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.

The Art of (Spiritual) War-

 For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory– Proverbs 24:6 ESV

A few years back, my son gave me a gift. It was a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. I must have looked as perplexed as I felt because Alex looked at me and said assuredly: “Read it Mom. You’ll love it. I promise”. 

 I read it and to my surprise I did love it. 

Sun Tzu was a 5th century Chinese general, military strategist and tactical genius. Most of his advice is remarkably pithy, relevant and astute for a guy who’s been dead for well over fifteen-hundred years. For the record, Sun Tzu was not a follower of Jesus and like all non-Christian sources of wisdom his writings should be read with a degree of discernment. 

That said.

Sun Tzu’s advice can easily be applied to a plethora of twenty-first century leadership situations and conundrums. Just insert the word “leader” anytime he says general or commander and a lot of times you are left with what can only be described as leadership gold.  A few of my favorite tidbits of his include: “a good commander is benevolent and unconcerned with fame” and “it is the business of a general to be upright and thus ensure order.

Sun Tzu also said some things that relate shockingly well to spiritual warfare. My favorite is: Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster. I have observed that Christians are losing more spiritual battles than we are winning these days and it is mostly due to ignorance of this principal (1st Peter 5:8). So, in the interest of changing the outcome of the many spiritual battles we find ourselves in these days I would like to offer a little insight into the schemes of the enemy. 

Beginning with:

Satan uses ignorance of our own nature to gain an advantage in our lives- 

Christians tend to look down on the pursuit of self-knowledge as worldly, self-absorbed and even a bit narcissistic. It is true that self-knowledge can become all of those things if it’s not pursued in the right way for the right reasons. However, Jesus warned Peter, Satan wanted to “sift him like wheat” immediately following an argument Peter had with the other disciples that revealed some motivations he was clearly ignorant of. Specifically, a wish to rule over others rather than serve them (Luke 22:24-31). Being successful in the realm of spiritual warfare means we seek to learn as much as we can about our own strengths, weaknesses and hidden motivations. Self-knowledge is not an excuse to continue on in our unhealthiest behavior. No Christian should ever say “that’s just my personality” when confronted with their sin.  Rather, self-knowledge should give us a starting point to begin seeking the growth and transformation that should always be a part of our spiritual journey. Tools such as the Myers-Briggs Indicator, Strength Finders and the DISC assessment can all be helpful in the process of self-discovery.

Satan will attempt to discourage us anytime we do something worthwhile or good- 

We tend to think doing something good for God, the church or another person should automatically exempt us from difficulty and hardship. Unfortunately, this is not how things work in the realm of spiritual warfare.  Instead Satan intentionally attacks us when we are doing good in an effort to discourage us from our task. He has enough experience with humans to know we tend to give up when the going gets tough. We also tend to get angry or even turn on God anytime we experience hardship, difficulty or pain. It is critical we remember that contrary to popular belief Christians are not promised an easy time of things here on earth, even when we are doing good things with our lives (John 16:33, 2nd Timothy 4:5).  Instead, we should remember we are soldiers and soldiers don’t let circumstances discourage them from fulfilling the mission they were called to (2nd Timothy 2:3-4).

Satan loves it when Christians are lazy- 

Most of the time we know exactly what God wants us to do (Colossians 1:9-11).  Some of the things He might want us to do could include apologizing, praying more, having hard conversations, learning the Bible, being more vocal about what we believe, confronting hard issues, taking more of an interest in our child’s education or friend group or getting more involved in the life of our church or community. We don’t do those things for one reason: we’re lazy. Plain and simple. We just don’t want to. Those things are difficult and inconvenient and we know that doing them will cost us something. So, we don’t and truth-be-told, Satan loves laziness almost as much as he loves sin. The void our laziness creates gives him space to do his best work (John 10:10). 

Finally, Satan wants us to fight spiritual battles while completely discounting and ignoring the weapon of prayer (Matthew 26:41, Ephesians 6:18). Twenty-first century people tend to see prayer as a feeble and passive time-waster. Why pray when we could do something? Conversely, Satan sees prayer as a powerful act of warfare. He knows prayer is our number one source of wisdom, strength and discernment. (Ephesians 6:10-18). For that reason, he will do anything in his power to distract us from using this weapon to our advantage. If we want to practice the art of spiritual warfare we should always pray first and do second. 

