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.

How the Birth of Jesus Changed the World-

We love because he first loved us~ 1st John 4:19 NIV

 Three years ago I vowed in a fit of self-pity to never write another Christmas blog as long as I lived. My Christmas blogs have a history of less-than-stellar readership and I prefer to write things I think people are actually going to read. However, I recently rethought my vow and concluded that it’s high time I got over myself and give it another try.

 This moment of clarity arrived as I was watching a community Christmas celebration. It hit me pretty much out of nowhere that Jesus’ first coming changed literally everything about life in the ancient world. Those changes in turn, paved the way for the freedoms and prosperity much of the western world enjoys today. I was also struck by how oddly trivial our Christmas celebrations tend to be in light of the impact the first coming of Jesus had on our world.

 It’s not that I have anything against the way Americans celebrate Christmas. I love Christmas and everything we do to celebrate Christmas. That said, snowmen, sparkly lights, cookies cut into adorable shapes, and even traditional nativity scenes don’t exactly capture the magnitude of the impact that Jesus has had on our world. So, in honor of Jesus and all He accomplished, following are four seldom recognized ways Jesus’ first coming made our world a better place:

 Jesus made it cool to care about the poor, sick and marginalized-

 Until the coming of Jesus no one cared all that much about the sick and poor. Most believed the poor and sick were poor and sick because they were bad people who had been cursed by their god’s. As a result they were viewed as profoundly unlikable. Little was done (outside the Jewish community) to alleviate the suffering of the sick or to help poor people. Because Jesus cared deeply about the needs of the poor, sick and marginalized (Luke 12:33, Luke 14:13, Luke 10:30-3), so did His followers. From the earliest days of Christianity, charity (caring for the less fortunate) was a fundamental feature of Christian worship and outreach (Acts 6:1-7, Acts 9:36, Romans 15: 25-27, James 2:5-6). As Christianity took root in the Western world caring for the less fortunate became a natural part of life and something even non-religious people do. This was certainly not the case before Jesus came into the world.  

 Jesus gave children value-

 Before Jesus came children were considered disposable in most societies ( Jews were a notable exception). Abortion was a common practice, and live newborns were routinely placed in the foundations of buildings (for luck). In Greece and Rome unwanted infants (mostly girls) were simply left on rocky cliffs to die of exposure. Attitudinal change towards children began with the coming of Jesus. Jesus loved children (Luke 18:15-17) and He was concerned with their physical and spiritual welfare (Matthew 18:6). Early Christians followed in the footsteps of Jesus and forbade the practices of abortion and infanticide among their members. Early Christians also made a practice of adopting the newborns that had been left to die of exposure. Over time, societies touched by Christianity enacted laws to protect children, but it was Jesus who forever changed the way we view the worth of children.

 Jesus gave women dignity-

 Prior to the first coming of Jesus, women were (in virtually every society) thought to be profoundly inferior to men in every way. Respectable women lived cloistered lives and simply did not interact with men they were not closely related to. Unlike other religious leaders of His day, Jesus frequently had meaningful conversations with all sorts of women (John 4, Luke 8:1-3, John 11), and He allowed women to receive the same training as their male counterparts (Luke 10:38-41, Luke 8:1-3). Jesus even entrusted a woman with passing on the message of His resurrection (Matthew 28:1-8, Luke 24:1-12); this was a VERY big deal in a world where women were not considered legitimate witnesses in a court of law. After Jesus’ resurrection women were used in significant ways to build the early church. The Apostle Paul founded the Philippian church along with a handful of women (Acts 16). Pricilla along with her husband Aquila helped to plant churches and train believers in Corinth, Ephesus (Acts 18) and Rome (Romans 16:3). Women acted as deacons in the early church and were entrusted with significant tasks (Romans 16:1-2, 1st Timothy 3:11) and a woman (Junia) is even referred to as “outstanding among the Apostles” in Romans 16:7. Admittedly, throughout history some church leaders have not always valued women or the contributions of women. However, that does not change the fact that Jesus did. Jesus’ high view of women paved the way for many of the freedoms women enjoy today. If you doubt my word, take a look at the way women are treated in societies where Christianity has not made significant inroads. It’s a sharp and ugly contrast.    

