Posted in Bible Study, Theology, & Christian Living, Uncategorized

Teaching the Bible: It’s About the Relationship-Part II

jesusteaching

Strong relationships rely on good communication. I need to communicate in a way that is conducive to learning. With adults in particular, the old classroom setting with the authoritarian teacher demanding attention, that they learned to loathe when they were children, must be abandoned. These are God’s students; I am merely the messenger.

These students are not objects to boss around; they are people who need to be nurtured in their faith. It is not my job to be their sole source of information. My job is to direct them to the only source of information, God. In this way we share the learning together, not just as teacher and pupil, but as a group of people seeking the Lord together.

These group dynamics are important in the life of any learner and, as a teacher, I have a direct impact on the attitude of my students. While the personal relationship between teacher and student is important, it is also important that a teacher encourages strong relationships between the students themselves since believers are all members of one body of Christ.

Personally, I take the first five minutes of my Sunday school class just talking about whatever is the hot topic of the day, from the latest baseball trade, the Super Bowl, the hot button political issues, even the weather. I have seen fifteen year olds chat intimately with sixty year olds during this time. We all laugh together, debate each other, and rib each other. More importantly, we all grow together in our relationship to one another. When the good weather arrives, we usually try to have one good barbecue together. By being involved in each other’s lives, in a context we are all comfortable with, we serve to encourage each other—to learn, to grow, and minister to others. The apostle Paul recognized the importance of this, using this truth in his own ministry.

This environment of encouragement serves as a fertile ground for learning. With the students encouraging each other, the teacher’s job is made significantly easier if the right methods are employed. It is not enough, though, even in this fertile environment, to just stand up and teach. A farmer, to use an analogy, once he has tilled and fertilized his soil, does not just simply throw seed anywhere without thought or plan. He carefully selects, by using many factors, what he will plant, where, and how. Since the Word of God is called a seed by the Lord Jesus, Bible teachers can take a lesson or two from the farmer. The farmer must learn first what he can sell at market. It makes no sense to grow something he cannot sell.

A Bible teacher’s lesson must be relevant; it must find a “market” in the lives of the students. Teaching on Levitical law may have its purpose, but if your church is suffering through hard financial times, perhaps teaching on faith and responsible stewardship will find more fertile ground. A farmer also organizes his crops, sometimes planting them in different soils according to a crop’s ability to grow in certain environments. The Bible teacher must also understand that each lesson may “grow” differently in each student and that must be considered in the presentation of any lesson.

Finally, the teacher must have an organized approach to communicating information with a clear objective in mind, whether it is specific application of knowledge or knowledge for personal enrichment. Very few students will stay on the ride if they do not know where it is going. To return to the farmer analogy, he also has a destination, to reap crops. But his process is very systematic—plan, till, fertilize, plant, water, grow, and harvest. If the process is in any way out of sequence, his yield is affected.

If the Bible student knows where he is going, why he should go there, the plan for reaching the destination, and the reason for the trip, the struggle to get him there is greatly diminished. In specific regard to application, when the system for instruction is clearly given, with the reasons being fully understood, the knowledge that is imparted to the student, once he has agreed to take the ride, has a greater chance of taking root and being applied in his life.

Having been a teacher in several different capacities—adjunct college professor, home school parent, Sunday school for junior high students, Sunday school for adults, and training officer for law enforcement organizations, I can offer some advice:

  • First, to be credible, a teacher must know the subject matter. For the Bible teacher, it is not simply knowing what the Word of God says, but knowing the God who wrote it; know His Word and you will be credible with your audience.
  • Second, know what subject matter is important to your audience and the only way to know that is to know the students on a personal level; spend time with them, get to know them, and let them get to know you. If they know you care, they will listen to you.
  • Third, do not be afraid to share personal experiences with your students, even if they portray you in a negative light. It shows you are genuine and gives more power to your testimony and your teaching material, especially if what you are teaching has proven true in your life. If it is good enough for you, chances are it will be good enough for them.
  • Lastly, be prepared, even if you think you have good command of the material. Poor preparation will manifest itself in a hurry and it will demonstrate to your students that you do not really care about the material; if you do not care, neither will they. Impart knowledge with the passion that reveals a true concern for your students and their lives and you will always have an attentive audience that will apply what you have taught them.

