Six Things-

For the ear tests words, as the palate tastes food. Let us choose justice for ourselves;
let us know among ourselves what is good- Job 34:2-3 NKJV

I had an unusual problem this week. I found myself totally at a loss for a decent blog topic. 

Typically, blog topics just kind of come to me. But, for some reason it just didn’t happen this week.  Typically, by Tuesday afternoon I have an idea locked down and ready to go but for some reason I literally had nothing this week. 

Zero. Zilch. Nada.

 So, I did this thing I do on the rare occasions I find myself utterly desperate for thought-provoking writing material. I spent a couple of hours one-night binge-watching some of the popular cable news channels (FOX, CNN, MSNBC). I have found in the past that there is almost always enough crazy stuff being reported on the news to generate at least a blog post or two. 

It worked. 

I learned a lot that night, most of it was more than a bit maddening. I also ended-up with a serious glut of excess material. It turns out there is quite a lot of super outrageous stuff going on in the world.  I do not believe Christians should run or hide from the ugliness and sin in our world. Christians are called to fight darkness rather than flee from it. Because I believe that I decided to share (most) of what I learned. My hope is that you will spend some time in prayer over these issues and looking for ways to engage with our sin-sick world.

The sex industry is being normalized for teens by adults who are smart enough to know better- 

A popular periodical marketed to girls between the ages of 12 and 17 published an article about the importance of destigmatizing and normalizing “sex work” (AKA prostitution). The article was entitled “Sex Work is Real Work”. For the record, no one has to convince me that sex workis real work. Sex work is without a doubt the most grueling, dreadful, dehumanizing, horrific work there is. What I don’t understand is why a magizine that presents itself as pro-girl and pro-woman would write an article that glamourizes the job and might possibly inspire young women to consider a vocation that degrades, marginalizes and damages women solely for the sexual gratification of men. Wasn’t that the sort of thing feminism was supposed to end? 

Drug use is trendy once again-

Recreational drug use became popular in the 1960’s and use rose steadily throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Then drug use plummeted in the early years of the 21stcentury.  For the first time since the 1980’s drug use is rising among 8th, 10thand 12thgraders. When questioned about drug use teens admit that this is due almost entirely to decriminalization and legalization efforts on the state level. Legalization and decriminalization have removed fears of addiction and being saddled with a criminal record. As a result, for the first time in decades teens view drug use as a potential positive rather than an overwhelmingly negative experience. This means that millions more teenagers are voluntarily damaging their brains before they really even get an opportunity to use them.  

City and State leaders are refusing to be honest about homelessness- 

Homelessness is booming (especially in the West). Leaders in cities where homelessness has become an issue refuse to blame the thing those who work with the homeless say is the number one cause of homelessness: drug use. Perhaps it’s because those states are beginning to view taxing drug use as a potential money maker and they don’t want to admit that there is a cost to legalizing drugs and encouraging drug use. 

 HBO has a new program for teens- 

In its first season Euphoriahas showcased hardcore drug use, full frontal nudity, masturbation, endless expressions of nihilism and transgender teenagers having sex with adults. Whoo-hoo. Thanks HBO, we didn’t have nearly enough filth on T.V. 

A small minority of parents are cashing in on their children’s gender confusion-

Apparently, there are parents who dress their kids up as the opposite gender and parading them around for money. I literally have no words and I always have words. Words are my thing. We obviously need revival if these parents aren’t in jail for this.

Powerful words are being abused- 

This is nothing new.  Hardly a week goes by when a lawmaker or newscaster doesn’t call someone a NAZI or refer to the holocaust in an inappropriate manner. But this week Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took it to a new level when she claimed that immigrants who voluntarily turned themselves in at the border hoping to become citizens are being forced to live in “concentration camps”. Sigh.   

A tiny minority is redefining morality-

A particular senator who is hoping to become the President stated emphatically this past week that taking a pro-life position is so outside the mainstream that pro-life people shouldn’t be judges. What? Who gave this woman the “right” to redefine what the mainstream is or isn’t?  

Okay, so, now you have a prayer list for the week. Let’s get to it. 

How Hospitality Kills Community-

We cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well~ 1stThessalonians 2:8 NIV

There is a theory circulating in the academic corners of Christianity that every four to six hundred years God shakes things up and the result is a seismic shift in the way Christians do church. The first shift occurred at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The second transpired when the Eastern and Western Churches parted ways in A.D. 1054. The third occurred on October 31st 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in the sleepy little hamlet of Wittenberg Germany.

 It is being theorized by the wise and learned that the Church is in the middle of one of those seismic shifts right now. Recent political and social changes could have a dramatic impact on the way church is done a hundred years from now.

I am by no means a scholar. However, I do have a keen interest in Church history and a passion for weird theories. It occurred to me that the aforementioned shifts have resulted in a net loss and a net gain of something enormously significant to the church. At the council of Nicaea, the Church gained respectability but lost its simplicity and doctrinal purity. When Luther posted his theses, the Church gained a much-needed anchor (biblical truth) but lost its unity, cohesiveness and eventually its authority. 

