Does Truth Matter Anymore?

 

The Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth~ John 1:14 NKJV

 It’s been a long, hot week in the the Pacific Northwest. Most of our region is literally on fire right now and the city I live in is so smoky and gross that our whole house smells like we’ve been barbequing in the basement. The local health department has classified our air quality as “hazardous”.

 The heat, smoke and air quality have left me feeling more than a little unmotivated. As a result I found myself struggling to come up with a topic for this weeks blog-post. Inspiration came early Tuesday morning when I opened Facebook and ran across what I felt at the time was a rather innocuous quote from Bible teacher, Beth Moore…    

 You will watch a generation of Christians—OF CHRISTIANS—set the Bible aside in an attempt to be more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible. This will be, perhaps, the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice truth for love’s sake, you will rise or fall whether you will sacrifice one for the other.

  Beth Moore literally could not to be any more correct on this point. The spiritual tension that exists between biblical truth and the current human definition of love is the greatest theological conundrum of our generation. I am convinced (and have been for a long time) that if the church doesn’t get its proverbial act together and figure out a way to communicate the truth concerning this issue, biblical Christianity will all but vanish with this generation. If that happens, our culture will enter a spiritual and moral dark ages, the likes of which the world has not seen since the dawn of the Christian age.

 It was not the quote that got me spoiling for a smackdown. It was the absurd responses to her quote that I found frustrating.  To my astonishment, most of those who commented disagreed with Beth Moore, some vehemently. All the dissenters called her unloving and accused her of lacking compassion. A few even criticized her for making an idol out of the Bible.

 Seriously. Is that even a thing?

 The comments were a reminder of a reality I frequently bump-up against when I’m interacting with some Christians. Sadly, too many in our generation have twisted love into something that is not found anywhere in the Bible.

 There are two truths we need to acknowledge concerning Jesus, love, and the Bible. First, we simply cannot separate the words of Jesus from the rest of the Bible. In the book of John, Jesus is referred to as The Word. By using that particular designation to describe Jesus, John is making a powerful statement about who Jesus is and how He fits into Scripture.

 John is declaring that Jesus is the personification and expression of the word of God. Jesus was the substance and incarnation of all that had been written in the Old Testament law and all that was to be written in the New Testament letters.

 What that means is that the statements Jesus made in the gospels (the red letters that contemporary Christians get all wound-up about) are no more or less significant than the Old Testament Law and the New Testament letters. Jesus is the perfecter of our faith and the author of all of Scripture. Not just the Scripture we feel comfortable with or those that reflect our current cultural values and sensibilities (Hebrews 12:2, 2nd Timothy 3:16, Luke 24:27).

 Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial requirements of the law and we no longer live in a theocracy, so as 21st century Christians we no longer sacrifice animals to have our sins forgiven (Jesus took care of that for us) or follow the civil laws that were given specifically to the nation of Israel. However, that doesn’t mean that the entire Old Testament should be tossed out because much of the Old Testament FEELS unloving to contemporary readers.

 The second truth we need to understand is that the good news of the gospel is wrapped up in a lot of really bad news. The good news is that God loves people so much that He sacrificed His only son so that we could be forgiven and spend eternity with God (John 3:16).

 The bad news for us is that God is a holy and perfect God who really hates sin. God decided a long time ago what actions were sinful and He has not modified or relaxed His standards on what sin is and is not. The penalty for for sin is awful: eternity in hell forever separated from God and all that is comforting and good. All people are sinners who cannot under any circumstances get right with God and be forgiven unless they are willing to leave their life of sin and follow Jesus wherever he leads (John 8:11, Mark 8:34).

 Those are at least two of the truths we need be honest about as we share the love of God with people. When we don’t tell the whole truth about life and sin and eternity we are really telling a lie that will eventually lead to the spiritual death of those we claim to love.

 There’s nothing loving about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Aren’t Connecting

 All those who had believed were together and had all things in common. They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved~ Acts 2:44a, 46b, and 47 NIV

 Connecting people is a passion of mine.

