Seven Churches Series- Smyrna the Brave and Faithful Church

Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them- Hebrews 11:36-38

There was no place in the ancient world where it made sense from a practical perspective to be a Christian. Everywhere in the Roman world there was always a very real chance persecution would break out. Men, women and even children were put to death simply for professing Jesus as Lord.

That said. 

There were some places where it was easier to be a Christian than others. This is because most persecution against Christians tended to center around a practice known as Emperor or Caesar worship. 

The Roman Empire was massive. Its territory covered most of Europe, Greece, all of Asia Minor (Turkey), much of the near East, Israel, Spain, much of Africa and then some. The sheer vastness of the territory created a complex problem for Roman rulers. 

Unity. 

How exactly does one unify millions of people from literally hundreds of diverse cultures and all sorts of religious backgrounds? This was a critical question. Without something to unify all those diverse people groups mayhem, rebellion and anarchy would break out all over the Empire. Clearly, none of the emperors wanted any of those things on their watch.  

This is where Caesar worship comes in. 

All adults living in the Roman Empire were obligated by law to go to a temple in their city once a year. While there they were required to throw some incense onto an altar and declare to a Roman official that whatever Caesar happened to be in power at the moment was God. If the person declined for any reason they would be transported to the nearest arena posthaste where they would be crucified, torn limb from limb, fed to a wild animal or beheaded ASAP. 

This ritual was quite effective at unifying the territories. 

However.

It also created all kinds of problems for Christians who refused to worship anyone but Jesus (Exodus 20:3, Psalm 16:4, 1st Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:5). 

There were cities where Caesar worship was not always strictly enforced. Christians were safer in those places. Jews were one of a handful of groups lawfully excluded from Caesar worship. If the synagogue leaders in a city allowed the church to be recognized as a sect of Judaism the Christians in the area would be given a break as well. 

The Christians in Smyrna got no breaks. Zero. Zilch. Nada. 

 The bureaucrats in Smyrna gleefully engaged in Caesar worship and were more than happy to execute anyone who refused to give Caesar his “due”. Moreover, the Jews in Smyrna loathed Christians. Not only did they refuse to protect Christians. They were so meanspirited towards the Church they would routinely report Christians as a deviant (anti-government) cult. Jewish leaders would suck up to government officials by suggesting Christians be given the “test” of Emperor worship, thus ensuring their death. The Jews were so off-the-charts cruel to Christians in Smyrna Jesus referred to the whole lot of them as a “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9). 

Further complicating an already difficult and scary situation, a person’s ability to work anywhere in the Roman Empire was always tied to idol worship. Because the Christians in Smyrna refused to compromise on this issue they were the poorest people in arguably one of the richest cities anywhere in the Roman world. There are two words commonly used for poverty in the Greek language. One means worker. It describes someone who worked with their hands for a living. The other means utter destitution. Jesus used it to describe the poverty of the Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:10). The Christians in Smyrna were—by any measurable human standard— a rather sad and pathetic group of people. 

But. 

Jesus loved them. A lot. I don’t know if Jesus has favorites, but if He does they were for sure a favorite.  Smyrna is one of two churches out of the seven Jesus does not criticize in any way.  The Christians in Smyrna held a special place in Jesus’ heart for one reason and one reason only: they were faithful. They refused to cave to the immense social pressure they were under. They could have chosen to avoid taking unpopular stands on certain social issues. They could have chosen to pay lip service to Caesar and then told their church friends they didn’t or that they didn’t really mean it (Matthew 10:32).  They could have worshiped in pagan temples to keep their jobs. They could have lightened up on teaching Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). Those choices would have helped them gain favor with those in power. Those choices would have allowed them to make a decent living. Those choices would have kept them alive. 

Instead. 

The Christians in Smyrna loudly and proudly declared Jesus to be the only God and took the many lumps that came with that declaration.  Jesus did not promise them life would get easier, in fact, He did the exact opposite. He forecasted more suffering in their future (Revelation 2:10). However. He also promised He would be with them through the trouble. He also promised He would personally and lavishly reward them for their faithfulness (Revelation 2:10-11).

 Smyrna was not the polished church (that was Ephesus). Nor was it the wealthy church (that was Laodicea). It certainly wasn’t the popular church (that was Sardis) but it was a church Jesus loved passionately because it was the brave and faithful church that was unafraid to take a stand on the things that mattered most. 

The Seven Churches Series- Ephesus

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart- Proverbs 3:3 NIV

I have this theory that all Christian churches, denominations and organizations follow the same basic development pattern.

It always begins with a dream, desire or idea God plants in the heart of a person or a group of people.  This dream ultimately produces the birth of something new and beautiful (Isaiah 43:19, Acts 2:42-47).

Then comes childhood.  

Childhood is an exhilarating time in a church or ministry. Childhood is all about beginnings and growth. All the activity of this phase is born out of genuine love for Jesus, passion for the mission of Jesus and a desire to honor and glorify Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).   Leaders seek to obey Jesus above all else and as a result this phase typically results in an abundance of fruit. The childhood phase is also marked by some chaos. Leaders don’t always know what they’re doing, important things don’t get done and there can be disputes between key leaders (Galatians 2:11-14).  Because this stage is naturally volatile, if an organization stays in childhood for too long the ministry or church will die. No ministry or church can endure the disorganization and volatility of the childhood stage for long. 

It’s just too dang messy. 

