Three Things We Can All Do to Make Church Great in 2018

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here~ 2nd Corinthians 5:17 NIV

 Its official (actually it was official in 2005) January is (at least for most people) the most depressing month of the year.

 I get it.

 January has its fair share of shortcomings. Once Christmas is over the snow promptly loses its charm and there is zero hope the weather will improve for at least another couple of months. The merriment of the holidays has ended and the irksome credit card bills have come due for the generosity we felt over Christmas. That leaves most of us feeling a bit Grinch-y in hindsight. Compounding the negativity, most of us are feeling a bit pudgy and gross after the all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy that is the month of December.

 Without question, all of the above is clearly true.

 However, you will never catch me hating on the month of January. I love January for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because it offers a respite from the frantic madness of November and December. The slower more relaxed pace of January provides a much-needed opportunity for rest, reflection and goal setting.

 In that spirit, I have spent the better part of the last week pondering some of the goals I have set for the coming year. And as I was thinking through all that it occurred to me that there are some small changes we could all make this coming year that just might make a huge difference in how the world perceives the Church, and by extension how they perceive Jesus and Christian people. Changing how Christians are perceived in the culture might just help us to reach more people this year with the love of Jesus.

 So, in the interest of making this next year a great one for the cause of Christ I want to suggest three small, relatively painless changes we could all make that would make Christianity more appealing to the world around us without compromising truth.

 Starting with:

 A commitment to change the things that need to change-

 It’s true that some people are turned off by the message of Christianity (believe in Jesus and repent of your sin [Mark 1:15]). That said, more often than not, people are turned off by the behavior of Christians long before they get to hear the message of Christianity. Being purposeful about our own spiritual growth (Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 12:14, 2nd Peter 1:3-10) prevents this tragedy. Intentionality in the arena of spiritual growth has to begin with a commitment to examine ourselves daily so that we will be painfully aware of our own sinful inclinations. It ends with an unwavering commitment to honoring God in every area of our lives. The payoff for a commitment to spiritual growth is two-fold. We grow into the people God has called us to be (Ephesians 1:4, 1st Peter 2:9) and the holiness we acquire through this process gives us the spiritual power we need to lead others into relationship with Jesus.

 Expanding your circle of friendship-

 It is true that we grow in our faith and knowledge of God and life anytime we spend quality time with other Christians (Hebrews 10:25, Proverbs 27:17). It is also true that non-believers have their view of the world challenged when they spend time with and engage in meaningful conversations with Christians (John 4, Acts 17:16-34). If we would all commit to building some meaningful relationships with a few people (Christians and non-Christians) outside our circle I believe we could have a significant impact on our own little corner of the world. That in turn would make our world a better place and in the process we will learn more about life and God and make some new friends all at the same time. That’s a win all the way around.

 Forgiving someone-

 Over and over again in Scripture Christians are commanded to forgive others (Matthew 11:25, Luke 17:4, Colossians 3:13), Jesus even tied God’s forgiveness towards us to our willingness to forgive others (Matthew 6:15, Luke 6:37). I believe that God wants us to forgive others because unforgiveness leads to bitterness (among other things). Bitterness turns us into ugly, unpleasant people who are unlikely to attract others to Christianity or anything else. This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us that bitterness causes trouble and defiles many (Hebrews 12:15). The New Year is a perfect time to begin the process of forgiving those people who have hurt us. When we forgive others we become people that God can use for the good of others and for His glory.

 Wishing you all a joyful and spiritually productive 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Seldom Recognized Ways Jesus’ Birth Changed the World

We love because he first loved us~ 1st John 4:19 NIV

 Three years ago I vowed (in a fit of self-pity) to never write another Christmas blog as long as I lived. I did this mostly because my Christmas blogs have a history of less-than-stellar readership and I prefer to write things I think people are actually going to read. However, I recently concluded that it’s probably time I got over myself and give it another try.

 This moment of clarity arrived as I was participating in a community Christmas celebration. As I watched the display it hit me out of nowhere that Jesus’ first coming changed literally everything about life in the ancient world. Those changes in turn, paved the way for the freedoms and prosperity much of the western world enjoys today. Simultaneously I was struck by how oddly trivial our Christmas celebrations tend to be in light of the impact the first coming of Jesus had on our world.

 It’s not that I have anything against the way Americans celebrate Christmas. I love Christmas and all the things we do to celebrate Christmas. That said, snowmen, sparkly lights, cookies cut into adorable shapes, and even traditional nativity scenes don’t exactly capture the magnitude of the impact that Jesus has had on our world. So, in honor of Jesus and all His birth accomplished, following are four seldom recognized ways Jesus’ first coming made our world a better place.

