How Peace can Become a Bad Thing –

Prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace- Jeremiah 10b-11 NIV

We are hardwired to pursue peace. 

Deep down in our souls we know every good and valuable thing human civilization has to offer was developed, advanced and flourished during times of peace. The finest art, music, theology, medicine and literature are all the outcome of extended periods of peace. Minus peace marriages dissolve, mental health declines, churches splinter, governments breakdown and societies crumble.  

Peace is a critical element of Christian doctrine. 

Jesus’ official title is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). He got that title by coming to earth, dying on the cross and rising from the dead in order to pay the penalty for human sin and rebellion. His purpose in doing all that was to broker peace between a sinless God and sinful humanity. Because Jesus is the bringer of peace Jesus’ followers are instructed to make peace whenever possible (Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14). The Bible teaches that the mere presence of an obedient Christian has the power to bring peace to a place or situation. (Matthew 10:13). One of the most profound benefits of knowing Jesus is the peace He brings to our hearts even in the midst of the worst kinds of trouble and chaos (John 14:27, John 16:33). 

Because peace is so vital to human flourishing most folks will go to super human and sometimes even sinful lengths to get it and keep it. A craving for peace is why we have divorce lawyers. Peace is the reason our culture loves pharmaceuticals so much. It’s why society collectively spends billions on police and it explains the existence of the military industrial complex.  Peace is so critical to human health people will fight wars just to keep it.  

It’s critical we understand. 

 Peace has a dark side.  It’s not all sunshine and gummy bears. There are situations in life when the presence of peace is neither good, beneficial or life-giving. Peace quickly becomes toxic anytime we: 

Get it in the wrong way-

Interestingly enough, the most totalitarian and repressive countries on earth are also, at least on the surface, some of the most serene and peaceful places on earth. You don’t see a lot of dissent or griping in dystopian regimes. The people in those places are not peaceful because they are thrilled with their circumstances. Beneath the veneer of peace and tranquility, there is a tyrant who rules with an iron fist. No one is allowed to tell the truth or say what they believe unless the tyrant gives them the go ahead. The same thing can happen in our families, churches, businesses and friendships. A strong personality or leader keeps the peace, not by leading well, working through interpersonal problems or helping people to figure out their conundrums. Rather, the leader keeps the peace through intimidation and coercion. Sometimes the coercion is stated verbally. Most of the time it’s implied. Sometimes the threat is physical, but usually it’s social or relational. Typically, anyone brave enough or dumb enough to refuse to “submit’ to the leaders demands ends up on the “outside” of the church, family or friend group. The only way to deal with a leader who sows false peace is to refuse to leave the situation. 

Want it for the wrong reasons-

Some people make peace simply because they are so averse to any kind of conflict, even healthy conflict they will do anything tolerate anything just to avoid the social discomfort that comes with rocking the relationship boat. Psychologists call this kind of peacemaking: codependence. Codependence is bad. The peace we broker through codependent capitulation never leads to anything healthy or lifegiving. Instead, codependent peacemaking always leads to repressed anger, game playing, bitterness and passive-aggressive revenge seeking, none of which pleases God (Hebrews 12:15, Matthew 5:37). The only way to achieve real peace is by moving forward with hard conversations in spite of any personal embarrassment or discomfort we feel.  Hard conversation is hard but it allows us to work through the issues in the relationship honestly and come to a place of real peace where people can flourish and grow.  

Take shortcuts to get it-

There are all sorts of shortcuts we can take to achieve a pretense of peace in our marriages, churches, friendships and workplaces. We can gloss over real problems, limit hard conversations, crush dissent, hide the conflict, avoid people who make us uncomfortable or pretend everything is okay when it isn’t. All of these shortcuts do give an illusion of peace, at least for a season. The problem with shortcuts is they also inhibit intimacy, limit growth, and kill straight forward communication.  There really is no shortcut or easy way to achieve real, authentic and lasting relationship health. We just have to be willing to be patient as we work through the conflict to get to the good stuff (cooperation, intimacy, friendship, trust). 

The pursuit of peace is a good, upright and noble thing—if we go about it in the right way. If we go about the wrong way we might get a short-term payoff that feels good in the moment but is in reality a cheap counterfeit, that brings with it a lot of long-term pain. 

How to Make Church a Little Easier for Those who Need it Most-

 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it– Hebrews 13:1-2 NASB 1995

Let’s just be real. 

Church can be really hard. 

Even if you’ve attended church forever and totally “get” church. Church can be hard.  Finding a new church is even harder. Meeting new people is hard. Stepping into an environment where you don’t understand all the rules is hard. Putting yourself out there is hard. Knowing out how to fit in is hard. Making new friends is hard.  

 Church is also important. 

It really is a nonnegotiable for a serious follower of Jesus.  Jesus established church (Matthew 16:18, John 3:3). He told us what it should look like (Matthew 5-6, Matthew 18:15-17). He prayed for it (John 17:1-25). He invested in it (Matthew 11:1, Mark 4:33).  He died for it (Matthew 26-27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19, Matthew 14:22-33). He rose from the dead to redeem and empower it (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20. Then He sent His people out to build it (Matthew 28:16-20).  

