Five Signs a Christian is a Little too Cozy With the World-

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them~ 1st John 2:15 NIV

 I did not grow up in a Christian home, so much so I can count on one hand the number of times I attended a church for any reason at all prior to my teen years.

 As a result I was tragically ignorant of all things Christian.

 Following my conversion to Christianity as a young adult, I did my level best to expand my biblical knowledge base. My quest to gain understanding involved reading, studying, church attendance and attending Bible studies and Christian conferences.

All that activity helped in some ways but hurt in others. My overall knowledge of the Bible did increase. However, it also led me to believe the Bible said some things it actually didn’t say; for example, at one point I was shocked to discover that the phrase “be in the world, but not of it” was not actually a Bible verse but rather a pithy little saying the American church adopted as truth sometime around the turn of the 20th century. The”worldliness” I was warned about was almost entirely focussed on language, outward appearances and entertainment. Christians were to look different and act different from the world. Very little emphasis was placed on inward attitudes. Since the early days of my Christian experience, the church and the people in it have changed a great deal. For one thing, there is far less emphasis placed on the dangers of “worldliness” and more of an emphasis placed on the need for Christians to love people unconditionally.

 Loving people pleases Jesus (Matthew 5:44, Mark 12:30-31, John 3:16). At least until our love devolves into sloppy sentimentalism or a focus on feelings rather than the state of a person’s soul. That kind of love is closer to what the Bible calls “loving the world” rather than truly loving people.

 We “love the world” when we take our cues about how to live, love and function from the world’s system rather than from the Bible (Romans 12:2). It’s shockingly easy for Christians to love the world without even knowing it. Following are five ways Christians love the world and leave true faith behind:

 We love the world when we hate on the people in the church-

 Jesus promised us that the world would hate the church (John 15:19). He did not promise that the church would hate its own members. It almost goes without saying that the church in America has some serious issues and is in need of reform. It’s also true that some Christians have driven people away from the church with hypocrisy, perversely high standards, bad attitudes and expectations that cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. However, that does not make it okay for Christians to hate on other Christians, as some have taken to doing. It’s no wonder unbelievers don’t want to give church a chance when Christians are so critical of those in the church.

 We love the world when we refuse to call out sin-

 There is no clearer indicator we have become far too comfortable with the world than when we accept the world’s standard of morality. In many Christian circles it is now considered offensive to even hint that behaviors like divorce, drug use, homosexuality (1st Timothy 1:9-11), promiscuity and drunkenness (among others) are sinful. The effect of relaxing our standards has been dramatic. Many believers no longer feel shame, or even regret, over actions the Bible clearly calls shameful and society is devolving into a chaotic muddle due to our lack of moral leadership.  

 We love the world when we use love as a cover for inaction or silence regarding the dangers of sin-

 Our current definition of love has morphed into something early Christians never would have imagined. Love has become a justification for silence, spiritual inertia and the tolerance of every kind of evil behavior. We have forgotten that biblical love speaks the truth and tirelessly promotes righteousness (Ephesians 4:15).

 We love the world when we wallow in its behaviors and use “fitting in” as an excuse to continue wallowing-

 Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not call Christians to “fit into” society (Romans 12:2). Christians are told to stand out and be different, at times to the point of peculiarity (1st Peter 2:9). The moment we begin to conform to the world, we cease to be effective at what God has called us to do (Matthew 28:16-20, Matthew 5:13-16)

 We love the world when we make our entertainment choices an idol we refuse to let go of-

 There was a time in the recent past when most Christians shunned secular entertainment out of fear that it would adversely affect their behavior and attitudes. They feared worldly entertainment would make them too much like “the world”. For the most part, Christians have lost that fear and now the people in the church look more like the people in the world than at any other time in church history. We need to start being real with ourselves about what we’re watching and how it affects our ability to think and reason in a Christian way. If we wouldn’t watch it with Jesus in the room, it won’t make us any more spiritual or bring us any closer to Jesus.

Period.  

 

 

 

 

 

Should Christians and Non-Christians be Friends?

 Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character~ 1st Corinthians 15:33 NIV

 I subscribe to a number of Christian leadership blogs, podcasts and websites. Most of the stuff I subscribe to is pretty good. A few are hit or miss and one or two are just kind of meh. The best ones consistently tackle issues I have never thought very deeply about, challenge my biases, and help me think more imaginatively about problem solving. The not-so-great ones tend to hit on the same dozen or so issues over and over again and never really give any answers, just raise a lot questions.

