Spiritual Warfare: How we Give the Enemy an Advantage-


Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour
– 1st Peter 5:8 NIV

Until recently I preferred to ignore the devil and demons. I believed in those things, but, like most post-enlightenment Christians I simply preferred to focus on “happier” aspects of the spiritual realm. Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit and angels were my jam and I would have been perfectly happy to keep it that way indefinitely. But, then the world went to hell. 

Literally. 

Right before my very eyes.  People began believing the most crazy-town stuff imaginable. Cancel culture became a thing, just as it also became fashionable to say there is no such thing as objective truth. People actually believe we all have our unique little truth we are entitled to even if there is no evidence to back it up. However, if you believe or say the “wrong thing” you will be “cancelled” and lose your reputation, livelihood and right to live in “polite” society.  Full-grown adults bought into the notion that gender is “fluid” and therefore changeable. Universities begin offering free tampons to “men” having their periods. Parents and teachers began encouraging kindergarteners to discover their true gender.  People were willing to throw a perfectly good country out the window because the founders of said country were fallible human beings. Everything went to hell in a handcart and Ephesians 6:12 is only plausible explanation for the madness that has engulfed the world. 

It says: 

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

 The devil is real. 

He is a created being who turned against God (Luke 10:18). He hates those who love God. It is critical Christians understand his tactics. Satan wants to steal our ministry opportunities, turn us against God and eradicate our influence in this world. He does this through attacks where he plants lies in our minds and tempts us to behave in ways that steal our effectiveness, kill our love for God and destroy any positive influence we have (John 10:10). Satan waits for just the right opportunity to attack us (1stPeter 5:8). We give it to him when we do the following:

We don’t pray or we suddenly stop praying-

I do not understand everything there is to understand about prayer. However, one truth I do understand is that regular prayer provides spiritual protection (Matthew 26:41).  When we stop praying regularly or never really form a habit of prayer we give the devil an opportunity to gain a foothold in our thinking (Ephesians 4:27). Once the enemy has traction in our minds he can plant all sorts of foul seeds that eventually grow into deception, dissatisfaction with God and curiosity about sin.   

We wander where we don’t belong-  

There are some places God’s people simply do not belong. Watching other people sin can awaken a desire within us to sin. Therefore, we should avoid anything that presents sin as normal or healthy behavior. Being around Christians who are willfully and proudly sinning breaks down the natural desire all Christians have to remain holy and please God (1st Corinthians 5:11). It is spiritually strategic to avoid anyone or anything that makes sin appear attractive (Matthew 13:41, Matthew 18:6-7). 

When our primary sources of information come from the world-

In Colossians 2:8 Christians are warned that they can be “taken captive” by “deceptive philosophies”. This is most likely to happen when we get most or all of our information on life, current events and how to do life from those who don’t know God or understand how Christians are to live in this world. There is nothing wrong with an occasional secular book, podcast or seminar. That said, getting all or most of our “how-to” information on living life from worldly sources gives Satan ample opportunity to take our thinking captive. Once our thinking is captive our actions always follow.

When we have the wrong kind of self-focus-

There are two types of self-focus. The first is when we think endlessly about making ourselves happy, being successful and getting our own needs met. The second is when we put our attention on where we need to grow and how we can become emotionally healthier, godlier, wiser versions of ourselves so we can glorify God and make the world a better place. The devil loves the first kind of self-focus but hates the second because the first inevitably leads to self-destruction and a life of sin. While the second always leads to a life of profound joy that inevitably points others to faith in Jesus (Matthew 5:19, Colossians 3).  

When we haven’t submitted our lives or some part of our lives to Jesus-

Seriously. Disobedience and rebellion are open doors the enemy will always walk through. Deal with those issues. Pronto. 

We refuse to forgive- 

We can’t even be forgiven unless we forgive others (Matthew 6:15). What would make us think Satan would not take advantage of that kind of opportunity to plant bitterness, rage and every other kind of evil in our lives (Hebrews 12:15)? Forgiveness is never easy but is is the most spiritually freeing thing we can do. It is worth the effort.

For too long most Christians have lived as if the devil is a joke, a fantasy or an exaggeration. This has resulted in a feeble church, worldly Christians and a world in crisis. We must endeavor to live lives that thwart the enemies plan and take back ground for the Kingdom.  We do that through constant prayer, a commitment to forgive quickly, submission to God, becoming the best version of ourselves and looking to the Bible and other Christians, not the world for answers to life’s questions.  

How to Survive and Thrive in Even the Toughest of Times-

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us– Hebrews 12:1 ESV  

For most people reading this blogpost the world they were born into did not start out as tough, challenging or threatening in any real way. In fact, it could easily be argued that the last sixty or so years have been some of the serenest and easiest in all of human history. Most of the problems and issues modern people have wrestled with have been what honest people would refer to as “first world problems”. Humans born in the western world have struggled mostly with issues that have centered around the kind of existential questions our more primitive ancestors lacked the time or inclination to ponder like “What is the meaning of life?” “Am I making a difference in this world?” and “Am I really doing what I was meant to do?” For most of us things like war, civil unrest and oppression were concepts we learned about in history books as children or by watching documentaries as adults on rainy mornings when we had little else to do.  

Times are changing.  

