Getting Over the Idea That Life Should be Perfect-

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them- 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3 NIV

 This past week some friends took me to see the movie Free Burma Rangers. The movie reminded me of three fundamental truths:

  1.  Life is hard.
  2. God is good even when life is hard.
  3. When life is hard it doesn’t feel like God is good.

 Most Christians eagerly agree with truths one and three. However, many Christians (including me), struggle to fully embrace truth two. Backing-up this belief is an increase in the number of Christians who have turned their backs on God when life got hard or other Christians disappointed them.

 Some who walk away from Christianity are spiritual snowflakes. These are the people who see a rude comment on social media as a form of persecution.  Deep down they tend to believe they are too special to suffer and when life gets a little bit tougher than they are comfortable with they melt under the heat of adversity, get mad at God and get out of the church. Spiritual snowflakes tend to carry their snow-flakiness into other areas of their lives especially into their relationships. These individuals are quick to take offense and get their feelings hurt. They tend to abandon relationships that challenge them in any way.

 However.

 There are also individuals who turned their backs on God after experiencing situations that are legitimately horrific and difficult to explain in the context of God being good. These people have lost a child to a dreadful disease or had a loved-one murdered or lived through horrible abuse or a genocidal massacre. Those in this category all came up against a situation they couldn’t find a reasonable answer for and they simply determined they could not live the Christian life without that answer. So, they turned away from God either in anger or unbelief.

 These two groups are vastly different in nearly every way and I definitely have more compassion for one group than the other. However, both groups share a common problem that has become endemic in Christianity.  

 They lack a theology suffering.  

 Theology is not just for bookworm-y, bowtie-wearing types. Theology is practical and necessary to survive life with our faith intact. Theology explains life and how God uses the stuff of life to accomplish His purposes in our lives.  Every believer in Jesus must have a solid theological grid to view life through; if they don’t they will never be able to effectively explain to themselves and others why they are experiencing the things they are experiencing.  

  One reason Christians lack theology in this area is because life is easier now than it has ever been before in human history.

 Think about it.

 Thanks to the miracles of central heat and air nobody is ever too hot or too cold. Unless, of course, they are freely participating in an activity that demands they be too hot or too cold. Two-hundred-years ago, most people spent the majority of their lives in a state of perpetual discomfort. Today, it is uncommon for people in the Western world to experience hunger unless they are attempting to lose weight. A hundred years ago famine was still a reality for much of the world. Illnesses that once wiped-out large portions of the human population have been controlled or eradicated with drugs, surgery or public health programs. A hundred years ago it was simply accepted fact that few people would see all their children live to adulthood. People in civilized countries do not go to jail for being poor anymore. One-hundred-years ago there was no such thing as bankruptcy. Developed countries had poor houses, which were basically just jails for poor people.

 All this progress is undeniably awesome. However, improved living conditions have raised our expectations for happiness to a level that cannot always be met. Truth-be-told most of us (including me) feel entitled to be comfortable, healthy, happy and entertained all of the time. We tend to get a bit cranky with God when life is anything less than perfectly pleasant.

 A couple of things:

 First, we live in a fallen world that is not fully redeemed (Romans 8:19-22). This simply means that no matter how good humans get at making the world a comfortable place to live we will never be completely free of adversity and tragedy this side of heaven (John 16:33). Secondly, Christians probably experience more difficulty and hardship than non-Christians. This is because God is relentlessly working to conform us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29, 2nd Corinthians 3:18).  This is no easy task and apparently it requires some hardship to get the job done (James 1:2, 1st Peter 1:6-7, Revelation 2:9-10).  Furthermore, life is full of tests (Luke 4:1, 2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Thessalonians 2:4, Hebrews 11:17, James 1:12). God does not test us so He can find out where we are at. He already knows everything there is to know about us. However, God sometimes allows us to be tested so we can figure out where we are at so we can make changes that lead to growth.

 Finally,

 We must change how we view the Christian life. Someday we will dwell in heaven, and there will be no more tears, sickness, longing, pain or evil (Revelation 21:1-7). Life will be perfect and we will be perfect. We aren’t there yet. At this point in the story we are soldiers in a war (Philippians 2:25, 2nd Timothy 2:3-4, Philemon 1:1-2) We are fighting for the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings (Ephesians 6:10-20). Sadly, wars are messy and painful, they demand soldiers not snowflakes.

 

 

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

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

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

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

That being said.

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

Here they are:

Be teachable-

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

Be obedient-

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

Engage the world around you- 

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

Recognize and run from unhealthy people and situations-

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

Become a friend of God-

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

 Develop people- 

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

Seven Practical Things Christians Can Do to Push Back the Darkness-

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed- John 3:20 NIV

I have not been cursed with a ton of vices. 

