When Life Feels Like Too Much

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me~ 2ndCorinthians 12:9

This past Monday was Memorial Day in the United States. 

 Memorial Day is a day Americans set aside to remember those who freely gave their lives in combat for the good of others. The weightiness of the day got me thinking about heady things like sacrifice, honor, nobility and how for the most part the best things in life are hard. It really doesn’t matter if you’re talking about laying down your life for your country, having a healthy marriage, maintaining your integrity in the workplace, raising a decent kid or going the distance in ministry. The best things in life are universally tough to pull off.  

This insight bummed me out for two reasons. 

First, I REALLY hate doing hard things. Like most sane people I prefer the easy option in virtually every situation. The second reason is more personal. I just happen to be deep in the weeds of a bunch of really tough stuff. There are days when I fear that stuff could be the end of me.  I would really love to dump the hard stuff and do something easy.  

Sigh.

 I get that dumping hard stuff is not really a viable option. I also get that I am not alone, all of us go through something tough at some point. So, I came up with a short list of reasons to never give up on doing good (Galatians 6:9).   

Hardness is inescapable in a fallen world- 

Hardness in life is never an accident of fate, nor is it always a result of bad or sinful choices. Hardness in this world came about as a result of sin (Genesis 3:14-19). Until sin is dealt with once and for all (Revelation 19-21) hard things will simply be an integral part of life on Earth. The whole messy mess is complicated by the reality that Christians have an enemy (1stPeter 5:8, Ephesians 6:11) who has a vested in interest in making life harder for God’s people on account of point four. 

Doing hard things prepares us for harder things- 

I am currently reading through the book of Exodus. In chapter five God sends Moses to Pharaoh for the first time.  Moses tells Pharaoh that God wants Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go so they can worship their God. Pharaoh did not respond the way Moses hoped he would. He scoffed at Moses and increased the workload of the Hebrew people exponentially. The very people Moses was attempting to help turned around and laid the blame for the whole messy muddle squarely at the feet of Moses. By the end of the chapter Moses was clearly bummed-out and was what-the-heck-ing God. He says:  

“Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Exodus 5:22-23

Because I have the advantage of knowing how the story ends, I was struck by the thought that if Moses had realized at that moment that he was actually doing the easiest leadership stuff he was ever going to have to do he probably would have laid down on the floor and cried like a tired child. Moses didn’t know it yet, but the mission in front of him was going to be hard in ways he could not even begin to imagine. Moses was going to need to have an intimate understanding of how to deal with both difficult people and intense disappointment. He would also need to know how to deal with the negative reactions intensely difficult people were going to have to their disappointment. Mercifully, God did not tell Moses that his life was about to get much tougher. Instead God just used the hard thing (dealing with Pharaoh) to prepare Moses for the harder thing (leading the people through the wilderness). God often does the same thing with us. 

God has a special place in His heart for people who do hard things- 

The Christians in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) did the hardest things Christians are ever called to do. They suffered and some even died for their belief in Jesus. God had nothing but positive things to say about them and the sacrifices they made. In the text God tells the Christians in Smyrna that He understands their pain and difficulty and then praises them for standing strong in the face of intense adversity. He gently and lovingly encouraged them to continue to stand strong and be courageous as they waited for the relief that would come in time.  Throughout the Scriptures God exhibits a heart of compassion for those experiencing hard things. God has not changed. 

The hardest things in life typically have the potential to impact eternity in some way-

 Sharing our faith, living honorably, speaking hard truths in a gentle way, raising decent kids, having a healthy marriage, going the distance in ministry and laying down our lives for others are hard things. They suck-up our energy, eat away at our free time, cost us money and try our patience. Sometimes those things feel like they will break us.  However, hard things also grow our faith, give us wisdom, make us better people and have the potential to change someone else’s eternity. Changing eternity for others is a very good thing. 

It really is the best thing.    

Six Reasons Christians Should Prepare for an Uncertain Future

There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 2ndTimothy 3:1-4 NIV

I am not someone who worries excessively about the world going to hell in a handcart—not because the world is perfect but because Christianity enables me to be an optimist. I steadfastly believe that God is on His throne and that He is firmly in control of even the messiest and most troublesome of situations (Romans 8:28). 

That being said.

Only a clueless fool would attempt to argue that life is somehow getting less weird and scary. Just last week my Mother-in-law and I were cracking each other up remembering how we used to wring our hands and bellyache about how bizarre, awful and generally sinful the world was back in the early 1990’s.

