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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Church Really Needs-

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power~ 1stCorinthians 2:4-5 NIV

 I have observed that there is oftentimes in life a great chasm between what we think we need and what we really need.

  Nowhere is that truer than in the church.

 Most Christians (including me) spend a lot of time asking God for a lot of things. We pray for safety and protection for ourselves and our families. We pray that God’s favor will be on our lives. We pray that Christians will have greater political and social influence in the world. We pray that God will bless us with better jobs and more prosperity.  We pray that God will bless our churches with behinds in the seats and bucks in the offering plate.

 There is certainly nothing wrong with asking God for things (1stJohn 5:14-15, Hebrews 4:16) and none of those things are bad things. Some of them are actually noble, helpful and even necessary. No sane person would spend a lot of time arguing against the benefits and blessings of personal safety, financial security, influence, or growing churches.

 That said.

 I can’t help but wonder if maybe our desire for good things has caused us to lose sight of some better things that we actually need more than the good things we spend so much time and energy going after. Following are four things the church (and the people in the church) need more than safety, security, financial blessings or influence.

 What we really need is more:  

 Power-

 Early Christians lived during a period of history that was unbelievably dark and violent. The cruelty of what they endured simply defies comprehension. Early believers were victimized by both a despotic government with literally unlimited power (Rome) and a corrupt religious system that should have known better (the Sadducees and Pharisees).  (Acts 4:1-21, Acts 5:17-41, Acts 6:8-7:60, Acts 13:50, Acts 19, Acts 20:18-20). The government of Rome and the religious system of Palestine were hellbent on eradicating the fledgling new faith and were endlessly creative (and cruel) in their attempts to do so. Identifying as a Jesus follower was so dangerous that early Christians created a series of secret symbols to recognize each other in the hopes of avoiding swift and brutal deaths. A speaker recently blew my mind and forced me to modify my thinking on a whole slew of issues when he pointed out that nowhere in the book of Acts will we find an example of a Christian praying for their personal safety or protection. Instead early Christians prayed continually for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit’s power so they could do what God had called them to do (convert a culture and glorify God). We would do well to follow their lead.

 Challenges-

 Okay, I hesitated to add this one because I get that this isn’t exactly the sort of thing most (sane) people pray for. However, sometimes challenges and difficulties are exactly what we need (2ndThessalonians 1:2-5, James 1:2-4, 1stPeter 1:4-8).  Challenges and difficulties force us to grow-up and problem solve. Challenges prepare us for future ministry opportunities (2ndCorinthians 1:3-7) and they are oftentimes the motivation we need to seek God on a deeper level. We need to embrace the challenges we face for what they are: an opportunity to become more like Jesus, preparation for heaven and the thing that will make us grow (Acts 14:21-22, 2ndCorinthians 4:17, 2ndCorinthians 4:7-12).

 Influence with ordinary people-

 Political influence is not bad or wrong, so long as it is used for the right purposes and handled with wisdom and integrity. The apostle Paul used his status as a Roman citizen to gain an advantage on more than one occasion (Acts 16:37-38, Acts 21:31, Acts 22:22-29).  That said, no revival or enduring cultural change (that I have ever heard of) has ever started among the political elite and trickled down to ordinary people who were just living their lives. Lasting revivals always begin with ordinary people and eventually lead to political and societal change. Rather than praying for influence in high places we ought to be praying for revival among the ranks of the common man and woman.

 Discernment-

 We live in undeniably strange times where evil is routinely called good and good is called evil (Isaiah 5:20). Oftentimes the arguments made for calling good evil and evil good appear convincing and feel credible from a purely human perspective. Discernment is the ability to judge right from wrong by God’s standards. Discernment also gives us the insight and wisdom to see-through and argue against persuasive arguments that run contrary to biblical teaching (Colossians 2:4-8). Without discernment we are sitting ducks for the devil’s schemes (2ndTimothy 2:25-26) and almost certain to fall into wrong thinking that inevitably leads to wrong behavior (sin).

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Really Good Reasons Not to Legalize Drugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Some other reasons are:

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

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

 Gateway drugs are a real thing-

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

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

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

 Drug use makes people passive and easy to manipulate-

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

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

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

 Drugs hurt kids-

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

 Anything that can do that is not a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Six Things That Must Be Done to End the Scourge Of Gun Violence

 Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established~ Proverbs 24:3 NKJV

By now, pretty much everyone reading this is aware that there was another horrific school shooting last week, this time in the state of Florida.

