Four Changes the Church Must Make Now-

Be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord– Colossians 3:15b-16 NKJV

By any measurable standard the last year and a half was bumpy for everyone. The world was collectively awestruck at how quickly a weird little virus could lead to compulsory lockdowns, financial uncertainty, social unrest, church closures and the shutdown of most schools. The gloom brought on by those unwelcome changes took a heavy toll on everyone, including most Christians (James 1:2-3). 

Unparalleled world events swiftly exposed a whole host of systemic and potentially lethal problems lurking in Western churches. Most believers lacked the spiritual tools and community support necessary to keep their faith vibrant over a year of forced isolation. Even fewer Christians were prepared to answer the questions that surfaced out of the COVID crisis. Questions like: where is God when we suffer? What role should government play in faith communities? What does honoring authority look like in a global pandemic (Romans 13:4-6)? Is online church a suitable substitute for the real deal (Hebrews 10:25)? Furthermore, local churches struggled with an unprecedented loss of attendance and financial support. Many pastors suffered a crisis of identity when they learned exactly how expendable most political and public health authorities felt their contribution to society was.

Sigh.

Thankfully, the worst seems to be passing. I am personally overjoyed, no one hated COVID world more than this girl. That said, we should all have some very real reservations about churches returning to the “normal” we foolishly embraced pre-COVID. Our Western Church version of normal was anything but healthy and live-giving from a spiritual perspective. The last thing the church needs is more of what created the problems that became evident during COVID.  Instead the church needs a twenty-first century reformation that begins with:

An end to the Christian celebrity culture- 

Little good has come from idolizing Christian pastors, musicians, and influencers. Most of the men and women put on pedestals by the Christian community have become prideful and arrogant and proven themselves to be completely unteachable. Too many “celebrity Christians” have embraced a life of sin and destroying the reputation of Jesus and other Christians in the process.  Some have become so addicted to media attention that they eventually denounced Christianity altogether to keep the spotlight on them. It’s time for Christian to say “no more” to the celebrity culture.  Instead we must be intentional about looking within our own local churches for faithful men and women to hold up as examples of the faith (1st Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17). 

No more shallow teaching-

A shocking lack of doctrinal depth has become standard in Church world.  Like most of our mistakes this one was made with good intentions. Dumping discipleship programs (Adult Sunday school) and replacing them with small groups was intended to build community and make unbelievers more comfortable in the church. It did neither. All it did was shrink the Church and produce a generation of genuinely ignorant and spiritually immature Christians. If we want to save the Western Church we need to find ways to make Sunday school cool again. 

Theology that empowers the church to deal with secular authority in a biblical manner- 

It’s simply a fact that Christians are called to obey secular authorities.  However, early Christians continued to meet together (sometimes daily) despite the fact it was forbidden by “authorities” on and off for more than three centuries.  If they hadn’t the church probably would have disappeared altogether early in the first century. Leaders and individual Christians need to do some soul searching and decide what sort of edict is worthy of violating the command to “gather together” before the next round of shutdowns. 

An openness to a movement of the Spirit of God- 

Sadly, there are two equally stupid views of the Holy Spirit that have prevailed in most denominations over the last century. On one end of the spectrum there is a history of gross excess. This group has taken 1st Thessalonians 5:19Do not quench the Spirit” to mean that almost anything done in the name of the Holy Spirit goes with or without any biblical precedent. Period. This has been a huge turnoff for those on the other end of the spectrum who have declared anything they see as out of the ordinary (speaking in tongues, raising hands in worship, prophetic utterances) as evil and “of the devil” even if that thing has biblical precedent. Both attitudes are wrong, Truth lies in the middle. It is not our job to manufacture the work of the Spirit in the name of “having an experience”. Neither is it our job to dictate to God how He can or cannot work. Our job is to seek the Spirit with an open heart asking Him to reveal more of Himself and His truth to us. However, we also need to understand that any genuine work of the Holy Spirit will be accompanied with a greater desire to obey God. The Holy doesn’t do anything without the purpose of bringing greater obedience and purity to God’s people. 

Community- 

We are made in the image of a relational God (Genesis 1:26). We need each other. Period. Churches have to figure out how to create authentic faith communities in the midst of twenty-first century busyness. If we don’t the church will continue to lose people. 

It is the churches responsibility to be ready to offer hope, help and healing when the worst happens. Most churches weren’t ready for any of that with COVID. Welcoming a movement of God, building community in the church and being prepared to answer  tough theological questions is how we get ready for whatever comes next. 

Why we all Need to get our Butts Back in the Church Building-

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  – Acts 2:42 NIV 

According to Pew Research Center as of March 2021 almost half (forty-three percent) of church members have yet to return to in-person church services. A forty-three percent loss of almost anything is at best unsustainable. At worst such a loss could prove fatal. 

