The Biggest Liar of Them All

 For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you- Isaiah 41:13 NIV

I love dogs. 

I love dogs so much that I point excitedly at every dog I see and I stop to pet every dog I pass on the street. I love dogs so much that I don’t even care that this behavior makes me look like a lunatic.   All that being said, for most of my life I had some serious questions about people who were insanely devoted to their mean, yappy, horrid little dogs. 

Then we got a mean, yappy, horrid little dog. 

His name was Bruno and he was a pug.  My husband and I decided to we wanted a pug because pugs are not usually aggressive. We wanted a sweet little dog everyone would love.  Unfortunately, Bruno was only sweet to us and very few people loved him. He was slightly larger than a football but he would bark and growl and bully full-grown men into doing whatever he wanted. Mostly what he wanted was for everyone to stay far away me and the rest of our family. When the little jerk got riled up he was so fierce and ferocious that big, burly men would literally run away from him in terror.  But he loved us and we loved him and now I understand why people allow horrid little dogs to live in their homes. 

One day after an exceptionally embarrassing encounter between Bruno and a three-hundred-pound realtor, it occurred to me that Bruno and the emotion of fear had a lot of similarities. 

Bruno was not really capable of hurting anyone. He was short and squat and weighed twenty pounds after a big meal. His teeth were bad and even in his prime they were not really all that sharp. But boy could he act scary.  He had the power to make people believe that he really was going to hurt them. 

Fear should never be dismissed out of hand. There are times when fear can be logical, reasonable and even healthy. The Bible commands us to fear God (Leviticus 25:17, Psalm 96:4, Proverbs 1:7, 1stPeter 2:17). It makes sense to fear crazy people with weapons, stupidity, poisonous snakes and things that kill people. Sometimes fear is even our friend. We have all had those moments when we did something (or didn’t do something) because we suddenly became afraid of doing (or not doing) the thing. Later we learned that if we had done the thing it would have killed us or at the very least ruined our day.  

However,

Those situations are the exceptions. Most of the time fear is just a thief and a liar. There are five things fear will steal from us if we let it and none of them are things any of us can afford to lose:

Our trust in God-

Fear is not usually a “God thing”. The God who commands His people to be strong and courageous would only plant fear in their hearts if there were a really good reason for it. Fear is usually a “Satan thing”. Fear is Satan’s most effective tool. Fear persuades us that God isn’t really good and that He can’t do the things He says He can do. Fear can also convince us we can’t do the things God says we can do (John 14:12). 

The ability to accomplish our mission-

 If a person is drawing breath there is a reason for it.  Every individual has people only they can reach and tasks only they can accomplish. Fear wants us to believe the lie that God cannot empower us to be good enough, smart enough or capable enough to do what God wants us to do.   

Our boundaries- 

Boundaries are the bottom line of what we will and will not allow into our lives. They are like invisible shields that protect us from people and situations that might bring us physical, emotional and spiritual harm.  Good, solid boundaries keep us from sinning and being sinned against and the people who want to lead us into sin. Fear often causes Christians to accept the unacceptable in relationships. Fear of not fitting in, fear of making people mad or fear of not being liked inevitably cause our boundaries to be breached. Anytime we allow our boundaries to be breached misery and sin are sure to follow. 

Our joy-

It is literally impossible to be fearful and joyful at the same time. Anytime we allow fear to run the show we lose our joy, faith and peace of mind.  Fear steals our joy and peace of mind by getting us focused on the “what ifs” of every situation. What if I fail? What if no one likes me? What if the worst happens?

Fear really is like my dog Bruno. 

Fear has no power except what we give it. Fear feels scary and it makes us believe that something horrible will happen if we don’t do what fear is telling us to do. We must remember that feelings are not facts and that faith is the enemy of fear. The more we choose to trust God and believe that He can do what He says He will do the less power fear has over us. 

Satan’s Best Schemes- Racism

The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil- 1stJohn 3:8 NASB

Last week a theological bombshell came out of the Catholic church. In an interview with an Italian magazine Fr. Arturo Sosa stated the following:

 “The devil is not a person,” but is instead “a way of acting evil…It is a way of evil to be present in human life.”  Sosa went on to say, “Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”

Okay, so, Fr. Arturo Sosa, is the Superior General of the Jesuit priests and therefore a very big deal in the Catholic church. His declaration directly contradicts both Catholic doctrine and the Bible.  When I heard of this development, I did what most people do when they hear something they find shocking. I searched google to find out how many other people agree with him. I quickly learned that a whopping eighty-three percent of Catholics and fifty-five percent of Evangelical Protestants agree with Fr. Sosa that Satan is nothing but a figment of fevered imaginations.  

