Could God be Attempting to Correct Us?

 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account- Hebrews 4:13 NIV

Coronavirus is generating tremendous chaos throughout the world. Not since God put the kibosh on the Babel building project have so many individuals been so greatly affected by a singular event (Genesis 11:1-11).

People are anxious and going to pieces in ways rarely seen in our modern age.  Full-grown adults are fighting over toilet paper and tuna fish with no outward indications of shame. People are openly aggressive towards anyone who sniffles in a public place.  An Arizona man died from ingesting fish tank cleaner because he believed it would protect him from Coronavirus. Economists warn of impending doom if economies don’t return to some semblance of normal soon and yet some leaders are advocating quarantine orders be enforced for six months to a year. 

Some of the fear connected to Coronavirus is reasonable and even wise. Coronavirus is dangerous to the elderly and those with underlying health problems, it is also highly contagious. Large groups of people get it all at once and it overwhelms healthcare systems. That being said, some of the fear is clearly out of bounds with the level of danger. There are seven-billion people on earth, 33,841 people have died from Coronavirus. That number is relatively small in comparison to the world population. Please don’t misunderstand, none of the people who died from this awful virus were insignificant or unimportant. They were all real people with stories, each was loved by someone and all were image-bearers of God. The loss of an image bearer is always a tragic event. That said, it could be argued that locking down the whole world indefinitely over the Coronavirus threat is a form of insanity that should be closely examined. 

So, a couple of things: 

Coronavirus could have been contained if the political will had existed when the virus first emerged. With few exceptions world leaders simply ignored the problem. The few who did act to contain the threat were condemned as bigots. Additionally, each of the nations (and regions) hit hardest by the virus displayed a high level of foolishness concerning the virus. Washington state (where I live) is a hub for air travel to China and yet little attention was paid to the virus until it started killing large numbers of people. Italy caved to political correctness and sponsored “hug a Chinese person” events even after it was clear the virus was being spread from Chinese tourists.  New York gave into greed and refused to cancel parades even when it was clear the virus was a looming problem (Isaiah 57:17, Luke 12:15). Iran refused help from other nations even when it was painfully clear they needed it to contain the virus (Proverbs 16:18). 

It is simply a fact that wisdom, common sense and good judgment are indicators God’s Spirit is present in the life of individuals, leaders and nations (Proverbs 9:11-12, Ecclesiastes 2:26, Jeremiah 4:22).  Conversely, willful foolishness is a clear sign a person, leader or nation has no fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).

 Now that world leaders have finally decided to take this virus seriously, the whole world is in a mad panic to stop it using any method deemed necessary, even if it destroys lives and brings about abject poverty and suffering.  I know Christians aren’t supposed to use the J-word anymore. Nevertheless, I feel compelled by the Spirit to point out that in the Bible confusion, fear and overreaction to circumstances is one method God uses to bring judgment on obstinate people (Jeremiah 51:34). The Israelites were promised that if they persistently rebelled against God they would be afflicted with “madness and confusion of mind” (Deuteronomy 28:20). There are many instances in the Old Testament where God used confusion to defeat Israel’s enemies when they refused to turn from their sin.  (Joshua 10:9-10, Judges 6, 1st Samuel 14:20)  

This virus could very well be a corrective judgment brought on by a lack of human wisdom. Corrective judgments are warnings given in love.  God brings trouble, misery and hardship in an attempt to get people’s attention and bring them to a place of repentance and obedience (Jeremiah 15:19). In a corrective judgment God is always quick to forgive those who are eager to repent (Psalm 103:2-4, Jeremiah 15:19. Considering the state of our world it would be strange to think God is not demanding people everywhere to turn away from the sins of pride, sexual immorality, greed, abortion and unbelief (Psalm 50:4).  

Let me be clear:

I do not believe people who get or die from Coronavirus are under God’s direct judgment. God is not singling out particular people, nations, or people groups. The whole world is being negatively affected by this calamity.  God is always slow to judge partly because the righteous and the wicked all suffer equally under judgment (Ecclesiastes 9:2, Matthew 5:45), this reality breaks the heart of God.  Christians should not despair that life is hard right now. Instead we should rejoice that we know Jesus and have a secure future in Him. Christinas should be leading the way by examining ourselves and repenting of any sins we have in our lives.  We should seek God on behalf of our world and ask Him to show mercy by bringing a spirit of repentance and revival (1st Peter 4:17).  

Strengthening the Church During the COVID-19 Crisis-

But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world- 1st Corinthians 11:31-32

I love the church. 

 When churches work the way God intended the church to work it’s a beautiful thing.  The people love Jesus, truth, the lost and each other. This combination is powerful. It brings peace to chaos, justice to lawlessness, it changes hearts and transforms cultures.  

When churches don’t work they devolve into grace dispensing spiritual social clubs where no one is ever challenged, sin is never called out and nothing of any spiritual significance gets accomplished. Many Churches in the West fall into the social club category. This has left many Christians without spiritual moorings and struggling to execute their primary mission (Matthew 28:18-20). The tragedy of this has been compounded by the fact that our world has been thrust into crisis. People who rarely worry about much of anything are worried about their health, the health of their families, the economy, and what the future is going to look like.

