When Life Feels Like Too Much

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me~ 2ndCorinthians 12:9

This past Monday was Memorial Day in the United States. 

 Memorial Day is a day Americans set aside to remember those who freely gave their lives in combat for the good of others. The weightiness of the day got me thinking about heady things like sacrifice, honor, nobility and how for the most part the best things in life are hard. It really doesn’t matter if you’re talking about laying down your life for your country, having a healthy marriage, maintaining your integrity in the workplace, raising a decent kid or going the distance in ministry. The best things in life are universally tough to pull off.  

This insight bummed me out for two reasons. 

First, I REALLY hate doing hard things. Like most sane people I prefer the easy option in virtually every situation. The second reason is more personal. I just happen to be deep in the weeds of a bunch of really tough stuff. There are days when I fear that stuff could be the end of me.  I would really love to dump the hard stuff and do something easy.  

Sigh.

 I get that dumping hard stuff is not really a viable option. I also get that I am not alone, all of us go through something tough at some point. So, I came up with a short list of reasons to never give up on doing good (Galatians 6:9).   

Hardness is inescapable in a fallen world- 

Hardness in life is never an accident of fate, nor is it always a result of bad or sinful choices. Hardness in this world came about as a result of sin (Genesis 3:14-19). Until sin is dealt with once and for all (Revelation 19-21) hard things will simply be an integral part of life on Earth. The whole messy mess is complicated by the reality that Christians have an enemy (1stPeter 5:8, Ephesians 6:11) who has a vested in interest in making life harder for God’s people on account of point four. 

Doing hard things prepares us for harder things- 

I am currently reading through the book of Exodus. In chapter five God sends Moses to Pharaoh for the first time.  Moses tells Pharaoh that God wants Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go so they can worship their God. Pharaoh did not respond the way Moses hoped he would. He scoffed at Moses and increased the workload of the Hebrew people exponentially. The very people Moses was attempting to help turned around and laid the blame for the whole messy muddle squarely at the feet of Moses. By the end of the chapter Moses was clearly bummed-out and was what-the-heck-ing God. He says:  

“Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Exodus 5:22-23

Because I have the advantage of knowing how the story ends, I was struck by the thought that if Moses had realized at that moment that he was actually doing the easiest leadership stuff he was ever going to have to do he probably would have laid down on the floor and cried like a tired child. Moses didn’t know it yet, but the mission in front of him was going to be hard in ways he could not even begin to imagine. Moses was going to need to have an intimate understanding of how to deal with both difficult people and intense disappointment. He would also need to know how to deal with the negative reactions intensely difficult people were going to have to their disappointment. Mercifully, God did not tell Moses that his life was about to get much tougher. Instead God just used the hard thing (dealing with Pharaoh) to prepare Moses for the harder thing (leading the people through the wilderness). God often does the same thing with us. 

God has a special place in His heart for people who do hard things- 

The Christians in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) did the hardest things Christians are ever called to do. They suffered and some even died for their belief in Jesus. God had nothing but positive things to say about them and the sacrifices they made. In the text God tells the Christians in Smyrna that He understands their pain and difficulty and then praises them for standing strong in the face of intense adversity. He gently and lovingly encouraged them to continue to stand strong and be courageous as they waited for the relief that would come in time.  Throughout the Scriptures God exhibits a heart of compassion for those experiencing hard things. God has not changed. 

The hardest things in life typically have the potential to impact eternity in some way-

 Sharing our faith, living honorably, speaking hard truths in a gentle way, raising decent kids, having a healthy marriage, going the distance in ministry and laying down our lives for others are hard things. They suck-up our energy, eat away at our free time, cost us money and try our patience. Sometimes those things feel like they will break us.  However, hard things also grow our faith, give us wisdom, make us better people and have the potential to change someone else’s eternity. Changing eternity for others is a very good thing. 

It really is the best thing.    

Five Deceptions that Will Eventually Wreck Us-

 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen~ Romans 1:25 NIV

The year 2018 will not go down in history as a legislative win for the old and sick in the state of Oregon. In early 2018 the Oregon State Senate passed House Bill 4135 into law. This “landmark piece of legislation” allows “health care professionals” to permanently withhold food and water from dementia patients.

Seriously.  Let the magnitude of that sink in for a minute.  

 I get that a bill that was signed into law over a year ago is old news. I also get that these types of laws have become so routine that only a few hardcore, pro-life nut-jobs (like me) even get excited about them anymore.  I mention it now because this morning I read an article reporting that the Oregon Legislature is looking to expand the law to include a broader class of people than just dementia patients (Isaiah 5:20).

Sigh.

Because my brain works in strange ways (that I don’t even understand most of the time) the article got me thinking about lies and deception. More specifically it got me thinking about the lies and deceptions our culture has come to believe and how those deceptions are directly contributing to the moral quagmire we find ourselves in. Some of the lies are subtle others are more obvious. The problem with lies is that all lies hurt people and lead both the liar and those who believe the lie away from God, biblical justice and good sense (Isaiah 59:14). 

After I read the article I made a quick mental list of some the lies we have come to believe.  There were so many I had a tough time whittling the list down to a number that would be readable in reasonable period of time. 