 The shooter was troubled young man with a hazy past who suffered from a plethora of shockingly obvious psychological problems. That said, at this point there is little to be gained from discussing the shooter, the body count, the young man’s family situation, or even the appalling number of local, state and federal agencies who bungled the job of preventing this bizarrely preventable tragedy.

 All that is painfully irrelevant at this point.

 It seems to me that it’s far more productive to discuss what we can do to fix the flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess we have made out of our society. News outlets have interviewed a number of high school students who are understandably panicked about their safety and concerned for the future. It’s become painfully obvious that too many of these people are having their fear exploited by manipulative activists who are feeding them the lie that there is a quick fix to our nation’s problem with random gun violence.

 No such fix exists because the problem with gun violence is not about guns; it’s about people and the condition of their hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). The number of gun owners in this country has actually decreased over the course of the last century. During the same period, more restrictions have been placed on who can and cannot own guns and yet gun violence has risen sharply in recent decades. This detail is troublesome and it ought to motivate us to dig deeper rather than simply looking for a quick fix to a complicated issue.

 Gun violence can be slowed substantially if we as a society are willing to do a little soul searching and make some changes in our attitudes and behaviors (Mark 1:15, Acts 3:19).

 Those changes must include:

 An end to the drug culture-

 Over the course of the last three decades there has been a sharp increase in the number of children born to drug using mothers. These babies tend to grow into children and young adults with intellectual deficits who have a tough time in school and later with securing gainful employment. Children born to drug-using mothers tend to struggle with impulse control, anti-social behavior, relationship skills, making responsible choices, and anger (all risks for violent behavior). I am not suggesting that all children born to drug-using mothers are doomed to be school shooters, or that every school shooter was born with drugs in their system. I am saying straight up that every single time a child is born to a drug user the risk-pool for violent behavior is increased by one. If young people want to change the future of this country and decrease the risk of violence they should seek to end the drug culture.

 Getting married and staying that way-

 Loving, healthy, stable two-parent homes rarely produce mass-murders. If we as a society want to reduce gun violence we should celebrate intact families and encourage young people to build said families.

 An end to celebrating narcissism-

 We live in a pathetically sad age of me, me, and more me. Selfies are actually a thing and people are marrying themselves for the love-of-all-that-is-good-and-decent. If we want to change the future we must change our focus (Leviticus 19:18, Romans 13:8, Matthew 22:36-40). When a child spends their youth focusing entirely on his or her feelings and needs-to the exclusion of everyone else’s feelings and needs-it makes it shockingly easy for some of them to hurt other people and not feel bad about it.

 Fighting for reform in public schools-

 For decades now, public schools have sought to carefully craft a value-neutral environment. This means avoiding teaching children values that might be considered controversial out fear of offending a family who might have a differing set of values. The problem with not teaching values is that values are as much caught as they are taught. If one does not teach the value that human life should be protected and nurtured at all costs, then some kids will catch the value that taking a human life (or seventeen human lives, or a hundred human lives) is not really that big of a deal. Parents and students should demand more from their public schools.

 Ending our love-affair with violent entertainment-

 Seriously. There is no way Game of Thrones, Dexter, American Horror Story and violent video games are making us better, healthier and more compassionate people. If we want to end violence in our schools we have to stop feeding children (and adults) an unending diet of violent and vile entertainment that hardens hearts and sears consciences.

 Going to church-

 I hesitated to add this one—not because I doubt the value of church but because without the heart change that can only come through a relationship with Jesus, simply attending church can easily devolve into a meaningless exercise that does little for anyone. That said, church is God’s chosen vehicle for bringing truth to those who don’t know Him and for training those who do know Him (Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 4:11-16). It is also the place where we learn what God requires of people (Mark 1:15, Acts 16:31, 1st John 3:23) and where (if church is being done right) we develop a desire to please Him by treating other people with respect, kindness and mercy (Micah 6:8).

 Truth be told, even the best laws are incapable of changing a single human heart and without changed hearts societies remain sick. If we want to make our society better we have to become better people and we cannot do that without God (Ezekiel 36:26).

