Why We Aren’t Connecting

 All those who had believed were together and had all things in common. They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved~ Acts 2:44a, 46b, and 47 NIV

 Connecting people is a passion of mine.

 I served as a Connections Coordinator for a couple of years. But long before all that, I recognized that the people most likely to stick around a Church or a group in a church were those who felt deeply connected to the people in the church or church group.

 The high school kids who had friends in the Sunday school class I taught were the ones who showed up week after week regardless of what I was teaching. I learned early on that if I could help a woman make a friend in the Bible study I was leading, the chances were pretty good that woman would come back and sometimes she would bring a friend.

 Legitimate research has backed up my observations.

 Research done by Thom Ranier reveals that roughly half (49%) of all people stay in their current church because they have a deep connection to the people in the church. According to some of my own less-than-legitimate research (asking a bunch of nosy questions about why people stayed in or left their church) the number two reason people gave for leaving a church (number one was weak or shady leadership) was lack of connection to people.

 Even the most introverted among us were created to connect with one another. It’s a fundamental part of who we are and a reflection of God’s nature in us. Most adults who convert to Christianity do so within the context of friendship. Many who began attending church looking for friendships have found Jesus in the process.

 Hospitality and developing healthy relationships is a basic and often overlooked aspect of evangelism and we all bear some responsibility for the task. We build healthy groups churches by doing five simple things consistently.

 First:

 Show up-

 Sadly, many of the same people who attend services once or twice a month also grumble about not feeling a sense of belonging in their church. No one in the history of forever has ever grown spiritually, made a friend or become a functioning part of a church body without first committing to consistently attending a church service (Hebrews 10:25).

 Join a small group-

 It can be an adult Sunday school class, weekday Bible study or a small group that meets in a home. Go and do more than show-up. Show-up early, stay late, participate in the discussions and invite people in the group into your home, your heart, and your inner circle. Do your part to make that group into a family and then encourage new people to become a part of the family (1st Corinthians 12:28).

 Be real-

 God only made one you. Being authentic about who you are and what you’ve experienced (without being excessively detailed or graphic) is honoring to God and can be useful (if it’s done right) to those who are struggling on their spiritual journey (2nd Corinthians 1:3-4).

 Don’t judge others for being real-

 Just don’t. Judgment destroys community. Our role as Christians is to encourage, correct, redirect and cheer-lead (Galatians 6:1, Hebrews 3:13, 2nd Timothy 2:24-26). We must leave the judgments to God. He knows more than we ever could. However, it’s equally critical we don’t buy into the lie that correction or redirection is the same thing as judgment. Correcting sinful or spiritually dubious behavior is NOT the same as judging. Correction is biblical AND necessary in a healthy Christian community (James 1:21, James 5:20).

 Use the gifts you have-

 My fondest wish for every Christian on earth would be for them to know and use their gifts to grow their local church (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 12:6-11). Sadly, many Christians have all but stopped serving and churches are dying as a result of our disobedience. Volunteering to teach a class, hosting a group in your home, baking cookies for VBS or serving on the greeting team or in the food pantry is about more than filling a spot. It’s about bonding with other believers, building community and being the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken and hurting world (Matthew 25:44-46).  

 Don’t close your circle-

 Building connections with people is both horribly complex and enormously rewarding. Keeping our hearts open to people and finding creative ways to meet their needs is one of the most significant and basic ways we serve God (1st Peter 4:9). It’s also the only way to build a healthy Christian community.

 

 

Five Lies Almost Everyone Believes About Sex

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God~ 1st Thessalonians 4: 3-5 NIV

Sex is not a topic our culture shies away from.

 Our public education system has determined that children as young as 3 need to be exposed (no pun intended) to comprehensive sex education. Sex education typically includes an opportunity for them to understand where they and their peers fall on the ever growing (63 at last count) “gender spectrum”.

 Sexting (sending sexually explicit photos over text) has become commonplace among middle school and even some elementary age kids. Teens are routinely encouraged to have as much sex as they can with as many people as possible as long as the sex is “safe”. In an effort to advance the objective of lots and lots of safe sex, condoms are available free of charge in most high schools. The morning after pill (a contraceptive that can end a pregnancy) can be purchased from vending machines on college campuses.

 Apparently even the older generation (65+) has hopped on the “if it feels good do it” bandwagon. The CDC reports syphilis infections have risen 52% and Chlamydia infections have risen 32% among senior citizens.

 Clearly our culture is obsessed with sex.

 Sex is an idol we worship in this culture and the lies we believe about sex are leading our culture into a hell we will never crawl out of unless we start telling ourselves the truth and walking in that truth promptly. Walking in truth begins with pinpointing lies that have led us astray. I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about this subject. However I do know that the following five beliefs are lies many in our culture (including many Christians) have come to believe.

