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.

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

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.

Seven Idols Christians Worship

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

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

So. 

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

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

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

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

 Ambition- 

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

Success-

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

Grace- 

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

Judgment- 

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

Marriage-

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

Freedom-

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

Youth- 

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

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

Why We Still Need Church

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

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

Sigh. 

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

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

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

The church is the storehouse of spiritual truth- 

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


Church is where Christian community becomes a reality- 

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

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

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

Church is something Jesus told us to do- 

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

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

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

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

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

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

When that happens moral chaos and human suffering inevitably follows.  

Six Things The Church Must Do To Bring Revival

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

The world is a pretty messy place right now. 

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

Christianity is also pretty messy right now.

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

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

Sigh.

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

Getting there begins with:

Getting our spiritual stuff together-

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

Stop tolerating bad leaders because they deliver results- 

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

Start thinking biblically about worldly things-

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

Expect more from new converts- 

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

Find ways to give back-

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

Pray- 

Seriously. None of this will happen without prayer. 

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

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

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

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

I’m not crazy.  

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh. 

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

There’s more:

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

Welcome to 1984 folks. 

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

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

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

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

The Most Misunderstood Word in the Church

We cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well~ 1stThessalonians 2:8 NIV

There is a theory circulating in the academic corners of Christianity that every four to six hundred years God shakes things up and the result is a seismic shift in the way Christians do church. The first shift occurred at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The second transpired when the Eastern and Western Churches parted ways in A.D. 1054. The third occurred on October 31st 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in the sleepy little hamlet of Wittenberg Germany.

 It is being theorized by the wise and learned that the Church is in the middle of one of those seismic shifts right now. Recent political and social changes could have a dramatic impact on the way church is done a hundred years from now.

I am by no means a scholar. However, I do have a keen interest in Church history and a passion for weird theories. I have observed that the aforementioned shifts have also resulted in a net loss and a net gain of something enormously significant to the church. At the council of Nicaea, the Church gained respectability and opportunities for influence but lost its simplicity and doctrinal purity. When Luther posted his theses, the result was that the Church gained a much-needed anchor (biblical truth) but lost its unity, cohesiveness and a good deal of its authority. 

I am concerned that as the church shifts due to technological, social and political changes we have no control over; Christians are in danger of losing some critically important things we do have control over.  One of those things is community. The sense of community the early church experienced was the beacon that drew both gentiles and Jews into a life-changing relationship with Jesus. In a very real sense it was community that fueled the evangelistic fire of the early Church (Acts 2:42-47)

We are losing our sense of community in Christianity partially because Christians have adopted a worldly view of a Christian concept: hospitality. Hospitality is perhaps the most misunderstood concept in the Bible. This is doubtless due to the influence of cable channels like the Food Network and HGTV. Thanks to these networks many have come to believe that hospitality is nothing more or less than preparing tasty food and decorating our homes in an appealing manner. Hospitality is more than all that. Hospitality is the glue that binds community together. There are at least five misunderstandings most Christians have about hospitality 

Hospitality and entertaining are the same thing-

Hospitality and entertaining guests look similar on the surface because one piece of hospitality is entertaining guests in our homes (Acts 16:15). That said, it is possible to have guests in our home on a regular basis and not actually practice biblical hospitality. Hospitality in the Christian sense of the word means caring deeply for the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of other people in an intimate setting (Acts 18:26, Romans 12:13, 3rdJohn 1:8). An intimate setting can be a home, a coffee shop, a church foyer, a street corner or a public park because intimacy is about the emotional and spiritual environment we generate with our presence, not our physical location.

Hospitality is optional-

 Hospitality is a command (Hebrews 13:2, 1stPeter 4:9, 1stJohn 2:3). When we practice true biblical hospitality, we show people that we love them and that they matter to us and to God (Galatians 5:22-23, John 13:34). There is nothing optional about loving and caring about people in church world.  

Hospitality has nothing to do with Evangelism- 

Like it or not hospitality is a form of evangelism. Caring for the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of others is the fertile ground where the seeds of faith take root and grow (Colossians 4:4-5, Galatians 5:14).

I don’t have time for hospitality- 

This is by far the most common reason given for not practicing hospitality and on the surface, it looks and feels legitimate in our culture. People are busy, in most households both the husband and wife work. Kids are frequently involved in extracurricular activities and sports teams. These undertakings can easily eat up much (if not all) of our spare time.  Many feel overwhelmed at the prospect of managing and maintaining close family relationships. Adding more relationships to the mix simply feels like an unreasonable burden.  All of these objections are perfectly defensible if the definition of hospitality is entertaining. However, if the definition of hospitality is caring for the needs of others in an intimate setting (and it is). Then all of a sudden, the reasons we give for not being hospitable sound more like poorly constructed excuses than rock-solid reasons. We are commanded in Scripture to make time to care about people, to listen to their problems and find out what’s going on in their lives. Saying we do not have time to be hospitable we are essentially saying we don’t have time to care.  I openly question the salvation experience of a “Christian” who says that they do not have time to care about the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of others (Matthew 22:39, John 13:34, 1st Thessalonians 2:8, Matthew 25:31-37). If we do not have time to care, it’s time to cut something so we do have time to care. 

