The One Thing Every Christian Needs More of-

Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God– John 3:21 NIV

Okay, so. 

No one just decides to let their perfectly good life spiral into a dark and ugly disaster. This is even more true of Christians. No authentic follower of Jesus has ever made the willful decision to just let their life dissolve into a chaotic tragedy. Seriously. It just doesn’t happen. The hope we receive at salvation simply doesn’t allow for that kind of willful foolishness (Romans 5:5).

However.

There are plenty of Christians whose lives do spiral out of control. Sometimes there is no returning from the dark places they go. Unfortunately, it’s a trend that seems to be growing. More and more people are beginning their spiritual lives well and ending them by rejecting Jesus altogether or telling the world they are “reimagining” their faith (Galatians 5:7). When we choose the things of this world over the full life Jesus offers we end up turning away from God. Turning from God never ends well (Hebrews 6:4-6, Matthew 24:10-11). 

The key to preventing that fate is found in asking God to empower us to seek, understand and walk in truth (John 8:32, 2nd Corinthians 3:12 Galatians 5:5). Living out the kind of truth that keeps us from becoming the worst version of ourselves is about more than simply learning some Bible verses that tell us how we should live.   In order for truth to become a protective force in our lives we have to seek it purposely in specific areas of our lives (Ephesian 6:14, Ephesians 6:17). We seek truth by asking God to show us truth in the following four areas: 

The truth about who we are-  

It is critical we know who we are in Christ and what that means for us spiritually (Ephesians 3:16-20, Colossians 1:13, Galatians 4:6).  Knowing we are loved by God gives us incentive to grow and protects us from discouragement.  We have to know that even when we fail God is for us. He never stops rooting for us to become the best possible version of ourselves. However, it is also critical we understand no one reaches that status without some effort. We grow by asking God to show us truth about the parts of ourselves that still need redemption.  We will never see our blind spots and the areas of our life that are tripping us up without God’s help. We are simply too easily misled by our own desires.  

The truth about the motives of our heart- 

The human heart is the most insanely devious thing in all of creation (Jeremiah 17:9). We are able to trick ourselves into believing our motives are pure and we are good when we are anything but good and pure. It’s possible to do this without even realizing we are doing it. We can easily fool ourselves into thinking we are simply being friendly to a member of the opposite sex when in reality we are testing the waters to see if that person might be open to an inappropriate relationship. We tell ourselves it’s the churches fault we aren’t growing when in reality we aren’t making any attempt to feed ourselves outside of the weekly church service. We fool ourselves into thinking we’ve forgiven someone when in reality we are holding onto a grudge the size of Texas. Only God can show us what’s really going on in our hearts but that only happens when we ask Him to do it. 

The truth about who God is –

People—even redeemed people tend to make God into something much smaller and less powerful than He really is. We are simply more comfortable with a God who is like us. So, usually without realizing it we cast God into the image of a human who isn’t all that different from us. In the process we talk ourselves out of taking God seriously. When we stop taking God seriously we stop obeying Him in any area of our lives that feels hard. The way to end this cycle is to ask God daily to remind us who He is and how worthy He is of our full attention and obedience. 

The truth about other people-

It is all-too easy for us to view other people as our enemies, rather than as people who are made in the image of God and deeply valued by Him. When we devalue people, we tend to overestimate the harm they do us and underestimate their ability to be transformed. When we do this we inevitably end up doing the one thing God doesn’t do: give up on people. Asking God to help us see people the way He sees them keeps us from giving up on people when they disappoint us. As people inevitably do. 

No Christian chooses consciously to fail in the things that matter most. The key to success in the Christian life is knowing the truth of God and then walking in it. But in a world fraught with lies and deception truth is something we have to want badly enough to go after it with our whole hearts (Jeremiah 29:13)

Should Christians be Woke?

This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ- Philippians 1:9-10 NIV

“Wokeness “ or “being Woke” is a relatively new movement that has captured the hearts and minds of many Christians.   According to the Online Dictionary being “woke” is officially defined as: 

Being alert to injustice in society, especially racism. 

 A lot of believers are jumping on the woke bandwagon. But should they? 

So. 

The vast majority of Christians loathe injustice and racism. After all, God Himself conceived the whole concept of social justice (Exodus 23:11, Deuteronomy, 24:14-15, Zechariah 4:10, Malachi 3:5). Moreover, God is and always has been on the side of equity and impartiality when it comes to issues of race and nationality (Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:34, Romans 1:16, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, Revelation 7:9). Any Christian with even a shallow understanding of Scripture should realize that racism and social injustice are never okay. Period. 

That being said. 

It’s critical Christians understand the “woke” movement is about a whole lot more than being attentive to issues of injustice and racism. The woke crusade is intertwined with the teachings of Critical Race Theory or CRT. CRT began as an academic theory that presupposes all humans are born into one of two categories: oppressors or victims. Victims are people of color and women. Oppressors are white men. Anytime someone is born white and a man they just naturally victimize minorities and women, sometimes unknowingly. The propensity to subjugate others is literally a part of white male DNA. Sadly, DNA is tough to overcome. The only way a white person can cease to be an oppressor is to develop enough self-awareness to see their wickedness and confess their sins. Some proponents of CRT teach that in order for transformation to really occur the oppressor must experience the same bigotry and bias they have forced on others.  If a white male, or a white female for that matter, claims to not be racist that is verification they are the worst kind of racist. The kind that lacks self-awareness and is therefore hopeless from a redemption standpoint.   Victims are always depicted as people who lack free agency, they have no real way to break free of their oppressed status and are destined to stay victims. According to proponents of CRT the only way to solve the problem of racism is for society to step in and turn the oppressors into the victims. 