 I served as a Connections Coordinator for a couple of years. But long before all that, I recognized that the people most likely to stick around a Church or a group in a church were those who felt deeply connected to the people in the church or church group.

 The high school kids who had friends in the Sunday school class I taught were the ones who showed up week after week regardless of what I was teaching. I learned early on that if I could help a woman make a friend in the Bible study I was leading, the chances were pretty good that woman would come back and sometimes she would bring a friend.

 Legitimate research has backed up my observations.

 Research done by Thom Ranier reveals that roughly half (49%) of all people stay in their current church because they have a deep connection to the people in the church. According to some of my own less-than-legitimate research (asking a bunch of nosy questions about why people stayed in or left their church) the number two reason people gave for leaving a church (number one was weak or shady leadership) was lack of connection to people.

 Even the most introverted among us were created to connect with one another. It’s a fundamental part of who we are and a reflection of God’s nature in us. Most adults who convert to Christianity do so within the context of friendship. Many who began attending church looking for friendships have found Jesus in the process.

 Hospitality and developing healthy relationships is a basic and often overlooked aspect of evangelism and we all bear some responsibility for the task. We build healthy groups churches by doing five simple things consistently.

 First:

 Show up-

 Sadly, many of the same people who attend services once or twice a month also grumble about not feeling a sense of belonging in their church. No one in the history of forever has ever grown spiritually, made a friend or become a functioning part of a church body without first committing to consistently attending a church service (Hebrews 10:25).

 Join a small group-

 It can be an adult Sunday school class, weekday Bible study or a small group that meets in a home. Go and do more than show-up. Show-up early, stay late, participate in the discussions and invite people in the group into your home, your heart, and your inner circle. Do your part to make that group into a family and then encourage new people to become a part of the family (1st Corinthians 12:28).

 Be real-

 God only made one you. Being authentic about who you are and what you’ve experienced (without being excessively detailed or graphic) is honoring to God and can be useful (if it’s done right) to those who are struggling on their spiritual journey (2nd Corinthians 1:3-4).

 Don’t judge others for being real-

 Just don’t. Judgment destroys community. Our role as Christians is to encourage, correct, redirect and cheer-lead (Galatians 6:1, Hebrews 3:13, 2nd Timothy 2:24-26). We must leave the judgments to God. He knows more than we ever could. However, it’s equally critical we don’t buy into the lie that correction or redirection is the same thing as judgment. Correcting sinful or spiritually dubious behavior is NOT the same as judging. Correction is biblical AND necessary in a healthy Christian community (James 1:21, James 5:20).

 Use the gifts you have-

 My fondest wish for every Christian on earth would be for them to know and use their gifts to grow their local church (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 12:6-11). Sadly, many Christians have all but stopped serving and churches are dying as a result of our disobedience. Volunteering to teach a class, hosting a group in your home, baking cookies for VBS or serving on the greeting team or in the food pantry is about more than filling a spot. It’s about bonding with other believers, building community and being the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken and hurting world (Matthew 25:44-46).  

 Don’t close your circle-

 Building connections with people is both horribly complex and enormously rewarding. Keeping our hearts open to people and finding creative ways to meet their needs is one of the most significant and basic ways we serve God (1st Peter 4:9). It’s also the only way to build a healthy Christian community.

 

 

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.

 

Can Anyone Ever Really Be Free?

 If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed~ John 8:36 NIV

 Two things:

 First, I have an unwritten but firm rule against criticizing Christians and Christian leaders by name in my blog posts. On the rare occasion I do feel the need to say something critical I generally stick to criticizing positions, actions and ideas, rather than individual people. With one notable exception (that I still feel kind of bad about) I do not believe I have ever criticized another Christian by name in this blog. Personal attacks get clicks and generate Internet traffic but do not help me sleep at night.

 For the record, I am really into sleeping at night.

