Seven Behaviors Guaranteed to Kill Your Marriage-

Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction~ Proverbs 17:19 NIV

 Marriage season is upon us once again and because my husband and I have reached the stage in life where we get invited to attend a lot of weddings I have been thinking quite a bit about the subject of marriage.  More specifically I have been thinking about why some marriages go the distance and others don’t.

 Contemporary wisdom tells us that prevention is key to avoiding marital shipwrecks.  Finding the right person, getting the right counseling beforehand and “being ready for marriage” are exalted as the gold standard of divorce prevention. It would be the height of foolishness to argue against the need for relational compatibility and pre-marital counseling. The importance of those things is obvious, and while I don’t think anyone is ever truly “ready for marriage”. Reaching a certain level of maturity before getting married is without question helpful to the over-all success of any marriage.  

 That said.

 All the pre-marital preparation in the world will not overcome stupidity, meanness, willful sin or relationship mismanagement. What we do after the vows are said is every bit as important (if not more so) than what we do before they are said. There are a number of common blunders people make in marriage that go way beyond mere mistakes, poor choices or communication snafus.  They are behaviors and attitudes that will literally kill a marriage if they are not corrected (and repented of) quickly.  

 The seven marriage killers are:

 The silent treatment-

 The silent treatment is a control tactic used by narcissistic people to bring about change they want to see in the relationship without actually discussing issues or compromising on solutions to problems. The silent treatment is at best, a sign of serious emotional immaturity and at worst it is a serious form of abuse. Those who use it need to understand that it tends to backfire over time. In the beginning of a relationship most partners will respond to silence by doing whatever they think needs to be done to get the conversation started again and the relationship back on track. That said, healthy people will eventually tire of the game playing and begin to distance themselves emotionally from the silencer, if emotional distance is not course-corrected in a marriage divorce is almost always inevitable. It all comes down to learning to use your words and being willing to compromise (Ephesians 5:21). It’s what grown-ups do in grown-up relationships.   

 Pornography-

 Conventional “wisdom” tells us that pornography is only a problem if one party in the relationship objects or if one person looks at pornography without the other being present. This “wisdom” is worldly idiocy. Nothing does more to create an environment where sin can flourish or erodes trust between two people more quickly than pornography (Exodus 20:14). Looking at pornography is the act of bringing other people into the part of the relationship that was intended (by God) for only the husband and the wife. Bringing pornography into a marriage directly contradicts the command given in Hebrews 13:4 to “keep the marriage bed pure and undefiled”. Pornography is not an acceptable or smart way to “spice things up”.

 Deceit-

 Deceitfulness can take on many different forms including emotional affairs, physical affairs, hiding financial information or just generally keeping secrets from the other person. Whatever form deceitfulness takes it puts up walls in the relationship and destroys trust. Marriages simply will not survive without trust.  (Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9, Proverbs 17:19, Deuteronomy 5:18).

 Using sex as a weapon

 Sex is one of those sticky-wicket issues that most couples avoid talking about to the detriment of the relationship. Don’t. Sex is one of the key reasons most people (especially Christian people) get married so it ought to be discussed. Do not get in the habit of withholding sex as “punishment” for real or imagined offenses. It’s not nice and it’s not biblical (1stCorinthians 7:4).

 Disrespect-  

 Disrespect covers a whole range of behaviors. It encompasses screaming, rudeness, spitefulness and not taking the other person’s desires, preferences or needs into consideration.  The worst and most damaging kind of disrespect almost always involves the words we use (Proverbs 12:18, Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:29). Cursing, belittling or name-calling during a conflict is a surefire way to kill romantic love quickly.  If we all just obeyed the command Jesus gave in Matthew 7:12 and treated our spouse how we want to be treated the vast majority of marital problems would disappear overnight.

 Abuse-

  Seriously, this one is a no-brainer (Malachi 2:15-17). If it’s a problem in your marriage get help immediately.

 Refusing to become a team-

 No marriage will survive unless the husband and the wife are both one-hundred percent committed to the good of the other. Once we say “I do” it ceases to be about us and becomes about the two of us (Matthew 19:5-6). Teamwork in marriage means willingly sacrificing our own personal wants, needs and desires at least some of the time for the good of the other person and the relationship (Ephesians 5:20-33) . If at any time sacrificing becomes habitually one-sided the team will crumble and so will the marriage.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Parent Without Cursing the Future

Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave~ Exodus 18:20 NIV

 A theme that remains consistent throughout the Bible is the notion of blessings and curses (Leviticus 28, Deuteronomy 30:19, Psalm 128:2, Proverbs 10:6, Malachi 2:2, 1st Corinthians 9:2). The Bible clearly communicates that certain attitudes and activities bring with them blessings and other (usually opposite) attitudes and behaviors bring with them curses.

