Is it Really Sinful to Judge the Behavior of Others?

 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them- 1stTimothy 5:24 NIV

If I were to venture a guess, I would say the best known and most quoted Bible verse of all time would have to be Matthew 7:1: “Judge not lest you be judged”.  Bible believing Christians as well as some folks who have never actually cracked a Bible in their lives have the verse memorized and are swift to whip it out anytime they sense the slightest disapproval from anyone concerning anything at all.  

Most have decided it means that the best way to escape God’s wrath (and perhaps even the fires of hell) is to simply never make a moral judgment concerning anything. A lot of people believe “you do you” and “live and let live” is the New Testament solution to escaping trouble with God. 

I don’t think it means what they think it means. 

If evading God’s judgment were as simple as not being judgmental there would have been no reason at all for Jesus to come and sacrifice Himself on our behalf. Instead He could have just wrote STOP BEING SO DANG JUDGY OR YOU’RE GOING TO BE SUPER SORRY in the sky and saved Himself a whole lot of trouble. He didn’t. So, the meaning of His words matters. 

A lot. 

If judging the actions of others is the fast track to our own punitive judgment then we should watch ourselves very carefully in this area. However, if judging actions is not wrong, then maybe, just maybe a tad bit more of the “right” kind of judging will make Christianity more what God intended it to be in the first place (Matthew 5:13-15, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, 1st Peter 2:9, 1st Peter 2:12-15, 2nd Peter 3:11).    

I’m just saying. 

It is fair to assume “judge not, lest you be judged” is not a warning against making moral judgments about behavior.  Jesus was clear: He came to fulfill the law—not abolish it (Matthew 5:17). Most of the Old Testament law (parts of Exodus, all of Leviticus and Deuteronomy) is just a long list of things God says are right and wrong. The rest is basically just a “how to” properly judge when someone breaks the law and what should be done about law breaking.  It would be more than a little odd for God to say “no” to the whole notion of making moral judgments concerning right and wrong behavior after giving His people two and a half books of commands. 

So.

Cultural context is critical when it comes to understanding what the New Testament has to say about any subject.  It’s especially important when talking about judgment in general and judging others in particular. 

Here’s the thing:

First century Jews were some of the judgiest people on earth and they did not stick to judging actions. Mostly they were all about judging whether or not a person was worthy of heaven.

 Jews believed they were special in the sense that they were the only people capable of being completely righteous and worthy of living forever in God’s presence. If someone was not a Jew—they didn’t stand a chance. Further complicating things, most assumed any Jew who did not fully obey the law was a lost cause as well. Religious leaders were all about deciding who obeyed the law “well enough” to be accepted and loved by God. Even the judging of behavior was tainted with judging the worthiness of the person.

Thankfully, for us Jesus set the standard for who gets into heaven. No one is actually “good enough” to get to get right with God on their own (Isaiah 64:6, Luke 18:19, Romans 3:12). We all suck (Romans 3:23). God in His great mercy God chose to make it all about faith in Him so we would at least stand a chance (Luke 7:50, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 10:39). No one (except God) can really know who has saving faith and who doesn’t. No one except God can judge another person’s worthiness of heaven. 

James 2:12-13 gives us some insight into Jesus words in Matthew 7:12. It says:

So speak, and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment-NASB

Okay, so, the English translation of this verse is awkward and tough to understand.  The Greek, comes closer to saying something like this: You will be judged with liberality, kindness and generosity by God. So, you ought to judge other people’s actions and hearts with the same liberality, kindness and generosity you hope to receive on judgment day.  If you don’t judge others with a measure of grace God will apply the standard you use with others to you. 

Yikes. 

So. Judging the rightness or wrongness of actions or behavior is not a problem. That said, a very big problem arises when we judge the motives or the hearts of people. 

We just don’t have the chops for that.  

It is sometimes critical we make judgments about the rightness and wrongness of actions. However, we must remember the goal of making a judgment about behavior is never to condemn anyone, but ultimately to help and encourage everyone to become a better, godlier version of themselves. 

The mercy we hope to be shown should ALWAYS be the standard of judgment we use on others. 

Period. 

The Seven Churches Series- Sardis the Church of Fakers

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness- Colossians 2:6-7 NIV

There really was no place in the ancient world where it was truly safe to be a Christian. The threat of persecution was a constant issue for believers in Jesus into the fourth century. Even a relatively safe situation for Christians could become categorically unsafe overnight with a sudden change of political power. That being said, there were a few places where it was safer and easier to be a Christian. 

Sardis was one of those places. 

Sardis was a sizable, affluent city located in a lovely valley that nestled up against a mountain range. Due to its remarkably safe setting and its excess of natural resources, life in Sardis was prosperous and stress-free by ancient standards. The residents of Sardis were best known for their tolerant, laissez-faire attitude towards just about everything under the sun. 

 Sardis was infamous for being a party town occupied by overindulged, underachieving, slackers.

Seriously. 

There is little evidence Christians suffered much, if any, serious persecution in Sardis.  Emperor worship was not really an issue and there are (to my knowledge) no records of Christians being martyred in Sardis. The folks in Sardis were too busy having fun to persecute anyone for anything. 

Sardis was filled with messy, lost people who needed the life-changing good news of the gospel. There was little stopping Christians from openly sharing. The Christians there were under no real threat. There was little chance they would be arrested or sent to an arena for talking about Jesus in a city as accommodating and tolerant as Sardis.  

