Hard Times Could be Right Around the Corner- Are You Ready?

At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved- Matthew 24:9-13 NASB

 Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled Will Churches Survive the COVID-19 Crisis? The piece generated an abnormally high volume of comments on the blogs Facebook page.  None of the comments were rude.  However, the vast majority were just kind of glib. Most commenters replied dismissively that “of course the church would survive”. At first, I responded to each by attempting to clarify my thinking.  By the second or third response I realized if I gave each comment the attention it deserved I would do nothing but respond to comments all week. 

 This was not the first time I was inadvertently unclear in a blogpost. Normally when this happens I just move on. I write another post and make every effort to do a better job clarifying my perspective in the future. However, I had a tough time letting this one go. Ultimately, I concluded my inability to move on was the Holy Spirit nudging me to clarify further.  

So here goes.

 I was very much on board with the plan to quarantine at the start of the pandemic.  The idea of placing a brief pause on normal activity so scientists could figure the virus out, prepare hospitals for an influx of very sick people and protect vulnerable populations made total sense to me. Still does. 

 That said, at some point the goalposts were moved and now it feels as if something malevolent has slipped into the mix.  In many places the “brief pause” has morphed into months or possibly even years of waiting for the virus to retreat and/or a vaccine to materialize. Political leaders worldwide have seized the opportunity to limit speech and movement. Food production and other commercial enterprise has all but ended.  It does not take a mastermind to grasp that placing the entire world on pause for months or possibly even years will likely end in economic calamity, political turmoil and food shortages.

 Christians were not winning many popularity contests prior to COVID-19. Many countries were attempting to or had already placed significant restrictions on what churches and Christian organizations could say and do. Now thanks to COVID-19 health departments and legislators alike tend to treat churches as nothing more than unnecessary germ spreaders.

 History tells us upheaval is rarely kind to groups already on the fringes of acceptability. It is possible we are only a couple of short steps away from Christians being unwelcome in all of society.  If this happens churches will be forced to shut down entirely.

The church is clearly not ready for this.

 When I say “church”, I am not talking about buildings. The church is not a building, the church is individual people who make up the body of Christ.  (1st Corinthians 12:12-27, Colossians 3:11-12, Galatians 3:28). Just as a physical body can become sick and weak a spiritual body can become sick and weak.  Christians who live in the West tend to be weak.  Most have never experienced hardship or difficulty, too many are spiritually and emotionally unhealthy. Captivity to sin is an issue with many and some are even afraid to let others know they are Christians and far too many lack the knowledge base necessary to effectively defend their faith (1st Peter 3:15). It takes deep faith and tremendous spiritual discipline to keep on keeping-on in the face of suffering (1st Peter 5:10, Revelation 2:8-11, Revelations 3:7-13). Scripture clearly predicts there will be a falling away from the Christian faith in the years prior to the return of Jesus (2nd Thessalonians 2:3, 1st Timothy 4:1). Objectively speaking, the church worldwide is ripe for that prediction to come to pass. (Matthew 24:3-13).

 I don’t know if this is where we are at or not. I am NOT declaring myself to be a prophet. Nonetheless, I do believe our current situation is a wakeup call for Christians. Whether or not any of my concerns come to pass we must ditch our overconfidence and prepare for what could be a less than ideal future.  

 Preparation will require change. If you are a non-Christian who reads this blog I urge you to become a Christian now. You need Jesus. You need the strength, peace and forgiveness only He can give a person. He will get you through whatever the future brings if you trust in Him.  Believers must make every effort to build deep relationships with other Christians so we will have likeminded people we can depend on if life gets tough (Hebrews 3:13). Change means we stop using the Bible only to gain information or as a fun thing to debate and instead use it as a tool to reveal our sin and brokenness. Change means we get into the habit of repenting quickly when God graciously reveals our sin and brokenness to us. It means we learn to be still and quiet so we can hear His voice. It means we pray for the courage to boldly share the hope we have in Christ (2nd Corinthians 3:12). Change means we start viewing ourselves as soldiers in a battle rather than consumers seeking experiences.

 That is what I meant when I asked if churches would survive the COVID-19 crisis. The real question is: are you ready? Are you ready for persecution if it comes? Are you ready to lead others if need be? If not, it’s time to get ready.  

 

 

Five Critically Important Things a Crisis Will Steal From Us if We Allow It-

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly- John 10:10 ESV

It could be argued that life is nothing more than a long series of crises punctuated by brief moments of peace and tranquility. Jesus straight-up admitted as much in John 16:33 when He promised we would have trouble in this world.

 Because trouble and hardship are a given. Christians who want to make a difference in this world must become skilled at managing crisis’s with faith, grace and a least a measure of dignity. This is no small task.  Doing so requires wisdom and unceasing prayer (Colossians 4:21st Thessalonians 5:17). 

