The Biggest Liar of Them All

 For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you- Isaiah 41:13 NIV

I love dogs. 

I love dogs so much that I point excitedly at every dog I see and I stop to pet every dog I pass on the street. I love dogs so much that I don’t even care that this behavior makes me look like a lunatic.   All that being said, for most of my life I had some serious questions about people who were insanely devoted to their mean, yappy, horrid little dogs. 

Then we got a mean, yappy, horrid little dog. 

His name was Bruno and he was a pug.  My husband and I decided to we wanted a pug because pugs are not usually aggressive. We wanted a sweet little dog everyone would love.  Unfortunately, Bruno was only sweet to us and very few people loved him. He was slightly larger than a football but he would bark and growl and bully full-grown men into doing whatever he wanted. Mostly what he wanted was for everyone to stay far away me and the rest of our family. When the little jerk got riled up he was so fierce and ferocious that big, burly men would literally run away from him in terror.  But he loved us and we loved him and now I understand why people allow horrid little dogs to live in their homes. 

One day after an exceptionally embarrassing encounter between Bruno and a three-hundred-pound realtor, it occurred to me that Bruno and the emotion of fear had a lot of similarities. 

Bruno was not really capable of hurting anyone. He was short and squat and weighed twenty pounds after a big meal. His teeth were bad and even in his prime they were not really all that sharp. But boy could he act scary.  He had the power to make people believe that he really was going to hurt them. 

Fear should never be dismissed out of hand. There are times when fear can be logical, reasonable and even healthy. The Bible commands us to fear God (Leviticus 25:17, Psalm 96:4, Proverbs 1:7, 1stPeter 2:17). It makes sense to fear crazy people with weapons, stupidity, poisonous snakes and things that kill people. Sometimes fear is even our friend. We have all had those moments when we did something (or didn’t do something) because we suddenly became afraid of doing (or not doing) the thing. Later we learned that if we had done the thing it would have killed us or at the very least ruined our day.  

However,

Those situations are the exceptions. Most of the time fear is just a thief and a liar. There are five things fear will steal from us if we let it and none of them are things any of us can afford to lose:

Our trust in God-

Fear is not usually a “God thing”. The God who commands His people to be strong and courageous would only plant fear in their hearts if there were a really good reason for it. Fear is usually a “Satan thing”. Fear is Satan’s most effective tool. Fear persuades us that God isn’t really good and that He can’t do the things He says He can do. Fear can also convince us we can’t do the things God says we can do (John 14:12). 

The ability to accomplish our mission-

 If a person is drawing breath there is a reason for it.  Every individual has people only they can reach and tasks only they can accomplish. Fear wants us to believe the lie that God cannot empower us to be good enough, smart enough or capable enough to do what God wants us to do.   

Our boundaries- 

Boundaries are the bottom line of what we will and will not allow into our lives. They are like invisible shields that protect us from people and situations that might bring us physical, emotional and spiritual harm.  Good, solid boundaries keep us from sinning and being sinned against and the people who want to lead us into sin. Fear often causes Christians to accept the unacceptable in relationships. Fear of not fitting in, fear of making people mad or fear of not being liked inevitably cause our boundaries to be breached. Anytime we allow our boundaries to be breached misery and sin are sure to follow. 

Our joy-

It is literally impossible to be fearful and joyful at the same time. Anytime we allow fear to run the show we lose our joy, faith and peace of mind.  Fear steals our joy and peace of mind by getting us focused on the “what ifs” of every situation. What if I fail? What if no one likes me? What if the worst happens?

Fear really is like my dog Bruno. 

Fear has no power except what we give it. Fear feels scary and it makes us believe that something horrible will happen if we don’t do what fear is telling us to do. We must remember that feelings are not facts and that faith is the enemy of fear. The more we choose to trust God and believe that He can do what He says He will do the less power fear has over us. 

Sex, Gender and The Church-

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them- Genesis 1:26a-27 NIV

Like most people over forty, I have witnessed a great deal of change over my lifetime. 

Some of the changes have been desirable. An example being, the world has improved dramatically for female-kind in my generation. I believe I can speak on behalf of all women everywhere when I say that no sane woman would choose to be born female at any other time in human history. Other changes have been less than great and some have been simply awful. 

Music has certainly not improved. Respect for the law enforcement and other forms of authority has plummeted.  Politics are nastier and more dishonest than they used to be. Parenting has become more child-centered than it once was. Most children probably view this as a win. However, the rest of society is less than delighted with the outcome.  As dramatic as some of those changes have been it’s fair to say that no realm has seen more change than the area of gender and sexual expression.

Back in the day, there were men and woman. Those two options pretty much covered the gender gamut. A man might wish he was a woman or dress like a woman but all of society would have agreed that if a man was born with a penis he was a man.  There were women who impersonated men but it never occurred to anyone that a woman behaving like a man might actually be a man. How one chose to express their sexuality (gay, straight, bi-sexual) had no bearing on whether or not a person was male or female. Gender was determined by a thing called biology. 

Biology is so 1955.

There is now a whole gender spectrum to choose from. Among the plethora of options, one can now be male, female, androgynous, transgender, gender queer, non-binary, gay, straight, bi-sexual, pansexual, asexual, gay trans, bi-sexual-trans, binary trans, gender questioning and gender fluid. 

Sigh. 

