Five Ways The Church Has Failed at Loving People

 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love- Ephesians 5:1 NIV

There is simply no subject that has been more thoroughly discussed or more hotly debated in the church today than the subject of love. My personal library contains at least a dozen volumes on the subject and hardly a day goes by when I do not come across an article or blogpost encouraging (sometimes even shaming) church people into behaving in more loving ways.

That being said, it could easily be argued that the Church is failing epically at this very basic and fundamental task (Matthew 22:36-40). The comments section of articles pertaining to hot-button issues (abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, immigration) reveal that the world views most church people as a bunch of angry, hard-hearted, insensitive meanies. 

Christians clearly have an optics problem when it comes to the subject of love. 

This problem has created angst in the hearts of most Christians and with good reason. It is simply impossible for those inside the church to convince those outside the church that God loves them if they do not first believe that Christians love them. Unless people believe that God loves them they will reject God; and willfully rejecting God’s love never ends well for anyone (Matthew 25:46, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:1-3, Revelation 20:11-15). 

Sigh.  

Our current optics problem came about as a result of some missteps on the part of Christians. Most of those missteps are not a result of deliberate mean-spiritedness; just a sad combination of obliviousness, biblical ignorance and misplaced zeal (Romans 10:2).  There are five mistakes Christians make that the cause the world to see us as fundamentally unloving:  

We do not love each other-

In the Christian world there is a huge emphasis placed on loving non-Christians. There is nothing at all wrong with Christians loving non-Christians. Loving non-Christians is always a good and necessary thing. However, God also wants Christians to love each other. God intends the church to be a place where believers treat each other with the utmost love, grace, respect and patience (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, 1stPeter 3:8) so that our churches are a safe place for baby Christians to grow. God also wants churches to be places where unsaved people can clearly see the love and respect Christians have for each other. When unbelievers see authentic love and grace in our church communities they will want what we have. Sadly, many Christians are not always loving, patient or even courteous towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, many Christians publicly criticize their churches and treat other Christians with open contempt.  This breaks the heart of God and God will not bless the Western Church with revival until His people repent of this sin.  

We lack patience-

1stCorinthians 13 is basically just a treatise on loving like God loves. The very first thing the Apostle Paul tells us about love is that it is patient (1stCorinthians 13:4).  Too often we forget that genuine love gives people room to grow and develop and does not demand that people mature on our timetable. It is critical we correct those who are straying morally (2ndTimothy 3:16, 2ndTimothy 4:2). However, it is equally critical we temper our corrections with the patience, kindness and grace of God (1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Our corrections lack context- 

 In my experience, most Church people are good people who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-28). However, there are some church people who are a bit overeager when it comes to getting and keeping others on the straight and narrow. Church people forget sometimes that correction is best done in the context of relationship and should NEVER be attempted on church visitors or strangers. Period. It does not matter what the person is wearing or how many piercings or tattoos these folks happen to have. The only truly loving thing to do when someone shows up at church is to celebrate the fact that they are attempting to connect with God on some level. Their appearance (even if it’s inappropriate) should be irrelevant (Luke 15:15-31). 

Some of us think tough love is always the answer- 

Sometimes tough love (and tough words) really are the answer. There are situations in life where people need to be told the truth in a loving but straight-forward, no-holds-barred manner (Ephesians 4:15). However, most of the time a kinder, gentler method is far more effective and should always be attempted before tough love is applied (Proverbs 15:1 Titus 3:1-3, Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:1-2). 

We avoid truth telling- 

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of Christians in this world. The ones who say too much about sin and the ones who say nothing at all about sin.  Sadly, the ones who say nothing often feel justified in doing so because of the damage done by the ones who say too much. Further complicating the situation is the fact that we have been conditioned by our society to believe that telling people the truth about their behavior is mean and unloving. That said, it is a fundamentally unloving thing to lead people to believe that they can continue to sin without consequences (Galatians 5:16-21).   

Judgment, Change and the Real Reasons Non-Christians Don’t Go to Church

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God~ 2nd Corinthians 4:4 NIV

 One of the most contentious and thought-provoking debates in church circles these days’ centers on unbelievers and why they don’t go to church.

 Some believe that unchurched people avoid church because the stuff we do in church is simply too complicated for them to understand. Champions of this theory believe that the solution to Christianity’s dwindling conversion rate is to simplify and explain the heck out of how and why we do what we do in church. They sincerely believe that non-Christians will go to church if churches will remove any language or ritual that anyone who is not already acquainted with church might find even vaguely baffling.