The world needs the church to be the church.  Following our five things every Christian can do to build the church in this time of crisis.  If we all do these things the whole body will be empowered to make a difference right now.  

Worry less about being liked-

Most Christians (including myself sometimes) are scared spitless of being disliked. This fear prevents us from sharing our faith, loving well and calling out sin (Ephesians 4:15).  Early Christians did not expect to be loved by anyone but Jesus. They understood that the Christian life was a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:10-20). This knowledge empowered them to embrace the hardness of Christianity with joy (Romans 14:17). In the process those brave men and women literally changed the world (John 16:33, Hebrews 11:32-37, Revelation 3:7-12). We must boldly and courageously follow their lead.  

 Grow a spine and pick a side-

Politics never saved anyone from anything and to my knowledge Jesus was not a member of any particular political party. That being said, how we think politically reveals a lot about our hearts. Politics all over the world have devolved to a place where Christians must acknowledge that some political opinions are just wrong from a biblical perspective. It is absolutely imperative Christian people get off the fence, pick a side and begin fighting for biblical truth, marriage and the unborn as well as against the gender confusion being pushed on school children all over the western world.      

Love like Jesus loved-  

  Biblical love is not about pumping people up or making them feel good about themselves. Authentic biblical love will fight to the death for the greater good of another person (1st Corinthians 13). This means speaking the truth and calling the people we care about to a higher standard of functioning. Fighting for the greater good of others is messy and sometimes even thankless.  We should love anyway. 

Be truthful about things that matter-

For generations Christians have taught that what one believes about God is not relevant and becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world to do. These are terrible lies. According to Scripture Jesus is the only way to the Father and the road to heaven is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14, John 14:6). To get right with God we must willingly and openly confess our messiness, sinfulness and be totally real with God and ourselves about exactly how screwed-up we are. Once we’ve done that we must repent of our sins, die to self and freely embrace God’s will for our lives (Luke 13:3, John 12:24, Acts 3:19, Romans 6:22). Always speak these truths boldly and lovingly. 

Stop worrying about how things look and worry about how things are- 

We live in an image obsessed culture. Everyone who breathes worries at least a little about what people think of them and how their activities are being perceived by others.  God does not care about our image. God cares about us and how things really are with us.  God cares about our hearts and what we do when we’re alone. He cares about why we do what we do (Matthew 5:8). If we want to please God (all Christians do) then we must worry less about what people think and more about living lives that truly please God (Psalm 7:10). When we do that we have the spiritual power we need to do what we are called to do (Matthew 10:8, Matthew 28:19, Mark 6:12, John 13:24-35)  

Every Christian has access to the wisdom of God and the mind of Christ (1st Corinthians 2:16, Ephesians 2:18, Ephesians 3:12).  It is up to individual Christians to access that wisdom so the church can be the church even in the scariest of times. 

The Right Way to Respond to the Corona Virus-

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go- Joshua 1:9 NIV

 Corona virus has hit the great state of Washington hard.

 At least 642 people are infected with the virus and 40 people have died.

 Fear of Corona virus has hit even harder.

 Schools have closed for the next six weeks.  Some businesses have shut their doors. Churches are meeting exclusively online and it is no simple task finding a gallon of milk or a loaf bread in most grocery stores.  When I confessed to my husband I feel a little hemmed-in and stir crazy he laughed at me and reminded me the quarantine hasn’t even really started yet.

 Stupid Covid-19.

 The current situation is undeniably scary. Most of us are worried about someone or something. If we aren’t concerned about an older relative, making ends meet with fewer work hours or the balance of our 401K, then we are probably biting our nails about finding childcare or being forced to homeschool our kids.

 All that being said.

 This situation affords some unique opportunities for Christians to be Christians and the church to be the church. Disasters, pandemics and tragedies have eternal implications and not just because people die. The early church increased in size and influence because Christians were willing to risk their own health and well-being to offer practical help and spiritual guidance during pandemics and other disasters. Early followers of Jesus understood that unbelievers are open to hearing about Jesus when they are fearful for their future. Christians are commanded to be light in dark places (Matthew 5:13-16, Romans 13:12). Little is darker and scarier in this life than a pandemic. No one wants natural disasters, pandemics or tragedies but this crazy virus might just be an opportunity for Christians to have a discernable impact on our own little corner of the world. In order to this we must:

 Never forget what life is really about-

 Contrary to contemporary belief the Christian life is not about staying safe, living our best life or living forever.  The Christian life is about responding in a Christlike way to every situation. It’s about who we become and what we do for Jesus while we are here. Our short lives are insignificant blips on a radar screen in relation to God and eternity. That being said, one really determined human being can do a lot with one life. We can also get a lot done in a bad situation if we don’t allow ourselves to become prisoners to fear.

