Finding Authentic Freedom

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly~ Psalm 84:11

 Reader be warned:

 Our family drove to the Oregon coast this past weekend to connect with my four siblings for the first time since our Mother died eight-years-ago. The reunion was a blessing in every sense. However, it was also chaotic (in a good, loud, big-family kind of way) and a marathon of frenzied activity from start to finish.

 I left the beach emotionally gratified and seriously sleep deprived.

 The emotional hullabaloo and lack of sleep combined with too much time to think on the drive home left me feeling a bit navel-gaze-y. Evidently, one possible side effect of too much reflection is an overly emotional blog post. That little disclaimer out of the way, I do believe that I may have hit on some spiritual truth in the midst of at least some of my musings.

 For that reason I pray you’ll give it a read.

 As we passed through a really ugly part of Eastern Oregon it occurred to me that Christians seldom talk about the fall of mankind anymore. We should because our world and everything in it was dramatically distorted in the blink of an eye and not just spiritually. The fall altered how we relate to God, one another and even the natural world. Relationships that were once carefree and easy to navigate suddenly became complex and even adversarial.

 One of the results of living in a fallen world is that even the best stuff in life often has a distinctly sad edge to it.

 Reunions are happy but the separations that instigated the reunions never are. Parenthood is one of the most joyful events a person experience in this life; it is also one of the most difficult and befuddling. Roses have thorns; every profit has a loss built into it. Human innovation typically has at least one unintended and profoundly unpleasant consequence- and cake makes us fat.  

 This reality plays out in the spiritual realm as well.

 Spiritual growth and the blessings that go with it can only be achieved through an oftentimes-painful surrendering of our very selves. Forgiving others brings freedom but at the cost of forfeiting the basic right most of us feel we should have: the right to seek revenge on the jerks that hurt us. The fall even affected our feelings about right and wrong and our perception of reality. Wrong typically feels right and is usually the path of least resistance. Right is always the harder road to traverse.

 Even the grace of God has a sad side to it. Grace, that thing we rejoice in, venerate and write songs about is only necessary because of sin, sin ruined literally everything and sin breaks the heart of God.

 Gloomy, I know.

Grace is necessary because human beings blew it and were powerless to stop blowing it for even a single minute. God is relentlessly generous, so when it became appallingly obvious that there was no way any of us could be good on our own God stepped in. He sent His son to die for us and gave us the grace we needed.

 This realization was almost too much to bear. I was done in.

 Mostly because I have come to believe that our generation has a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of grace and our lack of understanding is keeping us from becoming the people God has ordained us to be. We tend to view grace as nothing more than a massive bucket of forgiveness we can dip into anytime we have a sin that needs forgiving. We treat forgiveness like a magic concoction we apply to sin to make it acceptable, rather than an essential concession to our sinfulness.

 Thankfully, grace is much more than just a big bucket of forgiveness.

 Grace is power that frees us from the oppression of sin. The grace of God does more than simply forgive our transgressions. The grace of God gives us the power to overcome the sin nature that plagues us all (Titus 2:10-12). When we make the choice to live a holy life (Colossians 3:5-14, 1st Thessalonians 4:3-8, 2nd Peter 1:3-11) God dispenses the grace we need when we need it. That grace empowers us embrace the behaviors we need to embrace and let go of the behaviors we need to let go of so that we can be like Jesus.

Are Christians Flawless?

Behind the wheel of a motor vehicle is the one place on Earth where I tend to forget all about Jesus and being a Christ follower. It’s fair to say that a Christian song playing just the right thing at just the right moment has averted more than a few occurrences of road rage and perhaps even saved some lives in our greater metropolitan area.

Is Being Nice Really What Jesus Would Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 This was one of those.

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

 Awkward.

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

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

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

 Is being nice enough?

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

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

Today.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Worst Kind of Abuse

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded~ Matthew 18:26-28

 There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the whole issue of abuse was murky and poorly understood. Abuse was far from uncommon but rarely discussed. As a result, the majority of abuse victims lived lives of secret desperation and intense shame. Few attempted to share the pain and torment they experienced at the hands of others. Victims courageous enough to share their experiences were routinely shamed and sometimes even blamed for the abuse they suffered.

