Surviving an Unfair, Unjust or just Plain Horrible Situation-

 Nothing in all creation is hidden from Gods sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account– Hebrews 4:13 NIV 

Fairness, justice, equity are more than just woke talking points. 

They are a really big deal.

They are a big deal in a global sense. Every human being, no matter who they are or where they live wants the world to be fair and just. Civilized people want evil to be punished and good rewarded. No decent person wants anyone to be denied a fair shot at life. All people want the same rules to apply to everyone regardless of gender, race or social status (Proverbs 21:15). It’s simply how humans are wired (Genesis 1:27). 

Fairness, justice and equity are also a big deal from a personal perspective. We all want to know when someone harms us or treats us unfairly some authority somewhere will see to it the wrong is righted and the wrongdoer is punished. We all want to be treated equally and fairly. We want to be judged by the content of our character rather than by our age, the color of our skin, our gender, marital status or job title.

For Christians the longing for fairness, justice and equity goes beyond the global or even the personal. These issues are deeply spiritual. We serve a God who describes Himself as both the architect and the ultimate champion of equity, justice and fairness (Psalm 11:7, Psalm 50:6, Psalm 103:6, Psalm 67:4). As God’s people we want to know God sees us in a personal way. We want to know He is aware of the wrongs committed against us. We want God to care enough about us personally to punish those who sin against us (Deuteronomy 32:43).  

Christians rarely discuss it, but most go through a season where they struggle to see and experience the goodness of God in a personal way. Due to painful circumstances these folks can’t help but wonder if God really does see them and if He really does care about what they are experiencing. 

Doubt isn’t always simply due to lack of faith. 

Sometimes doubt is due to what feels like a tardy response on God’s part (2nd Peter 3:8). Times of doubt tend to occur when we really NEED to know God is attentive to our situation and cares about the details of our pain, loss or the oppression we are dealing with. I call these times “seasons of silence”. A season of silence is a time when God feels far away. Because God feels far away our pain or loss feels utterly unbearable.  In order to survive a season of silence a Christian has to have a theology of pain. We have to understand what the Bible says about God so we are not left to rely on our feelings without the guidance of His word (Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 119:105).  

Anytime God feels distant and uninterested in our problems it’s critical we remember first and foremost, we are not the only people to feel the way we feel. Some of God’s best and brightest, including David, Elijah, Daniel, Moses, Mary Magdalene and even Jesus went through an experience or season where they felt God had abandoned them, hadn’t heard their prayers or was simply inattentive at the point of their deepest need (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46, Daniel 10:1-18, Exodus 5:1-19, John 20:11).  We are fortunate to see those stories in the rear-view so we know God has never actually abandoned anyone in their greatest need.  

We also need to remember we live in a world broken by sin (Romans 5:12, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:1). On a practical level this means evil, unjust and unfair things happen all the time.  People lie, take advantage of others, oppress people and cover-up their own sin at the expense of others (2nd Timothy 3:1-4). Sometimes it appears God has chosen to overlook the sin of those who willfully do wrong. 

Justice delayed does not mean justice will be denied indefinitely with God. He promises there will come a day when every wrong will be righted and every sin punished (Hebrews 12:23, Exodus 32:34, Leviticus 26:27-29, Isaiah 13:11, 1st Thessalonians 4:6). God is so not okay with sin, evil and disobedience He punished the Israelites for their idolatry and sexual sin by sending them into servitude and exile for seventy years in the country of Babylon (Isaiah 5:12-16, Jeremiah 29). God is also not okay with injustice and the mistreatment of His people, He later punished Babylon for the sins committed against Israel while they were in exile (Jeremiah 25:12). Babylon was a very short-lived super-power entirely because God cannot bear to see injustice go unpunished. It is wisdom to remember there is nothing in all of creation that goes unnoticed or undealt with by God (Hebrews 4:13). 

 God often defers justice simply because He is merciful and good (Genesis 15:16, Exodus 34:6, Nahum 1:3, 2ndPeter 3:9). God graciously gives sinners time to get their heart right and repent before judgement comes. Our responsibility during a season of silence is to remember the goodness of God, to be merciful just like God is merciful and to pray for those who have sinned against us as we wait on God to do what he promises to do (Matthew 5:44).   

What’s the Deal with Generational Curses?

Riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations– Proverbs 27:24 NIV

Some Christians think generational curses are nothing more than voodoo or fake news. Others think they’re an excuse weak people use when they don’t want to take responsibility for their own choices. Some are convinced generational curses are the result of some distant ancestor ticking God off. They think that in His anger God “cursed” the offender and his or her entire family line with a hex dooming them all to generational misdeeds. Still others believe generational curses are real but they only happen in families where people don’t know Jesus.  

 Generational curses are real. 

However, they are not the result of God’s wrath. They are the logical outcome of human foolishness and spiritual rebellion. A generational sin becomes a family trait when a person chooses to sin and then does not confess their sin or repent of it. Some version of that same sin is then passed down to the succeeding generation in the form of a behavior or attitude many members of the family get stuck in. The most common kinds of generational curses in unsaved families are sexual sin, abuse, alcohol, anger, codependence, drugs, stupidity, anarchy and foolishness. 

Christian families pass on generational curses too. However, generational curses tend to look different in Christian families. Generational curses show up in attitudes and behaviors that dishonor Jesus and hearts that are far from God. Following are five of the most common causes of generational curses in Christian families. 

