"Word-Gotcha" and What You Can Do About It-

 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 social media. Sigh

 It began innocently enough (it always does). One of my friends posted an article about a Robert De Niro’s f-word infused anti-Trump harangue. I have been preoccupied with some writing and speaking projects lately and haven’t stayed on top of 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 (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 comparatively rational 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. “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 I genuinely believed in my heart-of-hearts this guy must be confused.  I politely 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.

 Well.

 It turns out my words were not as calming or helpful as I had hoped they would be (Proverbs 10:19). “Tom” jumped all over the word “irredeemable” and things got really tense, really fast. He said that it sounded to him as if I was saying that anyone who didn’t share my beliefs were “irredeemable”. He then demanded 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. This turned out not to be calming or helpful either (I already told you I’m a clueless doofus). Needless to say, things did not end well and “Tom” and I did not become “friends” on social media.

 Thanks to my conversation with “Tom”, I now know at least one reason  our country is so divided. We simply do not 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 then fiercely debate the imagined meaning behind their words rather than the ideas, programs or philosophies in question. It’s destroying our ability to think rationally about anything meaningful (2nd Timothy 2:14, 1st Timothy 6:4).  

 My exchange with” Tom” is a textbook example. “Tom” jumped on one word I wrote and read a whole truckload of subtext into that one stupid 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 that rational people 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 be firm.

 Our civilization might actually depend on it.

 Seriously.

  

No, Not All Sin is Exactly the Same and Why it’s Stupid to Believe it is


There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community~ Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV

 I do a fair amount of speaking and teaching in a number of different settings. On occasion, I will refer to a particular sin or behavior as especially heinous from God’s perspective. Inevitably, someone will approach me afterward and ask in a rather incredulous tone if I really believe that some sins are more heinous than others. The question is typically framed in the following way:

 “Don’t you believe that all sin is the same as all other sin?”

 Admittedly, my answer appears on the surface to be a bit ambivalent: 

 “Yes and no” 

 I say “yes’ because I sincerely believe that all sin is sin (and therefore terrible) and in one sense no sin is anymore sinful than any other. Any sin (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant) will keep a person out of heaven if they refuse to repent of their sin and put their faith Jesus (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:32, 2nd Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:1-3).

 Period.

 That said, I do not believe that “all sin is the same”.  Nor do I believe that the view that “all sin is the same” can be backed up biblically (1stJohn 5:17, Matthew 12:31, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, Galatians 5:21). Furthermore, this ridiculous view is actually leading to more sin rather than less, and therefore ought to be examined more closely.

 Before you write me off as a wild-eyed heretic, hear me out.

  The notion that “all sin is the same” is a relatively new idea that has become both wildly popular and accepted as fact in recent years. I suspect this notion developed out of a desire to keep certain sinners from feeling that their sins (and they) were being singled out as worse than other sins (and other sinners). Telling people that participating in an orgy (or practicing idolatry, or being greedy, or having an abortion, or oppressing a widow) is exactly the same on a sin scale as telling someone their hair looks nice when it does not, is not nearly as kind as it appears to be on the surface. Mostly, because it causes both the saved and the unsaved to feel more safe and comfortable with the whole notion of sin.

 The average person tends to think (at least subconsciously) that if telling a small lie concerning someone’s appearance is exactly the same on a sin scale as cheating on one’s spouse then cheating on one’s spouse must not be so bad. In a perfect world (one not populated by idiots and sinners) people would come to the opposite conclusion and we would all be terrified to tell lies AND commit adultery. Sadly, we don’t inhabit that world. We inhabit a world where people tell themselves that if watching a movie with questionable themes is just as bad as viewing porn then viewing porn must not be such a bad thing (Jeremiah 17:9).

 I repeat.  People are idiots and sinners.

 Because people are idiots and sinners and because the human heart is capable of an insane level of self-deception when it comes to this subject there are four things we have to understand about sin:

 All sin is harmful and wrong (and not just because it sends people to hell)-

 I am NOT saying that “small” sins are acceptable or even safe. All sin is dangerous, because sin is insidiously progressive and hideously deceptive. Even the smallest sins (if not repented of quickly) lead us to become more comfortable with sin. This leads to a hardening of the heart which inevitably leads to more sin which eventually leads to a rejection of the truth (Romans 2:8).