Here are the top five: 

#1- Expediency should be the north star that guides our decision making- 

This is the lie that inspires otherwise decent people to do away with the old, sick and those who have yet to be born.  Any time convenience becomes the end goal of any situation, a corner must be cut somewhere. This is not a huge loss if we are talking about purchasing some bakery cupcakes to save ourselves a little time and effort. It is a huge loss to our humanness if we are cutting lives short in an effort to pander to our own desire for expediency and convenience (Proverbs 11:19).     

#2- Right now is all that matters- 

We have evolved into a “live in the now” kinda culture. Nowhere is this more obvious than with with children and gender transitions. In some places three-year-old children are being socially transitioned and kids as young nine are being surgically and chemically transitioned to a sex other than the one they were assigned at birth. The reasoning behind this madness is that these kids want what they want “right now”. God forbid anyone deny a child something they want right this minute (Proverbs 22:15a). Few “professionals” are thinking through the possible psychological, physical, emotional and spiritual consequences these choices might have on kids long-term. Sadly, even fewer people are asking why anyone would allow a human being who is not fully grown to consent to something that can never really be fully undone (Proverbs 20:25). 

#3- People should only do what makes them happy-

 Happiness is a feeling or mood that tends to be short-lived and extremely centered on self. Finding happiness is complicated by the fact that even under the most ideal of circumstances happiness is something that is challenging to hang onto. As a result, once we begin down the path of “making ourselves happy” the pursuit of happiness becomes a never-ending quest that is nearly impossible to achieve or maintain.  This is partly because the stuff that make us happy (or unhappy) tends to change frequently. On Tuesday donuts might make me supremely happy and on Friday the mere thought of them might make me queasy. Because happiness is such an unstable and selfish emotion when we do things solely for the sake of our personal happiness we tend to hurt a lot of people (including ourselves) in the process of “making ourselves happy”. 

#4- Government has all the answers- 

 For the record, I do not believe that individual people who work in government are evil, they are just people.  That being said, government is not a person. Government is a big giant soulless entity. All soulless entities lack sensitivity, ethics, logical thought, and wisdom. Therefore, government cannot logic out the needs of individuals or make sensible judgments about individual situations. Even in the best of situations government is all about one-size-fits-all solutions. We should always remember that nothing loves expediency and convenience more than a big giant soulless entity. 

#5- If I believe something is true then it is- 

This is the lying-est lie of them all. Sadly, this lie has become accepted dogma because we have taught that feelings about a given issue should be given the same legitimacy as verifiable facts regarding the same issue. As a result, any triggering of hurt feelings (no matter how silly the origin) is cause for alarm and sometimes even corrective action. It looks and feels compassionate to care excessively about a person’s feelings. However, feelings are just feelings, they aren’t always based on what’s real. It is critical we remember that feelings have never set anyone free from anything but truth sets people free all the time (John 8:32). 

Six Reasons Christians Should Prepare for an Uncertain Future

There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 2ndTimothy 3:1-4 NIV

I am not someone who worries excessively about the world going to hell in a handcart—not because the world is perfect but because Christianity enables me to be an optimist. I steadfastly believe that God is on His throne and that He is firmly in control of even the messiest and most troublesome of situations (Romans 8:28). 

That being said.

Only a clueless fool would attempt to argue that life is somehow getting less weird and scary. Just last week my Mother-in-law and I were cracking each other up remembering how we used to wring our hands and bellyache about how bizarre, awful and generally sinful the world was back in the early 1990’s.

As if. 

We were convinced at the time that there was simply no way the world could get any weirder, meaner or more sinful. We were wrong. The world is far weirder, meaner and more sinful and the Bible makes it clear that while improvement is possible it is also unlikely (2ndTimothy 3:1-5, 2ndPeter 3:3, Matthew 24:4-14). The Bible is also clear that Christians will at some point in the future bear the brunt of the world’s hatred and meanness (Matthew 24:9). 

We are obviously not there yet. However, it appears that we just might be headed in that direction. There are things every Christian can and should be doing to prepare for that eventuality (more on that later) but first are six reasons every Christian ought to be preparing for tough times ahead: 

Sixty-four percent of Pastors feel they cannot speak out on social issues-

According to the Barna Research Group most pastors do not feel “safe” speaking out on thorny social issues.  I am not sure if this fear is grounded in experience or if we have all just devolved into a bunch of timid simps. I do know that the church is called to be salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). I also know that pastors are meant to be the mouthpieces of the church in this world. If sixty-four percent of pastors feel they cannot speak out about abortion, sin, sexuality and issues of fairness without suffering some sort of personal backlash then the world will quickly lose even more of its preserving (salty) influence. 

Socialism/Communism has made a major comeback-

 Despite nearly a century of utter failure communism is being ballyhooed as the salvation of the masses and a lot of people are buying into that line of thinking. This development does not bode well for the church. Communists and socialists have never been big fans of Christianity nor have they had a lot of use for Christians. 

Politics are headed in a dangerous direction- 

In some ways the political climate FEELS slightly safer than it has in the past but political rhetoric is quickly becoming incendiary and scary. Complicating things further, the vast majority of folks vying for power right now are socialists who happen to be very open about their plans to centralize governmental control and squash opposition. The political situation that is emerging right now is bad for anyone whose values do not align with the existing political and social orthodoxy.  

