Four Mistakes Christians Must Stop Making-


Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name
– Psalm 86:11 NIVUK

Sadly, there has been a lot of failure in Church world over the course of the last forty years or so:

 The vast majority of Christians who identify as “committed believers” attend services a pathetic and measly 1.3 times a month. Fewer than forty percent of all Christians have actually read the Bible all the way through. Between sixty and eighty percent of the children who grew up in church over the course of the last three decades have left the church. Precious few of have returned in any sort of a meaningful way. Infidelity, spiritual abuse, embezzlement and tales of narcissistic behavior have become so commonplace among clergy that even Christians are no longer appropriately shocked by shocking reports of misconduct and sin.  

All serious signs of dismal failure. 

It’s simply a fact that churches have made some tragic mistakes in recent years. As a result, the Church is shrinking and the culture is floundering. Conversions are down and “deconstructing” one’s faith is trending. Thankfully, our God is not reliant on on the perfection of His people to get His will accomplished. That being said, it is always beneficial to His overall plan when His people choose to do life and ministry His way. There are at least four mistakes the Church has made that we cannot afford to keep making if we want to see health in our churches, transformation in our lives and revival in our world. 

Those mistakes are:

We have failed to equip the saints-

Biblical illiteracy is a serious issue in Church world. Few Christians can name all the books of the Bible. There are church-goers who actually believe the Bible promises God will never give us more than we can handle and that cleanliness is next to godliness.  However, lack of biblical understanding is not the only problem we have. Many Christians do not know how to define personal holiness, or how Christian maturity is achieved (2nd Peter 1:3-11, Romans 12) Nor, are most believers able to articulate what a healthy Christian life should “look like”.  These are all basic concepts every Christian should understand. 

Churches have encouraged congregants to depend on external sources for food-

For decades now, sermons have been tasty and easy to digest, but seriously lacking in any real nutritional value. Essentially, the spiritual equivalent of chocolate pudding. The goal of these Sunday morning offerings has been attracting unbelievers and keeping them in the church by not offending them in any way. At the same time many discipleship programs have been eliminated and small groups aimed at satisfying one’s personal preferences and helping people “do life together” were put in their place. All of this was well-intended but it produced a situation where many Christians began depending on outside sources like prerecorded Bible studies and podcasts for their spiritual growth. The unintended consequences has been a serious drop in church attendance. Many have quit church altogether, or they simply pop into an occasional service when the mood strikes them. Covid accelerated this trend as more and more churches began offering online viewing options on Sunday mornings. Human beings were made for community. We learn and grow by being with and interacting with others (Proverbs 27:17). Anytime Christians remove themselves from community they short-circuit their growth.  

Bible teachers have failed to teach a theology of hardship-

The Bible is clear: trials and hardship are formative to the Christian experience (John 16:33, 1st Thessalonian 3:3, 1st Peter 1:6). Jesus experienced hardship and suffering in this life and one aspect of becoming like Jesus is doing the things He did and experiencing the things He experienced (Hebrews 5:7-9, Hebrews 13:11-13). Unfortunately, in an effort to attract unbelievers many Pastors and Bible teachers have taught a theology of easy believism and guaranteed material blessings. This has caused many to become disillusioned and leave the church when it became obvious (as it always does) that the Christian life is a blessed life but not necessarily an easy one.  

We have forgotten that spiritual knowledge is not the same as spiritual maturity-

Knowing what the Bible says or even being able to quote an excess of verses does not make one spiritually mature. In order to be a mature Christian we have to know what the Bible says and be able to manage our own emotions, treat people the way we want to be treated and forgive others from the heart (Psalm 119:11, Titus 2:12, Galatians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). If we can’t do those things we aren’t spiritually mature no matter how many verses we can quote. 

The solution to all of these problems are simple. Churches must leave behind old models and pivot to a culture of discipleship and community. Leaders must let go of the desire to make churches big at the expense of making them strong, healthy and deep. Individual Christians must prioritize biblical learning, personal growth and relationships in the church over all else. 

Here’s Why our Broken Political System Could Actually be a Good Thing-

Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fearhating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh- Jude 21-23 NIV

Life is becoming more politized and deeply divided with every passing day. Even Canada, the one nation on earth whose citizens could always be relied on for their graciousness, civility and ability to get along with others is a political powder keg teetering on totalitarianism at this writing.  

Sigh.

The partisanship and division have created a space where political chaos and social anarchy are flourishing. No one on either side of the political divide is speaking to one another because cooperation is now equated with sedition. As a result, nothing sane is taking place in the political realm. A loosening of moral standards has further complicated an increasingly complex situation resulting in a death spiral of lawlessness which has caused people to become more contentious and even downright feral at times. The over-all lack of self-control is causing politicians to feel justified in taking a more despotic approach to policymaking which has led to even more anger, division and lawlessness.

