Four More Reasons the Church in America is Failing-

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

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

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

 Sigh.

 The Facebook post I came across was posted by a friend who is a nice person but categorically not a Christian. This friend frequently posts things critical of Christianity. Occasionally their posts are annoyingly insightful.

 This was one of those posts.

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

 Our priorities are a flaming hot-mess-

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

 We have forgotten the point and purpose of church-

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

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

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

 We are weirdly infatuated by celebrity-

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

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

 

A Really Big Church Peeve-

 

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing~ 1stPeter 3:9 NIV

Regular readers of this blog have probably figured out by now I have some issues with how many contemporary Christians do church. My various church peeves have been documented ad nauseum in previous posts. To be truthful, I decided recently that the peeve posts were getting a bit old and I probably wasn’t going to write another one. Then I came across a “Christian” video on Facebook and discovered I still have something to write about. 

 The video features a Christian guy who has a bunch of tattoos. He begins his harangue by telling a story about another Christian (a woman) who informed him his tattoos made him look trashy. She also said that his tattoos were so offensive she couldn’t stand to look at him.

 For the record.

 I sincerely believe that other people’s tattoos are none of my business. I do not care if he or anyone else gets or has a tattoo. Please do not assume that this is some sort of anti-tattoo screed. Because it’s not. I repeat. I do not care about his stupid tattoos. I do care about how he handled the situation with the woman because it hurt the reputation of Jesus. Badly.

 I will begin with what he did not do.

 He did not tell her she hurt his feelings with her harsh words (Luke 17:3).  He did not inform her that there are people in this world who have tattoos who need the forgiveness and grace that only Jesus can offer (John 3:16, Mark 2:17). He did not tell her that her attitude towards tattooed people might make them reluctant to become followers of Jesus (2ndCorinthians 6:3).  He did not attempt to educate her on the differences between Old Testament Law and New Testament freedom (Romans 7:6, Galatians 5:13, 1stCorinthians 10:23). He did not, at least from what I can tell pray for her (Matthew 5:44). He did not take his concerns to the elders of her church and ask them to help him work out his issues with her (Matthew 18:15-16).

 In other words, he did not handle the situation biblically.

 Instead he posted a video where he proclaimed loudly and proudly that he “hates Christians and the church” because of “people like her”.

 It has become nauseatingly trendy for Christians to declare passionately that they love Jesus but hate the church and all the people in it. They feel justified even righteous in saying these things because they believe that all Christians, other than themselves of course are hateful, judgmental and pretentious. They also nearly always believe that the church is simply a misguided, human-run organization that has nothing at all to do with God or Jesus.

 Insert eye roll here.

 This idiocy is hurting everyone, especially unbelievers. It needs to end now for at least four reasons:

 It’s not about our stupid, trivial, easily-wounded feelings-

 It’s about people who do not know Jesus. When a non-believer hears from a Christian that all Christians are terrible people; that unbeliever is given every reason in the world to never become friends with a Christian, attend church or consider the truth-claims of Christ. Some will undoubtedly spend eternity in hell because of Christians who didn’t have the sense or self-control to stop hating on other Christians in public forums. The very thought that our actions or words might keep another person from a relationship with Jesus ought to put the fear of God into us all (Luke 17:1, Matthew 13:41). If it doesn’t something is seriously wrong.  

 Christians who hate on other Christians are disobedient and placing themselves in danger of judgment (2nd John 1:5, 1st John 3:10, 1st John 2:9) –

 It is unloving and judgmental to hate someone because of their tattoos or hairstyle or how many earrings they have. It is equally unloving and judgmental to hate someone because you have concluded they are unloving and judgmental (Matthew 7:35).  We are commanded to suck it up and love the unlovable. That includes Christians we don’t like or always agree with (John 13:34-35).

 God will set us all straight someday- 

  Everyone says thoughtless and hurtful stuff, frequently without even realizing it. It’s part of being stupid and human. It’s critical we remember someday God will call each of us into account for our insensitive and foolish words (Matthew 12:36). Rather than rail against Christians who say stupid things we ought to examine our own words carefully and pray we all have the foresight and good sense to repent before our day comes.

 We are commanded to keep “family” stuff in the “family”-

  Christians are a family (Psalm 68:8, Galatians 6:10, Hebrews 2:11, 1stPeter 2:17, 1stPeter 5:9). Paul makes it clear in 1stCorinthians 6:5-7 that it is far better to be wronged by a fellow believer than to shame Jesus and the church by publicly airing family junk to those who are not part of the family. In Matthew 18:15-16 we are given the pattern for working-out issues between Christians.

 We would do well to follow it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

What You Can Do to Make the Church Great Again

 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love~ Galatians 5:13 NIV

 The whole concept of the church is a strange one if you think about very deeply at all.

