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.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lies We Believe about Words

Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing. Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed~ Proverbs 12:18-19 NLT

 Words.

 There is certainly no scarcity of the little trouble-makers in our modern age. We are literally inundated with all kinds of words. I was recently reminded that the words we speak really do make a difference. Most of the words floating around today fall into one of two classifications:

 Life giving and soul sucking:

Life giving words are instructive, helpful and motivating. They are literally like honey to the soul (Proverbs 16:24). They build others up rather than tearing them down. Life giving words remind people in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways that we are the image-bearers of God and that our existence matters to Him. A life-giving word from a friend is sometimes all it takes to begin the process of healing a hurt or restoring a wandering soul. Life giving words make people feel cared for and confident about the role they play in this world. Life-giving words motivate us to become better versions of ourselves and propel us to accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible.

 Conversely, soul-sucking words tear others down and crush the life out of people (Proverbs 12:18). Soul-sucking words can be either cruel and insensitive or deceptive and misleading. Cruel and insensitive words are spoken selfishly with little thought to how they will affect the hearer. Alas, cruel and insensitive words are sometimes the words that stick with us the longest and make the most impact on how we see ourselves. Insults, name-calling, cursing and general cattiness all fall neatly into the category of soul-sucking speech.

 Deceptive words are by definition tougher to spot; they can come in the form of outright lies, twisting truth, gossip and backstabbing. Deceptive words sometimes sound legitimately wholesome and innocuous, at least on the surface. Sometimes they even come across as wise and life giving. However, because any wisdom embedded in this type of speech is worldly (false). Deceptive words eventually lead all involved down a path of destruction.

 Christians typically place a high value on words, and for a myriad of really good reasons. God has quite a lot to say on the subject. The Bible contains hundreds of verses instructing God’s people on the correct and incorrect use of words.

 Nonetheless.

 There are some serious errors floating around Christian circles concerning the right and wrong use of words.

 Many believers have bought into some erroneous and rather absurd beliefs where speech is concerned. This flawed thinking is quickly becoming embedded in much of our Christian culture. Many are being deceived, discipleship has become compromised and, in some cases, our ability to share the gospel and communicate truth to the world has been diminished.

 The first lie says that in order for a message or word to be life giving the words communicated must be “nice”, “encouraging” or “uplifting” to the hearer or reader. Those who have bought into this lie reject out of hand any message or statement that causes the hearer of said statement to feel guilty or uncomfortable about anything at all.

 If we assume this ridiculous notion to be true then logically Christians need to get busy throwing out huge chunks of the Bible. This would include most of the Prophets, many of the Proverbs and vast portions of New Testament books. This would include parts of the Gospels, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd Timothy, Jude and Revelation based on the fact that these books contain warnings that are far from “nice” ‘encouraging” and/or “uplifting” (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:43-47, 1st Corinthians 6:9, Ephesians 5:5, Hebrews 6:4-6, 2nd Peter 2:4). 

The second lie is essentially the converse of the first lie, that it is somehow more “authentic” or “real” to say what needs to be said in the bluntest and in some cases rudest way possible. Those who have bought into this drivel confuse political correctness with respect and believe that the only honest speech is raw speech. In my experience “raw speech” or “honest speech” is frequently just a thin cover for intentionally aggressive and cruel speech.

 Truth lies somewhere in the middle and, as always, there is wisdom in striving for balance. Ephesians 4:15 is the gold standard of instruction concerning Christian speech, it instructs Christians to tell people the truth about their choices (truth can be unpleasant and hard to hear) in a loving way (which is incredibly tough to do) and that those two things are how we help people to grow into Christian maturity and the image of Jesus Christ.

Where We Went Wrong With the Millennial Generation

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things~ 1st Corinthians 13:11 NKJV

 Over the last dozen or so years a countless number of articles and blog posts have been written on the subject of the Millennial generation and their well-documented indifference towards organized religion in general and Christianity in particular.

 Most writers focus almost entirely on solving the immediate spiritual crisis. Concerned parties want to reach the eighty percent who have wandered from the faith, before the entire generation is irrevocably lost to secularism, humanism, and atheism. I truly care about reaching the millennial generation on a spiritual level. However, I believe its every bit as imperative we understand how we got into this mess in first place.

 History is always critically important.

