How “Good” Christian People Self-Destruct-

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him.  1stPeter 5:8-9a NIV

  I have known some Christians, including some Christian leaders who have shipwrecked their lives. When I say shipwrecked I do not mean they briefly made an ugly mess in one area of their perfectly good life, recovered and eventually moved on to bigger, better and more productive things. When I say shipwrecked I mean they made such an epic mess out of their lives and relationships, there is simply no way they will ever completely recover from their choices this side of heaven.

 When a Christian screws their life in an irrevocable kind of a way the rest of us tend to assume the shipwreck occurred as a result of one-great-big-sinful-decision (having an affair, getting addicted to drugs, embezzling money). However, few people ruin their lives all at once. Shipwrecks happen gradually, usually after a lifetime of covering-up and lying about their behavior.  The one great-big-sinful-decision that appears to be the cause of the shipwreck is actually just a symptom of much bigger problem.

 The Bible has a name for this root problem, it’s called “giving the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). There are at least a million different ways a Christian can give the devil a foothold. Giving the devil a foothold basically means that at some point someone willingly gave a small area of their lives over to sin, then chose to keep their behavior a secret. Which effectively permitted that area of their life to become the devil’s playground. Over the course of many years the person in question loses their ability to keep their sin a secret.  Eventually they get caught and their sin becomes obvious to everyone and their life is shipwrecked (Numbers 32:23).

 Sigh.

 The key to avoiding these tragedies is prevention. I already stated that there are at least a million ways we can shipwreck our lives, mostly because the capacity of the human heart to dream up clever ways to sin is nearly boundless (Jeremiah17:9). That being said, the areas where the devil attempts to gain a foothold in a person’s life are fairly standard to everyone. The first is:

 Pride-

 I have never known a person harboring secret sin who did not pridefully assume that they could handle “sinning a little bit”. At the root of this belief is almost always a sense that they are “different” from other people and don’t need to follow the same rules that all the other people have to follow. If pride is left unchecked it inevitably leads to a shipwreck because it causes people to believe that they are better and smarter and worthier than they really are (Proverbs 11:2, Proverbs 29:23, Obadiah 1:3). This belief cause people to do incredibly stupid stuff guaranteed to be their downfall (Proverbs 16:18).

 Covetousness-

 Coveting is not just about wanting things we don’t have. It’s about wanting things that we should never have and refusing to be content with what we do have. Coveting is dangerous because it always leads to bigger sins. It is not wrong to want a wife (or a husband). However, it is wrong to want someone else’s wife or husband (Deuteronomy 5:21).  It is also wrong to want a husband or wife more than we love God (Exodus 20:3). Coveting sex eventually leads to infidelity and/or some kind of sexual deviancy.  Money is not sinful, but loving money and craving material possessions leads to fraud, theft, shady behavior and a miserly unwillingness to share what God has blessed us with.  (1st Timothy 6:10).  Spending an undue amount time thinking about what we wish we had instead of being grateful for what we do have is a huge red flag for this foothold (Hebrews 13:5, 1st Timothy 6:6-7)

 Resentment and unforgiveness-

 Resentment and unforgiveness are without question the devil’s favorite foothold. These sins always lead to bitterness, cynicism, and offense. A bitter, cynical and offended person can easily justify any and every behavior under the sun (Job 36:13). For that reason, resentment and bitterness must be dealt with quickly and decisively before they take root and defile a person (Hebrews 12:15)

 Jealousy-   

 Jealousy is the original gateway sin. It opens the door for every other sin. Jealousy is the reason Cain killed Abel and its why Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery.  No one in the history of forever has ever done anything in a fit of jealousy that they could be proud of (Proverbs 27:4, Galatians 5:19-21).

 Lust-

 Thanks to the internet and a nearly universal lack of self-control in our culture, lust is probably the devil’s most fruitful foothold at this point in history. It almost goes without saying that this one sin has ruined more men and women than any other sin in the history of sin. Lust is dangerous because it is not a difficult sin to hide and it gradually changes the sinner, hardening their heart and making it harder for them to hear from God or to care about hearing from God. When Christians stop hearing from God it is almost inevitable that they will act on the most deviant desires of their heart.

 Sinful footholds are preventable. We avoid them by dealing with our sin on a daily basis and walking in the light of truth.  Once a foothold is formed there is only one way to break its power: honesty. We get free by coming clean and then choosing to live our whole lives in the light (Psalm 119:9, Psalm 119:5, Hebrews 4:13).

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Five Ways to Curse Your Stupid Self


Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, so a curse without cause does not alight~ Proverbs 26:2 NASB

 The word curse or curses is used a total of 178 times in the Bible. The conspicuously large number of times the word is used in the biblical text has led many to believe that God is all about cursing people. A lot of folks (including some Christians) believe God spends His spare time scanning the planet looking for those He can lay a horrible hex on.

