How Evil Takes Root-

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done- Romans 1:28 NIV

 

Recently, I found myself in the unenviable position of attempting to encourage a relative of a professed Christian who is deep in the weeds of an ugly addiction. The addict flatly refuses to repent of their sin or even entertain the notion that their sin is a problem let alone a sin. To the dismay of the entire family the addict is willfully refusing to see the effect their sin is having on the lives of those they profess to love. Further complicating the whole messy mess, the addict is actively attempting to manipulate friends and family into believing that their perception of the situation is faulty and the obvious is not really true.  The addict has lost a lot and is on the verge of losing even more if they don’t make some changes.

 Sigh.

 According to the Apostle Paul individuals become fully entangled in sinful patterns of behavior because they develop an evil “depraved mind” (Romans 1:28, Hebrews 12:1). Deceitfulness, addiction and the refusal to deal with issues related to dishonesty and addiction are not the only indications of a corrupted and depraved mind. Nor is evil and depravity reserved for serial killers, sex traffickers and child molesters. Anyone who runs headlong with reckless abandonment into sinful behavior and is determined to keep on keeping on in their sin is likely suffering from a corrupt and depraved mind.

 The Bible does not exclude professed Christians from thinking or behaving in ways ultimately lead to a depraved mind. Like most issues in life prevention is key. Once wrong thinking leads to an entrenched pattern of immoral behavior it is difficult (but not impossible) to come back from it (Luke 18:27).

 It is critical we remember that people, even unsaved people do not become evil or depraved in a day.  Developing a depraved mind is a process that begins with the willful decision to ignore a known truth about God. For an unbeliever this can be as simple as choosing to deny the existence of a Creator despite all the evidence that exists to the contrary (Romans 1:18-20).

 For Christians it begins with choosing to ignore a straightforward New Testament command (Hebrews 12:25). The next step is choosing to disregard the guilt that goes along with choosing to sin.  Then the person becomes bloated (metaphorically speaking) with pride. Pride convinces them they are beyond all the silly rules other Christians have to follow. They convince themselves they are special enough to sin without the consequences lesser humans inevitably suffer. Then they actively resist accountability by dodging anyone who might possibly attempt to talk them out of their chosen course of action. Eventually, sin becomes an addiction and the driving force in their lives. At this point the addictive behavior (sin) is just a symptom of a bigger sin: idolatry (1st John 5:21).

 Okay, so, a couple of things:

 First, when we see these situations in the lives of professed Christians we should never tell ourselves we are better than they are. That response indicates pride. Pride is a serious sin to be avoided at all costs. Partly because once we start thinking like that we are more likely to get tangled-up in the same sins (Mark 8:15, 1st Corinthians 10:12) and partly because pride is just super gross (Proverbs 18:13, 2nd Chronicles 26:16). Nor, should we ever help anyone escape the consequences of the choices they have made. The technical term for helping people avoid the natural consequences of their choices is codependence. The problem with codependence is that codependent people secretly think they know more than God does about what will actually help people. God knows everything about everything and He brings consequences into the lives of people because He is constantly working to mold Christians into the image of Jesus (2nd Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3). No good ever comes from helping people avoid what God is using to make them healthier, wiser, and more like Jesus.

 Secondly, we should always be alert to sin in our own lives. The human heart is capable of an insane level of self-deception when it comes to sin (Jeremiah 17:9).  For that reason it is possible for Christians to be half-way to a depraved mind and not even know it. Therefore, it is critically important we take every opportunity to self-examine and evaluate our own moral and spiritual condition (2nd Corinthians 13:5).

 Finally, anytime we see another Christian struggling with sin our first response should always be to pray for them, not judge them. Once we’ve done that we need to beg God for the wisdom, grace and supernatural insight to know how to be Jesus to them in their time of need.   

 

 

The One Thing Every Christian Can Do to Improve the Culture-

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge- Hosea 4:6a NKJV


I had a couple of rude awaking’s this past week.

 The first came by way of a blogpost I ran across on social media.  It was written by a Christian Mother who is helping her twelve-year-old son transition from male to female. The mother is “openly queer” the wife of a pastor, writer, speaker and LGTBQ activist.  Her “daughter” was featured in a recent issue of People Magazine. In the post the Mother speaks proudly about her child undergoing a second surgical procedure to halt puberty, so that her son can become her “daughter”.  Mom expresses her gratitude to God for “topnotch medical care” and a church willing to provide health insurance for her “daughter’s medical treatments.

 Sigh.

 The second situation was less directly messy. However, it is, in my opinion more worrisome. Mostly, because the flawed thinking was far more nuanced and subtler than the first.

 A man I am choosing to assume is young because if he is not he has a lot of growing-up to do replied to a comment I made on social media. He boldly declared that Christians who support the current president in any way are “idolatrous bootlickers”. He also strongly suggested that Christians who support the President aren’t really Christians at all and in very real danger of going to hell. He felt it’s reasonable to make those rather harsh judgments because: 1. The president has sinned. 2. He does not have the proof he needs to determine whether or not the President has truly repented. 3. the church refuses to hold the president to the standard found in 1st Corinthians 5:9-11 (Paul insists a sinning person be put out of the church and Christians refuse to associate with that person until they repent) 4. He doesn’t think the President is fit to lead.