Jesus was a Master, teacher, and friend. We need to be the same.

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Defending YOUR Faith: Why It’s Important Part I

ShieldofFaith

We are expected to defend what we believe, not only to demonstrate to the world the truth of Christianity but, more importantly, to keep our faith strong. We even have a name for the discipline: apologetics. Even the scriptures record various doubts and crises of faith among the giants of the New Testament: John the Baptist, Peter, Thomas, and even Paul. These men had personal encounters with Jesus, walked with Him, talked with Him, ate with Him, yet their faith could still be rattled.

In the church today we get wrapped up in too much minutia: what color the carpet should be, what to wear, political views, etc. I think our defense of our faith, to stay truly encouraged in this tempest called life, needs to be much simpler. Apologetics is defending your faith. Polemics is confronting errors. Let’s leave that alone for now. That’s minutia…for now.  We need to choose our battles wisely. Let’s not get caught up in all of this static. I try to keep it simple. Here are the things I cling to.

Jesus Christ rose from the dead. When I say that, I mean a man who was murdered, clinically, physically, and irrefutably dead, after being buried in a sealed tomb, placed under Roman guard, and expected to stay there came alive again, by the power of God and was seen among witnesses who died rather than deny that fact. Period. I don’t believe the story of Easter is a metaphor for a “rejuvenation” of Jesus’ message because of His “martyrdom.”

All the claims of Christianity hinge on this miracle. It is the coup de grace, that divine demonstrative power over man’s greatest fear: death. It’s the one miracle that distinguishes Jesus from all of the other religious teachers. Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came to give life and that eternal (John 10:28). The resurrection proves the validity of Jesus’ promise, while all the false prophets remain in the grave. Had Jesus remained in the grave? I have no assurance of eternal life.

The apostle Paul exhorts us with some urgency of the necessity of holding fast to this truth. With the redefining of what the resurrection really means, we must remember that Paul forcefully reminded us that there is no faith without a literal resurrection; preaching it would be a waste of time (I Cor. 15:14-19). If Christ is not raised, we have no hope to share with a lost world. We have no hope ourselves. Christ being the first fruits of them that died (I Cor. 15:20) vanquished the sting of death (I Cor. 15:54-57). If we hold to a hope of eternal life, that hope must reside in Christ. That is the truth, even in the face of challenges. Embrace it, meditate on it, hold fast to it.

The Bible is the inerrant Word of God. If Jesus showed forth His power by rising from the dead and He bore witness to the truth of the Word of God (John 17:17), what the Bible says must also be true. Further, we should take very seriously and heed the warnings about the state of the souls of men, his alienation from God, and the eternal consequences for not doing so.

The believer is always under attack. The echo chamber of the message from a world alienated from God can wear us down. It is faith that helps us weather these attacks (Eph. 6:16). Holding fast to the most important truths strengthens our faith.

The apostle Paul instructed Timothy to study the scriptures “which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ” (II Tim. 3:15). If men can be shown their natural state (sin and death) by pointing them to the truths of God’s Word, which gets its authority by Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead, ignoring the Word becomes less likely and responding to it more urgent. The progression is logical. Denying it is futile.

Jesus Christ died for our sins. If the above two can be established, men are left with no hope in themselves. The state of men, which is eternal separation from God on account of his sin, has doomed him to the eternal separation from God. If the above truths can be accepted, and the state of men established, then the remedy has also become obvious. And thank God for that! Jesus Christ died in the sinners place. Once the remedy has been established, men have no choice but to make a decision to accept or reject God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, which is revealed in His Word.

Your faith is established on the authority of a Man–if He can be called a “man” (Josephus)–who rose from the grave, gave authority to the Book written by the men who kept the record, and made promises to the believers He came to save. You can defend your faith, even in the cloak of our earthly state. Let no man take your joy and assurance from you.

