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. 

Five Ways We Have Failed Epically at Loving People

 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love- Ephesians 5:1 NIV

There is simply no subject that has been more thoroughly discussed or more hotly debated in the church today than the subject of love. My personal library contains at least a dozen volumes on the subject and hardly a day goes by when I do not come across an article or blogpost encouraging (sometimes even shaming) church people into behaving in more loving ways.

That being said, it could easily be argued that the Church is failing epically at this very basic and fundamental task (Matthew 22:36-40). The comments section of articles pertaining to hot-button issues (abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, immigration) reveal that most people view church people as a horde of angry, hard-hearted, insensitive meanies. 

Christians clearly have an optics problem when it comes to the subject of love. 

This problem has created angst in the hearts of most Christians and with good reason. It is simply impossible for those inside the church to convince those outside the church that God loves them if they do not first believe that Christians love them. Unless people believe that God loves them they will reject God; and willfully rejecting God’s love never ends well for anyone (Matthew 25:46, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:1-3, Revelation 20:11-15). 

Sigh.  

Our current optics problem came about as a result of some missteps on the part of Christians. Most of those missteps are not a result of deliberate mean-spiritedness; just a sad combination of obliviousness, biblical ignorance and misplaced zeal (Romans 10:2).  There are five mistakes Christians make that the cause the world to see us as fundamentally unloving:  

We do not love each other-

In the Christian world there is a huge emphasis placed on loving non-Christians. There is nothing at all wrong with Christians loving non-Christians. Loving non-Christians is without question a good and necessary thing. However, God also wants Christians to love each other. God intends the church to be a place where believers treat each other with the utmost love, grace, respect and patience (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, 1stPeter 3:8) so that our churches are a safe place for baby Christians to grow. God also wants churches to be places where unsaved people can clearly see the love and respect Christians have for each other. When unbelievers see authentic love and grace in our church communities they will want what we have. Sadly, many Christians are not always loving, patient or even courteous towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, many Christians publicly criticize their churches and treat other Christians with open contempt.  This breaks the heart of God and God will not bless the Western Church with revival until His people repent of this sin.  

We lack patience-

1stCorinthians 13 is basically just a treatise on loving like God loves. The very first thing the Apostle Paul tells us about love is that it is patient (1stCorinthians 13:4).  Too often we forget that genuine love gives people room to grow and develop and does not demand that people mature on our timetable. It is critical we correct those who are straying morally (2ndTimothy 3:16, 2ndTimothy 4:2). However, it is equally critical we temper our corrections with the patience, kindness and grace of God (1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Our corrections lack context- 

 In my experience, most Church people are good people who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-28). However, there are some church people who are a bit overeager when it comes to getting and keeping others on the straight and narrow. Church people forget sometimes that correction is best done in the context of relationship and should NEVER be attempted on church visitors, strangers or in front of a group. Period. It does not matter what the person is wearing or how many piercings or tattoos these folks happen to have. The only truly loving thing to do when someone shows up at church is to celebrate the fact that they are attempting to connect with God on some level. Their appearance (even if it’s inappropriate) should be irrelevant (Luke 15:15-31). 

Too many Christians think tough love is always the answer- 

Sometimes tough love (and tough words) really are the answer. There are situations in life where people need to be told the truth in a loving but straight-forward-no-holds-barred manner (Ephesians 4:15). However, most of the time a kinder, gentler method is far more effective and should always be attempted before tough love is applied (Proverbs 15:1 Titus 3:1-3, Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:1-2). 

We avoid truth telling- 

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of Christians in this world. The ones who say too much about the subject of sin and the ones who say nothing at all about the subject of sin.  Sadly, the ones who say nothing often feel justified in doing so because of the damage done by the ones who have said too much. Further complicating the situation is the fact that we have been conditioned by our society to believe that telling people the truth about their behavior is mean. That said, it is a fundamentally unloving thing to lead people to believe that they can continue to sin without consequences (Galatians 5:16-21).   