However.

The Christians in Sardis did not use their idyllic situation to reach the lost and do good in their city.   

Sigh.

Jesus’ letters all follow a familiar pattern.  Jesus begins each of the seven letters with a greeting to the “angel” (commonly believed to be the pastor or bishop) of the church.  Jesus follows His greeting with a declarative statement about Himself. Each statement reveals something critical about His power, character and/or the authority He has over the world (Revelation 2:1, Revelation 2:8, Revelation 2:18, Revelation 3:1, Revelation 3:7, Revelation 3:14) In all but two of the letters Jesus follows with some kind and affirming words concerning the church in question. Jesus praises the church’s faith, good deeds, perseverance, and/or their love for one another, etc. Only after praising and affirming the good in their lives does He offer any criticism.

In His letter to Sardis Jesus deviates dramatically from His usual pattern. 

After the greeting and declarative statement, Jesus jumps directly to criticism and it’s objectively, quite harsh. He begins by telling them that although they have a reputation for being spiritually alive and life-giving, He knows the people in the church are dead in all the ways that matter. 

There was a lot of spiritual fakery going down at the First Church of Sardis. However, the church looked awesome from the outside. The sermons in Sardis were probably consistently on-point. The congregants as well as the leaders were very diligent with their spiritual practices. They prayed, they fasted, they had amazing discipleship programs and the people gave money to help the poor and support the church. 

However. 

Ultimately, the people in the church were more concerned with looking holy, good, wise and honest than they were with actually being any of those things. 

Their hearts were far from God and as a result, they cared little for the souls of people in their city. They had chosen the route of looking good rather than being good and their fakeness had them on the verge of spiritual death. Sadly, they didn’t even have the spiritual awareness to recognize the danger they were in (Revelation 3:2). Their only hope was repentance and repentance is nearly impossible when a person has concluded they are just fine the way they are.

Unfortunately, anyone can lack self-awareness.

For this reason alone, Sardis is (in my opinion) the scariest of the seven letters. Jesus’ words underscore the sad reality that a Christian (or group of Christians) can be a hot spiritual mess and not even be vaguely aware of any of their own problems. It is possible for respected Christians and even esteemed Christian leaders be so self-deceived they can be half-way to hell all the while believing they are leading the way to heaven (Matthew 7:13-23, Jeremiah 17:9).

Yikes.

The letter to Sardis is a much-needed reminder that we can fool a lot of humans with our surface-y goodness but we can’t fool Jesus. He sees everything there is to see. Including the state of our hearts (Hebrews 4:13). This is why self-reflection is so critically needed for believers (Psalm 26:2, 2nd Corinthians 13:5). Without a willingness to really look at our lives and examine our hearts on a regular basis we can easily deceive ourselves into believing we are way better than we really are and when we do that we risk losing our saltiness and becoming spiritually worthless (Matthew 5:13)

There were a few people in the First Church of Sardis who were the real deal (Revelation 3:4).  These people had remained true to Jesus and genuinely Christian even while being surrounded by spiritual counterfeits. Jesus makes one of His most beautiful promises in all of the letters to those people. He assures them they will be given the honor of walking with Him (experiencing intimate relationship) wearing white (eternally pure and noble) for all of eternity. 

That’s worth staying real for. 

Seven Churches Series- Thyatira the Hot Mess Church


For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions- 2nd Timothy 4:3 ESV

Peculiar fact:

Comfort and ease do not always make people better people.  

Such was the case with the Church in Thyatira.

Unlike most of the churches in Asia Minor, the church in Thyatira was not living under the constant threat of brutal persecution. Martyrdom was not an everyday occurrence in Thyatira. There is zero evidence the believers in Thyatira were suffering from the consequences of extreme poverty like the Christians in Smyrna. Emperor worship was not a huge issue in Thyatira. All-in-all Thyatira was a rather peaceful place to be a Christian, at least compared to other cities in the Roman Empire. This means all of the problems in the church came from within the church.  

Thyatira was a hot mess.

Even so, the letter begins with an encouraging tone. This little detail indicates Jesus chooses to sees the good in our lives even when we are failing to live up to His expectations. Jesus praises the Christians in Thyatira for their faith in God, their love for one another other and their faithful service to Him (John 13:34-35). He applauds their perseverance (Hebrews 10:36) and acknowledges that their good deeds have grown in number rather than diminishing over time (Ephesians 2:8-10, Hebrews 10:24). 

Then the tone changes. 

Dramatically.

 Most of the problems in Thyatira appear to have revolved around a female teacher Jesus calls “Jezebel”. It is possible (but unlikely) “Jezebel” was this woman’s actual name. It’s far more likely Jesus was equating the woman in Thyatira with Queen Jezebel in 1st and 2nd Kings. This was by no means a complimentary comparison. The Old Testament Jezebel was a foul woman who normalized Baal worship in Israel. The sexual immorality and child sacrifice that went hand-in-hand with Baal worship ultimately led to judgment and seventy years of Babylonian captivity for the Jewish people. (1st Kings 16:30-32, Jeremiah 19:5, Jeremiah 32:35). 

Yikes. 

