Don’t Blame God for That-

 Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God~ Job 1:21-22 NASB

Recently, there have been moments when I felt as if I might be stuck in an off-kilter version of the movie Groundhog Day. I have had numerous conversations with all sorts of different people with vastly different stories but the exact same problem.

 At the heart of their individual problems is a situation most of us will experience in our journey through life. The details of our individual stories differ but at the root of problem is always a terrible or unjust situation that is completely outside of our control.

 Sometimes we are born into the situation.

 One of the sadder consequences of living in a fallen world is the untold number of children who (through no fault of their own) lose the parental lottery at conception. Those children are born to immoral, selfish or sometimes even sadistic parents. The emotional fallout of being born to selfish or cruel parents is experienced well into adulthood.

 Other times the situation manifests itself later in life.

 A spouse we assumed would be loyal isn’t. Someone we care about becomes the random target of senseless violence. A friend who claimed to be a Christian does something Christians should never do. The child who was raised right goes terribly wrong. A boss or colleague steals our credit. We become the victims of injustice or prejudice. A loved one dies long before we think it’s time. Someone lies and our reputation takes a hit.

 The problem always begins with being wronged or cheated in some profoundly unpleasant way. Hurt and anger follow, anger takes root and we do what humans do when we get angry about things that are unjust, unreasonable and completely outside of our control.

 We blame God for things He had nothing to do with.

 We blame God because blaming God gives us an outlet for our rage and  it makes us feel better, at least temporally. That being said, blaming God for things He had nothing to with actually compounds our problems rather than solving them.

 Anger is not a “bad” or a “sinful” emotion. There is such a thing as righteous and even healthy anger. Some things that happen in this world are horrible. Horrible things should make us angry. If  horrible things don’t make us angry there is a problem.

That said.

Anger directed at God—rather than injustice— causes people to act out in sinful, inappropriate, and astonishingly self-destructive ways. Sometimes we indiscriminately vent our wrath on undeserving people or hurt others in the same way we were hurt. Others choose to abuse alcohol, engage in sinful sexual behaviors or use drugs in a misguided attempt to numb the pain and forget the hurt.

Sigh.                                                                                                          

 We blame God for the actions of people because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of God, human sovereignty and how God relates to His creation. God creates each person wanting them to do good things with the gift of life given to them. That said, God is not a creepy puppet master who forces people to obey His commands or do His bidding. God gave humanity freewill and we are able to use our freedom in anyway we please.

 Most folks are comfortable with this arrangement so long as it applies to their own personal choices. However, when individuals use their freewill in a way that hurts others we become enraged with God, the one being in all of existence that is the most outraged and brokenhearted by the depravity and ugliness of the human race.

 It is critical to our psychological and spiritual health we remember that God does not cause people to do cruel, insensitive or evil things. Nor does He endorse or support bad behavior. God hates evil. However, just because God allows something to take place it does not mean that anyone is actually getting away with anything.

 God promises in His word that there will come a day when every human being who has ever lived will be judged for what they did and didn’t do here on earth (Revelation 20:11-15). It is imperative we remember that NOTHING goes unnoticed by God and every deed, thought and motivation will ultimately come under His judgment (Hebrews 4:12-13).

 Until that day, we need to go to God with our pain, rather than blaming Him for it. Blaming God for stuff He had nothing to do with inevitably leads to shunning the only one who can give us the comfort, peace and healing we really need.

 

Where We Went Wrong With the Millennial Generation

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things~ 1st Corinthians 13:11 NKJV

 Over the last dozen or so years a countless number of articles and blog posts have been written on the subject of the Millennial generation and their well-documented indifference towards organized religion in general and Christianity in particular.

 Most writers focus almost entirely on solving the immediate spiritual crisis. Concerned parties want to reach the eighty percent who have wandered from the faith, before the entire generation is irrevocably lost to secularism, humanism, and atheism. I truly care about reaching the millennial generation on a spiritual level. However, I believe its every bit as imperative we understand how we got into this mess in first place.

 History is always critically important.