With all due respect to Fr. Sosa and every other Christian who does not believe in the devil. 

You all are wrong. 

Satan is a powerful being created by God. He eventually became filled with pride, turned against God and embraced evil (Isaiah 14:11-13, Luke 10:18).  The words devil and Satan are used interchangeably a total of eighty-two times in the Bible. Most describe the devil and his exploits (Luke 13:16, Mark 4:15, Luke 22:3, John 8:44, 1stThessalonians 2:18). The other passages are mostly just warnings to be on guard against the devil (Ephesians 4:26-28, James 4:7, 1stPeter 5:8).  It would be strange for God to describe something or someone that does not exist. It would be stranger still for God to warn people about something that does not exist. 

Seriously.

Ephesians 6:11-17 depicts Satan as a schemer. Satan is always looking for an opening so he can hurt individuals, ruin relationships, turn people away from God and basically just wreak havoc on the human race.  The Greek word for scheme in Ephesians 6:11 is a compound word.  The first part of the word means “to study” and the second part means to “run over”. What this word tells us about Satan is that he carefully studies people and situations looking for ways to run people over so that he can derail them from God’s purposes for their life. 

We are responsible for our own choices.  No one gets to lay all their bad behavior at the feet of the devil. That being said, Satan’s fingerprints are all over some of the greatest evils of our time. He does his best work when he plants ideas in our minds that appeal to our sinful tendencies and self-centeredness. Unless we are spiritually aware and walking in the Spirit (John 16:13, Galatians 5:16-17) we run with whatever questionable ideas have been planted in our heads. Because there are fewer and fewer people who are consciously choosing to walk in the Spirit, it is easy for Satan to introduce lies that turn people against each other and cripple the work of the church. 

Satan’s most successful schemes are the ones he uses to drive wedges between people, spread deception and destroy the work of the church. 

Racism is one of Satan’s most successful schemes. 

Racism is not new, nor is it strictly an American problem. Although, for the record, American racism has had some exceptionally ugly characteristics that kind of put it in a class of its own. The ancient world was rife with racism although racist attitudes were based less on skin color and more on achievement, political power and military might. Greeks were the pretentious eggheads of the ancient world, they believed they were superior to any race who lacked art or a written language of their own. Romans supposed they were better than any race of people they could conquer militarily.  Jews took their title as God’s chosen people pretty seriously and believed they were the only race God loved. This led them to believe they were superior to everyone. 

Jesus came to change all that. His coming was intended to eliminate racism from the heart of anyone who truly believes in Him. The Bible is clear that Jesus died for everyone and there is no race is superior to any other (Galatians 3:27-29, Colossians 3:11, Ephesians 2:15-17). Sadly, Satan has managed to use pride and human stupidity to convince some people (sometimes even God’s people) that they are somehow better than other people based on the color of their skin or country of origin.  

Well-meaning people have endeavored to eliminate the evils of racism by highlighting any attitude or action that they feel is even vaguely racist. Unfortunately, their definition of racism is so broad that our society has come to a place where literally everything is racist. Satan has cleverly made racism seem less horrible than it really is by calling everything racist. When everything is racist nothing is racist and the real racists get away with truly racist behavior.  

Sigh.

This is a place where Christians can bring much-needed balance to the table.  We do that by loving and respecting everyone regardless of color or nationality and by understanding that there is absolutely no room for racist thinking anywhere in the body of Christ.  

Why We Still Need Church

I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth- 1stTimothy 3:14b-15 NIV

There’s a lot of hating on the church that goes on these days. Just this past week a prominent church leader exchanged the truth of God for a lie and took to Instagram to renounce his faith (Romans 1:25, 2nd Peter 3:17, Matthew 24:12-13). Joshua Harris proceeded to made a point of theatrically apologizing for what the church believes and why it believes it. “Church leaders” are not the only ones who have taken to bashing the church. Many believers make a regular habit of apologizing for what the church has traditionally believed and taught.    

Sigh. 

I am under no illusions regarding the church. The church is made up of people. People (even redeemed people) are always a work in progress. Consequently, any organization that people are a part of will inevitably be flawed. Church people (sometimes even church leaders) have done terrible things and promoted appalling attitudes in the name of the God who would categorially denounce those behaviors and attitudes. 

My understanding of the shortcomings of the church run so deep that I have a sizable collection of blogs under the category of “Church Peeves”. That being said, I have nothing against the church. 