Think about it. 

If a family were to suddenly lose forty-three percent of their savings, the loss would create untold chaos in their financial future. If a nation were to lose forty-three percent of their population the nation would inevitably become weak, ineffectual and find themselves at the mercy of their enemies. The church is no different. A forty-three percent loss of regular attenders is no small deal. 

I totally get that there are some individuals who cannot or should not go back to in-service church attendance at this time.

For the record; 

Elderly folks unable or unwilling to get the COVID vaccine, get a pass on returning to in-person services. The immune compromised, or parents with an immune compromised child are also exempt from returning to in-person services at this time. Those with serious comorbidities who cannot or do not wish to take the vaccine, get a pass on resuming in-person church attendance at least for now. 

Everyone else needs to get their butts back in the church building. 

Pronto. 

Here’s why:

It’s not necessarily going to be smooth sailing from here- 

I do not fancy myself a prophet. That said, the culture has taken a turn for the worse and every fiber of my being tells me that the shaking God has given our world over the course of the last fifteen months is not even close to being over (Hebrews 12:25-27). God will continue to shake our world until people respond to Him in repentance (Revelation 9:20). What the shaking will look like and where it will end are questions far above my meager paygrade.  Nonetheless, it’s not over. More trouble and hardship is coming and the body of Christ will likely not be exempt from the trouble (1st Peter 4:17). If I’m right Christians will need the encouragement and connection they can only get from the body of Christ in order to continue their growth as believers (Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:24-26) When Christians fail to grow spiritually they run the risk their faith will die a slow and painful death that could end in apostasy (Hebrews 6:1-9, Matthew 24:9-11).  Church community is critical because it prevents apostasy.  

The church needs all hands-on deck to accomplish the mission of the Church- 

The mission of the church is clear (Matthew 28:18-19). The church is to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. To accomplish this end church leaders are commanded to teach and train all believers to live out the truth of the gospel so they can reach their unsaved friends and family with the gospel (Ephesians 4:10-12). This task is massive. It demands the whole-body work together to accomplish the mission (Romans 12:4-6, 1st Corinthians 12:17). If one person stays home or refuses to do their part a ball gets dropped that ensures the whole body is less effective than they could have been. 

Christians need the church to stay anchored and spiritually healthy-

Without a solid church to anchor a person to the faith individual believers either drift away from Christianity altogether or they begin to adopt strange theories and attitudes regarding God and Scripture. Strange beliefs make it very difficult to reach others with the gospel. These things happen without the person even realizing they are happening. Regular community involvement in a local church is the only way to prevent drift from taking place and eccentric beliefs from taking root. 

There are some things you cannot experience while watching a screen- 

Online attendance has its limits. It is possible to get the essence of a sermon from an online format. That said, it is impossible to experience unity and connection with other believers alone in your living room. It is also impossible to experience the knitting together of the body that takes place when the whole church worships their God in one accord (Acts 2:42-47, Revelation 7:9-10). It is also impossible to effectively use one’s individual gifts to grow the body of Christ while isolated from the body of Christ. We need each other for all these things.  

This pandemic is winding down- 

An estimated thirty percent of the population has recovered from COVID-19 and has natural immunity, another fifty percent of the population has had at least one COVID vaccination. This is a clear indicator it is time for God’s people to ditch their fear and get back to the business of living hard for Jesus.  

The bottom-line in all this is that we go to church because God tells us to and it is the pattern we see throughout the entire Bible. We cannot say we love God and refuse to do what He says (John 14:15, 1st John 5:2, Hebrews 10:25) at least not without experiencing dire consequences. In this case consequences could include a slow separation from God that gives the devil a foothold in our lives and place for sin and even apostasy to take root. Nobody who really knows Jesus wants that. In order to prevent it we all need to get our butts back into the church building. 

Now.  

Why Christians Still Need Corporate Church Services in the Age of COVID-19-

Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching- Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

 One unexpected result of the Coronavirus pandemic has been the emergence of two distinct viewpoints on the subject of church amongst church people.

 Many, including mega-church Pastor Andy Stanley feel there is little need for churches to meet corporately in light of the health issues our society is grappling with. They believe worship is more-or-less a private matter and online church is a perfectly adequate means for delivering a Sunday morning message. This group is convinced Romans 13:1 is the end-all-be-all in this situation. They believe STAYING HOME is the SAFEST and BEST way to honor God and be a credible witness to the culture at this point in history.

 Others believe CHURCHES SHOULD BE OPEN NOW.  Christians have a RIGHT to be in church and rights are meant to be exercised. Many of these same people feel it shows a lack of faith to wear masks in church or follow CDC COVID-19 guidelines.

 Never has there been a greater need for wisdom.