Hospitality is something other people should do for me-

 Hospitality is something Christians ought to strive to do for one another (1stPeter 4:9) by providing a listening ear, soft heart and an open door.  When we don’t we are the ones missing out. 

When Help Actually Hurts-

Do to others as you would have them do to you~ Luke 6:31 NIV

The city of Albuquerque has a problem. 

The city has become littered with hypodermic needles. Not the clean, shiny needles you get from the needle factory or a doctor’s office but the kind of needles that have been used to shoot heroin. This is an issue because used hypodermic needles are dirty. Used needles oftentimes harbor unpleasant and sometimes even incurable bloodborne diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, syphilis and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). 

Yuck. 

Like many American cities, Albuquerque boasts a “clean needle” exchange program. Needle exchange programs allow intravenous drug users to get a free clean needle anytime they want to inject drugs. Until recently if a drug user wanted to acquire a clean needle in Albuquerque they had to turn in a dirty needle. This policy did nothing to reduce drug use but it did incentivize drug users to dispose of their dirty needles safely.  Thanks to a recent policy change, trading in dirty needles is no longer a thing in Albuquerque. Now if a drug user wants a clean needle all they have to do is ask for one and they get it. No questions asked.   

 The policy change has resulted in dirty needles being left wherever the drug users happened to be when they used their drugs. Ballfields and parks just happen to be popular places for drug users to inject heroin. Despite the valiant efforts of parents and coaches to keep local ballfields needle-free a little girl playing softball was stuck with a dirty needle as she was sliding into home base. Doctors say that it will be at least three months before they know for absolute certain whether or not she is infected with anything. 

Sigh. 

A long list of random thoughts ran through my mind as I was reading this story. The mama-bear in me felt a crushing compassion for the little girl and her family (Romans 12:15). I simply cannot imagine the torment they are experiencing and will continue to experience for three agonizing months. My heart literally aches for them. The analytic, business-minded part of me wondered about liability issues for the city. That side of me suspects the city of Albuquerque may be embroiled in a nasty and potentially very costly lawsuit soon. The vacation organizer in me who is always thinking about new places to visit made a mental note not to vacay anywhere near Albuquerque, New Mexico anytime soon. The fussy, pedantic worrier in me (she’s a bit prone to hysteria) was seriously freaked out by the idea that someone could get stuck with a dirty needle at a ballfield or park. She was reminded once again that walking around barefoot is never a good idea.  

Then the God-follower in me stepped-up and asked a question that no one seems to be asking:

When exactly did our society give-up on actually helping people? 

For the record, I am not a dolt, nor am I the public-health equivalent of a flat-earther. I get the shared benefits of needle exchange programs. I understand that diseases passed by dirty needles are also sexually transmitted. I get that people who are high are not likely to stop and think about practicing “safe sex”. Nor, are they likely to remember or act on the warnings they heard in the abstinence-based sex education class they attended in high school. I understand that needle-exchange programs save lives and prevent diseases. I am one-hundred-percent on board with saving lives and preventing diseases, especially diseases like HIV, Hepatitis C and MRSA. 

That said. 

I can’t help but feel that needle exchange programs (as well-intended and necessary as they may be) are the ultimate in giving-up on people and writing them off as not worth saving or helping. When we offer drug users a clean needle to shoot a substance that will eventually kill them off without also offering some sort of help or hope we are not treating drug users the way we would want to be treated.  This breaks my heart. We have become so callous as a society that we have decided there is an entire segment of the population not worth saving or helping (Romans 15:1, 1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Seriously.  

There’s a lot of talk these days about the very real problem of homelessness. Experts on the subject universally agree that homelessness is nearly always a byproduct of drug use. If a drug problem can be dealt with in a person’s life it becomes much easier to work on the problem of homelessness. Conversely, as long as a person is using drugs their emotional growth halts and no other issues in their life can be dealt with effectively. No has ever actually been helped by mollycoddling the problem of addiction. 

Voters ought to be demanding local governments do more than simply hand out clean needles to drug users. At the very least local municipalities should require drug users to turn in a dirty needle in order to get a clean one This rudimentary requirement serves the purpose of reminding drug users that they are human and as members of the human family they have an obligation to do their part (no matter how small) to be helpful to the rest of society.    

