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.

Healing a Sick Marriage-

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

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

 It just sucks.

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

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

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

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

 Kindness is a quality conspicuously missing in unhappy marriages. Too often we wait for the other person to be kind before we show kindness. This sort of willful pride and stubbornness never yields positive results. In order for a healing process to begin, one person has to humble him or herself and commit to speaking kindly to—and doing thoughtful things for—the other person. Even if the other person acts like a jerk at first. Usually, the other person eventually responds in kind and the marriage gets a new beginning.    

Lay down your weapons-

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

 Nix the silent treatment-

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

 Call sin what it is and and make the choice to repent-

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

 Look at you-

 One characteristic common to all bad marriages is that both parties almost always have their focus firmly fixed on the bad behavior of their spouse. Conversely, both parties are also unwilling to own-up to their own bad habits, problems. No one on a bad marriage is willing to acknowledge how their sin is creating chaos in the relationship. If you want to fix your marriage, stop focusing on what the other person is or isn’t doing. Instead, make a commitment to pray about what you need to change or begin doing so that you can become the husband or wife God wants you to be.

     

Does Truth Matter Anymore?

 

The Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth~ John 1:14 NKJV

 It’s been a long, hot week in the the Pacific Northwest. Most of our region is literally on fire right now and the city I live in is so smoky and gross that our whole house smells like we’ve been barbequing in the basement. The local health department has classified our air quality as “hazardous”.

 The heat, smoke and air quality have left me feeling more than a little unmotivated. As a result I found myself struggling to come up with a topic for this weeks blog-post. Inspiration came early Tuesday morning when I opened Facebook and ran across what I felt at the time was a rather innocuous quote from Bible teacher, Beth Moore…    

 You will watch a generation of Christians—OF CHRISTIANS—set the Bible aside in an attempt to be more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible. This will be, perhaps, the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice truth for love’s sake, you will rise or fall whether you will sacrifice one for the other.

  Beth Moore literally could not to be any more correct on this point. The spiritual tension that exists between biblical truth and the current human definition of love is the greatest theological conundrum of our generation. I am convinced (and have been for a long time) that if the church doesn’t get its proverbial act together and figure out a way to communicate the truth concerning this issue, biblical Christianity will all but vanish with this generation. If that happens, our culture will enter a spiritual and moral dark ages, the likes of which the world has not seen since the dawn of the Christian age.

 It was not the quote that got me spoiling for a smackdown. It was the absurd responses to her quote that I found frustrating.  To my astonishment, most of those who commented disagreed with Beth Moore, some vehemently. All the dissenters called her unloving and accused her of lacking compassion. A few even criticized her for making an idol out of the Bible.

 Seriously. Is that even a thing?

 The comments were a reminder of a reality I frequently bump-up against when I’m interacting with some Christians. Sadly, too many in our generation have twisted love into something that is not found anywhere in the Bible.

 There are two truths we need to acknowledge concerning Jesus, love, and the Bible. First, we simply cannot separate the words of Jesus from the rest of the Bible. In the book of John, Jesus is referred to as The Word. By using that particular designation to describe Jesus, John is making a powerful statement about who Jesus is and how He fits into Scripture.

 John is declaring that Jesus is the personification and expression of the word of God. Jesus was the substance and incarnation of all that had been written in the Old Testament law and all that was to be written in the New Testament letters.

 What that means is that the statements Jesus made in the gospels (the red letters that contemporary Christians get all wound-up about) are no more or less significant than the Old Testament Law and the New Testament letters. Jesus is the perfecter of our faith and the author of all of Scripture. Not just the Scripture we feel comfortable with or those that reflect our current cultural values and sensibilities (Hebrews 12:2, 2nd Timothy 3:16, Luke 24:27).

 Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial requirements of the law and we no longer live in a theocracy, so as 21st century Christians we no longer sacrifice animals to have our sins forgiven (Jesus took care of that for us) or follow the civil laws that were given specifically to the nation of Israel. However, that doesn’t mean that the entire Old Testament should be tossed out because much of the Old Testament FEELS unloving to contemporary readers.

 The second truth we need to understand is that the good news of the gospel is wrapped up in a lot of really bad news. The good news is that God loves people so much that He sacrificed His only son so that we could be forgiven and spend eternity with God (John 3:16).

 The bad news for us is that God is a holy and perfect God who really hates sin. God decided a long time ago what actions were sinful and He has not modified or relaxed His standards on what sin is and is not. The penalty for for sin is awful: eternity in hell forever separated from God and all that is comforting and good. All people are sinners who cannot under any circumstances get right with God and be forgiven unless they are willing to leave their life of sin and follow Jesus wherever he leads (John 8:11, Mark 8:34).