 Most organizations and institutions are founded by, led by and maintained by people who, for the most part, hail from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, have same types of upbringings and live in the same kinds of communities.

 Not so in the church.

 From its inception the church was filled with men and women from every tribe, tongue, education level and social class imaginable (Acts 2:5-12, 1stTimothy 6:2, Galatians 3:28, James 2:1-4, 1stCorinthians 12:13, Revelation 7:9).  The Church was intended from the very beginning to be a place where societal norms are challenged at every turn.

 God designed the church to be a place where serving is favored over being served (Matthew 23:1), where the weak are every bit as cherished as the strong and where each member is working for the good of every other member. Church is where every follower of Jesus regardless of age, race, gender or social position is equal and equally loved by God (Galatians 3:28). 

 All that being said, the distinctive design of the church has created some distinctive problems. For one thing, many people struggle to define exactly what the church is and how it should operate. Our culture (and most Christians) tend to believe that church is a location. A specific place that we go to hear spiritual messages and do spiritual things.

 The Bible depicts the church as a body, a living entity, made up of a whole lot of distinct parts that form a whole (1stCorinthians 12:12-27).  The church is not a building it is people who have been transformed by the power of the gospel and set free from the bondage of sin and death to preach the gospel and do good in this world.  

 Because we ARE the church, churches function best when each person in the church sees themselves as the church. Conversely, churches tend to be the least functional when the people in the church view church as simply a place we go once or twice a week to hear spiritual messages.

 There are at least five things each of us can do to be the church in our day-to-day lives including:

 Deal with bitterness-

 The Bible makes it clear that bitterness is something Christians must avoid at all costs. (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness has a corrupting effect on people making them unfit for Christian service (Acts 8:22-24). Moreover, bitterness has an infectious quality, it spreads like a germ from the bitter person to the people around them (Hebrews 12:15). We deal with bitterness by forgiving the people who have hurt us and letting go of our anger towards them (Colossians 3:13). This not easy, nor is it typically something that happens all at once. Rather, it is usually a process that takes time and prayer to achieve.

 Encourage the right way-

 Over and over again New Testament believers are commanded to encourage one another (2ndCorinthians 13:11, 1stThessalonians 4:18, Hebrews 3:13) Contrary to popular belief an encourager is more than simply a cheerleader who goes around telling people how awesome they are all time.  Encouragers do make an effort to notice and comment on the good they see in other people. However, biblical encouragers understand that encouragement is the act of inspiring others to be the best version of themselves that they can be (1stThessalonians 5:11, Colossians 3:16). Sometimes this means giving generous and heartfelt praise for a job well done. Other times it means gently correcting and admonishing those who are not living up to the potential they have in Jesus (1stThessalonians 5:14).  

 Be more than a doer-

 These days there is a huge emphasis placed on being a doer of the word of God. We are told that authentic love for Jesus is reflected in what we do for other people in Jesus name. For the record, I do not disagree with that view in the slightest. However, the only way we can know for certain if we are really doing what God wants us to do for others is if we know what He says in His word (Psalm 119:05). The only way to know what the word says is to study it.

 Love one another-

  I will not lie. I debated about whether or not to include this one. Not because I don’t think love is important or critical to the health of the church (it is).  Rather, I struggled because I think the definition of love we have adopted in the church is rather milk-toasty and uninspiring. Authentic biblical love does more than help people feel good about where they are at right now. Authentic biblical love loves people where they are (Matthew 5:46) and tells the truth about the consequences of sin (Ephesians 4:17, Acts 17:30).   

  Find a local body and contribute what you can-

You are the church but you also need the church. Find one where the pastor values the word and where the people love each other and get involved. God will be pleased (3rdJohn 1:4), you will grow and the church will become stronger (Romans 12).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Really Good Reasons Not to Legalize Drugs

Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities~ Psalm 107:17 NIV

 Over the course of my lifetime, societal attitudes toward drug use have evolved dramatically. Drug use has gone from something shameful that was done in secret to something many are attempting to normalize and legalize.  I, for one have never been able to get on board the whole legalization bandwagon for a whole variety of reasons that I will hit on later.

  I am well aware that my views on this issue are in the minority (even among some Christians).  It’s important to understand that am not opposed to drug legalization because I’m ignorant of the arguments for legalizing drugs. I understand that there are a variety of people advocating for drug legalization for vastly different reasons.

 Politicians who support drug legalization are (generally speaking) money-grubbing pragmatists. Politicians want to legalize drugs (especially marijuana) because they see drugs as a cash-cow of never-ending tax revenue for state and local governments.

 Libertarians tend to take a more philosophical approach to the issue. They connect drug use to personal freedom and believe that individuals ought to be free to decide for themselves what they do or don’t do with their own bodies.