 Mercifully, human civilization has evolved in recent years. Sadly, abuse is still all too common. However, due to extensive public awareness campaigns the causes of abuse are better understood and the signs more frequently recognized. Behaviors and speech once accepted as “normal” are now recognized as abusive and no longer tolerated by the non-Neanderthal majority. Victims are generally treated with compassion and understanding, and help is available for those who struggle with abusive behaviors.

 That said, there is still one arena where abuse frequently occurs and is seldom recognized for what it is, it’s the abuse of grace.

 Grace is a term so rich in meaning that it is difficult to define. Grace is most typically understood to be undeserved favor or approval. However, there is much more to the mystery of grace than simply favor or acceptance. Grace is closely related to love and can also be defined as kindness, mercy and the willingness to overlook the iniquities or mistakes of others. 2nd Corinthians 12:9 gives readers an intriguing example of grace; there grace is defined as super-natural empowerment to handle particularly challenging situations.

 Personally I prefer to think of grace as a do-over or an undeserved second chance. We could all use a little bit of grace at one time or another.

 Grace is a characteristic most often associated with God and for good reason. God at His very core is a giver of grace. But grace is also something humans can and often do bestow on one another. Anytime an offense is overlooked, a second chance is offered or a transgression forgiven, grace is at the core of that act of kindness or mercy.

 Abuse of grace occurs when one takes the grace given without acknowledging or respecting the cost of the transaction. Forgiveness can be freely given but that does not mean it’s actually free. There is always a heavy price to be paid for any act of forgiveness.

 God, paid the ultimate price when He sacrificed Jesus, allowing humanity to freely receive His forgiveness. People also pay a price when they choose to forgive. When a person forgives, they relinquish the right to seek revenge for the wrongs done to them by the other person. If this sounds easy, it’s likely because you have never actually forgiven anyone or you have never been terribly wronged.

 Grace is also abused when one blithely takes the forgiveness offered without changing their behavior (the Bible calls this change of behavior repenting). God and many people (even non-Christian people) are willing to forgive outrageous offenses if they know the offender is truly sorry. When a forgiven person immediately returns to past behavior without a trace of sorrow or shame, the forgiver (whether it be God or a person) has to assume that the offender was never really sorry for their sin.

 Sadly, the abuse of grace is destroying the church Jesus was sacrificed to build. It’s wrecking havoc on relationships, breaking the heart and testing the patience of God and doing irreparable damage to the witness of Christians everywhere.

 Its time for followers of Christ to recognize that grace is a precious gift and no gift should ever be treated with contempt. We should also remember that the patience of God has historically had limits. It’s never wise to test the heart of God by abusing His kindness.

 

 

 

The Hard Truth Concerning Forgiveness

I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept~ Genesis 50:17

 They have become ubiquitous on Facebook.

Photos of a man standing at sunset, back to the camera arms spread wide in an expression of complete and glorious freedom. Or sometimes the photo is of a young woman dressed in white strolling serenely down a long tree-lined path, suggesting a future filled with joy and endless possibilities.

 The quotes accompanying these images are sometimes spiritually questionable. Others are far too syrupy and sentimental for my taste. However, the vast majority of quotes on the subject are thought provoking and more than a little convicting…

 We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies~ Martin Luther King Jr.

 The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong~ Gandhi

 Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness~ Corrie Ten Boom

 Over the course of the last few years I have had the “opportunity” to work through two unrelated and dissimilar situations, both requiring me to forgive some massive and very personal hurts. I concluded after working through those situations that none of the quotes I have seen tell the complete story of forgiveness. Sappy sentimentalities and inspiring quips extolling the virtues and benefits of forgiveness inevitably miss a core truth.

 Forgiveness is hard.

 Sometimes it hurts almost as much as the offense that necessitated the forgiving. If the offense was particularly personal or the person who did the hurting was someone we trusted. The act of forgiving that person can hurt to the point of physical agony. Forgiveness is tough because involves a release of the right to seek revenge on someone who doubtless has earned some sort of retaliation. The letting go of what is logically a right can feel overwhelmingly unjust.