We cultivate surface-y goodness-  

Jesus warned repeatedly against cultivating a pretense or façade of goodness and righteousness at the cost of authentic heart transformation and change (Matthew 23, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 11:37-54, Romans 12). Sadly, it’s not hard to fake righteousness, except with our kids. Our children get a front row seat to the sin we successfully hide from the rest of the world. When we cultivate an illusion of goodness rather than dealing with our sinful junk honestly, we either pass on the horrible generational curse of spiritual fakery (Acts 5:1-10), or our kids develop hearts of rebellion against a religion they assume is either phony or powerless.  

We hold on to a bitter spirit-

 Because bitterness is almost always the product of actual trauma, suffering and being sinned against, bitterness feels reasonable and justifiable. It’s not. God forbids bitterness because it eventually becomes who we are (Ephesians 4:31). Bitterness saturates our souls, transforms our personality and turns us into an ugly distortion of what God wants us to be. This ruins our Christian testimony and wrecks opportunities for ministry. It also has a defiling effect on our children and grandchildren (Hebrews 12:15). Anytime we choose resentment, anger or bitterness over forgiveness we infect our kids and grandkids with the generational curses of anger and offense. This causes them to become hardhearted towards God and unforgiving towards people (Proverbs 19:11, Proverbs 18:19).

We indulge in too many grey area behaviors- 

Not everything in life is cut and dried or black and white. This is even true in the Christian life (1st Corinthians 6:12). There are things Christians won’t go to hell for doing that also will not help them become better, wiser or godlier people.  The shows we watch, how we treat and talk about people, our church attendance, alcohol use, whether or not we use curse words are all grey areas. No one is going to hell for having a beer, spotty church attendance, being rude or saying a bad word every once in a while.  However, it is also true that how we handle those grey areas will impact how our kids process their faith and live out their Christianity as adults.  If we want to prevent the generational curse of spiritual complacency we must be cautious and prayerful about how we deal with the grey areas of life.  

We don’t honor our parents- 

We live in a culture where even some Christians routinely use almost any excuse to cut their parents or in-laws out of their lives (2nd Timothy 3:1-3). Unless there is a really good reason for doing so, disrespect to parents is a terrible sin guaranteed to reap ugly generational consequences. There are parents who are truly toxic, evil or who were genuinely abusive. The Bible does not command anyone to allow abusive parents to move into their homes or give them free and unfettered access to their grandchildren. Christians should exercise wisdom and discernment in all situations. However, contrary to contemporary thinking, it is not abusive for a parent to be dumb, controlling or less than perfectly tuned into their child’s needs. The command for adult children to honor their parents is the only command that comes with the promise of blessing (Exodus 20:12) and there are no qualifiers given. Adult children are to do their best to figure out a way honor their parents. Period. Even if those parents were less than perfect or the situation is complicated.  The number of generational sins we bring on ourselves and our children when we refuse to honor parents is innumerable. 

A generational sin is easy to break.

All we have to do is recognize it, confess it and change the sinful behavior. When we do that God steps in with His grace and power and does more than we can ask or imagine in our lives and in the lives of our children (Ephesians 3:20) 

How to Make Church a Little Easier for Those who Need it Most-

 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it– Hebrews 13:1-2 NASB 1995

Let’s just be real. 

Church can be really hard. 

Even if you’ve attended church forever and totally “get” church. Church can be hard.  Finding a new church is even harder. Meeting new people is hard. Stepping into an environment where you don’t understand all the rules is hard. Putting yourself out there is hard. Knowing out how to fit in is hard. Making new friends is hard.  

 Church is also important. 

It really is a nonnegotiable for a serious follower of Jesus.  Jesus established church (Matthew 16:18, John 3:3). He told us what it should look like (Matthew 5-6, Matthew 18:15-17). He prayed for it (John 17:1-25). He invested in it (Matthew 11:1, Mark 4:33).  He died for it (Matthew 26-27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19, Matthew 14:22-33). He rose from the dead to redeem and empower it (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20. Then He sent His people out to build it (Matthew 28:16-20).  

All that makes church a big stinking deal.  

It also makes the subsequent story super sad. I have a friend who is looking for a church. I won’t share the ghastly details but suffice it to say her reasons for leaving her church were one-hundred-percent valid. She attended four churches in nine weeks. She realized immediately the first two were a poor doctrinal fit. The third was tiny (not necessarily a problem). However, the pastor was also seriously unprepared (a problem). Number four was promising. The size was right, not too big, not too small. It was a healthy mix of age groups (young families, older adults, teens and young adults). The music was beautifully done and doctrinally on point. The sermon was solid and the doctrinal statement was sound. 

One problem. 

No one talked to her. There were greeters and they all smiled politely and made eye contact but did not say anything more significant than “hello” to her. Not once. There was a welcome time prior to the sermon and no one welcomed her. She did all the stuff you’re supposed to do. She showed up early and stayed late. She bathed. She dressed and behaved appropriately. Even with all that, no one, not even a staff member interacted with her.  

Nonetheless.

She soldiered on. A serve day was announced from the pulpit. She knew getting out and serving her community would be a good thing to do. She also knew it would give her a chance to interact with some of the people she was going to church with. 