As if. 

We were convinced at the time that there was simply no way the world could get any weirder, meaner or more sinful. We were wrong. The world is far weirder, meaner and more sinful and the Bible makes it clear that while improvement is possible it is also unlikely (2ndTimothy 3:1-5, 2ndPeter 3:3, Matthew 24:4-14). The Bible is also clear that Christians will at some point in the future bear the brunt of the world’s hatred and meanness (Matthew 24:9). 

We are obviously not there yet. However, it appears that we just might be headed in that direction. There are things every Christian can and should be doing to prepare for that eventuality (more on that later) but first are six reasons every Christian ought to be preparing for tough times ahead: 

Sixty-four percent of Pastors feel they cannot speak out on social issues-

According to the Barna Research Group most pastors do not feel “safe” speaking out on thorny social issues.  I am not sure if this fear is grounded in experience or if we have all just devolved into a bunch of timid simps. I do know that the church is called to be salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). I also know that pastors are meant to be the mouthpieces of the church in this world. If sixty-four percent of pastors feel they cannot speak out about abortion, sin, sexuality and issues of fairness without suffering some sort of personal backlash then the world will quickly lose even more of its preserving (salty) influence. 

Socialism/Communism has made a major comeback-

 Despite nearly a century of utter failure communism is being ballyhooed as the salvation of the masses and a lot of people are buying into that line of thinking. This development does not bode well for the church. Communists and socialists have never been big fans of Christianity nor have they had a lot of use for Christians. 

Politics are headed in a dangerous direction- 

In some ways the political climate FEELS slightly safer than it has in the past but political rhetoric is quickly becoming incendiary and scary. Complicating things further, the vast majority of folks vying for power right now are socialists who happen to be very open about their plans to centralize governmental control and squash opposition. The political situation that is emerging right now is bad for anyone whose values do not align with the existing political and social orthodoxy.  

Libertarianism is rapidly becoming the new conservatism-

Libertarians think that nearly everything (drugs, hardcore pornography, etc..) should be lawful and widely accessible for adults (1stCorinthians 8:9). A cornerstone of libertarian dogma is that there should be no laws that hinder an individual’s personal choices (1stCorinthians 6:12, 1stCorinthians 10:23).  This would be a sensible viewpoint if every adult were wise, mature, moderate in their behavior and possessed at least a smidgeon self-control (Romans 3:23). Sadly, in our broken and fallen world a lot of people don’t possess any of those things.  In recent years many conservatives, even some religious conservatives have begun adopting a libertarian mindset. As a result, it is quickly becoming unacceptable even in Christian/conservative circles to say that some things are simply wrong or bad for society.  

The Western Church has lost its moral authority-

We have no one to blame but ourselves. Moral compromise, the prosperity gospel, pathetically feeble preaching and a lack of evangelism have caused the Western Church to lose its moral authority. This has left most of the Western world without a reliable moral compass. Most of Western culture has already bought into the notion that issues of morality are best left up to people to figure out on their own. It is only a matter of time before this view takes an uglier turn than it already has.  

Common sense is now a form of hate speech- 

It is now immoral to say (or even think) that some behaviors are wrong, dangerous or sinful. This development has and will continue to undermine the notions of free speech and free thought. Unless something changes it will eventually become unlawful to speak biblical truth simply because a small minority finds the truth offensive.  

Preparing spiritually for whatever the future might hold begins with accepting that Christians should not expect to be “safe” in this world. Christians are promised trouble, persecution and oppression in this life (John 16:33, Matthew 13:21, Romans 8:35). If by some chance we are not experiencing any of those things we should thank God for that blessing daily. 

As Christians we must learn to fight the ever increasing battles of this world with prayer, righteous living and truth rather than simply depending on the political system to save us.  We will never do that successfully without a healthy relationship with God and other Christians. It is time for Christian people everywhere to band to together, pray like crazy and seek God like we’ve never sought Him before. 

The Real Reasons Bad Things Happen to Good People

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead~ 2ndCorinthians 1:8-9 NIV

 I had a bad week.  