War is still not something that has touched most of our lives in a personal way (thank God). However, thanks to COVID-19, censorship, selfish leaders and a whole bunch of really bad decisions on the part of those leaders all of a sudden, the rules are changing. Civil unrest is a thing, war is suddenly imaginable and oppression feels like it is knocking on the door for too many people. 

Sigh. 

This is not the first generation of believers to find themselves in times that suddenly got tough. Far from it.  From the dawn of time God’s people have been called to live, love and lead people to faith in the toughest of times. It is possible not just survive unexpected changes in our world but also to thrive in the midst of suffering and difficulty (Jeremiah 29:1-11, John 16:33, Acts 14:22). In order for that to happen we must choose to adopt the five following attitudes and practices. 

Beginning with:

Understand that sometimes God shakes things up- 

 From time-to-time God shakes every kingdom and people group who dwell on the earth (Hebrews 12:25-28). If He didn’t, individuals would become so self-centered and sinful that all of humanity would inevitably self-destruct.  Our job as Christians is to stay resolutely on mission and lead others to God no matter what the rest of the world is doing or not doing (Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 6:37). 

Refrain from pampering our weaknesses- 

In early December, for no obvious reason, I began to experience a lot of pain in my left ankle.  I immediately took measures to shelter the ankle. I wrapped it daily, rubbed it with icy-hot, and deliberately put most of my weight on the other leg. One day I realized the muscles in the lower part of that leg had started to atrophy and as a result my left calf was noticeably smaller than the right and I was still in constant pain. I quickly altered course and began to gently work on building strength back in that ankle. It still hurts but it’s getting better and it looks almost normal. Lord willing, I will not be permanently gimpy. It occurred to me one night as I was reading Hebrews 12:12-13 that we oftentimes trear our spiritual weaknesses the same way I treated my ankle. We shelter and protect our moral and spiritual shortcomings rather than dealing with the issues that could lead to our downfall. Tough times make it even more critical we deal decisively with shortcomings, weaknesses and moral flaws (Matthew 5:29, Hebrews 12:1-3). 

Learn to embrace God’s correction-

God is the author of pleasure, joy and celebration (Deuteronomy 16:14-15, 1st Chronicles 29:22, Luke 15:23). That said, we are not here just to experience happiness or to live a life of leisure. This is where we are transformed into the image of Jesus and where we prepare for the next world (2nd Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:29, Colossians 3:9-10). This means that sometimes God will correct our thinking or deny us something we want. He doesn’t do this to be cruel but to mold us into the image of Christ and make us useful for His Kingdom.  

Understand what Christian people have in Christ- 

The writer of Hebrews tells us the temptation to leave the life of faith is always strongest in times of suffering, persecution or correction. Giving up, pulling back or losing faith inevitably results in a loss of personal growth, spiritual joy and eternal reward (Hebrews 10:35, 2nd John 1:8, Colossians 3:23-25). Conversely, faithfulness, especially in times of suffering always results in deeper joy now and greater personal reward later.  The key to staying faithful and bold when life gets hard is to remember Jesus is and all He has done for us through His suffering (Hebrews 12:22-24). When we focus on His suffering ours suddenly feels far less permanent and significant. 

Pursue holiness-

Holiness is a precondition for spending eternity with God (Hebrews 12:14) Thankfully God does not leave us on our own to figure out the process for ourselves. He gives us clear direction and step-by-step instruction on how to accomplish the task but we must be persistent and intentional about pursuing it (2ndPeter 1:3-9, Colossians 3). 

We have zero control over what we are born into or encounter in life. We do have power over how we respond to our circumstances. If we respond to difficult with an attitude of trust we will grow and God will use us. If we respond with anger, bitterness or by demanding God makes life easier for us difficulty will inevitably wreck us. 

The choice is ours. 

The Only Three Things That Could Possibly Give our World a Hopeful Future-

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me– Psalm 86:5-7 ESV

Human beings were created to shape and impact the world. Consequently, all humans have an inborn desire to make a difference in sphere of influence (Genesis 1:28).  This fundamental human longing becomes magnified when a person becomes a Christian (Acts 4:12, Ephesians 1:13, James 1:21). God literally saves people from their sins for the purpose of doing good in the world (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, most Christians spend a good portion of their lives trying to figure out what exactly God wants them to do. There is nothing wrong with a Christian searching for their God ordained purpose in this life. 

However.

Sometimes Christian people miss the forest for the trees when it comes to finding purpose. We can get so caught-up in trying to discover what God wants us to do as individuals we forget there are things God wants all Christians to do all the time, regardless of who they are or what their individual calling is. There are some non-negotiables in the Christian life. All Christians are called to behave in a holy manner (Hebrews 12:14), serve in some capacity (Romans 12:5-8), forgive others (Matthew 6:15), practice thankfulness (Colossians 3:15), be generous with their resources (Luke 6:38, Romans 12:13) and love others sacrificially (1st Corinthians 13, 1st Peter 1:22, 1st John 3:11). 

Prayer is another thing Gods calls all Christians to do regardless of their individual purpose or calling (Matthew 5:44, 1st Thessalonians 5:17, Colossians 4:2). 

Okay, so.

