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. 

Why Saved People Still Need to do Good works

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do~ Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

If you are a Christian and reading this blog-post you can count yourself blessed because God has granted you the privilege of living in the age of Grace.

This simply means that Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection paid the penalty for your sins (Acts 13:38-40, Romans 6:23, 1stPeter 3:18).  You do not have to follow a bunch of rules, preform weird rituals or submit to the Old Testament law to get God to like and accept you (Galatians 2:19-21, Galatians 3:1-6, Galatians 5:6). If you have trusted in the finished work Jesus did on the cross and repented of your sins, when God looks at you He sees the righteousness, virtue and goodness of Jesus and that is more than enough for Him (Romans 10:10, 2ndTimothy 1:9). 

He totally digs you. Happy sigh. 

For the average Christian this is not exactly new news. Contemporary Christians have been inundated with the message that it is grace rather than works that save us from our sins and make us right with God. This is not in and of itself a bad message.  It is critical we remember that good works cannot save anyone from anything (Isaiah 64:6). During the Middle Ages the church lost sight of this vital truth and as a result the church (and the people in it) also lost sight of its purpose in this world. The spiritual and ethical chaos that resulted from this error is still being felt in our world today.

Sigh.

 That being said, humans tend to be creatures of weird extremes. We rarely do, think or believe anything in a halfhearted fashion. As a result, the current emphasis on grace has caused many Christians to view good works as an optional activity for Christians at best and as an affront to the grace of God at worst. Some Bible teachers and Pastors have inadvertently encouraged this flawed thinking by leading people to believe that salvation is an end rather than a beginning. Many Christians sincerely believe there is nothing left for us to do but glory in our salvation and wait for heaven once we have become Christians.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God could not be clearer in His word: we were saved by grace but we were created for the express purpose of doing good works (Ephesians 2:9-10, Matthew 5:16, 1stTimothy 6:18, Hebrews 10:24). Those good works include (among other things) living righteously, building the church (body of Christ), providing for the physical needs of the poor, sharing truth, loving the lost, fighting for fairness in an unfair world and helping Christians and non-Christians who need help. Today I want to make a biblical case for good works. Not so that we can get saved but because we are saved. Christians should do good works because:

Good works reveal who we are- 

In Genesis chapter 24 Abraham sends his most trusted servant to find his son Isaac a wife. The instructions Abraham gave the man were insanely hazy and vague. Mostly, Abraham did not want Isaac’s wife to come from outside of his clan. The servant very wisely prayed that he would find a woman who voluntarily did good deeds (my words) for strangers. He prayed that he would find a woman who would offer him (a complete stranger) water and be willing to water his camels as well (a time-sucking act of kindness that went above and beyond prevailing social expectations). Abraham’s servant understood that our behavior towards others (especially strangers) reveals our inner nature more effectively than words ever could (Matthew 12:35).  When Christians do good deeds for the right reasons (because we love God) it shows the world that there is something different about us and they tend to find that difference intriguing, perplexing and appealing (Matthew 7:18).   

Good works reminds us of who we belong to and what we are all about- 

Anytime we choose to go above and beyond for someone our good deeds also serve as a reminder to us that we are not called to live for ourselves. Rather, we are called to live beyond ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others. 

Good works point people to a good God- 

Human beings are for the most part motivated by selfishness, impure motives and greed. Because humans are self-serving and greedy good deeds that require personal sacrifice are a rare and noteworthy occurrence in our world. When Christians are open about being Christians and they do good things for no other reason than God wants them to do good things, our acts of righteousness inevitably point people to Jesus. 

Good works are a way to say thank you for a gift we could never earn-

It is simply a fact that no quantity of good deeds could ever make up for our innate sinfulness and pride. We needed Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could enjoy the benefits of salvation both now and in eternity. When we choose to do the good deeds God commands us to do (Deuteronomy 5:33, Matthew 25:31-40, Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12, 1stCorinthians 10:24, Galatians 2:10) it is a small way to tell God that we appreciate the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. 

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. 

Another Major Church Peeve

 

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

 There is a really weird debate taking place right now.

 A growing number of elite female athletes are contending that transgender women (men identifying as women) should not be permitted to compete against women who were born women in athletic competitions. These women 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 very 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 utterly daft 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 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 good Christian people 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 2ndTimothy 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.