Most Christians have struggled to address this issue in a rational, respectful and kind way. Mainly because any objection to or questioning of the gender spectrum is perceived by most non-Christians and some Christians to be transphobic, homophobic, regressive and mean. Consequently, Christians have either ignored the problem altogether, avoided discussing it outside of Christian circles or ridiculed the whole situation openly. Regrettably, none of the aforementioned strategies actually do anything to help Christians act as salt and light in our world (Matthew 5:13-16). 

Ephesians 6:14 tells us that we are to stand against evil ideas. In order to do that we have to understand from a biblical perspective what’s wrong with a particular philosophy and where it will likely lead us. 

The gender spectrum is clearly a scheme of Satan (Ephesians 6:11). The notion that there is a gender smorgasbord out there with dozens of different options from which to choose is an assault on God’s design. It is also a direct contradiction to God’s assertion that He created human beings as male and female only (Genesis 1:27). This particular assault is intended to generate doubt concerning the goodness and truthfulness of God in the minds of people who are struggling with questions regarding sex, sexuality and gender. It’s critical we remember Satan has been planting doubt concerning the goodness and truthfulness of God since the dawn of humanity (Genesis 3:1) 

Our culture has rejected the Creator and gender identity and sexuality have become a religion to some who have spurned belief in God (Romans 1:24-32). This explains the peculiar post-modern practice of folks introducing themselves by stating their name, sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexuality and gender give their life meaning and is where they find their identity. 

The situation we find ourselves in should not drive us to despair or hateful rhetoric. Rather, we should be overwhelmed with grief for a generation that has lost its way morally, spiritually and sexually. There are four practical things Christians can do to help lead our culture back to a healthier understanding of sexuality and back into relationship with God. 

Christians must figure out ways to:

Love our neighbors- 

We should look for ways to love everyone, even those super messy people who freak us out a little bit. We must search for ways to engage people who are different from us. They need to know we serve a God who loves them and who wants to free them from the spiritual and sexual bondage they’ve gotten themselves into.   

Pray for a return to moral and spiritual reason-

Christians are commanded to make a practice of praying for everyone all the time (Ephesians 6:18, 1stThessalonians 5:17). We should be especially intentional about praying for individuals whose lifestyles concern us. Our prayers really will make a difference in their lives and prayer empowers us to love people who are different from us. 

Model healthy gender roles– 

There are Christians who believe it is wrong for men to cook or do housework because it’s “not manly” and an “affront to God”.  Others believe that women should never work outside the home or attend university. There are still Christians who sincerely believe a woman should remain “under the authority “of her Father until she is married. These absurdly antiquated ideas are almost impossible to backup biblically without twisting Scripture and they make Christianity look really weird to non-Christians. 

 Speak the truth in love-

Admittedly, this is tricky but it must be done. We have to find ways to engage people in hard conversations where we tell them the truth in loving tones and with a spirit of humility rather that self-righteousness (Ephesians 4:15). 

Satan’s Best Schemes- Racism

The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil- 1stJohn 3:8 NASB

Last week a theological bombshell came out of the Catholic church. In an interview with an Italian magazine Fr. Arturo Sosa stated the following:

 “The devil is not a person,” but is instead “a way of acting evil…It is a way of evil to be present in human life.”  Sosa went on to say, “Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”

Okay, so, Fr. Arturo Sosa, is the Superior General of the Jesuit priests and therefore a very big deal in the Catholic church. His declaration directly contradicts both Catholic doctrine and the Bible.  When I heard of this development, I did what most people do when they hear something they find shocking. I searched google to find out how many other people agree with him. I quickly learned that a whopping eighty-three percent of Catholics and fifty-five percent of Evangelical Protestants agree with Fr. Sosa that Satan is nothing but a figment of fevered imaginations.  

With all due respect to Fr. Sosa and every other Christian who does not believe in the devil. 

You all are wrong. 

Satan is a powerful being created by God. He eventually became filled with pride, turned against God and embraced evil (Isaiah 14:11-13, Luke 10:18).  The words devil and Satan are used interchangeably a total of eighty-two times in the Bible. Most describe the devil and his exploits (Luke 13:16, Mark 4:15, Luke 22:3, John 8:44, 1stThessalonians 2:18). The other passages are mostly just warnings to be on guard against the devil (Ephesians 4:26-28, James 4:7, 1stPeter 5:8).  It would be strange for God to describe something or someone that does not exist. It would be stranger still for God to warn people about something that does not exist. 

Seriously.

Ephesians 6:11-17 depicts Satan as a schemer. Satan is always looking for an opening so he can hurt individuals, ruin relationships, turn people away from God and basically just wreak havoc on the human race.  The Greek word for scheme in Ephesians 6:11 is a compound word.  The first part of the word means “to study” and the second part means to “run over”. What this word tells us about Satan is that he carefully studies people and situations looking for ways to run people over so that he can derail them from God’s purposes for their life. 

We are responsible for our own choices.  No one gets to lay all their bad behavior at the feet of the devil. That being said, Satan’s fingerprints are all over some of the greatest evils of our time. He does his best work when he plants ideas in our minds that appeal to our sinful tendencies and self-centeredness. Unless we are spiritually aware and walking in the Spirit (John 16:13, Galatians 5:16-17) we run with whatever questionable ideas have been planted in our heads. Because there are fewer and fewer people who are consciously choosing to walk in the Spirit, it is easy for Satan to introduce lies that turn people against each other and cripple the work of the church. 

Satan’s most successful schemes are the ones he uses to drive wedges between people, spread deception and destroy the work of the church. 

Racism is one of Satan’s most successful schemes. 