If the organization or church survives the birth and childhood phase (some don’t). It moves into adulthood. Adulthood is the sweet spot for a ministry or church. There’s still a lot of excitement but there is also a clear vision for where the ministry is going. The vision is firmly rooted in biblical principles and prayer. The ministry is still very Jesus centered but there’s more discipline than in the childhood phase. The policies and leadership structure developed in the early adulthood phase provide the stability necessary to keep the thing from flying off the rails. This is typically a very long phase that is even more effective and fruitful than the childhood phase. The organization or church earns a good reputation in the community and it does a lot of good. People are saved, lives are transformed and Jesus is glorified in a big way (Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5). 

Then comes middle age.

If an organization makes it to the middle age stage everything is going super well from an optics perspective. Money is being raised, there are a ton of volunteers and the stated mission is still solid. 

However. 

There is a subtle shift that begins with leadership. Leaders become, usually without realizing it, much more focused on building the organization than they are on Jesus and glorifying Jesus. Jesus is still valued, but Jesus is no longer the main thing. He’s more of a figurehead at this point. Passion for Jesus and devotion to the mission gets lost in the day-to-day of “doing ministry”, “raising money” and “growing the church” (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 10:7-9, Ephesians 4:11-16). It not unheard of for shady conduct to become a common occurrence at this point, and because leaders are focused is on how things LOOK rather than holiness, righteousness and pleasing Jesus, it is also not all unusual for shadiness to be swept under the rug, rather than being dealt with.   All or most of the ministry work of this phase is centered on programs and fund raising rather than transforming people and glorifying Jesus.  On the surface the ministry activity APPEARS to be people and Jesus centered. However, most of it is focused firmly on keeping the ministry machine going, raising money and justifying the continued existence of the organization. 

This is exactly what happened to the church in Ephesus. 

The first church Jesus addresses in Revelation chapters 2-3 arrived at middle age and their love for Jesus and concern for the spiritual and emotional needs of people became lost in their desire to maintain the status quo. Jesus called this “losing their first love” (Revelation 2:4-5).

But here’s the thing: 

No one looking at the Ephesian church from the outside would have suspected there was a problem. Even most folks who attended the Ephesian church were likely unaware of the issues. The leaders were undoubtedly clueless. Leaders at this stage almost always lack any kind of real self-awareness. As a result, they thought everything was fine. And why not? All the externals looked awesome. The pastors were skillful, polished and well-educated. The doctrine was solid.  They avoided getting involved with problematic or divisive issues. The people attending gave money and willingly suffered hardship for Jesus (Revelation 2:2-3).  

But. 

Their hearts were far from God. The people stopped caring about the things Jesus cared about. The Ephesian Church was still very busy kingdom building. It was just the wrong kingdom. It was a human kingdom instead of Jesus’ kingdom.  

Jesus’ instruction to the Ephesian Christians is straightforward: “do what you did at first”.  

Jesus knew that one of two things happens at this crossroads.

Most of the time the ministry continues a slow drift further and further from the original mission. Bit by bit it loses its ability to make a spiritual impact on the world. The church remains but the power it once had to make disciples and transform the culture is gone. The people lose their saltiness and the church or organization becomes spiritually worthless (Matthew 5:13). If it endures it becomes more of a social service agency than an actual ministry. 

Or.

There is a spiritual awaking.  The people who attend and lead these churches recognize the problem. They see the drift. It breaks their hearts and they repent. They fully rededicate themselves to the cause of Christ. Jesus becomes the main thing once again and the church or organization continues to be a vital part of the body and a solution to the brokenness in this world (Revelation 2:7). 

However.

Spiritual awaking’s don’t just happen.  

We need to ask God to help us see the drift in our lives and our churches and our ministries. It’s imperative we pray daily for wisdom and self-awareness and a heart that is willing to see the problems and our role in those problems. Most importantly, must be eager to do what we did at first (Jeremiah 17:9-10). We have to fight to go back to that childlike state of spiritual existence where Jesus was our everything and our obedience was a gift we joyfully gave Him.  

What Do the Election Results tell us?

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming– 1st Peter 1:13 NIV

Okay, so a couple of things:

First, just in case you happened to be on another planet for the last five months or so and missed it, there was a mid-term election last week. 

It was kind of a big deal. 

Second, I’m fairly conservative in my political views. I am not conservative because I believe baby Jesus was born with a copy of the constitution in His teeny-tiny hand.  Nor, am I conservative because I believe a person must think a certain way politically in order to become a Christian. I am a conservative because I tend to believe Jesus would be on the side of individual responsibility and personal accountability. Mostly, because responsibility and accountability lead to healthy outcomes and happy people. I also think Jesus would be on the side of life (because He created it) and I’m pretty sure He would be all-in when it comes to limiting the gender spectrum to male and female because it is the design he chose for this world (Genesis 1:27, Genesis 2:23-25)  

For most conservatives the election was a full-on bummer. It was not what we wanted, or prayed for. I know it could have been way worse. That said, it was still, objectively speaking, extremely discouraging. Who would have thought soaring inflation, layoffs, war, cultural chaos and four-dollar a gallon gas would not be punished at the ballot box? But it was not. 

Here’s the thing:

 Christians are commanded to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). One aspect of that command is a call to transform whatever culture we happen to be living in into a better, healthier, more Christ-like version of itself. Because that’s the call, we probably ought to spend some time thinking about this election and what it says about the current state of affairs in this country. We also need to figure out God wants us do about that state of affairs.