 I, for one, have never been a big proponent of the view that the Almighty is sitting around heaven scrutinizing the actions of people searching feverishly for opportunities to bring curses down on people, their children, or their children’s children. Rather, I believe that we bring curses on others and ourselves (sometimes unwittingly) with the choices we make in this life.

 There is no area where this is truer than in the arena of parenting.

 The notion that parents bless or curse their children (sometimes without knowing it) is a biblical one (Ezekiel 18:2, Psalm 37:26, Proverbs 31:27-29, Ephesians 6:1-4). However, this concept is not just a Christian notion. It’s an idea even an idiot can grasp. One does not need a crystal ball to see that a child born to a married Mother and Father, determined to provide a stable and loving home, will have a much greater chance of success in life than a child born to a poor, drug-addicted Mother and an indifferent baby-daddy.

 It’s common sense.

 There is more to the notion of blessing children (and future generations) than simple economics or even marital status, and it’s bigger than just our kids or grandkids. No man (or woman) is an island; therefore the values one generation sows into their children impacts society in powerful ways, sometimes for generations to come. It is not excessively melodramatic to say that history can be altered (for good or bad) by the parenting choices of a single generation.

 That said, as a society we aren’t exactly hitting it out of the ballpark in this area. In fact, judging from the sorry state of our culture, we are long overdue for a gut check in how we parent our kids. I believe there are five changes we desperately need to make if we want to parent in a way that blesses rather than curses our children and our culture.

 Beginning with:

 Living lives free of addiction-

 Nothing does more to curse future generations than a drug, alcohol, or porn addiction. Period. The most productive thing one generation can for another is to stay off of drugs.

Letting kids lose-

 Educated middle-class American parents are undoubtedly some of the kindest and best-intentioned parents in the history of the world. Alas, the road to hell really is paved with good intentions. In an effort to shield children from the hurt, frustration and disappointment we all encountered as children we do stuff that looks and feels merciful and kind (like giving everyone a trophy). However, those acts of kindness keep kids from growing into adults who know how to work for what they want and who can handle the setbacks of life with grace and resilience. Kids who are not taught to handle disappointment inevitably grow into adults who act out and hurt others when the going gets tough.

 Being the leader-

 Some child-rearing “experts” have duped parents into believing that children instinctively know what is best for them. This twaddle is going to create a leadership crisis in the future because we learn to lead by following. Young children (under seven) are by their very nature immature, egotistical and for all practical purposes kind of dumb. God gave kids parents to teach them to be healthy, altruistic, thoughtful human beings (Ephesians 6:1). We do that by taking the reins and making most of the decisions when they are very young (under seven) and then coaching them into good decision-making (while still giving them freedom to fail), as they get older.  

 Being in the room-

 In order to parent well, parents need to be fully present; it is all but impossible to be fully present while playing a game on your phone or perusing Facebook. Furthermore, kids learn to be good communicators (a prerequisite for a healthy future) by communicating. No one communicates effectively while preoccupied by a screen.

 Teaching them to work-

 The Bible clearly teaches that work is good (Colossians 3:23, 2nd Thessalonians 3:10). Work is important because it keeps us out of trouble, makes us productive, teaches us to manage our time and gives us the ability to share with those less fortunate. I firmly believe that young people should have at least one job working with the public. Working with people will keep them humble and free from the sin of elitism (James 2:1-9).  

 Fearing God-

 Loving God is good (Deuteronomy 11:1, Mark 12:30), but fearing Him is better (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 10:27, Leviticus 25:7). This is because the fear of the Lord leads to wisdom, (Psalm 111:10) obedience, (Psalm 128:1) the shunning of evil, (Job 28:28) long life (Psalm 14:27) and all of that leads to a society that thrives. We teach kids to fear God by teaching them that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do.

 Anyone with eyes can see that our culture has serious problems. Most of our problems are a result of the choices parents have made with their children over the course of the last four decades. It is not too late to course correct, but it will take parents acting like parents again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Gender Debate is Really About God-

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day~ Genesis 1:31 NKJV

Monday, in the middle of my weeknight routine (making dinner and catching-up on the news) a story came on that captured my attention. The Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. has voted to end the use of male pronouns in reference to God and has decided instead to:

 Utilize expansive language for God from the rich sources of feminine, masculine, and non-binary imagery for God found in Scripture and tradition”

 For the record, I was not the least bit surprised by this news. The leadership of the Episcopal Church exchanged the truth of God for a pack of lies decades ago. This decision was simply the next logical step in the plummeting moral and spiritual death-spiral.

 What did surprise me was the impression I got that I should blog about it this week. I did not hear an audible voice or anything that dramatic, I simply had a strong sense that God wanted me to write about the subject of gender and why Christians ought to concern themselves with this issue.