 Humanitarians favor abolishing drug laws because it would relieve some of the burden on the prison system and remove the stigma associated with drug use. They believe this would make drug use safer, slow the spread of diseases associated with drug use, and make information regarding addiction more widely available to a greater number of people.

 Passionate arguments aside, there are plenty of really good reasons to not to legalize marijuana (and other drugs). The most basic and profound reason being that God designed people for far more than the emptiness that drug use ultimately leads to (John 10:10).

 Some other reasons are:

 A person’s “right” to do stupid stuff with their own body ends the moment the stupid stuff begins to hurt others (1stCorinthians 8:9)-

 I am not, nor have I ever been, a supporter of big government or making laws for the sake of making laws. That said, one truly legitimate function of government is to keep citizens from inflicting harm on one another (Romans 13:4). Contrary to popular belief, drugs harm innocent people all the time.  According to the Department of Justice most crimes (violent and non-violent) are committed by people who tested positive for drugs. Nearly all property crimes are committed by people on drugs so that they can get money to buy more drugs. Taxpayers spend millions financing a foster-care system that has become overburdened by parents who are too high to care for their own children.

 Gateway drugs are a real thing-

 Supporters of legalization tend to scoff at the whole notion of gateway drugs. Nonetheless, I have never known a heroin addict who started with heroin. Nearly all drug users start with marijuana and then move on to harder drugs. Legalizing marijuana allows more people easy access to a drug that will make them increasingly more comfortable experimenting with other drugs. Not every person who smokes pot will progress to harder drugs, but enough do to make marijuana a bad bet for any society that values stability.

 We are creating a disadvantaged class of people due entirely to prenatal drug exposure-

 Roughly fifteen percent of all children are born drug and/or alcohol affected (experts believe the number is much higher). These children are burdened with emotional and intellectual deficits they will never entirely overcome (short of a miracle). I predict that society will reap a bitter harvest when these kids reach adulthood.

 Drug use makes people passive and easy to manipulate-

 I am not normally prone to conspiracy theories and tin-foil hat notions. Nonetheless, it has occurred to me that if a government were looking to create a population of docile, submissive, and easy to control zombies, promoting drug use would be the simplest way to make that happen.

 Drugs have a negative spiritual impact on individuals making it harder to reach them with the gospel-

 I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about life, God or the spiritual world. But I do know that Christians are told to be very careful to avoid drunkenness and to only be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18, 1stCorinthians 5:11, Proverbs 20:9, Proverbs 31:4). I assume this is because a spirit of drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18) dulls our spiritual senses, making it harder to hear the voice of God. It only makes sense that drugs would have the same effect. 

 Drugs hurt kids-

 Our youngest child is not our biological child. She is the daughter of a relative and her story is not unique, there are literally millions of children just like her. Her parents believed passionately that they had the “right” to do whatever they wanted with their own bodies. The exercise of “their rights” robbed a little girl of her rights. Including the right to a childhood without fear, loss and insecurity. I know for a fact that her parents never intended to become addicted, they certainly never intended cause their child hurt or pain. They loved their daughter; but ultimately, addiction caused them to love drugs more.  Drugs do that to people. They rob us of the ability to think clearly and wisely. Then they steal our humanity and decency. Drugs rob us of the most basic of human instincts, including the instinct to protect the most vulnerable among us. 

 Anything that can do that is not a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Spiritual, Moral and Political Complacency Will Eventually Kill Us-

 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 have been tremendously positive (civil rights for minorities and women, advances in communication, a decrease in hunger, etc.).

 Others not so much.

 The divorce rate has nearly doubled. Abortion has gone from being an infrequent and mostly prohibited event to legal and appallingly routine all over the country. Marijuana has become legal and 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 ever a time when people knew what gender they were simply by looking at the box the doctor checked on their birth certificate.

 Sigh. 

 The real question (and the one that is seldom asked) is how 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, social media, 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. We must shake off our lethargy in the following four areas or we will lose the culture and the church in the next decade. The first is:

 Politics-

 I have never believed Christians are called to transform the world through political means. True and lasting transformation is a result of heart change. Heart change is something only God can make happen (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 continues we will lose another generation to the same stupid stuff. The trend will change when parents get serious about God, discipline, marriage, and being grown-ups again. If you’re unsure about how to parent from a Christian perspective, read a Christian parenting book that was written by someone whose kids are actually grown or find an older person who raised their kids well and learn from them (Titus 2:4, (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, Matthew 5:19).    

 Education-

  Value-neutral education is devastating the moral fabric of the Western world. Christian parents must 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 unsaved heathens 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 before it’s too late and we can’t or don’t want to anymore. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

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.