 

Why Bitterness Feels Good

I loathe my very life; therefore, I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul~ Job 10:1 NIV

 Okay, so, I am a little more familiar with the sin of bitterness than I or anyone else probably ought to be. I actually consider myself to be something of an expert on the topic.

 Sigh.

 Bitterness is not a subject that gets discussed much in church-y circles. It should be, because my experiences are not all that unique or special. Bitterness is one of those ugly little sins no one wants to own-up to but that we all struggle with at some point in our lives.

 Bitterness is simply a foul byproduct of living in a fallen world.

 All people are sinners (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12-14). Sinners universally have a tough time seeing their own faults and issues or the effect their faults and issues have on those around them. Because most sinners (even redeemed sinners) are really just clueless bumblers, sinners hurt a lot of people in a lot of really weird ways, sometimes without even realizing they are hurting people. It is true that there are evil people who hurt others intentionally simply because they like hurting people, but in my experience those people are fairly rare. Most folks just stumble around blindly, not realizing how much suffering (and bitterness) they are generating with their actions.

  I have done my time in the pit of bitterness. Thanks to God’s grace I came out of it with my faith, sanity and love for humanity firmly intact. Through the process of getting free I learned a thing or two about this rather painful subject. Following are four things every Christian should understand about the sin of bitterness:  

 Bitterness feels awesome-

 Most people only become bitter over legitimate hurts or injustices (Luke 17:1). Only a very few excessively sensitive souls become really bitter over stuff that wasn’t a big deal in the first place. In one sense we end up feeling bitter because we have a “right” to feel bitter.  As a result, when we choose to wallow around in bitterness it feels awesome, at least at first. Alcohol and bitterness have some similarities. Alcohol is essentially a slow-acting poison. As the poison begins to work we feel euphoric and awesome. However, if we drink too much for too long the choice to indulge can end in liver failure, brain damage and sometimes even death. Bitterness acts on our spirits in much the same way alcohol acts on our bodies. Because bitterness is usually the result of a valid hurt, nursing feelings of bitterness is emotionally satisfying and it feels great. Nonetheless, at some point, if we do not get a firm handle on our attitude the choice to indulgence inevitably ends in the spiritual equivalent of acute alcohol poisoning or liver failure. All analogies break down at some point and it is true of this one as well. The biggest difference between alcohol and bitterness is that a little bit of bitterness is never okay and there are no known benefits to bitterness. No one can indulge in a bitter spirit and walk away unscathed because bitterness is far more addictive and damaging than alcohol could ever be.   

 Prevention is the best medicine for bitterness-

 Hebrews 12:15 warns against allowing the sin of bitterness to take root in our lives. The text says: See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. The “see to it” phraseology of this verse tells us that the writer believed individuals have some personal responsibility when it comes to the sin of bitterness. There are times when circumstances that produce bitter roots appear out of nowhere and we have zero control over whether or not to allow those situations into our lives. There are also times when we simply cannot walk away from people or circumstances that have the potential to make us bitter. When that happens, our spiritual and moral responsibility is to deal with our feelings before God in a healthy way so that bitterness has no opportunity to take root in our lives.  That being said, there are also times in life when we willingly place ourselves in situations (or refuse to walk away from situations) that we know from day one will be fertile ground for bitter roots.  Taking responsibility for ourselves in the area of bitterness means being cautious about which situations we allow ourselves to get into and which situations we choose to stay in (Proverbs 6:1-3).   

 Bitterness is a temptation before it is a sin-

 Bitterness is a choice (Ephesians 4:31). Like all choices, bitterness is not something we fall into like helpless chumps. We are tempted long before the sin overtakes us (1stCorinthians 10:13). Wise, mature Christians are emotionally vigilant, they pay attention to their feelings so that they can avoid getting caught-up in something sinful, like bitterness (1stPeter 5:8).

 It is possible to get free of bitterness-

 Getting free from the sin of bitterness begins with recognizing that wallowing around in bitterness is every bit as sinful as whatever situation caused us to become bitter in the first place. In other words, we must confess our own sin. Then we must forgive the person who sinned against us. A key component of forgiving others is trusting God to deal with the person who sinned against us.  Praying for the person who sinned against us can help us let go of the desire for revenge.  Forgiveness is never easy and is typically a process that takes time. To get free we must take our hurt and pain to God until we are free from the hurt, anger and bitterness.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Weird Lies Christians Believe

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

 Lies are bad and we all know it.

