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.

 

 

 

 

Attitudes and Behaviors That Totally End Spiritual Growth-

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven- Hebrews 12:25 NASB

 My twenties and early thirties were incredibly formative from a spiritual standpoint. My husband and I were blessed with a wonderfully diverse group of Christian friends and mentors who loved Jesus and were determined to grow in their faith and help us grow in ours.  Over time some of those friends and mentors grew spiritually, others stopped growing but remained in the church and a few just quit Christianity altogether.

 The individuals who chose to do the hard work of growth are all impacting the Kingdom in profound ways today. I have stayed in touch with a few of those who dropped out, some are okay (at least on the surface) but all of them have some sad stories to tell. But, it’s the ones who stayed in Church but didn’t grow who concern me the most (Revelation 3:15-17).

 Jesus had hard words for Christians who choose not to grow their faith (John 15:1-7). This is because Christians who don’t grow spiritually are weak, ineffectual and reflect poorly on Jesus.  Immature believers tend to stay on the fringes of the church and have little to offer the church or the world in the way of knowledge, wisdom, faith and practical support.  Because they are immature and worldly they tend to lead other Christians astray and turn those outside the church off to the whole notion of church and Jesus.  

 Sigh.

 Most Christians believe using drugs, getting caught up in sexual sin or a lack of Bible study or church attendance is what keeps us from growing. In reality, those issues are just symptoms of deeper, more systemic issues. The following five mindsets and behaviors are where halted growth gets started. Best-case scenario the following attitudes and behaviors will keep us stuck where we’re at, worst-case scenario they cause us to go backwards (Hebrews 5:12).  It all starts with:

 We tell God He can’t have authority over some part of our lives-  

 Jesus did not come to earth and die on the cross simply to save our sorry behinds from the fires of hell (Matthew 13:41-42). The God of the universe wants much more than just that for His people. He wants to redeem and reshape every part of our lives by bringing our thoughts and our actions into alignment with biblical truth (Romans 12:2). God wants to impact how we operate in our sexuality, marriages, social interactions, parenting, money management and business practices.  Unfortunately, transformation is uncomfortable, so, many believers shut God out of the parts of their lives that most need transforming. We shut God out when we choose to do some part of life in our strength, using our own wisdom instead of taking the time to learn God’s way of doing things.  Not allowing God access to some corner of our lives means we choose not to grow in that area and slow our growth in every other area.

 We don’t seek wisdom or ask for advice-

 No one is born with the wisdom, insight and information they need to be truly successful in life. God helps us to become well-informed and wise by providing us with friends, family members, authors and various experts who have studied and experienced things we have not (Proverbs 20:18). Being too stubborn, stupid or prideful to ask for advice when we clearly need it will limit our spiritual growth as well as our emotional and intellectual growth (Proverbs 12:1, Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 19:20).

 We give all the wrong people too much influence in our lives-

 Christians who don’t grow tend to think 1st Corinthians 15:33 is a warning intended only for teenagers. Truth-be-told bad company corrupts good character no matter our age or position in life. Everyone should know someone who knows Jesus. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with being on friendly terms with unsaved people with questionable character or Christians who need to grow.  However, our closest friends should be Christians who hold us accountable and propel us towards spiritual maturity (Proverbs 27:17).

 We refuse to deal with our weakness-

 I am a huge believer in identifying our strengths and then finding ways to maximize them for the Kingdom (Romans 12:6). That being said, our flaws should never be overlooked, minimized or treated as trivial aspects of our character. People who ignore their weakness or pretend they don’t have any are inevitably devastated by them. The tendency to misrepresent facts, manipulate others, indulge the flesh, act out in rage or embrace laziness will halt spiritual growth and sometimes even undo a lifetime of good works.  

 We aren’t discerning when it comes to doctrine-

 There is nothing the enemy loves more than bad doctrine. The worst doctrine twists biblical truth rather than rebuts it.  The wrong thinking that results from this kind of bad teaching not only halts growth it also produces believers who unknowingly pollute the church with even more falsehood (Hebrews 13:9, 1stTimothy 4:16).  Every Christian should commit to studying Scripture for themselves rather than simply accept what others tell them is true (Acts 17:11, 2nd Peter 2:1, Jude 1:4).