 Unless we know where we went wrong in a particular area we will be doomed to repeat the same stupid mistake until we die. Sadly, a countless number of blunders were made with the millennial generation. Parents, schools and churches all carry a share of the blame.

It all began with how my generation was raised.

Few in my generation were ever told we were special or smart when we were kids. This was true even when we did things that were genuinely special or smart. We were seldom permitted to voice our opinions or encouraged to share our thoughts. It was NEVER okay to contradict an adult. So when we became parents we did what Americans do when they encounter a wrong.

 We overcompensated.

 We told our kids a hundred times a day that they were smarter, more special and better informed than any children in the history of forever. If they pooped we threw a party, complete with M&M’s and party hats. If they shared an opinion, we celebrated that opinion no matter how irrational or poorly thought-out it happened to be. We insisted every kid get a trophy and made certain no child ever felt less than AWESOME about his or her academic or athletic abilities, regardless of actual ability.

 Educators were quick to focus on feelings rather than facts and hop on to the self-esteem bandwagon. Discipline went out of fashion and subjects like history were taught from an extremely one-sided perspective. Kids were rarely expected to examine both sides of an issue nor were they taught to judge historical figures actions and attitudes in the context of the time period they lived in. Absurd viewpoints were rarely, if ever challenged in academic settings.

 Churches and youth ministries focused on having fun, forming relationships and making kids feel good about themselves. Learning the Bible was dropped in favor of “service projects” and “doing life together”. The whole notion of sin was marginalized. Youth ministries focused on transforming children not yet out of puberty, including some who exhibited no indications of salvation into “leaders” who would “reach their generation for Jesus”. Do not judge, lest you be judged (Matthew 7:1) was the one Bible verse every high school student memorized.

 The end result of this collective madness has been devastating to our culture.

 Many millennials never let go of childish ideas about life and reality. It’s appallingly common for grown people to think that feelings are more important than facts and that if you believe something to be true then it must be. Many become anxious and overwrought when a flaw is pointed out in their thinking or when a viewpoint that differs from their own is presented. That is why we now have “safe spaces” on college campuses and in workplaces, to shield people from words or ideas that make them uncomfortable.

 Sigh.  

 The most tragic consequences of our folly have manifested themselves in the realm of the spiritual. Many millennials believe that if a Bible verse FEELS wrong to them then the Bible got it wrong on that subject. Because teenagers were placed in positions of spiritual leadership long before they were actually converted, acquired any wisdom or knew much of anything about the Bible; many are prideful and will not tolerate correction, even when the correction comes directly out of the Bible.

 Sadly, that is the root reason many millennials have left the church to “work out their own spiritual experience”. They simply cannot tolerate the fact that there is a higher authority than them, be it God or the Bible.

 We must change the way we look at life, God, parenting, and the nature of reality. It’s time to put away childish thoughts about such things and think like adults, this is especially true for Christians.

 It is time to acknowledge some basic truths: facts are more important than feelings, believing something does not make it true and only children shield themselves from ideas that challenge their thinking or hurt their feelings. While we’re at it we need to get back to the understanding that God is real and due to His position as Creator and Sustainer of all things He really does have a fundamental right to tell us what to do.

 Before it’s too late.

Is Being Nice Really What Jesus Would Do?

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all people everywhere should repent~ Acts 17:30 NASB

 My daughter has joined a gym. Her fitness goals are commendable and realistic.  She wants to gain muscle, increase her endurance and best-case scenario: drop a few pounds.

 Last night she confessed she’s run into a bit of a glitch in reaching her goals. The problem lies less with her than with the gym she belongs to. The staff is pleasant, but hands off when it comes to assisting clients.

 The staff does not help with technique or correct the wrong use of machines. There are no scales anywhere in the building. There is an enormous dish of candy at the front desk and the gym serves pizza on Fridays. If a client wishes to munch on a jelly donut while running on the treadmill, the management is perfectly fine with that. They do ask that you wipe the goo off the machine once your workout is completed.