 I initially responded to both situations with a cursory eye-roll and face-palm and moved on.  Later I realized that both situations illustrate a growing problem in Christian churches:

 The Mother claims to be a Christian but appears to be lacking the knowledge base to understand that God is all-knowing and all-wise. For whatever reason, she has not grasped the basic truth that God does not make mistakes, nor do events on earth escape God’s attention. Apparently, she does not know, and is therefore incapable of teaching her child the truth that God wants her child to be the gender he was given at conception (Genesis 1:31).  The child should not be affirmed, rather he should be taught that gender is not an accident of fate, nor is it something we have a “right” to alter willy-nilly. The Bible is clear that if we don’t agree with the Creator on an issue it is our responsibility to get on board with God, not to take matters into our own hands and attempt to change reality.  The woman seems to be ignorant of the fact that God is infallible and we are not. Human beings are led by emotional impulses, faulty information and flights of fancy. God on the other hand has access to information we do not and He is always right.  Therefore, if we choose to fight God’s choice regarding our gender (or anything else) we run the risk of producing massive levels of regret and chaos. However, the only way to know all that is to know the overarching message of the Bible not just a few verses taken out of context.

 The second issue is different. The man did not seem to understand what the Bible says about secular leaders. First off, every human being has sinned, the president is not special (Romans 3:23). The only instruction the New Testament gives Christians concerning secular leaders is that we obey them and pray for them (1st Timothy 2:1-3, Romans 13:1-7). Furthermore, very few people know the president well enough to know if he is even a Christian and should be held to the standard found in 1st Corinthians.  Even if the President is a Christian there have been no issues of gross immorality we know of since taking office (braggadocios tweeting does not constitute gross immorality). Even God does not hold our sins against us forever if we repent. Lastly, America is not a theocracy. Therefore, Christians should be careful about judging political leaders. It is perfectly acceptable to pray out, vote out, or in extreme cases throw out a leader because they are grossly corrupt, unjust or evil. However, it is not acceptable to throw out a leader simply because we dislike their demeanor or deem them unfit to lead (Romans 13:1).

 We must never forget that expecting flawless perfection from a leader is dangerous. The Bible promises that someday there will be a flawless political leader. He will be the antichrist and some Christians will swear allegiance to him because he fits the mold of an “ideal” leader (Matthew 24:24).  

 Okay. So, here’s the thing.

 The above-mentioned examples are of people who do not have a firm grasp on what the Bible teaches about some key issues. However, the real question is how many Christians would be able to recognize those flaws and explain them to someone else?

 The answer is very few because Christians are quickly becoming biblically illiterate.

 Our culture wouldn’t be in such a spiritual muddle if the average church person were capable of parsing out flawed thinking regarding biblical issues and gently correcting wrong thinking. The one thing every Christian can do to improve the culture is to be intentional about becoming biblically literate.  Get into the word this year, learn what it says, commit to understanding what the Bible says as a whole rather than picking out pieces and parts we like to obey. Then commit to living out God’s truth in a gentle and gracious way that draws others into the Kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

 

Six Principles That Will Keep any Relationship Healthy, Happy and Thriving-

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift~ Matthew 5:23-24

 Relationships.

 The blessing and curse of human existence.

 When our closest relationships are healthy and thriving, there is little in this life more rewarding.  When a close relationship goes bad there is literally nothing more miserable and angst-inducing.  

 In our chaotic, sin-sick world fragmented relationships are pretty much a given. Almost half of marriages end in divorce, friendships end as quickly as they begin, business associations rarely stand the test of time and churches routinely split over the stupidest stuff imaginable. We live in a culture that has trained us to believe that life is “all about me”. This creates an environment where it feels natural to treat relationships like disposable commodities. We have basically forgotten the principle found in Proverbs that reminds us never to forsake a friend or the friend of a family member- (Proverbs 27:10a)

 The Bible clearly teaches that Christians bear an extra measure of responsibility when it comes to the care, keeping and healing of relationships. We are reminded over and over again in Scripture that human relationships are not always easy but the difficulties involved in maintaining healthy relationships will make us better people (Proverbs 27:6, Proverbs 27:17).  Christians are directed to treat others the way they want to be treated and encouraged to take the initiative when it comes to reconciling broken relationships (Matthew 7:12, Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 5:23-24, Luke 12:58). Repairing damaged relationships and helping others to do the same is probably the most basic task Christians are called to in this life (2nd Corinthians 5:12-18) The process begins with understanding and choosing to live out the following six principles:

 If something feels wrong assume something is wrong-

 Never trivialize or ignore the niggling sense you may have caused offense or alienated another person (Proverbs 18:19). When in doubt ask how the other person is feeling and/or modify your behavior. The earlier a damaged relationship is attended to the simpler it is to repair.

 Do not short-circuit the recovery process-

 Anytime we jump to simply restoring a broken relationship without working through the issues that fractured the relationship in the first place we set in motion a series of events that will inevitably lead to even more brokenness and hurt. Problems need to be talked out, not glossed over if we want to see permanent recovery in the relationship and personal growth in ourselves. 

