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

 Okay, so, I am a little more familiar with the sin of bitterness than I or anyone else probably ought to be. I actually consider myself to be something of an expert on the topic.

 Sigh.

 Bitterness is not a subject that gets discussed much in church-y circles. It should be, because my experiences are not all that unique or special. Bitterness is one of those ugly little sins no one wants to own-up to but that we all struggle with at some point in our lives.

 Bitterness is simply a foul 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 or the effect their faults and issues have on those around them. Because most sinners (even redeemed sinners) are really just clueless bumblers, sinners hurt a lot of people in a lot of really weird ways, sometimes without even realizing they are hurting people. It is true that 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 (and bitterness) they are generating with their actions.

  I have done my time in the pit of bitterness. Thanks to God’s grace 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. In one sense we end up feeling bitter because we have a “right” to feel bitter.  As a result, when we choose to wallow around in bitterness it feels awesome, at least at first. Alcohol and bitterness have some similarities. Alcohol is essentially a slow-acting poison. As the poison begins to work we feel euphoric and awesome. However, if we drink too much for too long the choice to indulge can end in 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. Nonetheless, at some point, if we do not get a firm handle on our attitude the choice to indulgence inevitably ends in the spiritual equivalent of acute alcohol poisoning or liver failure. All analogies break 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” phraseology 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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking Free From the Sin That Threatens Us All

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more~ Psalm 71:20-21 NIV

 Sin is a strange thing.

 There are sins that (thankfully) seem to be unique to a few (seriously creepy) individuals. We might joke about murder. However, few of us actually kill people.  Even fewer people joke about cannibalism, human sacrifice or most of the sins listed in Leviticus chapter twenty. Thankfully even fewer people commit those sins (if they do I choose to remain blissfully ignorant). 

 Then there are the other sins.

 Those irksome, run-of-the-mill sins that sprout-up like weeds in a garden. The sins we all (no matter how good we appear to be on the outside) struggle with at some point in our lives (1stCorinthians 10:13). There is simply no one in all of human history who has not grappled with lust, inappropriate anger, jealousy, hatred, selfish ambition and the inclination to gossip (Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6).

 Bitterness is another one of those sins. Scripture clearly instructs Christians to avoid becoming bitter and remaining bitter (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). That being said, most of us (if we’re honest) will admit to giving into the sin of bitterness at some point.  

Truth-be-told, few people become bitter without reason. This reality can lead bitter people to feeling justified and even extraordinarily righteous as they wallow around in the anger and resentment that inevitably leads to bitterness.  Regrettably, I am well-acquainted with the sin of bitterness. I learned first-hand over the course of several miserable and painfully unproductive years that bitterness is one of those sins that hurts us far more than it hurts the people who have sinned against us.

 It is critical we understand that God does not forbid bitterness because it is never defensible, logical or understandable. God forbids bitterness because bitterness gradually obliterates every good thing God has done in us.  At the root of a bitter spirit is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness causes us to miss the grace of God and prevents us from experiencing the Christian life in all of its beauty and fullness (Matthew 6:14-15, Hebrews 12:15, Luke 17:4).

 The ways we can become bitter are endless. Something as small and seemingly insignificant as being offended or ignored can cause a bitter root to develop in more sensitive people. An unfaithful spouse, a twofaced friend, an unpleasant childhood or ongoing injustice can cause bitterness in even the most thick-skinned of individuals.  

 Because bitterness is such a common sin and because it is something we are cautioned to avoid at all costs there are at least four things every Christian needs to understand about bitterness.

 Bitterness makes spiritual growth impossible-

 It does not matter how many Bible studies the bitter person attends (or teaches). Nor does it matter how much of the Bible someone can repeat verbatim. There is something about the choice to remain bitter that makes it impossible for that person to apply the truth they have learned (or taught) to their own life. Any learning that does take place is typically just empty academic agreement (head knowledge) rather than a full emotional and intellectual adoption of truth we have understood and embraced (heart knowledge). Satan celebrates when Christians become bitter because bitterness keeps Christians stuck in a cycle of obtaining knowledge without actually growing (2nd Timothy3:7).