 Not all sin has the same consequences-

 Looking at porn is worse than watching a movie with swear words in it because looking at porn twists one’s view of sexuality and other people and will inevitably lead to more sin. Telling a lie about someone’s appearance is wrong (and it will make you more comfortable with lying) but it does not cause the same ripple effects that sexual sin does. In 1stCorinthians 5:11 the Apostle Paul tells believers that some sins are so serious and infectious that Christians should refuse to eat with other Christians who practice those sins. Paul does not say that about every sin, partly because if he did we would all eat alone and partly (mostly) because not all sin has the same consequences for the sinner or for the people around the sinner.

  The Bible clearly states that “Christians” who habitually commit certain sins aren’t going to heaven-

 Seriously, it does (1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5). Depending on your theology (Calvinist or Armenian) you can view this in one of two ways. Either genuinely saved people do not commit those sins (Calvinist theology) or committing those sins causes you to lose your salvation (Armenian theology). Either way it should make us think long and hard about what kind of sin we allow ourselves to get entangled in (Hebrews 12:1).

  Even the worst most sinful sin can be forgiven and forgotten by God-

 Sin can separate us from God forever but it doesn’t have to. God does not want anyone to pay the penalty for their own sin and that is why Jesus died for sinners like you and me (Romans 5:6, 1stCorinthians 15:3, 1stThessalonians 5:10, Hebrews 9:15). All you have to do is trust Him to save you and turn away from your sin (Mark 1:15)

 It really is that simple.

Why the Church is not Impacting our Culture-

Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished~ 1st Chronicles 28:20 NIV

 Recently, I have found myself in conversations with Christians where the discussions ultimately devolved into a dissection of the present-day cultural landscape. Just about everyone I know is trying to figure out why Christianity is not having a bigger impact on our culture.

 All of the obvious causes were debated in detail at one point or another. Among other things, the effects of powerless-preaching, unloving Christians and the anemic moral standards of most churches were all hit upon at some point in each of the conversations. During those exchanges, I would find myself listening intently, chiming in from time-to-time and nodding along enthusiastically at most of comments.

 It wasn’t until later that it dawned on me that most of the problems we discussed were actually just symptoms of much bigger problems that no one (or at least no one I know) ever talks about. It also occurred to me that until we get to the place where we are willing to acknowledge the real problems as the real problems we will never find solutions to the symptoms the real problems are causing.

 Part of the problem is that church people tend to blame the culture for problems that we are mostly guilty of creating. Some of those problems are:

 We fall all over ourselves to tell people they are okay just the way they are when God is attempting to tell them something radically different-

 I used to do this a lot. The scenario would go something like this: I would be talking with someone and they would confess exactly how awful, flawed and sinful they were and how guilty they felt about it (James 5:16). Because I love people and I genuinely hate to see them suffer, I would proceed to tell them how awesome they are, give them a hug and urge them to be kinder to themselves. In the process, I unwittingly undid all the work God was attempting to do in their situation. It’s critical we remember that sometimes people feel guilty because they are guilty (Leviticus 5:5). We also need to remember that the only spiritually healthy way to get free of guilt is to confess sin and then to repent (Psalm 34:1-6, Psalm 52, Luke 13:5). Any time we tell others that they are awesome (when God or circumstances are telling them otherwise) we are assuming (in a kindhearted but prideful way) that we know the person better than they know themselves and that we know more about the situation than God does. I am not suggesting that we respond to heartfelt confessions with shaming or the heaping on of even more guilt. That said, rather than talk people out of their guilt we need to lead them to repentance and reconciliation with God.

 We care more about how people feel about themselves than the state of their souls-

 Somehow a lot of church people have bought into the worldly notion that no one should ever feel bad about anything. Because the word “sin” universally makes everyone feel terrible about themselves, now even Christians use words like disease, problem, bad choices, and genetic predisposition to describe behaviors and attitudes that previous generations would have been quick to label “sin”. We need to get back to the understanding that feeling bad is good (2nd Corinthians 7:10, 2nd Peter 3:9), if the bad feeling (guilt) leads to something good (repentance and restoration).