Jesus has three primary issues with the woman He calls “Jezebel”:

First, she called herself a prophetess when she was a complete fraud (Revelation 2:20). There is no shortage of good examples of female prophets in both the Old and New Testaments (Exodus 15:1, Judges 4:4, 1st Samuel 25:28-32, Isaiah 8:3, 2nd Kings 24:14, Luke 2:36, Acts 2:17-18, Acts 21:9). That being said, a title does not automatically make someone the thing they claim to be (James 3:1, 2nd Peter 2:1-4, Jude 16-21). 

Second, this woman’s teaching was ultimately a concession to the surrounding culture. Her teaching permitted Christians to practice paganism while still claiming to “be Christian”. The pagan worship she encouraged which would have certainly involved sexual immorality (adultery, homosexuality, promiscuity) and drunkenness as part of the “worship”. Joining in pagan worship was appealing to less mature Christians because it enabled them to blend in with the surrounding culture, thus keeping persecution at bay. Jesus forbids this type of compromise because He knows Christians never reach the lost with the gospel by mimicking the civilization they live in.

And finally, Jesus had in some way confronted “Jezebel” concerning her teaching and she refused to change. He confronted her, either by speaking directly to her conscience or through people He used to challenge her. She chose to continue on in her false teaching in spite of the warnings she had been given (Revelation 2:20-22). Jesus was not amused. He promises to “cast her on a bed of suffering” for her refusal to repent. This stands as a stark warning to anyone who is tempted to ignore their conscience. 

Jesus also liberally criticizes those in leadership who looked the other way while this woman led the ignorant into a spiritually treacherous compromise with the culture (Revelation 2:20).  “Jezebel” was guilty of false teaching but the weak leadership in Thyatira gave her a place to preach. Her ministry would not have lasted without the platform they provided. It’s clear from the text: the spiritual leadership at the helm in Thyatira were not oblivious nubs led astray by an evil mastermind who was outfoxing them with her excellent (but untrue) arguments. Jesus is clear: by refusing to deal with her sin they aided her ministry. 

Sigh. 

Jesus’ tough talk to the church in Thyatira teaches us that we believe about life and God matters to Jesus. It is not okay for a believer in Jesus to passively accept or willfully go after “Christian” teachings that tickle their ears and make space for sin (2nd Timothy 4:3-4). Nor, is it acceptable for Christians to help a false teacher by buying their books, listening to their podcasts or attending their church. Those who knowingly help a false teacher to grow their ministry bear a share of the responsibility for the harm they cause.  

Jesus finishes His letter to the church in Thyatira with some encouragement to the discouraged faithful there. He encourages them to simply “hold on to what they have” (faith in the goodness of God) in spite of what they see going on in their church. That’s it. That’s all He expects is their fidelity. In return He promises them a place in His Kingdom and the future opportunity to rule and reign with Him if they choose to remain faithful and true even in a church full of compromise and sin. 

Seven Churches Series- Smyrna the Brave and Faithful Church

Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them- Hebrews 11:36-38

There was no place in the ancient world where it made sense from a practical perspective to be a Christian. Everywhere in the Roman world there was always a very real chance persecution would break out. Men, women and even children were put to death simply for professing Jesus as Lord.

That said. 

There were some places where it was easier to be a Christian than others. This is because most persecution against Christians tended to center around a practice known as Emperor or Caesar worship. 

The Roman Empire was massive. Its territory covered most of Europe, Greece, all of Asia Minor (Turkey), much of the near East, Israel, Spain, much of Africa and then some. The sheer vastness of the territory created a complex problem for Roman rulers. 

Unity. 

How exactly does one unify millions of people from literally hundreds of diverse cultures and all sorts of religious backgrounds? This was a critical question. Without something to unify all those diverse people groups mayhem, rebellion and anarchy would break out all over the Empire. Clearly, none of the emperors wanted any of those things on their watch.  

This is where Caesar worship comes in. 

All adults living in the Roman Empire were obligated by law to go to a temple in their city once a year. While there they were required to throw some incense onto an altar and declare to a Roman official that whatever Caesar happened to be in power at the moment was God. If the person declined for any reason they would be transported to the nearest arena posthaste where they would be crucified, torn limb from limb, fed to a wild animal or beheaded ASAP. 

This ritual was quite effective at unifying the territories. 

However.

It also created all kinds of problems for Christians who refused to worship anyone but Jesus (Exodus 20:3, Psalm 16:4, 1st Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:5). 

There were cities where Caesar worship was not always strictly enforced. Christians were safer in those places. Jews were one of a handful of groups lawfully excluded from Caesar worship. If the synagogue leaders in a city allowed the church to be recognized as a sect of Judaism the Christians in the area would be given a break as well. 

The Christians in Smyrna got no breaks. Zero. Zilch. Nada. 

 The bureaucrats in Smyrna gleefully engaged in Caesar worship and were more than happy to execute anyone who refused to give Caesar his “due”. Moreover, the Jews in Smyrna loathed Christians. Not only did they refuse to protect Christians. They were so meanspirited towards the Church they would routinely report Christians as a deviant (anti-government) cult. Jewish leaders would suck up to government officials by suggesting Christians be given the “test” of Emperor worship, thus ensuring their death. The Jews were so off-the-charts cruel to Christians in Smyrna Jesus referred to the whole lot of them as a “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9). 