 Bitterness halts clear communication with God-

 Bitterness is a sin (Ephesians 4:31). Repentance from sin is the only way to restore clear and unrestricted communication with God (2nd Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 9:1-19). Sadly, bitterness blinds us to the lack of communication we have with God, making it more difficult to get right Him.

 We have a responsibility to prevent our own bitterness-

 There will always be situations that come into our lives that have the potential to make us bitter. Some of those situations are one-hundred-percent unforeseeable and therefore entirely unavoidable. That being said, the author of the book of Hebrews tells the readers of the book to “see to it” that no “bitter root grows up”. The writer is instructing Christians to process and forgive offenses as quickly and completely as humanly possible.  Likewise, Christians should be very careful about voluntarily placing themselves in situations where bitterness is an obvious and foreseeable end result of said situation (Ephesians 5:15).

 Behaving in a way that causes others to become bitter is as sinful as bitterness-

 The New Testament clearly teaches a principal of mutual accountability when it comes to sin (Matthew 18:6). For example: Christians are clearly forbidden from committing adultery (Exodus 20:14, Mark 7:21). That being said, spouses are cautioned against refusing each other sexually because doing so could tempt their spouse to commit adultery (1st Corinthians 7:1-5). Obviously, a lack of “IT” in a marriage does not make adultery acceptable to God (Hebrews 13:4). However, it does make the other partner accountable to God for their refusal to obey Scripture.  Similarly, each person is responsible before God for their own choice to become bitter. However, we have an obligation to live in such a way that we do not give people just cause to become bitter. If we don’t we will be accountable to God for our refusal to obey Scripture.

 There is only one way to deal with bitterness-

 Forgive.

 Seriously.  It really is that simple. Let go of any bitterness you are holding onto and let God be the judge and jury of the other person.

 It’s His job (1st Samuel 24:12, Hebrews 4:13, 1st Peter 4:5). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Ways We Inadvertently Undo What God is Doing

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain ~ 2nd Corinthians 6:1 NIV

 I have been accused of overthinking things a time or two in my life. I don’t know if it’s the writer in me, sin, the byproduct of a really weird childhood or perhaps I was just born freakishly introspective. Whatever the case may be, I do tend to process events in life by becoming ridiculously (and annoyingly) reflective.

I actually annoy myself with this nonsense sometimes.

This past week I’ve spent more time than is probably healthy thinking about how easy it is for people to undo God’s work (Romans 14:20). This particular bout of navel gazing was not a result of any great failure on my part or on the part of anyone I know. Rather, it was the result of a really decent person coming along and unwittingly and innocently undoing a whole lot of work God has done in a situation I have been dealing with for some time.

Sigh.

All this led me to thinking about the different ways we can undo what God has done in our lives or in the lives of others. There are probably a million ways we can undo the work of God but in the interest of keeping this post to a reasonable (and readable) length I will stick to four.

The first is:

We undo God’s work when we refuse to believe the gospel story-

The gospel story is simple. We are all sinners who sin instinctively. We need Jesus to forgive us, save us from our sinful nature and give us a new nature (2ndCorinthians 5:17, Ephesians 2:1-3, Ephesians 2:8-9). Once we are forgiven we are given a new nature and our lives are in Jesus.  Because we are in Jesus we have the power to overcome our sinful tendencies and vilest proclivities (Romans 8:10, 1stCorinthians 1:2, Ephesians 2:10, Colossians 1:27). Most of us do not struggle at all with the first half of the story. Most Christians (at least the ones who are the real deal) understand they are sinners and cannot save themselves. It’s the second half of the story that we oftentimes fail to truly grasp. Many of us do not really believe that Jesus living in us is enough to overcome our struggles with fear, laziness, lust, lying, gossip, anger, unbelief or whatever weird, sinful thing is holding us back from being all that God made us to be. As a result, many of us live lives of spiritual desperation and shame because we are not victorious over our sin nature. We actually undo a lot of the work God did in us at our conversion when we believe the lie that Jesus is not enough. The key to getting free is to understand and acknowledge daily that Christ in us really is enough for us to get free of the sin that tends to entangle us (Philippians 4:13, 2ndCorinthians 12:9). As we do this we must be vigilant about recognizing sin for what it is and calling it sin (rather than a bad habit, genetic trait, or a weird personality quirk). Freedom comes when we get into the habit of repenting of sin immediately and we commit to living lives of obedience to God’s word (Hebrews 12:1).  