SIGH.

No one in their right mind would celebrate the incredibly volatile cultural and political moment in which we find ourselves. Political unrest, social chaos and anarchy are never really good for anyone but a few tyrants. That being said, I suspect there might be a potential spiritual win in this political division for the Church.  

Here’s why:

In the west at least, our ugly cultural and political muddle can be traced back to a turning away from God and the values that accompany faith in God. This turning away happened slowly over the course of the last century or so with the last two years being a tipping point towards society-wide secularism and atheism. Here’s the thing though: it’s just a fact that human beings were made to believe in something bigger than themselves (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So, when society turned away from God most people did not simply embrace humanism or atheism with open arms. Instead most turned to something just as foolish. Politics.  Politics have become the hope of mankind. 

This is the real reason politics are no longer something most folks can agree to disagree about. Politics are no longer simply trivial matters of policymaking or a matter of personal opinion.  Politics are the new religious dogma. Humans have historically had a hard time agreeing to disagree on matters of faith and dogma. 

We just aren’t built that way. 

The results of all of this have been mostly awful. However, there is some good news in the midst of all the bad, first off truth is being revealed (Hebrews 4:13). 

We are seeing in real time that politics are a rickety and cruel faith system to put our hopes in. We can no longer deny the reality that the cult of politics has made people much meaner and less tolerant of others. This has made our world a much more dangerous and unpleasant place to live and do business. We are learning that without fear of God tempering political views people become myopic and selfish. This makes them dangerous and cruel and society seriously unstable. 

The even better news is that Christians can use this reality to start spiritual conversations with their friends and neighbors. We have all the proof we need that politics are not the answer.  This means God will can use us to show the world where the real answers lie. If people grasp hold of that truth I believe with all my heart we will see revival in our time. 

But before that can happen Christians need to do a little soul searching and scrutinize their own beliefs where politics are concerned. We need ask ourselves if we have been guilty of putting more faith in politics than in Jesus. We must be willing to let go of any idolatrous views we hold that the right politics will ultimately fix the mess we’re in. We have to pray for good leaders but abandon the notion that any human leader holds the answers to our problems.  Christians have to really grasp hold of the truth that what we see in the world right now is our own doing. Even many of God’s people have placed their hope and faith in a manmade system. That system has produced what human beings always produce in their own power and wisdom: division, oppression, human misery, suffering and foolishness.  

Transformation is never fast or easy especially when we’ve messed things up as badly as we have. In order to get the political and societal change Christians universally crave our repentance must go beyond words into action. We have to live what we say we believe. Christians must dedicate their lives to holy, joyful living. We must learn to model biblical truth and invest our time and treasure in the things that really matter. Things like our families, our local churches and our communities.

When God’s people do those things, we will finally get the win we all want so badly.  

The One Question Everyone Needs to Ask-


But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God
– John 3:21 NIV

Everyone wants THE THING. The thing is that special something will give us the growth, maturity and self-awareness that will make us a better version of ourselves. Longing for the thing is why the self-help section of any bookstore anywhere in the western world is always the biggest and best stocked in the store. It’s why so many watch Dr. Phil and why we read Malcom Gladwell and listen to Adam Young. We all want the magic bullet that will make us a better more lovable version of ourselves.  

We want the thing because we know growth, self-awareness and maturity are the fast-track to all the other things we all want in life. Things like healthy friendships, successful careers and happy families. For believers in Jesus the thing is also the path to spiritual growth and wisdom. Those blessings inevitably lead to deeper understanding of our faith and greater intimacy with Jesus (2nd Peter 1:5-8, 2nd Peter 3:18, 2nd Corinthians 3:18)

Humans are hard-wired to want all that. If a person has stopped caring about healthy relationships, career success and a happy family it is likely they experienced some sort of trauma that caused them to give up the fundamental part of what makes us human.  

However. 

Few actually get the thing. Even most Christians fumble around hoping to find the answers to this longing we have to become a better version of ourselves. 

The good news is the secret isn’t really a secret. Getting in on the thing is easy. Literally, anyone can do it.  That said few want to do what needs to be done to get it. All it takes to achieve real growth and lasting change comes down to asking one simple question and really wanting to know the answer to that one simple question: 

“What don’t I want to see about me?” 