 Those are at least two of the truths we need be honest about as we share the love of God with people. When we don’t tell the whole truth about life and sin and eternity we are really telling a lie that will eventually lead to the spiritual death of those we claim to love.

 There’s nothing loving about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Truth Even Matter or is it All About Love?

The Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth~ John 1:14 NKJV

 It’s been a long, hot week. Most of the Pacific Northwest is literally on fire right now and the city I live in is so smoky and gross that our whole house smells like we’ve been barbequing in the basement. The local health department has classified our air quality as “hazardous”.

 The heat, smoke and crummy air quality have left me feeling more than a little unmotivated, as a result I found myself struggling to come up with a topic for this weeks blog-post. Inspiration came early Tuesday morning when I opened Facebook and ran across what I felt at the time was a rather innocuous quote from Bible teacher, Beth Moore…    

 You will watch a generation of Christians—OF CHRISTIANS—set the Bible aside in an attempt to be more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible. This will be, perhaps, the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice truth for love’s sake, you will rise or fall whether you will sacrifice one for the other.

 It would be difficult for Beth Moore to be any more correct on this point. The spiritual tension that exists between truth and love is the greatest theological conundrum of our generation. I am convinced (and have been for a long time) that if the church doesn’t get it’s proverbial act together on this issue, biblical Christianity will all but vanish with this generation. If that happens, our culture will enter a spiritual and moral dark ages, the likes of which the world has not seen since before the dawn of the Christian age.

 It was not the quote that got me spoiling for a smackdown. It was the absurd responses to said quote that motivated me to start writing. To my astonishment, most of those who commented disagreed with Beth Moore, some vehemently. All the dissenters called her unloving and accused her of lacking compassion. A few even criticized her for making an idol out of the Bible.

 Seriously.

 The comments were a bitter reminder of a reality I frequently bump-up against when I’m interacting with other Christians. Sadly, too many in our generation have twisted love into something that is not found anywhere in the Bible.

 There are two truths we need to acknowledge concerning Jesus, love, and the Bible. First, we simply cannot separate the words of Jesus from the rest of the Bible. In the book of John, Jesus is referred to as The Word. By using that particular designation to describe Jesus, John is making a powerful statement about who Jesus is and how He fits into Scripture.

 John is declaring that Jesus is the personification and expression of the word of God. Jesus was the substance and incarnation of all that had been written in the Old Testament law and all that was to be written in the New Testament letters.

 What that means is that the statements Jesus made in the gospels (the red letters that contemporary Christians get all excited about) are no more or less significant than the Old Testament Law and the New Testament letters. Jesus is the perfecter of our faith and the author of all of Scripture. Not just the Scripture we feel comfortable with or those that reflect our current cultural values and sensibilities (Hebrews 12:2, 2nd Timothy 3:16, Luke 24:27).

 Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial requirements of the law and we no longer live in a theocracy, so as 21st century Christians we no longer sacrifice animals to have our sins forgiven (Jesus took care of that for us) or follow the civil laws that were given specifically to the nation of Israel. However, that doesn’t mean that the entire Old Testament should be tossed out because much of the Old Testament FEELS unloving to contemporary readers.

 The second truth we need to understand is that the good news of the gospel is wrapped up in a lot of really bad news. The good news is that God loves people so much that He sacrificed His only son so that we could be forgiven and spend eternity with God (John 3:16).

 The bad news for us is that God is a holy perfect God who hates sin. God decided a long time ago what actions were sinful and He has not modified or relaxed His standards on what sin is and isn’t. The penalty for for sin is awful: eternity in hell forever separated from God and all that is comforting and good. All people are sinners who cannot under any circumstances get right with God and be forgiven unless they are willing to leave their life of sin and follow Jesus wherever he leads (John 8:11, Mark 8:34).

 Those are at least two of the truths we need be real about as we share the love of God with people. When we don’t tell the whole truth about life and sin and eternity we are really telling a lie that will eventually lead to the spiritual death of those we claim to love.

 There’s nothing loving about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Strategies to Implement in A Situation That Isn’t Changing-

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world~ John 16:33 NIV

One of the experiences common to man (and woman) is feeling stuck in a place where circumstances we desperately want or need to change simply won’t change. This typically happens in spite of our best efforts, deepest longings and most fervent prayers.