Four Very Real Reasons Why the Church Is Not Experiencing Revival

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land~ 2ndChronicles 7:14 NIV

 Last Sunday our congregation sang a great song about revival. The entire service was one of those services where God’s people got to see God move in powerful and life-changing ways. The whole thing was beautiful and it got me pondering all sorts of things. But mostly it got me thinking about revival and why the Western church is not experiencing revival.

 Heaven knows we are long overdue for one.

  All one has to do is turn on a television set, attend a public high school dance, or read the comments section of a political article and it becomes abundantly clear very quickly that we could use a little supernatural intervention in our world.

 Like now.

 I like to define terms and according to the online dictionary revival is:

An improvement in the condition or strength of something.

An instance of something becoming popular, active, or important again

 Historically and Biblically speaking, authentic revival is always more than just a string of lively church gatherings. Genuine revival moves beyond the four-walls of the church and has a positive and prolonged spiritual effect on the culture surrounding the church.  

 One would be hard-pressed to find a Christian serious about their faith who would make a case against the need for Christianity making a serious comeback or Christianity becoming stronger or more popular again.  There is no one I know in church world who would not be thrilled to see Christianity affecting the culture once again.

 I do not pretend to know everything there is about everything (it’s too exhausting). However, there is one thing I do know for absolute certain. The lack of revival is not due to a lack of need. Arguably, we are a flaming-hot-mess. I could go on all day about all the social, spiritual and moral problems plaguing the Western world at this point in history.  In spite of those problems the church has not witnessed a genuine revival: one that affected the culture as well as the church in more than a century. It could be argued that the fact our culture has not experienced genuine revival in my lifetime is sign of God’s disapproval (Exodus 9:12, Proverbs 28:14, Jeremiah 5:3), because robust spiritual health is always an indication of God’s blessing.

 I am convinced that without revival our culture will simply continue to spiral deeper and deeper into state of spiritual and moral darkness.  Sadly, there are some very valid spiritual reasons Christian churches are not experiencing revival in North America. First and foremost:  

 We aren’t asking for it-

 True revival always comes about as a result of God’s people asking for it (Daniel 9:4-17, 2nd Chronicles 7:14). Regrettably, about twenty-five years ago corporate prayer ceased to be a thing in most churches (Matthew 18:19-20). Most large churches do not have a prayer group and the prayer groups that do exist tend to be very poorly attended. For whatever reason God moves when people pray. If we want to see real and lasting change in our families, churches, politics and culture we need to start praying for revival like it’s the most critical thing in the entire world, because it is.  

 We are praying for the wrong things when we do pray-

 Okay, I totally get that it’s not my job to judge other people’s prayers. I also get that it makes me something of a jerk that I do sometimes judge other people’s prayers (sorry). That being said, I don’t get why when we gather together corporately we are praying for things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of eternity (the health of our pets, good weather for vacations, our own prosperity, etc..). There is nothing wrong or sinful about praying for personal needs (even trivial needs). However, those types of prayers should never be the sum total of all our prayers, especially when we pray corporately.

 We aren’t repenting-

 In the Bible revival always began when one or two people who didn’t really look like they needed to repent, repenting (Daniel 9:19, 2ndChronicles 6:21, 2ndKings 22, 2ndChronicles 32:26). There are few (no) people in this world (including Christians) who can honestly say that they are without sin in some area (gossip, judgment, hardness of heart, jealousy, greed, sexual immorality, hatred, discord, selfish ambition, etc.…). It might be time for the church to do a little soul-searching to find out what it is God is calling us to let go of.

 We are looking for it in the wrong places-

 Most Christians believe in their heart-of-hearts that only unsaved heathens need revival. So, we wait for the world to repent rather than taking the lead and showing them the way.  Sadly, too many in the church have bought into the idiotic notion that once a person is saved (has a relationship with Jesus) that no further repentance is required or that personal spiritual revival is never necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.  We all need revival in our lives from time-to-time and in the past revival and repentance has always started with believers and then moved to the world (Hebrews 12:5-7, 2nd Chronicles 7:14, Deuteronomy 8:5.  

How One Bible Teacher Got it Hopelessly Wrong This Time-

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path~ Psalm 119:105 KJV

  Seismic shifts have taken place in evangelical churches in recent years and it is true that even God-fearing Christian people can get it wrong sometimes (Jeremiah 17:9). Because of these two realties there is little that happens in the church world that shocks me anymore.