 Be willing to assume at least partial responsibility for any relationship fracture-  

 I truly loathe the adage: “perception is reality”. Mostly because if you really break it down it sounds like something a really crazy person would say. However, when it comes to hurt in relationships perception really is reality. It is critical we remember ALL human beings tend to be self-absorbed and blind to their own faults. For that reason, it is possible to hurt another person without knowing how we hurt them. Healthy, mature believers are always open to the idea that they may not understand how their words or actions have affected another person

 Accept the other person’s opinions regarding the situation-

 If someone lets you know the relationship has been broken or feels they were wronged by you it is not wise, kind or emotionally intelligent to write that person off as stupid, incorrect, easily hurt or just plain clueless. As Christians we owe it to God and people to find out why others feel the way they feel about situations that involve us—even when we truly believe we have done nothing wrong.  Not caring about the other persons side of things is both narcissistic and grossly sinful.  The only time we are free from the obligation of exploring the other person’s perspective is if the individual flatly refuses to communicate with us.

 Be willing to let some things go-

 Our personal relationships matter to God because relationship health is a measure of our spiritual health and maturity level. It is also reasonable to say that from God’s perspective relationships are nearly always worth preserving (Proverbs 17:9). The key to achieving relationship health is a willingness to let some things go. Cruelty, gas lighting, unfaithfulness in marriage or flagrant disrespect for the other person is never okay. That said, most other issues can be worked through if both parties are willing to listen, change and forgive.

Choose to view relationship troubles as opportunities for growth- 

 No normal, healthy or sane human being likes relationship issues. That said, truly mature people view all problems including relationship problems as an opportunity for growth rather than a hassle or a personal attack.

 The health of our relationships is a measure of our maturity. It is also a reflection of the power of our God in the eyes of unbelievers. A God who has the power to impact our relationships is a God worth following. For that reason Christians should do everything they can do to ensure their relationships are healthy and God honoring. 

 

We Don’t Need More Christian Values-

 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead- Philippians 3:10-11 NIV

 Eleven years ago, a group of parents in our community became troubled by the lack of moral values that were rampant in our area. The parents approached the local schoolboard. After a series of meetings, the Central Valley School District decided to go all-in with values education. A committee was formed.  The committee came up with a program still used today that systematically teaches values and positive character qualities to children in public schools beginning in kindergarten.

 The values chosen were universally acknowledged as virtuous and helpful.  They were respect, responsibility, citizenship, caring, fairness, honesty, diligence, trustworthiness, courage, integrity, generosity and gratitude. 

 For the record, I have no idea how many of the parents on that committee where Christians. At that time, we lived in a neighboring district and I was not on the committee, nor was I friends with anyone on the committee. However, it did not escape my notice that every character quality on the list was in alignment with New Testament teachings. Furthermore, the definitions for each trait could have been written by an experienced Sunday school teacher. For example, the definition chosen for the citizenship value was:

 Positively contributing to society and community as well as dutifully respecting authority and the law.

 So, that sounds a bit like a synopsis of Romans 13:1-7 to me. But who am I to say what motivated the writer of the definition?

 Any-hoo.

 Last week I noticed one of the schools near our home had the character trait of the month and its definition (caring) on its reader board. The sign reminded me of the movement eleven years ago to bring “values” back into our community. 

 It occurred to me as I was driving home that little has improved in our community over the course of the last decade. Most kids (and adults) still lack the values those parents fought to have taught. Common courtesy is far less common now than it was then. Property crime occurs at a much higher rate than it did ten years ago. Our community has experienced one school shooting in recent years and nearly every social problem under the sun has increased in the years since the program was implemented.  

 Why, after all the years, all the tax dollars spent and all the hours put into teaching and training kids have we seen so little improvement in the moral climate of our community? 

 It is not the fault of parents who battled to bring values education into the schools. Those parents followed their conscience and worked their tails off to make a difference. That kind of moral courage is never wrong.  Nor, should the blame be laid at the feet of the school system. In a post-modern, post-values, post-Christian world some very brave leaders took a risk and made a valiant attempt at standing up for some timeless truths. That kind of bravery should always be celebrated. 

 The fault lies with society at large. For well over a century, individuals have wanted and, in some cases, even insisted that Christian values be taught without all the pesky ethical teaching that accompanies Christianity. Our culture wants nice people who practice Christian generosity in the event of a natural disaster or tragedy. We want people who are benevolent, compassionate and nice. We want people who tell the truth as Christianity demands.

 However, we do not wish to be burdened with any moral restrictions that might mess with our personal choices. We do not want Christianity meddling with our sex lives or telling us what we can or can’t watch on television. We for sure do not want Christianity to inform our views concerning drug legalization or childrearing practices.  

 The problem with this kind of thinking is that it will work for a generation or two, perhaps even three. When Christianity is authentic it is powerful enough that Christian virtues (patience, kindness, temperance, generosity, self-discipline) will live on in succeeding generations who don’t really know Christ. However, sooner or later the veneer of Christianity will begin to wear off of society and when that happens the society will begin to unravel.