 Secondly, I am not much of a planner when it comes to writing. My typical “writing schedule” is as follows: The idea fairy comes calling sometime late Monday or early Tuesday. I begin writing on Tuesday (sometimes Wednesday) and do my best to be done by Friday (sometimes it’s more like Saturday). I publish on Sunday night. Because I never really plan ahead, I rarely deviate from this timetable and once I start a blog I nearly always finish it without making major changes to the content.

 I say all that to let you know that this week God changed the plan and I’m breaking my rule (sort of).

 It all started late Wednesday when I read an article that got me so irked I was literally unable to continue with a post I had made significant progress on. The writer of said article is a fairly well known Pastor with a large church that I will not name here (on account of the rule). I will sort of break the rule by giving you the title of the article: Can Christians Eliminate Same-Sex Attraction Feelings?  

 My issue is not with the premise of the article.

 Whether or not Christians can successfully eliminate same-sex feelings is a valid question. A question worthy of theological discussion and a well thought out and prayerful answer. My issue is with the answer the author claims to give to those who are grappling with this painful emotional, spiritual and theological question.

 He leaves them hanging.

 He tells men and women struggling with same-sex attractions that he knows for a fact that they can control their behavior and remain celibate if they really want to (true). However, he makes it clear that he believes feelings are an altogether different animal. He tells them that flat out that it may or may not be possible to change their feelings.  

He ends the article with a flaccid “I don’t know” and “what do you think” addressed to the reader of said article.

 If this guy is telling the truth about what goes on in his counseling sessions (I pray he’s not), then he just owned-up to a heartless form of spiritual malpractice. Leaving a confused and hurting person to decide for him or herself whether or not they have any hope for real and lasting change is at least fifty different kinds of wrong.  

 It’s become a popular play on the Socratic method of teaching for spiritual leaders to ask hard questions in both private and public forums and then not to give answers to those questions. Challenging folks to draw their own conclusions about tough questions is an entertaining exercise that works well with pimply-faced young students in an Intro to Theology class. However, it is clearly not the job of a spiritual leader (Acts 20:28, 1st Peter 5:1-4).

 The job of a spiritual leader is to lead people to the God who brings freedom from the sinful thoughts and feelings that inevitably lead to sinful actions and behaviors (Matthew 5:28). It is the job of a pastor (shepherd) to teach hurting men and women the truths clearly laid out in Scripture and then to walk them through the steps necessary to get free from whatever sinful bondage they have gotten themselves tangled up in (Hebrews 12:1).

 The Bible is clear that freedom from sinful bondage is possible, but not necessarily easy (Romans 6:22-23, Galatians 5:1). There is no tea we can drink or magical formula we can follow to eliminate same-sex attraction or any other sinful desire (sorry).

 Freedom from bondage requires effort on our part. The work begins with repentance (a change in our thinking) but also has to include a change in our behaviors and habits (Philippians 2:12). To be completely free from bondage we must train our hearts and minds to think differently about life and sin so that we eventually start to see things the way God sees things. (2nd Corinthians 10:5, Romans 12:2).

 Christian leaders are called to give confused and hurting people the hope the gospel offers. If they can’t (or won’t) they should get out of the game.

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Purpose of Church

 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us~ 1st Peter 2:12 NIV

 Over the course of the last month, I have heard the same quote repeated three times, by three different speakers in three entirely unconnected settings. It did not take me long to discover that the quote in question came from the book Christianity and The Social Order, written by William Temple (1880-1944), it reads:

 “The Church is the only organization that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.”

 It’s important to note that every speaker citing this quote used it to make a case for the belief that the only real mission of the church is to evangelize the lost. Each one stated (in slightly different ways) that the church exists to reach those outside the church and every activity the church engages in ought to be focused entirely on reaching people who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus.

 Period.  

 This is a bit off-topic, and I’m more than a little reluctant to bring it up at all. Mainly because I know that pointing out the following pesky little detail makes me sound like a smarty-pants-know-it-all jerk-face.

 That said…

 In context the quote had nothing at all to do with with evangelism, reaching the lost, missions, or becoming a mission minded church. In his book Mr. Temple was attempting to make a case for his view that churches and ministers ought to support the implementation of state-sponsored welfare systems. Whatever you believe about state-sponsored social welfare, it is far from an evangelistic enterprise.  

