When Unity Hurts the Church-

 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared”- Matthew 13:24-26 NIV

 

There are some things I believe with all my heart, mind soul and being.

 I believe God is, always has been, and will always be (Jeremiah 10:10, Revelation 21:6). God is one God with three distinctive expressions of Himself. He is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all at once (Genesis 1:26, Deuteronomy 6:4, Matthew 28:19, 1st Timothy 2:5). Jesus came to earth as a baby, grew into a man, lived a sinless life and sacrificed Himself to liberate the human race from the bondage of sin and death. In doing so, Jesus created a new people out of those who place their faith and trust in Him (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, 1st Peter 2:4-6). These people are the Church and they serve as God’s ambassadors on earth (2nd Corinthians 5:20). The primary responsibility of the Church is to show the unbelieving world through their holiness, words and demonstrations of grace that God is who He says He is.  In my view the Church is at its most influential when Christians choose work together towards the common goal of making Christ known to all the world.

  I do not believe Christians should divide over trifling doctrinal issues or stupid stuff willy-nilly. (John 11:52). Back in the day, I worked as the director of a Pregnancy Resource Center. The position afforded me many opportunities to work closely with believers from many different expressions of Christianity. I very rarely felt the differences in beliefs were so great I could not work with leaders from other churches.

 That being said. 

This week I was forced to do some thinking about some of my beliefs. It all began with an article about a podcast. That article inspired me to listen to the interview between Jen Hatmaker and Max Lucado. For those not “in the know” Jen Hatmaker is a very touchy-feely, fairly well-known author, blogger and Christian influencer who hosts a popular podcast. She markets herself as an Evangelical but promotes liberal views on theology, gender issues, and is a supporter of gay marriage. She has said on more than one occasion she believes homosexual relationships can be “holy”.

 Max Lucado is a much-loved and well-known Evangelical author and pastor who tends to be conservative in his views. He implied several times during the interview he doesn’t agree with her on every issue but he was incredibly generous with his praise and he essentially endorsed her ministry.

 Throughout their discussion Max Lucado made it clear he believes unity in the Body of Christ should be a very high priority for believers. As long as Christians agree on the “fundamentals of Christianity” little else matters. The fundamentals include belief in the life, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Max Lucado is not the only Christian who feels those issues are the only issues Christians should divide over. Those have been the standard for Christian fellowship for decades.

 So, a couple of things.

 I would never encourage professing Christians to be unkind to other professing Christians. The Bible is clear that Christians should be known by their love for one another. Therefore, meanness and hate is never acceptable (John 13:35).

 However, I do think it is time for Christians to think long and hard about where we draw the line on endorsing ministries, influencers and Bible teachers. What a person teaches regarding sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular really does matter. It should be taken into consideration before we follow, align ourselves with or endorse anyone.  

 Here’s why.  

  Not every issue Christians disagree about is black and white. There are shades of grey and room for differences of opinion concerning some issues (eschatology, politics, Calvinism, Arminianism, expressions of worship, etc.). However, issues pertaining to sexuality, homosexuality and the number of genders that exist are settled issues. The Bible clearly teaches homosexuality is a sin. Moreover, God made humans in His image, male and female, only, period. (Genesis 1:27, Leviticus 20:13,1st Timothy 1:9-11, 1st Corinthians 6:9)

 It is true that homosexual sin is no more or less sinful than heterosexual sin (1st Corinthians 6:18). That said, homosexuality and gender are not up for debate from a biblical perspective (for more on this issue I highly recommend: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, by Kevin Deyoung). To teach otherwise is more than just an affirmation of “love”. It is an all-out-full-frontal assault on the inerrancy of Scripture. It is impossible to say we believe the Bible in its entirety and then teach that it is completely wrong on issues of sexuality.

 The Bible calls for unity in the Church. However, unity should never come at the expense of truth and sound doctrine. The books of Jude, 2nd Timothy and 2nd Peter all predict there will come a time when teachers will slip into the church and teach false doctrines and half-truths that will appeal to the fleshly (sinful) nature of humanity and lead people away from the true gospel (2nd Timothy 4:3, 2nd Peter 2:1 Jude 4). Christians are advised to avoid those kinds of teachers.

 The Bible says what it says about sexuality. We do not get to rewrite the opinions of our Creator. When we try we end up in a place where everyone in the church does what is right in their own eyes. When that happens, standards of right and wrong are lost and the Church loses its spiritual power and ability to change the culture.  

 

  

How Evil Takes Root-

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done- Romans 1:28 NIV

 

Recently, I found myself in the unenviable position of attempting to encourage a relative of a professed Christian who is deep in the weeds of an ugly addiction. The addict flatly refuses to repent of their sin or even entertain the notion that their sin is a problem let alone a sin. To the dismay of the entire family the addict is willfully refusing to see the effect their sin is having on the lives of those they profess to love. Further complicating the whole messy mess, the addict is actively attempting to manipulate friends and family into believing that their perception of the situation is faulty and the obvious is not really true.  The addict has lost a lot and is on the verge of losing even more if they don’t make some changes.

 Sigh.