 Jesus made it cool to care about the poor, sick and marginalized-

 Prior to the advent of Jesus no one cared all that much about the sick and poor. Most believed the poor and sick were poor and sick because they were bad people who had been cursed by their god’s. As a result they were viewed as profoundly unlikable. Little was done (outside the Jewish community) to alleviate the suffering of the sick or to help poor people. Because Jesus cared deeply about the needs of the poor, sick and marginalized (Luke 12:33, Luke 14:13, Luke 10:30-3), so did His followers. From the earliest days of Christianity, charity (caring for the less fortunate) was a fundamental feature of Christian worship and outreach (Acts 6:1-7, Acts 9:36, Romans 15: 25-27, James 2:5-6). As Christianity took root in the Western world caring for the less fortunate became a natural part of life and something even non-religious people do. This was certainly not the case before Jesus came into the world.  

 Jesus gave children value-

 Prior to the first coming of Jesus children were considered disposable in most societies ( Jews were a notable exception). Abortion was a common practice, and live newborns were routinely placed in the foundations of buildings (for luck). In Greece and Rome unwanted infants (mostly girls) were simply left on rocky cliffs to die of exposure. Attitudinal change towards children began with the coming of Jesus. Jesus loved children (Luke 18:15-17) and He was concerned with their physical and spiritual welfare (Matthew 18:6). Early Christians followed in the footsteps of Jesus and forbade the practices of abortion and infanticide among their members. Early Christians also made a practice of adopting the newborns that had been left to die of exposure. Over time, societies touched by Christianity enacted laws to protect children, but it was Jesus who forever changed the way we view the worth of children.

 Jesus gave women dignity-

 Prior to the first coming of Jesus, women were (in virtually every society) thought to be profoundly inferior to men in every way. Respectable women lived cloistered lives and simply did not interact with men they were not closely related to. Unlike other religious leaders of His day, Jesus frequently had meaningful conversations with all sorts of women (John 4, Luke 8:1-3, John 11), and He allowed women to receive the same training as their male counterparts (Luke 10:38-41, Luke 8:1-3). Jesus even entrusted a woman with passing on the message of His resurrection (Matthew 28:1-8, Luke 24:1-12); this was a VERY big deal in a world where women were not considered legitimate witnesses in a court of law. After Jesus’ resurrection women were used in significant ways to build the early church. The Apostle Paul founded the Philippian church along with a handful of women (Acts 16). Pricilla along with her husband Aquila helped to plant churches and train believers in Corinth, Ephesus (Acts 18) and Rome (Romans 16:3). Women acted as deacons in the early church and were entrusted with significant tasks (Romans 16:1-2, 1st Timothy 3:11) and a woman (Junia) is even referred to as “outstanding among the Apostles” in Romans 16:7. Admittedly, throughout history some church leaders have not always valued women or the contributions of women. However, that does not change the fact that Jesus did. Jesus’ high view of women paved the way for many of the freedoms women enjoy today. If you doubt my word, take a look at the way women are treated in societies where Christianity has not made significant inroads. It’s a sharp and ugly contrast.    

 Jesus made it possible for people to actually change-

 Prior to the first coming of Jesus people could change their actions but not their hearts. An evil or an unbelieving person was just kind of stuck that way forever. Jesus’ coming changed that reality. Because, Jesus’ presence indwells the people who believe in Him, His presence gives us the power we need to change not just our actions but also our hearts. Because of Jesus we can be better people tomorrow than we are today.

 That is something to celebrate.

Fixing A Bad Marriage

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV

 My husband and I have been married for nearly three decades and our marriage (like most marriages) has gone through its fair share of ups and downs over the years. Through the good and the bad I have concluded that there is nothing in this world quite as good as a great marriage. Nothing is better or more rewarding in this life than the closeness, camaraderie and fun of a healthy, happy marriage. Conversely, a bad marriage is nothing short of a living hell. There are simply no words to describe the awkward agony of waking-up every single day of your life next to the person you least want to talk to.

 It just sucks.

 I have observed that all marriages (even the really great ones) inevitably go through at least one season where communication halts and the relationship feels doomed. During this period both parties inevitably wonder if it’s even worth it to keep trying.

 Like many young couples, that season came fairly early on in our marriage. We spent the better part of a really miserable year either squabbling bitterly over the most stupid stuff imaginable or giving each other the silent treatment over the same stupid stuff. It was not our best year. However at the end of it, we had worked through a horde of really thorny issues, our relationship was stronger and we were both better, happier people.

 In my view everything that can be done should be done to fix a bad marriage. Every marriage is different and every situation is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fixing a bad marriage. However, the following five recommendations can be a game-changer in even the most broken relationships.

