Wisdom: What it is, why you Will Literally die Without it and how to get it-

Wisdom along with an inheritance is good, and an advantage to those who see the sun. For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, but the advantage of knowledge (wisdom) is that wisdom keeps its possessors alive– Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 NASB

Wisdom and folly.

Everyone understands folly. 

Folly is easy. Folly is stupidity and absurdity. Folly is knowingly doing the wrong thing because it feels good or appears to be advantageous or expedient in the moment. Folly is willfully ignoring the obvious, especially when the obvious is clearly not okay. Folly is rebelling against common sense or acknowledged facts in favor of feelings. Folly is not difficult to grasp (Ecclesiastes 10:3).

However.

Wisdom is more complicated and much harder to nail down, largely because wisdom is multi-faceted and nuanced (Proverbs 8:11, Proverbs 3:19).  Some of the best practical definitions of wisdom are:

Thinking God’s thoughts after Him-

The sum of all learning and knowledge-

Common sense, good judgment- 

The ability to apply knowledge appropriately to a given situation- 

But, by far, my all-time favorite practical definition of wisdom is… 

Drumroll please…

Understanding the connectedness of life-

Wisdom is understanding every single action in life produces a reaction or consequence.  It’s understanding the reaction or consequence is not always equal to or observably related to the action (Hosea 8:7).  Wisdom is understanding the seemingly unconnected things in life really are connected. Wisdom is knowing anxiety is not a freak event or strictly a biological occurrence. It’s the direct result of something else: an unfinished project, a lie we told, control issues or a conversation we’re scared to have.  Wisdom is recognizing the link between pride and abject failure in our relationships and work (Proverbs 16:18, Proverbs 11:2). Wisdom is understanding how I live today will impact tomorrow, sometimes in seemingly unconnected ways (Proverbs 20:25).  Wisdom is knowing how I choose to manage my sexuality has the power to dramatically impact not only my marriage but also my finances, friendships, parenting outcome and reputation (Proverbs 5:1-14). Wisdom is knowing sin in one area of my life will inevitably impact productivity and blessings in other areas of my life (Proverbs 5:21-23). Wise people know nothing happens in a void and everything is connected to everything else. Wise people also understand we get to choose our sin but we don’t get to choose the consequences of our sin (Proverbs 1:31).

 One need not be clever in order to be wise (Proverbs 17:28). That being said, no one gets wisdom, unless they pursue it (James 1:5, Proverbs 1:20-23). There are five primary ways a person acquires wisdom, including:

The Bible-

The Bible illuminates wisdom and defines foolishness very clearly in the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 1-4). However, there is more wisdom in the Bible than what’s found in Proverbs. The Bible teaches through stories, psalms and commands what will happen when a person chooses to act wisely and what happens when a person chooses to behave foolishly. Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Therefore, a wise life begins with making a commitment to Jesus (Proverbs 14:2). Once that is done a person should seek to learn the Bible and apply it their life. Wisdom always follows that course.   

Reflection about life-

Some assume simply living life and attaining an education will make them wise. This is categorically wrong. There are lots of really foolish old people and the world is abounding with educated idiots. Self-reflection is what makes us wise. We become wise and insightful when we take the time to contemplate which actions led to our successes and failures (Proverbs 4:26, 2nd Corinthians 13:5).  When we choose to think through what we did right or wrong in situations and then adjust our behavior accordingly next time wisdom becomes a part of who we are as people. 

Prayer-

Its critical we know God isn’t just wise and knowledgeable. God IS wisdom. God IS knowledge. God is THE source of all understanding about all things.  Praying to the source of wisdom and knowledge does two things: first, prayer allows clueless humans to ASK God for wisdom about life. A prayer for wisdom is God’s favorite kind of prayer. He is always ready to give wisdom to anyone eager to ask for it (James 1:5). However, prayer is not just about asking God for stuff.  Prayer is primarily about connecting with and communing with God. We become like those we spend the most time with. Therefore, if we make connecting with the all-wise, all-knowing, totally-holy maker of the universe a priority in our lives we will become wise just as He is wise. 

From other people- 

God blesses people with wisdom and then places those people in our lives as a gift (Proverbs 13:20, Proverbs 13:14). It is our responsibility to identify the wise people God places in our path and learn from them. As with any gift we can refuse the wisdom others have to offer but we do so at our own peril. 

And finally.

No one can acquire wisdom without humility. Period.  To become wise, we must understand and accept our limitedness in every area. Wisdom means conceding that sometimes we get it wrong and most of the time we don’t know what we don’t know. Wisdom is all about having a realistic perspective of ourselves and humbly asking God to give us the insight, wisdom and understanding we lack. 

Then we are unstoppable (Proverbs 21:22). 

A Strategy for Surviving this Season of Unprecedented Lunacy-

 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against thauthorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms– Ephesians 6:12 NIV

Unprecedented. 

It’s a big word that gets bandied about quite a lot these days. 

Sadly, it also fits the times we live in. 

Over the course of the last two years or so the world has collectively faced all sorts of unprecedented events including wars, rumors of wars, weird diseases, inflation, social upheaval, tyrannical shutdowns, food shortages and political chaos.

Meanwhile in America.   

Our own unique brand of unprecedented lunacy has included (but is not limited to) militant transgender activists. Increasing tension between races. A president in rapid decline. Increased political division. Appallingly graphic sex-education.  Disintegrating families. A weaponized IRS. Vicious Crime.  A weaponized DOJ. Aggressive abortion enthusiasts and conservative parents labeled “domestic terrorists” for showing concern about the state of public education. 

