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. 

Making a Difference in A World that’s Gone Stupid-

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is- Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV

Covid-19 is, for all intents and purposes, over. 

Between vaccines, therapeutics, a rebirth of common-sense and folks finally putting their collective foot down, for the first time in a long time a mindless virus is no longer running the show. 

That doesn’t mean life is all snow cones and roses. 

The economy is a flaming-hot mess. Thanks to punch-drunk government spending post-covid, inflation is out of control and a nasty recession appears to be on the horizon. Politicians all over the world are openly flirting with authoritarianism. As they pass legislation designed to create the kind of chaos that causes folks to welcome authoritarian control. These realities make future hardships likely. Further complicating the whole messy mess, morally we have officially hit the skids. People are stupid with sin. All common sense has vanished into thin air. Our culture is so utterly ridiculous college educated people can no longer tell the difference between boys and girls. Literally anything goes and God help the individual dumb enough to say some behavior, lifestyle choice or way of identifying is wrong or potentially harmful. A harsh and hasty canceling is in their future. 

Sigh. 

So, what is a Christian to do? There are no easy answers to that question. What the church has been doing clearly isn’t working. The culture is devolving and the church is shrinking. Most church growth in recent years has not been conversion growth. Some churches are growing because already saved people are going from church to church desperately searching for something healthy and life-giving. The church has been shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic for decades. This has to stop. Churches have to grow again.  The church is called to be a preserving and healing presence in the culture, we can’t do that if we aren’t fulfilling the call to make disciples (Matthew 29:18-20).  In order to get back to that calling some collective self-examination is needed.   As Christians, we are called to transform the culture by living such good lives that we reveal truth and call the people around us to repentance with our actions and attitudes (1st Peter 2:12).  

To accomplish that end leaders must lead well. 

Alas, many Christian leaders have fallen into the trap of believing there is something innately special about them and that’s the reason they’re church leaders. Truth-be-told it is a leader’s obedience and willingness to serve that makes them useful to the Kingdom of God.  If a leader stops being obedient or stops seeing themselves as a servant of Jesus, that leader instantly becomes worthless to the Lord (1st Samuel 13:1-14, 1st Samuel 15:22, Psalm 128:1). Period. In these topsy-turvy times it is imperative leaders remember they are only as special as they are obedient.  Leaders cannot use any perceived specialness they have as an excuse to hurt people or skirt the rules. Neither is it okay to use Jesus as a vehicle to build their own kingdom. That kind of behavior is crushing the churches ability to be a witness for Jesus. 

Christians must think clearly, wisely and most importantly of all: biblically. 

In order to do that we must exercise some common sense about what we put into our minds because that determines how we see the world (Philippians 4:8). It is imperative Christians let go of the ridiculous fantasy that popular culture is harmless for anyone. It’s not and it never has been. Much of popular culture is meant to make us morally dumb. It’s simply a fact that no one has become more godly or wise watching Game of Thrones, The Office, Disney-plus or any other popular drivel that promotes the very stuff Jesus died to save us from. If you have any doubt about what I’m saying test it: stop watching television for ninety days, replace television watching with something live giving: Bible reading, Christian music, gardening, board games or playing with your kids. I guarantee after three months of not watching garbage you will see what you do watch from a completely different perspective.

Furthermore: 

 Christians must behave in a way that is loving towards those outside the faith (Colossians 4:5).  No one has ever been won over to team Jesus with meanness or judgment. That being said, we have to stop using “love” as an excuse to pander to the culture and keep quiet on matters of right and wrong. Ultimately, moral issues are not a matter of personal taste. They are matters of life and death. Christians do no one any favors by keeping quiet or pretending we agree on issues of homosexuality, gender, heterosexual sexual sin, pornography and the child grooming that has become commonplace by transgender activists in public schools. Nor is it acceptable for Christians to use grace (God’s forgiveness) as an excuse for ungodly, unwise or unruly living. 

Christianity is ultimately about calling—not so much the individual calling most Western Christians associate with calling. The calling I’m talking about is the corporate calling we all have to be holy (Ephesians 1:4, Ephesians 5:3) and live lives centered around the good of others (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13). If we refuse to embrace that calling we miss the whole point of Christianity and become powerless to help a dying culture find their way to Jesus. 

How to Survive the Topsy-Turvy, Rabbit Hole World of Post-Truth-

They refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore, God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false– 2nd Thessalonians 2:10b-11 ESV

Craziness is being taken to whole new level these days.

