Five Reasons Christians Don’t Grow

We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming~ Ephesians 4:14 NIV

 Life is full of peculiar little conundrums, mysteries, enigmas and paradoxes. I.e. it is possible to be busy all day without accomplishing anything of any significance. We can read an entire book without comprehending a single word of it. We can listen intently to what someone is saying and not hear what they are saying. It is even possible to live a long life without experiencing the joy and fullness of being truly alive (John 5:39-40).

 It is also possible to grow old without growing-up and, frankly, there seems to be a lot of that going around these days. It is not at all uncommon to see children well into their elementary years still throwing temper tantrums like toddlers. Teenagers with the mindset of elementary-age children and young adults, who have never held a paying job.  Immaturity and childishness is not limited to the young. Our society is jam-packed with grown-ups who bully, blame others and are lacking the ability to manage their most basic of impulses.

 Perhaps one of the most tragic forms of immaturity is spiritual immaturity. Spiritual immaturity is marked by a lack of love and concern for others (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Hebrews 10:24), an inability to distinguish right from wrong (Malachi 3:18, Philippians 1:9-11) and a tendency to rely on feelings rather than biblical truth for direction (John 8:32). Other indicators of spiritual immaturity are broken relationships, pride, anger, excessive complaining without any desire to problem solve and a tendency to church hop.

  Spiritual immaturity causes Christians to become stunted, self-centered and worldly, it is the root cause of “irreconcilable differences” in Christian marriages. The spiritual immaturity of congregations causes churches to become powerless and tragically ineffective.

 Sigh.

 Christian people are ultimately responsible before God for their own growth (Galatians 6:4-5, 1stPeter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-13). We cannot grow unless we commit to doing these five things:

  Forgive-   

 Forgiveness is not only a prerequisite to being forgiven (Matthew 6:15). It is the only way to keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). It is essential we avoid bitterness because bitterness causes us to become entirely focused on our own feelings, hurts and offences. Spiritual growth can only occur when we move past our feelings and focus on letting go of the sinful behaviors we practiced in our old (pre-Jesus) life (Colossians 3:5-11, Galatians 5:19-21) and put on new behaviors and attitudes that cause us to become more like Jesus (Colossians 3:12-14, 2ndPeter 1:5-11). Forgiveness is never easy. That said, it is worth whatever effort it takes because living free of the bondage of forgiveness is a critical first step in becoming the people God has called us to be (1stPeter 2:9).

 Get rooted-

 God wants every Christian to be firmly rooted in the truths of the Bible and in relationship with Jesus (Ephesians 5:17, Colossians 2:6-7). We become rooted through a commitment to the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer and regular church attendance. There is simply no truly viable excuse for not reading the Bible, praying and getting involved in a Bible believing church if you want to mature your way out of spiritual infancy.

 Give-up whatever is keeping you immature-  

 At the root of most spiritual immaturity is a sinful behavior or attitude that we simply don’t want to let go of. Sins like gossip, bitterness, addiction to drugs or alcohol, anger, backbiting, and lust are just a few of the attitudes and behaviors that will keep us from growing-up spiritually. Growth comes naturally when we make a regular practice of self-examination and repentance (1stCorinthians 11:28, 2ndCorinthians 13:5, Matthew 3:8, Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19).

 Serve-

 When Christians serve in their churches and communities two critical objectives are met. Things get done, the needs of people are met and Jesus looks good as a result. Serving also broadens our focus and causes us to take our eyes off ourselves. In the process, we begin to see the needs of others more clearly and our desire to be a blessing grows.  When this happens, God is glorified and we mature.

 Own our junk-

 Because no man (or woman) is an island we are all effected to one degree or another by the actions of others. The insensitive, sinful and selfish actions of other people can cause the kind of damage that makes reaching our full potential in life much more challenging (but not impossible). That being said, we are each ultimately responsible for our own actions (Ezekiel 18:20-25). Blaming a bad childhood, marriage, dating experience, etc. for the choices we make and the sins we commit stunts our spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth making it impossible for God to use us to our full potential. We become spiritually free and mature when we get real with God (and ourselves) about what we’ve done and why we did it. When we do that we are well on our way to becoming the people God wants us to be.