 One of the many lessons I learned this week as I struggled to manage a series of weird little disasters is that one aspect of handling crisis’ well is understanding that the enemy is eager to steal some things from us in crisis situations. The good news is Satan can’t take any of those things from us without our cooperation. God allows us to decide whether or not we are going to concede five things in a crisis:

 Our peace-

 The biggest difference between a Christian and a non-Christian (besides where they spend eternity) is a Christian has the power not just to appear peaceful in a tragedy but to actually be at peace in the face of chaos and deep personal pain (John 14:27, Romans 8:6, Colossians 3:15). Because peace is the one visible trait separating believers from unbelievers, the enemy does everything possible to steal the peace that is our birthright as Christians. The enemy wants to send Christians spinning (metaphorically speaking) in a way that is visible to other people because this causes non-Christians to believe God is either imaginary or weak and ineffective. We hold on to peace by choosing to focus on the good God has done in the past and is currently doing in our lives. Then we must discipline ourselves to pray about our situation rather than worrying about it. Finally, we must look for things to be thankful for even when life is tougher than we wish it was (Philippians 4:6-9)

 Our faith-

 Faith in God does three very powerful things. Faith saves sinners from their sin (Acts 20:21, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 10:39). Faith causes Christians to act on behalf of others even when it is not in their best interest to do so (James 2:18-25). Finally, faith acts as a witness of God’s existence (Hebrews 11:1). When unbelievers see Christians act in faith it provides evidence God is real. Because faith is such a powerful thing, stealing our faith in times of crisis is a high priority of the enemy.   We keep our faith intact by meditating on how God came through for us in the past and by asking God to show us how He is working on our behalf in the present. Faith is a gift God will us if we ask for it (1st Corinthians 12:8-10).

 Our ability to think and reason-

 The ability to think and reason is perhaps the greatest gift God gives people. The ability to reason keeps people from acting out of instinct and causing themselves or others harm in scary situations. Because human beings are made in the image of God Satan hates humans with a foul and unholy passion. Therefore, he wants people to act rashly and hurt themselves. We keep from doing ourselves harm by intentionally slowing down in a crisis and doing nothing until we have prayed fervently over our next move. As we slow down and pray we become capable of separating feelings from facts. This empowers us to calmly and rationally think through all the available options rather than the ones that look or feel obvious and easy. Remember, obvious and easy are nearly always the worst possible options in a crisis.

 Our compassion for others-  

 Hard times either cause us to care more about people than we ever did before or they cause us to become incredibly selfish, judgmental and self-protective even after the crisis has passed. We maintain our compassion for others by asking God every single day to give us the ability to see people the way He sees them.

 Our Problem solving abilities-

 We lose our ability to problem-solve anytime we look too far down the road and focus on what might happen rather than the problem we have in front of us (Matthew 6:25-34). Concern for the future is wise (Proverbs 21:5). However, when we allow ourselves to become fixated on what might possibly happen if we do this or that we lose the power to envision a future without problems. This keeps us stuck in an endless loop of what-ifs. What-ifs are one of Satan’s favorite playgrounds.

 If we can hold onto the things Satan wants to steal from us in a crisis, we will go through the it with our faith and dignity intact. We will also come out the other side praising God for His goodness and better equipped to help others with the trouble life inevitably brings.   

 

 

 

Some Recommendations for Living in Scary Times-

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You- Psalm 56:3 NKJV

At this moment in human history the list of things to be afraid of is lengthy.

 At the top of the list is stupid COVID-19.  Even those who don’t fear the virus itself are anxious about all the practical issues it has created:

 The economy has tanked, once-thriving business have closed and unemployment has become a reality for millions who once felt financially secure. Those who live alone are feeling overwhelmed by the isolation of quarantine.  On the other end of the spectrum many are learning it is impossible to social distance from those we live with. This reality has placed a tremendous strain on relationships. Incidents of domestic violence have soared and many are turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with their gloom and despair.

 Then there are the more esoteric worries.

 As states push quarantine guidelines far beyond federal recommendations some worry that something more sinister than public health concerns is driving those decisions. Governmental overreach is becoming a very real concern as states and municipalities suspend constitutional rights in an effort to “keep people safe”. Even Christians wonder where God is in this mess.  

 Sigh. 

 Truth-be-told these times are a challenge even for the most mature of Christ-followers. Despite the apparent evidence to the contrary, our God is still on His throne. I believe God wants all of us to:

 Redeem the time-

 This may be the only season in our lives when we have the time and opportunity to learn something new about God, teach our children the deeper truths of the Bible and purposefully grow in our faith. We should use it wisely.  Choose a book of the Bible and purchase some commentaries online, then take the time to learn everything you can about that book of the Bible. If you have kids at home use this time to teach your kids how to think about life from a truly Christian perspective.