 Nonetheless, every once in a while something happens in church world that is so peculiar or awful that I am profoundly shocked by it. This occurred last week as I was catching up on some old podcasts.

 A podcast I listen to regularly interviewed Pastor Andy Stanley. I, like, most American Christians have read several of his books.  I liked some of his books, others not so much. To be perfectly truthful, up until about ten minutes into the podcast I would not have classified myself as either a fan nor a detractor. I was fairly middle-of-the-road on the topic of Andy Stanley.

 But then.

 He began to make a case for minimizing the use of the Bible in preaching and evangelism.  Mr. Stanley believes that rather than steering people towards what the Bible says about issues that we ought to simply point them to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and teach them to love others. The following quotes were taken directly from the interview. They sum up the essence of the program fairly succinctly:

 The Bible did not create Christianity. Christians created the Bible…. What created Christianity was the first Easter morning…”

“In the culture and in the marketplace and in the public square, we have to shift the focus from the Bible to the Resurrection. Because the Resurrection is completely defensible now just as it was in the first century.

“I think [some people] put [the Bible] in the place of Jesus.”

 All the New Testament imperatives that we find after the gospels are simply applications of Jesus’s new covenant command to love as I have loved you. The Apostle Paul wasn’t coming up with new rules and new laws.”

 Sigh.

It is not my intent to malign, besmirch or vilify Mr. Stanley (I try really hard to avoid that sort of thing). Rather, I want to share five things that inevitably happen anytime Christians intentionally or unintentionally choose to minimize the importance of the Bible.

We lose our true north-

 The Bible is more than just simply a book filled with dusty old ideas. The Bible is our true north. It is the one thing fallible humans can count on to act as a reliable guide anytime human wisdom fails us (as it inevitably does). Without the Bible to act as a compass we quickly begin to lose our way and devolve into doing our own thing. Without the Bible guiding us through life we become like the Israelites in the book of Judge where every person did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).

 We devolve into myth and superstition-

 Andy Stanley correctly points out that few (if any) early Christians had access to personal copies of the Bible. This is because few people could read and books as we know them today simply did not exist. The scrolls that did exist were prohibitively expensive for all but the most outrageously wealthy of people.  However, this situation was far from optimal. Because few people had access to the Bible the church frequently fell into fits of heresy and individual Christians were prone to superstition, mystical thinking and believing all kinds of weird myths about God.  This problem reached an apex just prior to the reformation when even well-educated church leaders were commonly biblically ignorant and spiritually lost. Without an ongoing emphasis on the Bible we will assuredly follow their path.

  We construct our own standards of right and wrong-

 The great thing about the Bible is that it spells out in no uncertain terms exactly what is right and what is wrong. This prevents Christians leaders from playing favorites (most of the time) and applying standards of behavior to some people and not to others. It also keeps Christians from simply adopting the standards of an everchanging culture.

 We become hopelessly reliant on subjective definitions of right and wrong-

 We know exactly what sin is because sin is clearly defined in Ephesians 5:3-7, Galatians 5:19-20, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:21-31. We know what love is because God spelled it out for us in 1stCorinthians 13. We know when divorce is morally acceptable because of Jesus’ teaching on the subject in Matthew 19:4-9. Without these and other teachings found in the Bible we are left to decide for ourselves the definitions of key issues. Anytime foolish humans are left to define right and wrong for themselves there will be some monster who decides that it is a loving act to kill people he or she finds distasteful or burdensome. It’s simply a fact that life gets really weird, really fast without hard and fast definitions of right and wrong.   

 We doom ourselves to repeating the mistakes of the past-

 Most of the New Testament letters were written to correct wrong thinking concerning various doctrinal issues. When we willfully ignore the vast storehouse of wisdom and knowledge contained in the Bible, we doom ourselves to make the same mistakes early Christians made. The only difference between those early believers and us is that we are without excuse because God has graciously given us everything we need in the word of God to avoid the doctrinal errors of the past. 

 All we have to do is study 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). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four More Reasons the Church Isn’t Getting the Job Done

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace~ Acts 20:24 NIV

The evolution of a blog-post can be a chaotic thing for me. 