Drugs, alcohol, and gambling are not enormous temptations for me. Nor am I into video games, binge eating, hoarding, porn or nicotine. I do sometimes use shopping as a stress release. However, I hate credit card debt slightly more than I love shopping so the odds I will morph into a full-blown shopping addict are fairly slim.   

Politics is my vice. 

Much to the chagrin of my far less politically minded husband, I follow political parties the way a gaming addict follows NFL teams and a gambling addict follows the ponies. The Presidential elections are my super bowl and I begin gearing up for them a good two years prior to the actual election. 

 As a history geek I am fascinated by the reality that democracy is a relatively new development in human government, having only existed as we know it for a few hundred years.  In my nerdier moments (there are many) I like to ponder the evolution of politics and government. As a Christian I am intrigued by the fact that in our system the election of a single person often has an enormous impact on the political, economic and moral landscape of our nation, sometimes for decades. 

Unfortunately, I can fall into the trap of thinking that if the right person or group of people get elected the outcome will magically alter the moral landscape of our country permanently.  Recently, I came heard a quote that threw a truth grenade on the folly of my thinking: 

We are not seeing terrible things in our culture because we vote the wrong way. We are seeing terrible things in our culture because men love darkness more than light-Voddie Baucham

It is a sad fact that people love darkness more than they love light (John 3:19). At the heart of every “hot-button” issue we are dealing with as a culture is a powerful battle between right and wrong, light and darkness, good and evil. If hearts are changed political and moral views will change too. Changing hearts is way above any of our pay grades. Changing hearts is God’s job. However, the Bible is clear that individuals do have influence over others and there are things that can be done to push back the darkness.

Beginning with:

Prayer-

No one should talk about prayer or extol the virtues of prayer unless they are taking time out of their day to actually pray (1st Thessalonians 5:17, Matthew 26:41).  Christians should pray because prayer has the power to change things. More importantly prayer changes our attitudes towards people and it makes our hearts soft towards God.  

Get some theology- 

The whole notion of holding tightly to beliefs concerning God, the Bible and life has been scoffed at inside and outside the church in recent years. Some well-known pastors have publicly criticized Christians who place a high value on Bible study.  The Apostle Paul’s proclamation that “knowledge puffs up” has been taken out of context so many times that most people do not realize that the apostle was referring to knowledge concerning a specific issue (idols).  Christians have been told repeatedly that all they need to do to effectively live out their Christian faith is love God and people.  Believing that “love” is all Christians need to communicate Christ effectively is a tragically immature understanding of both Christianity and love (1st Peter 3:15). Our post-Christian world does not define the word love by a biblical standard. Therefore it is impossible to know how to love God or love people without theology as our guide. We should get in the habit of asking ourselves what the Bible says about every issue and then study the Bible to know the answers (2nd Peter 1:3-9, Proverbs 18:15). 

Live right-

Holy or righteous living is one of the most misunderstood issues our time. There are actual church-going people who believe it is legalistic to expect Christians to live by the standards laid out for us in the New Testament. It’s not. Holy living is what gives Christians credibility and the right to speak out concerning the issues of our day (1stCorinthians 1:2, Ephesians 5:3, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, Hebrews 12;14).  

Serve

If we want to push back the darkness it is critical we serve in our local church. Christians should volunteer to do whatever needs to be done at their church and work to make their local church as strong and healthy as possible. It is equally important Christians find creative ways to serve those outside the church. This is done best when we become intentional about getting to know the people in our neighborhoods and workplaces.  

Vote wisely-

I know I already made it clear that I don’t think politics are the answer to our problems. That said, if Christians vote for leaders who openly embrace darkness we should not be surprised when our world suddenly becomes a darker place. 

Don’t be a jerk-

Seriously. There are enough self-righteous blowhards wandering free. The world does not need even one more. Love God. Live the way you are supposed to live, speak the truth boldly but lovingly and don’t worry about what the rest of the world does with the truth. God will deal with the sinners in this world when the time is right (Romans 2:5-6, Hebrews 9:27, Revelations 14:7). 

Don’t waver- 

Learn the Bible. Set shamelessly biblical standards for yourself. Live by those standards and beliefs and do not allow the culture persuade you to do anything else. 

Why Bitterness Feels Good-

I loathe my very life; therefore, I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul~ Job 10:1 NIV

 Bitterness is not a subject we discuss much in church. It should be, because bitterness is an ugly sin everyone struggles with at some point in their lives.