Consider these current realities:

  • A male is now the number one female swimmer in America. 
  • It is no longer true that being born with a particular set of chromosomes (XX or XY) determines gender. 
  • Feelings are every bit as valid and important as facts. 
  • Words are violence.
  • It is possible to say, write or post something inoffensive in a “mean way” instantly making the inoffensive thing “mean” and “aggressive”. 

Furthermore:

Humans routinely look at long lists of facts proving something to be true. After viewing the evidence (much of it airtight) they will assert that all those obvious and incontestable facts are simply not true.  They conclude the truth is in fact the exact opposite of what the facts say they are.  This makes it official: our culture has fallen down the rabbit hole. Good has become evil, right has become wrong, and lies have become truth. Literally.  

There is nothing stranger than watching a seemingly rational and apparently functional person deny the clearly obvious without any apparent misgivings. It feels like you’re witnessing someone morph into a pod person right before your very eyes. It FEELS as if you’re being willfully gaslighted. However, I am convinced that is not the case most of the time. The pod people really believe the lie.  They imagine that men can really be women, feelings are as important as facts, words are every bit as harmful as a weapon in the hands of a killer and intent is irrelevant. 

Interestingly, the Bible does provide an explanation for this lunacy. 2nd Thessalonians tells us that as the world winds down and we near the “end of the age” (Matthew 13:39-43, Matthew 24) there will be “a great delusion”. The delusion will come because people will refuse to believe the word of God and be saved. The delusion will cause many to believe things that are simply not true. In Luke twenty-one Jesus warns of something similar. He tells His disciples that in the end false prophets and teachers will deceive many. Jesus warns that the delusion will be so powerful that even some of the “elect” or those who have a relationship with Jesus will be tempted to believe the lies.

The delusion appears to be gaining ground. It’s the only rational explanation for the madness currently running amok in our culture. Furthermore, the monkey business we’re experiencing will not end until we have a massive revival that impacts the majority of the population or Jesus returns.  Seriously. Once a civilization collectively hops on a bus to Crazy Town there is little chance of turning the bus around without divine intervention. 

This means believers in Jesus must get busy figuring out how to deal with the current reality in a way that reveals truth to the world around us and honors God. 

Sigh. 

 Nothing is impossible with God. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean everything God calls us to do will be easy. Living for God in a topsy-turvy rabbit-hole world of post-truth is no easy task. That said accepting the following realities will make it easier. 

First:

We must question everything- 

Seriously. The ideas and philosophies  taking root in our culture are not all obviously insane, some clearly are, but some aren’t (Colossians 2:8). Sometimes the deception is subtle. Some lies have a little truth at their core. Others seem good true on the surface and it isn’t until you carefully examine the fruit of the idea that you see the idea really is toxic. This means Christians have to practice wisdom and discernment (Psalm 119:125, Job 34:4) in every circumstance.  

We have to learn to pray about everything-

We do not live in a time and place where can pridefully “lean on our own understanding” about anything and survive spiritually (Proverbs 3:5-6). This a time to humbly acknowledge the reality that God knows more than we do about everything and ask Him for wisdom about everything even the things that feel right to us (Proverbs 14:20)

We have to be okay with not being liked- 

The days of being an esteemed majority are all but over for Christians, at least for the foreseeable future. The sooner we get comfortable with the reality of not being liked the sooner we can get on with learning how to live spiritually productive lives in a post-Christian culture. This reality does not give us permission to be rude, unpleasant or lacking in grace but it should give us the courage to say what needs to be said and to defend what’s good and true. 

Hard times are upon us. 

I don’t know if the hard times are the beginning of the end or simply a blip on the radar that will lead to a revival. That question is way above my current paygrade.  I do know our call in this cultural moment is to be faithful in all things and trust God with the rest.  

Four Ways God Works in an Age of Apostasy-

Our wrongdoings testify against us, Lord, act for the sake of Your name! Our apostasies have indeed been many. We have sinned against You– Jeremiah 14:7 NASB 

A couple of months ago I concluded that I had been spending way too much of my Bible reading time in a few New Testament books. 

It was time to broaden my horizons. 

So, I dusted off the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. The first few chapters of 1st Kings is mostly just palace intrigue. It covers the death of King David and the opportunistic scheming that occurred around his succession. The book reaches a high point early on with the installation of David’s son Solomon as his replacement. Solomon started strong with a heart for God. God blessed his efforts and Israel thrived economically and militarily under his leadership.  

It’s all kind of down-hill from there.