We all have something we would rather not see about ourselves. It might be we’ve been running from God or we suffer from a stubborn refusal to confront sin in our own life or the lives of those we love. It might be a mean streak or a raging pride problem. It might be an anger issue or an inclination to take the easy way out of every situation. Or, perhaps we want to think the best of other people even when all the evidence is tells us not to.  Maybe we are unwilling to admit fault or we have a habit of taking more than we give.

The bottom line is those issues inevitably lead to problems that appear at least on the surface to be unrelated to the thing we don’t want to see. Those problems could include but are not limited to unhealthy dynamics in our closest relationships, a lack of friends, persistent financial problems, bratty children, a stalling in our professional lives or a stubborn lack of spiritual growth.  

We typically call the things we don’t want to see blind spots. They are not blind spots. A blind spot is something we CANNOT see. The things I’m talking about are all things we simply don’t want to see. As a result, they would be better categorized as intentional blindness as opposed to a blind spot. The problem with calling something we refuse to see a blind spot is it neatly removes personal responsibility from the equation. Without understanding and owning our role in the problem nothing will change in our lives. We will be doomed to stunted growth, stalled careers and screwed-up personal relationships.   

Sigh. 

The good news in all of this is that God loves each of us more than we can measure or even understand. God is constantly rooting for all us to become the best version of ourselves. He wants us to succeed in all the things that matter. Because He loves us and wants the best for us He longs to show us the things we don’t want to see.  He knows that seeing the things we don’t want to see is the first step in the kind of change that leads growth, maturity and self-awareness.  

So, here’s the thing.

If you feel stuck in some area of your life or keep running up against failure it’s not because of how your parents raised you, or because you married the wrong person or the temperament you were born with and it’s not because you were denied opportunities others had. It’s because there is something you refuse (consciously or subconsciously) to see about yourself.  Because God is the maker of you and the ultimate authority in life, solving the problem ALWAYS begins with asking Him the question. 

If we ask and actually want to know the answer God will tell us.  Honesty is His jam. He literally cannot lie (Numbers 23:19). The answer might come in a still small voice. It might come in the form of some angry words from a loved one. It might come in the form of a bad review at work. But it will come. 

We just have to be willing to do something about it.  

Where Real Life is Lived-


How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you
– Psalm 31:19 NIV

My Dad died over the holidays. 

Death is never pleasant or easy. The Bible teaches death is not something human beings were created to experience (Genesis 2:16-17). Therefore, every death is grim, traumatic and depressing on some level. All that being said, as far death goes, his was less terrible than many. My Dad died quietly and peacefully in our home two days after Christmas. He didn’t linger on the edge of death for weeks or months as some do, nor was he terribly uncomfortable as he neared the end as some are. 

We were fortunate to have all four of our children with us the night he passed. Each shared something they loved about my Dad or a fond memory they had about him then we all prayed for him. A few minutes after we were done praying he breathed his last breath and that was it.

He was gone. 

The next day I gave information so his death certificate could be filed with the state. The woman filling out the paper work asked all manner of questions about my Dad’s life. Among other things, she wanted to know: where was he born?  What kind of career did he have? How many years was he married? How many children did he have? What level of education did he receive?  

On paper my Dad’s life looked pretty good.  

He graduated from college. He remained married to the same woman for forty-two years. He had a rewarding career in entomology. He travelled extensively and lived in a number of interesting places.  He fathered six children: four boys and two girls. At the end of the conversation the woman gathering the information commented that it sounded as if my Dad had lived a full and happy life. The reality of his existence was a bit different. My Dad was not a horrible man. He wasn’t evil and I doubt it was ever his intention to cause harm.  

However.

My Father did live a life that was unaltered in any conspicuous way by the restorative and redeeming work of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying my Dad was an unbeliever. I honestly do not know if he was or he wasn’t. His spiritual state was a bit of a mystery. I do know he and I talked at length about a commitment he made to Jesus shortly after my Mother died. I also know that over the last few years my husband and I and many other Christians attempted to have a number of spiritual conversations with him. However, in his later years’ dementia became an ever-increasing issue in his life so it was hard to know exactly where he stood spiritually. I do know after his “conversion experience” he never really grew spiritually or allowed his attitudes and behaviors to be transformed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:2, Colossians 3:5-16, 2nd).  Like so many people in this world who commit their lives to Jesus my Father remained exactly what and who he had been all of my life. In his case this meant he was a hard man with a bad temper and a whole slew of bad habits, who judged others with a measuring stick he refused to use on himself.  Sadly, he had few friends as he neared the end of his life. He died estranged from four of his six children and his two brothers. 

Sigh.

