Five Ways to Curse Your Stupid Self


Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, so a curse without cause does not alight~ Proverbs 26:2 NASB

 The word curse or curses is used a total of 178 times in the Bible. The conspicuously large number of times the word is used in the biblical text has led many to believe that God is all about cursing people. A lot of folks (including some Christians) believe God spends His spare time scanning the planet looking for those He can lay a horrible hex on.

  In the interest of fairness, I feel the need to point out that the only record I could find of God actually cursing anyone or anything is in the book of Genesis. In chapter three God lays out a series of curses related to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden of Eden.

 Issues of fairness aside, the Bible does not hesitate to reference the concept of curses.  The better part of Deuteronomy twenty-eight is just one long list of ghastly curses that will befall the Israelite people if they don’t get their spiritual act together and keep it that way. That passage coupled with the many other references to the word beg the question: Does God curse people for doing the wrong thing?

 I think not.

 Not that I don’t believe curses are a real thing. There are simply too many biblical references to the subject for a serious Christian to dismiss the whole thing as twaddle or voodoo. That said, God does not curse people willy-nilly just because they displease or annoy Him.

 It’s a bit more complicated than all that.

 God has designed the universe in such a way that if we do certain things certain consequences are inevitable. If someone places their hand on a hot stove, pain predictably follows. God does not cause anyone to put their hand on a stove and God certainly does not burn anyone’s hand.  Consequences occur because they are built into the design of the universe.  God doesn’t curse us.  We curse ourselves.  Following are four weird ways we bring curses on our own stupid selves.

 We curse ourselves when we refuse to break sinful patterns of the past-

 Many believe they are cursed to do stupid stuff because they a had a parent or grandparent or great-grandparent who did stupid stuff.  They believe that because some distant relative sinned in some foolhardy way God cursed the entire family line to sin exactly the same way for the rest of history.  It is true that patterns of sinful behavior run in families. It is also true that sinful behavior and attitudes can run deep. That said, the Bible makes it clear that God does not hold children responsible for the sins of the parents (Ezekiel 18:1-32). Furthermore, these types of curses are not difficult to break. Once a person repents of a sinful attitude or behavior the curse is broken.  Case closed.    

 We curse ourselves when we harshly judge situations we don’t understand or haven’t lived through-

 Back in the day my husband and I had some friends who were extremely critical and vocal in their criticism of how we parented our oldest daughter. We weren’t strict enough, we let her stay up too late, we let her eat too much candy, we didn’t discipline her enough or in the correct way. We naturally assumed that when these people had kids their kids would be the best behaved, sweetest, most well-mannered children in the history of children. They weren’t. They were awful. Those children were so dreadfully awful that both sets of grandparents refused to babysit them. I don’t say this to gloat (at least I am trying not to) I say this to make a point. When we judge people, we tend to repeat the same sins of the people we judge (Matthew 7:2), typically, we do this without even realizing we are doing it.

 We curse ourselves when we choose to become bitter-

 Anytime we chose the path of bitterness over the path of forgiveness we are cursed to become exactly like the people we refuse to forgive. I am not entirely certain why or how this happens. That said, I have observed it happen enough times to know it’s a real thing. I suspect we become like the person we are bitter towards because bitterness causes us to become extremely focused (in a very unhealthy way) on that one person. Having so much of our mental energy focused on the negative aspects of one person causes us, over time, to take on the characteristics of that person without being aware of what we are doing. So, if you do not wish to become a mirror image of your gossipy, critical Mother or your angry, alcoholic Father I strongly suggest you forgive immediately (Hebrews 12:15).  

 We curse ourselves when we refuse the Holy Spirit-  

 Anytime God tells us to do anything in His word or the Holy Spirit prompts us to action and we choose to ignore those promptings we curse ourselves.  Ignoring God hardens our hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8, Hebrews 4:7). The harder our hearts become the more difficult it becomes to discern truth from God’s word, to hear His still-small voice or even to care when the Holy Spirit prompts us to action.

 That perhaps is the worst curse of all.

Does Truth Matter Anymore?

 

The Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth~ John 1:14 NKJV

 It’s been a long, hot week in the the Pacific Northwest. Most of our region is literally on fire right now and the city I live in is so smoky and gross that our whole house smells like we’ve been barbequing in the basement. The local health department has classified our air quality as “hazardous”.