  If church attendance is a statement of your political values you are attending for the wrong reasons. Period. Furthermore, Christians should not abandon good sense when they meet together. It is not anti-faith to wash our hands and avoid close physical contact with people in the middle of a global pandemic. Seriously.

 That being said.

  Without private worship corporate worship devolves into a hollow exercise. Nevertheless, private worship is not a suitable substitute for in-person gatherings. Church attendance matters (Acts 5:12). When Christians meet together for the sole purpose of honoring God something sacred and beautiful takes place, therefore Christians should not be too quick to accept the online experience as the “new normal”. Christians should seek out some sort of corporate church experience (more on that later) for the following four reasons:

 People do not grow in safe, comfortable environments-

 It is human nature to seek out and create environments we feel completely comfortable in. Church at home is without a doubt the most comfortable church experience on the planet. However, people do not grow personally or spiritually when they stay in situations that are exactly to their liking for too long. God knows this. Therefore, He makes a practice of placing His people in situations that feel super uncomfortable and even unsafe. Joseph, Naomi, David, Daniel, Esther, Elijah, Peter and Paul all flourished spiritually when were thrown into situations they undoubtedly found personally challenging and even terrifying. The early church started as a near-perfect church experience (Acts 2:42-47). However, it did not take long for God to disperse His people into the unknown and uncomfortable.

 Online church and other exclusively private forms of worship give sinful human beings far too much control over their experience-

 In recent years Christians have had more choice about where they attend church and more access to spiritual resources than at any other point in history. Inexplicably, the end result of all this freedom has not been an overwhelming success. Christians are not exactly setting the world on fire. This is because people grow most when they are forced to do things and hear things they don’t want to do or hear. Internet church is fundamentally unhealthy because sitting in our living rooms alone does not require us to make a single concession to anyone else’s needs. It is also way too easy to give in to the temptation to fast-forward through music we dislike or the “boring” parts of the sermon. Corporate church is necessary because it forces us to sacrifice for others and challenges our thinking on critical spiritual issues (Proverbs 11:14).

 The biblical model is primarily one of corporate worship and learning-

 Corporate worship and study are the standard pattern in the Bible. This is true in the Old Testament, the New Testament and the future we are shown in the book of Revelation (Psalm 35:18, Hebrews 2:12, Revelation 7:8-9).

 The Christian life will get harder and community is vital when life is hard-

 Overnight it has become harder to be a Christian. It will not get any easier anytime soon. When life is hard relationship becomes essential. Online community is not wrong. I have formed some valued friendships online with people I will never meet this side of heaven.  However, online communities have some distinct disadvantages over in-person community. Christians who live in communist countries will tell you that online community can be undone in a few brief minutes by a determined government authority. Neither does online community allow for the meeting of other’s physical needs. Furthermore, it is all-too easy to “love” online community members who never have an opportunity to rub you the wrong way.

 Churches that refuse to take reasonable safety precautions do not love their neighbors (Matthew 7:12). They should be avoided. No one who is at high risk place themselves in a mega-church environment. That said, self-examination is key if you feel safe going to restaurants and malls you should stop making excuses, take some precautions and get your keister back in church.   

 Those who cannot attend a church service for legitimate health reasons should seek to create a small group of Christians outside their immediate family and watch the service with them. This should include participating in the worship portion of the service and there should be time set aside to pray for one another’s needs.

 No one should be doing the Christian life solo right now. We must find a way to participate in authentic Church community.

Will Churches Survive the COVID-19 Crisis?

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

  I hate COVID-19.

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

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

 However.

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

 What is a Christian to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 They are our greatest need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alcohol, Psychology, Environmentalism and Other Awkward Relationships I Have With the World-

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight- 1st Corinthians 3:18-19a NIV

 Christians are commanded to live in this world without wallowing around in the worldliness of the world (John 17:16-18, 1st John 2:15-17, 1st John 4:4-5). For mature believers this means having an awkward and uncomfortable relationship with a lot of the things in this world.

 For me, the list of worldly things I am at least somewhat uncomfortable with is long. Some highlights include most government funded poverty programs, modern environmentalism, public education and most of the stuff that comes out of Hollywood.  The enemy has gotten a firm foothold in every one of those arenas and found clever ways to use them to mislead people.

 Alcohol is yet another example of an awkward and uncomfortable relationship I have with the world. There is a little too much sanctioned alcohol use in the Bible for me to completely buy into the idea it’s a sin to drink alcohol (Song of Songs 8:2, Proverbs 3:10, John 2:1-8, 1st Timothy 5:23).   That being said. As the adult child of two raging alcoholics I have experienced firsthand the devastation and misery that comes with excessive alcohol use. Therefore, I am uncomfortable with anything other than infrequent alcohol use.