 Sadly, not everyone who begins the race of faith finishes well (Galatians 5:7). Some don’t finish at all (Matthew 13:1-23, 1st Corinthians 9:24). The key to finishing well is to give every part of our lives over to God and ask Him daily to show us our blind spots so we will continue to grow into the image of His Son (2ndCorinthians 3:18).

 

 

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.  

 

  

The Do’s and Don’ts of Being A Good Christian

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.  – 1st John 2:4 NIV

 This morning I read an article that left me heartbroken for the body of Christ. The piece was about a well-known Christian “influencer” who has made his mark on the world as a wordsmith. His career has consisted of crafting pithy little sayings to encourage other Christians. Well— it turns out that at least some of those sayings were not really his, they were “borrowed” from other speakers, authors and historical figures. As someone who spends a good deal of my time crafting not-so-pithy compositions to encourage Christians I do not see anything wrong with wordsmithing, influencing or encouraging.

 However.

 There is something very wrong with stealing other people’s ideas and intellectual property and presenting them as our own.

 The whole messy mess got me thinking about a lot of things. Like grey areas, right and wrong and the hazards of “influencing” when influencing for Jesus morphs into self-promotion. It occurred to me that there is very little agreement about what a Christian should “look like” in our day and age.

 The standard definition of a Christian is someone who has dedicated their life to following the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. Figuring out what the Christian life should look like in our world is not as cut-and-dried as it once was. Even concepts as elementary as love can be confusing if we have the wrong definition. What Christianity should look like is something we need to figure out fast because if we don’t we will ultimately fail at the most basic assignment Christians have been tasked with (Matthew 28:19-20).  Following are five do’s and two don’ts that will empower us to live the Christian life successfully in our messy mess of a world.

Christians Do-

 Judge sometimes-

 The notion that Christians should never judge is a misinterpretation of Scripture and a lie straight out of the pit of hell. It is true Christians should never judge whether or not another person is worthy of forgiveness or heaven, that is always God’s call to make (Matthew 7:2, Luke 6:37). That being said, Christians are called to make judgments concerning right and wrong (Luke 12:57, John 7:24, Acts 4:18-20, 1st Corinthians 5:12). Anytime we stop judging the actions of ourselves and others we quickly devolve to an ugly place where everyone does “what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). When that happens, we forfeit our power to influence others in a healthy way (Matthew 5:13).

Love People-

 Okay, so, this is a bit of a given. Even demons and the foulest of unbelievers understand that love is one of the defining marks of a Christ-follower (John 13:34-35). However, some Christians do not get that Christian love is multifaceted and complex. It protects, encourages and believes the best in others but it also cautions, corrects and sometimes even rebukes (1st Corinthians 4:14-20, 1st Thessalonians 5:14).  Jesus loved the Pharisees enough to die for them but that didn’t stop Him from warning them of the consequences they would encounter if they continued to live in opposition to the will of God (Luke 11:11-53).  If we really want to love like Jesus loved we have to embrace every aspect of Christian love—not just the parts and pieces that make people like us. 

Do good-

 Christians are commanded constantly in Scripture to “do good” (Galatians 6:9, 2nd Thessalonians 3: 13, Titus 1:6, Titus 2:7, 1st Peter 2:12). The specifics of “doing good” are left somewhat up to the discretion of individual Christians. In the New Testament “doing good” always involved helping people, providing for the less fortunate and avoiding sin. Doing good is not about being “the next big thing” or “a big deal” in the Church. It’s about doing what God called you to do to the best of your ability right where He put you. 

Tell the truth-

 This does not just mean Christians don’t lie.  It also means we live our lives openly and we fight the human tendency to compartmentalize and hide our sin rather than confess and repent (Matthew 3:8, James 5:16).   

 Obey Jesus-

  Obedience is a mark of an authentic Christian (John 14:23-24). When we obey Jesus we love people, hate sin, tell the truth and honor God. If we would all just do our best to obey Jesus most problems we have in the body of Christ would be a nonissue.