 The heat, smoke and air quality have left me feeling more than a little unmotivated. As a result I found myself struggling to come up with a topic for this weeks blog-post. Inspiration came early Tuesday morning when I opened Facebook and ran across what I felt at the time was a rather innocuous quote from Bible teacher, Beth Moore…    

 You will watch a generation of Christians—OF CHRISTIANS—set the Bible aside in an attempt to be more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible. This will be, perhaps, the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice truth for love’s sake, you will rise or fall whether you will sacrifice one for the other.

  Beth Moore literally could not to be any more correct on this point. The spiritual tension that exists between biblical truth and the current human definition of love is the greatest theological conundrum of our generation. I am convinced (and have been for a long time) that if the church doesn’t get its proverbial act together and figure out a way to communicate the truth concerning this issue, biblical Christianity will all but vanish with this generation. If that happens, our culture will enter a spiritual and moral dark ages, the likes of which the world has not seen since the dawn of the Christian age.

 It was not the quote that got me spoiling for a smackdown. It was the absurd responses to her quote that I found frustrating.  To my astonishment, most of those who commented disagreed with Beth Moore, some vehemently. All the dissenters called her unloving and accused her of lacking compassion. A few even criticized her for making an idol out of the Bible.

 Seriously. Is that even a thing?

 The comments were a reminder of a reality I frequently bump-up against when I’m interacting with some Christians. Sadly, too many in our generation have twisted love into something that is not found anywhere in the Bible.

 There are two truths we need to acknowledge concerning Jesus, love, and the Bible. First, we simply cannot separate the words of Jesus from the rest of the Bible. In the book of John, Jesus is referred to as The Word. By using that particular designation to describe Jesus, John is making a powerful statement about who Jesus is and how He fits into Scripture.

 John is declaring that Jesus is the personification and expression of the word of God. Jesus was the substance and incarnation of all that had been written in the Old Testament law and all that was to be written in the New Testament letters.

 What that means is that the statements Jesus made in the gospels (the red letters that contemporary Christians get all wound-up about) are no more or less significant than the Old Testament Law and the New Testament letters. Jesus is the perfecter of our faith and the author of all of Scripture. Not just the Scripture we feel comfortable with or those that reflect our current cultural values and sensibilities (Hebrews 12:2, 2nd Timothy 3:16, Luke 24:27).

 Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial requirements of the law and we no longer live in a theocracy, so as 21st century Christians we no longer sacrifice animals to have our sins forgiven (Jesus took care of that for us) or follow the civil laws that were given specifically to the nation of Israel. However, that doesn’t mean that the entire Old Testament should be tossed out because much of the Old Testament FEELS unloving to contemporary readers.

 The second truth we need to understand is that the good news of the gospel is wrapped up in a lot of really bad news. The good news is that God loves people so much that He sacrificed His only son so that we could be forgiven and spend eternity with God (John 3:16).

 The bad news for us is that God is a holy and perfect God who really hates sin. God decided a long time ago what actions were sinful and He has not modified or relaxed His standards on what sin is and is not. The penalty for for sin is awful: eternity in hell forever separated from God and all that is comforting and good. All people are sinners who cannot under any circumstances get right with God and be forgiven unless they are willing to leave their life of sin and follow Jesus wherever he leads (John 8:11, Mark 8:34).

 Those are at least two of the truths we need be honest about as we share the love of God with people. When we don’t tell the whole truth about life and sin and eternity we are really telling a lie that will eventually lead to the spiritual death of those we claim to love.

 There’s nothing loving about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foolishness, Responsibility and the Rape Culture

Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways~ Proverbs 2:12-13 NIV

 This last week I was blindsided with not one but two— face palming— lose your faith in humanity forever— let me off this planet— now— kind of moments.

 The first occurred when the news program I was watching covered the early release of Brock Turner. For those who do not own a television or have been vacationing on another planet, Brock Turner is the bag of human filth Stanford student found guilty of raping an unconscious woman on campus following a fraternity party.

 Although his guilt could not have been more obvious (DNA plus two eyewitnesses), Brock Turner was initially sentenced to only six months in jail for the assault. The paltry sentence was for some reason, (known only to God and the numbskull judge) cut in half.