 Get your heart right-

  God is practically pleading with the whole stupid world to get right with Him by turning away from their sin (Matthew 3:8). If you are NOT a Christian this means confessing your sin to God and asking Him to forgive you and willingly submitting every aspect of your life to Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19, Acts 17:24-31, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, Romans 3:23 Ephesians 2:8).  If you’re are a Christian this is a time for reflection, personal repentance and crying out to God on behalf of the willfully disobedient around us (Daniel 9:1-15). God wants Christians to give Him permission to tell us what’s wrong with our thinking and our behaviors (Psalm 139:23-24).

 Channel concerns into action-

 If you don’t already know, find out who your state representatives are and spend some quality time on their Facebook pages. Share any concerns you have with them. Respectfully and rationally give them reasonable ideas for dealing with this crisis. If you’re frustrated with how the crisis is being handled in your state, prayerfully consider ways you can help bring about new leadership in your area.


Turn worry into prayer

 Sometimes it feels like there are only two choices when it comes to worry. We can either castigate ourselves for agonizing over the stuff we find terrifying; or we can ignore what the Bible says about worry and worry our heads off anyway (Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:25). There is a third option. We can discipline ourselves to turn worry into prayer and gratitude. You can make a mental list (or a real one) of all of the things that worry you and all of things you are grateful for. Take both lists to God in prayer. Don’t get so hung up on your worry that you forget to praise God for the good things.  Continue to pray and praise until the anxiety subsides and thankfulness takes over (Philippians 4:6).

 Change what’s informing you-

 We are all informed by the information we allow into our minds. We are informed by what we learned in school, the news, the underlying messages thrust upon us by television programs and the mindsets of the people around us. The COVID-19 crisis is a good time to detox from some of those sources. It is also a good time learn to filter the information we receive through the lens of Scripture by getting into the habit of comparing what other sources say to what the Bible says.

 Work on you-

 This is a great time for prayerful self-examination (2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Peter 4:17). Look at your life in light of Scriptural standards and pray about what God is asking you to change (Luke 10:27, Galatians 5:19-20, Romans 6:11-14, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10).  Ask God to give you the inclination, power and motivation to change the things He wants you to change.

 None of the above-motioned practices will make the stupid COVID-19 virus go away.  However, they will ensure we all come out of this situation better people who have a bigger impact on our corner of the world.

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

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

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

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

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

 Anyway.  

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

 I am not opposed to psychology.  

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

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

 However.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

When Unity Hurts the Church-

 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared”- Matthew 13:24-26 NIV

 

There are some things I believe with all my heart, mind soul and being.

 I believe God is, always has been, and will always be (Jeremiah 10:10, Revelation 21:6). God is one God with three distinctive expressions of Himself. He is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all at once (Genesis 1:26, Deuteronomy 6:4, Matthew 28:19, 1st Timothy 2:5). Jesus came to earth as a baby, grew into a man, lived a sinless life and sacrificed Himself to liberate the human race from the bondage of sin and death. In doing so, Jesus created a new people out of those who place their faith and trust in Him (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, 1st Peter 2:4-6). These people are the Church and they serve as God’s ambassadors on earth (2nd Corinthians 5:20). The primary responsibility of the Church is to show the unbelieving world through their holiness, words and demonstrations of grace that God is who He says He is.  In my view the Church is at its most influential when Christians choose work together towards the common goal of making Christ known to all the world.

  I do not believe Christians should divide over trifling doctrinal issues or stupid stuff willy-nilly. (John 11:52). Back in the day, I worked as the director of a Pregnancy Resource Center. The position afforded me many opportunities to work closely with believers from many different expressions of Christianity. I very rarely felt the differences in beliefs were so great I could not work with leaders from other churches.

 That being said. 

This week I was forced to do some thinking about some of my beliefs. It all began with an article about a podcast. That article inspired me to listen to the interview between Jen Hatmaker and Max Lucado. For those not “in the know” Jen Hatmaker is a very touchy-feely, fairly well-known author, blogger and Christian influencer who hosts a popular podcast. She markets herself as an Evangelical but promotes liberal views on theology, gender issues, and is a supporter of gay marriage. She has said on more than one occasion she believes homosexual relationships can be “holy”.

 Max Lucado is a much-loved and well-known Evangelical author and pastor who tends to be conservative in his views. He implied several times during the interview he doesn’t agree with her on every issue but he was incredibly generous with his praise and he essentially endorsed her ministry.