 

 

 

Why the Church is not Impacting our Culture-

Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished~ 1st Chronicles 28:20 NIV

 Recently, I have found myself in conversations with Christians where the discussions ultimately devolved into a dissection of the present-day cultural landscape. Just about everyone I know is trying to figure out why Christianity is not having a bigger impact on our culture.

 All of the obvious causes were debated in detail at one point or another. Among other things, the effects of powerless-preaching, unloving Christians and the anemic moral standards of most churches were all hit upon at some point in each of the conversations. During those exchanges, I would find myself listening intently, chiming in from time-to-time and nodding along enthusiastically at most of comments.

 It wasn’t until later that it dawned on me that most of the problems we discussed were actually just symptoms of much bigger problems that no one (or at least no one I know) ever talks about. It also occurred to me that until we get to the place where we are willing to acknowledge the real problems as the real problems we will never find solutions to the symptoms the real problems are causing.

 Part of the problem is that church people tend to blame the culture for problems that we are mostly guilty of creating. Some of those problems are:

 We fall all over ourselves to tell people they are okay just the way they are when God is attempting to tell them something radically different-

 I used to do this a lot. The scenario would go something like this: I would be talking with someone and they would confess exactly how awful, flawed and sinful they were and how guilty they felt about it (James 5:16). Because I love people and I genuinely hate to see them suffer, I would proceed to tell them how awesome they are, give them a hug and urge them to be kinder to themselves. In the process, I unwittingly undid all the work God was attempting to do in their situation. It’s critical we remember that sometimes people feel guilty because they are guilty (Leviticus 5:5). We also need to remember that the only spiritually healthy way to get free of guilt is to confess sin and then to repent (Psalm 34:1-6, Psalm 52, Luke 13:5). Any time we tell others that they are awesome (when God or circumstances are telling them otherwise) we are assuming (in a kindhearted but prideful way) that we know the person better than they know themselves and that we know more about the situation than God does. I am not suggesting that we respond to heartfelt confessions with shaming or the heaping on of even more guilt. That said, rather than talk people out of their guilt we need to lead them to repentance and reconciliation with God.

 We care more about how people feel about themselves than the state of their souls-

 Somehow a lot of church people have bought into the worldly notion that no one should ever feel bad about anything. Because the word “sin” universally makes everyone feel terrible about themselves, now even Christians use words like disease, problem, bad choices, and genetic predisposition to describe behaviors and attitudes that previous generations would have been quick to label “sin”. We need to get back to the understanding that feeling bad is good (2nd Corinthians 7:10, 2nd Peter 3:9), if the bad feeling (guilt) leads to something good (repentance and restoration).

 We fail to call Christians out when they tell non-Christians how bad Christians are–

 It has become trendy for Christians to stridently declare how awful Christianity is to anyone who will listen. According to them ALL Christians (themselves being the singular exception) are mean, awful, judgmental people who bear absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to Jesus. It is true that some Christians (especially the immature or ignorant) can be judgmental and unloving. It is also true that every Christian (myself included) has days where they could stand to act a lot more like Jesus and lot less like themselves. That said, there is a fine line between calling for reform in the church (something I am doing right now) and turning people away from the truth claims of Jesus because we are a little too quick to paint all Christians with a broad and ugly brush. We need to be very careful not to cross that line (Matthew 13:24-29 and 13:36-42). When judgment day comes, God is not going to let anyone off the hook for rejecting Jesus because they heard from a Christian that all Christians are bad people (Revelation 20:11-13).

 We have forgotten we are in a war-

 Ephesians chapter six tells us that we are in a battle for the souls of men and women. This battle desperately needs Christians who are willing to fight.  However, we won’t win if we fight using the weapons and methods that the world uses (2nd Corinthians 10:3-4). Rather, we are called to stand firm in the truth, live righteously, correct gently, love fiercely and lead people to the Savior (Jude 17-22).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thing that’s Killing the Church

 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day~ Deuteronomy 8:10-11 NIV

 It is painfully evident that a moral and cultural sea change has taken place in Western civilization over the course of the last five decades. Some of the changes that have taken place have been tremendously positive (civil rights for minorities, advances in communication, a decrease in world-wide hunger, etc.).