All that makes church a big stinking deal.  

It also makes the subsequent story super sad. I have a friend who is looking for a church. I won’t share the ghastly details but suffice it to say her reasons for leaving her church were one-hundred-percent valid. She attended four churches in nine weeks. She realized immediately the first two were a poor doctrinal fit. The third was tiny (not necessarily a problem). However, the pastor was also seriously unprepared (a problem). Number four was promising. The size was right, not too big, not too small. It was a healthy mix of age groups (young families, older adults, teens and young adults). The music was beautifully done and doctrinally on point. The sermon was solid and the doctrinal statement was sound. 

One problem. 

No one talked to her. There were greeters and they all smiled politely and made eye contact but did not say anything more significant than “hello” to her. Not once. There was a welcome time prior to the sermon and no one welcomed her. She did all the stuff you’re supposed to do. She showed up early and stayed late. She bathed. She dressed and behaved appropriately. Even with all that, no one, not even a staff member interacted with her.  

Nonetheless.

She soldiered on. A serve day was announced from the pulpit. She knew getting out and serving her community would be a good thing to do. She also knew it would give her a chance to interact with some of the people she was going to church with. 

At the serve day, she was assigned to a team and she tried to engage the other people on the team. She asked good questions, complimented the pastor on the sermon the week before and just generally did her best to be an agreeable, involved and helpful member of the team. To no avail. No one attempted to engage her when she arrived on site. No one asked her questions about herself. No one noticed when she left and went home. 

Two things. 

First.

Not every church is unfriendly. There are churches that do an outstanding job greeting new people and finding creative ways to integrate them into their church family. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If this were the first story I heard about an otherwise solid church where the congregants appeared to lack basic social skills I would cheerfully write it off as an anomaly. It’s not. This stuff is real. Lots of people have lots of stories just like my friends’ story. 

Second. 

My friend is a committed and mature Christian. She gets church. She has social skills. She understands reality. She knows relationships are a two-way street. She did not show up at church and expect everyone to do the work for her. She was more than willing to smile, ask good questions, be friendly and get involved in the activities the church was offering. 

However.

My friend is not the only type of person who shows up at churches. Some people who show up at church don’t know Jesus. Some are clueless about how church works. They don’t understand how to get involved or make friends. Some of have poor social skills or a chip on their shoulder. Some are looking for an excuse to reject Jesus. We give them the excuse they’re looking when we don’t make every effort to engage new people in a meaningful way. 

 Sometimes we become so fearful of rejection we refuse to step outside of our own tiny relational circles.  Or we become so locked into a tight little friend group that we have no room for anyone new. The problem  with letting fear or self-centeredness run the show we give the devil a foothold in someone else’s life and run the risk of running them out of church (Ephesians 4:26-27, 1st Peter 5:8). 

Here’s the thing:

Just because you feel welcome and loved at your church it doesn’t mean everyone who walks through the door feels the same.  Next week when you go to church, say a prayer, look around, let the Holy Spirit to lead you to the person who’s all alone or looks lost. Say hello, ask some questions, maybe invite them to lunch. Love on them. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference for the kingdom. 

Where Real Life is Lived-


How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you
– Psalm 31:19 NIV

My Dad died over the holidays. 

Death is never pleasant or easy. The Bible teaches death is not something human beings were created to experience (Genesis 2:16-17). Therefore, every death is grim, traumatic and depressing on some level. All that being said, as far death goes, his was less terrible than many. My Dad died quietly and peacefully in our home two days after Christmas. He didn’t linger on the edge of death for weeks or months as some do, nor was he terribly uncomfortable as he neared the end as some are. 

We were fortunate to have all four of our children with us the night he passed. Each shared something they loved about my Dad or a fond memory they had about him then we all prayed for him. A few minutes after we were done praying he breathed his last breath and that was it.

He was gone. 

The next day I gave information so his death certificate could be filed with the state. The woman filling out the paper work asked all manner of questions about my Dad’s life. Among other things, she wanted to know: where was he born?  What kind of career did he have? How many years was he married? How many children did he have? What level of education did he receive?  

On paper my Dad’s life looked pretty good.  

He graduated from college. He remained married to the same woman for forty-two years. He had a rewarding career in entomology. He travelled extensively and lived in a number of interesting places.  He fathered six children: four boys and two girls. At the end of the conversation the woman gathering the information commented that it sounded as if my Dad had lived a full and happy life. The reality of his existence was a bit different. My Dad was not a horrible man. He wasn’t evil and I doubt it was ever his intention to cause harm.  

However.