 For the love of God think of others-

 It is critical Christians focus on the greater good right now. Do not stockpile toilet paper. Stockpiles of toilet paper are powerless against viruses and your private stockpile might just generate a really weird problem for someone else.  Do not horde ANYTHING other people need like toilet paper, disinfectant or distilled water. Hording is selfish, dumb and not what Jesus would do.  If you are blessed to have extra of something someone else needs, for the love of all that is decent SHARE it. (Luke 6:38, Matthew 5:42, Matthew 10:8).

 Be sensible-

 Be proactive about your health. Eat right, get enough sleep, wash your hands and keep them away from your face. Try not to not touch surfaces in public spaces. No one can be of use to others if they are sick.

 Educate yourself-

 Seriously. Do not be one of those silly chumps gleefully sharing half-truths and fake news on social media. All it does is spread ignorance and panic. For science-y updates check out coronavirus.gov or the Centers for Disease Control. For reliable medical information try Web M.D.

 Be brave-

 Being brave in situations that breed fear is never easy but neither is it overly complicated. The first step is to pray before acting. This prevents us from doing anything foolish in a blind panic. Then we must choose to move forward with what God wants us to do in spite of any feelings of fear we may have (Matthew 7:12).

 Choose joy-  

 The great thing about the time we live in is that most of us have experienced very little uncertainty when it comes to our own health and safety. The flip side of that blessing is its easy to forget that uncertainty is a very real part life in a fallen world. As followers of Jesus we must never allow uncertainty or fear to steal the joy of knowing Jesus and living life (Romans 12:12). Instead we must model what faith looks like for those who have no faith.

 Remember whose you are-

 If you’re a believer in Jesus you belong to Jesus (Romans 8:28-39, John 10:28).  He has written your name on the palm of His hand (Isaiah 49:16) You have supernatural access to a storehouse of grace that will give you peace no matter what happens (John 16:33,Philippians 4:6-9). You have the power to do anything you need to do in this life (2ndCorinthians 4:7-12, 2nd Corinthians 12:9). As we meditate on these truths we must never forget that the best life is yet to come (John 17:3, John 10:28, Jude 1:21).

Confessions of A Recovering Control Freak-

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near- Job 17:9-10

I am a recovering control freak.

 I am convinced some of my issues with control are partly due to the personality I was born with. My Mother was fond of reminding me that my first word was “no” and that word was quickly followed by my first complete sentence: “I will do it myself”. I am no expert in the field of child psychology, but I’m pretty sure that story indicates I was born with a strong desire to be in complete control of just about everything (Psalm 51:5).

 As I got older I grew quite philosophical when it comes to the issue of control. It hit me in my late thirties (I’m a slow learner) that control in this life is nothing more than an illusion.  A person can have all the resources in the world, make nothing but really great choices and get all of their ducks in a nice neat little row. Then one really bad day can come along, wipe away a lifetime of good choices and completely decimate all the ducks they worked so hard to put in that row (Job 1:1-22).

However.

 This last week was such a dumpster-fire that I wanted to throw all the spiritual and philosophical lessons I have learned about life, control and trusting God out the window. I was seriously tempted to cross out the recovering in the first sentence of this blog and boldly own my desire to control the whole stupid world.

 Some of the things outside of my power to control that I would dearly love to control include the presidential elections, the spread of coronavirus (one of my kids works in a hospital), and the downward spiral of our society. On top of all those “global” issues I am wrestling with some seriously problematic family problems that show no signs of ever going away.

 Sigh.   

 Just as I was preparing to jump into control-freak mode the Holy Spirit gently reminded me there are wiser and more productive ways to deal with life. Wisdom concerning this issue begins with recognizing and owning the following four truths:

 There are things in life that cannot be fixed or even managed-

 Because life is better and easier now than at any other time in human history; many Christians have bought into the lie that there is a fix for every problem in this life. Or an easy button that will magically empower us to manage all of life’s problems without any stress or struggle. There’s not.  Unfortunately, Christians and non-Christians alike encounter all sorts of things in life that cannot be managed or fixed, like stupidity and evil. When we encounter those things, we must walk by faith and trust God to use stupid and evil things for His purposes and our growth (Hebrews 11:1-2, Romans 8:28)

 Just because we can control something doesn’t mean we should-

 Anytime I have attempted to control a person or an outcome without clear direction from God I have made a flaming-hot mess out of that situation.  It’s important to remember that when we attempt to control things we have no business controlling we are essentially declaring with our actions that we do not really believe God is good or that He should be sovereign over people or outcomes. I am not advocating that Christians take on a “what will be will be” attitude towards life. I do believe there are times when we should proactively deal with issues but never without God’s clear direction and a really well thought out plan. 

 The only person you can really control is yourself-

 Okay, so this is so basic and so obviously true there is no need to elaborate further.

Control breeds anxiety-

 This point is full of paradoxes but it’s true. Taking control of situations that feel out of control ought to give us peace and quash our anxiety. Nonetheless, control freaks, even Christian control freaks are typically the most anxiety-ridden people on the planet.  This is because Christians are commanded to trust God (Psalm 37:4-6, Psalm 32:10, Psalm 139:23-24, Proverbs 3:5-6) and control is the antithesis of trust.  God is a respecter of our free will. When we choose to take control of anything other than ourselves God takes His hand off the wheel (metaphorically speaking) and lets us have our way. The anxiety we feel when we are the one “in complete control” is a direct result of spiritual disobedience and our foolhardy attempts to do something we will never be able to do. Letting go of the illusion we have control is one key to getting free from the bondage of anxiety.