 According to the Apostle Paul individuals become fully entangled in sinful patterns of behavior because they develop an evil and “depraved mind” (Romans 1:28, Hebrews 12:1). Deceitfulness, addiction and the refusal to deal with issues related to dishonesty and addiction are not the only indications of a corrupted and depraved mind. Nor is evil and depravity reserved for serial killers, sex traffickers and child molesters. Anyone who runs headlong with reckless abandonment into sinful behavior and is determined to keep on keeping on in their sin is likely suffering from a corrupt and depraved mind.

 The Bible does not exclude professed Christians from thinking or behaving in ways ultimately lead to a depraved mind. Like most issues in life prevention is key. Once wrong thinking leads to an entrenched pattern of immoral behavior it is difficult (but not impossible) to come back from it (Luke 18:27).

 It is critical we remember that people, even unsaved people do not become evil or depraved in a day.  Developing a depraved mind is a process that begins with the willful decision to ignore a known truth about God. For an unbeliever this can be as simple as choosing to deny the existence of a Creator despite all the evidence that exists to the contrary (Romans 1:18-20).

 For Christians it begins with choosing to ignore a straightforward New Testament command (Hebrews 12:25). The next step is choosing to disregard the guilt that goes along with choosing to sin.  Then the person becomes bloated (metaphorically speaking) with pride. Pride convinces them they are beyond all the silly rules other Christians have to follow. They convince themselves they are special enough to sin without the consequences lesser humans inevitably suffer. Then they actively resist accountability by dodging anyone who might possibly attempt to talk them out of their chosen course of action. Eventually, sin becomes an addiction and the driving force in their lives. At this point the addictive behavior (sin) is just a symptom of a bigger sin: idolatry (1st John 5:21).

 Okay, so, a couple of things:

 First, when we see these situations in the lives of professed Christians we should never tell ourselves we are better than they are. That response indicates pride. Pride is a serious sin to be avoided at all costs. Partly because once we start thinking like that we are more likely to get tangled-up in the same sins (Mark 8:15, 1st Corinthians 10:12) and partly because pride is just super gross (Proverbs 18:13, 2nd Chronicles 26:16). Nor, should we ever help anyone escape the consequences of the choices they have made. The technical term for helping people avoid the natural consequences of their choices is codependence. The problem with codependence is that codependent people secretly think they know more than God does about what will actually help people. God knows everything about everything and He brings consequences into the lives of people because He is constantly working to mold Christians into the image of Jesus (2nd Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3). No good ever comes from helping people avoid what God is using to make them healthier, wiser, and more like Jesus.

 Secondly, we should always be alert to sin in our own lives. The human heart is capable of an insane level of self-deception when it comes to sin (Jeremiah 17:9).  For that reason it is possible for Christians to be half-way to a depraved mind and not even know it. Therefore, it is critically important we take every opportunity to self-examine and evaluate our own moral and spiritual condition (2nd Corinthians 13:5).

 Finally, anytime we see another Christian struggling with sin our first response should always be to pray for them, not judge them. Once we’ve done that we need to beg God for the wisdom, grace and supernatural insight to know how to be Jesus to them in their time of need.   

 

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Being A Good Christian

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.  – 1st John 2:4 NIV

 This morning I read an article that left me heartbroken for the body of Christ. The piece was about a well-known Christian “influencer” who has made his mark on the world as a wordsmith. His career has consisted of crafting pithy little sayings to encourage other Christians. Well— it turns out that at least some of those sayings were not really his, they were “borrowed” from other speakers, authors and historical figures. As someone who spends a good deal of my time crafting not-so-pithy compositions to encourage Christians I do not see anything wrong with wordsmithing, influencing or encouraging.

 However.

 There is something very wrong with stealing other people’s ideas and intellectual property and presenting them as our own.

 The whole messy mess got me thinking about a lot of things. Like grey areas, right and wrong and the hazards of “influencing” when influencing for Jesus morphs into self-promotion. It occurred to me that there is very little agreement about what a Christian should “look like” in our day and age.

 The standard definition of a Christian is someone who has dedicated their life to following the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. Figuring out what the Christian life should look like in our world is not as cut-and-dried as it once was. Even concepts as elementary as love can be confusing if we have the wrong definition. What Christianity should look like is something we need to figure out fast because if we don’t we will ultimately fail at the most basic assignment Christians have been tasked with (Matthew 28:19-20).  Following are five do’s and two don’ts that will empower us to live the Christian life successfully in our messy mess of a world.

Christians Do-

 Judge sometimes-

 The notion that Christians should never judge is a misinterpretation of Scripture and a lie straight out of the pit of hell. It is true Christians should never judge whether or not another person is worthy of forgiveness or heaven, that is always God’s call to make (Matthew 7:2, Luke 6:37). That being said, Christians are called to make judgments concerning right and wrong (Luke 12:57, John 7:24, Acts 4:18-20, 1st Corinthians 5:12). Anytime we stop judging the actions of ourselves and others we quickly devolve to an ugly place where everyone does “what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). When that happens, we forfeit our power to influence others in a healthy way (Matthew 5:13).