I would be a giant liar if I were to I tell you I understand everything there is to understand about prayer. I don’t. In fact, after thirty years of following Jesus the particulars of how and why prayer works is still something of a mystery to me.   That said, my experience has taught me that prayer is a powerful thing that is frequently underestimated by most believers. Prayer transforms people and situations in ways nothing else can. 

We live in a world that is in desperate need of all sorts of transformation in a myriad of different areas. Every day we are confronted with new and completely crazy-town ideas the world has decided are true and totally reasonable or with a new law or restriction that makes absolutely no sense at all. That’s where we come in. I believe there are three prayers Christians can pray that have the power to bring real and lasting transformation to this sin-sick world.  Christians should be praying for:

A moral awakening- 

The whole notion of morality and goodness has been turned on its head in the last couple of decades (Isaiah 5:20). Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the rainbow Jesus movement. In this movement that has successfully infiltrated the church behaviors and activities God declared to be wrong and sinful long ago are now being presented as good, helpful, wholesome and the normal way to live (Deuteronomy 18:9-11, Galatians 5:19-21, 1st Corinthians 6:9 1st Timothy 1:10). This new morality has become so rooted in our societal thinking that one will change their minds about these things unless the spirit of God touches their hearts and shows them truth. Christians should urgently pray for a moral awakening and the repentance that always comes with a moral awakening. Without it there is little hope for transformation and no hope for revival. 

Truth will be revealed and received-

We live in an age where are lies are being told and believed about everything from sexuality and gender to what makes people happy to what exactly is safe and unsafe. Some lies are being told out of evil motives by people who desire to have power over others. Other lies are being perpetrated by deceived people who sincerely believe the lies are truth.   When men and women reject God and what He says is true (Romans 1:18-32) people become inclined to believe lies about every aspect of life. We are currently at a tipping point where more people believe lies than truth. This means Christians must make a daily practice of praying that truth about life, God and current events will be revealed and received by those who have been misled (Ephesians 6:14, John 8:32). 

The church will be ready for God to answer our prayers-

Most Christians I know are praying for revival right now. This is a good thing to pray for. However, we have to understand that revival simply will not come to the world unless the church is ready for it. One of the responsibilities of the church is to make converts into mature disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). An irrefutable law of life is that all creatures produce after their own kind. This is every bit as true in the spiritual realm as it is in the physical (Genesis 1, Matthew 23:15). Weak, unhealthy, self-focused Christians inevitably produce weak, unhealthy, self-focused disciples.   Christians prepare for revival by becoming the people God has called us to. This means casting off sin and seeking to live lives that are one-hundred percent God honoring (Hebrews 12:1). 

These prayers are critical because our world is caught in a spiritual battle the likes of which the world has not seen in centuries (Ephesians 6:10-12). Without focused prayer nothing will change and without change our world is headed for all kinds of disaster. 

Don’t Let Fear Run the Show-

The people, the men of Israel, showed themselves courageous and lined up for battle again in the place where they had lined themselves up on the first day– Judges 20:22 NASB

We live in scary times. 

Seriously.

What with a bizarre pandemic, seemingly endless social chaos, shutdowns, widespread unemployment, riots, censorship and political leaders worldwide taking a more authoritarian stance than at any other time in recent history.  This is a legitimately weird time to be alive and there is much to worry about. Over the course of the past nine months I have felt moments of panic and I have seen more fear in more people than at any time in my life.  Now I know why God tells His people over and over again in His word not to fear, to be courageous and to trust Him in all circumstances (Psalm 27:1). 

There are two truths Christians should understand regarding fear. First, no one in the history of the human race has ever made a really great decision out of fear.  Second, at its root fear is a profoundly spiritual thing. Anytime we allow fear to take root in our lives we immediately stop trusting God. When we stop trusting God we hand power to the enemy and effectively give him authority over us (1st Peter 5:6-8). We then lose our ability to think clearly and logically about issues and we believe any lie the devil wants to tell us. No matter what is actually true we become convinced we are unsafe and inevitably do one of two equally stupid things: we either act swiftly without thinking through all the possible consequences. We then do damage to ourselves and/or others with our impulsive actions. Conversely, we can become paralyzed in a mental maze of what-ifs that leads to inaction. Our lack of decisiveness nearly always creates a chain of events that we have no control over. Fear is especially dangerous for Christians because it affects our ability to communicate effectively with God in prayer (Philippians 4:6, 1st Peter 4:7). This causes Christians to be spiritually ineffective on nearly every level and therefore useless to those who desperately need help, hope and something tangible to hold on to.

 Our current situation is a perfect example of what can happen when fear is given free reign. The most disastrous consequences of the pandemic have not come from the virus itself.  But rather from dumb and impulsive choices leaders have made out of fear. Those same leaders have universally refused to admit their folly and instead pridefully double-downed on their choices. Fear causes non-Christians to panic in the face of circumstances outside of human control.  This can lead people to foolishly hand control of their lives over to human leaders who promise them safety and security in uncertain times.   

Sigh.

More than anything our world needs brave, clear-minded Christians right now. Therefore, any fear we feel must be dealt with quickly, wisely and aggressively. Following are some do’s and don’ts for when we feel fear taking over and threatening to run the show.  