As the modern church shifts due to technological, social and political changes Christians have no control over, we are in danger of losing important things we do have control over.  One of those things is community. The sense of community the early church experienced was the beacon that drew both gentiles and Jews into a life-changing relationship with Jesus. It was community that fueled the evangelistic fire of the early Church (Acts 2:42-47)

The church is losing community because Christians have adopted a non-biblical view of the Christian concept of hospitality. This is doubtless due to the influence of wildly popular cable channels like Food Network and HGTV. These networks have drilled into us that hospitality is simply preparing tasty food and decorating our homes in an appealing manner. Hospitality is the glue that binds community together. Following are misunderstandings Christians have about hospitality that kill community:

Hospitality and entertaining are the same thing-

Hospitality and entertaining guests look similar because one piece of hospitality is entertaining guests in our homes (Acts 16:15). That said, it is possible to have guests in our home on a regular basis and not actually practice biblical hospitality. Hospitality in the Christian sense of the word means caring deeply for the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of other people in an intimate setting (Acts 18:26, Romans 12:13, 3rd John 1:8). An intimate setting can be a home, a coffee shop, a church foyer, a street corner or a public park because intimacy is about the emotional and spiritual environment we generate with our presence, not our physical location.

Hospitality is optional-

 Hospitality is a command rather than a suggestion (Hebrews 13:2, 1st Peter 4:9, 1st John 2:3). When we practice hospitality, we not only show people we love them but we also demonstrate that God loves them too (Galatians 5:22-23, John 13:34). There is nothing optional about loving and caring about people if you’re a Christian.  

Hospitality has nothing to do with Evangelism- 

Hospitality is intrinsically connected to evangelism. Caring for the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of others is the fertile ground where the seeds of faith take root and grow (Colossians 4:4-5, Galatians 5:14).

I don’t have time for hospitality- 

This is by far the most common reason given for not practicing hospitality and on the surface, it looks and feels legitimate in our culture. People are busy, in most households the husband and the wife both work outside the home. Kids are frequently involved in extracurricular activities and sports teams. These activities eat up much if not all of our spare time.  Most are overwhelmed at the prospect of managing and maintaining close family relationships. Adding yet another relationship to the mix feels like an unreasonable burden.  All of these objections are perfectly defensible if the definition of hospitality is entertaining. However, if the definition of hospitality is caring for the needs of others in an intimate setting (and it is). Then all of a sudden, the reasons we give for not being hospitable sound more like poorly constructed excuses than rock-solid reasons. We are commanded in Scripture to make time to care about people, to listen to their problems and find out what’s going on in their lives. Saying we do not have time to be hospitable we are essentially saying we don’t have time to care.  I openly question the salvation experience of a “Christian” who says that they do not have time to care about the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of others (Matthew 22:39, John 13:34, 1st Thessalonians 2:8, Matthew 25:31-37). If we don’t have time to care, we need to cut something else out so we do have time to care. 

 Hospitality is not about getting it’s about giving (1st Peter 4:9). Christians should always be ready and willing to provide a listening ear, a warm meal, a soft heart and an open door.  When we don’t have time for those things we’ve lost the essence of being Christian.  

Five Truths Every Christian Must Grasp to be Whole, Happy and Spiritually Productive-

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things~ Philippians 4:8 NIV

 I have been “cursed” with a temperament that tends to overthink just about everything. I also veer towards thinking a lot about a lot of different issues. There is literally no end to the number of random thoughts and ideas that flit through my mind in a given day. Regrettably, I do not have a mind like a steel trap. As a result, most of those thoughts and ideas depart as quickly as they appear.

All that being said, occasionally someone will say something that will cause a random thought to take root and I will spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about a subject and that subject makes its way into a blog post. 

Such was the case this past week. 

 We have teenager in our home who states at least six times a day that she “just didn’t think” about something. The things the girl does not think about are things most people think about all the time without even realizing they are thinking about them. Her curiously vexing acknowledgement has gotten me thinking a great deal about the subject of thinking. More specifically, I have been thinking about how what we think about (or don’t think about) shapes who we become and what we do. In the NASB version of the Bible Proverbs 23:7 says that what a man thinks about he eventually becomes and Jesus further expresses the same idea in Mark 7:21 when He states that evil thoughts always precede evil behavior. 

 Very few (if any) Christians are inclined toward the kind of thinking that leads to openly evil behavior. Rather, most Christians tend towards the kind of wrong thinking that leads to misguided or incorrect behavior. The problem with misguided or incorrect behavior committed by Christians is that it almost always leads to a kind of passive evil that hurts people on an eternal level because it is done in the name of religion. The bottom line on this issue is that what Christians choose to think about matters. I came up with five random things I believe we should all think about on a regular basis because if we don’t we suffer and so does everyone else.  

Beginning with:   

People really can change-

The gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ is about far more than simply sidestepping an eternity spent in hell (although that message is definitely in there). The really good news of the gospel is that sinful, dirty, mucked-up human beings can be entirely transformed into new people with new desires and new attitudes when they put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ (Romans 12:2, 2ndCorinthians 3:18, 2ndCorinthians 5:17). When we forget this categorically startling truth it diminishes the churches power to transform the culture because we tend to sideline those Christians we deem less desirable due to their lack of education, past mistakes or upbringing. It also keeps individuals from personally seeking the radical transformation necessary for every Christian to reach their full potential in Jesus. 