 I would love to tell you that I compliantly whipped out my computer and began writing. I didn’t. Instead, I made a list in my head of all the reasons why I thought this topic was a terrible idea. The list started with the always profound “I don’t want to” and moved on to “this is a complicated theological issue that few people care about”, “how the Episcopalian Church chooses to address God doesn’t really matter”. I think the highlight of the list was “but, God, I really want to write about something happy this week”.

 In the end, I decided that God was right (as usual). This issue matters because it runs far deeper than how we view and address God. At the heart of this issue is how we respond to reality, the veracity of the Bible, what kind of society we will become and most notably for the Church:

 Will Christians continue to worship the God of the Bible or will we reshape God into an image we are more comfortable with?

 Here are four facts to consider as the gender debate heats up in churches as well as the culture. First:

 God does not identify as genderless, androgynous or female

 This point is so ridiculously rudimentary I almost skipped over it entirely, but tragically, it needs to be stated. Like it or not, the God of the Bible identifies as male, and anyone who states otherwise is either hopelessly deceived or openly attempting to deceive others. Period. No sincere biblical scholar has ever found even the teeniest scrap of evidence that God has ever identified Himself as anything other than male anywhere in the Bible. Furthermore, Jesus is the very image of God (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:1-3) and He was born male (Luke 2:21) and identified as a male (John 5:19). If God chooses to identify Himself as male it is in our best interest to do the same.

 Attacking the notion of gender is an all-out assault on God’s declaration that His creation is “very good” –

 God did not declare creation to be “very good” until after He created both man and woman (Genesis1:31). In God’s estimation creation was missing something significant and precious right up until the moment that it was made complete with human maleness and human femaleness. Even the most diehard gender-bending liberal has to admit that the world would be much less exciting and life less interesting if the world was stripped of the differences between men and women.

 Rejecting God’s nature (maleness), is really an attempt to undermine everything that God says about everything-

At the root of this debate is the question of whether or not God, the Bible and Christian tradition can be trusted. If God lied about being male (or wasn’t clever enough to know how to explain what He really is) then everything God says about everything becomes even more suspect than it already is in the culture.

 When we deny the truth regarding gender we deny reality and denying reality is dangerous-

 When God created living things He made them (with a few notable exceptions) male and female (Genesis 6:19, Genesis 7:16). We see the male/female pattern throughout all of creation. Gender (maleness and femaleness) is a fundamental aspect of life on this planet. Anytime human beings seek to deny a clearly obvious aspect of reality they cease being reasonable and lose any sense they once had (Romans 1:19-23). Rejecting the obvious is how our culture has ended up with the gender-unicorn (yes, it’s a real thing) and an oversized flow chart identifying 63 different genders (another real thing), it’s also how we arrived at the point where it’s offensive to call someone ‘him’ or ‘her’ even if they are a him or a her. The only way to end the madness is to accept reality.

 What the Episcopal Church does and doesn’t do undoubtedly feels irrelevant to most people reading this blog. It is not. The Episcopalian Church is the proverbial canary in the coalmine. They are, from a historical perspective, always the first denomination to embrace outrageously unbiblical positions long before those ideas take off in the greater culture. I normally do not advocate for getting involved in cultural warfare. However, the notion of two genders and a God who identifies Himself as male is a fight worth having.

 Truth is at stake.

 

 

 

How the Battle Between the Sexes is Hurting the Church

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created~ Genesis 5:1-2 NIV

 I rarely write follow-up posts. This is mostly due to the fact that I have a ridiculously short attention span and I prefer to make all the points on a topic in one post. Then I move on to another topic and a new post.

 It’s how I roll.

 However, last weeks blog was not actually finished. One observant reader pointed out that I said there were five reasons I felt Christians shouldn’t support the #MeToo movement and then proceeded to make four points. Truth-be-told I planned on making five points and then only made four, mostly because the post was getting a bit long and the point I wanted to make was not the kind of point that can be made effectively in a hundred words or less. After some thought I decided that the point I initially intended to make is still something that needs to be said.

 So here goes.  

 One issue I have with the #MeToo movement is that they tend to see interactions between men and woman in black and white and nearly always in negative terms. They routinely paint women as victims of men and men as victimizers of women. This view is skewed and dangerous. It is true that some men do indeed victimize women. However, not every woman is blameless and not every man is a victimizer. Sometimes the woman is the one doing the victimizing and the man is the victim. Men and women are both sinners (Romans 3:23, 1st John 1:10) and there is no end to the ways both sexes can and do victimize one another. Painting men or women with an overly broad brush oversimplifies complex issues and pits men and women against one another.