 The goal of this organization is a noble one. The want to create a safe place for out of shape people to get into shape, without even a hint of disapproval or judgment from anyone.

 As always the only hitch is the curse of unintended consequences.  

 The employees are so wary of causing offense that the clients are not getting the help they need to make the changes they want to make. This is a legitimate problem when you consider that any gym anywhere in the world would assert that their sole purpose for existing is to help out of shape folks lose weight and get into shape.

 Her tale of woe reminded me of a blog post I read this week.

 I read quite a few blogs in a given week. Every once in a while I come across one that sticks with me and causes me to think on a deeper level.

 This was one of those.

 The writer (a Christian) shared that one afternoon while she and her husband were out shopping, they ran into a guy she had attended youth group with when she was a teenager. Except the guy wasn’t a guy anymore. He was a girl.

 Awkward.

 The writer handled herself with composure considering the delicate nature of the situation. She did not cast judgment, give disapproving looks or hurl Bible verses at him. Nor did she inform him he was headed straight for hell.

 She went out of her way to make friendly conversation and set him at ease. She asked about his family and inquired about what he had been up to in recent years. She introduced her husband, shared some of her own story, gave him a couple of big hugs and went on with her day.

 It was a nice exchange and frankly it’s probably what I would have done given the same set of circumstances. So, please don’t accuse me of judging her or anyone else, because I’m not. That said, as I pondered her story I was overcome with a deep sense of spiritual conviction and left wondering:

 Is being nice enough?

 Being nice or “showing love” to sinners is bandied about as the latest and greatest in “being like Jesus” and “loving the unsaved”. But again, I wonder is it enough? And is it really and truly “being like Jesus”?

 I am not questioning whether or not Christians ought to be kind, respectful and compassionate towards all people, including those people with obviously sinful lifestyles. Jesus was and I believe being kind is a given. If you are a Christ-follower and do not routinely treat all people with respect, you have a serious sin problem called pride and you should deal with it.

Today.

 That being said, I do wonder if simply “showing love” to people who are obviously stuck in a sin spiral is doing more harm than good from an eternal perspective. I’m not proposing we stop being nice. I am proposing we stop helping sinners to feel safe in their lost state. Our compassion and acts of kindness need to be followed up with loving, but truthful conversations about the eternal consequences of choosing a lifestyle of sin over a heart of repentance. We forget that Jesus (arguably the nicest guy ever) made it uncomfortably clear on more than one occasion that an unrepentant sinner is anything but “safe” from a spiritual standpoint (Matthew 4:17, Luke 5:32, Mark 9:47).

 I fear that we have we have traded the hard work of evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) for the path of least resistance: being pleasant and inoffensive. In the process we have become a lot like my daughter’s gym. We are safe and welcoming to sinners, but nothing significant ever really happens and no one ever changes anything that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Feelings Run the Show

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

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

 Feelings have become the god we worship.                        

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Smart People Never Ignore Someone Who Tells a Hard Truth-

These are the things that you should do: speak the truth to one another~ Zechariah 8:16a 

 Recently, I reread the books of, 1st and 2nd Samuel, they are some of my favorites partly because the writer divulges in vivid and sometimes even scandalous detail the good, bad and ugly pieces of David’s life. It is a much-needed reminder that one does not have to be perfect to be a man or woman after God’s own heart.

 Anytime I revisit an old favorite I inevitably see something in the text I never really noticed before. This time it was Joab. In the beginning, he appears to be a bit player in the story of David’s life. However, Joab quickly emerges in 2nd Samuel as a military mastermind and the go-to-guy for all things ethically dubious.

 If there was a morally questionable deed that needed doing, Joab was the man to ask. No one ever had to worry about Joab questioning the morality of the proposed action, or attempting to set them on a more virtuous path (2nd Samuel 11:14-24. Joab just wasn’t that guy.

  Joab did possess a few noble qualities. He was unquestionably loyal to David, a courageous warrior, and a brilliant military strategist. That being said, he was also power-hungry and egocentric. He was driven to control and manipulate the people and circumstances around him. If he had a personal axiom it was probably: “the end justifies the means”. His very best choices were morally questionable. His worst choices were brutal and wicked.