 Throughout their discussion Max Lucado made it clear he believes unity in the Body of Christ should be a very high priority for believers. As long as Christians agree on the “fundamentals of Christianity” little else matters. The fundamentals include belief in the life, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Max Lucado is not the only Christian who feels those issues are the only issues Christians should divide over. Those have been the standard for Christian fellowship for decades.

 So, a couple of things.

 I would never encourage professing Christians to be unkind to other professing Christians. The Bible is clear that Christians should be known by their love for one another. Therefore, meanness and hate is never acceptable (John 13:35).

 However, I do think it is time for Christians to think long and hard about where we draw the line on endorsing ministries, influencers and Bible teachers. What a person teaches regarding sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular really does matter. It should be taken into consideration before we follow, align ourselves with or endorse anyone.  

 Here’s why.  

  Not every issue Christians disagree about is black and white. There are shades of grey and room for differences of opinion concerning some issues (eschatology, politics, Calvinism, Arminianism, expressions of worship, etc.). However, issues pertaining to sexuality, homosexuality and the number of genders that exist are settled issues. The Bible clearly teaches homosexuality is a sin. Moreover, God made humans in His image, male and female, only, period. (Genesis 1:27, Leviticus 20:13,1st Timothy 1:9-11, 1st Corinthians 6:9)

 It is true that homosexual sin is no more or less sinful than heterosexual sin (1st Corinthians 6:18). That said, homosexuality and gender are not up for debate from a biblical perspective (for more on this issue I highly recommend: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, by Kevin Deyoung). To teach otherwise is more than just an affirmation of “love”. It is an all-out-full-frontal assault on the inerrancy of Scripture. It is impossible to say we believe the Bible in its entirety and then teach that it is completely wrong on issues of sexuality.

 The Bible calls for unity in the Church. However, unity should never come at the expense of truth and sound doctrine. The books of Jude, 2nd Timothy and 2nd Peter all predict there will come a time when teachers will slip into the church and teach false doctrines and half-truths that will appeal to the fleshly (sinful) nature of humanity and lead people away from the true gospel (2nd Timothy 4:3, 2nd Peter 2:1 Jude 4). Christians are advised to avoid those kinds of teachers.

 The Bible says what it says about sexuality. We do not get to rewrite the opinions of our Creator. When we try we end up in a place where everyone in the church does what is right in their own eyes. When that happens, standards of right and wrong are lost and the Church loses its spiritual power and ability to change the culture.  

 

  

The Do’s and Don’ts of Being A Good Christian

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.  – 1st John 2:4 NIV

 This morning I read an article that left me heartbroken for the body of Christ. The piece was about a well-known Christian “influencer” who has made his mark on the world as a wordsmith. His career has consisted of crafting pithy little sayings to encourage other Christians. Well— it turns out that at least some of those sayings were not really his, they were “borrowed” from other speakers, authors and historical figures. As someone who spends a good deal of my time crafting not-so-pithy compositions to encourage Christians I do not see anything wrong with wordsmithing, influencing or encouraging.

 However.

 There is something very wrong with stealing other people’s ideas and intellectual property and presenting them as our own.

 The whole messy mess got me thinking about a lot of things. Like grey areas, right and wrong and the hazards of “influencing” when influencing for Jesus morphs into self-promotion. It occurred to me that there is very little agreement about what a Christian should “look like” in our day and age.

 The standard definition of a Christian is someone who has dedicated their life to following the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. Figuring out what the Christian life should look like in our world is not as cut-and-dried as it once was. Even concepts as elementary as love can be confusing if we have the wrong definition. What Christianity should look like is something we need to figure out fast because if we don’t we will ultimately fail at the most basic assignment Christians have been tasked with (Matthew 28:19-20).  Following are five do’s and two don’ts that will empower us to live the Christian life successfully in our messy mess of a world.

Christians Do-

 Judge sometimes-

 The notion that Christians should never judge is a misinterpretation of Scripture and a lie straight out of the pit of hell. It is true Christians should never judge whether or not another person is worthy of forgiveness or heaven, that is always God’s call to make (Matthew 7:2, Luke 6:37). That being said, Christians are called to make judgments concerning right and wrong (Luke 12:57, John 7:24, Acts 4:18-20, 1st Corinthians 5:12). Anytime we stop judging the actions of ourselves and others we quickly devolve to an ugly place where everyone does “what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). When that happens, we forfeit our power to influence others in a healthy way (Matthew 5:13).

Love People-

 Okay, so, this is a bit of a given. Even demons and the foulest of unbelievers understand that love is one of the defining marks of a Christ-follower (John 13:34-35). However, some Christians do not get that Christian love is multifaceted and complex. It protects, encourages and believes the best in others but it also cautions, corrects and sometimes even rebukes (1st Corinthians 4:14-20, 1st Thessalonians 5:14).  Jesus loved the Pharisees enough to die for them but that didn’t stop Him from warning them of the consequences they would encounter if they continued to live in opposition to the will of God (Luke 11:11-53).  If we really want to love like Jesus loved we have to embrace every aspect of Christian love—not just the parts and pieces that make people like us. 