 Fixing a bad marriage must begin with:

 Choosing to be kind no matter how the other person responds-

 Not surprisingly, kindness is a quality conspicuously missing in all unhappy marriages. Too often we wait for the other person to be kind before we begin being kind. Sadly, this sort of willful pride never yields positive results. In order for the healing process to begin, one person has to humble him or herself and commit to speaking kindly to—and doing thoughtful things for—the other person (even if they act like a jerk at first). Usually, the other person eventually responds in kind and the marriage gets a new beginning.    

Laying down your weapons-

 Each part of an unhappy couple has their own arsenal of verbal weapons they use to emotionally pummel their spouse. It might be calling the other person hurtful names or constantly reminding them of a past sin or bringing up a character flaw. Whatever it is, at the root of any arsenal is one of two things: either the sin of unforgiveness or pure meanness. Either way I advise immediate repentance.

 Nixing the silent treatment-

 Not everyone uses the silent treatment. Those who do, use it to shut down conversations they are too immature to have or as a tool to get their own way. People who employ this method have learned that if they clam-up for long enough, more often than not, the other person will eventually acquiesce to whatever they want just to end the awkwardness. The silent treatment is a self-indulgent, passive-aggressive power play that not only destroys marriages but friendships and even the parent-child bond. It’s dangerous because eventually the other person will weary of the perpetual game playing and either walk out on the relationship or stay, adjust to the silence and begin living their own life. Either way the marriage is over. If one or both parties need time to calm down, that’s fine, as long as things eventually get talked out.

 Calling sin sin and repenting-

I am thankful to the modern psychology movement because it has helped us to understand the reasons why people do the weird, sinful things people do. That said, psychology has also helped to create an environment where we blame our sin on other people or trauma, rather than our own choices. It is not uncommon for Christians to blame genetics, stress, or a bad upbringing for behavior the Bible calls willful sinfulness. The bottom line is that no matter our experiences we are all responsible before God for what we do. We all have the ability to make changes. Change can only begin with the acknowledgment that our behavior is sinful (even if the behavior or attitude has a genetic component or came about as a result of trauma) and needs to be changed. This must be followed-up with a commitment to obedience and permanent repentance.

 Looking at you-

 One characteristic common to all bad marriages is that both parties have their focus firmly fixed on the bad behavior of their spouse. Conversely, typically both parties are totally unwilling to own-up to their own bad habits, problems, and sins and acknowledge how those behaviors and attitudes are creating chaos in the relationship. If you want to fix your marriage, stop focusing on what the other person is or isn’t doing. Instead, make a commitment to pray about what you need to change or begin doing so that you can become the husband or wife God wants you to be.      

      

Judgment, Change and the Real Reasons Non-Christians Don’t Go to Church

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God~ 2nd Corinthians 4:4 NIV

 One of the most contentious and thought-provoking debates in church circles these days’ centers on unbelievers and why they don’t go to church.

 Some believe that unchurched people avoid church because the stuff we do in church is simply too complicated for them to understand. Champions of this theory believe that the solution to Christianity’s dwindling conversion rate is to simplify and explain the heck out of how and why we do what we do in church. They sincerely believe that non-Christians will go to church if churches will remove any language or ritual that anyone who is not already acquainted with church might find even vaguely baffling.

 Churches that buy into this philosophy are not difficult to spot. Services last precisely one hour. The messages tend to focus almost entirely on practical issues like parenting and marriage. Communion is rarely if ever served. The songs are fun to sing but devoid of any thorny theological references (sometimes the songs are secular). And there is always a conspicuous “What You Can Expect Today” section in the bulletin or on the screen before the service.

 Others believe non-Christians avoid church because church is just too offensive and weird. These folks strive to make their churches as non-judgmental, wishy-washy, and agreeable as possible. Churches that have chosen this path seek to be inspiring and encouraging above all else. Sermons tend to be short on the topics of sin, sacrifice, and repentance and entirely focused on positive thinking and positive living.

 In my view these notions are outrageously elitist and disturbingly humanistic. The premise of the first theory rests entirely on the belief that non-Christians are just too dumb to grasp any concept they are not already entirely familiar with. This is untrue, and in my experience that sort of contempt has never prompted anyone to embrace anything.

 Moreover, the only way to transform Christianity into something unfailingly positive is to purge it of teachings related to sin, guilt and repentance. When we remove the tough, thorny and convicting stuff (Romans 1:18-32) from Christianity we are effectively saying that we (flawed human beings) have a superior plan of action for presenting the gospel than God does.