  In the interest of fairness, I feel the need to point out that the only record I could find of God actually cursing anyone or anything is in the book of Genesis. In chapter three God lays out a series of curses related to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden of Eden.

 Issues of fairness aside, the Bible does not hesitate to reference the concept of curses.  The better part of Deuteronomy twenty-eight is just one long list of ghastly curses that will befall the Israelite people if they don’t get their spiritual act together and keep it that way. That passage coupled with the many other references to the word beg the question: Does God curse people for doing the wrong thing?

 I think not.

 Not that I don’t believe curses are a real thing. There are simply too many biblical references to the subject for a serious Christian to dismiss the whole thing as twaddle or voodoo. That said, God does not curse people willy-nilly just because they displease or annoy Him.

 It’s a bit more complicated than all that.

 God has designed the universe in such a way that if we do certain things certain consequences are inevitable. If someone places their hand on a hot stove, pain predictably follows. God does not cause anyone to put their hand on a stove and God certainly does not burn anyone’s hand.  Consequences occur because they are built into the design of the universe.  God doesn’t curse us.  We curse ourselves.  Following are four weird ways we bring curses on our own stupid selves.

 We curse ourselves when we refuse to break sinful patterns of the past-

 Many believe they are cursed to do stupid stuff because they a had a parent or grandparent or great-grandparent who did stupid stuff.  They believe that because some distant relative sinned in some foolhardy way God cursed the entire family line to sin exactly the same way for the rest of history.  It is true that patterns of sinful behavior run in families. It is also true that sinful behavior and attitudes can run deep. That said, the Bible makes it clear that God does not hold children responsible for the sins of the parents (Ezekiel 18:1-32). Furthermore, these types of curses are not difficult to break. Once a person repents of a sinful attitude or behavior the curse is broken.  Case closed.    

 We curse ourselves when we harshly judge situations we don’t understand or haven’t lived through-

 Back in the day my husband and I had some friends who were extremely critical and vocal in their criticism of how we parented our oldest daughter. We weren’t strict enough, we let her stay up too late, we let her eat too much candy, we didn’t discipline her enough or in the correct way. We naturally assumed that when these people had kids their kids would be the best behaved, sweetest, most well-mannered children in the history of children. They weren’t. They were awful. Those children were so dreadfully awful that both sets of grandparents refused to babysit them. I don’t say this to gloat (at least I am trying not to) I say this to make a point. When we judge people, we tend to repeat the same sins of the people we judge (Matthew 7:2), typically, we do this without even realizing we are doing it.

 We curse ourselves when we choose to become bitter-

 Anytime we chose the path of bitterness over the path of forgiveness we are cursed to become exactly like the people we refuse to forgive. I am not entirely certain why or how this happens. That said, I have observed it happen enough times to know it’s a real thing. I suspect we become like the person we are bitter towards because bitterness causes us to become extremely focused (in a very unhealthy way) on that one person. Having so much of our mental energy focused on the negative aspects of one person causes us, over time, to take on the characteristics of that person without being aware of what we are doing. So, if you do not wish to become a mirror image of your gossipy, critical Mother or your angry, alcoholic Father I strongly suggest you forgive immediately (Hebrews 12:15).  

 We curse ourselves when we refuse the Holy Spirit-  

 Anytime God tells us to do anything in His word or the Holy Spirit prompts us to action and we choose to ignore those promptings we curse ourselves.  Ignoring God hardens our hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8, Hebrews 4:7). The harder our hearts become the more difficult it becomes to discern truth from God’s word, to hear His still-small voice or even to care when the Holy Spirit prompts us to action.

 That perhaps is the worst curse of all.

How Constantly Taking Offense Has Turned Us Into a Bunch of Silly Babies

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense~ Proverbs 19:11

 We live in strange times.

 Ideas, customs and behaviors that were once considered right are now thought to be offensive and just plain wrong (Isaiah 5:20).

 Some of those things actually make sense.

 No rational human would even attempt to defend indentured servitude, human sacrifice, child brides or the practice of female genital mutilation. That said, some of the ideas and behaviors our culture finds offensive these days are not nearly as easy to understand or defend. Like taking offense at those who identify as the gender they were assigned at conception (CIS genderism), the notion of nations having borders and the belief that humans should have a right to be born.

 Sigh.  

 One of the stranger things that was once considered a good thing (or at least a neutral thing) that has become a bad thing is cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the practice of borrowing (some would say stealing) the best aspects of a culture and appropriating or adopting those things into another culture. Ancient Romans were among the first to brazenly appropriate other cultures but Americans have perfected the practice. That is why Americans can say with a straight face that something is as “American as apple pie” when apples are from Asia and the practice of baking apples into pies began in England during the Middle Ages.

 Because cultural appropriation is now considered offensive there are people who are sincerely offended when they see a college student with a sombrero on or basic white girls wearing hoop earrings (true story). A few years past a horde of folks became frothing-at-the-mouth offended when they saw a not-so-basic white girl wearing a Chinese inspired prom dress. This tells me we have become a people who are far too easily offended by just about everything.