God loves people we don’t love just as much as He loves us-

God loves all of us in spite of our idiocy, faults, weaknesses and inability to pull it together and get the job done. That means that God wants the ridiculous, bothersome, entirely not self-aware people in our lives to learn from their mistakes, grow in their relationships and become better people. He might even be using us to orchestrate those things in their lives. Keep this truth at the forefront of your mind next time another Christian starts to bug you.  

 Feelings are mostly wrong-

Recently, a real live human (a Christian) told me with a straight face that if they “felt that something was true their feelings made it true”. I will not lie, it took me a minute to recover my bearings. I am categorically unaccustomed to hearing that kind of bold-faced insanity being spoken aloud. Once I recovered, I quickly pointed out that two people can have opposing feelings about the exact same issue or situation.  When that kind of conflict develops it has to be an agreed upon set of facts that becomes the deciding factor in what is true. If any other standard becomes the norm we will devolve into moral and intellectual chaos.

Politics and religion are not equal-

I have some strong political views, most of them are solidly conservative. I try to base my views on biblical truth rather than my feelings or what our Western culture believes about a particular issue. However, even with those qualifiers my political views are not on the same level as my religious beliefs. We should be very careful about writing off other people based entirely on their political opinions. Rather, we should attempt to persuade those who think differently than we do with reason, grace and biblical truth. 

Mercy is superior to judgment-

 I am a truth person. This reality is demonstrated in the fact that every spiritual gifts’ test I have ever taken I consistently scored lowest on mercy. Every. Single. Time. Even the times I tried to cheat and game the test I still scored dead last on mercy.  I am not proud of this fact but it is a fact. I fought against this fact for years and tried desperately to be softer and squishier than the way God made me. It took me a while to realize that people like me add something necessary to the body of Christ. We keep the feelers from getting excessively feely and the mercy folks from handing out cheap grace like it was fun-size candy on Halloween. That being said, with God mercy always wins out over judgment (James 2:13) and if I want to be like Jesus I have to embrace the grace and mercy He came to give. 

The Things That Kill Marriages


As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife~ Proverbs 26:21 NIV

My husband Alan and I are old. This reality is demonstrated in the number of years we have been married. We are currently closing in on the third decade of our marriage. The benefits and blessings of a lasting marriage are too innumerable to count. We have both come to really know another person on the deepest level possible in this life and as a result we have come to grasp what both love and forgiveness really looks like. It is also fair to say that we both know Jesus a little better than we would have without the other and without the challenges that marriage brings. 

One of the sadder realities of a lasting marriage is that over the years we have seen a lot of Christian people we have genuinely loved and respected fail epically at the art of staying married. Besides the obvious and widely understood reasons for marital failure (infidelity, selfishness, finances and in-law issues) most marital failures are the sad result of just a couple (well seven) behaviors and attitudes which always lead to break in relationship. If broken relationships are not mended properly the end result is death of the relationship. Those behaviors include:

Lies-

The ways humans can be deceitful are nearly infinite. They include (but are not limited to) hiding things, emotional affairs, fabricating stories, infidelity, not telling the whole story and helping children to hide sin from the other parent. All deceitfulness is sin (Exodus 20, Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9) and sin poisons marriages. Commit to keeping it honest in your marriage. This commitment will undoubtedly force you to suffer through some uncomfortable moments of truth-telling but overall you will have a healthier, happier more rewarding relationship.  

Disrespect-

With all due respect (no pun intended) to Emerson Eggerichs, author of the popular book Love and Respect, romantic love simply cannot exist or survive without respect for the other person being present in the relationship. Mutual respect is an integral part of love. Relationships lacking in mutual respect die ugly, horrifying deaths (1stPeter 2:17).  Furthermore, contrary to popular belief even touchy-feely, girly-girl types of women need to FEEL respected in order to FEEL loved. We show respect to our spouse by watching our words and being careful about the tone we use. Husbands and wives who respect one another do not make decisions without consulting the other partner and they are always careful to speak well of their spouse to other people.  It is also critical that both the husband and the wife endeavor to behave in a way that is respectful in order for marriages to go the distance (Titus 2:2, 1stTimothy 3:11). 

Pornography addiction- 

I am convinced that at the heart of all addiction is the sin of idolatry. Once an addiction takes root in a person’s life the addict gets something from the addictive behavior that they should only get from God (a sense of wellbeing, relief from stress, comfort, peace). Because idolatry is a serious sin, God cannot bless the relationships or life of someone who is willingly bowing down (metaphorically speaking) to a false God (Exodus 34:17,1st John 5:21).  Further complicating the whole messy mess pornography is the act of inviting a third party into a relationship that was intended only for two people (Exodus 20:14, Hebrews 13:4). Even if the spouse is unaware of the pornography there will be spiritual and emotional consequences to viewing pornography. Intimacy will be compromised, walls will form and trust will be broken. These things can happen without the other person even understanding the nature of the problem. Just don’t. 

Lack of self-awareness on the part of one or both parties- 

Seriously. If a person is not aware of their own behavior and how their behavior is affecting other people they will never fix the problems in a relationship. Self-awareness comes through the practice of regular self-examination (1stCorinthians 11:28, 2ndCorinthians 13:5) and by looking for clues that we are loving our spouse in a way that makes them feel loved and cared for. 