As Christians the growing problem of addiction ought to break our hearts the way it surely breaks God’s. We must never forget that we are called to be the voice of Jesus in our culture and advocates for those without a voice.  It is our holy obligation to fight for those the world has written off as not worth saving. As Christians we should demand a return of anti-drug education in public schools and we must challenge the relaxing of drug laws and the movement towards complete legalization. Most importantly, we need to remember we have something to offer drug users the government can never give. Freedom from addiction and hope for a better future through a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ (Luke 19:10, Acts 16:31). 

A Major Church Peeve

 My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge~ Hosea 4:6a NIV

 There is a super weird debate taking place right now.

 A growing number of elite female athletes are arguing that transgender women (men identifying as women) should not be permitted to compete against women who were born women in athletic competitions. Female athletes assert that women who were born men have some distinct physical advantages over women who were born women. Those advantages include greater overall physical size, superior muscle mass and improved lung capacity.  

 Those who argue for allowing transgender women to compete against biological women in athletic competitions maintain that when a man declares himself to be a woman he is a woman and no one has the right to dispute his interpretation of himself.    

 This is a super weird argument for several reasons:

 First, a generation ago no one would have believed that rational human beings would even be entertaining this discussion. As little as ten years ago it would have been considered insane to argue that a person can change who they are simply by making a declarative statement. Period. It really is that weird. Furthermore, clear-headed people know in their heart-of-hearts that declaring one’s self to be something does not (nor, will it ever) affect reality or change that person’s situation. The fact that this discussion is taking place at all goes a long way towards proving exactly how far we have fallen down the rabbit hole (metaphorically speaking) as a society. Lastly, these crusaders are arguing for something and they have no idea what they are arguing for but they are managing to do it quite well.

 They are effectively arguing for the existence of objective truth.

 Those arguing against allowing biological men to compete in female sports are attempting to hold up two fairly rudimentary standards of objective truth. The first being that men and women are fundamentally different. The second is that desiring something to be true cannot and will not alter the reality of what is true. The problem with these standards is not with the standards, the standards are both perfectly reasonable and demonstrably true. The problem is that all this truth telling is just a little too little and a little too late. The secular world has been denying the existence of objective truth for several decades now. The longer a person (or a society) chooses to believe a lie the less likely they are to believe the truth when they are confronted with it. In other words, the secular world is in no mood to be set straight after a half a century of being allowed to party it up in the land of make-believe.

 Sigh.

 Okay, so here’s the thing:

 It is easy for Christians to look at this situation, roll their eyes and feel superior to those who have willingly bought into obvious chicanery and are now paying the price for it.

 However, some of the same disdain for objective truth has crept into Church world.  It is not at all uncommon to hear Christians of all ages use the terms “my truth” and “your truth” as if there are versions of truth that all have equal validity and should be taken equally seriously. It is true that people can interpret the same event in two entirely different ways but only one of the interpretations can actually be true. It is also not uncommon for Christians to say things like “that may be true for you but it’s not true for me”. It is true that there are times when God convicts a Christian that a behavior not forbidden in Scripture is wrong for them, because that thing could become a gateway for them for truly sinful behavior (Romans 14, 1stCorinthians 8:9-13, 1stCorinthians 10:23-31). However, that is an entirely different breed of cat from one person deciding that they should not be held to the same moral standards as every other believer on the planet because they have chosen to believe that God’s judgments on moral issues are wibbly-wobbly and open to interpretation (Judges 21:25). In most evangelical churches love has been held up as the highest value (and for good reason) but we have forgotten that love not built on a foundation of truth inevitably devolves into a puddle of messy, inarticulate sentimentality.  

 All of this really comes down to a weird form of willful ignorance.

 For at least two decades now, Christians have been told that what they believe is irrelevant so long as they really love Jesus and other people. Some teachers and preachers have even argued against the attainment of biblical knowledge because they have misunderstood 1stCorinthians 8:1. Some have taught that Paul was criticizing all biblical knowledge as something that puffs people up with pride. Paul was simply stating that the Corinthians (who are a prime example of Christians who lacked love) (1stCorinthians 11:20-22) “knowledge” concerning the fact that idols are nothing had made them prideful. Their understanding of truth was causing them to ignore the needs of those who had not reached their level of understanding concerning THAT PARTICULAR ISSUE.  If Paul were asserting that biblical knowledge inevitably leads to pride he would have been refuting his own teachings about knowledge found in Ephesians 4:13, Philippians 1:9, Colossians 1:9 and 2nd Timothy 2:25.

 Church world needs to do some intense soul searching on the subjects of truth and love and come to a more balanced conclusion soon, or it will only a matter of time before even evangelical churches fall down the same rabbit hole as the rest of the world.

Seriously.