Do good-

 Christians are commanded constantly in Scripture to “do good” (Galatians 6:9, 2nd Thessalonians 3: 13, Titus 1:6, Titus 2:7, 1st Peter 2:12). The specifics of “doing good” are left somewhat up to the discretion of individual Christians. In the New Testament “doing good” always involved helping people, providing for the less fortunate and avoiding sin. Doing good is not about being “the next big thing” or “a big deal” in the Church. It’s about doing what God called you to do to the best of your ability right where He put you. 

Tell the truth-

 This does not just mean Christians don’t lie.  It also means we live our lives openly and we fight the human tendency to compartmentalize and hide our sin rather than confess and repent (Matthew 3:8, James 5:16).   

 Obey Jesus-

  Obedience is a mark of an authentic Christian (John 14:23-24). When we obey Jesus we love people, hate sin, tell the truth and honor God. If we would all just do our best to obey Jesus most problems we have in the body of Christ would be a nonissue.

Christians don’t-

 Mess with the word of God-

 Contrary to popular opinion not every biblical issue is always black and white, there are some grey areas. It’s reasonable for Christians to debate (among other things) how often to take communion, the role of women in the church (Judges 4-5, Romans 16:1), whether or not Christians should use alcohol and exactly how political a church ought to be.  However, most issues hotly debated today (homosexuality, premarital sex, gender issues, adultery) were settled long ago and should be treated that way.  

 Hate people-

 This one is easier in theory than in practice. (Matthew 10:22).  This is especially true when we are hated, openly mocked and persecuted just for loving Jesus.  Nonetheless, our calling is clear: Jesus wants us to love those who hate us and to do good to people who hate us (Luke 6:27-28). It is simply impossible for anyone to obey this command in their own power. It can only be accomplished through the emboldening and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (2nd Corinthians 12:8-10)

 Christians who wish to make a difference in this world never shy away from the calling we all have to repent and be constantly transformed into the image of Jesus even if that means being a little less popular and successful by worldly standards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The One Thing Every Christian Can Do to Improve the Culture-

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge- Hosea 4:6a NKJV


I had a couple of rude awaking’s this past week.

 The first came by way of a blogpost I ran across on social media.  It was written by a Christian Mother who is helping her twelve-year-old son transition from male to female. The mother is “openly queer” the wife of a pastor, writer, speaker and LGTBQ activist.  Her “daughter” was featured in a recent issue of People Magazine. In the post the Mother speaks proudly about her child undergoing a second surgical procedure to halt puberty, so that her son can become her “daughter”.  Mom expresses her gratitude to God for “topnotch medical care” and a church willing to provide health insurance for her “daughter’s medical treatments.

 Sigh.

 The second situation was less directly messy. However, it is, in my opinion more worrisome. Mostly, because the flawed thinking was far more nuanced and subtler than the first.

 A man I am choosing to assume is young because if he is not he has a lot of growing-up to do replied to a comment I made on social media. He boldly declared that Christians who support the current president in any way are “idolatrous bootlickers”. He also strongly suggested that Christians who support the President aren’t really Christians at all and in very real danger of going to hell. He felt it’s reasonable to make those rather harsh judgments because: 1. The president has sinned. 2. He does not have the proof he needs to determine whether or not the President has truly repented. 3. the church refuses to hold the president to the standard found in 1st Corinthians 5:9-11 (Paul insists a sinning person be put out of the church and Christians refuse to associate with that person until they repent) 4. He doesn’t think the President is fit to lead.

 I initially responded to both situations with a cursory eye-roll and face-palm and moved on.  Later I realized that both situations illustrate a growing problem in Christian churches:

 The Mother claims to be a Christian but appears to be lacking the knowledge base to understand that God is all-knowing and all-wise. For whatever reason, she has not grasped the basic truth that God does not make mistakes, nor do events on earth escape God’s attention. Apparently, she does not know, and is therefore incapable of teaching her child the truth that God wants her child to be the gender he was given at conception (Genesis 1:31).  The child should not be affirmed, rather he should be taught that gender is not an accident of fate, nor is it something we have a “right” to alter willy-nilly. The Bible is clear that if we don’t agree with the Creator on an issue it is our responsibility to get on board with God, not to take matters into our own hands and attempt to change reality.  The woman seems to be ignorant of the fact that God is infallible and we are not. Human beings are led by emotional impulses, faulty information and flights of fancy. God on the other hand has access to information we do not and He is always right.  Therefore, if we choose to fight God’s choice regarding our gender (or anything else) we run the risk of producing massive levels of regret and chaos. However, the only way to know all that is to know the overarching message of the Bible not just a few verses taken out of context.