 I am not an expert on why people do or don’t go to church. However, I am closely related to a number of pagans, atheists, agnostics and heathens. To this day few of my relatives attend church, and I did not convert to Christianity until I was an adult (early twenties). As a result I know a lot of unsaved people really well and clearly remember what it felt like to be unsaved. Following are five actual reasons unchurched people don’t go to church:

 There is no reason for them to go-

 Contrary to popular belief, church was never intended to be a place for non-Christians. Church was meant to be a place where Christians get equipped to reach non-Christians with the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-13). If we want unbelievers to want to go to church we need to find ways to reach them with the gospel first.

 They fear judgment-

 What they really dread is hearing someone say something that will confirm their deepest fear that they aren’t good enough and that God will judge them for it. The irony is that their fear is firmly grounded in fact. NO ONE is good enough and God will judge EVERYONE who dies without repenting and putting their faith in Jesus. Our job is to tell them that God loved them enough to provide a solution to the problem of not being good enough.    

 They don’t want to change (repent)-

 Most non-Christians know instinctively that if there is a God they are doing things that are totally not cool with that God (Romans 2:15). They also know (instinctively) that they will have to stop doing those things if they want to get into a right relationship with Him (Luke 13:5). Some churches have gotten around this problem by lying to unbelievers and telling them that they can be Christians without repenting. Regrettably, all this so-called solution has succeeded in doing is filling our Churches with heathens who sincerely believe they are Christians. The right answer is to lovingly present unbelievers with the truth and let the Holy Spirit work in their hearts.

 They have observed that many Christians don’t live what they believe-

 I think this is because some Christians have bought into the lie that in order to reach the unsaved they have to act like the unsaved. All this does is convince non-Christians that being a Christian is really no different than being a non-Christian and is therefore a pointless waste of their time.

 No one has ever invited them-

 Seriously. This really is the main reason non-Christians don’t go to church.

 I do not believe Christians or churches should ever be unnecessarily weird. I also believe that the answer to the problem of unsaved people who don’t go to church is not as complicated as we’ve made it. We just need to love them, pray for them, present them with truth and invite them into our world.

 It worked for me.

 

Moving Past Church Hurt

 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News~ Philippians 4:2-3 NLT

 Church hurt happens. 

 Church hurt comes in all shapes and sizes. Church hurt can be born out of something as simple as an unresolved conflict or disagreement. It can happen when we feel overlooked or marginalized by Christians we assumed were our friends or Christians we wished were our friends. Church hurt rears its ugly head anytime we discover we have become the target of gossip or excluded from a group. By far, the nastiest and most damaging form of church hurt comes at the hands of so-called shepherds (Isaiah 56:11). False teachers, who use and abuse their spiritual authority to control, manipulate, defraud or sexually exploit those they have been tasked with caring for.

 How deeply we are wounded by church hurt is dependent on a whole host of factors. Including, but not limited to how new to the faith we were when the offense occurred, our over-all maturity level at the time of the hurt, the gravity of the offense that occurred and the willingness on the part of the offender to own their part in the hurt.

 I am convinced church hurt is the leading cause of spiritual shipwrecks and church dropouts. I know from experience that church hurt is practically inevitable, however it does not have to devastate our lives or destroy our faith. How and why people get hurt in the church is far less important than how they handle the ensuing hurt. In the interest of preventing anymore spiritual disasters, today I am going to give four (very basic) guidelines for recovering from most church hurts.

 First:

 Don’t misplace blame-

 Healing from hurt can only occur if we embrace the truth that God did not CAUSE our hurt. Another Christian (or someone who claimed to be a Christian) hurt you and caused the pain you are feeling, not God. Too many Christians never recover from church hurt because they insist on blaming God for things He had nothing do with.

 Honestly assess your level hurt-

 There are things that are never okay. No one should causally dismiss abuse, embezzlement, or vicious slander. Nor should we demand someone who has been wounded by say, sexual abuse in the church to “just get over it”. Big hurts (like sexual abuse) require special attention and time to heal. That said, there are other forms of church hurt like petty disputes, being treated rudely, or feeling excluded, that are very real and painful, but also simply need to be put in perspective. Sadly, being a follower of Jesus does not automatically mean that a person will never be rude, self-serving, insensitive, flakey, or stupid. We are all guilty of those particular sins from time-to-time and we ought to give grace accordingly (Proverbs 19:11).

 (Almost) always make an attempt at reconciliation-

 There are cases of severe abuse where attempts at reconciliation (being friends again) are ill advised and even dangerous. That said, in most cases if you cannot simply forgive and move on, an honest conversation to clear the air is in order (Matthew 18:15). The key to making these conversations productive is a heartfelt desire to restore the relationship rather than a desire to punish, prove a point, or justify your feelings (no matter how justified they may be).