 As a culture we have forgotten that taking offense is a choice.  It’s a choice that inevitably leads to broken friendships, shattered marriages and split churches. If offense is allowed to run amok in a society it can eventually lead to ugly social upheaval and in the most extreme cases: civil war.  On a personal level the greatest danger in habitually taking offense is that being offended all the time transforms otherwise intelligent people into insufferable boobs who are far more concerned with feelings than with facts.  Christians are called to be salt and light in our broken and hurting world (Matthew 5:13-15). We simply cannot do that if we are heavily focused on our feelings all the time.

 Here is how offense ruins people:

 Offense stops spiritual and personal growth-

 Even secular experts agree that the ability to examine ourselves and see the things we need to change is the key to personal growth. Self-examination is also a prerequisite for spiritual growth (Lamentations 3:40, 2ndCorinthians 13:5). Offense takes our eyes off our bad behavior and weak spots and places our focus entirely on other people’s actions and attitudes. When that happens, we become so focused on others and what they need to change that we fail to see our own sins clearly.     

 Offense breeds bitterness-

 Offense is a knee-jerk reaction. Like most knee-jerk reactions, offense is not typically something we prayerfully evaluate. Nor is it something we typically ask God to help us deal with in a godly or wise way. Most of the time when people become offended the only thing they can think about is how justified they feel in their decision to be offended (Proverbs 18:19). This inevitably leads to bitterness. Nothing will transform a person into a defiling force faster than bitterness (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15).

 Offense leads to spiritual deception-

 In Matthew 24 Jesus gives us a preview of what life will look like just prior to His second coming. One of the certainties of that time is that people will take offense at just about everything (Matthew 24:10-11 NKJV). Offended-ness will lead to hate and betrayal. Out of all that offense and hate, false teachers will rise up and lead people (even some Christian people) away from the truth. Jesus is doing more than just giving as a trailer of future events in this verse. He is providing insight into the very nature of offense. Offense causes us to become heavily focused on our feelings. When feelings run the show, we become unable/unwilling to comprehend any truth that does not directly line up with our feelings. As a result, we become sitting ducks for false teachers who tell us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to hear (2ndTimothy 4:3).

 Offense prevents us from accomplishing God’s will for our lives-

 God’s will for all Christians is for us to glorify Him. It’s simply a fact that no one in the history of forever has ever glorified God while indulging an offended spirit.

 Chronic offended-ness is clear indicator of a pride problem-

  Most of the time offense comes as a result of someone telling us an unpleasant truth about ourselves or pointing out a fact we missed. It’s the height of pride to believe that we know so much that we never need to be educated, informed or redirected. Proverbs 16:18 tells us that pride comes before a fall. Falls almost always occur because a warning went unheeded (2ndChronicles 26:16, Proverbs 11:2).

 Taking offense is not always a bad thing. Everyone should be offended by sin, injustice and bigotry (2ndChronicles 19:7, Galatians 3:28). That said, we should all do regular gut-checks to ensure we are actually being offended by the right things.  If we find ourselves offended by the wrong things we need to take our offenses to God and seek to forgive those who have offended us.

 It really is that simple.   

How We Came to the Place Where We are too Scared to Tell the Truth-

 They are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind~ 1st Timothy 6:4-5a NIV

 One of the weirder aspects of growing older is that it is possible to look back in hindsight and identify exactly when a cultural transformation began to take place in society. 

 One of the more remarkable transformations that has taken place over the course of my lifetime as been our perspective on the subject of words and language. When I was a child no one cared all that much about the rightness or wrongness of words. People just said what they wanted to say and everybody was expected to get over any hurt feelings that resulted.

We were taught very early on in life to say:

 “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”

  Okay, so in retrospect it was not the most sensitive limerick to teach to tender little children. But in those days people where a little thicker-skinned and the rhyme had the effect it was intended to have. Kids (and grown-ups) rarely made much over the insensitive, mean or stupid things things other people said.

 All that began to change in the late eighties and early nineties. I distinctly remember a church service in my twenties where the Pastor preached a sermon on the potentially hurtful consequences of words. He recited the above-mentioned rhyme and informed his listeners that everything we had been taught about words as children was a terrible lie. He made the (totally true) point that words do indeed hurt and can leave emotional scars. He closed the sermon by encouraging us all to be mindful of our words because words are powerful and potentially hurtful. I had never heard such a thing before in all my life. Seriously, it was all new news to me.

 It was just the beginning.

 Out of nowhere there was a crusade to change the way Americans spoke and perceived language. There were public service announcements on the dangers of harsh words and verbal abuse. Talk show hosts interviewed people who had been wounded by the cruel words of classmates and parents. Pop-culture icons began educating the public on the dangers of dehumanizing and harsh words. Task forces were formed to stop bullying in schools and end insensitive and sexually charged language in workplaces. As a result using racist, sexist or just plain mean language became taboo in schools and most workplaces.