At the serve day, she was assigned to a team and she tried to engage the other people on the team. She asked good questions, complimented the pastor on the sermon the week before and just generally did her best to be an agreeable, involved and helpful member of the team. To no avail. No one attempted to engage her when she arrived on site. No one asked her questions about herself. No one noticed when she left and went home. 

Two things. 

First.

Not every church is unfriendly. There are churches that do an outstanding job greeting new people and finding creative ways to integrate them into their church family. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If this were the first story I heard about an otherwise solid church where the congregants appeared to lack basic social skills I would cheerfully write it off as an anomaly. It’s not. This stuff is real. Lots of people have lots of stories just like my friends’ story. 

Second. 

My friend is a committed and mature Christian. She gets church. She has social skills. She understands reality. She knows relationships are a two-way street. She did not show up at church and expect everyone to do the work for her. She was more than willing to smile, ask good questions, be friendly and get involved in the activities the church was offering. 

However.

My friend is not the only type of person who shows up at churches. Some people who show up at church don’t know Jesus. Some are clueless about how church works. They don’t understand how to get involved or make friends. Some of have poor social skills or a chip on their shoulder. Some are looking for an excuse to reject Jesus. We give them the excuse they’re looking when we don’t make every effort to engage new people in a meaningful way. 

 Sometimes we become so fearful of rejection we refuse to step outside of our own tiny relational circles.  Or we become so locked into a tight little friend group that we have no room for anyone new. The problem  with letting fear or self-centeredness run the show we give the devil a foothold in someone else’s life and run the risk of running them out of church (Ephesians 4:26-27, 1st Peter 5:8). 

Here’s the thing:

Just because you feel welcome and loved at your church it doesn’t mean everyone who walks through the door feels the same.  Next week when you go to church, say a prayer, look around, let the Holy Spirit to lead you to the person who’s all alone or looks lost. Say hello, ask some questions, maybe invite them to lunch. Love on them. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference for the kingdom. 

Christians Screwed-up Understanding of Authority is Literally Wrecking Christianity-

If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit- Matthew 15:14 NIV

Christianity has a leadership problem.

Accounts of bullying, embezzlement, adultery, duplicity, abuse, control and even pedophilia involving high profile pastors, churches and entire denominations have become routine. The Catholic Church, Jim Baker, Mars Hill, Ted Haggard, Bob Coy, Willow Creek, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Mike Warnke, Hillsong, Josh Duggar and The Southern Baptist Convention are just a few of the leaders, churches and organizations whose names have become synonymous with corrupt Christian leadership.  Leadership problems aren’t restricted to high profile pastors, mega churches or big-name Christian ministries. Many churchgoers have experienced hurt at the hands of insensitive pastors or pastors who acted much more righteous in public than in private. 

Sigh. 

Experts blame the rise of bad leadership on an increase of narcissism in churches and Christian organizations.  A narcissist has a strong sense of entitlement, is extremely self-focused, has an unusually high need for attention, is overconfident and a has profound lack of empathy. Christians can be narcissists. Narcissists have enormous blind spots where their behavior is concerned. Narcissistic Christians can justify almost any action, including actions they know are sinful. Narcissistic Christian leaders truly believe God will overlook their sin because they “do so much for the kingdom”.  Narcissists do not understand how their behavior affects other people. Therefore, they can do a great deal of harm to people without even knowing it. Most experts believe narcissism is a growing problem among Christian leaders. This is concerning considering the contrast between a narcissistic leader and the model Christian leader described in Titus 1:7-9, Timothy 3:1-3 and 1st Peter 5:1-5. 

This begs some hard questions: 

Why is there so much bad behavior in Christianity? 

What does the church do to produce and attract narcissistic leaders? 

How do average Christians enable narcissistic leadership?  

Christianity is plagued with narcissistic leadership because Christians have a flawed understanding of what New Testament authority should look like.

Here’s what I mean:

Most Christians form their views on spiritual authority from Old Testament stories, principally from the system of Kings found in the Old Testament. Old Testament Kings had absolute God-given authority. This is most famously played out in the story of Saul and David. Saul was an awful king. Saul was evil, volatile, selfish, and guided almost entirely by pride and sinful passions (1st Samuel 16:14, 1st Samuel 18:14, 1st Samuel 19:4, 1st Samuel 15:22-24).  

However.

 Because Saul was anointed King, David faithfully submitted himself to Saul’s authority. David did not disparage Saul, physically harm him or challenge his authority.  Christian teachers (including myself) universally applaud David’s submission to Saul’s authority. It’s an example of Old Testament obedience God clearly blessed (1stSamuel 26:9-11, Acts 13:22). 

Many Christians apply the same concept of anointing to present-day pastors. Many deacons, board members and elders flat refuse to question or correct a pastor even when they know the pastor is wrong because they view the pastor as God’s “anointed” and therefore unchallengeable, regardless of their behavior. Many Pastors, especially narcissistic pastors tend to see themselves as having the same unchallengeable authority as Old Testament Kings. The rotten fruit of this understanding of authority is at least partly to blame for the large numbers of people who have left the church in recent years. It’s also literally obliterating the churches ability to do our one job: reach the lost (Matthew 28:18-20). Non-Christians understandably see leadership situations like the ones at the Southern Baptist Convention, Mars Hill and Hillsong as unacceptable, indefensibly gross and entirely inconsistent with the whole notion of a good God. 

Here’s the thing. 

There are to be no human kings in the Church. 