 Churches that buy into this philosophy are not difficult to spot. Services last precisely one hour. The messages tend to focus almost entirely on practical issues like parenting and marriage. Communion is rarely if ever served. The songs are fun to sing but devoid of any thorny theological references (sometimes the songs are secular). And there is always a conspicuous “What You Can Expect Today” section in the bulletin or on the screen before the service.

 Others believe non-Christians avoid church because church is just too offensive and weird. These folks strive to make their churches as non-judgmental, wishy-washy, and agreeable as possible. Churches that have chosen this path seek to be inspiring and encouraging above all else. Sermons tend to be short on the topics of sin, sacrifice, and repentance and entirely focused on positive thinking and positive living.

 In my view these notions are outrageously elitist and disturbingly humanistic. The premise of the first theory rests entirely on the belief that non-Christians are just too dumb to grasp any concept they are not already entirely familiar with. This is untrue, and in my experience that sort of contempt has never prompted anyone to embrace anything.

 Moreover, the only way to transform Christianity into something unfailingly positive is to purge it of teachings related to sin, guilt and repentance. When we remove the tough, thorny and convicting stuff (Romans 1:18-32) from Christianity we are effectively saying that we (flawed human beings) have a superior plan of action for presenting the gospel than God does.

 I am not an expert on why people do or don’t go to church. However, I am closely related to a number of pagans, atheists, agnostics and heathens. To this day few of my relatives attend church, and I did not convert to Christianity until I was an adult (early twenties). As a result I know a lot of unsaved people really well and clearly remember what it felt like to be unsaved. Following are five actual reasons unchurched people don’t go to church:

 There is no reason for them to go-

 Contrary to popular belief, church was never intended to be a place for non-Christians. Church was meant to be a place where Christians get equipped to reach non-Christians with the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-13). If we want unbelievers to want to go to church we need to find ways to reach them with the gospel first.

 They fear judgment-

 What they really dread is hearing someone say something that will confirm their deepest fear that they aren’t good enough and that God will judge them for it. The irony is that their fear is firmly grounded in fact. NO ONE is good enough and God will judge EVERYONE who dies without repenting and putting their faith in Jesus. Our job is to tell them that God loved them enough to provide a solution to the problem of not being good enough.    

 They don’t want to change (repent)-

 Most non-Christians know instinctively that if there is a God they are doing things that are totally not cool with that God (Romans 2:15). They also know (instinctively) that they will have to stop doing those things if they want to get into a right relationship with Him (Luke 13:5). Some churches have gotten around this problem by lying to unbelievers and telling them that they can be Christians without repenting. Regrettably, all this so-called solution has succeeded in doing is filling our Churches with heathens who sincerely believe they are Christians. The right answer is to lovingly present unbelievers with the truth and let the Holy Spirit work in their hearts.

 They have observed that many Christians don’t live what they believe-

 I think this is because some Christians have bought into the lie that in order to reach the unsaved they have to act like the unsaved. All this does is convince non-Christians that being a Christian is really no different than being a non-Christian and is therefore a pointless waste of their time.

 No one has ever invited them-

 Seriously. This really is the main reason non-Christians don’t go to church.

 I do not believe Christians or churches should ever be unnecessarily weird. I also believe that the answer to the problem of unsaved people who don’t go to church is not as complicated as we’ve made it. We just need to love them, pray for them, present them with truth and invite them into our world.

 It worked for me.

 

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.

 

Five Ways our Generation has Screwed-up Prayer

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread”~ Matthew 6:9-11 NIV

 This week I got to enjoy a very long lunch with an old friend. This particular friend is not just an old friend in the sense that we have known each other a long time. She is also an old friend in the sense that she is a good bit older than I am. I don’t know if it’s because she’s older than I am or if it’s because she’s acquired some wisdom in life (or a combination of the two), but this woman never fails to challenge me. The truly maddening thing is that I’m fairly certain she does it without even trying.

 This visit was no exception.

 We spent some time catching-up on our families and grumbling about all the madness in the world, then we moved on to the topic of church and ministry. I shared a little bit about what’s going on in my life right now, she shared what she’s doing and a couple of “back in the day” stories.

 I will not lie.

 There was a time (to my eternal shame) when I would sigh quietly anytime an older Christian began to wax eloquent about how ministry was done “back in the day”. I assumed (like all youthful idiots) that there is nothing significant to be learned from how church or ministry was done in the past. However, my generations’ complete and utter failure to make meaningful spiritual inroads into to our culture has humbled me a bit. I am now much more inclined to listen to those with a few years on me.

