Saturday, March 30, 2013

Christian Symbols of Easter

Yesterday I posted about the fake or even pagan symbols that most of us use for Easter. Just as Santa, Fir Trees and Snow seem to be the favorite pagan representations of Christmas, The Bunny and Eggs are what the public wants to use for Easter. My post brought forth several comments on Facebook about the Bunny. My favorites are:

Ban the Bunny!

Resurrection Rabbit!

That Rascally Rabbit! 

Read through the following story from the Holy Bible and see if you can pick out its symbol for Easter.
 Luke 19:31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

 Gary Sweeten

Friday, March 29, 2013

Irrational Cultural and Religious Challenges

With all the furor now in American society about traditional morality being attacked I am wondering again how we need to respond on this Easter weekend. For me, Easter is a very special time with enormous implications for all of us. Yet, it is also a time when, especially around Good Friday, the spiritual forces of the world, the flesh and the devil are unleashed.

For example, I do not know whether to laugh or cry when I hear of schools that forbid using the title Easter to describe the bunny that lays all those eggs every spring. I heard a Principal with a straight face say she wanted to "Respect everyone" and not "force the kids to believe in one particular religion".

Unfortunately, many Christians are outraged. 

I was waiting for her to quote the passage of scripture that shows a bunny at the Resurrection. Bunnies and eggs are pagan symbols not related in any way with the Bible. Have we done such a poor job of communicating what Easter is all about that this woman and many Christians really think that banning the bunny is anti Christian?

I suggest we all agree that bunnies are not Easter Worthy and ban them as well, along with the eggs.

The ignorance about Christianity is deep and wide. For example, the furor over the Ten Commandments. I hear people say that as Christians they are attacking our faith. On the other hand, many lawyers and some jurists decry their public use as a violation of the Constitution that demands a separation of church and state. What blind ignorance.

I always want to ask these people a few questions.

1. What church are the Ten Commandments are establishing? Is it Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, etc?

There is no church or denomination being established by the Commandments. The Constitution was written to keep the USA from adopting a state church like England and Europe.  Most colonies had state, tax supported churches. That is what is forbidden in the Constitution.

2. What New Testament scripture calls us to post and/or obey the Ten Commandments?

The Commandments are no where in the New Testament! They are found in the Jewish Law. In fact, the New Testament says written laws are unnecessary.

So, my friends, why do we get upset when these irrational challenges come?

Gary Sweeten

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is Easter Important?

Is Easter important to you? Do you think it is an important day to remember in the Christian calender? Is it as important as Christmas?

What do you expect to happen on Easter Sunday at a church? What would disappoint you? What would thrill you? What would build your faith?

Since the resurrection of Jesus is impossible to replicate, do you doubt it happened?

What is the most prevalent symbol of Easter? What public symbols do you think convey a misunderstanding of Easter?

What best communicates a deep understanding?

Who believed easiest? Who had trouble believing?

What is your favorite Easter song?

The Survey Says!!!

In a previous LifeWay Research survey about church attendance, we found that 32 percent of Protestant pastors said Easter typically has the highest attendance for worship services with 93 percent saying it is in their top three in terms of attendance.

That's the case for the churches, but what about for all Americans? Do they value Easter attendance like churches do?

According to a new LifeWay Research survey, attending church on Easter Sunday is not a cut-and-dry decision for everyone-- even for self-identified Christians. While similar numbers of Americans plan on attending (41 percent) as are not planning to attend (39 percent) an Easter worship service, 20 percent say they are undecided.
From the release:
  • Thirty-nine percent of those who rarely attend religious services and 19 percent of those who only attend on religious holidays haven't decided if they will attend an Easter service.
  • Eighteen percent who attend only on religious holidays do not plan to attend on Easter, as do 92 percent who never go to church.
  • About half (48 percent) of Americans who say they rarely attend church do not plan on attending at Easter.
  • Just over half of self-identified Christians say they will attend Easter services.
  • Protestants (58) percent) and Catholics (57 percent) are most likely to say they plan on attending Easter services, followed by 45 percent of nondenominational Christians.
What think ye about these data?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Soul Care in the Bible

I have written a series of books, videos and papers on topics related to the Care and Cure of the Soul. In most places it would be called psychology, pastoral care, social work. As I mentioned yesterday, the church and before it wisdom writings in the Hebrew Bible were great concerned about Soul Care.