My Father did live a life that was unaltered in any conspicuous way by the restorative and redeeming work of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying my Dad was an unbeliever. I honestly do not know if he was or he wasn’t. His spiritual state was a bit of a mystery. I do know he and I talked at length about a commitment he made to Jesus shortly after my Mother died. I also know that over the last few years my husband and I and many other Christians attempted to have a number of spiritual conversations with him. However, in his later years’ dementia became an ever-increasing issue in his life so it was hard to know exactly where he stood spiritually. I do know after his “conversion experience” he never really grew spiritually or allowed his attitudes and behaviors to be transformed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:2, Colossians 3:5-16, 2nd).  Like so many people in this world who commit their lives to Jesus my Father remained exactly what and who he had been all of my life. In his case this meant he was a hard man with a bad temper and a whole slew of bad habits, who judged others with a measuring stick he refused to use on himself.  Sadly, he had few friends as he neared the end of his life. He died estranged from four of his six children and his two brothers. 

Sigh.

For the sake of my own sanity I choose to believe the best about my Dad’s eternal state. The mercy of God is great and the word of God never returns void (Hebrews 4:12, Isaiah 55:11). Therefore, I am choosing to believe I will see my Dad again someday. He will be an entirely new man and we will have the relationship we were always meant to have (2nd Corinthians 5:17)  

That being said.

In my more navel-gazy moments of grief and loss I wonder what my Dad would say now that he is firmly on the other side of the great divide that exists between the living and the dead (Luke 16:26).  

If he could I believe my Dad would say that a life lived for self is ultimately a wasted life. He would advise the living to mend fences and build bridges with the people we love while we have the opportunity to do so because there will come a day for all of us when those opportunities will be gone forever. He would likely have a lot to say about the importance of avoiding bitterness and not sinning in fits of anger (Ephesians 4:26, Hebrews 12:15, Ephesians 4:31. Most significantly, I believe with all of my heart and soul my Dad would tell us all to take any commitment we have made to Jesus seriously. He would advise us to do the things the New Testament tells us to do so we will grow into the people God designed us to be.  Because then—and only then—we get the full and abundant life Jesus promises those who believe enough to put God’s words into action. 

Because that is ultimately where real life is lived. 

How Conflict can Actually Save A Marriage-

So, I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you wont be doing what your sinful nature craves.  Galatians 5:16 NLT

 I have had the opportunity to see a lot of marriages go the distance. Unfortunately, through the years I have also seen a lot of divorces.

Because the vast majority of my friends are Christians, most of the divorces I have witnessed were between couples I am convinced are genuine Christians.  The saddest and most common divorces have been between what I call “long-haulers”.

Long-haulers are couples who stay quietly but miserably married for two, sometimes three or even four decades. Then, seemingly out of nowhere the couple announces to the shock of everyone they know they are divorcing. 

Divorce is always sad but these types of divorces are heartbreaking on multiple levels. These couples almost always feel as if they have “wasted” the best, most productive years of their life in a relationship that brought little real intimacy or joy. Long-haulers nearly always have kids, grandkids, a vast network of friends and a church family who are all psychologically, emotionally and/or spiritually impacted by the divorce. And finally, there is nearly always a disturbing lack of emotional, spiritual and sometimes even intellectual growth in long-haulers. Sometimes this is due to sin in the lives of the couple. However, most of the time the lack of growth occurs because both partners are too busy trying to manage the pain of the relationship to focus on their own spiritual development and health (Hebrews 2:1-3). 

The “reason” given for divorce in these types of marriages is almost always the hazy, vague catch-all term: “irreconcilable differences”. In most cases “irreconcilable differences” really means there was conflict in the marriage that was never really dealt with openly (Ephesians 4:26). The unresolved issue became, over time, a cancer in the relationship that eventually led to the death of the relationship. Sometimes the conflict was over sex.  Either they didn’t have much of it at all over the course of the marriage or one person in the relationship was having way more of it than the other (Exodus 20:14, 1st Corinthians 7:3-5, 1st Corinthians 6:18).  Sometimes, the conflict was over communication. At some point it broke down and they stopped talking about everything in life that really matters, leading to isolation.  Other times the conflict was over things as mundane as the division of labor in the relationship or as complex as money and how its allocated in the marriage. 

Here’s the thing:

Every long-hauler I have known has admitted that their marriage probably could have been saved if they had been willing to deal with the problems in the relationship early on. Many have also revealed they feared that having a fight would make the problems worse. Their fear kept them from initiating conflict that might have led to relational healing and a restoration of intimacy. 

The 5th Century Chinese military leader Sun Tzu said “sometimes the path to peace is war”. Nowhere is this truer than in marriage. Conflicts that bring issues out into the open where they can be discussed and dealt with openly are the only path to true peace in a relationship.  Following are four ways to leverage conflict for a healthy marriage:  

If there’s a problem find a way to discuss it- 

It doesn’t matter what kind of problems are present in the marriage. The problem can be sex, kids, interactions with parents, chores or money. The reality is any problem that gets pushed to the margins does not actually go anywhere.  All this does is give the problem space to fester and grow. At some point it will begin having an adverse effect on the rest of the relationship. If you can’t find a way to talk productively to each other get a professional involved. Whatever you do, don’t just hope the problems go away. They won’t. If you don’t fix it now the problem will still be there in thirty years and you will want a divorce. 

