The Risky Path of Spiritual Pragmatism-

Once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light– Ephesians 5:8 NLT

I’m currently in Turkey with The Center for Holy Land Studies (a group I highly recommend) touring New Testament sites with a heavy emphasis on the seven Churches of Revelation. The guides have done an outstanding job of piecing together secular history, geography and Biblical history in a way that has brought the experiences and practices of the early to church to life. One theme has come up over and over again: 

Syncretism. 

 Syncretism is not a Bible word. However, it was a relentless temptation in Bible times. Syncretism is the blending of different systems, practices and ideas. Most paganism practiced by God’s people in the Old Testament was actually some sort of syncretism—a mingling of the worship of Yahweh with the worship of other gods such as Baal and Moloch. 

Syncretism was an enormous temptation for the early church. Early Christians were steeped in a culture of paganism.  Many early believers were saved out of pagan religions. Additionally, Christians were under relentless social and governmental pressure to conform to the systems of paganism. Earning a living, being considered a good citizen and sometimes even just staying alive demanded paying homage to various pagan gods and goddesses. Rather than conforming fully to paganism many simply combined the two. They worshiped Jesus AND participated in the customs of paganism. 

However.

Jesus had nothing positive to say about their practicality. Like. Seriously. Nothing. It was a major theme of the letters to the seven churches, it was at the core of the criticism aimed at most of the churches. 

Most Christians do not see syncretism as a contemporary problem. But it is. It just looks a little different in our world. In the ancient world syncretism always involved idol worship. Christians would attend Christian meetings AND burn incense (worship) the emperor or honor a deity tied to their profession. This allowed early Christians to stay alive, feed their families and live at peace with their culture. 

Contemporary Christians do not bow down to idols or politicians to stay employed or alive. However, Christians are constantly tempted to syncretize secular morality, practices and ethics with Christian morality, practices and ethics. We do this to avoid being “canceled” or rejected by “polite” society and live at peace with our culture. Many contemporary believers will pay lip service to the idea of homosexuality being an acceptable lifestyle, mostly as a way of “loving” a practicing homosexual or to avoid the sin of “judgement”. Some have acquiesced publicly to the notion of multiple genders. Christians don’t conform because they really believe there are sixty-four genders or because they think God changed His mind about homosexuality sometime in the recent past. They do it because its practical and expedient. It keeps the woke censors at bay and makes life easier and from a human perspective easier is always awesome.  

Please understand. 

I believe with all my heart, soul, mind and spirit Christians ought to treat every human being on earth with the dignity and respect due a person made in the image of almighty God. It’s categorically not okay to be unkind. Furthermore, I believe God is the only being in all of creation with the ability to rightly judge the heart of another human. However, being kind and treating others with dignity does not mean we can verbally agree with every deviant behavior under the sun in the name of “loving our neighbor”. 

Jesus hates syncretism. Passionately. He has no patience for it at all. Jesus knows the human heart is bent towards evil and sin even post salvation. Syncretism is a problem because the sin of syncretism transforms us into the image of whatever culture we happen to be living in and when we become like the culture we become spiritually useless. Sin is not limited to participating in sinful behaviors it also includes accommodating sinful ideas and practices in the name of “loving one’s neighbor” or “fitting in”.

Syncretism is something we must actively work against. The spiritual practices of prayer, Bible study, church attendance and Christian community are critically important because those practices sharpen our spirits and make us more aware of right and wrong and more willing to stand against wrong. We cannot lean on our own understanding where culture is concerned. We need constant dependence on the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and show us where our thinking has become morally muddled and in what ways we are acquiescing to cultural patterns of behavior or thinking rather than biblical patterns. And finally, and most critically we have to stop marinating in the culture if we want to think and live counterculturally. We have to turn off our televisions and put down our phones. We have to shut off the noise so we can hear God’s voice. 

I am convinced the enemy loves syncretism almost as much as Jesus hates it. Satan knows that when we make space for sin of any kind it clouds our thinking, weakens our ability to share our faith and makes spiritual growth pretty darn close to impossible. Therefore, anytime we begin to really think and live counterculturally we inevitably face hardship and trouble just like the early church did. But we are also given the peace we need to withstand the pressure and the power necessary to change hearts and minds. 

Just like the early church did.

Beware of the Expert Trap-


“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”- Luke 11:52 

I have had a number of curious interactions both online and in-person recently. The finer points of the conversations vary but ultimately, each ends the same way. It begins when I say something that is in my opinion an innocuous common-sense kind of an assertion. These statements have included but are not limited to statements such as: online school is tough on kids, vaccinated people catch and spread Covid-19 and it’s questionable whether or not that proposed law would even pass constitutional muster. 

At this point the smug little wisenheimer I’m conversing with demands in a very chippy way I produce my early childhood education degree, medical degree, degree in immunology, law.  I then point out, as politely as I am able—that no one really needs a degree in a particular field—or any field for that matter to know whether or not whatever statement I made is true. The statement clearly falls under the heading of common sense, common knowledge or empirical wisdom. Nine times out of ten at this point in the conversation the smug little wisenheimer will tell me to come back when I have a degree in whatever field they deem essential to continue the conversation. 

Insert angry face here.

I hate these exchanges with a white-hot passion. These folks believe the only people who have any right to speak into or on any subject are those who are an “expert” in the field in question. If you take this lunacy to its logical end-game it means that, in order to make a statement like “I had a dog with the exact same problem and it turned out to be mange” one would need to be a veterinarian. Or to say “children ought to eat something besides candy and cake three meals a day” one would have to be a nutritionist or have a degree in early childhood development.