 The second issue is different. The man did not seem to understand what the Bible says about secular leaders. First off, every human being has sinned, the president is not special (Romans 3:23). The only instruction the New Testament gives Christians concerning secular leaders is that we obey them and pray for them (1st Timothy 2:1-3, Romans 13:1-7). Furthermore, very few people know the president well enough to know if he is even a Christian and should be held to the standard found in 1st Corinthians.  Even if the President is a Christian there have been no issues of gross immorality we know of since taking office (braggadocios tweeting does not constitute gross immorality). Even God does not hold our sins against us forever if we repent. Lastly, America is not a theocracy. Therefore, Christians should be careful about judging political leaders. It is perfectly acceptable to pray out, vote out, or in extreme cases throw out a leader because they are grossly corrupt, unjust or evil. However, it is not acceptable to throw out a leader simply because we dislike their demeanor or deem them unfit to lead (Romans 13:1).

 We must never forget that expecting flawless perfection from a leader is dangerous. The Bible promises that someday there will be a flawless political leader. He will be the antichrist and some Christians will swear allegiance to him because he fits the mold of an “ideal” leader (Matthew 24:24).  

 Okay. So, here’s the thing.

 The above-mentioned examples are of people who do not have a firm grasp on what the Bible teaches about some key issues. However, the real question is how many Christians would be able to recognize those flaws and explain them to someone else?

 The answer is very few because Christians are quickly becoming biblically illiterate.

 Our culture wouldn’t be in such a spiritual muddle if the average church person were capable of parsing out flawed thinking regarding biblical issues and gently correcting wrong thinking. The one thing every Christian can do to improve the culture is to be intentional about becoming biblically literate.  Get into the word this year, learn what it says, commit to understanding what the Bible says as a whole rather than picking out pieces and parts we like to obey. Then commit to living out God’s truth in a gentle and gracious way that draws others into the Kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

 

We Don’t Need More Christian Values-

 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead- Philippians 3:10-11 NIV

 Eleven years ago, a group of parents in our community became troubled by the lack of moral values that were rampant in our area. The parents approached the local schoolboard. After a series of meetings, the Central Valley School District decided to go all-in with values education. A committee was formed.  The committee came up with a program still used today that systematically teaches values and positive character qualities to children in public schools beginning in kindergarten.

 The values chosen were universally acknowledged as virtuous and helpful.  They were respect, responsibility, citizenship, caring, fairness, honesty, diligence, trustworthiness, courage, integrity, generosity and gratitude. 

 For the record, I have no idea how many of the parents on that committee where Christians. At that time, we lived in a neighboring district and I was not on the committee, nor was I friends with anyone on the committee. However, it did not escape my notice that every character quality on the list was in alignment with New Testament teachings. Furthermore, the definitions for each trait could have been written by an experienced Sunday school teacher. For example, the definition chosen for the citizenship value was:

 Positively contributing to society and community as well as dutifully respecting authority and the law.

 So, that sounds a bit like a synopsis of Romans 13:1-7 to me. But who am I to say what motivated the writer of the definition?

 Any-hoo.

 Last week I noticed one of the schools near our home had the character trait of the month and its definition (caring) on its reader board. The sign reminded me of the movement eleven years ago to bring “values” back into our community. 

 It occurred to me as I was driving home that little has improved in our community over the course of the last decade. Most kids (and adults) still lack the values those parents fought to have taught. Common courtesy is far less common now than it was then. Property crime occurs at a much higher rate than it did ten years ago. Our community has experienced one school shooting in recent years and nearly every social problem under the sun has increased in the years since the program was implemented.  

 Why, after all the years, all the tax dollars spent and all the hours put into teaching and training kids have we seen so little improvement in the moral climate of our community? 

 It is not the fault of parents who battled to bring values education into the schools. Those parents followed their conscience and worked their tails off to make a difference. That kind of moral courage is never wrong.  Nor, should the blame be laid at the feet of the school system. In a post-modern, post-values, post-Christian world some very brave leaders took a risk and made a valiant attempt at standing up for some timeless truths. That kind of bravery should always be celebrated. 

 The fault lies with society at large. For well over a century, individuals have wanted and, in some cases, even insisted that Christian values be taught without all the pesky ethical teaching that accompanies Christianity. Our culture wants nice people who practice Christian generosity in the event of a natural disaster or tragedy. We want people who are benevolent, compassionate and nice. We want people who tell the truth as Christianity demands.