 Joab was not a Bible character Christians ought to model their lives after.

  However, Joab did possess one rather commendable quality. It was a much needed trait in our wishy-washy, never say anything the way it really is, never offend anyone world.

 Joab spoke the truth no matter the cost.

 On at least two occasions Joab was willing to speak truth to power, even when it put his own life in danger. The first time was through the wise woman from Tekoa (2nd Samuel 14:1-13). The woman spoke Joab’s words for him. If David had followed Joab’s counsel and found a way to reconcile with his son while still adequately dealing with his sin, years of war and suffering might have been avoided.

 The second time Joab confronted David was after a hard-won battle with Absalom’s army. David was so grief-stricken over the death of Absalom (his awful son) that he failed to show gratitude to the men who risked their lives to save David’s Kingdom.

 Joab boldly informed David that there were things at stake bigger than his feelings (2nd Samuel 19:1-8)  He advised David to behave like a leader and to start thinking with his head rather than his heart. Joab told David in no uncertain terms to grow up, move past his grief and do what needed to be done. Joab’s truthful but hard words saved the kingdom and perhaps altered the course of Israel’s history.

 Joab’s words and David’s response remind me of some truths that I am sometimes inclined to forget. It’s clear from this story that God sometimes uses even sinful people to communicate critical truths. It is easy to get caught-up in demanding moral perfection from others before we are willing to hear to what they have to say. When this happens we inevitably overlook critical and possibly life changing truths. David’s willingness to hear out a less than perfect messenger reminds us that wise people prayerfully evaluate what others say to them. No matter who they are and what they have done. 

 All that being said, Christians ought strive to be the kind of truth-tellers folks people automatically respond to. Joab’s story reminds me that I should be the kind of person whose actions and attitudes do not get in the way of God’s truth. Joab was a born leader, gifted with incredible insight and the ability to articulate truth in a powerful and life changing way. He was also flaming-hot-mess of a man. Spiritually and morally speaking.

He is a stark reminder that the spiritual impact we have in this world is directly tied to the kind of life we choose to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hearing God

You said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives~ Deuteronomy 5:24 NASB

 Most conversations about hearing the voice of God go in one of two directions. Some confidently claim that they hear from God all the time about every minute detail of their life. God speaks to them audibly on every topic imaginable, from the serious to the mundane.

 These lucky people do not weigh the pros or cons of any decision. They don’t agonize over which job they ought to take or whom they should marry. They don’t even worry about where they should go for dinner. They have all the answers because God tells them exactly what to do all the time.

 On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who awkwardly confess that they have never heard God speak. They read their Bibles and pray on a regular basis but they admit that they have never actually heard from God. These folks typically feel like second-class citizens when compared to the first group. In their most honest and raw moments they wonder if God really loves them or if they are even Christians.

 I believe that God speaks to all of His people at least some of the time. I also believe that there are situations when we don’t hear God’s voice because we have preconceived notions about how we think God will speak. Those biases can interfere with our ability to hear what God is saying. We want (and sometimes even demand) an audible voice when He is intent on using another, more subtle approach to speak into our lives. Following are the most common methods God uses when He has something to say.

 The Bible- Psalm 119:105, 2nd Timothy 3:16

 Contrary to what you might have heard, the Bible is still God’s preferred means of communication with people. God will never tell anyone to do anything that directly contradicts biblical teaching. If you want to hear God speak to you, begin there.

 People- 1st Samuel 25, Acts 17:16-33, 2nd Samuel 12, Judges 1:8-9

 When God wanted David to understand that his craving for vengeance would lead to his destruction, God chose to speak those words through the quiet wisdom of a young woman named Abigail. When God wanted to proclaim the reality of His existence to the people of Athens, He used the words of Paul to communicate that truth. God still uses men and women to communicate truth to one another. For that reason, it is critical that we prayerfully evaluate the encouraging as well as the not-so-encouraging words of our friends, family members, pastors and even the people we don’t really care for. Sometimes when people speak it’s not them speaking, but God speaking through them. We will do well to listen.