We have also experienced some unprecedented events no one could have called in a million years like a plot organized by the FBI to kidnap governor Gretchen Witmer and blame the conservative political opposition for it, as well as an actual raid on a former president’s home that has left the world with more questions than answers concerning the “why” of the raid. The social fabric that holds our culture together and our system of government is disintegrating before our very eyes. 

Okay so, what is a Christian to do? 

Well. 

I can tell you what Christians cannot do. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and tell ourselves what goes on in the world is irrelevant. We cannot pretend the church is a safe space the lunacy will never touch. We can’t sit back and convince ourselves politics will never affect how Christians do church or raise our kids. 

Satan clearly has the advantage right now. Anti-God, anti-anything wholesome, anti-Christian sentiment is growing at an off-the-charts pace right now (2nd Timothy 3:1-3). Government, entertainment, public education and the news media are all strongholds of the enemy.  It’s time to wake up and be realistic about the situation at hand. 

Here’s what we can do:

We can accept the reality we are in an unprecedented spiritual war.  The disturbing things we see every day (war, violence, social turmoil, hate, anti-God sentiment) give us a glimpse into an even bigger, nastier war taking place in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 6:12). We must protect ourselves and our children from becoming casualties of this war (1st Peter 5:18). 

Here’s the thing. 

Satan cares less about getting the whole world to openly worship him than he does about corrupting people in subtle ways that do not appear on the surface to be obviously evil. His strategy is to distract people, including Christian people, from God. He wants to muddle our thinking with junk philosophies so biblical truth feels wrongheaded, potentially harmful, and hopelessly outdated (Isaiah 5:20).  He uses garbage entertainment (secular books, movies, television, games), the news media and the public-schools to take minds captive to worldly philosophies that inevitably lead to godless thinking and evil behavior. (Colossians 2:8).

 It’s a seriously brilliant strategy. 

Once a person’s thinking is aligned with the world their hearts are inescapably far from God. In order to be even marginally successful in this epic battle we must be willing to cut educational systems and entertainment out of our lives and our kids’ lives that does not promote discernment and aid in wise thinking. 

Period. 

No one will be safe in this battle if they are not making prayer a priority, hiding God’s word in their heart and living the way God calls Christians to live (Romans 12, Titus 3:14, 1st Peter 1:14, 1st Peter 2:16, 1st John 1:6, Colossians 3:1-21, Ephesians 4:17-28). 

Living the way God calls us to live means actively choosing to do good things with the time we have been given. Christians are literally saved from their sin for the sole purpose of doing good works and helping people (Ephesians 2:10). Doing good works is important because they are a form of spiritual warfare, they remind us who we belong to and they give us credibility with unsaved people (Titus 3:8). Credibility leads to opportunities to share the gospel (Matthew 5:16) That being said, all the good works in the world are a pointless waste of time if we don’t let go of behaviors, attitudes and pursuits that do not lead to more holiness and righteousness in our lives. In other words, we have to stop sinning. 

 We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth, therefore it’s imperative Christians everywhere become a present and active force for good in their local communities (Matthew 5:13-16). We must do the work necessary to learn to think biblically about political and social issues and then work to get decent people elected to all levels of political office, from school boards to the presidency. In a fallen world there is no such thing as a truly righteous politician, but it is our job to find the best people we can and support them with our time, money and votes.  

Finally. 

We cannot give in to despair. No matter how bad it gets. We cannot give up or give in. We cannot stop believing and praying and worshiping and fighting for the good in this world. Faith is the key to survival in these unprecedented times.

How Peace can Become a Bad Thing –

Prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace- Jeremiah 10b-11 NIV

We are hardwired to pursue peace. 

Deep down in our souls we know every good and valuable thing human civilization has to offer was developed, advanced and flourished during times of peace. The finest art, music, theology, medicine and literature are all the outcome of extended periods of peace. Minus peace marriages dissolve, mental health declines, churches splinter, governments breakdown and societies crumble.  

Peace is a critical element of Christian doctrine. 

Jesus’ official title is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). He got that title by coming to earth, dying on the cross and rising from the dead in order to pay the penalty for human sin and rebellion. His purpose in doing all that was to broker peace between a sinless God and sinful humanity. Because Jesus is the bringer of peace Jesus’ followers are instructed to make peace whenever possible (Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14). The Bible teaches that the mere presence of an obedient Christian has the power to bring peace to a place or situation. (Matthew 10:13). One of the most profound benefits of knowing Jesus is the peace He brings to our hearts even in the midst of the worst kinds of trouble and chaos (John 14:27, John 16:33). 

Because peace is so vital to human flourishing most folks will go to super human and sometimes even sinful lengths to get it and keep it. A craving for peace is why we have divorce lawyers. Peace is the reason our culture loves pharmaceuticals so much. It’s why society collectively spends billions on police and it explains the existence of the military industrial complex.  Peace is so critical to human health people will fight wars just to keep it.  

It’s critical we understand. 