 In the beginning I was very much on board with the collective sensitivity training. I believed then and still believe that people should choose their words wisely. No one should ever intentionally wound another person with stupid, harsh or cruel words. Verbal abuse and bigoted or sexist language is simply not okay. Ever.

 That said.

 People have managed to take a good idea to a ridiculous and possibly perilous place. Not only is it no longer okay say anything that is obviously insensitive, sexist or bigoted. It is no longer okay to say anything that might possibly hurt another person’s feelings (even if what is being said is clearly true and desperately needs to be said by someone). Every word uttered by everyone is vigilantly scrutinized for obvious as well as incidental offense. Individuals (no matter their maturity level) get to decide for themselves what is hurtful; therefore anything and everything can be (and oftentimes is) construed as hurtful.

 The result of this collective insanity has been two-fold. First, we have produced a population of ignorant, narcissistic, panty-waisted crybabies who are so pre-occupied with the effects that other people’s words have on their feelings that they cannot function outside of their own carefully constructed safe-spaces. Not only is this quite clearly sad, it could easily be our downfall. A nation of self-indulgent crybabies cannot possibly remain a nation for long.

 Secondly, it is no longer okay to say anything at all unless it makes everyone feel good about their choices, no matter how wrong or ridiculous those choices might be. Our absurd preoccupation with the rightness or wrongness of words has turned us into a nation of liars. We tolerate insanity because we’re scared witless of saying something and being labeled “hateful”. We refuse to verbalize in public the truth we all speak about openly in private: that some things are simply wrong, stupid and detrimental to society.

 The real irony in all this madness is that our collective obsession with words has failed to make us better people. Our society is no kinder and no gentler than it was thirty years ago. Our speech is no more uplifting now than it was then. It could, in fact, be argued that our use of words is far cruder and meaner now than it ever was. We’ve forgotten that change, even changing how we speak cannot be commanded by decree. Authentic change comes from a transformed heart and only God can do that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Lies We Believe About Sex-

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God~ 1st Thessalonians 4: 3-5 NIV

Sex is not a topic our culture shies away from.

 The public education system has determined children as young as 3 need to be exposed (no pun intended) to comprehensive sex education. Sex education these days almost always involves teaching kids that they and their peers fall on an ever growing “gender spectrum”.

 Sexting (sending sexually explicit photos over text) is commonplace among middle school and even some elementary age kids. Teens are routinely encouraged to have as much sex as they can with as many people as possible as long as the sex is “safe”. In an effort to advance the objective of lots and lots of safe sex, condoms are available free of charge in most high schools. The morning after pill (a contraceptive that can end a pregnancy) can be purchased from vending machines on college campuses.

 Apparently even the older generation (65+) has hopped on the “if it feels good do it” bandwagon. The CDC reports syphilis infections have risen 52% and Chlamydia infections have risen 32% among senior citizens (yuck).

 Clearly our culture is obsessed with sex.

 Sex is an idol we worship in this culture and the lies we believe about sex are leading our culture into a hell we will never crawl out of unless we start telling ourselves the truth and walking in that truth promptly. Walking in truth begins with pinpointing lies that have led us astray. I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about this subject. However I do know that the following five beliefs are lies many in our culture (including many Christians) have come to believe.

 Beginning with…

 Our personhood is defined by who we have sex with-

 Our culture has reached a place never seen before in human history. Many of us now define ourselves based entirely on whom we have sex with. It is now routine to divulge whether or not one is gay, straight, trans, bisexual, binary-trans, undecided, etc. as a form of introduction. This lunacy has led many to think that individuals ought to be granted special privileges, recognition and even accolades based entirely on what they do with their most private of parts. The peculiar crusade to define people based entirely on their sexual preferences has caused us to forget that sexuality is small a part of who we are, not the full manifestation of what makes us human. Even many Christians seem to have forgotten we are made in the image of a God who does not have sex and that Jesus was the fullest expression of humanity who ever lived and He did not have sex.

 Little boys grow up to be little girls (and vice-versa)-

 I know I’m going to get some hate for this but frankly I don’t care. If a person is born a biological male or a biological female then they are the gender they were assigned at conception. Period. A “gender reassignment surgery” cannot change the DNA we were assigned at conception (Genesis 1:27). There simply is no such thing as a male trapped in a female body or vice-versa. Some might FEEL they were born the “wrong gender” but that is an altogether different situation (I have nothing but sympathy for such people). That said, it is an act of madness to encourage confused people to believe delusions regarding anything including their gender.

 Pornography is victimless-

 Exposure to pornography changes the way we view the opposite sex. It causes us to see individuals (who were made in the image of God) as objects that we might gain the basest form of gratification from. So, in a sense, we are all victims of pornography. Pornography also feeds the prostitution industry. Most prostitutes are not prostitutes by choice. They are poorly treated slaves forced to have sex with up to dozens of people a day.