Don’t 

 Ask God to make it go away- 

Asking God to simply make our fear go away never works.  This is because God loves us and He wants us to learn something from everything in this life including scary things like fear.  

Simply accept it as normal-

To some degree fear is normal in a fallen world where real danger exists.  That said, there are plenty of normal things that are neither good nor even kind of okay (sin, hatred, injustice, disease). Fear may be normal but it is never healthy to allow it to control our existence.  We are told eighty-eight times in the Bible to not be afraid or fearful. God would not bother being so repetitive on the subject if He wanted us to accept fear as a routine part of our existence. 

Lean into it-

No one really likes to be afraid or anxious. However, paradoxically fear has a strangely addictive quality to it. If we lean into feelings of fear too often or for too long we get to the place where fear feels normal and almost like an old friend. When this happens, we become weirdly superstitious about our fears and may even secretly believe something bad will happen if we stop being fearful. 

Instead of ignoring our fears, accepting them or leaning into them God wants us to examine our fears when we feel them and: 

Ask God to help us understand what is driving the fear- 

 Some fears are rational. If a crazy guy is holding a gun to your head you have legitimate reason to be afraid.  However, most of the time the thing driving our fear (even legitimate fears that make sense) is a lack of trust in God. When we understand that we understand why God hates fear and why fear is a curse when it’s allowed to run wild in our lives (Deuteronomy 28:58-66).  

Ask God to help us know Him better- 

The key to dealing with fear effectively is knowing God and walking closely with Him. The only way to really know God is to ask Him daily to reveal Himself to us. The better we get to know God the less power fear has over us and the more hope we have to offer the rest of the world.   

What to do When too Much Becomes too Much-


Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test  yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 2nd Corinthians 13:5 NIV 

2020 has been a bumpy year for everyone and it’s not getting any smoother. A contentious election, endless social strife, race riots, job losses, censorship, lockdowns, school closures and the weirdest pandemic in history have made for a season unlike any anyone has ever experienced.  No one has come out of this crazy-town year without a story to tell and few of them are amusing. Lamentably, there’s almost two months left to go before the stupid thing is finally over. God in His sovereignty is the only one who knows what will happen between now and then.  

Sigh. 

Times like the ones we live in take a toll, psychologically, emotionally and financially. All that can affect us spiritually if the tough times drag on for too long (like say ten solid months). It’s not always easy to know when stress has become too much for us and we have stepped over the line into a place of spiritual unhealth. In 2nd Corinthians 13:5 the Apostle Paul encourages Christians to “examine themselves” frequently. Times like ours demand frequent self-checks. Following are five indicators all is not well on a spiritual level. 

Beginning with:  

Prayer is a struggle or worse yet you gave up long ago-

Christians are commanded to pray continually about every issue under the sun (Romans 12:12, 1st Thessalonians 5:17, 1st Timothy 2:1-3). This is not because God needs our prayers. God has no needs (Acts 17:24-25). Christians do need to pray because prayer builds connection with God. Ongoing connection with God transforms how we think, feel and behave over time. Prayer also empowers fallible human beings to see people and events the way God sees those things. Without a regular prayer life spiritual health becomes nothing more than a pipedream. A weak or non-existent prayer life is proof positive a spiritual realignment is needed.   

You have morphed into worst version of yourself-

Everyone has a unique worst version of themselves. Mine is introverted, distrustful, and weirdly obsessed with minor details. Yours might be dramatic, braggy and fixated on personal pleasure. Another person might be critical, unforgiving, and intolerant of differences of opinion when they are at their worst. Someone else might be fearful and closed off to new experiences.  It’s vital we know who we are, and have a firm grasp on what our “normal” looks like. When our normal morphs into something different and less than healthy than our best selves it’s a sure sign we need a spiritual readjustment. Pronto.  

Politics take precedent-

Politics are not trivial. There is little in this life not touched in some way by politics. Furthermore, one facet of being a good Christian is being an involved citizen, which means taking our civic responsibilities seriously, that cannot be done without some understanding of politics. (1st Peter 2:13). That said, earthly kingdoms will all pass away eventually. Politics are strictly an earthly issue.  (Philippians 3:20).  God calls you and I to adopt an eternal perspective and remember it is only what we do in and for the Kingdom of God that truly has an impact. If you find your attention is entirely focused on the political realm God wants you to change your focus. 

You’re afraid all the time-

Fear and anxiety are a little bit like the check engine light in a car. Feelings of fear and anxiety are not the real problem. They are just an indicator there is another problem that needs to be found and addressed. Sometimes Christians get far too focused on the emotions of fear and anxiety and don’t stop to ask God why to reveal to us the real reason those volatile emotions are out of control. Fear and anxiety are almost always a sign there is an area of our lives we haven’t completely surrendered to God. 

Spiritual community is not a priority- 

Spiritual community is mandatory for followers of Jesus (2nd Thessalonians 1:3, Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:25). Christians are called to meet together regularly, care for each other in times of trouble and love one another other deeply and sacrificially. The only way to do those things effectively is in spiritual community. Community is about more than church attendance although church is the place to begin building spiritual community. Spiritual community forms when a group of Jesus followers commit themselves to the good and growth of the rest of the group. There are layers to community. Every Christian should attend a local church. Christians should also have a group of fifteen to thirty Christian friends they routinely fellowship with. Christians also need a smaller group of three to five people we can go deep with and be real with on a regular basis. If any of those layers of community are lacking, there is a problem. 