 Jesus made it possible for people to actually change-

 Before Jesus people could change their actions but not their hearts. An evil or an unbelieving person was just kind of stuck that way forever. Jesus’ coming changed that reality. Because, Jesus’ presence indwells the people who believe in Him, His presence gives us the power we need to change not just our actions but also our hearts. Because of Jesus we can be better people tomorrow than we are today.

 That is something to celebrate.

Why People Don’t Go to Church-

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God~ 2nd Corinthians 4:4 NIV

 One of the most thought-provoking debates in church circles centers on unbelievers and why they don’t attend church.

 Some believe that the unchurched don’t go to church because the stuff people do in church is just too darn complicated.  Champions of this theory believe the solution to our dwindling conversion rate is to simplify and explain the heck out of how and why we do what we do in church. These folks sincerely believe that non-Christians will go to church if churches just remove all language and ritual that those not already acquainted with church might find even vaguely confusing.

 Churches that buy into this notion are easy to spot. Services last precisely one hour. Messages tend to focus almost entirely on practical issues like parenting and marriage. Communion is rarely if ever served. The songs are fun and easy to sing but devoid of theological references (sometimes the songs are even secular). There is always a conspicuous “What You Can Expect Today” section in the bulletin or on the screen before the service.

 Others believe non-Christians avoid church because church is too weird and offensive. These folks strive to make their churches as non-judgmental as possible. Churches that have chosen this path seek to be inspiring and encouraging above all else. Sermons tend to be short on the topics of sin, sacrifice, and repentance and entirely focused on positive thinking and positive living.

 In my opinion all of these perspectives are outrageously elitist and disturbingly humanistic. The premise of the first theory rests entirely on the belief that non-Christians are just too dumb to grasp any concept they are not already entirely familiar with. If this were true then human beings would be incapable of learning anything new. 

 To the second point, the only way to transform Christianity into something unfailingly positive is to purge it of teachings related to sin, guilt and repentance. When we remove the conviction (Romans 1:18-32) from Christianity we are effectively saying that flawed human beings have a superior plan to present the gospel than God does.

 I am not an expert on why people do or do not attend to church. However, did not convert to Christianity until I was an adult (early twenties) and most of my family is unsaved. As a result I know a lot of unsaved people really well and clearly remember what it felt like to be a non-Christian. Following are five actual reasons unchurched people don’t go to church:

 There is no reason for them to go-

 Contrary to popular belief, church was never intended to be a place for non-Christians. Church was meant to be a place where Christians get equipped to reach non-Christians with the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-13). If we want unbelievers to want to go to church we need to find ways to reach them with the gospel before we invite them to church.

 They fear judgment-

 The thing unsaved people really dread is hearing someone say something that will confirm their fear that they really are not good enough and that God will judge them for it. Ironically that fear is grounded in fact. NO ONE is good enough and God will judge everyone who does not repent of their sin and put their faith in Jesus. Our job as Christians is to help them understand that God loved them enough to provide a solution to the problem of not being good enough. The solution is Jesus.    

 They don’t want to change-

 Non-Christians understand instinctively that if there is a God they are doing things that God is totally not cool with (Romans 2:15). They also understand that they will have to stop doing those things if they want to get into a right relationship with Him (Luke 13:5). Some well meaning Christians have attempted to skirt this issue by lying to unbelievers and telling them that they can be Christians without making any changes in how they live. Regrettably, all this “solution” has done is fill churches with heathens who believe they are Christians. The right answer is to lovingly present unbelievers with the truth that God empowers people to change when they come to Him in faith and admit that they have sinned.

 Christians don’t live what they say they believe-

 This is because some Christians have bought into the lie that in order to reach the unsaved they have to live like the unsaved. All this does is convince non-Christians that being a Christian is really no different than being a non-Christian and is therefore a pointless waste of their time.

 No one has ever invited them-

 Seriously. This is the number one reason non-Christians have never been to a church and it’s an easy problem to solve. 