Refusing to change-

No one knows it when they say “I do” but marriage is simply an invitation to change the attitudes and behaviors in our life that desperately need changing. For married people marriage is the tool that God uses to reveal our selfishness, pride and relational shortcomings. If we respond to those revelations by changing our ways, marriage becomes the tool God uses to mold us into the people He wants us to be (Colossians 3:5-12). When we refuse to change the things in our life that cause us or others pain we are effectively refusing God and everything He wants to do in our lives. Refusing God always invites bigger trouble and more pain.   

Unforgiveness-

“I forgive you” is more than just a syrupy sentiment or some empty words we utter to get the positive feels back in our relationship. Forgiveness is the choice to completely let go of hostility, resentment and the right to seek revenge for legitimate wrongs committed against us by another person. Forgiveness is without question the most arduous, gut wrenching, pride busting thing Christians are ordered to do (Matthew 6:15). It is also simply a fact that no marriage will survive without forgiveness.

Expecting everything to be fair and equal-

It won’t be, so the wise thing to do is to get over the notion everything should be fair and equal quickly (Luke 6:38). Marriage is not a fifty/fifty proposition. In a healthy marriage each partner is doing their best to give one hundred percent all the time but no one in the relationship EVER keeps score because scorekeeping always signals the beginning of the end of every marriage.  

Why Saved People Still Need to do Good works

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do~ Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

If you are a Christian and reading this blog-post you can count yourself blessed because God has granted you the privilege of living in the age of Grace.

This simply means that Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection paid the penalty for your sins (Acts 13:38-40, Romans 6:23, 1stPeter 3:18).  You do not have to follow a bunch of rules, preform weird rituals or submit to the Old Testament law to get God to like and accept you (Galatians 2:19-21, Galatians 3:1-6, Galatians 5:6). If you have trusted in the finished work Jesus did on the cross and repented of your sins, when God looks at you He sees the righteousness, virtue and goodness of Jesus and that is more than enough for Him (Romans 10:10, 2ndTimothy 1:9). 

He totally digs you. Happy sigh. 

For the average Christian this is not exactly new news. Contemporary Christians have been inundated with the message that it is grace rather than works that save us from our sins and make us right with God. This is not in and of itself a bad message.  It is critical we remember that good works cannot save anyone from anything (Isaiah 64:6). During the Middle Ages the church lost sight of this vital truth and as a result the church (and the people in it) also lost sight of its purpose in this world. The spiritual and ethical chaos that resulted from this error is still being felt in our world today.

Sigh.

 That being said, humans tend to be creatures of weird extremes. We rarely do, think or believe anything in a halfhearted fashion. As a result, the current emphasis on grace has caused many Christians to view good works as an optional activity for Christians at best and as an affront to the grace of God at worst. Some Bible teachers and Pastors have inadvertently encouraged this flawed thinking by leading people to believe that salvation is an end rather than a beginning. Many Christians sincerely believe there is nothing left for us to do but glory in our salvation and wait for heaven once we have become Christians.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God could not be clearer in His word: we were saved by grace but we were created for the express purpose of doing good works (Ephesians 2:9-10, Matthew 5:16, 1stTimothy 6:18, Hebrews 10:24). Those good works include (among other things) living righteously, building the church (body of Christ), providing for the physical needs of the poor, sharing truth, loving the lost, fighting for fairness in an unfair world and helping Christians and non-Christians who need help. Today I want to make a biblical case for good works. Not so that we can get saved but because we are saved. Christians should do good works because:

Good works reveal who we are- 

In Genesis chapter 24 Abraham sends his most trusted servant to find his son Isaac a wife. The instructions Abraham gave the man were insanely hazy and vague. Mostly, Abraham did not want Isaac’s wife to come from outside of his clan. The servant very wisely prayed that he would find a woman who voluntarily did good deeds (my words) for strangers. He prayed that he would find a woman who would offer him (a complete stranger) water and be willing to water his camels as well (a time-sucking act of kindness that went above and beyond prevailing social expectations). Abraham’s servant understood that our behavior towards others (especially strangers) reveals our inner nature more effectively than words ever could (Matthew 12:35).  When Christians do good deeds for the right reasons (because we love God) it shows the world that there is something different about us and they tend to find that difference intriguing, perplexing and appealing (Matthew 7:18).   

Good works reminds us of who we belong to and what we are all about- 

Anytime we choose to go above and beyond for someone our good deeds also serve as a reminder to us that we are not called to live for ourselves. Rather, we are called to live beyond ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others. 

Good works point people to a good God- 

Human beings are for the most part motivated by selfishness, impure motives and greed. Because humans are self-serving and greedy good deeds that require personal sacrifice are a rare and noteworthy occurrence in our world. When Christians are open about being Christians and they do good things for no other reason than God wants them to do good things, our acts of righteousness inevitably point people to Jesus. 

Good works are a way to say thank you for a gift we could never earn-

It is simply a fact that no quantity of good deeds could ever make up for our innate sinfulness and pride. We needed Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could enjoy the benefits of salvation both now and in eternity. When we choose to do the good deeds God commands us to do (Deuteronomy 5:33, Matthew 25:31-40, Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12, 1stCorinthians 10:24, Galatians 2:10) it is a small way to tell God that we appreciate the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. 