 Peace has a dark side.  It’s not all sunshine and gummy bears. There are situations in life when the presence of peace is neither good, beneficial or life-giving. Peace quickly becomes toxic anytime we: 

Get it in the wrong way-

Interestingly enough, the most totalitarian and repressive countries on earth are also, at least on the surface, some of the most serene and peaceful places on earth. You don’t see a lot of dissent or griping in dystopian regimes. The people in those places are not peaceful because they are thrilled with their circumstances. Beneath the veneer of peace and tranquility, there is a tyrant who rules with an iron fist. No one is allowed to tell the truth or say what they believe unless the tyrant gives them the go ahead. The same thing can happen in our families, churches, businesses and friendships. A strong personality or leader keeps the peace, not by leading well, working through interpersonal problems or helping people to figure out their conundrums. Rather, the leader keeps the peace through intimidation and coercion. Sometimes the coercion is stated verbally. Most of the time it’s implied. Sometimes the threat is physical, but usually it’s social or relational. Typically, anyone brave enough or dumb enough to refuse to “submit’ to the leaders demands ends up on the “outside” of the church, family or friend group. The only way to deal with a leader who sows false peace is to refuse to leave the situation. 

Want it for the wrong reasons-

Some people make peace simply because they are so averse to any kind of conflict, even healthy conflict they will do anything tolerate anything just to avoid the social discomfort that comes with rocking the relationship boat. Psychologists call this kind of peacemaking: codependence. Codependence is bad. The peace we broker through codependent capitulation never leads to anything healthy or lifegiving. Instead, codependent peacemaking always leads to repressed anger, game playing, bitterness and passive-aggressive revenge seeking, none of which pleases God (Hebrews 12:15, Matthew 5:37). The only way to achieve real peace is by moving forward with hard conversations in spite of any personal embarrassment or discomfort we feel.  Hard conversation is hard but it allows us to work through the issues in the relationship honestly and come to a place of real peace where people can flourish and grow.  

Take shortcuts to get it-

There are all sorts of shortcuts we can take to achieve a pretense of peace in our marriages, churches, friendships and workplaces. We can gloss over real problems, limit hard conversations, crush dissent, hide the conflict, avoid people who make us uncomfortable or pretend everything is okay when it isn’t. All of these shortcuts do give an illusion of peace, at least for a season. The problem with shortcuts is they also inhibit intimacy, limit growth, and kill straight forward communication.  There really is no shortcut or easy way to achieve real, authentic and lasting relationship health. We just have to be willing to be patient as we work through the conflict to get to the good stuff (cooperation, intimacy, friendship, trust). 

The pursuit of peace is a good, upright and noble thing—if we go about it in the right way. If we go about the wrong way we might get a short-term payoff that feels good in the moment but is in reality a cheap counterfeit, that brings with it a lot of long-term pain. 

Just the Facts Regarding Generational Curses-

Riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations– Proverbs 27:24 NIV

Some Christians think generational curses are nothing more than voodoo or fake news. Others think they’re an excuse weak people use when they don’t want to take responsibility for their own choices. Some are convinced generational curses are the result of some distant ancestor ticking God off. In His anger God “cursed” the offender and his or her entire family line with a hex dooming them all to generational misdeeds. Still others believe generational curses are real but they only happen in families where people don’t know Jesus.  

 Generational curses are real. 

However, they are not the result of God’s wrath. They are the natural consequence of human foolishness. A generational sin becomes a reality in a family when a person chooses to sin and then does not confess their sin or repent of it. Some version of that same sin is then passed down to the succeeding generation in the form of a behavior or attitude many members of the family get stuck in. The most common kinds of generational curses in unsaved families are sexual sin, abuse, alcohol, anger, codependence, drugs, stupidity, anarchy and foolishness. 

Christian families pass on generational curses too. However, generational curses tend to look different in Christian families. Generational curses show up in attitudes and behaviors that dishonor Jesus and hearts that are far from God. Following are five of the most common causes of generational curses in Christian families. 

We cultivate surface-y goodness-  

Jesus warned repeatedly against cultivating a pretense or façade of goodness and righteousness at the cost of authentic heart transformation and change (Matthew 23, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 11:37-54, Romans 12). Alas, it’s not hard to fake righteousness except with our kids. Kids get a front row seat to the sin we successfully hide from the rest of the world. When we cultivate an illusion of goodness rather than dealing with our sinful junk honestly, we either pass on the generational curse of spiritual fakery (Acts 5:1-10), or our kids develop hearts of rebellion against a religion they assume is either phony or powerless.  

We hold on to a bitter spirit-

 Because bitterness is almost always the product of actual trauma, suffering and being sinned against, bitterness feels like it’s reasonable and justifiable. It’s not. God forbids bitterness because it eventually becomes who we are (Ephesians 4:31). Bitterness saturates our souls, transforms our personality and turns us into an ugly distortion of what God intends us to be. This ruins our Christian testimony and wrecks opportunities for ministry. It also has a defiling effect on our children and grandchildren (Hebrews 12:15). Anytime we choose resentment, anger or bitterness over forgiveness we infect our kids and grandkids with the generational curses of anger and offense. This causes them to become hardhearted towards God and unforgiving towards people (Proverbs 19:11, Proverbs 18:19).

We indulge in too many grey area behaviors- 

Not everything in life is cut and dried or black and white. This is even true for Christians (1st Corinthians 6:12). There are things Christians won’t go to hell for doing that also will not help them become better, wiser or godlier people.  The shows we watch, how we treat and talk about people, our church attendance, alcohol use, whether or not we use curse words are all grey areas. No one is going to hell for having a beer, spotty church attendance, being rude or saying a bad word every once in a while.  However, it is also true that how we handle those grey areas impacst how our kids process their faith and live out their Christianity as adults.  If we want to prevent the generational curse of spiritual complacency we must be cautious and prayerful about how we deal with the grey areas of life.  