I have nothing against knowledge, education or experts. In fact, I am all for knowledge. I love education. Experts are great and certainly have their place. Additionally, I believe wise people freely admit when they are dealing with a situation above their paygrade or outside of their wheelhouse. Smart people consult multiple counselors before forming an opinion or making a decision (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 24:6). 

However, 

There are a lot of potential problems with choosing to only take advice from an expert. For one thing, who exactly gets to decide who the expert is?  Do we all get to pick our own expert?  Or are the people in power the people who decide who the experts are? Or is it the people in the media? 

It would be easy to settle on education as the qualifier. However, education alone cannot be the only deciding factor in what constitutes an expert, there are lots of folks who have similar or even identical educational experiences who have differing opinions on nearly every subject.  Who is or is not an expert in a particular field can be and often is politized in our increasingly political culture. It’s just a fact that one political administration may have an entirely different take on what makes a person an expert than the one before or after it. 

Furthermore.

Experts are only useful if they are totally unbiased or operating completely without an agenda of any kind.  This never happens because experts aren’t robots or computer programs.  Experts are just fallible human beings who spent a lot of time in school being taught by other fallible human beings. Unfortunately, people—even people with a great deal of education can be corrupted by money, media attention and/or the promise of power.  Experts can easily be bought.  Experts are also prone to having biases that may or may not be grounded in facts. Experts can be also swayed towards a particular perspective by peer pressure.  

Moreover.

Experts are sometimes just plain wrong. It was experts in the early 20th century who claimed the certain races were genetically inferior.  This belief led to the holocaust. It was experts who assured us margarine was healthier than butter. It was experts in theology during the middle ages who claimed the Bible was unnecessary for the common man or woman. 

But, by far the biggest problem with placing all our trust in “experts” is that doing so demands we stop thinking for ourselves, and sadly not thinking has become endemic in our society. Many have simply shut off their brains and let the experts decide what’s best and it’s not working out real well for anyone. Our society is falling apart at the seams in spite of all the “experts” we have advising us. 

 We have forgotten the hard truth that each one of us is ultimately responsible before God for the choices we make. No one gets to blame an “expert” for the consequences of a poor choice on judgment day. God gave us brains and He expects them to be used. We have to wake up and realize anytime we stop thinking for ourselves we become a sitting duck for those looking to deceive.  Instead of placing our trust in the experts we ought to go back to the age-old practice of seeking out a multitude of opinions, analyzing the data, praying like crazy for wisdom before deciding for ourselves.  

Where Real Life is Lived-


How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you
– Psalm 31:19 NIV

My Dad died over the holidays. 

Death is never pleasant or easy. The Bible teaches death is not something human beings were created to experience (Genesis 2:16-17). Therefore, every death is grim, traumatic and depressing on some level. All that being said, as far death goes, his was less terrible than many. My Dad died quietly and peacefully in our home two days after Christmas. He didn’t linger on the edge of death for weeks or months as some do, nor was he terribly uncomfortable as he neared the end as some are. 

We were fortunate to have all four of our children with us the night he passed. Each shared something they loved about my Dad or a fond memory they had about him then we all prayed for him. A few minutes after we were done praying he breathed his last breath and that was it.

He was gone. 

The next day I gave information so his death certificate could be filed with the state. The woman filling out the paper work asked all manner of questions about my Dad’s life. Among other things, she wanted to know: where was he born?  What kind of career did he have? How many years was he married? How many children did he have? What level of education did he receive?  

On paper my Dad’s life looked pretty good.  

He graduated from college. He remained married to the same woman for forty-two years. He had a rewarding career in entomology. He travelled extensively and lived in a number of interesting places.  He fathered six children: four boys and two girls. At the end of the conversation the woman gathering the information commented that it sounded as if my Dad had lived a full and happy life. The reality of his existence was a bit different. My Dad was not a horrible man. He wasn’t evil and I doubt it was ever his intention to cause harm.  

However.

My Father did live a life that was unaltered in any conspicuous way by the restorative and redeeming work of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying my Dad was an unbeliever. I honestly do not know if he was or he wasn’t. His spiritual state was a bit of a mystery. I do know he and I talked at length about a commitment he made to Jesus shortly after my Mother died. I also know that over the last few years my husband and I and many other Christians attempted to have a number of spiritual conversations with him. However, in his later years’ dementia became an ever-increasing issue in his life so it was hard to know exactly where he stood spiritually. I do know after his “conversion experience” he never really grew spiritually or allowed his attitudes and behaviors to be transformed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:2, Colossians 3:5-16, 2nd).  Like so many people in this world who commit their lives to Jesus my Father remained exactly what and who he had been all of my life. In his case this meant he was a hard man with a bad temper and a whole slew of bad habits, who judged others with a measuring stick he refused to use on himself.  Sadly, he had few friends as he neared the end of his life. He died estranged from four of his six children and his two brothers. 

Sigh.

For the sake of my own sanity I choose to believe the best about my Dad’s eternal state. The mercy of God is great and the word of God never returns void (Hebrews 4:12, Isaiah 55:11). Therefore, I am choosing to believe I will see my Dad again someday. He will be an entirely new man and we will have the relationship we were always meant to have (2nd Corinthians 5:17)  

That being said.

In my more navel-gazy moments of grief and loss I wonder what my Dad would say now that he is firmly on the other side of the great divide that exists between the living and the dead (Luke 16:26).  