Love People-

 Okay, so, this is a bit of a given. Even demons and the foulest of unbelievers understand that love is one of the defining marks of a Christ-follower (John 13:34-35). However, some Christians do not get that Christian love is multifaceted and complex. It protects, encourages and believes the best in others but it also cautions, corrects and sometimes even rebukes (1st Corinthians 4:14-20, 1st Thessalonians 5:14).  Jesus loved the Pharisees enough to die for them but that didn’t stop Him from warning them of the consequences they would encounter if they continued to live in opposition to the will of God (Luke 11:11-53).  If we really want to love like Jesus loved we have to embrace every aspect of Christian love—not just the parts and pieces that make people like us. 

Do good-

 Christians are commanded constantly in Scripture to “do good” (Galatians 6:9, 2nd Thessalonians 3: 13, Titus 1:6, Titus 2:7, 1st Peter 2:12). The specifics of “doing good” are left somewhat up to the discretion of individual Christians. In the New Testament “doing good” always involved helping people, providing for the less fortunate and avoiding sin. Doing good is not about being “the next big thing” or “a big deal” in the Church. It’s about doing what God called you to do to the best of your ability right where He put you. 

Tell the truth-

 This does not just mean Christians don’t lie.  It also means we live our lives openly and we fight the human tendency to compartmentalize and hide our sin rather than confess and repent (Matthew 3:8, James 5:16).   

 Obey Jesus-

  Obedience is a mark of an authentic Christian (John 14:23-24). When we obey Jesus we love people, hate sin, tell the truth and honor God. If we would all just do our best to obey Jesus most problems we have in the body of Christ would be a nonissue.

Christians don’t-

 Mess with the word of God-

 Contrary to popular opinion not every biblical issue is always black and white, there are some grey areas. It’s reasonable for Christians to debate (among other things) how often to take communion, the role of women in the church (Judges 4-5, Romans 16:1), whether or not Christians should use alcohol and exactly how political a church ought to be.  However, most issues hotly debated today (homosexuality, premarital sex, gender issues, adultery) were settled long ago and should be treated that way.  

 Hate people-

 This one is easier in theory than in practice. (Matthew 10:22).  This is especially true when we are hated, openly mocked and persecuted just for loving Jesus.  Nonetheless, our calling is clear: Jesus wants us to love those who hate us and to do good to people who hate us (Luke 6:27-28). It is simply impossible for anyone to obey this command in their own power. It can only be accomplished through the emboldening and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (2nd Corinthians 12:8-10)

 Christians who wish to make a difference in this world never shy away from the calling we all have to repent and be constantly transformed into the image of Jesus even if that means being a little less popular and successful by worldly standards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The One Thing Every Christian Can Do to Improve the Culture-

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge- Hosea 4:6a NKJV


I had a couple of rude awaking’s this past week.

 The first came by way of a blogpost I ran across on social media.  It was written by a Christian Mother who is helping her twelve-year-old son transition from male to female. The mother is “openly queer” the wife of a pastor, writer, speaker and LGTBQ activist.  Her “daughter” was featured in a recent issue of People Magazine. In the post the Mother speaks proudly about her child undergoing a second surgical procedure to halt puberty, so that her son can become her “daughter”.  Mom expresses her gratitude to God for “topnotch medical care” and a church willing to provide health insurance for her “daughter’s medical treatments.

 Sigh.

 The second situation was less directly messy. However, it is, in my opinion more worrisome. Mostly, because the flawed thinking was far more nuanced and subtler than the first.

 A man I am choosing to assume is young because if he is not he has a lot of growing-up to do replied to a comment I made on social media. He boldly declared that Christians who support the current president in any way are “idolatrous bootlickers”. He also strongly suggested that Christians who support the President aren’t really Christians at all and in very real danger of going to hell. He felt it’s reasonable to make those rather harsh judgments because: 1. The president has sinned. 2. He does not have the proof he needs to determine whether or not the President has truly repented. 3. the church refuses to hold the president to the standard found in 1st Corinthians 5:9-11 (Paul insists a sinning person be put out of the church and Christians refuse to associate with that person until they repent) 4. He doesn’t think the President is fit to lead.

 I initially responded to both situations with a cursory eye-roll and face-palm and moved on.  Later I realized that both situations illustrate a growing problem in Christian churches:

 The Mother claims to be a Christian but appears to be lacking the knowledge base to understand that God is all-knowing and all-wise. For whatever reason, she has not grasped the basic truth that God does not make mistakes, nor do events on earth escape God’s attention. Apparently, she does not know, and is therefore incapable of teaching her child the truth that God wants her child to be the gender he was given at conception (Genesis 1:31).  The child should not be affirmed, rather he should be taught that gender is not an accident of fate, nor is it something we have a “right” to alter willy-nilly. The Bible is clear that if we don’t agree with the Creator on an issue it is our responsibility to get on board with God, not to take matters into our own hands and attempt to change reality.  The woman seems to be ignorant of the fact that God is infallible and we are not. Human beings are led by emotional impulses, faulty information and flights of fancy. God on the other hand has access to information we do not and He is always right.  Therefore, if we choose to fight God’s choice regarding our gender (or anything else) we run the risk of producing massive levels of regret and chaos. However, the only way to know all that is to know the overarching message of the Bible not just a few verses taken out of context.