 This week’s post was originally going to be on parenting.  Then I decided that the issue I was writing about was not primarily a parenting issue. At that point the piece mutated into something far more inclusive. Then early Wednesday morning I came across something on Facebook and all bets were officially off. I immediately felt compelled to write about something entirely different.

 Sigh.

 There are a few things I would like to clarify about the Facebook post I came across. It was posted by a friend who is a decent person but categorically not a Christian. This friend frequently posts things critical of Christianity and occasionally those posts are annoyingly insightful.

 This post was one of those posts.

 I will not share exactly what was posted (it was far too foul). That being said, I will tell you that it was a critique of the church that was undeniably obscene but sadly spot-on. The post reminded me (for the millionth time) that the church is not impacting our culture with the message of Christianity and that we have (at least to some degree) become a sad caricature of ourselves. Here are four (more) reasons we aren’t getting the job done (Matthew 28:18-20).

 Our priorities are a flaming hot-mess-

 I am not a Catholic. However, I do believe that when one segment of Christianity has a problem we all have a problem (1stCorinthians 12:26). The Catholic church has a huge problem that really is a problem for the entire body of Christ.  There is a huge scandal developing in the Catholic church regarding children, sex and gay priests. The sin that has gone on for years in some Catholic churches is simply heartbreaking (on every level). Alas, most evangelical Christians are either apathetic towards the issue or entirely ignorant of the problem. On top of all that most Christians appear to care more about Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem (and a million other idiotic things) than they do about the thousands of kids who were raped by or pressured into sex by their spiritual leaders. Christianity is in a sorry state when the body of Christ gets more worked-up over a deal a football player made with a company that sells shoes than we do about the long-term implications of the countless sex scandals that have plagued Catholic and Evangelical churches in recent years. Christians of all denominations should be praying for justice and should be insisting we deal with the sin in our camp before anyone else gets hurt.

 We have forgotten the point and purpose of church-

 I know this sounds heretical in this day-and-age but I do not believe Church was ever meant to be a place where unbelievers go to get evangelized. Church was intended to be a place where Christians go to learn the Bible and grow in their faith, so they can evangelize their friends, coworkers and family members (Ephesians 4:11-16).  Churches ought to be sensitive to the feelings and needs of non-Christians when planning their services (1stCorinthians 14:22-23). That being said, services should never be planned primarily around the spiritual needs or personal preferences of unbelievers because Church is not really about them.   

 We butcher the Bible to get it say what we want it to say-

 This is the one that could ultimately be the ruin of the modern church. Too many pastors and Bible teachers search the Bible looking for verses to back-up what they think about an issue or want to say rather than going to the Bible and doing the study necessary to find out what it actually says about a given subject. This has created a situation where there is almost a Medieval level of biblical ignorance in some Christian circles. Christians and non-Christians are not really learning what the Bible really says about much of anything. Instead, they are learning the opinions of people and quite frankly we don’t really need to learn each other’s opinions. We need to learn the word (1stPeter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-14).

 We are weirdly infatuated by celebrity-

 Over the course of the last four decades there have been innumerable scandals (mostly over sex) in the Evangelical Christian community among “celebrity” pastors. The Church in America has come to the pathetic place where a guy who can put butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate can get away with almost anything.  Sadly, too many otherwise intelligent people will completely overlook sloppy doctrine, preaching entirely devoid of hard truth and even catastrophic moral failure if it keeps their Churches growing numerically.  Because we have become enamored with superstar pastors many newer Christians have looked to celebrities to be their spiritual examples rather than their pastors or the faithful men and women in their own congregations (1stCorinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, Titus 2:2-4). This has created a state of moral illiteracy in the church that hurts everyone.

 Sadly, we will continue to get more of the same until we come to place where we expect better from our leaders and ourselves.

 

 

Four Ways Christians Undo God’s Work

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain ~ 2nd Corinthians 6:1 NIV

 I have been accused of overthinking things a time or two in my life. I don’t know if it’s the writer in me, sin, the byproduct of a really weird childhood or perhaps I was just born freakishly introspective. Whatever the case may be, I do tend to process events in life by becoming ridiculously and annoyingly reflective.