 This is because bitterness is a byproduct of living in a fallen world. All people are sinners (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12-14). Sinners universally have a tough time seeing their own faults and issues. They also have a tough time seeing the effect their faults and issues have on those around them. Because most people, even most redeemed people are really just clueless bumblers. People hurt others, sometimes without even realizing they are doing it. There are evil people who hurt others intentionally simply because they like hurting people, but in my experience those people are fairly rare. Most folks just stumble around blindly, not realizing how much suffering they are generating with their actions.

Sigh

  I have done my time in the pit of bitterness. Thanks to God’s mercy I came out of it with my faith, sanity and love for humanity firmly intact. Through the process of getting free I learned a thing or two about this rather painful subject. Following are four things every Christian should understand about the sin of bitterness:  

 Bitterness feels awesome-

 Most people only become bitter over legitimate hurts or injustices (Luke 17:1). Only a very few excessively sensitive souls become really bitter over stuff that wasn’t a big deal in the first place.  As a result, when we wallow around in bitterness it feels AWESOME, at least at first. Alcohol and bitterness have some things in common. Alcohol is a slow-acting poison. As we drink the poison begins to work we feel euphoric and awesome at first. However, if we drink too much for too long our choice to indulge can end in sickness, liver failure, brain damage and sometimes even death. Bitterness acts on our spirits in much the same way alcohol acts on our bodies. Because bitterness is usually the result of a valid hurt, nursing feelings of bitterness is emotionally satisfying and it feels great at least in the beginning.  However, if we do not get a firm handle on our bitter feelings the choice to indulge them inevitably ends in the spiritual equivalent of acute alcohol poisoning or liver failure. Every analogy breaks down at some point and it is true of this one as well. The biggest difference between alcohol and bitterness is that a little bit of bitterness is never okay and there are no known benefits to bitterness. No one can indulge in a bitter spirit and walk away unscathed because bitterness is far more addictive and damaging than alcohol could ever be.   

 Prevention is the best medicine for bitterness-

 Hebrews 12:15 warns against allowing the sin of bitterness to take root in our lives. The text says: See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. The “see to it” wording of this verse tells us that the writer believed individuals have some personal responsibility when it comes to the sin of bitterness. There are times when circumstances that produce bitter roots appear out of nowhere and we have zero control over whether or not to allow those situations into our lives. There are also times when we simply cannot walk away from people or circumstances that have the potential to make us bitter. When that happens, our spiritual and moral responsibility is to deal with our feelings before God in a healthy way so that bitterness has no opportunity to take root in our lives.  That being said, there are also times in life when we willingly place ourselves in situations, or refuse to walk away from situations that we know from day one will be fertile ground for bitter roots.  Taking responsibility for ourselves in the area of bitterness means being cautious about which situations we allow ourselves to get into and which situations we choose to stay in (Proverbs 6:1-3).   

 Bitterness is a temptation before it is a sin-

 Bitterness is a choice (Ephesians 4:31). Like all choices, bitterness is not something we fall into like helpless chumps. We are tempted long before the sin overtakes us (1stCorinthians 10:13). Wise, mature Christians are emotionally vigilant, they pay attention to their feelings so that they can avoid getting caught-up in something sinful, like bitterness (1stPeter 5:8).

 It is possible to get free of bitterness-

 Getting free from the sin of bitterness begins with recognizing that wallowing around in bitterness is every bit as sinful as whatever situation caused us to become bitter in the first place. In other words, we must confess our own sin. Then we must forgive the person who sinned against us. A key component of forgiving others is trusting God to deal with the person who sinned against us.  Praying for the person who sinned against us can help us let go of the desire for revenge.  Forgiveness is never easy and is typically a process that takes time. To get free we must take our hurt and pain to God until we are free from the hurt, anger and bitterness.  

Why it’s Critical We Get Free of the Past-

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland~ Isaiah 43:18-20 NIV

 Recently I heard a powerful and thought-provoking quote that left me feeling more than a bit navel gaze-y: 

 Always look forward. Remember there are no birds in last year’s nests~ Don Quixote  

  I am not opposed to looking backward as long as it is done for the right reasons. We should remember the events of the past because we’re incapable of learning anything from anything we willfully forget. I also believe the heroic acts of the past ought to be honored in the present; and it pretty much goes without saying that Christians should be mindful of the good things God has done for us in the past (Deuteronomy 32:6-8, 1stChronicles 16:11-13).

 All that being said.