Racism is not new, nor is it strictly an American problem. Although, for the record, American racism has had some exceptionally ugly characteristics that kind of put it in a class of its own. The ancient world was rife with racism although racist attitudes were based less on skin color and more on achievement, political power and military might. Greeks were the pretentious eggheads of the ancient world, they believed they were superior to any race who lacked art or a written language of their own. Romans supposed they were better than any race of people they could conquer militarily.  Jews took their title as God’s chosen people pretty seriously and believed they were the only race God loved. This led them to believe they were superior to everyone. 

Jesus came to change all that. His coming was intended to eliminate racism from the heart of anyone who truly believes in Him. The Bible is clear that Jesus died for everyone and there is no race is superior to any other (Galatians 3:27-29, Colossians 3:11, Ephesians 2:15-17). Sadly, Satan has managed to use pride and human stupidity to convince some people (sometimes even God’s people) that they are somehow better than other people based on the color of their skin or country of origin.  

Well-meaning people have endeavored to eliminate the evils of racism by highlighting any attitude or action that they feel is even vaguely racist. Unfortunately, their definition of racism is so broad that our society has come to a place where literally everything is racist. Satan has cleverly made racism seem less horrible than it really is by calling everything racist. When everything is racist nothing is racist and the real racists get away with truly racist behavior.  

Sigh.

This is a place where Christians can bring much-needed balance to the table.  We do that by loving and respecting everyone regardless of color or nationality and by understanding that there is absolutely no room for racist thinking anywhere in the body of Christ.  

Nine Crazy-Bold Prayers Christians Should Pray Everyday

Lord my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence- 2ndChronicles 6:19 NIV

It does not take any exceptional insight or wisdom to see that our world has morphed into a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess in what feels like record time. 

Human life does not have the value it did just a few years ago. Poor neighborhoods in larger cities have morphed into war zones with weekly body and injury counts. One out of every three children conceived is aborted and the body parts of many of those children are peddled for profit under the guise of “science” and “improving life”. The market for sex slaves is booming. Millions of boys and girls are bought and sold for the pleasure of adults who have no regard for anyone or anything including vulnerable children. 

Everybody hates everybody. Name-calling and character assassination are the new normal. One wrong word either spoken or written and the thought police is unleashed. No one is exempt from the hate and nothing is too outrageous to say anymore. Words that were once earmarked for truly dastardly people with proven track records of actual evil, words like racist, white supremacist, Nazi and fascist are now lobbed around with casual indifference at anyone foolish or brave enough to offend the thought mob. Those who hold to a conservative view of morality and truth are hated and no group is more despised than Bible-believing Christians.  

Sigh. 

These are times that are sure to test even the best and brightest of God’s people (Matthew 24:9-13).  Christians should strive to remember two truths about the time we live in. First and foremost, God promised this day would come (2ndTimothy 3:1-5, 2ndPeter 3:3).  There is nothing we are seeing or experiencing that should come as a shock to anyone with even a casual familiarity with the New Testament. Secondly, Christians are told to stand against evil. We are not to run or hide in our bunkers or curse the darkness on social media. Rather we are told to do what we can to fight the evil and then stand brazenly against it (Ephesians 6:13).  The way we stand is through prayer. I believe God is calling His people to pray some crazy bold prayers these days. Following are ten hard prayers every Christian should consider praying every day. 

Pray for the delusion to be lifted- 

2ndThessalonians promises that there will come a day when people will hate truth so much that they will consciously reject God and refuse to be saved (2ndThessalonians 2:10b-11). The result of this reckless rejection of God and His truth is that a powerful delusion will come on the earth causing people to hate truth (all truth, not just spiritual truth) even more.  Christians should do their best to be as much like God as humanly possible. This means we should want people to be saved and we should never, ever delight in the death of a wicked person (John 3:16, Ezekiel 33:11).  Pray the delusion is lifted and people will embrace truth.

Pray for an end to lawlessness- 

A natural consequence of the above-mentioned delusion will be a level of lawlessness that will be unlike anything the world has seen since the days of Noah (1stJohn 3:4, Genesis 6:11). The rise in violence, sexual-slavery, hate groups and the upsurge in attacks against the police are natural consequences of human beings willfully choosing spiritual rebellion over spiritual obedience.  

Pray for genuine racial healing- 

All human beings are made in the image of God. Conflict between the races breaks the heart of God (1st Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). Furthermore, we will not move forward as a nation without authentic racial reconciliation. 

Pray church leaders will rethink how church is done- 

In recent decades there have been radical changes in the way Christians do church. Church has shifted from a member model designed to train Christians to evangelize unbelievers into a seeker model designed to attract unbelievers to church services. Intentions were noble but outcomes have been less than stellar. There have been very few lasting conversions in recent years and many “Christians” are leaving the faith altogether. Most alarming of all, most believers freely admit they do not feel adequately equipped to reach the lost. We must return to a model of church that attracts non-Christians to Jesus (John 13:35) and teaches and trains Christians to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-15). 

Pray God will show you your junk- 

Every single person, Christian or non-Christian has junk. Junk is our stupid, sinful and weird ways of relating to God and people.  Junk is bad because it hurts other people and holds us back from maturing into the person God wants us to be. Pray fervently that God will show you your junk so you can repent, change and become the man or woman God needs you to be at this point in history. 

Pray for a movement of repentance in the church- 

God moves when people repent (2ndChronicles 7:14, 2ndCorinthians 13:5). We need God to move, so, pray for repentance. 

Pray for the crazy person who is convinced you’re a racist or a meanie or whatever- 

There is literally nothing worse than being falsely accused of something awful and nothing easier than loathing the people who accuse us falsely. Pray for the haters. There’s a lot of them out there and they need our prayers more than they need our judgment.