Jesus is the only King among His people. Period. End of story. Jesus is the only leader who can demand or who deserves absolute obedience. Pastors are simply not anointed to lead churches the same way kings were anointed to lead Israel in the Old Testament. The word anointed or anoint in reference to people and/or Jesus is used a total of eleven times in the New Testament. Eight explicitly refer to Jesus (Mark 14:8, Luke 4:18, Luke 7:46, John 11:2, John 12:3, Acts 4:27, Acts 10:38, Hebrews 1:9). The remaining three teach all Christians are anointed for ministry, not just a few specific leaders (2nd Corinthians 1:21, 1st John 2:20, 1st John 2:27). 

All Christians are given gifts to benefit the church (Ephesians 4:11-12, 1st Corinthians 12:7-11, Romans 12:3-9). Some spiritual gifts have a leadership component to them (apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, overseers). The New Testament commands Christians to treat these leaders with respect, to make their task joyful rather than difficult (Hebrews 13:17). Christians will be judged for how they treat their spiritual leaders. Therefore, any challenge to a leader’s teaching or behavior must be prayerfully contemplated before action is taken. 

 However.

Pastors simply do not have the same authority as Old Testament Kings. Instead, the Bible promises leaders and teachers will be judged at a higher standard than other Christians (James 3:1). ALL Christians will be accountable to God for how they use or misuse their authority in the home, workplace or church. Christians are called to humble servanthood, and specifically commanded not to lord their authority over others (Matthew 20:25-26). 

Truth-be-told narcissism has taken root in churches because too many pastors have been given unchallenged authority and too many Christians have foolishly chosen to follow human leaders more closely than they follow King Jesus.  

Four Truths Key to Going the Distance Spiritually Even in Hard Times-

Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God– John 3:21 NIV

Okay, so. 

No one just decides to let their perfectly good life spiral into a dark and ugly disaster. This is even more true of Christians. No true follower of Jesus has ever made the willful decision to just let their life dissolve into a chaotic tragedy.

Seriously.

It just doesn’t happen. The hope we receive at salvation simply doesn’t allow for that kind of willful foolishness (Romans 5:5).

However.

There are plenty of Christians whose lives do spiral out of control. Sometimes there is no returning from the dark places they go. Unfortunately, it’s a trend that seems to be growing. More and more people are beginning their spiritual lives well and ending them by rejecting Jesus altogether or telling the world they are “reimagining” or “deconstructing” their faith (Galatians 5:7). When we choose the things of this world over the full life Jesus offers we end up turning away from God. Turning from God never ends well (Hebrews 6:4-6, Matthew 24:10-11). 

The key to evading that fate is found in asking God to empower us to seek, understand and walk in truth (John 8:32, 2nd Corinthians 3:12 Galatians 5:5). Living out the kind of truth that keeps us from becoming the worst version of ourselves is about more than simply learning some Bible verses that tell us how we should live.   In order for truth to become a protective force in our lives we have to seek it purposely in specific areas of our lives (Ephesian 6:14, Ephesians 6:17). We seek truth by asking God to show us truth in the following four areas: 

The truth about who we are-  

It is critical we know who we are in Christ and what that means for us spiritually (Ephesians 3:16-20, Colossians 1:13, Galatians 4:6).  Knowing we are loved by God gives us incentive to grow and protects us from discouragement.  We have to know that even when we fail God is for us. He never stops rooting for us to become the best possible version of ourselves. However, it is also critical we understand no one becomes the best version of themselves without some effort. We must make a practice of asking God to show us truth about the parts of ourselves that still need redemption.  We will never see the areas of our life that are tripping us up without God’s help. We are simply too easily misled by our own desires.  

The truth about the motives of our heart- 

The human heart is the most insanely devious thing in all of creation (Jeremiah 17:9). We are able to trick ourselves into believing our motives are pure and we are good when we are anything but good and pure. It’s possible to do this without even realizing we are doing it. We can easily fool ourselves into thinking we are simply being friendly to a member of the opposite sex when in reality we are testing the waters to see if that person might be open to an inappropriate relationship. We tell ourselves it’s the churches fault we aren’t growing when in reality we aren’t making any attempt to feed ourselves outside of the weekly church service. We fool ourselves into thinking we’ve forgiven someone when in reality we are holding onto a grudge the size of Texas. Only God can show us what’s really going on in our hearts but that only happens when we ask Him to do it. 

The truth about who God is –

People—even redeemed people tend to make God into something much smaller and less powerful than He really is. We are simply more comfortable with a God who is like us. So, usually without realizing it we cast God into the image of a human who isn’t all that different from us. In the process we talk ourselves out of taking God seriously. When we stop taking God seriously we stop obeying Him in any area of our lives that feels hard. The way to end this cycle is to ask God daily to remind us who He is and how worthy He is of our full attention and obedience. 

The truth about other people-

It is all-too easy for us to view other people as our enemies, rather than as people who are made in the image of God and deeply valued by Him. When we devalue people, we tend to overestimate the harm they do us and underestimate their ability to be transformed. When we do this we inevitably end up doing the one thing God doesn’t do: give up on people. Asking God to help us see people the way He sees them keeps us from giving up on people when they disappoint us. As people inevitably do. 