 Even the foulest heathen on earth will react with righteous indignation when they discover that they have been deceived by another liar.

 Seriously. It’s just true.

 That being said, in a culture where obvious lies are routinely accepted as truth it is easy to forget just how bad lies really are. Satan himself is the architect of the whole concept of lying (John 8:44). It was a lie (and the choice to believe a lie) that caused man to become separated from God (Genesis 3:1-6). Ultimately, lies are at the root of idolatry, sexual immorality, murder, greed, selfishness and pretty much every other foul sin and form of foolishness man has managed to devise (Romans 1:25-32). Lies are by their very nature so hideously deceptive that most people who believe a lie actually believe that the lie is truth. Perhaps, the worst thing about lies is that when a person chooses to believe a lie they enter into spiritual and intellectual bondage (John 8:32). Because no one (in their right mind) voluntarily enters into bondage most people living in bondage to a lie have no idea they are even in bondage.

 Sigh.  

 Christians are not immune from believing lies all sorts of weird lies. Because we are God’s ambassadors (1stCorinthians 5:20) and because the most pernicious lies all have a spiritual component to them. The lies Christians believe make life and ministry much more difficult. Following are six lies Christians routinely believe:

 God doesn’t care about __________________________ anymore-

 Feel free to fill in the blank with whatever issue you (or someone you know) has decided God stopped caring about over the course of the last century. On one level, it actually makes sense that unbelievers would choose to think that God has somehow moderated His stance on issues like hatred, lust, adultery, greed, selfish-ambition, homosexuality and covetousness. Heathens have a vested interest in buying into that line of thinking. However, anytime Christians buy into this lie we lose our individual and cultural moral authority. Even a small loss of moral authority seriously hinders our ability to be obedient to the command to act as witnesses for Jesus (Acts 1:8). 

 Christians who grow-up in a Christian home are spiritually superior to those who grow-up with pagans or vice-versa –

 A lot of God’s people (including me) have bought into one version or another of this lie at some point in their Christian life.  Christians who come from a long line of Christians and Christians who grew up in the spiritual ghetto (metaphorically speaking) are the ones most likely to believe this lie but for entirely different reasons. The first group sometimes has issues with spiritual pride and self-reliance and the second doesn’t always have the faith to believe God can turn their mess into a message. Both versions are categorically wrong. God uses anyone open to being used (Numbers 22:26-30).

 Deception and hypocrisy are fine so long as we keep it on the downlow-

 I am convinced that most Christians do not consciously choose to begin living a double life. It just kind of happens. One moral compromise leads to a another, coverups become a way of life and before they know it fakery, duplicity, and pretense are their standard operating procedure. This particular lie hurts everyone because even unbelievers understand instinctively that Christians are called to live life at a higher standard.  When Christians choose hypocrisy and deception over sincerity and authenticity it quickly becomes painfully obvious to everyone and unbelievers judge God, the church and other Christians for the duplicity of a few (Numbers 32:2, Acts 5:1-10).   

 If I believe something to be true, it is-

 This is without question one of strangest lies to take root in the history of humanity, just because it is so stinking easy to fact check. Nonetheless, most of the world has bought into the notion that truth is self-determined. Even many Christians have hopped on this bandwagon and believe that the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE should alter His opinions regarding homosexuality, adultery, premarital sex and dozens of other issues simply because lots of people feel differently than He does about those issues.  

 Church is a waste of my time-

 This is a clever lie courtesy of the devil that keeps believers from reaching their full potential in Christ. Church does matter. It matters because it is one of the primary places we go to learn about God’s plan for our life. Church is also the place we learn to accept and love people who are different from us. Ideally it is where we got to encourage and be encouraged and where we grow mentally, spiritually and emotionally (1stThessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13).

 My gifts are stupid-

 This lie is perhaps the devil’s cleverest lie ever. It keeps good and gifted Christian people on the sidelines thinking the only gift they have to offer anyone is an occasional casserole brought to a potluck. This is simply not true. If a Christian is breathing God has a purpose for that person in the body of Christ (1stPeter 4:10, Romans 12:3-8). It’s up to each one of us to find those gifts and use them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Reasons Bad Things Happen to Good People

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead~ 2ndCorinthians 1:8-9 NIV

 I had a bad week.  

