The Why of Trials

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed~ 1st Peter 1:6-7

 Every December, as the year comes to a close, I try to spend some time during the final weeks of the month mentally recapping the past year. I mull over the good as well as the not-so-good. I spend some time thanking God for the good and pray for the wisdom to make the bad stuff better in the coming year.

 As my mind meandered through the events of 2015, it did not take me long to conclude that this past year will not go on record as one of the better years in Price family history. It was, in fact, awful. 2015 was one of those years where everything was a struggle. Nothing worked out the way we hoped it would, or in a way that made any sense at all to any of us. There have certainly been blessings, but for the most part even the blessings this year were born out of enormous difficulty and came as result of some hard-fought battles.

 Don’t get me wrong; I believe with all of my heart that God is firmly in control of all of the events of our life, even the less than perfect ones. I also believe that our happy ending will be arriving at some point in the (hopefully) near future but we sure haven’t experienced it as of this writing.

 I am sharing our story not because I want to bum you out with my closing blog of 2015. I am sharing because I believe it’s imperative that Christians are truthful with each other about our struggles. If we always put on a happy face and pretend not to have have problems or stress or, in my case, an unbelievably crummy year, we will never really understand the reason God allows struggles and heartache in the lives of His people.

 Not understanding the why of the tough, bothersome, tedious junk can be spiritually confusing. Living in a state of spiritual confusion tends to make us hard, bitter and resentful and can cause us to leave the life of faith altogether.

 There are all kinds of reasons why God allows us to struggle or suffer through stuff that FEELS completely unnecessary. Sometimes struggles come because there are things we need to learn about ourselves. There is nothing like a little stress to show us all the attitudes and knee-jerk responses to pressure that are not exactly what Jesus would do in the same situation. We will never change what we can’t see, so it could even be argued that trials are a necessary evil that help us see what areas of our lives still need work.

 Trials also prove our faith. Not to God. God knows exactly how much or little faith we all have already. Persisting through a trial with our faith firmly intact proves to you and me and all people around us that we are not just flocking to God for what He can provide. Perseverance proves our love for God and is the truest sign of salvation that there is.

 Last week I was given a reminder of perhaps the most critical reason of all that God allows us to experience trials and difficulties. I had the privilege of looking someone I care deeply about in the eye and telling them in all honesty that I completely understood the weird, crazy, absurd situation they were dealing with. I could do that because I had been through something very similar just a few years before. I could assure this person that they too would survive their shock just as I had survived mine. The Apostle Paul gives us an image of how the cycle of trial and comfort works in the life of a Christian in 2nd Corinthians 1:3-5:

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

 My prayer for all of us this coming year is that God will comfort us in tangible way through the trials that are sure to come our way. I also pray that He will give us all many opportunities to be the hands, feet and source of comfort our hurting world will undoubtedly need in 2016.

Responding to Hurt

I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know. For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst~ Job 32:17-19 NIV

 My father-in-law died seventeen years ago without warning from a massive stroke. He was a good man, relatively  young and reasonably healthy. Needless to say his death was a huge shock. At the funeral an acquaintance “comforted” my husband by telling him he could “relate to his grief” because his dog had died the week before.

 I know a man in his sixties who still remembers with tears in his eyes the sting of having his first-grade teacher tell him he was struggling to learn to read because he was “dumb.”

 A friend of mine suffered through the heartache of several miscarriages before giving birth to two healthy children. After each miscarriage at least one person told her that she should be grateful she miscarried because “there was probably something wrong with it anyway”.

 If had a dollar for every time some nitwit encouraged me in an overly calm tone to “just relax” when freaking out was clearly the reasonable option, I would be writing from a lawn chair on a sunny beach right now.  

 Words.

 Anyone who has lived longer than a decade in this world has undoubtedly been the casualty of stupid, hurtful or just plain thoughtless words. The most painful kind of hurtful words are words that attack things about ourselves that we cannot change, such as our looks or intellectual abilities. Insensitive words wound by getting inside our heads and altering how we see ourselves and view the world.