If he could I believe my Dad would say that a life lived for self is ultimately a wasted life. He would advise the living to mend fences and build bridges with the people we love while we have the opportunity to do so because there will come a day for all of us when those opportunities will be gone forever. He would likely have a lot to say about the importance of avoiding bitterness and not sinning in fits of anger (Ephesians 4:26, Hebrews 12:15, Ephesians 4:31. Most significantly, I believe with all of my heart and soul my Dad would tell us all to take any commitment we have made to Jesus seriously. He would advise us to do the things the New Testament tells us to do so we will grow into the people God designed us to be.  Because then—and only then—we get the full and abundant life Jesus promises those who believe enough to put God’s words into action. 

Because that is ultimately where real life is lived. 

How Christians Become the Worst Version of Themselves-

 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead- Acts 17:30-31 ESV

We all know that person.

The man or woman who has somehow managed to achieve the unenviable feat of becoming the very worst version of themselves imaginable. 

Perhaps the person is hostile, mean, judgy, bitter, prideful and/or self-serving. (Hebrews 12:15, Hebrews 3:12, Philippians 2:3, Colossians 3:8-9). It could be they are just so oblivious to the needs and feelings of others they just go around unknowingly causing the poor hapless souls unfortunate enough to be caught in their orbit immeasurable hurt and pain. It might be they are sexually immoral in some way. Perhaps they are addicted to pornography or they cheat on their spouse or they just sit around indulging in lecherous thoughts about the opposite sex all the time. They might lie or cheat or steal or go around boasting about their own awesomeness to anyone who will listen. Maybe they drink themselves into oblivion routinely or are addicted to drugs. To some degree the sordid details of their behavior is less significant than the fact that they have chosen to indulge their very worst tendencies and character traits.    

No one is exempt from becoming the worst version of themselves (1st Corinthians 10:12). It happens all the time. It happens to famous mega-church pastors like Mark Driscoll, Carl Lentz and Ted Haggard. It can also happen to local pastors, ministry leaders, their spouses as well as your average Joe or Jane church attenders. It’s horrifying anytime anyone becomes the worst version of themselves. It’s extra gross when it happens to a Christian.   

Here’s how it happens:  

The whole messy mess starts out innocently enough, just like almost every other messy mess on planet earth. The slide begins with a subtle shift in behavior or attitude that gradually transforms into a habit.  The person knows what they’re doing or thinking is sinful. However, because no one says anything and nothing truly catastrophic happens they keep doing their thing in spite of any reservations they may have.  

Then God gets involved in His indirect but distinct little God way. 

The person hears a guilt-producing sermon, or a reads a convicting blogpost, or perhaps a friend or spouse, gently, or not so gently confronts them with the problem. At this point things go one of two ways: the person might choose to get offended. When a person chooses offendedness  its not long before they begin the process of actively shutting out anyone who is isn’t either one-hundred-percent supportive of their behavior or willing to ignore it.

  Sometimes, the person just goes into full-on denial mode concerning the seriousness of their behavior. They assure the person challenging them they have a handle on things.  Then the sinner slowly convinces him or herself their behavior isn’t really a problem. The same behavior might be a problem for other people but not for them.  They have so many other awesome qualities they are above being destroyed by the petty little sins that doom other Christians. Besides, they tell themselves: they’re a Christian, God loves them. If God wasn’t okay with what they’ve been up to He would force them to stop.  He hasn’t so He must be okay with it.

So, the behavior or attitude persists.  

At this point, things get interesting, in a very bad way. Blindness sets in and the behavior takes firm root. They spend more time looking at more porn, they think more lecherous thoughts more frequently. They get to the place where can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie. They go into full-scale addiction. They lose the ability to even muster up false humility.  At the same time, they become increasingly more oblivious to the effect their behavior is having on others. They become harsher and meaner and less concerned with the feelings of others.  Ironically, at the same time they become much more judgmental towards other people, especially towards those who have the same problems they do (Matthew 7:2-3). They become a twisted version of what they could have been, a parody of their sin and a sad joke to non-Christians. 

So. Here’s the thing:

No Christian is doomed to becoming the worst version of themselves. It is a fully preventable tragedy.  However, we have to understand that the devil wants more than anything in the world to see every Christian on earth become the very worst version of themselves possible (Ephesians 4:27). Satan loves it when Christians fall into this trap. It ruins the believer, their ministry opportunities and their Christian witness. This is a triple win for Satan.  To avoid this trap, we must understand that even in our redeemed state we are capable of great sin and self-deception. To avoid the self-deception that makes becoming the worst version of ourselves possible we have to make every effort to grow in our knowledge of God and nurture the Christian virtues of faith, goodness, humility, godliness and self-control in our lives (2nd Peter 1:3-10). We must make a regular practice of examining ourselves honestly before the Lord (1st Corinthians 13:5) and we must listen when other people try and speak truth into our lives. 

Finding the Cure for the Crisis in Church World-

 They went far from Me, and walked after emptiness and became empty– Jeremiah 2:5b NASB

The Western Church is in crisis. 

The crisis came about because somehow over the course of the last century both Church-goers and Church leaders lost sight of what a real spiritual win looks like (Judges 21:25). This has resulted in diminishing spiritual power in the lives of church-goers.  The churches lack of spiritual power has left it incapable of transforming people and society. This has caused the culture to spiral downward in a whole bunch of weird and kind of horrifying ways.   

Sigh. 