I actually annoy myself with this nonsense sometimes.

This past week I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how easy it is for people to undo the work of God (Romans 14:20). This particular bout of navel gazing was the result of a decent person coming along and unwittingly and innocently undoing a whole lot of work God has done in a situation I have been dealing with for some time.

Sigh.

All this led me to thinking about the different ways we can undo what God has done in our lives or in the lives of others. There are probably a million ways we can undo the work of God but in the interest of keeping this post to a reasonable and readable length I will stick to four.

The first is:

We undo God’s work when we refuse to believe the gospel story-

The gospel story is simple. We are all sinners who sin all the time. Sometimes we sin on accident, other times we sin on purpose. We need Jesus to forgive us, save us from our sinful nature and give us a new nature (2nd Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 2:1-3, Ephesians 2:8-9). Once we are forgiven we are given a new nature and our lives are in Jesus.  Because we are in Jesus we have the power to overcome our most sinful tendencies and vilest proclivities (Romans 8:10, 1st Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 2:10, Colossians 1:27). Most of us do not struggle at all with the first half of the story. Most Christians, at least the ones who are the real deal understand they are sinners and cannot save themselves. It’s the second half of the story that we sometimes fail to truly grasp. Many of us do not really believe that Jesus living in us is enough to overcome our struggles with fear, laziness, lust, lying, anger, unbelief or whatever other weird, sinful thing is holding us back from being all that God made us to be. As a result, many of us live lives of spiritual desperation and shame because we are not victorious over our sin nature. We actually undo a lot of the work God did in us at our conversion when we believe the lie that Jesus is not enough. The key to getting free is to understand and acknowledge daily that Christ in us really is enough for us to get free of the sin that tends to entangle us (Philippians 4:13, 2ndCorinthians 12:9). As we do this we must be vigilant about recognizing sin and calling it sin (rather than a bad habit, genetic trait, or a weird personality quirk). Freedom comes when we get into the habit of repenting of sin immediately and we commit to living lives of obedience to God’s word (Hebrews 12:1).  

We undo God’s work when we hang onto wrong attitudes-

The world system (that we are all a part of) teaches us from the day we are born that smart people are selfish with their time, energy, and treasure and that only fools, nincompoops and halfwits give up their “rights” for any reason. Conversely, the Bible teaches that the more generous we are the more we will have (Luke 6:38) and that sacrificing for the good of others is the key to living a life of joy (1st Corinthians 8:9). Basically, the Bible teaches the opposite of what the world (and our sinful natures) teach us about just about every issue under the sun. We undo God’s work in us when we revert back to selfish thinking and sinful attitudes.

We undo God’s work when we insist on dealing with people and situations our own way-

Very few Christians actually pray before they act or open their pie-holes (trust me, I’m speaking from experience on this one). Instead we tend to wait until after we have acted, or said something outlandishly stupid before we ask God to step in and fix the mess we created by jumping in and dealing with situations with our own limited wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 3:5). God wants us to pray, seek the wisdom of wise counselors and think things through completely before we act (Proverbs 11:14). When we don’t, we sometimes unwittingly undo the things God is attempting to do in our own life or someone else’s life (Proverbs 16:25).    

We undo God’s work when we don’t learn the Bible-

God does a massive work in us at the point of our conversion.  He also gives us all the tools we need to live a successful and fruitful Christian life (2ndPeter 1:3). The most important tool we are given (besides the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) is the Bible. It contains everything we need to know and tells us what God wants us to do. When we don’t learn the stories, principles and doctrines of the Bible we cannot possibly know or understand what we have to do to live lives that are pleasing to God. Willfully refusing to become a student of God’s word effectively undoes the work God did in us when we became Christians. 

Why Church People Need to Hurry-up and Get It Together Now

We can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth~ 1stJohn 2:2-4 NLT

 It’s been a long depressing week.

 A cursory glance at the news would quickly convince anyone that the whole stinking world has lost its mind.