We undo God’s work when we stubbornly hang onto wrong attitudes-

The world system (that we are all a part of) teaches us from the day we are born that smart people are selfish with their time, energy, and treasure and that only fools, nincompoops and halfwits give up their “rights” for any reason. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that the more generous we are the more we will have (Luke 6:38) and that sacrificing for the good of others is the key to living a life of joy (1stCorinthians 8:9). Basically, the Bible teaches the opposite of what the world (and our sinful natures) teach us about just about every issue under the sun. We undo God’s work in us when we revert back to selfish thinking and sinful attitudes.

We undo God’s work when we insist on dealing with people and situations our own way-

Very few Christians actually pray before they act or open their pie-holes (trust me, I’m speaking from experience on this one). Instead we tend to wait until after we have acted, or said something outlandishly stupid before we ask God to step in and fix the mess we created by jumping in and dealing with situations with our own limited wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 3:5). God wants us to pray, seek the wisdom of wise counselors and think things through completely before we act (Proverbs 11:14). When we don’t, we sometimes unwittingly undo the things God is attempting to do in our own life or someone else’s life (Proverbs 16:25).    

We undo God’s work when we don’t learn the Bible-

God does a massive work in us at the point of our conversion.  He also gives us all the tools we need to live a successful and fruitful Christian life (2ndPeter 1:3). The most important tool we are given (besides the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) is the Bible. It contains everything we need to know and tells us what God wants us to do. When we don’t learn the stories, principles and doctrines of the Bible we cannot possibly know or understand what we have to do to live lives that are pleasing to God. Willfully refusing to become a student of God’s word effectively undoes the work God did in us when we became Christians. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Five Best Ways to Curse Yourself


Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, so a curse without cause does not alight~ Proverbs 26:2 NASB

 The word curse or curses is used a total of 178 times in the Bible. The conspicuously large number of times the word is used in the biblical text has led many to believe that God is all about cursing people. A lot of folks (including some Christians) believe God spends His spare time scanning the planet looking for those He can lay a horrible hex on.

  In the interest of fairness, I feel the need to point out that the only record I could find of God actually cursing anyone or anything is in the book of Genesis. In chapter three God lays out a series of curses related to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden of Eden.

 Issues of fairness aside, the Bible does not hesitate to reference the concept of curses.  The better part of Deuteronomy twenty-eight is just one long list of ghastly curses that will befall the Israelite people if they don’t get their spiritual act together and keep it that way. That passage coupled with the many other references to the word beg the question: Does God curse people for doing the wrong thing?

 I think not.

 Not that I don’t believe curses are a real thing. There are simply too many biblical references to the subject for a serious Christian to dismiss the whole thing as twaddle or voodoo. That said, God does not curse people willy-nilly just because they displease or annoy Him.

 It’s a bit more complicated than all that.

 God has designed the universe in such a way that if we do certain things certain consequences are inevitable. If someone places their hand on a hot stove, pain predictably follows. God does not cause anyone to put their hand on a stove and God certainly does not burn anyone’s hand.  Consequences occur because they are built into the design of the universe.  God doesn’t curse us.  We curse ourselves.  Following are four weird ways we bring curses on our own stupid selves.

 We curse ourselves when we refuse to break sinful patterns of the past-

 Many believe they are cursed to do stupid stuff because they a had a parent or grandparent or great-grandparent who did stupid stuff.  They believe that because some distant relative sinned in some foolhardy way God cursed the entire family line to sin exactly the same way for the rest of history.  It is true that patterns of sinful behavior run in families. It is also true that sinful behavior and attitudes can run deep. That said, the Bible makes it clear that God does not hold children responsible for the sins of the parents (Ezekiel 18:1-32). Furthermore, these types of curses are not difficult to break. Once a person repents of a sinful attitude or behavior the curse is broken.  Case closed.    

