What You Can Do to Make the Church Great Again

 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love~ Galatians 5:13 NIV

 The whole concept of the church is a strange one if you think about very deeply at all.

 Most organizations and institutions are founded by, led by and maintained by people who, for the most part, hail from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, have same types of upbringings and live in the same kinds of communities.

 Not so in the church.

 From its inception the church was filled with men and women from every tribe, tongue, education level and social class imaginable (Acts 2:5-12, 1stTimothy 6:2, Galatians 3:28, James 2:1-4, 1stCorinthians 12:13, Revelation 7:9).  The Church was intended from the very beginning to be a place where societal norms are challenged at every turn.

 God designed the church to be a place where serving is favored over being served (Matthew 23:1), where the weak are every bit as cherished as the strong and where each member is working for the good of every other member. Church is where every follower of Jesus regardless of age, race, gender or social position is equal and equally loved by God (Galatians 3:28). 

 All that being said, the distinctive design of the church has created some distinctive problems. For one thing, many people struggle to define exactly what the church is and how it should operate. Our culture (and most Christians) tend to believe that church is a location. A specific place that we go to hear spiritual messages and do spiritual things.

 The Bible depicts the church as a body, a living entity, made up of a whole lot of distinct parts that form a whole (1stCorinthians 12:12-27).  The church is not a building it is people who have been transformed by the power of the gospel and set free from the bondage of sin and death to preach the gospel and do good in this world.  

 Because we ARE the church, churches function best when each person in the church sees themselves as the church. Conversely, churches tend to be the least functional when the people in the church view church as simply a place we go once or twice a week to hear spiritual messages.

 There are at least five things each of us can do to be the church in our day-to-day lives including:

 Deal with bitterness-

 The Bible makes it clear that bitterness is something Christians must avoid at all costs. (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness has a corrupting effect on people making them unfit for Christian service (Acts 8:22-24). Moreover, bitterness has an infectious quality, it spreads like a germ from the bitter person to the people around them (Hebrews 12:15). We deal with bitterness by forgiving the people who have hurt us and letting go of our anger towards them (Colossians 3:13). This not easy, nor is it typically something that happens all at once. Rather, it is usually a process that takes time and prayer to achieve.

 Encourage the right way-

 Over and over again New Testament believers are commanded to encourage one another (2ndCorinthians 13:11, 1stThessalonians 4:18, Hebrews 3:13) Contrary to popular belief an encourager is more than simply a cheerleader who goes around telling people how awesome they are all time.  Encouragers do make an effort to notice and comment on the good they see in other people. However, biblical encouragers understand that encouragement is the act of inspiring others to be the best version of themselves that they can be (1stThessalonians 5:11, Colossians 3:16). Sometimes this means giving generous and heartfelt praise for a job well done. Other times it means gently correcting and admonishing those who are not living up to the potential they have in Jesus (1stThessalonians 5:14).  

 Be more than a doer-

 These days there is a huge emphasis placed on being a doer of the word of God. We are told that authentic love for Jesus is reflected in what we do for other people in Jesus name. For the record, I do not disagree with that view in the slightest. However, the only way we can know for certain if we are really doing what God wants us to do for others is if we know what He says in His word (Psalm 119:05). The only way to know what the word says is to study it.

 Love one another-

  I will not lie. I debated about whether or not to include this one. Not because I don’t think love is important or critical to the health of the church (it is).  Rather, I struggled because I think the definition of love we have adopted in the church is rather milk-toasty and uninspiring. Authentic biblical love does more than help people feel good about where they are at right now. Authentic biblical love loves people where they are (Matthew 5:46) and tells the truth about the consequences of sin (Ephesians 4:17, Acts 17:30).   