In my humble opinion Christians would be wise to stay far away from the woke movement.  Here’s why:

Wokeness is a weird post-modern religion- 

It just is. The Woke do not worship a specific deity. Those who embrace wokeness can be agnostic, Christian, atheist and or even a member of another faith community. Most people who support wokeness don’t realize that it is a religion with its own set of rituals and story of original sin (racism). It has its own priesthood. In this case the priesthood is those that teach and propagate CRT. Critical Race Theory has an elaborate system of language that can only be understood once a person is fully enlightened.  Like all religions Wokeness has a path that disciples must follow in order to be restored to perfection (a nonracist state). There is a word for mixing other belief systems with Christianity, its syncretism and it’s a form of idolatry that eventually led to the destruction of the nation of Israel (Isaiah 44:9, Jeremiah 18:15, 1st John 5:21, Deuteronomy 6:14).  

Wokeness is completely incompatible with Christianity-  

Seriously.  Wokeness teaches that racism is the original sin of mankind. It also teaches that not everyone has been stained by it. The oppressed are good and righteous simply by virtue of being born victims.  Therefore, they have nothing to repent of.  Christianity teaches that all human beings have sinned and need redemption (Mark 10:18, Romans 3:23, 1st John 1:10, Ephesians 2:1-3). In Christianity teaches that racism is a sin (John 7:24, Galatians, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11) but it is not the only sin people need to turn from. Furthermore, Christianity teaches that no one can save themselves and that no amount of good works will bring a sinner into right relationship with God. Only faith in the sacrifice of Jesus can do that. Wokeness teaches that people can save themselves by repenting of their racism and following the elaborate rituals of the woke. None of these views are even a tiny bit compatible with Christian doctrine. And therefore, must be avoided by sincere Christians. 

Wokeness separates and divides rather than heals-

Christians are commanded by God to be forces for good in this world (Galatians 6:9-10, Romans 12:2, Romans 12:21, 1st Thessalonians 5:15, 1st Timothy 6:18). One aspect of being a force for is bringing peace to divisive situations (Romans 12:18, Romans 14:19, Ephesians 2:14-17, Ephesians 6:15). Wokeness and CRT teach that peace is incompatible with social change and is therefore and undesirable state. 

We would do well to remember that Christianity has done more to bring racial reconciliation to this world than any other religious and social movement in history.  The world doesn’t need a new movement it’s just needs Christians to work harder to apply biblical principles to the social issues of our day. If we do that wokness will be unnecessary. 

Four Changes the Church Must Make Now-

Be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord– Colossians 3:15b-16 NKJV

By any measurable standard the last year and a half was bumpy for everyone. The world was collectively awestruck at how quickly a weird little virus could lead to compulsory lockdowns, financial uncertainty, social unrest, church closures and the shutdown of most schools. The gloom brought on by those unwelcome changes took a heavy toll on everyone, including most Christians (James 1:2-3). 

Unparalleled world events swiftly exposed a whole host of systemic and potentially lethal problems lurking in Western churches. Most believers lacked the spiritual tools and community support necessary to keep their faith vibrant over a year of forced isolation. Even fewer Christians were prepared to answer the questions that surfaced out of the COVID crisis. Questions like: where is God when we suffer? What role should government play in faith communities? What does honoring authority look like in a global pandemic (Romans 13:4-6)? Is online church a suitable substitute for the real deal (Hebrews 10:25)? Furthermore, local churches struggled with an unprecedented loss of attendance and financial support. Many pastors suffered a crisis of identity when they learned exactly how expendable most political and public health authorities felt their contribution to society was.

Sigh.

Thankfully, the worst seems to be passing. I am personally overjoyed, no one hated COVID world more than this girl. That said, we should all have some very real reservations about churches returning to the “normal” we foolishly embraced pre-COVID. Our Western Church version of normal was anything but healthy and live-giving from a spiritual perspective. The last thing the church needs is more of what created the problems that became evident during COVID.  Instead the church needs a twenty-first century reformation that begins with:

An end to the Christian celebrity culture- 

Little good has come from idolizing Christian pastors, musicians, and influencers. Most of the men and women put on pedestals by the Christian community have become prideful and arrogant and proven themselves to be completely unteachable. Too many “celebrity Christians” have embraced a life of sin and destroying the reputation of Jesus and other Christians in the process.  Some have become so addicted to media attention that they eventually denounced Christianity altogether to keep the spotlight on them. It’s time for Christian to say “no more” to the celebrity culture.  Instead we must be intentional about looking within our own local churches for faithful men and women to hold up as examples of the faith (1st Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17). 