The average church-goer has gone after all the spiritual goals (Jeremiah 2:5). For many the primary objective of the Christian life has become one of personal fulfillment. In the minds of the average Western church-goer God exists mostly to meet human needs and fulfill personal desires. God’s job is to make us happy and fix our problems. If God doesn’t give us what we want in a timely manner or in the way we want it we find a new spiritual model, hobby or cause that gives us more of what we think we need. Sometimes, this involves Christians making flowery proclamations on Twitter or Facebook stating they intend to spend some time “reimagining”, “reconstructing” or “reinventing” their faith. Those expressions are all just twenty-first century colloquialisms for willfully choosing to make up a new, more user-friendly God who will allow us to find personal fulfillment in whatever way we see fit. The “reimagined” or “reconstructed” God is always a bit more progressive and tolerant than the God of the Bible. The new God is always willing to put His (or Her) blessing on self-actualization that leads to selfishness, sexual sin and bitterness towards those who have caused us pain. 

Christian leaders who lack an understanding of their purpose look to God primarily for a sense of achievement.  This is similar to the desires of the average church-goer but the ultimate outcome is different.  When leaders lack an understanding of their purpose God becomes a means to an end rather than the whole goal of the Christian life.  Leaders who do not understand their biblical purpose seek kingdom building, but instead of building God’s Kingdom they build their own. These leaders end up working really hard to create a cool place for people to hear them speak. On the surface this can appear to be a good thing. But, the environments these leaders construct inevitably lack the power to bring Christians and non-Christians out of their sin and selfishness and into right relationship with God.  

It’s a hot mess. 

The answer to the problem is simple. However, that does not necessarily mean it will be easy to actualize the solution. In order to solve it we must change our perspectives on what God is for, what the church is for and what the outcome of Christianity is supposed to be. Changing perspectives on anything significant is tough because it involves a combination of humility, self-awareness and willingness to make hard changes. Most humans suck at all that stuff. 

Sigh. 

Mercifully, what is impossible for man is possible with God (Matthew 19:25-26, Luke 18:27). The Western church will regain its purpose and spiritual power when God’s people go back to the Bible and seek to understand what God really says about the mission of the Church. 

The gospel message is the mission. Period. The average church-goers job is to tell the world how Jesus can transform a person and change the trajectory of their life (Matthew 28:18-20, 2nd Corinthians 5:17). This is why Ephesians six tells believers to “put on the shoes of the gospel of peace”. That directive is a statement of mission. It tells us we are here to take the gospel into every interaction we have and every situation we find ourselves. In order for the truth we tell to take root in people’s hearts we must live lives that reflect the goodness, kindness and moral purity of Jesus. 

Christian leaders should be in the business of building and growing people spiritually, morally and in their gifting’s and abilities. Leaders must emphasize the importance of spiritual growth, emotional health and holiness in their teaching, preaching and interactions with church people.  Leaders must encourage and teach their people to maximize their giftings in such a way they build up the church body. The goal of every Christian leader should be for every person in their body to be told “well done good and faithful servant” on judgment day by Jesus (Matthew 25:21). I suspect it will be a big part of the overall grade for leaders on judgment day (Revelation 20:11-13, James 3:1). 

Everything we do as believers must be done in a spirit of humility. Church-goers must tell the world about Jesus p with an attitude of grace and love that shows the world that everything we say about our God is true. Church leaders must manage their lives and ministries in such a way that when church people become a natural reflection of the leaders in their lives it will be a beautiful thing (Romans 12:8).  

Three Realities Every Christian Must Embrace in This age of Division and Hate-

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

We live in an age of division and hate. 

The list of issues dividing us is long and growing at a rapid clip. These would include tax policy, the minimum wage, immigration, the number of genders that exist, abortion, who should use which bathroom, sexual orientation, education, critical race theory and how elections should be managed. We are divided over masks and whether it’s safe to gather in groups and how to protect the most vulnerable from COVID-19. The vaccinated accuse the unvaccinated of being dirty, ignorant, backward, uncaring unscientific super spreaders. The unvaccinated accuse the vaccinated of being sheep, followers, sellouts, judgmental jerks and silent super spreaders.

 Sigh. 

How do we become a voice of reason in an increasingly unreasonable time? 

Do we keep our heads down and hope for the speedy return of Jesus? Do we dive into the melee and fight the man? If so, which man? How do we fight? How do we represent Jesus well while we fight? Do methods matter?   

There are no easy answers. Christians are instructed to do hard things (Matthew 10:8). The methods we employ matter (Philippians 2:14-15, 1st Corinthians 14:26, Hebrews 4:13).  Hope is not a strategy, therefore, simply hoping fervently for the return of Jesus will not make disciples or reform broken systems. God does not call His people to retreat (Genesis 1:28). To the contrary, the uglier the age the more a Christian witness is needed in every sphere of society and life. To be that witness we have to recognize three realities:

