Will Churches Survive the COVID-19 Crisis?

 Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching- Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV

  I hate COVID-19.

  I hate the trouble, awkwardness and expense this idiotic infection has created for the whole world. I despise the suspicion I see in people’s eyes at the grocery store. I hate the look of panic I see when people realize they have accidently broken social-distancing rules. I hate that I feel the need to reassure people who are clearly terrified I am going to scream at them I am not afraid of them. I despise the cold plastic walls we’ve erected everywhere.  I hate that COVID-19 has made it clear to me that I am still in desperate need of sanctification as revealed by the level of aggressiveness and cynicism I feel about this whole thing.

 I also hate what the virus is doing to the body of Christ. In the early days of the pandemic I wondered if Coronavirus might turn out to be a net-positive for the church. In some ways, it has been. Many once apathetic Christians are seeking God on a deeper level and praying more and harder than they’ve ever prayed in their lives (Revelation 3:15-17). Sales of devotionals are up and Bible aps have seen a marked increase in users. The forced separation from church family has made many believers more grateful for their local Church and the community it provides. These are clear wins for the church.

 However.

 It’s not all sunshine and roses in church world. Online attendance of services was good early on but there’s been a sharp decline in recent weeks. Some have made online commitments to Jesus. However due to circumstances beyond their control leaders have been unable to follow-up on those people in a meaningful way. Sadly, most of those baby believers are MIA. Even some mature Christians have lost connection with their church family. Some have taken to bouncing from online service to online service. Churches are closed almost everywhere. In some areas they will stay closed for the foreseeable future.  Some Christian leaders have begun to hold what are essentially illegal gatherings. A few have even been arrested for doing so. More moderate Christians cite Romans 13:1-7 and contend it’s simply wrong to disobey government authority. Other Christians have decided that online church is just as good as meeting together in person. They believe Christians should be content to worship alone in their homes until the authorities give us permission to do otherwise.

 What is a Christian to do?

 The church is not a building (1st Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 3:6). The church is individual people from divergent backgrounds and races who come together to make up a living, breathing organism called the body of Christ. (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).  No one has to attend church in a building to be a Christian.  However, it could be argued that one very effective, albeit slow way to kill a body, especially a spiritual body is to separate the parts.

 It is not healthy, wise or biblical to replace the freedom, fellowship, accountability and warmth of in-person meetings with technology. There is no accountability with a computer screen. Sin, bad doctrine and complacency all breed in secret.  Furthermore, the longer one goes without church the easier it is to forget that Christians are commanded to meet together on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:25).

 That being said, law-breaking should never be our go-to as Christians.

 Therefore, if you live in an area that’s prohibited church gatherings, it is imperative you exhaust every legal avenue available to get the right restored. Contact the office of your governor, state senators and legislators as quickly as possible. POLITLEY, GRACIOUSLY and RESPECTFULLY ask for an exception for churches on large gathering bans. Use Daniel’s interactions with Arioch in Daniel 1:1-8-16 as a guide for dealing with government officials. If your church is granted an exemption, members and leaders should cheerfully follow any and all rules mandated by the state (masks, hand-washing, social distancing, hand sanitizer stations). Every rule should be followed to the letter. Even if people believe the rules are stupid and/or unnecessary.  This isn’t about what we think or feel. It’s about the greater good.

 In the meantime, Pastors and church leaders must assume the current situation will continue for a while or will return sometime in the future. Pastors should develop systems to train lay-leaders so they are able to provide teaching, support, accountability, fellowship and pastoral care to groups of fewer than ten. Even if the system is unnecessary at this time this will not be the last outbreak of COVID-19, so it will probably prove useful in the future.

  Individual Christians should realize the current situation is part of a much bigger spiritual battle and do everything in their power to build themselves up in the faith. Bible reading, prayer and daily self-examination are not optional activities for Christians at this moment in history (Matthew 26:41, 2nd Corinthians 13:5).

 They are our greatest need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the Courage and Strength to Forgive a Big Hurt-

If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses- Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV

Let’s be real. 

Hard things are hard and Christianity demands a LOT of hard things of Christians. Christians are called to love the most unlovable of people (Luke 6:27), and exercise self-control in the most unjust of circumstances (Romans 12:17-19, 1st Peter 3:17). Christians are even expected to do good things to and for people who mistreat them (Matthew 5:44). 

Perhaps the hardest of all the hard things Christians are called to do is to forgive those who sin against us. 

The New Testament passages that mandate total forgiveness are insanely comprehensive and leave no legitimate wiggle-room for compromise (Matthew 18:21-35, Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13, 1st Peter 2:18-21). These requirements go so far as to teach that our being forgiven by God hinges on our willingness to forgive others.  Furthermore, Hebrews 12:15 tells us that if unforgiveness is allowed to harden into bitterness that bitterness will not just defile (taint, corrupt, ruin) the bitter person but the people they love as well. 

Sigh. 

Over the course of the last fifteen years or so I have been “blessed” with several “opportunities” to forgive people who really did not deserve to be forgiven. Mostly because few of them were actually sorry for what they did. These were not small slights like having my feelings hurt, being overlooked in a social situation or being ignored by someone I felt should care about me. Each experience was extremely personal and painful.  I am not going to share the details of any of them. All you really need to know is that all the situations demanded more of me than I honestly thought I was capable of giving at the time. 