 Prayer is the answer to the conundrum of control. Every single time we pray about an issue we do two things. First, we loudly declare that we NEED wisdom (James 1:5).  Prayer is admitting to ourselves and God that we don’t know everything there is to know and that we cannot make life work with our own idiotic efforts to control. Secondly, we go directly to the source of wisdom, knowledge and power to get the help we need to manage life (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 2:6, Proverbs 3:19).

 This makes way more sense than the other alternatives.

 

 

Getting Over the Idea That Life Should be Perfect-

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them- 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3 NIV

 This past week some friends took me to see the movie Free Burma Rangers. The movie reminded me of three fundamental truths:

  1.  Life is hard.
  2. God is good even when life is hard.
  3. When life is hard it doesn’t feel like God is good.

 Most Christians eagerly agree with truths one and three. However, many Christians (including me), struggle to fully embrace truth two. Backing-up this belief is an increase in the number of Christians who have turned their backs on God when life got hard or other Christians disappointed them.

 Some who walk away from Christianity are spiritual snowflakes. These are the people who see a rude comment on social media as a form of persecution.  Deep down they tend to believe they are too special to suffer and when life gets a little bit tougher than they are comfortable with they melt under the heat of adversity, get mad at God and get out of the church. Spiritual snowflakes tend to carry their snow-flakiness into other areas of their lives especially into their relationships. These individuals are quick to take offense and get their feelings hurt. They tend to abandon relationships that challenge them in any way.

 However.

 There are also individuals who turned their backs on God after experiencing situations that are legitimately horrific and difficult to explain in the context of God being good. These people have lost a child to a dreadful disease or had a loved-one murdered or lived through horrible abuse or a genocidal massacre. Those in this category all came up against a situation they couldn’t find a reasonable answer for and they simply determined they could not live the Christian life without that answer. So, they turned away from God either in anger or unbelief.

 These two groups are vastly different in nearly every way and I definitely have more compassion for one group than the other. However, both groups share a common problem that has become endemic in Christianity.  

 They lack a theology suffering.  

 Theology is not just for bookworm-y, bowtie-wearing types. Theology is practical and necessary to survive life with our faith intact. Theology explains life and how God uses the stuff of life to accomplish His purposes in our lives.  Every believer in Jesus must have a solid theological grid to view life through; if they don’t they will never be able to effectively explain to themselves and others why they are experiencing the things they are experiencing.  

  One reason Christians lack theology in this area is because life is easier now than it has ever been before in human history.

 Think about it.

 Thanks to the miracles of central heat and air nobody is ever too hot or too cold. Unless, of course, they are freely participating in an activity that demands they be too hot or too cold. Two-hundred-years ago, most people spent the majority of their lives in a state of perpetual discomfort. Today, it is uncommon for people in the Western world to experience hunger unless they are attempting to lose weight. A hundred years ago famine was still a reality for much of the world. Illnesses that once wiped-out large portions of the human population have been controlled or eradicated with drugs, surgery or public health programs. A hundred years ago it was simply accepted fact that few people would see all their children live to adulthood. People in civilized countries do not go to jail for being poor anymore. One-hundred-years ago there was no such thing as bankruptcy. Developed countries had poor houses, which were basically just jails for poor people.

 All this progress is undeniably awesome. However, improved living conditions have raised our expectations for happiness to a level that cannot always be met. Truth-be-told most of us (including me) feel entitled to be comfortable, healthy, happy and entertained all of the time. We tend to get a bit cranky with God when life is anything less than perfectly pleasant.

 A couple of things:

 First, we live in a fallen world that is not fully redeemed (Romans 8:19-22). This simply means that no matter how good humans get at making the world a comfortable place to live we will never be completely free of adversity and tragedy this side of heaven (John 16:33). Secondly, Christians probably experience more difficulty and hardship than non-Christians. This is because God is relentlessly working to conform us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29, 2nd Corinthians 3:18).  This is no easy task and apparently it requires some hardship to get the job done (James 1:2, 1st Peter 1:6-7, Revelation 2:9-10).  Furthermore, life is full of tests (Luke 4:1, 2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Thessalonians 2:4, Hebrews 11:17, James 1:12). God does not test us so He can find out where we are at. He already knows everything there is to know about us. However, God sometimes allows us to be tested so we can figure out where we are at so we can make changes that lead to growth.

 Finally,

 We must change how we view the Christian life. Someday we will dwell in heaven, and there will be no more tears, sickness, longing, pain or evil (Revelation 21:1-7). Life will be perfect and we will be perfect. We aren’t there yet. At this point in the story we are soldiers in a war (Philippians 2:25, 2nd Timothy 2:3-4, Philemon 1:1-2) We are fighting for the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings (Ephesians 6:10-20). Sadly, wars are messy and painful, they demand soldiers not snowflakes.