 God has plenty to say on the subject of words. The writer of Proverbs reminds readers that, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” 1st Corinthians thirteen teaches that a significant aspect of loving others well is avoiding the use of rude or boastful words. In Matthew 12:36 Jesus warns of looming judgment for those who habitually speak without carefully considering the impact their words might have on others.    

 Decent people agree that words should never be impulsively spoken or unnecessarily rude. No one should speak without carefully considering how they would feel if someone said the same thing to them if they found themselves in the same situation.

 All that being said, how we respond to the stupid stuff people say to us, is from a spiritual perspective, every bit as important as being careful about what we say to others. Responding with grace to hurtful words begins with the sometimes-difficult admission that we too have hurt others with our words just as we have been hurt by the thoughtless words of other people. I once informed a boy who declared his affection for me in a love note that I would never return his feelings because he “smelled weird” (proof-positive that sometimes mean things are also true). I still squirm when I think about some of the hasty and doubtless hurtful “guidance” I doled out to others when I was beyond old enough to know better.

 There is an inclination in our day and age for people, even Christian people, to take hurtful words to heart and nurture their hurt by ruminating on hurtful words rather than choosing to forgive and move on. Nurturing hurt makes us angry people and inevitably leads to using perceived wounds as a justification to:

  1. Shut the offender out of our lives completely.
  2. Gossip about their lack of empathy to any who will listen.
  3. Freak out, say whatever is on OUR minds and then demand an apology that the offender probably won’t mean even if they do say it.

 All of the above reactions are wrong because each response feeds our sin nature, shuts down communication and effectively ends the relationship. Offense and unresolved hurt over careless words are the devil’s preferred playground. Offense keeps us self-focused, bitter and unable to see ourselves or others clearly.

 Letting go of hurt feelings is not easy. We have to discipline our minds not think on the stupid stuff people say to us and choose (sometimes repeatedly) to let go of hurt, rather than hang on to it. We also must be willing to pray for people who say foolish, mean or hurtful things, because it is only by the grace of God that we are not the ones doing the hurting this time.

 

God’s Got This

 

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze~ Isaiah 43: 1-2

As a rule I am not much of a worrier. Nor am I super laid-back. I am definitely not someone who has conquered worry through spiritual efforts. Rather, my inclination to avoid excessive worry is strictly practical. I have learned the hard way that worry wastes time, squanders energy and has the power to change precisely nothing. I am an outcome-oriented person cursed with a bit of a lazy streak. Consequently, I typically avoid any activity that does not ordinarily result in some sort of payoff. Worry does not achieve any sort of tangible outcome. As a result, I typically don’t worry about all that much.

 Until recently.

 Over the last few weeks I have found myself worrying about all sorts of strange issues at the oddest times of the day and night. From a strictly commonsense perspective, some of these worries actually make sense.

 When we put our house up for sale almost five months ago, the market was solid and houses in our area were selling at a steady pace. Within what felt like minutes of putting OUR house on the market, it dried up. Only a handful of properties have sold in our area since August. My husband and I have been living apart for months and the arrangement is expensive.

I worry the house will never sell.

 My husband has been subsisting on microwaved popcorn and cold cereal for months now. I worry he will develop scurvy or beriberi or some other rare nutritional deficiency. My handyman skills are rudimentary (to say the least) and so all the chores my husband normally does are not getting done or they’re not getting done poorly. I worry the house will fall down on us while we are sleeping. Our eleven–year-old has began to revert back to some old behaviors recently. I worry about how all this is affecting her. I worry about moving in the middle of winter, I worry we won’t move until spring or summer or that we will never move. God has provided through this whole stupid mess but that hasn’t stopped me from worrying my head off about money.

 And those are just the worries that actually make some level of sense. The really weird stuff hits me hardest around three in the morning. That’s when I worry about how the dogs will adjust to the move, global politics, scary viruses becoming airborne, fiber and if we are getting enough of it and whether or not I remembered to shut the garage door. Once I exhaust those worries I move on to questioning every choice I’ve ever made and then I wonder if painting the entire house a different color will make it sell faster.

 The other day I came across some much-needed encouragement from an unexpected source. The seventh and eighth chapters of Daniel recount some rather peculiar dreams that foretell some unsettling future events. The implications of the dreams are at best a bit creepy and the content is so strange that it has kept scholars and theologians debating the deeper meaning of the text for centuries.