 There is little in life more challenging than a bad situation that won’t change, and not just because no one sane likes to be stuck in a bad place. If bad situations are not dealt with, they eventually test our faith and cause us to doubt the goodness (and sometimes even the existence) of God.

 The subsequent strategies are not magic bullets, following them may or may not change your situation for the better (sorry). That said, we become what we do. Doing these things will help you put your mess in better perspective, empower you to handle the situation more effectively and enable you to grow in the midst of your trial.

 Stop resenting the situation- Job 5:2, Job 36:13

 Resentment does nothing but cloud our judgment, hinder our ability to problem solve and steal our gratitude for the good things we do have. Resentment is an emotional black hole that sucks up mental energy that would be better spent on problem solving. If resentment is allowed to fester and grow it will eventfully mutate into bitterness. Bitterness is a destructive and defiling force that will prevent us from doing anything good in this world (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). For those reasons (and at least a dozen others) it’s critical we deal with any resentment we may be harboring so we can move on to a healthier way of looking at and dealing with the present situation.

 Learn what you need to learn from the mistakes that landed you in the situation but don’t live in the past- 2nd Corinthians 13:5

 No one is a bigger advocate of frequent self-examination than I am. I believe with all my heart that there is a great deal of value in scrutinizing past mistakes and poor choices. Understanding and owning how we got to a particular place can prevent us from making similar mistakes in the future. However, an unhealthy fixation on the past (ruminating on it constantly) is a pointless distraction that will rob us of our ability to deal with the present productively.

 Control the one thing you do have absolute control over- Proverbs 16:22, Titus 2:11-12, 2nd Peter 1:3-10

 One of the most maddening things about a stuck situation is that oftentimes the person who is stuck has (or feels they have) very little power to change the details of the situation or move things in another direction. Our perception of the situation may or may not be accurate (see next point). That said, it is true that there are times when the only thing we have any control over in a given situation is ourselves. We cannot control other people or the circumstances that come into our lives but we can control how we react and respond.

 Get advice from others and take some of it – Proverbs 12:1, Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 13:10, Proverbs 15:22

 Stuck people tend to develop tunnel vision when it comes to their situation. As a result they tend to think there is absolutely nothing that can be done to change or even improve their situation. Typically other people (friends, Pastors, counselors, coaches) can see options and alternatives that the stuck person cannot. This is why it’s absolutely critical we seek the counsel of others. However, simply asking for advice will do nothing if we don’t take the advice we are given and make the appropriate and necessary changes.

 Don’t give up- Galatians 6:9

 Ultimately, staying sane in a stuck situation is all about keeping things in perspective. Perspective is about far more than simply finding a way out of a bad situation. It’s about making a commitment before God to come out of the situation a better person than you were before. It’s about keeping your heart open and free from bitterness, so you can learn and grow in the midst of the situation.

 Keeping things in perspective will enable you to help someone who is going through something similar in the future (2nd Corinthians 1:3-5). Keeping things in perspective and refusing to give up (no matter how tough it gets) will empower you to come out of your difficult situation with a deeper faith, stronger character and more passionate love for God.

 And that’s what life is all about anyway.

Breaking Free From the Pull of The World

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will~ Romans 12:2 NIV

Last week I wrote a post detailing five signs you might be a Christian who loves the world just a little too much (1st John 2:15). In that post I defined “loving the world” as taking our cues about how to live, love and function in this life from the world’s system rather than from the Bible (Romans 12:2).

 Loving the world is dangerous because it clouds our spiritual judgment and makes it nearly impossible to see life, people, and the circumstances we encounter from God’s perspective. Loving the world causes us to think like the world and adopt the characteristics of the world. When that happens we lose our ability to be the life-giving spiritual force our world urgently needs.

 The only way to combat worldliness is to work aggressively to break the world’s hold on our thinking, we will never effectively change our behavior until we change our mindset. The process begins with regular Bible reading and study. Knowing the Bible gives us insight into God’s view on issues. However, simply reading the Bible will not necessarily make us any less worldly. We also have to alter our behavior to bring it more in line with a biblical worldview.

 Changes need to begin with these five adjustments to our thinking and behavior…

 Practicing generosity rather than consumption- Acts 4:32-35, Acts 2:42-47, 1st Peter 4:9, Hebrews 13:2

 The world system teaches us to maintain emotional distance from people and use resources such as our time, possessions, energy and money for our own benefit and pleasure. The New Testament urges Christians live life with an open heart and to give with an open-hand. Until we learn to freely give of our resources and our time we will remain forever stuck in a worldly mindset.