 Over the course of the last couple of years, I have noted a clear trend regarding the subject matter of many of the blogs I subscribe to. All of them have been encouraging Christians to be bolder in their pursuit of authentic and meaningful friendships with sinners (their word, not mine). A few have openly scolded other Christians for not having and pursuing more intimate friendships with non-Christians. Every article I’ve read on the subject holds Jesus up as the example we ought to follow when it comes to pursuing friendships with “sinners”.

For the record, I believe with all my heart Christians ought to pursue friendships with non-Christian people (more on that later). However, I am convinced this teaching trend has become dangerously unbalanced because it presumes without offering cautions.

 I will begin with the presumptions.

 The most common presumption is that Jesus spent most or all of His time just chilling with sinners. To hear many pastors and teachers tell it, Jesus spent every moment of His life on earth at the local bars, crack houses and brothels hugging and high-fiving the local riff-raff.  

 He didn’t.

 A careful reading of the gospels reveals that Jesus did indeed attend events and parties where “sinners” were present (a very big deal in His world). We also know that Jesus was kind and welcoming to everyone (including sinners) and He definitely wasn’t shy about interacting with sinners or building meaningful relationships with very messed-up people (Luke 19:1-9, John 4). However, that was one part of His over-all ministry. Jesus spent most of His time with the twelve disciples and others (Luke 8:1-3, Luke 10:1) who were interested in following Jesus and learning to live a holy life.

 The second assumption many make is that the culture Jesus ministered in was exactly like the culture we live in.

Its’ simply not true.

Jesus lived in and ministered to a predominately Jewish culture where even the most messed-up “sinners” understood exactly what the Bible had to say about sin (John 4, Luke 9:1-9). This meant that the pre-evangelistic work of helping folks recognize the reality that they are sinners in need of redemption was done long before they came into contact with Jesus. We live in a post-Christian/atheistic culture where few people know or care about what the Bible has to say about much of anything. Even fewer feel guilt or remorse over their behavior. This difference is subtle and may seem trivial. However, it’s a difference that dramatically affects the dynamics of interacting with non-Christians. At the very least it makes spiritually productive conversations more difficult, and relationships trickier to navigate.

 And finally:

Some are assuming we are all a heck of lot more like Jesus than we actually are. Jesus was the perfect, sinless Son of God on a mission to save the world from the bondage and consequences of sin.

We are not Jesus.

 Even in our redeemed state we are still people who possess a sin nature (1st John 1:8). We are people who have been saved by the kindness and mercy of  a seriously benevolent God and nothing else (Ephesians 2:9). We are also people who have been commanded by a holy God to live a life of purity, holiness and righteousness (1st Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 5:3, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, 1st Peter 1:14-16, Hebrews 12:14). Our calling to holiness is sometimes made more difficult by our choice of friendships (Proverbs 13:20, Psalm 1, 1st Corinthians 15:33).

 All that being said, I still really believe Christians ought to be intentional about seeking out friendships with non-Christian people. People have to be led to Jesus and the only way that will happen in this culture will be through cultivating relationships. However, we need to initiate relationships with non-Christian people wisely and prayerfully, keeping two truths firmly in mind.

 First, the Bible warns us repeatedly concerning the dangers of spending an inappropriate amount of time around those who may tempt us to sin (Jude 22, 2nd Corinthians 6:14-15, 1st John 2:15-16). Secondly, we need to remember that we will NEVER lead anyone to Jesus if we make a habit out of sinning with them.

 

What We Can Do to Change the Church

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. ~ Ephesians 5:8-10 NIV

Pretty much every Christian in the Western World agrees that Christianity is in a steady state of decline.  

Most blame the decline of Christianity on shallow teaching that is entirely focused on reaching unsaved people rather than teaching and training the already converted to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Others blame our problems on a lack of relationship (and accountability) in local churches. Still others blame a lack of opportunity to serve the underserved in their communities. All Christians are alarmed by the churches seeming inability to preserve morality and decency in the culture (Matthew 5:13-16).

 None of these concerns are without merit.

 In previous posts I have placed (directly or indirectly) much of the blame for the decline we find ourselves in on church leaders. I believe this is fair. Leaders lead. Consequently, if something is headed in the wrong direction the people running the show ought to take their fair share of the blame.

 However,

 I have served in enough leadership positions in enough churches to know that church has become just another product that we consume in this culture. I also know that most Pastors will tell you that recent changes in how church is done have been almost entirely consumer driven. Pastors are simply giving people what they say, through their words and actions, they want in church.

 Anytime we are unhappy with anything we ought to take a hard look at our own habits and attitudes, to see if we are somehow contributing to the problems vexing us. If we want change we have to be willing to change. So today I would like to offer five simple changes we could all make that could impact Christianity (and the culture) significantly.