Think about church history and the various writings and people involved deeply in Soul Care. Much of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and the Psalms are focused on Soul Care. One of my favorites is in Ecclesiastes 7:

Do not be over righteous,
    neither be over wise—
    why destroy yourself?
17 Do not be over wicked,
    and do not be a fool—
    why die before your time?
18 It is good to grasp the one
    and not let go of the other.
    Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.

In the New Testament Barnabas has a name given to him by God and the Apostolic Council. It means Encourager or Counselor. He is the Apostle that led the First Missionary Journey and trained Saul/Paul. God chose an expert in Soul Care to carry out the first missions foray and train the key communicator of the gospel. I consider Barnabas the most influential Christian in history.

Most of the Pastoral Letters are written to pass on ideas about Soul Care and the development of The Fruit of the Spirit. The early Apostles and writers focused a lot on encouraging new believers how to care for each other and themselves. What would we do without passages that say:

Count it as joy when you encounter trials.

Do not be conformed to the world bu be transformed by the renewing of the mind.

Think on whatever is true, whatever is lovely

Don't be anxious about anything

My peace I give you

Add you own. They are all indicators of the importance of Soul Care or Psychology.

Get my book in pdf.file from the online bookstore on integration of Soul Care and Theology in Healing Release of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Understand a Broken Heart

 Communist Meet and Kiss at the Berlin Wall

I have been helping people with broken hearts, minds and souls for a long time and evidence is coming in from research and other Helpers that the condition of the inner life is predictive to what the person does in their daily life. That reality has a long history of comments in the Bible and ancient literature but we sometimes forget that we are not the first people to ponder why people do awful things.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
Genesis 6:4-6
From the very first chapter of the Bible we can read that when evil resides in the heart it comes out into real life and does bad things. It is interesting to note the term used here is "Inclination of the thoughts of the heart was only evil..." This is getting at the basic intentions of the heart.

Throughout the scripture and history humans have tended to use heart, mind, and soul inter changeably. 

“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’
Genesis 24:44-46 This is how we would describe a thought but he used heart.
But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The heart of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage.
Genesis 34:7-9 Heart her means romantic longing.

He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in my sack!” At thi
s they lost heart and turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”
Genesis 42:27-29 Courage is meant here. 
 One of the primary purposes of Rabbis and Wise Men or Prophets in the Old Testament was to guide and care for the souls of the people. Throughout church history the church has emphasized what the Germans call seelsorge or soul care/cure.We call it psychology for the soul is psyche in Greek. It is all the same idea with slightly terms. I am sometimes amused when a few of my Christian friends refuse to go to counseling because it is a sin to use psychology. Every time they read the Wisdom Literature they are seeking psychological assistance.

The Wisdom Literature was written by leaders who collected the wise sayings from well known leaders around the region and put them together into what we call Proverbs. Solomon wrote many of them but certainly not all.

One thing is for sure. It is not possible to bring change to my habits, and behavior without first changing my heart, mind, soul. Out of the heart come the issues of life. And that takes a lot of heard work and deep listening. The first rule of leadership is the ability to listen.

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.
Proverbs 20:4-6 

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.
Proverbs 18:14-16
I have written several books to train leaders how to listen and bring healing to hidden hurting hearts. Go to the web and see the book store. The first book to start with to understand broken hearts is Breaking Free to be all You Want Me to Be.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Inner Healing Tomorrow at Dwelling Place

Because we live in a fallen, broken world we all need inner healing. Inner healing is connected to outer or physical healing but it begins in the heart and soul not by focusing on the physical manifestations of the problem.

In Is 61 we are promised that Messiah was coming to "Heal the broken hearted and set the captives free." That is a wonderful promise that was echoed by Jesus in Luke 4 when he claimed the mantle of Messiah. How can we not carry that same call?

How does a heart get broken?