 That is what we see happening today. Western Civilization has been living in the shadow of the blessings prior generations earned through their genuine faith in Christ (Deuteronomy 28, 1st Samuel 15:22, Psalm 128:1-3, John 14:23, 2nd John 1:6).  As those blessings fade we are left with the dregs of a post-Christian reality: disobedient children, corrupt politicians, lawlessness, sexual chaos, broken families and random violence (Ezekiel 23:35, 2nd Timothy 3:1-5).

 We will never get our homes, churches, community or country back to a place of blessing by painting society with yet another whitewashing of Christian virtues. We need Christianity not just Christian virtues. Christians need to get back to the business of repentance and making disciples. It all starts with making sure our own heart is right with God and other people. Once that is done Christians need to get into their communities with God’s truth and love.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dumbest Thing We Do-

A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it~ Job 4:12 NIV

At this point, everyone with access to the Internet and a news channel has probably at least heard about the latest Peloton commercial. The one where the man gives his wife an insanely expensive exercise bike on Christmas morning. The 107-pound woman (who does not look like see NEEDS an exercise bike) squeals with joy when she sees her gift. Then for some reason never fully explained she spends the following year recording EVERYTHING she does with the bike. The commercial ends with her practically weeping tears of joy as she describes how the Peloton has transformed her life.  

It stands to reason that the advertising professionals at Peloton were assuming viewers would see the ad as a sweet and uplifting story of a man loving his woman the way she wants to be loved. They were probably also hoping potential buyers would see the wife’s blissful reaction to the gift and be motivated to plunk down $2,245.00 for the bike plus $39.00 a month for the streaming service and iOS app. The streaming service and app are required throughout the first year of ownership.  

That’s not exactly how things worked out.

  Social media lit up like a Christmas tree with opinions over the ad. Men and women alike claimed the ad was “sexist”, “dystopian” and “cringe-worthy”.  One or two twitter users even suggested Peloton ought to be charged with sexual misconduct for producing the ad in the first place. Peloton stock took an ugly tumble.  

That was not all. 

People made peculiar and ugly judgments about the “couple” and their “marriage”. Most commenters simply wrote the husband off as a sexist, fat-shaming Neanderthal.  Others concocted complicated back stories for the couple. One woman claimed the wife seemed to be apologetic for her existence. Others proposed that she was suffering from a poor self-image. Many were alarmed that the woman seemed little too eager to lose weight for such a skinny girl (perhaps she has an eating disorder?). One person stated the woman was suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Almost every commenter feared she is a victim of spousal abuse. 

Personally, I found the comments about the commercial much more compelling than the actual commercial. I spent a good thirty minutes one evening sifting through them. As I shutdown my laptop for the night I was struck by a series of questions: 

Are these people crazy? Do they not know that this is a commercial? Are they confused about what commercials are for? Why is everyone so upset by this? Do they not have jobs or families to worry about? Do they actually believe these people are real? Am I the only sane person left on earth? What am I going to do if I am? 

It was a scary moment for me. 

Then I started thinking about the whole silly mess and I realized that the reaction to the Peloton commercial is actually indicative of one of the dumbest things we do in our culture. Someone will say a few words that appear innocent on the surface and someone else will read a whole bucket of subtext into the words and/or facial expressions of that person. Then they run with whatever their impressions are of the situation and next thing you know they have created a whole bizarre storyline out of a handful of words and a few facial expressions. 

Sadly, this madness is not consigned strictly to the realm of advertisements. This trend is driving the presidential impeachment hearings. The President said three little words: “do us a favor” and half the country has read a truckload of subtext into those words.  Everyone thinks they know what he “was really saying”, what his intentions were and what will happen if he is not impeached (the world will come to a fiery end).  Many have devised long, complicated backstories for the conversation. Some believe this is one of many secret conversations the president had with that particular leader.  Others think that rather than being concerned about irregularities in the 2016 election the President was so concerned with his 2020 competition that he wanted to “dig up dirt” on an old guy even most Dems admit they would only vote for out of desperation. 

Sigh. Sadly, the drama is beginning to borderline on collective mental illness.

The madness is not limited to suspicions regarding the President or pretend couples on television. This weirdly mistrustful way of looking at the world is becoming incredibly common. Even Christians can get caught up in thinking they know what people “really mean” when they say something that appears innocent on the surface. When we share those suspicions with others our foolishness can split churches, ruin reputations and may even destroy a perfectly good marriage or friendship. 

It’s critical we remember that Christians are called to love others (Matthew 5:44, John 13:34). Love always chooses to believe the best in others (1st Corinthians 13:7). If we choose to live like the world we become just like the world. If we live like Jesus we become like Jesus and the world sees Jesus in us (1st John 2:16, Philippians 2:14-16).

The Seven Signs of A Sick Church-

 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. Colossians 1:17-18a NIV

When churches are what God intended them to be they motivate believers towards maturity and provide an opportunity for individuals to make a meaningful contribution to the world. Healthy churches help people to see Scripture from a richer perspective. A good church will naturally foster an atmosphere where love, forgivness, moral accountability and practical support become a reality.