 Strong impressions and still small voices- 1st Kings 19: 11-18, Acts 15:28-29, Acts 16:6

 In my experience, God seldom says, “Do this” or “don’t do that.” But he does speak to His people through impressions or a strong sense that we should or should not do something. The only time we should ignore those impressions is when the activity or course of action we are considering violates clear biblical instruction or principles.

 Circumstances- Exodus 2:5-8, Acts 8:1-8

 Little in life is more frustrating than feeling we are being forced into a course of action by circumstances outside of our control. Thankfully these situations are not always the tragedies they seem to be at the time. Sometimes seemingly adverse circumstances are really the just the hand of God guiding us towards His will for our lives.

 I honestly do not know if God talks to some folks more than others. It’s certainly possible; God deals with people as individuals and He is free to do whatever He pleases. I do know that God is good and that He never leaves us alone. I also know that if we need direction He will give it to us, but that direction may not come in the form we are expecting. It is our spiritual responsibility to keep our hearts and spirits open to God’s will in whatever way He chooses to reveal it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Folly of Forsaking Wisdom

 For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it~ Proverbs 8:11 KJV

 I have been tutoring a seven-year-old boy twice a week for a little over a year now. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I help him with his homework and then we work to improve his reading and writing skills. I will not lie-I have a soft spot for Chandler. I think it’s at least partly because he’s a bit eccentric for a second grader. 

 Chandler’s favorite food is Cheez-Its and he dreams of becoming a fighter pilot someday. Chandler knows everything there is to know about airplanes, dolphins and warships. He is convinced that America was the instigator in World War II and is extremely proud of that “fact.” He is unfailingly patriotic, has an offbeat sense of humor, and a uniquely quirky way of viewing the world.

 He also has a tenacious stubborn streak. Because he can be stubborn, motivating him can be a bit of an issue, especially when it comes to handwriting.

 Chandler would rather eat bees than write neatly.

 One afternoon last spring I became desperate. We had ninety minutes and three pages of homework to complete. We also needed to do his reading for the week. Every page of homework was handwriting intensive and Chandler was in no mood to cooperate. I attempted to inspire him with kindness and encouraging words, and he dawdled.  I tried being stern, but that only intensified his level of stubbornness.

 Finally, I made him an offer he would have been a fool to refuse. I offered to give him one piece of candy for every neatly written word. The results were truly miraculous.  The only real downside was that by the time he got half way through the second page he had eaten so much candy I was really scared he would throw-up all over my kitchen table. I gathered my wits enough to have him put the rest of the candy in a bag to eat later. He went home that afternoon with three pages of neatly completed homework and a sandwich baggie stuffed with candy.

 The next week, sweet little Chandler transformed into a greedy overlord. He expected to be rewarded with candy for every single word he wrote. He went home with huge bags of candy after our tutoring sessions. His handwriting improved dramatically, but only when he was with me and only when I paid the little punk off with candy.

 It wasn’t until Chandler suggested that he should get a piece of candy for every properly written letter that I acknowledged my stupidity.  That day I began the painful process of ending the madness. Because I had allowed the insanity to continue for so long, it took almost a month to get things back on track.

 No one would guess from reading this story, but I am not an idiot. I know better than to bribe a child with refined sugar. I know better than to bribe a child with anything. I have better sense than to allow an obstinate, eccentric seven-year-old-boy to run the show. I am well aware of the dangers of allowing bad behavior to persist unchallenged, and yet to my everlasting shame I did all of those things.

Repeatedly.  

 I have decided that this whole silly episode was not really about smart or stupid. It was about wisdom, or in my case an appalling lack of wisdom. My error was in supposing that the problem needed to be solved immediately by any means necessary.