Solomon’s heart was lured away from God by his plethora of foreign wives. Despite his wisdom and worldly success, he was a dismal failure in all the ways that really matter. The Kingdom split following his death and both Israel and Judah wandered far from God.  Most of the rest of 1st Kings is just a glum recounting of one bad, evil, idolatrous king after another bad, evil, idolatrous king. The book gets slightly more interesting with the introduction of the prophet Elijah in 1st Kings 17 but then 2nd Kings devolves into a serious of weird and often disturbing stories that cover topics as diverse as floating ax heads and cannibalism. The weird stories are interspersed here and there with more recountings of more crappy kings. In chapter seventeen Israel falls and is taken captive by Syria. King Hezekiah begins ruling Judah in chapter eighteen. Hezekiah and Josiah were the last of Judah’s even halfway decent leaders. However, their leadership was not enough to keep the country from falling ever deeper into idolatry and ruin. King Nebuchadnezzar makes his first appearance in chapter twenty-four and that ushers in the Babylonian captivity and the end of Jewish sovereignty. 

Sigh. 

I was surprised by how depressed I was when I was finished reading the books. It wasn’t the first time I read either book. However, it was the first time either book hit me in such a soul-crushing kind of a way.  

Over time, I had a couple of realizations concerning the whole thing: first, the book of 1st Kings is just a glum summary of Israel’s protracted slide into apostasy and unbelief. 2nd Kings tells the story of how God worked in the lives of those who lived faithfully for God in that time.  The books hit me hard because we too are living in a season of apostasy. We don’t call it that, that of course, we call it “living in a post-Christian culture”, which sounds way nicer than “season of apostasy” but it’s the same thing. Whatever you call it, it sucks. It sucks living in a declining culture. It sucks watching the whole stupid world devolve into moral and intellectual chaos. It sucks seeing people degrade themselves with stupid ideas and even stupider behavior. It sucks watching people do everything possible to deny the reality of God. Most of all, it sucks feeling overwhelmed by the darkness and ugliness of a post-believing world. 

That being said. 

We are not without hope. We aren’t Israel and God hasn’t left the building (metaphorically speaking). He’s still on His throne and He is still working in the hearts of His people, which means He is still working in the greater culture. Revival could be just around the corner. In the meantime, following are four lessons I gleaned about living in a post-Christian culture from 1st and 2nd Kings.  

Community is critical in a post Christian world- 

In 1st and 2nd Kings God works most powerfully through little communities of prophets who banded together to support and encourage one another. Community, connection, partnership and close friendship is an ongoing theme throughout the book. The takeaway for contemporary believers is clear. The key to remaining spiritually strong and emotionally healthy while the world is literally going to hell around us is making Christian community a priority in our lives. 

When the going gets tough God shows off– 

All the depressing historical truths aside, one of the high points of both books is seeing God work among the believing remnant in 1st and 2nd Kings. From Mt. Caramel in 1st Kings 17 to the ax head incident in 2nd Kings. God showed His power and provided for His people in fresh new ways. We should have hearts of faith that expect Him to do the same in our time. 

 God works in surprising places in dark times- 

One key theme of both 1st and 2nd Kings is provision for both gentiles and gentile women (1st Kings 17:9-20, 2ndKings 4:1-37). Both books make it clear that when previously believing people turn their backs on God, He shows Himself in mighty and lifegiving ways to people groups we wouldn’t necessarily expect Him to work through.  We should expect a movement of God in unexpected places in the coming years. 

And finally: 

Relentless leaders bring hope and healing to graceless – 

Two bright spots in 2nd Kings are the records of Hezekiah and Josiah. Both men were tenacious leaders who had the insight to recognize the serious nature of times they lived in and the grit to do something about the problems at the root of Israel’s trouble: idolatry and the sinful practices that accompany idolatry (2nd Kings 18:1-6, 2nd Kings 23:1-24). Their steadfast leadership and determination to serve God wholeheartedly resulted in revival that kept judgment at bay. 

So. 

All that to say, one of the key takeaways from 1st and 2nd Kings is that God is always at work even in a post-Christian world that feels like it’s going to hell all around us.  Usually in ways we least expect. 

How we Got Here and What Will Bring Change-

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins– James 5:19-21 NASB 

Sometimes writing about one thing will cause me to think more deeply about another thing. 

Such was the case this past week. 