We live in a world where we inherit many types of brokenness, become broken by the ways we are treated by others and by the ways we treat ourselves. The summary of brokenness can be thought of in Four General Categories that affect every arena of person hood, body, mind, spirit, relationships, family, feelings, etc: Bondage, Rebellion, True Moral Guilt and Shame.

Bondage:  Areas of my body, soul, family and spirit that have been crushed, lied to and formed that are contrary to God's purposes and intentions.

Rebellion: Times when I want to follow my will and ways rather than God's.

Shame: A sens that I have no Identity as a child of God and therefore no Inheritance in his kingdom now or in eternity.

True Guilt: The justice of Holy God toward all failures intentional and unintentional, known and unknown.

Each grows and prospers from generation to generation. Any that are not removed in one generation will descend to the next.

The Broken Heart Image

When Isaiah and Jesus promised to heal and deliver us from broken hearts and set captives free this kind of heart is what they had in mind. Come to Dwelling Place at 10:00 AM for Inner Healing from Broken Hearts and Captivity.

Dwelling Place is located at 9335 Remington Road, Loveland, OH, 45140

Friday, March 22, 2013

Preaching at A Historic Church

 Gary in the Pulpit of the New Hope Free Will Baptist Church founded in 1895.

The oldest church in which I ever spoke was built in 1044 in Christiansand, Norway. Originally built as a Roman Catholic Church it was turned into a Lutheran State Church after the Reformation. I stood in the raised pulpit of that ancient building eye level with the congregation seated in a balcony built in the 1900's when attendance was high.

But it was not the most special in my mind even though it was constructed 22 years before the Norman Conquest of the British Isles. (The Normans were, by the way, grandchildren of the Vikings who had conquered France two hundred years before and now conquered Britain.) The most thrilling historic church building was constructed rather recently in 1913 in a rural setting in southern Illinois farm land just outside Spring Garden and three miles from the thriving village of Ina, my hometown.It was formed by a small group of Spirit-filled Baptists, including my Great Grand Parents in 1985. More on that story later.

The picture of me in the pulpit of The New Hope Free Will Baptist Church was taken 100 years later in 2013 when I spoke at the dedication of a new Fellowship Hall. It was a great thrill to relate the revival that sparked the founding of New Hope Church to the revival in my life that led me to a career in preaching, teaching and missions.

This home made quilt was constructed of squares that were sold and raffled off to raise money to build the church building. The winning family name is in the middle. My Great Grand Parents and Grand Parents names are located just to the left of the middle square.

Above is a photo of the beautiful, hand crafted ceiling of New Hope Church. It is built like the bottom of a boat with hand laid, narrow boards at an angle and wonderfully lacquered with a brown finish.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Healthy or Un Healthy Caring

I do not know the principal who stopped the honors program lest it cause emotional pain to kids who do not make it. I do not know anything about his educational preparation but he must have skipped class the day when behavioral modification was taught in his developmental psych classes. I assume he as an educator took developmental psych but I am wondering how he and other principals who do these things got through school without a basic understanding of rewards and punishments.

Any behavior we want to continue and get stronger we reward. The reward can be hugs, praise, notes to parents, candy, good grades, attention, etc. Those rewards keep the behavior going even in the midst of strong resistance.

Punishments are any interventions designed to cause a behavior to lessen in frequency, strength, etc. A punishment can be ignoring the student, a confrontation, detention, removal of privileges, etc.We have a small dog and we can see how quickly she responds to rewards and punishments. Our daughter kept her while we went on a cruise for a week. We have trained the dog to do her business by giving her a treat. Our daughter thought it was time to withdraw the treat because she had learned to go outside on her own. By the time we returned our dog was retrained.

From this point so far what have you concluded about healthy caring and unhealthy caring? What is healthy and what is unhealthy? How will you know what to do?

Imagine this scenario. Your son has a drinking problem. He comes home broke and wanting a drink. He tells you he wants to buy food and asks for $20.00. Your give it to him and he uses it to drink. The next time he asks for $20.00 you say OK____ or NOPE FOR DOPE____?