 It was not the content I found helpful. It was the context. Daniel recorded his dreams at a point in history that was both personally and politically chaotic. He was a slave who had served as an adviser to one king (Nebuchadnezzar) for all of his adult life. Nebuchadnezzar was not a great guy. He was a brutal narcissist with a capricious streak. That said, he was also a capable leader, teachable and had over time he had developed a healthy fear of Daniel’s God. Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar had proven himself to be an even more erratic and cruel leader than his granddad without the leadership abilities, teachable spirit or fear of God.

 I believe God gave Daniel a peek into a future he would never live to see, in the midst of what had to have been of the scariest times of his life, to remind him and, by extension, all of us. That God has this. Whatever it is, God has it. God has our future tightly in His grasp. Nothing surprises Him. He has whatever is keeping you up at night too. Whether it’s a house that won’t sell or a health problem or a job loss, or a kid that has gone off the rails, or something even worse.

 God’s got it and He has you too.

Wishing Doesn’t Make it Real

 Buy the truth and do not sell it— wisdom, instruction and insight as well~ Proverbs 23:23

 I have irrefutable proof that the lunacy of our age is increasing at an alarming rate. 

 The evidence arrived via a news story on the latest issue to vex an Illinois school district. The federal government is threatening to withhold six million dollars in funding from district schools. Officials ran afoul of the federal authorities when they announced the decision to refuse to allow a high school boy (who lives as a girl) to shower and change in the girl’s locker room.

 It would be tough to accuse this particular school district of discriminating against anyone. The boy is allowed to wear girls’ clothing. He is called by a female name of his own choosing and he plays basketball on the girls’ team. The boy has been given full access to all of the girl’s restrooms and the school paid for the construction of a private changing room for him, located inside the girls’ locker room.

 The district asserts that the decision to deny the boy further access to the girl’s locker room was made only after they received complaints from students and parents. Evidently a few regressive Neanderthals balked at the notion of permitting a boy (who is still has his boy parts) to shower and change alongside the girls.

 I chose this example not because I wanted to write a screed against transgender people, but rather because it illustrates an increasingly common scenario where someone has chosen to believe something that is demonstrably untrue and then demands that everyone else get on board with their game of make-believe.

 It is simply a fact that a man cannot be trapped inside a female body or vice-versa. Those scenarios make for great movies but are biological impossibilities. A man might wish desperately that he had been born a woman or a woman might wish she had been born a man. I have nothing but compassion for men and women who struggle with those feelings. I have no doubt that those feelings are real and very painful. However, wishing something were true cannot turn a feeling into a fact.

 This issue is not restricted to gender. Some suppose that identifying strongly with the struggles and customs of a particular race somehow transforms the reality of their ethnic heritage. Others have come to believe that feeling they are in an “unsafe” environment causes them to be in actual mortal danger. Some believe that being exposed to offensive words or ideas is a form of rape. Many wish college education were free and have decided that their wishes can magically alter economic reality. Countless people truly believe that their feelings determine what is real.

 It is typical for children to go through a phase where they believe something to be true that is clearly false (I had a child who insisted she really was Winnie-the-Pooh). How a parent chooses to deal with their child’s fantasies behind closed doors is their own business. However, it is clearly wrong for individuals, the media, church leaders, parents, schools or the federal government to force the rest of society to kowtow to the fanciful wishing of a small minority.

We all need to grow up at some point. One aspect of growing-up is facing realities we don’t like. White people cannot really be black. Words, even mean words are not a form of rape (and saying so belittles the horror of rape). Feeling unsafe does not necessarily mean you are in danger. Gender is not “fluid” and money does not appear out of thin air. These are all irrefutable truths that need to be confronted head on.

 Jesus says this about truth:

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

 Jesus wants people to embrace truth, not because He’s mean but rather because He knows that embracing truth really does set us free. Jesus wants people everywhere to know and understand the truth about life, God and our own sinful state and how our sinfulness affects our view of reality. Truth frees sinful people from the self-imposed oppression that is a consequence of living life captive to our feelings.

 The most critical truth in this world is that God made us to be in relationship with Him. Relationship with God gives us the grace, strength and wisdom we need to live life as it really is, not the way we wish it was.