 Many so-called “advocates of women” appear to believe that men and women are mortal enemies. That is a pernicious lie. Sadly, it’s a lie people have bought into since the dawn of time. That lie has generated chaos between the sexes and is currently wrecking havoc on our culture and destroying the effectiveness of the Christian community.

 It is simply a fact that men and women are distinctly different from one another. The differences between men and women run far deeper than the obvious plumbing issues and are not (contrary to popular belief) a result of eons of successful social conditioning. Men and women think differently, behave differently and oftentimes see the exact same situation from radically different perspectives. Contrary to popular opinion, ‘different’ in this case is not bad a thing (Genesis 1:26-31).

I believe with all of my being that the differences between men and women are not something that should be minimized or eliminated. The differences between the sexes should be celebrated, refined and merged to make the world a better place. Sadly, we don’t see a whole lot of this happening even in churches which, arguably, ought to be the most unified and integrated places on earth (Galatians 3:28).

 Sloppy Bible translation is part of the problem.

 The word used to describe the role of the woman in in Genesis 2:18 is traditionally translated into “helpmate” in English. The Hebrew word (ezer) is far less milk-toasty and flaccid than the word chosen by early Bible translators. The word ezer is a powerful word, one loaded with military and tactical overtones. Ezer is used twenty-one times in the Old Testament. It is used five times to describe the role of women and sixteen times to refer to God as Israel’s helper in times of trouble. The varied use of this tells us that God designed men and women to be partners, allies and co-laborers in every sphere of life (Genesis 2:18, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Proverbs 18:3).

 For far too long, too many Jesus followers have bought into the lie that women should stand by quietly while their brothers in Christ do the hard work of Kingdom building. We have forgotten that men and women are better together because we were made by our Creator to be better together. It’s time to end the war so we can work together and do what God has called us to do. If we want to reach the world we need to respect and celebrate our differences and work together for the sake of the Kingdom.

 Lives are literally hanging in the balance.

 

 

*My views on this issue have evolved over the years with input from a number of sources. One of those sources is the Bible, and another is the author Carolyn Custis James. Her books (The Gospel of Ruth, Lost Women of the Bible, When Life and Beliefs Collide) are well-researched, unfailingly respectful towards men, incredibly challenging and in my opinion ought to be required reading for all Christians- male and female- regardless of denomination. If you have read her books you undoubtedly saw some of her views reflected in my own. If you have not read her books, I highly recommend them.

 

 

 

 

The Sad Truth Concerning #Metoo

The plans of the righteous are just, but the advice of the wicked is deceitful~ Proverbs 12:5

I will not lie. I had high hopes for the #metoo movement.

 Back in the day, I found myself on the receiving end of some bad behavior from men who were well beyond the point of knowing better. These days, that behavior would without a doubt be considered sexual harassment.

 Back then we called it “boys being boys”. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now. It just got a whole lot less attention back then.

 Crude comments, unwelcome touching, and rape are wrong for many reasons, most of which are clearly obvious to thinking people. At the root of every single one of those many reasons is the reality that predatory sexual behavior is an attack on the God-given dignity and personhood of women (Genesis 1:27). For that reason sexual violence against women is an attack on God Himself (as the author of life and giver of human dignity).

 Which brings me back to my original high-hopes for the #metoo movement. I like the idea of drawing attention to the very real problem of sexual violence. I also feel that those who commit acts of sexual violence deserve to have their deeds exposed (Numbers 32:23, Galatians 6:7). For those reasons alone, I wanted so badly for #metoo to be something that I, as a Christian woman, could support and stand behind.

 It’s not.

 For the record, I did not rush to judgment on that pronouncement. I sincerely wanted to see where the movement would go before I made up my mind about how I felt about it. I did this because, generally speaking, I feel that Christians are a little over eager to both condemn and embrace movements.

 When Christians criticize and condemn before getting the facts, we all end up looking like a bunch of small-minded, knee-jerk Judgy McJudgers. Conversely, when Christians choose to embrace movements prior to getting all the facts, we wind up looking ridiculous when we are inevitably forced to backtrack and retract our support.

 I have been observing the #metoo movement for a while now and have concluded that smart, thoughtful Christians should avoid the #metoo movement for at least four reasons:

 The movement is insincere-

 If #metoo were truly serious about ending sexual violence and the exploitation of women they would do more than simply point fingers at high profile predators. They would denounce the porn industry, fight for the end of prostitution and raise money to support those victimized by the sex trade. To my knowledge none of those things are happening, which makes all their talk about being “advocates for women” appear hollow and self-serving.