 First:

 Show up- Hebrews 10:25

 Seriously. The average self-identified “committed churchgoer” only goes to church 1.2 times a MONTH. Most of us go to Costco more than we go to church. This is extremely discouraging to Pastors. The lack of committed attendance leads many Pastors to assume (rightly in my opinion) that their congregants are shallow believers who can’t (or don’t want to) handle the deeper truths of Scripture. It also sends the message to less mature believers that church attendance is irrelevant.

 Let go of your “rights”- 1st Corinthians 8:9

 In recent years many Christians have become very open about partaking in activities that fall neatly into the category of “gray area issues” (you can decide for yourself what I mean by that). This has made many pastors reluctant to preach on certain subjects out of fear of riling-up the saints and clearing out the church. The Bible teaches that mature believers are prepared to let go of their “rights” if that thing (whatever it may be) causes discord, hurt or confusion to anyone (1st Corinthians 8:7-9:22, Romans 14:13-15:1). Christians who live for themselves (rather than the good of others) are causing conflict in the church and destroying the reputation of Christianity. That needs to change.

Attend a Bible study- Acts 17:2, Acts 17:11

 In recent years many churches have dropped Sunday school classes and Bible studies. Typically this is due to a lack of interest and/or turnout. Trust me on this one. If there is a demand, there will be opportunities.

 Serve– Ephesians 2:10

 You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. Nonetheless I suspect we all spend at least a couple hours a week playing games and perusing social media on our phones. That time ought to be put to better use. Offer to teach the third grade Sunday school class, take a turn at nursery duty, serve in the food pantry, clean the church or lead a Bible study. Find out where and how you can serve, and then serve. I am convinced that Christians ought to tithe on their time as well as their money. If more did, it would literally be a spiritual game changer in our churches and communities.

 Pray for your Pastor- Romans 15:30, 2nd Corinthians 1:10-11, 1st Timothy 2:8, Colossians 4:2

 Pray that your Pastor will have the wisdom to lead well. Pray they will see biblical truth clearly and teach it with clarity and power. Pray they will have insight into the spiritual issues behind the worldly problems in our churches. Do not talk to them about any concerns you have until you have prayed and fasted about your concerns for at least two weeks. This will prepare both of you for the dialogue.

 I said at the beginning of this series that we all bear some responsibility for the state the church is in today. It’s time for all of us to collectively examine our hearts to see what we can do as individuals to change the direction of the church.

 

 

 

Rethinking Church

On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it ~ Matthew 16:18b NIV

 Churches today are beset with some seemingly insurmountable problems.

 In many churches attendance is down, conversions are down, baptisms are down, tithes are down and the number of people willing to serve in leadership positions is down. According to the Barna Research Group, few adult Christians can adequately articulate the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith and even fewer are willing to live out the traditional teachings of Christianity.

 An appalling number of Millennials are leaving the faith of their parents and grandparents faster than rats deserting a sinking ship for a new belief system they call “spirituality”.

 Whatever the heck that means.

 Millennials aren’t the only group leaving local churches at a troubling rate. Many empty nesters (45+) claim they no longer feel needed or wanted at church for anything other than financial support and pew warming. As a result, countless previously active church members are ditching Sunday morning services for Sunday morning brunches.

 Sigh.

 Despite the aforementioned doom-and-gloom I really am genuinely hopeful for the future of the church. The church is not a scheme of man but the plan of God and God’s plans have a way of working out (Psalm 33:10-11, Micah 2:1-3) despite the failings of people.

 We all bear some responsibility for the state the church is in today. Contrary to popular opinion churches are not buildings, nor are they denominational dogma residing in a building. Churches are groups of people who have come together around a common leader (Jesus) and a common cause (the gospel). Jesus passed on the responsibility and privilege of building His Church to individual believers (Matthew 28:18-20).

 Therefore, if Churches are struggling it is to some extent the fault of the folks in the church, because we are the church. I believe there are three changes that can be made in the way we do church. First we need to…

 Adopt a more biblical model of church-

 The New Testament church is not a seeker centric church model. The New Testament church is a believer centric model (Acts 2:42-47, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 4:11-13, 1st Corinthians 5:11-13, 1st Corinthians 11:21). The church was designed with the growth of the already converted person in mind. Unsaved people were welcomed into the church but they were not the primary emphasis, rather they were a consideration (1st Corinthians 14:23). New Testament churches focused on teaching, preaching and creating occasions for fellowship so that the people of God would grow spiritually and reach the people around them with the good news of Jesus Christ. The contemporary church has turned the biblical model on its head; we aim most of our programs and preaching at unsaved people rather than saved people. In the process we have neglected to teach the already converted the deeper truths of Scripture that they must know to become productive members of the body.