 I will not weary you with all the details.  I will tell you that my misery involved some irritating and insane demands on my time (which I didn’t have a lot of this week). Then there was a hostile, ungrateful and foul-mouthed person who shall remain nameless, a puppy who has zero intention of ever being house-trained and some hurt feelings that were mostly over a misunderstanding but my feelings were still hurt. Sunday and almost all of Monday was spent dealing with a (normally very sweet) teenager who is doing her level best to remind my husband and I that she is still a teenager. My misery was made complete with a badly pulled hamstring.   

 Sigh.

 By midweek, I was feeling pretty dang sorry for myself. So, I spent some time grumpily telling God my troubles and complaining about the obvious injustice of it all (like He didn’t already know). About half way through the list I swear I heard a still small voice say quite clearly:

 Count it all joy.

 I was neither amused nor joyful. Truthfully, I was more than a little irritated with the Almighty for whispering that particular Bible verse into my heart at that exact moment. All I really wanted from life right then was to vent a bit, feel sorry for my wretched and pitiful self and have the Almighty place His seal of approval on my pity party.

 Seriously. Not amused. Not joyful.

 Shortly afterward, I had a weirdly painful moment of spiritual clarity. It occurred to me that as a 21stcentury American I probably (obviously) have some fairly twisted views on what exactly constitutes a trial and what I was put on earth for. Truth-be-told in my heart-of-hearts I tend to think (unconsciously, most of the time) that the point of life is for me to be happy, milk as many experiences out of life as possible and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

 It occurred to me that this isn’t exactly a biblical view of life, but in the interest of proving myself wrong I spent some time diligently searching the Scriptures and I could not find a single verse that commands God’s people to “enjoy life” or “work towards personal fulfillment” or “have an awesome week”. Rather the Scriptures have a lot to say about hardship and why even good people seem to experience so much of it in this life (1stThessalonians 3:3). Following are four reasons Christians experience trials and hardship:

 Crummy experiences mold us into the image of Christ-

 I sincerely wish trips to Disney land made people more Christ-like but in my experience, they simply do not get the job done. It is the tough stuff of life that prepares us for future events (Genesis 37-47), eliminates our rough edges and molds us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Sigh.

 Difficulties in life build compassion for others and can be the catalyst for future ministry-

 For some reason I will never completely understand human beings are nearly incapable of understanding the needs of others until they experience those needs for themselves or they find themselves in a similar situation. Because God wants His people to be lovers of justice, doers of good and compassionate towards one another (Ephesians 2:10, Ephesians 4:32, Hebrews 10:24). There are times in life when God will allow His people to experience a hurt or injustice so that we will have a desire to fight injustice on behalf of others or provide comfort to the hurting (2ndCorinthians 1:3-7).   

 Hardships allow us to see our blind-spots and weakness more clearly-

 Regrettably, salvation does not spontaneously bring spiritual or moral perfection (Philippians 2:12, 2ndCorinthians 4:17).  The fancy-pants theological term for the oftentimes slow process of being perfected in our faith is called sanctification. Sanctification is a process that begins at the point of salvation and continues until the moment of our death. There is nothing like seeing our own negative or ugly response to a difficulty, problem or unpleasant person to help us clearly see what still needs to be sanctified (perfected) in our character.

 Difficulties in life drive us to prayer and prayer is an important part of the sanctification process-

 Prayer is the way we build intimacy and friendship with God (1st Peter 3:12). It is also the only way for sinful, fallen people to understand God and His plans (Philippians 4:6, Hebrews 5:7) clearly. Sadly, most of us (including me) are a lot less likely to pray when life is easy and everything is going our way. So, God in His infinite wisdom sometimes brings trouble into our lives so we will take our troubles to Him. In the process He provides love, comfort, strength and peace in our times of trouble as He mold us into the image of His son.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways We Made the Facts Feel Sad this Week

 

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

 It was a tough week to be a fact.

 During an interview with Anderson Cooper, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said something that implied she might be a-wee-bit intolerant towards certain facts:

 “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”

 Later in the week Kirstjen Nielsen (Secretary of Homeland Security), presented some statistics (a fancy word for facts) concerning the number of migrants, drug smugglers and gang members crossing the Southern border in a given year, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi interrupted Ms. Nielson’s presentation to say:

  “I reject your facts”

 Hmm.  That’s all I have to say about that.