 Six months of jail time for raping an inebriated, unconscious woman is such a staggering miscarriage of justice that I literally have no words for how furious it makes me. Cutting the sentence in half for any reason makes a mockery of the entire notion of justice.

 The second of the face palming— lose your faith in humanity forever—let me off this planet— now— kind of moments quickly followed.

 The women discussing the case bantered back and forth on the generalities of the case for a while, before moving on to the problem of campus rape. Then they debated what should be done to prevent rape on college campuses.

 It wasn’t so much what was said that caused me to face palm but what wasn’t said. Not a single word was uttered concerning the notion of people in general and young women in particular avoiding the act of becoming too drunk to function in public places. Not one word. In fact, the whole idea that college students can or should drink less was openly ridiculed.

 Once I got a grip and quit muttering under my breath about the lack of logic on this planet. I came to the sad conclusion that as a society we have become so consumed with the notion of personal rights that we have completely lost the entire concept of wisdom and, with it, personal responsibility.

 Wisdom is the ability to look at a possible course of action and see in advance what the likely outcome might be. Wisdom is sometimes defined as the correct use of knowledge, underscoring the fact a person can acquire a lot of knowledge concerning a lot of things but be completely lacking in wisdom.

 For the record, I do not believe intoxicated women deserve to be raped; anyone who believes that lie is clearly out of touch with their own humanity. Furthermore, I truly believe rape is a hate crime and ought to be charged as such with a mandatory-minimum ten-year sentence. So please, don’t accuse me of being soft on rape.

 That said.

 If as a society we are going have any sort of thoughtful dialogue about preventing rape we need to tell women and girls that getting drunk in the presence of strangers is simply unwise. This world is full of horrible people who gleefully seek out defenseless women for the sole purpose of taking advantage of their defenselessness. Sadly, rapists are not born with gross deformities, an “R” on their foreheads or any other identifying marks. Therefore, the key to rape prevention is situational awareness. No one is aware of their situation when they are wasted. Period.

 It’s not just in the arenas of criminal justice and college rape where our society has lost its collective mind. There is a lack of wisdom everywhere we look. From parenting to food consumption to marriage to how we view gender to how we approach the complexities of daily life. As a society we have rejected the giver of wisdom (God). In the process we have become fools who wander around in bewilderment wondering out loud why our lives and our society are not working the way we think they ought to.

 Sadly, Christians cannot wave a magic wand and make our society more rational. However, we can seek wisdom from God on a daily basis and commit to living lives that model wisdom and good sense. We can also work to reform the system. Christians need to pay attention to what is going on in schools, churches, the justice system and the political world. Then we need to courageous enough to call out foolishness when we see it.

 

 

 

Getting God Back in America

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

 It’s been a decade of progress and change. Sadly, much of the progress has gone in the wrong direction and the changes have been mostly bad.

 Civility and respect have all but vanished. Policymakers routinely go to war over everything and anything, and yet somehow seem incapable of solving even the most rudimentary of problems. Regard for rule of law and those who enforce the law is rapidly declining. The murder of police officers has doubled in twelve short months.

 To our everlasting shame as a nation, many black citizens feel the need to affirm the obvious fact that their lives really do matter. Just as appalling, some of those same folks become outraged at the notion that all lives really should matter equally.

 Bakers, photographers, florists and other professionals are routinely sued and sometimes even criminally prosecuted simply for declining to participate in ceremonies they don’t wish to celebrate.

 Nearly half (forty percent) of the children born in 2016 will be born to unmarried women. The news that divorce rates have declined in recent years is a blessing; sadly, few experts believe it’s because commitment has made an abrupt comeback. Rather, fewer couples are getting married, opting instead to live together.

 Being born with a particular set of “parts” is now considered entirely irrelevant to the notion of being born male or female. Gender is now entirely relative to how one feels when they wake-up in the morning.

 To Christians, all this “progress” is simply heartbreaking. Most of us never even imagined that such behaviors and attitudes would become so widely accepted. For most of us, our natural response is to long for a time when respect for life, marriage, God and the law were the prevailing standard in our society.

 We want to get God back in America.

 How to accomplish this objective is a matter of vigorous debate.