 Anyway.  

 Perhaps my most uncomfortable ongoing relationship with the things of this world is with psychology.

 I am not opposed to psychology.  

 My husband occasionally jokes I was raised by wolves. It’s a bit of an exaggeration but not completely out of line with reality. I credit discovering psychology in my early twenties with helping me make sense of my parents, myself and why they were the way they where and why I am the way I am. I credit Jesus with saving me and changing me but without the aid of some Christian counselors and Christian psychology books it probably would have taken a lot longer for me to work out the kinks that a sketchy upbringing created in my personality (Romans 12:2, 2nd Corinthians 3:18, 2nd Corinthians 5:17).

 If psychology is kept in perspective, it can be helpful to the church. Psychology is the science of understanding the human mind. It helps explain how past experiences influence human behavior.  When leaders understand the “why” behind human actions it enables them to help people get free of the bondage that comes with bad choices. Psychology helps people to better understand themselves.  Knowing the “why’s” behind why we do what we do is key to making changes that help us become better more effective followers of Jesus.

 However.

 Like all human wisdom, psychology has very real limits and should never take priority over the Bible (1stCorinthians 1:25). It’s important to remember that with the exception of Christian practitioners, psychology does not acknowledge God or the sin nature of humanity (Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:23). As a result, the science of psychology can never fully explain exactly how and why the human soul can become completely twisted and evil, nor does it empower people to fully transform into a better version of themselves (2nd Corinthians 5:17). Only Jesus can do that.

 Secular psychology relies heavily on behavior modification which some people (including some Christians) confuse with the Christian act of repentance. Repentance is usually a process.  It begins with the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life to convict them that their choices are wrong. The person recognizes their behavior is wrong, not because it bugs other people or because it creates chaos in their lives but rather because it is offensive to God. Then the person makes changes to please God rather than people. These kinds of changes tend to last.

  Conversely, behavior modification is usually motivated by social pressure. A spouse or friend says something judgy and it becomes apparent that relationships will be threatened if something doesn’t change. The individual then changes their behavior just enough to please people and get them off their back. Sometimes this happens without the person concluding that there was anything wrong with what they were doing in the first place.  

 Without true heartfelt repentance it is impossible to be saved because repentance is the fruit of faith (Acts 20:21, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, Mark 1:4). Unfortunately, psychology sometimes enables people to change just enough to keep them from feeling like they need to turn to God and repent. Psychology can make a person aware of their shortcomings and flaws but it can never bring anyone to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

 By far my biggest issue with psychology is that it places limits on compassion and forgiveness that God does not. Psychology tells us that no one is obligated to forgive a wrong and that no one should do anything they don’t really want to do.  God wants His people to be like Him. This means Christians are called to a radical level of living that sometimes demands we go further with grace and forgiveness than psychology tells us is healthy or wise. It means there are times in life when we look beyond worldly wisdom and love in ways that make no sense at all from a human perspective.

 

 

 

 

Why Politics and Religion Really are Compatible-

Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him- Mark 12:17 NIV

 Most of Americans were taught two rules regarding politics and religion. First, we were taught politics and religion are subjects that inevitably produce tension and discord. Therefore, it is bad manners to discuss either subject in a public forum. Most Americans were also taught politics and religion are two entirely separate subjects that have no connection whatsoever. Consequently, only ignoramuses combine discussion of the two subjects.

 The ship has more or less sailed on the first rule.


For better or worse, there are precious few topics off-limits for discussion in our goat rodeo of a society. Only weirdos and squares care about tension and discord anymore. Truth-be-told, there are people  who get paid good money to produce and promote all sorts of tension and discord.

 However.

  The second rule is still very much in force. This due in part to a near unanimous misunderstanding of the phrase “separation of church and state”. Most believe it is found in the Constitution or some other critical founding document.  It’s not. The only place it was ever used was in a personal letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to an association of Baptists known as the Danbury Baptists.  This group was fearful there would be a state sponsored church in America. In his letter Mr. Jefferson assured them there is “wall of separation between church and state”. He promised them the American government would never intrude on there’s or anyone’s religious beliefs or activities. Clearly, Mr. Jefferson didn’t own a crystal ball, but, that’s another blogpost for another day. The passing of the Johnson Amendment in 1954 also contributed to the belief that politics and religion should be kept in separate corners. That law allows the government to strip Churches of their tax-exempt status if they endorse or oppose political candidates.

 All that being said.

A stupid law and widespread ignorance of our founding documents are not the only reasons we don’t talk about politics and religion.