 The second issue is different. The man did not seem to understand what the Bible says about secular leaders. First off, every human being has sinned, the president is not special (Romans 3:23). The only instruction the New Testament gives Christians concerning secular leaders is that we obey them and pray for them (1st Timothy 2:1-3, Romans 13:1-7). Furthermore, very few people know the president well enough to know if he is even a Christian and should be held to the standard found in 1st Corinthians.  Even if the President is a Christian there have been no issues of gross immorality we know of since taking office (braggadocios tweeting does not constitute gross immorality). Even God does not hold our sins against us forever if we repent. Lastly, America is not a theocracy. Therefore, Christians should be careful about judging political leaders. It is perfectly acceptable to pray out, vote out, or in extreme cases throw out a leader because they are grossly corrupt, unjust or evil. However, it is not acceptable to throw out a leader simply because we dislike their demeanor or deem them unfit to lead (Romans 13:1).

 We must never forget that expecting flawless perfection from a leader is dangerous. The Bible promises that someday there will be a flawless political leader. He will be the antichrist and some Christians will swear allegiance to him because he fits the mold of an “ideal” leader (Matthew 24:24).  

 Okay. So, here’s the thing.

 The above-mentioned examples are of people who do not have a firm grasp on what the Bible teaches about some key issues. However, the real question is how many Christians would be able to recognize those flaws and explain them to someone else?

 The answer is very few because Christians are quickly becoming biblically illiterate.

 Our culture wouldn’t be in such a spiritual muddle if the average church person were capable of parsing out flawed thinking regarding biblical issues and gently correcting wrong thinking. The one thing every Christian can do to improve the culture is to be intentional about becoming biblically literate.  Get into the word this year, learn what it says, commit to understanding what the Bible says as a whole rather than picking out pieces and parts we like to obey. Then commit to living out God’s truth in a gentle and gracious way that draws others into the Kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

 

Six Principles That Will Keep any Relationship Healthy, Happy and Thriving-

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift~ Matthew 5:23-24

 Relationships.

 The blessing and curse of human existence.

 When our closest relationships are healthy and thriving, there is little in this life more rewarding.  When a close relationship goes bad there is literally nothing more miserable and angst-inducing.  

 In our chaotic, sin-sick world fragmented relationships are pretty much a given. Almost half of marriages end in divorce, friendships end as quickly as they begin, business associations rarely stand the test of time and churches routinely split over the stupidest stuff imaginable. We live in a culture that has trained us to believe that life is “all about me”. This creates an environment where it feels natural to treat relationships like disposable commodities. We have basically forgotten the principle found in Proverbs that reminds us never to forsake a friend or the friend of a family member- (Proverbs 27:10a)

 The Bible clearly teaches that Christians bear an extra measure of responsibility when it comes to the care, keeping and healing of relationships. We are reminded over and over again in Scripture that human relationships are not always easy but the difficulties involved in maintaining healthy relationships will make us better people (Proverbs 27:6, Proverbs 27:17).  Christians are directed to treat others the way they want to be treated and encouraged to take the initiative when it comes to reconciling broken relationships (Matthew 7:12, Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 5:23-24, Luke 12:58). Repairing damaged relationships and helping others to do the same is probably the most basic task Christians are called to in this life (2nd Corinthians 5:12-18) The process begins with understanding and choosing to live out the following six principles:

 If something feels wrong assume something is wrong-

 Never trivialize or ignore the niggling sense you may have caused offense or alienated another person (Proverbs 18:19). When in doubt ask how the other person is feeling and/or modify your behavior. The earlier a damaged relationship is attended to the simpler it is to repair.

 Do not short-circuit the recovery process-

 Anytime we jump to simply restoring a broken relationship without working through the issues that fractured the relationship in the first place we set in motion a series of events that will inevitably lead to even more brokenness and hurt. Problems need to be talked out, not glossed over if we want to see permanent recovery in the relationship and personal growth in ourselves. 

 Be willing to assume at least partial responsibility for any relationship fracture-  

 I truly loathe the adage: “perception is reality”. Mostly because if you really break it down it sounds like something a really crazy person would say. However, when it comes to hurt in relationships perception really is reality. It is critical we remember ALL human beings tend to be self-absorbed and blind to their own faults. For that reason, it is possible to hurt another person without knowing how we hurt them. Healthy, mature believers are always open to the idea that they may not understand how their words or actions have affected another person

 Accept the other person’s opinions regarding the situation-

 If someone lets you know the relationship has been broken or feels they were wronged by you it is not wise, kind or emotionally intelligent to write that person off as stupid, incorrect, easily hurt or just plain clueless. As Christians we owe it to God and people to find out why others feel the way they feel about situations that involve us—even when we truly believe we have done nothing wrong.  Not caring about the other persons side of things is both narcissistic and grossly sinful.  The only time we are free from the obligation of exploring the other person’s perspective is if the individual flatly refuses to communicate with us.