 When churches are not what God intended them to be there is an absence of love, concern for others and sound biblical teaching that can be tough to see at first. People in the church frequently hurt each other without even realizing it. This causes church to morph into a confusing source of spiritual and emotional hurt. The lack of solid biblical teaching leads to spiritual apathy and sometimes even moral compromise. There is simply nothing better or more beneficial than a healthy, life-giving church. Conversely, there is nothing more spiritually and morally destructive than a truly sick church. Following are seven tell-tale indicators of a sick church.  

Staff members tend to be absent outside of church services –

The Bible refers to a church as a body (1st Corinthians 12:12-27, Romans 12:3-5, Ephesians 4:1-6). One part of a body cannot avoid other parts of the body and still maintain overall health. This is especially true of members who hold leadership positions. Leaders lead through their example. In a church setting, leaders should be leading others towards participation in healthy community and into deeper relationships with other Christians. This cannot happen if the pastors and staff members are always the last to show up at events and the first to leave. 

You never feel guilty, challenged or convicted at the end of a sermon- 

Church is supposed to be the place the Bible is explained and expounded on. In the hands of a skilled preacher or teacher the Bible is a powerful instrument to comfort, encourage and support the brokenhearted and hurting (Psalm 34:18, Psalm 147:2-4).  However, the Bible is not all rainbows and lollipops.  The Bible describes itself as being sharper than a two-edged sword. If the Bible God is taught properly it will penetrate our souls and cast judgment on our bad behavior, the sinful thoughts we think and the rotten attitudes we harbor in our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). If the preaching in your church rarely or never leaves you feeling convicted about the things that need changing in your life, you are probably in a sick church. 

People are the means not the end- 

Healthy church leaders know that people are the reason we do church. People are not the means to some other end like building a big building, having a gazillion followers or being the church with a ton of campuses where all the cool people attend. People are the primary reason churches do what they do and if they are not then the leaders of that church have lost sight of the mission of the church. The church was established by God to promote spiritual growth, train individuals to do the work of ministry and reflect the heart of Jesus to the unsaved world (Luke 6:40, Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 4:11-13, Galatians 2:20).  Anytime a church forgets the original point of church it’s a sick church.  

Sunday morning is all there is- 

There are 168 hours in a week. Most folks spend 52 of those hours sleeping, 40ish hours a week working, 30 hours watching television, 22 hours a week messing around on their phone and only one, perhaps two measly hours of any given week involved in spiritual activity. We need more spiritual food than that to process through all the spiritual and emotional junk we encounter in a given week (Hebrews 10:24-25). If a church does not routinely provide a means for people to connect outside of the Sunday morning service (small groups, Sunday school classes, midweek services, prayer groups) it’s not a healthy church (Acts 2:46-47). 

There is only one kind of people in the church- 

The early church was scandalously diverse. The rich socialized freely with the poor. The old and the young were equally valued (1st Timothy 4:12, 1st Timothy 5:1-2). Slaves were sometimes the spiritual leaders of their masters and women and men worshiped together with individuals of all races (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:27-29).  A healthy church has a mixture of age groups, races and people from all sorts socio-economic circumstances. If a church is mostly millennials or mostly old people or mostly white people or mostly rich people, something is probably not right. 

There is no replication- 

Healthy organisms reproduce (Acts 6:7). If a church isn’t planting other churches and the attendees are not leading people to Jesus, there is a problem.  

Finding a church is about more than simply finding a church that matches our particular doctrinal or musical preference. Nor is it about finding a place “we feel comfortable”. Finding a good church is about finding a place where we routinely feel spiritually uncomfortable and yet deeply loved for who we are as people. 

The Wrong Way to Handle Kanye’s Conversion-

 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!
 Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” ~ Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

Kanye West shocked pretty much everyone in the Christian and secular world when he “came out” as a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. A week later he released a Christian album entitled Jesus is King. In the six weeks or so since his big reveal he has spoken out about his new-found faith on late night television, on at least one news program, appeared at numerous Christian events and was interviewed by Joel Osteen at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston Texas. 

A few weeks back one of our older daughters asked me what I thought about Kanye’s conversion to Christianity.  She wanted to know if I thought it was the real deal and if I believed it would last. 

It’s tempting to lie but I won’t. 

My initial (admittedly sinful) inclination was to list in grim detail all the celebrities over the course of my lifetime who have made “heartfelt” commitments to Jesus only to break those commitments in a spectacularly horrifying fashion that ultimately brought incalculable shame to Jesus. I was also tempted to bring up all of the “celebrity” Christians who have presented themselves to the world as Christian role models and then proceeded to live like heathens before they finally “came out” as unbelievers. 

I get that this confession makes me sound like an awful person and an even more awful Christian. In my defense (which I admit is pathetically weak), I am not the only Christian who has been a bit skeptical of Kayne’s conversion story. The internet has been buzzing with opinions (many of them negative) on this subject.