 Don’t get stuck-

 It’s normal to be angry when we’ve suffered a hurt at the hands of a fellow believer and it’s healthy to grieve hurt. However, it’s not healthy to stay stuck in perpetual state of woundedness (Yes. I made that word up.). Staying stuck in anger inevitably leads to bitterness and bitterness ruins us (Hebrews 12:15). Reconciliation may or may not be advised, but with Jesus, forgiveness is always possible (Matthew 6:15). Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It will likely take time and may require some help from a wise and mature friend, Christian counselor, or pastor to work through. Get help if you need it. The health of your soul and your usefulness to the Kingdom is at stake here.  

 Church hurt is as old as the church. Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Mark, Euodia, and Syntyche were Bible people who all experienced serious hurt at the hands of other believers (2nd Timothy 4:14, Galatians 2:11-14, Acts 15:39, Philippians 4:2-3). Every one of those men and women recovered from their hurt and went on to do great things for the Kingdom of God because they chose the painful but life-giving path of forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation.

 

Five Ways our Generation has Screwed-up Prayer

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread”~ Matthew 6:9-11 NIV

 This week I got to enjoy a very long lunch with an old friend. This particular friend is not just an old friend in the sense that we have known each other a long time. She is also an old friend in the sense that she is a good bit older than I am. I don’t know if it’s because she’s older than I am or if it’s because she’s acquired some wisdom in life (or a combination of the two), but this woman never fails to challenge me. The truly maddening thing is that I’m fairly certain she does it without even trying.

 This visit was no exception.

 We spent some time catching-up on our families and grumbling about all the madness in the world, then we moved on to the topic of church and ministry. I shared a little bit about what’s going on in my life right now, she shared what she’s doing and a couple of “back in the day” stories.

 I will not lie.

 There was a time (to my eternal shame) when I would sigh quietly anytime an older Christian began to wax eloquent about how ministry was done “back in the day”. I assumed (like all youthful idiots) that there is nothing significant to be learned from how church or ministry was done in the past. However, my generations’ complete and utter failure to make meaningful spiritual inroads into to our culture has humbled me a bit. I am now much more inclined to listen to those with a few years on me.

 It didn’t take long for me to recognize that all of her stories had a shared theme. The theme did not include tales of strategic outreach, careful planning or exciting gimmicks used to lure the unsaved into church buildings or a relationship with Jesus. Rather, the common denominator to all her stories was prayer. In every story she told, Christians prayed really hard and then crazy-cool stuff would happen, hearts changed, non-Christians became Christians, sin got confessed and repented of, and miracles took place. By the end of our lunch I was deeply convicted that our generation has forgotten how to pray and screwed-up the concept of prayer in at least five ways.

 Beginning with:

 We plan instead of pray-

 I am a planner. One of my favorite adages (much to the chagrin of my poor children) is “failure to plan is like planning to fail”. I have even been accused of over-planning a time or two. That said, I suspect we might see more success in our churches and at our events if we spent at least as much time praying for events and services as we do planning for them.

 We just don’t do it-

 According to a bunch of self-surveys I looked at, the average Christian admits to spending about three minutes a day in prayer. The ugly underbelly of that already ugly fact is that it tells us that at least half of all Christians either don’t pray at all or pray for less than three minutes a day.  

 We don’t really believe anything will happen when we do pray-

 Over and over again in the New Testament we are told that God is much more inclined to answer prayer when the person praying actually believes that something will happen because they prayed. I will be the first to admit that God does not answer all our prayers the way we want Him to answer our prayers. However, that does not mean we should stop believing that God will answer when we do pray.  

 We pray for dumb stuff-

 I know I’m going to get some flak for this one. But seriously, the world is going to hell right in front of us (literally and figuratively) and I have been at prayer meetings where people requested prayer for the health of their pets and for a relaxing vacation. God does care about pets and rest (He cares about everything). However, I suspect He cares more about the souls of the lost and is more inclined to answer in the affirmative when we pray about stuff that actually matters.  

 We don’t pray corporately-

 Even when we do gather to pray corporately, most of the time we wander off by our selves and pray alone. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He talked about “two or three being gathered” in His name.

 I think our generation has screwed-up prayer because we have lost touch with the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not about getting God to do the stuff we want or getting stuff from God. Prayer is about getting our purposes aligned with His and getting the spiritual power we need to do the stuff that really matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Have to Move Past Our Idiotic Obsession With Words

 They are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind~ 1st Timothy 6:4-5a NIV

 One of the stranger things about growing older is that it is possible to look back in hindsight and identify exactly when a cultural sea change began to take place in society. This is true even in cases where it was impossible to understand the significance of the change at the time it was happening.