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Christianity in the Workplace: Where is the Balance?

cropped-Header-Logo

This is a complicated question and a challenging one to answer, but we need to understand that it cannot be answered in a strictly business context. The Bible makes no distinction between acting in a “secular” setting and acting in a “religious” setting. Thus, a theological perspective is needed if a balance is to be found. Christians in any organization will encounter religious differences, and not just simply differences in religion and worldviews, but inter-denominational differences of Christian doctrine as well. Christianity does, however, strictly condemn pluralism, affirming there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus (I Tim 2:5 KJV). In practical theological terms, Christians must believe this. But how do they adhere to this tenet of their faith and still be sensitive to other faiths who do not agree?

From a rigidly theological perspective, the Bible teaches that Christians who possess the truth have a responsibility to share it with others who do not have it, according to most Christian leaders. It is even commanded by Jesus in the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20. In an unreceptive environment or with an uninterested co-worker, does such rigidity do more harm than good to the Christian witness?

This is an important consideration. I believe there is the potential to do great harm if Christians are insensitive to religious differences in the workplace and pushy with their own beliefs. I would argue that our sensitivity and openness to these differences increases the potential for good. This does not mean we have to agree with these differences. It just means we have to be willing to “preach” in a variety of ways. Do Christians have some flexibility in the methodology of fulfilling the Great Commission?

I believe they do. A Christian’s most effective witness in the workplace does not always involve evangelism, but working with all faiths in the spirit of humility to bring about all that is noble and good, acting more as a planter than as a harvester. To borrow from St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel, if necessary use words.” I find this to be the great difference between responsibility and sensitivity. You can be a responsible and sensitive Christian.

Such attention to modeling the Christian message through its ethics has been found in various research to have substantial and beneficial effects on organizational behavior, especially if they are also modeled by CEOs or managers. Christians in the workplace can hold to scriptural principles by modeling them in their actions and have faith that it will help set an ethical tone in the workplace, without offending a diverse religious community. If such grace and understanding is exhibited in our actions consistently, and opens someone to the message of Christianity, a seed has been sown. As Paul said, it is God who will give the increase (I Corinthians 3:6).

Fear of intimidation is the main reason that people avoid emphasizing their spiritual beliefs in the workplace, even when knowing the benefits associated with it. Perhaps spirituality is an unfortunate catch-phrase and viewed by Christians with disdain since it seemingly holds all faith traditions as being on equal footing, when the Bible tells us they are not. From a strictly neutral stand-point, though, such an environment should be seen as an opportunity.

On his tour of Athens in Acts 17, the apostle Paul saw the religious environment of the Greeks as an opportunity to share the truth of Christianity. As Paul walked through the city, it was clear that the Greeks worshipped a host of deities.  Paul’s presentation of Christian truths on Mars Hill was before an audience of very diverse religious beliefs. Paul was not afraid to stand among them, relate to them, understand them, and converse with them. Though the results of the discourse were mixed, it was mostly positive–leading to conversions and examination–and we can learn much from his approach.

Christian can “live” Christianity without forcing anyone to embrace it. A consistently lived virtuous life has been shown to positively impact workplace environments–without regard to a particular religious tradition—without offending anyone. They can model it consistently, speak of it when necessary and, in doing so, meet their Christian responsibility of being a witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ without compromising sensitivity.

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Teaching the Bible: It’s About the Relationship. Part I

jesusteaching

The American Heritage Dictionary 4th Edition defines the word ‘teach’ as to “impart knowledge or skill; to instruct in; to cause to learn by example or experience.” It further defines ‘teacher’ as one who teaches, especially one hired to teach. Biblically, of course, this definition misses the mark. While a Bible teacher certainly is interested in these definitions in their common understanding–that of ‘one who imparts knowledge’–the motives for this are quite different. In the Biblical context, the Bible teacher is interested in communicating the truth and relevance of the Word of God out of conviction and it not usually hired to do so. This requires something much deeper than the attitude of the common hireling.