 Some think that if we simply do stuff the way it used be done those changes will transform our society back into a saner version of itself. Those who long for the good old days believe that if we return prayer and corporal punishment to public schools, kids will be better behaved and more God-fearing. Conversely, some folks sincerely believe that if hymnbooks, dress codes and Sunday school classes were to make a return to the church scene, churches would become as healthy and fruitful as they were when those things were customary.

 Others believe that the right political leader can and will bring God or at least godly values back to America and life will settle back into something that looks and feels a little less scary and hopeless. They believe that if laws change to reflect a more conservative way of thinking, hearts will eventually follow.

 Both views are fatally flawed.

 Changing actions or laws only changes people and institutions if the changes were prompted by inner transformation or, as we used to say, “heart change”. We could have the best laws and leaders in the world and no one will follow either one if their hearts are unrepentant and bent towards evil.

 I would love nothing more than to have a President who would stop actively supporting evil and undercutting virtue. That said, I also recognize that one person can only do so much. Unless of course that person is Jesus Christ and sadly He isn’t running for President this year.

 It’s not what we do or who our human leadership is that transforms our society or determines how much God we have in America.

 You and I decide how much God we have in America.

 The New Testament teaches that God occupies the hearts of people who have come to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ (Acts 7:48). If Christians (myself included) do not feel good about the level of morality, integrity or appropriate behavior we see in our communities or country. It’s time to look inward at our own spiritual lives and attitudes rather than at the world and their wickedness.

 We will never have more God in America (or anywhere else) than we have God in the hearts of individual believers. We get more God inside of our hearts when we live in closer relationship to Him and when we love people unconditionally. We will get more God in America when we ruthlessly eradicate sin from our lives, seek to become more obedient to His instructions, and when we make a daily effort to know Him better through the study of His word.

 When Christians everywhere make those pursuits their number one priority, we will have more God than we can handle in America.

 Powerful political and social change will follow our obedience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Feelings Run the Show

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long~ Psalm 25:4-5 NIV

 There was a time in the not-so-distant-past when facts mattered and feelings were considered immaterial to most discussions. Those days are in the rear-view. Few people care about facts anymore. Even in the very rare cases where logic and reason are allowed entrance onto the debate stage, the facts nearly always take a backseat to whatever emotion is driving the aforementioned argument.

 Feelings have become the god we worship.                        

 This truth is most clearly revealed in the whole transgender bathroom debate. The kerfuffle over who gets to pee where is not really about fairness; if it were, we would be done discussing it already. Nor is it about men dressed convincingly as women using women’s bathrooms.

 Like it or not, that sort of thing has been going on for as long as there have been bathrooms in public places and most folks have been none the wiser. Contrary what the LBGTQ community would have the world believe, conservatives do not routinely do “parts” checks or demand to see birth certificates at the doors of public toilets.

 The real issue at hand is a small minority of men who do not routinely dress as women who claim there are times when they suddenly “feel” like women and should therefore be treated like women. These men are demanding the right to enter women’s restrooms whenever that feeling happens to strike them. According their supporters the “needs” of those men outweigh the rights of everyone else.

 The notion that men ought to be permitted to use any restroom they wish based on something that simply cannot be proven (feelings) is clearly absurd and obviously rife with potential for abuse. However, the brave few left clinging to reason are losing this debate. Not because the truth isn’t evident or because the facts aren’t compelling; but rather because the debate is being framed around feelings rather than facts or common sense.

 Sadly, the proclivity to allow feelings to drive every argument is not restricted to men who wish to have access to women’s bathrooms. Feelings rule the day in all sorts of different situations and it seems everybody is hopping on the feelings bandwagon.

 Decisions are made, marriages dissolved, political opinions shaped, and votes cast. Not based on promises made, facts examined or the painstaking vetting of views, but rather on the basis of how we feel about those things. Commitment, character of the individual and reason all take a backseat to feelings.

 Feeling statements are oftentimes cleverly disguised as “I don’t think” declarations. Usually an “I don’t think” declaration will follow the delivery of an irrefutable, but unpleasant fact or the teaching of an exceptionally clear but hard Bible passage. The hearer will scrunch their brow, take a deep breath and state, in a very serious tone “I don’t think a loving God would ______________” or “I don’t think _______________ is actually true”. “I don’t think” declarations rarely involve any deep thought; rather they reveal the hearers’ feelings about the fact stated.

