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.

No, Kneeling During the Anthem is Not Fighting for Civil Rights-


I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, 
tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb~ Revelation 7:9 NIV

 This post started out as an ugly rant about my personal loathing of purely symbolic forms of protest. Most of my anger was targeted at what I see as a stupid, futile and divisive effort to bring attention to the real problem of racism in America. After some thought I concluded that the subjects of racism and protests against racism are worthy of a slightly more nuanced approach than an angry rant.

 So.

 If there was ever a thing that was worthy of a protest its racism. Hating or discriminating against anyone because of their skin color is ridiculous, prideful, and anti-Christian at its core. Racism is not something that should be tolerated in Christian circles (more on that later) or in a civilized society.

 That being said.

Some have compared the protests of the 1960’s to athletes kneeling during the national anthem. There really is no comparison between the heroism of the Civil Rights Movement and the kneeling during the national anthem idiocy we see today.

Here’s why not.

 With a few notable exceptions, (all of them white and privileged) the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were severely marginalized people who lacked power, money, influence and options. They literally had no other options open to them other than peaceful protest to draw attention to their plight. Furthermore, none of those protesters were attempting to vilify their country or the people in it. They were simply striving to bring much-needed attention to a very real problem plaguing our nation.

Furthermore, the Civil Rights Movement had an endgame in mind (an end to Jim Crow laws and the disenfranchisement of black voters). The leaders of the movement used protests in conjunction with legal action as they worked at a grassroots level to transform attitudes regarding race. The efforts of those brave men and women paid off. Hearts, minds and laws were changed. As a result America became a better country, not a perfect country by any means, but certainly a better one.

 The athletes protesting today are not marginalized poor people living out their lives on the fringes of society. They are some of the wealthiest and most advantaged people in all the world. If they wished to do something meaningful to solve the plethora of problems troubling the black community they certainly have the power, influence and financial resources to do almost anything they wanted to do.

But they don’t.

None of these athletes are interested in doing the work it takes to become change agents. They simply want to draw attention to themselves and bellyache about things they don’t like in the most public, contentious and annoying way imaginable. To add insult to injury, they malign the nation and the people who have made them wealthy beyond reason for playing what is arguably just a dumb game.

 Sigh.

 I do not begrudge anyone the right to express him or herself in any way they see fit. If overindulged athletes want to kneel rather than stand during the anthem that is totally cool with me. That said, I will not be purchasing any overpriced fan crap for my family.

 But, I digress.

 My biggest issue with these types of protests is that they are purely symbolic. No words exist for how much I despise pointless symbolism. The Civil Rights protests were not empty acts of symbolism. Protesters sought to bring attention to racial injustice by acting in ways that impacted the cities where the protests took place in peaceable, but consequential ways. Kneeling during the anthem is the equivalent of telling a homeless person to “go, be warm and well fed” (James 2:16). Symbolic fits of melodrama do nothing to solve real problems and ultimately just spread dissension and pit Americans against each other (Proverbs 16:28).

It’s just wrong.

 God does not see skin color the way we see skin color. When God sees the variations in our skin tone He sees the beloved creation that He declared to be “very good” (Genesis 1:27-31). It’s our responsibility as Jesus followers to help our foolish and sin-sick world see the issues of our day the way God sees those issues. We do that by living our lives in a colorblind fashion and by pointing people back to the God who loves everyone and hates biases based on superficial and irrelevant things like skin color (James 2:1, 8-9).

 And by shunning purely symbolic, stupid forms of protest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Truth Even Matter or is it All About Love?

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. Most of the Pacific Northwest 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 crummy 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.

 It would be difficult for Beth Moore to be any more correct on this point. The spiritual tension that exists between truth and 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 it’s proverbial act together on 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 before the dawn of the Christian age.

 It was not the quote that got me spoiling for a smackdown. It was the absurd responses to said quote that motivated me to start writing. 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.

 The comments were a bitter reminder of a reality I frequently bump-up against when I’m interacting with other 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 excited 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 perfect God who 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 isn’t. 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 real 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is God Judging America?

Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple. I myself have seen a fool taking root, but suddenly his house was cursed~ Job 5:2-3 NIV

 In recent days I have seen things I never thought I would live to see. It could easily be argued that our society is unraveling before our very eyes.

 The madness began in Charlottesville where a (stupid) white supremacist rally took a violent turn when a twenty-year-old racist activist ran down an anti-racist activist with his car and killed her. Donald Trump has (inelegantly and some would say ineptly) condemned the white-supremacist idiocy in Charlottesville several times over the course of the last week. Nonetheless, many are convinced he is a racist monster and so is anyone who voted for him.

 Protesters are demanding Civil War memorials be torn down immediately. These protesters seem intent on rewriting the history of our country but resist being labeled as the totalitarians they are choosing to act like. The absurdity of the situation reached a fever pitch in Durham, North Carolina where a protester shouted defiantly as a confederate statue came down “ I don’t want to be like the Bolsheviks or the Taliban but this has got to go!”