 Dems were not the only ones coldshouldering the facts this week. During an interview with Mike Wallace, Whitehouse Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders stated that accuracy regarding the number of terrorists captured at the Southern border did not matter so long as the overall numbers of terrorists captured in the country were accurately reported.  

 Sigh.

 If I were a fact I would be a bit miffed.

 As I considered the flagrant fact-shunning, I found myself thinking some rather scornful thoughts regarding worldly people and their lack of logic.  Then I had a weird and fairly awkward epiphany. I realized that Christians do the same kinds of things with a different set of facts. We sometimes disdain, disregard and disrespect facts or truths simply because we do not like them. Following are five things Christians say when we just don’t like certain facts.    

 I think that God just wants me to be happy –

 Folks typically whip this weary line out when they really, really, really, want to do something that the Bible explicitly prohibits (adultery, bitterness, homosexuality, divorce without biblical grounds, premarital sex, etc.). Like it or not, it is a fact that God forbids certain behaviors (Galatians 5:19-21, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:3-6, Revelation 22:12-16). That said, I do not believe God forbids things because He is indifferent to the feelings of people. God is not an uncaring monster who gets a kick out of seeing people living out their lives in abject misery. Truth-be-told God just cares more about our eternal wellbeing and holiness than our momentary happiness.  God sees the bigger picture and potential consequences we are incapable of seeing in our fallen, finite state. He knows what making a specific choice (like committing adultery or becoming bitter) will do to our souls, our families and our ability to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. God loves people and He knows that we are all just stupid enough to forgo our future health and spiritual wellbeing on the altar of pleasure and expediency. God loves people too much to simply let us be led by something as stupid (and subject to change) as feelings.  

 My God wouldn’t do that-

 People typically say this in response to being told that God judges sinners who refuse to repent of their sin. They might say “my God doesn’t judge” or “my God loves everyone”. The biggest and most basic problem with this particular line of reasoning is that it is firmly grounded in willful ignorance. There is only one God and He does love everyone. However, God makes it clear in His word that He will judge anyone who refuses to repent (John 5:28-29, 1stTimothy 2:5, Job 21:22, Revelation 6:9-11, Revelation 20:12-13).

 That’s not my conviction-

 Conviction is a firmly held belief concerning whether or not something is right or wrong. Christians should feel conviction (a sense of guilt) anytime they knowingly violate God’s standards. In recent years some have concluded that if they don’t feel conviction (guilt) over something then it’s not a sin. Their lack of guilt or conviction makes the thing okay. But, here’s the thing, one does not have to feel conviction or guilt about something for it to be wrong (Romans 1:28-32, Jeremiah 8:12). There are people in thisworld who do not feel an ounce of conviction about doing really terriblethings (murder, bigotry, infidelity, blasphemy, theft). Their lack of conviction does not make a sin any less sinful.  The Bible clearly states that the only time our feelings should dictate whether or not something is right or wrong is when the issue is not clearly a sin (grey area). If we feel guilty doing something (even if that thing is not clearly violating Scripture) then God does not want us to do that thing (1stCorinthians 8)

 I haven’t experienced that so I can’t say if it’s right or wrong-

 There are actually people who sincerely believe that one must experience something in order to judge whether or not something is sinful. This simply does not pass the logic test. If you carry this line of thinking out to its reasonable conclusion it means one cannot know if it’s wrong to kill someone until they have actually committed murder. Please. That’s just stupid.

 I reject that reality-

 Reality is a fact. Facts cannot be debated or rejected (sorry, Nancy). Reality is what it is. Only crazy people reject reality and they are crazy precisely because they choose to reject reality.  People who do not wish to be labeled as crazy should not reject reality.

  Please be courteous to the facts this week folks. Last week was a rough one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Church Peeve: Why Some Kinds of Churches need to Die

His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord~ Ephesians 3:9-10 NIV

Okay, so, a fun fact about me is that I have been a Christian for decades, but I was not raised in church. I attended a mainline Protestant church (with my Grandmother) a handful of times prior to converting to Christianity as an adult. Because I converted to Christianity rather than being born into it I tend to have a slightly different “read” on church than some of my peers who have lived their entire lives in Church. 