To the contrary, I believe that church is the most critical institution to grace the face of the planet. I do not believe a church must be a mega-multi-site-church to be a legitimate church. There is nothing wrong with small churches or even home churches as long as the church is healthy and the body of believers (who include more than one or two families) is learning, growing and keeping one another accountable. The size and structure of the church doesn’t matter all that much. What really matters is that Christians make a point to be an active part of a local church. Here’s why:

The church is the storehouse of spiritual truth- 

In spite of its flaws, church is intended to be the place sinners go to find their way to God and the place the redeemed go to be strengthened and sustained in their faith journey. Without the church Christianity ultimately devolves into a rickety spiritual DIY project where every person does what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25, Proverbs 19:2, Jeremiah 51:17). Fallible humans need the church to be the arbiter of truth or we tend to go a little nutso. Furthermore, without a firm foundation of truth, we find ourselves powerless to rescue the culture God called us to save. 


Church is where Christian community becomes a reality- 

Truth is critical but if truth were the end-all-be-all of the Christian life Christians could become who and what God intended them to be (Philippians 2:15, 1st Thessalonians 5:23, 1st Peter 2:5) by simply reading a theology book or listening to a sermon online. Instead God designed believers to be part of a greater Christian community (1st Corinthians 12:27). When we dive into a functioning Christian community we learn to love others (John 13:35), control our fleshly urges (Galatians 5:13). We also discover our spiritual gifts and have a place to use them (Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11-13) 

Church is where we find accountability (if we’re real with people)-

Everyone needs someone who loves them enough to call them out. For Christians church is the place we find people who care enough to tell us the truth about our attitudes and direction in life. In order for this to work we have to do more than simply attend Sunday services. We have to be actively involved in the community and prepared to be real with people. This means being humble enough to admit we don’t always have it all together and that we need other people. 

Church is something Jesus told us to do- 

Seriously.  Church was Jesus’ idea. It is nearly impossible to be completely obedient to Jesus without involvement with His body (Matthew 16:18, 1st Corinthians 12:17, Ephesians 4:10-15).  

Church is where our values, attitudes and behaviors are challenged-

There are standards, beliefs and actions that are accepted and celebrated in our culture that are entirely antithetical to the Christian way of life (self-centeredness, sexism, racism, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, contempt, materialism). Christians in a healthy church that teaches truth are reminded on a regular basis that we are commanded to be different from the rest of the world (Romans 12:2, 1st Peter 1:14, Galatians 5:13-26)  

Church is where we learn to love people who aren’t like us-

Christian churches are the only places on earth where human beings of every race, gender and socio-economic class worship together side by side and serve each other out of love.  This naturally creates an environment where we learn to like (and sometimes even love) people who we would never get a chance to meet in any other environment. The diversity of church is a beautiful thing and the essence of New Testament living.   

When the Church dies moral and spiritual truth dies with it-

When that happens moral chaos and human suffering inevitably follows.  

Six Things-

For the ear tests words, as the palate tastes food. Let us choose justice for ourselves;
let us know among ourselves what is good- Job 34:2-3 NKJV

I had an unusual problem this week. I found myself totally at a loss for a decent blog topic. 

Typically, blog topics just kind of come to me. But, for some reason it just didn’t happen this week.  Typically, by Tuesday afternoon I have an idea locked down and ready to go but for some reason I literally had nothing this week. 

Zero. Zilch. Nada.

 So, I did this thing I do on the rare occasions I find myself utterly desperate for thought-provoking writing material. I spent a couple of hours one-night binge-watching some of the popular cable news channels (FOX, CNN, MSNBC). I have found in the past that there is almost always enough crazy stuff being reported on the news to generate at least a blog post or two. 

It worked. 

I learned a lot that night, most of it was more than a bit maddening. I also ended-up with a serious glut of excess material. It turns out there is quite a lot of super outrageous stuff going on in the world.  I do not believe Christians should run or hide from the ugliness and sin in our world. Christians are called to fight darkness rather than flee from it. Because I believe that I decided to share (most) of what I learned. My hope is that you will spend some time in prayer over these issues and looking for ways to engage with our sin-sick world.

The sex industry is being normalized for teens by adults who are smart enough to know better- 

A popular periodical marketed to girls between the ages of 12 and 17 published an article about the importance of destigmatizing and normalizing “sex work” (AKA prostitution). The article was entitled “Sex Work is Real Work”. For the record, no one has to convince me that sex workis real work. Sex work is without a doubt the most grueling, dreadful, dehumanizing, horrific work there is. What I don’t understand is why a magizine that presents itself as pro-girl and pro-woman would write an article that glamourizes the job and might possibly inspire young women to consider a vocation that degrades, marginalizes and damages women solely for the sexual gratification of men. Wasn’t that the sort of thing feminism was supposed to end? 