 Unless we know where we went wrong in a particular area we will be doomed to repeat the same stupid mistake until we die. Sadly, a countless number of blunders were made with the millennial generation. Parents, schools and churches all carry a share of the blame.

It all began with how my generation was raised.

Few in my generation were ever told we were special or smart when we were kids. This was true even when we did things that were genuinely special or smart. We were seldom permitted to voice our opinions or encouraged to share our thoughts. It was NEVER okay to contradict an adult. So when we became parents we did what Americans do when they encounter a wrong.

 We overcompensated.

 We told our kids a hundred times a day that they were smarter, more special and better informed than any children in the history of forever. If they pooped we threw a party, complete with M&M’s and party hats. If they shared an opinion, we celebrated that opinion no matter how irrational or poorly thought-out it happened to be. We insisted every kid get a trophy and made certain no child ever felt less than AWESOME about his or her academic or athletic abilities, regardless of actual ability.

 Educators were quick to focus on feelings rather than facts and hop on to the self-esteem bandwagon. Discipline went out of fashion and subjects like history were taught from an extremely one-sided perspective. Kids were rarely expected to examine both sides of an issue nor were they taught to judge historical figures actions and attitudes in the context of the time period they lived in. Absurd viewpoints were rarely, if ever challenged in academic settings.

 Churches and youth ministries focused on having fun, forming relationships and making kids feel good about themselves. Learning the Bible was dropped in favor of “service projects” and “doing life together”. The whole notion of sin was marginalized. Youth ministries focused on transforming children not yet out of puberty, including some who exhibited no indications of salvation into “leaders” who would “reach their generation for Jesus”. Do not judge, lest you be judged (Matthew 7:1) was the one Bible verse every high school student memorized.

 The end result of this collective madness has been devastating to our culture.

 Many millennials never let go of childish ideas about life and reality. It’s appallingly common for grown people to think that feelings are more important than facts and that if you believe something to be true then it must be. Many become anxious and overwrought when a flaw is pointed out in their thinking or when a viewpoint that differs from their own is presented. That is why we now have “safe spaces” on college campuses and in workplaces, to shield people from words or ideas that make them uncomfortable.

 Sigh.  

 The most tragic consequences of our folly have manifested themselves in the realm of the spiritual. Many millennials believe that if a Bible verse FEELS wrong to them then the Bible got it wrong on that subject. Because teenagers were placed in positions of spiritual leadership long before they were actually converted, acquired any wisdom or knew much of anything about the Bible; many are prideful and will not tolerate correction, even when the correction comes directly out of the Bible.

 Sadly, that is the root reason many millennials have left the church to “work out their own spiritual experience”. They simply cannot tolerate the fact that there is a higher authority than them, be it God or the Bible.

 We must change the way we look at life, God, parenting, and the nature of reality. It’s time to put away childish thoughts about such things and think like adults, this is especially true for Christians.

 It is time to acknowledge some basic truths: facts are more important than feelings, believing something does not make it true and only children shield themselves from ideas that challenge their thinking or hurt their feelings. While we’re at it we need to get back to the understanding that God is real and due to His position as Creator and Sustainer of all things He really does have a fundamental right to tell us what to do.

 Before it’s too late.

Getting God Back in America

 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart~ Jeremiah 29:13 ESV

 It’s been a decade of progress and change. Sadly, much of the progress has gone in the wrong direction and the changes have been mostly bad.

 Civility and respect have all but vanished. Policymakers routinely go to war over everything and anything, and yet somehow seem incapable of solving even the most rudimentary of problems. Regard for rule of law and those who enforce the law is rapidly declining. The murder of police officers has doubled in twelve short months.

 To our everlasting shame as a nation, many black citizens feel the need to affirm the obvious fact that their lives really do matter. Just as appalling, some of those same folks become outraged at the notion that all lives really should matter equally.

 Bakers, photographers, florists and other professionals are routinely sued and sometimes even criminally prosecuted simply for declining to participate in ceremonies they don’t wish to celebrate.

 Nearly half (forty percent) of the children born in 2016 will be born to unmarried women. The news that divorce rates have declined in recent years is a blessing; sadly, few experts believe it’s because commitment has made an abrupt comeback. Rather, fewer couples are getting married, opting instead to live together.