So here goes:

It is becoming increasingly more clear that we are living in a post-Christian society. The values Christians have traditionally held dear are no longer a part of the greater cultural narrative.   One illustration of this reality is abortion. Fox News conducted a massive exit poll post-election. Their goal was to discover what issues motivated voters this election cycle. The number one answer was the economy. However, abortion was a very close second. It was pro-abortion supporters who swung the election.   

 This means a large portion of our society cares more about keeping abortion legal than they do about their own economic well-being and future prosperity (Leviticus 18:21, Jeremiah 32:35). Most lefty politicians voted in campaigned entirely on keeping abortion as available and unrestricted as possible. Love of abortion is not the only sign our civilization is in trouble. Violent crime against complete strangers is way up. Euthanasia is rapidly becoming a new normal and the possible benefits of infanticide are very much up for discussion. It will undoubtedly be offered as an option for new parents at local hospitals in the very near future.  

Yikes. 

 Our society is literally hurtling backwards in time towards pre-Christian, heathenish ethics. Most folks are motivated by their individual impulses rather than a desire to build a better future for their children and grandchildren. Our obsession with freedom could actually lead to our own extinction. Literally. A large portion of our population is doing everything possible to keep from reproducing and it could be our downfall.  Human beings are becoming more and more savage as our society has begun to value personal freedom over personal responsibility. Our infatuation with freedom will inevitably lead to less actual autonomy. Governments will step in to control people if they cannot or will not control themselves (Romans 13:4). 

Sigh. 

All that being said. The current chaos could turn out to be a good thing. The culture will likely get worseSometimes bad is better. Hard times cause people to think. Whereas prosperity tends to lead to greater acceptance of whatever the cultural norms are and God knows we don’t need any more acceptance of the current cultural norms.  

So, what is a Christian to do? 

First. 

As strangers living in a strange land (and that’s what Christians are) we must do our level best to live within God’s design for the human race (Genesis 1:27, Hebrews 11:13-16, 1st Peter 1:1-2). Christians should get married, have a bunch of kids, work out their problems and stay married. They should also buy houses, build healthy community and strive to be the kindest, most generous people in their cities and towns (Jeremiah 29:4-8). Living joyfully, well and within the boundaries of God’s design is the first step in “making disciples” in our messy, godless, death obsessed culture.

Then. 

We must be prepared to explain to our friends and neighbors the reasons why we do what we do (1st Peter 3:15). We need to pray like crazy for wisdom and power and boldness. Then we need to open our mouths and tell anyone who will listen about Jesus and the hope He brings to even the most messy and shattered lives. We need to give the world the hope we have received and trust our merciful and good God to bring about the change we need.

Why Does God Seem to Ignore Obvious sin?

 Therefore, repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord- Acts 3:19 NASB

I have a child who always wanted to know what the limits, rules and boundaries were in every situation she found herself. Unfortunately, this child did not want to know the limits, rules and boundaries because she was a passionate rule following legalist who wanted to be extra vigilant about staying within the limits of the law. To the contrary, she was the exact opposite of a rule following legalist. She pushed passed every limit she was given and busted down every boundary she came across. However, interestingly enough though, unlike most rule breakers, this kid also hated to get into trouble of any kind and absolutely despised getting yelled at. 

Sigh.

So, one day when this child was way past old enough to know better she decided it would be fun to break every rule I had ever made. She then blew off every warning I gave her and did the exact opposite of what I asked her to do. My patience, which is not unlimited, even on the best of days, held up pretty well until late afternoon.  I finally broke down and yelled at her. I told her in no uncertain terms I was done. The consequences train was coming to town.

 Before I could list off even one of those consequences she began to cry and told me she hated it when I yelled. At that point, it was obvious we had both reached our limits so I sent her to her room to give us both some time to cool off and regroup.  

When I went into her room, my first question was: “okay, I totally get that you hate being yelled at. So, help me understand why you wait until I someone starts yelling to do what you’re told?”  She responded with: “I know you’re serious once you start yelling”. 

Sigh. 

Here’s the thing.

A lot of us see God the same way. We just sort of assume that when God has finally gotten fed up with our sin, or is nearing the end of His patience with us He will let us know He’s had enough in a loud and obvious kind of a way. We expect God to “yell” or warn us in some way before He brings the hammer of judgment down in our lives. 

 As a result, we tend to think (subconsciously at least) that when we sin and nothing terrible happens God must be okay with (or at least not mad about) whatever monkey business we’ve been up to. Sometimes we even go so far as to call His lack of clear and obvious outrage at our behavior “grace”. 

However.

The book of Romans tells an entirely different story. The first chapter of Romans starts out rather pleasantly. Paul greets the recipients of the letter (whom he had never met) with genuine warmth. Then he says some really nice things about the Christians in Rome and Jesus and their faith in Jesus. Then all of a sudden in verse eighteen he steers the letter in a rather unsettling direction and begins talking about the wrath of God and judgement and how all human beings are without excuse and ought to know better. Then in verse twenty-four he says something super profound we tend to move past rather quickly. 

He says:

God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired- Romans 1:24a NLT

This means:

 God just let them have at it. He let them go ahead and do whatever felt good to them without so much as a single real-time consequence. God did not scream and yell about their sin. He did not crush their consciences with an overwhelming sense of guilt. He did not pile on a whole bunch of horrible consequences. He just let them do whatever shameful thing they felt like doing and they felt just fine about it. 