 Forgiveness is a foundational (albeit sometimes unpopular) doctrine of the Christian faith. God forgives without hesitation, and He clearly expects His people to forgive in the same spirit. Forgiving is so important to God that it’s a prerequisite for obtaining His forgiveness (Matthew 6:15).

 God knows enough about people to know that when we refuse to forgive, unforgiveness transforms us in a profoundly ugly way. We eventually become incapable of focusing on anything but our wounds and resentment. The relentless emphasis on the negative causes our patience to shrivel and our irritation with everyone to increase. Over time we inevitably twist into a hostile, unsympathetic and nasty version of ourselves. 

 Regrettably, knowing all this does not make forgiving any easier.

 It is considerably more difficult (if not impossible) to forgive without God’s assistance and power. Some offenses are simply too great to forgive on our own; we acquire the help we need to forgive through persistent and sometimes prolonged prayer. Prayer keeps us connected to God, prevents bitterness from taking root in our hearts and empowers us to forgive the unforgivable. We pray until our feelings towards the person who did the hurting change.

 Prayer also prevents people from blaming God for situations He had nothing to do with. Oftentimes, when Christians have suffered a serious offense they struggle as much with anger towards God, for allowing the hurt to happen as they do with the person who hurt them. It’s important to understand that God is not a puppet master who controls the choices of people.

 Sometimes people hurt others because they are egotistical, callous or even evil. Most of the time people hurt others because they are stupid, insensitive or lack awareness of how their actions affect others. Either way, it’s profoundly unjust to hold God accountable for the actions of free people.

 Forgiving would be easier if people were capable of simply forgetting offenses. We cannot do that. However, over time, with God’s assistance, we can reach a point where we are no longer held prisoner by the anger we feel towards those who have betrayed us. Forgiveness is freedom that will empower us to live a happy, useful and God-honoring life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Responding to Hurt

I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know. For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst~ Job 32:17-19 NIV

 My father-in-law died seventeen years ago without warning from a massive stroke. He was a good man, relatively  young and healthy. His death was an enormous shock. Immediately following the funeral one of his work colleagues “comforted” my husband by telling him he could “relate to his grief” because his dog had died the week before.

 I know a man in his sixties who still remembers with tears in his eyes the sting of having his first-grade teacher tell him he was struggling to learn to read because he was “dumb.”

 A friend suffered through the heartache of several miscarriages before giving birth to two healthy children. After each miscarriage at least one person told her that she should be grateful she miscarried because “there was probably something wrong with it anyway”.

 If had a dollar for every time some nitwit encouraged me in an overly calm tone to “just relax” when freaking out was clearly the reasonable option, I would be writing from a lawn chair on a sunny beach right now.  

 Words.

 Anyone who has lived longer than a decade in this world has undoubtedly been the casualty of stupid, hurtful or just plain thoughtless words. The most painful kind of hurtful words are words that attack things about ourselves that we cannot change, such as our looks or intellectual abilities. Insensitive words wound by getting inside our heads and altering how we see ourselves and view the world.

 God has a lot to say on the subject of words. The writer of Proverbs cautions his readers:“The tongue has the power of life and death.” 1st Corinthians thirteen teaches that one significant aspect of loving others well is avoiding the use of rude or boastful words. In Matthew 12:36 Jesus warns of looming judgment for those who habitually speak without carefully considering the impact their words might have on others.    

 Decent people agree that words should never be impulsively spoken or unnecessarily rude. No one should speak without carefully considering how they would feel if someone said the same thing to them if they found themselves in the same situation.

 All that being said, how we respond to the stupid stuff people say to us, is from a spiritual perspective, every bit as important as being careful about what we say to others. Responding with grace to hurtful words begins with the sometimes-difficult admission that we too have hurt others with our words just as we have been hurt by the thoughtless words of other people. I once informed a boy who declared his affection for me in a love note that I would never return his feelings because he “smelled weird” (proof-positive that sometimes mean things are also true). I still squirm when I think about some of the hurtful “guidance” I hastily doled out to others when I was beyond old enough to know better.