How the Battle Between the Sexes is Hurting the Church

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created~ Genesis 5:1-2 NIV

 I rarely write follow-up posts. This is mostly due to the fact that I have a ridiculously short attention span and I prefer to make all the points on a topic in one post. Then I move on to another topic and a new post.

 It’s how I roll.

 However, last weeks blog was not actually finished. One observant reader pointed out that I said there were five reasons I felt Christians shouldn’t support the #MeToo movement and then proceeded to make four points. Truth-be-told I planned on making five points and then only made four, mostly because the post was getting a bit long and the point I wanted to make was not the kind of point that can be made effectively in a hundred words or less. After some thought I decided that the point I initially intended to make is still something that needs to be said.

 So here goes.  

 One issue I have with the #MeToo movement is that they tend to see interactions between men and woman in black and white and nearly always in negative terms. They routinely paint women as victims of men and men as victimizers of women. This view is skewed and dangerous. It is true that some men do indeed victimize women. However, not every woman is blameless and not every man is a victimizer. Sometimes the woman is the one doing the victimizing and the man is the victim. Men and women are both sinners (Romans 3:23, 1st John 1:10) and there is no end to the ways both sexes can and do victimize one another. Painting men or women with an overly broad brush oversimplifies complex issues and pits men and women against one another.

 Many so-called “advocates of women” appear to believe that men and women are mortal enemies. That is a pernicious lie. Sadly, it’s a lie people have bought into since the dawn of time. That lie has generated chaos between the sexes and is currently wrecking havoc on our culture and destroying the effectiveness of the Christian community.

 It is simply a fact that men and women are distinctly different from one another. The differences between men and women run far deeper than the obvious plumbing issues and are not (contrary to popular belief) a result of eons of successful social conditioning. Men and women think differently, behave differently and oftentimes see the exact same situation from radically different perspectives. Contrary to popular opinion, ‘different’ in this case is not bad a thing (Genesis 1:26-31).

I believe with all of my being that the differences between men and women are not something that should be minimized or eliminated. The differences between the sexes should be celebrated, refined and merged to make the world a better place. Sadly, we don’t see a whole lot of this happening even in churches which, arguably, ought to be the most unified and integrated places on earth (Galatians 3:28).

 Sloppy Bible translation is part of the problem.

 The word used to describe the role of the woman in in Genesis 2:18 is traditionally translated into “helpmate” in English. The Hebrew word (ezer) is far less milk-toasty and flaccid than the word chosen by early Bible translators. The word ezer is a powerful word, one loaded with military and tactical overtones. Ezer is used twenty-one times in the Old Testament. It is used five times to describe the role of women and sixteen times to refer to God as Israel’s helper in times of trouble. The varied use of this tells us that God designed men and women to be partners, allies and co-laborers in every sphere of life (Genesis 2:18, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Proverbs 18:3).

 For far too long, too many Jesus followers have bought into the lie that women should stand by quietly while their brothers in Christ do the hard work of Kingdom building. We have forgotten that men and women are better together because we were made by our Creator to be better together. It’s time to end the war so we can work together and do what God has called us to do. If we want to reach the world we need to respect and celebrate our differences and work together for the sake of the Kingdom.

 Lives are literally hanging in the balance.

 

 

*My views on this issue have evolved over the years with input from a number of sources. One of those sources is the Bible, and another is the author Carolyn Custis James. Her books (The Gospel of Ruth, Lost Women of the Bible, When Life and Beliefs Collide) are well-researched, unfailingly respectful towards men, incredibly challenging and in my opinion ought to be required reading for all Christians- male and female- regardless of denomination. If you have read her books you undoubtedly saw some of her views reflected in my own. If you have not read her books, I highly recommend them.

 

 

 

 

Another Church Peeve

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart~ Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

 I love the church.

 I believe with every fiber of my being that the local church is God’s chosen instrument for proclaiming truth to the world, training believers for works of service and transforming heathens and moral reprobates into faithful Jesus followers. For that reason, I am convinced that every Christian ought to regularly attend a local church and contribute their time, energy, and treasure into making that church a great place to worship, learn and grow.