 Others have been far less beneficial.

 The divorce rate has nearly doubled. Abortion has gone from being a blessedly infrequent and prohibited event (in most states) to legal and appallingly routine all over the country. Marijuana has become legally permissible in twenty-nine states and its usage has been normalized nearly everywhere. Our baffling obsession with the nonsensical political views of celebrities has grown while the health and wellbeing of the family has tanked. After a quick look at any newscast or social media feed it is difficult to believe that there was ever a time without reality television, school shootings, terrorist attacks or sexting; or that there was a time when we all knew what gender we were simply by looking at the box the doctor checked on our birth certificates.

 Sigh. 

 The real question (and the one that is seldom asked) is how in the heck did we get here? What caused this massive sea change in cultural norms?

 Finding people and things to blame for the societal madness is not difficult. Value-neutral public education, self-serving politicians, violent and sexually explicit entertainment, materialism, and liberal churches are all convenient scapegoats for our rapidly declining standards of morality and good sense. As bad as all of those things are, they are simply unpleasant symptoms of a much bigger and more pernicious malady.

 The real problem is with the deep sense of complacency that has overcome the Western world. Complacency (according to dictionary.com) can defined as:

 A quiet feeling of security, while unaware of some potential danger.

 Complacency overtakes us when we forget that life is full of danger (especially from a spiritual perspective) and begin to let things happen rather than make things happen. The nature of humanity is such that complacency is something that must be fought or it just naturally takes root in our lives.   There are at least four areas where we must shake off the spiritual lethargy that has taken root in Western Christianity or we will lose the culture (and a big portion of the church) in the next two decades.

 The first is:

 Politics-

 I do not now, nor have I ever, believed that Christians are called to transform the world through political means. True and lasting transformation is always a result of heart change, and heart change is something only God can orchestrate (Ezekiel 11:19, Ezekiel 23:36).  That being said, Christians are called to pray for those in political leadership.  (1st Timothy 2:1-3). God would never expect His people to pray for anything out of complete ignorance.  We are called to be informed and politically active on whatever level God allows. We can all vote.  Therefore, at the very least, Christians have an obligation to pray for political change and to work to vote out those opposed to the rule of law, who support evil or are who are openly anti-family.  

 Parenting-

 For all intents and purposes, Christian parents have lost the better part of a generation to secularism, humanism and hedonism. If this trend does not change quickly we will lose another generation to the same values. The trend will change when parents get serious about God, godly discipline, marriage, and generally just being grown-ups again. If you don’t know how to parent from a Christian perspective, read a Christian parenting book (written by someone whose kids are actually grown) or find someone older who raised their kids well and learn from them (Titus 2:4).  Christian people must take the lead in this area or no one will, and nothing will ever change (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, Matthew 5:19).    

 Education-

  Value-neutral education is devastating the moral fabric of the Western world. Christian parents need to get actively involved in the education of their children. This means either removing our kids from the public system or doing the hard work of finding out what our kids are being taught and fighting the battles that need to be fought within the system. I have learned from personal experience that fighting these battles is never easy or fun, and it won’t make you popular. That said, it is the only way to make education better for all children.

 Our spiritual lives-

 Weak spirituality manifests itself in cheap grace and the belief that repentance is only something that non-Christians need to do. We become spiritually strong by relentlessly assessing our own spiritual health, repenting when necessary and making God the center of every part of our lives.

 Sadly, because we have a republican President, American Christians are becoming increasingly more complacent. We need to remember that there will not be a republican in office forever and this is not the time to give into complacency. This is the time to pray, repent, share our faith and seek the Lord like we’ve never done before.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slaying the Faith Killer


Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken~ Psalm 55:22

 For the record, I do not consider myself to be an unusually anxious person. Nor, I am under the illusion that I am an extraordinarily relaxed or chill person. I probably fall somewhere squarely in the center of the anxiety spectrum (if there is such a thing).