 Beginning with…

 Our personhood is defined by who we have sex with-

 Our culture has reached a place never seen before in human history. Many of us now define ourselves based entirely on whom we have sex with. It is now routine to divulge whether or not one is gay, straight, trans, bisexual, binary-trans, undecided, etc. as a form of introduction. This lunacy has led many to think that individuals ought to be granted special privileges, recognition and even accolades based entirely on what they do with their most private of parts. The peculiar crusade to define people based entirely on their sexual preferences has caused us to forget that sexuality is small a part of who we are, not the full manifestation of what makes us human. Even many Christians seem to have forgotten we are made in the image of a God who does not have sex and that Jesus was the fullest expression of humanity who ever lived and He did not have sex.

 Little boys grow up to be little girls (and vice-versa)-

 I know I’m going to get some hate for this but frankly I don’t care. If a person is born a biological male or a biological female then they are the gender they were assigned at conception. Period. A “gender reassignment surgery” cannot change the DNA we were assigned at conception (Genesis 1:27). There simply is no such thing as a male trapped in a female body or vice-versa. Some might FEEL they were born the “wrong gender” but that is an altogether different situation (I have nothing but sympathy for such people). That said, it is an act of madness to encourage confused people to believe delusions regarding anything including their gender.

 Pornography is victimless-

 Exposure to pornography changes the way we view the opposite sex. It causes us to see individuals (who were made in the image of God) as objects that we might gain the basest form of gratification from. So, in a sense, we are all victims of pornography. Pornography also feeds the prostitution industry. Most prostitutes are not prostitutes by choice. They are poorly treated slaves forced to have sex with up to dozens of people a day.

 Sexual preferences are hardwired-

 We are not “hardwired” at birth to make specific sexual choices (1st Corinthians 6:9-11). We might be born with a tendency or experience situations in childhood that produce sinful preferences (adultery, pedophilia, homosexuality, promiscuity). However, the decision to act on any inclinations we might have is a choice we are responsible for.   

 Love legitimizes sex-

 Even most secular cultures in the past placed restrictions around sex that had little do with love because preceding generations were wise enough to understand that love is a fickle and often fleeting emotion. Those cultures understood that sex outside the confines of a committed marriage create confusion and heartache for individuals and trouble for society in the long run.

When in its proper place, sex is a positive, healthy and beneficial thing. Sex outside of its proper place is an ugly idol that demands more and more of us all the while taking more and more of who we are. It’s time to put sex back in its proper place before we self-destruct.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Stopping The Hate

Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand~ Matthew 12:25b NIV

 My husband likes to joke that I grew up in a family that argued politics for the sport of it.

 His assessment is not far off.

 My parents were very politically liberal (they grieved openly when I informed them I had registered as a Republican, but recovered slightly when I changed my affiliation to Independent). They were intensely interested in all things political. We watched the news every single night while I was growing up and no matter how tight the family budget got there was always enough money for the newspaper subscription.

 Sometimes at the dinner table my Dad would explain both sides of a political issue to us kids and then have us debate our political viewpoint with him and each other. Thanks to the somewhat questionable leadership of my parents, I am now a weird political junkie and to this day nothing makes me feel warmer, fuzzier, or more alive than a robust political debate or the drama that surrounds a presidential election year.

 I am no sissy when it comes to spirited political discourse. I have no problem hearing someone else’s point of view (even if I happen to think it’s utterly stupid and morally bankrupt). I was raised with a deep respect for the 1st Amendment and I will defend the right of someone to say something, even if I believe with every fiber of my being that their view is senseless and worthy of mockery.

 However.

 For the first time in my life I am deeply disturbed by the political discourse I’m hearing. Even “hard” journalists working for legitimate news outlets have taken to making inflammatory statements that would not have met the editorial “standards” of even the cheesiest tabloid opinion page a decade ago. Some of those statements ought to scare anyone with any sense at all, liberal or conservative.

 Two weeks ago an armed gunman (unhinged lunatic and Bernie Sanders disciple) attacked a group of unarmed Republican lawmakers during a baseball practice. Before he began shooting he was careful to confirm the lawmakers were indeed Republicans. Four legislators and one lobbyist were shot; one nearly died.

 America grieved for roughly fifteen minutes before things got weird and nasty. Newscasters blamed the Republicans who were attacked for being attacked. One well-known (and respected) journalist from CBS called the shooting “a self-inflicted wound”. Others said on-air (and no I’m not kidding) that Republicans deserved what they got for being opposed to gay marriage and not standing with the group Black Lives Matter.