 That said, I also have a whole host of weird pet peeves when it comes to church and how we do church at this time in history. Basically, I have an aversion to anything weird, gimmicky or shallow. Those things include (but are not limited to) fog machines, unfriendly congregations, worship songs that remind me to breathe, Pastors that dress like homeless people and a lack of relevant teaching or opportunities to learn.

 These peeves (and many others) have been well documented in some of my previous blog posts. I just sort of assumed (until recently) that I had discovered and explored every single one of my many peeves related to church and had nothing left to write about on the subject. I was wrong.

 I have discovered a new one.

 Everywhere I turn these days I am being told that I should speak the name of Jesus over my problems and worries. If I am afraid, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have cancer, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I need money I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have a drug or alcohol addiction, I should speak the name of Jesus. This advice is usually followed up with the instruction to “just walk in it”.

 Whatever the heck that means.

 My concerns with this trend might appear to be a bit silly and trivial on the surface, but unlike some of my other peeves this one really isn’t all that petty. This one actually has some potentially serious practical and theological ramifications.

 Christians should understand that nowhere in the Bible are we told to speak the name of Jesus over anything. We are told to believe in the name of Jesus (1 John 3:23). We are told to openly profess the name of Jesus (Hebrews 13:15). We are also told to baptize people into the name of Jesus (Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5) and we are commanded to speak the name of Jesus as we teach the truth about God and call people to repentance (Matthew 28:16-20). Not once are we told to speak the name of Jesus over our problems, anxieties or doubts.

 Speaking a word (any word) over something in an effort to change it, is a practice that has more in common with witchcraft than it does with Christianity. I am NOT suggesting that someone who tells you to speak the name of Jesus over your problems is a witch or is active in witchcraft. I am saying that simply speaking the word ‘Jesus’ over a problem, worry or concern will not solve it and might even distract you from doing the things God wants you to do in order to solve your problems.

 I promise you that God does not want you to speak the name of Jesus over your bratty two-year-old, job loss, addiction, crumbling marriage or serious medical condition. That’s just not how God works. Instead, God wants you to do these three things:

 Understand that tests and trials are simply a part of this life-

 We live in a fallen world, and sadly bad things happen in our fallen world (1st Thessalonians 3:2-4, 1st Peter 1:6). People get hurt and sick, they lose their jobs, and sometimes they turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with negative feelings and traumatic experiences. Other times people are evil and cruel and the innocent get hurt or exploited. On the positive side of all of that, God will use those trials to make you a better, wiser more compassionate person if you ask Him to (James 1:2, James 1:12, 2nd Corinthians 1:3-6).

 Seek God on a deeper level-

 More than anything God wants you to work at getting to know Him better in the midst of your trial. He wants you to become a student of the Word and someone who runs to Him in prayer with all your fears, sinful inclinations, insecurities and problems. Doing that will give you a supernatural source of strength, knowledge and wisdom that will empower you to deal with whatever trial has come into your life, in a way that pleases God and benefits you.

 Become increasingly more obedient to God-

 We solve our problems in this life by first identifying areas of sin in our lives, repenting of those sins and then doing more and more of what God instructs us to do in His word. Romans 12:1-21, 2nd Peter 1:5-8, Colossians 3:1-26 and Ephesians chapters 4-6 give believers abundant instruction on the behaviors Christians should be embracing and eliminating in their lives. However, eliminating sinful behavior is not enough. We also have to ask God to help us (sometimes repeatedly) change our hearts, hate sin and see life the way He sees it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things We Can All Do to Make Church Great in 2018

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here~ 2nd Corinthians 5:17 NIV

 Its official (actually it was official in 2005) January is (at least for most people) the most depressing month of the year.

 I get it.

 January has its fair share of shortcomings. Once Christmas is over the snow promptly loses its charm and there is zero hope the weather will improve for at least another couple of months. The merriment of the holidays has ended and the irksome credit card bills have come due for the generosity we felt over Christmas. That leaves most of us feeling a bit Grinch-y in hindsight. Compounding the negativity, most of us are feeling a bit pudgy and gross after the all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy that is the month of December.

 Without question, all of the above is clearly true.

 However, you will never catch me hating on the month of January. I love January for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because it offers a respite from the frantic madness of November and December. The slower more relaxed pace of January provides a much-needed opportunity for rest, reflection and goal setting.