Deal with trust issues openly and honestly- 

Frequently, at the root of poor or blocked communication in marriage is a trust issue. This usually happens because there has been a history of shady behavior with one partner. Shady behavior can include emotional and/or physical affairs, use of pornography, verbal abuse, mishandling money or any other behavior that has caused one person to become distrustful of the other. The only way to deal with a trust issue is through talking about it openly so real healing can take place in the relationship. Oftentimes a professional is needed to help heal the hurt. 

No blaming or shaming when you talk about an issue- 

The problem should be the enemy not your partner. This means finding a way to deal with the issue at hand without being accusatory or cruel. 

No quitting till the problem is worked out- 

The most important rule in conflict management in marriage: no one gets to quit until the issues are truly resolved and healthy change has taken place in the relationship.

Marriage is meant to be a picture of the relationship between Jesus and His people. It is the place where children are nurtured into adulthood. If marriage is done right it becomes a safe place for two people to grow into the image of Jesus. Those are the things worth fighting hard for.

 Literally. 

This is What Rock Bottom Looks Like-

  And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice- Romans 1:28-29 ESV

Western civilization has reached a significant milestone in its race to the bottom.

Parent-child marriage.

Yes. You read that statement correctly. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you.  Parent-child incest is the latest sexual deviancy our culture is seeking to normalize via the legal system in the name of “individual autonomy” and “personal fulfillment” (Romans 1:18-32).  Last week, I read an article about a parent in New York State who filed a lawsuit asking the court to overthrow the state’s prohibition of incestuous marriages.  Seriously. This is a true story.

Insert face palm here.

After reading the article I scanned the comments section of the article. Most readers were convinced this is a one-time deal limited in scope to a couple of oddballs who live in New York. 

I’m not so sure. 

Years ago, when the push began to normalize and legalize behavior traditionally thought to be sinful, we were assured there was no such thing as a “slippery slope”. We were promised redefining marriage would in no way lead to the normalization or legalization of pedophilia or polygamy or any other strange sexual peculiarities. Now throuple’s (romantic threesomes) are a thing and parents are petitioning the courts to marry their offspring and some medical professionals have argued zealously that pedophilia and childhood sexual abuse are not the same thing at all (Mark 9:42).  

All that being true. 

This situation in New York looks to me like the latest step in the downhill progression of nuttiness that happens when a society decides that there are no moral limits in the arena of sexuality. 

Incestuous marriages could catch on. Perhaps not everywhere with everyone, but it will likely become increasingly more common. Trust me: it is only a matter of time before a popular house hunting show presents a parent-child twosome looking for their “forever home” with absolutely zero judgment. Our culture lost its moral bearings long ago and this sort of thing is a really just a symptom of that reality not the actual problem. The problem is that most people in our society are unwilling to seek moral or even commonsense wisdom outside their own human brokenness (Proverbs 3:5-6). As long as we as society continue to lean on our own flawed understanding of life and sexuality the downward moral spiral will continue unabated. 

It’s painful to watch.

Mostly because to those of us who know Jesus the answer is so simple: turn to God in repentance (Acts 3:19). He will forgive and heal even our strangest desires if we humble ourselves and ask.  But, until our society gets to that point human beings will continue to degenerate and the courts will remain inclined to bless the never-ending moral freefall.  

Sigh. 

I suspect it will be a while before our culture hits bottom. In the meantime, there are some things Christians can and should do to be a part of the solution. First: 

Point people to Jesus- 

Pointing people to Jesus means reaching out to people who are different from us. We must listen with as little judgment as we can muster and ask leading questions about how these lifestyles are actually working for the people practicing them. As we get to know unsaved people it is essential we pray like crazy God gives them a vision for a healthier way of doing life. When that happens, we need to be there to show them the way. 

Live according to God’s design- 

This means get married, have or adopt kids, love your spouse enough to work through any issues that arise. It means no moral monkey business: no cheating, no secret addictions, no secret anything. Live life fully, joyfully and in such a way you can be completely transparent about every aspect of your life. Oh yeah, and get your butt to church. The world needs some good examples. 

Be kind-  

Please note: I did not say we should agree that sinful behavior is acceptable or healthy. Nor, did I say we should lie to people and tell them their sexual deviancy is normal, healthy or okay with God. It’s not and it’s not our job to sanction sin in the name of making people feel good about themselves. That said, it is impossible to effectively help or even pray for someone we when we refuse to love them the way Jesus loves us. 

Life just keeps getting weirder. The good news is that the light of Jesus shines brightest in darkness. This is just one more opportunity for God’s people to shine for Him in a dark season (Isaiah 60:1-3, Matthew 5:16, Matthew 13:43). 

The Only Right Way for Christians to Deal With Current Events-

The righteous will never be shaken, they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes- Psalm 112:6-8 NIV

One of my personal axioms has always been: “the more you know, the more you know”. Because I have lived and breathed this conviction for more-or-less all of my days I have been a major news junkie for most of my adult life.  However, in recent months I have become a much less enthusiastic consumer of the nightly news. Mostly because the content has gotten pretty dang scary.

Seriously. 