 The rabble-rousers at ANTAFA have been protesting racism and fascism by lighting things on fire and punching strangers in the face. The news media is aiding and abetting this chicanery by openly defending ANTAFA’s methods and claiming that some punches are more “moral” than others (What?). Several American universities have begun stocking their men’s bathrooms with tampons in the name of gender equality and fairness (seriously, I am incapable of making this stuff up).    

 Sadly, that carnival of madness pales in comparison to the news that came out of the church world this week. Bill Hybels, guru of all things evangelical and lead Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church resigned after allegations of adultery, duplicity and ongoing sexual idiocy were confirmed. The resignation of the entire board of Willow Creek Church quickly followed when it was disclosed that they had dismissed and covered-up allegations of abuse from dozens of women over the years. Immediately following the news of that flaming-hot-dumpster-fire it was revealed that the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania lied about and aided in the systemic sexual abuse of thousands of children over the course of several decades.

Sigh.

 All this would be less worrisome if it weren’t simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shady behavior, sketchiness and sin in the church. It is not unusual for local church leaders to openly behave in ways that are questionable at best and downright sinful at worst. It is even more common for Christian laypeople to totally disregard clear instruction given in the Bible. Some have taken to treating bad behavior by other Christians as if clear-cut cases of sin were simply a matter of Christian freedom or lifestyle choices (1stPeter 3:16).

 This is not about freedom in Christ or the right some post-modern Christians think they have to be uninhibited by any and all rules (1stCorinthians 6:20, 1stCorinthians 8:9, 2ndTimothy 2:5). This is about people who do not know Jesus and probably never will because too many Christians flatly refuse to control their baser urges. It pretty much goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that it is highly unlikely that even one of those little kids who were molested by their parish priests grew-up to become Christians. If we want to turn things around we need to do five things fast:

 We must redefine what qualifies as suitable entertainment for Christians-

 Recently, I watched a television show that was wildly popular back in the day (twenty-plus years ago). Fifteen minutes in, I realized the real success of that program was in normalizing sin, especially the sins of pornography and homosexuality. When the devil can get us to giggle at behaviors that God forbids or to identify strongly with characters who are openly sinful and deeply flawed we are well on our way to accepting those behaviors as normal and even healthy. Over the course of the last two decades Christian attitudes towards sin has changed dramatically. Our entertainment choices are at least partly to blame.

 We need a return to church discipline-

 I get that this a touchy issue. I also get that we live in a ridiculously litigious society where few people (including most Christians) are willing to accept correction anymore. I also understand that Christians should be slow to judge and quick to forgive. I also know that too many churches have abused the notion of church discipline and used it as a means to bully, control and intimidate other Christians. That being said, Paul made it clear that certain behaviors are not be tolerated in Christian churches. He also gave clear-cut instructions on healthy church discipline and restoration of the repentant (1stCorinthians 5, 2ndCorinthians 2) 

 We should less time fretting about legalism and more time focusing on obedience-

 About two decades ago believers went on a crusade to eliminate every possible hint of legalism from the church. This is not a bad thing, so long as we do not equate obedience to New Testament commands with legalism. Until we recognize this has become a problem the church will continue to struggle with sin.   

 We need to stop thinking that attendance is the measure of a leader-

 Since the emergence of the first mega-church in the late 1980’s the ability to draw a crowd has become the gold standard for Christian leadership.  There is nothing wrong with having a guy on staff who can put butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate. However, it is critical we remember that nowhere in the New Testament are those things considered a requirement (or even a consideration) for biblical leadership. Rather, we are told to look for leaders who serve as examples of morality, love, grace and human decency for the rest of us (1stTimothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-7)

 We need to remember that God is to be feared-

 Seriously.  He knows stuff and He will judge everything. Including things done in secret (Hebrews 4:13, Revelation 20:12-13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Reason “Good” People Self -Destruct

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him.  1stPeter 5:8-9a NIV

 Over the years I have known a number of Christians (some of them Christian leaders) who have shipwrecked their lives. When I say shipwrecked I do not mean they briefly made a mess out of one area of their perfectly good life, recovered and eventually moved on to bigger, better and more productive things. When I say shipwrecked I mean these people made such an epic mess out of their lives and relationships, there is simply no way they will ever completely recover from the fallout of their choices this side of heaven.