 Not every man is a bad man-

 One of my biggest concerns with the #metoo movement is that they seem to sincerely believe that every man is a sexual predator and every unsolicited flirtation from a man is somehow a form of rape. One does not need to be clairvoyant to see where this insanity might lead. Innocent interactions between men and women will no longer be seen as innocent, men and women will be further alienated from each other and the war between the sexes will intensify. If that happens we will all lose.

 The movement is quickly becoming one-big witch-hunt-

 The #metoo movement believes that all women should be believed regardless of evidence (or lack there of). They also believe that women should be able to accuse men anonymously. I am all for keeping the identity of victims of sexual violence who have reported the assault to the police out of the public eye. The privacy of victims should be protected from the press. Period. That said, sometimes people lie (Deuteronomy 19:15-17) and in the interest of fairness (and keeping our justice system just) the accused have a right to know who is accusing them.

 #metoo could set women back decades-

 I work in a field (ministry) where men tend to be very reluctant (for obvious reasons) to be seen interacting with a woman. This fact (as understandable as it may be) has not made my life in ministry easy, nor has it helped me to move ahead in a field I love. I’m not complaining. I am simply describing the world I live in. I am fearful that the law of unintended consequences will come into play and my (admittedly weird) problem will become a problem for all women. No man in his right mind will be seen associating with women (even in a business setting) if he knows there is a good chance his reputation will be ruined for it.

 Nothing in this world aggravates me more than the powerful taking advantage of the powerless. It is true that some men (not all) have taken advantage of women in the past and even prevented some from reaching their God-given potential. That said, the way to correct a past injustice is never with more injustice. We correct injustice through understanding, open communication and a commitment to believe the best in others unless there is an obvious reason not to.

 

 

Another Church Peeve

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart~ Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

 I love the church.

 I believe with every fiber of my being that the local church is God’s chosen instrument for proclaiming truth to the world, training believers for works of service and transforming heathens and moral reprobates into faithful Jesus followers. For that reason, I am convinced that every Christian ought to regularly attend a local church and contribute their time, energy, and treasure into making that church a great place to worship, learn and grow.

 That said, I also have a whole host of weird pet peeves when it comes to church and how we do church at this time in history. Basically, I have an aversion to anything weird, gimmicky or shallow. Those things include (but are not limited to) fog machines, unfriendly congregations, worship songs that remind me to breathe, Pastors that dress like homeless people and a lack of relevant teaching or opportunities to learn.

 These peeves (and many others) have been well documented in some of my previous blog posts. I just sort of assumed (until recently) that I had discovered and explored every single one of my many peeves related to church and had nothing left to write about on the subject. I was wrong.

 I have discovered a new one.

 Everywhere I turn these days I am being told that I should speak the name of Jesus over my problems and worries. If I am afraid, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have cancer, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I need money I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have a drug or alcohol addiction, I should speak the name of Jesus. This advice is usually followed up with the instruction to “just walk in it”.

 Whatever the heck that means.

 My concerns with this trend might appear to be a bit silly and trivial on the surface, but unlike some of my other peeves this one really isn’t all that petty. This one actually has some potentially serious practical and theological ramifications.

 Christians should understand that nowhere in the Bible are we told to speak the name of Jesus over anything. We are told to believe in the name of Jesus (1 John 3:23). We are told to openly profess the name of Jesus (Hebrews 13:15). We are also told to baptize people into the name of Jesus (Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5) and we are commanded to speak the name of Jesus as we teach the truth about God and call people to repentance (Matthew 28:16-20). Not once are we told to speak the name of Jesus over our problems, anxieties or doubts.

 Speaking a word (any word) over something in an effort to change it, is a practice that has more in common with witchcraft than it does with Christianity. I am NOT suggesting that someone who tells you to speak the name of Jesus over your problems is a witch or is active in witchcraft. I am saying that simply speaking the word ‘Jesus’ over a problem, worry or concern will not solve it and might even distract you from doing the things God wants you to do in order to solve your problems.

 I promise you that God does not want you to speak the name of Jesus over your bratty two-year-old, job loss, addiction, crumbling marriage or serious medical condition. That’s just not how God works. Instead, God wants you to do these three things:

 Understand that tests and trials are simply a part of this life-

 We live in a fallen world, and sadly bad things happen in our fallen world (1st Thessalonians 3:2-4, 1st Peter 1:6). People get hurt and sick, they lose their jobs, and sometimes they turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with negative feelings and traumatic experiences. Other times people are evil and cruel and the innocent get hurt or exploited. On the positive side of all of that, God will use those trials to make you a better, wiser more compassionate person if you ask Him to (James 1:2, James 1:12, 2nd Corinthians 1:3-6).