 Sexual preferences are hardwired-

 We are not “hardwired” at birth to make specific sexual choices (1st Corinthians 6:9-11). We might be born with a tendency or experience situations in childhood that produce sinful preferences (adultery, pedophilia, homosexuality, promiscuity). However, the decision to act on any inclinations we might have is a choice we are responsible for.   

 Love legitimizes sex-

 Even most secular cultures in the past placed restrictions around sex that had little do with love because preceding generations were wise enough to understand that love is a fickle and often fleeting emotion. Those cultures understood that sex outside the confines of a committed marriage create confusion and heartache for individuals and trouble for society in the long run.

When in its proper place, sex is a positive, healthy and beneficial thing. Sex outside of its proper place is an ugly idol that demands more and more of us all the while taking more and more of who we are. It’s time to put sex back in its proper place before we self-destruct.

Six Signs of Pride-

 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory~ Daniel 5:20 NIV

 Pride is strange a thing.

 A small amount of the right kind of pride is a good thing (Romans 11:13, 2nd Corinthians 7:4, Galatians 6:4). However, even a smidgen of the wrong kind is a terrible thing (Proverbs 16:18, Proverbs 13:10) and too much of even the good kind of pride can quickly become a really bad thing (1st Corinthians 8:1). Pride is the sin that corrupted Lucifer (the Grand Poobah of angels) and transformed him into Satan. The nature of pride is such that when anyone hears a sermon or reads an article on pride they immediately apply everything they read or hear to someone else. 

Sigh.

 Pride is weirdly easy to spot in others but nearly impossible to see in ourselves. The more of a problem we have with pride the less likely we are to believe we have a problem with it. Pride causes us to think we are better and smarter than we really are. Pride also keeps us from seeking the God who has the power to actually make us better and smarter than we really are. Without question, the scariest thing about pride is that it can destroy a person without them ever even knowing they have a problem.

Sigh

 There is little in this world God more opposed to than pride. Therefore Christians should regularly examine themselves to see if they have an issue with pride. When a God who defines Himself as love (1st John 4:8) says He hates something (Proverbs 8:13) we ought to do everything within our power to avoid getting tangled up in that thing. Pride typically manifests itself in one or more of the following tendencies:

 You refuse to take advice from anyone you view as less successful or feel is less intelligent than you are-

 One sure sign of pride is believing the only people who have anything to offer in the way of advice or counsel are those who are more successful than we are. While, I do not recommend seeking career advice from the pizza guy (unless, of course, you’re also a pizza guy), that does not mean the pizza guy doesn’t have some spiritual, moral or practical wisdom to impart.

 You rarely apologize or admit wrong-

 If apologies stick in your throat or your family complains you never admit you’re wrong, even when it’s painfully obvious you are wrong. Trust me. You have a problem that needs immediate attention.

 Everybody else’s sin is a bigger deal than your own-

 Prideful people constantly compare their sins to the sins of others. The problem with grading personal holiness on a bell curve is that it not hard to find SOMEONE who is more sinful than you are. It’s critical we remember God does not want us to be like other people.God wants us to want to be like Jesus.

 You refuse to go to Church-

 There are at least a million excuses for not going to church. Some of the more popular include “church is boring”, “the people are too judgmental” “our family is super busy”, “the kids have sports” “the music is too girly/too hard to sing along with/too loud/too old/too new” and “the pastor is an idiot/talks over my head/is a hypocrite”. At the heart of most spiritual excuse making is a lack of willingness to submit to the spiritual leadership of others and/or a sinful desire to completely control our intake of spiritual food.

 You refuse to forgive-

 It takes humility to forgive others, because at the heart of forgiveness is the acknowledgement that we ourselves are far from perfect. Humble people forgive because they recognize their own desperate need for forgiveness. Prideful people rarely (if ever) acknowledge their own sinfulness and therefore have a tough time forgiving others and letting go of grudges.

 You’re sure you understand all the facts all the time-

 Prideful people tend to think they have the inside track when it comes to understanding the motives and actions of other people. The truth is that most of us know a lot less than we think we know about why people do what they do. It is perfectly acceptable to judge the rightness or wrongness of someone else’s actions (Luke 12:57, Acts 4:19, 1st Corinthians 5:12). However, motives are an altogether different issue. Only God knows what drives people. A good policy is to assume good intent and leave the judging of motives to God (1st Corinthians 4:5).

 The only way to deal with a pride problem is through brutal self-honesty and a heartfelt commitment to making real and lasting changes in the way we view others and ourselves.

 Anything else just perpetuates the problem.

 

 

 

 

What We Can Do to Change the Church

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. ~ Ephesians 5:8-10 NIV

Pretty much every Christian in the Western World agrees that Christianity is in a steady state of decline.  