Through that I learned that there are steps that must be followed for the process of forgiveness to work itself out. If any aspects of the process is skipped or glossed over the forgiveness will be incomplete and our feelings towards the person who hurt us will harden into bitterness. 

 Following are some steps to forgiving others. They don’t have to be done in a particular order but they all have to be done. It all starts with: 

Recognize that forgiveness is a process rather than an event- 

Forgiving really big offenses is rarely, if ever, a one and done. Forgiveness begins with the choice to forgive. However, that choice must be followed by a commitment to do the work necessary to truly move on from the hurt. The length of time it takes to work through the process depends on many things including the level of hurt involved and the maturity of the person who was hurt. 

Ask God to help you-

Any reasonably mature adult can forgive a social slight or a minor offense easily.  However, there are some hurts and offenses so grievous that even the most spiritually mature people cannot forgive them without God’s help.  

Allow yourself to feel the impact of the hurt-

Anytime I hear someone who has just experienced a hurt at the hands of an evil person say “I forgive them”. My heart breaks for that person because I know they aren’t Jesus and Jesus is the only person who ever lived who is truly capable of forgiving an act of evil without first sorting through their feelings about the situation (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness is hard because it is the act of surrendering the right we all feel we have to hold people accountable for sinning against us. Because feeling the impact of hurt is painful it is tempting to simply utter the words “I forgive” without counting the cost and really working through how we feel about the person who hurt us. If we skip this step we will likely find that the feelings of forgiveness do not last long.    All that being said, it is critical that we don’t get stuck in this step because if we do bitterness is inevitable. 

Find a person to help you process- 

God designed the human race in such a way that people need people (Genesis 2:18). Christians are commanded to comfort the hurting and to mourn with those who mourn (2nd Corinthians 1:3-5, 1st Thessalonians 2:11-12, Romans 12:15). No one needs comfort more or is mourning harder than someone who is processing a huge injustice.  If you are hurting find a Christian counselor, Pastor or mature Christian friend who can walk you through the process. If you happen to be in a good place right now be the person who helps someone when they need comfort. 

Pray daily for the person who hurt you- 

Pray God blesses the person who hurt you. Ask God to make them more self-aware so they will know how their actions are affecting others.  Ask God to do whatever needs to be done in their lives for them to grow into the best version of themselves possible (Luke 6:28). Keep praying those prayers until you feel freed from any bitterness you feel towards the person who hurt you. 

Forgiveness is never easy and almost always painful but it is worth the pain because unforgiveness makes it impossible for us to grow and change.  Authentic forgiveness frees us from the mental bondage of thinking about the person who hurt us all the time. This frees us up to focus on the things that will empower us to become the people God wants us to be and freedom is worth it.   

Seven Practical Things Christians Can Do to Push Back the Darkness-

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed- John 3:20 NIV

I have not been cursed with a ton of vices. 

Drugs, alcohol, and gambling are not enormous temptations for me. Nor am I into video games, binge eating, hoarding, porn or nicotine. I do sometimes use shopping as a stress release. However, I hate credit card debt slightly more than I love shopping so the odds I will morph into a full-blown shopping addict are fairly slim.   

Politics is my vice. 

Much to the chagrin of my far less politically minded husband, I follow political parties the way a gaming addict follows NFL teams and a gambling addict follows the ponies. The Presidential elections are my super bowl and I begin gearing up for them a good two years prior to the actual election. 

 As a history geek I am fascinated by the reality that democracy is a relatively new development in human government, having only existed as we know it for a few hundred years.  In my nerdier moments (there are many) I like to ponder the evolution of politics and government. As a Christian I am intrigued by the fact that in our system the election of a single person often has an enormous impact on the political, economic and moral landscape of our nation, sometimes for decades. 

Unfortunately, I can fall into the trap of thinking that if the right person or group of people get elected the outcome will magically alter the moral landscape of our country permanently.  Recently, I came heard a quote that threw a truth grenade on the folly of my thinking: 

We are not seeing terrible things in our culture because we vote the wrong way. We are seeing terrible things in our culture because men love darkness more than light-Voddie Baucham

It is a sad fact that people love darkness more than they love light (John 3:19). At the heart of every “hot-button” issue we are dealing with as a culture is a powerful battle between right and wrong, light and darkness, good and evil. If hearts are changed political and moral views will change too. Changing hearts is way above any of our pay grades. Changing hearts is God’s job. However, the Bible is clear that individuals do have influence over others and there are things that can be done to push back the darkness.

Beginning with:

Prayer-

No one should talk about prayer or extol the virtues of prayer unless they are taking time out of their day to actually pray (1st Thessalonians 5:17, Matthew 26:41).  Christians should pray because prayer has the power to change things. More importantly prayer changes our attitudes towards people and it makes our hearts soft towards God.  