 Many Christians sincerely believe politics is dirty and religion is clean. They think that by merging political conversations with faith conversations, we dirty up our religion and run the risk of muddling the message of the gospel. Christians who believe this way tend to think Jesus was discouraging political involvement when he said “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s”.  Most non-Christians and some progressive Christians sincerely believe any mixing of religion and politics will cause our republic to morph into a creepy theocracy reminiscent of The Handmaids Tale.

 Sigh.

 In spite of almost everyone’s desire to keep politics and religion in separate corners, the two have had some ugly run-in’s in recent years. Culture is shifting rapidly and battle lines are being drawn between right wrong. Once a upon a time issues like pedophilia, relaxing or eliminating drug laws, the elimination of restrictions on hardcore pornography, lowering the age of sexual consent, sanctioning late term abortion, legalizing prostitution and allowing infanticide were considered icky fringe issues. Our society has become less Christian and more accepting of just about everything and some have felt emboldened to push these and other issues through the courts in recent years (Psalm 52:3, Isaiah 5:20). Religious people (mostly Christians) have become weary of the societal decline that has resulted from an increase in progressive legislation.

 Okay, so, a couple of things:

 It is true Christians sometimes send the message that in order to be a Christian one must hold to a certain set of political views. It is also true that if a person is a Christian the Bible will inform their thinking on all issues, including political issues. However, the notion that one has to do anything but believe in Jesus and repent of their sin to become a Christian is tragically wrong. Additionally, patriotism is not godliness. Love of country is a good thing but it must never be confused with fidelity to Jesus.

 Furthermore.

 One of the key reasons Christianity has flourished in America is because our founders wisely avoided forming a theocracy. If America’s founders had instituted a state sponsored Christian church, it is a given that the state would have killed the dynamic and powerful nature of Christianity by insisting that all Christians think and worship exactly the same way.

 Trust me. No one wants a theocracy in America.

 That being said. Christians must work hard as believers to keep Jesus the main thing in all we do. We are not called to change the world through political legislation or even social reform. We are called to change the world by bringing people to Jesus and then teaching them to think and act like Jesus (Matthew 28:19). At the same time, we must embrace the reality that all of life belongs to God and there is no sphere Christians are not called to influence and redeem for Jesus (Psalm 24:1).  Therefore, Christians must never lose their moral outrage when politicians attempt to legalize behavior that robs human beings of their God-given dignity. Christians must also learn to graciously explain to our unbelieving world that every political choice has a spiritual and personal consequence. Christians should also vote like Jesus is in the booth with us.

Because He is. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Weird Lies Christians Believe About Forgiveness-

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

Humans believe all sorts of weird lies. 

It all started with Adam and Eve and little has improved since our predecessors bought into that first stupid lie (Genesis 3). Even really smart people believe really weird stuff about relationships, what actually makes us happy, sex, money, the moon landing, God’s goodness, and what gender they are. 

 Sadly, Christians also believe lies.  

It’s true that most Christians believe in the goodness of God (at least on most days) and know what gender they are. However, believers in Jesus are still predisposed to believe lies about every other topic under the sun. The lies most Christians believe are spiritual lies that contain a small seed of truth. In my experience the number one issue Christians are most likely to believe lies about is forgiveness. Following are six lies we believe about forgiveness that keep people from forgiving. 

You haven’t really forgiven unless you have also forgotten the offense. 

Christians are commanded to forgive others just as God forgave them (Ephesians 4:32).  Fun fact: God does not simply forgive sins He actually forgets them. God says this of Himself in Isaiah 43:25…

 I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. 

This statement and has created massive confusion in the minds of some people. There are Christians who beat themselves up mercilessly because they think they’ve done a terrible job of forgiving because they remember people’s sins. Others have become bitter towards God because they believe He has set a ridiculously unattainable standard for forgiveness. Here’s the deal: unlike God, humans are limited beings. God can do whatever He chooses to do. Conversely, there are some things humans simply cannot do. Humans cannot create other humans from the dust of the earth and humans cannot forget the sins of other humans. It’s critical we remember two truths: God is not a jerk and He is fully aware of our limitations (He made us). God does not ask us to do more than we can do.  All He asks is that we let go of our “right” to seek revenge and trust Him to work out justice on our behalf.  

Authentic forgiveness always includes restoration of the relationship-

This is a filthy-rotten-lie the devil uses to keep good people from forgiving and moving on. After all, who in their right mind would choose to forgive their rapist or abuser if forgiving means they have to become friends with them? It truly is possible to fully forgive a person without building or rebuilding a relationship with them. Sometimes (not every time) forgiveness without reconciliation is the safest, wisest route to take.  Reconciliation is more complicated than forgiveness because reconciling with a stubbornly unrepentant sinner usually leads to more hurt. Hurt leads to bitterness.  I believe that Hebrews 12:25 cautions Christians against placing themselves in situations that will likely lead to bitterness. No situation is more liable to produce bitterness than being repetitively hurt by the same person. That being said, in cases where reconciliation can be achieved every effort should be made to attain that end. A skilled Christian counselor or a Pastor can be helpful in bringing about healthy reconciliation in relationships damaged by sin.  