The One Thing Every Christian Needs More of-

Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God– John 3:21 NIV

Okay, so. 

No one just decides to let their perfectly good life spiral into a dark and ugly disaster. This is even more true of Christians. No authentic follower of Jesus has ever made the willful decision to just let their life dissolve into a chaotic tragedy. Seriously. It just doesn’t happen. The hope we receive at salvation simply doesn’t allow for that kind of willful foolishness (Romans 5:5).

However.

There are plenty of Christians whose lives do spiral out of control. Sometimes there is no returning from the dark places they go. Unfortunately, it’s a trend that seems to be growing. More and more people are beginning their spiritual lives well and ending them by rejecting Jesus altogether or telling the world they are “reimagining” their faith (Galatians 5:7). When we choose the things of this world over the full life Jesus offers we end up turning away from God. Turning from God never ends well (Hebrews 6:4-6, Matthew 24:10-11). 

The key to preventing that fate is found in asking God to empower us to seek, understand and walk in truth (John 8:32, 2nd Corinthians 3:12 Galatians 5:5). Living out the kind of truth that keeps us from becoming the worst version of ourselves is about more than simply learning some Bible verses that tell us how we should live.   In order for truth to become a protective force in our lives we have to seek it purposely in specific areas of our lives (Ephesian 6:14, Ephesians 6:17). We seek truth by asking God to show us truth in the following four areas: 

The truth about who we are-  

It is critical we know who we are in Christ and what that means for us spiritually (Ephesians 3:16-20, Colossians 1:13, Galatians 4:6).  Knowing we are loved by God gives us incentive to grow and protects us from discouragement.  We have to know that even when we fail God is for us. He never stops rooting for us to become the best possible version of ourselves. However, it is also critical we understand no one reaches that status without some effort. We grow by asking God to show us truth about the parts of ourselves that still need redemption.  We will never see our blind spots and the areas of our life that are tripping us up without God’s help. We are simply too easily misled by our own desires.  

The truth about the motives of our heart- 

The human heart is the most insanely devious thing in all of creation (Jeremiah 17:9). We are able to trick ourselves into believing our motives are pure and we are good when we are anything but good and pure. It’s possible to do this without even realizing we are doing it. We can easily fool ourselves into thinking we are simply being friendly to a member of the opposite sex when in reality we are testing the waters to see if that person might be open to an inappropriate relationship. We tell ourselves it’s the churches fault we aren’t growing when in reality we aren’t making any attempt to feed ourselves outside of the weekly church service. We fool ourselves into thinking we’ve forgiven someone when in reality we are holding onto a grudge the size of Texas. Only God can show us what’s really going on in our hearts but that only happens when we ask Him to do it. 

The truth about who God is –

People—even redeemed people tend to make God into something much smaller and less powerful than He really is. We are simply more comfortable with a God who is like us. So, usually without realizing it we cast God into the image of a human who isn’t all that different from us. In the process we talk ourselves out of taking God seriously. When we stop taking God seriously we stop obeying Him in any area of our lives that feels hard. The way to end this cycle is to ask God daily to remind us who He is and how worthy He is of our full attention and obedience. 

The truth about other people-

It is all-too easy for us to view other people as our enemies, rather than as people who are made in the image of God and deeply valued by Him. When we devalue people, we tend to overestimate the harm they do us and underestimate their ability to be transformed. When we do this we inevitably end up doing the one thing God doesn’t do: give up on people. Asking God to help us see people the way He sees them keeps us from giving up on people when they disappoint us. As people inevitably do. 

No Christian chooses consciously to fail in the things that matter most. The key to success in the Christian life is knowing the truth of God and then walking in it. But in a world fraught with lies and deception truth is something we have to want badly enough to go after it with our whole hearts (Jeremiah 29:13)

Should Christians be Woke?

This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ- Philippians 1:9-10 NIV

“Wokeness “ or “being Woke” is a relatively new movement that has captured the hearts and minds of many Christians.   According to the Online Dictionary being “woke” is officially defined as: 

Being alert to injustice in society, especially racism. 

 A lot of believers are jumping on the woke bandwagon. But should they? 