 As I mulled this over, I concluded that many of the missteps we make in life are rooted in the desire to take a short cut to solve a problem or make life easier. Drugs and alcohol are a faster and more comfortable way of dealing with pain than self-examination and change. Bribing a child will get the job done without the effort necessary to build character and self-discipline. Alleviating loneliness with sex does not require the work needed to build healthy lifelong relationships. Cheating takes less effort than learning and yelling is easier than discussing. Casually dismissing God as a myth appears to make life easier and less complicated, but like every short cut it comes with a hefty price-tag.

 The differences between wisdom and reasoning are subtle. Worldly thinking is all about results and so the end always justifies the means. Wisdom understands there is more to a successful outcome than desirable results. Worldly thinking is all about getting the task accomplished. Wisdom is about getting the job done with integrity and in a way that will produce lasting change. Wisdom is the gift that enables us to look down the road and see the consequences of our actions and—if need be—correct our course before we reap an unpleasant harvest.

 

 

Do Something Small

 

Like most women of my generation, I was taught from birth that I could do anything I wanted to do and become anyone I wanted to become. Some of my earliest memories involve my parents reminding me, in almost reverent tones, that if I studied hard and did well in school I could grow up to be a doctor or a scientist or the first female President of the United States.

 To be honest you, all I really wanted to be was a princess (a queen actually). The notion of transforming the world entered my four-year-old thinking.

 Girls were not the only ones in the seventies and eighties encouraged to dream big about life; boys and girls alike were encouraged to think big about their futures. We were often reminded by parents and teachers that we could change the world if we were willing to work hard and dream big for our futures.

 The “think big, dream big” message was not limited to schoolchildren. Fondness for big thinking made its way into the church world around the same time. With the birth of the first megachurch in the 1970s and the success of evangelists like Billy Graham and Rick Warren, every church was advised to grow big and every Christian exhorted to dream big about what God wanted to do with their life.

 As a leader I have been encouraged in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to nurture every ministry I was involved in into something bigger. Bigger was, by definition, always better than anything small. I confess to totally buying into the “bigger is better” way of looking at ministry, until recently when my perspective was challenged in a big way. No pun intended. Well, okay—maybe a little bit of a pun was intended.

 I just finished The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and The Small Thinking that Divides Us by Karl Vaters. To be perfectly truthful, I didn’t really choose to read it. I read it because my senior Pastor bought it for me and e-mailed it to my Kindle. Because he did everything but come over to my house and read it to me I felt obligated to give it a shot. It turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever felt duty-bound to read.

 The writer does not criticize or condemn big churches. He is clear that big churches have their place and meet many legitimate needs within the body of Christ. That said, Vaters does a fantastic job of challenging the notion that bigger is always better. He argues persuasively that the never-ending quest for “butts in seats” and “bucks in the offering” in our churches and ministries has limited our effectiveness because we have been guilty of focusing on increasing our numbers to the exclusion of meeting the spiritual needs of people.

 His views opened up a whole new world of thinking for me. To be perfectly frank most of it was unpleasant and extremely convicting. I was wondered how many Christian leaders (including myself) have been responsible for causing folks to feel that small contributions to the Kingdom are insignificant or even pointless. I also wondered how many precious saints of God have given up on making a difference because they know that they will never be the next Beth Moore or Joel Osteen.

 As I pondered all this, I was struck with the insight that the people who have affected my life the most profoundly are people that most of you have never heard of. The godly men and women who invested in me were not attempting to change the world with their actions but ended up altering my life significantly simply by being obedient to God in the small things.

 It occurred to me that if we would all commit to doing some small things for God really well and really often we might just bring about the changes we have been longing for. So today, in honor of the sweet, mostly overlooked saints who have impacted my life for the better I encourage you to do something small for the Kingdom today. Following is a list of small things you can do that will make a huge difference in someone’s life.