 I will not weary you with all the details.  I will tell you that my misery involved some irritating and insane demands on my time (which I didn’t have a lot of this week). Then there was a hostile, ungrateful and foul-mouthed person who shall remain nameless, a puppy who has zero intention of ever being house-trained and some hurt feelings that were mostly over a misunderstanding but my feelings were still hurt. Sunday and almost all of Monday was spent dealing with a (normally very sweet) teenager who is doing her level best to remind my husband and I that she is still a teenager. My misery was made complete with a badly pulled hamstring.   

 Sigh.

 By midweek, I was feeling pretty dang sorry for myself. So, I spent some time grumpily telling God my troubles and complaining about the obvious injustice of it all (like He didn’t already know). About half way through the list I swear I heard a still small voice say quite clearly:

 Count it all joy.

 I was neither amused nor joyful. Truthfully, I was more than a little irritated with the Almighty for whispering that particular Bible verse into my heart at that exact moment. All I really wanted from life right then was to vent a bit, feel sorry for my wretched and pitiful self and have the Almighty place His seal of approval on my pity party.

 Seriously. Not amused. Not joyful.

 Shortly afterward, I had a weirdly painful moment of spiritual clarity. It occurred to me that as a 21stcentury American I probably (obviously) have some fairly twisted views on what exactly constitutes a trial and what I was put on earth for. Truth-be-told in my heart-of-hearts I tend to think (unconsciously, most of the time) that the point of life is for me to be happy, milk as many experiences out of life as possible and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

 It occurred to me that this isn’t exactly a biblical view of life, but in the interest of proving myself wrong I spent some time diligently searching the Scriptures and I could not find a single verse that commands God’s people to “enjoy life” or “work towards personal fulfillment” or “have an awesome week”. Rather the Scriptures have a lot to say about hardship and why even good people seem to experience so much of it in this life (1stThessalonians 3:3). Following are four reasons Christians experience trials and hardship:

 Crummy experiences mold us into the image of Christ-

 I sincerely wish trips to Disney land made people more Christ-like but in my experience, they simply do not get the job done. It is the tough stuff of life that prepares us for future events (Genesis 37-47), eliminates our rough edges and molds us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Sigh.

 Difficulties in life build compassion for others and can be the catalyst for future ministry-

 For some reason I will never completely understand human beings are nearly incapable of understanding the needs of others until they experience those needs for themselves or they find themselves in a similar situation. Because God wants His people to be lovers of justice, doers of good and compassionate towards one another (Ephesians 2:10, Ephesians 4:32, Hebrews 10:24). There are times in life when God will allow His people to experience a hurt or injustice so that we will have a desire to fight injustice on behalf of others or provide comfort to the hurting (2ndCorinthians 1:3-7).   

 Hardships allow us to see our blind-spots and weakness more clearly-

 Regrettably, salvation does not spontaneously bring spiritual or moral perfection (Philippians 2:12, 2ndCorinthians 4:17).  The fancy-pants theological term for the oftentimes slow process of being perfected in our faith is called sanctification. Sanctification is a process that begins at the point of salvation and continues until the moment of our death. There is nothing like seeing our own negative or ugly response to a difficulty, problem or unpleasant person to help us clearly see what still needs to be sanctified (perfected) in our character.

 Difficulties in life drive us to prayer and prayer is an important part of the sanctification process-

 Prayer is the way we build intimacy and friendship with God (1st Peter 3:12). It is also the only way for sinful, fallen people to understand God and His plans (Philippians 4:6, Hebrews 5:7) clearly. Sadly, most of us (including me) are a lot less likely to pray when life is easy and everything is going our way. So, God in His infinite wisdom sometimes brings trouble into our lives so we will take our troubles to Him. In the process He provides love, comfort, strength and peace in our times of trouble as He mold us into the image of His son.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Least One Reason Why We’re Such a Flaming-hot Dumpster Fire of a Mess in This Country

 They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk and evil suspicions~ 1stTimothy 6:4 NIV

 I did something stupid this week. I totally knew better. But for some reason I still don’t completely understand I did it anyway.

 I engaged on the internet.

 It all started innocently enough (it always does). A friend posted an article about Robert De Niro’s f-word infused anti-Trump harangue at the Tony Awards on Sunday night. I have been preoccupied with several big writing and speaking projects lately and haven’t stayed on top of current events like I usually do. As a result, I wasn’t even aware of the hullabaloo surrounding Mr. De Niro’s comments.  

 So, I was curious.