 

 

 

 

 

What the Church Must Do to Win Back the Millennial Generation

May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors~ 1st Kings 8:58

  Monday morning just as I was preparing to leave Facebook and go do something productive with my life, a question popped-up on my newsfeed that I almost ignored. It was a religious question and I tend to avoid getting involved with religious questions on social media. The questions are typically stupid and the people asking seldom ask out of pure motives. As a result those questions tend to veer into debates that devolve into quarrels that inevitably end with me searching frantically for a legal outlet for my rage.

 However, this was a very good question. I knew the answer and someone I like asked it in a respectful and sincere manner. So, I fired off a hasty response assuming that would be the end of it. Rather, it was the beginning of a one of the more thought-provoking conversations I have had in a long time. One question led to another and then a few of the original questioner’s friends (all millennials) chimed in with related questions and thoughts. A plethora of differing opinions were shared but the entire discussion remained very courteous and civil.

 I emerged from cyberspace ninety minutes later, drained, but armed with what I believe are some answers to a question that has been plaguing the modern Church for the better part of a decade.

 Why are millennials leaving the church?

 For years Church leaders have suspected that too many rules and a focus on doctrinal issues have bored and offended millennials, causing them to seek answers elsewhere. After my discussion with a half dozen or so random millennials this past week I am beginning to suspect our assumptions are at least partially incorrect.

 The millennials I interacted with do not seem to have an issue with the notion of God having rules. In fact I got the sense that most of these millennials believe that IF there happens to be a God (most are still very much undecided) then it would only make sense that He would have at least a few rules for His people to follow.

 They do have questions about which rules ought to be followed (Old Testament? New Testament? Both?). And they want some sensible explanations as to why the rules matter. It’s clear that most millennials are not blind followers; they want to know the why of everything before they buy into anything. It’s also clear that they do have an issue with the lack of consistency they see in the lives of Christians and the lack of uniformity they see across denominations. More than one individual stated that it looked to them as if individual Christians just decide for themselves which rules they want to follow depending on the situation.

 They also seemed to feel that most Christians were very quick to apply rules regarding sexual behavior to others (homosexuals) but not so quick to apply rules regarding divorce and other forms of sexual sin (adultery, pornography) to themselves and other Church members. They seemed to be genuinely baffled and repelled by the hypocrisy of those double standards. As a result, they have a tough time reconciling the actions of Christians with the teachings of the New Testament.

 Those millennials who grew up in Christian homes appeared to be unfamiliar with what most would consider basic Christian teachings and doctrine (sin, Jesus, forgiveness, repentance, the Old Testament, etc.). One mentioned later in a private message that they stopped attending Church because they never really learned anything there. They also expressed frustration because no one would answer questions regarding what they saw as discrepancies between science and the Bible. Rather they were encouraged “to just believe”.

 The Christian community is on the threshold of losing a large portion of an entire generation. It’s possible to get them back, but it will require extraordinary effort from all of us. First, we need to restructure our thinking and let go of the absurd post-modern notion that no one really cares about doctrine or apologetics anymore. We also need to help our youth understand they “why” behind God’s directives. Intellectual laziness and “just believe” twaddle will not fly with a generation accustomed to getting their questions answered in seconds via Google.

 Continued intellectual development is imperative but it will only take us so far. Revival and spiritual renewal is crucial but will only come through a movement of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in situations where God’s people are seeking to be obedient to God all the time, not pretending to be better than they really are in an effort to impress others while still hanging on to sin. It is time for God’s people to pursue true holiness—not the weird, superficial legalism we see in some circles. When we do those things, millennials will return.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay Christians, Let’s Talk About Sex

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect~ Romans 12:2 NLT

 By the time I hit my teen years, the sexual revolution had been fought and was well, pretty much over. The popular culture had for the most part moved away from the notion that sex ought to be exclusive to marriage. As a result there was little debate outside of the Christian community concerning the morality of sex outside of marriage.