Last week’s post was all about “the new normal” and my own stubborn resistance not just to the expression “the new normal” but also to all the changes the “new normal” has brought to everyday life. It has been tough for me to accept that the way we do life has changed dramatically all because of a stupid germ and our weird response to that germ.  However, over the course of time I have come to accept the reality that life will be different for a while, perhaps even forever. 

I do not believe the “new normal” is an accident of fate. It is the direct result of God’s judgment and rebuke. We are where we are due to the moral rebellion of those outside the church as well as the complacency and disobedience of those inside the church. Much of the “new normal” including the fear, political division, confusion and loss of freedom is simply the result of a loving God working overtime to get our attention before we destroy our stupid selves. It’s time we started paying a little closer attention.   

The world is a mess:

 We live in a time and a place where basic knowledge concerning God and morality is still very much part of the Western cultural norm. Thanks to the internet there has never been a time when more people had more access to the Bible and Christian teaching. Sadly, all this access to information has had little impact on how most people approach life (Romans 1:18-21, 2nd Timothy 3:5). 

Most non-Christians view themselves as free moral agents who are unaccountable to anyone or anything. The mere suggestion of God’s existence raises the hackles of some. The God our culture does embrace bears little resemblance to the God of the Bible. He is weak, tolerant, unfailingly nonjudgmental and very kind. As a result, most non-Christians have literally cast off all restraint. They fight against the notion that anyone, including God has the right to tell them what to do or how to run their lives.  It is routinely argued by politicians, thought leaders and “average Joes” that anything God has declared to be true and good is actually wrong, stupid and repressive. The mere suggestion there should be moral limitations in any area but especially in the area of sexuality is met with open outrage and hostility (Romans 1:21-32). 

The church has its own set of issues. 

For the better part of the last century the church has behaved much like Adam did in the garden (Genesis 3). Christians (including me) have been passive as their friends, neighbors and family members have played around with ideas and behaviors that we were fully aware would lead to their eventual destruction.  We watched the public schools teach our children the lie that Western civilization is evil and unredeemable, and did little, if anything to stop the madness.  We allowed the entertainment industry to lead our families into a hellish upside-down morality that calls evil good and good evil.  We passively watched our culture fall down the rabbit hole on nearly every issue from drug use to the break-down of the family to gender issues.  

Our reluctance to confront these and other issues was been born out of fear (Isaiah 41:10-13). We were afraid of being labeled as “hateful”, “backward”, “anti-science” or “mean-spirited” by our peers (John 15:18).   On the rare occasions when Christians have boldly confronted these and other issues it has rarely been done the way God designed it to be done. It hasn’t been a parent challenging their child or one neighbor or friend gently confronting the sin of someone they care about. Instead Christians have outsourced hard conversations to pastors, books, big Christian organizations and ministries who have had the discussions concerning virtue and morality that individual Christians should have been having one-on-one with their friends and family.   As a result, many in our culture are convinced Christians have no real interest in individual people but only care about righteousness in a nationalistic sense. 

All that being said.

Because God is good and unfailingly merciful all is not lost. We have hope.  God is eager to forgive those who are quick to repent. He will send revival, He will heal our land but first church people must make changes (2nd Chronicles (7:14). The church must do some serious soul searching. It’s time to ruthlessly root out the sin in our own lives and repent. If we don’t we will never have the moral authority necessary to confront sin and have hard conversations with others. It’s way past time to let go of any discomfort we feel about discussing moral issues with our children, friends and neighbors. And lastly, it is imperative we stop expecting pastors and ministry organizations to do the job of making disciples and confronting sin. It’s not their responsibility, it’s ours (Ephesians 4:10-12). If we lean into that responsibility we will see the culture change and our churches grow into something healthy and strong. 

Living Victoriously in a World Gone mad-

 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others- Philippians 2:3-4 NASB

 It was another insane week in a world gone mad:  

 Protesters and looters are still at it. Politicians on the left have fallen all over themselves applauding the madness. Politicians on the right are asleep at the wheel (metaphorically speaking). Cities are burning. Churches are closed. Schools are closed. Business are closed. Health care officials have decided it’s okay to loot without a mask despite earlier insistence that EVERYONE should follow all social distancing and masking guidelines at ALL TIMES. Then just when it felt as if we had finally reached the apex of violence, hypocrisy and absurdity people began suggesting in all seriousness that cities defund police departments. A few days after that discussion began in earnest protesters took over a large section of the Capitol Hill area in downtown Seattle and declared it the “capitol hill autonomous zone” otherwise known as CHAZ.

 Sigh.