 

 

Alcohol, Psychology, Environmentalism and Other Awkward Relationships I Have With the World-

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight- 1st Corinthians 3:18-19a NIV

 Christians are commanded to live in this world without wallowing around in the worldliness of the world (John 17:16-18, 1st John 2:15-17, 1st John 4:4-5). For mature believers this means having an awkward and uncomfortable relationship with a lot of the things in this world.

 For me, the list of worldly things I am at least somewhat uncomfortable with is long. Some highlights include most government funded poverty programs, modern environmentalism, public education and most of the stuff that comes out of Hollywood.  The enemy has gotten a firm foothold in every one of those arenas and found clever ways to use them to mislead people.

 Alcohol is yet another example of an awkward and uncomfortable relationship I have with the world. There is a little too much sanctioned alcohol use in the Bible for me to completely buy into the idea it’s a sin to drink alcohol (Song of Songs 8:2, Proverbs 3:10, John 2:1-8, 1st Timothy 5:23).   That being said. As the adult child of two raging alcoholics I have experienced firsthand the devastation and misery that comes with excessive alcohol use. Therefore, I am uncomfortable with anything other than infrequent alcohol use.

 Anyway.  

 Perhaps my most uncomfortable ongoing relationship with the things of this world is with psychology.

 I am not opposed to psychology.  

 My husband occasionally jokes I was raised by wolves. It’s a bit of an exaggeration but not completely out of line with reality. I credit discovering psychology in my early twenties with helping me make sense of my parents, myself and why they were the way they where and why I am the way I am. I credit Jesus with saving me and changing me but without the aid of some Christian counselors and Christian psychology books it probably would have taken a lot longer for me to work out the kinks that a sketchy upbringing created in my personality (Romans 12:2, 2nd Corinthians 3:18, 2nd Corinthians 5:17).

 If psychology is kept in perspective, it can be helpful to the church. Psychology is the science of understanding the human mind. It helps explain how past experiences influence human behavior.  When leaders understand the “why” behind human actions it enables them to help people get free of the bondage that comes with bad choices. Psychology helps people to better understand themselves.  Knowing the “why’s” behind why we do what we do is key to making changes that help us become better more effective followers of Jesus.

 However.

 Like all human wisdom, psychology has very real limits and should never take priority over the Bible (1stCorinthians 1:25). It’s important to remember that with the exception of Christian practitioners, psychology does not acknowledge God or the sin nature of humanity (Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:23). As a result, the science of psychology can never fully explain exactly how and why the human soul can become completely twisted and evil, nor does it empower people to fully transform into a better version of themselves (2nd Corinthians 5:17). Only Jesus can do that.

 Secular psychology relies heavily on behavior modification which some people (including some Christians) confuse with the Christian act of repentance. Repentance is usually a process.  It begins with the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life to convict them that their choices are wrong. The person recognizes their behavior is wrong, not because it bugs other people or because it creates chaos in their lives but rather because it is offensive to God. Then the person makes changes to please God rather than people. These kinds of changes tend to last.

  Conversely, behavior modification is usually motivated by social pressure. A spouse or friend says something judgy and it becomes apparent that relationships will be threatened if something doesn’t change. The individual then changes their behavior just enough to please people and get them off their back. Sometimes this happens without the person concluding that there was anything wrong with what they were doing in the first place.  

 Without true heartfelt repentance it is impossible to be saved because repentance is the fruit of faith (Acts 20:21, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, Mark 1:4). Unfortunately, psychology sometimes enables people to change just enough to keep them from feeling like they need to turn to God and repent. Psychology can make a person aware of their shortcomings and flaws but it can never bring anyone to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

 By far my biggest issue with psychology is that it places limits on compassion and forgiveness that God does not. Psychology tells us that no one is obligated to forgive a wrong and that no one should do anything they don’t really want to do.  God wants His people to be like Him. This means Christians are called to a radical level of living that sometimes demands we go further with grace and forgiveness than psychology tells us is healthy or wise. It means there are times in life when we look beyond worldly wisdom and love in ways that make no sense at all from a human perspective.

 

 

 

 

The Truth about Politics and Religion-

Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him- Mark 12:17 NIV

 Between the bedlam at the Iowa caucuses, the impeachment trial, the partisan monkey business at the State of the Union address and the snipping and sniping between Nancy Pelosi and the President this past week; I have had ample opportunity to reflect on the madness of our present political situation. 

 It dawned on me most of us were taught two rules regarding politics and religion. First, we were taught politics and religion are subjects that inevitably produce tension and discord. Therefore, it is bad manners to discuss either subject in a public forum. We were also taught politics and religion are two entirely separate subjects that have no connection whatsoever. Consequently, only ignoramuses combine discussion of the two subjects.

 The ship has more or less sailed on the first rule.


For better or worse, there are precious few topics off-limits for discussion in our goat rodeo of a society. Only prudish squares care about tension and discord anymore. In fact, some people get paid good money to produce and promote it.

 However.