 Ending our fixation with worldly entertainment- Psalm 119:37, Job 31:1

 Those in the entertainment industry want more than anything to change the way we think about the world, and they have been wildly effective in accomplishing their agenda. The abolitionist movement in America succeeded in ending slavery partly because leaders of the movement used powerful novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Twelve Years a Slave to change the way the average person thought about slavery. Hollywood does the same thing with equal success for far less noble causes. Television shows with storylines normalizing divorce, single motherhood and homosexuality preceded widespread acceptance of those practices in our culture. Next time you watch a television show, try and figure out what sin the producers are attempting to normalize, then turn it off and read a good book or interact with some people.

 Living out a biblical standard of sexuality- 1st Thessalonians 4:1-8

 Sexual immorality is a sin that is in a class all its own, mainly because it’s exceptionally damaging to all parties involved. When we commit sexual sin, we sin against God, other people and pollute our own bodies (1st Corinthians 6:18). Sexual immorality is placed at the top of a list of sins that God states will keep us from inheriting His kingdom (1st Corinthians 6:9-10). For those reasons (and a dozen others) Christians need to stop searching for loopholes in the rules. God cannot be tricked. Oral, anal and all other types of sex before marriage is still sex before marriage. Viewing pornography is sex and emotional affairs inevitably lead to sex outside of marriage. Our lack of obedience in this one area has caused the church to lose all moral authority in the culture. We will only get it back through a commitment to repentance, purity and doing life God’s way.

 Callously rooting out sin in our own lives- John 5:14, 1st Corinthians 15:34

 Sin is a pernicious thing. It creeps into our lives, oftentimes without our awareness or consent. The only way to combat sin’s encroachment into our lives is by asking God daily to reveal the sins we do not see in ourselves and then repenting (turning away from) the sin we do recognize in our selves.

 Praying about everything- Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2

 Nothing is too big or too small to talk to God about. Without the discipline of prayer we inevitably lose connection with God and unwittingly open ourselves up to the influence of the world. Prayer safeguards us against worldly thinking by reminding us that we are not wise enough to do life without God.

 Rooting out worldly thinking and behavior in our lives is not an optional exercise or an elective spiritual discipline—it’s a matter of spiritual life and death.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

When Life Hits You With A Curveball

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near~ Job 17:11-12 NIV

 Regular readers of this blog know that I typically write out of my own personal experience and only very rarely tell the stories of others. There are numerous reasons for my reluctance to tell other people’s stories.

 First, I feel really weird telling other people’s stories and I hate feeling weird. I also worry excessively (probably neurotically) about violating the privacy of others. Moreover, I only know what I know, not what other people know, so I am reluctant to assign motives to others and it’s hard to tell some stories without assigning motives. And finally, I avoid offending others unnecessarily and there is no quicker route to provoking an offense than to tell someone else’s story and get it wrong or to assign the wrong motives.

 Sigh.

 All that being said, this week I feel inclined to share what I gleaned from watching someone else live out a really unpleasant chapter of their story with honesty and grace.

 I have a close friend who has been through more tough stuff in the course of the last two weeks than one could reasonably expect to experience in a decade of living. In the interest of protecting my friend’s privacy, I will spare you the nitty-gritty details of her private hell. I will tell you that the situation manifested itself suddenly and with no warning. Within days it morphed into the kind of nightmare we all secretly fear will happen to us and pray never does.

 Life has hit my sweet friend with some nasty curveballs in recent days.

 I define a curveball as any situation we were not expecting that abruptly alters our life in an unpleasant and unanticipated way. Curveballs are frustratingly common in this life. No one, no matter how well they manage their personal affairs, makes it through this life without experiencing at least one season of curveballs.

 Curveballs come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they come in the form of an unforeseen job loss, a financial or health crisis, divorce, affair, or the death of a loved one. In truth, the details of said situation matter less than how we handle them.

 Today I am going to share four strategies for managing the curveballs of life I picked-up from observing my friend this week. First….

 Run to God rather than away from Him-

 Alas, the first instinct many of us have when trouble strikes is to get mad at God. We do this because logic tells us that God is the omnipotent maker of the universe and if anyone is capable of preventing trouble, it’s God. While that may be true, it ignores a couple of vital truths. First and foremost, trouble and hardship are a sad but inescapable consequence of living in a fallen world (John 16:33). Even Jesus experienced hardship and trouble in this life (Hebrews 2:10). Secondly, God wants to be there for us and give us comfort in the midst of our trials. And finally, God sometimes uses hardship and trouble to shape us into the people He has called us to be and to prepare us to minister effectively to others. God cannot do any of the things He wants to do in us or for us if we push Him away in anger.