For the sake of my own sanity I choose to believe the best about my Dad’s eternal state. The mercy of God is great and the word of God never returns void (Hebrews 4:12, Isaiah 55:11). Therefore, I am choosing to believe I will see my Dad again someday. He will be an entirely new man and we will have the relationship we were always meant to have (2nd Corinthians 5:17)  

That being said.

In my more navel-gazy moments of grief and loss I wonder what my Dad would say now that he is firmly on the other side of the great divide that exists between the living and the dead (Luke 16:26).  

If he could I believe my Dad would say that a life lived for self is ultimately a wasted life. He would advise the living to mend fences and build bridges with the people we love while we have the opportunity to do so because there will come a day for all of us when those opportunities will be gone forever. He would likely have a lot to say about the importance of avoiding bitterness and not sinning in fits of anger (Ephesians 4:26, Hebrews 12:15, Ephesians 4:31. Most significantly, I believe with all of my heart and soul my Dad would tell us all to take any commitment we have made to Jesus seriously. He would advise us to do the things the New Testament tells us to do so we will grow into the people God designed us to be.  Because then—and only then—we get the full and abundant life Jesus promises those who believe enough to put God’s words into action. 

Because that is ultimately where real life is lived. 

The Folly of Looking to Politics for Hope-

For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings– Malachi 4:2 ESV

Hardly a day goes by without our culture acquiescing to and even celebrating the “new normal”.

Behaviors and viewpoints that would have been considered unthinkable a few decades ago have become so ordinary we are hardly shocked by them. Following are a few highlights:

Biological boys are routinely transformed into girls and vice-versa. Men dressed flamboyantly as women oftentimes have the run of story hour at public libraries in large metropolitan areas. The American Medical Association has recommended that the sexual designation be removed from all birth certificates.  Nearly one-third of all children are born to unmarried women.  Record numbers of drug overdoses were reported last year. Nonetheless, due to decriminalization efforts drugs including some “hard drugs” are for all intents and purposes, now legal.  Material that was once considered hardcore pornography and therefore completely unacceptable is now mainstream and available to any third-grader with a smartphone. Perhaps, most shocking there is an active push to normalize and legalize pedophilia. 

Sadly, the above list barely scratches the surface of the social and moral changes that have taken place in our society over the course of the last three decades.  

Sigh. 

This moral sea change has had a hardening influence on society in general. Individuals routinely say things about and to others that would have been considered unimaginable just a few years ago. People are becoming more violent as individuals become less self-controlled and less concerned with the well-being of others. This trend has resulted in a sharp uptick of violent crime. Riots, school shootings, hate crimes and road rage have all become disturbingly ordinary events in many parts of Western civilization.  

Sigh. 

Most conservatives find all this quite troubling. Especially Christian conservatives. We understand a civilization will not continue to function as a legit society for long if the majority chooses to embrace moral and social anarchy. 

Most Christians are searching frantically for a clear path out of the encroaching madness.   Our go-to to achieve this end tends to be political. Most Christians are hoping and praying for a political figure or party to step into the fray. We want a wise human who will make some laws that will save us from our sorry selves before we go the way of the Romans or the Babylonians and sin ourselves into extinction. There are all sorts of problems and issues with this mindset, following are four of the most troubling: 

When we look to politics for escape from our problems we ignore history- 

Americans, including many Christians have voted for a lot of losers from both parties over the course of the last century. That being said, our culture did not become the dumpster fire it is today because Americans elected the wrong people. Americans, including many Christians elected the wrong people because they believed the wrong things about God, life and what really matters in life. The wrong beliefs our culture adopted created the moral vacuum that got us the political leaders we have today. We must never forget: in a democracy politics always follow the moral choices of the people doing the voting. 

It denies the warnings of Scripture-  

Scripture teaches that as a general principal, humans tend to reap what they sow (Job 4:8, Proverbs 22:8, Hosea 8:7, Hosea 10:12, 2nd Corinthians 9:6, Galatians 6:7). It is very rare that bad leadership erupts from out of nowhere. This is even more true in a society where people get to elect their leaders. It is simply a pattern throughout Scripture that societies tend to get the leaders they deserve due to the choices of their citizens.   

It is a form of idolatry- 

Anytime we humans look to another flawed human to do things that only God can do it becomes a dangerous form of idolatry. This particular form of idolatry almost always leads to people being ruled over by a tyrant (1st Samuel 8:10-18).   

It keeps us from seeking the only things that can make a difference-  

Christians are commanded by Jesus to be a preserving, protecting and illuminating presence in whatever society they live in (Matthew 5;13-16).  This means modeling for the culture what healthy living looks like in every sphere of life. Anytime Christians seek human leadership as their primary source of help and hope they stop seeking the things that have the power to bring about transformation in a culture.  The cultural moment we find ourselves in demands Christians model repentance and dependence on God in our culture in hopes of ushering revival into the greater culture. Without heart-felt repentance on a massive scale culture as we know it is done for at least for a season. 