The world is a scary place and it’s getting scarier all the time. A good many individuals really do appear to be going completely feral. Many appear to believe deep down in their hearts that violence and repressing the speech of others is a legitimate way to solve problems and silence voices that make them uncomfortable.  Elementary schools have become taxpayer-funded propaganda centers. Precious few politicians are defending the rights of “the average Joe or Jane”. No one seems to be on the side of anything good or wholesome anymore. The reality of this sorry state of affairs has left many Christians feeling powerless and even despairing. Some have given into the temptation to bury their heads in the sand to avoid feeling panic-stricken by the constant onslaught of bad news and cultural decay. 

Here’s the thing:

God does not want his people to live like cultural recluses or in a bubble. God wants His people to understand what’s going on in the world. Not for the sake of knowledge, but because knowledge empowers us to pray effectively.  Knowledge transforms us into voices of reason and wisdom in a chaotic world. When we know things, we can become actively involved in finding solutions to the problems plaguing society.  But in order to the voice our world needs we must respond to what we hear in the right way. 

The right way means:

Without fear- 

Christians are not called to live or behave in a way that is reckless or stupid. That said, the only thing anyone should really fear is God, displeasing God or not getting their lives right with God (Matthew 10:28, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 76:11). Fear paralyzes us.  It makes us forget the fundamental truth that God is ultimately in control of all things. Even death, by far the worst thing anyone can experience in this life is simply a door to a closer relationship with God for those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus. 

With discernment- 

Deception is our world’s biggest problem right now (Matthew 24:11, Colossians 2:4). Because deception is so commonplace, most of the nightly news is designed to propagandize rather than inform viewers. Some of it isn’t even true. Christians must learn to seek out conservative voices that are not weird or conspiratorial (I recommend The Daily Wire and Townhall). Then we need to pray daily for wisdom about how to interpret what we hear.  

In faith- 

In order to please God Christians must believe that God is and that He is working all events in this world out to achieve an end that He planned since the dawn of time (Hebrews 10:38, Hebrews 11:6) Revelation 21-22).  God wants us to show our faith (James 2:18) by holding on to the truth that God is working all things, even the most worrisome things (Romans 8:35-39) out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). 

With grace towards those who think differently- 

With a few notable exceptions, most people do not believe stupid things because they are willfully dumb or intentionally bent towards evil. Generally speaking most people who believe stupid and/or evil things do so because they have been deceived by the enemy (Titus 3:3).  Understanding that the average unbeliever is deceived rather than willfully stupid or intentionally evil should lead us to respond to their stupidity with concern and grace rather than contempt and scorn. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that deceived people who do evil will spend all of eternity paying for their folly. This should cause us to pray like crazy for them.  After all it is only by the grace of God that we aren’t just like them.  

Through the lens of eternity-

Everything we experience is this life no matter how good, bad, terrifying or delightful is fleeting and temporary (2nd Corinthians 4:18). We should never allow a temporal experience (whether the experience be positive or painful) to rob us of the truth that our lives should be centered around two things and two things only: preparing ourselves for eternity with God and attempting to bring others into relationship with Jesus so they can spend eternity with God. We should view events, even scary events as opportunities to grow in our own faith and as jumping off places to start conversations with others about their faith. 

Last, but not least: 

Knowing things, understanding the political world or being informed is absolutely pointless if we don’t combine our knowledge with a heart that is bent towards producing change in the world. The only way to produce change is to become an active participant in the world around us. We do that by praying fervently and specifically about current events, instigating conversations with our neighbors and making sure our voting habits reflect biblical values. When we learn to these things we become gracious, spirit empowered change agents.  

Satan’s Diary- June 21st 2020

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes- Ephesians 6:10-11 NIV

Dear Diary,

 Life is GOOD!

 I just finished perusing second quarter reports. I literally could not be more PLEASED. I will not bore you with all the glorious details but that stupid planet is a magnificent mess.

 Seriously.

  The humans who have rejected God and biblical truth are rapidly losing touch with reality. They have bought into the lie that evil is good and good is evil. Ideas and behaviors that were once considered immoral and dangerous to society are now considered to be mainstream and even healthy. Millions have been damaged, some irreparably, by the lies that have been adopted as truth. Hate, violence and looting have taken root in cities all over the world. It’s all happening in the name creating a more peaceful, just and fair society!  People who ought to know better are fully deceived into thinking hate and destruction is acceptable because it’s being done for the “right” reasons.  Those not deceived are too panic-stricken by the mere thought of being labeled intolerant or racist to say anything about anything.

 YES!

 Decades ago, I began cleverly convincing parents that discipling their children was futile and mean. I made them think any kind of correction or disapproval would stifle their child’s creativity and damage their self-esteem. With the assistance of exquisitely misguided “child-rearing professionals” I encouraged parents to allow their children to do whatever felt good to them. Because children are little-tiny sinners it felt really good for them to mindlessly express rage anytime their feelings were hurt, something was unfair or they didn’t get their way. My hard work has paid off. That generation is now fully grown and the outcome is beyond beautiful. Those “adults” have zero self-control and even less sense.  They want society to bow to their infantile and feebly thought-out demands. Full-grown adults scream, blubber and destroy property until someone finally caves. Politicians are just as terrified of their tantrums as their parents were. They are being given everything they want in hopes they will eventually just quiet down and play nice.

