The Hardest Best Thing-

The testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing– James 1:3-4 NASB

Anytime a Christian makes the choice to persevere or endure through hardship, difficulty, injustice or pain in a way that leaves their faith intact and their hearts free from bitterness good things happen in that person. Enduring through the hurt of life builds emotional strength, develops grit in us, causes us to grow spiritually, makes us wiser and transforms us into the kind of people others can learn from (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-5). 

There are at least a million different types of experiences a human might have to persevere through. Some are “life in a fallen world” kinds of things, painful but random events we all experience at some point in our lives. Things like cancer, the death of a spouse, friend or child, accidents or financial calamities. Then there are the “people are crappy” sorts of experiences like religious persecution, being cheated on, being lied to or about, or being treated indifferently or with disdain by people who should care about us.

Sigh.

Persevering is made tougher for Christians because hard things naturally cause us to doubt the goodness, faithfulness and sometimes even the very existence of God. It is true that pain and difficulty can drive us towards God but hurt and struggle can also drive us away as well. The effect pain has on us depends entirely on how we choose to respond to it (1st Peter 15-6).  There are things we can do that will ensure pain, grief, trials, and difficulty make us better as opposed to bitter and more miserable. Following are four of them:

Take your focus off of people-

By far, the worst and most excruciating pain in life comes when we’re victimized or mistreated by people.  The pain of personal betrayal is compounded a million times over if the person who harmed us is a Christian. Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid being hurt by people because people, even Christian people, are at their core sinful, broken and sometimes even cruel and malevolent. For whatever reason, most of us lay the blame squarely on God when people hurt us. This is a huge tactical error. Humans have free will and can do whatever they choose with their free will. They can even be horrible, sinful, disgusting people if they want to. It doesn’t mean God approves of their actions or that there won’t be a price to be paid for their conduct, it just means God will not force anyone to be nice, honest, or just. That being said, the biggest problem with blaming God for the actions of people is that we deny ourselves access to the only one who can give us comfort, peace and the power to persevere through whatever horrible thing we are dealing with (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 86:17, 2nd Corinthians 1:3). Sigh. 

Take the long view-

The apostle Paul lived most of his Christian life in what most of us would consider absolutely unacceptable conditions (2nd Corinthians 11:21-29).  Literally, everyone hated him. The Jews hated him. The Romans hated him. The Greeks hated him. Sometimes even other Christians hated him (Galatians 4:16-18).  Paul went hungry, spent time in prison, was beaten, stoned and betrayed by people who pretended to be his friends (2nd Timothy 4:14). Nevertheless, none of this injustice appears to have bothered him because he was able to view all of these situations as temporary problems that would be righted by God at some point in the future. He believed with all his heart his trials were actually preparing him for future ministry and making him more fit to spend eternity with God (2ndCorinthians 4:17, 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3). One “key” to persevering and enduring through pain is to make the choice to believe pain that is stewarded well will make us better, wiser, more insightful and more like Jesus. 

Know that Jesus gets “it”- 

He does. Whatever “it” is. Jesus gets it. I promise. Jesus experienced the same types of things we experience. He knows exactly what temptation, betrayal, loss, loneliness, hurt feelings and personal pain feels like (Hebrews 4:15). This makes Jesus the perfect one to run to anytime the heaviness of life becomes too much too bear (2ndCorinthians 1:5). 

Don’t let yourself get hung up on the issue of fairness- 

Getting hung up on what’s fair or unfair in this life will literally drive a Christian insane. This is because life at least, in the present, is not fair. People “get away” with crappy stuff all the time. If we choose to focus on what kind of punishment people are getting right now in this life we will lose our faith and our minds in that order. Instead of worrying about what’s fair and unfair, God wants us to believe in Him and trust that He will make things right and just in His good time. Anytime we’re hurt we have to remember the Bible is clear: NOTHING is in all of creation hidden from God and there is nothing that will not be publicly disclosed (Matthew 10:26, Hebrews 4:13). Sin that is unrepented of will be made public and punished in time. Period. 

Ultimately, choosing to persevere through the pain of life means clinging to our faith and choosing to tenaciously love God no matter what goes wrong or who hurts us. Faithful endurance through hurt, loss or persecution is the hard route but God promises rich rewards for those who choose it. 

Making a Difference in A world Stupid with Sin-

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. 

The Risky Path of Spiritual Pragmatism-

Once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light– Ephesians 5:8 NLT

I’m currently in Turkey with The Center for Holy Land Studies (a group I highly recommend) touring New Testament sites with a heavy emphasis on the seven Churches of Revelation. The guides have done an outstanding job of piecing together secular history, geography and Biblical history in a way that has brought the experiences and practices of the early to church to life. One theme has come up over and over again: 

Syncretism. 