Libertarianism is rapidly becoming the new conservatism-

Libertarians think that nearly everything (drugs, hardcore pornography, etc..) should be lawful and widely accessible for adults (1stCorinthians 8:9). A cornerstone of libertarian dogma is that there should be no laws that hinder an individual’s personal choices (1stCorinthians 6:12, 1stCorinthians 10:23).  This would be a sensible viewpoint if every adult were wise, mature, moderate in their behavior and possessed at least a smidgeon self-control (Romans 3:23). Sadly, in our broken and fallen world a lot of people don’t possess any of those things.  In recent years many conservatives, even some religious conservatives have begun adopting a libertarian mindset. As a result, it is quickly becoming unacceptable even in Christian/conservative circles to say that some things are simply wrong or bad for society.  

The Western Church has lost its moral authority-

We have no one to blame but ourselves. Moral compromise, the prosperity gospel, pathetically feeble preaching and a lack of evangelism have caused the Western Church to lose its moral authority. This has left most of the Western world without a reliable moral compass. Most of Western culture has already bought into the notion that issues of morality are best left up to people to figure out on their own. It is only a matter of time before this view takes an uglier turn than it already has.  

Common sense is now a form of hate speech- 

It is now immoral to say (or even think) that some behaviors are wrong, dangerous or sinful. This development has and will continue to undermine the notions of free speech and free thought. Unless something changes it will eventually become unlawful to speak biblical truth simply because a small minority finds the truth offensive.  

Preparing spiritually for whatever the future might hold begins with accepting that Christians should not expect to be “safe” in this world. Christians are promised trouble, persecution and oppression in this life (John 16:33, Matthew 13:21, Romans 8:35). If by some chance we are not experiencing any of those things we should thank God for that blessing daily. 

As Christians we must learn to fight the ever increasing battles of this world with prayer, righteous living and truth rather than simply depending on the political system to save us.  We will never do that successfully without a healthy relationship with God and other Christians. It is time for Christian people everywhere to band to together, pray like crazy and seek God like we’ve never sought Him before. 

Persecution of Christians Might Just be the New Normal- Here’s What We Can do About It

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you~ John 15:17-19 NIV

 We live in strange and strangely terrifying times.

 This statement was recently proven true by an incident that should cause even the marginally intelligent to pause and wonder if Western society is devolving into a dystopian nightmare.

 The strange (and strangely Orwellian) event took place following the 46thannual March for Life in Washington D.C.  A group of Catholic students (all boys) from Kentucky were preparing to return home following the march. As they waited for a bus they were verbally harassed by a group of protesters. The group began hurling anti-white, anti-Trump and anti-Catholic slurs at the boys. The insults were far-too demeaning and obscene to repeat here.  After forty minutes or so of said abuse a Native American man began drumming his drum in between the two groups in a very weird attempt to “bring calm to the situation”. As he was endeavoring to “bring calm to the situation” he also verbally harassed the boys, throwing more insults at them.

 One boy stood motionless with what can only be described as a very peculiar smirk on his face as the Native American man drummed his drum directly in front of the teen. An edited video of the much older (Native American) man drumming and the much younger (white) man smirking hit Twitter like a rabid bat flying straight out of the bowels of hell and promptly went viral.  Because of the teenager’s (admittedly weird) facial expression the media (and most of America) jumped to the conclusion that the boys were the instigators in said situation.

 Because that’s what we do these days. We jump to conclusions. 

 In this case jumping to conclusions included vicious accusations of white privilege, vile anti-Christian rhetoric, death threats against the boys and calls for shutting down their Catholic school (because the school must be teaching hate. Duh.). Ultimately, it was proven that the situation was not what it seemed. A longer video proved the teenagers behaved in a remarkably nonaggressive fashion especially considering their ages and the bizarre nature of the situation.

 Some of the haters have officially back peddled. A few even apologized but many have doubled down on their animosity and are calling for the closing of the school and nothing less than the abject humiliation and/or death of every single Christian/Catholic/Conservative currently residing on planet Earth.

 For those of us in the Christian faith community (Protestant, Evangelical and Catholic) hate and suspicion of our faith has become the new normal. Christians and conservatives (even non-religious conservatives) are now the only group left on the planet that is okay to hate, abuse or humiliate. Hostility towards Christians is not a new thing (Luke 21:17, 1stJohn 3:13-14). Therefore, we should not be surprised by recent developments. That said, Christians do need to know how to navigate the new normal. Following are five things Christians can and should do as persecution and hatred of Christians intensifies.

 Defend God and His people-

 Try really hard not to be an insufferable jerk when you do it, but do defend God, the Bible and fellow believers anytime the need arises (1stPeter 3:15). An engaging and thoughtful combination of defending what we believe and praying for those who persecute us is the only way hearts and minds are ever changed (Matthew 5:44). Be as gracious as you possibly can as you speak the truth (2ndTimothy 2:15, Ephesians 4:15). The reputation of God and the church literally hangs on the tactics of God’s people at this point in human history.