 Seek God on a deeper level-

 More than anything God wants you to work at getting to know Him better in the midst of your trial. He wants you to become a student of the Word and someone who runs to Him in prayer with all your fears, sinful inclinations, insecurities and problems. Doing that will give you a supernatural source of strength, knowledge and wisdom that will empower you to deal with whatever trial has come into your life, in a way that pleases God and benefits you.

 Become increasingly more obedient to God-

 We solve our problems in this life by first identifying areas of sin in our lives, repenting of those sins and then doing more and more of what God instructs us to do in His word. Romans 12:1-21, 2nd Peter 1:5-8, Colossians 3:1-26 and Ephesians chapters 4-6 give believers abundant instruction on the behaviors Christians should be embracing and eliminating in their lives. However, eliminating sinful behavior is not enough. We also have to ask God to help us (sometimes repeatedly) change our hearts, hate sin and see life the way He sees it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things We Can All Do to Make Church Great in 2018

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here~ 2nd Corinthians 5:17 NIV

 Its official (actually it was official in 2005) January is (at least for most people) the most depressing month of the year.

 I get it.

 January has its fair share of shortcomings. Once Christmas is over the snow promptly loses its charm and there is zero hope the weather will improve for at least another couple of months. The merriment of the holidays has ended and the irksome credit card bills have come due for the generosity we felt over Christmas. That leaves most of us feeling a bit Grinch-y in hindsight. Compounding the negativity, most of us are feeling a bit pudgy and gross after the all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy that is the month of December.

 Without question, all of the above is clearly true.

 However, you will never catch me hating on the month of January. I love January for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because it offers a respite from the frantic madness of November and December. The slower more relaxed pace of January provides a much-needed opportunity for rest, reflection and goal setting.

 In that spirit, I have spent the better part of the last week pondering some of the goals I have set for the coming year. And as I was thinking through all that it occurred to me that there are some small changes we could all make this coming year that just might make a huge difference in how the world perceives the Church, and by extension how they perceive Jesus and Christian people. Changing how Christians are perceived in the culture might just help us to reach more people this year with the love of Jesus.

 So, in the interest of making this next year a great one for the cause of Christ I want to suggest three small, relatively painless changes we could all make that would make Christianity more appealing to the world around us without compromising truth.

 Starting with:

 A commitment to change the things that need to change-

 It’s true that some people are turned off by the message of Christianity (believe in Jesus and repent of your sin [Mark 1:15]). That said, more often than not, people are turned off by the behavior of Christians long before they get to hear the message of Christianity. Being purposeful about our own spiritual growth (Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 12:14, 2nd Peter 1:3-10) prevents this tragedy. Intentionality in the arena of spiritual growth has to begin with a commitment to examine ourselves daily so that we will be painfully aware of our own sinful inclinations. It ends with an unwavering commitment to honoring God in every area of our lives. The payoff for a commitment to spiritual growth is two-fold. We grow into the people God has called us to be (Ephesians 1:4, 1st Peter 2:9) and the holiness we acquire through this process gives us the spiritual power we need to lead others into relationship with Jesus.

 Expanding your circle of friendship-

 It is true that we grow in our faith and knowledge of God and life anytime we spend quality time with other Christians (Hebrews 10:25, Proverbs 27:17). It is also true that non-believers have their view of the world challenged when they spend time with and engage in meaningful conversations with Christians (John 4, Acts 17:16-34). If we would all commit to building some meaningful relationships with a few people (Christians and non-Christians) outside our circle I believe we could have a significant impact on our own little corner of the world. That in turn would make our world a better place and in the process we will learn more about life and God and make some new friends all at the same time. That’s a win all the way around.

 Forgiving someone-

 Over and over again in Scripture Christians are commanded to forgive others (Matthew 11:25, Luke 17:4, Colossians 3:13), Jesus even tied God’s forgiveness towards us to our willingness to forgive others (Matthew 6:15, Luke 6:37). I believe that God wants us to forgive others because unforgiveness leads to bitterness (among other things). Bitterness turns us into ugly, unpleasant people who are unlikely to attract others to Christianity or anything else. This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us that bitterness causes trouble and defiles many (Hebrews 12:15). The New Year is a perfect time to begin the process of forgiving those people who have hurt us. When we forgive others we become people that God can use for the good of others and for His glory.

 Wishing you all a joyful and spiritually productive 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Hero of Christmas-

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife~ Matthew 1:24 NIV

 I will not lie.

 I really love some of the less-than-spiritual aspects of Christmas. I love Jesus (because I am not a heathen). I also love the parties, the food, the trees, the decorations, the music, and the traditions of Christmas. I even like some of the stuff I should probably dislike. Things like Frosty, Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, and gift giving and getting. I actually enjoy  the commercial stuff that sidetracks us from what should be a simple celebration of the birth of the Savior.