 Turn the responsibility of evangelism back over to laypeople-

 The biblical model of evangelism is for Pastors and teachers to train laypeople to do the work of reaching un-churched people with the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-13) and then for those folks to bring their friends into the church family. Most churches expect their congregants to invite their friends to church with little or no evangelistic preparation. This means most of the un-churched people who come to our churches are not prepared to hear the gospel or make a commitment to Jesus. As a result few make commitments and the ones that do tend to fall away rather quickly.  

 Do what Jesus did-

 It’s no secret we live in a culture filled with broken, hurting, people. Christians are called to minister to hurting people, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what they’ve done. Period. The knee-jerk response most of us have for brokenness is love. Clearly, we do need to love the lost as well as the less than lovable. However, love is a feel-good response and only half the solution. We also need to invest our time, energy and treasure into helping broken people to become as whole and spiritually healthy as possible (1st John 3:18). Becoming whole and spiritually healthy is not something that happens in a twelve-week, ten-step mentoring program. Discipleship that changes lives and transforms people into the image of Jesus requires a long-term commitment of authentic friendship to a messy person.

 The solutions to the church’s problems will require a shift in our thinking and the way we view church and the discipleship process. We need to go back to the biblical models of training laypeople to do the work of ministry and trust God to work through them.

 

 

 

 

Knowing for Certain-

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth~ 1st Timothy 2:3-4

 We live in a time and place where it is blessedly easy to know the answers to a lot of life’s questions.

 Anyone with a laptop and/or a phone can know exactly how much money he or she has in the bank anytime—day-or-night. Even a person completely ignorant of history can discover in seconds who the POTUS was in 1926 (Calvin Coolidge in case you’re too lazy to Google). A small sample of blood will reveal all sorts of interesting things about a person. Including their general state of health, chromosomal make-up, nation of origin and whether or not they eat lead paint chips

 The modern era clearly has its perks.

 However, other questions remain unanswered. The brightest scientific minds of our day still cannot explain why we have turbulence or what make magnets work or how birds know to migrate or even how our brains store and retrieve memory. No one but God knows why we dream or even what a dream is or why we all get a little nuts-o if we go too many nights without dreaming.

 Sigh.

 Some spiritual questions are even tougher to answer.

 No one has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction why God sometimes feels distant and other times He feels close. No one knows why some prayers go unanswered and others don’t, or why some people suffer and others don’t.

But in my experience the most vexing question of all for many believers is whether or not they really are a Christian.

 Most of us know that becoming a Christian is not simply something that happens, nor is it something we are born into. Contrary to popular belief simply attending a church or a small group, serving on a ministry team, or even praying a “salvation prayer” does not guarantee that one has passed from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life.

 Knowing for certain matters for at least three reasons.

 First, assurance of salvation is not a subject that is discussed in many churches these days; as a result many have been left with questions. Secondly, Jesus warned his followers that on Judgment Day (yes, it’s a real thing, Matthew 11:24, Hebrews 9:27, Revelation 20:11-12) there will be many who mistakenly assume that they are Christians until it’s too late to do anything about it (Matthew 7:21, Matthew 25:31-46, Matthew 7:13-14). And finally, it matters because if the Bible is true (and I believe it is) then eternity will be long and it’s good to know where and how we will be spending it.

 Sadly, the signs of salvation tend to be subtle, but there are at least four clear indicators of an authentic Christian including…

 1. Authentic Christians hate to sin-

 One of the surest signs of salvation is a yearning to please God and do His will. This means that genuine Christians do not like to sin nor do they typically sin intentionally. This doesn’t mean Christians never sin (1st John 1:10). It does mean that for a Christian, sin is typically followed by remorse, repentance and a sincere desire to do better next time (2nd Corinthians 7:10).

 2. Authentic Christians do what it takes to grow-

 Attending a Bible study or a church service does not make anyone a Christian, nor does it make Christians “more saved”. That said, church and Bible studies are where we worship God, learn about our faith, become accountable to other believers, and are challenged to grow-up in our thinking and behavior (1st Corinthians 13:11.) Consequently, all Christians ought to attend church and Bible studies.