 There is an inclination in our day and age for people, even Christian people, to take hurtful words to heart and nurture their hurt by ruminating on hurtful words rather than choosing to forgive and move on. Nurturing hurt does nothing but create a breeding ground for bitterness and inevitably leads us to use our wounds as a justification to:

  1. Shut the offender out of our lives completely.
  2. Gossip about their lack of empathy to any who will listen.
  3. Freak out, say whatever is on OUR minds and then demand an apology that the offender probably won’t mean even if they do say it.

 All of the above reactions feel great but are categorically wrong. Each one feeds our sin nature, shuts down communication and effectively ends the relationship. Offense and unresolved hurt over careless words are the devil’s preferred playground. Offense keeps us self-focused, bitter and unable to see ourselves or others clearly.

 Letting go of hurt is not easy. We have to discipline our minds to take the hurt we feel to God and ask Him to empower us to let go of hurt, rather than hang on to it. We must be willing to pray that people who say foolish, mean or hurtful things, will become more self-aware and we must choose forgiveness every time.

 

Stop the Scourge of Useful Idiots

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour~ 1st Peter 5:8

 Recently I had a conversation with a friend struggling with some fairly serious family drama. My friend has been working overtime to repair some damaged relationships and has been baffled as to why she isn’t making more progress. She recently learned that a “friend” has gotten in the middle of some significant relationships and repeated things said in confidence and exaggerated some things that were said.

 My friend is understandably irritated with the situation. She’s frustrated by her own carelessness and because the third party mixed up in the mess (a professed Christian) appears to be ignorant of the chaos she’s created. As the conversation progressed it became obvious to me that her “friend” is a useful idiot.

 “Useful idiot” is a term sometimes used in place of “unwitting accomplice.” An unwitting accomplice is a person who participates in a crime unintentionally—often because a criminal tricked them into criminal activity. Sometimes the poor fool is duped into believing that they are actually doing a good deed as they help the criminal break the law.

 The book of Job describes the devil as roaming the earth looking to cause trouble, and 1st Peter 5:8 describes Satan as one who prowls around looking for people to destroy. Ephesians 6:11 and John 10:10 tell us that the devil is continually scheming up ways to wreck havoc on the lives of people, especially God’s people. It’s a big job and even Satan needs a little help sometimes, and a useful idiot can come in handy.

 My friend’s story demonstrates that Christians sometimes unwittingly do the devils work. Even the best of God’s people can be guilty of helping the enemy steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Christians become useful idiots when:

 They fail to get all the facts~ Proverbs 14:15

 It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of supposing that all our assumptions concerning people and situations are spot-on. The truth is that things are rarely the way they appear and there are two sides to every story. Wise people look beyond first impressions and go to the source to ask questions when a person’s character is in question. Proverbs 14:15 reminds us that only the simple-minded believe everything they hear and take every story at face value.  

 Involve themselves in situations that are none of their concern~ Proverbs 26:17

 There is nothing wrong with listening to a hurting friend or giving counsel to someone who needs it. We cross a line when we allow ourselves to become intermediaries in disputes that are none of our business. It is never okay to repeat something said in confidence and quarreling parties should always be encouraged to work things out between themselves or with a pastor or counselor. Be wary of any “friend” who is a little too eager to involve themselves in your private family affairs; it’s likely this person is a useful idiot.

 When they refuse to forgive~ Hebrews 12:15

 Refusing to forgive leads to bitterness. When bitterness takes root in our hearts, it colors the way we see the world and becomes a corrupting and defiling influence in our lives that negatively affects everyone we come into contact with.

 They allow pride to take over~ Proverbs 13:10

 The devil has figured out that the simplest way to recruit a useful idiot is to encourage pride. Pride blinds us to reality and is at the root of nearly every other sin. Pride is easy to spot in others but hard to see in ourselves because the nature of pride is self-deceptive (Obadiah 1:3). One sign we may be stuck in a prideful mindset is refusal to admit wrongdoing or when we justify our actions because of what somebody else did or didn’t do.