The good news is that before I had a chance to open my stupid pie-hole and spout-off my rather self-righteous opinion on the subject the Holy Spirit caught me up short. In the space of about ten seconds God reminded me in a not-so-gentle way that people can change and I am living proof of that fact. 

Sigh.  

So, all this begs the question. How should a Christian respond to the news that an unlikely person has made a commitment to Jesus? I believe we should respond in four ways anytime anyone makes a commitment to Jesus. 

In faith-

As believers in Jesus we should have the faith to believe that God has the power to change anyone He really wants to change. If we believe in the gospel we also have to believe that God really can change people, even people we see as unlikely candidates for change (2nd Corinthians 3:18). The Bible is packed with examples of people who most of us would have written off as utterly hopeless (Acts 9). It’s critical we remember that without faith in God’s ability to do what He says He can do it is literally impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). 

With prayer-

This is a tough a time to be a Christian and it is likely that things will get worse before they get better. The struggles Christians experience are mostly spiritual in nature (Ephesians 6:12-18). Because our struggles are mostly spiritual, prayer is the most powerful thing one Christian can do for another Christian. This is especially true for new Christians who have never experienced difficulty or persecution. Our prayers really will make a difference in how well they walk out their commitment to Christ.  

With a sense of awe and wonder-

Every conversion is literally a miracle and the second we lose sight of that fact we lose sight of what it means to be a Christian. All human beings (even the really nice ones) have hearts that are hard, indifferent and even hostile toward God. When someone submits their life to Jesus Christ and repents of their sin God changes their heart (Ezekiel 36:26). This begins a process that eventually transforms them into an entirely new creation with a whole new set of priorities and desires (2nd Corinthians 5:17). It doesn’t get any more miraculous than that. 

With understanding-

Baby Christians are, more often than not, flaming-hot-messes, practically speaking. They do things they shouldn’t do, say things they shouldn’t say, their motivations tend to be all over the map and they can be oddly judgmental for people who clearly don’t get what Christianity is supposed to “look like”.  It is the job of more mature believers to prove their maturity by being there in practical ways for new believers. This means treating them with grace and mercy as they maneuver through the always challenging process of maturing in Christ (Philippians 2:12). 

Jesus’ came to earth to transform sinful, pigheaded, foolish people into something better than we could ever be in our own power (2nd Corinthians 3:17-18).  All too often Christians (especially Christians who have been Christians for a long time) forget that God changed us and that He is still very much in the business of transforming messy people into messages of His grace, truth and love.

Four Reasons Why God’s Rules Still Matter

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world~ 1st Peter 2:12 NLT 

Heresy is a just a fancy-pants theological term for the act of departing from a pattern of sound biblical teaching (1st Timothy 6:20-21, 2nd Timothy 1:13, 2nd Timothy 4:3). 

Sometimes heresy takes the form of some seriously insane theories about God. 

 There were once Christians who believed that Jesus was simply a human being who was formally adopted by God at his conception. Once the adoption was “finalized” he developed a divine (God) nature while growing in Mary’s womb (Adoptionism). Other early believers were convinced Jesus was a phantom who didn’t leave footprints when He walked rather than a flesh and blood person (Gnosticism). For nearly a thousand years some “Christians” believed people are born without a sin nature and are capable of living a holy life apart from Jesus and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (Pelagianism).  

Most heresies are not wholesale lies about God or crazy misinterpretations of Scripture. Most heresies are more like tiny kernels of truth wrapped-up in half-truths and weird errors.  There are two such heresies deeply rooted in our contemporary Christian culture. The first is legalism. Legalists believe they can earn God’s favor by doing the right things and obeying the right rules. 

It is true that God really cares about our behavior (more on that later). However, legalists would do well to remember that even the best-behaved person in the world cannot save themselves from their own sin (Ephesians 2:8, 2nd Timothy 1:9, Hebrews 10:39). Legalism sidetracks Christians from relationship with Christ by placing the emphasis on what we can do for ourselves rather on what Jesus did for us. Perhaps, the biggest drawback to legalism is that it falsely paints God as demanding, callous and impossible to please. This can lead legalists to feel discouraged and resentful towards God. This can lead to hopelessness and eventually even a departure from the faith.

On the other end of the doctrinal spectrum are those who believe there are no rules and that behavior is a nonissue for Christians. These folks think that once a person is saved there is nothing they can do or not do to offend God. Christians who have intentionally or unintentionally adopted this view do not worry seriously about the effects sin, even deliberate, premeditated sin. Adherents to this view are growing in number and having an enormous impact on the Christian culture. 

The truth is that our behavior does matter but not because it saves us, or makes God like us more. Correct behavior and following the rules matter for four reasons:

Righteous behavior protects us from moral failure- 

Ephesians 6:14 instructs Christians in a metaphorical sense to put on the “breastplate of righteousness”.  The primary purpose of a breastplate in Roman body armor was to protect the soldier’s heart from injury. In Proverbs 4:23 the writer instructs readers to “guard your heart because everything you do flows from it”. Behaving in a way that is righteous (avoiding sin and questionable behavior) protects us from all sorts of pitfalls and potential disasters. For example, going out of your way to avoid pornography protects against addiction, the sin of lust and at least a dozen other really ugly sins. Avoiding people who gossip ensures that you will not become a slanderer (Psalm 15:1-3) and if you never drink alcohol you will never become an alcoholic.  