 3. Authentic Christians love people and care about their eternal destiny-

 Love for God and love for people is the identifying mark of a Jesus follower (1st John). However, authentic biblical love is more complex than the squishy, syrupy Hallmark Channel kind love we have all become accustomed to. Authentic Christian love is concerned for the feelings of others but it is also honest enough to tell people the truth about where their choices will lead.

4. Authentic Christians don’t quit- Hebrews 12:1

 Authentic Christians do not quit serving God, loving people, and going to church just because some nitwit said something hurtful or God did not answer a prayer the way they felt He should. Authentic Christians know that they are soldiers in a spiritual war and soldiers don’t desert over hurt feelings and petty disappointments (2nd Timothy 2:3-4). Perseverance is and will always be the surest sign of salvation.  

 

 

 

Breaking Free From Regret


Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death~ 2nd 7:10

 Regret is a tough topic.

 Mostly because there are so many different levels of regret. Some regrets are minor in the grand scheme of things. Missed opportunities to do good or an occasional overindulgence (AKA taco night at my house) are lamentable for entirely different reasons. However, none of those scenarios leads to the kind of grief that steals our joy and keeps us stuck in destructive emotional and spiritual patterns.

 Other regrets are tougher to reconcile because some regrets are by their very nature trickier to overcome. A missed opportunity to do good can typically be made-up at another time and the consequences of most indulgences can be remedied with a little extra exercise. Other choices are less easily overcome. We might deeply regret getting married and/or divorced, our chosen career path, the choice to have (or not have) children, or a great big sinful decision that simply cannot be undone.

 Whatever the cause, regret can quickly become psychologically and spiritually debilitating. This is especially true if we allow ourselves to get stuck in the quagmire of “what if” and “if only” thinking. When this happens, we spend an inordinate amount of time wondering what life would look like if only we had made another decision or wishing we had taken another route in life.

 “What if” and “if only” thinking is a pointless waste of energy because it keeps us stuck in the past and focuses our energy in an introspective, navel gaze-y kind of way that will never actually change anything. To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge even God cannot change the past. Consequently, there is nothing to be gained by wishing we could do something that even the Omnipotent Maker of the Universe cannot (or chooses not) do.

 That said.

 Dealing with regret is about more than simply “getting over it” or “moving on”. I am convinced that God wants us to do more than just “get over” stuff. He wants to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ and sometimes God uses our deepest and most profound regrets in life to shape us into the people He wants us to be (Romans 8:28).

 There are four things we need to do anytime we are struggling with regret.

 The first is…

 Own what you need to own-

 Wise people own their mistakes because they know they will never grow past anything they refuse to take responsibility for (Psalm 32:5). If you have regrets concerning your marriage or how your kids turned out, do enough soul searching to figure out your part in the mess and own it. Don’t blame God, your parents, your spouse, society, or the church for the choices you made. No one can change what they refuse to acknowledge. Taking ownership is the first step to solving problems and living at peace with the past.

 Change what you can change-

 Taking responsibility frees us up to see what can and cannot be changed in any given situation. Sometimes even small changes in how we deal with people or circumstances can dramatically affect the outcome of the situation or the health of the relationship. If you don’t know what to do, read some Christian books, seek the advice of someone who has their life together or spend some time with a Christian counselor or pastor. Whatever you do, don’t give-up.  

Make right what needs to be made right-

 This means seeking forgiveness (Psalm 38:18, Hebrews 8:12). Every sin is ultimately a sin against God, so go to Him first and ask him to forgive you (He will). Then talk to the people you have hurt or wronged. If you were a crummy parent, spouse or friend be honest about your shortcomings and don’t blame others for your failures (Psalm 37:37, Hebrews 12:14). Seeking forgiveness from the people we hurt may or may not change how they feel about us but it does create an environment where God can bless and heal us.    

 Trust in the resurrection power of Jesus to do what we cannot do-

 Sadly, there are times in life when situations or relationships are simply broken beyond our ability to fix them. Once we’ve done what we can do, we need to trust God to do the impossible. The Bible is clear; if you are a believer in Jesus then the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is living in you and working on your behalf (Romans 8:11). The resurrection power of Jesus is not only about salvation. Over time (if we let it) God’s power infiltrates our lives and that power allows Him to do the impossible and fix the things that broken beyond fixing.

 

 

 

 

Christians and Counterfeit Love

On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts~ 1st Thessalonians 2:4

 When I was a teenager I had a close friend who had- what I thought at the time-was the coolest Mother in the known universe. She was verbally expressive when it came to professing love for her daughter and she listened to any and all teenage drama (no matter how absurd and trivial) sans judgment of any kind.