No more shallow teaching-

A shocking lack of doctrinal depth has become standard in Church world.  Like most of our mistakes this one was made with good intentions. Dumping discipleship programs (Adult Sunday school) and replacing them with small groups was intended to build community and make unbelievers more comfortable in the church. It did neither. All it did was shrink the Church and produce a generation of genuinely ignorant and spiritually immature Christians. If we want to save the Western Church we need to find ways to make Sunday school cool again. 

Theology that empowers the church to deal with secular authority in a biblical manner- 

It’s simply a fact that Christians are called to obey secular authorities.  However, early Christians continued to meet together (sometimes daily) despite the fact it was forbidden by “authorities” on and off for more than three centuries.  If they hadn’t the church probably would have disappeared altogether early in the first century. Leaders and individual Christians need to do some soul searching and decide what sort of edict is worthy of violating the command to “gather together” before the next round of shutdowns. 

An openness to a movement of the Spirit of God- 

Sadly, there are two equally stupid views of the Holy Spirit that have prevailed in most denominations over the last century. On one end of the spectrum there is a history of gross excess. This group has taken 1st Thessalonians 5:19Do not quench the Spirit” to mean that almost anything done in the name of the Holy Spirit goes with or without any biblical precedent. Period. This has been a huge turnoff for those on the other end of the spectrum who have declared anything they see as out of the ordinary (speaking in tongues, raising hands in worship, prophetic utterances) as evil and “of the devil” even if that thing has biblical precedent. Both attitudes are wrong, Truth lies in the middle. It is not our job to manufacture the work of the Spirit in the name of “having an experience”. Neither is it our job to dictate to God how He can or cannot work. Our job is to seek the Spirit with an open heart asking Him to reveal more of Himself and His truth to us. However, we also need to understand that any genuine work of the Holy Spirit will be accompanied with a greater desire to obey God. The Holy doesn’t do anything without the purpose of bringing greater obedience and purity to God’s people. 

Community- 

We are made in the image of a relational God (Genesis 1:26). We need each other. Period. Churches have to figure out how to create authentic faith communities in the midst of twenty-first century busyness. If we don’t the church will continue to lose people. 

It is the churches responsibility to be ready to offer hope, help and healing when the worst happens. Most churches weren’t ready for any of that with COVID. Welcoming a movement of God, building community in the church and being prepared to answer  tough theological questions is how we get ready for whatever comes next. 

How Offense Ruins Us-

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense~ Proverbs 19:11

 We live in strange times. 

 Ideas, customs and behaviors that were once considered right are now thought to be offensive and just plain wrong (Isaiah 5:20). 

 Some of those things actually make sense. 

 No rational human would even attempt to defend indentured servitude, human sacrifice, child brides or the practice of female genital mutilation. That said, some of the ideas and behaviors our culture finds offensive these days are not nearly as easy to understand or defend. Like taking offense at those who identify as the gender they were assigned at conception (CIS genderism), the notion of nations having borders and the belief that humans ought to have a right to be born. 

 Sigh.  

 One of the stranger things that was once considered a good thing (or at least a neutral thing) that has become a bad thing is cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the practice of borrowing (some would say stealing) the best aspects of a culture and appropriating or adopting those things into another culture. Ancient Romans were among the first to brazenly appropriate other cultures but Americans have perfected the practice. That is why Americans can say with a straight face that something is as “American as apple pie” when apples are from Asia and the practice of baking apples into pies began in England during the Middle Ages. Because cultural appropriation is now considered offensive there are people who are sincerely offended when they see a college student with a sombrero on or basic white girls wearing hoop earrings (true story). A few years past a whole bunch of people became frothing-at-the-mouth offended when they saw a not-so-basic white girl wearing a Chinese inspired prom dress. This tells me we have become a people who are far too easily offended by just about everything. 

 As a culture we have forgotten that taking offense is a choice.  It’s a choice that inevitably leads to broken friendships, shattered marriages and split churches. If offense is allowed to run amok in a society it can eventually lead to ugly social upheaval and in the most extreme cases: civil war.  On a personal level the greatest danger in habitually taking offense is that being offended all the time transforms otherwise intelligent people into insufferable boobs who are far more concerned with feelings than with facts.  Christians are called to be salt and light in our broken and hurting world (Matthew 5:13-15). We simply cannot do that if we are heavily focused on our feelings all the time. 

 Here’s how offense ruins us: 

 Offense stops spiritual and personal growth-

 Even secular experts agree that the ability to examine ourselves and see the things we need to change is the key to personal growth. Self-examination is also a prerequisite for spiritual growth (Lamentations 3:40, 2ndCorinthians 13:5). Offense takes our eyes off our bad behavior and weak spots and places our focus entirely on other people’s actions and attitudes. When that happens, we become so focused on others and what they need to change that we fail to see our own sins clearly.     

 Offense breeds bitterness-

 Offense is a knee-jerk reaction. Like most knee-jerk reactions, offense is not typically something we prayerfully evaluate. Nor is it something we typically ask God to help us deal with in a godly or wise way. Most of the time when people become offended the only thing they can think about is how justified they feel in their decision to be offended (Proverbs 18:19). This inevitably leads to bitterness. Nothing will transform a person into a defiling force faster than bitterness (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15).