We don’t honor our parents- 

We live in a culture where even some Christians routinely use almost any excuse to cut their parents or in-laws out of their lives (2nd Timothy 3:1-3). Unless there is a really good reason for doing disrespect to parents is a terrible sin guaranteed to reap ugly generational consequences. There are parents who are truly toxic, evil or who were genuinely abusive. The Bible does not command anyone to allow abusive parents to move into their homes or give them free and unfettered access to their grandchildren. Christians should exercise wisdom and discernment in all situations. However, contrary to contemporary thinking, it is not abusive for a parent to be dumb, controlling or less than perfectly tuned into their child’s needs. The command for adult children to honor their parents is the only command that comes with the promise of blessing (Exodus 20:12) and there are no qualifiers given. Adult children are to do their best to figure out a way honor their parents. Period. Even if those parents were less than perfect or the situation is complicated.  The number of generational sins we bring on ourselves and our children when we refuse to honor parents is innumerable. 

A generational sin is easy to break.

All we have to do is recognize it, confess it and change the sinful behavior. When we do that God steps in with His grace and power and does more than we can ask or imagine in our lives and in the lives of our children (Ephesians 3:20) 

How to Make Church a Little Easier for Those who Need it Most-

 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it– Hebrews 13:1-2 NASB 1995

Let’s just be real. 

Church can be really hard. 

Even if you’ve attended church forever and totally “get” church. Church can be hard.  Finding a new church is even harder. Meeting new people is hard. Stepping into an environment where you don’t understand all the rules is hard. Putting yourself out there is hard. Knowing out how to fit in is hard. Making new friends is hard.  

 Church is also important. 

It really is a nonnegotiable for a serious follower of Jesus.  Jesus established church (Matthew 16:18, John 3:3). He told us what it should look like (Matthew 5-6, Matthew 18:15-17). He prayed for it (John 17:1-25). He invested in it (Matthew 11:1, Mark 4:33).  He died for it (Matthew 26-27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19, Matthew 14:22-33). He rose from the dead to redeem and empower it (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20. Then He sent His people out to build it (Matthew 28:16-20).  

All that makes church a big stinking deal.  

It also makes the subsequent story super sad. I have a friend who is looking for a church. I won’t share the ghastly details but suffice it to say her reasons for leaving her church were one-hundred-percent valid. She attended four churches in nine weeks. She realized immediately the first two were a poor doctrinal fit. The third was tiny (not necessarily a problem). However, the pastor was also seriously unprepared (a problem). Number four was promising. The size was right, not too big, not too small. It was a healthy mix of age groups (young families, older adults, teens and young adults). The music was beautifully done and doctrinally on point. The sermon was solid and the doctrinal statement was sound. 

One problem. 

No one talked to her. There were greeters and they all smiled politely and made eye contact but did not say anything more significant than “hello” to her. Not once. There was a welcome time prior to the sermon and no one welcomed her. She did all the stuff you’re supposed to do. She showed up early and stayed late. She bathed. She dressed and behaved appropriately. Even with all that, no one, not even a staff member interacted with her.  

Nonetheless.

She soldiered on. A serve day was announced from the pulpit. She knew getting out and serving her community would be a good thing to do. She also knew it would give her a chance to interact with some of the people she was going to church with. 

At the serve day, she was assigned to a team and she tried to engage the other people on the team. She asked good questions, complimented the pastor on the sermon the week before and just generally did her best to be an agreeable, involved and helpful member of the team. To no avail. No one attempted to engage her when she arrived on site. No one asked her questions about herself. No one noticed when she left and went home. 

Two things. 

First.

Not every church is unfriendly. There are churches that do an outstanding job greeting new people and finding creative ways to integrate them into their church family. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If this were the first story I heard about an otherwise solid church where the congregants appeared to lack basic social skills I would cheerfully write it off as an anomaly. It’s not. This stuff is real. Lots of people have lots of stories just like my friends’ story. 

Second. 

My friend is a committed and mature Christian. She gets church. She has social skills. She understands reality. She knows relationships are a two-way street. She did not show up at church and expect everyone to do the work for her. She was more than willing to smile, ask good questions, be friendly and get involved in the activities the church was offering. 

However.

My friend is not the only type of person who shows up at churches. Some people who show up at church don’t know Jesus. Some are clueless about how church works. They don’t understand how to get involved or make friends. Some of have poor social skills or a chip on their shoulder. Some are looking for an excuse to reject Jesus. We give them the excuse they’re looking when we don’t make every effort to engage new people in a meaningful way. 

 Sometimes we become so fearful of rejection we refuse to step outside of our own tiny relational circles.  Or we become so locked into a tight little friend group that we have no room for anyone new. The problem  with letting fear or self-centeredness run the show we give the devil a foothold in someone else’s life and run the risk of running them out of church (Ephesians 4:26-27, 1st Peter 5:8). 

Here’s the thing:

Just because you feel welcome and loved at your church it doesn’t mean everyone who walks through the door feels the same.  Next week when you go to church, say a prayer, look around, let the Holy Spirit to lead you to the person who’s all alone or looks lost. Say hello, ask some questions, maybe invite them to lunch. Love on them. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference for the kingdom. 