For the record, no one is born a Christian, anyone who wishes to become a Christian must repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15, John 1:12, John 3:36, Acts 17:30). That said, I have observed that the conversion experience of someone who became a Christian in their early twenties (like I did) tends to be markedly different from the conversion experience of someone who attended church for the first time during their first week of life (like all of my kids did). 

Church has changed radically in the years since I became a Christian. Some of the changes were much needed and not at all wrong or sinful. There is no reason I can think of to ever return to the bad-old-days of mauve carpeting, sweaty, scream-y preachers, uncomfortable pews, unfettered legalism and Bible translations no one really understands. 

Sigh.

By far, the biggest change has been the rise of the seeker-friendly model of church. Champions of this model have sought to make church easier to understand for those who might be “seeking” God.  Some of the efforts to make church more user-friendly have been good. Others have (in my opinion) stripped away some of the mystery and much of the beauty of the church experience. In some cases, church has become so simple and so easy to understand that nobody on the outside is the least bit curious about what’s going on inside the church. I put much of the blame on the rise of seeker-friendly model of church. There are at least five reasons this model ought to be abandoned:

The seeker-friendly model has filled churches with people who don’t get church-

In any given American church at least half the attendees don’t pray, don’t give, don’t serve, don’t forgive, don’t love, and don’t even routinely attend services. Obviously, none of those things make one a Christian. However, those things are the defining marks of a Christian (Romans 12:12, 2ndCorinthians 9:6-7, Matthew 6:15, Matthew 5:43-46, 1stJohn 2:10, Hebrews 10:25). Churches teeming with unsaved people would not be a bad thing if most church leaders were aggressively encouraging folks to join discipleship groups and insisting on seeing at least some fruit in the lives of people before allowing them to take leadership positions. However, the seeker-friendly model aggressively avoids any and all judgment where lifestyle is concerned and has actively encouraged a “less is more” approach to teaching and training in the church. I fear we have made the same error church leaders made when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.  We have opened our doors wide and filled our churches with pagans (a good thing) but now those pagans are converting the church to their way of thinking rather than the church converting them to God’s way of thinking. 

The seeker friendly model assumes that non-Christians are numbskulls incapable of learning anything new or overcoming a less-than-ideal church experience-

The first time I attended an Evangelical church service, pretty much everything was a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess from a seeker-friendly standpoint. The service was too long (nearly two hours). The sermon was straight out of the super scary part of Revelation. The pastor talked about hell, and no one bothered to explain terms or goings-on most non-Christians wouldn’t understand.  It was clearly not the best service for a clueless unbeliever to walk into (I was more than a bit mystified by the whole thing).  I do not believe churches ought to begin modeling their services after that one (at the very least churches should explain confusing terms). All that being said, it’s important to note that I did not run screaming for the door, nor was it my last visit to that particular church. Sometimes church leaders underestimate both the curiosity and intelligence level of human beings as well as the power of the Holy Spirit to draw people when that is His intent.

Seeker friendly churches tend to produce shallow believers who have no root- 

Churches are supposed to produce mature believers who are capable of discipling others. They also supposed to teach believers how to stand strong when times get tough and their faith is tested (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 7:24-25, Ephesians 4:9-16). The very structure of a seeker-friendly church makes these aims nearly impossible to achieve. In seeker friendly churches services are almost always limited to a one-hour time frame, teaching is intentionally inoffensive (shallow) and most of the small groups are focused on fellowship rather than growth. Without a background of solid teaching most Christians flounder, cave to heresies or drop-out altogether when times get tough or they are confronted with false teaching. Anyone who has not been equipped with solid teaching will be rootless and in constant danger of drifting away (Matthew 13:6, Hebrews 2:1).

Seeker-friendly churches have transformed church into a consumer experience-

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the seeker friendly movement is that it has transformed three generations of church-goers into customers rather than investors. A customer is constantly on the lookout for a better experience and is therefore willing to leave if at any point they become disappointed in a church or the people in the church. An investor is in it for the long haul and will only leave if they can clearly see that the church (and the people in it) has deviated from biblical truth.  

The seeker-friendly model has been tried and found wanting. It’s time for churches to let it die and move back to the biblical model of discipleship.  When we do that we will see the church (and the people in it) become strong and healthy again. 