 Spread dissension~ Proverbs 6:16-19

 Dissension is an ugly thing that is spread by planting seeds of dissatisfaction in someone’s mind about a situation or person. Those who spread dissension point out problems without offering solutions, cast blame and repeat things that were said in confidence. It is our responsibility to be forces of good in our world; God’s people are called to be problem solvers and reconcilers rather than faultfinders and troublemakers.

I am convinced that the key to avoiding the trap of becoming a useful idiot in Satan’s schemes is self-examination and honest appraisal of the dynamics of whatever situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes the most loving and wise thing we can do for everyone involved in a given situation is to graciously remove ourselves from the situation and commit to prayer for all involved.

 

 

A Response to the Guy Who Called My Views on Marriage Naive

 You do well when you obey the Holy Writings which say, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself”~ James 2:8 NLV  

Dear Guy who called my views on marriage naïve (AKA Tim),

 Contrary to how things probably look, I really am not a jerk who has been ignoring you or your comment. It appeared in my inbox late Monday night and, frankly, it was long and I was tired, too tired to read it thoroughly, let alone formulate a lucid response. When I did get around to giving your comment a thorough reading, it didn’t take me long to realize your feelings on the subject of marriage merited more of a forum than a hasty reply would allow.

So here goes.

 Your comment was polite and articulate (a rare thing in the blogosphere). However, it did seem to indicate that you’ve had some unfortunate personal experiences with marriage and for that I am truly sorry. It is not my intention to underplay the power of your personal experience or the experiences of millions of people who have faced the pain of divorce. I have never experienced the trauma of divorce. However, I do have friends and family members who have, and even from the outside looking in, it’s clear that divorce sucks. Everything humanly possible should be done to prevent it.

 All that being said, it’s really not fair to blame marriage when marriages end. Contrary to popular belief, marriage is not an entity or a living being or even an institution. Marriage is a contract—a legal, moral and spiritual contract—and every contract becomes over time a situation involving people. A contract cannot be blamed for the conduct of the parties who signed on to the terms of the deal.  

Responsibility for the death of a relationship has to lie squarely at the feet of the people in the relationship. Admittedly, fault is seldom equally distributed. One party quite often carries the lion’s share of the blame for the demise of the relationship. Marriages struggle and end for many reasons, but at the root of all lay almost always one or two issues.

 The roots of divorce frequently go back to unrealistic expectations long before the “I do’s.” The romantic notion of soul mates has set up millions of couples for failure. The myth of the “right one” is a silly fairytale. No matter how well matched and compatible a couple is in the beginning, no marriage can survive gross mismanagement of the relationship.

 Furthermore, marriage will not make an unhappy person happy, nor will marriage solve underlying problems or character issues in the lives of the people getting married. Weddings are not magic bullets we can shoot at loneliness, laziness, poor self-image, meanness, sloppy relationship skills or general discontent. Those problems must be dealt with long before the wedding day or the relationship will be doomed.

 Selfishness is a cancer that kills many marriages. Self-centeredness shows up in big and little ways in marriage. Rudeness, cheating, overspending, laziness, stinginess, dishonesty, withholding sex and lack of attention to the likes and dislikes of the other person all reveal a heart that is unwilling to work on the relationship. Perhaps self-centeredness is epitomized most clearly in a refusal to apologize, acknowledge bad behavior and take responsibility for problems in the relationship.  

Unhealthy patterns of communication are another relationship killer. Giving the silent treatment, name-calling, screaming, criticizing and relentlessly bringing up past misdeeds is a sure-fire way to effectively poison a marriage.  

You called my views on marriage naïve because I listed the established benefits of a stable, happy marriage. The benefits of matrimony include good physical and mental health, financial security, well-adjusted children and a good sex life. It is not naïve to believe in something that has been proven. Naiveté is found in believing that there is somehow a superior, less painful alternative to marriage.  

The alternatives to marriage are limited: cohabitation, serial monogamy and singleness. Singleness is not a realistic alternative for most of us, leaving cohabitation and serial monogamy. Cohabitation and serial monogamy offer none of the benefits to individuals, children and society that marriage does and yet the end of those relationships are every bit as psychologically painful and financially costly as divorce.