What did the Massachusetts Principal do? Healthy or Unhealthy? Why?

Give me some examples when you have attempted unhealthy caring.

See my web page and buy a book or two. Start with Hope and Change for Humpty Dumpty and go immediately to the chapter on Respect. What is the Golden Rule? The Lead Rule and the Stone Rule?

Gary Sweeten

Is It Wrong Not to Honor Good Performance?

A Massachusetts principal has been criticized for canceling his school's Honors Night, saying it could be 'devastating' to the students who worked hard, but fell short of the grades. reports that David Fabrizio, principal of Ipswich Middle School, notified parents last week of his plan to eliminate the event.
"The Honors Night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients' families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade-point average," Fabrizio penned in his first letter to parents, the station reported.
Fabrizio also said he decided to make the change because academic success can be influenced by the amount of support a student  receives at home and not all students receive the same level of emotional and academic support at home.

Respond to this article:

He was right to cancel____

He was wrong to cancel____

I can see both sides______

I was devastated when I was not elected to the Honor Society______

Go to my web page to download a book on how to think straight. It is called Power Christian Thinking.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Long Road of Spiritual Growth

Why is it taking me so long to get better? This was the title of a great book by a Presbyterian Minister back in the Seventies.  Why were the Disciples of Jesus so resistant ti growth and change?

Change is hard. Change takes a long time. Why do we resist change?

Go to You Tube and watch my ten minute video on The Four Stages of Growth and discover why growth is difficult. I cover the four stages everyone must pass through to master a new habit.

Unconsciously Incompetent:

I do not know that which I do not know. In discipleship Growing into Maturity in Christ I did not know that I was ignorant of so many things that I really needed to know to be mature and equipped for every good work. I had assumed that when I came to Christ the journey was over. I knew the verse that said, "Those in Christ are new creatures and the old has passed away." I thought that meant I was already complete and whole. WOW! Was I ever wrong. That is the beginning not the end of the educational and training process. 

Consciously Incompetent: 

I can remember times when I heard something or saw a verse in the Bible that told me I was wrong and there was much much more to learn and grow in. One time I was sitting in a service with all kinds of criticisms and complaints running through my head about how the Pastor should change and the church should change.

The Lord spoke to me and said, "You have a lot of suggestions for the Pastor don't you." I said, "I certainly do Lord. Are you going to let me tell them?"

I heard very clearly the Spirit said, "A suggestion is really a criticism. You are very critical aren't you?" 

I replied, "Oh not critical,  just know better what to do."

Then God said, "Never criticize again until you learn what to do yourself!"

In anger I said to myself and the invisible voice, "All right then! I just listen until I know what I am doing."

God said, "Good. Just be silent and listen!" 

But I did not know how to listen. It caused me to become Conscience of My Incompetence. That led me to want to get some teaching about how to develop the skills of listening. 

Consciously Competent:

I can take a class and start practicing my newly learned skills but must think about each move since it has not become a new habit yet. 

Unconsciously Competent:

This is what we are aiming for as disciple makers. Until a disciple can do automatically what he/she has learned it is still in the process of becoming real. This is the habitual stage of worship, prayer, witnessing, etc. It is what a master dancer or athlete does each time he/she performs.

One time Michael Jordan was asked why he stuck his tongue out when he was driving to the basket. He said, "Do I stick out my tongue?"

What are you working on that is taking you through these stages? Are you developing a new skill, a new language, a new habit, a new diet? All will have to go through these stages to reach competency.

By the way, learning to love and listen are very difficult and require constant work but keep up the hard work.

Gary Sweeten

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

An International Friendship

It s pretty neat to write a blog. With a few posts I am interacting with friends old and new from Singapore to the Swedish border in Halden, Norway. I have been to both places and have friends in each. I am a blessed man.

I remember some great ministry and fellowship stories from Halden and from Singapore. In Halden I stayed with a young couple who had come to faith in Christ during the Jesus Movement. They were very conservative theologically and concerned about the environment as well. Those two go together. What a joy it was to share a table and fellowship with them and their three children.