 There was precious little my friend was not permitted to do and occasionally her Mother would even help her evade the consequences of her actions. One time my friend and I skipped school and her Mom wrote both of us a note to excuse the absences with nothing more than a brief and relatively friendly lecture on the importance of going to school. If my friend’s grades were less than stellar (and they frequently were) her Mom signed the report card without so much as a negative word spoken concerning the issue.

 She turned a blind eye as her daughter became sexually active and willfully overlooked disrespect, negligence, underage drinking and even occasional drug use. When questioned about her parenting techniques my friends Mother would wax eloquent on the importance of truly loving and accepting her children in a tangible way.

 In retrospect I find this tale utterly appalling.

 And not just because I’ve raised a bunch of kids and have learned that decent parenting is about a whole heck of a lot more than accepting your children and making them feel good about themselves. This story horrifies me because I know the ultimate outcome of it all. My friend started using drugs and alcohol, never finished high school and had three children before her 21st birthday. As far as I know she never fully recovered from her choices and the bizarre leadership she received as a child.

 Sigh.

 I am convinced that my friend’s Mother wasn’t a bad person in the sense that she neglected, abused or was in some way indifferent towards her daughter. There was absolutely no malice in her actions. She simply confused loving someone with being likeable. She cared more about how her kid felt about her in the short-term than the long-term outcome of her daughter’s life.

 The most vexing aspect of this story is how often this sort of thing plays out in life. A husband or a wife will (in the name of love) ignore their spouse’s character deficiencies to the detriment of the entire family. A friend will stand by silently and watch as someone they claim to love ventures down an ethically questionable path never warning them of the destruction that lies ahead. A parent will bail an adult child out of problems of their own making and then wonder why the kid never seems to grow-up.

 Christians do the same thing sometimes.

 We overlook the sins of those we profess to love and soft-peddle the truth of God’s word—not because we don’t believe God or His word— but because deep down inside we really want people to like us more than we want to tell them the truth. We want to be the cool friend, the cool pastor or the cool co-worker and telling the truth about life and eternity is categorically uncool these days.

 Dietrich Bonheoffer famously said that cheap grace is characterized by the “preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.”

 Mr. Bonheoffer was correct in his assessment of cheap grace.

 Grace and love are inextricably linked. Grace cannot exist without love, because grace is simply an extension of love. This means that if love is counterfeit, then grace will be cheap. Counterfeit love has become appallingly common. At its root counterfeit love is deceptively selfish. The person showing counterfeit love typically wants to love like Jesus loved. But, deep down inside, they want to be liked by others more than they want what’s best for those same people. Which is the exact opposite of loving like Jesus loved.

 Authentic love never loses sight of the long game.

 A parent who truly loves their child will risk being loathed today to ensure the child becomes a decent human being in the future. A genuine friend will endure a little bit of anger in the here-and-now to save their friend from a lifetime of regret. A genuinely loving Christian will risk offending someone today if it will save that person from an eternity in hell.

 It’s time for a revival of the real deal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Every Christian Ought to Observe Lent-

So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover~ Matthew 26:19 NIV

 I am a Protestant Evangelical.

 It’s not that I feel Protestants or Evangelicals or Protestant Evangelicals have the market cornered on truth. I don’t. Nor do I believe Christians who practice their faith differently than I do are immoral, evil or misled in some way.

 I do believe Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). However, I also believe that there are many methods available to learn about and worship God. As long as the worship and learning is done in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24) I am generally pretty cool with it.

 That being said.  I like, most human beings gravitate towards the familiar and comfortable and the Evangelical world is familiar and comfortable to me.

 I became a Christian in a Protestant Evangelical Church and over the years I have come to appreciate (for the most part, more on this later) the no-frills approach to Christianity that Protestant Evangelicalism offers.

 Back in the day I was the executive director of a Pregnancy Care Center in a small town. One of my responsibilities was to visit the Churches that supported our ministry at least once a year and update them on our progress. As a result I have attended just about every classification of Christian church imaginable. From Catholic to Baptist to Oneness Pentecostal, if a denomination worships Jesus and supports pro-life causes I have probably had the pleasure of worshipping there at least once.

It was during those years that discovered how much I love the minimalism of the Protestant experience. I like the fact that I don’t have to approach some Saint and have them forward my prayers to Jesus or confess my sins to a third party to get them forgiven.

 I love that Evangelicals love the Bible and hold it in such high regard. I also love that Protestant Evangelicals believe that all Christians are capable of reading, understanding and interpreting the Bible for themselves. I am a straightforward girl and I appreciate a straightforward approach to the faith.

 However.

 There is one day out of the year when I truly envy the formality, pageantry and ritual of the Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions.