No Christian chooses consciously to fail in the things that matter most. The key to success in the Christian life is knowing the truth of God and then walking in it. But in a world fraught with lies and deception truth is something we have to want badly enough to go after it with our whole hearts (Jeremiah 29:13)

If you Don’t Believe These Three Things You’re not a Christian-

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He proves to be One who rewards those who seek Him– Hebrews 11:6 NASB

I am a cerebral person. 

Sadly, in my case “being cerebral” does not mean I am especially smart. It simply means I get stuck in my own head a lot. I will read an article, have a conversation or hear a news story and then I will dwell endlessly on all the conceivable social, spiritual, and political implications of what I heard, read or talked about.  This past week, I spent a shocking amount of time thinking about what Reverend/Senator Raphael Warnock tweeted on Easter. 

The later deleted tweet said:  

“The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves”

Okay. What?

Reverend/Senator Warnock’s tweet got me pondering all sorts of questions regarding life and faith. Like, Which seminary did this guy attend?  Has this man even read the New Testament? And of course, the always meaningful: “why God why?”. 

However.

Most of my other questions centered on a a subject I have spent a lot of time thinking about over the years. Questions like, what exactly makes a person a Christian? And: what does one have to know and/or believe to be saved?  The quick and easy answer comes from Romans 10:9: confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 

But, 

What exactly does it mean to” believe in your heart”? How does one know if they have believed enough to be saved? What exactly does “confessing with your mouth” entail?  How does one know if they have really believed in their hearts Jesus is Lord? Is it possible to honestly think you have confessed or believed without doing it right?  

I already admitted I get stuck in my own head. Sigh.

Anyway.

These are the questions worth asking because what we believe about life and God and how we get to God has eternal consequences. I don’t know everything there is to know about this subject but I do believe it is essential for Christians to embrace the following three truths at some point in their faith journey in order to be a Christian:

You have to understand you can’t save yourself- 

Human beings cannot save themselves. People simply do not have enough inherent goodness in them to get the job done (Isaiah 64:6) . Period.  Nor, are there enough good deeds in the world for a person to earn their own salvation. Even if there were no one would do those deeds with the right heart attitude because even the best people almost never do the right things with the right motivations. Admitting we are sinners who can’t save ourselves is really the first step in the faith journey.   Jesus is called “savior” precisely because we desperately needed someone to do the work of salvation for us (Luke 2:11). Until we embrace that reality authentic salvation will be elude us. 

You must believe God knows more than you do about right and wrong- 

 Thankfully, God graciously “brings us along” on the moral journey of faith. Few people begin their Christian life in full agreement with God about what is morally good and right. That said, Christians must have a certain level of humility concerning the moral limitedness that goes along with being human. At some point in our spiritual journey we have to stop shaking our fists at what God says is right and true and simply accept His proclamations concerning what is and isn’t morally acceptable (Psalm 7:17, Psalm 11:7). If we don’t our faith probably wasn’t genuine to begin with. 

You believe God is who says He is and will do the things He says He will do- 

  Knowledge of the Bible is not a prerequisite for salvation. However, fear of the Lord is (Psalm 25:14, Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 14:27). Christians must believe there is a God (DUH) and that He is vastly superior to humans in every way.  We must also agree God is worthy of honor, worship and obedience. Fearing God simply means we really, truly believe God is who he says He is and He can do the things He says He can do. If we do not fear the Lord it is really hard to be a Christian regardless of what we have declared or confessed. 

Here’s the thing: It is not my place to judge the spiritual journey of Raphael Warnock or anyone else (Matthew 7:1). I don’t know Raphael Warnock and I’m not that smart or that holy. I really don’t know if he is a Christian or an unbeliever or something in between. He eventually deleted his tweet. Perhaps he was having an off day.  I have written things I wish I hadn’t. Maybe he feels the same way? I’m certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. My hope in writing this post is that everyone reading this will examine their own belief system to see if they are “in the faith” (2nd Corinthians 13:5). 

It matters. 

How a Person Develops what the Bible calls a “Depraved Mind”-

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done- Romans 1:28 NIV

 

Recently, I found myself attempting to encourage the close relative of a person deep in the weeds of an ugly addiction. The addict (a professed Christian) flatly refuses to repent of their sin or even entertain the notion their sin is a problem let alone a sin. To the dismay of the entire family the addict is willfully refusing to see the effect their sin is having on the lives of those they profess to love. Further complicating the whole messy mess, the addict is actively attempting to manipulate friends and family into believing their perception of the situation is faulty and the obvious is not reality.  

 Sigh.

 According to the Bible individuals become entangled in sinful patterns of behavior because they develop an evil and “depraved mind” (Romans 1:28, Hebrews 12:1). Deceitfulness, addiction and the refusal to deal with issues related to dishonesty and addiction are not the only indications of a corrupted and depraved mind. Nor is evil and depravity reserved for the worst of the worst: serial killers, sex traffickers and child molesters. Anyone who runs with reckless abandon into sinful behavior (pride, addiction, gossip, lying, covering sin, sexual depravity) and is determined to keep on keeping on is likely suffering from, or in the process, of developing a corrupt and depraved mind.

 The Bible does not exclude professed Christians from thinking or behaving in ways that ultimately lead to having a depraved mind. Like most issues in life, prevention is the best cure. Once wrong thinking leads to an entrenched pattern of immoral behavior it is difficult (but not impossible) to come back from it (Luke 18:27).