When Christians behave virtuously non-Christians have the opportunity to experience something the Bible calls conviction-

Perhaps the most critical reason to avoid sin and to behave righteously is because when we do the people around us have a model of good behavior to follow. Sometimes our good behavior even leads sinners to feel guilt or conviction over their bad behavior (1st Peter 3:13-16). Conviction often leads to repentance. 

Christians are commanded to avoid certain behaviors and sins-

The New Testament gives a series of “sin lists” addressed to Christians (Mark 7:21-22, 1st Corinthians 5:10-11, 1st Corinthians 6:9-11, 1st Timothy 1:8-11, Colossians 3:5-8, Galatians 5:19-21). Most of those lists are predicated with or followed by the caution that people who routinely practice the sins listed will not “inherit the kingdom of God”.  In my view it is reasonable to question the salvation of any “Christian” who does not take these warnings to heart. 

Bad behavior causes Christians to lose their moral authority-  

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when most people (saved or unsaved) looked to the church for moral direction and spiritual guidance. However, allegations of fraud, sex abuse scandals, infidelity and wholesale hypocrisy amongst clergy and laypeople alike have stripped the church and the people in it of any moral authority they were once blessed with. Now our culture is swimming in moral chaos and thanks to the sinful antics of Christians over the last forty years no one is looking to the one source that truly has the answers to our problems: the church. 

God loves people so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to save people from their sin (John 3:16). His love doesn’t end there though. God also loved us enough to give us moral boundaries to keep us from going off the rails after we come to know Jesus. It’s up to us to stay within those boundaries.

Is It Evil or Just A Bad Idea?

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms- Ephesians 6:12 NIV

It is simply a fact that there are subjects and issues associated with Christianity and the church that are bound to illicit some obvious discomfort and perhaps even a flight response from unbelievers. Expressing biblical views concerning gender, homosexuality, the wrath of God or any topic pulled out of the book of Leviticus is bound to make many non-Christians visibly uncomfortable and perhaps even a bit sweaty. 

There are also biblical issues that make some Christians super squirmy and uncomfortable. Ask why a good God allows evil, or exactly how predestination works or start a conversation about premarital sex, women in ministry, or demonic possession and most Christians will nervously check their watches and begin searching frantically for the nearest exit. 

But perhaps the most of uncomfortable topic of all the uncomfortable topics for both believers and unbelievers is spiritual warfare. There are good reasons for this. There is simply no other subject in the Bible that can get weirder faster than spiritual warfare. This is partly because the Bible is somewhat vague about the particulars of the subject. We know that there are angels and demons and that the angels are the good guys and the demons are the bad guys. We also know that Satan is constantly scheming to distract people from the truth of God and discourage and demoralize Christians (Daniel 10:10-14, Zechariah 1:7-11 Ephesians 6:10-13).  But, the ins and outs of how all of that works is a bit hazy and we are all left to fill in the blanks. Some Christians fill in the blanks rather dramatically. 

Every Christian has an auntie, nana or cousin who sees a demon under every dumpster and at the core of every problem or minor inconvenience. These folks sincerely believe EVERYTHING is a scheme of Satan. Flat tires, bad weather, tired children and head colds are never just things that happen. They are always from the devil. This causes many Christians (especially the smart ones) to simply dismiss the spirit world altogether or to accept the idea that the spirit world exists but avoid thinking about or discussing it. For the record, I do not judge Christians who choose to adopt those polices. The latter was mine for a very long time. 

However.

There are problems with that policy.  Christians are commanded to resist the devil and stand firmly against evil (James 4:7, Ephesians 6:13). It’s difficult to resist something or stand against it when we are doing our best to ignore the fact that the thing exists. Anytime we deny the reality of the spirit world we become less discerning about spiritual things in general. It is possible to know if a movement, idea or undertaking is a scheme of the devil or just a bad idea. Evil ideas or Satanic movements always have three characteristics to them: 

Evil ideas look helpful but lead to despair-

Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2nd Corinthians 11:14). He also wraps his most destructive ideas in an altruistic façade. The modern-day environmental movement is one clear example of this. Environmentalism was (mostly) a good thing until it was hijacked by weirdos who want us to eat babies and dead people (I am not making this up. Google it).  Past environmentalists sought to solve problems and create community around the task of caring for the planet. The early environmentalist movement brought us Arbor Day, recycling and environmental cleanup programs. However, around the time The Inconvenient Truth was released environmentalism became despair driven and began pushing an insane anti-human agenda. When humans live sensibly and in submission to God they really are the answer to problems that concern the earth (Genesis 1:28). However, the modern environmentalist movement continuously tells us that humanity is the problem and the only hope for the planet is for all of us to hurry up and die already. 

 Evil ideas destroy human life and rob people of their dignity-

Satan hates humans and his first ambition is to end human life if at all possible. Legal abortion is an example of one of his most successful schemes. At least fifty million fewer humans exist today thanks to that idea.  If he cannot influence people to take a life he does the next best thing. He influences them to surrender their God-given dignity by getting them addicted to drugs, alcohol or some weird form of sexual bondage. 