 Now back to the actual point I was attempting to make here.

 Long before I knew anything at all about Mr. Temple’s beliefs or motivations, the quote did not sit well with me (which is super weird because I’m typically all about reaching the lost). Admittedly, I had a hard time putting my finger on why I was struggling to agree with the statement. I agree that the church is not to exist for it’s own selfish gain nor is it to devolve into a spiritual “Club Med” for the redeemed. The New Testament is painfully clear that Christians and the churches they belong to are to be other-focused (Romans 12:5, 1st Corinthians 9:19, Galatians 6:10, Philippians 2:4).

 But does that mean evangelism is the churches only purpose?

 I think not.

 Contrary to popular belief, the church does not have a single purpose or mission. Rather, it has several. Some of those purposes are spiritual in nature (evangelizing the lost, worshiping God, proclaiming Jesus until He returns). Others are more down-to-earth (teaching believers, providing for the poor, widows and orphans, spreading peace, bringing justice to unjust situations). Essentially, every purpose of the Church will fit fairly neatly into one of three categories:

 1. Glorify Jesus (make Him look good)- Romans 15:6, Romans 15:9, 1st Peter 2:12

 2. Encourage the spiritual growth of Christians- Ephesians 4:11-14, Colossians 1:9-11, 1st Peter 2:2, 2nd Peter 3:18

 3. Reach the un-churched with the gospel- Matthew 28:18-20, 2nd Timothy 4:1-3, Romans 10:13-15

 Our inclination to rank the significance of tasks or purposes is a big part of what’s killing the church. Anytime we begin ordering the significance of a set of tasks or purposes, a priority list is formed in our own mind and something always gets pushed to the bottom of the list.

 In the case of the 21st century church, the priorities of glorifying Jesus and developing spiritually mature believers have taken a backseat to reaching the lost. Somewhere along the line we got it in our heads that teaching a saved person what the Bible says about how to live a holy life is somehow less vital than getting that person saved in the first place. The sad result of our prioritization of the purposes of the church is that fewer people are getting saved, and the ones who do are more likely to fall away.

 I do not believe that any one of the above listed purposes of the church are any more or less important than any of the others. However, I did list them in a particular order because I believe we never effectively evangelize the lost if we are not equipping Christians for works of service (Ephesians 4:10-12) and glorifying Jesus by living holy, God honoring lives.

 Period.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

My Wishlist for the Church In 2017

 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ~ Philippians 1:9-10 NIV

I have a rather sketchy relationship with New Year’s resolutions.

 I love the whole notion of New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, I tend to struggle with the follow-thru required to actually bring my dreams of self-betterment to fruition.

 It all starts out fairly well.

 Like most folks I typically I find myself feeling a bit pudgy and sluggish between Christmas and News Years. It’s the sad but predictable outcome of too many Christmas cookies and not enough time on the treadmill in the weeks leading up to the holidays. So logically my goals for the coming year begin with a strategy for weight loss and reaching a level of physical fitness I have never achieved before (a doubtful endeavor at my age and stage of life, but you can’t fault a woman for hoping).

 Next, because I like to consider myself a spiritually minded individual, I normally include a resolution to study and pray more. I also typically resolve to read at least a couple of books written by people who are smarter and more spiritual than I am. I also always include some sort of strategy to better myself in a tangible way (i.e. become a better wife, mother, writer, speaker, leader, friend etc.)

 To my credit, I tend to do better at the stuff that actually matters (spiritual discipline, self-improvement, prayer) than I do at weight loss and achieving physical fitness goals. The only time I can remember losing a significant amount of weight in the month of January was the year my daughter was born. She was born in January, so losing fifteen pounds wasn’t exactly an earth-shattering achievement

 My biggest grievance with New Years resolutions is that most years my resolve vanishes around the same time the Valentines candy shows up on store shelves. Therefore, this year I am taking a new approach. Rather than simply resolving to make some superficial changes in my life, I have decided to choose a few issues and make them a focus of prayer throughout the year.