Any one of the above is a sure sign of spiritual sickness. All have the same simple solution: a shift of priorities to make more time for the things that God says matter most. This might mean disconnecting from 24/7 news or social media for a while. It will likely mean cutting activity to make space for spiritual community. It definitely takes more prayer, more reflection and more repentance. It takes more of what feeds our souls and less of the things that leave us feeling spiritually tired.  

How to Get the Revival the World Needs-

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me– Psalm 51:10 NIV

 Our world is a flaming-hot mess right now.

 This is not a new thing.

 Sin and the messiness sin inevitably creates is as old as the human race (Genesis 1-3). However, it could be argued the world has been in a spiritual and ethical freefall for the better part of a century.

 Hedonism replaced Christianity as the predominant worldview in Western society years ago. As a result, the average person does not know how to think about life from a moral and ethical perspective. Abortion is believed to be a human right by the majority. Marriage is one of many options available for sexual fulfillment and individuals are free to define marriage any way they wish.  Attitudes towards sexuality have changed dramatically in recent years, with pedophilia being the latest in a long list of sexual behaviors that have become normalized, or are quickly becoming normalized. Most children are raised by google and YouTube these days while Moms and Dads blithely chase down self-actualization. Each new generation is more godless than the last. 

 Sigh. 

 The moral and social upheaval has accelerated at an unsettling pace over the last six months. Coronavirus is at least partly to blame. Coronavirus has ravaged the economy of every nation on earth. The psychological distress brought on by economic hardships has shone a spotlight on the social dysfunction festering beneath the surface of society for decades.  COVID-19 has also accelerated the political corruption that already existed. Politicians have used the pandemic as an excuse to grab power and make rules they themselves refuse to follow. Democracy hating revolutionaries have seized on the confusion brought on by the virus and are using underlying racial and economic tensions as an excuse to loot, burn and murder.  These rioters say they want a better, more just society but their real aim is to create a new social order with a godless government.

 The world clearly needs a revival.  

 Our world is in a state of chaos because most people are spiritually dead.  They don’t know God or care about right and wrong. Most individuals do what they want with no regard for God or what will happen to them after they die (Romans 1:18-32, 1st Corinthians 1:18).  Revival is something that occurs in those who do not know God.  When authentic revival takes place, people who are spiritually dead and unresponsive to spiritual truth (non-Christians) have a spiritual awakening and are brought to spiritual life (Ezekiel 37:1-14). When this happens, their heart undergoes a profound change. They fall in love with Jesus, repent of their sins and begin to see life the way God sees life. As their thinking is transformed their behavior is as well (Romans 12:1-2, 2nd Corinthians 3:18) One consequence of widespread revival is that attitudes towards sin undergo a profound change and eventually every part of society is affected in some way.  Historically, anytime genuine revival has taken place alcohol sales go down, divorce rates plummet and crime rates drop dramatically.

 Here’s the thing:

 Revival generally does not occur without renewal first taking place. Renewal is a spiritual work that occurs in the hearts of those who do know God (Psalm 51). Renewal is when God begins to work in the hearts of people who know Him and have drifted from Him and become disobedient or even just apathetic towards spiritual things. Renewal makes our faith fresh and new again. When renewal happens, Christians have a fresh hunger for holiness, a desire for correct doctrine and have a renewed longing to see revival take place in the culture. God always brings renewal before revival because renewal prepares the church to meet the needs of the new believers that come out of revival.  

 The church needs God to renew His people because for the most part, Christians have ceased to care about revival. Instead of praying for a movement of God we have settled for isolating ourselves from the sinful masses. The church has become far too focused on our own needs. This is demonstrated by the fact that most Christians are more worried about having their personal rights respected than in doing what’s right. We tend to see the world in terms of us (Christians) and them (non-Christians) and many of us would likely struggle to come up with one thing we would willingly give up to see someone else saved. Christians rarely pray and when we do pray our prayers tend to be fairly self-motivated, as a result we rarely feel personal conviction and when we do we seldom act on it.  

 Sigh.

 The need for revival is always obvious when its required. The need for renewal is generally much less obvious but more critical because we will not get the first until we get the second. Renewal comes on God’s people when they collectively pray and ask God for it. God moves when His people seek Him with all of their heart, soul and strength (Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 22:37). Renewal occurs when Christians do the things they did when their hearts were on fire for God and when individuals couple right behavior with asking God to give them the right attitude (Revelation 2:5). I believe God wants to bring both revival and renewal to our world but He won’t do it until Christians around the world collectively ask for it.


Like we really mean it.

 

 

 

 

Finding Joy in the Upside-down World of Coronavirus –

 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance– James 1:2-3

 Last week, I was asked how Christians can live a life of authentic joy in the midst of the “new normal”. The person asking was not some unenlightened heathen nub, nor were they looking for an emotional short-cut out of the pain that is the prevailing feeling of 2020. This person is mature enough to know joy is not the same thing as happiness in the sense that it not something we can manufacture within ourselves or acquire from outside activities. They just felt, as so many of us do, that their capacity to experience joy has been challenged by our current political, spiritual, and moral climate.