  Churches and Christians should never be unnecessarily weird. That said, the solution to getting people into church is not nearly as complicated as the experts have made it. Christians just need to love, pray for and then present people with spiritual truth. Then we need to invite them into our world.

 It worked for me.

 

Should Government Promote Some Kinds of Families Over Other Kinds of Families?

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation~ Hebrew 6:9

 Monday night I tuned into the news just in time to see a rather spirited interview with a woman who wants tax incentives for traditional (two parent) families eliminated from the U.S. tax code. This woman is convinced tax incentives that encourage couples to marry before they have children are fundamentally unfair to “other kinds of families”.

 The man conducting the interview (a moderately conservative guy) seemed to be more than a bit perplexed by her line of reasoning.  He made repeated  attempts to explain to her those incentives were intentionally placed within the tax code to promote two parent families as anti-poverty and pro-family measures.

 After she rebuffed his valiant attempts at dragging reason into their conversation, the interview quickly devolved into a verbal cage fight. He was on one side attempting to goad her into admitting out loud that some family structures are better than others, and should therefore be encouraged. She stuck to her guns and proclaimed repeatedly and vehemently that the current tax code is “unfair to other kinds of families”.

 The exchange (fascinating as it was) left me feeling discouraged and peeved. My irritation was not just due to the fact that the woman being interviewed gave every indication she is a clueless nitwit.  

 It’s the bigger picture that’s bugging me. In one sense, the woman has a valid point. It really is unfair for government to use the tax code to promote and encourage one kind of families over other kinds of families. If fairness is always the end-all-be-all objective of everything, then tax incentives for those who are married with kids and not those who are single with kids is unfair and the practice ought to be stopped.

 But.

 Should fairness always the objective in every situation? Should fairness be the objective in this situation?

 The clear answer is “no” and “no”.

 There is a bigger issue at play here than fairness. That issue is the overall health of our society.  Common sense, empirical evidence and numerous social studies have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that society is demonstrably benefitted in a multitude of ways when people get married before they have kids and stay married for life.

 But that pesky set of facts is really nothing more than a side issue in my mind. The bigger picture leaving me peeved is the fact we have devolved to a place where it is no longer okay to say some things are better than others. Even when facts clearly demonstrate some things really are better than others.

 It’s not okay to say it’s better for kids to be raised in a two-parent home than by a single mom. It’s not okay to say that a committed marriage is better than hooking-up. It’s not okay to say that marriage is better than divorce. It’s not okay to say it’s better to help people (especially children) embrace the gender they were assigned at conception rather than help them to physically transform into a gender they can never really become from a genetic standpoint. It’s not okay to say that a religion that promotes peace and love is better than one that does not.

 Sigh.

 Even some Christians have bought into this silly drivel. We have become so convinced that God does a happy dance every time He sees us (no matter what we’ve been up to) that it is no longer okay to say God teaches us some things are better than other things. It’s not okay to say that going to church on Sunday mornings is better than going to brunch on Sunday mornings. It’s not okay to say going to a Bible Study is better than going to a bar for a couple of drinks. It’s not okay to say that having sex in marriage is better than having sex outside of marriage.

 It’s not okay to say much of anything anymore (even in the church) unless, of course, our words are unswervingly positive and affirming.

 Insert eye roll here.

 Scripture is clear, some choices are better than others not because the people who make those choices are better people, but rather because the choices have demonstrably better outcomes (Proverbs 16:8, Proverbs 28:6, Matthew 5:29, Mark 9:42, Romans 14:21, 1st Peter 3:17). The world needs those of us who believe this to be true to live that truth and proclaim that truth loudly and proudly. 

 

 

Me, Myself and I Do

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

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

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

 Seriously, it’s a thing.

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

I am not making this up.

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

 Sigh.  

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

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

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

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

 Sigh.