Cultural transformation is possible but our hope has to come from the Lord. Transformation will occur when God’s people make the choice to live in a truly counterculture way. We do that by seeking God with our whole hearts. We have to ask Him for help and wisdom. We need to commit to living according to His commands in all situations no matter how weird that makes us to the surrounding culture. If Christians do those two things consistently revival will come (2nd Chronicles 7:14). Revival will bring the cultural changes we all want and our culture needs. 

Some Hard Truth for all of us-

No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his own course, As the horse rushes into the battle- Jeremiah 8:6 NKJV

A couple of things: 

First of all, Dear Reader,

 I really do appreciate you. The fact that anyone would read what I write is an honor and privilege that never ceases to blow my mind. Second, many Christians are, for obvious reasons, leaving social media sites. If you are considering making an exit from the social media site where you found A Wise Life, please considering subscribing. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom of the page and type in your email address. A Wise Life will be delivered to your in-box every week for as long as the Lord allows me to continue this ministry or until you unsubscribe. I promise to never sell or give your email address to any other business, blog or ministry.

Lisa

Now, this week’s post:

I have had innumerable conversations over the course of the last couple years with all sorts of people that have all gone in exactly the same direction and ended in exactly the same way. These conversations have accelerated in recent months, sadly they are become a reoccurring theme in life. 

It typically begins with me and another person complaining about the brokenness of our political system and culture. We whine about what a flaming-hot mess everything is right now and marvel at how quickly it got this way. We grouse about big government, big business, and the creepy relationship that’s evolving between the two. We debate where we think all this is going and it never lands anywhere positive or encouraging.  We moan about the collapse of our republic and bellyache about how our leaders have taken to using the Constitution as toilet paper (metaphorically speaking of course). We discuss marriage, family, children, gender, education and the general lack of interest most people have in God, repentance or the church. We marvel at the idiotic lies our culture believes about just about everything. Then just as we come to the point of exhausting these issues one or the other of us will inevitably say:

“I sure wish someone would standup and fight all this craziness”. 

It hit me out of nowhere (as truth usually does) the other night that there are people fighting. There is chorus of good, godly, positive voices fighting the foolishness and evil that has stubbornly taken root in our culture. Moreover, good people have been fighting this crap for decades. For as long as I can remember there has been a plethora of organizations and ministries one-hundred-percent dedicated to fighting myriad of social and political evils of our time. Furthermore, most conservatives I know routinely contact their legislative representatives about bills related to political and social issues. Those same people also regularly vote, sign petitions and donate money to political and social organizations that fight for conservative values and biblical truth. 

Then it hit me out of nowhere (as truth usually does) that all our do-gooding, generosity and battling for righteousness has had zero, zilch, nada impact on our politics and culture. The people who need to listen aren’t listening and those who need to change aren’t changing (Matthew 3:8). The people who need to know truth just don’t care and it’s not due to a lack of effort or money spent. 

As I was processing through all that, I was struck with an even harder truth: This is happening because the people who do know truth aren’t repenting of their sins or seeking to make changes God has told them to make. The truth is our culture is rotting from within because those in the church have wanted everyone else to change while choosing to stay exactly the same.

At this point my mind was flooded with questions. Like: 

Maybe, things are the way they are because we moaned about all the filth and depravity in the world while we watched all the same movies and television shows other people do? Maybe children are embracing the lies our culture is feeding them because we didn’t take the time to teach our own children truth? Perhaps, taking our kids to church once or twice a month, as is the habit of most “serious” Christians, is not enough to protect them from all the deception in the world; let alone make them the missionaries the world needs right now?  Maybe, our political leaders are sellouts and moral weaklings because we are? Maybe, our culture has embraced the folly of identity politics because the church has not done a good enough job walking out racial unity, reconciliation and fairness?  Maybe, God isn’t answering our prayers because we aren’t praying? Or maybe we have just been praying for all the wrong things?  Then it occurred to me that maybe, things would be different if churches had more prayer meetings and fewer planning meetings? 

I don’t know for sure. I’m just spit-balling here. 

 That said, one thing I do know for absolute certain is that many Christians (including myself) have longed for a political leader or group of political leaders who would step in and change laws so we wouldn’t have to do the hard work of changing people’s hearts so they believe and do the right things.  I know that many Christians have depended on the courts and the constitution to do things only God Himself can do and will do only with our cooperation, like keep our country Christian.  I also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s time for Christians to repent of the sin of looking for anyone or anything except Jesus to be our savior. Instead we need to take a hard look at our own lives and our own choices. Then we need to start begging God to change us and our churches so we can be the difference makers we were called to be in this world.  