 When facts are ignored or dismissed as irrelevant, society quickly devolves into the messy muddle described in the book of Judges: in those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes~ Judges 21:25. The only discernable difference between our time and theirs is that we do have a king, we are led by feelings and feelings are proving to be more tyrannical than any human leader.

 The American public and even those in the Church have been conditioned over the course of several decades to buy the lies that a hurt feeling is every bit as serious as a broken bone and perception is reality. The truth is that hurt feelings do hurt. Sometimes they hurt a lot.

 However, a hurt feeling only causes permanent damage if we allow the hurt to take root and grow into bitterness. Perceptions are essentially just feelings with a fancy title and should never be treated as facts and it’s a dangerous form of lunacy to kowtow to anything as capricious as a feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens When we Take Offense

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense~ Proverbs 19:11 NIV

It’s official.

Sometime in the recent past America morphed into a population of whiners, wimps and politically correct crybabies.

 College students at Harvard University have reported feeling “ threatened” by the possibility of the presence of students whose views on abortion might differ from their own. Students were not actually exposed to opposing ideas on the topic. Nonetheless, the mere notion they might be exposed to a view they didn’t agree with was simply more than the little snow flakes could endure.

 These attitudes are not limited to the young. Full-grown adult and committed atheist, Patrick Greene is suing the senior Pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mr. Greene asserts that a 230-foot cross being erected on church property is “offensive” and “tacky as he__ __”, and should therefore be removed. Greene is also suing two city officials for attending the crosses groundbreaking ceremony as private citizens.

It seems that everyone these days is “demanding an apology” from someone for something. At this writing various Muslim groups are demanding apologies from the makers of Lego, Chick-fil-A restaurants, Clint Eastwood and a bunch of cities in Texas. Bernie Sanders is demanding an apology from Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton is demanding one from Bernie Sanders. Everybody thinks Trump should apologize for something he said or did. 

Sadly, Christian people are not immune from the madness engulfing the greater culture. Wounded Christians were out in droves this past week. They were diligently monitoring and scolding others for what they believed to be “insensitive” and “callous” April Fools day jokes.

 It’s not just silly hoaxes that God’s people find offensive these days. It is not unusual for Christians to leave or cease supporting their local church financially because they’ve determined that the Pastor’s preaching is not “sensitive” enough. Lifelong alliances and friendships are frequently tossed aside because one person hurt another’s feelings and they refuse to forgive or even discuss the subject with the other party. Discussions of doctrinal particulars are frequently forbidden at Bible studies because the subject of doctrine is considered too divisive.

Many  Pastors and Bible study leaders have simply given up teaching and preaching about “harsh” subjects such as abortion, homosexuality, adultery and divorce out of fear of offending or driving away church members. The doctrinal illiteracy that has infiltrated churches as a result of this silliness has caused many Bible studies to become little more than pools of collective ignorance.

Some Churches have scrapped doctrinal declarations of faith altogether. Embracing “Who We Are” statements in their place. These statements avoid making any pronouncements that might be considered unequivocal or offensive. One denomination dropped all references to the Bible in their Who We Are Statement and instead quote Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

 Many Christians admit to isolating themselves from other believers, because they have been hurt or felt offended by the words, actions or the “sensed” motives of others. Some have stopped attending weekly services altogether because they felt ignored or were offended by a Pastor or staff member. 

 This is simply not what Jesus envisioned for His people when He prayed that we would be one (John 17:11).

I fear we have lost our way and become a lot like the young adults we all love to mock on college campuses: a bunch of oversensitive, easily wounded, crybabies.

 This nonsense has eternal consequences. Church is no longer a place people go to find truth or get answers to life’s toughest questions. As a result unbelievers are often left to figure out life and eternity on their own. Typically,with less than spectacular results. It is noble to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others but not at the expense of tackling heaven and hell issues.

 We can stop the madness by making a habit of stepping back and praying for wisdom when we feel offended or hurt by others. We must understand that contrary to popular belief, our perceptions are not always reality.  We need the Holy Spirit, not our emotions to show us what is true in these situations. Even when our perceptions are correct and people have behaved in a way that is insensitive or callous, forgiveness, not offendedness is the God-honoring, life-giving answer.