Knowing the Author & Fulfilling the Role

Teaching the Bible is a ministry, not a job. An effective Bible teacher must have the proper motivation and understanding of their responsibility. Teaching the Word of God is not simply the opportunity for a teacher to have access to a captive audience that has to listen to what is taught. While Bible teaching can be the opportunity to pass on to others information, experiences, and lessons learned from the scriptures, it is also showing why those things have meaning to the audience. As a spokesman for God, and a teacher of His children, the Bible teacher must make sure that lessons furthers God’s design.

Fulfilling this role requires that I have more than simply a willingness to teach. It requires me to have a willingness to also know my students, so their spiritual needs might be better met. It requires me to have a willingness to know the Word of God, so that I might understand the mind of God. Most importantly though, it requires that I, as a teacher of the Bible, know personally the author of the Bible, Almighty God, so that I can know from experience the importance of a relationship with Him. Without these requirements forming the foundation for my teaching, success in my endeavor will be understandably limited, if not altogether ineffective. Building this foundation requires me to spend time with all three: God, the Bible, and the student, in that order of priority. This is imperative for my development as a Bible teacher.

Know the Students

To ensure this is done, I set aside daily time for prayer and the study of God’s Word. Additionally, I must make sure I am in contact with my students. This will be guaranteed by being the first to arrive in the classroom, have regular contact with my students via e-mails and other correspondence, and scheduling regular activities with my students–as a group and as individuals–so that we may get to better know each other. The result will be lessons that are more personal and relevant to my students’ individual lives and a more personal investment in my students’ success.

Recognizing and understanding the individuality of my students should directly affect my lesson planning–not all of my students will learn the same way or for the same reasons. Some of my students, the intrinsic learners, will stay focused on my lessons simply because it is something new and they love to learn. The only motivation they need is the learning itself. I have had the privilege of teaching many of these learners. It is not enough that I prepare and teach a lesson every Sunday and assign homework during the week to supplement their Sunday school class. These people want extra work. They ask well thought out and difficult questions. While they do not need any motivation from me, they certainly motivate me…to prepare a good lesson that I must be thoroughly familiar with, if I am to meet their desire to learn.

On the other hand, I have some in my class who do not seem to have any desire to learn anything. Sitting in my class serves only to meet some invisible church requirement they believe they have. Sure, they are polite and attentive, even filling out the worksheets I give them. But they often do not look to see the relevance of what I am teaching them; they are content with just recording information. Consequently, I need to motivate them by showing them the relevance of the lesson.

Motivation for them must come from without, extrinsic, for these students. While there are several ways to accomplish this, the first step begins with my relationship with them. If it is not personal, they will see that I do not really care about them. Naturally, they will not care about my lesson, either. However, if I have a personal relationship with them, and my lessons reflect their individual needs because of that relationship, they will take a more active interest in the subject being taught and become intrinsic motivated learners. It’s what Jesus did. It’s what we should do.

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The Resurrection & The Life: What do YOU believe?

Easter

The raising of Lazarus takes place during the last winter of Jesus’ life, prior to the last Passover. It marked the high point of His ministry in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, making a final to the Jews on the basis of miraculous signs. It is appropriate for Jesus to use this event, a confrontation with death, as the last display of His power in His public ministry. This last and greatest public miracle in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is recorded by John, in the 11th chapter of his gospel. Christ performed this great miracle a little before his death—the raising of Lazarus to life. It is one of those events which requires us to make a decision.

As J. Vernon McGee observed:

“The subject of death is skirted by people today. The undertakers try in every way to make death seem like a pleasant episode. But let us face it very frankly, we can’t cover up death by embalming and painting up the face, dressing the body in a good suit of clothes, and then placing it in a pretty coffin surrounded by flowers. Although this is done to help soften the shock, death is an awful thing. Martha said that he had been buried for four days already and his body would stink; it would be decaying. Someone may think that sounds crude. So is death crude. It is awful. This case is certainly going to require a miracle.”

The event itself is nothing unusual in human life. Death is, after all, the destiny of us all. It is known the day we are born that we will some day die. Though Jesus will confront death and triumph, His initial response is not what the friends of Lazarus were expecting. Jesus delayed His response, which can be difficult to explain, but also told the disciples specifically that Lazarus’ sickness was “not unto death” (11:4) but “to the intent that ye may believe” (11:15).