Christians don’t-

 Mess with the word of God-

 Contrary to popular opinion not every biblical issue is always black and white, there are some grey areas. It’s reasonable for Christians to debate (among other things) how often to take communion, the role of women in the church (Judges 4-5, Romans 16:1), whether or not Christians should use alcohol and exactly how political a church ought to be.  However, most issues hotly debated today (homosexuality, premarital sex, gender issues, adultery) were settled long ago and should be treated that way.  

 Hate people-

 This one is easier in theory than in practice. (Matthew 10:22).  This is especially true when we are hated, openly mocked and persecuted just for loving Jesus.  Nonetheless, our calling is clear: Jesus wants us to love those who hate us and to do good to people who hate us (Luke 6:27-28). It is simply impossible for anyone to obey this command in their own power. It can only be accomplished through the emboldening and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (2nd Corinthians 12:8-10)

 Christians who wish to make a difference in this world never shy away from the calling we all have to repent and be constantly transformed into the image of Jesus even if that means being a little less popular and successful by worldly standards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Principles That Will Keep any Relationship Healthy, Happy and Thriving-

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift~ Matthew 5:23-24

 Relationships.

 The blessing and curse of human existence.

 When our closest relationships are healthy and thriving, there is little in this life more rewarding.  When a close relationship goes bad there is literally nothing more miserable and angst-inducing.  

 In our chaotic, sin-sick world fragmented relationships are pretty much a given. Almost half of marriages end in divorce, friendships end as quickly as they begin, business associations rarely stand the test of time and churches routinely split over the stupidest stuff imaginable. We live in a culture that has trained us to believe that life is “all about me”. This creates an environment where it feels natural to treat relationships like disposable commodities. We have basically forgotten the principle found in Proverbs that reminds us never to forsake a friend or the friend of a family member- (Proverbs 27:10a)

 The Bible clearly teaches that Christians bear an extra measure of responsibility when it comes to the care, keeping and healing of relationships. We are reminded over and over again in Scripture that human relationships are not always easy but the difficulties involved in maintaining healthy relationships will make us better people (Proverbs 27:6, Proverbs 27:17).  Christians are directed to treat others the way they want to be treated and encouraged to take the initiative when it comes to reconciling broken relationships (Matthew 7:12, Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 5:23-24, Luke 12:58). Repairing damaged relationships and helping others to do the same is probably the most basic task Christians are called to in this life (2nd Corinthians 5:12-18) The process begins with understanding and choosing to live out the following six principles:

 If something feels wrong assume something is wrong-

 Never trivialize or ignore the niggling sense you may have caused offense or alienated another person (Proverbs 18:19). When in doubt ask how the other person is feeling and/or modify your behavior. The earlier a damaged relationship is attended to the simpler it is to repair.

 Do not short-circuit the recovery process-

 Anytime we jump to simply restoring a broken relationship without working through the issues that fractured the relationship in the first place we set in motion a series of events that will inevitably lead to even more brokenness and hurt. Problems need to be talked out, not glossed over if we want to see permanent recovery in the relationship and personal growth in ourselves. 

 Be willing to assume at least partial responsibility for any relationship fracture-  

 I truly loathe the adage: “perception is reality”. Mostly because if you really break it down it sounds like something a really crazy person would say. However, when it comes to hurt in relationships perception really is reality. It is critical we remember ALL human beings tend to be self-absorbed and blind to their own faults. For that reason, it is possible to hurt another person without knowing how we hurt them. Healthy, mature believers are always open to the idea that they may not understand how their words or actions have affected another person

 Accept the other person’s opinions regarding the situation-

 If someone lets you know the relationship has been broken or feels they were wronged by you it is not wise, kind or emotionally intelligent to write that person off as stupid, incorrect, easily hurt or just plain clueless. As Christians we owe it to God and people to find out why others feel the way they feel about situations that involve us—even when we truly believe we have done nothing wrong.  Not caring about the other persons side of things is both narcissistic and grossly sinful.  The only time we are free from the obligation of exploring the other person’s perspective is if the individual flatly refuses to communicate with us.