Lessons we Failed to Learn From two Years of Misery-

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees- Psalms 119:71 NIV

This past week I had a moment of clarity that just sort of led to a whole bunch of other moments of clarity, some good, some profoundly unpleasant.  

It all began when it dawned on me life is back to normal.  Church is back on. Traveling is back on. Eating out is back on. Having friends over is back on.  Concerts are back on. Life is back on.  

I was so happy I celebrated shamelessly for about ten solid minutes. 

It also dawned on me most churches are back to normal as well. Most Christians are doing exactly what they did prior to March 2020.  Churches are doing the same events, preaching the same types of sermons and running all the same programs they did before the world went to hell in a handcart.  The only thing Covid seems to have changed forever was church bulletins. Bulletins are officially dead. 

Anyway.  

If we are collectively doing all the same things we did before the world literally went to pieces it most likely means we did not learn all the lessons God wanted us to learn from the world literally going to pieces. I’m just spit-balling here but it simply makes no sense God would allow all the misery we collectively experienced in 2020-2021 then be okay with His people coming out of it unchanged in any significant way.    

Choosing not to learn is never a viable option with God. He will keep going back to the same lessons over and over again until we get it. He’s relentless.  Trust me. I know. I am convinced there are three things God wants the church to learn from the events of the last two years. We will forget these lessons at our own peril. 

First: 

Community is the core of the Christian experience-

When Christians are deeply connected to other Christians they engage nonbelievers more confidently, absorb the truth of scripture, love each other sacrificially, and grow into the image of Jesus (Acts 2;42-47). It’s just how God designed the whole Christianity thing to work.  Unfortunately, the pandemic unearthed a shocking lack of authentic community in Christian circles. When the going got tough most Christians turned to Netflix, food and their PlayStations instead of the body of Christ for support and comfort. Everyone bemoans the lack of community in churches. There have been volumes written on the subject. However, little has actually been done to deal with the problem. Solving the problem will mean slowing down and stepping out of our collective comfort zones. No one can run from activity to activity in a frenzied fashion and expect to build deep, lasting relationships with other people in whatever time happens to be left over. Stepping out of our comfort zones means becoming a lot more welcoming and open to those who come to our churches. We need be intentional about developing the kind of friendliness that is genuinely curious about others. We need to seek to learn about others instead of simply hoping they will want to learn about us. Building community means inviting others in and making space for another seat at the table, even when it’s inconvenient (Hebrews 13:2). Without genuine community the body of Christ will find itself woefully unprepared for whatever comes next. 

The fear of man is a snare- 

 The pressure to conform to the morals of our time is nearly overwhelming. We have all seen what happens when someone is foolhardy enough to share an unpopular opinion or refuse to tow the party-line on some issue related to morality. As a result, we have all been tempted to keep our heads down and our opinions to ourselves in an effort to stay out of the line of fire. Consequently, evil has gained lot of ground politics, education, sexuality and law. It’s time for the body of Christ to suck it up and start being brave again (no matter the cost) because the fear of man is trap that will steal our spiritual effectiveness and our joy (Proverbs 29:25)

We have to live like the end is near

Seriously.  

This is the biggie.  I do not know when the end will be. Nobody does (Matthew 24:35-37, Ecclesiastes 8:7). That said, God commands His people to live like the end is going to be tomorrow. If we want to be sincerely obedient to Jesus we need to wake up every day and ask ourselves what would I do today if I knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow? Then we need to do those things (Matthew 24, Matthew 25:1-13, 1st Thessalonians 5:1-3). 

Thankfully, covid is no longer dominating every aspect of our lives. However, our world and the people in it are not (for the part) moving towards better things. Instead, governments are becoming more corrupt, evil is gaining ground, deception is getting stronger and hearts are growing colder. Hard times and evil days give God’s people an opportunity to shine, but in order to do that we must join together, practice bold faith and live like the end is near. 

What Happens When we Refuse God-  

The waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm- Proverbs 1:32-33 NIV

The pages of Scripture are filled with uplifting, encouraging and inspirational verses. 

We eat that stuff up.    

We put those verses on tee-shirts, paint them on walls, embroider them onto throw pillows and turn them into magnets to slap on our refrigerators. Passages like Psalm 23:1-4 and Deuteronomy 31:8-9 are the warm-fuzzies of Scripture. Reading them is like drinking a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day.  It just feels good. The feel-good verses are our go-to’s anytime we want a warm comforting cup of spiritual goodness.    

To be fair: 

There are also some scripture passages that hit more like a bucket of icy cold water thrown on us in the middle of a dead sleep.  No one has ever put Matthew 7:21-23 or Jude 14-16 on a tee-shirt. Nor do emotionally healthy people paint those verses on their walls. We all know this world is full of trouble but nobody wants to wear it on a tee-shirt or be reminded every time they step into their living room.  

However.

 Those icy-cold water kinds of verses do serve a critical purpose. The hard words of Scripture remind us God is more than our own personal blessing machine and that we exist for Him, not the other way around (Acts 17:24-28).  Scary verses make us think about our spiritual walk and remind us to examine ourselves. No one is ever mature enough or righteous enough to grow past needing those reminders.

Hebrews 12:25 is one of those icy-cold water verses that immediately snaps us to attention. It’s says:

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.

Part of what makes this verse scary is all the stuff that surrounds it. The better of Hebrews twelve is a reminder God is the biggest of big deals and not to be trifled with. 

Yikes.  