 Some of the things I intend to pray about are personal; others are more global, most are both. Many of my prayers for this coming year will be focused on the church and what I hope God does in the lives of His people (me included) this coming year.

 Without question, my number one yearning for Christians is that we will do what needs to be done to make the main thing the main thing once again. From God’s perspective the main thing is for people who don’t know Jesus to come to know Jesus and repent of their sins (Acts 4:12, 1st Timothy 2:3-4, John 3:16).

 Sadly, evangelism ceased to be the main thing in most of our churches long ago. Making unsaved people feel loved, welcome and utterly un-judged has taken a backseat to getting those people saved and walking in truth (Matthew 28:19-20). I pray this is the year we do the soul searching and hard work necessary to make evangelism a priority in the life of the Church once again.

 My hope is that this is the year we will gain a deeper understanding of the complexity and depth of Christian love. Love is our highest calling as Christians (1st John 4:7, 1st Corinthians 13) no one with even a shallow acquaintance with Scripture would bother arguing against that point. However, Christian love is more complicated than simply being nice to sinful people.

 Jesus was the nicest, kindest person who ever lived. However, niceness did not prevent Him from informing sinners they would go to hell if they refused to repent of their sins (Matthew 4:17, Luke 13:2-3, John 8:11) and kindness didn’t stop Him from calling out hypocrisy and pretense when He encountered it (Matthew 23). I’m thinking it’s time for the pendulum to swing back and for the church to preach all aspects of the gospel consistently once again.

 My prayer is that followers of Jesus will do the hard things that need to be done so we can grow into the people God has called us to be and reach the people God has called us to reach. If we do that, 2017 will be the year we truly impact our lost and hurting world for Jesus Christ.

 Happy New Year! 

 

 

 

 

When God Calls You to Love a Jerk

To you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you~ Luke 6:27-28 NIV

 Pretty much every Christian I know (myself included) likes to pontificate endlessly on the topic of love.

 Why on earth wouldn’t we?

 In a world that is increasingly more hostile towards Christians and their faith, love is one of the few doctrines left that everyone likes discussing. Sin, judgment, obedience and hell are sensitive, uncomfortable, sticky-wicket kinds of issues that are all-but certain to offend pretty much everyone. However, no one can quarrel with the whole notion of loving people.

 That said, even a hasty analysis of the comments section of any news article or blog piece posted on the Internet clues us in to the fact that although most people love the idea of love, and we adore quoting scriptures concerning the importance of loving people, we struggle mightily with the implementation of loving people.

 The Christian standard of love is outrageously high and almost impossible to achieve, mostly because some people are jerks and God calls us to love them anyway. Scripture commands we love people who do not love us back and those who openly despise us. We are also instructed to love people who make fun of what we believe, insult our intelligence and tell lies about us (Romans 12:9-21).

 This is quite obviously easier said than done.

 There is no question that loving people (even nice people) is a concept that is far less painful to achieve in theory than in practice. That said, it’s easier to love a person when there is relationship in place or an emotional bond that has already been established.

 Showing love to a wayward child or a spouse with a less than pleasant disposition is somehow much easier than trying to muster up some emotional warmth or caring for a heartless, egomaniacal boss or an intellectually pretentious brother-in-law/college professor/auntie/co-worker. The one who cannot seem to stop themselves from insinuating that the only possible motivations anyone could possibly have for voting for a particular political party would be racism, homophobia or a criminal level of stupidity. It’s even harder to muster grace (let alone love) for the media personality who is constantly undermining decency and openly supporting actions and attitudes wholeheartedly contrary to God’s way of doing things.

 Sigh.    

 Thankfully, authentic Christian love is more about making a choice than manufacturing a feeling. We can choose to behave in a loving way towards people we don’t particularly like. In the process we might actually change hearts and minds in a way that hateful and nasty rhetoric or sidelong glances never will.