 This post isn’t about any of that. I briefly contemplated sharing my thoughts on defunding the police. Then I remembered society has been neatly divided into two groups. The first group doesn’t need to be told defunding the police is the worst idea in the history of forever. The second group doesn’t read this blog. Needless to say, that topic was quickly tabled. Instead, I want share some thoughts I have had on how we, as followers of Jesus can live life, respond to the growing madness and behave in ways that are redemptive, wise and healing in times that seem determined to test us all. This is no easy task. It takes a blend of constant self-examination and prayerful action. The following five ideas are a place to start:

 Shut your pie hole till you have something helpful and lifegiving to say-

 No one loves a snarky, antagonistic meme more than I do. However, sadly, this is not the time for that. Nor is it the time to stridently argue for perspectives we haven’t considered all sides of. Our world needs healers and truth-tellers not firebrands who passionately scream half-baked ideas at the sky. Christians must get in the habit of seeking out as many well-thought-out opinions as possible from as many wise, humble, God-fearing people as possible (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 19:20, Proverbs 24:6).  Before we actually share our thoughts, we should study, pray and be certain our thinking aligns with the Bible rather than the current culture. There are no words for how much I appreciate every reader of this blog. It humbles me to think that anyone would seek my views on anything. That said, I sincerely hope I am not anyone’s only source of information on any issue. There really is wisdom in an abundance of counselors.

 Pick the side Jesus would pick-

 Here’s the thing. Jesus was on the side of the weak and marginalized but He was also on the side of obedience to authority structures (Mark 12:40, Matthew 18:6, Mark 12:15-17, John 4, John 8:1-11). He loved all races enough to die for them (Matthew 15:22-28, Matthew 8:8-13, John 10:16). And He loved the sick and hurting every bit as much as He loved the rich and those in positions of authority (John 3:1-2, Matthew 8:16, Matthew 9:12). We live in a time where placing dividing lines between people has become standard-operating-procedure. Christians can’t do that.  Jesus taught that our greatest need as people is not to have our “side” validated but to have our souls saved. This truth must be the driving force behind our interactions with all people of all races.  

 Grow up-

 I am working to establish a discipleship program in our church. This has got me thinking about what it means to be a mature Christian. I have concluded spiritual maturity is less about what we know in terms of academic knowledge (although knowledge is critically important) and more about BEING in Jesus and modeling our lives after His life. Jesus modeled self-sacrifice and putting the needs of others first. Therefore, our religion is not truly Christian if our life becomes hyper-focused on having our individual desires met. Being a mature Christian at this period of history means we must seek to glorify Jesus first and look out for the greater good of others second. Our own preferences must come a distant third.

 Find balance between being an encourager and a truth-teller-

 Christians should be encouragers (1st Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13). God’s will is for every person to become a better, healthier version of themselves. Everyone needs human encouragement to get to where God wants them to be. However, it is equally as important we tell people the truth. This means that we should never encourage sinful thinking or behavior (as defined by Scripture) in the name of making people feel good about themselves or their choices.

 Be careful about jumping on popular bandwagons-

 PLEASE. Just because an organization believes one thing that is true it does not mean it’s a group Jesus would endorse or involve Himself in.  For the love of all that is good and decent at the very least do a sixty second google search and read the organizations statement of beliefs before adding its hashtag to your latest social media post. 

  The times we live in are unlike any I have experienced in my lifetime and we are blessed to live in them. We are blessed because God has historically done His best work in the darkest of times.  It is our responsibility as believers to align ourselves with Him in everything so we can be the redemptive presence our world desperately needs right now. 

 

The How-to of Revival-

 Justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found- Isaiah 59:13-14a NIV

Our world is a dumpster fire (metaphorically speaking). 

 Sinners have literally invented new ways to sin (Romans 1:29-31). All one has to do is watch five minutes of any news program on any channel and it becomes painfully obvious that no one in the political sphere is even pretending to get along with anyone else anymore.  

The Church is not much better.

 Conversions are down and scandals are up. Millennials left the church years ago and show no signs of returning any time soon. Now many of their parents are following suit and trading Sunday services for Sunday brunches. Few view the church as a force for good in the world. Pastors and Priests are at the bottom of the list of professions people trust most.

There is no end to the theories regarding the whys and how’s of what got us here. Some church-goers blame the materialistic mindset of many Christians. Others blame weak preaching, sinful pastors, scarcity of Bible study, lack of care for the poor and the less than saintly lifestyle choices of many Christians. Others are convinced the fault lies with too much focus on Bible study and the emphasis Christians place on the lifestyle choices of others. Some say the problem lies with churches (or the people in the churches) who have been reluctant to change with the times. Others argue just as passionately the problem lies with all the changes that have taken place within the church in recent years.  