Living Out the Why of Christmas

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ~ Luke 4:18-19 NIV

A note to my readers:

Okay, so, I am not a big fan of self-promotion.  To be perfectly honest, I loathe it with every fiber of my being. However, I do want to let you all know that I recently wrote a devotional based on the book of Colossians. It’s called Rooted: 29 days in the book of Colossians. It’s available on Amazon in a softcover for only $3.75. It would make a good stocking stuffer. If you have already purchased the book (and you don’t hate it) please consider writing a review. I would really appreciate it!

Rooted Book

Being a Christian and a blogger is tough at Christmastime. 

 At this point in history everyone knows that December is the month the early church chose to celebrate the advent (arrival) of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). If one is both a Christian and a blogger (and I am both of those things) then the season of Christmas is legitimately a very big deal that warrants at least a mention in said blog.

However.

For whatever reason, Christmas in the Western world has become more of a cultural celebration than a spiritual celebration and that makes Christmas tough for me personally as a Christian writer. Do I write a syrupy-sweet post lauding the shallow but still Christian aspects of the season? Or, do I go the more prophetic route and demand in a cantankerous tone that everyone ditch the fun stuff and worship Jesus in spirit and truth sans the materialistic, godless razzle-dazzle? Or, do I simply pretend there’s no such thing as Christmas and continue on with business as usual?  

It’s my annual Christmas conundrum. 

The soul-searching/navel gazing began early this year when I was asked to speak at a Christmas event in early December. As I prepared for the event I did a lot of thinking about Christmas in general and why we celebrate Christmas in particular. Ultimately, I decided that Christians have (for the most part) lost sight of the “why” of Christmas. In the midst of the feverish gift-giving, cookie-baking and decorating many of us have forgotten that Jesus’ first coming was more than just an excuse to make merry. 

It was the biggest game-changer in the history of forever.

 The birth of Jesus paved the way for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection, made it possible for every human who has ever lived to to get free from the penalty of sin (eternity in hell), the fear of death, the prison of idolatry, and the spiritual oppression that began at the fall (Genesis 3). Furthermore, the values of compassion, charity, justice and equality that Jesus brought to earth caused humanity to do some collective soul-searching. As a result, human rights, women’s rights, poverty programs, egalitarianism and the whole concept of religious freedom eventually became things human beings take seriously enough to fight for.  

That is worth celebrating. 

However, too often at Christmastime we get so caught-up in the hullaballoo that surrounds Christmas that we lose our sense of wonder and astonishment at the beauty that lies at the heart of the Christmas story.  We lose something of infinite value anytime we cease to rejoice and wonder at the crazy-truth that the God of the universe willingly left the comfort and majesty of heaven simply so that He could give a bunch of mostly ungrateful, clueless sinners an opportunity to get right with Him. 

Keeping the why of Christmas in mind this time of year is no easy task and no one needs another to-do list this time of year. That said, there are three really basic things we can all do to keep our hearts in the right place at Christmastime:     

Free yourself from the weird bondage that surrounds Christmas-

 Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth was to free humanity from bondage (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5, Luke 4:18, John 8:32). Yet for some inexplicable reason every December millions of people (mostly women) celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior by freely putting themselves into bondage over a bunch of (mostly stupid) stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with God, Jesus, or why we celebrate Christmas. Those things include (but are not limited to) baking billions of cookies, writing newsletters, decorating, gift-giving and unnecessary people-pleasing. None of those things are sinful but neither should they be done out of obligation or in place of the things that help us and other people grow closer to Jesus.    

Read through the book of Luke before Christmas day- 

Weirdly enough, Jesus (the whole point of Christmas), can (and does) get lost in the celebration of Christmas. Reading the book of Luke is a powerful weapon against secularism and spiritual complacency at Christmas.   Luke’s passion for the person of Jesus shines in his writing. He uses words like awe, surprised, marvel, amazed, wondered and astonished almost excessively, sometimes two or three times in a single sentence. As you read through the book take the time to highlight those words. Pray that God will fill you with wonder and amazement as He empowers you to see His hand working in your life and in the lives of the people around you. This tiny act will help you to see Jesus in fresh new way this Christmas. I promise.

Be purposeful about being grateful- 

The materialistic focus of Christmas oftentimes keeps us from being grateful for the things we already have (and most of us have a lot). When we take the time to be thankful for what God has already given us our gratitude serves as a reminder that there is more to life than stuff and more to feeding our souls than getting stuff and we could all use a little bit more of that this season. 

How the Average Christian Fails to Love Like God Loves-

 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love- Ephesians 5:1 NIV

There is no subject more thoroughly discussed or hotly debated in the church today than the subject of love. Hardly a day goes by when I do not come across an article or blogpost encouraging and sometimes even shaming Christians into behaving in more loving ways.

Nonetheless, it could be argued that the Church is failing at this basic and fundamental task (Matthew 22:36-40). The comments section of articles pertaining to any hot-button issue (abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, immigration) reveal most non-Christians view Christians as angry, hard-hearted, insensitive meanies. 

Christins have a serious optics problem with this subject. 

