No, Not All Sin is Exactly the Same and Why it’s Stupid to Believe it is


There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community~ Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV

 I do a fair amount of speaking and teaching in a number of different settings. On occasion, I will refer to a particular sin or behavior as especially heinous from God’s perspective. Inevitably, someone will approach me afterward and ask in a rather incredulous tone if I really believe that some sins are more heinous than others. The question is typically framed in the following way:

 “Don’t you believe that all sin is the same as all other sin?”

 Admittedly, my answer appears on the surface to be a bit ambivalent: 

 “Yes and no” 

 I say “yes’ because I sincerely believe that all sin is sin (and therefore terrible) and in one sense no sin is anymore sinful than any other. Any sin (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant) will keep a person out of heaven if they refuse to repent of their sin and put their faith Jesus (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:32, 2nd Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:1-3).

 Period.

 That said, I do not believe that “all sin is the same”.  Nor do I believe that the view that “all sin is the same” can be backed up biblically (1stJohn 5:17, Matthew 12:31, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, Galatians 5:21). Furthermore, this ridiculous view is actually leading to more sin rather than less, and therefore ought to be examined more closely.

 Before you write me off as a wild-eyed heretic, hear me out.

  The notion that “all sin is the same” is a relatively new idea that has become both wildly popular and accepted as fact in recent years. I suspect this notion developed out of a desire to keep certain sinners from feeling that their sins (and they) were being singled out as worse than other sins (and other sinners). Telling people that participating in an orgy (or practicing idolatry, or being greedy, or having an abortion, or oppressing a widow) is exactly the same on a sin scale as telling someone their hair looks nice when it does not, is not nearly as kind as it appears to be on the surface. Mostly, because it causes both the saved and the unsaved to feel more safe and comfortable with the whole notion of sin.

 The average person tends to think (at least subconsciously) that if telling a small lie concerning someone’s appearance is exactly the same on a sin scale as cheating on one’s spouse then cheating on one’s spouse must not be so bad. In a perfect world (one not populated by idiots and sinners) people would come to the opposite conclusion and we would all be terrified to tell lies AND commit adultery. Sadly, we don’t inhabit that world. We inhabit a world where people tell themselves that if watching a movie with questionable themes is just as bad as viewing porn then viewing porn must not be such a bad thing (Jeremiah 17:9).

 I repeat.  People are idiots and sinners.

 Because people are idiots and sinners and because the human heart is capable of an insane level of self-deception when it comes to this subject there are four things we have to understand about sin:

 All sin is harmful and wrong (and not just because it sends people to hell)-

 I am NOT saying that “small” sins are acceptable or even safe. All sin is dangerous, because sin is insidiously progressive and hideously deceptive. Even the smallest sins (if not repented of quickly) lead us to become more comfortable with sin. This leads to a hardening of the heart which inevitably leads to more sin which eventually leads to a rejection of the truth (Romans 2:8).

 Not all sin has the same consequences-

 Looking at porn is worse than watching a movie with swear words in it because looking at porn twists one’s view of sexuality and other people and will inevitably lead to more sin. Telling a lie about someone’s appearance is wrong (and it will make you more comfortable with lying) but it does not cause the same ripple effects that sexual sin does. In 1stCorinthians 5:11 the Apostle Paul tells believers that some sins are so serious and infectious that Christians should refuse to eat with other Christians who practice those sins. Paul does not say that about every sin, partly because if he did we would all eat alone and partly (mostly) because not all sin has the same consequences for the sinner or for the people around the sinner.

  The Bible clearly states that “Christians” who habitually commit certain sins aren’t going to heaven-

 Seriously, it does (1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5). Depending on your theology (Calvinist or Armenian) you can view this in one of two ways. Either genuinely saved people do not commit those sins (Calvinist theology) or committing those sins causes you to lose your salvation (Armenian theology). Either way it should make us think long and hard about what kind of sin we allow ourselves to get entangled in (Hebrews 12:1).

  Even the worst most sinful sin can be forgiven and forgotten by God-

 Sin can separate us from God forever but it doesn’t have to. God does not want anyone to pay the penalty for their own sin and that is why Jesus died for sinners like you and me (Romans 5:6, 1stCorinthians 15:3, 1stThessalonians 5:10, Hebrews 9:15). All you have to do is trust Him to save you and turn away from your sin (Mark 1:15)

 It really is that simple.

What You Can Do to Make the Church Great Again

 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love~ Galatians 5:13 NIV

 The whole concept of the church is a strange one if you think about very deeply at all.

 Most organizations and institutions are founded by, led by and maintained by people who, for the most part, hail from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, have same types of upbringings and live in the same kinds of communities.

 Not so in the church.

 From its inception the church was filled with men and women from every tribe, tongue, education level and social class imaginable (Acts 2:5-12, 1stTimothy 6:2, Galatians 3:28, James 2:1-4, 1stCorinthians 12:13, Revelation 7:9).  The Church was intended from the very beginning to be a place where societal norms are challenged at every turn.