 It is critical we remember people, even unsaved people do not become evil or depraved in a day.  Developing a depraved mind is a process that begins with the willful decision to ignore a known truth about God. For an unbeliever this can be as simple as choosing to deny the existence of a Creator despite all the evidence that exists to the contrary (Romans 1:18-20). For Christians it ALWAYS begins with choosing to straight up ignore a clear New Testament command or teaching (Hebrews 12:25). The next step is choosing to disregard the guilt that goes along with choosing to ignore one’s conscience.  Then the person becomes bloated (metaphorically speaking) with pride. Pride convinces them they are above all the silly rules other Christians have to follow. They convince themselves they are special enough to sin without the consequences lesser humans inevitably suffer. Then they begin actively resisting accountability. Eventually, the sin morphs into the driving force in their lives. At this point the sin (addictive behavior) is just a symptom of a bigger sin: idolatry (1st John 5:21).

 Okay, so, a couple of things:

 First, when we see these behavior patterns in the lives of professed Christians we should never entertain the notion we are better than them. That response to someone else’s sin indicates pride. Pride is a serious sin to be avoided at all costs. Once we become prideful we are more likely to get tangled-up in the same sins (Mark 8:15, 1st Corinthians 10:12). Also, pride is just super gross (Proverbs 18:13, 2nd Chronicles 26:16). Nor, should we ever help anyone escape the consequences of the choices they have made. The technical term for helping people avoid the natural consequences of their choices is codependence. The problem with codependence is that codependent people secretly think they know more than God does about what will actually help people. God knows everything about everything and He brings consequences into the lives of people because He is constantly working to mold Christians into the image of Jesus (2nd Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3). No good ever comes from helping people avoid what God is using to make them healthier, wiser, and more like Jesus.

 Secondly, we should always be alert to sin in our own lives. The human heart is capable of an insane level of self-deception when it comes to sin (Jeremiah 17:9).  For that reason it is possible for Christians to be half-way to a depraved mind and not even know it. Therefore, it is critically important we take every opportunity to self-examine and evaluate our own moral and spiritual condition (2nd Corinthians 13:5).

 Finally, anytime we see another Christian struggling with sin our first response should always be to pray for them, not judge them. Once we’ve done that we need to beg God for the wisdom, grace and supernatural insight to know how to be Jesus to them in their time of need.   

 

How Should (and Shouldn’t) a Christian Live?

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.  – 1st John 2:4 NIV

 Today I read an article about a well-known Christian “influencer” who made his living crafting pithy little sayings to encourage other Christians. Well— it turns out that a bunch of those sayings were not really his, they were “borrowed” from other speakers, authors and historical figures. 

 Yikes. 

 The article made me feel kind of navel gazey and got me thinking about a lot of things. Like grey areas, right and wrong and how easy it is for “influencing the world for Jesus” to morph into self-promotion and how hard it is to see our own junky motives when that happens. As I mused these uniquely twenty-first century issues it occurred to me that there is very little agreement about what a Christian should “look like” in our day and age.

 The standard definition of a Christian is someone who has dedicated their life to following the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. Figuring out what the Christian life should look like in our world is not as cut-and-dried as it once was. Even concepts as basic as love can be difficult to navigate in this world. What Christianity should look like is something we need to figure out fast because if we don’t we will ultimately fail at the most basic assignment Christians have been tasked with (Matthew 28:19-20).  I came up with a couple of should’s and shouldn’ts that if followed will empower us to live the Christian life successfully in our grey area world.

Christians should-

 Judge sometimes-

 The notion that Christians should never judge is a lie straight out of the pit of hell. It is true Christians should never judge whether or not another person is worthy of forgiveness or heaven, that’s always God’s call to make (Matthew 7:2, Luke 6:37). That being said, Christians are told all the time in Scripture to make judgments about all kinds of moral issues (Luke 12:57, John 4:18-20, 1st Corinthians 5:12). Anytime we stop judging the actions of ourselves and others we quickly devolve to an ugly reality where everyone does “what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). When that happens, moral chaos becomes the new normal and we forfeit our power to influence others in a healthy way (Matthew 5:13).

Love People-

 Okay, so, this is a bit of a given. Even demons and pagans understand love is the defining mark of a Christ-follower (John 13:34-35). However, some Christians do not seem to understand the basic fact that Christian love is more complex than just being nice and accepting. Christian love protects, encourages and believes the best in others but it also cautions, corrects and even rebukes (1st Corinthians 4:14-20, 1st Thessalonians 5:14).  Jesus loved the Pharisees enough to die for them but that didn’t stop Him from warning them of the consequences they would encounter if they continued to live in opposition to the will of God (Luke 11:11-53).  If we really want to love like Jesus loved we have to embrace every aspect of Christian love—not just the parts and pieces that make us comfortable and the world happy. 

Do good-

 Christians are told all the time in Scripture to “do good” (Galatians 6:9, 2nd Thessalonians 3: 13, Titus 1:6, Titus 2:7, 1st Peter 2:12). The specifics of “doing good” are left somewhat up to the discretion of each individual Christian. In the New Testament “doing good” always involved helping people, providing for the less fortunate and avoiding sin. Doing good is not about being “the next big thing” or “a big deal” in the Church. It’s about doing what God called you to do to the best of your ability right where He put you. 