This should bother us. It is unlikely that those inside church will convince those outside the church that God loves them if they do not  believe that we love them. Unless people believe God loves them it is likely they will reject God. Willfully rejecting God’s love does not end well for anyone (Matthew 25:46, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:1-3, Revelation 20:11-15). 

Sigh.  

This optics problem we have came about as a result of some mistakes we made. Most were not a result of evil; just a sad combination of obliviousness, biblical ignorance and misplaced zeal (Romans 10:2).  There are five mistakes Christians make that the cause the world to see us as fundamentally unloving:  

We do not love each other-

In Church world there is a huge emphasis placed on Christians loving non-Christians. This is good. However, Christians are commanded first and foremost to love each other. Church is supposed to be a place where believers treat each other with the utmost love, grace, respect and patience (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, 1st Peter 3:8). Churches were meant to be safe spaces where baby Christians can grow and unsaved people can see the love, respect and care Christians have for one another. When unbelievers see a spirit of love and grace in church communities they want what they see. Sadly, many Christians are not always loving, patient or even courteous towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, many Christians publicly criticize their churches and treat other Christians with open contempt.  This breaks the heart of God. God will not bless the Western Church with revival until His people repent of this serious sin.  

We lack patience-

1st Corinthians 13 was written to teach people how to love the way God loves. It is no accident Paul begins his discourse with the foundational truth that love is patient (1st Corinthians 13:4).  Authentic Christian love gives people room to grow and develop and does not demand that people mature on a preset timetable. It is critical we gently correct Christians who sin (2nd Timothy 3:16, 2nd Timothy 4:2). However, it is equally critical we temper our corrections with the patience, kindness and grace of God (1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Our corrections lack context- 

In my experience  Church people are good people who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind and strength (Matthew 22:37-28). However,  some church people are a bit overeager when it comes to getting and keeping others on the straight and narrow. Sometimes Christians forget correction is best done in the context of relationship and should NEVER be attempted on church visitors, strangers or in front of a group of other people. Period. It does not matter what the person is wearing or how many piercings or tattoos they have. The only truly loving and wise thing to do when someone shows up at our church is to celebrate the fact they are attempting to connect with God. Their appearance, even if it’s weird and/or inappropriate is irrelevant (Luke 15:15-31). 

We think tough love is always the right answer- 

Sometimes tough love and tough words are the answer. There are situations in life where people need to be told the truth in a straight-forward no-nonsense manner and tone (Ephesians 4:15). However, most of the time a kinder, gentler method is far more effective and should always be attempted before tough love is applied (Proverbs 15:1 Titus 3:1-3, Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:1-2). 

We lie- 

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of Christians in this world. The ones who say too much about the subject of sin and the ones who say nothing at all about the subject of sin.  Sadly, the ones who say nothing often feel justified in doing so because of the damage done by the ones who have said too much. Further complicating the situation is the fact that we have been conditioned by our society to believe that telling people the truth about their behavior is mean. That said, it is time for Christians to return to an understanding that it is fundamentally unloving to lead people to believe that they can continue to sin without consequences (Galatians 5:16-21).

  Love is key in leading people to God.

Therefore it is critical we get busy doing the work necessary to fix our optics problem where love is concerned. As individual Christians it is critical we pray daily for wisdom and not lean on our own understanding when it comes to the right and wrong way to love others.   

Seven Behaviors Guaranteed to Kill Your Marriage-

Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction~ Proverbs 17:19 NIV

 Marriage season is upon us once again and because my husband and I have reached the stage in life where we get invited to attend a lot of weddings I have been thinking quite a bit about the subject of marriage.  More specifically I have been thinking about why some marriages go the distance and others don’t.

 Contemporary wisdom tells us that prevention is key to avoiding marital shipwrecks.  Finding the right person, getting the right counseling beforehand and “being ready for marriage” are exalted as the gold standard of divorce prevention. It would be the height of foolishness to argue against the need for relational compatibility and pre-marital counseling. The importance of those things is obvious, and while I don’t think anyone is ever truly “ready for marriage”. Reaching a certain level of maturity before getting married is without question helpful to the over-all success of any marriage.  

 That said.

 All the pre-marital preparation in the world will not overcome stupidity, meanness, willful sin or relationship mismanagement. What we do after the vows are said is every bit as important (if not more so) than what we do before they are said. There are a number of common blunders people make in marriage that go way beyond mere mistakes, poor choices or communication snafus.  They are behaviors and attitudes that will literally kill a marriage if they are not corrected (and repented of) quickly.  

 The seven marriage killers are:

 The silent treatment-

 The silent treatment is a control tactic used by narcissistic people to bring about change they want to see in the relationship without actually discussing issues or compromising on solutions to problems. The silent treatment is at best, a sign of serious emotional immaturity and at worst it is a serious form of abuse. Those who use it need to understand that it tends to backfire over time. In the beginning of a relationship most partners will respond to silence by doing whatever they think needs to be done to get the conversation started again and the relationship back on track. That said, healthy people will eventually tire of the game playing and begin to distance themselves emotionally from the silencer, if emotional distance is not course-corrected in a marriage divorce is almost always inevitable. It all comes down to learning to use your words and being willing to compromise (Ephesians 5:21). It’s what grown-ups do in grown-up relationships.   