 I had no words.

 Seriously. I have never faced a global pandemic or race riots or a government power grab or this level of social instability. So, I prayed. Hard. Over the course of the next few days I was overcome with the conviction that we lack joy when we look for it in the wrong places. Joy is not is something that grows out of serene conditions or easy circumstances. Joy grows out of love for God AND acceptance of His will. Whatever that may be. Following are some practices that increase joy if we are willing to make the effort they require.

 First, we must:

Stop being gross-

 A wise woman I know made a casual observation this week about how gross contemporary Christians can be. Her words hit hard. Many Christians are kind of gross, and I am no exception. Some have literally expressed gratitude “for the break from church” in recent months (Hebrews 10:25).  Others shy away from doing anything even remotely hard (Galatians 6:9). Most are guilty of viewing the God of the universe as their own private blessing machine. Too many pray trivial prayers requesting material blessings rather than pleading for moral and spiritual transformation. Then when God does attempt to produce change in our lives we run as fast and hard as we can from the pain that inevitably accompanies growth. We become gross by permitting wrong beliefs about God and the role He is to play in our lives to fester and grow. We become less “gross” and more joyful when we choose to cooperate with God rather than fighting the methods He has chosen to make us better, healthier, more Christlike people (1st Corinthians 3:18, Philippians 4:11-13).

  Learn to welcome the interruptions God ordains-

 About six weeks into the Coronavirus pandemic I had an ugly public meltdown. I have too much personal pride to share the unpleasant details of that event at this time. Needless to say, it was not pretty. As I was sorting through the “why” of my behavior, it dawned on me that more than anything I loathed the interruption coronavirus had brought to my sweet little life (Job 17:11, Psalm 33:10). That insight got me to the place where I accepted that Coronavirus and all the nuttiness that goes with it is just what we get to do right now. I don’t have to like any of it. Nor, do I have to go along with all of it. However, I must accept it if I want to stay sane and experience joy. Interruptions, whether they be an unexpected phone call, an unplanned pregnancy, a cross-country move, or a global pandemic are not really interruptions. They are God’s plan (Psalm 40:10). We have two choices when God’s plan differs from ours: we can lean in and figure out how God wants to change us and use us or we can fight Him (Proverbs 19:21). The first choice yields personal growth, unanticipated blessings and genuine joy. The second brings despair, resentment and stunted spiritual growth. Welcoming interruption does not mean we cannot or should not fight injustice or work for needed change. It does mean our personal happiness can’t depend entirely on having life the way we want it. 

 Pray like you’ve never prayed before-

 Nothing produces joy and emboldens faith like answered prayer. In my experience God loves to answer bold prayers that focus on the spiritual needs of others. There is no shortage of needs in this world we can pray for right now.

 Recapture time and give it to God-

  I borrowed this idea from Mark Sayers, Pastor of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia. He suggests Christians recapture time spent on random activities such as watching television and goofing around on our phones and give that time back to God in the form of prayer and Bible study.  This works because joy grows out of intimacy with God and intimacy grows out of time spent seeking God. This concept became a game changer in my life shortly after my COVID meltdown. I took an hour a day I’d been spending on my phone and began using that time to pray. That hour transformed my attitude, restored joy and undoubtedly saved the world from further ugly meltdowns.    

 Finally, and most critically, Christians must become people who seek to impart hope to others. Hope is what the world most needs right now and it is the thing Christians have to give the world (Romans 5:3-5). When we share the hope of Jesus with others it causes our own joy to grow. In order to be an agent of hope our own hope has to be in the right thing.  If our hope rides on “everything going back to normal” we are hoping for the wrong thing. Furthermore, we will likely be disappointed and we will never become the change agents God intends us to be.

 

 

Strengthening the Church During the COVID-19 Crisis-

But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world- 1st Corinthians 11:31-32

I love the church. 

 When churches work the way God intended the church to work it’s a beautiful thing.  The people love Jesus, truth, the lost and each other. This combination is powerful. It brings peace to chaos, justice to lawlessness, it changes hearts and transforms cultures.  

When churches don’t work they devolve into grace dispensing spiritual social clubs where no one is ever challenged, sin is never called out and nothing of any spiritual significance gets accomplished. Many Churches in the West fall into the social club category. This has left many Christians without spiritual moorings and struggling to execute their primary mission (Matthew 28:18-20). The tragedy of this has been compounded by the fact that our world has been thrust into crisis. People who rarely worry about much of anything are worried about their health, the health of their families, the economy, and what the future is going to look like.

The world needs the church to be the church.  Following our five things every Christian can do to build the church in this time of crisis.  If we all do these things the whole body will be empowered to make a difference right now.  

Worry less about being liked-

Most Christians (including myself sometimes) are scared spitless of being disliked. This fear prevents us from sharing our faith, loving well and calling out sin (Ephesians 4:15).  Early Christians did not expect to be loved by anyone but Jesus. They understood that the Christian life was a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:10-20). This knowledge empowered them to embrace the hardness of Christianity with joy (Romans 14:17). In the process those brave men and women literally changed the world (John 16:33, Hebrews 11:32-37, Revelation 3:7-12). We must boldly and courageously follow their lead.  