So, here’s the thing:

This one little verse tells us a lot about God and the freewill of human beings. Just because there is no an apparent consequence for a sin or we feel okay about what we’re doing. It doesn’t necessarily mean God doesn’t have a problem with what we’ve been up to. 

To the contrary. 

A lack of guilty feelings over sin is actually the exact opposite of getting away with something. According to Romans 1:24 it is an indicator God has stepped back from the situation. When God steps back and lets people do whatever they want to do without guilt or consequences it is actually the first step in a long process of judgement. 

Yikes. 

So. What this means is we cannot judge right and wrong based entirely on whether or not we feel guilty or there are obvious consequences when we do certain things. Instead, of relying on what our heart tell us about sin we need to get into the habit of turning away from our sin quickly and repenting completely. Then we need to trust God with the outcome of coming clean. Whatever that may be. 

What are Warning Signs of a bad Spiritual Leader?

My anger burns against your shepherds, and I will punish these leaders. For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has arrived to look after Judah, his flock- Zechariah 10:3 NLT

Bad leadership is a booming problem in our world. 

However.

I believe there is a huge difference between an ineffective leader and bad leader. Ineffective leaders are seldom terrible people.  They simply lack the knowledge, skills and/or personal appeal necessary to lead well.  They have the best of intentions and try their hardest but they just can’t get the job done. 

Conversely.

 Bad leaders are typically quite capable. They tend to have a great deal of personal appeal and they understand how to get things done. However, because they are also oblivious, prideful, manipulative and self-absorbed they do a great deal of damage to those unfortunate enough to be led by them. 

Regrettably, bad leadership is not limited to the secular sphere.

 After nearly thirty years in all sorts of different ministry situations I feel I can say with some authority that American Christianity is infested with bad spiritual leaders. Bad spiritual leaders do far more damage than bad secular leaders. This is because spiritual leaders are the mouthpieces of God in the body of Christ (2nd Peter 1:21, 1st Corinthians 12:7-11). Moreover, many mistakenly see spiritual leaders as God’s mini-me or stand-in.  As a result, many people (saved and unsaved) are incapable of separating the actions and attitudes of a spiritual leader from the will of God. It is not uncommon for individuals who were treated badly by spiritual leaders to erroneously believe it was God’s will for the leader to mistreat them. Consequently, they blame God for the hurt they experienced at the hands of a bad spiritual leader. 

Sigh.

 God will not bless sin, therefore bad leaders are a principal reason why even many “successful” churches are powerless to convert sinners and make disciples. It’s one reason American Christianity losing people like rats fleeing a sinking ship. 

Satan is real (1st Peter 5:8, 1st Timothy 5:15, James 4:7) and not everyone who says they are a Christian really is (Matthew 7:15, Matthew 7:21).  Moreover, Christians are not robots who do exactly what God wants them to do all the time. Due to these and other factors, problematic leadership has been an issue in the Church since the dawn of Christianity (Acts 15:1-2, Acts 20:28-31, Jude 1-25). Additionally, the Bible warns us, as we approach the end bad leaders will become common in the Church (2nd Timothy 3:1-9). It is our responsibility as believers to be on the lookout for spiritual leaders who give indications of being bad leaders (2nd Timothy 3:5, 2nd Peter 2:1-22). Judgment is God’s responsibility (Ecclesiastes 3:17). However, it is our job to exercise discernment and protect ourselves and our families from the damage these leaders do.

 Bad Christian leaders are as diverse in personality as any other type of leader. However, there are certain hallmarks of a bad spiritual leader we can all look out for. Those hallmarks are:

They universally misunderstand their role- 

Contrary, to popular belief a pastor’s primary responsibility is not to deliver a well-prepared message on Sunday mornings. The primary role of a Christian leader is to equip and prepare Christians to do ministry and serve others (Ephesians 4:11-12). Good spiritual leaders empower the people around them to become the best version of themselves. They value every person for who they are not just what they can do. Conversely, bad spiritual leaders view people as a means to an end. The end is always making themselves popular and influential.  

They tend to isolate themselves from those they lead- 

Bad spiritual leaders are frequently AWOL at church events and rarely interact socially with people in their congregations even though the Bible clearly commands them to do so. (1st Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7-8). Some isolate themselves out of pride. Others just don’t care enough about people to get past their own awkwardness in social situations. Yes, there are introverts and extraverts and there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Furthermore, it is the height of emotional and spiritual immaturity to think a leader can or should be besties with everyone in a congregation.  That said, every Christian should care enough about others to go out of their way to make them feel comfortable in social situations. This is especially true of spiritual leaders. 

They demand blind obedience- 

Christians are called to a life of obedience (Deuteronomy 6:25, 1st Samuel 15:22, 2nd John 1:6).  Christians ought to obey leaders who are doing their level best to fully obey God. However, no one is commanded to obey a self-serving or evil leader living in contradiction to scripture. 

They are faultfinders- 

Bad leaders will read a great book like The Emotionally Healthy Leader or Emotionally Healthy Discipleship and immediately weaponize it to assess unhealthy or unspiritual attitudes in others. Bad spiritual leaders don’t self-reflect. This creates a situation where they can only see the sins of others, never their own (Jude 16).  

They don’t apologize- 

Even when it’s evident they should. An inability or unwillingness to admit wrong and apologize is an obvious indicator of a bad leader. 