Most blame the decline of Christianity on shallow teaching that is entirely focused on reaching unsaved people rather than teaching and training the already converted to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Others blame our problems on a lack of relationship (and accountability) in local churches. Still others blame a lack of opportunity to serve the underserved in their communities. All Christians are alarmed by the churches seeming inability to preserve morality and decency in the culture (Matthew 5:13-16).

 None of these concerns are without merit.

 In previous posts I have placed (directly or indirectly) much of the blame for the decline we find ourselves in on church leaders. I believe this is fair. Leaders lead. Consequently, if something is headed in the wrong direction the people running the show ought to take their fair share of the blame.

 However,

 I have served in enough leadership positions in enough churches to know that church has become just another product that we consume in this culture. I also know that most Pastors will tell you that recent changes in how church is done have been almost entirely consumer driven. Pastors are simply giving people what they say, through their words and actions, they want in church.

 Anytime we are unhappy with anything we ought to take a hard look at our own habits and attitudes, to see if we are somehow contributing to the problems vexing us. If we want change we have to be willing to change. So today I would like to offer five simple changes we could all make that could impact Christianity (and the culture) significantly.

 First:

 Show up- Hebrews 10:25

 Seriously. The average self-identified “committed churchgoer” only goes to church 1.2 times a MONTH. Most of us go to Costco more than we go to church. This is extremely discouraging to Pastors. The lack of committed attendance leads many Pastors to assume (rightly in my opinion) that their congregants are shallow believers who can’t (or don’t want to) handle the deeper truths of Scripture. It also sends the message to less mature believers that church attendance is irrelevant.

 Let go of your “rights”- 1st Corinthians 8:9

 In recent years many Christians have become very open about partaking in activities that fall neatly into the category of “gray area issues” (you can decide for yourself what I mean by that). This has made many pastors reluctant to preach on certain subjects out of fear of riling-up the saints and clearing out the church. The Bible teaches that mature believers are prepared to let go of their “rights” if that thing (whatever it may be) causes discord, hurt or confusion to anyone (1st Corinthians 8:7-9:22, Romans 14:13-15:1). Christians who live for themselves (rather than the good of others) are causing conflict in the church and destroying the reputation of Christianity. That needs to change.

Attend a Bible study- Acts 17:2, Acts 17:11

 In recent years many churches have dropped Sunday school classes and Bible studies. Typically this is due to a lack of interest and/or turnout. Trust me on this one. If there is a demand, there will be opportunities.

 Serve– Ephesians 2:10

 You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. Nonetheless I suspect we all spend at least a couple hours a week playing games and perusing social media on our phones. That time ought to be put to better use. Offer to teach the third grade Sunday school class, take a turn at nursery duty, serve in the food pantry, clean the church or lead a Bible study. Find out where and how you can serve, and then serve. I am convinced that Christians ought to tithe on their time as well as their money. If more did, it would literally be a spiritual game changer in our churches and communities.

 Pray for your Pastor- Romans 15:30, 2nd Corinthians 1:10-11, 1st Timothy 2:8, Colossians 4:2

 Pray that your Pastor will have the wisdom to lead well. Pray they will see biblical truth clearly and teach it with clarity and power. Pray they will have insight into the spiritual issues behind the worldly problems in our churches. Do not talk to them about any concerns you have until you have prayed and fasted about your concerns for at least two weeks. This will prepare both of you for the dialogue.

 I said at the beginning of this series that we all bear some responsibility for the state the church is in today. It’s time for all of us to collectively examine our hearts to see what we can do as individuals to change the direction of the church.

 

 

 

Okay Christians, Let’s Talk About Sex

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect~ Romans 12:2 NLT

 By the time I hit my teen years, the sexual revolution had been fought and was well, pretty much over. The popular culture had for the most part moved away from the notion that sex ought to be exclusive to marriage. As a result there was little debate outside of the Christian community concerning the morality of sex outside of marriage.

 The rightness or wrongness of sex was determined by feelings and emotional rather than legal and/or spiritual commitment. If a man and woman felt they were “in love” and at least somewhat committed to one another then sex was thought to be morally acceptable. Without love and some level of emotional commitment most people felt sex devolved into something skeezy and morally dubious. It was certainly not the biblical standard of sexuality that their parents and grandparents honored, but sex and love were still considered to be inseparable in most peoples’ estimation.

 Thirty years later those notions have become rather quaint and archaic. The whole notion of love and sex being closely connected has been replaced with a culture of hooking-up. Hooking-up, sometimes called “friends with benefits” or “not-dating” for those fortunate enough to be blissfully ignorant, is the new term for sexual activity sans commitment of any kind.

 Hooking-up has replaced dating and long-term romantic attachments for the vast majority of non-Christian adults. The results of this brave new world include plummeting marriage rates among those under thirty, skyrocketing out-of-wedlock birthrates; and a shockingly large number of young adults who report difficulty forming connections with the opposite sex outside of the bedroom.