Get some theology- 

The whole notion of holding tightly to beliefs concerning God, the Bible and life has been scoffed at inside and outside the church in recent years. Some well-known pastors have publicly criticized Christians who place a high value on Bible study.  The Apostle Paul’s proclamation that “knowledge puffs up” has been taken out of context so many times that most people do not realize that the apostle was referring to knowledge concerning a specific issue (idols).  Christians have been told repeatedly that all they need to do to effectively live out their Christian faith is love God and people.  Believing that “love” is all Christians need to communicate Christ effectively is a tragically immature understanding of both Christianity and love (1st Peter 3:15). Our post-Christian world does not define the word love by a biblical standard. Therefore it is impossible to know how to love God or love people without theology as our guide. We should get in the habit of asking ourselves what the Bible says about every issue and then study the Bible to know the answers (2nd Peter 1:3-9, Proverbs 18:15). 

Live right-

Holy or righteous living is one of the most misunderstood issues our time. There are actual church-going people who believe it is legalistic to expect Christians to live by the standards laid out for us in the New Testament. It’s not. Holy living is what gives Christians credibility and the right to speak out concerning the issues of our day (1stCorinthians 1:2, Ephesians 5:3, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, Hebrews 12;14).  

Serve

If we want to push back the darkness it is critical we serve in our local church. Christians should volunteer to do whatever needs to be done at their church and work to make their local church as strong and healthy as possible. It is equally important Christians find creative ways to serve those outside the church. This is done best when we become intentional about getting to know the people in our neighborhoods and workplaces.  

Vote wisely-

I know I already made it clear that I don’t think politics are the answer to our problems. That said, if Christians vote for leaders who openly embrace darkness we should not be surprised when our world suddenly becomes a darker place. 

Don’t be a jerk-

Seriously. There are enough self-righteous blowhards wandering free. The world does not need even one more. Love God. Live the way you are supposed to live, speak the truth boldly but lovingly and don’t worry about what the rest of the world does with the truth. God will deal with the sinners in this world when the time is right (Romans 2:5-6, Hebrews 9:27, Revelations 14:7). 

Don’t waver- 

Learn the Bible. Set shamelessly biblical standards for yourself. Live by those standards and beliefs and do not allow the culture persuade you to do anything else. 

How the Twisting of History Creates Social Unrest –

These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants~ Esther 9:28 

Not long ago, the freshman Congresswoman from Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib, explained to an interviewer that when she thinks about the holocaust she experiences a “calming feeling”. Ms. Tlaib expounded by saying she feels “heartened” by the knowledge that the Palestinian people worked hard and made many sacrifices to create a safe haven for the Jews after the holocaust.

Any fool with access to even a poorly written history book knows that Ms. Tlaib, is best case scenario ignorant of some key facts and, worst case scenario is intentionally rewriting some elementary points of history. It is true that that the Palestinian people did make room for the Jews after World War II ended. However, it is also true that the Palestinian people did not do this willingly, joyfully or without a fight.  Another key detail being omitted by Ms. Tlaib is that the Palestinian leader (mufti) at the time (Amin al-Hussenini) was a staunch ally of Hitler and hardly a gleeful advocate of a Jewish homeland. 

The Holocaust is not the only historical event or movement being retold from a less than honest perspective these days. Communism has also gotten a complete makeover  Gone are the historical accounts of gulags, propaganda crusades, starvation campaigns, nepotism and genocide. The evils of Communism have been retold as a Scandinavian success story whose reputation has been sullied by a few bad actors in some Eastern bloc countries (Soviet Union, Romania, East Germany, etc.) who failed to implement a righteous movement properly.  As a result, the horrors of communism have been largely forgotten and it is now cool light things on fire and demand the extinction of capitalism.  

In the United States there is a movement afoot to erase all details of any unpleasantness from early American history. Statues commemorating the Civil War have been torn down and the names of those Founding Fathers who owned slaves have been removed from schools and official buildings. History curriculums have been rewritten to focus only on the negative facets of early American leaders who owned slaves or held views that are now discredited.  

History is being twisted.   

In some instances (as with the Civil War statues) the twisting is done in the name of ensuring that no tender soul is triggered by some unpleasant historical fact. This is a noble but deeply misguided desire. It is impossible to learn anything from a history we are ignorant of. The whole truth about history must be told to prevent it from being repeated.  We need society to grow from the mistakes made by our ancestors. Furthermore, it is critical we judge historical figures in the context of their time rather than ours. It is perfectly reasonable to wonder how a rational human being could possibly think it was okay to own another person. That said, our generation would be wise to stop being so ridiculously patronizing and scornful of previous generations.  We should be much more cautious about judging those long dead for actions and attitudes that were culturally accepted and legally permitted during their lifetime. There is a plethora of culturally accepted and perfectly legal behaviors in our time that history may judge our generation harshly for in the future. 

Seriously. 

 I suspect there are also some less-than honorable reasons for the whitewashing of 20thcentury history. Regular readers of this blog know that I work hard to avoid conspiracy theories that are unprovable. That said, I cannot help but wonder why so many people seem so intent on painting horrible political movements of the past in a positive light. It seems to me that it is plausible that some (perhaps not all) of those folks are hoping the uneducated masses will forget the past and willingly riot and fight for political change previous generations shed blood to keep from taking root.  If voters were to forget the catastrophes of past governmental and social movements it would give opportunists the chance to grasp power and alter the political and economic landscape of Western civilization in a way that might just be irrevocable. An actual conspiracy-theorist might even argue that history is being scrubbed of the facts by power hungry politicians in a deliberate effort to mislead those too lazy to fact-check down paths we may never return from if we go down them.