 We fail to call Christians out when they tell non-Christians how bad Christians are–

 It has become trendy for Christians to stridently declare how awful Christianity is to anyone who will listen. According to them ALL Christians (themselves being the singular exception) are mean, awful, judgmental people who bear absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to Jesus. It is true that some Christians (especially the immature or ignorant) can be judgmental and unloving. It is also true that every Christian (myself included) has days where they could stand to act a lot more like Jesus and lot less like themselves. That said, there is a fine line between calling for reform in the church (something I am doing right now) and turning people away from the truth claims of Jesus because we are a little too quick to paint all Christians with a broad and ugly brush. We need to be very careful not to cross that line (Matthew 13:24-29 and 13:36-42). When judgment day comes, God is not going to let anyone off the hook for rejecting Jesus because they heard from a Christian that all Christians are bad people (Revelation 20:11-13).

 We have forgotten we are in a war-

 Ephesians chapter six tells us that we are in a battle for the souls of men and women. This battle desperately needs Christians who are willing to fight.  However, we won’t win if we fight using the weapons and methods that the world uses (2nd Corinthians 10:3-4). Rather, we are called to stand firm in the truth, live righteously, correct gently, love fiercely and lead people to the Savior (Jude 17-22).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Parent Without Cursing the Future

Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave~ Exodus 18:20 NIV

 A theme that remains consistent throughout the Bible is the notion of blessings and curses (Leviticus 28, Deuteronomy 30:19, Psalm 128:2, Proverbs 10:6, Malachi 2:2, 1st Corinthians 9:2). The Bible clearly communicates that certain attitudes and activities bring with them blessings and other (usually opposite) attitudes and behaviors bring with them curses.

 I, for one, have never been a big proponent of the view that the Almighty is sitting around heaven scrutinizing the actions of people searching feverishly for opportunities to bring curses down on people, their children, or their children’s children. Rather, I believe that we bring curses on others and ourselves (sometimes unwittingly) with the choices we make in this life.

 There is no area where this is truer than in the arena of parenting.

 The notion that parents bless or curse their children (sometimes without knowing it) is a biblical one (Ezekiel 18:2, Psalm 37:26, Proverbs 31:27-29, Ephesians 6:1-4). However, this concept is not just a Christian notion. It’s an idea even an idiot can grasp. One does not need a crystal ball to see that a child born to a married Mother and Father, determined to provide a stable and loving home, will have a much greater chance of success in life than a child born to a poor, drug-addicted Mother and an indifferent baby-daddy.

 It’s common sense.

 There is more to the notion of blessing children (and future generations) than simple economics or even marital status, and it’s bigger than just our kids or grandkids. No man (or woman) is an island; therefore the values one generation sows into their children impacts society in powerful ways, sometimes for generations to come. It is not excessively melodramatic to say that history can be altered (for good or bad) by the parenting choices of a single generation.

 That said, as a society we aren’t exactly hitting it out of the ballpark in this area. In fact, judging from the sorry state of our culture, we are long overdue for a gut check in how we parent our kids. I believe there are five changes we desperately need to make if we want to parent in a way that blesses rather than curses our children and our culture.

 Beginning with:

 Living lives free of addiction-

 Nothing does more to curse future generations than a drug, alcohol, or porn addiction. Period. The most productive thing one generation can for another is to stay off of drugs.

Letting kids lose-

 Educated middle-class American parents are undoubtedly some of the kindest and best-intentioned parents in the history of the world. Alas, the road to hell really is paved with good intentions. In an effort to shield children from the hurt, frustration and disappointment we all encountered as children we do stuff that looks and feels merciful and kind (like giving everyone a trophy). However, those acts of kindness keep kids from growing into adults who know how to work for what they want and who can handle the setbacks of life with grace and resilience. Kids who are not taught to handle disappointment inevitably grow into adults who act out and hurt others when the going gets tough.