 Sadly, this is not the only example of anti-conservative bias. Newscasters habitually refer to the President as a “chump”, “fascist” “lunatic” “boob” “racist” and “loser”. Actors have taken to musing about assassinating the President while audiences cheer.

 Words like “revolution” “resist” and “obstruct” have become the petulant war cry of mollycoddled middle-class snowflakes (not just college students) and politicians that howl about and sometimes even riot against all things conservative and capitalist. These folks appear to be blissfully ignorant of the fact that their cushy and sheltered existence is a direct result of the system they claim to loathe.

 Perhaps the most telling indicator of our discord is revealed by fact that 29% of liberals and 8% of conservatives have blocked or un-friended someone on social media because of their political views (this happens to me all the time and I’m not even that political. Sigh.). Most liberals (and some conservatives) admit they cannot imagine sharing a meal with someone whose political views differ from their own.

 We’ve become a house divided, and we will not stand, unless we make some smart changes fast.

 We need to recognize that it’s risky to call for a revolution unless one is actually needed. Recent history gives some alarming examples of what can happen in nations (Yugoslavia, Venezuela, Cambodia, Cuba) where socialists and rabble-rousers have screamed for revolution. Revolutions are messy, dangerous things that seldom end well. Never once in the history of forever has a heart or mind been changed by force. As a result, revolutions typically require a lot of killing to accomplish any significant social or economic transformation.

 We don’t need a revolution.

 We need people with common sense to stand-up and peacefully end the verbal madness before it escalates into something significantly scarier. Folks need to write letters to corporations that advertise on television networks where the vitriol has gotten out of hand and ask them politely to stop supporting the hate.

 If they refuse we should quietly stop purchasing their products.

 Legislators who have hopped on the “obstruct” “resist” “revolt” and “hate for the sake of hating” bandwagons need to be besieged with phone calls, e-mails and letters demanding they dial down the hate and get back to doing the work they are paid quite well to do.

 We also need a revival.

 And not just in the religious sense (although that almost goes without saying). We need a revival of common sense, common decency and common courtesy. We need a revival of people who use logic to draw conclusions rather than unrestrained emotion, we need people who will listen more than they talk and actually hear the other side out.

 But mostly we need people who will look to God rather than government for answers.  

 

 

 

 

 

Six Foolproof Signs of Pride

 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory~ Daniel 5:20 NIV

 Pride is a strange thing.

 teensy-tiny bit of the right kind of pride is actually a good thing (Romans 11:13, 2nd Corinthians 7:4, Galatians 6:4). However, even a smidgen of the wrong kind of pride is a terrible thing (Proverbs 16:18, Proverbs 13:10) and too much of even the good kind of pride can quickly become a really bad thing (1st Corinthians 8:1). Pride is the sin that corrupted Lucifer (the Grand Poobah of angels) and transformed him into Satan.

 Sadly, none of us are immune to the lure of it.

 Pride is never difficult to recognize in others but nearly impossible to spot in ourselves. The more of a problem we have with pride the less likely we are to believe we have a problem with it. Pride makes us think we are better and smarter than we really are and keeps us from seeking the God who has the power to actually make us better and smarter than we really are. Quite possibly the scariest thing about pride is that it can destroy a person without them ever even knowing they have a problem.

 The nature of pride is such that just about anytime anyone hears a sermon or reads an article on pride they immediately apply everything they read or heard to their friends, family, boss and coworkers.

 It’s critical that Christians think and talk about the subject of pride. Mostly because God is so stinking opposed to it. Anytime the God who defines Himself as love (1st John 4:8) says He hates something (Proverbs 8:13) we ought to do everything within our power to avoid getting tangled up in that thing.

 Because pride is a sneaky sin, it takes a firm commitment to frequent self-examination to avoid getting snared in the trap of pride. Pride typically manifests itself in one or more of the following tendencies:

 You won’t take advice from anyone you see as less successful or feel is less intelligent than you are-

 One sure sign of pride is when we believe that the only people who have anything to offer us in the way of advice are those who have achieved more than we have achieved. While, I do not recommend seeking career advice from the pizza guy (unless, of course, you’re also a pizza guy), that does not mean the pizza guy doesn’t have some spiritual, moral or practical wisdom to impart.

 You won’t apologize or admit wrong-

 If apologies always seem to stick in your throat or your family complains you never admit you’re wrong (even when it’s obvious you are). Trust me. You have a problem that needs fixing.

 Everybody else’s sin is a bigger deal than your own-

 Prideful people have a habit of constantly comparing their sins to the sins of others. The problem with grading personal holiness on a bell curve is that you can always find SOMEONE who is more sinful than you are. Besides God does not want us to be like other people. He wants us to want to be like Jesus.