Further complicating an already difficult and scary situation, a person’s ability to work anywhere in the Roman Empire was always tied to idol worship. Because the Christians in Smyrna refused to compromise on this issue they were the poorest people in arguably one of the richest cities anywhere in the Roman world. There are two words commonly used for poverty in the Greek language. One means worker. It describes someone who worked with their hands for a living. The other means utter destitution. Jesus used it to describe the poverty of the Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:10). The Christians in Smyrna were—by any measurable human standard— a rather sad and pathetic group of people. 

But. 

Jesus loved them. A lot. I don’t know if Jesus has favorites, but if He does they were for sure a favorite.  Smyrna is one of two churches out of the seven Jesus does not criticize in any way.  The Christians in Smyrna held a special place in Jesus’ heart for one reason and one reason only: they were faithful. They refused to cave to the immense social pressure they were under. They could have chosen to avoid taking unpopular stands on certain social issues. They could have chosen to pay lip service to Caesar and then told their church friends they didn’t or that they didn’t really mean it (Matthew 10:32).  They could have worshiped in pagan temples to keep their jobs. They could have lightened up on teaching Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). Those choices would have helped them gain favor with those in power. Those choices would have allowed them to make a decent living. Those choices would have kept them alive. 

Instead.

The Christians in Smyrna loudly and proudly declared Jesus to be the only God and took the many lumps that came with doing so.  Jesus did not promise them life would get easier, in fact, He did the exact opposite. He forecasted more suffering in their future (Revelation 2:10). However. He also promised He would be with them through the trouble. He also promised He would personally and lavishly reward them for their faithfulness (Revelation 2:10-11).

 Smyrna was not the polished church (that was Ephesus). Nor was it the wealthy church (that was Laodicea). It certainly wasn’t the popular church (that was Sardis) but it was a church Jesus loved passionately because it was the brave and faithful church that was unafraid to take a stand on the things that mattered most. 

The Seven Churches Series- Ephesus

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart- Proverbs 3:3 NIV

I have this theory that all Christian churches, denominations and organizations follow the same basic development pattern.

It always begins with a dream, desire or idea God plants in the heart of a person or a group of people.  This dream ultimately produces the birth of something new and beautiful (Isaiah 43:19, Acts 2:42-47).

Then comes childhood.  

Childhood is an exhilarating time in a church or ministry. Childhood is all about beginnings and growth. All the activity of this phase is born out of genuine love for Jesus, passion for the mission of Jesus and a desire to honor and glorify Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).   Leaders seek to obey Jesus above all else and as a result this phase typically results in an abundance of fruit. The childhood phase is also marked by some chaos. Leaders don’t always know what they’re doing, important things don’t get done and there can be disputes between key leaders (Galatians 2:11-14).  Because this stage is naturally volatile, if an organization stays in childhood for too long the ministry or church will die. No ministry or church can endure the disorganization and volatility of the childhood stage for long. 

It’s just too dang messy. 

If the organization or church survives the birth and childhood phase (some don’t). It slides into adulthood. Adulthood is the sweet spot for a ministry or church. There’s still a lot of enthusiasm and there is also a clear vision for where the ministry is going. The vision is firmly rooted in biblical principles and prayer. The ministry is still very Jesus centered but there’s more discipline than in the childhood phase. The policies and leadership structure developed in the early adulthood phase provide the stability necessary to keep the thing from flying off the rails. This is typically a very long phase that is even more effective and fruitful than the childhood phase. The organization or church earns a good reputation in the community and it does a lot of good. People are saved, lives are transformed and Jesus is glorified in a big way (Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5). 

Then comes middle age.

If an organization makes it to the middle age stage everything is going super well from an optics perspective. Money is being raised, there are a ton of volunteers and the stated mission is still solid. 

However. 

There is a subtle shift that begins with leadership. Leaders become, usually without realizing it, much more focused on building the organization than they are on Jesus and glorifying Jesus. Jesus is still valued, but Jesus is no longer the main thing. He’s more of a figurehead at this point. Passion for Jesus and devotion to the mission gets lost in the day-to-day of “doing ministry”, “raising money” and “growing the church” (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 10:7-9, Ephesians 4:11-16). It not unheard of for shady conduct to become a common occurrence at this point, and because leaders are focused is on how things LOOK rather than holiness, righteousness and pleasing Jesus, it is also not all unusual for shadiness to be swept under the rug, rather than being dealt with.   All or most of the ministry work of this phase is centered on programs and fund raising rather than transforming people and glorifying Jesus.  On the surface the ministry activity APPEARS to be people and Jesus centered. However, most of it is focused firmly on keeping the ministry machine going, raising money and justifying the continued existence of the organization. 

This is exactly what happened to the church in Ephesus. 

The first church Jesus addresses in Revelation chapters 2-3 arrived at middle age and their love for Jesus and concern for the spiritual and emotional needs of people became lost in their desire to maintain the status quo. Jesus called this “losing their first love” (Revelation 2:4-5).

But here’s the thing: 

No one looking at the Ephesian church from the outside would have suspected there was a problem. Even most folks who attended the Ephesian church were likely unaware of the issues. The leaders were undoubtedly clueless. Leaders at this stage almost always lack any kind of real self-awareness. As a result, they thought everything was fine. And why not? All the externals looked awesome. The pastors were skillful, polished and well-educated. The doctrine was solid.  They avoided getting involved with problematic or divisive issues. The people attending gave money and willingly suffered hardship for Jesus (Revelation 2:2-3).  