 We curse ourselves when we harshly judge situations we don’t understand or haven’t lived through-

 Back in the day my husband and I had some friends who were extremely critical and vocal in their criticism of how we parented our oldest daughter. We weren’t strict enough, we let her stay up too late, we let her eat too much candy, we didn’t discipline her enough or in the correct way. We naturally assumed that when these people had kids their kids would be the best behaved, sweetest, most well-mannered children in the history of children. They weren’t. They were awful. Those children were so dreadfully awful that both sets of grandparents refused to babysit them. I don’t say this to gloat (at least I am trying not to) I say this to make a point. When we judge people, we tend to repeat the same sins of the people we judge (Matthew 7:2), typically, we do this without even realizing we are doing it.

 We curse ourselves when we choose to become bitter-

 Anytime we chose the path of bitterness over the path of forgiveness we are cursed to become exactly like the people we refuse to forgive. I am not entirely certain why or how this happens. That said, I have observed it happen enough times to know it’s a real thing. I suspect we become like the person we are bitter towards because bitterness causes us to become extremely focused (in a very unhealthy way) on that one person. Having so much of our mental energy focused on the negative aspects of one person causes us, over time, to take on the characteristics of that person without being aware of what we are doing. So, if you do not wish to become a mirror image of your gossipy, critical Mother or your angry, alcoholic Father I strongly suggest you forgive immediately (Hebrews 12:15).  

 We curse ourselves when we refuse the Holy Spirit-  

 Anytime God tells us to do anything in His word or the Holy Spirit prompts us to action and we choose to ignore those promptings we curse ourselves.  Ignoring God hardens our hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8, Hebrews 4:7). The harder our hearts become the more difficult it becomes to discern truth from God’s word, to hear His still-small voice or even to care when the Holy Spirit prompts us to action.

 That perhaps is the worst curse of all.

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Reasons Christians Don’t Grow

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. I.e. it is possible to be busy all day without accomplishing anything of any significance. We can read an entire book without comprehending a single word of it. We can listen intently to what someone is saying and not hear what they are saying. It is even possible to live a long life without experiencing the joy and fullness of being truly alive (John 5:39-40).

 It is also possible to grow old without growing-up and, frankly, there seems to be a lot of that going around these days. 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 jam-packed with grown-ups who bully, blame others and are lacking the ability to manage their most basic of impulses.

 Perhaps one of the most tragic forms of immaturity is spiritual immaturity. Spiritual immaturity is marked by a lack of love and concern for others (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Hebrews 10:24), an inability to distinguish right from wrong (Malachi 3:18, Philippians 1:9-11) and a tendency to rely on feelings rather than biblical truth for direction (John 8:32). Other indicators of spiritual immaturity are broken relationships, pride, anger, excessive complaining without any desire to problem solve and a tendency to church hop.

  Spiritual immaturity causes Christians to become stunted, self-centered and worldly, it is the root cause of “irreconcilable differences” in Christian marriages. The spiritual immaturity of congregations causes churches to become powerless and tragically ineffective.

 Sigh.

 Christian people are ultimately responsible before God for their own growth (Galatians 6:4-5, 1stPeter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-13). We cannot grow unless we commit to doing these five things:

  Forgive-   

 Forgiveness is not only a prerequisite to being forgiven (Matthew 6:15). It is the only way to keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). It is essential we avoid bitterness because bitterness causes us to become entirely focused on our own feelings, hurts and offences. Spiritual growth can only occur when we move past our feelings and focus on letting go of the sinful behaviors we practiced in our old (pre-Jesus) life (Colossians 3:5-11, Galatians 5:19-21) and put on new behaviors and attitudes that cause us to become more like Jesus (Colossians 3:12-14, 2ndPeter 1:5-11). Forgiveness is never easy. That said, it is worth whatever effort it takes because living free of the bondage of forgiveness is a critical first step in becoming the people God has called us to be (1stPeter 2:9).