 After reading the article I scanned the comments section of the post (first big mistake). In one of the comments a guy (I will call him “Tom”) compared Robert De Niro’s sweaty, wild-eyed, profanity-laced tirade to a speech given by Franklin Graham a while back where he stated (among other things) that our country is in a battle between good and evil and that the soul of our nation is at stake. “Tom” went on to say that Franklin Graham was essentially calling half the people in our country “evil” because half the country (give or take) is opposed to Trump and his policies. “Tom” inferred that Robert De Niro and Franklin Grahams speeches were more-or-less morally equivalent. He didn’t say it outright but he also implied that we all ought to slow the roll on judging Mr. De Niro.

 Sigh.

 Because I am a clueless doofus sometimes (and because I genuinely believed in my heart-of-hearts this guy must be confused) I calmly explained to “Tom” that Franklin Graham was not saying half the people in America are evil. He was simply saying that some ideas are evil and that we are in a battle for the heart and soul of the country. Then I went on to say (like a clueless doofus) that saying someone believes an evil idea doesn’t necessarily make them irredeemable (second big mistake).

 Well.

 It turns out my words were not as calming (or helpful) as I hoped (Proverbs 10:19). “Tom” jumped all over the word “irredeemable” and things got really tense really quickly. He said that it sounded to him as if I was saying that anyone who didn’t share the same beliefs I had were “irredeemable”. He then demanded that I tell him what beliefs made a person irredeemable.

 I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but at this point I was beginning to get an inkling that “Tom” was not seeking to understand or to be understood. He simply wanted to back me into corner and force me to call him evil. 

 I wasn’t in the mood to bite at that hook so I simply informed him he was wrong rather than evil and that there was a huge difference between being evil and wrong (third big mistake). This turned out not to be calming or helpful either (I already owned-up to being a clueless doofus). Needless to say, things did not end well and “Tom” and I did not become “friends” on social media.

 I did have an epiphany as a result of my conversation with “Tom”.

 I know at least one reason why we have become so divided. We have lost our way because we don’t discuss ideas and beliefs anymore. We don’t debate good and evil or right and wrong. Nor do we deliberate the outcome of policies or philosophies anymore. Instead we play ridiculous games of word-gotcha where we scrutinize people’s words, look for a way to attack them based on their words and debate the imagined meaning behind the words rather than the ideas, programs or philosophies in question.

 It is ruining us all (2nd Timothy 2:14, 1st Timothy 6:4).  

 My exchange with” Tom” is a textbook example. “Tom” jumped on one word and read a whole truckload of subtext into that one word (irredeemable). He did not want to know what ideas I felt were evil. He certainly didn’t ask what I thought might be done to improve things in our country. He simply jumped directly to the notion that I was calling him evil. For the record, I wasn’t suggesting that “Tom” is evil. I was honestly attempting to clarify what Mr. Graham actually meant for “Tom”.

 Word-gotcha is a legitimate problem but is a problem we can do something about. If you find yourself engaging with someone who attempts to trap you into a debate over the “real” meaning of a word you used DO NOT let them do it and DO NOT engage in the game.

 Call them on it.

 Explain in very simple terms exactly what they are doing and then inform them respectfully that you refuse to engage in silly games of word-gotcha. Let them know (in a kind and loving tone) that you would love to discuss issues and ideas but you simply will not discuss what you really meant by a particular word. Be polite, be willing to engage on the actual issues, be willing to hear a viewpoint you don’t agree with, be loving, be Christ-like but also be firm.

 Our civilization might actually depend on it.

 Seriously.

  

Seven Marriage Killing Behaviors

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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Really Messed-up Things Every Christian Ought to be Praying About

He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers~ 2nd Corinthians 1:10-11a NIV

 Life in the present-day Western world certainly has its fair share of peculiarities. On the one hand, pretty much everyone agrees that those lucky enough to live in the Western world at this time in history have more blessings, conveniences and creature comforts than people at any other period in human history.

 We also have more than our fair share of curious worries. Even really normal people worry about stuff past generations would have thought a bit odd. Things like microbes; random terror attacks, getting old, and despotic dictators in distant countries. The more neurotic in our midst (i.e. me) do not worry about “normal things” instead we worry about more exotic issues like the long-term effects of worry on our health and whether or not cell phone radiation is scrambling our brains and turning us into a horde of mindless zombies (please don’t judge).