 The rightness or wrongness of sex was determined by feelings and emotional rather than legal and/or spiritual commitment. If a man and woman felt they were “in love” and at least somewhat committed to one another then sex was thought to be morally acceptable. Without love and some level of emotional commitment most people felt sex devolved into something skeezy and morally dubious. It was certainly not the biblical standard of sexuality that their parents and grandparents honored, but sex and love were still considered to be inseparable in most peoples’ estimation.

 Thirty years later those notions have become rather quaint and archaic. The whole notion of love and sex being closely connected has been replaced with a culture of hooking-up. Hooking-up, sometimes called “friends with benefits” or “not-dating” for those fortunate enough to be blissfully ignorant, is the new term for sexual activity sans commitment of any kind.

 Hooking-up has replaced dating and long-term romantic attachments for the vast majority of non-Christian adults. The results of this brave new world include plummeting marriage rates among those under thirty, skyrocketing out-of-wedlock birthrates; and a shockingly large number of young adults who report difficulty forming connections with the opposite sex outside of the bedroom.

 It doesn’t take a mastermind to grasp the obvious and conclude that the loosening sexual standards of the 1970’s and 1980’s paved the way for the ethical anarchy we see today surrounding the issue of sexuality. A culture does not go from the absolutely no sex before marriage standards of the first half of the 20th century to a culture of detached hook-ups without at least a couple of stops along the way.

 As alarming as I believe these developments to be, I also understand that it is not my place to be concerned with what the greater culture is doing behind closed doors. Judging non-Christians is a waste of time. Without Christ, people have little reason to care about what the Bible has to say about sexuality or anything else and even less reason to modify their behavior based on the Bible’s teachings.

 I am deeply concerned about what Christians are doing behind closed doors.

 Christian Mingle is an online dating service that surveyed 2,647 single adult Christians about their attitudes concerning sexuality. The results revealed that sixty-four percent of Christians between the ages of 18 and 59 believe it’s morally acceptable to have sex outside of marriage. Additionally, a 2009 study conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reveals that eighty percent of never-been-married Evangelicals have had sex at least once. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed reported having sex the previous year and forty-two percent were in an ongoing sexual relationship at the time of the survey.

 To my knowledge the question was never asked, but I would bet that most of those surveyed felt that “being in love” was the only criteria that mattered when deciding whether or not to have sex. In other words, Christians have embraced the same standards of sexual ethics that the greater culture adopted in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

 The Church’s nearly universal loosening standards of morality have led Christians into an increasingly ugly ethical muddle. Divorce rates for Christians are nearly as high as divorce rates for non-Christians. Christian men view pornography as often as non-Christian men and it’s estimated that at least 650,000 Christian women abort their children every single year. As a result of all this ongoing sin the church has lost all moral authority in the culture. Nobody outside the church cares to hear what Christians have to say about anything of substance anymore because they see that our faith is so feeble that it does not even empower us to control ourselves in the most basic way.

 We live in a decaying culture filled with people who urgently need some solid moral examples to draw from. Christians can be that example again. But only if we are willing to embrace and live out the truth that it takes more than love to make sex right. It takes two people making a lifetime commitment to one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dealing with a Creep Problem

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been~ 1st Kings 11:4

 Our home is currently on the market. Having a house up for sale is a little like being in the final weeks of pregnancy. Each morning dawns with optimism and hope, and the sense that today could be the day. Every evening ends in despondency as you wonder if anything is ever going to actually happen.

 Daily despair aside, by far the toughest thing about having a house on the market is the level of vigilance that must be maintained regarding cleanliness. Realtors will tell you that items a family uses on a regular basis should be kept out of sight and every surface should be tidy and dust-free at all times. The whole idea is to create the illusion that nobody actually lives in your house so that buyers can envision themselves living there.

Maintaining this absurd illusion is even more challenging than it sounds.

 As the process has dragged on, I have learned a few sanity-saving tricks. I keep the ceiling fans running so buyers won’t notice any dirt on the blades. I hide items I don’t want people to see in my husband’s workbench in the garage. I have also cut back on the time I spend doing laundry. I stash our dirty laundry in the trunks of our cars before showings.

 My lack of attention to the laundry has resulted in a rather foreseeable consequence. We are all running a bit low on clean clothes. This has got me searching the darkest regions of my closet for clothing I quit wearing and should have donated ages ago.