 Syncretism is not a Bible word. However, it was a relentless temptation in Bible times. Syncretism is the blending of different systems, practices and ideas. Most paganism practiced by God’s people in the Old Testament was actually some sort of syncretism—a mingling of the worship of Yahweh with the worship of other gods such as Baal and Moloch. 

Syncretism was an enormous temptation for the early church. Early Christians were steeped in a culture of paganism.  Many early believers were saved out of pagan religions. Additionally, Christians were under relentless social and governmental pressure to conform to the systems of paganism. Earning a living, being considered a good citizen and sometimes even just staying alive demanded paying homage to various pagan gods and goddesses. Rather than conforming fully to paganism many simply combined the two. They worshiped Jesus AND participated in the customs of paganism. 

However.

Jesus had nothing positive to say about their practicality. Like. Seriously. Nothing. It was a major theme of the letters to the seven churches, it was at the core of the criticism aimed at most of the churches. 

Most Christians do not see syncretism as a contemporary problem. But it is. It just looks a little different in our world. In the ancient world syncretism always involved idol worship. Christians would attend Christian meetings AND burn incense (worship) the emperor or honor a deity tied to their profession. This allowed early Christians to stay alive, feed their families and live at peace with their culture. 

Contemporary Christians do not bow down to idols or politicians to stay employed or alive. However, Christians are constantly tempted to syncretize secular morality, practices and ethics with Christian morality, practices and ethics. We do this to avoid being “canceled” or rejected by “polite” society and live at peace with our culture. Many contemporary believers will pay lip service to the idea of homosexuality being an acceptable lifestyle, mostly as a way of “loving” a practicing homosexual or to avoid the sin of “judgement”. Some have acquiesced publicly to the notion of multiple genders. Christians don’t conform because they really believe there are sixty-four genders or because they think God changed His mind about homosexuality sometime in the recent past. They do it because its practical and expedient. It keeps the woke censors at bay and makes life easier and from a human perspective easier is always awesome.  

Please understand. 

I believe with all my heart, soul, mind and spirit Christians ought to treat every human being on earth with the dignity and respect due a person made in the image of almighty God. It’s categorically not okay to be unkind. Furthermore, I believe God is the only being in all of creation with the ability to rightly judge the heart of another human. However, being kind and treating others with dignity does not mean we can verbally agree with every deviant behavior under the sun in the name of “loving our neighbor”. 

Jesus hates syncretism. Passionately. He has no patience for it at all. Jesus knows the human heart is bent towards evil and sin even post salvation. Syncretism is a problem because the sin of syncretism transforms us into the image of whatever culture we happen to be living in and when we become like the culture we become spiritually useless. Sin is not limited to participating in sinful behaviors it also includes accommodating sinful ideas and practices in the name of “loving one’s neighbor” or “fitting in”.

Syncretism is something we must actively work against. The spiritual practices of prayer, Bible study, church attendance and Christian community are critically important because those practices sharpen our spirits and make us more aware of right and wrong and more willing to stand against wrong. We cannot lean on our own understanding where culture is concerned. We need constant dependence on the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and show us where our thinking has become morally muddled and in what ways we are acquiescing to cultural patterns of behavior or thinking rather than biblical patterns. And finally, and most critically we have to stop marinating in the culture if we want to think and live counterculturally. We have to turn off our televisions and put down our phones. We have to shut off the noise so we can hear God’s voice. 

I am convinced the enemy loves syncretism almost as much as Jesus hates it. Satan knows that when we make space for sin of any kind it clouds our thinking, weakens our ability to share our faith and makes spiritual growth pretty darn close to impossible. Therefore, anytime we begin to really think and live counterculturally we inevitably face hardship and trouble just like the early church did. But we are also given the peace we need to withstand the pressure and the power necessary to change hearts and minds. 

Just like the early church did.

Four Mistakes Christians Must Stop Making-


Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name
– Psalm 86:11 NIVUK

Sadly, there has been a lot of failure in Church world over the course of the last forty years or so:

 The vast majority of Christians who identify as “committed believers” attend services a pathetic and measly 1.3 times a month. Fewer than forty percent of all Christians have actually read the Bible all the way through. Between sixty and eighty percent of the children who grew up in church over the course of the last three decades have left the church. Precious few of have returned in any sort of a meaningful way. Infidelity, spiritual abuse, embezzlement and tales of narcissistic behavior have become so commonplace among clergy that even Christians are no longer appropriately shocked by shocking reports of misconduct and sin.  

All serious signs of dismal failure. 

It’s simply a fact that churches have made some tragic mistakes in recent years. As a result, the Church is shrinking and the culture is floundering. Conversions are down and “deconstructing” one’s faith is trending. Thankfully, our God is not reliant on on the perfection of His people to get His will accomplished. That being said, it is always beneficial to His overall plan when His people choose to do life and ministry His way. There are at least four mistakes the Church has made that we cannot afford to keep making if we want to see health in our churches, transformation in our lives and revival in our world. 