 As if.

 However, it’s the Christian community I am most pleased with right now. I have spent decades convincing Christian pastors and leaders that being popular, tolerant and “cool” is the key to effective evangelism. Most Christians are so used to hopping onto every inane, secular bandwagon that they have been sucked into endorsing a organization that promotes evil, unforgiveness and hatred. They are sanctioning sinful ideas in the name of loving their neighbor and repairing race relations!  Christian leaders are too afraid of being disliked to tell anyone Jesus is the only way to bring peace and healing to fractured hearts and lives.  No one is calling anyone to repentance or to forgive their enemies. Those fools have all but forgotten forgiveness is the only cure for bitterness.

 My greatest triumph has been in the area of prayer.

 I have worked hard to convince Christians prayer is a dreary waste of time. It is paying off. Now Christian leaders read books and strategize rather than praying for wisdom. Regular church attenders have followed suit.  Old people are the only ones who attend prayer meetings. Most of prayer the warriors are dead or will be soon and most younger Christians don’t even know how to pray. Others believe that if God doesn’t give them what they want when they ask for it He is being callous and unjust.  So, they give up, they just stop. Apparently, none of those fools have read Luke 18:1-8. Some have even turned their backs on God because He had the nerve to tell them “no” to a request. 

 OUTSTANDING.

 Most Christians don’t think Ephesians 6:10-17 applies to them so they don’t ask God to show them truth about themselves, God and other people. So, I use lies to keep them in bondage to sin, unbelief and suspicion of others. Many are so distrustful of their fellow Christians they do everything possible to avoid meaningful relationships with other Christians, this ensures they have no accountability in their lives and therefore never move beyond spiritual infancy. I have skillfully convinced Christians that righteous behavior is legalistic and unnecessary for Christians. They don’t ask God to empower them to live by biblical standards. As a result their hearts become defiled by sin. This is a beautiful thing because makes them unfit for spiritual work AND they are unable to see life the way God sees life. Their lack of insight and wisdom leads to more sin which leads to more bondage.   They don’t ask God to give opportunities to evangelize so they are to fearful to speak up and they remain silent when opportunities do present themselves. They don’t ask for faith so they live in fear. Because they lack faith they consistently rely on worldly methods to achieve spiritual ends and fail every time. Christians don’t pray for each other so they don’t experience the community that develops when they routinely pray for other Christians.

 WINNING!

 Life will stay good until those fools start praying like they mean it.

 

 

  

 

 

 

Keeping Your Marriage Together Even in Tough Times-

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore- Psalm 133:1,3b NIV

 No marriage is immune from tough times.

 This is true no matter how compatible the couple or how much they both love Jesus. Marriage is hard because marriages involve people and people are universally weird, sinful and lacking in self-awareness. People do things all the time without understanding why they are doing them. Because the other person in the marriage is also a sinner they tend to interpret their spouse’s behavior and motivations in the most negative way imaginable. This weird dynamic is the trigger for most conflict in marriage. Throw in an irritating virus, a long quarantine, home schooling, financial concerns and the uncertainty that goes along with those stressors and even the healthiest marriages can get bumpy.   

 I will not lie.

COVID-19 has created some challenges in my usually happy marriage. We have experienced more conflict in the last eight weeks than in the previous eight years.  We are not alone. Every couple I know has struggled with conflict or hurt feelings in recent weeks.  Thankfully, the lockdowns are beginning to end. However, Coronavirus is not going anywhere and neither is the financial and emotional stress it has brought to families and marriages. Marriage is critically important to the health of families, churches and all of society. Therefore, married people must find ways to keep their relationships solid under the stress we are all experiencing.  It has helped me to remind myself of the following four realities as we learn to maneuver the new normal. 

 Remember:

 Everyone is stressed-

 I get this is rather obvious but sometimes we forget stress causes people to behave strangely and stressed-out people rarely realize they are behaving any differently than they normally do. Stress changes how we respond to situations and stimuli.  Someone who is typically laid-back and very patient with noise may become outraged when the kids are loud. Someone who is normally okay with disorder and chaos may morph into a controlling clean-freak. A normally tidy individual may become a total slob in stressful times.  The situation we find ourselves in is far more stressful than any most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. No one in our culture has a point of reference for a peculiar virus no one really understands, long periods of quarantine, political unrest, financial strain and the million different levels of fear and uncertainty this pandemic has produced. It is critical we take a step back when our spouse is behaving strangely. Ask questions about how the other person is feeling rather than simply walking away or responding to their unusual behavior in anger (Proverbs 15:1)

 You’re probably acting weird too-

 Self-examination is critical to relationship health.  This is especially true when life is challenging (Psalm 139:23-24, 2nd Corinthians 13:5). Take an inventory of yourself. Are you more withdrawn than usual? More aggressive? Less patient? Checked-out? Hyper-critical? Irritable?  Are you pretending everything is okay when it’s clearly not? Are you indulging in behaviors you normally avoid like drinking, cursing or fits of rage? If any of those things are true, spend some quality time seeking God and asking Him to help you figure out what is driving your behavior. Is it fear? Hopelessness? Anger? Putting a name to the feelings helps us to process our emotions in a healthy way. Once we understand why we are doing something it becomes much easier to stop doing it.