 Offense leads to spiritual deception- 

 In Matthew 24 Jesus gives us a preview of what life will look like just prior to His second coming. One of the certainties of that time is that people will take offense at just about everything (Matthew 24:10-11 NKJV). Offended-ness will lead to hate and betrayal. Out of all that offense and hate, false teachers will rise up and lead people (even some Christian people) away from the truth. Jesus is doing more than just giving as a trailer of future events in this verse. He is providing insight into the very nature of offense. Offense causes us to become heavily focused on our feelings. When feelings run the show, we become unable/unwilling to comprehend any truth that does not directly line up with our feelings. As a result, we become sitting ducks for false teachers who tell us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to hear (2ndTimothy 4:3).

 Offense prevents us from accomplishing God’s will for our lives-

 God’s will for all Christians is for us to glorify Him. It’s simply a fact that no one in the history of forever has ever glorified God while indulging an offended spirit. 

 Chronic offended-ness is clear indicator of a pride problem- 

  Most of the time offense comes as a result of someone telling us an unpleasant truth about ourselves or pointing out a fact we missed. It’s the height of pride to believe that we know so much that we never need to be educated, informed or redirected. Proverbs 16:18 tells us that pride comes before a fall. Falls almost always occur because a warning went unheeded (2ndChronicles 26:16, Proverbs 11:2).

 Taking offense is not always a bad thing. Everyone should be offended by sin, injustice and bigotry (2ndChronicles 19:7, Galatians 3:28). That said, we should all do regular gut-checks to ensure we are actually being offended by the right things.  If we find ourselves offended by the wrong things we need to take our offenses to God and seek to forgive those who have offended us.

It really is that simple.   

Some Hard Counsel for Christian Women-

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate– Psalm 127:4-5 ESV

Okay, so.

 Generally speaking my ambition is to live a quiet life and tend to my own affairs (1st Thessalonians 4:11). Truly.  As a rule, I have zero desire to be a busybody or to butt into another person’s affairs (2nd Thessalonians 3:11).  On the infrequent occasions I have made it my thing I usually end up feeling sorry.  

Today, I’m willing run that risk. So, here goes:

In recent years, I have noted an attitude making its way into the church. It has become quite common for Christian women to minimize and disparage the roles of wife and mother.  As an older woman I clearly see this thinking is a tool the enemy is using to weaken Christian families. The attitudes developing in the church are potentially detrimental to the future of the church and the family because the Christian family has historically been God’s most powerful and fruitful means of evangelism and discipleship.  

Please understand—I do not believe that wife and mother are the only truly significant roles a Christian woman can or should play in this life. In my experience, when a Christian woman is walking in step with the Holy Spirit she will fulfill many functions and play a variety of different roles throughout her life. Some of those roles will be in the home, some in the church and others will be in the workplace. That being said, the role women play as wives and mothers is critical and should never be demeaned. So, my dear sisters in Christ, today I’m going to share some direct counsel that I believe is desperately needed in this cultural moment. 

First: 

Don’t be weak- 

As a mother of four, I get that being a Mom is a demanding job. This is particularly true in the early years of motherhood when money is often tight and children have lots of needs and no real ability to manage themselves. That being said. It’s not that hard and I’m very disturbed by the “Mommy needs a drink” mentality that has drifted into the church. No one needs to become a drunk in order to manage the pressures of motherhood. Seriously. Women have been caring for children since the dawn of time without modern conveniences such as disposable diapers, baby swings and iPads. This generation is no less capable than our predecessors. Though, I suspect we are less resilient and tough-minded. It is critical we understand that a Christian woman is a soldier of Jesus Christ (2nd Timothy 2-4, Ephesians 6: 10-13).  If a Christian woman has children her primary mission in life is to teach and train her children to fear the Lord and walk in His ways.  The early years of parenting are critical. Kids need a Mom to create a stable, loving environment for them to learn about God, themselves and life. No one can provide any of that wasting precious energy whining about how hard and miserable it is to be a Mom. 

It’s critical we understand children are the only real legacy we leave- 

It’s a clichéd saying that became a cliché because it’s so dang true: “No one has ever laid on their deathbed and wished they had worked harder on their career”. However, lots of people die wishing fervently they had put more energy into the only legacy that really lasts: their kids.  I have done a lot of things with my life, some of them significant by worldly standards. I am not sorry I put my energy into any of them. They were worthy endeavors.  That said, none of the things I have done will have a greater impact on this world than the children I have raised.  

Marriage should not be a rivalry- 

A Christian marriage is intended to be a partnership where each partner sacrifices for the good of the other and the family they create together (Ephesians 5:21-33). A Christian marriage should not be about which spouse has the most impressive career or the most degrees. Those are temporal things that should be viewed as tools to build a legacy for the kingdom of God not as the desired end in its self. 

You can do it all but not all at once-  

Seriously. A woman can have a solid marriage, be a faithful Christian, raise amazing kids and have a rewarding career. However, attempting to do all those things all at once practically guarantees something critical will get lost in the shuffle and done poorly. Sadly, it’s the kids, marriage or relationship with Jesus most likely to get lost. Wise women recognize there really is a season for everything. It’s not wrong to have a job when kids are young as long both parents are committed to being really attentive to the kids during non-working hours. 