Those mistakes are:

We have failed to equip the saints-

Biblical illiteracy is a serious issue in Church world. Few Christians can name all the books of the Bible. There are church-goers who actually believe the Bible promises God will never give us more than we can handle and that cleanliness is next to godliness.  However, lack of biblical understanding is not the only problem we have. Many Christians do not know how to define personal holiness, or how Christian maturity is achieved (2nd Peter 1:3-11, Romans 12) Nor, are most believers able to articulate what a healthy Christian life should “look like”.  These are all basic concepts every Christian should understand. 

Churches have encouraged congregants to depend on external sources for food-

For decades now, sermons have been tasty and easy to digest, but seriously lacking in any real nutritional value. Essentially, the spiritual equivalent of chocolate pudding. The goal of these Sunday morning offerings has been attracting unbelievers and keeping them in the church by not offending them in any way. At the same time many discipleship programs have been eliminated and small groups aimed at satisfying one’s personal preferences and helping people “do life together” were put in their place. All of this was well-intended but it produced a situation where many Christians began depending on outside sources like prerecorded Bible studies and podcasts for their spiritual growth. The unintended consequences has been a serious drop in church attendance. Many have quit church altogether, or they simply pop into an occasional service when the mood strikes them. Covid accelerated this trend as more and more churches began offering online viewing options on Sunday mornings. Human beings were made for community. We learn and grow by being with and interacting with others (Proverbs 27:17). Anytime Christians remove themselves from community they short-circuit their growth.  

Bible teachers have failed to teach a theology of hardship-

The Bible is clear: trials and hardship are formative to the Christian experience (John 16:33, 1st Thessalonian 3:3, 1st Peter 1:6). Jesus experienced hardship and suffering in this life and one aspect of becoming like Jesus is doing the things He did and experiencing the things He experienced (Hebrews 5:7-9, Hebrews 13:11-13). Unfortunately, in an effort to attract unbelievers many Pastors and Bible teachers have taught a theology of easy believism and guaranteed material blessings. This has caused many to become disillusioned and leave the church when it became obvious (as it always does) that the Christian life is a blessed life but not necessarily an easy one.  

We have forgotten that spiritual knowledge is not the same as spiritual maturity-

Knowing what the Bible says or even being able to quote an excess of verses does not make one spiritually mature. In order to be a mature Christian we have to know what the Bible says and be able to manage our own emotions, treat people the way we want to be treated and forgive others from the heart (Psalm 119:11, Titus 2:12, Galatians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). If we can’t do those things we aren’t spiritually mature no matter how many verses we can quote. 

The solution to all of these problems are simple. Churches must leave behind old models and pivot to a culture of discipleship and community. Leaders must let go of the desire to make churches big at the expense of making them strong, healthy and deep. Individual Christians must prioritize biblical learning, personal growth and relationships in the church over all else. 

The One Question Everyone Needs to Ask-


But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God
– John 3:21 NIV

Everyone wants THE THING. The thing is that special something will give us the growth, maturity and self-awareness that will make us a better version of ourselves. Longing for the thing is why the self-help section of any bookstore anywhere in the western world is always the biggest and best stocked in the store. It’s why so many watch Dr. Phil and why we read Malcom Gladwell and listen to Adam Young. We all want the magic bullet that will make us a better more lovable version of ourselves.  

We want the thing because we know growth, self-awareness and maturity are the fast-track to all the other things we all want in life. Things like healthy friendships, successful careers and happy families. For believers in Jesus the thing is also the path to spiritual growth and wisdom. Those blessings inevitably lead to deeper understanding of our faith and greater intimacy with Jesus (2nd Peter 1:5-8, 2nd Peter 3:18, 2nd Corinthians 3:18)

Humans are hard-wired to want all that. If a person has stopped caring about healthy relationships, career success and a happy family it is likely they experienced some sort of trauma that caused them to give up the fundamental part of what makes us human.  

However. 

Few actually get the thing. Even most Christians fumble around hoping to find the answers to this longing we have to become a better version of ourselves. 

The good news is the secret isn’t really a secret. Getting in on the thing is easy. Literally, anyone can do it.  That said few want to do what needs to be done to get it. All it takes to achieve real growth and lasting change comes down to asking one simple question and really wanting to know the answer to that one simple question: 

“What don’t I want to see about me?” 

We all have something we would rather not see about ourselves. It might be we’ve been running from God or we suffer from a stubborn refusal to confront sin in our own life or the lives of those we love. It might be a mean streak or a raging pride problem. It might be an anger issue or an inclination to take the easy way out of every situation. Or, perhaps we want to think the best of other people even when all the evidence is tells us not to.  Maybe we are unwilling to admit fault or we have a habit of taking more than we give.