 Recently, I pulled out a pair of shorts I hadn’t even looked at in at least two years. They were clean, not horrible looking and all I had left, so they met all the essential criteria. It didn’t take me long for to recognize there was going to be a problem.

 The shorts were, well, a bit snug. However, at that point I was running critically low on options and feeling desperate. So I persevered. I tugged and yanked and sucked in my gut and held my breath and finally managed to get them zipped. After some more effort I even succeeded in getting the button fastened.

 I stood in front of the mirror for a good while debating whether or not I should put on a long shirt to cover my hind-end or go back to my closet for a more suitable option. Just as I concluded that a long shirt would do the job, the button I had labored to fasten popped off with such force that it ricocheted off the bathroom wall.

 I was not a happy woman. And not just because I was faced with needing to do laundry; I also realized I needed to lose weight. Fast.  

 As I pondered my new eating plan (fewer greasy carbs, no more late night nibbles with the dog) I realized that sin and weight gain have more than a few things in common.

No one wakes up fat; weight gain is a process.

 It starts with choosing fries instead of salad. Next you throw caution to the wind and order deep-fried everything and a big messy dessert with one fork every time you go out. The routine of sharing a little nibble with the dog before bed slowly devolves into a carbo-loading frenzy for both of you every night of the week. Before long, your adorable little dog is wearing a jumbo size harness and your buttons are ricocheting off the bathroom wall.

 Sin works much the same way.

Nobody wakes up one morning blindsided by an addiction or just decides to begin an affair. It all starts fairly innocently with a seemingly inconsequential moral compromise here and a teensy little concession to sin there. Before you know it, you are stuck in a shame-spiral due to a deep-rooted habit you can’t break or a relationship that is clearly not God’s best for you.

 Thankfully, issues with sin and weight gain are solved in much the same way. Begin with acknowledging that there really is a problem. Denial is the enemy. Owning the problem is the next step; don’t pretend sin isn’t wrong or fool yourself into believing it won’t eventually kill you.

 Confess it, first to God, then to a friend who cares enough to hold you accountable. Then change as quickly as possible. Cut ties to toxic relationships, go to church this week, sign-up for a Bible study, and reach out to people who want to help you.

 Most importantly of all, remember that the situation, whatever it might be, does not need to define you. You are so much more than a series of bad choices to God. He is ready to forgive and give you the new beginning you so desperately need; all you have to do is repent.

 If only weight loss were that easy.

 

 

 

 

When the Human Heart Hardens and the Conscience is Seared

The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death~ Proverbs 14:27

 News commentators call it the “coarsening of society;” some prefer to call it the “cheapening of life.” The label one chooses is irrelevant. The real issue is that “it” is going on all around us.

 Arbitrary acts of violence, the euthanizing of the old and sick, sexually active twelve-year-olds, no-fault divorce, pornography, child abuse, human trafficking, and legalized drugs all point to a culture that has lost its moral footing in every measurable sense. I concluded a few years back that I have pretty much seen it all, and there is nothing left in this world that could possibly shock me.

 Then the Planned Parenthood tapes were released.

 The first two videos were objectively speaking, appalling. The videos feature Planned Parenthood doctors casually laughing, joking and sipping wine with someone posing as a fetal tissue buyer. The cheery banter is punctuated with some rather disturbing exchanges concerning abortion techniques and some callous haggling over what ought to be the going rate for aborted body parts.

 The third installment makes the first two videos look like suitable preschool programming. The third video shows a doctor, a technician, and a “fetal tissue buyer” standing over the aborted remains of a child referred to only as “ the 11.6” (eleven weeks and six days into pregnancy). The tech points out all the fetus’ intact parts including a liver, heart and hands to the “fetal tissue buyer”. The video ends when the doctor and tech agree that the clinic should be compensated for each intact body part rather than simply receiving a single payment for each aborted fetus.

 As troubling as they are, the ghoulish practices of Planned Parenthood are simply symptoms of a deeper and much more vexing issue. Human trafficking, child abuse, drug use, pornography, euthanasia, random acts of violence, along with abortion and the profiteering around the abortion industry all stem from one common and widespread cause. Something the Bible refers to as the hardening of the human heart and the searing of the conscience (Ephesians 4:18, 1st Timothy 4:2).