 Loving jerks needs to begin with some honest self-examination. Sometimes we are the innocent victims of jerks and other times we are the ones acting like a jerk. Even Christians are capable of less than Christian behavior from time-to-time, especially when someone is intentionally pushing our buttons. Any time we feel offended or hurt, it’s a good time to prayerfully evaluate our own actions and attitudes to see if we are doing anything that is contributing to the problem.

 Nothing about honest self-examination is pleasant or easy, however it is necessary if we want to grow and mature spiritually.

 Sigh.

 If after some soul-searching we discover we are indeed part of the problem, then we need to repent. Repentance is all about changing how we think about the person who has hurt us. Instead of focusing on the things we don’t like we need to look for positive qualities. We also need to cease any hurtful actions on our part such as gossip, ugly or passive-aggressive comments, and writing rude things about the person on the Internet. Genuine repentance always includes praying for the person who wronged us.

 Praying for the person who offended or wronged us really does make any repenting on our part that needs to be done easier and less painful, and prayer actually has the capacity to change the heart of the other person.

 Bonus.

 Then God calls us to the truly hard thing, blessing those who curse us and actually doing good to those who have wronged us. Doing good is about more than an absence of malice. It’s about thinking through to what Jesus would do to the person and then doing it.

 Love is an action.

 

Why We Should Stop Telling People to ask Jesus into Their Hearts

When He (Jesus) had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me~ Mark 8:34 NKJV

 Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time will tell you in a state of wide-eyed wonder that evangelical Christianity has changed significantly over the course of the last three decades or so.

 Some changes have been positive and healthy. Changes in attitudes have righted some legitimate wrongs that were shockingly common in some Christian circles, especially in the arena of legalism.

 I have an older Christian friend who told me that when she was growing-up her family had an actual LIST of things she and her siblings were told they could not do if they wanted to be followers of Jesus.

 Among other things THE LIST included: skipping church for any reason other than serious illness, playing card games (because go-fish and Uno are gateway sins that the devil exploits to lay the foundation for future gambling addictions) attending movies of any kind, wearing make-up, going to the beach (because of swimsuits) and of course wearing pants (because she was a girl). Her Pastor also taught that it was possible to lose ones salvation for owning a television, smoking cigarettes or attending a school dance.

 Sigh.

 Thank heaven most of us have chosen to part ways with the pharisaical judgment of the past, and leave it in the past where it belongs.

 However, Christian’s today are far less devoted to their faith than our more judgmental forerunners were. Christians today are far less likely to attend weekly services, honor their marriage vows, observe scriptural commands regarding sexuality, read the Bible consistently (or at all), pray and serve in their local congregations.

 Sigh.

 It would be foolish to argue that the problems vexing the Church are somehow less threatening to Christianity than the sins of the past. The current crop of problems the church is dealing with may be different from the problems of the past, but that does not make them any less hazardous to the health of the average Christian.

 Theories abound as to how exactly we got into this mess. There are some who blame inadequate teaching from the pulpit. Others attribute the problems on an absence of church discipline. Many blame invading secularism and the acceptance of worldly entertainment in the Church.

 Oddly enough, there are even some who believe that it was the demise of legalism that created the problems the Church is now wrestling with.

 No I am not kidding.

 Some individuals actually believe that legalism (strict adherence to manmade rules) made Christians more aware of their own behavior and fearful of the judgment of others. Thus legalism protected the church from the sinful excesses currently devastating the body of Christ.

 Clearly, some theories have greater merit than others.

 However, in my estimation they all miss the mark. The real problem is not with legalism per se. In this case legalism is simply a symptom of a much bigger problem. The real problem lies with how we view the Christian life. If we view the Christian life as a list of rules to be kept then we will eventually devolve into a pool of legalistic goo and destroy the beauty and spirit of grace that makes the Christian life a life worth living.

 Conversely, if we view the Christian life as simply “asking Jesus into our heart” then we will inevitably come to see our relationship with Jesus as something we get to do on our own terms. The Christian life becomes something we do for our own pleasure and to meet our own needs. God becomes the servant and we become the master. He becomes a tool that we use to get what we think we need out of life. If God fails to meet our needs on our terms we leave Him on the margins of our lives or abandon Him all together and go off in search of something that will satisfy us on our terms.    