 Pornography-

 Conventional “wisdom” tells us that pornography is only a problem if one party in the relationship objects or if one person looks at pornography without the other being present. This “wisdom” is worldly idiocy. Nothing does more to create an environment where sin can flourish or erodes trust between two people more quickly than pornography (Exodus 20:14). Looking at pornography is the act of bringing other people into the part of the relationship that was intended (by God) for only the husband and the wife. Bringing pornography into a marriage directly contradicts the command given in Hebrews 13:4 to “keep the marriage bed pure and undefiled”. Pornography is not an acceptable or smart way to “spice things up”.

 Deceit-

 Deceitfulness can take on many different forms including emotional affairs, physical affairs, hiding financial information or just generally keeping secrets from the other person. Whatever form deceitfulness takes it puts up walls in the relationship and destroys trust. Marriages simply will not survive without trust.  (Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9, Proverbs 17:19, Deuteronomy 5:18).

 Using sex as a weapon

 Sex is one of those sticky-wicket issues that most couples avoid talking about to the detriment of the relationship. Don’t. Sex is one of the key reasons most people (especially Christian people) get married so it ought to be discussed. Do not get in the habit of withholding sex as “punishment” for real or imagined offenses. It’s not nice and it’s not biblical (1stCorinthians 7:4).

 Disrespect-  

 Disrespect covers a whole range of behaviors. It encompasses screaming, rudeness, spitefulness and not taking the other person’s desires, preferences or needs into consideration.  The worst and most damaging kind of disrespect almost always involves the words we use (Proverbs 12:18, Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:29). Cursing, belittling or name-calling during a conflict is a surefire way to kill romantic love quickly.  If we all just obeyed the command Jesus gave in Matthew 7:12 and treated our spouse how we want to be treated the vast majority of marital problems would disappear overnight.

 Abuse-

  Seriously, this one is a no-brainer (Malachi 2:15-17). If it’s a problem in your marriage get help immediately.

 Refusing to become a team-

 No marriage will survive unless the husband and the wife are both one-hundred percent committed to the good of the other. Once we say “I do” it ceases to be about us and becomes about the two of us (Matthew 19:5-6). Teamwork in marriage means willingly sacrificing our own personal wants, needs and desires at least some of the time for the good of the other person and the relationship (Ephesians 5:20-33) . If at any time sacrificing becomes habitually one-sided the team will crumble and so will the marriage.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Can Do to Make the Church Great Again

 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love~ Galatians 5:13 NIV

 The whole concept of the church is a strange one if you think about very deeply at all.

 Most organizations and institutions are founded by, led by and maintained by people who, for the most part, hail from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, have same types of upbringings and live in the same kinds of communities.

 Not so in the church.

 From its inception the church was filled with men and women from every tribe, tongue, education level and social class imaginable (Acts 2:5-12, 1stTimothy 6:2, Galatians 3:28, James 2:1-4, 1stCorinthians 12:13, Revelation 7:9).  The Church was intended from the very beginning to be a place where societal norms are challenged at every turn.

 God designed the church to be a place where serving is favored over being served (Matthew 23:1), where the weak are every bit as cherished as the strong and where each member is working for the good of every other member. Church is where every follower of Jesus regardless of age, race, gender or social position is equal and equally loved by God (Galatians 3:28). 

 All that being said, the distinctive design of the church has created some distinctive problems. For one thing, many people struggle to define exactly what the church is and how it should operate. Our culture (and most Christians) tend to believe that church is a location. A specific place that we go to hear spiritual messages and do spiritual things.

 The Bible depicts the church as a body, a living entity, made up of a whole lot of distinct parts that form a whole (1stCorinthians 12:12-27).  The church is not a building it is people who have been transformed by the power of the gospel and set free from the bondage of sin and death to preach the gospel and do good in this world.  

 Because we ARE the church, churches function best when each person in the church sees themselves as the church. Conversely, churches tend to be the least functional when the people in the church view church as simply a place we go once or twice a week to hear spiritual messages.

 There are at least five things each of us can do to be the church in our day-to-day lives including:

 Deal with bitterness-

 The Bible makes it clear that bitterness is something Christians must avoid at all costs. (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness has a corrupting effect on people making them unfit for Christian service (Acts 8:22-24). Moreover, bitterness has an infectious quality, it spreads like a germ from the bitter person to the people around them (Hebrews 12:15). We deal with bitterness by forgiving the people who have hurt us and letting go of our anger towards them (Colossians 3:13). This not easy, nor is it typically something that happens all at once. Rather, it is usually a process that takes time and prayer to achieve.

 Encourage the right way-

 Over and over again New Testament believers are commanded to encourage one another (2ndCorinthians 13:11, 1stThessalonians 4:18, Hebrews 3:13) Contrary to popular belief an encourager is more than simply a cheerleader who goes around telling people how awesome they are all time.  Encouragers do make an effort to notice and comment on the good they see in other people. However, biblical encouragers understand that encouragement is the act of inspiring others to be the best version of themselves that they can be (1stThessalonians 5:11, Colossians 3:16). Sometimes this means giving generous and heartfelt praise for a job well done. Other times it means gently correcting and admonishing those who are not living up to the potential they have in Jesus (1stThessalonians 5:14).  