 Babysit for a single Mom

Listen

Make a meal for someone

Forgive someone who hurt you

Visit a shut in

Pray for a stranger

Lead a Bible study

Get to know your neighbors

Share your faith

Volunteer at a school

Commit two hours each week to ministry in your local church

Buy a homeless person a really nice lunch

Invest in the life of a teenager

Initiate a friendship with someone who is different from you

 Recently I heard a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that resounded in my spirit:

 Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service… You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

  Martin Luther King Jr. understood that in God’s economy it’s the small things that make the greatest impact. It’s faithful people with hearts full of grace and souls generated by love, men and women who freely and joyfully do small things in season and out of season, who make the biggest difference and reap the greatest harvest.

 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin~ Zechariah 4:10

The Biggest Lie of Them All

 

At seven years of age, I learned a painful truth about life.

It all started the day I found an advertisement for a super spy periscope on a box of Froot Loops. The ad promised that for only sixty cents and couple of box tops, I could be the proud owner of a Batman periscope that would enable me to see around corners and over walls. The advertisement promised in no uncertain terms to turn me into a super spy.

 I pestered my poor Mother into purchasing the necessary boxes of cereal, saved my money religiously and sent away for the device that was guaranteed to transform me into a super spy.

Six weeks later I learned that people tell lies on the back of cereal boxes.

The periscope was small, only about four inches high, and built out of cheap blue plastic. The people I spied on could easily see my hand as I peered around corners. The “spy glass” was clear plastic that was impossible to see through without straining my eyes. The third time I used it, the plastic pieces literally fell apart in my hand, and the “glass” shattered on the sidewalk. I was devastated. My career as a super spy was over before it began.  

 I have since learned that people lie about all sorts of things. Some lies are innocuous and even amusing—like the time my then-two-year-old daughter Abigail told her Dad that her brother Alex was the one that made the smelly mess in her diaper.

Sadly, the vast majority of lies are less humorous and far more damaging. Political lies are destructive because they mislead the public and pave the way for politicians to create laws and policies that lead us down a path of economic and social destruction.

 The lies we tell ourselves are amongst the most damaging because they keep us from seeing the truth about ourselves and keep us stuck in harmful patterns of behavior. The damage caused by self-deception is enormous, but its destruction pales in comparison to the devastation created by spiritual lies.

 Spiritual lies are becoming increasingly more common. Christians and non-Christians buy into them in equal numbers. Some of the most pernicious spiritual lies of our time include…

 God has loosened up His standards of right and wrong since the New Testament was written.

Asking for forgiveness and repenting are the same thing.

 Running away from hurt and pain is holier than dealing with it.

 God just wants me to be happy.

 By far the biggest, ugliest, most malevolent, fresh-from-the-pit-of-hell spiritual lie of our time is…. (Drumroll please)

 God accepts people just the way they are.

 Every spiritual lie is uniquely harmful and all lies produce their own brand of spiritual chaos. But I believe the “God accepts people just the way they are” lie is exceptionally dangerous—partly because it brushes right up against the truth and then bypasses it entirely.

 The message that God accepts people as they are is one that has been circulating for decades. It started with good intentions: Christians wanted people to understand they didn’t have to be perfect to get right with God. So with the best of intentions we changed our message from…

“You are a sinner and you need to change.  Get your life right with God so that you will have the power to change.

 To…

 “You are awesome just the way you are. However, you would be even better if you had God in your life.”

 The message was well intentioned, but because there is a subtle deception embedded within, it has produced a sad and lifeless shadow of saving faith.

 The truth is that God loves people just the way they are. Loving and accepting are not the same thing. When my kids were born I loved them. I was over the moon with love and affection for my kids. I loved each of them so much that I would have gladly taken a bullet for any one of them. That said, I would not have accepted their remaining infants indefinitely. They were normal, healthy newborns and I fully expected them to mature into more productive people.

 God loves all people—regardless of past choices—with such a passion that He did take a bullet for the entire human race (metaphorically speaking). But God knows us all well enough to recognize that we are not awesome just the way we are.