  Find a local body and contribute what you can-

You are the church but you also need the church. Find one where the pastor values the word and where the people love each other and get involved. God will be pleased (3rdJohn 1:4), you will grow and the church will become stronger (Romans 12).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Truth Matter Anymore?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Seriously. Is that even a thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 There’s nothing loving about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Signs the World Has a Hold on You

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them~ 1st John 2:15 NIV

 I did not grow up in anything even remotely close to a Christian home. Our home was so un-Christian that I can count on one hand the number of times I attended a church for any reason at all prior to reaching adulthood.

 As a result I was tragically ignorant of all things Christian.

 Following my conversion to Christianity as a young adult, I did my level best to expand my biblical knowledge base. My quest to gain understanding involved a lot of church attendance, going to Bible studies and attending Christian conferences.

 The flurry of activity helped in some ways but hurt in others. It increased my overall knowledge of the Bible. However, it also led me to believe that the Bible said some things it actually didn’t say; for example, at one point I was shocked to discover that the phrase “be in the world, but not of it” was not actually a Bible verse but rather a pithy little saying the American church adopted as truth sometime around the turn of the 20th century.

 Since the early days of my Christian experience, the church and the people in it have changed a great deal. For one thing, there is far less emphasis placed on the dangers of “worldliness” and more of an emphasis placed on the need for Christians to love people unconditionally.

 It is true that loving people is something that pleases Jesus (Matthew 5:44, Mark 12:30-31, John 3:16). At least until our love devolves into sloppy sentimentalism or a focus on feelings rather than the state of a person’s soul. That kind of love is closer to what the Bible calls “loving the world” rather than truly loving people.

 We “love the world” when we take our cues about how to live, love and function from the world’s system rather than from the Bible (Romans 12:2). It’s shockingly easy for Christians to love the world without even knowing it.

 Following are five ways Christians love the world and leave true faith behind:

 We love the world when we hate on the people in the church-

 Jesus promised us that the world would hate the church (John 15:19). He did not promise that the church would hate its own members. It almost goes without saying that the church in America has some serious issues and is in need of reform. It’s also true that some Christians have driven people away from the church with hypocrisy, perversely high standards, bad attitudes and extra-biblical expectations. However, that does not make it okay for Christians to hate on other Christians, as some have taken to doing. It’s no wonder unbelievers don’t want to give church a chance when Christians are so critical of those in the church.

 We love the world when we refuse to call sin  sin-

 There is no clearer indicator we have become far too comfortable with the world than when we accept the world’s standard of morality. In many Christian circles it is now considered offensive to even hint that behaviors like divorce, drug use, homosexuality (1st Timothy 1:9-11), promiscuity and drunkenness (among others) are sinful. The effect of relaxing our standards has been dramatic. Many believers no longer feel shame, or even regret, over actions the Bible clearly calls shameful and society is devolving into a chaotic muddle due to our lack of moral leadership.  

 We love the world when we use love as a cover for inaction or silence regarding the dangers of sin-

 Our current definition of love has morphed into something early Christians never would have imagined. Love has become a justification for silence, spiritual inertia and the tolerance of every kind of evil behavior. We have forgotten that biblical love speaks the truth and tirelessly promotes righteousness (Ephesians 4:15).

 We love the world when we wallow in its behaviors and use “fitting in” as an excuse to continue wallowing-

 Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not call Christians to “fit into” society (Romans 12:2). Christians are told to stand out and be different, at times to the point of peculiarity (1st Peter 2:9). The moment we begin to conform to the world, we cease to be effective at what God has called us to do (Matthew 28:16-20, Matthew 5:13-16)

 We love the world when we make our entertainment choices an idol we refuse to let go of-

 There was a time in the recent past when most Christians shunned secular entertainment out of fear that it would adversely affect their behavior and attitudes. They feared worldly entertainment would make them too much like “the world”. For the most part, Christians have lost that fear and now the people in the church look more like the people in the world than at any other time in church history. We need to start being real with ourselves about what we’re watching and how it affects our ability to think and reason in a Christian way. If we wouldn’t watch it with Jesus in the room, it won’t make us any more spiritual or bring us any closer to Jesus.

Period.  