 God designed the church to be a place where serving is favored over being served (Matthew 23:1), where the weak are every bit as cherished as the strong and where each member is working for the good of every other member. Church is where every follower of Jesus regardless of age, race, gender or social position is equal and equally loved by God (Galatians 3:28). 

 All that being said, the distinctive design of the church has created some distinctive problems. For one thing, many people struggle to define exactly what the church is and how it should operate. Our culture (and most Christians) tend to believe that church is a location. A specific place that we go to hear spiritual messages and do spiritual things.

 The Bible depicts the church as a body, a living entity, made up of a whole lot of distinct parts that form a whole (1stCorinthians 12:12-27).  The church is not a building it is people who have been transformed by the power of the gospel and set free from the bondage of sin and death to preach the gospel and do good in this world.  

 Because we ARE the church, churches function best when each person in the church sees themselves as the church. Conversely, churches tend to be the least functional when the people in the church view church as simply a place we go once or twice a week to hear spiritual messages.

 There are at least five things each of us can do to be the church in our day-to-day lives including:

 Deal with bitterness-

 The Bible makes it clear that bitterness is something Christians must avoid at all costs. (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness has a corrupting effect on people making them unfit for Christian service (Acts 8:22-24). Moreover, bitterness has an infectious quality, it spreads like a germ from the bitter person to the people around them (Hebrews 12:15). We deal with bitterness by forgiving the people who have hurt us and letting go of our anger towards them (Colossians 3:13). This not easy, nor is it typically something that happens all at once. Rather, it is usually a process that takes time and prayer to achieve.

 Encourage the right way-

 Over and over again New Testament believers are commanded to encourage one another (2ndCorinthians 13:11, 1stThessalonians 4:18, Hebrews 3:13) Contrary to popular belief an encourager is more than simply a cheerleader who goes around telling people how awesome they are all time.  Encouragers do make an effort to notice and comment on the good they see in other people. However, biblical encouragers understand that encouragement is the act of inspiring others to be the best version of themselves that they can be (1stThessalonians 5:11, Colossians 3:16). Sometimes this means giving generous and heartfelt praise for a job well done. Other times it means gently correcting and admonishing those who are not living up to the potential they have in Jesus (1stThessalonians 5:14).  

 Be more than a doer-

 These days there is a huge emphasis placed on being a doer of the word of God. We are told that authentic love for Jesus is reflected in what we do for other people in Jesus name. For the record, I do not disagree with that view in the slightest. However, the only way we can know for certain if we are really doing what God wants us to do for others is if we know what He says in His word (Psalm 119:05). The only way to know what the word says is to study it.

 Love one another-

  I will not lie. I debated about whether or not to include this one. Not because I don’t think love is important or critical to the health of the church (it is).  Rather, I struggled because I think the definition of love we have adopted in the church is rather milk-toasty and uninspiring. Authentic biblical love does more than help people feel good about where they are at right now. Authentic biblical love loves people where they are (Matthew 5:46) and tells the truth about the consequences of sin (Ephesians 4:17, Acts 17:30).   

  Find a local body and contribute what you can-

You are the church but you also need the church. Find one where the pastor values the word and where the people love each other and get involved. God will be pleased (3rdJohn 1:4), you will grow and the church will become stronger (Romans 12).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Things You Must do Before You Confront a Spiritual Leader About Anything


Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you~ Hebrews 13:7 NIV

 Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has doubtless been there:

A trusted spiritual leader (a pastor or Bible study leader) says something (or a lot of somethings) we find troubling from a doctrinal perspective-

We are uneasy with the spiritual direction our pastor is taking the church-

We have (or know someone who has) a spiritual, physical or emotional need that is not being met in the church-

Our church has become dangerously inwardly focused-

Our feelings are hurt by the pastor or another leader-

We suspect our pastor (or someone in the church) is not living a moral life-

 These situations are not unique to contemporary church life. The church has been dealing with sticky issues since the dawn of the church (Acts 6:1-7, 1stCorinthians 5:1-11, Galatians 2:11-14 Acts 15:36-39). How church people choose to handle these types of situations matter and typically they are handled very poorly. Generally speaking, leadership problems are either ignored until they become intolerable and detrimental to the health of the church (Ephesians 4:26); or an individual (or group of individuals) will confront the leader with a long list of the leader’s faults, problems and inadequacies. Face-to-face confrontations are typically handled with all of the elegance and grace of a herd of goats running wild at a tea party (Proverbs 13:3, Proverbs 29:20).

 Both scenarios inevitably end in disaster. The first typically results in a large group of unhappy individuals quietly leaving their church and taking their unresolved issues with them.  Sadly, these individuals rarely go back and work things through with the leader so the leader remains forever bewildered by the desertion and never learns anything that leads to better leadership. Those who leave take their anger and resentment with them to the next church, where they perpetuate the cycle of unresolved problems and church hurt (James 1:20). When leaders are confronted poorly it typically results in a hurt leader who feels bullied by people he or she has invested their love and energy in. It is not at all unusual for these leaders to leave the ministry in anger and disillusionment. 