 It didn’t take long for me to recognize that all of her stories had a shared theme. The theme did not include tales of strategic outreach, careful planning or exciting gimmicks used to lure the unsaved into church buildings or a relationship with Jesus. Rather, the common denominator to all her stories was prayer. In every story she told, Christians prayed really hard and then crazy-cool stuff would happen, hearts changed, non-Christians became Christians, sin got confessed and repented of, and miracles took place. By the end of our lunch I was deeply convicted that our generation has forgotten how to pray and screwed-up the concept of prayer in at least five ways.

 Beginning with:

 We plan instead of pray-

 I am a planner. One of my favorite adages (much to the chagrin of my poor children) is “failure to plan is like planning to fail”. I have even been accused of over-planning a time or two. That said, I suspect we might see more success in our churches and at our events if we spent at least as much time praying for events and services as we do planning for them.

 We just don’t do it-

 According to a bunch of self-surveys I looked at, the average Christian admits to spending about three minutes a day in prayer. The ugly underbelly of that already ugly fact is that it tells us that at least half of all Christians either don’t pray at all or pray for less than three minutes a day.  

 We don’t really believe anything will happen when we do pray-

 Over and over again in the New Testament we are told that God is much more inclined to answer prayer when the person praying actually believes that something will happen because they prayed. I will be the first to admit that God does not answer all our prayers the way we want Him to answer our prayers. However, that does not mean we should stop believing that God will answer when we do pray.  

 We pray for dumb stuff-

 I know I’m going to get some flak for this one. But seriously, the world is going to hell right in front of us (literally and figuratively) and I have been at prayer meetings where people requested prayer for the health of their pets and for a relaxing vacation. God does care about pets and rest (He cares about everything). However, I suspect He cares more about the souls of the lost and is more inclined to answer in the affirmative when we pray about stuff that actually matters.  

 We don’t pray corporately-

 Even when we do gather to pray corporately, most of the time we wander off by our selves and pray alone. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He talked about “two or three being gathered” in His name.

 I think our generation has screwed-up prayer because we have lost touch with the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not about getting God to do the stuff we want or getting stuff from God. Prayer is about getting our purposes aligned with His and getting the spiritual power we need to do the stuff that really matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Signs You Are in the World And of It

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them~ 1st John 2:15 NIV

 I did not grow up in anything even remotely close to a Christian home. Our home was so un-Christian that I can count on one hand the number of times I attended a church for any reason at all prior to reaching adulthood.

 As a result I was tragically ignorant of all things Christian.

 Following my conversion to Christianity as a young adult, I did my level best to expand my biblical knowledge base. My quest to gain understanding involved a lot of church attendance, going to Bible studies and attending Christian conferences.

 The flurry of activity helped in some ways but hurt in others. It increased my overall knowledge of the Bible. However, it also led me to believe that the Bible said some things it actually didn’t say; for example, at one point I was shocked to discover that the phrase “be in the world, but not of it” was not actually a Bible verse but rather a pithy little saying the American church adopted as truth sometime around the turn of the 20th century.

 Since the early days of my Christian experience, the church and the people in it have changed a great deal. For one thing, there is far less emphasis placed on the dangers of “worldliness” and more of an emphasis placed on the need for Christians to love people unconditionally.

 Without question, loving people is something that pleases Jesus (Matthew 5:44, Mark 12:30-31, John 3:16). That is unless our love devolves into sloppy sentimentalism or a focus on feelings rather than the state of a person’s soul. That kind of love is closer to what the Bible calls “loving the world” rather than truly loving people.

 We “love the world” when we take our cues about how to live, love and function from the world’s system rather than from the Bible (Romans 12:2). It’s shockingly easy for Christians to love the world without even knowing it.

 Following are five ways Christians love the world and leave true faith behind:

 We love the world when we hate on the people in the church-

 Jesus promised us that the world would hate the church (John 15:19). He did not promise that the church would hate its own members. It almost goes without saying that the church in America has some serious issues and is in need of reform. It’s also true that some Christians have driven people away from the church with hypocrisy, perversely high standards, bad attitudes and extra-biblical expectations. However, that does not make it okay for Christians to hate on other Christians, as some have taken to doing. It’s no wonder unbelievers don’t want to give church a chance when Christians are so critical of those in the church.