Evil ideas lead to hate, division and death- 

Satanic schemes lead to death, division and conflict. They never bring harmony, prosperity or respect for both sides of an issue.  Therefore, we should always look at the fruit of political movements. For example, communism sounds fantastic, even kind of Christian, at least on its surface. In the communist ideal everyone contributes what they can and everyone has what they need to survive and thrive. Sadly, no communist regime has ever delivered on these promises. Rather, socialism/communism has killed at least a hundred-million people over the course of the last century, sown hate and divided millions. Socialism will never succeed anywhere because it is built on a foundation of envy and envy always leads to hate and division. 

The times we live in are getting stranger and scarier (2nd Timothy 3:1-3, 2nd Peter 3:3). It is imperative Christians be discerning about the political and social movements that are being presented to society as “good” and helpful”. Most are just old schemes wrapped in new packaging for a less astute generation. 

How to Forgive People-Even People Who Don’t Deserve It

If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses- Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV

Let’s be real. 

Hard things are hard and Christianity demands a LOT of hard things of Christians. Christians are called to love the most unlovable of people (Luke 6:27), and exercise self-control in the most unjust of circumstances (Romans 12:17-19, 1st Peter 3:17). Christians are even expected to do good things to and for people who mistreat them (Matthew 5:44). 

Perhaps the hardest of all the hard things Christians are called to do is to forgive those who sin against us. 

The New Testament passages that mandate total forgiveness are insanely comprehensive and leave no legitimate wiggle-room for compromise (Matthew 18:21-35, Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13, 1st Peter 2:18-21). These requirements go so far as to teach that our being forgiven by God hinges on our willingness to forgive others.  Furthermore, Hebrews 12:15 tells us that if unforgiveness is allowed to harden into bitterness that bitterness will not just defile (taint, corrupt, ruin) the bitter person but the people they love as well. 

Sigh. 

Over the course of the last fifteen years or so I have had several “opportunities” to forgive people who really did not deserve to be forgiven, mostly because few of them were actually sorry. These were not small slights like having my feelings hurt, being overlooked in a social situation or being ignored by someone I felt should care about me. Each experience was extremely personal and painful.  I am not going to share the details of any of them. All you really need to know is that all the situations demanded more of me than I honestly thought I was capable of giving at the time. 

Through that I learned that there are steps that must be followed for the process of forgiveness to work itself out. If any aspects of the process are skipped or glossed over the forgiveness will be incomplete and our feelings towards the person who hurt us will harden into bitterness. 

Following are some steps to forgiving others. They don’t have to be done in a particular order but they all have to be done. It all starts with: 

Recognizing that forgiveness is a process not an event- 

Forgiving really big offenses is rarely, if ever, a one and done. Forgiveness begins with the choice to forgive. However, that choice must be followed by a commitment to do the work necessary to truly move on from the hurt. The length of time it takes to work through the process depends on many things including the level of hurt involved and the maturity of the person who was hurt. 

Ask God to help you-

Any reasonably mature adult can forgive a social slight or a minor offense easily.  However, there are some hurts and offenses so grievous that even the most spiritually mature people cannot forgive them without God’s help.  

Allow yourself to feel the impact of the hurt-

Anytime I hear someone who has just experienced a great-big-horrible-tragedy at the hands of an evil person say “I forgive them”, my heart breaks for them because I know that they aren’t Jesus and Jesus is the only person who ever lived who is truly capable of forgiving an act of evil without first sorting through their feelings about the situation (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness is hard because it is the act of surrendering the right we all feel we have to hold people accountable for sinning against us. Because feeling the impact of hurt is painful it is tempting to simply utter the words “I forgive” without counting the cost and really working through how we feel about the person who hurt us. But if we don’t we will likely find that the feelings of forgiveness do not last long.    All that being said, it is critical that we don’t get stuck in this step because if we do bitterness is inevitable. 

Find a person to help you process- 

God designed the human race in such a way that people need people (Genesis 2:18). Christians are commanded to comfort those in pain and to mourn with those who mourn (2nd Corinthians 1:3-5, 1stThessalonians 2:11-12, Romans 12:15). No one needs comfort more or is mourning harder than someone who is processing a big hurt. If you are hurting find a Christian counselor, Pastor or mature Christian friend who can walk you through the process. If you happen to be in a good place right now choose to be the person who helps someone when they need comfort. 

Pray daily for the person who hurt you- 

Pray that God will bless the person who hurt you. Ask God to make them more self-aware so they will know how their actions are affecting others.  Ask God to do whatever needs to be done in their lives for them to grow into the best version of themselves possible (Luke 6:28). Keep praying those prayers until you feel freed from any bitterness you feel towards the person who hurt you. 

Forgiveness is not easy but it is worth the trouble because unforgiveness makes it impossible for us to grow and change.  Authentic forgiveness frees us from the mental bondage of thinking about the person who hurt us all the time. This frees us up to focus on the things that will empower us to become the people God wants us to be.