Pray for transparency in government and that duplicity will be revealed- 

Seriously. 

Pray for boldness, wisdom and spiritual strength-

What the world needs more than anything is Christians who will use wisdom and sound biblical theology to boldly and lovingly reach out to their friends and neighbors with the good news that Jesus really does love them. People need to know God has the power to transform them into something infinitely better than they are right now.  

Seven Idols Christians Worship

They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them~ Psalm 106:35-36 NIV

Whatever book I happen to be reading in the Bible tends to have a discernable impact on my writing. However, I usually only see the impact in hindsight.  Last summer I studied Jeremiah. Looking back, I clearly see that the blogs I wrote during those months tended to be glum, cynical screeds against the evils of the culture. While I was writing a devotional on Galatians I frequently wrote about the wonders of grace and the hazards of legalism, racism, hypocrisy and self-righteousness. The difference between those blogs and this one is that this time I am intentionally connecting a biblical topic I have been studying with a cultural phenomenon we are experiencing in the church.  

So. 

I have been reading the book of Hosea. A key theme of Hosea is idolatry. Hosea got me thinking about idolatry and how contemporary idolatry tends to differ from the standard bow-down-to-a-creepy-little-statue variety of idolatry we see throughout the Old Testament. 

While I was reading Hosea, Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye)and Marty Sampson (writer for Hillsong) both abandoned their faith in Christ and “came out” as unbelievers (Marty Sampson has since back-peddled a tiny bit). The book of Hosea and other prophetic books make a clear connection between the act of idolatry and the act of apostasy (Hosea 13:2, Zephaniah 1:3, 2nd Kings 17:11-13). In the Bible there is not a single case where apostasy occurred in a void. No person or nation just up and decided to stop believing in God. Apostasy always followed a lifestyle of idolatry. 

Some idols we worship today are unique to our generation. Some tend to more of an issue among Christian leaders while others affect most Christians in some way. The idols we worship are directly related to the apostasy we are experiencing. When we get a handle our tendency towards idolatry we may see fewer people leaving the church.  

Sadly, there is something in the following to offend pretty much everyone. Beginning with:

 Ambition- 

Ambition is not sinful until it becomes THE primary motivating force in our lives. If ambition is not kept in check it swiftly mutates into covetousness.  Covetousness then becomes an all-consuming focus on whatever it is we long for.  Ambition is particularly dangerous in the church world because unbridled ambition often disguises itself in Christians and Christian leaders as a healthy and godly desire to see churches grow and Christian beliefs spread. However, sometimes ambition for church growth is really just a ravenous appetite for celebrity and recognition.    

Success-

Christians have merged worldly measures of success with Christianity. Being wealthy, sought after and liked is perceived to be success in our Christian culture; although the biblical standard for success is vastly different (Isaiah 66:2, Matthew 22:36-40, Hebrews 11:36-38).  A person who has made success into an idol will do anything to hang on to the attention, money and adulation that comes with success. This includes compromising what they believe or even renouncing their faith in Christ so they can increase the size of their audience and number of followers. 

Grace- 

 God is insanely complex. He is good, merciful and kind. He is also unapologetically judgmental. Like it or not, God judges any person who declines to humbly repent and embrace Him as the sovereign Lord of everything (1st Corinthians 6:8-10, Jude 14:16-18, Revelation 20:13). When we insist on making God out to be all lollipops, sunshine and good vibes we aren’t really worshipping God anymore. We are worshipping the grace God offers only to those who choose to repent (Matthew 4:17, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:29-31). We know grace has become an idol when we buy the lie that a loving God cannot or will not judge people who refuse to play by His rules.   

Judgment- 

There are Christians who really, really want God to smite the daylights out of anyone who has committed certain acts of wickedness. They also want Him to do it without so much as a smidgen of mercy. If the notion that God would withhold judgment from someone just because they have repented bothers you; you just might worship the judgment and wrath of God rather than God (Ezekiel 18:23). 

Marriage-

In Mark 2:23-27 the Pharisees chastised Jesus and his disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath. This was a technical violation of Exodus 16:23. Jesus informed the Pharisees that the Sabbath was intended to be an institution that benefited and blessed people rather than an institution people became a slave to. I am not “soft” on divorce. I believe marriage is critically important and that most marriages could be saved if both people in the marriage would simply stop sinning. That said, I also believe many contemporary Christians make the same mistake with marriage that the Pharisees made with the Sabbath. We worship marriage when we put the institution of marriage above of the welfare of the people in the marriage. 

Freedom-

Freedom (especially where sexuality is concerned) is an idol that has been worshipped with wild abandon in Western culture for decades.  In recent years Christians have followed suit. Those who worship freedom do not believe even God Himself has the right to tell anyone that old-fashioned ideas about gender, sexuality and marriage are true and that some behaviors are simply unacceptable. 

Youth- 

1st Timothy 3:6 cautions Church leaders against placing new converts in positions of leadership. This is because when new converts become leaders they also become prideful. Eventually they may even begin to believe that they have more wisdom and insight than other Christians and even God. A twenty-year-old is by the nature of their age a new convert (even if he or she was raised in the church). Joshua Harris was nineteen when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbyeand twenty-one when the greater Christian community dubbed him a leader. Marty Sampson was barely out of his teens when he began leading worship and writing music for Hillsong.  In one sense it is not surprising that these men have decided that they have moved beyond Christianity.  Until we stop elevating every young kid with talent or a good idea into “a leader” we will continue to have problems with those leaders as they age. 