Far too many of us get stuck in the past in all the wrong ways. In doing so we give the past more power than it deserves which inevitably prevents us from accomplishing the tasks God intends for us to do today (Ephesians 2:10). Most of the time there is profound wisdom in leaving the past where it’s at and choosing to get on board with what God is doing right now. There are seven reasons to let go of the old so God can do whatever new things He’s looking to do in our lives:  

 Getting stuck in the past creates bitterness-

Oftentimes we get stuck in the past because we are hurt or angry about something unpleasant that happened there. The sense we were cheated or wronged can lead to bitterness in the present. It’s critical Christians keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in their lives (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness makes Christians utterly and profoundly useless (Hebrews 12:15, Acts 8:23) and no genuine believer in Jesus ever wants to be useless.  The key to getting free from bitterness is to the take time to prayerfully process painful events from the past and then make the choice everyday to live life with our hearts and minds firmly rooted in the present.

 An unhealthy perspective on the past stops spiritual growth in the present-

 Whenever we develop an unhealthy perspective on the past we naturally become neurotically focused on our own personal junk. We become obsessed with our feelings and when we focus heavily on feelings we become blind to our own faults. This leads to blaming others for the things we choose to do. Transformation occurs when we see our faults clearly and ask God to give us the power to change the things that need changing in our lives.

 Living in the past makes us sentimental in all the wrong ways-

 Sentimentality is certainly not a sin. However, it can easily cross the line into sinful territory if we make the object of our sentimentality into an idol we worship. The classic worldly example is the former high school football star who cannot move forward in life because he simply cannot stop pining for his glory days. The timeless church example is the Christian who cannot enjoy church or serve effectively today because he or she cannot stop pining for the way church was once done.   

 Getting stuck in the past makes it impossible to effectively lead others-

 Christians are called to be leaders. Leaders look to the future and take people to places (physically and spiritually) they have never been before. Christians are called to lead others into biblical thinking, righteous living, healthy relationships and most importantly, relationship with Jesus (Colossians 3:16, 2nd Timothy 2:24, Titus 2:7, Hebrews 5:12). Everyone leads someone. Profession, gender and age are irrelevant to the call to lead others into spiritual health and relationship with Jesus. No one in history has ever led anyone forward while looking behind them.   

 Focusing on the past keeps us from being grateful in the present –

 Gratitude is all about noticing things (Colossians 4:2).  Grateful people don’t typically have more than ungrateful people they are just more aware of God and what He is doing for them than ungrateful people are. We are the most grateful when we are living in the moment and choosing to see what God is doing for us right now.   

 We lose our ability to forgive when focus heavily on the past-

 We will never be free do what God is calling us to do in the here and now while we are living in bondage to past hurt (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is hard because it always involves letting go of anger and hurt that in a very real sense we have a “right” to hold on to. Forgiveness rarely happens quickly and without some processing. In order to forgive we need to walk through the hurt and then ask God (sometimes repeatedly) to empower us to let go of the feelings of anger and resentment that are keeping us stuck in past.

 

Living Out the Why of Christmas

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ~ Luke 4:18-19 NIV

A note to my readers:

Okay, so, I am not a big fan of self-promotion.  To be perfectly honest, I loathe it with every fiber of my being. However, I do want to let you all know that I recently wrote a devotional based on the book of Colossians. It’s called Rooted: 29 days in the book of Colossians. It’s available on Amazon in a softcover for only $3.75. It would make a good stocking stuffer. If you have already purchased the book (and you don’t hate it) please consider writing a review. I would really appreciate it!

Rooted Book

Being a Christian and a blogger is tough at Christmastime. 

 At this point in history everyone knows that December is the month the early church chose to celebrate the advent (arrival) of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). If one is both a Christian and a blogger (and I am both of those things) then the season of Christmas is legitimately a very big deal that warrants at least a mention in said blog.

However.

For whatever reason, Christmas in the Western world has become more of a cultural celebration than a spiritual celebration and that makes Christmas tough for me personally as a Christian writer. Do I write a syrupy-sweet post lauding the shallow but still Christian aspects of the season? Or, do I go the more prophetic route and demand in a cantankerous tone that everyone ditch the fun stuff and worship Jesus in spirit and truth sans the materialistic, godless razzle-dazzle? Or, do I simply pretend there’s no such thing as Christmas and continue on with business as usual?  

It’s my annual Christmas conundrum. 

The soul-searching/navel gazing began early this year when I was asked to speak at a Christmas event in early December. As I prepared for the event I did a lot of thinking about Christmas in general and why we celebrate Christmas in particular. Ultimately, I decided that Christians have (for the most part) lost sight of the “why” of Christmas. In the midst of the feverish gift-giving, cookie-baking and decorating many of us have forgotten that Jesus’ first coming was more than just an excuse to make merry. 

It was the biggest game-changer in the history of forever.