 We love the world when we refuse to call a sin a sin-

 There is no clearer indicator we have cozied up to the world than when we accept the world’s standard of morality. In many Christian circles it is now considered offensive to even hint that behaviors like divorce, drug use, homosexuality (1st Timothy 1:9-11), promiscuity and drunkenness (among others) are sinful. The effect of relaxing our standards has been dramatic. Many believers no longer feel shame, or even regret, over actions the Bible clearly calls shameful and society is devolving into a chaotic muddle due to our lack of moral leadership.  

 We love the world when we use love as a cover for inaction or silence regarding the dangers of sin-

 Our current definition of love has morphed into something early Christians never would have imagined. Love has become a justification for silence, spiritual inertia and the tolerance of every kind of evil behavior. We have forgotten that biblical love speaks the truth and tirelessly promotes righteousness (Ephesians 4:15).

 We love the world when we wallow in its behaviors and use “fitting in” as an excuse to continue wallowing-

 Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not call Christians to “fit into” society (Romans 12:2). Christians are told to stand out and be different, at times to the point of peculiarity (1st Peter 2:9). The moment we begin to conform to the world, we cease to be effective at what God has called us to do (Matthew 28:16-20, Matthew 5:13-16)

 We love the world when we make our entertainment choices an idol we refuse to let go of-

 There was a time in the recent past when most Christians shunned secular entertainment out of fear that it would adversely affect their behavior and attitudes. They feared worldly entertainment would make them too much like “the world”. For the most part, Christians have lost that fear and now the people in the church look more like the people in the world than at any other time in church history. We need to start being real with ourselves about what we’re watching and how it affects our ability to think and reason in a Christian way. If we wouldn’t watch it with Jesus in the room, it won’t make us any more spiritual or bring us any closer to Jesus.

Period.  

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Aren’t Connecting

 All those who had believed were together and had all things in common. They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved~ Acts 2:44a, 46b, and 47 NIV

 Connecting people is a passion of mine.

 I served as a Connections Coordinator for a couple of years. But long before all that, I recognized that the people most likely to stick around a Church or a group in a church were those who felt deeply connected to the people in the church or church group.

 The high school kids who had friends in the Sunday school class I taught were the ones who showed up week after week regardless of what I was teaching. I learned early on that if I could help a woman make a friend in the Bible study I was leading, the chances were pretty good that woman would come back and sometimes she would bring a friend.

 Legitimate research has backed up my observations.

 Research done by Thom Ranier reveals that roughly half (49%) of all people stay in their current church because they have a deep connection to the people in the church. According to some of my own less-than-legitimate research (asking a bunch of nosy questions about why people stayed in or left their church) the number two reason people gave for leaving a church (number one was weak or shady leadership) was lack of connection to people.

 Even the most introverted among us were created to connect with one another. It’s a fundamental part of who we are and a reflection of God’s nature in us. Most adults who convert to Christianity do so within the context of friendship. Many who began attending church looking for friendships have found Jesus in the process.

 Hospitality and developing healthy relationships is a basic and often overlooked aspect of evangelism and we all bear some responsibility for the task. We build healthy groups churches by doing five simple things consistently.

 First:

 Show up-

 Sadly, many of the same people who attend services once or twice a month also grumble about not feeling a sense of belonging in their church. No one in the history of forever has ever grown spiritually, made a friend or become a functioning part of a church body without first committing to consistently attending a church service (Hebrews 10:25).

 Join a small group-

 It can be an adult Sunday school class, weekday Bible study or a small group that meets in a home. Go and do more than show-up. Show-up early, stay late, participate in the discussions and invite people in the group into your home, your heart, and your inner circle. Do your part to make that group into a family and then encourage new people to become a part of the family (1st Corinthians 12:28).

 Be real-

 God only made one you. Being authentic about who you are and what you’ve experienced (without being excessively detailed or graphic) is honoring to God and can be useful (if it’s done right) to those who are struggling on their spiritual journey (2nd Corinthians 1:3-4).

 Don’t judge others for being real-

 Just don’t. Judgment destroys community. Our role as Christians is to encourage, correct, redirect and cheer-lead (Galatians 6:1, Hebrews 3:13, 2nd Timothy 2:24-26). We must leave the judgments to God. He knows more than we ever could. However, it’s equally critical we don’t buy into the lie that correction or redirection is the same thing as judgment. Correcting sinful or spiritually dubious behavior is NOT the same as judging. Correction is biblical AND necessary in a healthy Christian community (James 1:21, James 5:20).