 You refuse to go to Church-

 There are at least a million excuses for not going to church. Some of the more popular include “church is boring”, “the people are too judgmental” “our family is super busy”, “the kids have sports” “the music is too girly/too hard to sing along with/too loud/too old/too new” “the pastor is an idiot/talks over my head/is a hypocrite”, and “I listen to podcasts all week”. Really and truly at the heart of 90% of our excuse making is a lack of willingness to submit to the spiritual leadership of others and/or a sinful desire to completely control our intake of spiritual food.

 You will not forgive-

 It takes humility to forgive others, because at the heart of forgiveness is the acknowledgement that we ourselves are far from perfect. Humble people forgive because they recognize their own desperate need for forgiveness. Prideful people rarely (if ever) acknowledge their own sinfulness and therefore have a tough time forgiving others and letting go of grudges.

 You’re sure you understand all the facts all the time-

 Prideful people tend to think they have the inside track when it comes to understanding the motives and actions of other people. The truth is that most of us know a lot less than we think we know about why people do what they do. It’s not wrong to judge the rightness or wrongness of an action (Luke 12:57, Acts 4:19, 1st Corinthians 5:12). However, motives are an altogether different issue. Only God knows what drives people. A good policy is to assume good intent in others and leave the judging of motives to God (1st Corinthians 4:5).

 The only way to deal with a pride problem is through soul-searching, brutal self-honesty and a heartfelt commitment to making real and lasting changes in the way we view others and ourselves.

 Anything else just perpetuates the problem.

 

 

 

 

When Life Hits You With A Curveball

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near~ Job 17:11-12 NIV

 Regular readers of this blog know that I typically write out of my own personal experience and only very rarely tell the stories of others. There are numerous reasons for my reluctance to tell other people’s stories.

 First, I feel really weird telling other people’s stories and I hate feeling weird. I also worry excessively (probably neurotically) about violating the privacy of others. Moreover, I only know what I know, not what other people know, so I am reluctant to assign motives to others and it’s hard to tell some stories without assigning motives. And finally, I avoid offending others unnecessarily and there is no quicker route to provoking an offense than to tell someone else’s story and get it wrong or to assign the wrong motives.

 Sigh.

 All that being said, this week I feel inclined to share what I gleaned from watching someone else live out a really unpleasant chapter of their story with honesty and grace.

 I have a close friend who has been through more tough stuff in the course of the last two weeks than one could reasonably expect to experience in a decade of living. In the interest of protecting my friend’s privacy, I will spare you the nitty-gritty details of her private hell. I will tell you that the situation manifested itself suddenly and with no warning. Within days it morphed into the kind of nightmare we all secretly fear will happen to us and pray never does.

 Life has hit my sweet friend with some nasty curveballs in recent days.

 I define a curveball as any situation we were not expecting that abruptly alters our life in an unpleasant and unanticipated way. Curveballs are frustratingly common in this life. No one, no matter how well they manage their personal affairs, makes it through this life without experiencing at least one season of curveballs.

 Curveballs come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they come in the form of an unforeseen job loss, a financial or health crisis, divorce, affair, or the death of a loved one. In truth, the details of said situation matter less than how we handle them.

 Today I am going to share four strategies for managing the curveballs of life I picked-up from observing my friend this week. First….

 Run to God rather than away from Him-

 Alas, the first instinct many of us have when trouble strikes is to get mad at God. We do this because logic tells us that God is the omnipotent maker of the universe and if anyone is capable of preventing trouble, it’s God. While that may be true, it ignores a couple of vital truths. First and foremost, trouble and hardship are a sad but inescapable consequence of living in a fallen world (John 16:33). Even Jesus experienced hardship and trouble in this life (Hebrews 2:10). Secondly, God wants to be there for us and give us comfort in the midst of our trials. And finally, God sometimes uses hardship and trouble to shape us into the people He has called us to be and to prepare us to minister effectively to others. God cannot do any of the things He wants to do in us or for us if we push Him away in anger.

 Accept help-

 God does His best work through His people. Anytime someone offers to help in a crisis we should view that person as the hand of God reaching out to offer practical support in our time of need. It’s essential we take the help that’s offered.

 Own what you need to own-

 With a few notable exceptions, curveballs rarely just appear out of nowhere. Typically there’s a history of reckless/sinful/unwise choices that led up to the life-altering mess. It’s crucial we take responsibility for any part we may have played in creating the situation that led up to the curveball. Taking ownership of mistakes and failings keeps us from blaming God and will ultimately set the stage for us to make better and wiser choices in the future.  