 Be willing to let some things go-

 Our personal relationships matter to God because relationship health is a measure of our spiritual health and maturity level. It is also reasonable to say that from God’s perspective relationships are nearly always worth preserving (Proverbs 17:9). The key to achieving relationship health is a willingness to let some things go. Cruelty, gas lighting, unfaithfulness in marriage or flagrant disrespect for the other person is never okay. That said, most other issues can be worked through if both parties are willing to listen, change and forgive.

Choose to view relationship troubles as opportunities for growth- 

 No normal, healthy or sane human being likes relationship issues. That said, truly mature people view all problems including relationship problems as an opportunity for growth rather than a hassle or a personal attack.

 The health of our relationships is a measure of our maturity. It is also a reflection of the power of our God in the eyes of unbelievers. A God who has the power to impact our relationships is a God worth following. For that reason Christians should do everything they can do to ensure their relationships are healthy and God honoring. 

 

We Don’t Need More Christian Values-

 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead- Philippians 3:10-11 NIV

 Eleven years ago, a group of parents in our community became troubled by the lack of moral values that were rampant in our area. The parents approached the local schoolboard. After a series of meetings, the Central Valley School District decided to go all-in with values education. A committee was formed.  The committee came up with a program still used today that systematically teaches values and positive character qualities to children in public schools beginning in kindergarten.

 The values chosen were universally acknowledged as virtuous and helpful.  They were respect, responsibility, citizenship, caring, fairness, honesty, diligence, trustworthiness, courage, integrity, generosity and gratitude. 

 For the record, I have no idea how many of the parents on that committee where Christians. At that time, we lived in a neighboring district and I was not on the committee, nor was I friends with anyone on the committee. However, it did not escape my notice that every character quality on the list was in alignment with New Testament teachings. Furthermore, the definitions for each trait could have been written by an experienced Sunday school teacher. For example, the definition chosen for the citizenship value was:

 Positively contributing to society and community as well as dutifully respecting authority and the law.

 So, that sounds a bit like a synopsis of Romans 13:1-7 to me. But who am I to say what motivated the writer of the definition?

 Any-hoo.

 Last week I noticed one of the schools near our home had the character trait of the month and its definition (caring) on its reader board. The sign reminded me of the movement eleven years ago to bring “values” back into our community. 

 It occurred to me as I was driving home that little has improved in our community over the course of the last decade. Most kids (and adults) still lack the values those parents fought to have taught. Common courtesy is far less common now than it was then. Property crime occurs at a much higher rate than it did ten years ago. Our community has experienced one school shooting in recent years and nearly every social problem under the sun has increased in the years since the program was implemented.  

 Why, after all the years, all the tax dollars spent and all the hours put into teaching and training kids have we seen so little improvement in the moral climate of our community? 

 It is not the fault of parents who battled to bring values education into the schools. Those parents followed their conscience and worked their tails off to make a difference. That kind of moral courage is never wrong.  Nor, should the blame be laid at the feet of the school system. In a post-modern, post-values, post-Christian world some very brave leaders took a risk and made a valiant attempt at standing up for some timeless truths. That kind of bravery should always be celebrated. 

 The fault lies with society at large. For well over a century, individuals have wanted and, in some cases, even insisted that Christian values be taught without all the pesky ethical teaching that accompanies Christianity. Our culture wants nice people who practice Christian generosity in the event of a natural disaster or tragedy. We want people who are benevolent, compassionate and nice. We want people who tell the truth as Christianity demands.

 However, we do not wish to be burdened with any moral restrictions that might mess with our personal choices. We do not want Christianity meddling with our sex lives or telling us what we can or can’t watch on television. We for sure do not want Christianity to inform our views concerning drug legalization or childrearing practices.  

 The problem with this kind of thinking is that it will work for a generation or two, perhaps even three. When Christianity is authentic it is powerful enough that Christian virtues (patience, kindness, temperance, generosity, self-discipline) will live on in succeeding generations who don’t really know Christ. However, sooner or later the veneer of Christianity will begin to wear off of society and when that happens the society will begin to unravel.

 That is what we see happening today. Western Civilization has been living in the shadow of the blessings prior generations earned through their genuine faith in Christ (Deuteronomy 28, 1st Samuel 15:22, Psalm 128:1-3, John 14:23, 2nd John 1:6).  As those blessings fade we are left with the dregs of a post-Christian reality: disobedient children, corrupt politicians, lawlessness, sexual chaos, broken families and random violence (Ezekiel 23:35, 2nd Timothy 3:1-5).