 Use the gifts you have-

 My fondest wish for every Christian on earth would be for them to know and use their gifts to grow their local church (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 12:6-11). Sadly, many Christians have all but stopped serving and churches are dying as a result of our disobedience. Volunteering to teach a class, hosting a group in your home, baking cookies for VBS or serving on the greeting team or in the food pantry is about more than filling a spot. It’s about bonding with other believers, building community and being the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken and hurting world (Matthew 25:44-46).  

 Don’t close your circle-

 Building connections with people is both horribly complex and enormously rewarding. Keeping our hearts open to people and finding creative ways to meet their needs is one of the most significant and basic ways we serve God (1st Peter 4:9). It’s also the only way to build a healthy Christian community.

 

 

Should Christians and Non-Christians be Friends?

 Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character~ 1st Corinthians 15:33 NIV

 I subscribe to a number of Christian leadership blogs, podcasts and websites. Most of the stuff I subscribe to is pretty good. A few are hit or miss and one or two are just kind of meh. The best ones consistently tackle issues I have never thought very deeply about, challenge my biases, and help me think more imaginatively about problem solving. The not-so-great ones tend to hit on the same dozen or so issues over and over again and never really give any answers, just raise a lot questions.

 Over the course of the last couple of years, I have noted a clear trend regarding the subject matter of many of the blogs I subscribe to. All of them have been encouraging Christians to be bolder in their pursuit of authentic and meaningful friendships with sinners (their word, not mine). A few have openly scolded other Christians for not having and pursuing more intimate friendships with non-Christians. Every article I’ve read on the subject holds Jesus up as the example we ought to follow when it comes to pursuing friendships with “sinners”.

For the record, I believe with all my heart Christians ought to pursue friendships with non-Christian people (more on that later). However, I am convinced this teaching trend has become dangerously unbalanced because it presumes without offering cautions.

 I will begin with the presumptions.

 The most common presumption is that Jesus spent most or all of His time just chilling with sinners. To hear many pastors and teachers tell it, Jesus spent every moment of His life on earth at the local bars, crack houses and brothels hugging and high-fiving the local riff-raff.  

 He didn’t.

 A careful reading of the gospels reveals that Jesus did indeed attend events and parties where “sinners” were present (a very big deal in His world). We also know that Jesus was kind and welcoming to everyone (including sinners) and He definitely wasn’t shy about interacting with sinners or building meaningful relationships with very messed-up people (Luke 19:1-9, John 4). However, that was one part of His over-all ministry. Jesus spent most of His time with the twelve disciples and others (Luke 8:1-3, Luke 10:1) who were interested in following Jesus and learning to live a holy life.

 The second assumption many make is that the culture Jesus ministered in was exactly like the culture we live in.

Its’ simply not true.

Jesus lived in and ministered to a predominately Jewish culture where even the most messed-up “sinners” understood exactly what the Bible had to say about sin (John 4, Luke 9:1-9). This meant that the pre-evangelistic work of helping folks recognize the reality that they are sinners in need of redemption was done long before they came into contact with Jesus. We live in a post-Christian/atheistic culture where few people know or care about what the Bible has to say about much of anything. Even fewer feel guilt or remorse over their behavior. This difference is subtle and may seem trivial. However, it’s a difference that dramatically affects the dynamics of interacting with non-Christians. At the very least it makes spiritually productive conversations more difficult, and relationships trickier to navigate.

 And finally:

Some are assuming we are all a heck of lot more like Jesus than we actually are. Jesus was the perfect, sinless Son of God on a mission to save the world from the bondage and consequences of sin.

We are not Jesus.

 Even in our redeemed state we are still people who possess a sin nature (1st John 1:8). We are people who have been saved by the kindness and mercy of  a seriously benevolent God and nothing else (Ephesians 2:9). We are also people who have been commanded by a holy God to live a life of purity, holiness and righteousness (1st Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 5:3, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, 1st Peter 1:14-16, Hebrews 12:14). Our calling to holiness is sometimes made more difficult by our choice of friendships (Proverbs 13:20, Psalm 1, 1st Corinthians 15:33).

 All that being said, I still really believe Christians ought to be intentional about seeking out friendships with non-Christian people. People have to be led to Jesus and the only way that will happen in this culture will be through cultivating relationships. However, we need to initiate relationships with non-Christian people wisely and prayerfully, keeping two truths firmly in mind.

 First, the Bible warns us repeatedly concerning the dangers of spending an inappropriate amount of time around those who may tempt us to sin (Jude 22, 2nd Corinthians 6:14-15, 1st John 2:15-16). Secondly, we need to remember that we will NEVER lead anyone to Jesus if we make a habit out of sinning with them.