 Find someone you trust and be as real as you need to be about how you feel-

 Talking is the ONLY way to stay sane in a curveball situation. Sadly, we simply cannot be honest with everyone because not everyone is worthy of trust or equipped to deal with the negative emotions that accompany a curveball. So find the one or two people who will listen, pray, and offer wise counsel without judging and share what you need to share to preserve your sanity.

 

 

  

 

 

 

Should Christians and Non-Christians be Friends?

 Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character~ 1st Corinthians 15:33 NIV

 I subscribe to a number of Christian leadership blogs, podcasts and websites. Most of the stuff I subscribe to is pretty good. A few are hit or miss and one or two are just kind of meh. The best ones consistently tackle issues I have never thought very deeply about, challenge my biases, and help me think more imaginatively about problem solving. The not-so-great ones tend to hit on the same dozen or so issues over and over again and never really give any answers, just raise a lot questions.

 Over the course of the last couple of years, I have noted a clear trend regarding the subject matter of many of the blogs I subscribe to. All of them have been encouraging Christians to be bolder in their pursuit of authentic and meaningful friendships with sinners (their word, not mine). A few have openly scolded other Christians for not having and pursuing more intimate friendships with non-Christians. Every article I’ve read on the subject holds Jesus up as the example we ought to follow when it comes to pursuing friendships with “sinners”.

For the record, I believe with all my heart Christians ought to pursue friendships with non-Christian people (more on that later). However, I am convinced this teaching trend has become dangerously unbalanced because it presumes without offering cautions.

 I will begin with the presumptions.

 The most common presumption is that Jesus spent most or all of His time just chilling with sinners. To hear many pastors and teachers tell it, Jesus spent every moment of His life on earth at the local bars, crack houses and brothels hugging and high-fiving the local riff-raff.  

 He didn’t.

 A careful reading of the gospels reveals that Jesus did indeed attend events and parties where “sinners” were present (a very big deal in His world). We also know that Jesus was kind and welcoming to everyone (including sinners) and He definitely wasn’t shy about interacting with sinners or building meaningful relationships with very messed-up people (Luke 19:1-9, John 4). However, that was one part of His over-all ministry. Jesus spent most of His time with the twelve disciples and others (Luke 8:1-3, Luke 10:1) who were interested in following Jesus and learning to live a holy life.

 The second assumption many make is that the culture Jesus ministered in was exactly like the culture we live in.

Its’ simply not true.

Jesus lived in and ministered to a predominately Jewish culture where even the most messed-up “sinners” understood exactly what the Bible had to say about sin (John 4, Luke 9:1-9). This meant that the pre-evangelistic work of helping folks recognize the reality that they are sinners in need of redemption was done long before they came into contact with Jesus. We live in a post-Christian/atheistic culture where few people know or care about what the Bible has to say about much of anything. Even fewer feel guilt or remorse over their behavior. This difference is subtle and may seem trivial. However, it’s a difference that dramatically affects the dynamics of interacting with non-Christians. At the very least it makes spiritually productive conversations more difficult, and relationships trickier to navigate.

 And finally:

Some are assuming we are all a heck of lot more like Jesus than we actually are. Jesus was the perfect, sinless Son of God on a mission to save the world from the bondage and consequences of sin.

We are not Jesus.

 Even in our redeemed state we are still people who possess a sin nature (1st John 1:8). We are people who have been saved by the kindness and mercy of  a seriously benevolent God and nothing else (Ephesians 2:9). We are also people who have been commanded by a holy God to live a life of purity, holiness and righteousness (1st Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 5:3, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, 1st Peter 1:14-16, Hebrews 12:14). Our calling to holiness is sometimes made more difficult by our choice of friendships (Proverbs 13:20, Psalm 1, 1st Corinthians 15:33).

 All that being said, I still really believe Christians ought to be intentional about seeking out friendships with non-Christian people. People have to be led to Jesus and the only way that will happen in this culture will be through cultivating relationships. However, we need to initiate relationships with non-Christian people wisely and prayerfully, keeping two truths firmly in mind.

 First, the Bible warns us repeatedly concerning the dangers of spending an inappropriate amount of time around those who may tempt us to sin (Jude 22, 2nd Corinthians 6:14-15, 1st John 2:15-16). Secondly, we need to remember that we will NEVER lead anyone to Jesus if we make a habit out of sinning with them.

 

Knowing for Certain-

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth~ 1st Timothy 2:3-4

 We live in a time and place where it is blessedly easy to know the answers to a lot of life’s questions.