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

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

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

Raising a Kid Who Has a Conscience

Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it~ Proverbs 22:6 NKJV

The disturbing slaughter in Las Vegas last week caused me to think about a subject I rarely tackle in this blog: parenting. It struck me as I was watching the news that anytime there is a mass shooting the first thing we do is search for a motive to make sense of the senseless. If the killer is a minor we want to know if the killer was bullied by his peers or abused by his parents. If the shooter is an adult we want to know if the shooting was racially or religiously motivated. If those scenarios don’t fit, we search madly for something else to explain away the behavior of the killer: like a job loss or a mental illness.

 Stephen Paddock’s motivations are proving difficult to pin down. By all accounts he was financially secure, not obviously political, not obviously religious and apparently not angry about anything in particular. He was also seemingly in his right mind right up until the moment he opened fire on a crowd of strangers.

 Those facts make this mess much harder to sort out, until you look for the one denominator common to all mass shooters: a shocking absence of conscience.

 The Bible teaches that all humans are born into this world with a rudimentary conscience that bears witness to two simple truths. The first truth being that God is (Romans 1:19-20). The second is that some sins including murder, adultery and theft are universally wrong (Romans 2:14). The Bible teaches that a conscience can be seared or stunted by willful sin in adulthood, poor parenting in childhood and exposure to bad teaching or evil people (1st Corinthians 15:33, 1st Timothy 4:2, Proverbs 19:18, Proverbs 29:17).

 The best time to develop a conscience and prevent the types of tragedies we saw this past week in Las Vegas is early childhood (Proverbs 22:6). Following are five simple strategies to help your child develop a conscience. Starting with:

 Teach your child to put the needs of others first- 1st Corinthians 10:24

 Many parenting programs place teaching children to put-up boundaries as the number one parenting priority. Kids do need to learn healthy boundaries, especially when it comes to inappropriate touching. Kids also need to understand that it’s okay to say “no” to a person who is taking advantage of them. However, sometimes “boundaries” is just another word for selfishness. In order to develop a healthy conscience children need to learn that everyone else is every bit as important and special as they are. This is achieved by teaching them to put other people first, taking turns, sharing when they don’t feel like it and speaking to others (including their parents) respectfully.

 Teach kids to fear God- Proverbs 1:7

 If you’re teaching your kids to love God, you are only doing half the job. Kids also need to understand that God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and that He expects people to show their love for Him through obedience to His commands (John 14:15, John 14:23-24, Luke 11:28). Kids also need to know that there will come a day when God will judge all people for everything they do, both good and bad (Revelation 20:12-13). When kids understand these basic facts it incentivizes them to do right by other people.

Expect Gratitude- 2nd Timothy 3:1-3

 Not in a “you should be grateful I fed you today, you miserable little wretch” sort of way. That is simply never okay. However, there are times when kids need to be reminded to be grateful for the things other people work hard to provide. It’s also good to expose kids to people who are less fortunate than they are. Exposure to the less fortunate will make them compassionate, thankful people. Appreciative, kindhearted people do not open fire on crowds of strangers.

 Teach kids to think about how their words and actions affect others- Matthew 7:12

 Children do not naturally think of others, nor do they automatically comprehend how their actions affect others. Kids who are not taught to think of others tend to grow-up to be the type of people who call-in sick when they’re not sick, cheat on their spouse or commit crimes without thinking about how their behavior will affect others.

 Only praise actual achievement- Proverbs 14:25

 Kids do need to be encouraged. However, telling children they did something awesome when they did something ordinary is a lie that inflates their ego and causes them to think they are better and smarter than they really are. This creates an ideal breeding ground for pride and arrogance to take root in their hearts. Prideful, arrogant people rarely care about others and caring about others is the foundation for building a healthy conscience.

 I know absolutely nothing about Steven Paddocks childhood nor do I know how his conscience became seared to the point where he felt okay about opening fire on a crowd of strangers. I do know that normal people with healthy consciences simply do not do such things. I also know that teaching kids to care about others and to fear their Creator is the one thing we can all do to prevent tragedies like this one in the future.

The One Sin At the Heart of Most Problems-

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good~ 1st Peter 2:1-3

 A while back I watched a news story covering a violent protest in California. I was curious, to say the least about the tactics of the protesters. So, I did a bit of research on the organizations the protesters belonged to. I learned that the organizations in question (ANTIFA, Refuse Fascism, End Fascism) are devoted to ending all forms of racism, fascism and hate-speech in America.