 One of the more remarkable changes that has taken place over the course of my lifetime as been our perspective on the subject of words and language. When I was a child no one cared all that much about the correctness or incorrectness of words. People just said what they wanted to say and everybody was expected to get over any hurt feelings that resulted. We were taught very early on in life to say:

 “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”

 Admittedly, it was not the most politically correct limerick to teach to sensitive little children. But in those days political correctness didn’t exist yet and the rhyme had the effect it was intended to have. Kids (and grown-ups) rarely made much over the insensitive, mean or inconsiderate words of others.

 All that began to change in the late eighties and early nineties. I distinctly remember a church service in my twenties where the Pastor preached a sermon on the potentially hurtful consequences of words. He recited the above-mentioned rhyme and informed the congregation that everything we had been taught about words as children was a terrible lie. He made the point that words do indeed hurt and can leave emotional scars. He closed the sermon by encouraging his flock to be mindful of their words because words are powerful and potentially hurtful.

 I had never heard such a thing before in all my life. Seriously, it was all new news to me.

 It was just the beginning.

 Out of nowhere there was a crusade to change the way Americans spoke and perceived language. There were public service announcements on the dangers of harsh words and verbal abuse. Talk show hosts showcased guests who had been wounded by the cruel words of classmates and parents. Pop-culture gurus began educating the public on the dangers of dehumanizing and harsh words. Concern over bullying in schools and workplaces became a thing. As a result using racist, sexist or just plain mean language became taboo in schools and most workplaces.

 In the beginning I was very much on board with the collective sensitivity training. I believed then and still do that people should choose their words wisely. No one should ever intentionally wound another person with stupid, harsh or cruel words. Verbal abuse and bigoted or sexist language is simply not okay. Ever.

 That said.

 People have managed to take a good idea to a ridiculous and possibly perilous place. Not only is it no longer okay say anything that is obviously insensitive, sexist or bigoted. It is no longer okay to say anything that might possibly hurt another person’s feelings (even if what is being said is clearly true and desperately needs to be said by someone). Every word uttered by everyone is vigilantly scrutinized for obvious as well as incidental offense. Individuals (no matter their maturity level) get to decide for themselves what is hurtful; therefore anything and everything can be (and is) construed as hurtful.

 The result of this collective insanity has been two-fold. First, we have produced a population of ignorant, narcissistic, panty-waisted crybabies who are so pre-occupied with the effects that other people’s words have on their feelings that they cannot function outside of their own carefully constructed safe-spaces. Not only is this quite clearly sad, it could easily be our downfall. A nation of self-indulgent crybabies cannot possibly remain a nation for long.

 Secondly, it is no longer okay to say anything at all unless it makes everyone feel good about their choices, no matter how wrong or ridiculous those choices might be. Our absurd preoccupation with the correctness or incorrectness of words has made us a nation of liars. We say that everything is okay because we’re scared witless of being labeled “hateful”. We refuse to verbalize in public the truth we all speak about openly in private: that some things are simply wrong, stupid and detrimental to society.

 The real irony in all this madness is that our collective obsession with words has failed to make us better people. Our society is no kinder and no gentler than it was thirty years ago. Our speech is no more uplifting now than it was then. It could, in fact, be argued that our use of words is far cruder and meaner now than it ever was. We’ve forgotten that change (even changing how we speak) cannot be commanded by decree. Authentic change comes from a transformed heart and only God can do that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, You Really Are Your Brother’s Keeper

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification~ Romans 14:7 and 19 NIV

 I live in the state of Washington.

 The state of Washington is famous (some would say infamous) for many things, some of them magnificent, others less so. A few of those things include (but are not limited to) Nirvana, evergreen trees, coffee shops, the Space Needle, apples, rain, really great seafood, Jimi Hendrix, and of course legalized marijuana.

 Sadly, it’s marijuana that gets the most attention these days.

 Typically when I talk to people from outside the state we eventually end up in a ridiculous discussion about drug use in general, and marijuana use in particular.

 The conversation typically goes something like this:

 Them: “So, you’re from Washington State?”

 Me: “Yes.”

 Them: “So is it true you can, like, buy pot anywhere?”

 Me: (tired sigh) “well, not exactly. There are special stores where you can buy marijuana. You can’t get it at Wal-Mart yet. But, I’m sure that’s coming.”

 Them: “I hear there are lots of tax benefits to legalizing marijuana. I bet your schools and roads have improved a lot.”