 Be willing to let some things go-

 Our personal relationships matter to God because relationship health is a measure of our spiritual health and maturity level. It is also reasonable to say that from God’s perspective relationships are nearly always worth preserving (Proverbs 17:9). The key to achieving relationship health is a willingness to let some things go. Cruelty, gas lighting, unfaithfulness in marriage or flagrant disrespect for the other person is never okay. That said, most other issues can be worked through if both parties are willing to listen, change and forgive.

Choose to view relationship troubles as opportunities for growth- 

 No normal, healthy or sane human being likes relationship issues. That said, truly mature people view all problems including relationship problems as an opportunity for growth rather than a hassle or a personal attack.

 The health of our relationships is a measure of our maturity. It is also a reflection of the power of our God in the eyes of unbelievers. A God who has the power to impact our relationships is a God worth following. For that reason Christians should do everything they can do to ensure their relationships are healthy and God honoring. 

 

We Don’t Need More Christian Values-

 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead- Philippians 3:10-11 NIV

 Eleven years ago, a group of parents in our community became troubled by the lack of moral values that were rampant in our area. The parents approached the local schoolboard. After a series of meetings, the Central Valley School District decided to go all-in with values education. A committee was formed.  The committee came up with a program still used today that systematically teaches values and positive character qualities to children in public schools beginning in kindergarten.

 The values chosen were universally acknowledged as virtuous and helpful.  They were respect, responsibility, citizenship, caring, fairness, honesty, diligence, trustworthiness, courage, integrity, generosity and gratitude. 

 For the record, I have no idea how many of the parents on that committee where Christians. At that time, we lived in a neighboring district and I was not on the committee, nor was I friends with anyone on the committee. However, it did not escape my notice that every character quality on the list was in alignment with New Testament teachings. Furthermore, the definitions for each trait could have been written by an experienced Sunday school teacher. For example, the definition chosen for the citizenship value was:

 Positively contributing to society and community as well as dutifully respecting authority and the law.

 So, that sounds a bit like a synopsis of Romans 13:1-7 to me. But who am I to say what motivated the writer of the definition?

 Any-hoo.

 Last week I noticed one of the schools near our home had the character trait of the month and its definition (caring) on its reader board. The sign reminded me of the movement eleven years ago to bring “values” back into our community. 

 It occurred to me as I was driving home that little has improved in our community over the course of the last decade. Most kids (and adults) still lack the values those parents fought to have taught. Common courtesy is far less common now than it was then. Property crime occurs at a much higher rate than it did ten years ago. Our community has experienced one school shooting in recent years and nearly every social problem under the sun has increased in the years since the program was implemented.  

 Why, after all the years, all the tax dollars spent and all the hours put into teaching and training kids have we seen so little improvement in the moral climate of our community? 

 It is not the fault of parents who battled to bring values education into the schools. Those parents followed their conscience and worked their tails off to make a difference. That kind of moral courage is never wrong.  Nor, should the blame be laid at the feet of the school system. In a post-modern, post-values, post-Christian world some very brave leaders took a risk and made a valiant attempt at standing up for some timeless truths. That kind of bravery should always be celebrated. 

 The fault lies with society at large. For well over a century, individuals have wanted and, in some cases, even insisted that Christian values be taught without all the pesky ethical teaching that accompanies Christianity. Our culture wants nice people who practice Christian generosity in the event of a natural disaster or tragedy. We want people who are benevolent, compassionate and nice. We want people who tell the truth as Christianity demands.

 However, we do not wish to be burdened with any moral restrictions that might mess with our personal choices. We do not want Christianity meddling with our sex lives or telling us what we can or can’t watch on television. We for sure do not want Christianity to inform our views concerning drug legalization or childrearing practices.  

 The problem with this kind of thinking is that it will work for a generation or two, perhaps even three. When Christianity is authentic it is powerful enough that Christian virtues (patience, kindness, temperance, generosity, self-discipline) will live on in succeeding generations who don’t really know Christ. However, sooner or later the veneer of Christianity will begin to wear off of society and when that happens the society will begin to unravel.

 That is what we see happening today. Western Civilization has been living in the shadow of the blessings prior generations earned through their genuine faith in Christ (Deuteronomy 28, 1st Samuel 15:22, Psalm 128:1-3, John 14:23, 2nd John 1:6).  As those blessings fade we are left with the dregs of a post-Christian reality: disobedient children, corrupt politicians, lawlessness, sexual chaos, broken families and random violence (Ezekiel 23:35, 2nd Timothy 3:1-5).

 We will never get our homes, churches, community or country back to a place of blessing by painting society with yet another whitewashing of Christian virtues. We need Christianity not just Christian virtues. Christians need to get back to the business of repentance and making disciples. It all starts with making sure our own heart is right with God and other people. Once that is done Christians need to get into their communities with God’s truth and love.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dumbest Thing We Do-

A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it~ Job 4:12 NIV

At this point, everyone with access to the Internet and a news channel has probably at least heard about the latest Peloton commercial. The one where the man gives his wife an insanely expensive exercise bike on Christmas morning. The 107-pound woman (who does not look like see NEEDS an exercise bike) squeals with joy when she sees her gift. Then for some reason never fully explained she spends the following year recording EVERYTHING she does with the bike. The commercial ends with her practically weeping tears of joy as she describes how the Peloton has transformed her life.  