  The second rule is still very much in force. This due in part to a near unanimous misunderstanding of the phrase “separation of church and state”. Most believe it is found in the Constitution or some other critical founding document.  It’s not. The only place it was ever used was in a personal letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to an association of Baptists who were fearful there would be a state sponsored church in America. In his letter Mr. Jefferson assured them there is “wall of separation between church and state”. Therefore, government will never intrude on anyone’s religious beliefs or activities. Clearly, Mr. Jefferson didn’t own a crystal ball, but, that’s another blogpost for another day. The passing of the Johnson Amendment in 1954 has also contributed to the belief that politics and religion should be kept in separate corners. The law allows the government to strip Churches of their tax-exempt status if they endorse or oppose political candidates.

 All that being said, a stupid law and ignorance of our founding documents are not the only reasons we don’t talk about politics and religion.

 Many Christians sincerely believe politics is dirty and religion is clean. They think that by merging political conversations with faith conversations, we dirty up religion and run the risk of muddling the message of the gospel. Christians who believe this way tend to think Jesus was discouraging political involvement when he said “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s”.  Most non-Christians tend to believe any mixing of religion and politics will cause our perfectly good republic to morph into a creepy theocracy reminiscent of an episode of A Handmaids Tale.

 Sigh.

 In spite of almost everyone’s desire to keep politics and religion in separate corners, the two have had some ugly run-in’s in recent years. Culture is shifting rapidly and battle lines are being drawn between right wrong. Once a upon a time issues like pedophilia, relaxing or eliminating drug laws, the elimination of restrictions on hardcore pornography, lowering the age of sexual consent, sanctioning late term abortion, legalizing prostitution and allowing infanticide were considered icky fringe issues. Our society has become less Christian and more accepting of just about everything and some have felt emboldened to push these and other issues through the courts in recent years (Psalm 52:3, Isaiah 5:20). Religious people (mostly Christians) have become weary of the societal decline that has resulted from an increase in progressive legislation.

 Okay, so, a couple of things:

 It is true Christians sometimes send the message that in order to be a Christian a person must hold to a certain set of political views. It is also true that if a person is a Christian the Bible will inform their thinking on all issues, including political issues. However, the notion that one has to do anything but believe in Jesus and repent of their sin to become a Christian is tragically wrong. Additionally, patriotism is not godliness. Love of country is a good thing but it must never be confused with fidelity to Jesus.

 Furthermore.

 One of the key reasons Christianity has flourished in America is because our founders wisely avoided forming a theocracy. If America’s founders had instituted a state sponsored Christian church, it is a given that the state would have killed the dynamic and powerful nature of Christianity by insisting that all Christians think and worship exactly the same way.

 Trust me. No one wants a theocracy in America.

 That being said. We must work hard as believers to keep Jesus the main thing in all we do. We are not called to change the world through political legislation or even social reform. We are called to change the world by bringing people to Jesus and then teaching them to think and act like Jesus (Matthew 28:19). At the same time, we must embrace the reality that all of life belongs to God and there is no sphere Christians are not called to influence and redeem for Jesus (Psalm 24:1).  Therefore, Christians should never lose their moral outrage when it comes to political attempts to legalize behavior that robs human beings of their God-given dignity. We need Christians who will graciously explain to an unbelieving world that every personal and political choice has a spiritual consequence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways Christians Can Turn the Tide of Church Culture-

 

 The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So, let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light- Romans 13:11-12 NIV

My week began on a spiritual high note.

  Sunday, I attended one of the most moving church services I have ever been a part of. It was a sweet reminder that God is and people are still being transformed by His presence in their lives.

 It was all kind of downhill from there.  

 The rest of the week was mostly just a series of weird and unpleasant reminders life is short, the world is still a dark place and there is no shortage of spiritual work to be done.

 One such reminder came via a long conversation with an individual who was, from a biblical perspective one of the most tragically ignorant people I have ever interacted with. The whole discussion was frustrating. However, the thing I found most maddening was how this person is fully convinced they already know everything they need to know about God and the Bible. In reality, all they really know is what other ignorant people have told them and precious little of it is accurate or nice.

 Sigh.  

 My heart is still broken for the lostness of that person. I was reminded once again that there is a battle raging—not a physical battle— we are not literally at war with anyone. Christians are, or are supposed to be fighting for the hearts, minds and souls of people who do not know Jesus (Philippians 2:25, 2nd Timothy 2:3-4, Ephesians 6:10-17). The shocking number of biblically ignorant individuals in the Western world indicates that we have lost more battles than we have won in recent years. 

 We are losing because EVERY professing Christian, regardless of age, gender or denominational preference is a soldier called to fight.  However, some of our soldiers appear to be woefully ignorant of their status. Others understand there’s a battle but are too busy arguing about stupid stuff to be of any use to anyone. Still others are simply not in any kind of spiritual shape to fight. Even more are so busy chasing worldly squirrels they don’t have the focus they need to fight even the tiniest battles effectively (1st John 2:15). 