Idols need to be cast down and ours are no different. The only way to cast these particular idols down is a return to Bible study and prayer. When we study the Bible, it enlightens our minds and empowers us to see life the way God sees life. Prayer ensures that the attitudes of our heart truly reflect the heart of God. 

Young White Men Really Are A Problem- Seven Reasons Why

They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore, the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes- Hosea 4:1-3b NASB

It’s been a long sad, grief-filled week with two mass shootings last Saturday, one in Dayton, Ohio and the other in El Paso, Texas. There were few parallels between the two shooters. The El Paso shooter was a right-wing racist nut-job.  The Ohio shooter was a left-wing socialist nut job.   

 The one clear connection between the two shooters is that they were both white males. Much has been written on the subject of “toxic masculinity”. Most of it is patently ridiculous and blatantly sexist. That being said, it’s simply a fact that young white men are the only demographic who routinely walk into crowds, pull out weapons and proceed to massacre as many humans as possible in the shortest time imaginable. 

The question we must answer as a society is “why”? 

What on earth are we doing as a culture that triggers young white males to become so detached from humanity that they kill their fellow humans with wild-eyed abandon?  The kneejerk reaction on the left is to blame guns and mental illness. The kneejerk reaction on the right is to blame the collapse of the family and mental illness. I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about everything.  I do know that this problem is far more nuanced and systemic than knee-jerk reactions or mental illness. Fixing it will mean taking a hard look at the following six issues:  

Self-control ceased to be a “thing” a long time ago- 

 I get that emotional repression is bad. I understand that it is critical we allow kids to express their feelings. I have no issues with respectful, polite forms of verbal expression.  HOWEVER, I have to wonder if the opposite extreme we have landed on is really any healthier. Is it prudent to encourage kids to vent their aggression without some really firm boundaries, like respect for others? Should we really allow kids to scream, yell, hit and insult their parents and teachers in the name of averting emotional repression?  It seems to me that there were fewer (like no) mass shootings back in the day when kids were expected to control themselves and disciplined for not. 

Selfish adults do selfish things that inflict trauma on innocent kids sometimes the kids don’t recover- 

It is a fact that most mass shooters experience early childhood trauma (google it). The nature of childhood (and trauma) is such that it is pretty much impossible for a child to inflict trauma on him or herself. Parents who abuse drugs and alcohol, who are selfish, violent, neglectful and who put their own sexual gratification ahead of the needs of their children are the primary cause of childhood trauma. Traumatized girls are typically self-destructive, traumatized boys are just plain destructive. They take their rage and anger out on others including sometimes complete strangers.  Unless there is a revolution in the expectations we have of parents in this country we will continue to see young men acting out in violence.  

 We have encouraged young men to sear their consciences with violent, sexualized entertainment- 

A great deal has been said concerning mass shooters and violent video games. I see no need to belabor an already belabored point. However, video games are not our only problem. How about the spread of porn that combines sexuality and violence into a confusing, toxic, soul-twisting vortex of foulness? The Ohio shooter had a “rape list” as well as a “kill list”. He was also a regular consumer of pornography. The El Paso shooter reportedly spent a lot of time on the 8chan message board where sexual violence and misogyny are celebrated. When are we going to wake up to the fact that pornography is stripping us of our humanity? Wisdom recognizes that sometimes the rights of adults to see what they want to see needs to be curtailed in deference to the needs of children and society as a whole.    

We have not taught children to fear God- 

When God is discussed in our culture it is always in terms of love and grace. Love and grace are fundamental aspects of the Christian faith that should be taught. However, we have forgotten that good evangelization and biblical teaching carefully balances the concepts of judgment and grace. Without teaching on sin and judgment the reason for God’s grace lacks context. Without context we end up with a generation who sees God as nothing more than a feeble blessing machine who doesn’t really care what people do as long as they are happy (insert gagging noises here). 

We have not given young men a vision or purpose- 

 Instead we tell young men (and women) that God is dead and life is meaningless. We tell them they are blobs of protoplasm with impulses and urges. We tell them it is natural to act on their urges and impulses because they have no greater purpose than self-actualization. Mass shootings are just one natural consequence of this folly. 

Too many young men don’t have Dads and if they do the Dad is useless-

Nearly half (41%) of all babies are born to unwed Mothers. This is unacceptable on a million different levels and I mostly blame women.  Wise, intelligent women do not have sex with men they barely know. Nor, do they have sex with men who have not proven they have the character to adequately parent the children they produce. 

We have enshrined selfishness as a virtue- 

The Democratic Socialist Convention got lost in the madness of this past week. I tuned in and what I saw was mostly just a carnival of narcissism and silliness. On one level it was actually kind of amusing.  Privileged (mostly) white people spent a lot of time selfishly insisting that no one do or say anything that might possibly make them uncomfortable or hurt their feelings. I seriously doubt they accomplished anything of any significance. My take-away from what I saw is that too many kids in our culture have not been taught the virtue of self-denial. Nor have they been taught that feelings are far less relevant than facts. In the best situations these kids grow-up to enshrine their selfishness in silly political causes. In the worst situations these kids grow-up and think it’s acceptable to slaughter strangers. It’s tough to predict what will happen when you teach a child that selfishness is a virtue. 

Everyone wants a “one and done” solution to the problem of gun violence. It will not happen. There is no single law that will fix the problem we have produced with our willful foolishness. Instead we have to do the hard work of changing how we raise our children.  