It stands to reason that the advertising professionals at Peloton were assuming viewers would see the ad as a sweet and uplifting story of a man loving his woman the way she wants to be loved. They were probably also hoping potential buyers would see the wife’s blissful reaction to the gift and be motivated to plunk down $2,245.00 for the bike plus $39.00 a month for the streaming service and iOS app. The streaming service and app are required throughout the first year of ownership.  

That’s not exactly how things worked out.

  Social media lit up like a Christmas tree with opinions over the ad. Men and women alike claimed the ad was “sexist”, “dystopian” and “cringe-worthy”.  One or two twitter users even suggested Peloton ought to be charged with sexual misconduct for producing the ad in the first place. Peloton stock took an ugly tumble.  

That was not all. 

People made peculiar and ugly judgments about the “couple” and their “marriage”. Most commenters simply wrote the husband off as a sexist, fat-shaming Neanderthal.  Others concocted complicated back stories for the couple. One woman claimed the wife seemed to be apologetic for her existence. Others proposed that she was suffering from a poor self-image. Many were alarmed that the woman seemed little too eager to lose weight for such a skinny girl (perhaps she has an eating disorder?). One person stated the woman was suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Almost every commenter feared she is a victim of spousal abuse. 

Personally, I found the comments about the commercial much more compelling than the actual commercial. I spent a good thirty minutes one evening sifting through them. As I shutdown my laptop for the night I was struck by a series of questions: 

Are these people crazy? Do they not know that this is a commercial? Are they confused about what commercials are for? Why is everyone so upset by this? Do they not have jobs or families to worry about? Do they actually believe these people are real? Am I the only sane person left on earth? What am I going to do if I am? 

It was a scary moment for me. 

Then I started thinking about the whole silly mess and I realized that the reaction to the Peloton commercial is actually indicative of one of the dumbest things we do in our culture. Someone will say a few words that appear innocent on the surface and someone else will read a whole bucket of subtext into the words and/or facial expressions of that person. Then they run with whatever their impressions are of the situation and next thing you know they have created a whole bizarre storyline out of a handful of words and a few facial expressions. 

Sadly, this madness is not consigned strictly to the realm of advertisements. This trend is driving the presidential impeachment hearings. The President said three little words: “do us a favor” and half the country has read a truckload of subtext into those words.  Everyone thinks they know what he “was really saying”, what his intentions were and what will happen if he is not impeached (the world will come to a fiery end).  Many have devised long, complicated backstories for the conversation. Some believe this is one of many secret conversations the president had with that particular leader.  Others think that rather than being concerned about irregularities in the 2016 election the President was so concerned with his 2020 competition that he wanted to “dig up dirt” on an old guy even most Dems admit they would only vote for out of desperation. 

Sigh. Sadly, the drama is beginning to borderline on collective mental illness.

The madness is not limited to suspicions regarding the President or pretend couples on television. This weirdly mistrustful way of looking at the world is becoming incredibly common. Even Christians can get caught up in thinking they know what people “really mean” when they say something that appears innocent on the surface. When we share those suspicions with others our foolishness can split churches, ruin reputations and may even destroy a perfectly good marriage or friendship. 

It’s critical we remember that Christians are called to love others (Matthew 5:44, John 13:34). Love always chooses to believe the best in others (1st Corinthians 13:7). If we choose to live like the world we become just like the world. If we live like Jesus we become like Jesus and the world sees Jesus in us (1st John 2:16, Philippians 2:14-16).

The Seven Signs of A Sick Church-

 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. Colossians 1:17-18a NIV

When churches are what God intended them to be they motivate believers towards maturity and provide an opportunity for individuals to make a meaningful contribution to the world. Healthy churches help people to see Scripture from a richer perspective. A good church will naturally foster an atmosphere where love, forgivness, moral accountability and practical support become a reality.

 When churches are not what God intended them to be there is an absence of love, concern for others and sound biblical teaching that can be tough to see at first. People in the church frequently hurt each other without even realizing it. This causes church to morph into a confusing source of spiritual and emotional hurt. The lack of solid biblical teaching leads to spiritual apathy and sometimes even moral compromise. There is simply nothing better or more beneficial than a healthy, life-giving church. Conversely, there is nothing more spiritually and morally destructive than a truly sick church. Following are seven tell-tale indicators of a sick church.  

Staff members tend to be absent outside of church services –

The Bible refers to a church as a body (1st Corinthians 12:12-27, Romans 12:3-5, Ephesians 4:1-6). One part of a body cannot avoid other parts of the body and still maintain overall health. This is especially true of members who hold leadership positions. Leaders lead through their example. In a church setting, leaders should be leading others towards participation in healthy community and into deeper relationships with other Christians. This cannot happen if the pastors and staff members are always the last to show up at events and the first to leave. 