 However, we do not wish to be burdened with any moral restrictions that might mess with our personal choices. We do not want Christianity meddling with our sex lives or telling us what we can or can’t watch on television. We for sure do not want Christianity to inform our views concerning drug legalization or childrearing practices.  

 The problem with this kind of thinking is that it will work for a generation or two, perhaps even three. When Christianity is authentic it is powerful enough that Christian virtues (patience, kindness, temperance, generosity, self-discipline) will live on in succeeding generations who don’t really know Christ. However, sooner or later the veneer of Christianity will begin to wear off of society and when that happens the society will begin to unravel.

 That is what we see happening today. Western Civilization has been living in the shadow of the blessings prior generations earned through their genuine faith in Christ (Deuteronomy 28, 1st Samuel 15:22, Psalm 128:1-3, John 14:23, 2nd John 1:6).  As those blessings fade we are left with the dregs of a post-Christian reality: disobedient children, corrupt politicians, lawlessness, sexual chaos, broken families and random violence (Ezekiel 23:35, 2nd Timothy 3:1-5).

 We will never get our homes, churches, community or country back to a place of blessing by painting society with yet another whitewashing of Christian virtues. We need Christianity not just Christian virtues. Christians need to get back to the business of repentance and making disciples. It all starts with making sure our own heart is right with God and other people. Once that is done Christians need to get into their communities with God’s truth and love.

 

 

 

 

 

Why it’s Critical We Get Free of the Past-

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland~ Isaiah 43:18-20 NIV

 Recently I heard a powerful and thought-provoking quote that left me feeling more than a bit navel gaze-y: 

 Always look forward. Remember there are no birds in last year’s nests~ Don Quixote  

  I am not opposed to looking backward as long as it is done for the right reasons. We should remember the events of the past because we’re incapable of learning anything from anything we willfully forget. I also believe the heroic acts of the past ought to be honored in the present; and it pretty much goes without saying that Christians should be mindful of the good things God has done for us in the past (Deuteronomy 32:6-8, 1stChronicles 16:11-13).

 All that being said.

Far too many of us get stuck in the past in all the wrong ways. In doing so we give the past more power than it deserves which inevitably prevents us from accomplishing the tasks God intends for us to do today (Ephesians 2:10). Most of the time there is profound wisdom in leaving the past where it’s at and choosing to get on board with what God is doing right now. There are seven reasons to let go of the old so God can do whatever new things He’s looking to do in our lives:  

 Getting stuck in the past creates bitterness-

Oftentimes we get stuck in the past because we are hurt or angry about something unpleasant that happened there. The sense we were cheated or wronged can lead to bitterness in the present. It’s critical Christians keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in their lives (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness makes Christians utterly and profoundly useless (Hebrews 12:15, Acts 8:23) and no genuine believer in Jesus ever wants to be useless.  The key to getting free from bitterness is to the take time to prayerfully process painful events from the past and then make the choice everyday to live life with our hearts and minds firmly rooted in the present.

 An unhealthy perspective on the past stops spiritual growth in the present-

 Whenever we develop an unhealthy perspective on the past we naturally become neurotically focused on our own personal junk. We become obsessed with our feelings and when we focus heavily on feelings we become blind to our own faults. This leads to blaming others for the things we choose to do. Transformation occurs when we see our faults clearly and ask God to give us the power to change the things that need changing in our lives.

 Living in the past makes us sentimental in all the wrong ways-

 Sentimentality is certainly not a sin. However, it can easily cross the line into sinful territory if we make the object of our sentimentality into an idol we worship. The classic worldly example is the former high school football star who cannot move forward in life because he simply cannot stop pining for his glory days. The timeless church example is the Christian who cannot enjoy church or serve effectively today because he or she cannot stop pining for the way church was once done.   

 Getting stuck in the past makes it impossible to effectively lead others-

 Christians are called to be leaders. Leaders look to the future and take people to places (physically and spiritually) they have never been before. Christians are called to lead others into biblical thinking, righteous living, healthy relationships and most importantly, relationship with Jesus (Colossians 3:16, 2nd Timothy 2:24, Titus 2:7, Hebrews 5:12). Everyone leads someone. Profession, gender and age are irrelevant to the call to lead others into spiritual health and relationship with Jesus. No one in history has ever led anyone forward while looking behind them.   

 Focusing on the past keeps us from being grateful in the present –

 Gratitude is all about noticing things (Colossians 4:2).  Grateful people don’t typically have more than ungrateful people they are just more aware of God and what He is doing for them than ungrateful people are. We are the most grateful when we are living in the moment and choosing to see what God is doing for us right now.   