 That said, I have had more than a few flashes of panic recently on account of all the stupid, weird and vexing things that have occurred over the course of the last week. As a result of those things I have a list of legitimate concerns that is long, diverse and growing at an worrying pace. The list includes (but is not limited to) a really nasty cold (more annoying than worrisome, but still) my identity potentially being stolen (again), serious issues with an aging parent (again), and some troublesome logistical glitches with helping one of our kids move to another state. Complicating issues further, the above-mentioned problems have led to some irritating time-management snafus, which, in turn, has only compounded all my other worries. Then, last but definitely not least there was the fallout from the embarrassing (but not life-altering) antics of one of our teenage children.

 Sigh.

 Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time (like me) knows that Christians are strongly cautioned against worrying about things they cannot control (Luke 12:22-29). That said, anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time also knows that even for people who are not excessive worriers there are times in life when it is far easier to recite Bible verses forbidding worry than it is to obey said verses.

 Sigh.

 Because I have worried more this week than I typically do, I have also thought about worry far more than I typically do. As I was thinking through the ins-and-outs of this issue it occurred to me that worry is dangerous from myriad of different perspectives, some obvious, others less so. Most of us know (at least on an academic level) that worry is pointless, wastes mental energy, and has been proven to trigger a multitude of psychological and physical health problems. However, I am also convinced that worry is destructive from a spiritual and a relational perspective. Mostly because it’s a behavior that can easily lead to other behaviors that eventually lead to sin.

 Worry is the antithesis of faith. Faith, by its very nature leads to trust and confidence in God’s ability to solve our problems. Conversely, worry inevitably produces doubt and leads to fear of the future (Hebrews 11:6). For many individuals, the doubt and fear that worry breeds leads to skepticism regarding the goodness and sovereignty of God. This skepticism can cause even really good people to take matters into their own hands, doing whatever looks and feels right to them in the moment (Genesis 16). When this happens we nearly always step outside the will of God in the process of attempting to figure life out without God’s assistance.

 For others worry leads to anger and frustration. Because there is little in this world worse than being stuck in a relationship with an angry person, and because angry people are typically selfish and tragically terrible at communication; unresolved anger creates all sorts of relational issues. Anger leads to serious spiritual issues as well. Ongoing and excessive worry has caused many to turn away from God in a spirit of bitterness because He didn’t do what they thought He ought to do (Hebrews 12:15).

 Everyone agrees that worry is pointless and solves precisely nothing (Matthew 6:25-34). However, knowing that does not stop most of us from worrying. Nor do I believe that simply pretending that we have no problems is the only alternative there is to worrying our heads off about our problems.

 Dealing with worry successfully involves both the practical and the spiritual. Practically speaking, doing a realistic evaluation of our situation and then fixing the things we are capable of fixing is not only sensible, it is our sacred duty as creatures made in the image of a rational, intelligent and wise God.

 However, the nature of this life is such that there are some things we simply cannot fix, no matter how smart we are or how hard we try. When we come up against one of those things (or a dozen of those things) then our worries need to be transformed into prayer (1st Peter 5:7). We need to take our worries and give them over to God in prayer as many times as necessary until we feel the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7)

 Then we need to wait and see what God does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Things That Must Be Done to End the Scourge Of Gun Violence

 Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established~ Proverbs 24:3 NKJV

By now, pretty much everyone reading this is aware that there was another horrific school shooting last week, this time in the state of Florida.

 The shooter was troubled young man with a hazy past who suffered from a plethora of shockingly obvious psychological problems. That said, at this point there is little to be gained from discussing the shooter, the body count, the young man’s family situation, or even the appalling number of local, state and federal agencies who bungled the job of preventing this bizarrely preventable tragedy.

 All that is painfully irrelevant at this point.