 Be more than a doer-

 These days there is a huge emphasis placed on being a doer of the word of God. We are told that authentic love for Jesus is reflected in what we do for other people in Jesus name. For the record, I do not disagree with that view in the slightest. However, the only way we can know for certain if we are really doing what God wants us to do for others is if we know what He says in His word (Psalm 119:05). The only way to know what the word says is to study it.

 Love one another-

  I will not lie. I debated about whether or not to include this one. Not because I don’t think love is important or critical to the health of the church (it is).  Rather, I struggled because I think the definition of love we have adopted in the church is rather milk-toasty and uninspiring. Authentic biblical love does more than help people feel good about where they are at right now. Authentic biblical love loves people where they are (Matthew 5:46) and tells the truth about the consequences of sin (Ephesians 4:17, Acts 17:30).   

  Find a local body and contribute what you can-

You are the church but you also need the church. Find one where the pastor values the word and where the people love each other and get involved. God will be pleased (3rdJohn 1:4), you will grow and the church will become stronger (Romans 12).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confronting Shoddy Spiritual Leadership-


Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you~ Hebrews 13:7 NIV

 Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has doubtless been there:

A trusted spiritual leader (a pastor or Bible study leader) says something (or a lot of somethings) we find troubling from a doctrinal perspective-

We are uneasy with the spiritual direction our pastor is taking the church-

We have (or know someone who has) a spiritual, physical or emotional need that is not being met in the church-

Our church has become dangerously inwardly focused-

Our feelings are hurt by the pastor or another leader-

We suspect our pastor (or someone in the church) is not living a moral life-

 These situations are not unique to contemporary church life. The church has been dealing with sticky issues since the dawn of Church (Acts 6:1-7, 1st Corinthians 5:1-11, Galatians 2:11-14 Acts 15:36-39). How church people choose to handle these types of situations matter and typically they are handled very poorly. Generally speaking, leadership problems are either ignored until they become intolerable and detrimental to the health of the church (Ephesians 4:26); or an individual (or group of individuals) will confront the leader with a long list of the leader’s faults, problems and inadequacies. Face-to-face confrontations are typically handled with all of the elegance and grace of a herd of wild goats running free at a tea party (Proverbs 13:3, Proverbs 29:20).

 Both scenarios inevitably end in disaster.

The first typically results in a large group of unhappy people quietly leaving their church and taking their unresolved issues with them.  Sadly, these individuals rarely go back and work things through with the leader. The leader remains forever bewildered by the desertion and never learn anything that might make them a better leader. Those who leave take their anger and resentment with them to the next church, They perpetuate the cycle of unresolved problems and church hurt (James 1:20). When leaders are confronted poorly it typically results in a hurt leader who feels bullied by people he or she has invested in. It is not at all unusual for these leaders to leave the ministry in anger and disillusionment. 

 Either way, Satan wins and the church loses.

 We have to do better. The health of the body is on the line. Following are five recommendations for having a tough conversation with a spiritual leader.

 Keep your expectations in line with reality-

 Even the very best pastors and leaders are fallible, broken and inclined towards stupidity and pride (Romans 3:23). Because leaders are in the process of working out their salvation (as we all are) they need our prayers more than they need our condemnation. This does not mean a spiritual leader is above correction or redirection. There are times when leaders need to be corrected and should be corrected. That said, if we want to facilitate healthy change (and avoid the sin of pride) we must recognize the reality that no human (leader or follower) will ever be perfect or do things perfectly. Our expectation for spiritual leaders should not be perfection but rather a teachable spirit and a desire to become better and more Christlike (Proverbs 9:9, Proverbs 10:8).    

 Ask questions and seek to understand (Proverbs 12:18)-

 Many confrontations with leaders come about because of decisions that people did not like or understand. It’s critical we recognize that sometimes leaders make decisions based on information the rest of the congregation doesn’t have. That is why it is imperative we ask questions with an attitude of humility before we assume we understand why things are being done the way they are being done.

 Figure out if there is something deeper driving you before you confront-

 Sometimes a pastor or spiritual leader will rub us the wrong way for reasons that really and truly have nothing to do with them or their leadership. Sometimes we will reject a new leader because we really loved the style and personality of the old leader and what we really want is to get our old leader back. Other times a leader will irritate us because they remind us of a family member we have unresolved issues with. It’s unfair and unkind to project our weird junk onto others. Therefore, it’s imperative that we examine ourselves before we begin a conversation.

 Pray before you do anything-

 Praying for the leader and pray for yourself. Pray that God will reveal any destructive attitudes you have that are motivating the confrontation. Pray for wisdom and most importantly pray that everyone’s heart (including yours) will be open to healing and ready to receive truth.

 Say what needs to be said without assigning motives-

 No one but God knows why anyone does what they do. Therefore, it is critical that we be very careful about accusing people of doing things out of motives that we do not know for an absolute fact they have (Proverbs 3:7).  

 Don’t write a letter-

 Seriously. A text can be a great way to arrange a meeting and it might be helpful for you to write down your thoughts and concerns before you go into a meeting.  There is nothing wrong with taking notes into a meeting. That said, letters are a one-way conversation that offer zero opportunity for true understanding of both sides of a given issue.  If you aren’t ready for a face-to-face conversation you are probably not ready for a conversation.