The story begins with the introduction of a “certain man,” Lazarus, who was sick. Lazarus’ connection to Jesus in the Gospel of John is not necessarily because he was well known, but more because his sister Mary was well known as the woman who had anointed Jesus’ feet. We know that Jesus had a personal connection with him, however, because it is His love for Lazarus that reinforces their plea for His intervention (John 11:3). They hope that through the strength and intimacy of their relationship with Him, Jesus will grant them a special intervention.

The Purpose

The family and friends of Lazarus have no way of knowing what the plan of God is for the sickness and impending death of their brother. But Jesus knows. It was not to socialize or patronize. The purpose of this event is the glory of God and glorification of the Son of God (11:4). What those in Bethany saw as catastrophe, God used as an opportunity for good.

Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and it would seem cruel perhaps to let Lazarus die, while allowing His dear friends and co-laborers, Martha and Mary, suffer the anguish, especially when Jesus could have done something. There is a message here for us. Jesus is not motivated by sentiment, but subject to the Father’s will. We need to recognize that He had a reason, however little we may understand it, and His ways are perfect. Jesus never moves by sentiment. He is motivated by love, and that love is for the good of the individual and for the glory of God.

Jesus waited two days to respond to their plea for His intervention. To Mary and Martha, this wait proved disastrous. Lazarus died. It was too late for Jesus to help, they believed. To Jesus, though, it was another opportunity to demonstrate His divine power. If Jesus had been human, He may have raced to Lazarus’ bedside and given what He could of aid and comfort, missing the opportunity to show the power of God. Lazarus’ death was merely a parenthetical chapter in his life, a chapter that would have a profound effect on those who witnessed it and would later read about it.

In truth, Lazarus was probably already dead when Jesus received the message that he was sick. Imagine the confusion of the disciples then, after perceiving that Jesus’ reference to Lazarus being asleep was a good thing, a sign that he would get well, when Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.” Perhaps furthering the confusion, Jesus states He was glad that they were not there.

How could He be glad they were not there? Does Jesus’ statement of his sickness not being “unto death” have some other meaning? Perhaps only that death would not be the final result of his sickness? We, having read the explanation of John two millennia later, have the benefit of hindsight. While the disciples dealt with the confusion of the moment, we have seen the purpose.

Of course Jesus was not glad that Lazarus had died. John tells us He wept. But He was glad He was not at Bethany at the time. If He had been there, Lazarus might not have died. It is perhaps ironic that nowhere is it recorded in the New Testament that a person died in the presence of Jesus. The disciples would see a greater miracle than Jesus preventing death. They would see a man who was dead restored to life. In this way, their faith would be strengthened. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus said that He “was glad” for their sake He had not been at Bethany.

The Pessimism

The fear of physical harm to Him notwithstanding, there was a real a doubt that Jesus would accomplish anything once He had decided to return to Bethany. No better expression is given than by the famous doubter, Thomas. He was convinced that only “doom and disappointment,” perhaps even death, awaited Jesus’ entourage (11:16). When Jesus and the apostles arrived in Bethany, they were greeted with despair and the certainty that He was too late to help, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (11:21).

Martha, who exhibited at least a morsel of faith by allowing for the possibility that Jesus could ask of God and receive whatever He wanted (11:22), doubted Jesus in the here and now. Even when Jesus said directly, “Thy brother shall rise again,” Martha only understood it to be applicable in the future, even though Jesus meant it as a personal promise of immediate action.

When Jesus met Mary, she too expressed her own doubts about the power of Jesus in the immediate moment (11:32). Even the Jews asked dejectedly how Jesus could heal the blind but not keep Lazarus from dying. Though Jesus had raised the dead before, they only saw Jesus’ ability to prevent death, not restore life. Even Martha seemed to only understood the resurrection as a future concept.

The Proclamation

While Martha had expressed her faith in the resurrection as a principle, Jesus revealed the resurrection as a person with the fifth great “I AM” statement: “I am the resurrection and the life…” (11:25). Martha believed that at His prayer God would give Him any thing, but He would have her know that by His word He could work anything. Martha believed in a resurrection at the last day; but Christ tells her that He had that power within His own hand, that the dead were to hear his voice (John 5:25).