But. 

Their hearts were far from God. The people stopped caring about the things Jesus cared about. The Ephesian Church was still very busy kingdom building. It was just the wrong kingdom. It was a human kingdom instead of Jesus’ kingdom.  

Jesus’ instruction to the Ephesian Christians is straightforward: “do what you did at first”.  

Jesus knew that one of two things happens at this crossroads.

Most of the time the ministry continues a slow drift further and further from the original mission. Bit by bit it loses its ability to make a spiritual impact on the world. The church remains but the power it once had to make disciples and transform the culture evaporates. The people lose their saltiness and the church or organization becomes spiritually worthless (Matthew 5:13). If it endures it morphs into more of a social service agency than an actual ministry. 

Or.

There is a spiritual awaking.  The people who attend and lead these churches recognize the problem. They see the drift. It breaks their hearts and they repent. They fully rededicate themselves to the cause of Christ. Jesus becomes the main thing once again and the church or organization continues to be a vital part of the body and a solution to the brokenness in this world (Revelation 2:7). 

However.

Spiritual awaking’s don’t just happen.  

We need to ask God to help us see the drift in our lives and our churches and our ministries. It’s imperative we pray daily for wisdom and self-awareness and a heart that is willing to see the problems and our role in those problems. Most importantly, must be eager to do what we did at first (Jeremiah 17:9-10). We have to fight to go back to that childlike state of spiritual existence where Jesus was our everything and our obedience was a gift we joyfully gave Him.  

What are Warning Signs of a bad Spiritual Leader?

My anger burns against your shepherds, and I will punish these leaders. For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has arrived to look after Judah, his flock- Zechariah 10:3 NLT

Bad leadership is a booming problem in our world. 

However.

I believe there is a huge difference between an ineffective leader and bad leader. Ineffective leaders are seldom terrible people.  They simply lack the knowledge, skills and/or personal appeal necessary to lead well.  They have the best of intentions and try their hardest but they just can’t get the job done. 

Conversely.

 Bad leaders are typically quite capable. They tend to have a great deal of personal appeal and they understand how to get things done. However, because they are also oblivious, prideful, manipulative and self-absorbed they do a great deal of damage to those unfortunate enough to be led by them. 

Regrettably, bad leadership is not limited to the secular sphere.

 After nearly thirty years in all sorts of different ministry situations I feel I can say with some authority that American Christianity is infested with bad spiritual leaders. Bad spiritual leaders do far more damage than bad secular leaders. This is because spiritual leaders are the mouthpieces of God in the body of Christ (2nd Peter 1:21, 1st Corinthians 12:7-11). Moreover, many mistakenly see spiritual leaders as God’s mini-me or stand-in.  As a result, many people (saved and unsaved) are incapable of separating the actions and attitudes of a spiritual leader from the will of God. It is not uncommon for individuals who were treated badly by spiritual leaders to erroneously believe it was God’s will for the leader to mistreat them. Consequently, they blame God for the hurt they experienced at the hands of a bad spiritual leader. 

Sigh.

 God will not bless sin, therefore bad leaders are a principal reason why even many “successful” churches are powerless to convert sinners and make disciples. It’s one reason American Christianity losing people like rats fleeing a sinking ship. 

Satan is real (1st Peter 5:8, 1st Timothy 5:15, James 4:7) and not everyone who says they are a Christian really is (Matthew 7:15, Matthew 7:21).  Moreover, Christians are not robots who do exactly what God wants them to do all the time. Due to these and other factors, problematic leadership has been an issue in the Church since the dawn of Christianity (Acts 15:1-2, Acts 20:28-31, Jude 1-25). Additionally, the Bible warns us, as we approach the end bad leaders will become common in the Church (2nd Timothy 3:1-9). It is our responsibility as believers to be on the lookout for spiritual leaders who give indications of being bad leaders (2nd Timothy 3:5, 2nd Peter 2:1-22). Judgment is God’s responsibility (Ecclesiastes 3:17). However, it is our job to exercise discernment and protect ourselves and our families from the damage these leaders do.

 Bad Christian leaders are as diverse in personality as any other type of leader. However, there are certain hallmarks of a bad spiritual leader we can all look out for. Those hallmarks are:

They universally misunderstand their role- 

Contrary, to popular belief a pastor’s primary responsibility is not to deliver a well-prepared message on Sunday mornings. The primary role of a Christian leader is to equip and prepare Christians to do ministry and serve others (Ephesians 4:11-12). Good spiritual leaders empower the people around them to become the best version of themselves. They value every person for who they are not just what they can do. Conversely, bad spiritual leaders view people as a means to an end. The end is always making themselves popular and influential.  

They tend to isolate themselves from those they lead- 

Bad spiritual leaders are frequently AWOL at church events and rarely interact socially with people in their congregations even though the Bible clearly commands them to do so. (1st Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7-8). Some isolate themselves out of pride. Others just don’t care enough about people to get past their own awkwardness in social situations. Yes, there are introverts and extraverts and there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Furthermore, it is the height of emotional and spiritual immaturity to think a leader can or should be besties with everyone in a congregation.  That said, every Christian should care enough about others to go out of their way to make them feel comfortable in social situations. This is especially true of spiritual leaders. 