 We lose our ability to forgive when focus heavily on the past-

 We will never be free do what God is calling us to do in the here and now while we are living in bondage to past hurt (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is hard because it always involves letting go of anger and hurt that in a very real sense we have a “right” to hold on to. Forgiveness rarely happens quickly and without some processing. In order to forgive we need to walk through the hurt and then ask God (sometimes repeatedly) to empower us to let go of the feelings of anger and resentment that are keeping us stuck in past.

 

Five Non-political Reasons Christians Really Ought to Care About Fake News

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil~ Hebrews 5:14 NIV

 Okay, so, regular readers of this blog are doubtless clued in to the fact that I have been burdened with an unusually large number of annoyances and pet peeves in this life. If you wish to get a clearer picture of the infinite number of irritants that plague me, simply type the words “peeves” and “rants” into the search bar at the bottom of the page. You will be immediately enlightened and have access to a wealth of really rant-y reading material.

 Seriously. A lot of stuff bugs me.

 Every time I write about a specific peeve I inevitably think that I have finally exhausted all the stuff I could write about that annoys me. Then low and behold I come across a new one. Such was the case this past week.  I was casually scanning Facebook and I stumbled upon a “news” story with dozens of comments from people who were obviously Christians and suddenly a brand-spanking new peeve was born:

 Gullible Christians and fake news.

 Not that fake news is a new development (or gullibility, for that matter). Liberal media outlets and the president act as if fake news is a 21stcentury brainchild. It’s not. Fake news has existed since the dawn of time. I’m convinced that our cave-dwelling ancestors scratched misleading graffiti onto the walls of their caves in a deliberate effort to deceive the other hunter and gathers. Double-dealing and duplicity are central to our character as fallen creatures (John 8:44, Romans 1:25, Colossians 3:9).

 It is not the fakeness of stories that bugs me. It’s the number of people (including many Christians) I see passing on obviously questionable news stories that make me crazy.

 We are smarter than that.

 Case in point: last week I found a story claiming that smallpox was discovered at the Southern border. There were so many logical problems with the story that it really shouldn’t have gotten a single share from anyone (it had a lot of shares). For example, if smallpox (one of the deadliest and most infectious diseases ever) ever made a comeback (it was officially eradicated in 1980) it would be big news and the entire country would be under quarantine. Besides, the picture was clearly (even to someone with zero medical training) a photo of someone with measles. Then there was the story that claimed there was a woman in California who proudly holds the world record for the most abortions ever. There is no such world-record. Furthermore, due to some issues with biology it would be fairly difficult for a thirty-four-year-old woman to have twenty-eight abortions in her lifetime.

 Sigh.

 Fake news is not simply a liberal fevered dream or a delusion the President is suffering from. It is a real problem that Christians ought to care about because when Christian people are not careful about what they share it causes four huge problems for all Christians and one potential problem that ought to terrify everyone:     

 Fake news makes Christians look like numbskulls-

 It just does. Anytime we believe questionable stories enough to share them it makes Christians look dumb when the truth is exposed. Looking dumb does not further the cause of Christianity. 

 Fake stories make it harder for Christians to share stories that are true but kind of hard to believe-

 Like the gospel. We really want people to believe the gospel because if they don’t they will go to hell (John 3:14-16).  The gospel is a story about a God who came down from heaven; became a man, lived among people, preformed all kinds of miracles and then died in our place to pay the price for our sins. Then that God rose from the dead after three days in the grave (John 1:1-4). This story is one-hundred-percent true. That said, the Bible and I both concede that it is a hard story to believe (John 20:29, Mark 16:10-12, Luke 24:1-11). Christians who share off-the-wall stories can cause unsaved people to think that the gospel is just another one of those stories.     

 Fake stories oftentimes make Christians look meaner than we really are-

 The story about smallpox on the border is a good example. Many who read the story believed that a conservative (perhaps even a Christian) made the story up because they hate brown people and want to make them look like filthy-disease-carrying-vermin. I know this is true because I read some of the comments (John 13:35).  I also know a lot of Christians and none of them think any of those things about anyone.

 When we share questionable stories, it reflects badly on Jesus-

 We represent Jesus. If we look stupid, Jesus looks stupid (1stCorinthians 12:27).

 If we don’t monitor ourselves the government will step in and “solve” this problem-

 Government interference rarely “solves” anything and if they step in to “solve” this problem the biggest losers will be the 1stAmendment and the people.

 I get that it’s easy to get excited when we come across a story that reinforces something we believe about the world (like abortion is out of control or unfettered immigration is hurting the country). However, we really need to stop and think before we share anything. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions before we hit the share button:

 Is this story plausible?

Are other news outlets covering this story?

 Do the views shared in this story represent Jesus well?

If you were not a Christian what would you think of this story?

 When in doubt just don’t.