 

 

 

 

 

Should Christians and Non-Christians be Friends?

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

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

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

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

 I will begin with the presumptions.

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

 He didn’t.

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

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

Its’ simply not true.

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

 And finally:

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

We are not Jesus.

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

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

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

 

What We Can Do to Change the Church

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. ~ Ephesians 5:8-10 NIV

Pretty much every Christian in the Western World agrees that Christianity is in a steady state of decline.  

Most blame the decline of Christianity on shallow teaching that is entirely focused on reaching unsaved people rather than teaching and training the already converted to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Others blame our problems on a lack of relationship (and accountability) in local churches. Still others blame a lack of opportunity to serve the underserved in their communities. All Christians are alarmed by the churches seeming inability to preserve morality and decency in the culture (Matthew 5:13-16).

 None of these concerns are without merit.

 In previous posts I have placed (directly or indirectly) much of the blame for the decline we find ourselves in on church leaders. I believe this is fair. Leaders lead. Consequently, if something is headed in the wrong direction the people running the show ought to take their fair share of the blame.

 However,

 I have served in enough leadership positions in enough churches to know that church has become just another product that we consume in this culture. I also know that most Pastors will tell you that recent changes in how church is done have been almost entirely consumer driven. Pastors are simply giving people what they say, through their words and actions, they want in church.

 Anytime we are unhappy with anything we ought to take a hard look at our own habits and attitudes, to see if we are somehow contributing to the problems vexing us. If we want change we have to be willing to change. So today I would like to offer five simple changes we could all make that could impact Christianity (and the culture) significantly.

 First:

 Show up- Hebrews 10:25

 Seriously. The average self-identified “committed churchgoer” only goes to church 1.2 times a MONTH. Most of us go to Costco more than we go to church. This is extremely discouraging to Pastors. The lack of committed attendance leads many Pastors to assume (rightly in my opinion) that their congregants are shallow believers who can’t (or don’t want to) handle the deeper truths of Scripture. It also sends the message to less mature believers that church attendance is irrelevant.

 Let go of your “rights”- 1st Corinthians 8:9

 In recent years many Christians have become very open about partaking in activities that fall neatly into the category of “gray area issues” (you can decide for yourself what I mean by that). This has made many pastors reluctant to preach on certain subjects out of fear of riling-up the saints and clearing out the church. The Bible teaches that mature believers are prepared to let go of their “rights” if that thing (whatever it may be) causes discord, hurt or confusion to anyone (1st Corinthians 8:7-9:22, Romans 14:13-15:1). Christians who live for themselves (rather than the good of others) are causing conflict in the church and destroying the reputation of Christianity. That needs to change.

Attend a Bible study- Acts 17:2, Acts 17:11

 In recent years many churches have dropped Sunday school classes and Bible studies. Typically this is due to a lack of interest and/or turnout. Trust me on this one. If there is a demand, there will be opportunities.

 Serve– Ephesians 2:10

 You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. Nonetheless I suspect we all spend at least a couple hours a week playing games and perusing social media on our phones. That time ought to be put to better use. Offer to teach the third grade Sunday school class, take a turn at nursery duty, serve in the food pantry, clean the church or lead a Bible study. Find out where and how you can serve, and then serve. I am convinced that Christians ought to tithe on their time as well as their money. If more did, it would literally be a spiritual game changer in our churches and communities.

 Pray for your Pastor- Romans 15:30, 2nd Corinthians 1:10-11, 1st Timothy 2:8, Colossians 4:2

 Pray that your Pastor will have the wisdom to lead well. Pray they will see biblical truth clearly and teach it with clarity and power. Pray they will have insight into the spiritual issues behind the worldly problems in our churches. Do not talk to them about any concerns you have until you have prayed and fasted about your concerns for at least two weeks. This will prepare both of you for the dialogue.

 I said at the beginning of this series that we all bear some responsibility for the state the church is in today. It’s time for all of us to collectively examine our hearts to see what we can do as individuals to change the direction of the church.