 Sigh.                                        

 Most of the stuff we worry about is directly related to situations we have little actual control over. The angst that grows out of lack of control typically leads to one of two opposite and equally unhelpful, unhealthy, and unspiritual responses. Some people worry their heads off about things they know they can do absolutely nothing about. Others go out of their way to avoid news concerning the relentless (and troublesome) drama in our world, in a misguided effort to prevent them from freaking-out about things they can do nothing about.

 God calls us to a more proactive solution. He calls us to pray (Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2, 1st Thessalonians 5:13). We are called to pray for those closest to us and we are called to pray for people we will never know. We are also called to pray for situations entirely outside of our control (1st Timothy 2:1-2). In the interest of promoting peace rather than anxiety I have compiled a list of things I believe every Christian ought to be praying about everyday (James 5:16). All of these issues are vast and far-reaching; so vast and far-reaching that nothing will change on any of these fronts without God’s gracious assistance.

 Pray America does some intense soul searching-

 It’s been another long, painful week in America with yet another horrible and senseless school shooting. Everyone with even the teeniest scrap of humanity in their heart wants to do SOMETHING to prevent another shooting from occurring. However, few people seem to be interested in talking about WHY these incidents continue to happen with such shocking regularity. It’s time for Americans to think a little deeper about why our culture is producing people who care so little for their fellow humans that they want to kill as many of them as possible in the most dramatic way imaginable.

 Pray for children in our culture-

 A shocking number of kids today are being born to parents who care more about themselves and their idiotically sinful habits than they do about their own offspring. This trend is rapidly producing a sizable subculture of disturbed, academically challenged and drug-affected children and young adults who are (in many cases) incapable of functioning in a healthy and life-giving way in the culture. These kids need our assistance and our prayers. And our culture needs to change this trend quickly or we are going to reap a bitter harvest in the coming years.

 Pray for a resurgence of Christian families-

 At the root of the vast majority of the problems in our world lay a lack of virtue, common sense, concern for our fellow humans and an absence of conscience. God intended for people to acquire these things in the context of loving Christian homes. Until we have a return of the Christian family our world will continue to struggle with these issues.

 Pray for leaders around the world-

 Because I am American and about 90% of the people who read this blog also happen to be American I sometimes forget that the entire world needs prayer every bit as much as America does. We need to pray that leaders worldwide will govern from a standpoint of wisdom and common sense rather than worldly twaddle. This is a tall order and something only God can make happen. It is a cause worthy of some serious prayer time.

 Pray for revival-

 We need revival in our world because God is the only one who can successfully and permanently change a human heart. We need heart change in our world because without it none of the other things that need changing ever will, and our world desperately needs change.

 

 

 

 

Winning the Battle Everyone Has to Fight at Some Point

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged~ Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

It’s been a long couple of weeks and I have found myself in a nasty battle with the d-word:

Discouragement

 It wasn’t one great-big-awful-thing that had me feeling down. Rather, it was just a bunch of irksome stuff that coalesced into a brutal case of discouragement.

 Part of the problem is situational: I live in Washington state and it’s January. I have not seen even a glimpse of the sun for more than a couple of minutes at a time in months. The vitamin D tablets I’ve been munching on are simply not getting the job done anymore. I am in desperate need of some actual sunshine. Some other problems compounding that issue were a tense meeting, our beloved little dog died and I have a problem that affects me personally that I have zero control over. On top of all that a mean person said some hurtful things that hit a little too close to home and I had a hard time getting over them.

 I am keenly aware of the fact that none of my problems are truly significant. I have a roof over my head, a solid marriage, healthy children, a relationship with God and some close friends that I trust. In other words, all the truly significant stuff in is still okay in my world.

 However, knowing all that did not stop me from wallowing around in negativity like a pig in the mud. I spent the better part of a day eating my feelings and focusing endlessly on the negative.

 Just as I reached the apex of my pity-party, I had an uncomfortable but essential insight into the situation. I knew at that moment that if I didn’t find a way to get a grip on myself I was going to fall into pit of discouragement and stay there indefinitely, and the longer I stayed the harder it was going to be to get out.

 Discouragement left to fester is potentially dangerous from a spiritual perspective. Discouragement is not a sin (thank God). However, it is a reaction to circumstances that can easily mutate into something more permanent like despair or more sinister like bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). After my recent epiphany, I have come to believe that the key to dealing with discouragement effectively is to firmly grasp hold of the four following principles.