 Pray for revival-

 Pray for people you know, pray for people you don’t know and most importantly pray for those in authority (1stTimothy 2:1-3). Without authentic revival we’re pretty much done for as a culture. Best case scenario we will likely devolve into a dystopian nightmare without some powerful and prompt divine intervention.

 Prepare for more persecution-

 Without God’s intervention the odds of the spiritual and/or cultural climate improving on its own anytime soon are pretty much zero.  So, draw close to God, and let go of anything that is obstructing your relationship with Him (Hebrews 2:1, Romans 13:11, Hebrews 12:1). Close relationship with God could become vital in the coming years.

 Stop rushing to judgement-

 Some have developed the nasty habit of doing what the world does: running off half-cocked after receiving a minimal amount of information on a given subject. Stop it. It makes us all look like a bunch of ignoramuses. ALWAYS assume you are only getting half the story. Furthermore, you do not have to be the first one to state your opinion on Twitter or Facebook, especially if your opinion is based propaganda and faulty information. 

 Use the courts to protect the civil rights of conservatives-

 Being born into a Democratic Republic is a gift. We should take advantage of that blessing for as long as the law will allow.

Rejoice-

Seriously. It may not feel like it, but it is a distinct honor and a profound blessing to be chosen to represent our God at such a pivotal point in history (Matthew 5:11-13, Philippians 4:4-9, Esther 4:14).

 

 Own it.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

Why Politics is the New Religion

They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, “these are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” ~ Exodus 32:8 NIV

 We live in strange times.

 In the spring of 2017 a group of Republican lawmakers were attacked by a gun-wielding wacko. One of them was nearly killed. In Portland Oregon (my former stomping grounds) ANTIFA protesters are presently blocking traffic, harassing old ladies, demolishing property and menacing anyone who disagrees with their politics and/or dubious methods of expediting change. Men, women and sometimes even their children have been forced to leave restaurants simply because those gathered at that restaurant do not approve of the political beliefs of those men and women.

 Just when it feels safe to simply blame kooks on the left for all this lunacy, a kook on the right has been caught mailing explosives to Democratic politicians and a news outlet. Sadly, there are an abundance of nut-jobs on both sides of the aisle.

Smart people everywhere ought to lay awake at night wondering why there are so many individuals who become so utterly unhinged at the mere thought that an acquaintance, relative, neighbor or stranger on-line might disagree with their political opinions.

 Seriously.

 This problem is not exclusive to a small group of whack-jobs who react violently to those who disagree with them.  According to the Pew Research Center forty-four percent of progressives and thirty-one percent of conservatives have confessed to blocking or unfriending someone on social media simply because they disagreed with their political views. That means that nearly eighty-percent of our population is so pig-headed (and immature) where their politics are concerned that they will not allow themselves to be exposed to an opinion they disagree with. Before we do the trendy thing and blame the President for this mess we need to keep in mind that those statistics were collected a full two years before the 2016 election (October 2014).

 Truth-be-told this whole loathsome mess is actually a spiritual problem rather than a political problem. Humans are spiritual beings (Genesis 1:27, Romans 1:19-20).  Every person has a God-sized hole inside their soul that they attempt to fill with something. For eons humanity has filled that void with religious activity of one sort or another.  Recently our culture has wandered away from the religious and embraced the secular. As we have drifted away from belief in God a substantial number of those God-sized holes have been filled-up with political dogma. As a result, folks on both ends of the political spectrum are zealously embracing their political beliefs as absolute and unerring Truth. Those who have embraced politics as the answer to everything believe that the only way we as a culture will be “saved” is through conformity to their particular brand of political dogma.

 We should all be alarmed by this turn of events because in the past, when nations have embraced politics in place of a God, the end result has always been the same. A strong political leader eventually stepped into the void and demanded that he be obeyed as if he were a God. This has always resulted in citizens being forced to obey the tyrannical leader or face the consequences (enslavement, imprisonment or death).

 As Christians we have a sacrosanct duty not only to God but to our culture as well (1stTimothy 2:1-3). Christians are called to be a stabilizing and preserving influence in whatever culture they live in (Matthew 5:13).

 There are four ways we can do this:

 Pray for revival-

 For the most part, individuals in our civilization are dreadfully unhappy. Those who embrace their political opinions as absolute truth tend to be more miserable than most. This is because politics can never really fill the space in our hearts that was intended to be occupied by a relationship with Jesus Christ. Pray for the salvation of those who are inflexible and militaristic in their political opinions.  When we see revival, we will also see the social change politics have been unable to bring about.   

 Be kind-

 We do have not have to kowtow to every outrageous thing crazy people say. In fact, I personally believe that we should be ready to explain why we believe what we believe (about everything) at all times to all people (even crazy people). That being said, we do need to speak that truth kindly and with grace even to crazy people (Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:15, 1st Peter 3:15).

 Keep your own priorities straight-

 Politics are critically important. Every Christian who is fortunate enough to live in a democracy should be politically mindful and active. At the very least Christians should make every effort to vote and to vote biblically. That being said, politics are not, nor should they ever be the end-all-be-all of life (especially for Christians). Even the best, most biblically astute political candidate in the world or the most well-crafted law will never save anyone from anything, only Jesus can do that.