 The answer is not a return to legalism or even simply ridding our lives of bad entertainment and wrong thinking (although that idea is not completely without merit). The answer is to rethink how we view the Christian life. Christianity is not about asking Jesus into our hearts just so we have assurance of salvation.

 Christianity is about following Jesus wherever He leads and obeying His commands, whatever the cost.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens When we Insist on “Finding our Own Way”

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths~ Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

 

Like most human beings I have my fair share of quirks.

 There is only one brand of socks I will put on my feet. I avoid freeway driving whenever possible. I obsessively track all things news related and possess an almost unnatural affection for the color orange. But perhaps my quirkiest quirk is the love-hate relationship I have with GPS.

 I freely concede there are countless reasons to love GPS.

 GPS can be used by anyone with the brainpower roughly equivalent to that of a chimp from any civilized locale on earth. It operates at all hours of the day and night and will direct even the most navigationally challenged person anywhere they wish to go. The voice guiding the driver never sounds surly, irritable or critical, no matter how many times the computer is forced to recalculate due to the stupidity, stubbornness or inattention of the driver.

 However.

 I secretly view dependency on GPS as a form of weakness. A weakness that is essentially equivalent to that of a Twinkie or video game addiction. I live in a mid-size city that is laid out fairly well and believe I should be able to find my way without a machine telling me what to do. I am above being bossed around by a computer chip.

 The sad result of this (clearly) faulty worldview is that I typically waste a great deal of time before I pull over, confer with SIRI and get headed in the right direction.

 Sigh.

 Just last week I found myself in a parking lot programming the GPS on my phone after ten minutes of meandering in an unfamiliar area of town. As I merged back into traffic it struck me that anytime we insist on willfully leaning on our own wisdom, intellect, or sense of direction we run the risk of looking and behaving like fools.

 Our culture has been busily proving this point for the better part of a century.

 Children educated through our taxpayer funded school system have been taught they are nothing more than pointless blobs of protoplasm and the result of millions of years of happenstance. The same system has done its level best to convince our kids that morality and religion are nothing more than the archaic consequence of millions of years of evolution and human futility. Like fools, we throw our hands up in baffled outrage when the children force-fed this worldview behave exactly like the animals they have been told they are.

 Years ago it was decided that the best sex is “value-free” and “responsibility-free” and the only human life worth defending is life that is “planned” or “wanted”. Many have ridiculed, mocked and even feared the whole notion of growing-up and taking responsibility. Now we can’t understand why more folks aren’t settling down, getting married and having children or taking better care of the kids they do have. Like fools we wonder why so many grown people are stuck at an adolescent level of maturity.

 Decades back society concluded that integrity and decency were unnecessary character qualities in elected officials. Getting the job done and keeping the economy rolling along were the only priorities anyone really cared about. Today the current crop of political candidates is for the most part, a group of people who would have been considered unfit for any office just a few years ago. The government is permanently gridlocked and the economy is stuck in second gear. And we shake our heads in dismay at the corruption, ineptitude, and double-dealing that has become systemic in politics.

 “Society” is not entirely to blame for the mess we find ourselves in. Many Christians have done their best to rewrite the guidelines God laid down. We have lifted the prohibition on divorce, relaxed our views on fornication and adultery, and turned church attendance into a strictly optional activity. Church discipline is no longer tolerated and morality is no longer a fixed set of standards established on the unchanging character of an unchanging God. Morality is now a messy muddle based entirely on our feelings at the moment and the situation we find ourselves in.

 We have to stop trying to find our way without God.

 Christians cannot nor should they attempt to control what non-Christian people do. However, I am convinced we can lead the culture back to a more biblical way of thinking and behaving. In this case, leadership begins with repentance and repentance begins with a complete turn around in our thinking about how we educate our kids, think about sex, choose our leaders, demonstrate our obedience to God and do church.

 Anything else is just leaning on our own understanding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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