 Get rooted-

 God wants every Christian to be firmly rooted in the truths of the Bible and in relationship with Jesus (Ephesians 5:17, Colossians 2:6-7). We become rooted through a commitment to the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer and regular church attendance. There is simply no truly viable excuse for not reading the Bible, praying and getting involved in a Bible believing church if you want to mature your way out of spiritual infancy.

 Give-up whatever is keeping you immature-  

 At the root of most spiritual immaturity is a sinful behavior or attitude that we simply don’t want to let go of. Sins like gossip, bitterness, addiction to drugs or alcohol, anger, backbiting, and lust are just 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 (1stCorinthians 11:28, 2ndCorinthians 13:5, Matthew 3:8, Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19).

 Serve-

 When Christians serve in their churches and communities two critical objectives are met. Things get done, the needs of people are met and Jesus looks good as a result. Serving also broadens our focus 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 mature.

 Own our junk-

 Because no man (or woman) is an island we are all effected to one degree or another by the actions of others. The insensitive, sinful and selfish actions of other people can cause the kind of damage that makes reaching our full potential in life much more challenging (but not impossible). That being said, we are each ultimately responsible for our own actions (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 making 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. When we do that we are well on our way to becoming the people God wants us to be.

 

 

 

Spotting Hypocrisy

And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy~ Galatians 2:13 NIV

 Hypocrisy.

 It’s an ugly word. Unlike its similarly foul cousin ‘pride’, the Bible makes it painfully clear that there is no such thing as a “healthy hypocrisy” or “good hypocrisy” (Romans 11:13, Galatians 6:4). Jesus reserved His harshest criticism for hypocrites and made it excruciatingly clear that hypocrisy of any kind is bad (Matthew 23:13:36, Matthew 24:51, Mark 7:6, Luke 6:42).

 A hypocrite is a pretender, a person who play-acts at being better than they actually are. God is categorically not a fan. God hates hypocrisy because He calls Christians to live lives of sincerity (1st Timothy 1:5, Hebrews 10:22) and because hypocrisy is a pernicious sin that even really good Christian people can get caught-up in (Galatians 2:11-14).

 But by far, the biggest problem with hypocrisy is that it hurts everyone. Hypocrisy hurts hypocrites because hypocrisy is a sin that makes the person sinning more comfortable with all forms of sin. Sooner or later all hypocrites buy into the lie that they really are as good as they think everyone thinks they are. Because of that, every hypocrite eventually gives up on things like confession, repentance and living a life of holiness (James 5:16, 1st John 1:9, Matthew 3:2, Acts 3:19, Romans 12:1). Instead, they simply settle for pretending.

 Hypocrisy hurts the church because hypocrisy is contagious. Which (as an aside) is why some churches (and denominations) seem to have more of a problem with it than others. Any time one respected Christian leads a life of hypocrisy it doesn’t take long for others to figure out that it’s a whole lot easier to act holy when people are looking than to actually do the hard work of becoming holy. When Jesus warned His disciples concerning “the yeast” of the Pharisees and Sadducees he was referencing the infectious nature of hypocrisy (Matthew 16:11).

 Hypocrisy hurts non-Christians because one insincere Christian can easily convince all non-Christians that hypocrisy and pretense is standard operating procedure for every Christian. In the process of dismissing all Christians as hypocrites they end up dismissing Jesus and everything He had to say about life, death and eternity.

 Sigh.

 Like the sin of pride, the nature of hypocrisy is such that it is weirdly easy to spot hypocrisy in others but nearly impossible to see it in ourselves. Unfortunately for us, Jesus doesn’t call His people to worry about the sins of others. He does call us to worry about our own sin. Hypocrisy is definitely something Christians ought to worry about. Mostly because it’s one of those sins that the God who defines Himself as love (1st John 4:8) hates (Matthew 23:13-33, Matthew 24:51).

 Spotting hypocrisy in ourselves cannot happen without a bone-level commitment to brutal self-examination and a steely-eyed determination to live lives of openness and sincerity. Then we need to begin looking for the signs that all is not well in this area of our life.

 You might have a problem with hypocrisy if…

 You have two very different sets of friends-

 Having two very different sets of friends is not a problem per se. However, it is a problem if your behavior (and speech) is very different when you are with different groups. Another sign of a problem is if you spend a lot of time hoping that your divergent social circles never meet.