Sigh.

There has never been a time when it was more important for wise, thinking people to know history, teach their children history and to be willing to call out those who are attempting to rewrite history. 

Our liberty, religious freedom and civilization might just depend on it. 

Why the Pro-life Movement Has not Changed Many Minds

 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools~ Romans 1:20-22 NIV

I am profoundly and deeply pro-life.

 One of the earliest convictions I experienced as a new Christian was the belief that God Himself is the author and giver of human life. Because God is the giver of life human life should always be protected and nurtured by God’s people.

 I have also walked the pro-life talk.

 I am the mother of four children. One of those children is adopted. I have worked or served in nearly every area of the pro-life movement. My husband and I have sat on the boards of countless pro-life organizations and I worked for three years as the director of a Pregnancy Help Center.  I have marched in the marches, handed out the info and organized various fundraising rallies, walks and banquets. I have cried with anxious and hurting women who were experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

 I do not say all that to boast or to make myself sound better than I really am. There are many in the pro-life movement who have worked harder, done more and been far more faithful to the cause than I have been. Rather, I say all that so that readers will understand exactly how brokenhearted I was when I heard the horrific details of the New York state abortion bill that was signed into law on the 46thanniversary of Roe vs. Wade.  The law effectively legalizes abortion up until the very moment of birth for any and all reasons. It allows midwives, physician assistants and nurses to perform abortions. The law also repeals all legal protections for babies born alive after a failed abortion (it happens).

 The passing of this law broke my heart, and not just for the children who will surely die because of it. I was devastated because I fear this law is proof-positive that the pro-life movement has failed to do the very thing it was formed to do.

  In the forty-six years since Roe vs. Wade became law science has effectively proven two things. First, a fetus is human. Secondly, human life begins at the point of conception. Pro-abortion zealots with even an ounce of intellectual integrity freely concede those two facts.

  Nonetheless.

 Abortion is still legal and dreadfully common. Abortion has also become weirdly fashionable. The number of abortions in America has increased in recent years; and there are now online forums where women talk about their abortions proudly, as a badge of honor rather than a sad chapter in their life.  When Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York bill into law he received a standing ovation from the senate. The city of New York celebrated this “landmark legislation” by lighting up the World Trade Center in pink lights. New York is not the first state in the union to ratify a similar law.

 Sigh.

 Good, God-fearing people have fought the pro-life fight for nearly half a century and abortion is still legal and anything but rare. Furthermore, according to the Pew Research Center the majority of Americans (fifty-eight percent) sincerely believe that abortion should be legal in all or most situations. Thankfully, most (eighty percent) are still civilized enough to believe that third trimester abortions should not happen. That said, most believe abortion should be legal and widely available to anyone who thinks they need one.

 It’s time we asked ourselves why.

 Here’s the thing. I sincerely believe that the problem does not lie with what people know about abortion. The problem lies with how people feel about abortion. Everybody knows it’s a baby.  Even the morally bankrupt morons gleefully whooping and hollering over the passing of their stupid bill know for a fact that the law is about killing babies. Abortionists abort babies, not teddy bears or turtles or masses of tissue.  We don’t even need science to tell us that. All science has done is confirm what our consciences already know (Romans 1:21-28).

 It’s a baby, stupid.

 The pro-life movement has worked tirelessly to change minds. Most in the pro-life movement (including me) believed that when people understood the science behind the pro-life arguments that their minds would be changed and hearts would soon follow. We forgot (or never knew) that it is only heart-felt, bone-level conviction (rather than intellectual acknowledgement) that keeps people from changing their minds back to their previous beliefs when life gets tough or the arguments for the other side get persuasive and/or sophisticated.

 The pro-life movement has done a lot of good things. Those things should continue to be done. The pro-life community should lovingly engage, educate, lobby congress, help the hurting, provide for the needy and raise money for the cause. That said, Christians (of all stripes) should preach the gospel boldly and pray fervently that God brings spiritual revival to our world. Only God can change a human heart and without heart-change the abortion statistics will stay the same.  

 

 

 

Living Out the Why of Christmas

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ~ Luke 4:18-19 NIV

A note to my readers:

Okay, so, I am not a big fan of self-promotion.  To be perfectly honest, I loathe it with every fiber of my being. However, I do want to let you all know that I recently wrote a devotional based on the book of Colossians. It’s called Rooted: 29 days in the book of Colossians. It’s available on Amazon in a softcover for only $3.75. It would make a good stocking stuffer. If you have already purchased the book (and you don’t hate it) please consider writing a review. I would really appreciate it!

Rooted Book

Being a Christian and a blogger is tough at Christmastime. 

 At this point in history everyone knows that December is the month the early church chose to celebrate the advent (arrival) of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). If one is both a Christian and a blogger (and I am both of those things) then the season of Christmas is legitimately a very big deal that warrants at least a mention in said blog.