The bottom line is those issues inevitably lead to problems that appear at least on the surface to be unrelated to the thing we don’t want to see. Those problems could include but are not limited to unhealthy dynamics in our closest relationships, a lack of friends, persistent financial problems, bratty children, a stalling in our professional lives or a stubborn lack of spiritual growth.  

We typically call the things we don’t want to see blind spots. They are not blind spots. A blind spot is something we CANNOT see. The things I’m talking about are all things we simply don’t want to see. As a result, they would be better categorized as intentional blindness as opposed to a blind spot. The problem with calling something we refuse to see a blind spot is it neatly removes personal responsibility from the equation. Without understanding and owning our role in the problem nothing will change in our lives. We will be doomed to stunted growth, stalled careers and screwed-up personal relationships.   

Sigh. 

The good news in all of this is that God loves each of us more than we can measure or even understand. God is constantly rooting for all us to become the best version of ourselves. He wants us to succeed in all the things that matter. Because He loves us and wants the best for us He longs to show us the things we don’t want to see.  He knows that seeing the things we don’t want to see is the first step in the kind of change that leads growth, maturity and self-awareness.  

So, here’s the thing.

If you feel stuck in some area of your life or keep running up against failure it’s not because of how your parents raised you, or because you married the wrong person or the temperament you were born with and it’s not because you were denied opportunities others had. It’s because there is something you refuse (consciously or subconsciously) to see about yourself.  Because God is the maker of you and the ultimate authority in life, solving the problem ALWAYS begins with asking Him the question. 

If we ask and actually want to know the answer God will tell us.  Honesty is His jam. He literally cannot lie (Numbers 23:19). The answer might come in a still small voice. It might come in the form of some angry words from a loved one. It might come in the form of a bad review at work. But it will come. 

We just have to be willing to do something about it.  

How Christians Become the Worst Version of Themselves-

 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead- Acts 17:30-31 ESV

We all know that person.

The man or woman who has somehow managed to achieve the unenviable feat of becoming the very worst version of themselves imaginable. 

Perhaps the person is hostile, mean, judgy, bitter, prideful and/or self-serving. (Hebrews 12:15, Hebrews 3:12, Philippians 2:3, Colossians 3:8-9). It could be they are just so oblivious to the needs and feelings of others they just go around unknowingly causing the poor hapless souls unfortunate enough to be caught in their orbit immeasurable hurt and pain. It might be they are sexually immoral in some way. Perhaps they are addicted to pornography or they cheat on their spouse or they just sit around indulging in lecherous thoughts about the opposite sex all the time. They might lie or cheat or steal or go around boasting about their own awesomeness to anyone who will listen. Maybe they drink themselves into oblivion routinely or are addicted to drugs. To some degree the sordid details of their behavior is less significant than the fact that they have chosen to indulge their very worst tendencies and character traits.    

No one is exempt from becoming the worst version of themselves (1st Corinthians 10:12). It happens all the time. It happens to famous mega-church pastors like Mark Driscoll, Carl Lentz and Ted Haggard. It can also happen to local pastors, ministry leaders, their spouses as well as your average Joe or Jane church attenders. It’s horrifying anytime anyone becomes the worst version of themselves. It’s extra gross when it happens to a Christian.   

Here’s how it happens:  

The whole messy mess starts out innocently enough, just like almost every other messy mess on planet earth. The slide begins with a subtle shift in behavior or attitude that gradually transforms into a habit.  The person knows what they’re doing or thinking is sinful. However, because no one says anything and nothing truly catastrophic happens they keep doing their thing in spite of any reservations they may have.  

Then God gets involved in His indirect but distinct little God way. 

The person hears a guilt-producing sermon, or a reads a convicting blogpost, or perhaps a friend or spouse, gently, or not so gently confronts them with the problem. At this point things go one of two ways: the person might choose to get offended. When a person chooses offendedness  its not long before they begin the process of actively shutting out anyone who is isn’t either one-hundred-percent supportive of their behavior or willing to ignore it.

  Sometimes, the person just goes into full-on denial mode concerning the seriousness of their behavior. They assure the person challenging them they have a handle on things.  Then the sinner slowly convinces him or herself their behavior isn’t really a problem. The same behavior might be a problem for other people but not for them.  They have so many other awesome qualities they are above being destroyed by the petty little sins that doom other Christians. Besides, they tell themselves: they’re a Christian, God loves them. If God wasn’t okay with what they’ve been up to He would force them to stop.  He hasn’t so He must be okay with it.

So, the behavior or attitude persists.  