 In that spirit, I have spent the better part of the last week pondering some of the goals I have set for the coming year. And as I was thinking through all that it occurred to me that there are some small changes we could all make this coming year that just might make a huge difference in how the world perceives the Church, and by extension how they perceive Jesus and Christian people. Changing how Christians are perceived in the culture might just help us to reach more people this year with the love of Jesus.

 So, in the interest of making this next year a great one for the cause of Christ I want to suggest three small, relatively painless changes we could all make that would make Christianity more appealing to the world around us without compromising truth.

 Starting with:

 A commitment to change the things that need to change-

 It’s true that some people are turned off by the message of Christianity (believe in Jesus and repent of your sin [Mark 1:15]). That said, more often than not, people are turned off by the behavior of Christians long before they get to hear the message of Christianity. Being purposeful about our own spiritual growth (Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 12:14, 2nd Peter 1:3-10) prevents this tragedy. Intentionality in the arena of spiritual growth has to begin with a commitment to examine ourselves daily so that we will be painfully aware of our own sinful inclinations. It ends with an unwavering commitment to honoring God in every area of our lives. The payoff for a commitment to spiritual growth is two-fold. We grow into the people God has called us to be (Ephesians 1:4, 1st Peter 2:9) and the holiness we acquire through this process gives us the spiritual power we need to lead others into relationship with Jesus.

 Expanding your circle of friendship-

 It is true that we grow in our faith and knowledge of God and life anytime we spend quality time with other Christians (Hebrews 10:25, Proverbs 27:17). It is also true that non-believers have their view of the world challenged when they spend time with and engage in meaningful conversations with Christians (John 4, Acts 17:16-34). If we would all commit to building some meaningful relationships with a few people (Christians and non-Christians) outside our circle I believe we could have a significant impact on our own little corner of the world. That in turn would make our world a better place and in the process we will learn more about life and God and make some new friends all at the same time. That’s a win all the way around.

 Forgiving someone-

 Over and over again in Scripture Christians are commanded to forgive others (Matthew 11:25, Luke 17:4, Colossians 3:13), Jesus even tied God’s forgiveness towards us to our willingness to forgive others (Matthew 6:15, Luke 6:37). I believe that God wants us to forgive others because unforgiveness leads to bitterness (among other things). Bitterness turns us into ugly, unpleasant people who are unlikely to attract others to Christianity or anything else. This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us that bitterness causes trouble and defiles many (Hebrews 12:15). The New Year is a perfect time to begin the process of forgiving those people who have hurt us. When we forgive others we become people that God can use for the good of others and for His glory.

 Wishing you all a joyful and spiritually productive 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Hero of Christmas-

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife~ Matthew 1:24 NIV

 I will not lie.

 I really love some of the less-than-spiritual aspects of Christmas. I love Jesus (because I am not a heathen). I also love the parties, the food, the trees, the decorations, the music, and the traditions of Christmas. I even like some of the stuff I should probably dislike. Things like Frosty, Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, and gift giving and getting. I actually enjoy  the commercial stuff that sidetracks us from what should be a simple celebration of the birth of the Savior.

 Because I am drawn to the secular side of Christmas every year I attempt to discipline myself and spend a little extra time each year focusing on the birth of Christ. This year I started in Matthew and rediscovered an often forgotten hero of the Christmas story: Joseph.

 Most of us overlook Joseph because Mary is clearly the star of the show. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of her story. Mary’s obedient response to Gabriel’s announcement is how we should all respond to God’s call on our life. She voluntarily endured personal loss, hardship and probably even ridicule to bring the Messiah into the world.

 Everyone loves Mary.

 However, this year it was Joseph that captured my attention. I’m convinced that if we were all a little more like Joseph the world would be a better place.

 The text tells us that God saw Joseph as a righteous man. That alone was a fairly rare thing for God to say about anyone in those days. Then we are told that because of his righteousness he did not want to divorce Mary publicly. At this point in the story Mary and Joseph were legally wed, the marriage was a done deal in the eyes of the law, their religious community and their family and friends. The only thing left to do was to consummate the marriage.

 According to both Roman and Jewish law Joseph had every right to publicly divorce (and humiliate) Mary. They were married and he had what appeared to be incontrovertible proof of infidelity. Her story about the angel was, by every measurable standard, more than a little nutso. Even most “good” people would have felt justified in publicly shaming a woman who slept with another man and then told a ridiculously outlandish story to cover-up her misdeeds.