 We will never get our homes, churches, community or country back to a place of blessing by painting society with yet another whitewashing of Christian virtues. We need Christianity not just Christian virtues. Christians need to get back to the business of repentance and making disciples. It all starts with making sure our own heart is right with God and other people. Once that is done Christians need to get into their communities with God’s truth and love.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dumbest Thing We Do-

A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it~ Job 4:12 NIV

At this point, everyone with access to the Internet and a news channel has probably at least heard about the latest Peloton commercial. The one where the man gives his wife an insanely expensive exercise bike on Christmas morning. The 107-pound woman (who does not look like see NEEDS an exercise bike) squeals with joy when she sees her gift. Then for some reason never fully explained she spends the following year recording EVERYTHING she does with the bike. The commercial ends with her practically weeping tears of joy as she describes how the Peloton has transformed her life.  

It stands to reason that the advertising professionals at Peloton were assuming viewers would see the ad as a sweet and uplifting story of a man loving his woman the way she wants to be loved. They were probably also hoping potential buyers would see the wife’s blissful reaction to the gift and be motivated to plunk down $2,245.00 for the bike plus $39.00 a month for the streaming service and iOS app. The streaming service and app are required throughout the first year of ownership.  

That’s not exactly how things worked out.

  Social media lit up like a Christmas tree with opinions over the ad. Men and women alike claimed the ad was “sexist”, “dystopian” and “cringe-worthy”.  One or two twitter users even suggested Peloton ought to be charged with sexual misconduct for producing the ad in the first place. Peloton stock took an ugly tumble.  

That was not all. 

People made peculiar and ugly judgments about the “couple” and their “marriage”. Most commenters simply wrote the husband off as a sexist, fat-shaming Neanderthal.  Others concocted complicated back stories for the couple. One woman claimed the wife seemed to be apologetic for her existence. Others proposed that she was suffering from a poor self-image. Many were alarmed that the woman seemed little too eager to lose weight for such a skinny girl (perhaps she has an eating disorder?). One person stated the woman was suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Almost every commenter feared she is a victim of spousal abuse. 

Personally, I found the comments about the commercial much more compelling than the actual commercial. I spent a good thirty minutes one evening sifting through them. As I shutdown my laptop for the night I was struck by a series of questions: 

Are these people crazy? Do they not know that this is a commercial? Are they confused about what commercials are for? Why is everyone so upset by this? Do they not have jobs or families to worry about? Do they actually believe these people are real? Am I the only sane person left on earth? What am I going to do if I am? 

It was a scary moment for me. 

Then I started thinking about the whole silly mess and I realized that the reaction to the Peloton commercial is actually indicative of one of the dumbest things we do in our culture. Someone will say a few words that appear innocent on the surface and someone else will read a whole bucket of subtext into the words and/or facial expressions of that person. Then they run with whatever their impressions are of the situation and next thing you know they have created a whole bizarre storyline out of a handful of words and a few facial expressions. 

Sadly, this madness is not consigned strictly to the realm of advertisements. This trend is driving the presidential impeachment hearings. The President said three little words: “do us a favor” and half the country has read a truckload of subtext into those words.  Everyone thinks they know what he “was really saying”, what his intentions were and what will happen if he is not impeached (the world will come to a fiery end).  Many have devised long, complicated backstories for the conversation. Some believe this is one of many secret conversations the president had with that particular leader.  Others think that rather than being concerned about irregularities in the 2016 election the President was so concerned with his 2020 competition that he wanted to “dig up dirt” on an old guy even most Dems admit they would only vote for out of desperation. 

Sigh. Sadly, the drama is beginning to borderline on collective mental illness.

The madness is not limited to suspicions regarding the President or pretend couples on television. This weirdly mistrustful way of looking at the world is becoming incredibly common. Even Christians can get caught up in thinking they know what people “really mean” when they say something that appears innocent on the surface. When we share those suspicions with others our foolishness can split churches, ruin reputations and may even destroy a perfectly good marriage or friendship. 