Forgiveness is a “one and done”-

It’s not. Because humans are powerless to forget pain (see point one). Hurt has a way of returning usually about the time we think we have conquered it. If you have forgiven someone and feel the old feelings of bitterness return, take those feelings to God and ask Him to help you let go of the anger and resentment you feel. Ask until your heart changes (Matthew 7:7-8).  

Forgiving should feel good- 

Being free of hurt feels great. However, getting free from hurt is one of the most awful, painful and emotionally agonizing things a human being can experience. The good news is that God Himself will walk you through that awful process and you will come out the other side on a better, healthier path transformed into a new and freer person. 

We don’t really have to forgive- 

If God asked us to forgive for the sake of others this would be true, but it’s not, because He doesn’t. Christians are commanded to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25) because forgiveness is the best thing for us as individuals. The other person is more-or-less irrelevant. Forgiveness frees us from the mental and spiritual distractions that comes from nurturing a spirit of bitterness.  When we harbor unforgiveness we become a shadow of what we might have been if we had been willing to fully obey the Lord.  

We only have to forgive the repentant- 

Only forgiving people who are truly sorry would certainly make forgiveness much easier and a lot more fun. Even a heathen can forgive someone who is sorry for what they’ve done.  Alas, God rarely asks His people to do the easy thing. Instead, He asks His people to the character-building thing. 

Forgiveness is the character-building thing.

The Wrong Way to Handle a Celebrity Conversion-

 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” ~ Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

Kanye West shocked pretty much everyone in the Christian and secular world when he “came out” as a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. A week later he released a Christian album entitled Jesus is King. In the six weeks or so since his big reveal he has spoken out about his new-found faith on late night television, on at least one news program, appeared at numerous Christian events and was interviewed by Joel Osteen at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston Texas. 

A few weeks back one of our older daughters asked me what I thought about Kanye’s conversion to Christianity.  She wanted to know if I thought it was the real deal and if I believed it would last. 

It’s tempting to lie but I won’t. 

My initial (admittedly sinful) inclination was to list in grim detail all the celebrities over the course of my lifetime who have made “heartfelt” commitments to Jesus only to break those commitments in a spectacularly horrifying fashion that ultimately brought incalculable shame to Jesus. I was also tempted to bring up all of the “celebrity” Christians who have presented themselves to the world as Christian role models and then proceeded to live like heathens before they finally “came out” as unbelievers. 

I get that this confession makes me sound like an awful person and an even more awful Christian. In my defense (which I admit is pathetically weak), I am not the only Christian who has been a bit skeptical of Kayne’s conversion story. The internet has been buzzing with opinions (many of them negative) on this subject.

The good news is that before I had a chance to open my stupid pie-hole and spout-off my rather self-righteous opinion on the subject the Holy Spirit caught me up short. In the space of about ten seconds God reminded me in a not-so-gentle way that people can change and I am living proof of that fact. 

Sigh.  

So, all this begs the question. How should a Christian respond to the news that an unlikely person has made a commitment to Jesus? I believe we should respond in four ways anytime anyone makes a commitment to Jesus. 

In faith-

As believers in Jesus we should have the faith to believe that God has the power to change anyone He really wants to change. If we believe in the gospel we also have to believe that God really can change people, even people we see as unlikely candidates for change (2nd Corinthians 3:18). The Bible is packed with examples of people who most of us would have written off as utterly hopeless (Acts 9). It’s critical we remember that without faith in God’s ability to do what He says He can do it is literally impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). 

With prayer-

This is a tough a time to be a Christian and it is likely that things will get worse before they get better. The struggles Christians experience are mostly spiritual in nature (Ephesians 6:12-18). Because our struggles are mostly spiritual, prayer is the most powerful thing one Christian can do for another Christian. This is especially true for new Christians who have never experienced difficulty or persecution. Our prayers really will make a difference in how well they walk out their commitment to Christ.  

With a sense of awe and wonder-

Every conversion is literally a miracle and the second we lose sight of that fact we lose sight of what it means to be a Christian. All human beings (even the really nice ones) have hearts that are hard, indifferent and even hostile toward God. When someone submits their life to Jesus Christ and repents of their sin God changes their heart (Ezekiel 36:26). This begins a process that eventually transforms them into an entirely new creation with a whole new set of priorities and desires (2nd Corinthians 5:17). It doesn’t get any more miraculous than that. 