 The human heart is a spiritually delicate and fragile thing. Most folks are born with a natural bent toward revering the Creator and with a measure of empathy towards others. That is not to say that people are born morally perfect, they are not. However, most young children hurt when other people hurt, love God (unless taught otherwise) and desperately want to make God happy. This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote that the law of God and the truth of God’s existence are written on the human heart (Romans 2:14-16).

 Hearts become hardened and consciences become seared as we resist and disobey God. The more we violate what we instinctively know to be true, the easier it becomes to descend further into immoral behavior. If the progression continues our priorities become hopelessly confused and eventually evil will seem good and good will appear to be evil (Isaiah 5:20).

 This is where we are at as a culture.

Folks get more wound-up over a dentist from Minnesota killing a lion in Zimbabwe than they do over the deaths of millions of preborn humans. No one is concerned that adolescents are having their sexual attitudes shaped by the vilest forms of pornography imaginable. But everyone gets their knickers in a knot if there is even the slightest hint of sexism coming from some silly article in a women’s magazine.

 Christians cannot stop the slide into moral oblivion in the lives of others. We are not called to police the behavior of non-believers. We are commanded to consider how our actions and attitudes affect all people.

 Christians who view pornography financially support and validate an industry that exploits women and sometimes even children, enslaves millions, and creates a market for prostitution. When Christians divorce because they “just aren’t happy anymore,” we cheapen a sacred ceremony and make it considerably easier for others to do the same. When we mimic the sexual standards of the unsaved we give license to others and increase the odds of compounding our sin of immorality with the sin of abortion. When we snicker at sinful behavior we minimize and mock the sacrifice Christ made for that sin.

 Being a Christian is about more than having our sins forgiven and getting to spend eternity in heaven. Being a Christian is about more than being nice and loving people. Being a Christian is about doing all of life God’s way, all the time. God’s way is rarely easy.

 God calls us to a life of holiness, selflessness, genuine goodness, and social distinctiveness. When all of us who call ourselves Christians choose the narrow path we are called to, then, and only then, will we become the preserving and sanctifying influence our world so obviously needs right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hearing God

You said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives~ Deuteronomy 5:24 NASB

 Most conversations about hearing the voice of God go in one of two directions. Some confidently claim that they hear from God all the time about every minute detail of their life. God speaks to them audibly on every topic imaginable, from the serious to the mundane.

 These lucky people do not weigh the pros or cons of any decision. They don’t agonize over which job they ought to take or whom they should marry. They don’t even worry about where they should go for dinner. They have all the answers because God tells them exactly what to do all the time.

 On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who awkwardly confess that they have never heard God speak. They read their Bibles and pray on a regular basis but they admit that they have never actually heard from God. These folks typically feel like second-class citizens when compared to the first group. In their most honest and raw moments they wonder if God really loves them or if they are even Christians.

 I believe that God speaks to all of His people at least some of the time. I also believe that there are situations when we don’t hear God’s voice because we have preconceived notions about how we think God will speak. Those biases can interfere with our ability to hear what God is saying. We want (and sometimes even demand) an audible voice when He is intent on using another, more subtle approach to speak into our lives. Following are the most common methods God uses when He has something to say.

 The Bible- Psalm 119:105, 2nd Timothy 3:16

 Contrary to what you might have heard, the Bible is still God’s preferred means of communication with people. God will never tell anyone to do anything that directly contradicts biblical teaching. If you want to hear God speak to you, begin there.

 People- 1st Samuel 25, Acts 17:16-33, 2nd Samuel 12, Judges 1:8-9

 When God wanted David to understand that his craving for vengeance would lead to his destruction, God chose to speak those words through the quiet wisdom of a young woman named Abigail. When God wanted to proclaim the reality of His existence to the people of Athens, He used the words of Paul to communicate that truth. God still uses men and women to communicate truth to one another. For that reason, it is critical that we prayerfully evaluate the encouraging as well as the not-so-encouraging words of our friends, family members, pastors and even the people we don’t really care for. Sometimes when people speak it’s not them speaking, but God speaking through them. We will do well to listen.