However.

For whatever reason, Christmas in the Western world has become more of a cultural celebration than a spiritual celebration and that makes Christmas tough for me personally as a Christian writer. Do I write a syrupy-sweet post lauding the shallow but still Christian aspects of the season? Or, do I go the more prophetic route and demand in a cantankerous tone that everyone ditch the fun stuff and worship Jesus in spirit and truth sans the materialistic, godless razzle-dazzle? Or, do I simply pretend there’s no such thing as Christmas and continue on with business as usual?  

It’s my annual Christmas conundrum. 

The soul-searching/navel gazing began early this year when I was asked to speak at a Christmas event in early December. As I prepared for the event I did a lot of thinking about Christmas in general and why we celebrate Christmas in particular. Ultimately, I decided that Christians have (for the most part) lost sight of the “why” of Christmas. In the midst of the feverish gift-giving, cookie-baking and decorating many of us have forgotten that Jesus’ first coming was more than just an excuse to make merry. 

It was the biggest game-changer in the history of forever.

 The birth of Jesus paved the way for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection, made it possible for every human who has ever lived to to get free from the penalty of sin (eternity in hell), the fear of death, the prison of idolatry, and the spiritual oppression that began at the fall (Genesis 3). Furthermore, the values of compassion, charity, justice and equality that Jesus brought to earth caused humanity to do some collective soul-searching. As a result, human rights, women’s rights, poverty programs, egalitarianism and the whole concept of religious freedom eventually became things human beings take seriously enough to fight for.  

That is worth celebrating. 

However, too often at Christmastime we get so caught-up in the hullaballoo that surrounds Christmas that we lose our sense of wonder and astonishment at the beauty that lies at the heart of the Christmas story.  We lose something of infinite value anytime we cease to rejoice and wonder at the crazy-truth that the God of the universe willingly left the comfort and majesty of heaven simply so that He could give a bunch of mostly ungrateful, clueless sinners an opportunity to get right with Him. 

Keeping the why of Christmas in mind this time of year is no easy task and no one needs another to-do list this time of year. That said, there are three really basic things we can all do to keep our hearts in the right place at Christmastime:     

Free yourself from the weird bondage that surrounds Christmas-

 Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth was to free humanity from bondage (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5, Luke 4:18, John 8:32). Yet for some inexplicable reason every December millions of people (mostly women) celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior by freely putting themselves into bondage over a bunch of (mostly stupid) stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with God, Jesus, or why we celebrate Christmas. Those things include (but are not limited to) baking billions of cookies, writing newsletters, decorating, gift-giving and unnecessary people-pleasing. None of those things are sinful but neither should they be done out of obligation or in place of the things that help us and other people grow closer to Jesus.    

Read through the book of Luke before Christmas day- 

Weirdly enough, Jesus (the whole point of Christmas), can (and does) get lost in the celebration of Christmas. Reading the book of Luke is a powerful weapon against secularism and spiritual complacency at Christmas.   Luke’s passion for the person of Jesus shines in his writing. He uses words like awe, surprised, marvel, amazed, wondered and astonished almost excessively, sometimes two or three times in a single sentence. As you read through the book take the time to highlight those words. Pray that God will fill you with wonder and amazement as He empowers you to see His hand working in your life and in the lives of the people around you. This tiny act will help you to see Jesus in fresh new way this Christmas. I promise.

Be purposeful about being grateful- 

The materialistic focus of Christmas oftentimes keeps us from being grateful for the things we already have (and most of us have a lot). When we take the time to be thankful for what God has already given us our gratitude serves as a reminder that there is more to life than stuff and more to feeding our souls than getting stuff and we could all use a little bit more of that this season. 

Five Ways we Can Limit God’s Power in our Lives-

 

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down~ Psalm 145:13b-14 NIV

 Fear is weird.

Most people fear absurd things that are unlikely to cause them harm. They fear spiders, the judgement of people they don’t know, wide-open spaces, missing out on stupid stuff and going to the dentist.

  I have my own fair share of (mostly) irrational fears. I am terrified of snakes (even the non-poisonous ones) and I avoid enclosed spaces like the plague. If there happens to be an enclosed space (like a cave) that might possibly be home-sweet-home to a snake you can totally forget about it. I will not, under any circumstances, willingly go within a hundred feet of that den of iniquity.  Conversely, most people do not fear things that can actually hurt them such as: dark alleys, lack of situational awareness, evil motives, and taking terrible advice.

 For the most part, healthy, growing Christians experience less fear than most people (Romans 8:15, Romans 13:3, 2nd Timothy 1:7, Hebrews 2:14-15, 1st John 4:18). That being said, there is at least one thing every Christian ought to fear, we should fear limiting God’s ability to work in our lives.