With understanding-

Baby Christians are, more often than not, flaming-hot-messes, practically speaking. They do things they shouldn’t do, say things they shouldn’t say, their motivations tend to be all over the map and they can be oddly judgmental for people who clearly don’t get what Christianity is supposed to “look like”.  It is the job of more mature believers to prove their maturity by being there in practical ways for new believers. This means treating them with grace and mercy as they maneuver through the always challenging process of maturing in Christ (Philippians 2:12). 

Jesus’ came to earth to transform sinful, pigheaded, foolish people into something better than we could ever be in our own power (2nd Corinthians 3:17-18).  All too often Christians (especially Christians who have been Christians for a long time) forget that God changed us and that He is still very much in the business of transforming messy people into messages of His grace, truth and love.

Four Reasons Why God’s Rules Still Matter

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world~ 1st Peter 2:12 NLT 

Heresy is a just a fancy-pants theological term for the act of departing from a pattern of sound biblical teaching (1st Timothy 6:20-21, 2nd Timothy 1:13, 2nd Timothy 4:3). 

Sometimes heresy takes the form of some seriously insane theories about God. 

 There were once Christians who believed that Jesus was simply a human being who was formally adopted by God at his conception. Once the adoption was “finalized” he developed a divine (God) nature while growing in Mary’s womb (Adoptionism). Other early believers were convinced Jesus was a phantom who didn’t leave footprints when He walked rather than a flesh and blood person (Gnosticism). For nearly a thousand years some “Christians” believed people are born without a sin nature and are capable of living a holy life apart from Jesus and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (Pelagianism).  

Most heresies are not wholesale lies about God or crazy misinterpretations of Scripture. Most heresies are more like tiny kernels of truth wrapped-up in half-truths and weird errors.  There are two such heresies deeply rooted in our contemporary Christian culture. The first is legalism. Legalists believe they can earn God’s favor by doing the right things and obeying the right rules. 

It is true that God really cares about our behavior (more on that later). However, legalists would do well to remember that even the best-behaved person in the world cannot save themselves from their own sin (Ephesians 2:8, 2nd Timothy 1:9, Hebrews 10:39). Legalism sidetracks Christians from relationship with Christ by placing the emphasis on what we can do for ourselves rather on what Jesus did for us. Perhaps, the biggest drawback to legalism is that it falsely paints God as demanding, callous and impossible to please. This can lead legalists to feel discouraged and resentful towards God. This can lead to hopelessness and eventually even a departure from the faith.

On the other end of the doctrinal spectrum are those who believe there are no rules and that behavior is a nonissue for Christians. These folks think that once a person is saved there is nothing they can do or not do to offend God. Christians who have intentionally or unintentionally adopted this view do not worry seriously about the effects sin, even deliberate, premeditated sin. Adherents to this view are growing in number and having an enormous impact on the Christian culture. 

The truth is that our behavior does matter but not because it saves us, or makes God like us more. Correct behavior and following the rules matter for four reasons:

Righteous behavior protects us from moral failure- 

Ephesians 6:14 instructs Christians in a metaphorical sense to put on the “breastplate of righteousness”.  The primary purpose of a breastplate in Roman body armor was to protect the soldier’s heart from injury. In Proverbs 4:23 the writer instructs readers to “guard your heart because everything you do flows from it”. Behaving in a way that is righteous (avoiding sin and questionable behavior) protects us from all sorts of pitfalls and potential disasters. For example, going out of your way to avoid pornography protects against addiction, the sin of lust and at least a dozen other really ugly sins. Avoiding people who gossip ensures that you will not become a slanderer (Psalm 15:1-3) and if you never drink alcohol you will never become an alcoholic.  

When Christians behave virtuously non-Christians have the opportunity to experience something the Bible calls conviction-

Perhaps the most critical reason to avoid sin and to behave righteously is because when we do the people around us have a model of good behavior to follow. Sometimes our good behavior even leads sinners to feel guilt or conviction over their bad behavior (1st Peter 3:13-16). Conviction often leads to repentance. 

Christians are commanded to avoid certain behaviors and sins-

The New Testament gives a series of “sin lists” addressed to Christians (Mark 7:21-22, 1st Corinthians 5:10-11, 1st Corinthians 6:9-11, 1st Timothy 1:8-11, Colossians 3:5-8, Galatians 5:19-21). Most of those lists are predicated with or followed by the caution that people who routinely practice the sins listed will not “inherit the kingdom of God”.  In my view it is reasonable to question the salvation of any “Christian” who does not take these warnings to heart. 

Bad behavior causes Christians to lose their moral authority-  

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when most people (saved or unsaved) looked to the church for moral direction and spiritual guidance. However, allegations of fraud, sex abuse scandals, infidelity and wholesale hypocrisy amongst clergy and laypeople alike have stripped the church and the people in it of any moral authority they were once blessed with. Now our culture is swimming in moral chaos and thanks to the sinful antics of Christians over the last forty years no one is looking to the one source that truly has the answers to our problems: the church. 