Why We Still Need Church

I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth- 1stTimothy 3:14b-15 NIV

There’s a lot of hating on the church that goes on these days. Just this past week a prominent church leader exchanged the truth of God for a lie and took to Instagram to renounce his faith (Romans 1:25, 2nd Peter 3:17, Matthew 24:12-13). Joshua Harris proceeded to made a point of theatrically apologizing for what the church believes and why it believes it. “Church leaders” are not the only ones who have taken to bashing the church. Many believers make a regular habit of apologizing for what the church has traditionally believed and taught.    

Sigh. 

I am under no illusions regarding the church. The church is made up of people. People (even redeemed people) are always a work in progress. Consequently, any organization that people are a part of will inevitably be flawed. Church people (sometimes even church leaders) have done terrible things and promoted appalling attitudes in the name of the God who would categorially denounce those behaviors and attitudes. 

My understanding of the shortcomings of the church run so deep that I have a sizable collection of blogs under the category of “Church Peeves”. That being said, I have nothing against the church. 

To the contrary, I believe that church is the most critical institution to grace the face of the planet. I do not believe a church must be a mega-multi-site-church to be a legitimate church. There is nothing wrong with small churches or even home churches as long as the church is healthy and the body of believers (who include more than one or two families) is learning, growing and keeping one another accountable. The size and structure of the church doesn’t matter all that much. What really matters is that Christians make a point to be an active part of a local church. Here’s why:

The church is the storehouse of spiritual truth- 

In spite of its flaws, church is intended to be the place sinners go to find their way to God and the place the redeemed go to be strengthened and sustained in their faith journey. Without the church Christianity ultimately devolves into a rickety spiritual DIY project where every person does what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25, Proverbs 19:2, Jeremiah 51:17). Fallible humans need the church to be the arbiter of truth or we tend to go a little nutso. Furthermore, without a firm foundation of truth, we find ourselves powerless to rescue the culture God called us to save. 


Church is where Christian community becomes a reality- 

Truth is critical but if truth were the end-all-be-all of the Christian life Christians could become who and what God intended them to be (Philippians 2:15, 1st Thessalonians 5:23, 1st Peter 2:5) by simply reading a theology book or listening to a sermon online. Instead God designed believers to be part of a greater Christian community (1st Corinthians 12:27). When we dive into a functioning Christian community we learn to love others (John 13:35), control our fleshly urges (Galatians 5:13). We also discover our spiritual gifts and have a place to use them (Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11-13) 

Church is where we find accountability (if we’re real with people)-

Everyone needs someone who loves them enough to call them out. For Christians church is the place we find people who care enough to tell us the truth about our attitudes and direction in life. In order for this to work we have to do more than simply attend Sunday services. We have to be actively involved in the community and prepared to be real with people. This means being humble enough to admit we don’t always have it all together and that we need other people. 

Church is something Jesus told us to do- 

Seriously.  Church was Jesus’ idea. It is nearly impossible to be completely obedient to Jesus without involvement with His body (Matthew 16:18, 1st Corinthians 12:17, Ephesians 4:10-15).  

Church is where our values, attitudes and behaviors are challenged-

There are standards, beliefs and actions that are accepted and celebrated in our culture that are entirely antithetical to the Christian way of life (self-centeredness, sexism, racism, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, contempt, materialism). Christians in a healthy church that teaches truth are reminded on a regular basis that we are commanded to be different from the rest of the world (Romans 12:2, 1st Peter 1:14, Galatians 5:13-26)  

Church is where we learn to love people who aren’t like us-

Christian churches are the only places on earth where human beings of every race, gender and socio-economic class worship together side by side and serve each other out of love.  This naturally creates an environment where we learn to like (and sometimes even love) people who we would never get a chance to meet in any other environment. The diversity of church is a beautiful thing and the essence of New Testament living.   

When the Church dies moral and spiritual truth dies with it-

When that happens moral chaos and human suffering inevitably follows.  

Six Things The Church Must Do To Bring Revival

 Justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found- Isaiah 59:13-14a NIV

The world is a pretty messy place right now. 

A reputation can be ruined and anyone can be vilified simply by using a few simple trigger words to describe that person (racist, sexist homophobic). Clever sinners have literally invented new ways to sin especially in the arenas of gender and sexuality.  Furthermore, all one has to do is watch five minutes of any news program on any channel and it becomes painfully obvious that no one in the political sphere is even pretending to get along with anyone else anymore.  

Christianity is also pretty messy right now.

 Conversions are down and scandals are up. Millennial Christians left the church years ago and show no signs of returning any time soon. Now many of their parents are following suit and trading Sunday services for Sunday hikes. Few view the church as a force for good in the world.  Pastors and Priests are no longer at top of the list of professions that people trust most. Just a few years ago clergy were thought to be above reproach by the vast majority of people. 

There is no end to the theories regarding the whys and how’s of what got us to this place. Some church-goers blame the materialistic mindset of many Christians. Others blame weak preaching, scarcity of Bible study, lack of care for the poor and the less than saintly lifestyle choices of many Christians. Others are convinced the fault lies with too much focus on Bible study and the emphasis Christians place on the lifestyle choices of others. Some say the problem lies with churches (or the people in the churches) who have been reluctant to change with the times. Others argue just as passionately that the problem is with all the changes that have taken place within the church in recent years.  

Sigh.

Okay, so, some theories make a little more sense than others. That said, none do anything to resolve the real issue. The real issue is that a church in crisis can do nothing to help or heal a culture in crisis. Real and lasting change in the culture will only come through a movement of repentance that leads to revival.  Historically, revival has always begun with a movement among individuals in the church to repent, love the unlovable and embrace spiritual obedience (Luke 10:27). 