We see this demonstrated in Jesus’ attitude toward the woman caught in adultery in John chapter eight. Jesus loved the woman enough to rescue her from a perilous situation (she was about to be killed). He loved her enough to forgive her for her sinful lifestyle (she was cheating on her husband). However, Jesus loved her too much to leave her the way she was. His parting words to her were a powerful call to transformation and life change: 

 Go now and leave your life of sin~ John 8:11 NIV

 The call to transformation is not just for new believers and people caught up in sinful lifestyles; it’s for all of us. Christianity is more than a religion, and it’s more than a just a relationship.

Christianity is a journey of transformation.

 It is a priceless opportunity to be molded into the image of the Maker of the universe. In order for this to happen, we have to stop fearing what we will lose through obedience. We must accept the fact that God wants something better for each and every one of us, no matter where we are in the journey.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Five Mistakes Even the Best Mothers Make

Having a young child in our home for the first time in nearly a decade has driven me to do and think about things I haven’t thought about or done in a very long time. Things like chore charts and discipline methods, dance lessons, parent teacher nights, Disney movies, themed birthday parties, homework, sleepovers (ugh), and the social politics of fifth-grade girls (more ugh).  

I read parenting books compulsively and am far more attuned the parenting I see going on around me. I will shamelessly ask anyone I meet who has adopted or fostered an older child for advice. My hope is that I will glean some wisdom and insight that will empower me to maneuver this latest challenge God has placed in my life.

One question I typically ask Mothers of older kids is:

Is there anything at all you wish you could do over?

 Even the Mothers I have admired most confess at least a few things they wish they had done differently. After countless conversations I have concluded that even the best mothers would like a second chance in at least some areas. Following are five mistakes even the best Mothers make:

 Failing to become a student of your child-

 Many of the older Mothers I have spoken with deeply regret not understanding who their kids really were and imposing their own goals on their kids. I am convinced that the number one responsibility of a Mother is to assist her child in knowing and understanding him or herself. Kids need to be aware of their strengths as well as their weaknesses.  It is not a Mother’s job to decide what a child should do and then guide them toward her goals for their lives, but rather to observe her kids and help them to dream dreams and form goals based on their own unique talents and abilities.

 Thinking bad behaviors are cute-

 Intense competitiveness, smart mouthing, nitpickiness, precociousness with the opposite sex, melodrama and enhancing the truth can be oddly charming on adorable little children. Those same actions become less charming and even offensive when you’re dealing with an older kid or an adult. The next time your little cutie gets cozy with the boy or girl next door, saunters out in a skimpy ensemble, demands they win for the hundredth time, tells you a whopper of a tale, or says something saucy, try and imagine what that behavior might look like on a fourteen-year-old. Any seasoned Mom will tell you that it’s easier to break a habit in a child than in a teenager

Disregarding the spiritual-

 Every human being has a dark side. It’s our nature. Belief in the God of the Bible has helped keep the ugly side of humankind in check for eons. Taking your kid to church and teaching them to apply Christian principles to their lives will go a long way in helping to keep narcissism, greed, violent tendencies, and self-interest from spiraling out of control in future years.

 Not finding out what they really think-

 Even the best Moms can be guilty of telling kids what to think rather than finding out what and why they think what they think. When we push our views without listening to theirs we drive wrong thinking underground where the wrong thinking becomes embedded in their character. Ask questions to discover what your kids believe about issues. Don’t jump to correct every little thing they say or they will shut down and stop talking. Instead, ask them further questions about why they think what they think and then gently help them see the eventual end game of a faulty belief system.

 An unwillingness to change your mind or admit wrong-

 Admitting we got something wrong and changing course in front of our kids is one of the most uncomfortable and humbling things in the world. We have to do it on occasion because it is extraordinarily prideful and foolish not to. It’s not as if they won’t figure out on their own that we don’t actually know everything. Kids desperately need role models who are willing to humble themselves, apologize when wrong and change course when necessary.

 One truth I am relearning is that good parenting is not really about being perfect (whew!). Good parenting is about loving our kids enough to help them discover who they really are and what they might be good at. It’s about modeling grace and humility. Good parenting is about looking ahead at what present behavior might eventually become and loving our kids enough to educate them about the God who loves them even more than we do.