Tell the truth-

 Christians shouldn’t lie. We all get that (or we should). But telling the truth goes above and beyond simply not lying.  It also means we live our lives openly and we fight the human tendency to compartmentalize and hide our sin rather than confess and repent (Matthew 3:8, James 5:16).   

 Obey Jesus-

  Obedience is a mark of an authentic Christian (John 14:23-24). When we obey Jesus we love people, hate sin, tell the truth and honor God. If we would all just do our best to obey Jesus most problems we have in the body of Christ would be a nonissue.

Christians should not-

 Mess with the word of God-

 Contrary to popular opinion not every biblical issue is always black and white, there are some grey areas. It’s reasonable for Christians to debate (among other things) how often to take communion, the role of women in the church (Judges 4-5, Romans 16:1), whether or not Christians should use alcohol and exactly how political a church ought to be.  However, most issues hotly debated today (homosexuality, premarital sex, gender issues, adultery) were settled long ago and should be treated that way.  

 Hate people-

 This one is easier in theory than in practice. (Matthew 10:22).  This is especially true when we are hated, openly mocked and persecuted just for loving Jesus.  Nonetheless, our calling is clear: Jesus wants us to love those who hate us and to do good to people who hate us (Luke 6:27-28). It is simply impossible for anyone to obey this command in their own power. It can only be accomplished through the emboldening and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (2nd Corinthians 12:8-10)

 Christians who wish to make a difference in this world never shy away from the calling we all have to repent and be constantly transformed into the image of Jesus even if that means being a little less popular and successful by worldly standards.

Why Christians are Abandoning Christianity-

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart- Jeremiah 29:12-13 NIV 

Recently there has been an uptick in individuals who have “deconstructed their faith” or more simply put renounced their faith in Jesus Christ. Some are influential Christians like Joshua Harris, Katy Perry and Marty Sampson. However, there has also been a surge in average Joes and Janes who have “deconstructed” or walked away from the faith. Most know someone (or several someone’s) who were once actively involved in church who haven’t been back in years.  

Most lay the blame for this problem at the feet of church leaders.  I have personally pontificated in more than one blogpost about all the ways I believe the church and church leaders have failed the last two generations of church goers. However. In the interest of objectivity I believe it’s important to share the other side. It’s imperative we understand that with a few notable (and incredibly sad) exceptions’ churches have not driven people away.  People have chosen to leave.

Here’s the thing though.

Individuals who attend Church faithfully do not just wake up one day and decide to stop serving God. There is a process involved in departing the faith that ends with a hardening of the heart and a defection from the faith (Hebrews 3:12-15). It begins with the adoption of attitudes and behaviors that open the door to apostasy. Christians should be on the lookout for those attitudes and behaviors in their own life and they should be ready to come alongside other Christians that are struggling with behaviors that can eventually lead to apostasy.  Those behaviors include: 

 You put a lot of faith in human leaders- 

Human leaders are, under the best of circumstances, a gift from God. A human leader who is fully obedient to Jesus can lead others into greater understanding of the faith, provide inspiration and give moral direction to other followers of Jesus. However, human leaders, even Christian leaders are sinners just like all the other sinful humans out there. Humans lie, have affairs, steal, are sometimes bloated with pride and oftentimes get really important things hopelessly wrong. Wise Christians never put more faith in a human being, (no matter how wise or knowledgeable that human is) than they do Jesus. If our love for Jesus is dependent on the virtue of a human leader our love for God will grow cold at some point (Matthew 24:11-12). 

You don’t pray-

According to surveys most Christians (over half) spend less than three minutes a day in prayer. That means most Christians pray over their meals (maybe) and when they find themselves in dire straights.  As Christians have prayed less, more are leaving the faith (Matthew 26:41). There is, without question a correlation and a causation between these two issues (Jude 20-21). 

You never really committed to a local church-

Church attendance cannot and will not save anyone from their sin (only Jesus can do that). That said, a Christian who chooses not to connect in a local church will probably at some point be tempted to leave Christianity altogether. This is because church is the place where Christians build relationships and acquire the accountability necessary to get them through seasons of temptation and difficulty.   (Proverbs 27:17). 

You have not done the work necessary to transform your thinking- 

Because we are all sinners from the moment we enter this world, wrong thinking is an integral part of our operating systems. One of the primary tasks of a new Christian is to begin the process of renewing their mind and changing their thinking about just about every subject under the sun (Romans 12:2, 1stCorinthians 14:20, 2nd Peter 3:1). If your attitudes about sex, relationships, politics and work haven’t changed since you became a Christian it’s possible you are not a Christian or you are in danger of falling away (Hebrews 5:11-12)  

You love secular advice- 

Christians are called to live life by a different set of rules and values than the rest of the world. Non-Christians and immature believers know very little, if anything about how Christians are called to live (Matthew 5:43-48, Romans 12:12-14, Colossians 3:5-6). When we take most of our counsel or direction from those who are ignorant of Christian values (secular talk show hosts, women’s magazines, non-Christian counselors)  our thinking will remain stuck in a secular mindset. No one stuck in a secular mindset is capable of bringing glory to God or bringing anyone else into the Kingdom. (Colossians 3:1-3).  

You love the world a little too much- 

We “love the world” when we take our cues about how to live, love and function from the world’s system rather than from the Bible (John 2:15, Romans 12:2). Loving the world means the values of the world are influencing us and we are not influencing the people God has put around us.  