Most of us are familiar with how God communicates. He communicates most clearly and most often through the Bible. He also speaks through wise people and the circumstances of our lives. Anytime we hear the same thing repeatedly from different people we should assume God is attempting to get our attention. Hardship and trouble in our relationships, finances and work are another way God communicates with us.  Anytime we humble ourselves, self-reflect and pray we are opening ourselves to be led by the God’s spirit. 

Refusing God comes in many different forms. 

We refuse God anytime we shut off some part of our lives to God or when we willfully choose to do the opposite of what we know He wants us to do.  There are five primary ways we refuse God. Each is an easy trap to fall into (Ephesians 4:16-17). 

First. 

We refuse God when we hide sin rather than confess and repent of sin. Sin must be dealt with decisively. There is simply no other way except confession and repentance to effectively get free of the effects of willful disobedience (Matthew 3:8, Acts 2:38, James 5:16, Psalm 32:5, Psalm 38:18, Ezra 10:1). When we refuse to confess and repent of our sin, we are basically telling God through our actions we believe He’s wrong about the whole subject of what sin is.  

Second.

We refuse God when refuse the correction he brings into our lives (Proverbs 12:1). No one gets it right every time. We all act stupid, make mistakes and do the wrong thing from time-to-time. God frequently uses the rebukes of other people to speak to us about the rightness and wrongness of our choices. When we ignore Him, we risk being turned over to the consequences of our choices. This is never a pleasant experience (Romans 1:18-32, Acts 7:42-43).

Third.

We refuse God when we make judgments about other people without clear understanding of their situation (Job 38:2). There is little God hates more than when one-person judges another without taking the time to hear their story (Proverbs 18:17, Matthew 7:1-5). Making ill-informed judgments about people and situations means we think we are too wise to consult God or others. 

Fourth. 

We refuse God when we refuse to forgive others. If forgiving other people is a perquisite for salvation, and it is, then refusing to forgive is pretty much the ultimate in refusing God. Refusing to forgive is also the fast track to all kinds of spiritual trouble (Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:34-35, Luke 17:4). 

Fifth.

We refuse God when we refuse to grow and change. The Christian life is a life of transformation and growth (Romans 12:1-21). No one ever grows past the need for change. When we refuse the changes, God wants to make in our attitudes, opinions or behavior we refuse God and stunt our own spiritual development (Hebrews 5:11-14). 

Here’s the thing about refusing God:

 Anytime we willfully refuse God we run the risk of what the writer of Hebrews calls “falling short of the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). Falling short of God’s grace means we voluntarily forgo the blessing and peace that being in right relationship with God brings. Furthermore, we risk cursing ourselves and our generational line through our willful disobedience.

Holy-Moley.  No one wants that. 

Christians Screwed-up Understanding of Authority is Literally Wrecking Christianity-

If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit- Matthew 15:14 NIV

Christianity has a leadership problem.

Accounts of bullying, embezzlement, adultery, duplicity, abuse, control and even pedophilia involving high profile pastors, churches and entire denominations have become routine. The Catholic Church, Jim Baker, Mars Hill, Ted Haggard, Bob Coy, Willow Creek, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Mike Warnke, Hillsong, Josh Duggar and The Southern Baptist Convention are just a few of the leaders, churches and organizations whose names have become synonymous with corrupt Christian leadership.  Leadership problems aren’t restricted to high profile pastors, mega churches or big-name Christian ministries. Many churchgoers have experienced hurt at the hands of insensitive pastors or pastors who acted much more righteous in public than in private. 

Sigh. 

Experts blame the rise of bad leadership on an increase of narcissism in churches and Christian organizations.  A narcissist has a strong sense of entitlement, is extremely self-focused, has an unusually high need for attention, is overconfident and a has profound lack of empathy. Christians can be narcissists. Narcissists have enormous blind spots where their behavior is concerned. Narcissistic Christians can justify almost any action, including actions they know are sinful. Narcissistic Christian leaders truly believe God will overlook their sin because they “do so much for the kingdom”.  Narcissists do not understand how their behavior affects other people. Therefore, they can do a great deal of harm to people without even knowing it. Most experts believe narcissism is a growing problem among Christian leaders. This is concerning considering the contrast between a narcissistic leader and the model Christian leader described in Titus 1:7-9, Timothy 3:1-3 and 1st Peter 5:1-5. 

This begs some hard questions: 

Why is there so much bad behavior in Christianity? 

What does the church do to produce and attract narcissistic leaders? 

How do average Christians enable narcissistic leadership?  

Christianity is plagued with narcissistic leadership because Christians have a flawed understanding of what New Testament authority should look like.

Here’s what I mean:

Most Christians form their views on spiritual authority from Old Testament stories, principally from the system of Kings found in the Old Testament. Old Testament Kings had absolute God-given authority. This is most famously played out in the story of Saul and David. Saul was an awful king. Saul was evil, volatile, selfish, and guided almost entirely by pride and sinful passions (1st Samuel 16:14, 1st Samuel 18:14, 1st Samuel 19:4, 1st Samuel 15:22-24).  

However.

 Because Saul was anointed King, David faithfully submitted himself to Saul’s authority. David did not disparage Saul, physically harm him or challenge his authority.  Christian teachers (including myself) universally applaud David’s submission to Saul’s authority. It’s an example of Old Testament obedience God clearly blessed (1stSamuel 26:9-11, Acts 13:22). 