God loves people so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to save people from their sin (John 3:16). His love doesn’t end there though. God also loved us enough to give us moral boundaries to keep us from going off the rails after we come to know Jesus. It’s up to us to stay within those boundaries.

How to tell if an Idea is Evil or Just Stupid-

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms- Ephesians 6:12 NIV

There are subjects associated with Christianity and the church that are bound to illicit some obvious discomfort and perhaps even a flight response from unbelievers. Expressing biblical views concerning the wrath of God or any topic pulled out of the book of Leviticus is bound to make many non-Christians visibly uncomfortable and perhaps even a bit sweaty. 

There are also biblical issues that make some Christians super squirmy and uncomfortable. Ask why a good God allows evil, or exactly how predestination works or start a conversation about premarital sex, women in ministry, or demonic possession and most Christians will nervously check their watches and begin searching frantically for the nearest exit. 

But perhaps the most of uncomfortable topic of all the uncomfortable topics for both believers and unbelievers is spiritual warfare. There are good reasons for this. There is simply no other subject in the Bible that can get weirder faster than spiritual warfare. This is partly because the Bible is somewhat vague about the particulars of the subject. We know that there are angels and demons and that the angels are the good guys and the demons are the bad guys. We also know that Satan is constantly scheming to distract people from the truth of God. Satan’s goal is to discourage and demoralize Christians (Daniel 10:10-14, Zechariah 1:7-11 Ephesians 6:10-13).  But, the ins and outs of how all of that works is a bit hazy and we are all left to fill in the blanks. Some Christians fill in the blanks rather dramatically. 

Every Christian has an auntie, nana or cousin who sees a demon under every dumpster and at the core of every problem or minor inconvenience. These folks sincerely believe EVERYTHING is a scheme of Satan. Flat tires, bad weather, tired children and head colds are never just things that happen. They are always from the devil. This causes many Christians (especially the smart ones) to simply dismiss the spirit world altogether or to accept the idea that the spirit world exists but avoid thinking about or discussing it. For the record, I do not judge Christians who choose to adopt those polices. The latter was mine for a very long time. 

However.

There are problems with that policy.  Christians are commanded to resist the devil and stand firmly against evil (James 4:7, Ephesians 6:13). It’s difficult to resist something or stand against it when we are doing our best to ignore the fact that the thing exists. Anytime we deny the reality of the spirit world we become less discerning about spiritual things in general. It is possible to know if a movement, idea or undertaking is a scheme of the devil or just a bad idea. Evil ideas or Satanic movements always have three characteristics to them: 

Evil ideas look helpful but lead to despair-

Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2nd Corinthians 11:14). He also wraps his most destructive ideas in an altruistic façade. The modern-day environmental movement is one clear example of this. Environmentalism was (mostly) a good thing until it was hijacked by weirdos who want us to eat babies and dead people (I am not making this up. Google it).  Past environmentalists sought to solve problems and create community around the task of caring for the planet. The early environmentalist movement brought us Arbor Day, recycling and environmental cleanup programs. However, around the time The Inconvenient Truth was released environmentalism became despair driven and began pushing an insane anti-human agenda. When humans live sensibly and in submission to God they really are the answer to problems that concern the earth (Genesis 1:28). However, the modern environmentalist movement continuously tells us that humanity is the problem and the only hope for the planet is for all of us to hurry up and die already. 

 Evil ideas destroy human life and rob people of their dignity-

Satan hates humans and his first ambition is to end human life if at all possible. Legal abortion is an example of one of his most successful schemes. At least fifty million fewer humans exist today thanks to that idea.  If he cannot influence people to take a life he does the next best thing. He influences them to surrender their God-given dignity by getting them addicted to drugs, alcohol or some weird form of sexual bondage. 

Evil ideas lead to hate, division and death- 

Satanic schemes lead to death, division and conflict. They never bring harmony, prosperity or respect for both sides of an issue.  Therefore, we should always look at the fruit of political movements. For example, communism sounds fantastic, even kind of Christian, at least on its surface. In the communist ideal everyone contributes what they can and everyone has what they need to survive and thrive. Sadly, no communist regime has ever delivered on these promises. Rather, socialism/communism has killed at least a hundred-million people over the course of the last century, sown hate and divided millions. Socialism will never succeed anywhere because it is built on a foundation of envy and envy always leads to hate and division. 

The times we live in are getting stranger and scarier by the day (2nd Timothy 3:1-3, 2nd Peter 3:3). It is imperative Christians be discerning about the political and social movements that are being presented to society as “good” and helpful”. Most are just old schemes wrapped in new packaging for a less astute generation.