 When a Christian messes-up their life in an irrevocable kind of a way the rest of us tend to assume the shipwreck occurred as a result of one-great-big-sinful-decision (like having an affair, getting addicted to drugs or embezzling a bunch of money). Truth be told, most folks who ruin their lives don’t do it all at once. The shipwreck happens gradually, usually after a lifetime of covering-up and lying about their behavior.  The one great-big-sinful-decision that appears to be the cause of the shipwreck is actually just an ugly symptom of the root problem.

 The Bible has a name for this root problem, it’s called “giving the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). There are a million different ways a Christian can give the devil a foothold. Giving the devil a foothold basically means that at some point in time the person in question willingly gave a small area of their lives over to sin, then chose to keep their behavior a secret and effectively permitted that area of their life to become the devil’s playground. Over the course of time (usually many years) the person in question loses their ability to keep their sin a secret.  Eventually they get caught and their sin becomes obvious to everyone and their life is shipwrecked (Numbers 32:23).

 Sigh.

 The key to avoiding these tragedies is prevention. I already stated that there are at least a million ways we can shipwreck our lives, mostly because the capacity of the human heart to dream up clever ways to sin is nearly boundless (Jeremiah17:9). That being said, the areas where the devil attempts to gain a foothold in a person’s life are fairly standard to everyone. The first is:

 Pride-

 I have never known a person harboring secret sin who did not pridefully assume that they could handle “sinning a little bit”. At the root of this belief is almost always a sense that they are “different” from other people and don’t need to follow the same rules that all the other (sheep-like) Christians have to follow. If pride is left unchecked it inevitably leads to a shipwreck because it causes people to believe that they are better and smarter and worthier than they really are (Proverbs 11:2, Proverbs 29:23, Obadiah 1:3). This belief cause people to do incredibly stupid stuff that is guaranteed to be their downfall (Proverbs 16:18).

 Covetousness-

 Coveting is not just about wanting things we don’t have. It’s about wanting things that we should never have and refusing to be content with what we do have. Coveting is dangerous because it always leads to bigger sins. It is not wrong to want a wife (or a husband). However, it is wrong to want someone else’s wife or husband (Deuteronomy 5:21).  It is also wrong to want a husband or wife more than we love God (Exodus 20:3). Coveting sex eventually leads to infidelity and/or some kind of sexual deviancy.  Money is not sinful, but loving money and craving material possessions leads to fraud, theft, shady behavior and a miserly unwillingness to share what God has blessed us with.  (1st Timothy 6:10).  Spending an undue amount time thinking about what we wish we had instead of being grateful for what we do have is a huge red flag for this foothold (Hebrews 13:5, 1st Timothy 6:6-7)

 Resentment and unforgiveness-

 Resentment and unforgiveness are without question the devil’s favorite foothold. These sins always lead to bitterness, cynicism, and offense. A bitter, cynical and offended person can easily justify any and every behavior under the sun (Job 36:13). For that reason, resentment and bitterness must be dealt with quickly and decisively before they take root and defile a person (Hebrews 12:15)

 Jealousy-   

 Jealousy is the original gateway sin. It opens the door for every other sin. Jealousy is the reason Cain killed Abel and its why Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery.  No one in the history of forever has ever done anything in a fit of jealousy that they could be proud of (Proverbs 27:4, Galatians 5:19-21).

 Lust-

 Thanks to the internet and a nearly universal lack of self-control in our culture, lust is probably the devil’s most fruitful foothold at this point in history. It almost goes without saying that this one sin has ruined more men and women than any other sin in the history of sin. Lust is dangerous because it is not a difficult sin to hide and it gradually changes the sinner, hardening their heart and making it harder for them to hear from God or to care about hearing from God. When Christians stop hearing from God it is almost inevitable that they will act on the most deviant desires of their heart.

 Sinful footholds are one hundred percent preventable. We avoid them by dealing with our sin on a daily basis and walking in the light of truth.  Once a foothold is formed there is only one way to break its power: honesty. We get free by coming clean and then choosing to live our whole lives in the light (Psalm 119:9, Psalm 119:5, Hebrews 4:13).