If Jesus could raise a world of men that had been dead many ages, most assuredly He could raise one man that had been dead four days. He is the embodiment of all life, including the resurrection. This is the sovereign power of Christ, the fountain of life, and the head and author of the resurrection. There is no mistaking His claim of deity.

This is what separates Jesus from the rest of history’s religious sages. To the bewilderment of the disciples and the mourning sisters, Jesus presented Himself as the resurrection and the life and challenged them to believe in Him against the present situation, “…Believest thou this (vs. 26)?” Could He now prove His power?

The Procedure

Let there first be no dispute that Lazarus was dead. This is not a man who simply “swooned” or became “catatonic.” The explanation of Lazarus being in the grave “for four days” was added as proof of his death. Every precaution is taken in the recording of the event to show that the resurrection of Lazarus was really a miracle. With Lazarus probably dying shortly after the messengers left to find Jesus, it was a day’s journey from Bethany to Bethabara, where Jesus was.

After hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus stayed two more days. Then it was another day’s journey to Bethany. This explains the four days Lazarus was in the grave. A tradition at the time–a modern urban legend–which some Jews believed was that the soul of the dead hovered around a body for three days after death, departing finally on the fourth day as the body began to decompose. Lazarus, from that understanding, was beyond even a miraculous intervention.

Jesus shared in their grief and loss of His friend, weeping with them. Perhaps not for the death of Lazarus, since He knew the joy that would follow, but perhaps more for indignation, indignation at the sorrow that death had wrought on the human race. Perhaps He was angered at man’s great enemy.

Jesus issues orders to remove the stone (v. 39) He would have this stone removed so that all who were watching might see the body as it lay dead in the grave, and that a way was made for its coming out so it would seen to be a true body, not a ghost or specter. He would have some of the servants to remove it, that they might also be witnesses and, by the smell of the putrefaction of the body, attest that he was truly, beyond the shadow of a doubt, dead.

In my mind, this makes this miracle more significant. Physical decay is present. His body is rotting. This is not the son of the widow of Nain, who was raised enroute to the grave, or Jairus daughter who even Jesus said appeared outwardly to be asleep. These are significant miracles, yes, but Lazarus is many steps beyond this.

Here, Jesus is requiring a greater faith, because everyone agrees Lazarus is beyond help. He repeats this requirement when Martha objects to His order to remove the stone: “Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (11:40). Then when all eyes are on Him, Jesus prays. According to J. Vernon McGee:

“Remember that this whole incident is for the glory of God. Jesus prays audibly to let the people know that what He is going to do is the will of the Father so that the Father will get the glory. He voices His prayer for the benefit of those who are present.”

When Jesus had completed His prayer, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, Come forth!” The voice of command was the last stage of action. Jesus word had calmed the sea; now it called the dead back to life in fulfillment of His own word (John 5:25). The response was electric, “And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

The Production

One must choose sides over an event such as this. The miracle is beyond dispute and the demonstrative power of Jesus Christ is irrefutable, He is the great I AM. Belief was solidified in the eyes of many. So, too, was unbelief. The culmination of this event is the final setting in motion the plan to crucify Christ. It is the classic ad hominem attack: I do not believe the message but I cannot refute it, thus I will attack/kill the messenger.

The plan was politically expedient and the perfect solution to the Roman problem, or so it seemed. Jesus would die for the nation and life would go on as usual. This trendy menace known as Jesus would be gone. But Jesus was no trendy menace, nor was He an ordinary man. Life did not return to normal and the story of Jesus Christ did not end.

However, the division of belief and unbelief which had become apparent in the crowd in the latter stages of Jesus’ ministry (John 7:12, 40-44; 8:30, 59; 9:16; and 10:19-21) became fixed after this miracle. There was no middle ground. The rulers energized long held plans to destroy Him and the disciples became more firmly grounded in their faith. What does it do for you? The story of Christ lives on and our response to it remains largely the same. Embrace the story or stamp out its very existence.

What do YOU believe?