 Know who you are-

 If you are a believer in Jesus Christ you are a child of God. A believer’s identity is to be found in Christ and Christ alone. Christians should never find their identity in a particular political party or partisan belief system. Anytime we do we are clearly stepping over the line into the sin of idolatry.

Breaking Free From the Sin That Threatens Us All

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more~ Psalm 71:20-21 NIV

 Sin is a strange thing.

 There are sins that (thankfully) seem to be unique to a few (seriously creepy) individuals. We might joke about murder. However, few of us actually kill people.  Even fewer people joke about cannibalism, human sacrifice or most of the sins listed in Leviticus chapter twenty. Thankfully even fewer people commit those sins (if they do I choose to remain blissfully ignorant). 

 Then there are the other sins.

 Those irksome, run-of-the-mill sins that sprout-up like weeds in a garden. The sins we all (no matter how good we appear to be on the outside) struggle with at some point in our lives (1stCorinthians 10:13). There is simply no one in all of human history who has not grappled with lust, inappropriate anger, jealousy, hatred, selfish ambition and the inclination to gossip (Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6).

 Bitterness is another one of those sins. Scripture clearly instructs Christians to avoid becoming bitter and remaining bitter (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). That being said, most of us (if we’re honest) will admit to giving into the sin of bitterness at some point.  

Truth-be-told, few people become bitter without reason. This reality can lead bitter people to feeling justified and even extraordinarily righteous as they wallow around in the anger and resentment that inevitably leads to bitterness.  Regrettably, I am well-acquainted with the sin of bitterness. I learned first-hand over the course of several miserable and painfully unproductive years that bitterness is one of those sins that hurts us far more than it hurts the people who have sinned against us.

 It is critical we understand that God does not forbid bitterness because it is never defensible, logical or understandable. God forbids bitterness because bitterness gradually obliterates every good thing God has done in us.  At the root of a bitter spirit is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness causes us to miss the grace of God and prevents us from experiencing the Christian life in all of its beauty and fullness (Matthew 6:14-15, Hebrews 12:15, Luke 17:4).

 The ways we can become bitter are endless. Something as small and seemingly insignificant as being offended or ignored can cause a bitter root to develop in more sensitive people. An unfaithful spouse, a twofaced friend, an unpleasant childhood or ongoing injustice can cause bitterness in even the most thick-skinned of individuals.  

 Because bitterness is such a common sin and because it is something we are cautioned to avoid at all costs there are at least four things every Christian needs to understand about bitterness.

 Bitterness makes spiritual growth impossible-

 It does not matter how many Bible studies the bitter person attends (or teaches). Nor does it matter how much of the Bible someone can repeat verbatim. There is something about the choice to remain bitter that makes it impossible for that person to apply the truth they have learned (or taught) to their own life. Any learning that does take place is typically just empty academic agreement (head knowledge) rather than a full emotional and intellectual adoption of truth we have understood and embraced (heart knowledge). Satan celebrates when Christians become bitter because bitterness keeps Christians stuck in a cycle of obtaining knowledge without actually growing (2nd Timothy3:7).

 Bitterness halts clear communication with God-

 Bitterness is a sin (Ephesians 4:31). Repentance from sin is the only way to restore clear and unrestricted communication with God (2nd Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 9:1-19). Sadly, bitterness blinds us to the lack of communication we have with God, making it more difficult to get right Him.

 We have a responsibility to prevent our own bitterness-

 There will always be situations that come into our lives that have the potential to make us bitter. Some of those situations are one-hundred-percent unforeseeable and therefore entirely unavoidable. That being said, the author of the book of Hebrews tells the readers of the book to “see to it” that no “bitter root grows up”. The writer is instructing Christians to process and forgive offenses as quickly and completely as humanly possible.  Likewise, Christians should be very careful about voluntarily placing themselves in situations where bitterness is an obvious and foreseeable end result of said situation (Ephesians 5:15).

 Behaving in a way that causes others to become bitter is as sinful as bitterness-

 The New Testament clearly teaches a principal of mutual accountability when it comes to sin (Matthew 18:6). For example: Christians are clearly forbidden from committing adultery (Exodus 20:14, Mark 7:21). That being said, spouses are cautioned against refusing each other sexually because doing so could tempt their spouse to commit adultery (1st Corinthians 7:1-5). Obviously, a lack of “IT” in a marriage does not make adultery acceptable to God (Hebrews 13:4). However, it does make the other partner accountable to God for their refusal to obey Scripture.  Similarly, each person is responsible before God for their own choice to become bitter. However, we have an obligation to live in such a way that we do not give people just cause to become bitter. If we don’t we will be accountable to God for our refusal to obey Scripture.

 There is only one way to deal with bitterness-

 Forgive.

 Seriously.  It really is that simple. Let go of any bitterness you are holding onto and let God be the judge and jury of the other person.

 It’s His job (1st Samuel 24:12, Hebrews 4:13, 1st Peter 4:5). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Least One Reason Why We’re Such a Flaming-hot Dumpster Fire of a Mess in This Country

 They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk and evil suspicions~ 1stTimothy 6:4 NIV

 I did something stupid this week. I totally knew better. But for some reason I still don’t completely understand I did it anyway.