 Being born with a particular set of “parts” is now considered entirely irrelevant to the notion of being born male or female. Gender is now entirely relative to how one feels when they wake-up in the morning.

 To Christians, all this “progress” is simply heartbreaking. Most of us never even imagined that such behaviors and attitudes would become so widely accepted. For most of us, our natural response is to long for a time when respect for life, marriage, God and the law were the prevailing standard in our society.

 We want to get God back in America.

 How to accomplish this objective is a matter of vigorous debate.

 Some think that if we simply do stuff the way it used be done those changes will transform our society back into a saner version of itself. Those who long for the good old days believe that if we return prayer and corporal punishment to public schools, kids will be better behaved and more God-fearing. Conversely, some folks sincerely believe that if hymnbooks, dress codes and Sunday school classes were to make a return to the church scene, churches would become as healthy and fruitful as they were when those things were customary.

 Others believe that the right political leader can and will bring God or at least godly values back to America and life will settle back into something that looks and feels a little less scary and hopeless. They believe that if laws change to reflect a more conservative way of thinking, hearts will eventually follow.

 Both views are fatally flawed.

 Changing actions or laws only changes people and institutions if the changes were prompted by inner transformation or, as we used to say, “heart change”. We could have the best laws and leaders in the world and no one will follow either one if their hearts are unrepentant and bent towards evil.

 I would love nothing more than to have a President who would stop actively supporting evil and undercutting virtue. That said, I also recognize that one person can only do so much. Unless of course that person is Jesus Christ and sadly He isn’t running for President this year.

 It’s not what we do or who our human leadership is that transforms our society or determines how much God we have in America.

 You and I decide how much God we have in America.

 The New Testament teaches that God occupies the hearts of people who have come to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ (Acts 7:48). If Christians (myself included) do not feel good about the level of morality, integrity or appropriate behavior we see in our communities or country. It’s time to look inward at our own spiritual lives and attitudes rather than at the world and their wickedness.

 We will never have more God in America (or anywhere else) than we have God in the hearts of individual believers. We get more God inside of our hearts when we live in closer relationship to Him and when we love people unconditionally. We will get more God in America when we ruthlessly eradicate sin from our lives, seek to become more obedient to His instructions, and when we make a daily effort to know Him better through the study of His word.

 When Christians everywhere make those pursuits their number one priority, we will have more God than we can handle in America.

 Powerful political and social change will follow our obedience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

They come intent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They mock kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; by building earthen ramps they capture them~ Habakkuk 1:9-10 NIV

 Last Sunday morning I woke to the sad but not terribly shocking news that there was yet another terror-attack on American soil. This time forty-nine people were killed in an Orlando, Florida nightclub.

 There are no words for the sorrow I feel for those who lost someone they love in this senseless tragedy. My heart breaks for the family and friends of the victims who will undoubtedly continue to experience fallout from this tragedy for years to come. I pray that each one will find the peace that only Jesus can bring in the midst of their pain and loss.

 I watch a lot of news.

 So far this week I have heard analysts and legislators on both sides of the aisle blame the attack in Florida on guns, politics in the Middle East, homophobia, the sorry state of our mental healthcare system, loose gun laws, the shooter’s Dad, the internet for “radicalizing the shooter”, sexual repression, morality in America and the sin of “Islamaphobia”.

 Whatever that means.

On and on it goes.

 Sadly, everyone is working so hard to find an excuse for the inexcusable that nobody is asking the one question that really needs to be asked. What is the one common denominator nearly all extremists and their sympathizers share in common? No one asks, because truth-be-told no one wants to discuss the elephant in the room.

 Islam

 Every time a terrorist attack occurs anywhere in the world every ignoramus with access to a microphone or a keyboard rushes in to say “Islam is religion of peace”, and that a few bad apples have hijacked an otherwise wonderful religion. The implications are clear, anyone who dares to disagree with the notion that Islam is a peaceful religion is a racist hater. It has become a highly effective tool for shutting down the conversation.

 But is it true?

 Is Islam a religion of peace? It seems to me that it would be more accurate to say that Islam is religion of violence that has been hijacked by a whole lot of peaceful people who wish to transform Islam into something it is not- at the very core of it’s teaching.