 For the record, I do not believe that people can prevent the All-powerful God of the Universe from doing anything He decides to do (Psalm 33:11, Proverbs 19:21). Nonetheless, we can and often do hinder God from working in our lives through our own willful sinfulness, egotism and stupidity. Following are five ways Christians can limit God:

 We limit God when we live out our fallenness rather than our righteousness-

 We are all born fallen. This simply means that we are sinners who delight in doing things God has declared to be wrong (Romans 1:18-33, Romans 3:23). Because of this people have no intrinsic righteousness of their own (Romans 3:10). Nonetheless, if a sinner puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ they are made righteous at the moment they truly believe (Romans 4:5, Romans 10:4, 2nd Corinthians 5:21, Titus 3:4-6). As Christians we must decide daily to either live out the righteousness we received at salvation or to live out the fallenness we were born into. Sadly, too many Christians choose to live as if they were never made righteous by Christ. This is tragic because we stop growing spiritually anytime we regularly choose to live sinfully rather than righteously (1stJohn 3:7). Furthermore, it is nearly impossible for a Christian who consistently lives according to their fallen nature to fulfill the primary mission all Christians have to tell others about the life changing power of Jesus (2ndTimothy 4:2, Matthew 28:19-20)

 We limit God when we refuse to take advice or we only take advice from people who are just as ignorant as we are-

 The only thing dumber than refusing to take advice (Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 12:1, Proverbs 20:18) is to only seek counsel from people who are every bit as ignorant as we are. The Bible urges us to seek wisdom and advice from those who are older, wiser, and more knowledgeable than we are rather than our own peer group (1stKings 8:1-18, Proverbs 13:20).  Wise people understand that no one knows everything and so they seek guidance on subjects such as parenting, marriage, career, spiritual growth, etc. from those who have acquired wisdom and who have effectively navigated those undertakings (or learned enough from their failures to effectively counsel others).

 We limit God when we separate ourselves from the church-

 Regular readers of this blog know that I am not shy about criticizing what I see as the missteps of the modern church. However, this does not mean I believe that the church is somehow irrelevant or unnecessary. To the contrary, God designed people to mature physically, mentally and spiritually within the context of community. We learn and grow by being in the company of those who have navigated areas of life we have not. A child is inspired to walk by watching the big people in his or her life walk. Conversely, a young Christian is inspired to grow spiritually by observing mature believers live out their faith.  For that reason, we will never reach our full potential in Christ outside of a community of other Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25).

 We limit God anytime we choose to hang on to an offense-

 It is not sinful to be hurt or to get offended. Some things really are offensive and hurtful.  Hanging on to hurt and/or coddling an offense is sinful (Ephesians 4:31, James 3:14). Offense and hurt that is not processed and forgiven in a reasonable period of time inevitably mutates into bitterness. Bitterness not only ruins the bitter person it also destroys the people the bitter person loves most (Hebrews 12:15).

 We limit God when we do not believe enough to obey-

 Clearly, anyone who labels themselves a “Christian” believes in God. However, there is more to believing in the New testament sense of the word than simple intellectual agreement to the existence of God. In the Bible believing in God always meant doing what God commanded or taught (John 14:23-24) New Testament Christians would not have understood the notion of a Christian who refused to obey the teachings of the New Testament (1stPeter 1:22, Hebrews 4:2, 1stJohn 4:6). They understood that no one who consistently chooses to disobey God really believes in Him. They also understood the nearly forgotten truth God cannot effectively work in the life of anyone who willfully ignores revealed truth.    

 

 

 

 

Keeping Bitterness at Bay-

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more~ Psalm 71:20-21 NIV

 There are some sins unique to a few seriously creepy individuals. Normal people might joke about murder. However, few of people actually kill people.  Even fewer people joke about cannibalism, human sacrifice or most of the sins listed in Leviticus chapter twenty. 

 Then there are the other sins.

 Those irksome little sins that sprout-up like weeds in a garden. The sins we all struggle with at some point in our lives (1st Corinthians 10:13). There is simply no one in all of human history who has not grappled with lust, inappropriate anger, jealousy, hatred, selfish ambition and the inclination to gossip (Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6).

 Bitterness is another one of those sins. Scripture clearly instructs Christians to avoid becoming bitter and remaining bitter (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). That being said, most of us (if we’re honest) will admit to giving into the sin of bitterness at some point.  

Most people do not become bitter without reason. This can lead other wise sane people to feel justified and even righteous as they wallow around in the anger and resentment that inevitably leads to bitterness.  Regrettably, I am well-acquainted with the sin of bitterness. I learned first-hand over the course of several miserable and painfully unproductive years that bitterness is one of those sins that hurts us far more than it hurts the people who have sinned against us.

 It is critical we understand that God does not forbid bitterness because it is never defensible, logical or understandable. God forbids bitterness because bitterness gradually obliterates every good thing God has done in us.  At the root of a bitter spirit is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness causes us to miss the grace of God and prevents us from experiencing the Christian life in all of its beauty and fullness (Matthew 6:14-15, Hebrews 12:15, Luke 17:4).

 The ways we can become bitter are endless. Something as small and seemingly insignificant as being offended or ignored can cause a bitter root to develop in more sensitive people. An unfaithful spouse, a twofaced friend, an unpleasant childhood or ongoing injustice can cause bitterness in even the most thick-skinned of individuals.  

 Because bitterness is such a common sin and because it is something we are cautioned to avoid at all costs there are at least four things every Christian needs to understand about bitterness.