 Either way, Satan wins and the church loses.

 We can and should do better. The health of the body is at stake and it is up to us to make it better. Following are five recommendations for having a tough conversation with a spiritual leader.

 Keep your expectations in line with reality-

 Even the very best pastors and leaders are fallible, broken and inclined towards stupidity and pride (Romans 3:23). Because leaders are in the process of working out their salvation (as we all are) they need our prayers more than they need our condemnation. This does not mean a spiritual leader is ever above correction or redirection. There are times when leaders need to be corrected and should be corrected. That said, if we want to facilitate healthy change (and avoid the sin of pride) we must recognize the reality that no human (leader or follower) will ever be perfect or do things perfectly. Our expectation for spiritual leaders should not be perfection but rather a teachable spirit and a desire to become better and more Christlike (Proverbs 9:9, Proverbs 10:8).    

 Ask questions and seek to understand (Proverbs 12:18)-

 Many confrontations with leaders come about because of decisions that people did not like or understand. It’s critical we recognize that sometimes leaders make decisions based on information the rest of the congregation doesn’t have. That is why it is imperative we ask questions with an attitude of humility before we assume we understand why things are being done the way they are being done.

 Figure out if there is something deeper driving you before you confront-

 Sometimes a pastor or spiritual leader will rub us the wrong way for reasons that really and truly have nothing to do with them or their leadership. Sometimes we will reject a new leader because we really loved the style and personality of the old leader and what we really want is to get our old leader back. Other times a leader will irritate us because they remind us of a family member we have unresolved issues with. It’s unfair to project our junk onto others, therefore, it’s imperative that we examine ourselves before we begin a conversation.

 Pray before you do anything-

 Spend time praying for your leader but also pray for yourself. Pray that God will reveal any destructive attitudes you have that are motivating the confrontation. Pray for wisdom and most importantly pray that everyone’s heart (including yours) will be open to healing and ready to receive truth.

 Say what needs to be said without assigning motives-

 None of us can possibly know why anyone does what they do. Therefore, it is critical that we be very careful about accusing people of doing things out of motives that we do not know for an absolute fact they have (Proverbs 3:7).  

 Don’t write a letter-

 Seriously. A text can be a great way to arrange a meeting and it might be helpful for you to write down your thoughts and concerns before you go into a meeting.  There is nothing wrong with taking notes into a meeting. That said, letters are a one-way conversation that offer zero opportunity for true understanding of both sides of a given issue.  If you aren’t ready for a face-to-face conversation you are not ready for a conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Reasons Christians Don’t Grow

We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming~ Ephesians 4:14 NIV

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

 It is also possible to grow old without growing-up and, frankly, there seems to be a lot of that going around these days. It is not at all uncommon to see children well into their elementary years still throwing temper tantrums like toddlers. Teenagers with the mindset of elementary-age children and young adults, who have never held a paying job.  Immaturity and childishness is not limited to the young. Our society is jam-packed with grown-ups who bully, blame others and are lacking the ability to manage their most basic of impulses.

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

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

 Sigh.

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

  Forgive-   

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

 Get rooted-

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

 Give-up whatever is keeping you immature-  

 At the root of most spiritual immaturity is a sinful behavior or attitude that we simply don’t want to let go of. Sins like gossip, bitterness, addiction to drugs or alcohol, anger, backbiting, and lust are just a few of the attitudes and behaviors that will keep us from growing-up spiritually. Growth comes naturally when we make a regular practice of self-examination and repentance (1stCorinthians 11:28, 2ndCorinthians 13:5, Matthew 3:8, Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19).

 Serve-

 When Christians serve in their churches and communities two critical objectives are met. Things get done, the needs of people are met and Jesus looks good as a result. Serving also broadens our focus and causes us to take our eyes off ourselves. In the process, we begin to see the needs of others more clearly and our desire to be a blessing grows.  When this happens, God is glorified and we mature.

 Own our junk-

 Because no man (or woman) is an island we are all effected to one degree or another by the actions of others. The insensitive, sinful and selfish actions of other people can cause the kind of damage that makes reaching our full potential in life much more challenging (but not impossible). That being said, we are each ultimately responsible for our own actions (Ezekiel 18:20-25). Blaming a bad childhood, marriage, dating experience, etc. for the choices we make and the sins we commit stunts our spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth making it impossible for God to use us to our full potential. We become spiritually free and mature when we get real with God (and ourselves) about what we’ve done and why we did it. When we do that we are well on our way to becoming the people God wants us to be.

 

 

 

Rooting out Hypocrisy

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

 Hypocrisy.

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

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

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

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

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

 Sigh.

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

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

 You might have a problem with hypocrisy if…

 You have two very different sets of friends-

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

 You judge others harshly-

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

 You live a secret life-

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

You have a problem with gossip-

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

 You will do anything to avoid looking bad-

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

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

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 to Heal an Unhealthy 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.