 I do not hate Muslim people. Nor do I believe that the vast majority of Muslims are violent individuals. However, I have come to believe that the religion of Islam is a profoundly violent and tyrannical belief system that seeks to control and dominate every individual on this planet.

 Sharia is the heart and soul of Islam. The word Sharia means “way’ or “path” and is the body of law that flows out of the Quran. Sharia directs every facet of public life for Muslims and much of their private lives. The vast majority (two-thirds) of the worlds 1.6 billion Muslims believe that Sharia law ought to be the law of the land EVERYWHERE.

 Sharia teaches:

 The penalty for rejecting Islam is death~ Quran 9:29-31

Husbands are to beat disobedient wives~ Quran 4:34

Muslims are commanded to terrorize non-Muslims~ Quran 8:60

Men are superior to women and meant to rule over them~ Quran 4:34

Murdering innocents is a valid form of inspiring terror~ Quran 9:14, Quran 9:5

The penalty for homosexuality is death~ Quran 7:80-84

Torture is demanded for apostasy, adultery, and refusal to convert and during times of war~ Quran 24:2, Quran 22:19-22, Quran 9:73, Quran 5:33, Quran 8:12

 The worldview that develops as a result of Sharia translates into a living nightmare for non-Muslim’s residing in Muslim countries. Even in so-called “moderate” Muslim countries such as Pakistan “blasphemy” laws ensure that no non-Muslim has authentic freedom of speech, assembly or worship. Nor are non-Muslims ever really free from the threat of imprisonment, torture or death.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are responsible for the murders of at least two hundred Christians (including children) since 1994. Remember, Pakistan is a “moderate” Muslim country; their government is extraordinarily progressive in their treatment of non-Muslims compared to, say, Iran or Iraq.

 As Christians we should not fear or shun Muslims, nor should we ignore the reality of they believe or buy the lie that Islam is a religion of peace, because it’s not.

 Every Christian ought to be educating themselves on the basics of Islamic doctrine, so that we can effectively pray for the salvation of Muslim people. Muslim men and women need to know the love and spiritual freedom that only Jesus Christ can offer them. It’s our responsibility as believers in Jesus to reach them with that truth.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Is Being Nice Really What Jesus Would Do?

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all people everywhere should repent~ Acts 17:30 NASB

 My daughter has joined a gym. Her fitness goals are commendable and realistic.  She wants to gain muscle, increase her endurance and best-case scenario: drop a few pounds.

 Last night she confessed she’s run into a bit of a glitch in reaching her goals. The problem lies less with her than with the gym she belongs to. The staff is pleasant, but hands off when it comes to assisting clients.

 The staff does not help with technique or correct the wrong use of machines. There are no scales anywhere in the building. There is an enormous dish of candy at the front desk and the gym serves pizza on Fridays. If a client wishes to munch on a jelly donut while running on the treadmill, the management is perfectly fine with that. They do ask that you wipe the goo off the machine once your workout is completed.

 The goal of this organization is a noble one. The want to create a safe place for out of shape people to get into shape, without even a hint of disapproval or judgment from anyone.

 As always the only hitch is the curse of unintended consequences.  

 The employees are so wary of causing offense that the clients are not getting the help they need to make the changes they want to make. This is a legitimate problem when you consider that any gym anywhere in the world would assert that their sole purpose for existing is to help out of shape folks lose weight and get into shape.

 Her tale of woe reminded me of a blog post I read this week.

 I read quite a few blogs in a given week. Every once in a while I come across one that sticks with me and causes me to think on a deeper level.

 This was one of those.

 The writer (a Christian) shared that one afternoon while she and her husband were out shopping, they ran into a guy she had attended youth group with when she was a teenager. Except the guy wasn’t a guy anymore. He was a girl.

 Awkward.

 The writer handled herself with composure considering the delicate nature of the situation. She did not cast judgment, give disapproving looks or hurl Bible verses at him. Nor did she inform him he was headed straight for hell.

 She went out of her way to make friendly conversation and set him at ease. She asked about his family and inquired about what he had been up to in recent years. She introduced her husband, shared some of her own story, gave him a couple of big hugs and went on with her day.

 It was a nice exchange and frankly it’s probably what I would have done given the same set of circumstances. So, please don’t accuse me of judging her or anyone else, because I’m not. That said, as I pondered her story I was overcome with a deep sense of spiritual conviction and left wondering:

 Is being nice enough?