It’s critical we remember that Christians are called to love others (Matthew 5:44, John 13:34). Love always chooses to believe the best in others (1st Corinthians 13:7). If we choose to live like the world we become just like the world. If we live like Jesus we become like Jesus and the world sees Jesus in us (1st John 2:16, Philippians 2:14-16).

The Seven Signs of A Sick Church-

 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. Colossians 1:17-18a NIV

When churches are what God intended them to be they motivate believers towards maturity and provide an opportunity for individuals to make a meaningful contribution to the world. Healthy churches help people to see Scripture from a richer perspective. A good church will naturally foster an atmosphere where love, forgivness, moral accountability and practical support become a reality.

 When churches are not what God intended them to be there is an absence of love, concern for others and sound biblical teaching that can be tough to see at first. People in the church frequently hurt each other without even realizing it. This causes church to morph into a confusing source of spiritual and emotional hurt. The lack of solid biblical teaching leads to spiritual apathy and sometimes even moral compromise. There is simply nothing better or more beneficial than a healthy, life-giving church. Conversely, there is nothing more spiritually and morally destructive than a truly sick church. Following are seven tell-tale indicators of a sick church.  

Staff members tend to be absent outside of church services –

The Bible refers to a church as a body (1st Corinthians 12:12-27, Romans 12:3-5, Ephesians 4:1-6). One part of a body cannot avoid other parts of the body and still maintain overall health. This is especially true of members who hold leadership positions. Leaders lead through their example. In a church setting, leaders should be leading others towards participation in healthy community and into deeper relationships with other Christians. This cannot happen if the pastors and staff members are always the last to show up at events and the first to leave. 

You never feel guilty, challenged or convicted at the end of a sermon- 

Church is supposed to be the place the Bible is explained and expounded on. In the hands of a skilled preacher or teacher the Bible is a powerful instrument to comfort, encourage and support the brokenhearted and hurting (Psalm 34:18, Psalm 147:2-4).  However, the Bible is not all rainbows and lollipops.  The Bible describes itself as being sharper than a two-edged sword. If the Bible God is taught properly it will penetrate our souls and cast judgment on our bad behavior, the sinful thoughts we think and the rotten attitudes we harbor in our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). If the preaching in your church rarely or never leaves you feeling convicted about the things that need changing in your life, you are probably in a sick church. 

People are the means not the end- 

Healthy church leaders know that people are the reason we do church. People are not the means to some other end like building a big building, having a gazillion followers or being the church with a ton of campuses where all the cool people attend. People are the primary reason churches do what they do and if they are not then the leaders of that church have lost sight of the mission of the church. The church was established by God to promote spiritual growth, train individuals to do the work of ministry and reflect the heart of Jesus to the unsaved world (Luke 6:40, Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 4:11-13, Galatians 2:20).  Anytime a church forgets the original point of church it’s a sick church.  

Sunday morning is all there is- 

There are 168 hours in a week. Most folks spend 52 of those hours sleeping, 40ish hours a week working, 30 hours watching television, 22 hours a week messing around on their phone and only one, perhaps two measly hours of any given week involved in spiritual activity. We need more spiritual food than that to process through all the spiritual and emotional junk we encounter in a given week (Hebrews 10:24-25). If a church does not routinely provide a means for people to connect outside of the Sunday morning service (small groups, Sunday school classes, midweek services, prayer groups) it’s not a healthy church (Acts 2:46-47). 

There is only one kind of people in the church- 

The early church was scandalously diverse. The rich socialized freely with the poor. The old and the young were equally valued (1st Timothy 4:12, 1st Timothy 5:1-2). Slaves were sometimes the spiritual leaders of their masters and women and men worshiped together with individuals of all races (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:27-29).  A healthy church has a mixture of age groups, races and people from all sorts socio-economic circumstances. If a church is mostly millennials or mostly old people or mostly white people or mostly rich people, something is probably not right. 

There is no replication- 

Healthy organisms reproduce (Acts 6:7). If a church isn’t planting other churches and the attendees are not leading people to Jesus, there is a problem.  