 Easter.

 I’m just going to go ahead and say it.

 Protestants are remarkably terrible at making the Easter season as spiritually meaningful as it deserves to be. Sadly, Evangelical Protestants take the terribleness to a whole new level.

 In most Protestant Evangelical churches the actual church service is memorable and distinctive. There’s a special sermon, thematic music and some churches even put on a passion play. That said, I have found that generally the season of Easter comes and goes with all the heralding of a drive-by shooting. The lack of spiritual preparation and lead-up to Easter inevitably causes Jesus to take a back seat to the bunnies, candy, egg hunts and ham.

 In an effort to end the madness, I recently decided to rip a page from my Catholic and Orthodox friends’ playbook and partake in the season of Lent.

 Contrary to popular opinion, Lent is not nor has it ever been a strictly Catholic or Eastern Orthodox thing. Nor was Lent intended to be a Christian weight-loss plan or a second-shot at abandoned New Years resolutions. Lent is one of the oldest customs of the Christian faith; and I for one believe it merits a comeback in Evangelical circles.

 The original intent of Lent was to set aside a time of spiritual preparation, self-examination and repentance prior to Easter Sunday. Traditionally, Lent involves forty days of fasting (a meal or a particular food), reading through at least one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) and an increased level of prayer.

 Christians have been practicing Lent since as early as the beginning of the second century. Sadly, sometime around the 15th Century Lent became associated with Catholicism and the act of fasting. Protestants who wanted to dissociate themselves from Catholicism stopped doing it, and many Catholics lost touch with the point of Lent and as a result some of the significance of Easter season has been lost for all of us. 

 The official start of Lent is today (Ash Wednesday). Today is the day to begin preparing your heart for the most significant day on the Christian calendar. Choose something to fast from, dust off your Bible, do some in-depth spiritual self-examination and pick a few topics to pray about from now until the Wednesday before Easter.

 Then trust God to do something really big and really meaningful in your life this Easter season.

 

Sex, Theology and Politics

 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires~ 2nd Peter 3:3 NIV

 I started blogging because, well, frankly I was naïve and weirdly overconfident in my ability to attract an audience. I figured if I took the time to write it, people would read it.

 My expectations were quickly brought down to earth.

 It didn’t take long to conclude that I had fooled myself into believing I am far cooler than I actually am. My world was briefly shattered when I discovered (much to my chagrin) that most people are not interested in the subjects I find fascinating. I now have irrefutable evidence that there are two subjects that the average person cares nothing about.

 History and theology.

 If I were foolish enough to write a blog on the history of theology I can give you the first and last names of the three (possibly four, five if you count my husband) people who would take the time to read said blog.

 Sigh.

 On the other hand, sex is typically a huge draw.

 I briefly considered putting the word sex in all of my blog titles just to get the clicks. However, I was told it would be misleading to write a blog on say, the pros and cons of the doctrine of determinism; and then trick people into reading it by leading them to believe it was actually about sex.

 I have also found that a rousing political blog typically attracts readers. I also learned that broadcasting my political opinions is the most efficient way to get un-friended by family members on Facebook.

 Today I have decided to throw caution to the wind and combine the topics of sex, politics and theology and see where all that takes us…

 This morning I ventured away from some of my preferred books of the Bible and read through the book of Jude. There I found a verse that got me thinking about how a faulty interpretation of theology can affect both sex and politics…

  For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord~ Jude 4 NIV

 On the surface this verse is fairly straightforward from a historic perspective. Teachers in the ancient church had introduced teachings regarding grace that were generating all sorts of moral chaos and even causing some believers to turn away from Jesus.

 Like I said, fairly straightforward.

 However, Jude was not writing entirely for the benefit of the 1st century Church. Any warning given in the New Testament was intended for all believers throughout the ages. Furthermore, with all the dubious notions concerning the subject of grace floating around today; it’s safe to assume that Jude’s warning was prophetic and more applicable today than at anytime in history.

 The word translated as license in English is a Greek word (exousia) that means authority. Jude seems to be indicating that some had/would come into the church and make themselves into the ultimate authority on what the grace of God is really all about. In the process they would/had pervert the subject and lead many away from truth about God and life.

 We live in a world where many (including some Christians) believe that things the Bible calls evil are good and the things the Bible says are good, are evil (Isaiah 5:20-21).

 This is the fault of the church itself.