Living Out the Why of Christmas

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ~ Luke 4:18-19 NIV

A note to my readers:

Okay, so, I am not a big fan of self-promotion.  To be perfectly honest, I loathe it with every fiber of my being. However, I do want to let you all know that I recently wrote a devotional based on the book of Colossians. It’s called Rooted: 29 days in the book of Colossians. It’s available on Amazon in a softcover for only $3.75. It would make a good stocking stuffer. If you have already purchased the book (and you don’t hate it) please consider writing a review. I would really appreciate it!

Rooted Book

Being a Christian and a blogger is tough at Christmastime. 

 At this point in history everyone knows that December is the month the early church chose to celebrate the advent (arrival) of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). If one is both a Christian and a blogger (and I am both of those things) then the season of Christmas is legitimately a very big deal that warrants at least a mention in said blog.

However.

For whatever reason, Christmas in the Western world has become more of a cultural celebration than a spiritual celebration and that makes Christmas tough for me personally as a Christian writer. Do I write a syrupy-sweet post lauding the shallow but still Christian aspects of the season? Or, do I go the more prophetic route and demand in a cantankerous tone that everyone ditch the fun stuff and worship Jesus in spirit and truth sans the materialistic, godless razzle-dazzle? Or, do I simply pretend there’s no such thing as Christmas and continue on with business as usual?  

It’s my annual Christmas conundrum. 

The soul-searching/navel gazing began early this year when I was asked to speak at a Christmas event in early December. As I prepared for the event I did a lot of thinking about Christmas in general and why we celebrate Christmas in particular. Ultimately, I decided that Christians have (for the most part) lost sight of the “why” of Christmas. In the midst of the feverish gift-giving, cookie-baking and decorating many of us have forgotten that Jesus’ first coming was more than just an excuse to make merry. 

It was the biggest game-changer in the history of forever.

 The birth of Jesus paved the way for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection, made it possible for every human who has ever lived to to get free from the penalty of sin (eternity in hell), the fear of death, the prison of idolatry, and the spiritual oppression that began at the fall (Genesis 3). Furthermore, the values of compassion, charity, justice and equality that Jesus brought to earth caused humanity to do some collective soul-searching. As a result, human rights, women’s rights, poverty programs, egalitarianism and the whole concept of religious freedom eventually became things human beings take seriously enough to fight for.  

That is worth celebrating. 

However, too often at Christmastime we get so caught-up in the hullaballoo that surrounds Christmas that we lose our sense of wonder and astonishment at the beauty that lies at the heart of the Christmas story.  We lose something of infinite value anytime we cease to rejoice and wonder at the crazy-truth that the God of the universe willingly left the comfort and majesty of heaven simply so that He could give a bunch of mostly ungrateful, clueless sinners an opportunity to get right with Him. 

Keeping the why of Christmas in mind this time of year is no easy task and no one needs another to-do list this time of year. That said, there are three really basic things we can all do to keep our hearts in the right place at Christmastime:     

Free yourself from the weird bondage that surrounds Christmas-

 Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth was to free humanity from bondage (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5, Luke 4:18, John 8:32). Yet for some inexplicable reason every December millions of people (mostly women) celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior by freely putting themselves into bondage over a bunch of (mostly stupid) stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with God, Jesus, or why we celebrate Christmas. Those things include (but are not limited to) baking billions of cookies, writing newsletters, decorating, gift-giving and unnecessary people-pleasing. None of those things are sinful but neither should they be done out of obligation or in place of the things that help us and other people grow closer to Jesus.    

Read through the book of Luke before Christmas day- 

Weirdly enough, Jesus (the whole point of Christmas), can (and does) get lost in the celebration of Christmas. Reading the book of Luke is a powerful weapon against secularism and spiritual complacency at Christmas.   Luke’s passion for the person of Jesus shines in his writing. He uses words like awe, surprised, marvel, amazed, wondered and astonished almost excessively, sometimes two or three times in a single sentence. As you read through the book take the time to highlight those words. Pray that God will fill you with wonder and amazement as He empowers you to see His hand working in your life and in the lives of the people around you. This tiny act will help you to see Jesus in fresh new way this Christmas. I promise.

Be purposeful about being grateful- 

The materialistic focus of Christmas oftentimes keeps us from being grateful for the things we already have (and most of us have a lot). When we take the time to be thankful for what God has already given us our gratitude serves as a reminder that there is more to life than stuff and more to feeding our souls than getting stuff and we could all use a little bit more of that this season.