 

 

 

Breaking Free From Regret


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

 Regret is a tough topic.

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

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

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

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

 That said.

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

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

 The first is…

 Own what you need to own-

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

 Change what you can change-

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

Make right what needs to be made right-

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Lies We Believe about Words

Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing. Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed~ Proverbs 12:18-19 NLT

 Words.

 There is certainly no scarcity of the little trouble-makers in our modern age. We are literally inundated with all kinds of words. I was recently reminded that the words we speak really do make a difference. Most of the words floating around today fall into one of two classifications:

 Life giving and soul sucking:

Life giving words are instructive, helpful and motivating. They are literally like honey to the soul (Proverbs 16:24). They build others up rather than tearing them down. Life giving words remind people in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways that we are the image-bearers of God and that our existence matters to Him. A life-giving word from a friend is sometimes all it takes to begin the process of healing a hurt or restoring a wandering soul. Life giving words make people feel cared for and confident about the role they play in this world. Life-giving words motivate us to become better versions of ourselves and propel us to accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible.

 Conversely, soul-sucking words tear others down and crush the life out of people (Proverbs 12:18). Soul-sucking words can be either cruel and insensitive or deceptive and misleading. Cruel and insensitive words are spoken selfishly with little thought to how they will affect the hearer. Alas, cruel and insensitive words are sometimes the words that stick with us the longest and make the most impact on how we see ourselves. Insults, name-calling, cursing and general cattiness all fall neatly into the category of soul-sucking speech.

 Deceptive words are by definition tougher to spot; they can come in the form of outright lies, twisting truth, gossip and backstabbing. Deceptive words sometimes sound legitimately wholesome and innocuous, at least on the surface. Sometimes they even come across as wise and life giving. However, because any wisdom embedded in this type of speech is worldly (false). Deceptive words eventually lead all involved down a path of destruction.

 Christians typically place a high value on words, and for a myriad of really good reasons. God has quite a lot to say on the subject. The Bible contains hundreds of verses instructing God’s people on the correct and incorrect use of words.

 Nonetheless.

 There are some serious errors floating around Christian circles concerning the right and wrong use of words.

 Many believers have bought into some erroneous and rather absurd beliefs where speech is concerned. This flawed thinking is quickly becoming embedded in much of our Christian culture. Many are being deceived, discipleship has become compromised and, in some cases, our ability to share the gospel and communicate truth to the world has been diminished.

 The first lie says that in order for a message or word to be life giving the words communicated must be “nice”, “encouraging” or “uplifting” to the hearer or reader. Those who have bought into this lie reject out of hand any message or statement that causes the hearer of said statement to feel guilty or uncomfortable about anything at all.

 If we assume this ridiculous notion to be true then logically Christians need to get busy throwing out huge chunks of the Bible. This would include most of the Prophets, many of the Proverbs and vast portions of New Testament books. This would include parts of the Gospels, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd Timothy, Jude and Revelation based on the fact that these books contain warnings that are far from “nice” ‘encouraging” and/or “uplifting” (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:43-47, 1st Corinthians 6:9, Ephesians 5:5, Hebrews 6:4-6, 2nd Peter 2:4). 

The second lie is essentially the converse of the first lie, that it is somehow more “authentic” or “real” to say what needs to be said in the bluntest and in some cases rudest way possible. Those who have bought into this drivel confuse political correctness with respect and believe that the only honest speech is raw speech. In my experience “raw speech” or “honest speech” is frequently just a thin cover for intentionally aggressive and cruel speech.

 Truth lies somewhere in the middle and, as always, there is wisdom in striving for balance. Ephesians 4:15 is the gold standard of instruction concerning Christian speech, it instructs Christians to tell people the truth about their choices (truth can be unpleasant and hard to hear) in a loving way (which is incredibly tough to do) and that those two things are how we help people to grow into Christian maturity and the image of Jesus Christ.

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.