 Being nice or “showing love” to sinners is bandied about as the latest and greatest in “being like Jesus” and “loving the unsaved”. But again, I wonder is it enough? And is it really and truly “being like Jesus”?

 I am not questioning whether or not Christians ought to be kind, respectful and compassionate towards all people, including those people with obviously sinful lifestyles. Jesus was and I believe being kind is a given. If you are a Christ-follower and do not routinely treat all people with respect, you have a serious sin problem called pride and you should deal with it.

Today.

 That being said, I do wonder if simply “showing love” to people who are obviously stuck in a sin spiral is doing more harm than good from an eternal perspective. I’m not proposing we stop being nice. I am proposing we stop helping sinners to feel safe in their lost state. Our compassion and acts of kindness need to be followed up with loving, but truthful conversations about the eternal consequences of choosing a lifestyle of sin over a heart of repentance. We forget that Jesus (arguably the nicest guy ever) made it uncomfortably clear on more than one occasion that an unrepentant sinner is anything but “safe” from a spiritual standpoint (Matthew 4:17, Luke 5:32, Mark 9:47).

 I fear that we have we have traded the hard work of evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) for the path of least resistance: being pleasant and inoffensive. In the process we have become a lot like my daughter’s gym. We are safe and welcoming to sinners, but nothing significant ever really happens and no one ever changes anything that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Church Must Do to Win Back the Millennial Generation

May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors~ 1st Kings 8:58

  Monday morning just as I was preparing to leave Facebook and go do something productive with my life, a question popped-up on my newsfeed that I almost ignored. It was a religious question and I tend to avoid getting involved with religious questions on social media. The questions are typically stupid and the people asking seldom ask out of pure motives. As a result those questions tend to veer into debates that devolve into quarrels that inevitably end with me searching frantically for a legal outlet for my rage.

 However, this was a very good question. I knew the answer and someone I like asked it in a respectful and sincere manner. So, I fired off a hasty response assuming that would be the end of it. Rather, it was the beginning of a one of the more thought-provoking conversations I have had in a long time. One question led to another and then a few of the original questioner’s friends (all millennials) chimed in with related questions and thoughts. A plethora of differing opinions were shared but the entire discussion remained very courteous and civil.

 I emerged from cyberspace ninety minutes later, drained, but armed with what I believe are some answers to a question that has been plaguing the modern Church for the better part of a decade.

 Why are millennials leaving the church?

 For years Church leaders have suspected that too many rules and a focus on doctrinal issues have bored and offended millennials, causing them to seek answers elsewhere. After my discussion with a half dozen or so random millennials this past week I am beginning to suspect our assumptions are at least partially incorrect.

 The millennials I interacted with do not seem to have an issue with the notion of God having rules. In fact I got the sense that most of these millennials believe that IF there happens to be a God (most are still very much undecided) then it would only make sense that He would have at least a few rules for His people to follow.

 They do have questions about which rules ought to be followed (Old Testament? New Testament? Both?). And they want some sensible explanations as to why the rules matter. It’s clear that most millennials are not blind followers; they want to know the why of everything before they buy into anything. It’s also clear that they do have an issue with the lack of consistency they see in the lives of Christians and the lack of uniformity they see across denominations. More than one individual stated that it looked to them as if individual Christians just decide for themselves which rules they want to follow depending on the situation.

 They also seemed to feel that most Christians were very quick to apply rules regarding sexual behavior to others (homosexuals) but not so quick to apply rules regarding divorce and other forms of sexual sin (adultery, pornography) to themselves and other Church members. They seemed to be genuinely baffled and repelled by the hypocrisy of those double standards. As a result, they have a tough time reconciling the actions of Christians with the teachings of the New Testament.

 Those millennials who grew up in Christian homes appeared to be unfamiliar with what most would consider basic Christian teachings and doctrine (sin, Jesus, forgiveness, repentance, the Old Testament, etc.). One mentioned later in a private message that they stopped attending Church because they never really learned anything there. They also expressed frustration because no one would answer questions regarding what they saw as discrepancies between science and the Bible. Rather they were encouraged “to just believe”.