 It seems to me that it’s far more productive to discuss what we can do to fix the flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess we have made out of our society. News outlets have interviewed a number of high school students who are understandably panicked about their safety and concerned for the future. It’s become painfully obvious that too many of these people are having their fear exploited by manipulative activists who are feeding them the lie that there is a quick fix to our nation’s problem with random gun violence.

 No such fix exists because the problem with gun violence is not about guns; it’s about people and the condition of their hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). The number of gun owners in this country has actually decreased over the course of the last century. During the same period, more restrictions have been placed on who can and cannot own guns and yet gun violence has risen sharply in recent decades. This detail is troublesome and it ought to motivate us to dig deeper rather than simply looking for a quick fix to a complicated issue.

 Gun violence can be slowed substantially if we as a society are willing to do a little soul searching and make some changes in our attitudes and behaviors (Mark 1:15, Acts 3:19).

 Those changes must include:

 An end to the drug culture-

 Over the course of the last three decades there has been a sharp increase in the number of children born to drug using mothers. These babies tend to grow into children and young adults with intellectual deficits who have a tough time in school and later with securing gainful employment. Children born to drug-using mothers tend to struggle with impulse control, anti-social behavior, relationship skills, making responsible choices, and anger (all risks for violent behavior). I am not suggesting that all children born to drug-using mothers are doomed to be school shooters, or that every school shooter was born with drugs in their system. I am saying straight up that every single time a child is born to a drug user the risk-pool for violent behavior is increased by one. If young people want to change the future of this country and decrease the risk of violence they should seek to end the drug culture.

 Getting married and staying that way-

 Loving, healthy, stable two-parent homes rarely produce mass-murders. If we as a society want to reduce gun violence we should celebrate intact families and encourage young people to build said families.

 An end to celebrating narcissism-

 We live in a pathetically sad age of me, me, and more me. Selfies are actually a thing and people are marrying themselves for the love-of-all-that-is-good-and-decent. If we want to change the future we must change our focus (Leviticus 19:18, Romans 13:8, Matthew 22:36-40). When a child spends their youth focusing entirely on his or her feelings and needs-to the exclusion of everyone else’s feelings and needs-it makes it shockingly easy for some of them to hurt other people and not feel bad about it.

 Fighting for reform in public schools-

 For decades now, public schools have sought to carefully craft a value-neutral environment. This means avoiding teaching children values that might be considered controversial out fear of offending a family who might have a differing set of values. The problem with not teaching values is that values are as much caught as they are taught. If one does not teach the value that human life should be protected and nurtured at all costs, then some kids will catch the value that taking a human life (or seventeen human lives, or a hundred human lives) is not really that big of a deal. Parents and students should demand more from their public schools.

 Ending our love-affair with violent entertainment-

 Seriously. There is no way Game of Thrones, Dexter, American Horror Story and violent video games are making us better, healthier and more compassionate people. If we want to end violence in our schools we have to stop feeding children (and adults) an unending diet of violent and vile entertainment that hardens hearts and sears consciences.

 Going to church-

 I hesitated to add this one—not because I doubt the value of church but because without the heart change that can only come through a relationship with Jesus, simply attending church can easily devolve into a meaningless exercise that does little for anyone. That said, church is God’s chosen vehicle for bringing truth to those who don’t know Him and for training those who do know Him (Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 4:11-16). It is also the place where we learn what God requires of people (Mark 1:15, Acts 16:31, 1st John 3:23) and where (if church is being done right) we develop a desire to please Him by treating other people with respect, kindness and mercy (Micah 6:8).

 Truth be told, even the best laws are incapable of changing a single human heart and without changed hearts societies remain sick. If we want to make our society better we have to become better people and we cannot do that without God (Ezekiel 36:26).

Rooting out Hypocrisy

And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy~ Galatians 2:13 NIV

 Hypocrisy.

 It’s an ugly word. Unlike its similarly foul cousin ‘pride’, the Bible makes it painfully clear that there is no such thing as a “healthy hypocrisy” or “good hypocrisy” (Romans 11:13, Galatians 6:4). Jesus reserved His harshest criticism for hypocrites and made it excruciatingly clear that hypocrisy of any kind is bad (Matthew 23:13:36, Matthew 24:51, Mark 7:6, Luke 6:42).