 I engaged on the internet.

 It all started innocently enough (it always does). A friend posted an article about Robert De Niro’s f-word infused anti-Trump harangue at the Tony Awards on Sunday night. I have been preoccupied with several big writing and speaking projects lately and haven’t stayed on top of current events like I usually do. As a result, I wasn’t even aware of the hullabaloo surrounding Mr. De Niro’s comments.  

 So, I was curious.

 After reading the article I scanned the comments section of the post (first big mistake). In one of the comments a guy (I will call him “Tom”) compared Robert De Niro’s sweaty, wild-eyed, profanity-laced tirade to a speech given by Franklin Graham a while back where he stated (among other things) that our country is in a battle between good and evil and that the soul of our nation is at stake. “Tom” went on to say that Franklin Graham was essentially calling half the people in our country “evil” because half the country (give or take) is opposed to Trump and his policies. “Tom” inferred that Robert De Niro and Franklin Grahams speeches were more-or-less morally equivalent. He didn’t say it outright but he also implied that we all ought to slow the roll on judging Mr. De Niro.

 Sigh.

 Because I am a clueless doofus sometimes (and because I genuinely believed in my heart-of-hearts this guy must be confused) I calmly explained to “Tom” that Franklin Graham was not saying half the people in America are evil. He was simply saying that some ideas are evil and that we are in a battle for the heart and soul of the country. Then I went on to say (like a clueless doofus) that saying someone believes an evil idea doesn’t necessarily make them irredeemable (second big mistake).

 Well.

 It turns out my words were not as calming (or helpful) as I hoped (Proverbs 10:19). “Tom” jumped all over the word “irredeemable” and things got really tense really quickly. He said that it sounded to him as if I was saying that anyone who didn’t share the same beliefs I had were “irredeemable”. He then demanded that I tell him what beliefs made a person irredeemable.

 I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but at this point I was beginning to get an inkling that “Tom” was not seeking to understand or to be understood. He simply wanted to back me into corner and force me to call him evil. 

 I wasn’t in the mood to bite at that hook so I simply informed him he was wrong rather than evil and that there was a huge difference between being evil and wrong (third big mistake). This turned out not to be calming or helpful either (I already owned-up to being a clueless doofus). Needless to say, things did not end well and “Tom” and I did not become “friends” on social media.

 I did have an epiphany as a result of my conversation with “Tom”.

 I know at least one reason why we have become so divided. We have lost our way because we don’t discuss ideas and beliefs anymore. We don’t debate good and evil or right and wrong. Nor do we deliberate the outcome of policies or philosophies anymore. Instead we play ridiculous games of word-gotcha where we scrutinize people’s words, look for a way to attack them based on their words and debate the imagined meaning behind the words rather than the ideas, programs or philosophies in question.

 It is ruining us all (2nd Timothy 2:14, 1st Timothy 6:4).  

 My exchange with” Tom” is a textbook example. “Tom” jumped on one word and read a whole truckload of subtext into that one word (irredeemable). He did not want to know what ideas I felt were evil. He certainly didn’t ask what I thought might be done to improve things in our country. He simply jumped directly to the notion that I was calling him evil. For the record, I wasn’t suggesting that “Tom” is evil. I was honestly attempting to clarify what Mr. Graham actually meant for “Tom”.

 Word-gotcha is a legitimate problem but is a problem we can do something about. If you find yourself engaging with someone who attempts to trap you into a debate over the “real” meaning of a word you used DO NOT let them do it and DO NOT engage in the game.

 Call them on it.

 Explain in very simple terms exactly what they are doing and then inform them respectfully that you refuse to engage in silly games of word-gotcha. Let them know (in a kind and loving tone) that you would love to discuss issues and ideas but you simply will not discuss what you really meant by a particular word. Be polite, be willing to engage on the actual issues, be willing to hear a viewpoint you don’t agree with, be loving, be Christ-like but also be firm.

 Our civilization might actually depend on it.

 Seriously.

  

Four Things the Church Needs Right Now

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power~ 1stCorinthians 2:4-5 NIV

 I have observed that there is oftentimes in life a great chasm between what we think we need and what we really need.

  Nowhere is that truer than in the church.

 Most Christians (including me) spend a lot of time asking God for a lot of things. We pray for safety and protection for ourselves and our families. We pray that God’s favor will be on our lives. We pray that Christians will have greater political and social influence in the world. We pray that God will bless us with better jobs and more prosperity.  We pray that God will bless our churches with behinds in the seats and bucks in the offering plate.

 There is certainly nothing wrong with asking God for things (1stJohn 5:14-15, Hebrews 4:16) and none of those things are bad things. Some of them are actually noble, helpful and even necessary. No sane person would spend a lot of time arguing against the benefits and blessings of personal safety, financial security, influence, or growing churches.

 That said.

 I can’t help but wonder if maybe our desire for good things has caused us to lose sight of some better things that we actually need more than the good things we spend so much time and energy going after. Following are four things the church (and the people in the church) need more than safety, security, financial blessings or influence.