 

 

 

 

Who’s to Blame?

 

Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you~ Hosea 10:12 NIV

 If you have been a reader of my blog for any length of time you have probably already recognized two truths. First, I am an enthusiastic follower of all things political and second, I’m less than satisfied with the state of political affairs in our country.

 I have written several blogs detailing my opinions concerning several of the candidates running in the 2016 election. However, my irritation with the current political landscape runs far deeper than the sorry collection of candidates running for office this year.

 Like many in our culture, I have concluded that prevailing “wisdom” and government policies have encouraged and enabled folks to reject the principles of hard work, faith, unity and personal responsibility. For decades now a large share of the population has chosen to actively reject the very values and principles that made America great in the first place. The choice to abandon our founding principles has not been without consequences. America has become a nation fractured by discord and conflict, a country overrun with rabble-rousers, crybabies, and freeloaders.

 Sane people (especially Christians) are naturally panicked by the devolving social and political structures. There are two opposite but equally rational and all too human responses to the cultural and political turmoil. The first is all too common in Christian communities. We withdraw from the greater culture and pretend the darkness and problems don’t actually exist or that they can be fixed through superficial, feel-goody kinds of events or undertakings.

 We turn off the television news, tune into our families and focus in on our local churches and the activities that make us feel secure, happy and like we have at least a little bit of control in this world.

 This approach directly defies the biblical directive to act as salt and light in our sin-weary world. If the last three decades have taught us anything it’s that when we retreat into our holy huddles we preserve and enlighten only each other. It does not take long for the devil to gain a foothold in the social and political realms, and the world devolves rapidly into social and political chaos.

 Another option is to try and outsource our job as salt and light. We work to get the “right” people elected and then demand that those folks legislate political and social changes. The hope is that if the right laws are passed, those laws will eventually change the hearts of people and even if hearts aren’t changed at least questionable behavior is kept in check.

 The political approach has accomplished little in past decades but to alienate unbelievers who have determined that Christians think it’s their business to police the rest of the world’s behavior. Even in the cases where it does work, it’s still a disaster from a spiritual perspective. For the most part all we’ve done is produce a crop of well-behaved heathens who lack the spiritual insight to recognize how lost they truly are.

 Truth be told, the Christian community bares at least partial responsibility for the mess our world is in. It is our God-given duty is to morally preserve and spiritually enlighten whatever culture we find ourselves in. If you’ve turned on the news recently you know that for the most part we have failed to live up to our obligations.

 Roughly two decades ago Churches ceased to pray corporately because prayer meetings are boring and the people in the pews no longer felt like praying. Around the same time many Pastors stopped preaching on the importance of prayer, repentance and doing hard things, even when we don’t feel like it. In its place the Church has focused a lot of energy on helping folks to feel good about bad choices.

 The solutions to the problems we see in our world will not be found in church programs or improved marketing campaigns designed to make Jesus cooler and more user-friendly than He really is. Our problems will only be solved when the people in the Church renew an interest in prayer and repentance and stop looking to worldly people to solve spiritual problems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When God Ordains Trouble

 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God”~ Genesis 44:5a, 7, 8a

 I rarely worry during the day and I’m usually out like a light within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. I would love to tell you it’s because I am some sort of a super Christian who has completely conquered the sin of worry.

 However, that would be a terrible lie.

I do worry sometimes. Sadly, it’s never at an hour when I can constructively deal with issues or problems. For some reason I will never entirely grasp, my brain simply prefers to focus in on all the unsolvable problems of life around three-o-clock in the morning. It never fails to amaze me how I can feel perfectly relaxed and anxiety-free at ten only to wake up with an extensive list of thoroughly bizarre concerns that appear to require my full attention just a few hours later.

 I was back at it the other night, wide-awake at 2:45 a.m. staring at the ceiling, mulling over an issue that has been vexing me on and off for months. The situation in question can only be categorized as an interpersonal disaster. I cannot figure out for the life of me how exactly the situation got to be so bad or even where it all went wrong in the first place.