There is no distinction on God’s team- 

 1st Kings details the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Ahab and Jezebel were sinful, horrible, apostate leaders who championed Baal worship in Israel. They oppressed and slaughtered faithful believers without mercy. In chapter eighteen there is a meeting between Obadiah, an official in Ahab’s court and Elijah, a prophet of God.  It’s obvious from the text that Elijah is openly disdainful of Obadiah, while Obadiah clearly longs for Elijah’s approval.  It appears that Elijah saw Obadiah as a sellout and a collaborator. While Obadiah appears to envy Elijah. On the surface it looks like one man is better than the other. It appears that one man is clearly more righteous than the other. It seems as if one is taking a much bigger risk for the kingdom than the other. However, that view is simplistic, incorrect and absurdly human. Both were righteous. Both were risking everything for the cause of Yahweh. Both were serving on the same team and doing exactly what God had called them to do. Obadiah was operating covertly (at great risk to himself) within the existing political system to protect the remnant of faith who refused to worship Baal (1st Kings 18:13). Elijah was working openly (at great risk to himself) within the religious community to bring the wayward people back to faith, obedience and moral purity. Both men were preforming crucial, albeit different roles.  Too often we do what Elijah and Obadiah did, we judge one another (and ourselves) without mercy or grace.  We make arbitrary and unbiblical distinctions between the sacred (religious) and the secular (political). Anytime we make this error, we miss out on opportunities to encourage one another and correct each other’s wrong thinking and actions. When that happens, the whole team suffers. 

Some things are worth fighting for- 

As a general rule Christians are called to live in peace with others (Hebrews 12:14). This does not mean it is somehow godly to excuse ourselves from the fight (Philippians 4:3, 1st Timothy 6:12). We should never ignore societal decay, divisive ideologies or outright lies. Christians should not force their views on anyone.  That being said, neither should Christians ignore acts of evil or philosophies that will clearly lead to evil if left unchecked (Proverbs 24:10-12). Christians should act to protect women, the weak, children, the elderly and the unborn from exploitation and evil.  Protecting the vulnerable is an issue of justice and righteousness—not politics (James 1:27, Malachi 3:5, Deuteronomy 24:17).  Christians should be cautious about acquiescing to evolving ideas on gender (Genesis 1:27). These viewpoints place children in danger and cause confused and hurting people to degrade themselves in devastating and sometimes irreparable ways. Christians should fight to protect the God-given rights every human on earth has to life, equal treatment under the law, free speech, and the ability to worship God freely and without fear (Exodus 20:13, Galatians 3:28, Exodus 9:1). We cannot in good conscience concede to the culture on issues of right and wrong just to maintain “peace” (Jeremiah 8:11).  

We have to do all the things but in the right order-

There are two things Christians are called to do. Leading the lost to Jesus is the first thing (Matthew 28:19).  However, discipleship is a critical thing as well. We must begin the process of helping people to align their behavior and politics with the truth of the gospel. But only after their hearts have been transformed by the power of the gospel. Confusing the order short-circuits the work of the Holy Spirit and only succeeds in producing well-behaved heathens. This error is how we got into the cultural mess we find ourselves. 

God is calling His people to better. He has called us to unite around the person of Jesus and support all members of the body of Christ. He’s calling us away from the tribalism of our culture and into a purity of heart and action that might just transform our age of division and discord into a glorious season of spiritual reform and revival. 

Four Ways God Works in an Age of Apostasy-

Our wrongdoings testify against us, Lord, act for the sake of Your name! Our apostasies have indeed been many. We have sinned against You– Jeremiah 14:7 NASB 

A couple of months ago I concluded that I had been spending way too much of my Bible reading time in a few New Testament books. 

It was time to broaden my horizons. 

So, I dusted off the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. The first few chapters of 1st Kings is mostly just palace intrigue. It covers the death of King David and the opportunistic scheming that occurred around his succession. The book reaches a high point early on with the installation of David’s son Solomon as his replacement. Solomon started strong with a heart for God. God blessed his efforts and Israel thrived economically and militarily under his leadership.  

It’s all kind of down-hill from there.

Solomon’s heart was lured away from God by his plethora of foreign wives. Despite his wisdom and worldly success, he was a dismal failure in all the ways that really matter. The Kingdom split following his death and both Israel and Judah wandered far from God.  Most of the rest of 1st Kings is just a glum recounting of one bad, evil, idolatrous king after another bad, evil, idolatrous king. The book gets slightly more interesting with the introduction of the prophet Elijah in 1st Kings 17 but then 2nd Kings devolves into a serious of weird and often disturbing stories that cover topics as diverse as floating ax heads and cannibalism. The weird stories are interspersed here and there with more recountings of more crappy kings. In chapter seventeen Israel falls and is taken captive by Syria. King Hezekiah begins ruling Judah in chapter eighteen. Hezekiah and Josiah were the last of Judah’s even halfway decent leaders. However, their leadership was not enough to keep the country from falling ever deeper into idolatry and ruin. King Nebuchadnezzar makes his first appearance in chapter twenty-four and that ushers in the Babylonian captivity and the end of Jewish sovereignty. 

Sigh. 

I was surprised by how depressed I was when I was finished reading the books. It wasn’t the first time I read either book. However, it was the first time either book hit me in such a soul-crushing kind of a way.  

Over time, I had a couple of realizations concerning the whole thing: first, the book of 1st Kings is just a glum summary of Israel’s protracted slide into apostasy and unbelief. 2nd Kings tells the story of how God worked in the lives of those who lived faithfully for God in that time.  The books hit me hard because we too are living in a season of apostasy. We don’t call it that, that of course, we call it “living in a post-Christian culture”, which sounds way nicer than “season of apostasy” but it’s the same thing. Whatever you call it, it sucks. It sucks living in a declining culture. It sucks watching the whole stupid world devolve into moral and intellectual chaos. It sucks seeing people degrade themselves with stupid ideas and even stupider behavior. It sucks watching people do everything possible to deny the reality of God. Most of all, it sucks feeling overwhelmed by the darkness and ugliness of a post-believing world. 

That being said. 