Drug use is trendy once again-

Recreational drug use became popular in the 1960’s and use rose steadily throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Then drug use plummeted in the early years of the 21stcentury.  For the first time since the 1980’s drug use is rising among 8th, 10thand 12thgraders. When questioned about drug use teens admit that this is due almost entirely to decriminalization and legalization efforts on the state level. Legalization and decriminalization have removed fears of addiction and being saddled with a criminal record. As a result, for the first time in decades teens view drug use as a potential positive rather than an overwhelmingly negative experience. This means that millions more teenagers are voluntarily damaging their brains before they really even get an opportunity to use them.  

City and State leaders are refusing to be honest about homelessness- 

Homelessness is booming (especially in the West). Leaders in cities where homelessness has become an issue refuse to blame the thing those who work with the homeless say is the number one cause of homelessness: drug use. Perhaps it’s because those states are beginning to view taxing drug use as a potential money maker and they don’t want to admit that there is a cost to legalizing drugs and encouraging drug use. 

 HBO has a new program for teens- 

In its first season Euphoriahas showcased hardcore drug use, full frontal nudity, masturbation, endless expressions of nihilism and transgender teenagers having sex with adults. Whoo-hoo. Thanks HBO, we didn’t have nearly enough filth on T.V. 

A small minority of parents are cashing in on their children’s gender confusion-

Apparently, there are parents who dress their kids up as the opposite gender and parading them around for money. I literally have no words and I always have words. Words are my thing. We obviously need revival if these parents aren’t in jail for this.

Powerful words are being abused- 

This is nothing new.  Hardly a week goes by when a lawmaker or newscaster doesn’t call someone a NAZI or refer to the holocaust in an inappropriate manner. But this week Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took it to a new level when she claimed that immigrants who voluntarily turned themselves in at the border hoping to become citizens are being forced to live in “concentration camps”. Sigh.   

A tiny minority is redefining morality-

A particular senator who is hoping to become the President stated emphatically this past week that taking a pro-life position is so outside the mainstream that pro-life people shouldn’t be judges. What? Who gave this woman the “right” to redefine what the mainstream is or isn’t?  

Okay, so, now you have a prayer list for the week. Let’s get to it. 

Some Thoughts on Biden’s Hyde Flip-flop

If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand~ Mark 3:25 NIV

Last week, Joe Biden the democratic favorite for 2020, flipped-flopped like a fish out of water and came out solidly against the Hyde amendment. 

The Hyde amendment became law on September 30th, 1976. The amendment was named for its chief sponsor, Henry J. Hyde. It forbids the use of federal tax dollars to pay for abortions. In the three years prior to Hyde taxpayers footed the bill for an average of 300,000 abortions per year (Google it). 

Until last week Biden held firmly to the conviction that the Hyde amendment was a necessary tool to ensure fairness for both sides. The passing of Hyde still allowed abortion to take place in every state and in nearly every situation imaginable. It also prevented those opposed to abortion from being forced to pay for it. Mr. Biden has repeatedly stated that while he is personally opposed to abortion he does not feel it’s his place to tell others what they should or shouldn’t believe about such a weighty issue. He also believed until last week that those opposed to abortion should not be forced to pay for abortions. Apparently, presidential campaigns have a way of messing with one’s deeply held convictions. 

Sigh.

I get that there are mammoth partisan rifts concerning this issue. It is fair to say that the vast majority of Democrats are in favor of abortion with few if any restrictions while most Republicans are opposed to abortion or are in favor of placing some limitations on the practice. Forty percent (give or take) of the country is firmly opposed to abortion. Forty percent (give or take) is totally for abortion. Then there are the twenty percent (or so) who fall into the mushy middle where they don’t love abortion but don’t want to see it outlawed either.

I believe life begins at conception. I also believe life is a gift from God. I believe that every human being who draws breath (no matter how messy, frail or damaged they may be) bears within them the indelible image of Almighty God.  Because I believe those things I also believe with every fiber of my being that human life is unique and special and should be cherished and protected at every stage. It should come as no surprise that I am a supporter of the Hyde amendment.  

All that being said, the purpose of this piece is not to argue about when life begins, or even whether or not human life should be protected. Nor, am I interested in debating whether or not it is fair to women to outlaw abortion or even if abortion should be outlawed. 

Those are subjects for another day. 

Today, I simply wish to begin a discussion concerning a few scenarios that might possibly come to pass if the Hyde amendment is indeed repealed. 

First:

Our nation will become more sharply divided politically-

Sadly, this is a statement of fact rather than a hazy possibility. The Hyde amendment has permitted a country that is sharply divided over a controversial issue to live together in relative harmony. This has been good for everyone. Forcing pro-life people to pay for a procedure they find morally loathsome will do nothing to bridge our ever-growing political divide.  