 Being the leader-

 Some child-rearing “experts” have duped parents into believing that children instinctively know what is best for them. This twaddle is going to create a leadership crisis in the future because we learn to lead by following. Young children (under seven) are by their very nature immature, egotistical and for all practical purposes kind of dumb. God gave kids parents to teach them to be healthy, altruistic, thoughtful human beings (Ephesians 6:1). We do that by taking the reins and making most of the decisions when they are very young (under seven) and then coaching them into good decision-making (while still giving them freedom to fail), as they get older.  

 Being in the room-

 In order to parent well, parents need to be fully present; it is all but impossible to be fully present while playing a game on your phone or perusing Facebook. Furthermore, kids learn to be good communicators (a prerequisite for a healthy future) by communicating. No one communicates effectively while preoccupied by a screen.

 Teaching them to work-

 The Bible clearly teaches that work is good (Colossians 3:23, 2nd Thessalonians 3:10). Work is important because it keeps us out of trouble, makes us productive, teaches us to manage our time and gives us the ability to share with those less fortunate. I firmly believe that young people should have at least one job working with the public. Working with people will keep them humble and free from the sin of elitism (James 2:1-9).  

 Fearing God-

 Loving God is good (Deuteronomy 11:1, Mark 12:30), but fearing Him is better (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 10:27, Leviticus 25:7). This is because the fear of the Lord leads to wisdom, (Psalm 111:10) obedience, (Psalm 128:1) the shunning of evil, (Job 28:28) long life (Psalm 14:27) and all of that leads to a society that thrives. We teach kids to fear God by teaching them that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do.

 Anyone with eyes can see that our culture has serious problems. Most of our problems are a result of the choices parents have made with their children over the course of the last four decades. It is not too late to course correct, but it will take parents acting like parents again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Things That Must Be Done to End the Scourge Of Gun Violence

 Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established~ Proverbs 24:3 NKJV

By now, pretty much everyone reading this is aware that there was another horrific school shooting last week, this time in the state of Florida.

 The shooter was troubled young man with a hazy past who suffered from a plethora of shockingly obvious psychological problems. That said, at this point there is little to be gained from discussing the shooter, the body count, the young man’s family situation, or even the appalling number of local, state and federal agencies who bungled the job of preventing this bizarrely preventable tragedy.

 All that is painfully irrelevant at this point.

 It seems to me that it’s far more productive to discuss what we can do to fix the flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess we have made out of our society. News outlets have interviewed a number of high school students who are understandably panicked about their safety and concerned for the future. It’s become painfully obvious that too many of these people are having their fear exploited by manipulative activists who are feeding them the lie that there is a quick fix to our nation’s problem with random gun violence.

 No such fix exists because the problem with gun violence is not about guns; it’s about people and the condition of their hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). The number of gun owners in this country has actually decreased over the course of the last century. During the same period, more restrictions have been placed on who can and cannot own guns and yet gun violence has risen sharply in recent decades. This detail is troublesome and it ought to motivate us to dig deeper rather than simply looking for a quick fix to a complicated issue.

 Gun violence can be slowed substantially if we as a society are willing to do a little soul searching and make some changes in our attitudes and behaviors (Mark 1:15, Acts 3:19).

 Those changes must include:

 An end to the drug culture-

 Over the course of the last three decades there has been a sharp increase in the number of children born to drug using mothers. These babies tend to grow into children and young adults with intellectual deficits who have a tough time in school and later with securing gainful employment. Children born to drug-using mothers tend to struggle with impulse control, anti-social behavior, relationship skills, making responsible choices, and anger (all risks for violent behavior). I am not suggesting that all children born to drug-using mothers are doomed to be school shooters, or that every school shooter was born with drugs in their system. I am saying straight up that every single time a child is born to a drug user the risk-pool for violent behavior is increased by one. If young people want to change the future of this country and decrease the risk of violence they should seek to end the drug culture.

 Getting married and staying that way-

 Loving, healthy, stable two-parent homes rarely produce mass-murders. If we as a society want to reduce gun violence we should celebrate intact families and encourage young people to build said families.