Getting there begins with:

Getting our spiritual stuff together-

There are a massive number of people who attend church consistently who simply do not have their spiritual stuff together. Sadly, no one can do this for anyone else. It’s something we all have to do for ourselves.  There is an epidemic of moral compromise in the body of Christ and where moral goodness does exist there tends to be a great deal of life-choking, joy-killing legalism. Change is never easy and, in this case, it will require a willingness to take a hard look at our own lives and then repent of things that need repenting including pointless legalism (Colossians 3:5-14, Galatians 2:16, Hebrews 7:19).

Stop tolerating bad leaders because they deliver results- 

This week the lead Pastor at Willow Creek Church in Wheaton stepped down after publicly acknowledging that he “has an intense drive to see results in the ministry”. He also disclosed that he “pushes others ruthlessly” to achieve the results he wants. Six months of coaching and therapy did nothing to correct his self-confessed leadership deficiencies. His predecessor, Bill Hybels was fired after a multitude of women came forward over the course of many years alleging inappropriate sexual behavior. Unfortunately, these stories have become all too common in the church world, especially in larger churches. We have forgotten that it is not an act of leadership to bully subordinates and it is possible have excellence without intimidation tactics or sexual misconduct. Church has become an industry. All too often Pastors who prove they can achieve results (butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate) are allowed to bully and harass so long as people keep coming, giving and writing five-star-reviews on Yelp. Church board members need to get their priorities in order and demand more of Pastors (1stTimothy 3:1-13) from a moral and leadership perspective.  

Start thinking biblically about worldly things-

There are many behaviors and attitudes that the Bible does not necessarily forbid but are not wise or beneficial from a spiritual perspective (1stCorinthians 10:23). It’s time we made a practice looking down the road and thinking through the potential long-term cost of today’s choices. 

Expect more from new converts- 

For whatever reason, it has become standard operating procedure to do everything possible to keep new Christians from identifying themselves as new converts to Christianity. It’s as if we think that somewhere there is a safer place to “come out” as a Christian than at church. We have nixed the embarrassing altar calls and pesky talks about the importance of repentance and living a holy life. We just wait for conviction to come along on its own.  Is it any wonder new converts to Christianity aren’t impacting their world for Jesus? 

Find ways to give back-

Change will come as we learn to contribute, help and do rather than criticize, compromise and protest the chaos in the world (Matthew 22:37-40). 

Pray- 

Seriously. None of this will happen without prayer. 

How “Nice” Has Become an Idol We Worship We with Wild Abandon

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols~ 1stJohn 5:21 NIV

“Being nice” is an idol we worship with abandon in Western culture. 

Before you tag-out to write me a long rambling comment listing in horrific detail the countless ways people have become rude, vulgar and belligerent, please hear me out. 

I’m not crazy.  

It is true that there are many people in our culture who become aggressively rude, foulmouthed and abusive at what looks like the tiniest provocation. However, if you look at the context of their aggression; their hostility is nearly always directed at people the aggressors categorize as hateful, rude or disrespectful in some way. 

It is never acceptable to be “not nice” anymore unless, of course someone else is determined to be “not nice”. That said, once the judgment of “not nice” has been established, literally anything goes. It is then acceptable to unleash untold hell on those judged to be “not nice”.  

Sadly, this phenomenon has turned many Christians into a horde of craven fraidy-cats (more on that later).  

This insight came as I was reading an article. The writer of said article believes evangelical support for the President (rather than the churches lack of holiness or the average Christian’s reluctance to share the not-nice parts of the gospel) is hurting our Christian witness in America. He believes that it would be best for Christian voters to dump the President and take our lumps with whoever gets elected next. Rather than discredit the reputation of Christianity with support for the President. 

The primary grievance the writer seemed to have with the President is not his with policies but rather his lack of politeness and absence of niceness. There are opponents of the President who really do have issues with conservative policies. However, they rarely attack those policies. Instead they focus endlessly on the Presidents lack of decorum, dignity and niceness.  

Sigh. 

Our collective obsession with niceness transcends the realm of politics.  Despite laws safeguarding free speech there is an influential movement afoot to shut down any and all speech thought to be “not nice”.  Racist, sexist and homophobic speech has been deemed the least “nice” speech and for good reason. Clever individuals have recognized that the most efficient way to silence someone else’s speech (and to be given the go ahead to be “not nice” to that person) is to twist that person’s speech into something racist, sexist and/or homophobic. Universities have made a practice of suppressing the speech of students who hold views that are thought to be “not nice”. Schools routinely disinvite speakers deemed problematic due to their lack of niceness. Professors have actually been fired from jobs for openly sharing views decreed “not nice”.

There’s more:

The Berkley city council has prohibited the use of gender specific pronouns in their city code because it is “not nice” to call someone a pronoun they don’t identify with. Berkley has determined that it is categorially “not nice” to offend a gender confused person or a woman or anyone so now a manhole cover will be called a “maintenance hole” and manpower will be termed “human effort” and brothers and sisters will now be called “siblings”. 

Welcome to 1984 folks. 

The entire west coast is being taken over by homeless people. Sections of entire cities are no longer fit to do business in. Nothing is being done to correct this problem (or help the homeless) because it has been determined by leadership in those cities that it is “not nice” to make judgments about the lifestyle choices of others. Medical professionals will admit in their more vulnerable moments they are reluctant to tell patients they are overweight or that their lifestyle choices are going to kill them because they do not want to be perceived as “not nice” or “judgmental”. 