 Seriously.           

 God’s evaluation of Joseph as a “righteous man” tells me that God has a special place in His heart for those who look out for the reputations of others. God blesses those who are willing to go out of their way not to behave in a vengeful way even when they have been legitimately wronged.

 I love that Joseph was willing to ignore the opinions of people in order to gain the approval of God. Following the dream where Joseph was commanded to keep Mary as his wife, Joseph had to go back to his family and friends and tell them that he planned to go ahead with marriage to a girl most people were probably convinced was less than honorable woman.

 Joseph’s family and friends were likely convinced that Joseph was either a fool or a liar. It almost goes without saying that Joseph suffered heartache, humiliation and social disgrace for his choice to stick by Mary.

Joseph’s selflessness is a reminder that the kind of righteousness that pleases God typically involves a high level of inconvenience and self-denial.

 There is nothing wrong with the silly side of Christmas celebrations. The God we serve created fun and joy. My prayer is that in the midst of all the fun and merrymaking Joseph’s story will serve as a reminder that our response to God’s goodness and generosity should be a life of authentic righteousness and self-denial.

How the Birth of Jesus Changed the World-

We love because he first loved us~ 1st John 4:19 NIV

 Three years ago I vowed in a fit of self-pity to never write another Christmas blog as long as I lived. My Christmas blogs have a history of less-than-stellar readership and I prefer to write things I think people are actually going to read. However, I recently rethought my vow and concluded that it’s high time I got over myself and give it another try.

 This moment of clarity arrived as I was watching a community Christmas celebration. It hit me pretty much out of nowhere that Jesus’ first coming changed literally everything about life in the ancient world. Those changes in turn, paved the way for the freedoms and prosperity much of the western world enjoys today. I was also struck by how oddly trivial our Christmas celebrations tend to be in light of the impact the first coming of Jesus had on our world.

 It’s not that I have anything against the way Americans celebrate Christmas. I love Christmas and everything we do to celebrate Christmas. That said, snowmen, sparkly lights, cookies cut into adorable shapes, and even traditional nativity scenes don’t exactly capture the magnitude of the impact that Jesus has had on our world. So, in honor of Jesus and all He accomplished, following are four seldom recognized ways Jesus’ first coming made our world a better place:

 Jesus made it cool to care about the poor, sick and marginalized-

 Until the coming of Jesus no one cared all that much about the sick and poor. Most believed the poor and sick were poor and sick because they were bad people who had been cursed by their god’s. As a result they were viewed as profoundly unlikable. Little was done (outside the Jewish community) to alleviate the suffering of the sick or to help poor people. Because Jesus cared deeply about the needs of the poor, sick and marginalized (Luke 12:33, Luke 14:13, Luke 10:30-3), so did His followers. From the earliest days of Christianity, charity (caring for the less fortunate) was a fundamental feature of Christian worship and outreach (Acts 6:1-7, Acts 9:36, Romans 15: 25-27, James 2:5-6). As Christianity took root in the Western world caring for the less fortunate became a natural part of life and something even non-religious people do. This was certainly not the case before Jesus came into the world.  

 Jesus gave children value-

 Before Jesus came children were considered disposable in most societies ( Jews were a notable exception). Abortion was a common practice, and live newborns were routinely placed in the foundations of buildings (for luck). In Greece and Rome unwanted infants (mostly girls) were simply left on rocky cliffs to die of exposure. Attitudinal change towards children began with the coming of Jesus. Jesus loved children (Luke 18:15-17) and He was concerned with their physical and spiritual welfare (Matthew 18:6). Early Christians followed in the footsteps of Jesus and forbade the practices of abortion and infanticide among their members. Early Christians also made a practice of adopting the newborns that had been left to die of exposure. Over time, societies touched by Christianity enacted laws to protect children, but it was Jesus who forever changed the way we view the worth of children.