It is critical Christians guard their hearts and minds from adopting the attitudes and mindsets of the culture. Nowhere is this truer than in the area of how we view children and family. (Psalm 127:3-5). When we allow the world to dictate how we view these issues it’s the enemy who wins. 

Four Changes the Church can Make that Will Help Save Both the Church and the Culture-

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction– 2nd Timothy 4:2 NASB

The culture is clearly in trouble.  

Seriously. All you have to do is turn on any news channel anytime day or night and it quickly becomes apparent we are a culture on the threshold of moral and civil ruin. We are more divided than we have ever been. Few non-Christians are able to reason through even the most basic and obvious of moral or even common-sense truths. The majority is bound and determined to scorn anything even remotely healthy or wholesome especially if it is thought to be traditionally “Christian”. 

The church is also in trouble. 

 Many Christians have foolishly absorbed the values and messages of the culture. Rather than being brokenhearted by the moral absurdity, many Christians have adopted the same values as those in the culture. Some actively encourage the church to conform on a myriad of issues that were once considered settled from a biblical standpoint. 

The outcome of these two intersecting realities has been disastrous for the church and the culture the church is called to influence and reform. There is little chance for improvement without a speedy course correction. 

That being said.

God is still on His throne and He still good. God is still in the business of redemption and He still does His best work through His people.  God is calling us be the reforming and healing presence this world needs right now. In order to do that we must take a hard look at what is being taught in the church as well as the values the church has absorbed from the culture.  Some corrections are needed. The following four changes would be a good place to start. 

Teach church people that truth cannot become a slave to feelings- 

For a long time, our society accepted the idea that there was no such thing as absolute truth (post-modernism). There were some clear problems with this perspective. The existence of literally billions of easily demonstrable facts being one of the most obvious issues. In recent years many people who argued against the notion of absolute truth have come around and now believe there is such a thing. However, those same folks say truth doesn’t matter, because an individual’s feelings concerning an issue are more important than truth. In other words, truth has become a slave to feelings.  This has been a disaster. It is the number one reason our culture is in intellectual and spiritual chaos. The church cannot control what the culture does or dictate how people think. However, churches can and should teach their own people that feelings, as powerful as they might can will never matter more than what is true. 

Teach the depravity of man- 

Christian leaders made a conscious decision years ago to ditch or at least deemphasize the doctrine of absolute depravity. Absolute depravity is the belief that human beings are completely corrupt and sinful and incapable of saving themselves through good works (Mark 10:18, Job 25:6, Romans 3:12). However, most churches kept teaching that Jesus is the only way to salvation. This led to a great deal of confusion in both the culture and the church. Many think they are awesome “just the way they are” and conclude they don’t need really need Jesus to save them. Others commit themselves to Jesus, not because they are convinced they need Him, but, because they hope Jesus will make them a little bit better than they already are. Without a clear understanding of our need for Jesus (complete depravity) salvation becomes optional sin becomes much easier to both justify and celebrate. Until we return to teaching this critical truth there will be confusion in both the church and the culture concerning the role Jesus plays in our lives.   

Make church a place where questions are welcome but some answers are fixed and unchanging- 

Asking questions is how people learn. Therefore, questions, even tough questions should always be welcome in Christianity. That said, there are some answers that can never change. Christians must stick to their guns on the trustworthiness of the Bible, the way of salvation, the absoluteness of moral truth and what God says about gender and sexuality. If we don’t, all will be lost.  

Embrace the complexity and struggle that comes with loving people like Jesus loved people- 

Jesus routinely spent quality time with sinners’ others were quick to spurn. However, that does not mean He was willing to endorse sinful choices or celebrate depravity. Jesus was quick to remind those He loved they were on a path that would eventually lead to their destruction (John 8:11, Matthew 4:17, Luke 3:7-9, Luke 13:1-5). A willingness to love people while telling them the truth about where their choices will lead them captures the essence of authentic Christian love.  This kind of love is complex and difficult to walk out. Nonetheless, we must find ways to live out our faith in such a way we communicate both love for people and disapproval of their sinful actions.  

As long as we are drawing breath there is always hope and I have hope for both the church and the culture. That said, hope is not a strategy. Christians must work to bring truth back into both the church and the culture. If we don’t we will lose both.    

Why we all Need to get our Butts Back in the Church Building-

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  – Acts 2:42 NIV 

According to Pew Research Center as of March 2021 almost half (forty-three percent) of church members have yet to return to in-person church services. A forty-three percent loss of almost anything is at best unsustainable. At worst such a loss could prove fatal. 

Think about it. 

If a family were to suddenly lose forty-three percent of their savings, the loss would create untold chaos in their financial future. If a nation were to lose forty-three percent of their population the nation would inevitably become weak, ineffectual and find themselves at the mercy of their enemies. The church is no different. A forty-three percent loss of regular attenders is no small deal. 

I totally get that there are some individuals who cannot or should not go back to in-service church attendance at this time.

For the record; 

Elderly folks unable or unwilling to get the COVID vaccine, get a pass on returning to in-person services. The immune compromised, or parents with an immune compromised child are also exempt from returning to in-person services at this time. Those with serious comorbidities who cannot or do not wish to take the vaccine, get a pass on resuming in-person church attendance at least for now. 

Everyone else needs to get their butts back in the church building. 