God loves every human on earth with an absurd and crazy passion. However, people have a responsibility to respond to God’s love in humble faith, obedience and with a heart that is determined to persevere in the faith. It’s imperative Christians remember that no one will get a free pass from Jesus on judgment Day because the church disappointed them (Revelation 20:11-15)

Seven Idols Christians Worship-

They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them~ Psalm 106:35-36 NIV

Whatever book of the Bible I happen to be reading tends to have a discernible impact on what I write.  Last summer I studied Jeremiah. Looking back, I see that the blogs I wrote during those months tended to be glum, cynical screeds against the evils of the culture. While I was working on a devotional on Galatians I frequently wrote about the wonders of grace and the hazards of legalism, racism, hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

So. 

Recently, have been reading the book of Hosea. A key theme of Hosea is idolatry. This got me thinking about idolatry in general and how contemporary idolatry tends to differ from the standard bow-down-to-a-creepy-little-statue variety of idolatry we see in the Old Testament. 

As I was reading Hosea, Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye)and Marty Sampson (writer for Hillsong) both “came out” as unbelievers (Marty Sampson has since back-peddled a bit). The book of Hosea makes a clear connection between the act of idolatry and the act of apostasy (Hosea 13:2, Zephaniah 1:3, 2nd Kings 17:11-13). Biblically there is not a single case where apostasy occurred in a void. No person or nation just up and decided to stop believing in God.

Apostasy always follows a lifestyle of idolatry. 

Some idols we worship today are unique to our generation. Some modern-day idols are without question more of an issue among Christian leaders while other idols affect most Christians in some way. The idols we worship are directly related to the apostasy we see in the Church. When the church gets a handle on the idolatry problem we will see fewer people leaving the church.  

 Our favorite Christian idols are:

 Ambition- 

Ambition is not sinful until it becomes THE primary motivating force in our lives. If ambition is not kept in check it swiftly mutates into covetousness.  Covetousness then becomes an all-consuming focus on whatever it is we long for.  Ambition is particularly dangerous in the church world because unbridled ambition often disguises itself in Christians and Christian leaders as a healthy desire to see churches grow. However, sometimes ambition for church growth is really just a ravenous appetite for recognition.    

Success-

Christians have merged worldly measures of success with Christianity. Being wealthy, sought after and liked is perceived to be success in our Christian culture. Even though biblical standards for success are vastly different (Isaiah 66:2, Matthew 22:36-40, Hebrews 11:36-38).  A person who has made success into an idol will do anything to hang on to the attention, money and adulation that comes with success. This includes compromising what they believe or even renouncing their faith in Christ so they can increase the size of their audience and number of followers. 

Grace- 

 God is insanely complex. He is good, merciful and kind. However, God is also unapologetically judgmental. God judges anyone who refuses to humbly repent and embrace Him as the sovereign Lord of everything (1st Corinthians 6:8-10, Jude 14:16-18, Revelation 20:13). When we insist on making God out to be all sunshine and good vibes we aren’t really worshipping God anymore. We are worshipping the grace God offers only to those who choose to repent (Matthew 4:17, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:29-31). We know grace has become an idol when we buy the lie that a loving God cannot or will not judge people who refuse to play by His rules.   

Judgment- 

There are Christians who really, really want God to smite the daylights out of anyone who has committed certain acts of wickedness. They also want Him to do it without so much as a smidgen of mercy. If the notion that God would withhold judgment from someone just because they have repented bothers you; you just might worship the judgment and wrath of God rather than the God of the Bible (Ezekiel 18:23). 

Marriage-

In Mark 2:23-27 the Pharisees chastised Jesus and his disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath. This was a technical violation of Exodus 16:23. Jesus informed the Pharisees that the Sabbath was intended to be an institution that benefited and blessed people rather than an institution people became a slave to. I am not “soft” on divorce. I believe marriage is critically important and that most marriages could be saved if both people in the marriage would simply stop sinning. That said, I also believe many contemporary Christians make the same mistake with marriage that the Pharisees made with the Sabbath. We worship marriage when we put the institution of marriage above of the welfare of the people in the marriage. 

Freedom-

Freedom (especially where sexuality is concerned) is an idol that has been worshipped with wild abandon in Western culture for decades.  In recent years Christians have followed suit. Those who worship freedom do not believe even God Himself has the right to tell anyone that old-fashioned ideas about gender, sexuality and marriage are true and that some behaviors are simply unacceptable. 

Youth- 

In 1st Timothy 3:6 the apostle Paul cautions Church leaders against placing new Christians in positions of leadership. He had observed that when new converts become leaders they also become prideful and unteachable. Sometimes these leaders become so swollen with pride that they begin to believe that they have more wisdom and insight than other older more mature Christians. Sometimes they begin to think they know more than even God. Truth-be-told a twenty-year-old is by the nature of their age a new convert (even if he or she was raised in the church). Joshua Harris was nineteen when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbyeand twenty-one when the greater Christian community dubbed him a leader. Marty Sampson was barely out of his teens when he began leading worship and writing music for Hillsong.  In one sense it is not surprising that these men have decided that they have moved beyond Christianity.  Until churches stop elevating every young kid with talent or a good idea into “a leader” we will continue to have problems with those leaders as they age. 

Idols must be cast down. The only way to cast these particular idols down is a return to humble obedience that can only be born out of pure love for God rather than the blessings He gives. Getting there will require ruthless self-examination and honest prayer.