 An end to celebrating narcissism-

 We live in a pathetically sad age of me, me, and more me. Selfies are actually a thing and people are marrying themselves for the love-of-all-that-is-good-and-decent. If we want to change the future we must change our focus (Leviticus 19:18, Romans 13:8, Matthew 22:36-40). When a child spends their youth focusing entirely on his or her feelings and needs-to the exclusion of everyone else’s feelings and needs-it makes it shockingly easy for some of them to hurt other people and not feel bad about it.

 Fighting for reform in public schools-

 For decades now, public schools have sought to carefully craft a value-neutral environment. This means avoiding teaching children values that might be considered controversial out fear of offending a family who might have a differing set of values. The problem with not teaching values is that values are as much caught as they are taught. If one does not teach the value that human life should be protected and nurtured at all costs, then some kids will catch the value that taking a human life (or seventeen human lives, or a hundred human lives) is not really that big of a deal. Parents and students should demand more from their public schools.

 Ending our love-affair with violent entertainment-

 Seriously. There is no way Game of Thrones, Dexter, American Horror Story and violent video games are making us better, healthier and more compassionate people. If we want to end violence in our schools we have to stop feeding children (and adults) an unending diet of violent and vile entertainment that hardens hearts and sears consciences.

 Going to church-

 I hesitated to add this one—not because I doubt the value of church but because without the heart change that can only come through a relationship with Jesus, simply attending church can easily devolve into a meaningless exercise that does little for anyone. That said, church is God’s chosen vehicle for bringing truth to those who don’t know Him and for training those who do know Him (Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 4:11-16). It is also the place where we learn what God requires of people (Mark 1:15, Acts 16:31, 1st John 3:23) and where (if church is being done right) we develop a desire to please Him by treating other people with respect, kindness and mercy (Micah 6:8).

 Truth be told, even the best laws are incapable of changing a single human heart and without changed hearts societies remain sick. If we want to make our society better we have to become better people and we cannot do that without God (Ezekiel 36:26).

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways our Generation has Screwed-up Prayer

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread”~ Matthew 6:9-11 NIV

 This week I got to enjoy a very long lunch with an old friend. This particular friend is not just an old friend in the sense that we have known each other a long time. She is also an old friend in the sense that she is a good bit older than I am. I don’t know if it’s because she’s older than I am or if it’s because she’s acquired some wisdom in life (or a combination of the two), but this woman never fails to challenge me. The truly maddening thing is that I’m fairly certain she does it without even trying.

 This visit was no exception.

 We spent some time catching-up on our families and grumbling about all the madness in the world, then we moved on to the topic of church and ministry. I shared a little bit about what’s going on in my life right now, she shared what she’s doing and a couple of “back in the day” stories.

 I will not lie.

 There was a time (to my eternal shame) when I would sigh quietly anytime an older Christian began to wax eloquent about how ministry was done “back in the day”. I assumed (like all youthful idiots) that there is nothing significant to be learned from how church or ministry was done in the past. However, my generations’ complete and utter failure to make meaningful spiritual inroads into to our culture has humbled me a bit. I am now much more inclined to listen to those with a few years on me.

 It didn’t take long for me to recognize that all of her stories had a shared theme. The theme did not include tales of strategic outreach, careful planning or exciting gimmicks used to lure the unsaved into church buildings or a relationship with Jesus. Rather, the common denominator to all her stories was prayer. In every story she told, Christians prayed really hard and then crazy-cool stuff would happen, hearts changed, non-Christians became Christians, sin got confessed and repented of, and miracles took place. By the end of our lunch I was deeply convicted that our generation has forgotten how to pray and screwed-up the concept of prayer in at least five ways.

 Beginning with:

 We plan instead of pray-

 I am a planner. One of my favorite adages (much to the chagrin of my poor children) is “failure to plan is like planning to fail”. I have even been accused of over-planning a time or two. That said, I suspect we might see more success in our churches and at our events if we spent at least as much time praying for events and services as we do planning for them.