We are not without hope. We aren’t Israel and God hasn’t left the building (metaphorically speaking). He’s still on His throne and He is still working in the hearts of His people, which means He is still working in the greater culture. Revival could be just around the corner. In the meantime, following are four lessons I gleaned about living in a post-Christian culture from 1st and 2nd Kings.  

Community is critical in a post Christian world- 

In 1st and 2nd Kings God works most powerfully through little communities of prophets who banded together to support and encourage one another. Community, connection, partnership and close friendship is an ongoing theme throughout the book. The takeaway for contemporary believers is clear. The key to remaining spiritually strong and emotionally healthy while the world is literally going to hell around us is making Christian community a priority in our lives. 

When the going gets tough God shows off– 

All the depressing historical truths aside, one of the high points of both books is seeing God work among the believing remnant in 1st and 2nd Kings. From Mt. Caramel in 1st Kings 17 to the ax head incident in 2nd Kings. God showed His power and provided for His people in fresh new ways. We should have hearts of faith that expect Him to do the same in our time. 

 God works in surprising places in dark times- 

One key theme of both 1st and 2nd Kings is provision for both gentiles and gentile women (1st Kings 17:9-20, 2ndKings 4:1-37). Both books make it clear that when previously believing people turn their backs on God, He shows Himself in mighty and lifegiving ways to people groups we wouldn’t necessarily expect Him to work through.  We should expect a movement of God in unexpected places in the coming years. 

And finally: 

Relentless leaders bring hope and healing to graceless – 

Two bright spots in 2nd Kings are the records of Hezekiah and Josiah. Both men were tenacious leaders who had the insight to recognize the serious nature of times they lived in and the grit to do something about the problems at the root of Israel’s trouble: idolatry and the sinful practices that accompany idolatry (2nd Kings 18:1-6, 2nd Kings 23:1-24). Their steadfast leadership and determination to serve God wholeheartedly resulted in revival that kept judgment at bay. 

So. 

All that to say, one of the key takeaways from 1st and 2nd Kings is that God is always at work even in a post-Christian world that feels like it’s going to hell all around us.  Usually in ways we least expect. 

How Christians are Still Missing the Mark with Covid-19-

Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord Until He comes to rain righteousness on you- Hosea 10:12 NASB 

Dear Readers, 

Beginning October 1, 2021 will no longer be sponsoring my blog posts on Facebook. I will continue to post all new blog posts on my personal Facebook page and my A Wise Life Facebook page for right now. There are a couple of reasons for this change: first I can no longer in good conscience give Facebook my money when they actively censor what I say by refusing to promote any blog they deem too “political”. Second, with so many people getting off of Facebook my reach has shrunk and it is no longer worth the hassle of being careful about what I say just to get a little promotional help.  This means that it will be much harder for readers to find A Wise Life. It will no longer simply pop up on your feed. You have two options if you want to continue reading A Wise Life. You can search for my page every week or you can subscribe for free. Subscriptions are easy: just go to the bottom of this blog where it says “subscribe” and type in your email address. A Wise Life will arrive in your email every Sunday night. I will not sell or give your email address to anyone. I would appreciate it if you would “do me a solid” and continue to share any blog you feel is worth sharing on social media. That is the only way I will continue to acquire new readers. 

Thanks, 

Lisa Price 

Warning: this post begins with a weird personal story that will probably feel pointless to you the reader. It really does have a point. I promise. 

This week I did something that’s needed doing for a long time. It involves a houseplant I’ve had for about fifteen years. At one time the plant was truly beautiful. It was lush and green and it flourished.  People would comment on it all the time. However, in recent months this plant is looking horribly ratty and sad. The leaves that didn’t fall off turned a putrid shade of green, most of the vines were barren and the whole thing was just kind of wretched looking. 

In my humble opinion, a flourishing houseplant is aesthetically pleasing and it serves a useful purpose. Houseplants, especially this particular type of plant purify the air and that helps keep my family healthy.

I like that. A lot. 

However. This guy was obviously in trouble and not even marginally capable of doing what he was made to do. So, I pulled it out of its pot, broke up its root system and replaced the old soil with fresh soil. Then I cut off the vines that were no longer producing leaves and literally ripped what was left of them from the rest of the root system. Then I watered it really well and placed it in a location where it will get the optimal amount of sunlight for that type of plant. At this point whether the plant lives or dies is all kind of up to the plant. 

Sigh. 

As I was finishing up this task a couple of things occurred to me. First, I don’t know how much awareness a houseplant has but if they have any at all this one is probably convinced I’m a total butthead. The plant has no idea that that this was the only way to save it and possibly make it healthy again. Then it hit me that God kind of did the same thing to the church with COVID. Over the course of the last eighteen months God has stripped Christians of things that were familiar, like regular meetings, conferences, small groups and community events. Then He pruned it substantially and now He has put the church back in the culture again to do what the church is supposed to do.  We are missing the mark. Bigtime. 

Here’s why. 

 Approximately half the people who just read that last paragraph are convinced it means I think God wants all the vaccine holdouts to stop being selfish and get with the program. The other half are convinced I think Christians should stop being lazy and get busy holding the government accountable for the wickedness and stupidity that’s become endemic at all levels of government.  

Both groups are wrong. 

Truth-be-told we totally missed the whole spiritual point of COVID-19. Depending on one’s theological inclination (Calvinist or Arminian) God either caused COVID or He saw it coming and permitted it.  

Either way God had a hand in it. 