 Me: (barely controlling an overwhelming impulse to roll my eyes) “Well, no. Actually the schools are pretty much just bad as they have always been and our roads have potholes roughly the same size as the craters on the moon. However, the riff-raff are taking over the state and our property taxes have gone up every year since marijuana was legalized. Oh, and fatal car crashes involving marijuana have more than doubled since it was legalized. Because of that our auto insurance rates have gone through the roof. So, I guess that’s something.”

 Them: “I sure wish my state would legalize marijuana.”

 Me: “Why on earth would you want that?”

 Them: “I just think people should be able to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

 At this point, one of two things typically happens. If I’m feeling charitable I tag out and go find someone rational to talk to. If I’m in a bad mood or feeling feisty, I challenge their thinking.

 I typically begin with the above-mentioned facts regarding taxes, car crashes and insurance rates. I follow all of that up with a few statistics concerning the countless social ills that inevitably follow drug legalization. I usually include some statistics on addiction rates to harder drugs and point out the problems our society already has with children stuck in an overburdened foster care system because their parents are too addicted and/or screwed-up to care for them.

 The other person typically snaps back with what they believe is the final and conclusive response to every point I have made thus far in the conversation:

 “Well, it’s not like any of us are our brother’s keeper. Those are not my problems. Why should I be denied the “right” to use marijuana recreationally and responsibly just because some people move on to harder drugs or use drugs and drive.”

 At this point if my sweet husband happens to be within earshot he places his hand gently on my arm and attempts to lead me away from the unfortunate chump who is about to get an earful of my feelings on this subject. He knows that I do believe we all are to one degree or another our brother’s keeper. Each and every one of us has a sacred duty to look after the health and well being of the other seven billion souls who live on this planet whether we feel like it or not and this is not just about marijuana or drug legalization.

 It’s about a little thing we call “being human”.

 Decent people voluntarily set aside their own interests and avoid doing things that have the potential to hurt others or lead weak people astray. That is why past generations avoided things like smoking marijuana, cursing in public, using hard drugs, looking at porn in public spaces, and dumping their spouses for younger models. Not just because some of those things were unlawful but also because they had the good sense to understand that those things can and do cause harm to other people, especially children. And the culture was better off for it.

 Christians are called to an even higher level of “being human” than the rest of humanity. The Apostle Paul went so far as to suggest we give up eating meat and drinking wine if our eating and drinking causes another person to stumble. I for one believe our society could use a fresh dose of that kind of thinking.

 

 

 

Seriously, Some Things are Just Better

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation~ Hebrew 6:9

 Monday night I tuned into the news just in time to see a rather spirited interview with a woman who wants to have tax incentives for traditional (two parent) families eliminated from the U.S. tax code. This woman is convinced that tax incentives that encourage couples to marry before they have children are fundamentally unfair to “other kinds of families”.

 The man interviewing her (a somewhat conservative guy) appeared to be more than a bit perplexed by her logic (or lack thereof). He attempted to explain to her several times that those incentives were intentionally placed within the tax code to promote two parent families as anti-poverty and pro-family measures.

 After she snubbed his pointed attempts at dragging reason into the conversation, the interview devolved into a verbal cage match. He was on one side attempting to goad her into admitting out loud that some family structures are better than others, and should therefore be encouraged. She firmly stood her ground proclaiming repeatedly and vehemently that the current tax code is “unfair to other kinds of families”.

 The exchange (as fascinating as it was) left me feeling discouraged and peeved. My irritation was not simply due to the fact that the woman being interviewed appeared to be a clueless nitwit.  

 It was the bigger picture that bothered me and it’s still bothering me. In one sense, the woman has a valid point. It is clearly unfair for the tax code to promote and encourage certain kinds of families over other kinds of families. If fairness is always the end-all-be-all objective of everything, then tax incentives for those who are married with kids and not those who are single with kids is unfair and the practice ought to be stopped.

 But.

 Is fairness always the objective in every situation? Should fairness be the objective in this situation?

 I say “no” and “no”.

 There are bigger issues at play here than fairness. Those issues include (but are not limited to) the overall health of our society, which is demonstrably benefitted in a multitude of ways when people get married before they have kids and stay married afterward.

 But that whole thing was really nothing more than a side issue in my mind. The bigger picture that left me feeling peeved was the reality that we have devolved to a place where it is no longer tolerable to say that some things are better than others. Even when the facts clearly demonstrate that some things really are better than others.

 It’s not okay to say it’s better for kids to be raised in a two-parent home than by a single mom. It’s not okay to say that a committed marriage is better than hooking-up. It’s not okay to say that marriage is better than divorce. It’s not okay to say it’s better to help people (especially children) embrace the gender they were assigned at conception rather than help them to physically transform into a gender they can never really become from a genetic standpoint. It’s not okay to say that a religion that promotes peace and love is better than one that does not.