Pronto. 

Here’s why:

It’s not necessarily going to be smooth sailing from here- 

I do not fancy myself a prophet. That said, the culture has taken a turn for the worse and every fiber of my being tells me that the shaking God has given our world over the course of the last fifteen months is not even close to being over (Hebrews 12:25-27). God will continue to shake our world until people respond to Him in repentance (Revelation 9:20). What the shaking will look like and where it will end are questions far above my meager paygrade.  Nonetheless, it’s not over. More trouble and hardship is coming and the body of Christ will likely not be exempt from the trouble (1st Peter 4:17). If I’m right Christians will need the encouragement and connection they can only get from the body of Christ in order to continue their growth as believers (Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:24-26) When Christians fail to grow spiritually they run the risk their faith will die a slow and painful death that could end in apostasy (Hebrews 6:1-9, Matthew 24:9-11).  Church community is critical because it prevents apostasy.  

The church needs all hands-on deck to accomplish the mission of the Church- 

The mission of the church is clear (Matthew 28:18-19). The church is to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. To accomplish this end church leaders are commanded to teach and train all believers to live out the truth of the gospel so they can reach their unsaved friends and family with the gospel (Ephesians 4:10-12). This task is massive. It demands the whole-body work together to accomplish the mission (Romans 12:4-6, 1st Corinthians 12:17). If one person stays home or refuses to do their part a ball gets dropped that ensures the whole body is less effective than they could have been. 

Christians need the church to stay anchored and spiritually healthy-

Without a solid church to anchor a person to the faith individual believers either drift away from Christianity altogether or they begin to adopt strange theories and attitudes regarding God and Scripture. Strange beliefs make it very difficult to reach others with the gospel. These things happen without the person even realizing they are happening. Regular community involvement in a local church is the only way to prevent drift from taking place and eccentric beliefs from taking root. 

There are some things you cannot experience while watching a screen- 

Online attendance has its limits. It is possible to get the essence of a sermon from an online format. That said, it is impossible to experience unity and connection with other believers alone in your living room. It is also impossible to experience the knitting together of the body that takes place when the whole church worships their God in one accord (Acts 2:42-47, Revelation 7:9-10). It is also impossible to effectively use one’s individual gifts to grow the body of Christ while isolated from the body of Christ. We need each other for all these things.  

This pandemic is winding down- 

An estimated thirty percent of the population has recovered from COVID-19 and has natural immunity, another fifty percent of the population has had at least one COVID vaccination. This is a clear indicator it is time for God’s people to ditch their fear and get back to the business of living hard for Jesus.  

The bottom-line in all this is that we go to church because God tells us to and it is the pattern we see throughout the entire Bible. We cannot say we love God and refuse to do what He says (John 14:15, 1st John 5:2, Hebrews 10:25) at least not without experiencing dire consequences. In this case consequences could include a slow separation from God that gives the devil a foothold in our lives and place for sin and even apostasy to take root. Nobody who really knows Jesus wants that. In order to prevent it we all need to get our butts back into the church building. 

Now.  

The Real Reason we are Miserable-

There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths– Job 24:13 NIV 

Humans lucky enough to live in Western countries exist in a time when all people— regardless of race, gender or socio-economic status have more rights, more comforts, more freedoms and more opportunities than those at any other time in history. Our ancient ancestors likely lacked the mental framework and practical experience to even dream of a time like ours, where both men and women of any station in life have the right to live freely, pursue their dreams and follow their desires anywhere they lead. Life in the twenty-first century is not perfect. There is always room for improvement in a fallen world. That being said, life is, in most respects better than it’s ever been.   

All that being provably true. It is also true that those who live in Western countries are becoming meaner and more personally miserable with each passing day.  

Crime and acts of violence have become bizarrely commonplace in some places. Random citizens minding their own business have been physically attacked by complete strangers for no good reason. Attempting to ruin the reputation and careers of those with opposing viewpoints (canceling people) has become a routine reaction to opinions and beliefs that make some uncomfortable. 

Furthermore. 

The 2019 World Happiness Report reports that people everywhere are feeling far less happy and personally content than in previous times.  This is true for all Western countries, all age groups and for those from every socio-economic situation. This almost universal feeling of despondency has led to more depression, more anxiety, more substance abuse and more self-harm. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse and self-harm create a cycle of loneliness, isolation and hopelessness which leads to even more depression, anxiety, substance abuse and self-harm.  Sigh. 

The question is why? 

Truth-be-told not many in our culture are truly oppressed, abused or burdened by life. Neither are the majority hungry, without shelter or lacking in basic human needs. Most in Western countries have an almost unlimited access to education, entertainment and creature comforts previous generations could only dream of. In spite of these blessings many fight a sense of hopelessness and unhappiness. For some this leads to a desire to hurt or punish anyone who is different from themselves. 

So, why, have we as a culture become so mean and miserable? 

The answer is not all that complicated. Our culture concluded decades ago that the whole notion there is a God who has a right to tell us what to do and how to live is silly, foolish, antiquated and possibly even evil. The majority believes deep down that they are the ultimate authority of what is right and wrong, good and evil. For the most part humanity has kicked God to the curb. Most individuals operate as if they are their own God. 

It’s not working out super well. 