 Understand that everyone will come unraveled at some point-

 Everyone processes stress differently. Some get mad, others become despondent or enslaved to fear.  Some make futile attempts to avoid the thing that that’s causing them pain or worry.  I became emotionally unraveled the week prior to Easter. My private unraveling involved a lot of ranting and raving. I angerly questioned the wisdom of every rule and the motives and intelligence of the people making the rules. After a week of some shockingly aggressive behavior on my part and another week of the darkest depression I’ve ever experienced. I spent some time alone with God and came out the other side with a level of peace. I still have bad days but I’m okay. My husband’s unraveling took much longer and looked entirely different from mine, but it was every bit as real and unsettling.  It helps to ne on the lookout for signs of emotional unraveling in yourself and others. Rather than becoming frustrated with your own or your partners response to the stress, take the time to pray for yourself and your partner. Give each other grace.  Look for creative ways to tangibly love your partner and care for each other right now.   

 Talking is always the answer-

 One of the worst things that can happen in a relationship is to make any topic off-limits. Talking through tough stuff is the only way to work through the issues. Push through any discomfort either of you feel and say what needs to be said. Say it in the kindest way possible and always be on the lookout for solutions rather than simply laying blame.

 Stress happens.

 How we respond to stress has the power to make or break our relationship. If we work with our spouse rather than against our spouse and choose to see them as our ally rather than our enemy we will come out of this better people with stronger relationships.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Everyone Must Develop a Theology of Suffering-

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them- 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3 NIV

 This past week some friends took me to see the movie Free Burma Rangers. The movie was a stark reminder of three fundamental truths:

  1.  Life is hard.
  2. God is good even when life is hard.
  3. When life is hard it doesn’t feel like God is good.

 Most Christians readily agree with truths one and three. However, many Christians (including myself), struggle to fully embrace truth two. Backing up this belief is an increase in the number of Christians who have turned their backs on God when life got hard or when other Christians disappointed them.

 Truth-be-told, some who walk away from Christianity are spiritual snowflakes. These are the folks who truly believe a rude comment on social media is a form of persecution.  Deep down they tend to believe they are too special to suffer. When life gets just a little bit tougher than they are comfortable with they melt under the heat of adversity, get miffed at God and leave the church. Spiritual snowflakes tend to carry their snow-flakiness into other areas of their lives including relationships. They’re quick to take offense and get their feelings hurt. They readily abandon relationships that challenge them in any way.

 Then,

 There are individuals who turned their backs on God after experiencing legitimately horrific situations. They lost a child or had a loved-one murdered or lived through horrible abuse or a genocidal massacre. The folks in this category all came up against a situation they couldn’t find a reasonable answer for and they simply determined they could not live the Christian life without that answer. So, they turned away from God either in anger or unbelief.

 The two groups are vastly different in nearly every way and one group is far more worthy of  compassion than the other. However, both groups share a common problem that has become endemic in Christianity.  

 They lack a theology suffering.  

 Theology is not just for bookworm-y, bowtie-wearing types. Theology is practical and necessary to survive life with our faith intact. Theology explains life and how God uses the stuff of life to accomplish His purposes in our lives.  Every believer in Jesus must have a solid theological grid to view life through; if they don’t they will never be able to effectively explain to themselves and others why they are experiencing the things they are experiencing.  

  One reason Christians lack theology in this area is because life is easier now than it has ever been before in human history.

 Think about it.

 Thanks to the miracles of central heat and air nobody in the Western world is ever too hot or too cold. Unless, of course, they are freely participating in an activity that demands they be too hot or too cold. Two-hundred-years ago, most people spent the majority of their lives in a state of perpetual discomfort. Today, it is uncommon for people in the Western world to experience hunger unless they are attempting to lose weight. A hundred years ago famine was still a reality for much of the world. Illnesses that once wiped-out large portions of the human population have been controlled or eradicated with drugs, surgery or public health programs. A hundred years ago it was simply accepted fact that few people would see all their children live to adulthood. People in civilized countries do not go to jail for being poor anymore. One-hundred-years ago there was no such thing as bankruptcy. Developed countries had poor houses, which were basically just jails for poor people.

 All this progress is undeniably awesome. However, improved living conditions have raised our expectations for happiness to a level that cannot always be met. Truth-be-told most of us (including me) feel entitled to be comfortable, healthy, happy and entertained all of the time. We tend to get a bit cranky with God when life is anything less than perfectly pleasant.