 You judge others harshly-

Hypocrites are generally quite reluctant to admit they sin at all (1st John 1:9-10. They also tend to lack mercy and are weirdly judgmental towards the sins of others. Oftentimes hypocrites are the most judgmental towards people who have the same sin issues they do.

 You live a secret life-

Seriously, this is a no-brainer. If you’re leading a secret life, just stop.

You have a problem with gossip-

 Not every gossip is a hypocrite. However, in my experience, hypocrites are always gossips. Hypocrite’s tend to gossip because they secretly believe that sharing the sins and shortcomings of others will keep people from noticing their own sins and shortcomings.

 You will do anything to avoid looking bad-

 Hypocrisy is all about projecting an image of goodness. Protecting that image is ultimately more important than anything or anyone else. That is why hypocrites oftentimes hurt others in their misguided attempts to safeguard their own image.

 We all have singular moments of hypocrisy. Anyone who claims otherwise is either delusional or deeply dishonest. That said, we should work tirelessly to root out all forms of hypocrisy in our lives. I am convinced that the secret to dealing with the sin of hypocrisy is to understand and walk in the reality that all sin will eventually be uncovered and laid bare (Hebrews 4:13) before God and to know that sooner or later our sin always finds us out (Numbers 32:23).

Fixing A Bad Marriage

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV

 My husband and I have been married for nearly three decades and our marriage (like most marriages) has gone through its fair share of ups and downs over the years. Through the good and the bad I have concluded that there is nothing in this world quite as good as a great marriage. Nothing is better or more rewarding in this life than the closeness, camaraderie and fun of a healthy, happy marriage. Conversely, a bad marriage is nothing short of a living hell. There are simply no words to describe the awkward agony of waking-up every single day of your life next to the person you least want to talk to.

 It just sucks.

 I have observed that all marriages (even the really great ones) inevitably go through at least one season where communication halts and the relationship feels doomed. During this period both parties inevitably wonder if it’s even worth it to keep trying.

 Like many young couples, that season came fairly early on in our marriage. We spent the better part of a really miserable year either squabbling bitterly over the most stupid stuff imaginable or giving each other the silent treatment over the same stupid stuff. It was not our best year. However at the end of it, we had worked through a horde of really thorny issues, our relationship was stronger and we were both better, happier people.

 In my view everything that can be done should be done to fix a bad marriage. Every marriage is different and every situation is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fixing a bad marriage. However, the following five recommendations can be a game-changer in even the most broken relationships.

 Fixing a bad marriage must begin with:

 Choosing to be kind no matter how the other person responds-

 Not surprisingly, kindness is a quality conspicuously missing in all unhappy marriages. Too often we wait for the other person to be kind before we begin being kind. Sadly, this sort of willful pride never yields positive results. In order for the healing process to begin, one person has to humble him or herself and commit to speaking kindly to—and doing thoughtful things for—the other person (even if they act like a jerk at first). Usually, the other person eventually responds in kind and the marriage gets a new beginning.    

Laying down your weapons-

 Each part of an unhappy couple has their own arsenal of verbal weapons they use to emotionally pummel their spouse. It might be calling the other person hurtful names or constantly reminding them of a past sin or bringing up a character flaw. Whatever it is, at the root of any arsenal is one of two things: either the sin of unforgiveness or pure meanness. Either way I advise immediate repentance.

 Nixing the silent treatment-

 Not everyone uses the silent treatment. Those who do, use it to shut down conversations they are too immature to have or as a tool to get their own way. People who employ this method have learned that if they clam-up for long enough, more often than not, the other person will eventually acquiesce to whatever they want just to end the awkwardness. The silent treatment is a self-indulgent, passive-aggressive power play that not only destroys marriages but friendships and even the parent-child bond. It’s dangerous because eventually the other person will weary of the perpetual game playing and either walk out on the relationship or stay, adjust to the silence and begin living their own life. Either way the marriage is over. If one or both parties need time to calm down, that’s fine, as long as things eventually get talked out.