 Oh the irony.

 In the midst of the pandemonium some prominent Christians have written blogs asserting that America is on the precipice of God’s judgment. Other Christians have responded to those posts with their own posts arguing that God is too nice to bring judgment on people or nations anymore.

 As much as I would love to believe otherwise, I am thoroughly convinced that God does indeed still judge. The Bible is clear; God has fixed standards of right and wrong. He does not change His mind on these matters (Malachi 3:6, 1st Samuel 15:29, Hebrews 13:8). God judged people and nations in the past (Ezekiel 20:36), and He has promised to do so again at some point in the future (Revelation 20:12-13). To believe God is somehow done with the business of judgment is to choose to be willfully ignorant of what the Bible has to say on the subject.

 Period.

 That said, I’m not sure we need God to judge us. We are doing a fine job of bringing judgment and curses on ourselves through our own stubborn pride and willful stupidity. The concept of individuals and nations bringing curses on themselves through their own actions is a common one throughout Scripture (Genesis 4:11, Genesis 27:12, Deuteronomy 27:15-25). Curses are a natural consequence of knowingly disregarding truth, common sense and God’s revealed will.

 Its kind of where we’re living right now.

We are cursed because we have chosen to believe what we have been told to believe by a news media with obvious bias and their own political agenda. We are cursed because we have despised those on the other side of the political aisle instead of praying for them. We are cursed because we have chosen to hold on to bitterness and resentment over sins committed generations ago. We are cursed because we have believed the lie that one act of violence justifies another. We are cursed because for generations too many of us have allowed bigotry and hatred to have a place in our hearts, homes and places of worship. We are cursed because we have chosen to judge the founding fathers by the standards of our time rather than by the standards of their time.

 We have cursed ourselves by refusing to examine our lives and repent of the sin we find there. We have cursed our nation and families by callously killing our unborn children in the name of convenience, disregarding our marriage vows and normalizing sexual sin and calling it “progress”.  

 All the turmoil we are experiencing at this point in our history is our own doing. We have brought curses on our children, our nation and ourselves due to our own reluctance to see circumstances from the other person’s perspective and our unwillingness to do things God’s way. The only way to break this curse is through prayer, repentance and a commitment to racial reconciliation and forgiveness. Too often, too many of us wait for others to take lead when it comes to change, repentance and making amends for our actions. As a result nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes. We don’t have time to wait and see what other people do, we need to examine our hearts, repent of the sin we find there and trust God to clean up this mess we’ve made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Why Marriages Fail-

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate~ Mark 10:7-9 NIV

 I recently had a conversation that can only be described as a full-scale bummer.

 A friend informed me she and her husband were splitting up after more than two decades together (she did not initiate the divorce). This news was depressing on at least a dozen different levels. We’ve known these people a long time, our kids grew up together, we love them both and two decades is a long time to invest in something that has clearly failed. This couple has adult children who are grieving deeply. Both the husband and the wife are professing Christians and the split has tested the kids belief that God is good and that love can overcome any obstacle.

 This sad news got me thinking about the subject of marriage in general and why marriages fail in particular. It occurred to me that although most folks know going-in that marriage takes a lot of energy and hard work, virtually all marriages begin on a hopeful note. No one I have ever known (or heard of) has entered into marriage anticipating failure or hoping things don’t work out.

 This truth begs the question: 

If most folks know from the very beginning marriage will not be easy then why do so many marriages fail with such depressing regularity?

 Everyone knows the statistics: roughly one-third to one-half of all marriages in America end in divorce. The most common reasons given for divorce are lack of sex, infidelity, money problems and poor communication.

 Only a crazy person would argue with a statistic. I do dispute the statistics. I do dispute the reasons given for divorce. The causes given for divorce are actually just symptoms of the actual causes of divorce. We will never change the divorce rate until we get real about why people divorce.

 Marriages struggle and die not because of big problems that cannot be worked out. Relationships struggle and die for three far less discussed reasons.

 It begins with

 Selfishness-

 According to the trusty word wizards at Dictionary.com selfishness is defined as “ being devoted to or caring only for one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc. regardless of others”. When we carry an attitude of selfishness into marriage it manifests itself in a lack of thoughtfulness or consideration for others. A friend (who has since repented) confessed that for years he bought his wife a big beautiful chocolate cake every year on her birthday. Not because she loved chocolate (she hated it passionately) but because he loved chocolate and it was a good excuse for him to eat the kind of cake he liked. Over time selfishness erodes positive feelings and leaves the other person (no matter how long-suffering they may be) feeling hurt and possibly even vengeful towards their spouse. If by some miracle the marriage survives, the love won’t.

 Ignoring Ephesian’s 5:21-

 Most Christians have heard the commands given to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33. Women are told to submit to their husbands and husbands are commanded to love their wives. What most Christians don’t know is that the verse directly preceding those verses (Ephesians 5:21) commands spouses to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Mutual submission is the act of adopting an attitude of mutual cooperation and compromise in all things. Submitting to one another in marriage may mean having sex more often than you would prefer or doing chores that don’t necessarily appeal to you after a long day at work. Mutual submission means giving rather than taking and not holding a grudge over what you don’t get.