 Grow a spine and pick a side-

Politics never saved anyone from anything and to my knowledge Jesus was not a member of any particular political party. That being said, how we think politically reveals a lot about our hearts. Politics all over the world have devolved to a place where Christians must acknowledge that some political opinions are just wrong from a biblical perspective. It is absolutely imperative Christian people get off the fence, pick a side and begin fighting for biblical truth, marriage and the unborn as well as against the gender confusion being pushed on school children all over the western world.      

Love like Jesus loved-  

  Biblical love is not about pumping people up or making them feel good about themselves. Authentic biblical love will fight to the death for the greater good of another person (1st Corinthians 13). This means speaking the truth and calling the people we care about to a higher standard of functioning. Fighting for the greater good of others is messy and sometimes even thankless.  We should love anyway. 

Be truthful about things that matter-

For generations Christians have taught that what one believes about God is not relevant and becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world to do. These are terrible lies. According to Scripture Jesus is the only way to the Father and the road to heaven is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14, John 14:6). To get right with God we must willingly and openly confess our messiness, sinfulness and be totally real with God and ourselves about exactly how screwed-up we are. Once we’ve done that we must repent of our sins, die to self and freely embrace God’s will for our lives (Luke 13:3, John 12:24, Acts 3:19, Romans 6:22). Always speak these truths boldly and lovingly. 

Stop worrying about how things look and worry about how things are- 

We live in an image obsessed culture. Everyone who breathes worries at least a little about what people think of them and how their activities are being perceived by others.  God does not care about our image. God cares about us and how things really are with us.  God cares about our hearts and what we do when we’re alone. He cares about why we do what we do (Matthew 5:8). If we want to please God (all Christians do) then we must worry less about what people think and more about living lives that truly please God (Psalm 7:10). When we do that we have the spiritual power we need to do what we are called to do (Matthew 10:8, Matthew 28:19, Mark 6:12, John 13:24-35)  

Every Christian has access to the wisdom of God and the mind of Christ (1st Corinthians 2:16, Ephesians 2:18, Ephesians 3:12).  It is up to individual Christians to access that wisdom so the church can be the church even in the scariest of times. 

Six Rules (Yes Rules) That Keep Christians From Going Totally Sideways In Life-

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel~ Philippians 1:27 NIV  

I am not really much of a rule-follower, in fact I despise them with every fiber of my being.  

That said, there was brief period early-on in my Christian journey when I had a short but ill-fated love affair with legalism. Needless to say, it was not my finest hour. Over time through Bible study, the guidance of a gentle mentor, and some spiritual growth I concluded that laws are intended for law-breakers (1stTimothy 1:9). It is now my firmly held conviction that if Christians would simply seek godly wisdom, follow biblical principles and do what God tells us to do, there would be little need for extra-biblical rules. 

That being said.

Recently, I was thinking about how one person can be incredibly successful from a spiritual perspective while another person in a similar set of circumstances can go completely sideways in every respect (1stTimothy 1:18-19). As I was thinking through the how and why of all that. I came-up with was a list of attitudes and behaviors that spiritually successful people tend to have (Galatians 5:22-23, Colossians 1:9-11). Then I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with a way to express my thoughts without using the “rules” word, mostly because I know rules are  a hot-button issue in some Christian circles.  Ultimately, I decided it was the only word that really made any sense. Sigh. 

Here they are:

Be teachable-

Being teachable is basically just being open to the notion that we might be wrong about something (doctrine, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors). Being teachable means owning it when we are not doing life well or we need help or guidance from other people. Being teachable is the polar opposite of being prideful. Teachable people ask God on a regular basis to reveal their blind spots and the areas of their lives that need work.  Then they ask for help and seek wisdom. Help and wisdom can come in the form of a wise friend, a Christian counselor, Christian books, a pastor or a spiritual mentor. What matters is that we are willing to humble ourselves and ask for it when we need it. 

Be obedient-

There has been some serious misunderstanding regarding obedience and legalism in recent years. For the better part of the 20thcentury the cultural pendulum in church world swung towards extreme legalism.  Beginning in the 1980’s the pendulum began to swing in the extreme opposite direction which eventually landed us where we are at now (extreme worldliness).  The simplest definition of legalism is the practice of adding manmade rules to straightforward biblical commands. For example: Christians are commanded to avoid sexual immorality (sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, prostitution etc.) Christians are NOT told to abstain from dating or told to only practice courtship or to avoid kissing or dancing. It is legalistic (adding to God’s commands) to prohibit dating, dancing or kissing. However, it is clearly NOT legalistic to tell someone to stop hooking-up with strangers or to stop looking at porn (1st Thessalonians 4:3-8, 1st Timothy 1:10, 1st Corinthians 6:8-10, 1st Corinthians 6:15).

Engage the world around you- 

We only get one shot at this life (Hebrews 9:27). Our time here is so short that the Bible refers to human life as a flower that springs up for a season (1st Peter 1:24, Job 14:1-2). Every season of life tends to be shorter than we think it will be. We all have a limited amount of time to be married, parent our children, love our neighbors, pastor our churches, lead the people around us and impact our corner of the world for Jesus.  It would benefit us all to put down our phones, shut off the T.V. and be a lot more intentional about engaging the world and the people in it. Not only would we have a bigger impact on our world we would probably also enjoy our time here more.  