 What we really need is more:  

 Power-

 Early Christians lived during a period of history that was unbelievably dark and violent. The cruelty of what they endured simply defies comprehension. Early believers were victimized by both a despotic government with literally unlimited power (Rome) and a corrupt religious system that should have known better (the Sadducees and Pharisees).  (Acts 4:1-21, Acts 5:17-41, Acts 6:8-7:60, Acts 13:50, Acts 19, Acts 20:18-20). The government of Rome and the religious system of Palestine were hellbent on eradicating the fledgling new faith and were endlessly creative (and cruel) in their attempts to do so. Identifying as a Jesus follower was so dangerous that early Christians created a series of secret symbols to recognize each other in the hopes of avoiding swift and brutal deaths. A speaker recently blew my mind and forced me to modify my thinking on a whole slew of issues when he pointed out that nowhere in the book of Acts will we find an example of a Christian praying for their personal safety or protection. Instead early Christians prayed continually for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit’s power so they could do what God had called them to do (convert a culture and glorify God). We would do well to follow their lead.

 Challenges-

 Okay, I hesitated to add this one because I get that this isn’t exactly the sort of thing most (sane) people pray for. However, sometimes challenges and difficulties are exactly what we need (2ndThessalonians 1:2-5, James 1:2-4, 1stPeter 1:4-8).  Challenges and difficulties force us to grow-up and problem solve. Challenges prepare us for future ministry opportunities (2ndCorinthians 1:3-7) and they are oftentimes the motivation we need to seek God on a deeper level. We need to embrace the challenges we face for what they are: an opportunity to become more like Jesus, preparation for heaven and the thing that will make us grow (Acts 14:21-22, 2ndCorinthians 4:17, 2ndCorinthians 4:7-12).

 Influence with ordinary people-

 Political influence is not bad or wrong, so long as it is used for the right purposes and handled with wisdom and integrity. The apostle Paul used his status as a Roman citizen to gain an advantage on more than one occasion (Acts 16:37-38, Acts 21:31, Acts 22:22-29).  That said, no revival or enduring cultural change (that I have ever heard of) has ever started among the political elite and trickled down to ordinary people who were just living their lives. Lasting revivals always begin with ordinary people and eventually lead to political and societal change. Rather than praying for influence in high places we ought to be praying for revival among the ranks of the common man and woman.

 Discernment-

 We live in undeniably strange times where evil is routinely called good and good is called evil (Isaiah 5:20). Oftentimes the arguments made for calling good evil and evil good appear convincing and feel credible from a purely human perspective. Discernment is the ability to judge right from wrong by God’s standards. Discernment also gives us the insight and wisdom to see-through and argue against persuasive arguments that run contrary to biblical teaching (Colossians 2:4-8). Without discernment we are sitting ducks for the devil’s schemes (2ndTimothy 2:25-26) and almost certain to fall into wrong thinking that inevitably leads to wrong behavior (sin).

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Myths that Wreck Marriages


For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, the two will become one flesh. So, they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate~ Mark 10:7-10

I have observed that Christians universally hold marriage in high regard irrespective of their denominational affiliation. The vast majority of Christians marry. Most Christians who are not married wish that they were. Marriage conferences are ubiquitous in Christian circles and the vast majority of books written on the subject of marriage were written by Christian authors. 

 All that being said, the divorce rate among Christians remains stubbornly high and nothing any of us do seems to budge it.

I am convinced that the problem is not with our attitude toward divorce. I have never met a Christian (or anyone else) who advocated for divorce or who felt divorce was a desirable outcome. I believe the problem lies in how many Christians view marriage. We have bought into some dangerous myths regarding marriage. 

It is not my intention to heap guilt on the divorced. Most divorced people have experienced more than enough guilt for a lifetime and I have no desire to add to their pile. I do want to attempt to save some relationships by sharing some common (and hurtful) myths we believe about marriage:

Myth #1 There is one “right” way to do marriage-

My husband and I are not big fans of marriage conferences. Mostly because they tend to offer one-size-fits-all solutions to complex problems. The speaker typically begins by informing the audience that there is a “detailed biblical blueprint for marriage” and if followed to the letter the relationship is “guaranteed to be successful.” It is true that the Bible offers clear teaching on what a Christian marriage should look like. The essential components of a healthy,  Christian marriage include faithfulness (Hebrews 13:4), mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21), love (Ephesians 5:25), respect (Ephesians 5:33, 1st Peter 3:7), as well as an understanding of responsibilities within marriage (1st Corinthians 7:2-5, Colossians 3). The how of working all that out simply does not exist anywhere in the biblical text. I believe the Bible is intentionally vague on this issue because it’s up to each individual couple to figure out what all that looks like within the confines of their own relationship.Anytime someone presents a “detailed blueprint” for marriage, the blueprint tends to ignore the reality that every couple is different, all marriages are unique and the needs of individuals change over time. There is no one way to do the details of marriage as long as the relationship itself is built on mutual respect, love, kindness, and forgiveness.

Myth #2 Words don’t matter-

Words hurt, and if we hurt others often enough with our words any love that was once present dies a slow and agonizing death. Telling your wife she is a fat pig, or calling your husband a stupid moron is the quickest and most efficient way to destroy a marriage. The best advice my husband and I were ever given was to speak kindly to each other even during conflict. Choosing our words wisely does not mean that we ignore issues or never disagree. It just means that we say what needs to be said without attacking the personhood of our spouse.