 Bitterness makes spiritual growth impossible-

 It does not matter how many Bible studies the bitter person attends (or teaches). Nor does it matter how much of the Bible someone can repeat verbatim. There is something about the choice to remain bitter that makes it impossible for that person to apply the truth they have learned (or taught) to their own life. Any learning that does take place is typically just empty academic agreement (head knowledge) rather than a full emotional and intellectual adoption of truth we have understood and embraced (heart knowledge). Satan celebrates when Christians become bitter because bitterness keeps Christians stuck in a cycle of obtaining knowledge without actually growing (2nd Timothy3:7).

 Bitterness halts clear communication with God-

 Bitterness is a sin (Ephesians 4:31). Repentance from sin is the only way to restore clear and unrestricted communication with God (2nd Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 9:1-19). Sadly, bitterness blinds us to the lack of communication we have with God, making it more difficult to get right Him.

 We have a responsibility to prevent our own bitterness-

 There will always be situations that come into our lives that have the potential to make us bitter. Some of those situations are one-hundred-percent unforeseeable and therefore entirely unavoidable. That being said, the author of the book of Hebrews tells the readers of the book to “see to it” that no “bitter root grows up”. The writer is instructing Christians to process and forgive offenses as quickly and completely as humanly possible.  Likewise, Christians should be very careful about voluntarily placing themselves in situations where bitterness is an obvious and foreseeable end result of said situation (Ephesians 5:15).

 Behaving in a way that causes others to become bitter is as sinful as bitterness-

 The New Testament clearly teaches a principal of mutual accountability when it comes to sin (Matthew 18:6). For example: Christians are clearly forbidden from committing adultery (Exodus 20:14, Mark 7:21). That being said, spouses are cautioned against refusing each other sexually because doing so could tempt their spouse to commit adultery (1st Corinthians 7:1-5). Obviously, a lack of “IT” in a marriage does not make adultery acceptable to God (Hebrews 13:4). However, it does make the other partner accountable to God for their refusal to obey Scripture.  Similarly, each person is responsible before God for their own choice to become bitter. However, we have an obligation to live in such a way that we do not give people just cause to become bitter. If we don’t we will be accountable to God for our refusal to obey Scripture.

 There is only one way to deal with bitterness-

 Forgive.

 Seriously.  It really is that simple. Let go of any bitterness you are holding onto and let God be the judge and jury of the other person.

 It’s His job (1st Samuel 24:12, Hebrews 4:13, 1st Peter 4:5). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four More Reasons the Church Isn’t Getting the Job Done

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace~ Acts 20:24 NIV

The evolution of a blog-post can be a chaotic thing for me. 

 This week’s post was originally going to be on parenting.  Then I decided that the issue I was writing about was not primarily a parenting issue. At that point the piece mutated into something far more inclusive. Then early Wednesday morning I came across something on Facebook and all bets were officially off. I immediately felt compelled to write about something entirely different.

 Sigh.

 There are a few things I would like to clarify about the Facebook post I came across. It was posted by a friend who is a decent person but categorically not a Christian. This friend frequently posts things critical of Christianity and occasionally those posts are annoyingly insightful.

 This post was one of those posts.

 I will not share exactly what was posted (it was far too foul). That being said, I will tell you that it was a critique of the church that was undeniably obscene but sadly spot-on. The post reminded me (for the millionth time) that the church is not impacting our culture with the message of Christianity and that we have (at least to some degree) become a sad caricature of ourselves. Here are four (more) reasons we aren’t getting the job done (Matthew 28:18-20).

 Our priorities are a flaming hot-mess-

 I am not a Catholic. However, I do believe that when one segment of Christianity has a problem we all have a problem (1stCorinthians 12:26). The Catholic church has a huge problem that really is a problem for the entire body of Christ.  There is a huge scandal developing in the Catholic church regarding children, sex and gay priests. The sin that has gone on for years in some Catholic churches is simply heartbreaking (on every level). Alas, most evangelical Christians are either apathetic towards the issue or entirely ignorant of the problem. On top of all that most Christians appear to care more about Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem (and a million other idiotic things) than they do about the thousands of kids who were raped by or pressured into sex by their spiritual leaders. Christianity is in a sorry state when the body of Christ gets more worked-up over a deal a football player made with a company that sells shoes than we do about the long-term implications of the countless sex scandals that have plagued Catholic and Evangelical churches in recent years. Christians of all denominations should be praying for justice and should be insisting we deal with the sin in our camp before anyone else gets hurt.

 We have forgotten the point and purpose of church-

 I know this sounds heretical in this day-and-age but I do not believe Church was ever meant to be a place where unbelievers go to get evangelized. Church was intended to be a place where Christians go to learn the Bible and grow in their faith, so they can evangelize their friends, coworkers and family members (Ephesians 4:11-16).  Churches ought to be sensitive to the feelings and needs of non-Christians when planning their services (1stCorinthians 14:22-23). That being said, services should never be planned primarily around the spiritual needs or personal preferences of unbelievers because Church is not really about them.   