Four Steps to Breaking Free of Almost Anything-

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds- 2nd Corinthians 10:4 NIV

The culture is a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess right now. 

Addiction, divorce, sexual sin, rage, hate and offendedness have all become routine in our increasingly unhappy and unhealthy culture. Government leaders everywhere are failing to meet the needs of those they were elected to serve. Corporations are filling the leadership gap and are quickly becoming weirdly authoritarian taskmasters with zero checks on their worst and most authoritarian impulses.   Social unrest is at an all-time high and no one really seems to know what to do about any of those issues. 

The question we should all be asking ourselves is why? 

Why are people so much messier and more evil than they were just a few years ago? Why does the world seem to be teetering on the edge of madness all the stinking time? Why has evil taken root in the hearts of so many? Why are so many becoming despotic?  Why are people so easily offended?  Why are people so incredibly vindictive and cruel when they are offended?  

Well. 

The short answer to all those questions is of course sin. People are sinners and fewer and fewer people care about sin or putting any kind of restraints on their own corrupt inclinations these days. As a result, the world and the people in it are becoming more immoral, more sinful and more wretchedly unhappy. 

Sigh. 

The longer answer is much more complicated, as longer answers always are. Due to sin in the church Christianity has lost much of its moral authority and spiritual influence in the world. This has left people without a roadmap to figure out life.  People on their own rarely make good choices which always leaves a moral vacuum and evil inevitably finds a way to fill moral vacuums. 

This has led to a proliferation of spiritual strongholds in the lives of those both inside and outside of the church. A stronghold is a place where Satan has gained a foothold in the life of a person and sin has taken root. A stronghold is a place in a person’s life that has become a fortress for the enemy. When someone has a spiritual stronghold in their life they become controlled by unhealthy behavior or thoughts. 

The Church and the people in it cannot do anything about what the world chooses to do or not do. We cannot force non-Christian people to make healthy or wise choices about how they live life.  However, Christians can make healthy choices that empower them to get and stay free of addictions, life-controlling behaviors and thoughts. In the process, we can lead other people to a better place. But, first we have to be free of our own spiritual strongholds. The most common strongholds include unforgiveness, offendedness, shame, perfectionism, anxiety, rage, addiction, productivity, insecurity, unbelief, deception, critical spirit and control.

The only way anyone can be the influence God intended us to be in this world is to get free of the strongholds in our lives. We get free through the following four practices:  

Ruthless self-examination- 

No one can get free of anything they refuse to see or acknowledge. Because the human heart is both naturally wicked and self-deceptive it is sometimes difficult to see our own sin (Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 21:4). For that reason, is critical we examine our hearts and lives frequently for sinful behaviors and attitudes that have taken root (2nd Corinthians 13:5) or sin that we have never really dealt with (Acts 8:23). 

Once we become aware of a sin or sinful stronghold, we must:

Make prayer a priority-  

Sin that it is not confessed and prayed through can never completely be eliminated from our lives (Mark 9:29). The longer a behavior has been a part of our lives the more entrenched it will become and the longer it will take to effectively deal with it. There is a temptation for Christians to turn to worldly means to deal with spiritual issues. Christian counseling and coaching can be useful in helping us to understand why we do the sinful stuff we do and in keeping sinful habits broken. However, prayer must be our first line of defense when it comes to dealing with a sinful stronghold. 

Always choose obedience- 

In Luke 11:24-26 Jesus makes it clear that new habits and behaviors are the key to staying free of spiritual oppression and strongholds. Too often Christians who have been set free from life-controlling behaviors stupidly believe they can live any way they choose without spiritual consequences. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anytime we make the choice to willfully sin we invite demonic oppression into our lives (1st Peter 5:8, Ephesians 4:26-28). Making the choice to become increasingly more faithful and obedient to Jesus is absolutely necessary if we wish to stay free of demonic strongholds. Period

Immerse ourselves in a community of believers-

The Christian life is all about working out our brokenness after we receive salvation (Philippians 2:12). However, we were never meant to do that solo (Ecclesiastics 4:9-12). We all need a core group of people in our lives who will spur us on to better choices (Hebrews 10:23-25). 

Authentic Christians are blessed with a natural desire to make the world a better place.  However, for too long too many Christians have tried to skip over the necessary step of working through their own junk before they tried to assist the world with theirs.  This has been a miserable failure. Those of us who live and move in the Christian world must face the hard reality that we can only help others with their sin after we have broken the strongholds in our own life. 