 Accept help-

 God does His best work through His people. Anytime someone offers to help in a crisis we should view that person as the hand of God reaching out to offer practical support in our time of need. It’s essential we take the help that’s offered.

 Own what you need to own-

 With a few notable exceptions, curveballs rarely just appear out of nowhere. Typically there’s a history of reckless/sinful/unwise choices that led up to the life-altering mess. It’s crucial we take responsibility for any part we may have played in creating the situation that led up to the curveball. Taking ownership of mistakes and failings keeps us from blaming God and will ultimately set the stage for us to make better and wiser choices in the future.  

 Find someone you trust and be as real as you need to be about how you feel-

 Talking is the ONLY way to stay sane in a curveball situation. Sadly, we simply cannot be honest with everyone because not everyone is worthy of trust or equipped to deal with the negative emotions that accompany a curveball. So find the one or two people who will listen, pray, and offer wise counsel without judging and share what you need to share to preserve your sanity.

 

 

  

 

 

 

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.

 

Go Ahead and Feel Guilty- It Might Be Good for You


Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin~ Psalm 32:5

The other morning I happened upon a Psychology Today article on the topic of guilt. Closer analysis revealed pretty quickly that the article wasn’t really about guilt per se. Rather, the article was about how destructive and futile the writer (a psychotherapist with an alphabet soup of degrees behind his name) believes the whole notion of guilt is to the average human.

 The writer went to great lengths to convince the reader (in this case me) that guilt is nothing more than a societal and religious construct (a concept invented by society and religion to motivate people to do what “society” wants them to do). In the writer’s estimation, guilt serves no positive or healthy purpose for individuals and tends to keep people stuck in self-defeating patterns of behavior

 When I finished reading the article I was convinced of little but the likelihood that the writer is simply a well meaning, highly educated, and extremely articulate nut-job. However, his views did get me thinking more deeply about the subject of guilt. More specifically, it got me thinking about whether or not guilt is a good or a bad thing.

 The answer is “yes”.

 But, before we go there, I want to define the meaning of the word guilt for the purposes of this post. According to the word wizards at Dictionary.com, guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for an offense, crime, wrong and etc., whether real or imagined.

 Okay.

 Call me old-fashioned, nutty or whatever you wish to call me. But, I have a tough time accepting the view that a feeling of remorse or responsibility after committing a crime or offense is a bad thing. The exception of course would be if the person were feeling guilt-ridden over a fictitious or imagined offense. That situation is a bit trickier to navigate. The nitty-gritties of dealing with imagined guilt are without a doubt way above my pay-grade and outside of the scope of this blog.

 That said.

 I am convinced that guilt is neither good nor bad. Guilt is like the check engine light on a car. It’s simply an indicator there’s something going on that ought to be explored more thoroughly. A persistent sense of guilt warrants some self-examination to see if we need to change course or apologize for something we’ve said or done.

 Admittedly, there are folks whose check engine light goes off for no good reason. Those types of people feel guilty over situations they had absolutely no control over. There are also those who feel guilty when someone sins against them, some even feel guilty over the sins others people have committed (like their parents, kids or spouse).

 Feeling guilty when we’ve done nothing wrong or sinful is false guilt. False guilt is one kind of guilt that really is a pointless waste of time. Wallowing around in false guilt can feel good and even self-righteous at times. However, it can keep us from seeing clearly the things we really did do wrong and are in need of repentance.

 Feeling guilty or regretful when we do sin or commit an offense is a good and healthy thing to feel (Psalm 51, Isaiah 66:2). Guilt drives spiritually and emotionally healthy people to contrition. Contrition motivates people to repentance (change) and changing bad people into better people is what God is all about. However, guilt can quickly morph into a bad thing if we stay stuck and let the guilt fester into condemnation.

 Contrary, to popular belief condemnation is not the same thing as guilt. Condemnation is guilt’s ugly cousin, it breeds hopelessness and self-loathing by telling us that there is no way we can ever be good enough and that there is nothing we can ever do to be forgiven or become better. Condemnation, not guilt, is what keeps people stuck in unhealthy patterns of behavior.

 The Bible is clear that there is no condemnation (although there might be guilt when we sin) for Christians (Romans 8:1). In a society where people tend to either wallow in false guilt or deny there is any such thing as guilt, Christians need to model a healthy understanding of the issue. Christians should be quick to confess sin, eager to repent and ready to tell others about the freedom we have from condemnation in Christ.