 The birth of Jesus paved the way for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection, made it possible for every human who has ever lived to to get free from the penalty of sin (eternity in hell), the fear of death, the prison of idolatry, and the spiritual oppression that began at the fall (Genesis 3). Furthermore, the values of compassion, charity, justice and equality that Jesus brought to earth caused humanity to do some collective soul-searching. As a result, human rights, women’s rights, poverty programs, egalitarianism and the whole concept of religious freedom eventually became things human beings take seriously enough to fight for.  

That is worth celebrating. 

However, too often at Christmastime we get so caught-up in the hullaballoo that surrounds Christmas that we lose our sense of wonder and astonishment at the beauty that lies at the heart of the Christmas story.  We lose something of infinite value anytime we cease to rejoice and wonder at the crazy-truth that the God of the universe willingly left the comfort and majesty of heaven simply so that He could give a bunch of mostly ungrateful, clueless sinners an opportunity to get right with Him. 

Keeping the why of Christmas in mind this time of year is no easy task and no one needs another to-do list this time of year. That said, there are three really basic things we can all do to keep our hearts in the right place at Christmastime:     

Free yourself from the weird bondage that surrounds Christmas-

 Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth was to free humanity from bondage (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5, Luke 4:18, John 8:32). Yet for some inexplicable reason every December millions of people (mostly women) celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior by freely putting themselves into bondage over a bunch of (mostly stupid) stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with God, Jesus, or why we celebrate Christmas. Those things include (but are not limited to) baking billions of cookies, writing newsletters, decorating, gift-giving and unnecessary people-pleasing. None of those things are sinful but neither should they be done out of obligation or in place of the things that help us and other people grow closer to Jesus.    

Read through the book of Luke before Christmas day- 

Weirdly enough, Jesus (the whole point of Christmas), can (and does) get lost in the celebration of Christmas. Reading the book of Luke is a powerful weapon against secularism and spiritual complacency at Christmas.   Luke’s passion for the person of Jesus shines in his writing. He uses words like awe, surprised, marvel, amazed, wondered and astonished almost excessively, sometimes two or three times in a single sentence. As you read through the book take the time to highlight those words. Pray that God will fill you with wonder and amazement as He empowers you to see His hand working in your life and in the lives of the people around you. This tiny act will help you to see Jesus in fresh new way this Christmas. I promise.

Be purposeful about being grateful- 

The materialistic focus of Christmas oftentimes keeps us from being grateful for the things we already have (and most of us have a lot). When we take the time to be thankful for what God has already given us our gratitude serves as a reminder that there is more to life than stuff and more to feeding our souls than getting stuff and we could all use a little bit more of that this season. 

Four More Reasons the Church Isn’t Getting the Job Done

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace~ Acts 20:24 NIV

The evolution of a blog-post can be a chaotic thing for me. 

 This week’s post was originally going to be on parenting.  Then I decided that the issue I was writing about was not primarily a parenting issue. At that point the piece mutated into something far more inclusive. Then early Wednesday morning I came across something on Facebook and all bets were officially off. I immediately felt compelled to write about something entirely different.

 Sigh.

 There are a few things I would like to clarify about the Facebook post I came across. It was posted by a friend who is a decent person but categorically not a Christian. This friend frequently posts things critical of Christianity and occasionally those posts are annoyingly insightful.

 This post was one of those posts.

 I will not share exactly what was posted (it was far too foul). That being said, I will tell you that it was a critique of the church that was undeniably obscene but sadly spot-on. The post reminded me (for the millionth time) that the church is not impacting our culture with the message of Christianity and that we have (at least to some degree) become a sad caricature of ourselves. Here are four (more) reasons we aren’t getting the job done (Matthew 28:18-20).

 Our priorities are a flaming hot-mess-

 I am not a Catholic. However, I do believe that when one segment of Christianity has a problem we all have a problem (1stCorinthians 12:26). The Catholic church has a huge problem that really is a problem for the entire body of Christ.  There is a huge scandal developing in the Catholic church regarding children, sex and gay priests. The sin that has gone on for years in some Catholic churches is simply heartbreaking (on every level). Alas, most evangelical Christians are either apathetic towards the issue or entirely ignorant of the problem. On top of all that most Christians appear to care more about Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem (and a million other idiotic things) than they do about the thousands of kids who were raped by or pressured into sex by their spiritual leaders. Christianity is in a sorry state when the body of Christ gets more worked-up over a deal a football player made with a company that sells shoes than we do about the long-term implications of the countless sex scandals that have plagued Catholic and Evangelical churches in recent years. Christians of all denominations should be praying for justice and should be insisting we deal with the sin in our camp before anyone else gets hurt.