They demand blind obedience- 

Christians are called to a life of obedience (Deuteronomy 6:25, 1st Samuel 15:22, 2nd John 1:6).  Christians ought to obey leaders who are doing their level best to fully obey God. However, no one is commanded to obey a self-serving or evil leader living in contradiction to scripture. 

They are faultfinders- 

Bad leaders will read a great book like The Emotionally Healthy Leader or Emotionally Healthy Discipleship and immediately weaponize it to assess unhealthy or unspiritual attitudes in others. Bad spiritual leaders don’t self-reflect. This creates a situation where they can only see the sins of others, never their own (Jude 16).  

They don’t apologize- 

Even when it’s evident they should. An inability or unwillingness to admit wrong and apologize is an obvious indicator of a bad leader. 

They don’t have their own junk under control-

All humans struggle with sin; however, bad spiritual leaders are fleshly and carnal at heart.  Consequently, bad leaders struggle to keep their worst impulses in check. This leads to problems with sins like boastfulness, control, anger, greediness, lust, pride and dishonesty.  (Jude, 2nd Peter 2, 2nd Timothy 3:1-9, Matthew 23:23-33). 

Christianity is in crisis. 

Much of the crisis is directly due to the excess of bad spiritual leaders in the fold. Christians must protect themselves and their churches from these men and women. In order to do this Christians must lead themselves well and understand what the Bible says about life and leadership. Bad leaders flourish in the midst of immature followers who lack the wisdom and spiritual sensitivity to see a bad leader or the moral bravery to walk away from one.  

For more on this subject…

How Should Christians Live in this Cultural Moment?

 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against thauthorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms– Ephesians 6:12 NIV

Unprecedented. 

It’s a big word that gets bandied about quite a lot these days. 

Sadly, it is also a word that works for the times we live in. 

Over the course of the last two years or so the world has collectively faced all sorts of unprecedented events including wars, rumors of wars, weird diseases, inflation, social upheaval, tyrannical shutdowns, food shortages and political chaos.

Meanwhile in America.   

Our own unique brand of unprecedented lunacy has included (but is not limited to) militant transgender activists. Increasing tension between races. A president in rapid decline. Increased political division. Appallingly graphic sex-education.  Disintegrating families. A weaponized IRS. Vicious Crime.  A weaponized DOJ. Aggressive abortion enthusiasts and conservative parents labeled “domestic terrorists” for showing concern about the state of public education. The social fabric that holds our culture together and our system of government is disintegrating before our very eyes. 

Okay so, what is a Christian to do? 

Well. 

I can tell you what Christians should not do. We should not stick our heads in the sand and tell ourselves what goes on in the world is irrelevant. We cannot pretend the church is a safe space the lunacy will never touch. We can’t sit back and convince ourselves politics will never affect how Christians do church or raise our kids. 

Satan clearly has the advantage right now. Anti-God, anti-anything wholesome, anti-Christian sentiment is growing at an off-the-charts pace right now (2nd Timothy 3:1-3). Government, entertainment, public education and the news media are all strongholds of the enemy.  It’s time to wake up and be realistic about the situation at hand. 

Here’s what we can do:

We can accept the reality we are in an unprecedented spiritual war.  The disturbing things we see every day (war, violence, social turmoil, hate, anti-God sentiment) give us a glimpse into an even bigger, nastier war taking place in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 6:12). We must protect ourselves and our children from becoming casualties of this war (1st Peter 5:18). 

Here’s the thing about Satan:

Satan cares a whole lot less about getting the whole world to openly worship him than he does about corrupting people in subtle ways that do not appear on the surface to be obviously evil. His strategy is to distract people, including Christian people, from God. He wants to muddle our thinking with junk philosophies so biblical truth feels wrongheaded, potentially harmful, and hopelessly outdated (Isaiah 5:20).  He uses garbage entertainment (secular books, movies, television, games), the news media and the public-schools to take minds captive to worldly philosophies that inevitably lead to godless thinking and evil behavior. (Colossians 2:8).

 It’s a seriously brilliant strategy. 

Once a person’s thinking is aligned with the world their hearts are inescapably far from God. In order to be even marginally successful in this epic battle we must be willing to cut educational systems and entertainment out of our lives and our kids’ lives that does not promote discernment and aid in wise thinking. 

Period. 

No one will be safe in this battle if they are not making prayer a priority, hiding God’s word in their heart and living the way God calls Christians to live (Romans 12, Titus 3:14, 1st Peter 1:14, 1st Peter 2:16, 1st John 1:6, Colossians 3:1-21, Ephesians 4:17-28). 

Living the way God calls us to live means actively choosing to do good things with the time we have been given. Christians are literally saved from their sin for the sole purpose of doing good things with their lives and helping people find God (Ephesians 2:10). Doing good works is a form of spiritual warfare. Good works remind us who we belong to and they give us credibility with unsaved people (Titus 3:8). Credibility leads to opportunities to share the gospel (Matthew 5:16) That being said, all the good works in the world are a pointless waste of time if we don’t let go of behaviors, attitudes and pursuits that do not lead to more holiness and righteousness in our lives. In other words, we have align our lives with God.

No more playing around on the moral edges.