 Marriage is not perfect, Tim, because people are not perfect. The solution to the problems in marriages is not to look for a viable alternative to marriage. Nor is the answer to avoid marriage altogether; the world would be a dull and gloomy place indeed without the security and camaraderie of enduring relationships. The answer to the marriage quandary is to educate people, before and after they say “I do,” on how to have the kind of relationships everyone wants to have. The real solution is to gently come alongside those who are struggling in their relationships and show them a better, less painful alternative to divorce.            

Love is Not Enough

Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside~ Exodus 9:20

 

It’s been a depressing week. Nothing truly awful occurred; just a whole bunch of petty little first-world problems that conspired together to wreck my week. I’ve been sick, my husband has been out of town, and we’ve had car problems, problems with the dog, scheduling issues with our kids, and on top of everything else it’s September and it still feels like July in Tucson.

 My blue mood intensified on Tuesday while I was searching the Internet for an article. I could remember what the article was about, but not the title or who wrote the stupid thing. As a result, I spent the better part of an hour undertaking the modern equivalent of searching for a needle in a haystack. I never did find what I was looking for, but I did come across a rather bitter tirade written by a former Christian turned irate atheist. Among other things, his diatribe contained a list of prominent Christian leaders who have failed morally in the last decade. The length of the list was appalling.

 But it got me thinking.  

Why do Christian leaders fail?

 They shouldn’t. If there is any type of leader on earth who should be able to hold it together it’s a Christian leader. And yet the last three decades have given the world some really outstanding examples of leadership failure within the Christian community. Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Doug Phillips, Bob Coy, Ted Haggard, and Tony Alamo are just a few of the more notorious examples of Christian failure the world has witnessed in recent years.  

 This is an issue all Christians should think about for a couple of reasons. First:

All Christians are leaders.

 Parents lead children, managers and business owners lead employees, employees and students lead their peers, and teachers lead students. If you are a believer in Jesus and you aren’t leading someone in some way, you are doing something terribly wrong. There is no leader on earth who is immune to temptation. We need to understand why leaders fail so we can avoid moral failure in our own lives and preserve our influence in the world.

 Christian leadership failure hurts everyone.

 Failure damages the person who fails; they lose their incomes, influence, reputations, and sometimes even their families. Moral failure devastates followers, shatters trust and tests faith. Moral failure makes it challenging for all Christians to spread the gospel. It is difficult to convince those on the periphery of the faith that Jesus has the power to change and empower people when Church leadership can’t uphold some very basic principles of the faith. Tragically, moral failure hurts unbelievers most of all, giving them a handy excuse to never ponder the claims of Christ, ensuring that they will spend eternity without Him.  

 Popular theories of why moral failure occurs are many and varied, but a list of contributing factors usually includes:

 Lack of accountability

Isolation of the leader

Stress

Pride

Too few boundaries

Too many temptations

Fatigue and depression

 All of these issues can and do contribute to leadership failure. However, I believe there is typically a lot more to it. One thing is clear, for most Christians moral failure is rarely about a lack of love for Jesus. I cannot speak for every Christian leader who has fallen. But I can tell you that every Christian I have ever known who has failed morally has loved God deeply and passionately.

 Lack of love is rarely the problem. Lack of fear is.

Love (even love for God) is a soft squishy emotion that is easy to push aside when other emotions like greed and lust are riding high. Fear on the other hand is much harder to ignore or push aside. For that reason, fear of God has become a central part of our belief system. If it doesn’t, we will undoubtedly fall victim to the first appealing temptation that comes along during a moment of stress or weakness.

 Fear of God has gotten a bad rap in the last few years. The expression conjures up images of harried-looking believers biting their nails and cowering in corners. It’s really a deceptive image of fearing the Lord. Fearing God is not about being afraid. Fear of the Lord simply means that we really believe that God will bring the consequences He has promised in His word to those who violate His commands.

 A fear of the Lord must be cultivated in a person’s life. Fear of God begins with remembering that not all of God’s promises are pleasant and that God really does discipline those whom He loves most.