 Because I am drawn to the secular side of Christmas every year I attempt to discipline myself and spend a little extra time each year focusing on the birth of Christ. This year I started in Matthew and rediscovered an often forgotten hero of the Christmas story: Joseph.

 Most of us overlook Joseph because Mary is clearly the star of the show. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of her story. Mary’s obedient response to Gabriel’s announcement is how we should all respond to God’s call on our life. She voluntarily endured personal loss, hardship and probably even ridicule to bring the Messiah into the world.

 Everyone loves Mary.

 However, this year it was Joseph that captured my attention. I’m convinced that if we were all a little more like Joseph the world would be a better place.

 The text tells us that God saw Joseph as a righteous man. That alone was a fairly rare thing for God to say about anyone in those days. Then we are told that because of his righteousness he did not want to divorce Mary publicly. At this point in the story Mary and Joseph were legally wed, the marriage was a done deal in the eyes of the law, their religious community and their family and friends. The only thing left to do was to consummate the marriage.

 According to both Roman and Jewish law Joseph had every right to publicly divorce (and humiliate) Mary. They were married and he had what appeared to be incontrovertible proof of infidelity. Her story about the angel was, by every measurable standard, more than a little nutso. Even most “good” people would have felt justified in publicly shaming a woman who slept with another man and then told a ridiculously outlandish story to cover-up her misdeeds.

 Seriously.           

 God’s evaluation of Joseph as a “righteous man” tells me that God has a special place in His heart for those who look out for the reputations of others. God blesses those who are willing to go out of their way not to behave in a vengeful way even when they have been legitimately wronged.

 I love that Joseph was willing to ignore the opinions of people in order to gain the approval of God. Following the dream where Joseph was commanded to keep Mary as his wife, Joseph had to go back to his family and friends and tell them that he planned to go ahead with marriage to a girl most people were probably convinced was less than honorable woman.

 Joseph’s family and friends were likely convinced that Joseph was either a fool or a liar. It almost goes without saying that Joseph suffered heartache, humiliation and social disgrace for his choice to stick by Mary.

Joseph’s selflessness is a reminder that the kind of righteousness that pleases God typically involves a high level of inconvenience and self-denial.

 There is nothing wrong with the silly side of Christmas celebrations. The God we serve created fun and joy. My prayer is that in the midst of all the fun and merrymaking Joseph’s story will serve as a reminder that our response to God’s goodness and generosity should be a life of authentic righteousness and self-denial.

Yes, You Really Are Your Brother’s Keeper

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification~ Romans 14:7 and 19 NIV

 I live in the state of Washington.

 The state of Washington is famous (some would say infamous) for many things, some of them magnificent, others less so. A few of those things include (but are not limited to) Nirvana, evergreen trees, coffee shops, the Space Needle, apples, rain, really great seafood, Jimi Hendrix, and of course legalized marijuana.

 Sadly, it’s marijuana that gets the most attention these days.

 Typically when I talk to people from outside the state we eventually end up in a ridiculous discussion about drug use in general, and marijuana use in particular.

 The conversation typically goes something like this:

 Them: “So, you’re from Washington State?”

 Me: “Yes.”

 Them: “So is it true you can, like, buy pot anywhere?”

 Me: (tired sigh) “well, not exactly. There are special stores where you can buy marijuana. You can’t get it at Wal-Mart yet. But, I’m sure that’s coming.”

 Them: “I hear there are lots of tax benefits to legalizing marijuana. I bet your schools and roads have improved a lot.”

 Me: (barely controlling an overwhelming impulse to roll my eyes) “Well, no. Actually the schools are pretty much just bad as they have always been and our roads have potholes roughly the same size as the craters on the moon. However, the riff-raff are taking over the state and our property taxes have gone up every year since marijuana was legalized. Oh, and fatal car crashes involving marijuana have more than doubled since it was legalized. Because of that our auto insurance rates have gone through the roof. So, I guess that’s something.”

 Them: “I sure wish my state would legalize marijuana.”

 Me: “Why on earth would you want that?”

 Them: “I just think people should be able to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

 At this point, one of two things typically happens. If I’m feeling charitable I tag out and go find someone rational to talk to. If I’m in a bad mood or feeling feisty, I challenge their thinking.

 I typically begin with the above-mentioned facts regarding taxes, car crashes and insurance rates. I follow all of that up with a few statistics concerning the countless social ills that inevitably follow drug legalization. I usually include some statistics on addiction rates to harder drugs and point out the problems our society already has with children stuck in an overburdened foster care system because their parents are too addicted and/or screwed-up to care for them.

 The other person typically snaps back with what they believe is the final and conclusive response to every point I have made thus far in the conversation:

 “Well, it’s not like any of us are our brother’s keeper. Those are not my problems. Why should I be denied the “right” to use marijuana recreationally and responsibly just because some people move on to harder drugs or use drugs and drive.”