They don’t have their own junk under control-

All humans struggle with sin; however, bad spiritual leaders are fleshly and carnal at heart.  Consequently, bad leaders struggle to keep their worst impulses in check. This leads to problems with sins like boastfulness, control, anger, greediness, lust, pride and dishonesty.  (Jude, 2nd Peter 2, 2nd Timothy 3:1-9, Matthew 23:23-33). 

Christianity is in crisis. 

Much of the crisis is directly due to the excess of bad spiritual leaders in the fold. Christians must protect themselves and their churches from these men and women. In order to do this Christians must lead themselves well and understand what the Bible says about life and leadership. Bad leaders flourish in the midst of immature followers who lack the wisdom and spiritual sensitivity to see a bad leader or the moral bravery to walk away from one.  

For more on this subject…

Getting at the Spiritual Causes of Depression (Yes, There are Spiritual Causes)-

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Psalm 42:11a NIV

Depression is real and it really sucks.  

Seriously.

Anyone who has battled depression or knows someone who has battled depression knows this is one-hundred-percent true.

It is estimated two-hundred-sixty-three-million people worldwide suffer from depression. Many psalms record David’s struggle with what we would call clinical depression (Psalm 42, Psalm 113:1-6, Psalm 22:1-2, Psalm 6).  Until very recently scientists believed depression was caused entirely by a chemical imbalance in the brain brought on by a shortage of the neurotransmitter serotonin.  Recent studies have disproved that long-held theory and left doctors scrambling to figure out the cause depression.   

It is now thought depression is brought on by a host of factors. Including but not limited to a genetic predisposition, chronic stress, prior trauma, and a tendency to brood over past mistakes (perfectionism).

I do not doubt all those factors contribute to depression. 

Genetics are real. Stress is real. Trauma is real.  Focusing deeply on an issue that cannot be controlled or solved will make anyone feel depressed. All that being said, I also know there is a strong spiritual component to depression. That does not mean a person is an especially bad sinner if they get depressed. Nor does it mean I think every case of depression has a purely spiritual cause. That being said, sometimes people behave or think in ways that create spiritual problems in their lives. Those spiritual problems create fertile soil for depression to take root. Some of the spiritual causes of depression are:

Moral Passivity-

Passivity is the sin of letting sin go unchecked. Anytime a Christian chooses to ignore a moral wrong or sidesteps dealing with sin in their life or the life of someone they love rather than dealing with the sin appropriately (Acts 3:19, Ephesians 4:15, Matthew 18:15-16), one of two things inevitably happens. The believer either becomes hardened to sin (and more likely to become entrenched in sin) or they become depressed. Willfully ignoring a wrong makes the passive observer of the sin complicit in the sin (Psalm 1:1, Psalm 32:5) and sin separates us from God (Micah 3:4, Isaiah 59:2). Human beings were made to be in relationship with God. When we live outside the design we were created for depression is the natural result. The key to digging out of depression caused by moral passivity is to reverse course and begin proactively repenting of our own sin and confronting any sin we have been willfully overlooking in those we love (Galatians 6:1, 1st Timothy 5:20, James 5:19-20, Luke 17:3).

Deferred Hope–  

Wanting something that never materializes is demoralizing (Proverbs 13:12). For Christians who obey the Bible it’s even more demoralizing. This is because serious Christians pray and commit their plans to the Lord and then they expect God to establish those plans, because that’s what the Bible says He will do (Proverbs 16:3). When we don’t get something pray for the disappointment can lead to spiritual doubt. Spiritual doubt is a fast track to depression and anxiety. Here’s the thing we have to remember: God is not liar. This means that if a hope we have has been deferred (delayed) there’s a reason for it. It might be we are hoping for something God knows is not best for us. It might mean God is still working on it. It might mean there’s some growth and maturity that needs to take place in us so we steward the blessing well when we do get it.  In order to deal with this type of depression we must pray, trust and do our part. We should pray God will work in us so that our desires will be in alignment with His will for our lives (Proverbs 3:6). Then we have to trust God to accomplish His will in His timing. We also need to do our part. Our part, is actively seeking to grow, learn, and break any bad habits we have in preparation for “the next thing” God has for us.

Loss of Connection with the Head (Jesus) or the Rest of the Body (the Church)-

Humans were designed to live life in relationship. It’s part of what it means to “be made in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26). God is relational and we were made to be like Him. Anytime we lose healthy connection with other Christians or with Jesus (Colossians 2:18-19) depression is a likely outcome. Getting back into healthy relationship with God and/or other Christians will goes long way in healing the depression caused by a broken relationship with Jesus or His body.

An Absence of Self-reflection-

Humans are capable of a of an absurd level of self-deception (Jeremiah 17:9). It is possible to be knee-deep in sinful attitudes and not even be the teeniest bit aware of it. In fact, we are so prone to self-deception we can even convince ourselves our sinful attitudes are somehow good and healthy. Sigh. Anytime we feel plagued by depression that has no apparent cause we need to examine our lives and ask God to show us if there is anything we don’t want to see in ourselves.

And finally, because Christians are a new creation in Christ (2nd Corinthians 5:17) holding on to the stuff of our old life is a fast-track to a life of sadness, frustration and defeat. Letting go of the old stuff Jesus saved us from is the first step and most important step in living a life of emotional and spiritual flourishing.  