 Calling sin sin and repenting-

I am thankful to the modern psychology movement because it has helped us to understand the reasons why people do the weird, sinful things people do. That said, psychology has also helped to create an environment where we blame our sin on other people or trauma, rather than our own choices. It is not uncommon for Christians to blame genetics, stress, or a bad upbringing for behavior the Bible calls willful sinfulness. The bottom line is that no matter our experiences we are all responsible before God for what we do. We all have the ability to make changes. Change can only begin with the acknowledgment that our behavior is sinful (even if the behavior or attitude has a genetic component or came about as a result of trauma) and needs to be changed. This must be followed-up with a commitment to obedience and permanent repentance.

 Looking at you-

 One characteristic common to all bad marriages is that both parties have their focus firmly fixed on the bad behavior of their spouse. Conversely, typically both parties are totally unwilling to own-up to their own bad habits, problems, and sins and acknowledge how those behaviors and attitudes are creating chaos in the relationship. If you want to fix your marriage, stop focusing on what the other person is or isn’t doing. Instead, make a commitment to pray about what you need to change or begin doing so that you can become the husband or wife God wants you to be.      

      

Moving Past Church Hurt

 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News~ Philippians 4:2-3 NLT

 Church hurt happens. 

 Church hurt comes in all shapes and sizes. Church hurt can be born out of something as simple as an unresolved conflict or disagreement. It can happen when we feel overlooked or marginalized by Christians we assumed were our friends or Christians we wished were our friends. Church hurt rears its ugly head anytime we discover we have become the target of gossip or excluded from a group. By far, the nastiest and most damaging form of church hurt comes at the hands of so-called shepherds (Isaiah 56:11). False teachers, who use and abuse their spiritual authority to control, manipulate, defraud or sexually exploit those they have been tasked with caring for.

 How deeply we are wounded by church hurt is dependent on a whole host of factors. Including, but not limited to how new to the faith we were when the offense occurred, our over-all maturity level at the time of the hurt, the gravity of the offense that occurred and the willingness on the part of the offender to own their part in the hurt.

 I am convinced church hurt is the leading cause of spiritual shipwrecks and church dropouts. I know from experience that church hurt is practically inevitable, however it does not have to devastate our lives or destroy our faith. How and why people get hurt in the church is far less important than how they handle the ensuing hurt. In the interest of preventing anymore spiritual disasters, today I am going to give four (very basic) guidelines for recovering from most church hurts.

 First:

 Don’t misplace blame-

 Healing from hurt can only occur if we embrace the truth that God did not CAUSE our hurt. Another Christian (or someone who claimed to be a Christian) hurt you and caused the pain you are feeling, not God. Too many Christians never recover from church hurt because they insist on blaming God for things He had nothing do with.

 Honestly assess your level hurt-

 There are things that are never okay. No one should causally dismiss abuse, embezzlement, or vicious slander. Nor should we demand someone who has been wounded by say, sexual abuse in the church to “just get over it”. Big hurts (like sexual abuse) require special attention and time to heal. That said, there are other forms of church hurt like petty disputes, being treated rudely, or feeling excluded, that are very real and painful, but also simply need to be put in perspective. Sadly, being a follower of Jesus does not automatically mean that a person will never be rude, self-serving, insensitive, flakey, or stupid. We are all guilty of those particular sins from time-to-time and we ought to give grace accordingly (Proverbs 19:11).

 (Almost) always make an attempt at reconciliation-

 There are cases of severe abuse where attempts at reconciliation (being friends again) are ill advised and even dangerous. That said, in most cases if you cannot simply forgive and move on, an honest conversation to clear the air is in order (Matthew 18:15). The key to making these conversations productive is a heartfelt desire to restore the relationship rather than a desire to punish, prove a point, or justify your feelings (no matter how justified they may be).

 Don’t get stuck-

 It’s normal to be angry when we’ve suffered a hurt at the hands of a fellow believer and it’s healthy to grieve hurt. However, it’s not healthy to stay stuck in perpetual state of woundedness (Yes. I made that word up.). Staying stuck in anger inevitably leads to bitterness and bitterness ruins us (Hebrews 12:15). Reconciliation may or may not be advised, but with Jesus, forgiveness is always possible (Matthew 6:15). Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It will likely take time and may require some help from a wise and mature friend, Christian counselor, or pastor to work through. Get help if you need it. The health of your soul and your usefulness to the Kingdom is at stake here.  