 A hypocrite is a pretender, a person who play-acts at being better than they actually are. God is categorically not a fan. God hates hypocrisy because He calls Christians to live lives of sincerity (1st Timothy 1:5, Hebrews 10:22) and because hypocrisy is a pernicious sin that even really good Christian people can get caught-up in (Galatians 2:11-14).

 But by far, the biggest problem with hypocrisy is that it hurts everyone. Hypocrisy hurts hypocrites because hypocrisy is a sin that makes the person sinning more comfortable with all forms of sin. Sooner or later all hypocrites buy into the lie that they really are as good as they think everyone thinks they are. Because of that, every hypocrite eventually gives up on things like confession, repentance and living a life of holiness (James 5:16, 1st John 1:9, Matthew 3:2, Acts 3:19, Romans 12:1). Instead, they simply settle for pretending.

 Hypocrisy hurts the church because hypocrisy is contagious. Which (as an aside) is why some churches (and denominations) seem to have more of a problem with it than others. Any time one respected Christian leads a life of hypocrisy it doesn’t take long for others to figure out that it’s a whole lot easier to act holy when people are looking than to actually do the hard work of becoming holy. When Jesus warned His disciples concerning “the yeast” of the Pharisees and Sadducees he was referencing the infectious nature of hypocrisy (Matthew 16:11).

 Hypocrisy hurts non-Christians because one insincere Christian can easily convince all non-Christians that hypocrisy and pretense is standard operating procedure for every Christian. In the process of dismissing all Christians as hypocrites they end up dismissing Jesus and everything He had to say about life, death and eternity.

 Sigh.

 Like the sin of pride, the nature of hypocrisy is such that it is weirdly easy to spot hypocrisy in others but nearly impossible to see it in ourselves. Unfortunately for us, Jesus doesn’t call His people to worry about the sins of others. He does call us to worry about our own sin. Hypocrisy is definitely something Christians ought to worry about. Mostly because it’s one of those sins that the God who defines Himself as love (1st John 4:8) hates (Matthew 23:13-33, Matthew 24:51).

 Spotting hypocrisy in ourselves cannot happen without a bone-level commitment to brutal self-examination and a steely-eyed determination to live lives of openness and sincerity. Then we need to begin looking for the signs that all is not well in this area of our life.

 You might have a problem with hypocrisy if…

 You have two very different sets of friends-

 Having two very different sets of friends is not a problem per se. However, it is a problem if your behavior (and speech) is very different when you are with different groups. Another sign of a problem is if you spend a lot of time hoping that your divergent social circles never meet.

 You judge others harshly-

Hypocrites are generally quite reluctant to admit they sin at all (1st John 1:9-10. They also tend to lack mercy and are weirdly judgmental towards the sins of others. Oftentimes hypocrites are the most judgmental towards people who have the same sin issues they do.

 You live a secret life-

Seriously, this is a no-brainer. If you’re leading a secret life, just stop.

You have a problem with gossip-

 Not every gossip is a hypocrite. However, in my experience, hypocrites are always gossips. Hypocrite’s tend to gossip because they secretly believe that sharing the sins and shortcomings of others will keep people from noticing their own sins and shortcomings.

 You will do anything to avoid looking bad-

 Hypocrisy is all about projecting an image of goodness. Protecting that image is ultimately more important than anything or anyone else. That is why hypocrites oftentimes hurt others in their misguided attempts to safeguard their own image.

 We all have singular moments of hypocrisy. Anyone who claims otherwise is either delusional or deeply dishonest. That said, we should work tirelessly to root out all forms of hypocrisy in our lives. I am convinced that the secret to dealing with the sin of hypocrisy is to understand and walk in the reality that all sin will eventually be uncovered and laid bare (Hebrews 4:13) before God and to know that sooner or later our sin always finds us out (Numbers 32:23).

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.