So here’s the thing: 

The vast majority of Christians loathe injustice and racism. After all, God Himself conceived the whole concept of social justice (Exodus 23:11, Deuteronomy, 24:14-15, Zechariah 4:10, Malachi 3:5). Moreover, God is and always has been on the side of equity and impartiality when it comes to issues of race and nationality (Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:34, Romans 1:16, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, Revelation 7:9). Any Christian with even a shallow understanding of Scripture should realize that racism and social injustice are never okay. Period. 

That being said. 

It’s critical Christians understand the “woke” movement is about a whole lot more than being attentive to issues of injustice and racism. The woke crusade is intertwined with the teachings of Critical Race Theory or CRT. CRT began as an academic theory that presupposes all humans are born into one of two categories: oppressors or victims. Victims are people of color and women. Oppressors are white men. Anytime someone is born white and a man they just naturally victimize minorities and women, sometimes unknowingly. The propensity to subjugate others is literally a part of white male DNA. Sadly, DNA is tough to overcome. The only way a white person can cease to be an oppressor is to develop enough self-awareness to see their wickedness and confess their sins. Some proponents of CRT teach that in order for transformation to really occur the oppressor must experience the same bigotry and bias they have forced on others.  If a white male, or a white female for that matter, claims to not be racist that is verification they are the worst kind of racist. The kind that lacks self-awareness and is therefore hopeless from a redemption standpoint.   Victims are always depicted as people who lack free agency, they have no real way to break free of their oppressed status and are destined to stay victims. According to proponents of CRT the only way to solve the problem of racism is for society to step in and turn the oppressors into the victims. 

In my humble opinion Christians would be wise to stay far away from the woke movement.  Here’s why:

Wokeness is a weird post-modern religion- 

It just is. The Woke do not worship a specific deity. Those who embrace wokeness can be agnostic, Christian, atheist and or even a member of another faith community. Most people who support wokeness don’t realize that it is a religion with its own set of rituals and story of original sin (racism). It has its own priesthood. In this case the priesthood is those that teach and propagate CRT. Critical Race Theory has an elaborate system of language that can only be understood once a person is fully enlightened.  Like all religions Wokeness has a path that disciples must follow in order to be restored to perfection (a nonracist state). There is a word for mixing other belief systems with Christianity, its syncretism and it’s a form of idolatry that eventually led to the destruction of the nation of Israel (Isaiah 44:9, Jeremiah 18:15, 1st John 5:21, Deuteronomy 6:14).  

Wokeness is completely incompatible with Christianity-  

Seriously.  Wokeness teaches that racism is the original sin of mankind. It also teaches that not everyone has been stained by it. The oppressed are good and righteous simply by virtue of being born victims.  Therefore, they have nothing to repent of.  Christianity teaches that all human beings have sinned and need redemption (Mark 10:18, Romans 3:23, 1st John 1:10, Ephesians 2:1-3). In Christianity teaches that racism is a sin (John 7:24, Galatians, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11) but it is not the only sin people need to turn from. Furthermore, Christianity teaches that no one can save themselves and that no amount of good works will bring a sinner into right relationship with God. Only faith in the sacrifice of Jesus can do that. Wokeness teaches that people can save themselves by repenting of their racism and following the elaborate rituals of the woke. None of these views are even a tiny bit compatible with Christian doctrine. And therefore, must be avoided by sincere Christians. 

Wokeness separates and divides rather than heals-

Christians are commanded by God to be forces for good in this world (Galatians 6:9-10, Romans 12:2, Romans 12:21, 1st Thessalonians 5:15, 1st Timothy 6:18). One aspect of being a force for is bringing peace to divisive situations (Romans 12:18, Romans 14:19, Ephesians 2:14-17, Ephesians 6:15). Wokeness and CRT teach that peace is incompatible with social change and is therefore and undesirable state. 

We would do well to remember that Christianity has done more to bring racial reconciliation to this world than any other religious and social movement in history.  The world doesn’t need a new movement it’s just needs Christians to work harder to apply biblical principles to the social issues of our day. If we do that wokness will be unnecessary. 

Four Changes the Church Must Make Now-

Be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord– Colossians 3:15b-16 NKJV

By any measurable standard the last year and a half was bumpy for everyone. The world was collectively awestruck at how quickly a weird little virus could lead to compulsory lockdowns, financial uncertainty, social unrest, church closures and the shutdown of most schools. The gloom brought on by those unwelcome changes took a heavy toll on everyone, including most Christians (James 1:2-3). 