 A noble and commendable goal.

 Here’s the thing though: these groups deliberately employ fascist methods and strategies including physical violence, hate speech, victim blaming and racist (anti-white) rhetoric. They engage in fascism, violence, hate speech and racism in order to end fascism, racism and hate speech.

 Insert confused face here.

 The first time I heard about this I remember thinking that only a lunatic would attempt to stop something by engaging in the very thing they claim they want to end. However, after a little thought it occurred to me that it wasn’t lunacy motivating that particular situation. It was something far more fundamental, malevolent and dangerous than simple lunacy: hypocrisy.

 Jesus had a lot to say about hypocrisy and none of it was nice (Matthew 6:1-16, Matthew 7:5, Matthew 23:13-33, Luke 12:56, Luke 13:14-16). Jesus treated hypocrites and hypocrisy with absolute and utter contempt because He understood a couple of truths at the heart of hypocrisy that we (as beings that tend toward hypocrisy) tend to overlook.

 Hypocrisy spreads like a virus, especially when it begins with leadership. Anytime a leader (parent, pastor, politician, supervisor) takes a hypocritical position on a subject, or chronically behaves in a hypocritical fashion, everyone who follows that leader is tempted or deceived into taking the same position and behaving just like their leader. Sadly, anyone who follows a hypocritical leader eventually becomes a mirror image of that leader.

 Jesus hates hypocrisy because it robs people of self-awareness and causes them to call good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20). If people tell themselves that wrong is right, or at least right for them (because their circumstances are special) often enough or long enough they begin to believe their own lie and end up doing things they never could have imagined themselves doing, as they are instructing others not to do the very things they are doing.

 Sigh.

 The hypocrisy that has taken root in anti-fascist circles is more than just a humorous case study in irony; it’s a cautionary tale for us all. Especially, for those of us who follow Jesus. Christians sometimes write off hypocrisy as nothing more than a quirky personality trait, or worse yet, as a legitimate means to a needed end. In reality it’s a serious sin that grows out of pride (another serious sin) that is nurtured by a willful lack of self-awareness. If left alone hypocrisy ruins not only the hypocrite but also everyone around the hypocrite.

 Sadly, no one, no matter how spiritually mature is immune to the appeal of hypocrisy. It is simply a part of our fallen nature as humans to imagine that we can trick everyone around us, including God Himself into believing we are doing what we say we are doing-instead of what we are actually doing. In the end the only one who is tricked is the hypocrite.

 As a general rule I am extremely wary about hunting for sin in the lives of other people. Most of us (including myself) have more than enough sin in our own lives to worry about; we simply should not be focusing our attention on anyone else’s sinful stuff. That being said, Jesus warned His followers that deception would be one of the defining characteristics of the end times (Matthew 24, Luke 21:5-36, Mark 13:1-23). Hypocrisy is deception that begins with an attempt to deceive others and ends with self-deception, hypocrisy is also at the root of almost every kind of evil. Because of that, Christians should deal ruthlessly with any hypocrisy they see in their own lives and run as fast as they can from any leader who is transparently hypocritical.

 Hypocrisy destroys individuals, families, churches, relationships and entire movements. Hypocrisy of Christians has done more damage to Christianity than any other single issue in the 2000-year history of the church. Any behavior that can do that much damage should be dealt with decisively and mercilessly.

Is America Under Judgment?

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

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

 The madness began in 2017 where a stupid white supremacist rally took a violent turn when a twenty-year-old racist activist ran down an anti-racist activist with his car and killed her. Donald Trump condemned the idiocy in Charlottesville several times. Nonetheless, many on both the left and the right were convinced he is a racist monster and so is anyone who voted for him. At this point in the game it is clear no amount of reason or evidence will convince them otherwise. 

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

 Nothing has gotten any better in the last three years. It could be argued we’ve been on a downward slide ever since. 

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

 Period.

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

 It’s also kind of where we’re living right now.

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

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

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