 Anyone with a laptop and/or a phone can know exactly how much money he or she has in the bank anytime—day-or-night. Even a person completely ignorant of history can discover in seconds who the POTUS was in 1926 (Calvin Coolidge in case you’re too lazy to Google). A small sample of blood will reveal all sorts of interesting things about a person. Including their general state of health, chromosomal make-up, nation of origin and whether or not they eat lead paint chips

 The modern era clearly has its perks.

 However, other questions remain unanswered. The brightest scientific minds of our day still cannot explain why we have turbulence or what make magnets work or how birds know to migrate or even how our brains store and retrieve memory. No one but God knows why we dream or even what a dream is or why we all get a little nuts-o if we go too many nights without dreaming.

 Sigh.

 Some spiritual questions are even tougher to answer.

 No one has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction why God sometimes feels distant and other times He feels close. No one knows why some prayers go unanswered and others don’t, or why some people suffer and others don’t.

But in my experience the most vexing question of all for many believers is whether or not they really are a Christian.

 Most of us know that becoming a Christian is not simply something that happens, nor is it something we are born into. Contrary to popular belief simply attending a church or a small group, serving on a ministry team, or even praying a “salvation prayer” does not guarantee that one has passed from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life.

 Knowing for certain matters for at least three reasons.

 First, assurance of salvation is not a subject that is discussed in many churches these days; as a result many have been left with questions. Secondly, Jesus warned his followers that on Judgment Day (yes, it’s a real thing, Matthew 11:24, Hebrews 9:27, Revelation 20:11-12) there will be many who mistakenly assume that they are Christians until it’s too late to do anything about it (Matthew 7:21, Matthew 25:31-46, Matthew 7:13-14). And finally, it matters because if the Bible is true (and I believe it is) then eternity will be long and it’s good to know where and how we will be spending it.

 Sadly, the signs of salvation tend to be subtle, but there are at least four clear indicators of an authentic Christian including…

 1. Authentic Christians hate to sin-

 One of the surest signs of salvation is a yearning to please God and do His will. This means that genuine Christians do not like to sin nor do they typically sin intentionally. This doesn’t mean Christians never sin (1st John 1:10). It does mean that for a Christian, sin is typically followed by remorse, repentance and a sincere desire to do better next time (2nd Corinthians 7:10).

 2. Authentic Christians do what it takes to grow-

 Attending a Bible study or a church service does not make anyone a Christian, nor does it make Christians “more saved”. That said, church and Bible studies are where we worship God, learn about our faith, become accountable to other believers, and are challenged to grow-up in our thinking and behavior (1st Corinthians 13:11.) Consequently, all Christians ought to attend church and Bible studies.

 3. Authentic Christians love people and care about their eternal destiny-

 Love for God and love for people is the identifying mark of a Jesus follower (1st John). However, authentic biblical love is more complex than the squishy, syrupy Hallmark Channel kind love we have all become accustomed to. Authentic Christian love is concerned for the feelings of others but it is also honest enough to tell people the truth about where their choices will lead.

4. Authentic Christians don’t quit- Hebrews 12:1

 Authentic Christians do not quit serving God, loving people, and going to church just because some nitwit said something hurtful or God did not answer a prayer the way they felt He should. Authentic Christians know that they are soldiers in a spiritual war and soldiers don’t desert over hurt feelings and petty disappointments (2nd Timothy 2:3-4). Perseverance is and will always be the surest sign of salvation.  

 

 

 

Breaking Free From Regret


Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death~ 2nd 7:10

 Regret is a tough topic.

 Mostly because there are so many different levels of regret. Some regrets are minor in the grand scheme of things. Missed opportunities to do good or an occasional overindulgence (AKA taco night at my house) are lamentable for entirely different reasons. However, none of those scenarios leads to the kind of grief that steals our joy and keeps us stuck in destructive emotional and spiritual patterns.

 Other regrets are tougher to reconcile because some regrets are by their very nature trickier to overcome. A missed opportunity to do good can typically be made-up at another time and the consequences of most indulgences can be remedied with a little extra exercise. Other choices are less easily overcome. We might deeply regret getting married and/or divorced, our chosen career path, the choice to have (or not have) children, or a great big sinful decision that simply cannot be undone.

 Whatever the cause, regret can quickly become psychologically and spiritually debilitating. This is especially true if we allow ourselves to get stuck in the quagmire of “what if” and “if only” thinking. When this happens, we spend an inordinate amount of time wondering what life would look like if only we had made another decision or wishing we had taken another route in life.

 “What if” and “if only” thinking is a pointless waste of energy because it keeps us stuck in the past and focuses our energy in an introspective, navel gaze-y kind of way that will never actually change anything. To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge even God cannot change the past. Consequently, there is nothing to be gained by wishing we could do something that even the Omnipotent Maker of the Universe cannot (or chooses not) do.