 

Christians and Social Media

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets~ Matthew 7:12 NIV

 I have a love-hate relationship with social media.

 I love that social media is free. I love that Facebook has allowed me to stay connected to friends and family I would have likely lost touch with prior to the advent of Facebook.

 I love that social media connects people from every walk of life and every corner of the world. I love that disseminating information to large groups is now as simple as pushing a button. I love that Twitter and Facebook have played pivotal roles in recent social revolutions. I really love that it is now possible for any monkey with an opinion, rudimentary English skills and a laptop to write a blog and gain an audience.

 Sadly, the list of things I hate about social media is twice as long.

 I hate that sites like Backpage and Craigslist have made it easy and lucrative for evil people to exploit others. I hate that social media has more-or-less taken over much of our lives. I hate that some people actually sleep with their phones and that many of us are more engaged with electronic devices than we are with the people around us.

 I hate that social media has made it possible for lies and fake news to spread quicker than germs do. I hate that social media has made it easy for people to isolate themselves from ideas that stretch their thinking. I hate how it is now possible to “unfriend” a real live person without so much as a discussion as to why.

 And finally,

 The thing I hate most about social media is how stinking easy it is to be mean.

 It happens at least a million times a day.

 A reasonably decent person writes something on Facebook or shares something Twitter so mean-spirited and awful that only a certified nut-job would dream of saying the same thing out loud in a face-to-face encounter. Sadly, all this verbal savagery has created an environment where cruelty now feels absurdly normal.

 Most of us tend to believe only really dreadful people do this sort of thing. Sadly, it’s just not true. Most of us, (even many Christians) have been guilty at one-time-or another of writing something on social media we would never say out loud to another person.

 I am not opposed to frank dialogue and truth telling. I believe with all my heart that our culture would benefit a great deal from a little more of the right kind of honesty. That said, I also believe we need a lot less of the kind we are rapidly becoming accustomed to. So, in the interest of creating a little more civility in our world, I want to offer a few guidelines for interacting with others on social media.

 Remember four things…

 You don’t stop being a Christian on social media.

 Like it or not, most social interactions now occur on Facebook and Twitter. This means unsaved people are making-up their minds about Christianity and the church by what Christians say and post on social media. Be vigilant about how you present yourself, your political views and Jesus on social media. Our job in this world is to lead people to Jesus, build-up the body of Christ, and motivate others to positive change. There’s a fine line between making a valid argument, defending the faith or calling for change and tearing others or the Church down. Don’t cross it.

 For the love of God—just be kind.

 I’m not suggesting we soft-peddle truth. I am advising Christians to heed the warning given in Ephesians 4:15 and speak hard truth in a loving and gentle tone. There is a real live human being with feelings out there in cyberspace somewhere that may be hurt by how you choose to say something that really does need to be said. Ask yourself if Jesus would write the same thing in the same tone before you push the enter key.

 Hurting people are weird sometimes.

 Every single person on this planet is living with painful personal junk they are attempting to manage. The weirdly vitriolic woman freaking-out on the other end of our “abortion is murder” comment might just be overwhelmed with guilt from a past abortion. Anytime we choose to take a heartless and militant tone over any sin issue, we might be missing out on an opportunity to bring spiritual healing into the life of a hurting person.

 Keep private situations private.

 Do not air personal problems you have with another person in public forums (Facebook or Twitter) if you aren’t willing to discuss the issue with them in private first (Matthew 18:15-17). Only cowards and mean people air their personal grievances in front of strangers.

 If you are a believer in Jesus, treating people civilly (even people you don’t like or agree with) is not about you. It’s about Jesus. When Christians name call, use foul language, treat others with contempt, or “unfriend” people for no good reason on social media we hurt the cause of Christ and each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 reasonably healthy. Needless to say his death was a huge shock. At the funeral an acquaintance “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 of mine 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 plenty to say on the subject of words. The writer of Proverbs reminds readers that, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” 1st Corinthians thirteen teaches that a 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 hasty and doubtless hurtful “guidance” I 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 makes us angry people and inevitably leads to using perceived 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 are wrong because each response 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 feelings is not easy. We have to discipline our minds not think on the stupid stuff people say to us and choose (sometimes repeatedly) to let go of hurt, rather than hang on to it. We also must be willing to pray for people who say foolish, mean or hurtful things, because it is only by the grace of God that we are not the ones doing the hurting this time.