Let’s Talk About the Sin that is Literally the Mother of all Sins-

If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? Proverbs 24:12-14 NIV


Back in the day. I had a small group of friends and anytime we all got together we would get into these weird theological discussions about all sorts of random subjects. We would spend hours beating to death biblical topics that really had no clear consensus, even among the “experts”.  One of our favorite debate topics was the “sin that leads to death” (1st John 5:16-17) or the “unpardonable sin”. We would make all kinds of wild speculations about what this sin might possibly be. Then we would take turns passionately arguing our half-baked theories concerning a subject we knew nothing about.  

I sure do miss those days. 

I still have no idea what the sin that leads to death is (no one does). That said,  I do know of one sin that rarely gets the credit it deserves for the trouble it causes. 

Passivity. 

It could be said that passivity is the mother of all sins because passivity really is a seldom recognized sin at the root of the original sin. A careful reading of the creation account indicates Eve was not present when God forbade humanity from eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17).  Nonetheless, Adam said nothing as the serpent tempted Eve. He then chose to passively observe as his wife committed the sin that wrecked the whole world. Adam’s passivity was every bit as sinful as Eve’s rebellion (Romans 5:12 and 14). 

Biblical passivity was not limited to Adam and Eve. 

David’s passivity as a parent created a breeding ground for the evil that would destroy the lives of three of his children (2nd Samuel 13) and nearly cost him his kingdom (2nd Samuel 15-18). The passivity of the priests concerning the idolatry of the people was the root cause of the Babylonian captivity. At the core of every one of the doctrinal problems Jesus calls out in Revelation 2:1-3:22 was a group of leaders and regular Christians who were reluctant to call sin sin. 

Sigh. 

  The dictionary defines passivity as:

Acceptance of what happens, without active response or resistance.

Passivity will quietly accept the intolerable without so much as a raised eyebrow. However, passivity is never driven by hatred or spite. It is typically born out of laziness, fear of causing offense, or fear being disliked or made fun of (Proverbs 29:25, Proverbs 26:13). 

There was a shocking display of passivity on the news this past week. A drag queen (a man dressed as a woman) danced at an event in a diner where both adults and children were in attendance. He danced in a very provocative fashion, repeatedly lifting his skirt in the faces of the audience as he sang a very crude song about a female body part. The whole incident was troubling to watch. However, it was obvious from the body language in the video a good number of the adults’ present were clearly uncomfortable with the situation. Nonetheless, no one walked out. No one attempted to remove the children. No one present did anything at all to protest an event that would have been viewed as an obvious act of child abuse just a couple of years ago. 

Sigh.

The sin of passivity is causing all sorts of systemic evil to take root every sphere of life (Proverbs 29:25). Passive elders and docile church members who look the other way when they see sin in the lives of their pastors, priests and church leaders are a key reason Christianity is held in such low regard in our society. Fear of confrontation (a form of passivity) creates a breeding ground for abusive and unjust situations to flourish. Spouses who choose to ignore their partner’s sin rather than lovingly confront it create the perfect environment for sin to take root in the entire family. Passive parents who refuse to correct or discipline their disobedient children are at least partly responsible for the social chaos our culture is experiencing. Passive voters are the primary reason so many democracies have gone off the rails in recent years. 

Passivity can be defined as the sin of allowing sin to continue unchecked. 

Here’s the thing:

The passive person in a situation always bears at least some of the responsibility for the sin that results or grows as a result of their choosing to be passive. Regardless of our personality type we are all inclined towards passivity on some level. It is literally a part of our spiritual DNA. It is an inclination we must fight. 

The key to fighting passivity is to identify it.  Anytime we feel uncomfortable with a situation we see or are involved in, it is essential we lean into that discomfort and ask ourselves what exactly is making us uncomfortable. 

Are we uncomfortable because we are witnessing sin? 

If that’s the case, then the only reasonable course of action is to say something (Jude 23) because speaking the truth in love is the way we change history (Ephesians 4:15). 

What to do when the Spiritual Battle Lands on your Doorstep-

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm– Ephesians 6:13 NASB

Ephesians 6:10-18 is, in my humble opinion, one of the most interesting and useful passages in all of New Testament. It focuses on the spiritual realities of being in Christ. Paul wants Christians in every age to understand we are living in a world at war. There is a battle raging all around us for the hearts, minds and souls of people. 

This battle the apostle Paul describes is real. 

It’s not metaphorical or allegorical or symbolic.

There is an actual war taking place all around us in a spiritual realm we cannot see or touch but is every bit as real as the world we can see and touch (Daniel 9:12-14, James 2:19, Mark 1:34). Paul wants Christians to understand that at some point in our Christian walk this war will land on our doorstep in a very personal and painful kind of a way.  

In verse thirteen Christians are instructed to put their armor on and pray diligently because at some point in our lives we are all guaranteed to experience a personal “day of evil”.  The words Paul uses in the phrase “day of evil” poneros (evil) and hemere (day) when used together mean a time (season, period, term) full of trouble, sorrow, evil, affliction and calamity. 

A “day of evil” is a personal attack from the enemy of our souls that will hit us out of nowhere in places and in ways that will cause us extreme difficulty, anxiety, pain, confusion and possibly even create a crisis of faith. If we go into our “day of evil” unprepared due to a lack of prayer or lack of information we will almost surely become casualties of the war. 

It’s that serious. 