 We just don’t do it-

 According to a bunch of self-surveys I looked at, the average Christian admits to spending about three minutes a day in prayer. The ugly underbelly of that already ugly fact is that it tells us that at least half of all Christians either don’t pray at all or pray for less than three minutes a day.  

 We don’t really believe anything will happen when we do pray-

 Over and over again in the New Testament we are told that God is much more inclined to answer prayer when the person praying actually believes that something will happen because they prayed. I will be the first to admit that God does not answer all our prayers the way we want Him to answer our prayers. However, that does not mean we should stop believing that God will answer when we do pray.  

 We pray for dumb stuff-

 I know I’m going to get some flak for this one. But seriously, the world is going to hell right in front of us (literally and figuratively) and I have been at prayer meetings where people requested prayer for the health of their pets and for a relaxing vacation. God does care about pets and rest (He cares about everything). However, I suspect He cares more about the souls of the lost and is more inclined to answer in the affirmative when we pray about stuff that actually matters.  

 We don’t pray corporately-

 Even when we do gather to pray corporately, most of the time we wander off by our selves and pray alone. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He talked about “two or three being gathered” in His name.

 I think our generation has screwed-up prayer because we have lost touch with the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not about getting God to do the stuff we want or getting stuff from God. Prayer is about getting our purposes aligned with His and getting the spiritual power we need to do the stuff that really matters.

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

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

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

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

We were taught very early on in life to say:

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

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

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

 It was just the beginning.

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

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

 That said.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, You Really Are Your Brother’s Keeper

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification~ Romans 14:7 and 19 NIV

 I live in the state of Washington.

 The state of Washington is famous (some would say infamous) for many things, some of them magnificent, others less so. A few of those things include (but are not limited to) Nirvana, evergreen trees, coffee shops, the Space Needle, apples, rain, really great seafood, Jimi Hendrix, and of course legalized marijuana.

 Sadly, it’s marijuana that gets the most attention these days.

 Typically when I talk to people from outside the state we eventually end up in a ridiculous discussion about drug use in general, and marijuana use in particular.

 The conversation typically goes something like this:

 Them: “So, you’re from Washington State?”

 Me: “Yes.”

 Them: “So is it true you can, like, buy pot anywhere?”

 Me: (tired sigh) “well, not exactly. There are special stores where you can buy marijuana. You can’t get it at Wal-Mart yet. But, I’m sure that’s coming.”

 Them: “I hear there are lots of tax benefits to legalizing marijuana. I bet your schools and roads have improved a lot.”

 Me: (barely controlling an overwhelming impulse to roll my eyes) “Well, no. Actually the schools are pretty much just bad as they have always been and our roads have potholes roughly the same size as the craters on the moon. However, the riff-raff are taking over the state and our property taxes have gone up every year since marijuana was legalized. Oh, and fatal car crashes involving marijuana have more than doubled since it was legalized. Because of that our auto insurance rates have gone through the roof. So, I guess that’s something.”

 Them: “I sure wish my state would legalize marijuana.”

 Me: “Why on earth would you want that?”

 Them: “I just think people should be able to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

 At this point, one of two things typically happens. If I’m feeling charitable I tag out and go find someone rational to talk to. If I’m in a bad mood or feeling feisty, I challenge their thinking.

 I typically begin with the above-mentioned facts regarding taxes, car crashes and insurance rates. I follow all of that up with a few statistics concerning the countless social ills that inevitably follow drug legalization. I usually include some statistics on addiction rates to harder drugs and point out the problems our society already has with children stuck in an overburdened foster care system because their parents are too addicted and/or screwed-up to care for them.

 The other person typically snaps back with what they believe is the final and conclusive response to every point I have made thus far in the conversation:

 “Well, it’s not like any of us are our brother’s keeper. Those are not my problems. Why should I be denied the “right” to use marijuana recreationally and responsibly just because some people move on to harder drugs or use drugs and drive.”

 At this point if my sweet husband happens to be within earshot he places his hand gently on my arm and attempts to lead me away from the unfortunate chump who is about to get an earful of my feelings on this subject. He knows that I do believe we all are to one degree or another our brother’s keeper. Each and every one of us has a sacred duty to look after the health and well being of the other seven billion souls who live on this planet whether we feel like it or not and this is not just about marijuana or drug legalization.