You never feel guilty, challenged or convicted at the end of a sermon- 

Church is supposed to be the place the Bible is explained and expounded on. In the hands of a skilled preacher or teacher the Bible is a powerful instrument to comfort, encourage and support the brokenhearted and hurting (Psalm 34:18, Psalm 147:2-4).  However, the Bible is not all rainbows and lollipops.  The Bible describes itself as being sharper than a two-edged sword. If the Bible God is taught properly it will penetrate our souls and cast judgment on our bad behavior, the sinful thoughts we think and the rotten attitudes we harbor in our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). If the preaching in your church rarely or never leaves you feeling convicted about the things that need changing in your life, you are probably in a sick church. 

People are the means not the end- 

Healthy church leaders know that people are the reason we do church. People are not the means to some other end like building a big building, having a gazillion followers or being the church with a ton of campuses where all the cool people attend. People are the primary reason churches do what they do and if they are not then the leaders of that church have lost sight of the mission of the church. The church was established by God to promote spiritual growth, train individuals to do the work of ministry and reflect the heart of Jesus to the unsaved world (Luke 6:40, Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 4:11-13, Galatians 2:20).  Anytime a church forgets the original point of church it’s a sick church.  

Sunday morning is all there is- 

There are 168 hours in a week. Most folks spend 52 of those hours sleeping, 40ish hours a week working, 30 hours watching television, 22 hours a week messing around on their phone and only one, perhaps two measly hours of any given week involved in spiritual activity. We need more spiritual food than that to process through all the spiritual and emotional junk we encounter in a given week (Hebrews 10:24-25). If a church does not routinely provide a means for people to connect outside of the Sunday morning service (small groups, Sunday school classes, midweek services, prayer groups) it’s not a healthy church (Acts 2:46-47). 

There is only one kind of people in the church- 

The early church was scandalously diverse. The rich socialized freely with the poor. The old and the young were equally valued (1st Timothy 4:12, 1st Timothy 5:1-2). Slaves were sometimes the spiritual leaders of their masters and women and men worshiped together with individuals of all races (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:27-29).  A healthy church has a mixture of age groups, races and people from all sorts socio-economic circumstances. If a church is mostly millennials or mostly old people or mostly white people or mostly rich people, something is probably not right. 

There is no replication- 

Healthy organisms reproduce (Acts 6:7). If a church isn’t planting other churches and the attendees are not leading people to Jesus, there is a problem.  

Finding a church is about more than simply finding a church that matches our particular doctrinal or musical preference. Nor is it about finding a place “we feel comfortable”. Finding a good church is about finding a place where we routinely feel spiritually uncomfortable and yet deeply loved for who we are as people. 

Six Weird Lies Christians Believe About Forgiveness-

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

Humans believe all sorts of weird lies. 

It all started with Adam and Eve and little has improved since our predecessors bought into that first stupid lie (Genesis 3). Even really smart people believe really weird stuff about relationships, what actually makes us happy, sex, money, the moon landing, God’s goodness, and what gender they are. 

 Sadly, Christians also believe lies.  

It’s true that most Christians believe in the goodness of God (at least on most days) and know what gender they are. However, believers in Jesus are still predisposed to believe lies about every other topic under the sun. The lies most Christians believe are spiritual lies that contain a small seed of truth. In my experience the number one issue Christians are most likely to believe lies about is forgiveness. Following are six lies we believe about forgiveness that keep people from forgiving. 

You haven’t really forgiven unless you have also forgotten the offense. 

Christians are commanded to forgive others just as God forgave them (Ephesians 4:32).  Fun fact: God does not simply forgive sins He actually forgets them. God says this of Himself in Isaiah 43:25…

 I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. 

This statement and has created massive confusion in the minds of some people. There are Christians who beat themselves up mercilessly because they think they’ve done a terrible job of forgiving because they remember people’s sins. Others have become bitter towards God because they believe He has set a ridiculously unattainable standard for forgiveness. Here’s the deal: unlike God, humans are limited beings. God can do whatever He chooses to do. Conversely, there are some things humans simply cannot do. Humans cannot create other humans from the dust of the earth and humans cannot forget the sins of other humans. It’s critical we remember two truths: God is not a jerk and He is fully aware of our limitations (He made us). God does not ask us to do more than we can do.  All He asks is that we let go of our “right” to seek revenge and trust Him to work out justice on our behalf.  

Authentic forgiveness always includes restoration of the relationship-

This is a filthy-rotten-lie the devil uses to keep good people from forgiving and moving on. After all, who in their right mind would choose to forgive their rapist or abuser if forgiving means they have to become friends with them? It truly is possible to fully forgive a person without building or rebuilding a relationship with them. Sometimes (not every time) forgiveness without reconciliation is the safest, wisest route to take.  Reconciliation is more complicated than forgiveness because reconciling with a stubbornly unrepentant sinner usually leads to more hurt. Hurt leads to bitterness.  I believe that Hebrews 12:25 cautions Christians against placing themselves in situations that will likely lead to bitterness. No situation is more liable to produce bitterness than being repetitively hurt by the same person. That being said, in cases where reconciliation can be achieved every effort should be made to attain that end. A skilled Christian counselor or a Pastor can be helpful in bringing about healthy reconciliation in relationships damaged by sin.  