 We have forgotten the point and purpose of church-

 I know this sounds heretical in this day-and-age but I do not believe Church was ever meant to be a place where unbelievers go to get evangelized. Church was intended to be a place where Christians go to learn the Bible and grow in their faith, so they can evangelize their friends, coworkers and family members (Ephesians 4:11-16).  Churches ought to be sensitive to the feelings and needs of non-Christians when planning their services (1stCorinthians 14:22-23). That being said, services should never be planned primarily around the spiritual needs or personal preferences of unbelievers because Church is not really about them.   

 We butcher the Bible to get it say what we want it to say-

 This is the one that could ultimately be the ruin of the modern church. Too many pastors and Bible teachers search the Bible looking for verses to back-up what they think about an issue or want to say rather than going to the Bible and doing the study necessary to find out what it actually says about a given subject. This has created a situation where there is almost a Medieval level of biblical ignorance in some Christian circles. Christians and non-Christians are not really learning what the Bible really says about much of anything. Instead, they are learning the opinions of people and quite frankly we don’t really need to learn each other’s opinions. We need to learn the word (1stPeter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-14).

 We are weirdly infatuated by celebrity-

 Over the course of the last four decades there have been innumerable scandals (mostly over sex) in the Evangelical Christian community among “celebrity” pastors. The Church in America has come to the pathetic place where a guy who can put butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate can get away with almost anything.  Sadly, too many otherwise intelligent people will completely overlook sloppy doctrine, preaching entirely devoid of hard truth and even catastrophic moral failure if it keeps their Churches growing numerically.  Because we have become enamored with superstar pastors many newer Christians have looked to celebrities to be their spiritual examples rather than their pastors or the faithful men and women in their own congregations (1stCorinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, Titus 2:2-4). This has created a state of moral illiteracy in the church that hurts everyone.

 Sadly, we will continue to get more of the same until we come to place where we expect better from our leaders and ourselves.

 

 

What You Can Do to Make the Church Great Again

 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love~ Galatians 5:13 NIV

 The whole concept of the church is a strange one if you think about very deeply at all.

 Most organizations and institutions are founded by, led by and maintained by people who, for the most part, hail from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, have same types of upbringings and live in the same kinds of communities.

 Not so in the church.

 From its inception the church was filled with men and women from every tribe, tongue, education level and social class imaginable (Acts 2:5-12, 1stTimothy 6:2, Galatians 3:28, James 2:1-4, 1stCorinthians 12:13, Revelation 7:9).  The Church was intended from the very beginning to be a place where societal norms are challenged at every turn.

 God designed the church to be a place where serving is favored over being served (Matthew 23:1), where the weak are every bit as cherished as the strong and where each member is working for the good of every other member. Church is where every follower of Jesus regardless of age, race, gender or social position is equal and equally loved by God (Galatians 3:28). 

 All that being said, the distinctive design of the church has created some distinctive problems. For one thing, many people struggle to define exactly what the church is and how it should operate. Our culture (and most Christians) tend to believe that church is a location. A specific place that we go to hear spiritual messages and do spiritual things.

 The Bible depicts the church as a body, a living entity, made up of a whole lot of distinct parts that form a whole (1stCorinthians 12:12-27).  The church is not a building it is people who have been transformed by the power of the gospel and set free from the bondage of sin and death to preach the gospel and do good in this world.  

 Because we ARE the church, churches function best when each person in the church sees themselves as the church. Conversely, churches tend to be the least functional when the people in the church view church as simply a place we go once or twice a week to hear spiritual messages.

 There are at least five things each of us can do to be the church in our day-to-day lives including:

 Deal with bitterness-

 The Bible makes it clear that bitterness is something Christians must avoid at all costs. (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness has a corrupting effect on people making them unfit for Christian service (Acts 8:22-24). Moreover, bitterness has an infectious quality, it spreads like a germ from the bitter person to the people around them (Hebrews 12:15). We deal with bitterness by forgiving the people who have hurt us and letting go of our anger towards them (Colossians 3:13). This not easy, nor is it typically something that happens all at once. Rather, it is usually a process that takes time and prayer to achieve.

 Encourage the right way-

 Over and over again New Testament believers are commanded to encourage one another (2ndCorinthians 13:11, 1stThessalonians 4:18, Hebrews 3:13) Contrary to popular belief an encourager is more than simply a cheerleader who goes around telling people how awesome they are all time.  Encouragers do make an effort to notice and comment on the good they see in other people. However, biblical encouragers understand that encouragement is the act of inspiring others to be the best version of themselves that they can be (1stThessalonians 5:11, Colossians 3:16). Sometimes this means giving generous and heartfelt praise for a job well done. Other times it means gently correcting and admonishing those who are not living up to the potential they have in Jesus (1stThessalonians 5:14).  