Why the Average Christian Should Care About the Argument Between Andy Stanley and John MacArthur-

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith– 2nd Corinthians 13:5a NKJV

There is a vast difference of ideology emerging within the ranks of Christianity. The ethical dispute basically boils down to whether or not it is acceptable for churches to defy government authorities to meet corporately for worship and teaching. COVID-19 is the catalyst that spurred this debate forward.  

 There is a celebrity pastor squarely on either side of the ever-widening divide. On one side is Andy Stanly who believes it’s a violation of biblical teaching for Churches to meet without state approval. He also believes Christians set a terrible example when churches meet in spite of health risks. On the other side is John MacArthur who believes it is violation of the Constitution for the government to tell churches what they can and can’t do when it comes to worship period, but especially in light of COVID-19’s low death rate. 

Both John MacArthur and Andy Stanley have put feet to their faith and stood firmly on their personal convictions. Andy Stanly announced in June his church will not meet in-person until sometime in 2021.  John MacArthur has defied state restrictions and been heavily fined by the state of California.  

Every Christian has an opinion on this issue. 

Those on the MacArthur side of the divide tend to believe the Constitution is on their side, the virus is not deadly to most people and can be managed with smart sanitation procedures. Therefore, churches should be open.  Stanley’s side points out it is illegal for churches to meet in some places, Coronavirus does kill some individuals and Christians ought to care about the health and welfare of others. 

 It is critical Christians think biblically concerning this issue. 

A new standard has been set in the age of COVID-19. Governments worldwide have concluded sickness is not to be tolerated, any death from this virus is unacceptable. Furthermore, many bureaucrats refuse to allow adults to decide for themselves if they want to risk infection to attend church. This means there will certainly be more church closures when a new wave of Coronavirus hits or the next time a new (novel) virus comes on the scene. Moreover, as governments become more hostile to Christianity it becomes increasingly likely churches will be closed for reasons that have nothing at all to do with public health. 

 Those who feel the state should stay out of church affairs use the Constitution as their guiding light. The First Amendment is clear: Christians have a right to practice their religion. There are no qualifiers. It is left up to churches and Christians in America to decide where, when and how they worship God. Period.  That being said, human documents should never be our go-to for answers about life, church or church attendance. Human laws change, human documents turn to dust. Consequently, no human document is on the same level as biblical teaching on this or any subject. 

Those who oppose churches meeting indoors at this time inevitably turn to Romans 13:1-7 and 1st Peter 2:13-17.  Both texts are clear: Christians are to be subject to human authorities. In both passages Christians are told unequivocally that God Himself establishes all human authority. Those texts cannot be ignored. Christians are clearly not permitted to break the laws of man willy-nilly. Choosing to do so, is a serious sin.

But, do these texts apply to holding church services? The context of certain biblical passages is key to this debate. Most of the New Testament was written to men and women who were undergoing extreme persecution (Acts 5:17-32, Acts 7:54-60, Acts 11:19, 2nd Corinthians 12:10, 2nd Thessalonians 1:4, Hebrews 10:33, Revelation 2:10). Many, if not most early Christians were forbidden from attending church meetings at one point or another. However, the Bible assumes Christians will meet and even commands Christians to meet, in spite of laws that forbade them from doing so. The book of Hebrews was written to Christians who were experiencing persecution from the Roman government AND local Jewish authorities.  Many of their own people died horrible deaths as a result of their faithfulness to Jesus (Hebrews 11:36-40). In spite of those realities the author of Hebrews gives the clearest command in all of the New Testament concerning church attendance (Hebrews 10:24-25).  

Furthermore.

 1st and 2nd Peter were written near the end of Nero’s reign. Christianity was banned and the penalty for declaring Jesus to be Lord was certain death. Christians were not allowed to hold meetings.  Furthermore, very few first century Christians were literate.  Books (scrolls) were prohibitively expensive and printing presses and the internet did not exist. There was literally no way to broadly disseminate information without in-person meetings. The Apostle Peter wrote his letters to people he knew would never hear his words UNLESS they broke the law to attend a church meeting.

And yet.

It is critical we remember Romans 13 and 1st Peter 2:13-17 provide ironclad proof that God is most concerned with the heart attitudes of His people. God does not want Christians to take a casual attitude toward the laws of man or the health of others. Christians who choose to meet to make a political point or because the Constitution says they can, are meeting for all the wrong reasons. They would be better off from a spiritual and moral standpoint just staying home.  The Bible is clear: Christians should not break the law concerning church services as a first resort, every other avenue must be explored first.