Sigh.

Clever theories do nothing to resolve the real issue. The real issue is that we are way past the point of no return in the culture and the church. Real and lasting change will only come through a revival. Political change is important and should be something we seek but political change will do nothing lasting without widespread heart change.  Historically, revival has always begun with Christians. (Luke 10:27) Getting widespread revival begins with:

Getting our spiritual act together-

There are huge numbers of people who attend church consistently who simply do not have their spiritual stuff together. Sadly, no one can do this for anyone else. It’s something we all have to do for ourselves.  There is an epidemic of moral compromise in the body of Christ and where moral goodness does exist there tends to be a great deal of life-choking, joy-killing legalism. Change is never easy and, in this case, it will require a willingness to take a hard look at our own lives and then repent of things that need repenting including pointless legalism (Colossians 3:5-14, Galatians 2:16, Hebrews 7:19).

Stop tolerating bad leaders because they deliver results- 

This week the lead Pastor at Willow Creek Church in Wheaton stepped down after publicly acknowledging that he “has an intense drive to see results in the ministry”. He also disclosed that he “pushes others ruthlessly” to achieve the results he wants. Six months of coaching and therapy did nothing to correct his self-confessed leadership deficiencies. His predecessor, Bill Hybels was fired after a multitude of women came forward with #metoo stories. These stories have become appallingly common in the church world, especially in larger churches. It is time we rediscover the fact it is not an act of leadership to bully subordinates and it is possible have excellence without intimidation tactics or sexual misconduct. Church has become an industry. Pastors who prove they can achieve results (butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate) are allowed to bully and harass so long as people keep coming, giving and writing five-star-reviews on Yelp. Church board members are ultimately responsible for this nonsense. Board members and elders need to get their priorities in order and demand more of Pastors (1st Timothy 3:1-13) from a moral and leadership perspective.  

Think biblically about worldly things-

There are behaviors and attitudes the Bible does not necessarily forbid but are not wise or beneficial from a spiritual perspective (1st Corinthians 10:23). It’s time we made a practice looking down the road and thinking through the potential long-term cost of sketchy spiritual choices. 

Expect more from new converts- 

For whatever reason, it has become standard operating procedure to do everything possible to keep new Christians from identifying themselves as new converts to Christianity. It’s as if we think that somewhere there is a safer place to “come out” as a Christian than at church. We have nixed the embarrassing altar calls and pesky talks about the importance of repentance and living a holy life. We just wait for conviction to come along on its own.  Is it any wonder new converts to Christianity aren’t impacting their world for Jesus? 

Find ways to give back-

Change will come as Christians learn to contribute, help and do rather than criticize, compromise and protest the chaos in the world (Matthew 22:37-40). 

And finally:

Christians need to PRAY like they have never prayed before.

Seriously. No revival in the history of the church has ever taken place without God’s people beseeching the throne room of heaven and begging God for it (Google it). Christians need to make every kind of prayer a priority: corporate and private, Christians must obey the command to pray without ceasing (1st Thessalonians 5:17, Matthew 26:41, Acts 10:2-4)). Our prayers need to start with asking for revival: not for the world we live in but for us. For God’s people first (2nd Chronicles 7:14) and everyone else second because change always begins with the family of God taking on a higher level of obedience.

Six Reasons Christians Need to Start Preparing for an Uncertain and Possibly Ugly Future-

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

I am not someone who worries excessively about the world falling to pieces because my Christian faith enables me to be an optimist, in spite of challenging circumstances. I believe with all my heart God is on His throne is firmly in control of even the messiest and most troublesome of situations (Romans 8:28). 

That being said.

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

As if. 

We were convinced at the time that there was simply no way the world could get any weirder, meaner or more sinful. We were wrong. The world is far weirder, meaner and more sinful now and the Bible makes it clear that tough times could be ahead (2nd Timothy 3:1-5, 2nd Peter 3:3, Matthew 24:4-14).

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

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

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

Socialism/Communism has made a major comeback-

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

Politics are headed in a dangerous direction- 

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

Libertarianism is rapidly becoming the new conservatism-

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

The Western Church has lost its moral authority-

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

Common sense is now a form of hate speech- 

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

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

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

Five Things Church People Do that Wreck Church-

 

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord~ Acts 3:19 NIV

 Recently, I have been wondering why the church is not having a bigger impact on our world.