 Be more than a doer-

 These days there is a huge emphasis placed on being a doer of the word of God. We are told that authentic love for Jesus is reflected in what we do for other people in Jesus name. For the record, I do not disagree with that view in the slightest. However, the only way we can know for certain if we are really doing what God wants us to do for others is if we know what He says in His word (Psalm 119:05). The only way to know what the word says is to study it.

 Love one another-

  I will not lie. I debated about whether or not to include this one. Not because I don’t think love is important or critical to the health of the church (it is).  Rather, I struggled because I think the definition of love we have adopted in the church is rather milk-toasty and uninspiring. Authentic biblical love does more than help people feel good about where they are at right now. Authentic biblical love loves people where they are (Matthew 5:46) and tells the truth about the consequences of sin (Ephesians 4:17, Acts 17:30).   

  Find a local body and contribute what you can-

You are the church but you also need the church. Find one where the pastor values the word and where the people love each other and get involved. God will be pleased (3rdJohn 1:4), you will grow and the church will become stronger (Romans 12).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Really Good Reasons Not to Legalize Drugs

Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities~ Psalm 107:17 NIV

 Over the course of my lifetime, societal attitudes toward drug use have evolved dramatically. Drug use has gone from something shameful that was done in secret to something many are attempting to normalize and legalize.  I, for one have never been able to get on board the whole legalization bandwagon for a whole variety of reasons that I will hit on later.

  I am well aware that my views on this issue are in the minority (even among some Christians).  It’s important to understand that am not opposed to drug legalization because I’m ignorant of the arguments for legalizing drugs. I understand that there are a variety of people advocating for drug legalization for vastly different reasons.

 Politicians who support drug legalization are (generally speaking) money-grubbing pragmatists. Politicians want to legalize drugs (especially marijuana) because they see drugs as a cash-cow of never-ending tax revenue for state and local governments.

 Libertarians tend to take a more philosophical approach to the issue. They connect drug use to personal freedom and believe that individuals ought to be free to decide for themselves what they do or don’t do with their own bodies.

 Humanitarians favor abolishing drug laws because it would relieve some of the burden on the prison system and remove the stigma associated with drug use. They believe this would make drug use safer, slow the spread of diseases associated with drug use, and make information regarding addiction more widely available to a greater number of people.

 Passionate arguments aside, there are plenty of really good reasons to not to legalize marijuana (and other drugs). The most basic and profound reason being that God designed people for far more than the emptiness that drug use ultimately leads to (John 10:10).

 Some other reasons are:

 A person’s “right” to do stupid stuff with their own body ends the moment the stupid stuff begins to hurt others (1stCorinthians 8:9)-

 I am not, nor have I ever been, a supporter of big government or making laws for the sake of making laws. That said, one truly legitimate function of government is to keep citizens from inflicting harm on one another (Romans 13:4). Contrary to popular belief, drugs harm innocent people all the time.  According to the Department of Justice most crimes (violent and non-violent) are committed by people who tested positive for drugs. Nearly all property crimes are committed by people on drugs so that they can get money to buy more drugs. Taxpayers spend millions financing a foster-care system that has become overburdened by parents who are too high to care for their own children.

 Gateway drugs are a real thing-

 Supporters of legalization tend to scoff at the whole notion of gateway drugs. Nonetheless, I have never known a heroin addict who started with heroin. Nearly all drug users start with marijuana and then move on to harder drugs. Legalizing marijuana allows more people easy access to a drug that will make them increasingly more comfortable experimenting with other drugs. Not every person who smokes pot will progress to harder drugs, but enough do to make marijuana a bad bet for any society that values stability.

 We are creating a disadvantaged class of people due entirely to prenatal drug exposure-

 Roughly fifteen percent of all children are born drug and/or alcohol affected (experts believe the number is much higher). These children are burdened with emotional and intellectual deficits they will never entirely overcome (short of a miracle). I predict that society will reap a bitter harvest when these kids reach adulthood.

 Drug use makes people passive and easy to manipulate-

 I am not normally prone to conspiracy theories and tin-foil hat notions. Nonetheless, it has occurred to me that if a government were looking to create a population of docile, submissive, and easy to control zombies, promoting drug use would be the simplest way to make that happen.

 Drugs have a negative spiritual impact on individuals making it harder to reach them with the gospel-

 I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about life, God or the spiritual world. But I do know that Christians are told to be very careful to avoid drunkenness and to only be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18, 1stCorinthians 5:11, Proverbs 20:9, Proverbs 31:4). I assume this is because a spirit of drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18) dulls our spiritual senses, making it harder to hear the voice of God. It only makes sense that drugs would have the same effect. 