 Sigh.

 Even some Christians have bought into this silly drivel. We have become so convinced that God does a happy dance every time He sees us (no matter what we’ve been up to) that it is no longer okay to say that God unquestionably believes some things are better than other things. It’s not okay to say that going to church on Sunday mornings is better than going to brunch on Sunday mornings. It’s not okay to say that going to a Bible Study is better than going to a bar for a couple of drinks. It’s not okay to say that having sex in marriage is better than having sex outside of marriage.

 It’s not okay to say much of anything anymore (even in the church) unless, of course, our words are unswervingly positive and affirming.

 Insert eye roll here.

 The Bible makes it clear that some choices are better than others not because the people involved are better people, but rather because the choices have demonstrably better outcomes (Proverbs 16:8, Proverbs 28:6, Matthew 5:29, Mark 9:42, Romans 14:21, 1st Peter 3:17).

Until we grasp that fact, we really are in trouble.

 

Me, Myself and I Do

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God~ 2nd Timothy 3:2-4 NIV

 I was recently struck by a painful reality. The nature of the times we live in is such that the instant I dare to think I have finally seen it all, something new (and unimaginably bizarre) comes along and reminds me all over again that the human race never stops inventing crazy crap to do.

 My latest epiphany came in the form of a strange new movement: sologamy. Otherwise known as the act of marrying oneself.

 Seriously, it’s a thing.

 There is a website (imarriedme.com) that sells kits for those folks (kits start at $50.00 and go as high as $230.00) interested in making the ultimate commitment to self-love. The individual making the promise to love him or her self till they breathe their last breath procures the kit and clothing befitting the occasion (some purchase wedding dresses or rent tuxedos). Guests are invited to observe as the person recites their vows while gazing into a handheld mirror. The service can be completed with or without a pastor or Justice of the Peace officiating. The vows are followed by a reception where the attending guests celebrate the happy individual and their promise to satisfy their own best interests above all others.

I am not making this up.

 Then, I suppose, (I have no actual data on this) the newly committed solagamist goes off on a solo honeymoon trip to memorialize their newly minted commitment and to get to know them-selves better.

 Sigh.  

 I struggled a little bit with where exactly to go with this post. On the one hand, the whole concept of marrying oneself is just a silly, frivolous and rather sad trend. It’s easy to argue that solagamy is really not significant enough to bother getting worked up over. It really is tempting to dismiss solagamy as just another weird example of 21st century self-indulgence run amok.

 Nevertheless, the trend of solagamy (and it is rapidly becoming a trend) says some significant and scary things about where we are at and where we are going as a culture.

 I find this peculiar trend troubling for a number of different reasons and on a number of different levels.

 The decadence of a ceremony that celebrates commitment to self-love leaves me with a skeezy, almost dirty, feeling. The uninhibited hedonism is disturbing. Then there’s the sad reality that marriage has been dumbed-down to a place where many in our culture sincerely believe that a wedding is just a big fancy party we throw for our own pleasure and an occasion to show-off our event planning skills. All that being said, mostly I just feel a soul-wrenching sadness that so many in our society have become so lonely and isolated that solo weddings are actually becoming an industry.

 Sigh.

 Sadly, it’s not just the world of romance and weddings that has been affected by our collective love affair with self. Instilling self-esteem (another term for self-love) in their children is now the number one concern of today’s parents, beating out almost every other parenting concern including teaching their kids right from wrong and ensuring that their children are educated well enough to enter the work force. It’s not just parents who are concerned with self-esteem. According to forbes.com, Americans spend a whopping eleven billion dollars on self-help and self-esteem books every year. We are encouraged in obvious-and not so obvious- ways to find ourselves, love ourselves and do right by number one, because if we don’t no one else will.

 All this self-adoration is a far cry from the biblical mandate to “lose yourself” (Luke 17:33) and the biblical call to put the interests of others above our own (Philippians 2:3, Romans 13:8). Self-worship (and that is what this is) is as different from “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:30-33) as cats are from kangaroos. The biblical mandate presupposes that we already think enough of our selves and care enough for ourselves to set a reasonable standard for how we ought treat others. The self-esteem movement assumes that we need to focus more attention on ourselves before we even begin to think about anyone else’s needs or wants.

 As Christians we may or may not be able to change the trajectory of our self-focused culture (2nd Timothy 3:2). However, we can model healthy self-care (a biblical concept) and show people that it is possible to be happy, fulfilled and cared for without having a romantic relationship with ones self.