 At this point if my sweet husband happens to be within earshot he places his hand gently on my arm and attempts to lead me away from the unfortunate chump who is about to get an earful of my feelings on this subject. He knows that I do believe we all are to one degree or another our brother’s keeper. Each and every one of us has a sacred duty to look after the health and well being of the other seven billion souls who live on this planet whether we feel like it or not and this is not just about marijuana or drug legalization.

 It’s about a little thing we call “being human”.

 Decent people voluntarily set aside their own interests and avoid doing things that have the potential to hurt others or lead weak people astray. That is why past generations avoided things like smoking marijuana, cursing in public, using hard drugs, looking at porn in public spaces, and dumping their spouses for younger models. Not just because some of those things were unlawful but also because they had the good sense to understand that those things can and do cause harm to other people, especially children. And the culture was better off for it.

 Christians are called to an even higher level of “being human” than the rest of humanity. The Apostle Paul went so far as to suggest we give up eating meat and drinking wine if our eating and drinking causes another person to stumble. I for one believe our society could use a fresh dose of that kind of thinking.

 

 

 

Me, Myself and I Do

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God~ 2nd Timothy 3:2-4 NIV

 I was recently struck by a painful reality. The nature of the times we live in is such that the instant I dare to think I have finally seen it all, something new (and unimaginably bizarre) comes along and reminds me all over again that the human race never stops inventing crazy crap to do.

 My latest epiphany came in the form of a strange new movement: sologamy. Otherwise known as the act of marrying oneself.

 Seriously, it’s a thing.

 There is a website (imarriedme.com) that sells kits for those folks (kits start at $50.00 and go as high as $230.00) interested in making the ultimate commitment to self-love. The individual making the promise to love him or her self till they breathe their last breath procures the kit and clothing befitting the occasion (some purchase wedding dresses or rent tuxedos). Guests are invited to observe as the person recites their vows while gazing into a handheld mirror. The service can be completed with or without a pastor or Justice of the Peace officiating. The vows are followed by a reception where the attending guests celebrate the happy individual and their promise to satisfy their own best interests above all others.

I am not making this up.

 Then, I suppose, (I have no actual data on this) the newly committed solagamist goes off on a solo honeymoon trip to memorialize their newly minted commitment and to get to know them-selves better.

 Sigh.  

 I struggled a little bit with where exactly to go with this post. On the one hand, the whole concept of marrying oneself is just a silly, frivolous and rather sad trend. It’s easy to argue that solagamy is really not significant enough to bother getting worked up over. It really is tempting to dismiss solagamy as just another weird example of 21st century self-indulgence run amok.

 Nevertheless, the trend of solagamy (and it is rapidly becoming a trend) says some significant and scary things about where we are at and where we are going as a culture.

 I find this peculiar trend troubling for a number of different reasons and on a number of different levels.

 The decadence of a ceremony that celebrates commitment to self-love leaves me with a skeezy, almost dirty, feeling. The uninhibited hedonism is disturbing. Then there’s the sad reality that marriage has been dumbed-down to a place where many in our culture sincerely believe that a wedding is just a big fancy party we throw for our own pleasure and an occasion to show-off our event planning skills. All that being said, mostly I just feel a soul-wrenching sadness that so many in our society have become so lonely and isolated that solo weddings are actually becoming an industry.

 Sigh.

 Sadly, it’s not just the world of romance and weddings that has been affected by our collective love affair with self. Instilling self-esteem (another term for self-love) in their children is now the number one concern of today’s parents, beating out almost every other parenting concern including teaching their kids right from wrong and ensuring that their children are educated well enough to enter the work force. It’s not just parents who are concerned with self-esteem. According to forbes.com, Americans spend a whopping eleven billion dollars on self-help and self-esteem books every year. We are encouraged in obvious-and not so obvious- ways to find ourselves, love ourselves and do right by number one, because if we don’t no one else will.

 All this self-adoration is a far cry from the biblical mandate to “lose yourself” (Luke 17:33) and the biblical call to put the interests of others above our own (Philippians 2:3, Romans 13:8). Self-worship (and that is what this is) is as different from “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:30-33) as cats are from kangaroos. The biblical mandate presupposes that we already think enough of our selves and care enough for ourselves to set a reasonable standard for how we ought treat others. The self-esteem movement assumes that we need to focus more attention on ourselves before we even begin to think about anyone else’s needs or wants.

 As Christians we may or may not be able to change the trajectory of our self-focused culture (2nd Timothy 3:2). However, we can model healthy self-care (a biblical concept) and show people that it is possible to be happy, fulfilled and cared for without having a romantic relationship with ones self.