Many Christians apply the same concept of anointing to present-day pastors. Many deacons, board members and elders flat refuse to question or correct a pastor even when they know the pastor is wrong because they view the pastor as God’s “anointed” and therefore unchallengeable, regardless of their behavior. Many Pastors, especially narcissistic pastors tend to see themselves as having the same unchallengeable authority as Old Testament Kings. The rotten fruit of this understanding of authority is at least partly to blame for the large numbers of people who have left the church in recent years. It’s also literally obliterating the churches ability to do our one job: reach the lost (Matthew 28:18-20). Non-Christians understandably see leadership situations like the ones at the Southern Baptist Convention, Mars Hill and Hillsong as unacceptable, indefensibly gross and entirely inconsistent with the whole notion of a good God. 

Here’s the thing. 

There are to be no human kings in the Church. 

Jesus is the only King among His people. Period. End of story. Jesus is the only leader who can demand or who deserves absolute obedience. Pastors are simply not anointed to lead churches the same way kings were anointed to lead Israel in the Old Testament. The word anointed or anoint in reference to people and/or Jesus is used a total of eleven times in the New Testament. Eight explicitly refer to Jesus (Mark 14:8, Luke 4:18, Luke 7:46, John 11:2, John 12:3, Acts 4:27, Acts 10:38, Hebrews 1:9). The remaining three teach all Christians are anointed for ministry, not just a few specific leaders (2nd Corinthians 1:21, 1st John 2:20, 1st John 2:27). 

All Christians are given gifts to benefit the church (Ephesians 4:11-12, 1st Corinthians 12:7-11, Romans 12:3-9). Some spiritual gifts have a leadership component to them (apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, overseers). The New Testament commands Christians to treat these leaders with respect, to make their task joyful rather than difficult (Hebrews 13:17). Christians will be judged for how they treat their spiritual leaders. Therefore, any challenge to a leader’s teaching or behavior must be prayerfully contemplated before action is taken. 

 However.

Pastors simply do not have the same authority as Old Testament Kings. Instead, the Bible promises leaders and teachers will be judged at a higher standard than other Christians (James 3:1). ALL Christians will be accountable to God for how they use or misuse their authority in the home, workplace or church. Christians are called to humble servanthood, and specifically commanded not to lord their authority over others (Matthew 20:25-26). 

Truth-be-told narcissism has taken root in churches because too many pastors have been given unchallenged authority and too many Christians have foolishly chosen to follow human leaders more closely than they follow King Jesus.  

The Surest Sign of Salvation-

The testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing– James 1:3-4 NASB

Anytime a Christian makes the choice to persevere or endure through hardship, difficulty, injustice or pain in a way that leaves their faith intact and their hearts free from bitterness good things happen in that person. Enduring through the hurt of life builds emotional strength, develops grit in us, causes us to grow spiritually, makes us wiser and transforms us into the kind of people others can learn from (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-5). 

There are at least a million different types of experiences a human might have to persevere through. Some are “life in a fallen world” kinds of things, painful but random events we all experience at some point in our lives. Things like cancer, the death of a spouse, friend or child, accidents or financial calamities. Then there are the “people are crappy” sorts of experiences like religious persecution, being cheated on, being lied to or about, or being treated indifferently or with disdain by people who should care about us.

Sigh.

Persevering is made tougher for Christians because hard things naturally cause us to doubt the goodness, faithfulness and sometimes even the very existence of God. It is true that pain and difficulty can drive us towards God but hurt and struggle can also drive us away as well. The effect pain has on us depends entirely on how we choose to respond to it (1st Peter 15-6).  There are things we can do that will ensure pain, grief, trials, and difficulty make us better as opposed to bitter and more miserable. Following are four of them:

Take your focus off of people-

By far, the worst and most excruciating pain in life comes when we’re victimized or mistreated by people.  The pain of personal betrayal is compounded a million times over if the person who harmed us is a Christian. Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid being hurt by people because people, even Christian people, are at their core sinful, broken and sometimes even cruel and malevolent. For whatever reason, most of us lay the blame squarely on God when people hurt us. This is a huge tactical error. Humans have free will and can do whatever they choose with their free will. They can even be horrible, sinful, disgusting people if they want to. It doesn’t mean God approves of their actions or that there won’t be a price to be paid for their conduct, it just means God will not force anyone to be nice, honest, or just. That being said, the biggest problem with blaming God for the actions of people is that we deny ourselves access to the only one who can give us comfort, peace and the power to persevere through whatever horrible thing we are dealing with (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 86:17, 2nd Corinthians 1:3). Sigh. 

Take the long view-

The apostle Paul lived most of his Christian life in what most of us would consider absolutely unacceptable conditions (2nd Corinthians 11:21-29).  Literally, everyone hated him. The Jews hated him. The Romans hated him. The Greeks hated him. Sometimes even other Christians hated him (Galatians 4:16-18).  Paul went hungry, spent time in prison, was beaten, stoned and betrayed by people who pretended to be his friends (2nd Timothy 4:14). Nevertheless, none of this injustice appears to have bothered him because he was able to view all of these situations as temporary problems that would be righted by God at some point in the future. He believed with all his heart his trials were actually preparing him for future ministry and making him more fit to spend eternity with God (2ndCorinthians 4:17, 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3). One “key” to persevering and enduring through pain is to make the choice to believe pain that is stewarded well will make us better, wiser, more insightful and more like Jesus. 

