies now consider the greatest tragedy in the history of our Western Hemisphere—the massive 7.0 earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti—the reaction by leaders and the common man were predictable.
The immediate response to this incomparable human tragedy by governments, world relief agencies and religious organizations is the only bright spot in this dark episode of human drama. An event like this “natural” disaster could happen anywhere at anytime and reduces us all to simply being human. Tragedies like this graphically remind us of the fragility of our existence on this unstable planet we call Earth.
I was in New York City years ago shopping with my sister, when a young man stopped me on the sidewalk and asked me for a handout. He was wearing designer everything, so I didn't give him a dime. In this case, it was easy for me to ignore a poor person. After all, this man wasn't poor—he was a con!
People who try to take advantage of our kindness have approached many of us. Street peddlers or drug addicts who trick people out of money so they can buy drugs or liquor make it difficult for the truly destitute who are forced to live on the streets.
Since we don't want to decide who's really poor and who isn't, we tend to look the other way. It's easier to just ignore them.
Rewind this story 2,000 years and something sounds familiar.
There was an expectant mom who arrived in an unfamiliar city and was told there were no motel rooms or boarding houses available. Though she was about to have a baby, she and her husband were homeless.
Nobody recognized her need, so she was forced to give birth in a barn. Her baby's name was Jesus. He became poor so we could have the priceless gift of eternal life (see 2 Cor. 8:9).
Do you recognize the poor around you? This holiday season many of us will shop until we drop and on the way out the door, we'll probably throw some loose change into the Salvation Army kettle to help others. Or possibly some of us will volunteer to feed the hungry during a church outreach.
But helping the poor needs to become more of a priority for all who follow Jesus. So much of His ministry was directed to the poor. Why, then, do so few churches in the U.S. support ministries that meet the physical needs of underprivileged people?
God's Word instructs us to feed the hungry, visit prisoners, care for orphans and widows, and give clothes to those who don't have any. So when we don't make room for these people in our hearts, we are doing what the innkeeper did to Mary and Joseph when they sought a room in Bethlehem. We are turning Jesus away—again.
When you see someone truly in need, allow Jesus to break your heart, so you can feel what He feels for the woman who has to live in a cardboard box, the many who must sleep on bench or the child who rarely eats a healthful meal.
This Christmas—and all through the year—let's make room in our hearts for the poor.
As Thanksgiving approaches once again, I am reminded of so many people who are learning to be thankful despite their suffering. However I want to encourage them to go one better — I believe we can even learn to be thankful for suffering.
It is a common response to question God's goodness when we endure hardships — whether physical limitations, illness, job loss, the death of a loved one, you name it.
Soon after I graduated from college I gave my life to the Lord. Even though I grew up in a godly home, I treated salvation like a game of Russian roulette. I played around because I figured I had time on my side. Was I ever deceived!
I know today what made me drop to my knees, repent of my sins and ask Jesus into my life: prayer. My mother spent untold hours in prayer crying out to God, "Lord, save my children." She knew back then what I know now: Prayer changes things.
In the last several years I have witnessed at least two astounding miracles where Christian ministries have experienced a literal rebirth.
The first is a doctrinal miracle. The Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong in 1934, reexamined its doctrines and practices after Armstrong's death in 1986. This led to a complete theological reformation to Christian orthodoxy in the 1990s. Today, no longer viewed as a cult, the denomination has changed its name to Grace Communion International and is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals.
In my research for Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey, I spent time with a shepherd in Oregon, a farmer in Nebraska, a beekeeper in Colorado and vintner in California. With each person, I opened up the scripture and asked, “How do you read this passage—not as a theologian—but in light of what you do every day?”
The journey was chock-full of spiritual insights, but one of my favorite stops was my time with Lynne, a shepherdess, who took care of a flock of a few dozen sheep in the fields near her home in Oregon. Not only did we feed and water the sheep together, but we just spent time among the flock sitting in the field, watching the sheep and talking.
During our time together, I was struck by just how much a sheep knows its shepherd. One of the most amazing times I had with the shepherdess, Lynne, was the very first time she introduced me to her flock. I followed her up a muddy path to the upper field where the sheep were grazing.
She whispered to me, “When they hear my voice, they’ll come running.”
Then simply by saying the words, “Sheep, sheep, sheep,” she called her flock. Every last sheep in the field bolted toward her.
That moment was powerful for me. John 10 describes the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice as a metaphor for us knowing God’s voice. Yet it isn’t just a metaphor—it’s the way sheep really behave. Standing in the field with Lynne and watching the sheep run toward her made that verse come alive in a whole new way. I recognized that just as a sheep is created to know its shepherd, we are created to know God and live in relationship with Him.
During my research on sheep, I discovered a remarkable story from Gary Burge, a professor at Wheaton College, that illustrates the close relationship of shepherds and their flocks. He describes how Israeli soldiers visited a poor village outside of Bethlehem after a Palestinian uprising and demanded that the people pay the taxes they owed. They refused.
The officer in charge gathered up all the animals of the village—primarily sheep and goats—and placed them into a huge pen. A poor woman approached the officer in charge and begged him to release her animals. Because the poor woman’s husband had been imprisoned, her sheep were literally all she had.
The officer laughed at her request. How could she possibly find her dozen sheep in a pen of more than 1,000 animals?
The woman challenged the officer. If she could find her animals, could she keep them?
Intrigued, the soldier agreed.
The woman then invited her 10-year-old son to stand before the pen. He pulled out a flute and began to play a simple tune. As he walked through the fenced-in area, a dozen sheep gathered behind him, following him all the way home.
The officer and soldiers were impressed. They broke into applause, shut the gate and then announced that no one else could use the trick to get their sheep back.
Why did the sheep follow the boy? Because they knew he was their shepherd. And they knew he was a good shepherd. They were not only familiar with his voice, they knew the very tunes he played on his flute—songs he had played in the fields many times before.
That portrait of a sheep knowing its shepherd so well gives me hope that I, too, can know God intimately. For me, spending time with a loving shepherd was a powerful portrait of God’s love for each of us—a love that is tangible, practical and unending. From this perspective, some of the seemingly opposite attributes of God, such as discipline and grace, began to make sense.
Over the course of our time together, I watched a shepherd who truly loved her sheep—it was so evident in the way she spoke to and about them. Whether feeding her animals by hand, changing their bandages, administering medicine or keeping a watchful eye, her love was constantly on display. I also watched when Lynne had to reprimand or punish a sheep by placing it in time out. Even those moments were founded in love and caring for her flock.
The entire time, Lynne wanted what was best for the flock and the individual sheep. She was for them. For me, it was a tangible reminder of just how much God is for us, individually and as His flock.
You are successful to the degree that you empower others! Too often, in today's world, success is defined by the size of your organization, the amount of money you accumulate or how influential your name is. Although each of these things may be found in a successful person's portfolio, they are not true indicators of real success. Success as a leader is measured by the degree that you empower others.