Forgiveness is a “one and done”-

It’s not. Because humans are powerless to forget pain (see point one). Hurt has a way of returning usually about the time we think we have conquered it. If you have forgiven someone and feel the old feelings of bitterness return, take those feelings to God and ask Him to help you let go of the anger and resentment you feel. Ask until your heart changes (Matthew 7:7-8).  

Forgiving should feel good- 

Being free of hurt feels great. However, getting free from hurt is one of the most awful, painful and emotionally agonizing things a human being can experience. The good news is that God Himself will walk you through that awful process and you will come out the other side on a better, healthier path transformed into a new and freer person. 

We don’t really have to forgive- 

If God asked us to forgive for the sake of others this would be true, but it’s not, because He doesn’t. Christians are commanded to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25) because forgiveness is the best thing for us as individuals. The other person is more-or-less irrelevant. Forgiveness frees us from the mental and spiritual distractions that comes from nurturing a spirit of bitterness.  When we harbor unforgiveness we become a shadow of what we might have been if we had been willing to fully obey the Lord.  

We only have to forgive the repentant- 

Only forgiving people who are truly sorry would certainly make forgiveness much easier and a lot more fun. Even a heathen can forgive someone who is sorry for what they’ve done.  Alas, God rarely asks His people to do the easy thing. Instead, He asks His people to the character-building thing. 

Forgiveness is the character-building thing.

The Wrong Way to Handle a Celebrity Conversion-

 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” ~ Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

Kanye West shocked pretty much everyone in the Christian and secular world when he “came out” as a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. A week later he released a Christian album entitled Jesus is King. In the six weeks or so since his big reveal he has spoken out about his new-found faith on late night television, on at least one news program, appeared at numerous Christian events and was interviewed by Joel Osteen at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston Texas. 

A few weeks back one of our older daughters asked me what I thought about Kanye’s conversion to Christianity.  She wanted to know if I thought it was the real deal and if I believed it would last. 

It’s tempting to lie but I won’t. 

My initial (admittedly sinful) inclination was to list in grim detail all the celebrities over the course of my lifetime who have made “heartfelt” commitments to Jesus only to break those commitments in a spectacularly horrifying fashion that ultimately brought incalculable shame to Jesus. I was also tempted to bring up all of the “celebrity” Christians who have presented themselves to the world as Christian role models and then proceeded to live like heathens before they finally “came out” as unbelievers. 

I get that this confession makes me sound like an awful person and an even more awful Christian. In my defense (which I admit is pathetically weak), I am not the only Christian who has been a bit skeptical of Kayne’s conversion story. The internet has been buzzing with opinions (many of them negative) on this subject.

The good news is that before I had a chance to open my stupid pie-hole and spout-off my rather self-righteous opinion on the subject the Holy Spirit caught me up short. In the space of about ten seconds God reminded me in a not-so-gentle way that people can change and I am living proof of that fact. 

Sigh.  

So, all this begs the question. How should a Christian respond to the news that an unlikely person has made a commitment to Jesus? I believe we should respond in four ways anytime anyone makes a commitment to Jesus. 

In faith-

As believers in Jesus we should have the faith to believe that God has the power to change anyone He really wants to change. If we believe in the gospel we also have to believe that God really can change people, even people we see as unlikely candidates for change (2nd Corinthians 3:18). The Bible is packed with examples of people who most of us would have written off as utterly hopeless (Acts 9). It’s critical we remember that without faith in God’s ability to do what He says He can do it is literally impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). 

With prayer-

This is a tough a time to be a Christian and it is likely that things will get worse before they get better. The struggles Christians experience are mostly spiritual in nature (Ephesians 6:12-18). Because our struggles are mostly spiritual, prayer is the most powerful thing one Christian can do for another Christian. This is especially true for new Christians who have never experienced difficulty or persecution. Our prayers really will make a difference in how well they walk out their commitment to Christ.  

With a sense of awe and wonder-

Every conversion is literally a miracle and the second we lose sight of that fact we lose sight of what it means to be a Christian. All human beings (even the really nice ones) have hearts that are hard, indifferent and even hostile toward God. When someone submits their life to Jesus Christ and repents of their sin God changes their heart (Ezekiel 36:26). This begins a process that eventually transforms them into an entirely new creation with a whole new set of priorities and desires (2nd Corinthians 5:17). It doesn’t get any more miraculous than that. 

With understanding-

Baby Christians are, more often than not, flaming-hot-messes, practically speaking. They do things they shouldn’t do, say things they shouldn’t say, their motivations tend to be all over the map and they can be oddly judgmental for people who clearly don’t get what Christianity is supposed to “look like”.  It is the job of more mature believers to prove their maturity by being there in practical ways for new believers. This means treating them with grace and mercy as they maneuver through the always challenging process of maturing in Christ (Philippians 2:12). 

Jesus’ came to earth to transform sinful, pigheaded, foolish people into something better than we could ever be in our own power (2nd Corinthians 3:17-18).  All too often Christians (especially Christians who have been Christians for a long time) forget that God changed us and that He is still very much in the business of transforming messy people into messages of His grace, truth and love.