At this point, things get interesting, in a very bad way. Blindness sets in and the behavior takes firm root. They spend more time looking at more porn, they think more lecherous thoughts more frequently. They get to the place where can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie. They go into full-scale addiction. They lose the ability to even muster up false humility.  At the same time, they become increasingly more oblivious to the effect their behavior is having on others. They become harsher and meaner and less concerned with the feelings of others.  Ironically, at the same time they become much more judgmental towards other people, especially towards those who have the same problems they do (Matthew 7:2-3). They become a twisted version of what they could have been, a parody of their sin and a sad joke to non-Christians. 

So. Here’s the thing:

No Christian is doomed to becoming the worst version of themselves. It is a fully preventable tragedy.  However, we have to understand that the devil wants more than anything in the world to see every Christian on earth become the very worst version of themselves possible (Ephesians 4:27). Satan loves it when Christians fall into this trap. It ruins the believer, their ministry opportunities and their Christian witness. This is a triple win for Satan.  To avoid this trap, we must understand that even in our redeemed state we are capable of great sin and self-deception. To avoid the self-deception that makes becoming the worst version of ourselves possible we have to make every effort to grow in our knowledge of God and nurture the Christian virtues of faith, goodness, humility, godliness and self-control in our lives (2nd Peter 1:3-10). We must make a regular practice of examining ourselves honestly before the Lord (1st Corinthians 13:5) and we must listen when other people try and speak truth into our lives. 

How to Grow-

Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ- 1st Thessalonians 5:21-23 ESV

Dear Readers, 

Beginning October 1, 2021 will no longer be sponsoring my blog posts on Facebook. However, I will continue to post all new blog posts to my personal Facebook page as well as my A Wise Life Facebook page for right now. There are a couple of reasons for this change: first I can no longer in good conscience give Facebook my money when they actively censor what I say by refusing to promote any blog they deem too “political”. Second, with so many people getting off of Facebook my reach has shrunk and it is no longer worth the hassle of being careful about what I say just to get a little promotional help.  This means that it will be much harder for readers to find A Wise Life. It will no longer simply pop up on your social media feed. You have two options if you want to continue reading A Wise Life. You can search for my page every week or you can subscribe for free. Subscriptions are easy: just go to the bottom of this blog where it says “subscribe” and type in your email address. A Wise Life will arrive in your email every Sunday night. I will not sell or give your email address to anyone. I would appreciate it if you  would “do me a solid” and continue to share any blog you feel is worth sharing on social media. That is the only way I will continue to acquire new readers. 

Thanks, 

Lisa

Now here’s this weeks post:

Okay, so, I am a bit of a skeptic.

 I am always a bit slow to embrace any new idea, theory or belief without some hard evidence that the idea, theory or belief could actually be true.  

Despite my inherently cynical nature I am fully convinced the whole stupid world is under the judgment of God right now. Judgment is on the docket for every people group on earth. No one is special right now. Too many people in too many places have either participated in or voluntarily tolerated every kind of weird evil for too long Romans 1:18-30). The Almighty God of the universe has finally had enough of the nonsense. He is lifting His hand of protection and letting humanity have a taste of what we have been begging for; life without God. Therefore, every man, woman and child on earth is in for some rough waters until there is a movement of repentance everywhere. The evidence is just too overwhelming not to believe it. Dumb leaders, weird weather, random acts of violence, hostility between people, disease, unfettered fear and rampant crime are all telltale signs of divine judgment (Deuteronomy 28:16-64). 

BUT. Here’s the thing:

This season could easily turn out to be the most productive of our lives from a spiritual growth perspective. Rough waters often cause us to seek God and let go of the sin that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1). Trials help us break free of the behaviors and attitudes that trap us in the mindsets that keep us mired in worldly thinking.  When we seek God and break free of worldly thinking and sinful strongholds we inevitably go back to doing the things that really matter to God (Revelation 2:5). When Christians do the things that really matter to God, He is faithful to move in powerful ways and good always comes out of it. (1st Peter 1:6-9). 

Here’s how to make spiritual growth happen:

Stop being a baby-

The landscape of cultural Christianity is crawling with spiritual toddlers. People who have never grown passed the sippy-cup and fit-throwing stage of spiritual development.  If we want to flourish spiritually we must be intentional about letting go of the childish things that are holding us back from becoming truly Christlike.  This means learning to do hard things, it means accepting hardship and learning from it instead of getting bitter about it (1stCorinthians 13:11, 2nd Timothy 4:5).  It means loving people enough to tell them the truth (in a loving way) about where their choices will lead them even if it means they don’t like us when the conversation is over. It means forgiving those who wrong us and praying for people who persecute us. 