 Drugs hurt kids-

 Our youngest child is not our biological child. She is the daughter of a relative and her story is not unique, there are literally millions of children just like her. Her parents believed passionately that they had the “right” to do whatever they wanted with their own bodies. The exercise of “their rights” robbed a little girl of her rights. Including the right to a childhood without fear, loss and insecurity. I know for a fact that her parents never intended to become addicted, they certainly never intended cause their child hurt or pain. They loved their daughter; but ultimately, addiction caused them to love drugs more.  Drugs do that to people. They rob us of the ability to think clearly and wisely. Then they steal our humanity and decency. Drugs rob us of the most basic of human instincts, including the instinct to protect the most vulnerable among us. 

 Anything that can do that is not a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Five Totally Fixable Reasons Christians Don’t Grow Spiritually-

We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming~ Ephesians 4:14 NIV

 Life is full of peculiar little conundrums, mysteries, enigmas and paradoxes.

It is possible to be overwhelmed with busyness and not accomplish anything of any significance.  We can listen intently and not hear a word the other person is saying. It is even possible to live life without experiencing the joy and fullness of being truly alive (John 5:39-40).

 We can also grow older without actually growing-up. It is not at all uncommon to see children well into their elementary years still throwing temper tantrums like toddlers. Teenagers with the mindset of elementary-age children and young adults, who have never held a paying job.  Immaturity and childishness is not limited to the young. Our society is filled with grown men and women who bully, blame others and lack the ability to manage their most basic impulses.

 A form of immaturity in a class all its own is spiritual immaturity. Spiritually immature people are characterized by a lack of love and concern for others (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Hebrews 10:24). They are also unable distinguish right from wrong (Malachi 3:18, Philippians 1:9-11) and have a tendency to rely on feelings rather than biblical truth for direction (John 8:32). Some indicators a person is spiritual immature are broken relationships, pride, anger, excessive complaining without any desire to problem solve and a tendency to church hop.

 A lack of spiritual maturity will cause a Christian to become morally stunted, selfish and worldly. Ultimately, immaturity is the root cause of “irreconcilable differences” in Christian marriages and spiritual immaturity is what causes Christian friendships to falter and churches to be ineffective.  Christians are responsible for their own growth (Galatians 6:4-5, 1st Peter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-13). We will never grow spiritually unless we commit to doing the following five things:

  Forgive others-   

 Forgiving others is a prerequisite for receiving forgiveness from (Matthew 6:15). It is also the only way to keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness stunts our growth by keeping us so focused on the flaws and shortcomings of others that we just don’t see our own areas of weakness and sin. Allowing bitterness to take root in our lives will steal the mental and spiritual energy we need work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:4)

Become a learner-

 It is God’s will for every Christian to be firmly rooted in the truths of the Bible (Ephesians 5:17, Colossians 2:6-7). Christians only become rooted through a commitment to the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer and regular church attendance. There is simply no reasonable excuse for Christians not reading the Bible, praying and becoming a contributing member of a Bible believing church.

 Repent–  

 At the root of most spiritual immaturity is a sinful behavior or attitude that we love too much to let go of. Sins like gossip, lust, bitterness, addiction to drugs or alcohol, anger and backbiting are a few of the attitudes and behaviors that will keep us from growing-up spiritually. Growth comes naturally when we make a regular practice of self-examination and repentance (1st Corinthians 11:28, 2nd Corinthians 13:5, Matthew 3:8, Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19).

 Serve-

 When Christians serve in their churches and communities a couple of critical objectives get met. Stuff that needs to get done gets done, human needs are met and Jesus looks good as a result. Serving is critically important because it broadens our concern for others and causes us to take our eyes off ourselves. In the process, we begin to see the needs of others more clearly and our desire to be a blessing grows.  When this happens, God is glorified and we grow up.

 Own your junk-

 Because no human being is an island we are all effected to one degree or another by the actions of others. The insensitive, sinful and selfish actions of our parents, friends, total strangers or a spouse can cause emotional and spiritual damage that makes reaching our full potential in life much more challenging. Nonetheless, every individual person is ultimately responsible before God for their own choices (Ezekiel 18:20-25). Blaming a bad childhood, marriage, dating experience, etc. for the choices we make and the sins we commit stunts our spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth. This makes it impossible for God to use us to our full potential. We become spiritually free and mature when we get real with God (and ourselves) about what we’ve done and why we did it.

 Men and women who do the work they need to do become fully mature in Christ have all the power they need to reach their full potential in Christ and change their corner of the world.