The idol of nice has slipped into the church and it IS hurting our witness.  For years now, churches (even evangelical churches) have systematically softened language concerning sin. In some situations, churches have stopped discussing topics—no matter how biblical those topics might be— because someone— somewhere might possibly feel those topics are “not nice”. The teachings of Calvinism have made serious inroads in recent years, even in denominations that are not traditionally Calvinistic. I suspect one of the reasons Calvinism has become trendy is because Calvinism teaches that Christians never have to tell unbelievers they are going to hell or even evangelize them (decidedly “not nice” things). Calvinists believe it is the sole responsibility of the Holy Spirit to reach unbelievers and He does not want or need our help. If these strategies were effective I would support them, but they are not. Church attendance has plummeted as have authentic conversions to Christianity. The vast majority of church growth in recent decades has been what experts call “transfer growth” or Christians simply transferring from one church or denomination to another church or denomination.   

Idols must be dealt with decisively.  That does not mean it is okay to be rude, abusive or foulmouthed. Christians should strive to treat ALL people with the respect, dignity and the consideration that is due any being made in the image of a holy God. It does mean that we stop letting our fear of man outweigh our fear of God. 

It is critical Christians learn to balance “niceness” with truthfulness in a culture that is literally dying right before our very eyes (Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:25). It is the ultimate in fiddling while Rome burns to worry more about being labeled “not nice” than to worry about the souls of people or the future of our civilization.  

Six (seriously, not legalistic) Rules That Will Keep You From Going Totally Sideways In Life

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel~ Philippians 1:27 NIV  

I am not really much of a rule-follower.   

That being said, there was brief period early-on in my Christianity when I had a short but ill-fated love affair with legalism. Needless to say, it was not my finest hour. Over time through Bible study, the guidance of a gentle mentor, and some spiritual growth I concluded that laws are intended for law-breakers (1stTimothy 1:9). It is now my firmly held conviction that if Christians would simply seek wisdom, follow biblical principles and obey God, there would be little need for rules. 

That being said.

Recently, I was thinking about how one person can be incredibly successful from a spiritual perspective while another person in a similar set of circumstances can go completely sideways and end up shipwrecking both their lives and their faith (1stTimothy 1:18-19). As I was thinking through the how and why of all that. I came-up with was a list of attitudes and behaviors that spiritually successful people tend to have (Galatians 5:22-23, Colossians 1:9-11). Then I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with a way to express my thoughts without using the “rules” word. Ultimately, it was just too hard. Sigh. 

Following are a few rules that if followed, pretty much guarantee spiritual success, regardless of circumstances: 

Be teachable-

Being teachable is basically just being open to the notion that we might be wrong about something (doctrine, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors). Being teachable means owning it when we are not doing life well or we need help or guidance from other people. Being teachable is the polar opposite of being prideful. Teachable people ask God on a regular basis to reveal their blind spots and the areas of their lives that need work.  Then they ask for help and seek wisdom. Help and wisdom can come in the form of a wise friend, a Christian counselor, Christian books, a pastor or a spiritual mentor. What matters is that we are willing to humble ourselves and ask for it when we need it. 

Be obedient-

There has been some serious misunderstanding regarding obedience and legalism in recent years. For the better part of the 20thcentury the cultural pendulum in church world swung towards extreme legalism.  Beginning in the 1980’s the pendulum began to swing in the extreme opposite direction which eventually landed us where we are at now (extreme worldliness).  The simplest definition of legalism is the practice of adding manmade rules to straightforward biblical commands. For example: Christians are commanded to avoid sexual immorality (sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, prostitution etc.) Christians are NOT told to abstain from dating or told to only practice courtship or to avoid kissing or dancing. It is legalistic (adding to God’s commands) to prohibit dating, dancing or kissing. However, it is clearly NOT legalistic to tell someone to stop hooking-up with strangers or to obey the Bible (1stThessalonians 4:3-8, 1stTimothy 1:10, 1stCorinthians 6:8-10, 1stCorinthians 6:15).

Engage the world around you- 

We only get one shot at life on this planet (Hebrews 9:27) and our time here is so short that the Bible refers to human life as a flower that springs up for a season (1stPeter 1:24, Job 14:1-2). Furthermore, every season of life tends to be shorter than we think it will be. We only have so much time to be married, parent our children, love our neighbors, pastor our churches, lead the people around us and/or impact our workplaces for Jesus.  It would benefit us all to put down our phones, shut off the T.V. and be a lot more intentional about engaging the world and the people in it. Not only would we have a bigger impact on our world we would also enjoy our time here more.  

Recognize and run from unhealthy people and situations-

Sadly, in this fallen world there are individuals and situations that can be detrimental to our spiritual and emotional health. Those folks repeatedly take us to a place where we doubt God, lose faith in our ability to do the things God has called us to do and sometimes they even cause us to sin (Matthew 18:6, Luke 17:1). I am not a big supporter of simply cutting people out of our lives without a really good reason. That said, there are situations where a little (or a lot of) distance is just wise.

Become a friend of God-

Believe God is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. Get to know Him on a personal level rather than simply acquiring information about Him and God will call you His friend (James 2:23).   

 Develop people- 

Jesus spent the vast majority of His time helping people to become better and healthier versions of themselves. He wants us to do the same. Make a point of helping friends, strangers, co-workers and subordinates to become the best version of themselves they can become. In the process you will become an improved version of you.