 A couple of things:

 First, we live in a fallen world that is not fully redeemed (Romans 8:19-22). This simply means that no matter how good humans get at making the world a comfortable place to live we will never be completely free of adversity and tragedy this side of heaven (John 16:33). Secondly, Christians probably experience more difficulty and hardship than non-Christians. This is because God is relentlessly working to conform us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29, 2nd Corinthians 3:18).  This is no easy task and apparently it requires some hardship to get the job done (James 1:2, 1st Peter 1:6-7, Revelation 2:9-10).  Furthermore, life is full of tests (Luke 4:1, 2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Thessalonians 2:4, Hebrews 11:17, James 1:12). God does not test us so He can find out where we are at. He already knows everything there is to know about us. However, God sometimes allows us to be tested so we can figure out where we are at so we can make changes that lead to growth.

 Finally,

 We must change how we view the Christian life. Someday we will dwell in heaven, and there will be no more tears, sickness, longing, pain or evil (Revelation 21:1-7). Life will be perfect and we will be perfect. We aren’t there yet. At this point in the story we are soldiers in a war (Philippians 2:25, 2nd Timothy 2:3-4, Philemon 1:1-2) We are fighting for the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings (Ephesians 6:10-20). Sadly, wars are messy and painful, they demand soldiers not snowflakes.

 

Alcohol, Psychology, Environmentalism and Other Awkward Relationships I Have With the World-

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight- 1st Corinthians 3:18-19a NIV

 Christians are commanded to live in this world without wallowing around in the worldliness of the world (John 17:16-18, 1st John 2:15-17, 1st John 4:4-5). For mature believers this means having an awkward and uncomfortable relationship with a lot of the things in this world.

 For me, the list of worldly things I am at least somewhat uncomfortable with is long. Some highlights include most government funded poverty programs, modern environmentalism, public education and most of the stuff that comes out of Hollywood.  The enemy has gotten a firm foothold in every one of those arenas and found clever ways to use them to mislead people.

 Alcohol is yet another example of an awkward and uncomfortable relationship I have with the world. There is a little too much sanctioned alcohol use in the Bible for me to completely buy into the idea it’s a sin to drink alcohol (Song of Songs 8:2, Proverbs 3:10, John 2:1-8, 1st Timothy 5:23).   That being said. As the adult child of two raging alcoholics I have experienced firsthand the devastation and misery that comes with excessive alcohol use. Therefore, I am uncomfortable with anything other than infrequent alcohol use.

 Anyway.  

 Perhaps my most uncomfortable ongoing relationship with the things of this world is with psychology.

 I am not opposed to psychology.  

 My husband occasionally jokes I was raised by wolves. It’s a bit of an exaggeration but not completely out of line with reality. I credit discovering psychology in my early twenties with helping me make sense of my parents, myself and why they were the way they where and why I am the way I am. I credit Jesus with saving me and changing me but without the aid of some Christian counselors and Christian psychology books it probably would have taken a lot longer for me to work out the kinks that a sketchy upbringing created in my personality (Romans 12:2, 2nd Corinthians 3:18, 2nd Corinthians 5:17).

 If psychology is kept in perspective, it can be helpful to the church. Psychology is the science of understanding the human mind. It helps explain how past experiences influence human behavior.  When leaders understand the “why” behind human actions it enables them to help people get free of the bondage that comes with bad choices. Psychology helps people to better understand themselves.  Knowing the “why’s” behind why we do what we do is key to making changes that help us become better more effective followers of Jesus.

 However.

 Like all human wisdom, psychology has very real limits and should never take priority over the Bible (1stCorinthians 1:25). It’s important to remember that with the exception of Christian practitioners, psychology does not acknowledge God or the sin nature of humanity (Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:23). As a result, the science of psychology can never fully explain exactly how and why the human soul can become completely twisted and evil, nor does it empower people to fully transform into a better version of themselves (2nd Corinthians 5:17). Only Jesus can do that.

 Secular psychology relies heavily on behavior modification which some people (including some Christians) confuse with the Christian act of repentance. Repentance is usually a process.  It begins with the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life to convict them that their choices are wrong. The person recognizes their behavior is wrong, not because it bugs other people or because it creates chaos in their lives but rather because it is offensive to God. Then the person makes changes to please God rather than people. These kinds of changes tend to last.

  Conversely, behavior modification is usually motivated by social pressure. A spouse or friend says something judgy and it becomes apparent that relationships will be threatened if something doesn’t change. The individual then changes their behavior just enough to please people and get them off their back. Sometimes this happens without the person concluding that there was anything wrong with what they were doing in the first place.  

 Without true heartfelt repentance it is impossible to be saved because repentance is the fruit of faith (Acts 20:21, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, Mark 1:4). Unfortunately, psychology sometimes enables people to change just enough to keep them from feeling like they need to turn to God and repent. Psychology can make a person aware of their shortcomings and flaws but it can never bring anyone to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

 By far my biggest issue with psychology is that it places limits on compassion and forgiveness that God does not. Psychology tells us that no one is obligated to forgive a wrong and that no one should do anything they don’t really want to do.  God wants His people to be like Him. This means Christians are called to a radical level of living that sometimes demands we go further with grace and forgiveness than psychology tells us is healthy or wise. It means there are times in life when we look beyond worldly wisdom and love in ways that make no sense at all from a human perspective.