 It doesn’t take a mastermind to grasp the obvious and conclude that the loosening sexual standards of the 1970’s and 1980’s paved the way for the ethical anarchy we see today surrounding the issue of sexuality. A culture does not go from the absolutely no sex before marriage standards of the first half of the 20th century to a culture of detached hook-ups without at least a couple of stops along the way.

 As alarming as I believe these developments to be, I also understand that it is not my place to be concerned with what the greater culture is doing behind closed doors. Judging non-Christians is a waste of time. Without Christ, people have little reason to care about what the Bible has to say about sexuality or anything else and even less reason to modify their behavior based on the Bible’s teachings.

 I am deeply concerned about what Christians are doing behind closed doors.

 Christian Mingle is an online dating service that surveyed 2,647 single adult Christians about their attitudes concerning sexuality. The results revealed that sixty-four percent of Christians between the ages of 18 and 59 believe it’s morally acceptable to have sex outside of marriage. Additionally, a 2009 study conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reveals that eighty percent of never-been-married Evangelicals have had sex at least once. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed reported having sex the previous year and forty-two percent were in an ongoing sexual relationship at the time of the survey.

 To my knowledge the question was never asked, but I would bet that most of those surveyed felt that “being in love” was the only criteria that mattered when deciding whether or not to have sex. In other words, Christians have embraced the same standards of sexual ethics that the greater culture adopted in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

 The Church’s nearly universal loosening standards of morality have led Christians into an increasingly ugly ethical muddle. Divorce rates for Christians are nearly as high as divorce rates for non-Christians. Christian men view pornography as often as non-Christian men and it’s estimated that at least 650,000 Christian women abort their children every single year. As a result of all this ongoing sin the church has lost all moral authority in the culture. Nobody outside the church cares to hear what Christians have to say about anything of substance anymore because they see that our faith is so feeble that it does not even empower us to control ourselves in the most basic way.

 We live in a decaying culture filled with people who urgently need some solid moral examples to draw from. Christians can be that example again. But only if we are willing to embrace and live out the truth that it takes more than love to make sex right. It takes two people making a lifetime commitment to one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Folly of Forsaking Wisdom

 For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it~ Proverbs 8:11 KJV

 I have been tutoring a seven-year-old boy twice a week for a little over a year now. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I help him with his homework and then we work to improve his reading and writing skills. I will not lie-I have a soft spot for Chandler. I think it’s at least partly because he’s a bit eccentric for a second grader. 

 Chandler’s favorite food is Cheez-Its and he dreams of becoming a fighter pilot someday. Chandler knows everything there is to know about airplanes, dolphins and warships. He is convinced that America was the instigator in World War II and is extremely proud of that “fact.” He is unfailingly patriotic, has an offbeat sense of humor, and a uniquely quirky way of viewing the world.

 He also has a tenacious stubborn streak. Because he can be stubborn, motivating him can be a bit of an issue, especially when it comes to handwriting.

 Chandler would rather eat bees than write neatly.

 One afternoon last spring I became desperate. We had ninety minutes and three pages of homework to complete. We also needed to do his reading for the week. Every page of homework was handwriting intensive and Chandler was in no mood to cooperate. I attempted to inspire him with kindness and encouraging words, and he dawdled.  I tried being stern, but that only intensified his level of stubbornness.

 Finally, I made him an offer he would have been a fool to refuse. I offered to give him one piece of candy for every neatly written word. The results were truly miraculous.  The only real downside was that by the time he got half way through the second page he had eaten so much candy I was really scared he would throw-up all over my kitchen table. I gathered my wits enough to have him put the rest of the candy in a bag to eat later. He went home that afternoon with three pages of neatly completed homework and a sandwich baggie stuffed with candy.

 The next week, sweet little Chandler transformed into a greedy overlord. He expected to be rewarded with candy for every single word he wrote. He went home with huge bags of candy after our tutoring sessions. His handwriting improved dramatically, but only when he was with me and only when I paid the little punk off with candy.

 It wasn’t until Chandler suggested that he should get a piece of candy for every properly written letter that I acknowledged my stupidity.  That day I began the painful process of ending the madness. Because I had allowed the insanity to continue for so long, it took almost a month to get things back on track.

 No one would guess from reading this story, but I am not an idiot. I know better than to bribe a child with refined sugar. I know better than to bribe a child with anything. I have better sense than to allow an obstinate, eccentric seven-year-old-boy to run the show. I am well aware of the dangers of allowing bad behavior to persist unchallenged, and yet to my everlasting shame I did all of those things.

Repeatedly.  

 I have decided that this whole silly episode was not really about smart or stupid. It was about wisdom, or in my case an appalling lack of wisdom. My error was in supposing that the problem needed to be solved immediately by any means necessary.