 We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We have to live like it. Christians everywhere must become a present and active force for good in their local communities (Matthew 5:13-16). We must do the work necessary to learn to think biblically about political and social issues and then work to get decent people elected to all levels of political office, from school boards to the presidency. In a fallen world there is no such thing as a truly righteous politician, but it is our job to find the best people we can and support them with our time, money and votes.  

Finally. 

We cannot give in to despair. No matter how bad it gets. We cannot give up or give in. We cannot stop believing and praying and worshiping and fighting for the good in this world. Faith is the key to survival in these unprecedented times.

What’s the Deal with Generational Curses?

Riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations– Proverbs 27:24 NIV

Some Christians think generational curses are nothing more than voodoo or fake news. Others think they’re an excuse weak people use when they don’t want to take responsibility for their own choices. Some are convinced generational curses are the result of some distant ancestor ticking God off. They think that in His anger God “cursed” the offender and his or her entire family line with a hex dooming them all to generational misdeeds. Still others believe generational curses are real but they only happen in families where people don’t know Jesus.  

 Generational curses are real. 

However, they are not the result of God’s wrath. They are the logical outcome of human foolishness and spiritual rebellion. A generational sin becomes a family trait when a person chooses to sin and then does not confess their sin or repent of it. Some version of that same sin is then passed down to the succeeding generation in the form of a behavior or attitude many members of the family get stuck in. The most common kinds of generational curses in unsaved families are sexual sin, abuse, alcohol, anger, codependence, drugs, stupidity, anarchy and foolishness. 

Christian families pass on generational curses too. However, generational curses tend to look different in Christian families. Generational curses show up in attitudes and behaviors that dishonor Jesus and hearts that are far from God. Following are five of the most common causes of generational curses in Christian families. 

We cultivate surface-y goodness-  

Jesus warned repeatedly against cultivating a pretense or façade of goodness and righteousness at the cost of authentic heart transformation and change (Matthew 23, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 11:37-54, Romans 12). Sadly, it’s not hard to fake righteousness, except with our kids. Our children get a front row seat to the sin we successfully hide from the rest of the world. When we cultivate an illusion of goodness rather than dealing with our sinful junk honestly, we either pass on the horrible generational curse of spiritual fakery (Acts 5:1-10), or our kids develop hearts of rebellion against a religion they assume is either phony or powerless.  

We hold on to a bitter spirit-

 Because bitterness is almost always the product of actual trauma, suffering and being sinned against, bitterness feels reasonable and justifiable. It’s not. God forbids bitterness because it eventually becomes who we are (Ephesians 4:31). Bitterness saturates our souls, transforms our personality and turns us into an ugly distortion of what God wants us to be. This ruins our Christian testimony and wrecks opportunities for ministry. It also has a defiling effect on our children and grandchildren (Hebrews 12:15). Anytime we choose resentment, anger or bitterness over forgiveness we infect our kids and grandkids with the generational curses of anger and offense. This causes them to become hardhearted towards God and unforgiving towards people (Proverbs 19:11, Proverbs 18:19).

We indulge in too many grey area behaviors- 

Not everything in life is cut and dried or black and white. This is even true in the Christian life (1st Corinthians 6:12). There are things Christians won’t go to hell for doing that also will not help them become better, wiser or godlier people.  The shows we watch, how we treat and talk about people, our church attendance, alcohol use, whether or not we use curse words are all grey areas. No one is going to hell for having a beer, spotty church attendance, being rude or saying a bad word every once in a while.  However, it is also true that how we handle those grey areas will impact how our kids process their faith and live out their Christianity as adults.  If we want to prevent the generational curse of spiritual complacency we must be cautious and prayerful about how we deal with the grey areas of life.  

We don’t honor our parents- 

We live in a culture where even some Christians routinely use almost any excuse to cut their parents or in-laws out of their lives (2nd Timothy 3:1-3). Unless there is a really good reason for doing so, disrespect to parents is a terrible sin guaranteed to reap ugly generational consequences. There are parents who are truly toxic, evil or who were genuinely abusive. The Bible does not command anyone to allow abusive parents to move into their homes or give them free and unfettered access to their grandchildren. Christians should exercise wisdom and discernment in all situations. However, contrary to contemporary thinking, it is not abusive for a parent to be dumb, controlling or less than perfectly tuned into their child’s needs. The command for adult children to honor their parents is the only command that comes with the promise of blessing (Exodus 20:12) and there are no qualifiers given. Adult children are to do their best to figure out a way honor their parents. Period. Even if those parents were less than perfect or the situation is complicated.  The number of generational sins we bring on ourselves and our children when we refuse to honor parents is innumerable. 

A generational sin is easy to break.

All we have to do is recognize it, confess it and change the sinful behavior. When we do that God steps in with His grace and power and does more than we can ask or imagine in our lives and in the lives of our children (Ephesians 3:20) 

Q&A Friday-  

Should Christians participate in boycott or cancel people?

This is not a question with a simple answer. 

There are two definitions for a boycott:

  1. To combine in abstaining from, or preventing dealings with, as a means of intimidation or coercion.
  2. To abstain from buying or using. 

 The first definition is more like canceling. A canceling kind of boycott is meant to bully corporations and individuals into doing what a particular group wants them to do. Jesus did not intimidate, coerce or bully anyone into anything and neither should His followers. Period.  

Furthermore.