 Society has rejected the obvious reality of male and female, instead embracing the madness that human gender is a choice we get to make (Genesis 1:26). Humans have also concluded God’s design for the family is irrelevant and unnecessary. Instead the culture has embraced single-parent families as a norm to be celebrated rather than a sometimes necessary but always unfortunate reality of living in a fallen world. These choices have had devastating consequences. The epidemic of single parenting has resulted in many Moms and Dads being far less focused on raising their offspring than on finding the “love of their life”. This has left millions of children to more or less raise themselves looking for answers to life’s biggest questions from gangs, sexual relationships and the drug culture. Our cultures insistence on going our own way in the arena of sexuality has guaranteed that both boys and girls lack proper role models for marriage and family. This ensures that the cycle of sexual and family dysfunction will continue for generations to come. The masses have chosen to reject God. The choice to hate or even simply to ignore God always causes pride and self-sufficiency to take root in the hearts of those who make that choice. Pride and a self-sufficient spirit inevitably leads to hostility and fear of “the other” leading to random acts of violence and vicious power struggles between people groups. 

What we are experiencing in our culture is not weird.  It is simply the natural consequence of rejecting God and ignoring the mission He gave mankind (Genesis 1:27-28).

The church cannot control what the culture thinks or does. 

However, church people can choose to be the salt and light this world so desperately and obviously needs right now. Being salt and light begins with the routine habit of examining ourselves to see if we are really living out the reality that God is (2nd Corinthians 13:5). If some part of our lives does not align with the Bible we need to make immediate changes. Not just because God does not bless sin but more importantly because it is our responsibility as Christians to live our lives for God and in obedience to God. When we do that the world sees that God’s design for sex and family works and that human beings are the most joyful, most fulfilled and least hateful when they are living out God’s mission for humanity (Deuteronomy 6:5, Micah 6:8, 1st Peter 2:17) 

How Conflict can Actually Save A Marriage-

So, I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you wont be doing what your sinful nature craves.  Galatians 5:16 NLT

 I have had the opportunity to see a lot of marriages go the distance. Unfortunately, through the years I have also seen a lot of divorces.

Because the vast majority of my friends are Christians, most of the divorces I have witnessed were between couples I am convinced are genuine Christians.  The saddest and most common divorces have been between what I call “long-haulers”.

Long-haulers are couples who stay quietly but miserably married for two, sometimes three or even four decades. Then, seemingly out of nowhere the couple announces to the shock of everyone they know they are divorcing. 

Divorce is always sad but these types of divorces are heartbreaking on multiple levels. These couples almost always feel as if they have “wasted” the best, most productive years of their life in a relationship that brought little real intimacy or joy. Long-haulers nearly always have kids, grandkids, a vast network of friends and a church family who are all psychologically, emotionally and/or spiritually impacted by the divorce. And finally, there is nearly always a disturbing lack of emotional, spiritual and sometimes even intellectual growth in long-haulers. Sometimes this is due to sin in the lives of the couple. However, most of the time the lack of growth occurs because both partners are too busy trying to manage the pain of the relationship to focus on their own spiritual development and health (Hebrews 2:1-3). 

The “reason” given for divorce in these types of marriages is almost always the hazy, vague catch-all term: “irreconcilable differences”. In most cases “irreconcilable differences” really means there was conflict in the marriage that was never really dealt with openly (Ephesians 4:26). The unresolved issue became, over time, a cancer in the relationship that eventually led to the death of the relationship. Sometimes the conflict was over sex.  Either they didn’t have much of it at all over the course of the marriage or one person in the relationship was having way more of it than the other (Exodus 20:14, 1st Corinthians 7:3-5, 1st Corinthians 6:18).  Sometimes, the conflict was over communication. At some point it broke down and they stopped talking about everything in life that really matters, leading to isolation.  Other times the conflict was over things as mundane as the division of labor in the relationship or as complex as money and how its allocated in the marriage. 

Here’s the thing:

Every long-hauler I have known has admitted that their marriage probably could have been saved if they had been willing to deal with the problems in the relationship early on. Many have also revealed they feared that having a fight would make the problems worse. Their fear kept them from initiating conflict that might have led to relational healing and a restoration of intimacy. 

The 5th Century Chinese military leader Sun Tzu said “sometimes the path to peace is war”. Nowhere is this truer than in marriage. Conflicts that bring issues out into the open where they can be discussed and dealt with openly are the only path to true peace in a relationship.  Following are four ways to leverage conflict for a healthy marriage:  

If there’s a problem find a way to discuss it- 

It doesn’t matter what kind of problems are present in the marriage. The problem can be sex, kids, interactions with parents, chores or money. The reality is any problem that gets pushed to the margins does not actually go anywhere.  All this does is give the problem space to fester and grow. At some point it will begin having an adverse effect on the rest of the relationship. If you can’t find a way to talk productively to each other get a professional involved. Whatever you do, don’t just hope the problems go away. They won’t. If you don’t fix it now the problem will still be there in thirty years and you will want a divorce. 