I tend to fall on the John MacArthur side of the divide. Although with a huge caveat: his heart must be in the right place as he takes this stand (only God and John MacArthur know the state of John MacArthur’s heart). If Mr. MacArthur is defying the government out of fear, to make a point, garner attention or demand his “rights”. His stand is wrong and it will be revealed as a “dead work” on judgment day (1st Corinthians 3:11-13).

 Period.  

Will Churches Survive the COVID-19 Crisis?

 Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching- Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV

  I hate COVID-19.

  I hate the trouble, awkwardness and expense this idiotic infection has created for the whole world. I despise the suspicion I see in people’s eyes at the grocery store. I hate the look of panic I see when people realize they have accidently broken social-distancing rules. I hate that I feel the need to reassure people who are clearly terrified I am going to scream at them I am not afraid of them. I despise the cold plastic walls we’ve erected everywhere.  I hate that COVID-19 has made it clear to me that I am still in desperate need of sanctification as revealed by the level of aggressiveness and cynicism I feel about this whole thing.

 I also hate what the virus is doing to the body of Christ. In the early days of the pandemic I wondered if Coronavirus might turn out to be a net-positive for the church. In some ways, it has been. Many once apathetic Christians are seeking God on a deeper level and praying more and harder than they’ve ever prayed in their lives (Revelation 3:15-17). Sales of devotionals are up and Bible aps have seen a marked increase in users. The forced separation from church family has made many believers more grateful for their local Church and the community it provides. These are clear wins for the church.

 However.

 It’s not all sunshine and roses in church world. Online attendance of services was good early on but there’s been a sharp decline in recent weeks. Some have made online commitments to Jesus. However due to circumstances beyond their control leaders have been unable to follow-up on those people in a meaningful way. Sadly, most of those baby believers are MIA. Even some mature Christians have lost connection with their church family. Some have taken to bouncing from online service to online service. Churches are closed almost everywhere. In some areas they will stay closed for the foreseeable future.  Some Christian leaders have begun to hold what are essentially illegal gatherings. A few have even been arrested for doing so. More moderate Christians cite Romans 13:1-7 and contend it’s simply wrong to disobey government authority. Other Christians have decided that online church is just as good as meeting together in person. They believe Christians should be content to worship alone in their homes until the authorities give us permission to do otherwise.

 What is a Christian to do?

 The church is not a building (1st Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 3:6). The church is individual people from divergent backgrounds and races who come together to make up a living, breathing organism called the body of Christ. (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).  No one has to attend church in a building to be a Christian.  However, it could be argued that one very effective, albeit slow way to kill a body, especially a spiritual body is to separate the parts.

 It is not healthy, wise or biblical to replace the freedom, fellowship, accountability and warmth of in-person meetings with technology. There is no accountability with a computer screen. Sin, bad doctrine and complacency all breed in secret.  Furthermore, the longer one goes without church the easier it is to forget that Christians are commanded to meet together on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:25).

 That being said, law-breaking should never be our go-to as Christians.

 Therefore, if you live in an area that’s prohibited church gatherings, it is imperative you exhaust every legal avenue available to get the right restored. Contact the office of your governor, state senators and legislators as quickly as possible. POLITLEY, GRACIOUSLY and RESPECTFULLY ask for an exception for churches on large gathering bans. Use Daniel’s interactions with Arioch in Daniel 1:1-8-16 as a guide for dealing with government officials. If your church is granted an exemption, members and leaders should cheerfully follow any and all rules mandated by the state (masks, hand-washing, social distancing, hand sanitizer stations). Every rule should be followed to the letter. Even if people believe the rules are stupid and/or unnecessary.  This isn’t about what we think or feel. It’s about the greater good.

 In the meantime, Pastors and church leaders must assume the current situation will continue for a while or will return sometime in the future. Pastors should develop systems to train lay-leaders so they are able to provide teaching, support, accountability, fellowship and pastoral care to groups of fewer than ten. Even if the system is unnecessary at this time this will not be the last outbreak of COVID-19, so it will probably prove useful in the future.

  Individual Christians should realize the current situation is part of a much bigger spiritual battle and do everything in their power to build themselves up in the faith. Bible reading, prayer and daily self-examination are not optional activities for Christians at this moment in history (Matthew 26:41, 2nd Corinthians 13:5).

 They are our greatest need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 However.

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

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

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

Christians Do-

 Judge sometimes-

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

Love People-

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

Do good-

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

Tell the truth-

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

 Obey Jesus-

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

Christians don’t-

 Mess with the word of God-

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

 Hate people-

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

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