 It should be.

 Seriously, the Church should be hitting it out of the park right now. The advent of the internet has made the Bible widely available to nearly everyone.  There are more solid Christian resources (radio, television, podcasts and books) available to more people in more languages than at any other time in history. Higher rates of literacy mean more people are capable of accessing and making the most of available resources. But, sadly no one could accuse the church of setting the world on fire (metaphorically speaking) at this point in history.

 This means that the church is not completing the one task that Jesus commanded us to accomplish (Matthew 28:16-20). I understand that one very real danger in talking about “the church” in broad terms is that sometimes we forget the church isn’t a building, group of leaders or an institution. The church is people who identify as followers of Jesus (1stCorinthians 12).  So, if the church isn’t getting the job done it means that individual people are the problem rather than some nebulous institution or group of leaders.

 The problems the church is having are not the fault of every person in the church. However, there are too many people in the church who do things or allow things that are simply unacceptable for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3-18). The list includes:

Church people have not really dealt with the sin of racism-

 The whole notion that some skin colors, genders or races are somehow superior to others is a weird and sinful social construct that has no place in churches (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, John 3:16). Every person regardless of race, skin color or gender is both equally loved and equally in need of a savior in God’s eyes. Therefore, prejudice and bigotry have no place in the church. Alas, some church people have failed to really take hold of that message and live it out in their day-to-day lives. The church’s reputation is suffering as a result.  

 Church people do not model healthy male-female relationships-

 I do not understand why a place filled with people who are commanded to practice self-control (Galatians 5:22, Titus 2:11-12, 2ndPeter 1:5) is the only place on earth where men and women cannot work together without things getting decidedly weird. By “weird” I mean sex becoming an issue in some way. Christians have managed to convince themselves that men and women are incapable of actually practicing self-restraint where sex is concerned and this has become a self-fulling prophecy in many Christian circles. We do need to be vigilant concerning the appearance of evil and I know all about the Billy Graham rule (conceived by Billy Graham rather than Jesus). That said, I do not believe separation of men and women in church settings is either biblical or the answer to the problem of sexual immorality in the church. That standard has created at least as many problems as it has solved. It does not require adult Christians to practice self-discipline (a biblical mandate) and because of that standard church people tend to become suspicious anytime they see men and women together (even if they work in the same church). Female opinions have effectively been silenced in the church out of fear that if a woman is near a man who is not her husband sexual sin of some sort will swiftly commence. We must do better. Even the pagans have figured this one out. We should too because it’s hurting our effectiveness and our witness.

  Church people worry about protecting institutions rather than people-

 Too many Christian women have been pressured into staying in marriages that really should have ended (due to sexual sin or physical abuse) because some church leaders care more about the institution of marriage than they do about the woman in said marriage. Then there are the thousands of children who have been sexually abused and deprived of justice because too many people in the church care more about the institution of the church than the souls of abused kids (James 1:27, Isaiah 10:1-3). Not cool. Not biblical. Not okay.

 Church people tolerate pornography-

 Anytime a Christian man is caught in sexual sin the first question asked is always: “Is it just pornography?”.  Every. Stinkin. Time. The “just” is ALWAYS put in front of the word pornography. As if pornography without some other form of sexual deviancy attached to it is somehow less sinful than other sexual sins. Pornography is every bit as sinful as “having an affair” (maybe even worse) because “having an affair” (unless the sex is with a prostitute) is almost always a consequence of some sort of a problem in the marriage. Affairs rarely occur in a vacuum, something else is always wrong: communication is poor, the couple is not connecting, the couple is unkind to one another, eventually one partner pursues companionship with someone else.  Conversely, pornography and sex with prostitutes is a result of lust, lack of self-discipline and covetousness. I am categorically not stating that an affair is acceptable simply because a person is in a difficult marriage (it doesn’t work that way). I am saying that the church will never have a measurable spiritual impact on the culture unless we deal with the sin of pornography in our own ranks.

 Church people don’t evangelize-

 Seriously, we just don’t. A recent study revealed that forty-seven percent of all millennials actually believe it is wrong to evangelize the lost. Sadly, very few Christians have ever shared their faith with anyone and sixty-four percent believe that evangelism is an optional activity for Christians. Until we change this one thing we won’t change anything.