 That said.

 Dealing with regret is about more than simply “getting over it” or “moving on”. I am convinced that God wants us to do more than just “get over” stuff. He wants to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ and sometimes God uses our deepest and most profound regrets in life to shape us into the people He wants us to be (Romans 8:28).

 There are four things we need to do anytime we are struggling with regret.

 The first is…

 Own what you need to own-

 Wise people own their mistakes because they know they will never grow past anything they refuse to take responsibility for (Psalm 32:5). If you have regrets concerning your marriage or how your kids turned out, do enough soul searching to figure out your part in the mess and own it. Don’t blame God, your parents, your spouse, society, or the church for the choices you made. No one can change what they refuse to acknowledge. Taking ownership is the first step to solving problems and living at peace with the past.

 Change what you can change-

 Taking responsibility frees us up to see what can and cannot be changed in any given situation. Sometimes even small changes in how we deal with people or circumstances can dramatically affect the outcome of the situation or the health of the relationship. If you don’t know what to do, read some Christian books, seek the advice of someone who has their life together or spend some time with a Christian counselor or pastor. Whatever you do, don’t give-up.  

Make right what needs to be made right-

 This means seeking forgiveness (Psalm 38:18, Hebrews 8:12). Every sin is ultimately a sin against God, so go to Him first and ask him to forgive you (He will). Then talk to the people you have hurt or wronged. If you were a crummy parent, spouse or friend be honest about your shortcomings and don’t blame others for your failures (Psalm 37:37, Hebrews 12:14). Seeking forgiveness from the people we hurt may or may not change how they feel about us but it does create an environment where God can bless and heal us.    

 Trust in the resurrection power of Jesus to do what we cannot do-

 Sadly, there are times in life when situations or relationships are simply broken beyond our ability to fix them. Once we’ve done what we can do, we need to trust God to do the impossible. The Bible is clear; if you are a believer in Jesus then the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is living in you and working on your behalf (Romans 8:11). The resurrection power of Jesus is not only about salvation. Over time (if we let it) God’s power infiltrates our lives and that power allows Him to do the impossible and fix the things that broken beyond fixing.

 

 

 

 

Christians and Social Media

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets~ Matthew 7:12 NIV

 I have a love-hate relationship with social media.

 I love that social media is free. I love that Facebook has allowed me to stay connected to friends and family I would have likely lost touch with prior to the advent of Facebook.

 I love that social media connects people from every walk of life and every corner of the world. I love that disseminating information to large groups is now as simple as pushing a button. I love that Twitter and Facebook have played pivotal roles in recent social revolutions. I really love that it is now possible for any monkey with an opinion, rudimentary English skills and a laptop to write a blog and gain an audience.

 Sadly, the list of things I hate about social media is twice as long.

 I hate that sites like Backpage and Craigslist have made it easy and lucrative for evil people to exploit others. I hate that social media has more-or-less taken over much of our lives. I hate that some people actually sleep with their phones and that many of us are more engaged with electronic devices than we are with the people around us.

 I hate that social media has made it possible for lies and fake news to spread quicker than germs do. I hate that social media has made it easy for people to isolate themselves from ideas that stretch their thinking. I hate how it is now possible to “unfriend” a real live person without so much as a discussion as to why.

 And finally,

 The thing I hate most about social media is how stinking easy it is to be mean.

 It happens at least a million times a day.

 A reasonably decent person writes something on Facebook or shares something Twitter so mean-spirited and awful that only a certified nut-job would dream of saying the same thing out loud in a face-to-face encounter. Sadly, all this verbal savagery has created an environment where cruelty now feels absurdly normal.

 Most of us tend to believe only really dreadful people do this sort of thing. Sadly, it’s just not true. Most of us, (even many Christians) have been guilty at one-time-or another of writing something on social media we would never say out loud to another person.

 I am not opposed to frank dialogue and truth telling. I believe with all my heart that our culture would benefit a great deal from a little more of the right kind of honesty. That said, I also believe we need a lot less of the kind we are rapidly becoming accustomed to. So, in the interest of creating a little more civility in our world, I want to offer a few guidelines for interacting with others on social media.

 Remember four things…

 You don’t stop being a Christian on social media.

 Like it or not, most social interactions now occur on Facebook and Twitter. This means unsaved people are making-up their minds about Christianity and the church by what Christians say and post on social media. Be vigilant about how you present yourself, your political views and Jesus on social media. Our job in this world is to lead people to Jesus, build-up the body of Christ, and motivate others to positive change. There’s a fine line between making a valid argument, defending the faith or calling for change and tearing others or the Church down. Don’t cross it.