 Jesus gave women dignity-

 Prior to the first coming of Jesus, women were (in virtually every society) thought to be profoundly inferior to men in every way. Respectable women lived cloistered lives and simply did not interact with men they were not closely related to. Unlike other religious leaders of His day, Jesus frequently had meaningful conversations with all sorts of women (John 4, Luke 8:1-3, John 11), and He allowed women to receive the same training as their male counterparts (Luke 10:38-41, Luke 8:1-3). Jesus even entrusted a woman with passing on the message of His resurrection (Matthew 28:1-8, Luke 24:1-12); this was a VERY big deal in a world where women were not considered legitimate witnesses in a court of law. After Jesus’ resurrection women were used in significant ways to build the early church. The Apostle Paul founded the Philippian church along with a handful of women (Acts 16). Pricilla along with her husband Aquila helped to plant churches and train believers in Corinth, Ephesus (Acts 18) and Rome (Romans 16:3). Women acted as deacons in the early church and were entrusted with significant tasks (Romans 16:1-2, 1st Timothy 3:11) and a woman (Junia) is even referred to as “outstanding among the Apostles” in Romans 16:7. Admittedly, throughout history some church leaders have not always valued women or the contributions of women. However, that does not change the fact that Jesus did. Jesus’ high view of women paved the way for many of the freedoms women enjoy today. If you doubt my word, take a look at the way women are treated in societies where Christianity has not made significant inroads. It’s a sharp and ugly contrast.    

 Jesus made it possible for people to actually change-

 Before Jesus people could change their actions but not their hearts. An evil or an unbelieving person was just kind of stuck that way forever. Jesus’ coming changed that reality. Because, Jesus’ presence indwells the people who believe in Him, His presence gives us the power we need to change not just our actions but also our hearts. Because of Jesus we can be better people tomorrow than we are today.

 That is something to celebrate.

Why People 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 thought-provoking debates in church circles centers on unbelievers and why they don’t attend church.

 Some believe that the unchurched don’t go to church because the stuff people do in church is just too darn complicated.  Champions of this theory believe the solution to our dwindling conversion rate is to simplify and explain the heck out of how and why we do what we do in church. These folks sincerely believe that non-Christians will go to church if churches just remove all language and ritual that those not already acquainted with church might find even vaguely confusing.

 Churches that buy into this notion are easy to spot. Services last precisely one hour. Messages tend to focus almost entirely on practical issues like parenting and marriage. Communion is rarely if ever served. The songs are fun and easy to sing but devoid of theological references (sometimes the songs are even secular). 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 too weird and offensive. These folks strive to make their churches as non-judgmental 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 opinion all of these perspectives 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. If this were true then human beings would be incapable of learning anything new. 

 To the second point, 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 conviction (Romans 1:18-32) from Christianity we are effectively saying that flawed human beings have a superior plan to present the gospel than God does.

 I am not an expert on why people do or do not attend to church. However, did not convert to Christianity until I was an adult (early twenties) and most of my family is unsaved. As a result I know a lot of unsaved people really well and clearly remember what it felt like to be a non-Christian. 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 before we invite them to church.

 They fear judgment-

 The thing unsaved people really dread is hearing someone say something that will confirm their fear that they really are not good enough and that God will judge them for it. Ironically that fear is grounded in fact. NO ONE is good enough and God will judge everyone who does not repent of their sin and put their faith in Jesus. Our job as Christians is to help them understand that God loved them enough to provide a solution to the problem of not being good enough. The solution is Jesus.    

 They don’t want to change-

 Non-Christians understand instinctively that if there is a God they are doing things that God is totally not cool with (Romans 2:15). They also understand that they will have to stop doing those things if they want to get into a right relationship with Him (Luke 13:5). Some well meaning Christians have attempted to skirt this issue by lying to unbelievers and telling them that they can be Christians without making any changes in how they live. Regrettably, all this “solution” has done is fill churches with heathens who believe they are Christians. The right answer is to lovingly present unbelievers with the truth that God empowers people to change when they come to Him in faith and admit that they have sinned.

 Christians don’t live what they say they believe-

 This is because some Christians have bought into the lie that in order to reach the unsaved they have to live 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 is the number one reason non-Christians have never been to a church and it’s an easy problem to solve. 

  Churches and Christians should never be unnecessarily weird. That said, the solution to getting people into church is not nearly as complicated as the experts have made it. Christians just need to love, pray for and then present people with spiritual truth. Then we need to invite them into our world.

 It worked for me.