 Strong impressions and still small voices- 1st Kings 19: 11-18, Acts 15:28-29, Acts 16:6

 In my experience, God seldom says, “Do this” or “don’t do that.” But he does speak to His people through impressions or a strong sense that we should or should not do something. The only time we should ignore those impressions is when the activity or course of action we are considering violates clear biblical instruction or principles.

 Circumstances- Exodus 2:5-8, Acts 8:1-8

 Little in life is more frustrating than feeling we are being forced into a course of action by circumstances outside of our control. Thankfully these situations are not always the tragedies they seem to be at the time. Sometimes seemingly adverse circumstances are really the just the hand of God guiding us towards His will for our lives.

 I honestly do not know if God talks to some folks more than others. It’s certainly possible; God deals with people as individuals and He is free to do whatever He pleases. I do know that God is good and that He never leaves us alone. I also know that if we need direction He will give it to us, but that direction may not come in the form we are expecting. It is our spiritual responsibility to keep our hearts and spirits open to God’s will in whatever way He chooses to reveal it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving a Spiritual Dry Season

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord~ Amos 8:11

 Spiritual dry-spells or desert experiences typically begin with a sense that God is far away and our prayers are not being heard (Psalm 63:1). The sense that God is far away leads to the logical (but erroneous) conclusion that He is deliberately ignoring us. This predictably leads to an overwhelming sense of confusion. We feel lost and begin to believe we have been forgotten or abandoned by God. Every obstacle and disappointment feels like a rebuke and becomes a verification of the belief that God has turned His back on us.

 Some Christians react to their angst proactively. They step-up church attendance, pray with greater fervency, and work their spiritual tails off in a valiant effort to make God happy and get Him back on their side. Others become depressed and despondent. Some become irate and bitter, supposing God has turned on them. Spiritual pity parties and noble attempts to placate God are natural responses. However, these responses will not fix anything and may even lead to spiritual regression or rejection of the faith altogether.

 If this describes you, there are a few things you need to understand. First, you are not the first believer to experience a dry season. Some of the best and brightest of God’s people suffered through a dry season at one time or another. Naomi, David, Elijah, Jonah, Jeremiah, Esther and even Jesus (Matthew 27:46) all experienced situations where they felt God was remote and uninterested in their situation.

 No matter how you feel at this moment, you must understand that God has not stopped loving you, nor is He punishing you. His silence is not evidence of desertion. He still cares. He has a plan for you and He has no intention of allowing your pain to go on forever. Hang on to that. Memorize and meditate on Isaiah 42:3:

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick, He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.

 A spiritual dry season is not a time for self-pity but it is a good time for some healthy self-examination. God never moves away from us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 37:28) . He is steady and unchanging. We on the other hand are prone to wander, sometimes without realizing it. I have learned that when God feels far away it’s a good time to ask some hard questions:

 Am I making a daily effort to connect with God through prayer and Bible study?

 Is there some area of my life that has become a foothold for the enemy (Ephesians 4:26-28)?

 Have my personal dreams or desires become demands that I make of God?

 Am I harboring resentment in my heart because God has not answered a prayer to my liking?

  If the honest answer to any of the above questions is “yes” then change direction as rapidly as possible. Make a determined effort to connect with God, repent of wrong attitudes, deal with sin and spend some additional time in prayer realigning your dreams with God’s will. If, on the other hand, none of the above seem to apply to your situation then you should assume that God is taking you through a season of refinement and growth.

 Because we live in a fallen world, spiritual growth rarely comes easy and is always incremental. Growth comes as we shed old behaviors and change the mindsets and attitudes that allowed those wrong behaviors to flourish. Letting go of old behaviors and attitudes empowers us to reach new levels of spiritual understanding. The process is agonizing because our flesh longs to hang on to the old ways of functioning and looking at life. This painful process is the only way we can be transformed into the likeness of Jesus.

 We can fight growth or we can embrace it. We fight it by willfully refusing to see the issues in our life that need to be addressed. We embrace growth by asking God with a sincere heart to show us what exactly needs to happen in our lives for us to become more like Jesus. It is this place of humility and submission that allows God to do in us what needs to be done and frees us up to reestablish our sense of connection with God.