 Understand that discouragement is simply part of living in a fallen world-

 Admittedly, recognizing this reality changes exactly nothing. However, embracing the fact that EVERYONE goes through periods of discouragement does help put our feelings in perspective and it keeps us from buying into the lie that the universe is picking on us in a unique or personal way (John 16:33).

 Do not fall into the trap of focusing only on what can’t be changed-

 One of the truly dangerous things about discouragement is that it can blind us to answers that are right in front of us (Exodus 6:9). Discouragement transforms even really smart, really spiritual people into one of those annoying souls who always has a really great reason why whatever solution is offered (no matter how practical, workable or wise the solution might be) will not work in their particular situation. Unless you want to be that guy (or girl) it is essential we don’t let the emotion of discouragement drive our decision-making or willingness to apply solutions to our problems.

 Find something to be thankful for-

 Thankfulness alone will not magically transform an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one (sorry). That said, Christians are commanded to be thankful (Hebrews 12:28, Colossians 3:15, Colossians 4:2) even in less than ideal circumstances (1st Thessalonians 5:18). I think this is because the act of offering gratitude to God takes our focus off our problems and frees us up to see possibilities that we were previously blind to. Thankfulness reminds us that there is more to this life than problems and trouble, it reorders our focus and helps us to see the good in life. The ability to see something (anything) good in a bad situation really is a game-changer when we are stuck in a pit of discouragement.

 Trust that God is working on your behalf in spite of what circumstances are telling you-

This is obviously easier said than done, especially when negative circumstances look and feel insurmountable. But believing the truth of God’s word, rather than what circumstances are telling us, really is the essence of faith (Hebrews 11:1) and it is how we please God (Hebrews 11:6, Galatians 3:9).  

Another Church Peeve

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart~ Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

 I love the church.

 I believe with every fiber of my being that the local church is God’s chosen instrument for proclaiming truth to the world, training believers for works of service and transforming heathens and moral reprobates into faithful Jesus followers. For that reason, I am convinced that every Christian ought to regularly attend a local church and contribute their time, energy, and treasure into making that church a great place to worship, learn and grow.

 That said, I also have a whole host of weird pet peeves when it comes to church and how we do church at this time in history. Basically, I have an aversion to anything weird, gimmicky or shallow. Those things include (but are not limited to) fog machines, unfriendly congregations, worship songs that remind me to breathe, Pastors that dress like homeless people and a lack of relevant teaching or opportunities to learn.

 These peeves (and many others) have been well documented in some of my previous blog posts. I just sort of assumed (until recently) that I had discovered and explored every single one of my many peeves related to church and had nothing left to write about on the subject. I was wrong.

 I have discovered a new one.

 Everywhere I turn these days I am being told that I should speak the name of Jesus over my problems and worries. If I am afraid, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have cancer, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I need money I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have a drug or alcohol addiction, I should speak the name of Jesus. This advice is usually followed up with the instruction to “just walk in it”.

 Whatever the heck that means.

 My concerns with this trend might appear to be a bit silly and trivial on the surface, but unlike some of my other peeves this one really isn’t all that petty. This one actually has some potentially serious practical and theological ramifications.

 Christians should understand that nowhere in the Bible are we told to speak the name of Jesus over anything. We are told to believe in the name of Jesus (1 John 3:23). We are told to openly profess the name of Jesus (Hebrews 13:15). We are also told to baptize people into the name of Jesus (Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5) and we are commanded to speak the name of Jesus as we teach the truth about God and call people to repentance (Matthew 28:16-20). Not once are we told to speak the name of Jesus over our problems, anxieties or doubts.

 Speaking a word (any word) over something in an effort to change it, is a practice that has more in common with witchcraft than it does with Christianity. I am NOT suggesting that someone who tells you to speak the name of Jesus over your problems is a witch or is active in witchcraft. I am saying that simply speaking the word ‘Jesus’ over a problem, worry or concern will not solve it and might even distract you from doing the things God wants you to do in order to solve your problems.

 I promise you that God does not want you to speak the name of Jesus over your bratty two-year-old, job loss, addiction, crumbling marriage or serious medical condition. That’s just not how God works. Instead, God wants you to do these three things:

 Understand that tests and trials are simply a part of this life-

 We live in a fallen world, and sadly bad things happen in our fallen world (1st Thessalonians 3:2-4, 1st Peter 1:6). People get hurt and sick, they lose their jobs, and sometimes they turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with negative feelings and traumatic experiences. Other times people are evil and cruel and the innocent get hurt or exploited. On the positive side of all of that, God will use those trials to make you a better, wiser more compassionate person if you ask Him to (James 1:2, James 1:12, 2nd Corinthians 1:3-6).