Know what having “good fruit” actually means- 

All Christians know the fruit of a person’s life matters because Jesus said it matters (Matthew 7:16). However, having a life that consists of good fruit is about more than looking good or even doing good deeds. “Good fruit” like church attendance, taking on leadership roles in church or even leading people to Jesus is really only good if they are also accompanied by by holiness, virtue and love for one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43, Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:3). This means doing the right things with the wrong heart will not result in reward. In order to get this vital issue right we must be vigilant about examining our own motives for why we do what we do.  We must ask ourselves: am I doing what I’m doing so others will think well of me? Do I do things for people to help them or gain power over them? Do I love everyone or just people who love me back? If we get the answers to any of these questions wrong we need to ask God to change our hearts until He does. 

Deal with your spiritual junk

In order to do that we have to want to see the sin our life. Most people, even most Christians don’t really want to see the sin their lives. It’s just too painful see our own grossness head-on. It We have to ask God to show us. He will do this in a whole bunch of different ways that probably won’t involve verbal communication with the Almighty.  He will show us through conflicts we have in our marriages and jobs. He will show us through the attitudes we see in our own kids and the T.V. shows we gravitate towards. 

Don’t get confused about what repentance really is-

Repentance is a twofold deal. It’s dealing with sinful behaviors in a decisive way (Matthew 5:30).  That means stopping it (whatever “it” is) as quickly as possible. However, simply stopping bad behavior is not enough. In order to truly repent we have to deal with the heart attitude that caused us to sin in the first place. That means we have to dig deep and figure out the why of what we do. Without that knowledge will never move on to a higher level of functioning. 

If we know God and are called according to His purpose then life is good even when its tough. It’s good because God is always at work using the hard stuff to mold us into someone He can use. 

But we have to let Him.

The Undeniable Link Between Courage and Personal Peace-

These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”- John 16:33 NASB 

This week I came across a quote I had never heard before:

Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace- Amelia Earhart 

Okay, so. 

With all due respect to Amelia Earhart, who was without a doubt an unusually courageous person. She got it wrong at least in one sense. It is not life that demands we have courage in order to gain personal peace. It is the God of the Universe who grants peace to those who choose to look past their fear and live life courageously. 

The word courage or a derivative of courage is used one-hundred-fourteen times and the command “fear not” is used three-hundred-sixty-five times in Scripture. Abundant personal peace is explicitly promised to those who obey God’ commands (Leviticus 26, Romans 2:10, Galatians 6:15).  Those facts make it tough not to conclude that Christians are called to be courageous (Joshua 1:6-9). Empirical evidence backs up my view. Confusion, self-doubt and personal angst torment those who lack courage. I am convinced that much of the anxiety Christians feel is a result of cowardice in the following four areas: 

 Saying what needs to be said-

Life is full of times God clearly calls us to speak up for what we know is right, just and true. These moments pop up with children, spouses, friends and those we interact with on a regular basis. Anything hard should be said with a generous measure of compassion and grace (Colossians 4:5-6, Ephesians 4:15). However, it is critical we understand that choosing not to speak truth, especially hard truth always comes at a substantial price. Our culture is the way it is partly because good people have chosen for far too long to keep their mouths shut rather than run the risk of offending others. Many (including myself) wonder what the world would look like if more of us had the courage to challenge wrong thinking when it first began taking root in the lives of the people we love rather than waiting until bad ideas and wrong thinking became endemically entrenched in the culture (Galatians 5:9).   

 Living the way God calls us to live- 

We live in a world that’s broken in ways none of us will never fully understand this side of heaven. Consequently, there has never been a time when it was actually easy to put God first, live with integrity and speak out against sin and injustice. It is getting harder to do those things all the time. Nevertheless, God promises us peace that is literally beyond human understanding to those who choose to live courageous, counter cultural lives that put Him first (John 14:27, Philippians 4:6-7, Philippians 4:9, 2nd Peter 1:2).  

Standing up against the forces within Christianity that are pulling the church in the wrong direction- 

 Many churches and Christian denominations are being pulled away from biblical thinking into worldly philosophies that run counter to truth (Colossians 2:8, 2nd Timothy 4:3, 2nd Peter 3:3). This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Jesus never promised that the church would be occupied only by good, God-fearing Christians determined to live Jesus first lives. Truth-be-told, Jesus promised in Matthew 13:24-30 that weeds (unbelievers) will grow-up alongside wheat (believers) causing all sorts of difficulties and challenges for true Christians. Furthermore, all Christians are in various stages of spiritual maturity and health. It is possible for a genuine Christian to be wrong about all kinds of issues or misled by bad teaching or their own evil desires. This is why prayerful self-examination is critically important for all believers, it is a clear opportunity for God to set us straight. In order for us to be at peace with God and ourselves we must know the word, understand how God is calling us to live and not allow ourselves to be swayed by any voice not rooted in Scripture and led by the Holy Spirit (John 10:14) 

Being the right voice of righteousness-  

Christians are not called to defend a particular nation or form of government. Instead, Christians are called to be defenders of the faith (Philippians 1:7, 1st Peter 3:15, Jude 1:3).  There is nothing wrong with patriotism, however choosing country over fidelity the gospel always leads to a lack of peace.  