 A course correction is desperately needed in our ranks. If we all commit to making a few changes in what we do and how we view the world Christians would become far more effective very quickly. It all begins with:

 Understanding the times we live in- 1st Chronicles 12:32

 Americans live in a culture that is rapidly becoming post-Christian. This is a complex issue but basically it means the gospel is irrelevant at best and stupid at worst to the majority of people in our culture. Furthermore, most churches have done a sloppy job of teaching people who already believe in Jesus what the Bible teaches about most issues. This means our primary responsibility as Christians right now is to help the world and the church to understand that individuals CAN choose to live their lives anyway they wish. However, there is such a thing as “best practices” when it comes to relationships and life choices. Those “best practices” are found in the Bible and begin with making a commitment to Jesus Christ and then choosing to live life the way the Bible calls us to live it. This means Christians must make a real commitment to self-education so we can teach others the truth of God’s word.  

 Getting in fighting shape-

 This means dealing with the sin in our lives decisively and doing our best to live a holy life (Matthew 5:29 Colossians 3, 2nd Peter 1:3-11, 1st John 4:9).  Getting in shape spiritually means committing serious blocks of time to prayer and learning as much as possible about the Bible and what it says about life. It means knowing ourselves. Every Christian should have a complete understanding of their own strengths so they can be used effectively for the Kingdom. Believers must also understand their own weaknesses so that they are not destroyed by them.

 Aligning yourself with the right people-

 Christians should love everyone but only align themselves with those who believe in inerrancy of the Bible and are willing to live out its principles.

 Putting your armor on-

 Every believer should study Ephesians 6:10-18 in depth and have the entire passage committed to memory. It should be a prayer we pray daily.  For a sample of what I pray click here-

 Engaging the right way-

 It is imperative Christians make a regular practice of getting into the world and interacting with the people in it (Matthew 5:13-16, John 3:17. It is equally critical we do it the right way. Christians should never bully, intimidate or make people feel like anything less than a person made in God’s image.  That said Christians should never be afraid to speak the truth of the gospel with passion.

 We are where we are mostly because too many of us have been spiritually complacent for far too long. It is time for all of us to set ourselves aside and get into the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Unity Hurts the Church-

 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared”- Matthew 13:24-26 NIV

 

There are some things I believe with all my heart, mind soul and being.

 I believe God is, always has been, and will always be (Jeremiah 10:10, Revelation 21:6). God is one God with three distinctive expressions of Himself. He is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all at once (Genesis 1:26, Deuteronomy 6:4, Matthew 28:19, 1st Timothy 2:5). Jesus came to earth as a baby, grew into a man, lived a sinless life and sacrificed Himself to liberate the human race from the bondage of sin and death. In doing so, Jesus created a new people out of those who place their faith and trust in Him (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, 1st Peter 2:4-6). These people are the Church and they serve as God’s ambassadors on earth (2nd Corinthians 5:20). The primary responsibility of the Church is to show the unbelieving world through their holiness, words and demonstrations of grace that God is who He says He is.  In my view the Church is at its most influential when Christians choose work together towards the common goal of making Christ known to all the world.

  I do not believe Christians should divide over trifling doctrinal issues or stupid stuff willy-nilly. (John 11:52). Back in the day, I worked as the director of a Pregnancy Resource Center. The position afforded me many opportunities to work closely with believers from many different expressions of Christianity. I very rarely felt the differences in beliefs were so great I could not work with leaders from other churches.

 That being said. 

This week I was forced to do some thinking about some of my beliefs. It all began with an article about a podcast. That article inspired me to listen to the interview between Jen Hatmaker and Max Lucado. For those not “in the know” Jen Hatmaker is a very touchy-feely, fairly well-known author, blogger and Christian influencer who hosts a popular podcast. She markets herself as an Evangelical but promotes liberal views on theology, gender issues, and is a supporter of gay marriage. She has said on more than one occasion she believes homosexual relationships can be “holy”.

 Max Lucado is a much-loved and well-known Evangelical author and pastor who tends to be conservative in his views. He implied several times during the interview he doesn’t agree with her on every issue but he was incredibly generous with his praise and he essentially endorsed her ministry.

 Throughout their discussion Max Lucado made it clear he believes unity in the Body of Christ should be a very high priority for believers. As long as Christians agree on the “fundamentals of Christianity” little else matters. The fundamentals include belief in the life, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Max Lucado is not the only Christian who feels those issues are the only issues Christians should divide over. Those have been the standard for Christian fellowship for decades.

 So, a couple of things.

 I would never encourage professing Christians to be unkind to other professing Christians. The Bible is clear that Christians should be known by their love for one another. Therefore, meanness and hate is never acceptable (John 13:35).

 However, I do think it is time for Christians to think long and hard about where we draw the line on endorsing ministries, influencers and Bible teachers. What a person teaches regarding sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular really does matter. It should be taken into consideration before we follow, align ourselves with or endorse anyone.  

 Here’s why.  