One of our friends was a Clinical Psychologist. He had wonderful married a woman who inherited a large farm where  he hunted Moose when they were in season. It was not Moose season but the friend and his wife invited us to a picnic in the forest so we could enjoy nature and eat by a running stream. But he also wanted to show his hunting skills but it was not the season so we hunted a bit drawing of a Moose instead.

Onan said before anyone could get a license to hunt in Norway he had to pass a test to make sure he could shoot well. That meant that we had to shoot and hit a drawing of a Moose head at about 50 yards. It was not an easy feat. He placed the wooden drawing up and we all shot at it with a high powered rifle. Our friends had never even held a gun before so expectations for their accuracy were quite low.  As was so for me since I had not shot at targets for decades.

To no one's surprise our host hit the target easily and to my surprise so did I. However, to Everyone's shock the teenage son was the best of the group. He had never seen a real gun before but he had a good eye and nailed that Moose every time.

Great friends and great experiences all over the world. That convinces me that God is at work still so stop worrying and fretting. More revivals will come and go so the gospel haters today can be gospel lovers when they meet Christ. Thank God for the blessings of trusting God in every nation and language!

Go to our web for free You Tube and Vimeo teachings on ways to build great relationships with God, ourselves and others.

Gary Sweeten

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Revival Again?

 I believe we are in a great paradigm shifting era in world wide spiritual revival. In the First Reformation, God took His Word out of the hands of a few specialists and gave it to everyone. the result was a huge, worldwide revival and renewal and a church reform-ation. What could possibly impact the world as greatly as that? Is it possible?

Yes, it is possible, and it is happening. In what some scholars are calling, "The Fourth Great Awakening" God's Spirit is on the move again is ways reminiscent to the Early Church. From a small band of meek, undisciplined and uneducated men in Palestine grew a power packed, world changing juggernaut of 30 million people from all walks of life. The Early Church was so powerful that it shook up the political scene and led politicians to ask its leaders to become part of the state. Unfortunately,  the leaders chose safety and security politically and physically rather than remain spiritually powerful but vulnerable. Mammon was very attractive and Constantine was able to co opt the movement of God.

What is God up to now to replicate the Early Church?Are we open enough to receive what the Lord has in mind? I doubt it.

Christians have resisted, revolted and refused to change when God started moving in a different way than people were comfortable. Look at Peter. He was, one of the original 12 and God's Spirit was upon him. He preached and the ground shook, people were healed and prison doors opened. He was a miracle worker but when God came to him and directly ordered him to change his old cultural habits he said no! No! NO!! (See Acts 10)

Do you think we modern Christians are any more open the God's new ideas when he wasn't? Racism is difficult to change. Sexism is difficult to change. Being ungenerous is hard to change.

What great move of God would cause you to quiver and shake and resist?

What big move do you see coming down the pike?

More later.

Gary Sweeten

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Special Needs Families

Last year I attended a gathering of parents and child workers at a conference on improving the health of kids with a special need. Every person in my small group spoke in the round table discussion and every single one promoted one idea. What do you think they want?

I will share the answer in just a moment but right now let me say that what they all want is probably impossible or at lease highly improbable. What do you think happens when large numbers of people long for something that is out of reach?  Anger! Frustration! Hopelessness!

I agree with all those possible emotions but I am adding another sure fire outcome that is even worse. People tend to give up and quit trying to innovate. IMO, the greatest need in health care improvement is innovation and creativity. But hopelessness and helplessness will squash the creative spirit in all of us unless we get a hit of hope.

My friends at the conference all wanted more money from the government and from insurance companies. However, I do not think it is coming. From everything I am reading governments are all broke financially. 

It is my goal to think out of the box and create ways we can help ourselves and each other. What we need is the application of American CAN DO, possibility thinking. As long as we think we are dependent on the government and its money we will be dependent on their centralized planning and overwhelming bureaucracy.

For decades scholars warned that the explosive growth in world population was going to doom us to poverty and starvation.  Those predictions have certainly been wrong! Why? What has happened to stave off starvation?

At Sweeten Life we are innovators in the fields of family life, counseling, church life, integrating theology and life and health care. Join with us in our exciting ventures.