Deal with trust issues openly and honestly- 

Frequently, at the root of poor or blocked communication in marriage is a trust issue. This usually happens because there has been a history of shady behavior with one partner. Shady behavior can include emotional and/or physical affairs, use of pornography, verbal abuse, mishandling money or any other behavior that has caused one person to become distrustful of the other. The only way to deal with a trust issue is through talking about it openly so real healing can take place in the relationship. Oftentimes a professional is needed to help heal the hurt. 

No blaming or shaming when you talk about an issue- 

The problem should be the enemy not your partner. This means finding a way to deal with the issue at hand without being accusatory or cruel. 

No quitting till the problem is worked out- 

The most important rule in conflict management in marriage: no one gets to quit until the issues are truly resolved and healthy change has taken place in the relationship.

Marriage is meant to be a picture of the relationship between Jesus and His people. It is the place where children are nurtured into adulthood. If marriage is done right it becomes a safe place for two people to grow into the image of Jesus. Those are the things worth fighting hard for.

 Literally. 

Five Massive Errors the Church is Making Right Now-

You will know how people ought to conduct themselves in Gods household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth– 1st Timothy 3:15 NIV

Every generation of Christians has had its own unique set of excesses and errors. The 1980’s church was filled with dramatic personal “testimonies”. Many of which turned out to be crazy-pants lies. The 1990’s church became consumed with end times prophecy. Leaving many Christians looking like fanatical nut-jobs. The late 1990’s and 2000’s birthed the well-intended but tragically misguided purity movement. The movement inadvertently drove Christian dating completely underground and left a whole generation feeling an unhealthy level shame due to natural sexual desires intended to keep the human race in the business of reproduction.   

Sigh. 

Today’s church is struggling to share the gospel in a culture shaped by events in church world that have created a toxic spiritual environment for reaching the lost. In one sense our generation is no different. Like previous generations of believers, the spiritual mistakes and doctrinal errors of our time will be felt in the future. Believers in coming years will undoubtedly struggle to undo the consequences of our own unique lack of spiritual insight and wisdom. 

However. 

In some ways what this generation thinks and does matters more. Not because we are inherently more important than past generations. We’re not.  But because technology has given humanity the ability to spread bad ideas, misinformation, and wrong thinking faster than ever before. This is one of the reasons the church today is struggling in such profound ways. Thanks to advances in technology the spiritual errors and excesses of the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s had a much deeper reach into the culture than the errors and excesses of previous generations.  Following are a few of the more dangerous ideas floating around this generation. 

Starting with: 

I can be a Christian and reject everything the Bible teaches- 

No one can. It is true that no one comes to faith automatically believing the “right way”. We all have to be taught. It is also true that there is some room for disagreement on some of the particulars of what the “right way” is. However, to reject what God says about Himself as well His clear instructions pertaining to sexuality, gender and justice as well as His standards of right and wrong is to reject God Himself. One simply cannot reject God and still be a Christian. Period. It just doesn’t work like that.  

Bible knowledge doesn’t matter- 

This is usually preceded by a reference to 1st Corinthians 8:1 where Paul states “knowledge puffs up while love builds up”. Context is key here.  The apostle Paul wasn’t talking about spiritual or Bible knowledge in general terms. He was talking specifically about knowledge related to eating food that had once been sacrificed to an idol (1st Corinthians 8:1-13). Some Corinthian church members had become aware that food sacrificed to idols was just food and began openly and arrogantly eating that food in public spaces. This created all sorts of confusion for less-mature Christians who didn’t understand that food is just food. Some of them had rejected Jesus and returned to idol worship in response to the freedom they saw other Christians exercising. It would be absurd to assume the man who wrote well over half of the New Testament’s instructive passages was somehow opposed to people learning the Bible. It is true that people can become prideful about what they know about the Bible without really applying biblical truth to their lives. That does not make biblical ignorance somehow superior to spiritual knowledge.      

 Bible knowledge is the most important thing-

It is important, critical even. Those who do not acquire basic biblical knowledge rarely stay believers for very long (Matthew 13:18-23). That being said, knowledge is not the most important thing. Having our hearts transformed so we become a loving reflection of Jesus is (Romans 12:2, 2nd Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3:1-17). However, even that requires at least rudimentary Bible knowledge. So, there’s that. 

Christians can be spiritually formed outside of spiritual community-  

Individual believers are always at their most healthy when they are living in community with other Christians (Acts 2:42-47). This is because God designed people to be like Him (Genesis 1:27). God is a community within Himself (Genesis 1:26, Isaiah 46:16, Matthew 3:16-17). As a result, we were literally made to need other Christians in order to grow and mature (1st Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 10:24-25). Without healthy community individual Christians either drift away from church altogether or they adopt strange pseudo-biblical beliefs that make it very hard for them to effectively share their faith. 

We don’t need to half the Church to make the Church work- 

Men and women were intended to work together to bring about God’s purposes in this world (Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:18). Anytime church leaders think they can do church without the contributions of half the church something valuable and vital will be missing in that church community. That loss will affect the churches ability to effectively reach the lost and disciple Christians God has placed in their care. 

The church in the west stands at a crossroads (Jeremiah 6:16). We can continue down the path we have been on for years. If we do, the church will continue to lose influence and we will see our culture continue to disintegrate into moral bedlam. The other option is to do the hard work of correcting the errors we have fallen into.  This route will be much more challenging but it will pay dividends that will be felt for generations.