Every Christians own personal “day of evil” is uniquely theirs. The book of Job tells the story of one man’s “day of evil”. Like Job, our “day of evil” may involve any number of ugly and uncomfortable events that could include but are not limited to:  personal loss, financial loss, betrayal by a friend, spouse or fellow Christian, abandonment, a personal illness or the death or illness of a loved one (Job 1:1-22). A “day of evil” typically involves a whole lot of really awful things striking in quick succession. Every day feels like a new hit. 

It is possible to survive a “day of evil” with our faith intact. In fact, if we handle it right there is a really good chance we will come out of the whole ugly muddle stronger, wiser and with an even deeper understanding of our faith (1st Peter 1:3-9).

However. 

In order to make that happen there are a couple of things we have to keep in mind. First, you cannot allow yourself to fall into the trap of trying to figure out what exactly you did to “deserve” whatever weird and horrible situation you’re dealing with.

 You won’t figure it out.

 Job never did and you won’t either (Job 42:1-5). The harder you try to make sense of why this (whatever this is) is happening to you the more confused and bitter you will become. Besides, the answer is probably “nothing”. The enemy will remind you of every awful thing you have ever done in your life.  Remember, Jesus paid for all that so you wouldn’t have to.  It’s also absolutely critical you understand GOD IS NOT TRYING TO PUNISH YOU. That’s not His gig. He doesn’t punish His children for things they don’t understand. 

God is not a jerk. 

You are experiencing whatever it is you are experiencing because you live in a fallen world and terrible things happen even to Christian people in a world as fallen as ours. Compounding that reality, you have an enemy who hates you. He wants to destroy you emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Satan wants to hurt you so badly you are rendered useless for the Kingdom of God. He knows if he can bring enough discouragement, pain and unfairness into your life in a short enough period of time, there’s a pretty good chance your faith in the goodness of God will collapse like a house of cards in a hurricane (Luke 8:11-14). So, stop trying to figure it out. Asking “why” is a pointless waste of time. 

Instead, of asking God why questions spend time with Him every day and ask Him some what and how questions:

What do you want me to learn from this, God?

How can I be molded into the image of Jesus through this? 

What do I need to understand so I can grow right now?

How can I become more compassionate as I go through this?

 God does not cause horrible things to happen. However, He will use EVERYTHING we experience in this life (good or evil) for our growth and His glory as long as we are willing to cooperate with Him through the pain and confusion (Romans 8:28). 

Remember:

God does not call us to do great things in our “day of evil”. All He really asks us to do is “stand” (Ephesians 6:13). We do that by running to God with our pain and confusion instead of running from Him.

Is There a Difference Between Conviction and Condemnation?

 I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us– 2nd Corinthians 7:9 NIV

We live in a very judgy world.

Cancel culture is just one example. Canceling is an increasingly common practice that can be done in either a global or private kind of a way. 

 It works like this: 

Canceling happens globally when someone gets caught doing something or saying something a person or group of people do not like. The disapproving person or group goes after the “sinner” and punishes them for their language and/or behavior. The poor schmuck is then publicly disgraced and shamed. They lose their job, reputation and social status. They essentially become an outcast or a social pariah. 

A person is privately canceled when a friend or family member cuts them out of their life and gives them the silent treatment without explaining why they are giving them the silent treatment. 

Sigh. 

Supposedly, the whole point of cancelling someone is to get them to a place of conviction in their lives, where they acknowledge their misdeeds so they can grow.  Anyone who has actually been cancelled (either in a global or a personal way) will tell you being canceled feels more like hardcore condemnation without any mercy whatsoever. 

For the record.

I am not an advocate of cancelling. It is, in my opinion, perhaps the least healthy, least virtuous thing we do in this raging-dumpster-fire of a culture. However, the nature and stated purpose of cancelling raises an important question for believers:

Is there a difference between condemnation and conviction?

This is a question that needs answering.  

Both are biblical concepts (Romans 5:16, 1st Thessalonians 1:5, 2nd Corinthians 7:10-11). However, the Bible teaches there is a difference between the two. It matters because our view of these issues has a massive impact on how we see God, work out our salvation and treat other people when they sin against us (Philippians 2:12, Luke 7:47, Luke 6:37, 2nd Corinthians 2:9-11).   

So. 

Condemnation can be defined as a decree or sentence of guilt.  It is always accompanied by a sense we have failed and are unworthy of forgiveness. 

Condemnation always leads to hopelessness.

Conviction, on the other hand, is something the New Testament calls “godly sorrow” (2nd Corinthians 7:10-11). Conviction is a little different. It’s more like a deep and heartfelt sense we have gone off the rails and missed the mark. It is always accompanied by a sense we need to correct our course in some way. 

Conviction can be every bit as painful as condemnation. However, conviction is good because without guilt it is impossible to experience repentance and the spiritual restoration repentance brings. 

Here’s the struggle:

Condemnation and conviction sound a lot alike and condemnation can look a lot like conviction and conviction can feel an awful lot like condemnation. This is especially true if we’ve been up to no good in some area of our lives. 

Because condemnation and conviction feel so similar, some Christians are inclined to write off any guilty feelings they experience as condemnation and therefore irrelevant (Romans 8:1). Ignoring feelings of guilt is a profoundly bad idea because the Bible teaches ignoring our conscience is a spiritually risky thing to do (1st Corinthians 8:7-12) because it can lead to a hardening of the heart (Ephesians 4:18). Therefore, it is always best to pay attention to feelings of guilt. Guilty feelings should drive us to seek the Holy Spirit so we can figure out if there’s something we need to deal with in our lives before sin takes root and produces chaos and pain. 