 As I mulled this over, I concluded that many of the missteps we make in life are rooted in the desire to take a short cut to solve a problem or make life easier. Drugs and alcohol are a faster and more comfortable way of dealing with pain than self-examination and change. Bribing a child will get the job done without the effort necessary to build character and self-discipline. Alleviating loneliness with sex does not require the work needed to build healthy lifelong relationships. Cheating takes less effort than learning and yelling is easier than discussing. Casually dismissing God as a myth appears to make life easier and less complicated, but like every short cut it comes with a hefty price-tag.

 The differences between wisdom and reasoning are subtle. Worldly thinking is all about results and so the end always justifies the means. Wisdom understands there is more to a successful outcome than desirable results. Worldly thinking is all about getting the task accomplished. Wisdom is about getting the job done with integrity and in a way that will produce lasting change. Wisdom is the gift that enables us to look down the road and see the consequences of our actions and—if need be—correct our course before we reap an unpleasant harvest.

 

 

The Biggest Lie of Them All

 

At seven years of age, I learned a painful truth about life.

It all started the day I found an advertisement for a super spy periscope on a box of Froot Loops. The ad promised that for only sixty cents and couple of box tops, I could be the proud owner of a Batman periscope that would enable me to see around corners and over walls. The advertisement promised in no uncertain terms to turn me into a super spy.

 I pestered my poor Mother into purchasing the necessary boxes of cereal, saved my money religiously and sent away for the device that was guaranteed to transform me into a super spy.

Six weeks later I learned that people tell lies on the back of cereal boxes.

The periscope was small, only about four inches high, and built out of cheap blue plastic. The people I spied on could easily see my hand as I peered around corners. The “spy glass” was clear plastic that was impossible to see through without straining my eyes. The third time I used it, the plastic pieces literally fell apart in my hand, and the “glass” shattered on the sidewalk. I was devastated. My career as a super spy was over before it began.  

 I have since learned that people lie about all sorts of things. Some lies are innocuous and even amusing—like the time my then-two-year-old daughter Abigail told her Dad that her brother Alex was the one that made the smelly mess in her diaper.

Sadly, the vast majority of lies are less humorous and far more damaging. Political lies are destructive because they mislead the public and pave the way for politicians to create laws and policies that lead us down a path of economic and social destruction.

 The lies we tell ourselves are amongst the most damaging because they keep us from seeing the truth about ourselves and keep us stuck in harmful patterns of behavior. The damage caused by self-deception is enormous, but its destruction pales in comparison to the devastation created by spiritual lies.

 Spiritual lies are becoming increasingly more common. Christians and non-Christians buy into them in equal numbers. Some of the most pernicious spiritual lies of our time include…

 God has loosened up His standards of right and wrong since the New Testament was written.

Asking for forgiveness and repenting are the same thing.

 Running away from hurt and pain is holier than dealing with it.

 God just wants me to be happy.

 By far the biggest, ugliest, most malevolent, fresh-from-the-pit-of-hell spiritual lie of our time is…. (Drumroll please)

 God accepts people just the way they are.

 Every spiritual lie is uniquely harmful and all lies produce their own brand of spiritual chaos. But I believe the “God accepts people just the way they are” lie is exceptionally dangerous—partly because it brushes right up against the truth and then bypasses it entirely.

 The message that God accepts people as they are is one that has been circulating for decades. It started with good intentions: Christians wanted people to understand they didn’t have to be perfect to get right with God. So with the best of intentions we changed our message from…

“You are a sinner and you need to change.  Get your life right with God so that you will have the power to change.

 To…

 “You are awesome just the way you are. However, you would be even better if you had God in your life.”

 The message was well intentioned, but because there is a subtle deception embedded within, it has produced a sad and lifeless shadow of saving faith.

 The truth is that God loves people just the way they are. Loving and accepting are not the same thing. When my kids were born I loved them. I was over the moon with love and affection for my kids. I loved each of them so much that I would have gladly taken a bullet for any one of them. That said, I would not have accepted their remaining infants indefinitely. They were normal, healthy newborns and I fully expected them to mature into more productive people.

 God loves all people—regardless of past choices—with such a passion that He did take a bullet for the entire human race (metaphorically speaking). But God knows us all well enough to recognize that we are not awesome just the way we are.

We see this demonstrated in Jesus’ attitude toward the woman caught in adultery in John chapter eight. Jesus loved the woman enough to rescue her from a perilous situation (she was about to be killed). He loved her enough to forgive her for her sinful lifestyle (she was cheating on her husband). However, Jesus loved her too much to leave her the way she was. His parting words to her were a powerful call to transformation and life change: 

 Go now and leave your life of sin~ John 8:11 NIV

 The call to transformation is not just for new believers and people caught up in sinful lifestyles; it’s for all of us. Christianity is more than a religion, and it’s more than a just a relationship.

Christianity is a journey of transformation.

 It is a priceless opportunity to be molded into the image of the Maker of the universe. In order for this to happen, we have to stop fearing what we will lose through obedience. We must accept the fact that God wants something better for each and every one of us, no matter where we are in the journey.