 We butcher the Bible to get it say what we want it to say-

 This is the one that could ultimately be the ruin of the modern church. Too many pastors and Bible teachers search the Bible looking for verses to back-up what they think about an issue or want to say rather than going to the Bible and doing the study necessary to find out what it actually says about a given subject. This has created a situation where there is almost a Medieval level of biblical ignorance in some Christian circles. Christians and non-Christians are not really learning what the Bible really says about much of anything. Instead, they are learning the opinions of people and quite frankly we don’t really need to learn each other’s opinions. We need to learn the word (1stPeter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-14).

 We are weirdly infatuated by celebrity-

 Over the course of the last four decades there have been innumerable scandals (mostly over sex) in the Evangelical Christian community among “celebrity” pastors. The Church in America has come to the pathetic place where a guy who can put butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate can get away with almost anything.  Sadly, too many otherwise intelligent people will completely overlook sloppy doctrine, preaching entirely devoid of hard truth and even catastrophic moral failure if it keeps their Churches growing numerically.  Because we have become enamored with superstar pastors many newer Christians have looked to celebrities to be their spiritual examples rather than their pastors or the faithful men and women in their own congregations (1stCorinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, Titus 2:2-4). This has created a state of moral illiteracy in the church that hurts everyone.

 Sadly, we will continue to get more of the same until we come to place where we expect better from our leaders and ourselves.

 

 

Five Ways to Curse Your Stupid Self


Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, so a curse without cause does not alight~ Proverbs 26:2 NASB

 The word curse or curses is used a total of 178 times in the Bible. The conspicuously large number of times the word is used in the biblical text has led many to believe that God is all about cursing people. A lot of folks (including some Christians) believe God spends His spare time scanning the planet looking for those He can lay a horrible hex on.

  In the interest of fairness, I feel the need to point out that the only record I could find of God actually cursing anyone or anything is in the book of Genesis. In chapter three God lays out a series of curses related to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden of Eden.

 Issues of fairness aside, the Bible does not hesitate to reference the concept of curses.  The better part of Deuteronomy twenty-eight is just one long list of ghastly curses that will befall the Israelite people if they don’t get their spiritual act together and keep it that way. That passage coupled with the many other references to the word beg the question: Does God curse people for doing the wrong thing?

 I think not.

 Not that I don’t believe curses are a real thing. There are simply too many biblical references to the subject for a serious Christian to dismiss the whole thing as twaddle or voodoo. That said, God does not curse people willy-nilly just because they displease or annoy Him.

 It’s a bit more complicated than all that.

 God has designed the universe in such a way that if we do certain things certain consequences are inevitable. If someone places their hand on a hot stove, pain predictably follows. God does not cause anyone to put their hand on a stove and God certainly does not burn anyone’s hand.  Consequences occur because they are built into the design of the universe.  God doesn’t curse us.  We curse ourselves.  Following are four weird ways we bring curses on our own stupid selves.

 We curse ourselves when we refuse to break sinful patterns of the past-

 Many believe they are cursed to do stupid stuff because they a had a parent or grandparent or great-grandparent who did stupid stuff.  They believe that because some distant relative sinned in some foolhardy way God cursed the entire family line to sin exactly the same way for the rest of history.  It is true that patterns of sinful behavior run in families. It is also true that sinful behavior and attitudes can run deep. That said, the Bible makes it clear that God does not hold children responsible for the sins of the parents (Ezekiel 18:1-32). Furthermore, these types of curses are not difficult to break. Once a person repents of a sinful attitude or behavior the curse is broken.  Case closed.    

 We curse ourselves when we harshly judge situations we don’t understand or haven’t lived through-

 Back in the day my husband and I had some friends who were extremely critical and vocal in their criticism of how we parented our oldest daughter. We weren’t strict enough, we let her stay up too late, we let her eat too much candy, we didn’t discipline her enough or in the correct way. We naturally assumed that when these people had kids their kids would be the best behaved, sweetest, most well-mannered children in the history of children. They weren’t. They were awful. Those children were so dreadfully awful that both sets of grandparents refused to babysit them. I don’t say this to gloat (at least I am trying not to) I say this to make a point. When we judge people, we tend to repeat the same sins of the people we judge (Matthew 7:2), typically, we do this without even realizing we are doing it.

 We curse ourselves when we choose to become bitter-

 Anytime we chose the path of bitterness over the path of forgiveness we are cursed to become exactly like the people we refuse to forgive. I am not entirely certain why or how this happens. That said, I have observed it happen enough times to know it’s a real thing. I suspect we become like the person we are bitter towards because bitterness causes us to become extremely focused (in a very unhealthy way) on that one person. Having so much of our mental energy focused on the negative aspects of one person causes us, over time, to take on the characteristics of that person without being aware of what we are doing. So, if you do not wish to become a mirror image of your gossipy, critical Mother or your angry, alcoholic Father I strongly suggest you forgive immediately (Hebrews 12:15).  

 We curse ourselves when we refuse the Holy Spirit-  

 Anytime God tells us to do anything in His word or the Holy Spirit prompts us to action and we choose to ignore those promptings we curse ourselves.  Ignoring God hardens our hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8, Hebrews 4:7). The harder our hearts become the more difficult it becomes to discern truth from God’s word, to hear His still-small voice or even to care when the Holy Spirit prompts us to action.

 That perhaps is the worst curse of all.