Finally.  

In Matthew chapter ten Jesus sends out the twelve and commands they do things that can only be done with God’s empowering presence and a serious dose of courage (Matthew 10:7-10, 2nd Corinthians 12:9).  Then He promises life will be hard for anyone who actually has the guts to do the things He asks (Matthew 10:16-21). He also lays out a series of promises throughout the passage. Jesus promises that the courageous will be loved by God (Matthew 10:30-31), be like God (Matthew 10:24), and be honored in the presence of the Father (Matthew 10:32). Then He promises that the courageous will have such and abundance of personal peace the world will be blessed by their existence (Matthew 10:13).

But first we have to be willing push past any fear we feel. 

How to Flourish in the “New Normal”-

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age- Psalm 92:12-14a NIV

 Among other notable distinctions 2020 has been a year that has produced some annoying but unique catchphrases and buzzwords. Thanks to the “Rona” even those generally unfamiliar with medical jargon are now familiar with terms such as “self-quarantine”, “contact tracing”, “social distancing” and “flatten the curve”. 2020 has also given us some brand-new catchphrases such as: “show you care, mask-up” “spread kindness not COVID”, “we are in this together”, “remember to wash your hands”, “staying apart is the best way to stay connected” and “stay home to stay alive”.

Sigh.  

However, the award for the most annoying new slogan or catchphrase of 2020 has to go to the expression “the new normal”. I resisted this phrase from day one. I was horrified at how quick people were to accept the idea that a stupid GERM would automatically change everything about how we function in this world. After all, germs are not a new thing. Germs have been around since the fall and humans have managed to survive quite nicely in spite of their presence in the world. Moreover, this is the twenty-first century for the love of all that is good and decent! We are not living in the stinking dark ages for heaven’s sake! At this point in history humans ought to be sophisticated enough to cope with a stupid virus, even a novel virus without it destroying the best parts of our civilization (free speech, sporting events, live entertainment venues, face-to-face communication, free exercise of religion, unrestricted travel). Acquiescing to the notion that a virus with anything less than a twenty-percent mortality rate could change EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING is a kind of spineless defeatism I was and still am very uncomfortable with.  

Nevertheless. 

As time has worn on, I have been forced to acknowledge reality.  COVID-19 really has shaped a new normal that will doubtless continue to affect our daily lives for some time to come. Unfortunately, little of the new normal is healthy, pleasant or life-giving. In fact, most of it is corrupt, unhealthy, illogical and extremely distressing in some way.  So far, the “new normal” includes a lot fear, an appalling lack of logic, political division, hostility, hate, rioting and government control. 

I am still not a fan. 

That being said. Because God promises He will never leave us or forsake us, Christians will ALWAYS have the ability to flourish spiritually even in the most challenging of times (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).  The book of Jeremiah demonstrates this reality.  Jeremiah is mostly a grim and unpleasant book.  After generations of idolatry, sexual sin and open rebellion against God the people of Judah were finally faced with the consequences of their sinful lifestyle.  God lifted His hand of protection and the nation was conquered by the Babylonians. Jeremiah prophesied that this would not be a short-term inconvenience. Israel would remain in captivity to the Babylonians for seventy years. However, Jeremiah also assured the nation that even in the midst of their painful and ugly “new normal” God still loved them.  He promised God would still hear their prayers, He would continue to dwell among them, He would continue to bless them and He still had good plans for their future (Jeremiah 29:10-14). 

What was true for God’s people in 605 B.C. is still true for God’s people in 2020 A.D. God is still God and God is still good. He has plans for His people and they are good. 

This is without question a season of rebuke and judgment. God is not dealing just with those outside the church but also with Christians who have become disobedient and negligent in their devotion to God (1stPeter 4:17). During a season of rebuke and judgment it is vital we ruthlessly root out the idols in our lives and seek to become active participants in the sanctification process (2nd Corinthians 13:5, 2nd Peter 1:5-11). We must examine our lives and repent quickly so we can be a peaceful and life-giving presence to non-Christians who have reached the end of their own coping mechanisms and false belief systems. Our ultimate obligation before God is to live holy lives and seek the good of the culture we have been placed in, no matter how corrupt or sinful our culture happens to be (Jeremiah 29:4-7, Matthew 5:16, Matthew 28:18-20, 1st Peter 2:12). That means being spiritually ready when God  brings revival to the unbelieving.  

 Historically, God does His best work in the darkest of times. Our time is no different. God promises to do great things in and through the faithful.  The seventy years of captivity gave us some of the most heroic, encouraging, and instructive stories in all the Bible. The books of Daniel, Esther and Jonah are all stories that tell how God worked in and through those who remained faithful during their season of rebuke and judgment. If we cling to God and stay open to what He is attempting to do in us through this season we will not lose heart we will see God do great things in us and in our culture. 