 Seek God on a deeper level-

 More than anything God wants you to work at getting to know Him better in the midst of your trial. He wants you to become a student of the Word and someone who runs to Him in prayer with all your fears, sinful inclinations, insecurities and problems. Doing that will give you a supernatural source of strength, knowledge and wisdom that will empower you to deal with whatever trial has come into your life, in a way that pleases God and benefits you.

 Become increasingly more obedient to God-

 We solve our problems in this life by first identifying areas of sin in our lives, repenting of those sins and then doing more and more of what God instructs us to do in His word. Romans 12:1-21, 2nd Peter 1:5-8, Colossians 3:1-26 and Ephesians chapters 4-6 give believers abundant instruction on the behaviors Christians should be embracing and eliminating in their lives. However, eliminating sinful behavior is not enough. We also have to ask God to help us (sometimes repeatedly) change our hearts, hate sin and see life the way He sees it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving Past Church Hurt

 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News~ Philippians 4:2-3 NLT

 Church hurt happens. 

 Church hurt comes in all shapes and sizes. Church hurt can be born out of something as simple as an unresolved conflict or disagreement. It can happen when we feel overlooked or marginalized by Christians we assumed were our friends or Christians we wished were our friends. Church hurt rears its ugly head anytime we discover we have become the target of gossip or excluded from a group. By far, the nastiest and most damaging form of church hurt comes at the hands of so-called shepherds (Isaiah 56:11). False teachers, who use and abuse their spiritual authority to control, manipulate, defraud or sexually exploit those they have been tasked with caring for.

 How deeply we are wounded by church hurt is dependent on a whole host of factors. Including, but not limited to how new to the faith we were when the offense occurred, our over-all maturity level at the time of the hurt, the gravity of the offense that occurred and the willingness on the part of the offender to own their part in the hurt.

 I am convinced church hurt is the leading cause of spiritual shipwrecks and church dropouts. I know from experience that church hurt is practically inevitable, however it does not have to devastate our lives or destroy our faith. How and why people get hurt in the church is far less important than how they handle the ensuing hurt. In the interest of preventing anymore spiritual disasters, today I am going to give four (very basic) guidelines for recovering from most church hurts.

 First:

 Don’t misplace blame-

 Healing from hurt can only occur if we embrace the truth that God did not CAUSE our hurt. Another Christian (or someone who claimed to be a Christian) hurt you and caused the pain you are feeling, not God. Too many Christians never recover from church hurt because they insist on blaming God for things He had nothing do with.

 Honestly assess your level hurt-

 There are things that are never okay. No one should causally dismiss abuse, embezzlement, or vicious slander. Nor should we demand someone who has been wounded by say, sexual abuse in the church to “just get over it”. Big hurts (like sexual abuse) require special attention and time to heal. That said, there are other forms of church hurt like petty disputes, being treated rudely, or feeling excluded, that are very real and painful, but also simply need to be put in perspective. Sadly, being a follower of Jesus does not automatically mean that a person will never be rude, self-serving, insensitive, flakey, or stupid. We are all guilty of those particular sins from time-to-time and we ought to give grace accordingly (Proverbs 19:11).

 (Almost) always make an attempt at reconciliation-

 There are cases of severe abuse where attempts at reconciliation (being friends again) are ill advised and even dangerous. That said, in most cases if you cannot simply forgive and move on, an honest conversation to clear the air is in order (Matthew 18:15). The key to making these conversations productive is a heartfelt desire to restore the relationship rather than a desire to punish, prove a point, or justify your feelings (no matter how justified they may be).

 Don’t get stuck-

 It’s normal to be angry when we’ve suffered a hurt at the hands of a fellow believer and it’s healthy to grieve hurt. However, it’s not healthy to stay stuck in perpetual state of woundedness (Yes. I made that word up.). Staying stuck in anger inevitably leads to bitterness and bitterness ruins us (Hebrews 12:15). Reconciliation may or may not be advised, but with Jesus, forgiveness is always possible (Matthew 6:15). Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It will likely take time and may require some help from a wise and mature friend, Christian counselor, or pastor to work through. Get help if you need it. The health of your soul and your usefulness to the Kingdom is at stake here.  