 COVID was meant to be a spiritual wake-up call to everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike. COVID-19 became a reality because we are a people who have gotten really good at denying, ignoring and blocking out the certainty of death (Hebrews 9:27). We have done this because we are blessed to live in a time when death is something that only happens to really old people living far from the rest of society in nursing homes. As a result, most of us tend to live for the now and never give any thought to what might happen after we die. COVID-19 forced us to think about our own mortality because people started dropping like flies.  God gave us/allowed COVID-19 because He wanted everyone to reflect on death and change their thinking about how to live life. 

We refused. 

Instead of contemplating the transience and fragility of life and turning to God in repentance, most people just got really scared of dying. They stayed scared and mindlessly tried to block out the reality that was right in front of them. It’s the reason why so many were so quick to accept the rather ludicrous premise that a virus might simply go away if enough people hid from it for long enough. No one wanted to face reality and frankly Christians and Church leaders did little to help. Some churches made fun of the fear.  Others embraced and even encouraged the fear (1st John 4:18). 

Here’s the thing.

It is not the churches job to spiritualize fear by intentionally or unintentionally encouraging and/or enabling neurotic and/or fearful behavior.  Nor is it the churches job to take on an attitude of false bravado or moral superiority because the people in the church have no fear of death that they are willing to admit. 

The church has one job. That’s it. One.

The churches one job is to point people to Jesus (Hebrews 9:27, John 13:34-35, 1st Peter 1:13-16).   Fear is natural when people are dying. We only die once, and people don’t routinely come back from the dead and explain the whole experience so we have no point of reference for what death will be like. The unknown is always scary.  Fear of death shouldn’t be ridiculed. Nor, should it be encouraged or coddled in any way. It is not A Christians job to push their personal opinion concerning matters of Christian liberty.  Nor is it the churches job to do battle with the government. The churches job is to point people back to spiritual reality. The churches job is to talk about judgment and death and life and how Jesus can bring us forgiveness and peace. A Christians job is to gently remind people that everyone dies and teach them how to do it well.  Our job is to be a sensible and loving voice of reason in a world of madness. 

Could we just back to our job? 

How Christians can Stay Hopeful in a World of Evil and Injustice-

  There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground- Amos 5:7 NIV

  I have been spending my elliptical time listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The podcast chronicles more than just Mars Hill Church in Seattle. It tells the story of numerous leaders within the mega-church movement. The first-hand accounts of the people damaged by the pride, shoddy doctrine and longing for celebrity endemic within the movement left me grieving for the body of Christ. The unjust and sometimes even evil actions of a few have forever sullied the name of Jesus and caused many to leave the church.  

This morning when I turned on the news the first story I saw was about a mother whose soldier son was killed in the military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The woman is angry about the death of her son.  Very angry. She is frustrated with how the governing authorities have handled every sordid detail of the withdrawal. So, she did what many of us do in 2021 when we are angry and frustrated. She got on social media and vented her anger. Her evaluation of the situation was censored by the social media platform and flushed down the memory hole. This is wrong on a million different levels. A grief-stricken Mother should be permitted to vent her anger. The people in charge should own their mistakes and the memory hole should be forever left on the pages of George Orwell’s 1984.  

These are not the only examples of injustice and evil in our world. They are just two of at least a million possible examples out there. Injustice and evil have become ubiquitous. Truth is routinely twisted and lies have become so routine that in some situations it is really hard to know what’s actually true. We live in a time where good is called evil and evil is called good (Isaiah 5:20). 

Our brave new world can leave even mature Christians feeling angry and bitter about bad leadership and lack of justice. Christ-followers are instructed to avoid the sin of bitterness at all costs (Hebrews 12:15, Ephesians 4:31). Bitterness is spiritually dangerous because it inevitably leads to attitudes and actions that have the power to defile anyone in our direct orbit.  

There is no easy way to avoid feeling bitter towards unjust leaders.  However, there are four things we can do that will help us avoid bitterness if we do them routinely: 

Remember nothing escapes God’s observation- 

Because God is merciful He does not punish every sin or sinner in real time (2nd Peter 3:9). This can sometimes make it look and feel like God is unaware of injustice or that He doesn’t care about evil. If we believe that lie we will either become bitter towards God and the world or we will join in with the sinners and sin our heads off. Doing either of those things will cause us to quickly lose our ability to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16, Matthew 3:10). If enough Christians lose their ability to be salt and light the brokenness and evil in this world will win. The key to staying both holy and hopeful in these times is to remember that the Bible does promise that there will come a day when God will deal decisively with sin and those who have caused other people to sin (Mark 9:42, Romans 2:9-10, Revelation 20:11-15). 

Be the person this world needs right now- 

Seriously. Just do it. Be the person who stands up for the subjugated, who fights obvious injustice and loves without limits. Love and righteousness are transformative in culture and in relationships. Acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God is the key to a living a life God blesses (Psalm 11:7, Proverbs 21:15, Micah 6:8)

Don’t give into the temptation to be vengeful- 

Vengeance can take many forms that don’t include acts of physical violence. It can take the form of rude verbal or written retaliation (my biggest personal issue). Vengeance can also include things like refusing to pray for or do good things for people we view as our enemies (Matthew 5: 38-41, Matthew 5:44).  Jesus directly commands us to pray for and do good to those who do us wrong. Refusing to obey Jesus always leads to hardness of heart that leads to both more sin and more personal misery. 