The federal government might possibly get into the abortion business- 

 There are a lot of folks wringing their hands about “the lack of access” to abortion in small rural towns. It is not a massive leap of logic to conclude that at least a few of those handwringers would really love to get their hands on some federal tax dollars to open clinics in areas they feel are underserved. That would put the federal government solidly in the abortion business. 

The cost of abortion could skyrocket- 

Anytime the federal government begins financing something the cost of that thing tends to rise steeply. College tuition is a classic example. The price of college tuition has increased steadily as the government has underwrote loans for higher education. According to Business Insider, college tuition rose an average of 260% between 1980 and 2014. There is no reason to believe the same thing wouldn’t happen with abortion if the government were to begin underwriting the cost of it. Admittedly, I have mixed feelings concerning this point. On one hand, I really don’t care how much an abortion costs, unless of course I am paying for it with my tax dollars. Then I care a great deal.  

Minority populations could be further decimated-

One unintended consequence of abortion has been an insidious form of ethnic cleansing in minority communities. African-American pastor and pro-life activist Clenard Childress Jr. warns that if the abortion rate among black women is not reduced swiftly the black vote will become statistically insignificant by 2038 (that’s less than two decades, for the mathematically challenged). Furthermore, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (a pro-abortion think tank) a black woman is five timesmore likely to have an abortion than a white woman. A study done by the Working Poor Families Projectrevealed that working poor families are three times as likely to be headed by a minority parent.  It is reasonable to believe that if abortion were free to poor women there could be increased social and economic pressure placed on low-income minority women to abort. This could mean a tragic end to the diversity and beauty that minority populations bring to the U.S. 

If you do not wish to see the possible consequences of repealing Hyde become reality, please call your state senators and representatives today and go on record as a supporter of the Hyde amendment.  

The Most Misunderstood Word in the Church

We cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well~ 1stThessalonians 2:8 NIV

There is a theory circulating in the academic corners of Christianity that every four to six hundred years God shakes things up and the result is a seismic shift in the way Christians do church. The first shift occurred at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The second transpired when the Eastern and Western Churches parted ways in A.D. 1054. The third occurred on October 31st 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in the sleepy little hamlet of Wittenberg Germany.

 It is being theorized by the wise and learned that the Church is in the middle of one of those seismic shifts right now. Recent political and social changes could have a dramatic impact on the way church is done a hundred years from now.

I am by no means a scholar. However, I do have a keen interest in Church history and a passion for weird theories. I have observed that the aforementioned shifts have also resulted in a net loss and a net gain of something enormously significant to the church. At the council of Nicaea, the Church gained respectability and opportunities for influence but lost its simplicity and doctrinal purity. When Luther posted his theses, the result was that the Church gained a much-needed anchor (biblical truth) but lost its unity, cohesiveness and a good deal of its authority. 

I am concerned that as the church shifts due to technological, social and political changes we have no control over; Christians are in danger of losing some critically important things we do have control over.  One of those things is community. The sense of community the early church experienced was the beacon that drew both gentiles and Jews into a life-changing relationship with Jesus. In a very real sense it was community that fueled the evangelistic fire of the early Church (Acts 2:42-47)

We are losing our sense of community in Christianity partially because Christians have adopted a worldly view of a Christian concept: hospitality. Hospitality is perhaps the most misunderstood concept in the Bible. This is doubtless due to the influence of cable channels like the Food Network and HGTV. Thanks to these networks many have come to believe that hospitality is nothing more or less than preparing tasty food and decorating our homes in an appealing manner. Hospitality is more than all that. Hospitality is the glue that binds community together. There are at least five misunderstandings most Christians have about hospitality 

Hospitality and entertaining are the same thing-

Hospitality and entertaining guests look similar on the surface because one piece of hospitality is entertaining guests in our homes (Acts 16:15). That said, it is possible to have guests in our home on a regular basis and not actually practice biblical hospitality. Hospitality in the Christian sense of the word means caring deeply for the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of other people in an intimate setting (Acts 18:26, Romans 12:13, 3rdJohn 1:8). An intimate setting can be a home, a coffee shop, a church foyer, a street corner or a public park because intimacy is about the emotional and spiritual environment we generate with our presence, not our physical location.

Hospitality is optional-

 Hospitality is a command (Hebrews 13:2, 1stPeter 4:9, 1stJohn 2:3). When we practice true biblical hospitality, we show people that we love them and that they matter to us and to God (Galatians 5:22-23, John 13:34). There is nothing optional about loving and caring about people in church world.  

Hospitality has nothing to do with Evangelism- 

Like it or not hospitality is a form of evangelism. Caring for the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of others is the fertile ground where the seeds of faith take root and grow (Colossians 4:4-5, Galatians 5:14).