 Church hurt is as old as the church. Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Mark, Euodia, and Syntyche were Bible people who all experienced serious hurt at the hands of other believers (2nd Timothy 4:14, Galatians 2:11-14, Acts 15:39, Philippians 4:2-3). Every one of those men and women recovered from their hurt and went on to do great things for the Kingdom of God because they chose the painful but life-giving path of forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation.

 

Living Courageously

 God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord~ 2nd Timothy 1:7-8 NLT

 There is a lot to love about life in the 21st century.

 There simply are no words to express my fondness for the under appreciated and under celebrated miracles of indoor plumbing, Pinkberry frozen yogurt, antibiotics, instant coffee, electricity, central air, smartphones and pizza delivered right to my door.

 That said.

Living in the 21st century has done some damage to my ongoing love affair with life in the 21st century. There are situations common to modern life so far outside of human control that they are literally the stuff of nightmares. Things like earthquakes, church shootings, terrorist attacks, forest fires, school shootings, superbugs, category five hurricanes and random acid attacks. Then, in a class all his own, we have the pudgy, punk dictator hell-bent on using nuclear missiles to prove some absurd point that I’m not even sure he understands.

 Like I said, the stuff of nightmares.

 For Christians times are even scarier. On top of all the weird junk everyone else has to deal with, we have the added pressure of living in a culture that no longer respects Christians or the Christian faith. Many non-Christians are openly hostile not just to the truth of the claims of the Bible but also to Christian people. Christian bakers, printers, photographers and florists have lost thriving businesses because they refused to cave to the insane and ever-expanding demands of the LGBTQ culture. Even from within the church challenges to traditional biblical views and attacks on biblical authority have become routine. Christians who hold to traditional views on marriage, gender and sexuality are openly ridiculed and regularly scolded for being close-minded, hateful and hopelessly behind the times, no matter how gently and lovingly they state their opinions.

 Sigh.

 The never-ending stream of strange and scary news often leads to a sense of powerlessness and confusion. God has called His people to better things than confusion (1st Corinthians 14:33). The better things begin with following some basic do’s and don’ts for living courageously in scary times, beginning with the do’s…

 Do- Know what’s going on in the world so you can pray-

 Nothing frustrates me more than a Christian who won’t watch the news or read news stories because they believe that current events are simply too terrifying to face on a daily basis. Forgive my hardheartedness but boo-stinking-hoo. Fear is a wretched excuse for ignorance. Knowledge empowers us to pray for people and circumstances that urgently need God’s supernatural involvement. It’s also critical we remember that we will never change anything we remain deliberately ignorant of.

 Do-be a problem solver-

 Christians are commanded to get out there and let their light shine (Matthew 5:16, Mark 4:21). Getting out there looks different for different people. For some it might be as simple as repeatedly engaging in awkward conversations about what Christians believe with an unsaved neighbor or coworker who routinely spouts really weird ideas and strange philosophies. For others it might be as complicated as opening their home to an unwed mother or adopting a kid out of foster care. No one can solve every problem but everyone can make a difference in someone’s life.

 Do-rejoice that God has chosen you to live right now-

 Seriously, it’s an honor. The God of the universe has selected you and me to represent Him at one of the most complicated and bizarre moments in history. That is a high, holy and freaking awesome calling no one should shy away from for any reason (Esther 4:14).    

 Now for the don’ts…

 Don’t-live in fear-

 Believers are commanded to fear nothing and no one but God (Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 27:3, Psalm 34:9). I am convinced that the key to managing fear and anxiety is prayer (Philippians 4:6). When feelings of fear for the future take over, take those feelings to God. When we take our worries to God consistently (consistency, really, is the key) He empowers us to experience hardship and difficulty with less fear.

 Don’t-be a jerk-

 I know it’s tempting, but the world has enough of them already. Find a nice way to say hard things and commit yourself to loving people even if they don’t deserve it.

 One last do…

 Do not forget that God has a plan in all of this-

God is not caught off guard by all the outrageous stuff going on in the world right now. Rather, He is using it to get the attention of distracted and disobedient people who have drifted away from Him and His truth in every sense imaginable. He’s calling Christians to show His love, speak His truth, and be His hands and feet to those people.

 It’s a high, holy and freaking awesome calling.

 Embrace it.