Why Some Kinds of Churches Just Need to Go-

His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord~ Ephesians 3:9-10 NIV

Okay, so, a fun fact about me is that I have been a Christian for decades, but I was not raised in church. I attended a mainline Protestant church (with my Grandmother) a handful of times prior to converting to Christianity as an adult. Because I converted to Christianity rather than being born into it I tend to have a slightly different “read” on church than some of my peers who have lived their entire lives in Church. 

For the record, no one is born a Christian, anyone who wishes to become a Christian must repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15, John 1:12, John 3:36, Acts 17:30). That said, I have observed that the conversion experience of someone who became a Christian in their early twenties (like I did) tends to be markedly different from the conversion experience of someone who attended church for the first time during their first week of life (like all of my kids did). 

Church has changed radically in the years since I became a Christian. Some of the changes were much needed and not at all wrong or sinful. There is no reason I can think of to ever return to the bad-old-days of mauve carpeting, sweaty, scream-y preachers, uncomfortable pews, unfettered legalism and Bible translations no one really understands. 

Sigh.

By far, the biggest change has been the rise of the seeker-friendly model of church. Champions of this model have sought to make church easier to understand for those who might be “seeking” God.  Some of the efforts to make church more user-friendly have been good. Others have (in my opinion) stripped away some of the mystery and much of the beauty of the church experience. In some cases, church has become so simple and so easy to understand that nobody on the outside is the least bit curious about what’s going on inside the church. I put much of the blame on the rise of seeker-friendly model of church. There are at least five reasons this model ought to be abandoned:

The seeker-friendly model has filled churches with people who don’t get church-

In any given American church at least half the attendees don’t pray, don’t give, don’t serve, don’t forgive, don’t love, and don’t even routinely attend services. Obviously, none of those things make one a Christian. However, those things are the defining marks of a Christian (Romans 12:12, 2ndCorinthians 9:6-7, Matthew 6:15, Matthew 5:43-46, 1stJohn 2:10, Hebrews 10:25). Churches teeming with unsaved people would not be a bad thing if most church leaders were aggressively encouraging folks to join discipleship groups and insisting on seeing at least some fruit in the lives of people before allowing them to take leadership positions. However, the seeker-friendly model aggressively avoids any and all judgment and has actively encouraged a “less is more” approach to teaching and training in the church. I fear we have made the same error church leaders made when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.  We have opened our doors wide and filled our churches with pagans (a good thing) but now those pagans are converting the church to their way of thinking rather than the church converting them to God’s way of thinking. 

The seeker friendly model assumes that non-Christians are numbskulls incapable of learning anything new or overcoming a less-than-ideal church experience-

The first time I attended an Evangelical church service, the whole thing was a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess from a seeker-friendly standpoint. The service was long (nearly two hours). The sermon was straight out of the scary part of Revelation. The pastor talked about hell. No one bothered to explain terms or activities that were strictly Christian.  It was clearly not the best service for a clueless unbeliever to walk into (to be honest, I was more than a bit mystified by the whole thing).  For the record: I do not believe churches ought to begin modeling their services after that one (at the very least churches should explain confusing terms). However, it’s important to note that I did not run screaming for the door, nor was it my last visit to that particular church. Some church leaders underestimate the curiosity and intelligence level of non-Christians as well as the power of the Holy Spirit to draw people when that’s His intent.

Seeker friendly churches tend to produce shallow believers who have no root- 

Churches are supposed to produce mature believers who are capable of discipling others. They also supposed to teach believers how to stand strong when times get tough and their faith is tested (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 7:24-25, Ephesians 4:9-16). The very structure of a seeker-friendly church makes these aims nearly impossible to achieve. In seeker friendly churches services are almost always limited to a one-hour time frame, teaching is intentionally inoffensive (shallow) and most of the small groups are focused on fellowship rather than growth. Without a background of solid teaching most Christians flounder, cave to heresies or drop-out altogether when times get tough or they are confronted with false teaching. Anyone who has not been equipped with solid teaching will be rootless and in constant danger of drifting away (Matthew 13:6, Hebrews 2:1).

Seeker-friendly churches have transformed church into a consumer experience-

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the seeker friendly movement is that it has transformed three generations of church-goers into customers rather than investors. A customer is constantly on the lookout for a better experience and is therefore willing to leave if at any point they become disappointed in a church or the people in the church. An investor is in it for the long haul and will only leave if they can clearly see that the church (and the people in it) has deviated from biblical truth.  

The seeker-friendly model has been tried and found wanting. It’s time for churches to let it die and move back to the biblical model of discipleship.  When we do that we will see the church (and the people in it) become strong and healthy again.