 Looking back, there are things I could have (and probably should have) done differently. That said, I’m not sure doing things differently would have improved the outcome all that much. The whole thing is a big, stupid mess that appears to have been fated to become a big, stupid mess from day one. And the mess just keeps getting messier no matter what I do (or stop doing) to fix it.

 As I lay awake in the wee hours of the night praying for wisdom, it struck me that there are times in this life when it appears as if God has simply ordained trouble for people. It happened to some of God’s best and brightest. Paul, Joseph, Naomi and David are just a few examples of people who found themselves in serious trouble they did not create and were powerless to escape without God’s intervention.

 When Jesus promised we would have trouble in this life (John 16:33), He was not overstating facts. Friends betray our confidence, the wrong people get elected, persecution occurs, financial misfortune appears seemingly out of thin air. As if all that were not enough, spouses are sometimes prone to wander, terrorists attack without reason or forewarning and kids who were raised right can still go horribly wrong. Even the seemingly most secure and peaceful of situations can and sometimes do transform in the course of a single day.

 God’s purposes are largely hidden and almost always easier to understand in retrospect. Sometimes, as with Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth, God has a much larger plan that is unfolding, and our pain is simply a stepping-stone to our true purpose in this life. Other times, God uses trouble to prepare us for responsibilities or blessings beyond anything we could possibly imagine, as He did with Joseph and David. Other times, trouble or persecution is simply the natural consequence of a life of obedience, as with the apostle Paul.

 God also uses trouble to reveal truth we need to see about ourselves. In the process of revealing those truths He refines us and makes us better people. Sometimes God uses trouble to draw us into a closer relationship with Him, and sometimes God uses trouble to reorder our priorities and steer us back to our original calling.

 If you live long enough and serve faithfully enough you will likely find yourself in the middle of a mess you did not make and have no clue how to fix. When trouble comes and life feels out of control, the natural response is to wonder what we did wrong or if God has somehow abandoned us. That response makes sense on a natural level but is an enormous waste of spiritual time and emotional energy.

 Rather, we should get busy praying for wisdom, direction and the ability to be flexible because something infinitely bigger and better is likely right around the corner.

The trouble you are facing today is simply God preparing you for the blessings and responsibilities of tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Be the Leader

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land~ 2nd Chronicles 7:14

 We live in an age of extreme and sometimes bizarre contradictions. Some are amusing, others are puzzling, and a few are rather troubling:

 For the first time in human history places exist where it is possible to be both overfed and undernourished.

 Most organizations striving for equality for women refuse to recognize the right of unborn woman to be born.

 Those who report spending the most time “connected” to social media sites are also the most likely to report feeling “lonely” and “disengaged” from others.

 Leadership is yet another arena of inconsistencies and absurdities. A recent and rather hasty Amazon search for “leadership books” netted a whopping 185,460 results. Leadership seminars and conferences have become virtually ubiquitous and every high school student in America is required to take at least one leadership class in order to graduate. Leadership is the current buzzword and yet good leaders are getting tougher and tougher find.

 The sad state of leadership in our culture is most clearly seen in the political realm. Many of the “leaders” who are running for President tell lies on a fairly consistent basis. Few are above stooping to dirty tricks to win an election. One frontrunner will likely be indicted on federal charges and the other is being sued for fraud. Few of the officials who presently hold office are any better. Almost none of them have done what they promised to do; fewer still are humble enough to own up to their lack of accomplishment.

 The political realm is not the only arena where leadership is sadly lacking. Both male and female teachers are frequently dismissed from their positions for having sex with the students they were paid to lead. Sports, movie, and music icons are eager to take the material blessings and notoriety that come with celebrity. However, few are prepared to use those blessings to benefit others or lead kids in a wholesome direction. Some of the vilest offenders of common decency have stated categorically that they “are not role models.”

 Leadership is an issue in many churches as well. There are an appalling number of Christian leaders who live lives of duplicity, preaching love and righteousness from the pulpit and mistreating people or viewing porn when they think no one is watching. However, incidents of obvious sin are not the only issue creating chaos in our churches.

 Many “leaders” in our churches are so averse to saying anything that might possibly be construed as offensive, or hurt someone’s feelings that little of substance is actually said. Christians have bought into the lie that it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to do ALL the convicting and challenging.