 For years the church in America has taught that grace is a giant bucket of forgiveness believers can dip into anytime they please. Not just for unintentional sin but also for intentional sin as well. We have conveniently forgotten that in the Old Testament there was no provision in the law for intentional sin. We have also failed to teach that there are lists of sins in the New Testament that, if they are deliberate and ongoing, promise to defile and ultimately disqualify folks from the Kingdom of God (Mark 7:21-22, Romans 1:24-31, Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-9, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10, 1st Timothy 1:9-10, Revelation 21:8).

 Christians are called to be the moral leaders of the world. Because believers have adopted a wobbly view of right and wrong- especially where sexuality and divorce are concerned- social chaos has followed. Now politicians are busy sanctioning sexual sin into the law of the land. The Church paved the way for the world to believe that there will never be any sort of consequences for anything, no matter how sinful.

 We need a restructuring of our thinking regarding the subject of grace. Christians are called to be holy people, not exploiters of God’s willingness to forgive. A return to holiness might just stimulate a much-needed sea change that affects every sphere of society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

Please Stop Telling me To Breathe

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord~ Isaiah 1:18a ESV

 Reader be warned.

I was feeling a bit snarky as I composed this post. The views expressed are undoubtedly a bit a petty. However, the opinions articulated also accurately depict how I feel and what I think. Since I take the time to write a weekly blog I feel (rightly or wrongly) that effort entitles me to occasionally express a snarky/petty opinion in writing from time-to-time.

 With that little disclaimer out of the way, read on.

 I am not a person who is typically quick to hop on a bandwagon or embrace a popular trend. I like to think this is because I am a thinker, blessed with classic good taste, and am securely grounded in what I like and believe.

 However, truth-be-told the real reason I reject the latest fashion trends is because I’m cheap and lazy and I figured out long ago that most trends die before the credit card charge is processed. I simply refuse to invest in anything until I am at least reasonably certain it’s going to stick around for longer than a single season.

 I reject most parenting trends because, unfortunately, my kids came along during the early years of the “self esteem” parenting movement. Therefore, they were among the first kids in the history of the world to receive lavish levels of praise for pooping and trophies for doing nothing more remarkable than simply existing. I have witnessed first hand the damage that trend has done to individual children as well as society at large. As a result I tend to roll my eyes at the “never say no, only no thank you” movement and other aspects of the “positive” or “enlightened” parenting trends. Neither am I a proponent of the “helicopter” or “conscience” parenting movements that have gained popularity in recent years.  

 Trendiness in churches bothers me even more than trendiness in the fashion or parenting world. It’s not that I am opposed to new ideas. I am actually a big advocate of strategic change.

 Thoughtful adjustments to the way we do church and present the gospel are often the engine that fuels church growth and even revival. Sadly, a good number of current church trends are not particularly strategic or well thought out. They are just someone’s pet idea or phrase that gets circulated around the greater Christian community until it catches on and becomes a “thing”.

 Which brings me to my latest trend peeve.

 Drum roll please….

 Breathing.

 No. You did not read that wrong.

 Reminding Christians to breathe is now a real thing. There’s a song about it and everything. Hardly a week goes by when I don’t stumble across some syrupy meme on Facebook reminding me that ALL God really wants me to do is breathe.

 For the record, I doubt that.

 This emerging trend annoys me mostly because it presupposes that there is some sort of spiritual value to the act of breathing. There’s not. Nowhere in the New Testament (or the Old for that matter) are Christians told by God to “just breathe”. In Christianity breathing is not considered a valid spiritual discipline or exercise; it is simply a God-given involuntary function.

 God designed humans to breathe. We drop dead if we don’t.

 I understand the deeper issue behind the “just breathe” movement. Life is stressful. Circumstances often feel overwhelming. And I cannot find anyplace in the Bible were we are instructed to worry ourselves into an early grave or take on all the cares of the world.

 That being said, stress is a lot like the check-engine light in a car. The stress is not the problem; it’s simply a sign of a bigger problem and an indicator that God is calling us to do a prayerful evaluation of our situation. Rather than just breathing when the pressures of life feel overwhelming we need to take six steps:

 Stop long enough to evaluate the situation and seek counsel- Proverbs 12:15

Pray for wisdom- James 1:5

Decide how we can simplify our lives- Romans 14:19

Ask for help- Galatians 6:2

Repent of any people-pleasing that is creating more stress- Ephesians 5:10

Trust God to see us through a difficult season- Proverbs 3:5-6

 We are commanded in Scripture to Cast our anxieties on Him (Jesus), because He cares for us (1st Peter 5:7). There is a whole lot more to that command than simply breathing. God wants us to think through our situation, seek wise counsel, live to please God instead of people and trust Him to guide us through difficult seasons.