 It’s about a little thing we call “being human”.

 Decent people voluntarily set aside their own interests and avoid doing things that have the potential to hurt others or lead weak people astray. That is why past generations avoided things like smoking marijuana, cursing in public, using hard drugs, looking at porn in public spaces, and dumping their spouses for younger models. Not just because some of those things were unlawful but also because they had the good sense to understand that those things can and do cause harm to other people, especially children. And the culture was better off for it.

 Christians are called to an even higher level of “being human” than the rest of humanity. The Apostle Paul went so far as to suggest we give up eating meat and drinking wine if our eating and drinking causes another person to stumble. I for one believe our society could use a fresh dose of that kind of thinking.

 

 

 

Seriously, Some Things are Just Better

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation~ Hebrew 6:9

 Monday night I tuned into the news just in time to see a rather spirited interview with a woman who wants to have tax incentives for traditional (two parent) families eliminated from the U.S. tax code. This woman is convinced that tax incentives that encourage couples to marry before they have children are fundamentally unfair to “other kinds of families”.

 The man interviewing her (a somewhat conservative guy) appeared to be more than a bit perplexed by her logic (or lack thereof). He attempted to explain to her several times that those incentives were intentionally placed within the tax code to promote two parent families as anti-poverty and pro-family measures.

 After she snubbed his pointed attempts at dragging reason into the conversation, the interview devolved into a verbal cage match. He was on one side attempting to goad her into admitting out loud that some family structures are better than others, and should therefore be encouraged. She firmly stood her ground proclaiming repeatedly and vehemently that the current tax code is “unfair to other kinds of families”.

 The exchange (as fascinating as it was) left me feeling discouraged and peeved. My irritation was not simply due to the fact that the woman being interviewed appeared to be a clueless nitwit.  

 It was the bigger picture that bothered me and it’s still bothering me. In one sense, the woman has a valid point. It is clearly unfair for the tax code to promote and encourage certain kinds of families over other kinds of families. If fairness is always the end-all-be-all objective of everything, then tax incentives for those who are married with kids and not those who are single with kids is unfair and the practice ought to be stopped.

 But.

 Is fairness always the objective in every situation? Should fairness be the objective in this situation?

 I say “no” and “no”.

 There are bigger issues at play here than fairness. Those issues include (but are not limited to) the overall health of our society, which is demonstrably benefitted in a multitude of ways when people get married before they have kids and stay married afterward.

 But that whole thing was really nothing more than a side issue in my mind. The bigger picture that left me feeling peeved was the reality that we have devolved to a place where it is no longer tolerable to say that some things are better than others. Even when the facts clearly demonstrate that some things really are better than others.

 It’s not okay to say it’s better for kids to be raised in a two-parent home than by a single mom. It’s not okay to say that a committed marriage is better than hooking-up. It’s not okay to say that marriage is better than divorce. It’s not okay to say it’s better to help people (especially children) embrace the gender they were assigned at conception rather than help them to physically transform into a gender they can never really become from a genetic standpoint. It’s not okay to say that a religion that promotes peace and love is better than one that does not.

 Sigh.

 Even some Christians have bought into this silly drivel. We have become so convinced that God does a happy dance every time He sees us (no matter what we’ve been up to) that it is no longer okay to say that God unquestionably believes some things are better than other things. It’s not okay to say that going to church on Sunday mornings is better than going to brunch on Sunday mornings. It’s not okay to say that going to a Bible Study is better than going to a bar for a couple of drinks. It’s not okay to say that having sex in marriage is better than having sex outside of marriage.

 It’s not okay to say much of anything anymore (even in the church) unless, of course, our words are unswervingly positive and affirming.

 Insert eye roll here.

 The Bible makes it clear that some choices are better than others not because the people involved are better people, but rather because the choices have demonstrably better outcomes (Proverbs 16:8, Proverbs 28:6, Matthew 5:29, Mark 9:42, Romans 14:21, 1st Peter 3:17).

Until we grasp that fact, we really are in trouble.