From a historical perspective canceling types of boycotts have not worked out super well for Christians. Occasionally they have even backfired. They have actually made people curious about the products corporations were selling. In some cases, this drove business to the corporation that was supposed to be “punished” by the boycott.  So, no, I am not a fan of canceling kinds of boycotts.

That being said: 

The second kind of boycott is not a boycott it’s more like good stewardship.

As Christians our stuff isn’t really our stuff. All our stuff belongs to Jesus. 

Therefore:

Christians should view themselves as stewards or managers of their money and belongings, not owners. Christians should spend their money mindfully and prayerfully whenever possible. If we have a choice about where to spend our money we should think hard about whether or not Jesus would want us to spend His money at a particular company. 

Here’s why:

Anytime we buy goods or services from a corporation that corporation makes a profit from our purchases. Many corporations then donate a percentage of their profits to causes they believe in and want to support. In a very real sense we are investing in those causes by spending our money the companies that donate to them.  

The bottom-line is: Christians should be mindful with their money and if they have a choice about whether or not they get their coffee, clothing or entertainment from a company that supports anti-biblical causes they should choose not to. 

How Does a Good Person Refuse God?  

The waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm- Proverbs 1:32-33 NIV

The pages of Scripture are filled with uplifting, encouraging and inspirational verses. 

We eat that stuff up.    

We put those verses on tee-shirts, paint them on walls, embroider them onto throw pillows and turn them into magnets to slap on our refrigerators. Passages like Psalm 23:1-4 and Deuteronomy 31:8-9 are the warm-fuzzies of Scripture. Reading them is like drinking a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day.  It just feels good. The feel-good verses are our go-to’s anytime we want a warm comforting cup of spiritual goodness.    

To be fair: 

There are also some scripture passages that hit more like a bucket of icy cold water thrown on us in the middle of a dead sleep.  No one has ever put Matthew 7:21-23 or Jude 14-16 on a tee-shirt. Nor do emotionally healthy people paint those verses on their walls. We all know this world is full of trouble but nobody wants to wear it on a tee-shirt or be reminded every time they step into their living room.  

However.

 Those icy-cold water kinds of verses do serve a critical purpose. The hard words of Scripture remind us God is more than our own personal blessing machine and that we exist for Him, not the other way around (Acts 17:24-28).  Scary verses make us think about our spiritual walk and remind us to examine ourselves. No one is ever mature enough or righteous enough to grow past needing those reminders.

Hebrews 12:25 is one of those icy-cold water verses that immediately snaps us to attention. It’s says:

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.

Part of what makes this verse scary is all the stuff that surrounds it. The better of Hebrews twelve is a reminder God is the biggest of big deals and not to be trifled with. 

Christians understand how God communicates. He communicates most clearly and most often through His word. He also speaks through wise people and the circumstances of our lives. Anytime we hear the same thing repeatedly from different people we should assume God is attempting to get our attention. Hardship and trouble in our relationships, finances and work are another way God communicates with us.  Anytime we humble ourselves, self-reflect and pray we are opening ourselves to be led by the God’s spirit. 

Refusing God comes in many different forms and even good Christians refuse God sometimes. Christians refuse God anytime we shut off some part of our lives to God or when we willfully choose to do the opposite of what we know He wants us to do.  There are five primary ways we refuse God. Each is an easy trap to fall into (Ephesians 4:16-17). 

First. 

We refuse God when we hide sin rather than confess and repent of sin. Sin must be dealt with decisively. There is simply no other way except confession and repentance to effectively get free of the effects of willful disobedience (Matthew 3:8, Acts 2:38, James 5:16, Psalm 32:5, Psalm 38:18, Ezra 10:1). When we refuse to confess and repent of our sin, we are basically telling God through our actions we believe He’s wrong about the whole subject of what sin is.

Second.

We refuse God when refuse the correction he brings into our lives (Proverbs 12:1). No one gets it right every time. We all act stupid, make mistakes and do the wrong thing from time-to-time. God frequently uses the rebukes of other people to speak to us about the rightness and wrongness of our choices. When we ignore Him, we risk being turned over to the consequences of our choices. This is never a pleasant experience (Romans 1:18-32, Acts 7:42-43).

Third.

We refuse God when we make judgments about other people without clear understanding of their situation (Job 38:2). There is little God hates more than when one-person judges another without taking the time to hear their story (Proverbs 18:17, Matthew 7:1-5). Making ill-informed judgments about people and situations means we think we are too wise to consult God or others. 

Fourth. 

We refuse God when we refuse to forgive others. If forgiving other people is a perquisite for being forgiven, and it is. Then refusing to forgive is pretty much the ultimate in refusing God. Refusing to forgive is also the fast track to all kinds of spiritual trouble (Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:34-35, Luke 17:4). 

Fifth.

We refuse God when we refuse to grow and change. The Christian life is a life of transformation and growth (Romans 12:1-21). No one ever grows past the need for change. When we refuse the changes, God wants to make in our attitudes, opinions or behavior we refuse God and stunt our own spiritual development (Hebrews 5:11-14). 

Here’s the thing about refusing God:

 Anytime we willfully refuse God we run the risk of what the writer of Hebrews calls “falling short of the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). Falling short of God’s grace means we voluntarily forgo the blessing and peace that being in right relationship with God brings. Furthermore, we risk cursing ourselves and our generational line through our willful disobedience.

Holy-Moley.  

No one sane wants that.