I don’t have time for hospitality- 

This is by far the most common reason given for not practicing hospitality and on the surface, it looks and feels legitimate in our culture. People are busy, in most households both the husband and wife work. Kids are frequently involved in extracurricular activities and sports teams. These undertakings can easily eat up much (if not all) of our spare time.  Many feel overwhelmed at the prospect of managing and maintaining close family relationships. Adding more relationships to the mix simply feels like an unreasonable burden.  All of these objections are perfectly defensible if the definition of hospitality is entertaining. However, if the definition of hospitality is caring for the needs of others in an intimate setting (and it is). Then all of a sudden, the reasons we give for not being hospitable sound more like poorly constructed excuses than rock-solid reasons. We are commanded in Scripture to make time to care about people, to listen to their problems and find out what’s going on in their lives. Saying we do not have time to be hospitable we are essentially saying we don’t have time to care.  I openly question the salvation experience of a “Christian” who says that they do not have time to care about the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of others (Matthew 22:39, John 13:34, 1st Thessalonians 2:8, Matthew 25:31-37). If we do not have time to care, it’s time to cut something so we do have time to care. 

Hospitality is something other people should do for me-

 Hospitality is something Christians ought to strive to do for one another (1stPeter 4:9) by providing a listening ear, soft heart and an open door.  When we don’t we are the ones missing out. 

When Life Feels Like Too Much

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me~ 2ndCorinthians 12:9

This past Monday was Memorial Day in the United States. 

 Memorial Day is a day Americans set aside to remember those who freely gave their lives in combat for the good of others. The weightiness of the day got me thinking about heady things like sacrifice, honor, nobility and how for the most part the best things in life are hard. It really doesn’t matter if you’re talking about laying down your life for your country, having a healthy marriage, maintaining your integrity in the workplace, raising a decent kid or going the distance in ministry. The best things in life are universally tough to pull off.  

This insight bummed me out for two reasons. 

First, I REALLY hate doing hard things. Like most sane people I prefer the easy option in virtually every situation. The second reason is more personal. I just happen to be deep in the weeds of a bunch of really tough stuff. There are days when I fear that stuff could be the end of me.  I would really love to dump the hard stuff and do something easy.  

Sigh.

 I get that dumping hard stuff is not really a viable option. I also get that I am not alone, all of us go through something tough at some point. So, I came up with a short list of reasons to never give up on doing good (Galatians 6:9).   

Hardness is inescapable in a fallen world- 

Hardness in life is never an accident of fate, nor is it always a result of bad or sinful choices. Hardness in this world came about as a result of sin (Genesis 3:14-19). Until sin is dealt with once and for all (Revelation 19-21) hard things will simply be an integral part of life on Earth. The whole messy mess is complicated by the reality that Christians have an enemy (1stPeter 5:8, Ephesians 6:11) who has a vested in interest in making life harder for God’s people on account of point four. 

Doing hard things prepares us for harder things- 

I am currently reading through the book of Exodus. In chapter five God sends Moses to Pharaoh for the first time.  Moses tells Pharaoh that God wants Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go so they can worship their God. Pharaoh did not respond the way Moses hoped he would. He scoffed at Moses and increased the workload of the Hebrew people exponentially. The very people Moses was attempting to help turned around and laid the blame for the whole messy muddle squarely at the feet of Moses. By the end of the chapter Moses was clearly bummed-out and was what-the-heck-ing God. He says:  

“Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Exodus 5:22-23

Because I have the advantage of knowing how the story ends, I was struck by the thought that if Moses had realized at that moment that he was actually doing the easiest leadership stuff he was ever going to have to do he probably would have laid down on the floor and cried like a tired child. Moses didn’t know it yet, but the mission in front of him was going to be hard in ways he could not even begin to imagine. Moses was going to need to have an intimate understanding of how to deal with both difficult people and intense disappointment. He would also need to know how to deal with the negative reactions intensely difficult people were going to have to their disappointment. Mercifully, God did not tell Moses that his life was about to get much tougher. Instead God just used the hard thing (dealing with Pharaoh) to prepare Moses for the harder thing (leading the people through the wilderness). God often does the same thing with us. 

God has a special place in His heart for people who do hard things- 

The Christians in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) did the hardest things Christians are ever called to do. They suffered and some even died for their belief in Jesus. God had nothing but positive things to say about them and the sacrifices they made. In the text God tells the Christians in Smyrna that He understands their pain and difficulty and then praises them for standing strong in the face of intense adversity. He gently and lovingly encouraged them to continue to stand strong and be courageous as they waited for the relief that would come in time.  Throughout the Scriptures God exhibits a heart of compassion for those experiencing hard things. God has not changed. 