Recognize and run from unhealthy people and situations-

Sadly, in this fallen world there are individuals and situations that can be detrimental to our spiritual and emotional health. Those folks repeatedly take us to a place where we doubt God, lose faith in our ability to do the things God has called us to do and sometimes they even cause us to sin (Matthew 18:6, Luke 17:1). I am not a big supporter of simply cutting people out of our lives without a really good reason. That said, there are situations where a little or in some cases a lot of distance is just wise.

Become a friend of God-

Believe God is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. Get to know Him on a personal level rather than simply acquiring information about Him and God will consider you His friend and even confide in you (Psalm 25:14, James 2:23).   

 Develop people- 

Jesus spent the vast majority of His time helping people to become better and healthier versions of themselves. He wants us to do the same. Make a point of helping friends, strangers, co-workers and subordinates to become the best version of themselves they can become. In the process you will become an improved version of you. 

Five Truths Every Christian Must Grasp to be Whole, Happy and Spiritually Productive-

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things~ Philippians 4:8 NIV

 I have been “cursed” with a temperament that tends to overthink just about everything. I also veer towards thinking a lot about a lot of different issues. There is literally no end to the number of random thoughts and ideas that flit through my mind in a given day. Regrettably, I do not have a mind like a steel trap. As a result, most of those thoughts and ideas depart as quickly as they appear.

All that being said, occasionally someone will say something that will cause a random thought to take root and I will spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about a subject and that subject makes its way into a blog post. 

Such was the case this past week. 

 We have teenager in our home who states at least six times a day that she “just didn’t think” about something. The things the girl does not think about are things most people think about all the time without even realizing they are thinking about them. Her curiously vexing acknowledgement has gotten me thinking a great deal about the subject of thinking. More specifically, I have been thinking about how what we think about (or don’t think about) shapes who we become and what we do. In the NASB version of the Bible Proverbs 23:7 says that what a man thinks about he eventually becomes and Jesus further expresses the same idea in Mark 7:21 when He states that evil thoughts always precede evil behavior. 

 Very few (if any) Christians are inclined toward the kind of thinking that leads to openly evil behavior. Rather, most Christians tend towards the kind of wrong thinking that leads to misguided or incorrect behavior. The problem with misguided or incorrect behavior committed by Christians is that it almost always leads to a kind of passive evil that hurts people on an eternal level because it is done in the name of religion. The bottom line on this issue is that what Christians choose to think about matters. I came up with five random things I believe we should all think about on a regular basis because if we don’t we suffer and so does everyone else.  

Beginning with:   

People really can change-

The gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ is about far more than simply sidestepping an eternity spent in hell (although that message is definitely in there). The really good news of the gospel is that sinful, dirty, mucked-up human beings can be entirely transformed into new people with new desires and new attitudes when they put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ (Romans 12:2, 2ndCorinthians 3:18, 2ndCorinthians 5:17). When we forget this categorically startling truth it diminishes the churches power to transform the culture because we tend to sideline those Christians we deem less desirable due to their lack of education, past mistakes or upbringing. It also keeps individuals from personally seeking the radical transformation necessary for every Christian to reach their full potential in Jesus. 

God loves people we don’t love just as much as He loves us-

God loves all of us in spite of our idiocy, faults, weaknesses and inability to pull it together and get the job done. That means that God wants the ridiculous, bothersome, entirely not self-aware people in our lives to learn from their mistakes, grow in their relationships and become better people. He might even be using us to orchestrate those things in their lives. Keep this truth at the forefront of your mind next time another Christian starts to bug you.  

 Feelings are mostly wrong-

Recently, a real live human (a Christian) told me with a straight face that if they “felt that something was true their feelings made it true”. I will not lie, it took me a minute to recover my bearings. I am categorically unaccustomed to hearing that kind of bold-faced insanity being spoken aloud. Once I recovered, I quickly pointed out that two people can have opposing feelings about the exact same issue or situation.  When that kind of conflict develops it has to be an agreed upon set of facts that becomes the deciding factor in what is true. If any other standard becomes the norm we will devolve into moral and intellectual chaos.

Politics and religion are not equal-

I have some strong political views, most of them are solidly conservative. I try to base my views on biblical truth rather than my feelings or what our Western culture believes about a particular issue. However, even with those qualifiers my political views are not on the same level as my religious beliefs. We should be very careful about writing off other people based entirely on their political opinions. Rather, we should attempt to persuade those who think differently than we do with reason, grace and biblical truth. 

Mercy is superior to judgment-

 I am a truth person. This reality is demonstrated in the fact that every spiritual gifts’ test I have ever taken I consistently scored lowest on mercy. Every. Single. Time. Even the times I tried to cheat and game the test I still scored dead last on mercy.  I am not proud of this fact but it is a fact. I fought against this fact for years and tried desperately to be softer and squishier than the way God made me. It took me a while to realize that people like me add something necessary to the body of Christ. We keep the feelers from getting excessively feely and the mercy folks from handing out cheap grace like it was fun-size candy on Halloween. That being said, with God mercy always wins out over judgment (James 2:13) and if I want to be like Jesus I have to embrace the grace and mercy He came to give.