Myth #3 Love means being accepted exactly the way I am- 

The self-esteem movement has taught us that we are all unique, flawless creatures designed by our Maker to bless the universe with our existence. Self-examination is not a big part of the self-esteem movement so when someone comes along who refuses to affirm our “uniqueness” as perfection, our initial instinct is to simply ignore their negativity and/or cut them out of our lives. The Bible teaches that the truth sets us free (John 8:32) and marriage was designed by God to reveal the (sometimes ugly) truth about ourselves.  It is essential we face the reality no one is perfect and we all have things we need to change about ourselves (Romans 3:23). We love others well when we demonstrate a willingness to change the behaviors that are creating conflict in our relationship.

Myth #4 Marriage is all about finding the right one- 

This lie is the stuff of fairy tales and is at the root of every other lie we believe about marriage. This myth implies that there is only one person who is suited to each of us and finding that one person guarantees a blissful union.  Hard work, personal responsibility and commitment to personal growth are not a big part of the “right one” mythology. Some spiritualize the myth by telling themselves that if they aren’t happy “they didn’t find the one God had for them”. Happily married people will tell you that a successful marriage is more about being the right person than finding the right person. Marriages are successful when both parties are willing to work through conflict, serve one another, find common ground, and meet each other’s needs (1stCorinthians 13, 1stCorinthians 7:3-4, Ephesians 5:33). Compatibility should not be overlooked when choosing a spouse, but it is possible to find a person with whom you have perfect compatibility and still destroy the relationship with pettiness, spitefulness, selfishness, and disrespect. 

 

Slaying the Faith Killer


Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken~ Psalm 55:22

 For the record, I do not consider myself to be an unusually anxious person. Nor, I am under the illusion that I am an extraordinarily relaxed or chill person. I probably fall somewhere squarely in the center of the anxiety spectrum (if there is such a thing).

 That said, I have had more than a few flashes of panic recently on account of all the stupid, weird and vexing things that have occurred over the course of the last week. As a result of those things I have a list of legitimate concerns that is long, diverse and growing at an worrying pace. The list includes (but is not limited to) a really nasty cold (more annoying than worrisome, but still) my identity potentially being stolen (again), serious issues with an aging parent (again), and some troublesome logistical glitches with helping one of our kids move to another state. Complicating issues further, the above-mentioned problems have led to some irritating time-management snafus, which, in turn, has only compounded all my other worries. Then, last but definitely not least there was the fallout from the embarrassing (but not life-altering) antics of one of our teenage children.

 Sigh.

 Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time (like me) knows that Christians are strongly cautioned against worrying about things they cannot control (Luke 12:22-29). That said, anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time also knows that even for people who are not excessive worriers there are times in life when it is far easier to recite Bible verses forbidding worry than it is to obey said verses.

 Sigh.

 Because I have worried more this week than I typically do, I have also thought about worry far more than I typically do. As I was thinking through the ins-and-outs of this issue it occurred to me that worry is dangerous from myriad of different perspectives, some obvious, others less so. Most of us know (at least on an academic level) that worry is pointless, wastes mental energy, and has been proven to trigger a multitude of psychological and physical health problems. However, I am also convinced that worry is destructive from a spiritual and a relational perspective. Mostly because it’s a behavior that can easily lead to other behaviors that eventually lead to sin.

 Worry is the antithesis of faith. Faith, by its very nature leads to trust and confidence in God’s ability to solve our problems. Conversely, worry inevitably produces doubt and leads to fear of the future (Hebrews 11:6). For many individuals, the doubt and fear that worry breeds leads to skepticism regarding the goodness and sovereignty of God. This skepticism can cause even really good people to take matters into their own hands, doing whatever looks and feels right to them in the moment (Genesis 16). When this happens we nearly always step outside the will of God in the process of attempting to figure life out without God’s assistance.

 For others worry leads to anger and frustration. Because there is little in this world worse than being stuck in a relationship with an angry person, and because angry people are typically selfish and tragically terrible at communication; unresolved anger creates all sorts of relational issues. Anger leads to serious spiritual issues as well. Ongoing and excessive worry has caused many to turn away from God in a spirit of bitterness because He didn’t do what they thought He ought to do (Hebrews 12:15).

 Everyone agrees that worry is pointless and solves precisely nothing (Matthew 6:25-34). However, knowing that does not stop most of us from worrying. Nor do I believe that simply pretending that we have no problems is the only alternative there is to worrying our heads off about our problems.

 Dealing with worry successfully involves both the practical and the spiritual. Practically speaking, doing a realistic evaluation of our situation and then fixing the things we are capable of fixing is not only sensible, it is our sacred duty as creatures made in the image of a rational, intelligent and wise God.

 However, the nature of this life is such that there are some things we simply cannot fix, no matter how smart we are or how hard we try. When we come up against one of those things (or a dozen of those things) then our worries need to be transformed into prayer (1st Peter 5:7). We need to take our worries and give them over to God in prayer as many times as necessary until we feel the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7)

 Then we need to wait and see what God does.