The hardest things in life typically have the potential to impact eternity in some way-

 Sharing our faith, living honorably, speaking hard truths in a gentle way, raising decent kids, having a healthy marriage, going the distance in ministry and laying down our lives for others are hard things. They suck-up our energy, eat away at our free time, cost us money and try our patience. Sometimes those things feel like they will break us.  However, hard things also grow our faith, give us wisdom, make us better people and have the potential to change someone else’s eternity. Changing eternity for others is a very good thing. 

It really is the best thing.    

How “Help” is Hurting People

Do to others as you would have them do to you~ Luke 6:31 NIV

Albuquerque has a problem. 

The city has become littered with hypodermic needles. Not the clean, shiny needles you get from the needle factory or a doctor’s office but the kind of needles that have been used to shoot heroin. This is an issue because used hypodermic needles are dirty. Used needles oftentimes harbor unpleasant and sometimes even incurable bloodborne diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, syphilis and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). 

Yuck. 

Like many American cities, Albuquerque boasts a “clean needle” exchange program. Needle exchange programs allow intravenous drug users to get a free clean needle anytime they want to inject drugs. Until recently if a drug user wanted to acquire a clean needle in Albuquerque they had to turn in a dirty needle. This policy did nothing to reduce drug use but it did incentivize drug users to dispose of their dirty needles safely.  Thanks to a recent policy change, trading in dirty needles is no longer a thing in Albuquerque. Now if a drug user wants a clean needle all they have to do is ask for one and they get it. No questions asked.   

 The policy change has resulted in dirty needles being left wherever the drug users happened to be when they used their drugs. Ballfields and parks just happen to be popular places for drug users to inject heroin. Despite the valiant efforts of parents and coaches to keep local ballfields needle-free a little girl playing softball was stuck with a dirty needle as she was sliding into home base. Doctors say that it will be at least three months before they know for absolute certain whether or not she is infected with anything. 

Sigh. 

A long list of random thoughts ran through my mind as I was reading this story. The mama-bear in me felt a crushing compassion for the little girl and her family (Romans 12:15). I simply cannot imagine the torment they are experiencing and will continue to experience for three agonizing months. My heart literally aches for them. The analytic, business-minded part of me wondered about liability issues for the city. That side of me suspects the city of Albuquerque may be embroiled in a nasty and potentially very costly lawsuit soon. The vacation organizer in me who is always thinking about new places to visit made a mental note not to vacay anywhere near Albuquerque, New Mexico anytime soon. The fussy, pedantic worrier in me (she’s a bit prone to hysteria) was seriously freaked out by the idea that someone could get stuck with a dirty needle at a ballfield or park. She was reminded once again that walking around barefoot is never a good idea.  

Then the God-follower in me stepped-up and asked a question that no one seems to be asking:

When exactly did our society give-up on actually helping people? 

For the record, I am not a dolt, nor am I the public-health equivalent of a flat-earther. I get the shared benefits of needle exchange programs. I understand that diseases passed by dirty needles are also sexually transmitted. I get that people who are high are not likely to stop and think about practicing “safe sex”. Nor, are they likely to remember or act on the warnings they heard in the abstinence-based sex education class they attended in high school. I understand that needle-exchange programs save lives and prevent diseases. I am one-hundred-percent on board with saving lives and preventing diseases, especially diseases like HIV, Hepatitis C and MRSA. 

That said. 

I can’t help but feel that needle exchange programs (as well-intended and necessary as they may be) are the ultimate in giving-up on people and writing them off as not worth saving or helping. When we offer drug users a clean needle to shoot a substance that will eventually kill them off without also offering some sort of help or hope we are not treating drug users the way we would want to be treated.  This breaks my heart. We have become so callous as a society that we have decided there is an entire segment of the population not worth saving or helping (Romans 15:1, 1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Seriously.  

There’s a lot of talk these days about the very real problem of homelessness. Experts on the subject universally agree that homelessness is nearly always a byproduct of drug use. If a drug problem can be dealt with in a person’s life it becomes much easier to work on the problem of homelessness. Conversely, as long as a person is using drugs their emotional growth halts and no other issues in their life can be dealt with effectively. No has ever actually been helped by mollycoddling the problem of addiction. 

Voters ought to be demanding local governments do more than simply hand out clean needles to drug users. At the very least local municipalities should require drug users to turn in a dirty needle in order to get a clean one This rudimentary requirement serves the purpose of reminding drug users that they are human and as members of the human family they have an obligation to do their part (no matter how small) to be helpful to the rest of society.    