 The Christian community is on the threshold of losing a large portion of an entire generation. It’s possible to get them back, but it will require extraordinary effort from all of us. First, we need to restructure our thinking and let go of the absurd post-modern notion that no one really cares about doctrine or apologetics anymore. We also need to help our youth understand they “why” behind God’s directives. Intellectual laziness and “just believe” twaddle will not fly with a generation accustomed to getting their questions answered in seconds via Google.

 Continued intellectual development is imperative but it will only take us so far. Revival and spiritual renewal is crucial but will only come through a movement of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in situations where God’s people are seeking to be obedient to God all the time, not pretending to be better than they really are in an effort to impress others while still hanging on to sin. It is time for God’s people to pursue true holiness—not the weird, superficial legalism we see in some circles. When we do those things, millennials will return.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Wake Up

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.   ~ Ephesians 1:18 NLT

 For as long as I can recall, I have loved the idea of New Years resolutions. I made my first one when I was eight years old. I scribbled it out in crayon and resolved to sweet-talk my parents into getting me a dog of my very own. As I matured, my yearly resolutions gradually became a bit more refined but no less self-centered. For the most part I focused on losing weight, meeting personal goals, making money, and other self-improvement schemes.

 I became a Christian as a young adult and over time my New Years resolutions evolved more into prayers I would commit to praying for the year. Some of those prayers/resolutions were and still are rather self-absorbed, but most centered on becoming a better, godlier person rather than just a skinnier, more attractive person.

 As 2015 makes its debut, I have committed to pray for and resolved to work on some personal and family issues this coming year. I have also committed to praying for the Church this year. In this context, “Church” refers to the people throughout the world who profess Christ as Lord.

 I feel led to pray for the Church because, well, frankly I am profoundly concerned for the Church and and have been for a very long time. I fear that the body of Christ has gone off course and is in danger of losing its way. So for my first post of 2015 I will share the top six prayers/hopes I have for God’s people this coming year.

 I pray that we would all:

 Know our value-

 Scripture and experience have persuaded me that every Christian has boundless potential for impacting their little corner of the world for good. You are valuable enough for Christ to die for you. We are so cherished that Jesus is continuously interceding for each one of us (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25). That makes us all far too significant to waste our time chasing pointless pastimes, getting stuck in patterns of sin or exerting energy harboring bitterness and resentment.

 Do something hard-

 Hard things include, but are not limited to, helping those who have life-controlling issues, loving the unlovable, adopting orphans, offering help to the hurting, and just generally functioning as salt and light in our broken-down, busted-up world. Hard things are seldom attempted, because hard things are by their very nature time-consuming, emotionally risky and expensive. Hard things are also the only things that have the potential to transform the lives of people. When we work to transform the lives of people we make this world a better place and bring God’s Kingdom a little closer to Earth.

 Stop being afraid to make people squirm every once in a while-

 The New Testament repeatedly links repentance or a change in behavior with saving faith and spiritual growth (Luke 24:7, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:30-31, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, 2nd Timothy 2:24-26). Preaching and teaching on repentance has been replaced with upbeat messages aimed at boosting self-esteem and soothing consciences rather than awakening them. I am not advocating an all-out return to hellfire-and-brimstone preaching; nevertheless I do think it’s high time we stopped being so fearful of making people feel bad.

 Repair something-

 Every Christian should be a reconciler and rebuilder (2nd Corinthians 5:18-19). Think of all that could change if enough of us got serious about reconciling broken relationships and rebuilding broken systems in our communities.

 Pray more-

 Prayer isn’t about getting God to see things our way or do what we want. Prayer is about being enabled to see things God’s way and empowered to do what God wants done. We could certainly use a little more of all that. Getting it will require a commitment to pray more.

 Restore shame-

 Physiologists have sold society a flimflam job. As a result, many Christians have bought into the ludicrous notion that shame is always a sign of some sort of psychological issue or problem. The Bible teaches that shame is a natural consequence of bad behavior. I am aggressively campaigning for a return of shame because without sit no one will ever feel the urge to adjust course or repent of their sin.

 I love the New Year because it is a time to reflect on where we are, who we are becoming and what we are accomplishing with our time and resources. I am praying that this is the year Christians awaken to our value in Christ, pray zealously, speak the truth openly and lovingly, embrace hard things, rebuild broken things and endeavor to be the Church rather than simply attend Church.