Finding a church is about more than simply finding a church that matches our particular doctrinal or musical preference. Nor is it about finding a place “we feel comfortable”. Finding a good church is about finding a place where we routinely feel spiritually uncomfortable and yet deeply loved for who we are as people. 

Six Weird Lies Christians Believe About Forgiveness-

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

Humans believe all sorts of weird lies. 

It all started with Adam and Eve and little has improved since our predecessors bought into that first stupid lie (Genesis 3). Even really smart people believe really weird stuff about relationships, what actually makes us happy, sex, money, the moon landing, God’s goodness, and what gender they are. 

 Sadly, Christians also believe lies.  

It’s true that most Christians believe in the goodness of God (at least on most days) and know what gender they are. However, believers in Jesus are still predisposed to believe lies about every other topic under the sun. The lies most Christians believe are spiritual lies that contain a small seed of truth. In my experience the number one issue Christians are most likely to believe lies about is forgiveness. Following are six lies we believe about forgiveness that keep people from forgiving. 

You haven’t really forgiven unless you have also forgotten the offense. 

Christians are commanded to forgive others just as God forgave them (Ephesians 4:32).  Fun fact: God does not simply forgive sins He actually forgets them. God says this of Himself in Isaiah 43:25…

 I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. 

This statement and has created massive confusion in the minds of some people. There are Christians who beat themselves up mercilessly because they think they’ve done a terrible job of forgiving because they remember people’s sins. Others have become bitter towards God because they believe He has set a ridiculously unattainable standard for forgiveness. Here’s the deal: unlike God, humans are limited beings. God can do whatever He chooses to do. Conversely, there are some things humans simply cannot do. Humans cannot create other humans from the dust of the earth and humans cannot forget the sins of other humans. It’s critical we remember two truths: God is not a jerk and He is fully aware of our limitations (He made us). God does not ask us to do more than we can do.  All He asks is that we let go of our “right” to seek revenge and trust Him to work out justice on our behalf.  

Authentic forgiveness always includes restoration of the relationship-

This is a filthy-rotten-lie the devil uses to keep good people from forgiving and moving on. After all, who in their right mind would choose to forgive their rapist or abuser if forgiving means they have to become friends with them? It truly is possible to fully forgive a person without building or rebuilding a relationship with them. Sometimes (not every time) forgiveness without reconciliation is the safest, wisest route to take.  Reconciliation is more complicated than forgiveness because reconciling with a stubbornly unrepentant sinner usually leads to more hurt. Hurt leads to bitterness.  I believe that Hebrews 12:25 cautions Christians against placing themselves in situations that will likely lead to bitterness. No situation is more liable to produce bitterness than being repetitively hurt by the same person. That being said, in cases where reconciliation can be achieved every effort should be made to attain that end. A skilled Christian counselor or a Pastor can be helpful in bringing about healthy reconciliation in relationships damaged by sin.  

Forgiveness is a “one and done”-

It’s not. Because humans are powerless to forget pain (see point one). Hurt has a way of returning usually about the time we think we have conquered it. If you have forgiven someone and feel the old feelings of bitterness return, take those feelings to God and ask Him to help you let go of the anger and resentment you feel. Ask until your heart changes (Matthew 7:7-8).  

Forgiving should feel good- 

Being free of hurt feels great. However, getting free from hurt is one of the most awful, painful and emotionally agonizing things a human being can experience. The good news is that God Himself will walk you through that awful process and you will come out the other side on a better, healthier path transformed into a new and freer person. 

We don’t really have to forgive- 

If God asked us to forgive for the sake of others this would be true, but it’s not, because He doesn’t. Christians are commanded to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25) because forgiveness is the best thing for us as individuals. The other person is more-or-less irrelevant. Forgiveness frees us from the mental and spiritual distractions that comes from nurturing a spirit of bitterness.  When we harbor unforgiveness we become a shadow of what we might have been if we had been willing to fully obey the Lord.  

We only have to forgive the repentant- 

Only forgiving people who are truly sorry would certainly make forgiveness much easier and a lot more fun. Even a heathen can forgive someone who is sorry for what they’ve done.  Alas, God rarely asks His people to do the easy thing. Instead, He asks His people to the character-building thing. 

Forgiveness is the character-building thing.