 Conviction, or the awareness that we have done wrong, is the natural outcome of exposure to spiritual truth (Acts 26:20, 2nd Timothy 4:2). Too many churches seem to have set the bar at simply transforming sinners into nicer people, rather than leading them to a radical change of thinking about life and God that leads to repentance and transformation.

 It is correct that the Holy Spirit is the only one actually capable of radically transforming an individual heart. However, Christians have an obligation to give Him something of substance He can work with as He does the work of persuading people of their need for change.

 The muddled state of leadership in our world ought to give us all pause. If history is repeated (it usually is) our future will likely be rather grim. Typically following a period of corrupt leadership and cultural anarchy, strict, autocratic and sometimes even fascist leadership rises from the ashes of cultural decay.

 It’s not too late. Change is still possible, but it won’t come easy. Christians need to be the leaders they want to see. We cannot be anything or do anything of any substance without God’s leadership, help and mercy. It is time for Christians everywhere to to pray and seek the face of God. Don’t pray that God changes the world; rather, pray that He changes us so we can change the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hard Truth Concerning Forgiveness

I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept~ Genesis 50:17

 They have become ubiquitous on Facebook.

Photos of a man standing at sunset, back to the camera arms spread wide in an expression of complete and glorious freedom. Or sometimes the photo is of a young woman dressed in white strolling serenely down a long tree-lined path, suggesting a future filled with joy and endless possibilities.

 The quotes accompanying these images are sometimes spiritually questionable. Others are far too syrupy and sentimental for my taste. However, the vast majority of quotes on the subject are thought provoking and more than a little convicting…

 We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies~ Martin Luther King Jr.

 The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong~ Gandhi

 Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness~ Corrie Ten Boom

 Over the course of the last few years I have had the “opportunity” to work through two unrelated and dissimilar situations, both requiring me to forgive some massive and very personal hurts. I concluded after working through those situations that none of the quotes I have seen tell the complete story of forgiveness. Sappy sentimentalities and inspiring quips extolling the virtues and benefits of forgiveness inevitably miss a core truth.

 Forgiveness is hard.

 Sometimes it hurts almost as much as the offense that necessitated the forgiving. If the offense was particularly personal or the person who did the hurting was someone we trusted. The act of forgiving that person can hurt to the point of physical agony. Forgiveness is tough because involves a release of the right to seek revenge on someone who doubtless has earned some sort of retaliation. The letting go of what is logically a right can feel overwhelmingly unjust.

 Forgiveness is a foundational (albeit sometimes unpopular) doctrine of the Christian faith. God forgives without hesitation, and He clearly expects His people to forgive in the same spirit. Forgiving is so important to God that it’s a prerequisite for obtaining His forgiveness (Matthew 6:15).

 God knows enough about people to know that when we refuse to forgive, unforgiveness transforms us in a profoundly ugly way. We eventually become incapable of focusing on anything but our wounds and resentment. The relentless emphasis on the negative causes our patience to shrivel and our irritation with everyone to increase. Over time we inevitably twist into a hostile, unsympathetic and nasty version of ourselves. 

 Regrettably, knowing all this does not make forgiving any easier.

 It is considerably more difficult (if not impossible) to forgive without God’s assistance and power. Some offenses are simply too great to forgive on our own; we acquire the help we need to forgive through persistent and sometimes prolonged prayer. Prayer keeps us connected to God, prevents bitterness from taking root in our hearts and empowers us to forgive the unforgivable. We pray until our feelings towards the person who did the hurting change.

 Prayer also prevents people from blaming God for situations He had nothing to do with. Oftentimes, when Christians have suffered a serious offense they struggle as much with anger towards God, for allowing the hurt to happen as they do with the person who hurt them. It’s important to understand that God is not a puppet master who controls the choices of people.

 Sometimes people hurt others because they are egotistical, callous or even evil. Most of the time people hurt others because they are stupid, insensitive or lack awareness of how their actions affect others. Either way, it’s profoundly unjust to hold God accountable for the actions of free people.

 Forgiving would be easier if people were capable of simply forgetting offenses. We cannot do that. However, over time, with God’s assistance, we can reach a point where we are no longer held prisoner by the anger we feel towards those who have betrayed us. Forgiveness is freedom that will empower us to live a happy, useful and God-honoring life.