As Christians the growing problem of addiction ought to break our hearts the way it surely breaks God’s. We must never forget that we are called to be the voice of Jesus in our culture and advocates for those without a voice.  It is our holy obligation to fight for those the world has written off as not worth saving. As Christians we should demand a return of anti-drug education in public schools and we must challenge the relaxing of drug laws and the movement towards complete legalization. Most importantly, we need to remember we have something to offer drug users the government can never give. Freedom from addiction and hope for a better future through a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ (Luke 19:10, Acts 16:31). 

Five Things Every Christian Should Think About A Lot

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

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

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

Such was the case this past week. 

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

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

Beginning with:   

People really can change-

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

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

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

 Feelings are mostly wrong-

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

Politics and religion are not equal-

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

Mercy is superior to judgment-

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

Why Saved People Still Need to do Good works

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do~ Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

If you are a Christian and reading this blog-post you can count yourself blessed because God has granted you the privilege of living in the age of Grace.

This simply means that Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection paid the penalty for your sins (Acts 13:38-40, Romans 6:23, 1stPeter 3:18).  You do not have to follow a bunch of rules, preform weird rituals or submit to the Old Testament law to get God to like and accept you (Galatians 2:19-21, Galatians 3:1-6, Galatians 5:6). If you have trusted in the finished work Jesus did on the cross and repented of your sins, when God looks at you He sees the righteousness, virtue and goodness of Jesus and that is more than enough for Him (Romans 10:10, 2ndTimothy 1:9). 

He totally digs you. Happy sigh. 

For the average Christian this is not exactly new news. Contemporary Christians have been inundated with the message that it is grace rather than works that save us from our sins and make us right with God. This is not in and of itself a bad message.  It is critical we remember that good works cannot save anyone from anything (Isaiah 64:6). During the Middle Ages the church lost sight of this vital truth and as a result the church (and the people in it) also lost sight of its purpose in this world. The spiritual and ethical chaos that resulted from this error is still being felt in our world today.

Sigh.

 That being said, humans tend to be creatures of weird extremes. We rarely do, think or believe anything in a halfhearted fashion. As a result, the current emphasis on grace has caused many Christians to view good works as an optional activity for Christians at best and as an affront to the grace of God at worst. Some Bible teachers and Pastors have inadvertently encouraged this flawed thinking by leading people to believe that salvation is an end rather than a beginning. Many Christians sincerely believe there is nothing left for us to do but glory in our salvation and wait for heaven once we have become Christians.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God could not be clearer in His word: we were saved by grace but we were created for the express purpose of doing good works (Ephesians 2:9-10, Matthew 5:16, 1stTimothy 6:18, Hebrews 10:24). Those good works include (among other things) living righteously, building the church (body of Christ), providing for the physical needs of the poor, sharing truth, loving the lost, fighting for fairness in an unfair world and helping Christians and non-Christians who need help. Today I want to make a biblical case for good works. Not so that we can get saved but because we are saved. Christians should do good works because:

Good works reveal who we are- 

In Genesis chapter 24 Abraham sends his most trusted servant to find his son Isaac a wife. The instructions Abraham gave the man were insanely hazy and vague. Mostly, Abraham did not want Isaac’s wife to come from outside of his clan. The servant very wisely prayed that he would find a woman who voluntarily did good deeds (my words) for strangers. He prayed that he would find a woman who would offer him (a complete stranger) water and be willing to water his camels as well (a time-sucking act of kindness that went above and beyond prevailing social expectations). Abraham’s servant understood that our behavior towards others (especially strangers) reveals our inner nature more effectively than words ever could (Matthew 12:35).  When Christians do good deeds for the right reasons (because we love God) it shows the world that there is something different about us and they tend to find that difference intriguing, perplexing and appealing (Matthew 7:18).   

Good works reminds us of who we belong to and what we are all about- 

Anytime we choose to go above and beyond for someone our good deeds also serve as a reminder to us that we are not called to live for ourselves. Rather, we are called to live beyond ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others. 

Good works point people to a good God- 

Human beings are for the most part motivated by selfishness, impure motives and greed. Because humans are self-serving and greedy good deeds that require personal sacrifice are a rare and noteworthy occurrence in our world. When Christians are open about being Christians and they do good things for no other reason than God wants them to do good things, our acts of righteousness inevitably point people to Jesus. 

Good works are a way to say thank you for a gift we could never earn-

It is simply a fact that no quantity of good deeds could ever make up for our innate sinfulness and pride. We needed Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could enjoy the benefits of salvation both now and in eternity. When we choose to do the good deeds God commands us to do (Deuteronomy 5:33, Matthew 25:31-40, Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12, 1stCorinthians 10:24, Galatians 2:10) it is a small way to tell God that we appreciate the sacrifice that was made on our behalf.