Condemnation is a tool the enemy uses to discourage us. Therefore, it is not uncommon to experience condemnation AFTER we have already confessed our sin to God and corrected course. Condemnation will sometimes come from an unexpected source like an off-handed comment from a friend. It can come from our own hypersensitive conscience. Condemnation never gives hope. Instead it leaves us with an overwhelming sense of despondency and hopelessness. Condemnation screams into our souls that God will never be happy with us again. Condemnation almost always leads to more sin rather than less.

The whole point of spiritual conviction or godly sorrow is to facilitate change. Therefore, it is often accompanied by a feeling that we are guilty and have offended God. However, conviction also always comes with an understanding of what we need to do to get things right. God never leaves us in the dark or wondering where stand with Him. Godly conviction never leaves us feeling hopeless, despondent or like we will never be good enough. The path to repentance and healing is sometimes difficult. Repentance always means making some sort of a change. It might mean breaking off a relationship, changing a behavior, apologizing, making restitution but the path to a pure conscience is always clear. Conviction (godly sorrow) always leads to repentance.  

It is critical Christians understand God only condemns those who refuse to embrace Jesus as their Lord and Savior (Romans 8:1, Jude 1:4). It is equally important to understand guilt is good as long as we know what to do with it (Acts 3:19). 

What it Really Means to “Conform to the World”-

Those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.If we live by the Spirit, lets follow the Spirit as well– Galatians 5:24-25 NASB

The New Testament includes several passages that are formational kinds of passages. The whole point of these passages is to form a believer into the image of Christ (Colossians 3, 1st Thessalonians 4:3-12, 2nd Peter 1:3-9, Ephesians 4:1-6:18). They are super practical, easy to understand passages that give clear instruction on how exactly one makes the Christian life work in the real world. If these passages are put into practice it is pretty close to impossible to fail at being a Christian. 

Seriously. It really is that simple. 

Romans chapter twelve is perhaps the most formational of all the formational texts of the Christian faith. In it, the apostle Paul clearly lays out what a Christian should “look like” in the day-to-day of life. The chapter is filled with so much simple and yet comprehensive instruction, I am whole-heartedly convinced that if a person were to commit their life to Jesus and then seek to live out only the instruction found in Romans twelve they would live an exemplary Christian life (Matthew 25:21). 

Paul begins by urging Christians to live a life of sacrifice and worship (Romans 12:1). Then he quickly warns that choosing to be “conformed to the pattern of this world” is the one thing that will prevent a Christian from living a life of worship and sacrifice that pleases and honors God (Romans 12:2). 

Recently, I decided to look up the word conform in my Greek dictionary. The thing about Greek words is that they tend to be much more multifaceted and complex than most English words. It is not at all unusual for it to take a hundred really big English words to explain clearly all the possible meanings of one little Greek word. Then it can take ANOTHER hundred English words to lay out all the different contexts a Greek word can be used in. For that reason, I fully expected to find a multi-paragraph description of what the word meant and all of the different ways it could be used. Instead, I found nine little words.  

Metheg: to curb or bit; a bit— or a bridle. 

The word (Metheg) translated into English “conformed” means to be led, restricted by or controlled by something or someone else. The purpose of a bit or a bridle is to restrict movement, control and lead an animal. Not being “conformed” to the world we live in is not simply about avoiding worldly behaviors. Not being “conformed to the world” means we must learn to recognize and then actively work to avoid the control worldly ideas, philosophies and people have on our thinking. Worldly people include those who don’t know Jesus and those who do know Jesus but are spiritually immature or who are living in disobedience to Jesus (Colossians 2:4, Colossians 2:8). Avoiding conformity is critical because anytime we allow unsaved people, immature people or the philosophies of this world to unduly influence our thinking about life, God or what will make us happy we will begin to behave in a way that is in conflict with God’s will. 

There are all sorts of different ways we can be led by or controlled by the world.

We are led by the world when we don’t take the time to understand our faith and develop a Christian worldview (Matthew 22:37, 1st Corinthians 2:16). Without a solid framework of biblical truth helping us to sort through worldly ideas and opinions we are sure to become emmeshed with the worldly kinds of values and ideas readers are warned about throughout the New Testament (Colossians 2:8, 1st Corinthians 3:1-22, Acts 17:24-31).   

Taking our moral cues from our godless society, the news or the things we find on social media rather than the word of God will certainly put us on the fast track to being “conformed to the pattern of this world”. We are led by the world when we become enslaved to our own fear of being unpopular or disliked in social situations. In a world where cancelling people has become commonplace, it’s easy to allow our fear of social isolation to cause us to take the path of least resistance and just agree to whatever moral or spiritual nonsense is being thrust on us by the “cool people”. We can also be restricted, controlled or led by our fear of being on the “outs” with whoever happens to have the loudest voice in any given room. It’s easy to forget that the loudest voice is not always the godliest or wisest voice. 

Being led by the world is the easiest thing ever. In our fallen state it is our natural go-to because we are literally born with the “bit” of the world already in place. Therefore, it takes a great deal of spiritual awareness for a Christian to avoid conformity to the world’s system. Choosing to conform to Christ rather than the world is worth all the effort and pain it takes because it allows us to keep our Christian distinctiveness and our saltiness (Matthew 5:13).  Staying “salty” is the key to maintaining spiritual influence and success in this life. 

Stay salty my friend. 🙂