Know that Jesus gets “it”- 

He does. Whatever “it” is. Jesus gets it. I promise. Jesus experienced the same types of things we experience. He knows exactly what temptation, betrayal, loss, loneliness, hurt feelings and personal pain feels like (Hebrews 4:15). This makes Jesus the perfect one to run to anytime the heaviness of life becomes too much too bear (2ndCorinthians 1:5). 

Don’t let yourself get hung up on the issue of fairness- 

Getting hung up on what’s fair or unfair in this life will literally drive a Christian insane. This is because life at least, in the present, is not fair. People “get away” with crappy stuff all the time. If we choose to focus on what kind of punishment people are getting right now in this life we will lose our faith and our minds in that order. Instead of worrying about what’s fair and unfair, God wants us to believe in Him and trust that He will make things right and just in His good time. Anytime we’re hurt we have to remember the Bible is clear: NOTHING is in all of creation hidden from God and there is nothing that will not be publicly disclosed (Matthew 10:26, Hebrews 4:13). Sin that is unrepented of will be made public and punished in time. Period. 

Ultimately, choosing to persevere through the pain of life means clinging to our faith and choosing to tenaciously love God no matter what goes wrong or who hurts us. Faithful endurance through hurt, loss or persecution is the hard route but God promises rich rewards for those who choose it. 

How Early Christians Survived Unjust Authority-

 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone– Titus 3:1-2 NIV

It is all-too easy to find outstanding examples of truly appalling leadership in families, governments, schools and even some churches. 

Bad leadership is nothing new. A sinful, broken world breeds autocratic, egocentric, prideful leaders in every sphere of life. God’s people have seldom been exempted from the curse of awful leadership.

The Hebrews were brutally enslaved by the Egyptians for centuries before God miraculously liberated them from bondage. David, prior to his ascension to the throne endured decades of harassment and abuse and more than one murder attempt at the hands of Saul. Early Christians were routinely persecuted, abused, denied work and even killed simply for refusing to violate God’s commands. Throughout church history sincere followers of Jesus have been victimized and oppressed sometimes even by so-called “Christian leaders” who loved power more than they feared God. Over and over again, throughout history in the face almost unspeakable suffering Christian people have grown stronger, wiser and more faithful to God. 

How they did that matters a lot.

 Especially now. Leadership is not, as a general rule getting any better. Events of the last few years have exposed a creepy authoritarian element in many political leaders from countries like Australia, Austria, New Zealand and Canada. Countries once thought to be unswervingly democratic and safe from tyranny. The church has had more than its fair share of greedy, narcissistic and exploitive leaders. Even some public schools and health departments have become despotic in their approach in their approach to leadership. 

Sigh. 

Christians throughout history were able to live with and pray for corrupt, evil and despotic leaders. They did this in spite of any suffering they endured because they understood deep in the core of who they were that every human being on earth is ultimately answerable to God.  Leadership is a stewardship. Human beings might think they are electing, appointing or hiring a leader—or an arrogant leader might imagine they have achieved their position due to their own cleverness, power or maneuvering but in reality, God—not human wisdom or control is what places people in positions of authority. This means that ultimately all human leaders whether they lead the church, the state or the family will someday be answerable to God for how they handle (or mishandle) the power and authority they have been given (Luke 12:47-48). 

Early Christians understood that no one actually gets away with anything. Not really. Contemporary believers do everything they can to avoid thinking about or talking about the J-word. Judgment. Most Christians are super uncomfortable with anyone getting punished, even if they deserve punishment. The writings of early Christians reveal they did not have any such issues (2nd Thessalonians 1:6, Romans 12:19, Jude 1:5-7, 2nd Peter 2:4-21). They understood God is not just a God of love. He is also a God of judgment. Early Christians actually took solace in knowing that evil, prideful leaders who refused to do what was right would someday be punished for their sins. Early Christians had the faith to believe God would settle the score, if not in this life, then in the one to come (Revelation 21:11-15). This knowledge empowered them to endure the suffering that goes along with living under the thumb of unjust and evil leaders.

They also knew enough about history and the Bible to know that sometimes God does not wait until death to begin adjudicating things. Occasionally evil people get a preview of their eternal suffering.  King Saul, the man who hunted David like an animal for years died by suicide and in disgrace. Queen Jezebel, arguably the most evil female leader in human history died from being thrown out a window. No one cared enough to retrieve her body. She was eventually eaten by wild dogs.   King Herod (Matthew 2:1-22) the man who murdered a village full of baby boys in an attempt to eradicate any competition for his power died of a horrible death from “intense itching”, “severe intestinal discomfort”, “breathlessness” and: wait for it… “gangrene of the genitalia”—His man part literally rotted off. A sure sign of divine retribution if there ever was one. Early Christians saw Nero, the royal nut-job who set Rome on fire and blamed Christians for it killed himself to avoid being murdered by his staff.   

Anytime a person refuses to repent they spend eternity in hell. Therefore, no one ought to revel in anyone else’s punishment. That being said, the beliefs of early Christians serve as a reminder for us in tough times that God is not unaware of anything. Nothing is hidden from His sight (Hebrews 4:13).  

This affected the early church in profound ways. 

 They were able to pray for and feel compassion for their tormenters.  They were also thoughtful and cautious in the way they handled any authority they were given. They did not lord it over anyone.  It did not matter if the authority they held was in the church, the family or the state. They understood that true Christians wear any authority they are given with a measure of humility and with a fear of the Lord. They knew no one is exempt from God’s judgment. 

We would do well to learn from them.