Pray-

Okay, I get it, encouraging people to pray while the world goes to hell in a hand cart sounds trite and feels like a copout. However, prayer is anything but a copout. Prayer transforms circumstances. I do not know or understand all the particulars on how all of that works but it does work. Prayer also transforms our hearts. Prayer, if it’s done consistently and in faith gives the person praying an awareness of God’s presence.  Awareness of God’s presence always leads to a love for others and a sense of hope for the future. 

Life is tough right now. Goodness, righteousness and justice are in short supply. The good news about dark times is it makes it much easier for our light to shine but we have to let it.

Stop Being a Giant Baby and Other Tips for Spiritual Growth and Development-

Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ- 1st Thessalonians 5:21-23 ESV

Dear Readers, 

Beginning October 1, 2021 will no longer be sponsoring my blog posts on Facebook. However, I will continue to post all new blog posts on my personal Facebook page as well as my A Wise Life Facebook page for right now. There are a couple of reasons for this change: first I can no longer in good conscience give Facebook my money when they actively censor what I say by refusing to promote any blog they deem too “political”. Second, with so many people getting off of Facebook my reach has shrunk and it is no longer worth the hassle of being careful about what I say just to get a little promotional help.  This means that it will be much harder for readers to find A Wise Life. It will no longer simply pop up on your social media feed. You have two options if you want to continue reading A Wise Life. You can search for my page every week or you can subscribe for free. Subscriptions are easy: just go to the bottom of this blog where it says “subscribe” and type in your email address. A Wise Life will arrive in your email every Sunday night. I will not sell or give your email address to anyone. I would appreciate it if you  would “do me a solid” and continue to share any blog you feel is worth sharing on social media. That is the only way I will continue to acquire new readers. 

Thanks, 

Lisa Price 

Now here’s this weeks post:

I am a bit of a skeptic.

 I am always a bit slow to embrace any new idea, theory or belief without some hard evidence that the idea, theory or belief could actually be true.  

Despite my inherently cynical nature I am fully convinced the whole stupid world is under the judgment of God right now. Judgment is the new normal for every country and people group on earth. No one is special right now. Too many people in too many places have either participated in or voluntarily tolerated every kind of weird evil for too long Romans 1:18-30). The Almighty God of the universe has finally had enough of the nonsense. He is lifting His hand of protection and letting humanity have a taste of what we have been begging for; life without God. Therefore, every man, woman and child on earth is in for some rough waters until there is a movement of repentance everywhere. The evidence is just too overwhelming not to believe it. Dumb leaders, weird weather, random acts of violence, hostility between people, disease, unfettered fear and rampant crime are all telltale signs of divine judgment (Deuteronomy 28:16-64). 

BUT. Here’s the thing:

This season could easily turn out to be the most productive of our lives from a spiritual growth perspective. Rough waters often cause us to seek God and let go of the sin that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1). Trials help us break free of the behaviors and attitudes that trap us in the mindsets that keep us mired in worldly thinking.  When we seek God and break free of worldly thinking and sinful strongholds we inevitably go back to doing the things that really matter to God (Revelation 2:5). When Christians do the things that really matter to God, He is faithful to move in powerful ways and good always comes out of it. (1st Peter 1:6-9). 

Here’s how to make good spiritual things happen:

Stop being a baby-

The landscape of cultural Christianity is crawling with spiritual toddlers. People who have never grown passed the sippy-cup and fit-throwing stage of spiritual development.  If we want to flourish spiritually we must be intentional about letting go of the childish things that are holding us back from becoming truly Christlike.  This means learning to do hard things, it means accepting hardship and learning from it instead of getting bitter about it (1stCorinthians 13:11, 2nd Timothy 4:5).  It means loving people enough to tell them the truth (in a loving way) about where their choices will lead them even if it means they don’t like us when the conversation is over. It means forgiving those who wrong us and praying for people who persecute us. 

Know what having “good fruit” actually means- 

All Christians know the fruit of a person’s life matters because Jesus said it matters (Matthew 7:16). However, having a life that consists of good fruit is about more than looking good or even doing good deeds. “Good fruit” like church attendance, taking on leadership roles in church or even leading people to Jesus is really only good if they are also accompanied by by holiness, virtue and love for one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43, Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:3). This means doing the right things with the wrong heart will not result in reward. In order to get this vital issue right we must be vigilant about examining our own motives for why we do what we do.  We must ask ourselves: am I doing what I’m doing so others will think well of me? Do I do things for people to help them or gain power over them? Do I love everyone or just people who love me back? If we get the answers to any of these questions wrong we need to ask God to change our hearts until He does. 

Deal with your spiritual junk

In order to do that we have to want to see the sin our life. Most people, even most Christians don’t really want to see the sin their lives. It’s just too painful see our own gross stuff head-on. It We have to ask God to show us. He will do this in a whole bunch of different ways that probably won’t involve verbal communication with the Almighty.  He will show us through conflicts we have in our marriages and jobs. He will show us through the attitudes we see in our own kids and the T.V. shows we gravitate towards. 

Don’t get confused about what repentance really is-

Repentance is a twofold deal. It’s dealing with sinful behaviors in a decisive way (Matthew 5:30).  That means stopping it (whatever “it” is) as quickly as possible. However, simply stopping bad behavior is not enough. In order to truly repent we have to deal with the heart attitude that caused us to sin in the first place. That means we have to dig deep and figure out the why of what we do. Without that knowledge will never move on to a higher level of functioning. 

If we know God and are called according to His purpose then life is good even when its tough. It’s good because God is always at work using the hard stuff to mold us into someone He can use. 

But we have to let Him.