 Church hurt is as old as the church. Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Mark, Euodia, and Syntyche were Bible people who all experienced serious hurt at the hands of other believers (2nd Timothy 4:14, Galatians 2:11-14, Acts 15:39, Philippians 4:2-3). Every one of those men and women recovered from their hurt and went on to do great things for the Kingdom of God because they chose the painful but life-giving path of forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation.

 

Is God Judging America?

Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple. I myself have seen a fool taking root, but suddenly his house was cursed~ Job 5:2-3 NIV

 In recent days I have seen things I never thought I would live to see. It could easily be argued that our society is unraveling before our very eyes.

 The madness began in Charlottesville where a (stupid) white supremacist rally took a violent turn when a twenty-year-old racist activist ran down an anti-racist activist with his car and killed her. Donald Trump has (inelegantly and some would say ineptly) condemned the white-supremacist idiocy in Charlottesville several times over the course of the last week. Nonetheless, many are convinced he is a racist monster and so is anyone who voted for him.

 Protesters are demanding Civil War memorials be torn down immediately. These protesters seem intent on rewriting the history of our country but resist being labeled as the totalitarians they are choosing to act like. The absurdity of the situation reached a fever pitch in Durham, North Carolina where a protester shouted defiantly as a confederate statue came down “ I don’t want to be like the Bolsheviks or the Taliban but this has got to go!”

 Oh the irony.

 In the midst of the pandemonium some prominent Christians have written blogs asserting that America is on the precipice of God’s judgment. Other Christians have responded to those posts with their own posts arguing that God is too nice to bring judgment on people or nations anymore.

 As much as I would love to believe otherwise, I am thoroughly convinced that God does indeed still judge. The Bible is clear; God has fixed standards of right and wrong. He does not change His mind on these matters (Malachi 3:6, 1st Samuel 15:29, Hebrews 13:8). God judged people and nations in the past (Ezekiel 20:36), and He has promised to do so again at some point in the future (Revelation 20:12-13). To believe God is somehow done with the business of judgment is to choose to be willfully ignorant of what the Bible has to say on the subject.

 Period.

 That said, I’m not sure we need God to judge us. We are doing a fine job of bringing judgment and curses on ourselves through our own stubborn pride and willful stupidity. The concept of individuals and nations bringing curses on themselves through their own actions is a common one throughout Scripture (Genesis 4:11, Genesis 27:12, Deuteronomy 27:15-25). Curses are a natural consequence of knowingly disregarding truth, common sense and God’s revealed will.

 Its kind of where we’re living right now.

We are cursed because we have chosen to believe what we have been told to believe by a news media with obvious bias and their own political agenda. We are cursed because we have despised those on the other side of the political aisle instead of praying for them. We are cursed because we have chosen to hold on to bitterness and resentment over sins committed generations ago. We are cursed because we have believed the lie that one act of violence justifies another. We are cursed because for generations too many of us have allowed bigotry and hatred to have a place in our hearts, homes and places of worship. We are cursed because we have chosen to judge the founding fathers by the standards of our time rather than by the standards of their time.

 We have cursed ourselves by refusing to examine our lives and repent of the sin we find there. We have cursed our nation and families by callously killing our unborn children in the name of convenience, disregarding our marriage vows and normalizing sexual sin and calling it “progress”.  

 All the turmoil we are experiencing at this point in our history is our own doing. We have brought curses on our children, our nation and ourselves due to our own reluctance to see circumstances from the other person’s perspective and our unwillingness to do things God’s way. The only way to break this curse is through prayer, repentance and a commitment to racial reconciliation and forgiveness. Too often, too many of us wait for others to take lead when it comes to change, repentance and making amends for our actions. As a result nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes. We don’t have time to wait and see what other people do, we need to examine our hearts, repent of the sin we find there and trust God to clean up this mess we’ve made.