Unparalleled world events swiftly exposed a whole host of systemic and potentially lethal problems lurking in Western churches. Most believers lacked the spiritual tools and community support necessary to keep their faith vibrant over a year of forced isolation. Even fewer Christians were prepared to answer the questions that surfaced out of the COVID crisis. Questions like: where is God when we suffer? What role should government play in faith communities? What does honoring authority look like in a global pandemic (Romans 13:4-6)? Is online church a suitable substitute for the real deal (Hebrews 10:25)? Furthermore, local churches struggled with an unprecedented loss of attendance and financial support. Many pastors suffered a crisis of identity when they learned exactly how expendable most political and public health authorities felt their contribution to society was.

Sigh.

Thankfully, the worst seems to be passing. I am personally overjoyed, no one hated COVID world more than this girl. That said, we should all have some very real reservations about churches returning to the “normal” we foolishly embraced pre-COVID. Our Western Church version of normal was anything but healthy and live-giving from a spiritual perspective. The last thing the church needs is more of what created the problems that became evident during COVID.  Instead the church needs a twenty-first century reformation that begins with:

An end to the Christian celebrity culture- 

Little good has come from idolizing Christian pastors, musicians, and influencers. Most of the men and women put on pedestals by the Christian community have become prideful and arrogant and proven themselves to be completely unteachable. Too many “celebrity Christians” have embraced a life of sin and destroying the reputation of Jesus and other Christians in the process.  Some have become so addicted to media attention that they eventually denounced Christianity altogether to keep the spotlight on them. It’s time for Christian to say “no more” to the celebrity culture.  Instead we must be intentional about looking within our own local churches for faithful men and women to hold up as examples of the faith (1st Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17). 

No more shallow teaching-

A shocking lack of doctrinal depth has become standard in Church world.  Like most of our mistakes this one was made with good intentions. Dumping discipleship programs (Adult Sunday school) and replacing them with small groups was intended to build community and make unbelievers more comfortable in the church. It did neither. All it did was shrink the Church and produce a generation of genuinely ignorant and spiritually immature Christians. If we want to save the Western Church we need to find ways to make Sunday school cool again. 

Theology that empowers the church to deal with secular authority in a biblical manner- 

It’s simply a fact that Christians are called to obey secular authorities.  However, early Christians continued to meet together (sometimes daily) despite the fact it was forbidden by “authorities” on and off for more than three centuries.  If they hadn’t the church probably would have disappeared altogether early in the first century. Leaders and individual Christians need to do some soul searching and decide what sort of edict is worthy of violating the command to “gather together” before the next round of shutdowns. 

An openness to a movement of the Spirit of God- 

Sadly, there are two equally stupid views of the Holy Spirit that have prevailed in most denominations over the last century. On one end of the spectrum there is a history of gross excess. This group has taken 1st Thessalonians 5:19Do not quench the Spirit” to mean that almost anything done in the name of the Holy Spirit goes with or without any biblical precedent. Period. This has been a huge turnoff for those on the other end of the spectrum who have declared anything they see as out of the ordinary (speaking in tongues, raising hands in worship, prophetic utterances) as evil and “of the devil” even if that thing has biblical precedent. Both attitudes are wrong, Truth lies in the middle. It is not our job to manufacture the work of the Spirit in the name of “having an experience”. Neither is it our job to dictate to God how He can or cannot work. Our job is to seek the Spirit with an open heart asking Him to reveal more of Himself and His truth to us. However, we also need to understand that any genuine work of the Holy Spirit will be accompanied with a greater desire to obey God. The Holy doesn’t do anything without the purpose of bringing greater obedience and purity to God’s people. 

Community- 

We are made in the image of a relational God (Genesis 1:26). We need each other. Period. Churches have to figure out how to create authentic faith communities in the midst of twenty-first century busyness. If we don’t the church will continue to lose people. 

It is the churches responsibility to be ready to offer hope, help and healing when the worst happens. Most churches weren’t ready for any of that with COVID. Welcoming a movement of God, building community in the church and being prepared to answer  tough theological questions is how we get ready for whatever comes next.