We will flourish. 

Spotting Hypocrisy-

And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy~ Galatians 2:13 NIV

 Hypocrisy.

 It is perhaps the ugliest of all sins. Unlike pride the Bible makes it painfully clear that there is no such thing as a “healthy hypocrisy” or “good hypocrisy” (Romans 11:13, Galatians 6:4, Matthew 23:13:36, Matthew 24:51, Mark 7:6, Luke 6:42).

  God hates hypocrisy. Because Christians are commanded to live lives of sincerity (1st Timothy 1:5, Hebrews 10:22) and because hypocrisy is a pernicious sin that literally fools people into believing they are better and more moral than they really are. (Galatians 2:11-14).

 Hypocrisy literally hurts everyone. Hypocrisy hurts hypocrites because hypocrisy is a sin that makes the person sinning more comfortable with all forms of sin. Sooner or later all hypocrites buy into the lie that they really are as good as they think everyone thinks they are. Because of that, every hypocrite eventually gives up on things like confession, repentance and living a life of holiness (James 5:16, 1st John 1:9, Matthew 3:2, Acts 3:19, Romans 12:1). Instead, they simply settle for pretending. No one will ever reach their full potential in Christ if they simply settle for a life of pretending to be better than they really are. This is because authenticity or being real about who we really are is the key that unlocks the door to spiritual transformation in our lives. 

 Hypocrisy hurts churches because hypocrisy is contagious. Which is why some churches and denominations seem to have more of a problem with it than others. Any time one respected Christian leads a life of hypocrisy it doesn’t take long for others to figure out that it’s a whole lot easier to act holy when people are looking than to actually do the hard work of becoming holy. When Jesus warned His disciples concerning “the yeast” of the Pharisees and Sadducees he was referencing the infectious and trickledown nature of hypocrisy within the ranks of spiritual leadership  (Matthew 16:11).

 Hypocrisy hurts our ability to lead others to Christ because one insincere Christian can easily convince all non-Christians that hypocrisy and pretense is standard operating procedure for every Christian. In the process of dismissing all Christians as hypocrites they dismiss Jesus and the results of dismissing Jesus are tragic and eternal.

 Sigh.

 Like the sin of pride, the nature of hypocrisy is such that it is easy to spot hypocrisy in others but nearly impossible to see it in ourselves. Fortunately for us, Jesus doesn’t call His people to worry about the sins of others. He does call us to worry about our own sin. Hypocrisy is a sin Christians ought to spend a lot of time worrying about. Because hypocrisy is something the God who defines Himself as love hates (1st John 4:8 23:13-33, Matthew 24:51). Following are some signs you might have a problem with hypocrisy:

 You have two very different sets of friends-

 Having two very different sets of friends is not a problem per se. However, it is a problem if your behavior, attitude and speech is very different when you are with the different groups. If you spend a lot of time hoping that your divergent social circles never meet up you almost definitely have a problem that needs immediate attention.

 You judge others harshly-

Hypocrites are generally quite reluctant to admit they sin at all (1st John 1:9-10). They also tend to lack mercy and are weirdly judgmental towards the sins of others. Oftentimes hypocrites are the most judgmental towards people who have the same sin issues they do.

 You live a secret life-

We can easily fool ourselves into believing what we do when we’re by ourselves has no bearing on the rest of our lives. Truth-be-told it is possible to live a secret life for a long time without any obvious repercussions. But because God will not permit Himself to be mocked, sooner or later every choice we make will  become apparent to everyone (Galatians 6:7, Numbers 32:23) 

You have a problem with gossip-

 Not every gossip is a hypocrite, some gossips are refreshingly honest about their sin.  However, in my experience, every hypocrite is a gossip. Hypocrite’s tend to gossip because they secretly believe that sharing the sins and shortcomings of others will keep people from noticing their own sins and shortcomings.

 You will do ANYTHING to avoid looking bad-

 Hypocrisy is all about projecting an image of goodness and righteousness that the hypocrite KNOWS deep in their heart-of-hearts is false.  Because a hypocrites reputation and image is also their idol,  protecting the image is ultimately more important than anyone or anything else. Therefore a hypocrite will lie about and even knowingly slander another person in order to protect their own reputation because reputation is everything to a hypocrite.

 We all have singular moments of hypocrisy.

Anyone who claims otherwise is either fundamentally dishonest or more of a hypocrite than they know. That said, we should work tirelessly to root out all forms of hypocrisy in our lives because the behavior we tolerate in ourselves is the behavior that grows. Spotting hypocrisy in ourselves cannot happen without a bone-level commitment to brutal self-examination and a steely-eyed determination to live lives of openness and sincerity.