 One or both partners refuse to change-

 Marriage has been called “the ultimate growth opportunity” and it is, as long as both parties are willing to hear uncomfortable truths about themselves and then work on their issues. Truth-be-told Christians are more capable of growth and change than any other people on earth because they have Holy Spirit helping them and guiding them in all truth. When a Christian refuses to change ultimately they are choosing to be obedient to the Holy Spirit which is incredibly foolish and an indicator of immaturity.

 A wise pastor friend said “any two reasonably mature Christians can make a marriage work if they are BOTH willing to put in the necessary effort.” He understood a truth that can be a game changer in relationships: divorce is unnecessary if both parties are willing to die to self and submit to God.

 

 

 

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Breaking Free From the Pull of The World

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will~ Romans 12:2 NIV

Last week I wrote a post detailing five signs you might be a Christian who loves the world just a little too much (1st John 2:15). In that post I defined “loving the world” as taking our cues about how to live, love and function in this life from the world’s system rather than from the Bible (Romans 12:2).

 Loving the world is dangerous because it clouds our spiritual judgment and makes it nearly impossible to see life, people, and the circumstances we encounter from God’s perspective. Loving the world causes us to think like the world and adopt the characteristics of the world. When that happens we lose our ability to be the life-giving spiritual force our world urgently needs.

 The only way to combat worldliness is to work aggressively to break the world’s hold on our thinking, we will never effectively change our behavior until we change our mindset. The process begins with regular Bible reading and study. Knowing the Bible gives us insight into God’s view on issues. However, simply reading the Bible will not necessarily make us any less worldly. We also have to alter our behavior to bring it more in line with a biblical worldview.

 Changes need to begin with these five adjustments to our thinking and behavior…

 Practicing generosity rather than consumption- Acts 4:32-35, Acts 2:42-47, 1st Peter 4:9, Hebrews 13:2

 The world system teaches us to maintain emotional distance from people and use resources such as our time, possessions, energy and money for our own benefit and pleasure. The New Testament urges Christians live life with an open heart and to give with an open-hand. Until we learn to freely give of our resources and our time we will remain forever stuck in a worldly mindset.

 Ending our fixation with worldly entertainment- Psalm 119:37, Job 31:1

 Those in the entertainment industry want more than anything to change the way we think about the world, and they have been wildly effective in accomplishing their agenda. The abolitionist movement in America succeeded in ending slavery partly because leaders of the movement used powerful novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Twelve Years a Slave to change the way the average person thought about slavery. Hollywood does the same thing with equal success for far less noble causes. Television shows with storylines normalizing divorce, single motherhood and homosexuality preceded widespread acceptance of those practices in our culture. Next time you watch a television show, try and figure out what sin the producers are attempting to normalize, then turn it off and read a good book or interact with some people.

 Living out a biblical standard of sexuality- 1st Thessalonians 4:1-8

 Sexual immorality is a sin that is in a class all its own, mainly because it’s exceptionally damaging to all parties involved. When we commit sexual sin, we sin against God, other people and pollute our own bodies (1st Corinthians 6:18). Sexual immorality is placed at the top of a list of sins that God states will keep us from inheriting His kingdom (1st Corinthians 6:9-10). For those reasons (and a dozen others) Christians need to stop searching for loopholes in the rules. God cannot be tricked. Oral, anal and all other types of sex before marriage is still sex before marriage. Viewing pornography is sex and emotional affairs inevitably lead to sex outside of marriage. Our lack of obedience in this one area has caused the church to lose all moral authority in the culture. We will only get it back through a commitment to repentance, purity and doing life God’s way.

 Callously rooting out sin in our own lives- John 5:14, 1st Corinthians 15:34

 Sin is a pernicious thing. It creeps into our lives, oftentimes without our awareness or consent. The only way to combat sin’s encroachment into our lives is by asking God daily to reveal the sins we do not see in ourselves and then repenting (turning away from) the sin we do recognize in our selves.

 Praying about everything- Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2

 Nothing is too big or too small to talk to God about. Without the discipline of prayer we inevitably lose connection with God and unwittingly open ourselves up to the influence of the world. Prayer safeguards us against worldly thinking by reminding us that we are not wise enough to do life without God.

 Rooting out worldly thinking and behavior in our lives is not an optional exercise or an elective spiritual discipline—it’s a matter of spiritual life and death.

 

 

 

 

Why We Aren’t Connecting

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

 Connecting people is a passion of mine.

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

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

 Legitimate research has backed up my observations.

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

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

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

 First:

 Show up-

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

 Join a small group-

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

 Be real-

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

 Don’t judge others for being real-

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

 Use the gifts you have-

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

 Don’t close your circle-

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

 

 

When Life Hits You With A Curveball

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

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

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

 Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Run to God rather than away from Him-

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

 Accept help-

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

 Own what you need to own-

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

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

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