 For the love of God—just be kind.

 I’m not suggesting we soft-peddle truth. I am advising Christians to heed the warning given in Ephesians 4:15 and speak hard truth in a loving and gentle tone. There is a real live human being with feelings out there in cyberspace somewhere that may be hurt by how you choose to say something that really does need to be said. Ask yourself if Jesus would write the same thing in the same tone before you push the enter key.

 Hurting people are weird sometimes.

 Every single person on this planet is living with painful personal junk they are attempting to manage. The weirdly vitriolic woman freaking-out on the other end of our “abortion is murder” comment might just be overwhelmed with guilt from a past abortion. Anytime we choose to take a heartless and militant tone over any sin issue, we might be missing out on an opportunity to bring spiritual healing into the life of a hurting person.

 Keep private situations private.

 Do not air personal problems you have with another person in public forums (Facebook or Twitter) if you aren’t willing to discuss the issue with them in private first (Matthew 18:15-17). Only cowards and mean people air their personal grievances in front of strangers.

 If you are a believer in Jesus, treating people civilly (even people you don’t like or agree with) is not about you. It’s about Jesus. When Christians name call, use foul language, treat others with contempt, or “unfriend” people for no good reason on social media we hurt the cause of Christ and each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christians and Counterfeit Love

On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts~ 1st Thessalonians 2:4

 When I was a teenager I had a close friend who had- what I thought at the time-was the coolest Mother in the known universe. She was verbally expressive when it came to professing love for her daughter and she listened to any and all teenage drama (no matter how absurd and trivial) sans judgment of any kind.

 There was precious little my friend was not permitted to do and occasionally her Mother would even help her evade the consequences of her actions. One time my friend and I skipped school and her Mom wrote both of us a note to excuse the absences with nothing more than a brief and relatively friendly lecture on the importance of going to school. If my friend’s grades were less than stellar (and they frequently were) her Mom signed the report card without so much as a negative word spoken concerning the issue.

 She turned a blind eye as her daughter became sexually active and willfully overlooked disrespect, negligence, underage drinking and even occasional drug use. When questioned about her parenting techniques my friends Mother would wax eloquent on the importance of truly loving and accepting her children in a tangible way.

 In retrospect I find this tale utterly appalling.

 And not just because I’ve raised a bunch of kids and have learned that decent parenting is about a whole heck of a lot more than accepting your children and making them feel good about themselves. This story horrifies me because I know the ultimate outcome of it all. My friend started using drugs and alcohol, never finished high school and had three children before her 21st birthday. As far as I know she never fully recovered from her choices and the bizarre leadership she received as a child.

 Sigh.

 I am convinced that my friend’s Mother wasn’t a bad person in the sense that she neglected, abused or was in some way indifferent towards her daughter. There was absolutely no malice in her actions. She simply confused loving someone with being likeable. She cared more about how her kid felt about her in the short-term than the long-term outcome of her daughter’s life.

 The most vexing aspect of this story is how often this sort of thing plays out in life. A husband or a wife will (in the name of love) ignore their spouse’s character deficiencies to the detriment of the entire family. A friend will stand by silently and watch as someone they claim to love ventures down an ethically questionable path never warning them of the destruction that lies ahead. A parent will bail an adult child out of problems of their own making and then wonder why the kid never seems to grow-up.

 Christians do the same thing sometimes.

 We overlook the sins of those we profess to love and soft-peddle the truth of God’s word—not because we don’t believe God or His word— but because deep down inside we really want people to like us more than we want to tell them the truth. We want to be the cool friend, the cool pastor or the cool co-worker and telling the truth about life and eternity is categorically uncool these days.

 Dietrich Bonheoffer famously said that cheap grace is characterized by the “preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.”

 Mr. Bonheoffer was correct in his assessment of cheap grace.

 Grace and love are inextricably linked. Grace cannot exist without love, because grace is simply an extension of love. This means that if love is counterfeit, then grace will be cheap. Counterfeit love has become appallingly common. At its root counterfeit love is deceptively selfish. The person showing counterfeit love typically wants to love like Jesus loved. But, deep down inside, they want to be liked by others more than they want what’s best for those same people. Which is the exact opposite of loving like Jesus loved.

 Authentic love never loses sight of the long game.

 A parent who truly loves their child will risk being loathed today to ensure the child becomes a decent human being in the future. A genuine friend will endure a little bit of anger in the here-and-now to save their friend from a lifetime of regret. A genuinely loving Christian will risk offending someone today if it will save that person from an eternity in hell.

 It’s time for a revival of the real deal.