  Not every issue Christians disagree about is black and white. There are shades of grey and room for differences of opinion concerning some issues (eschatology, politics, Calvinism, Arminianism, expressions of worship, etc.). However, issues pertaining to sexuality, homosexuality and the number of genders that exist are settled issues. The Bible clearly teaches homosexuality is a sin. Moreover, God made humans in His image, male and female, only, period. (Genesis 1:27, Leviticus 20:13,1st Timothy 1:9-11, 1st Corinthians 6:9)

 It is true that homosexual sin is no more or less sinful than heterosexual sin (1st Corinthians 6:18). That said, homosexuality and gender are not up for debate from a biblical perspective (for more on this issue I highly recommend: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, by Kevin Deyoung). To teach otherwise is more than just an affirmation of “love”. It is an all-out-full-frontal assault on the inerrancy of Scripture. It is impossible to say we believe the Bible in its entirety and then teach that it is completely wrong on issues of sexuality.

 The Bible calls for unity in the Church. However, unity should never come at the expense of truth and sound doctrine. The books of Jude, 2nd Timothy and 2nd Peter all predict there will come a time when teachers will slip into the church and teach false doctrines and half-truths that will appeal to the fleshly (sinful) nature of humanity and lead people away from the true gospel (2nd Timothy 4:3, 2nd Peter 2:1 Jude 4). Christians are advised to avoid those kinds of teachers.

 The Bible says what it says about sexuality. We do not get to rewrite the opinions of our Creator. When we try we end up in a place where everyone in the church does what is right in their own eyes. When that happens, standards of right and wrong are lost and the Church loses its spiritual power and ability to change the culture.  

 

  

How Evil Takes Root-

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done- Romans 1:28 NIV

 

Recently, I found myself in the unenviable position of attempting to encourage a relative of a professed Christian who is deep in the weeds of an ugly addiction. The addict flatly refuses to repent of their sin or even entertain the notion that their sin is a problem let alone a sin. To the dismay of the entire family the addict is willfully refusing to see the effect their sin is having on the lives of those they profess to love. Further complicating the whole messy mess, the addict is actively attempting to manipulate friends and family into believing that their perception of the situation is faulty and the obvious is not really true.  The addict has lost a lot and is on the verge of losing even more if they don’t make some changes.

 Sigh.

 According to the Apostle Paul individuals become fully entangled in sinful patterns of behavior because they develop an evil and “depraved mind” (Romans 1:28, Hebrews 12:1). Deceitfulness, addiction and the refusal to deal with issues related to dishonesty and addiction are not the only indications of a corrupted and depraved mind. Nor is evil and depravity reserved for serial killers, sex traffickers and child molesters. Anyone who runs headlong with reckless abandonment into sinful behavior and is determined to keep on keeping on in their sin is likely suffering from a corrupt and depraved mind.

 The Bible does not exclude professed Christians from thinking or behaving in ways ultimately lead to a depraved mind. Like most issues in life prevention is key. Once wrong thinking leads to an entrenched pattern of immoral behavior it is difficult (but not impossible) to come back from it (Luke 18:27).

 It is critical we remember that people, even unsaved people do not become evil or depraved in a day.  Developing a depraved mind is a process that begins with the willful decision to ignore a known truth about God. For an unbeliever this can be as simple as choosing to deny the existence of a Creator despite all the evidence that exists to the contrary (Romans 1:18-20).

 For Christians it begins with choosing to ignore a straightforward New Testament command (Hebrews 12:25). The next step is choosing to disregard the guilt that goes along with choosing to sin.  Then the person becomes bloated (metaphorically speaking) with pride. Pride convinces them they are beyond all the silly rules other Christians have to follow. They convince themselves they are special enough to sin without the consequences lesser humans inevitably suffer. Then they actively resist accountability by dodging anyone who might possibly attempt to talk them out of their chosen course of action. Eventually, sin becomes an addiction and the driving force in their lives. At this point the addictive behavior (sin) is just a symptom of a bigger sin: idolatry (1st John 5:21).

 Okay, so, a couple of things:

 First, when we see these situations in the lives of professed Christians we should never tell ourselves we are better than they are. That response indicates pride. Pride is a serious sin to be avoided at all costs. Partly because once we start thinking like that we are more likely to get tangled-up in the same sins (Mark 8:15, 1st Corinthians 10:12) and partly because pride is just super gross (Proverbs 18:13, 2nd Chronicles 26:16). Nor, should we ever help anyone escape the consequences of the choices they have made. The technical term for helping people avoid the natural consequences of their choices is codependence. The problem with codependence is that codependent people secretly think they know more than God does about what will actually help people. God knows everything about everything and He brings consequences into the lives of people because He is constantly working to mold Christians into the image of Jesus (2nd Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3). No good ever comes from helping people avoid what God is using to make them healthier, wiser, and more like Jesus.

 Secondly, we should always be alert to sin in our own lives. The human heart is capable of an insane level of self-deception when it comes to sin (Jeremiah 17:9).  For that reason it is possible for Christians to be half-way to a depraved mind and not even know it. Therefore, it is critically important we take every opportunity to self-examine and evaluate our own moral and spiritual condition (2nd Corinthians 13:5).

 Finally, anytime we see another Christian struggling with sin our first response should always be to pray for them, not judge them. Once we’ve done that we need to beg God for the wisdom, grace and supernatural insight to know how to be Jesus to them in their time of need.