Don’t Blame God for That-

 Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God~ Job 1:21-22 NASB

Recently, there have been moments when I felt as if I might be stuck in an off-kilter version of the movie Groundhog Day. I have had numerous conversations with all sorts of different people with vastly different stories but the exact same problem.

 At the heart of their individual problems is a situation most of us will experience in our journey through life. The details of our individual stories differ but at the root of problem is always a terrible or unjust situation that is completely outside of our control.

 Sometimes we are born into the situation.

 One of the sadder consequences of living in a fallen world is the untold number of children who (through no fault of their own) lose the parental lottery at conception. Those children are born to immoral, selfish or sometimes even sadistic parents. The emotional fallout of being born to selfish or cruel parents is experienced well into adulthood.

 Other times the situation manifests itself later in life.

 A spouse we assumed would be loyal isn’t. Someone we care about becomes the random target of senseless violence. A friend who claimed to be a Christian does something Christians should never do. The child who was raised right goes terribly wrong. A boss or colleague steals our credit. We become the victims of injustice or prejudice. A loved one dies long before we think it’s time. Someone lies and our reputation takes a hit.

 The problem always begins with being wronged or cheated in some profoundly unpleasant way. Hurt and anger follow, anger takes root and we do what humans do when we get angry about things that are unjust, unreasonable and completely outside of our control.

 We blame God for things He had nothing to do with.

 We blame God because blaming God gives us an outlet for our rage and  it makes us feel better, at least temporally. That being said, blaming God for things He had nothing to with actually compounds our problems rather than solving them.

 Anger is not a “bad” or a “sinful” emotion. There is such a thing as righteous and even healthy anger. Some things that happen in this world are horrible. Horrible things should make us angry. If  horrible things don’t make us angry there is a problem.

That said.

Anger directed at God—rather than injustice— causes people to act out in sinful, inappropriate, and astonishingly self-destructive ways. Sometimes we indiscriminately vent our wrath on undeserving people or hurt others in the same way we were hurt. Others choose to abuse alcohol, engage in sinful sexual behaviors or use drugs in a misguided attempt to numb the pain and forget the hurt.

Sigh.                                                                                                          

 We blame God for the actions of people because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of God, human sovereignty and how God relates to His creation. God creates each person wanting them to do good things with the gift of life given to them. That said, God is not a creepy puppet master who forces people to obey His commands or do His bidding. God gave humanity freewill and we are able to use our freedom in anyway we please.

 Most folks are comfortable with this arrangement so long as it applies to their own personal choices. However, when individuals use their freewill in a way that hurts others we become enraged with God, the one being in all of existence that is the most outraged and brokenhearted by the depravity and ugliness of the human race.

 It is critical to our psychological and spiritual health we remember that God does not cause people to do cruel, insensitive or evil things. Nor does He endorse or support bad behavior. God hates evil. However, just because God allows something to take place it does not mean that anyone is actually getting away with anything.

 God promises in His word that there will come a day when every human being who has ever lived will be judged for what they did and didn’t do here on earth (Revelation 20:11-15). It is imperative we remember that NOTHING goes unnoticed by God and every deed, thought and motivation will ultimately come under His judgment (Hebrews 4:12-13).

 Until that day, we need to go to God with our pain, rather than blaming Him for it. Blaming God for stuff He had nothing to do with inevitably leads to shunning the only one who can give us the comfort, peace and healing we really need.

 

Is Being Nice Really What Jesus Would Do?

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all people everywhere should repent~ Acts 17:30 NASB

 My daughter has joined a gym. Her fitness goals are commendable and realistic.  She wants to gain muscle, increase her endurance and best-case scenario: drop a few pounds.

 Last night she confessed she’s run into a bit of a glitch in reaching her goals. The problem lies less with her than with the gym she belongs to. The staff is pleasant, but hands off when it comes to assisting clients.

 The staff does not help with technique or correct the wrong use of machines. There are no scales anywhere in the building. There is an enormous dish of candy at the front desk and the gym serves pizza on Fridays. If a client wishes to munch on a jelly donut while running on the treadmill, the management is perfectly fine with that. They do ask that you wipe the goo off the machine once your workout is completed.

 The goal of this organization is a noble one. The want to create a safe place for out of shape people to get into shape, without even a hint of disapproval or judgment from anyone.

 As always the only hitch is the curse of unintended consequences.  

 The employees are so wary of causing offense that the clients are not getting the help they need to make the changes they want to make. This is a legitimate problem when you consider that any gym anywhere in the world would assert that their sole purpose for existing is to help out of shape folks lose weight and get into shape.

 Her tale of woe reminded me of a blog post I read this week.

 I read quite a few blogs in a given week. Every once in a while I come across one that sticks with me and causes me to think on a deeper level.

 This was one of those.

 The writer (a Christian) shared that one afternoon while she and her husband were out shopping, they ran into a guy she had attended youth group with when she was a teenager. Except the guy wasn’t a guy anymore. He was a girl.

 Awkward.

 The writer handled herself with composure considering the delicate nature of the situation. She did not cast judgment, give disapproving looks or hurl Bible verses at him. Nor did she inform him he was headed straight for hell.

 She went out of her way to make friendly conversation and set him at ease. She asked about his family and inquired about what he had been up to in recent years. She introduced her husband, shared some of her own story, gave him a couple of big hugs and went on with her day.

 It was a nice exchange and frankly it’s probably what I would have done given the same set of circumstances. So, please don’t accuse me of judging her or anyone else, because I’m not. That said, as I pondered her story I was overcome with a deep sense of spiritual conviction and left wondering:

 Is being nice enough?

 Being nice or “showing love” to sinners is bandied about as the latest and greatest in “being like Jesus” and “loving the unsaved”. But again, I wonder is it enough? And is it really and truly “being like Jesus”?

 I am not questioning whether or not Christians ought to be kind, respectful and compassionate towards all people, including those people with obviously sinful lifestyles. Jesus was and I believe being kind is a given. If you are a Christ-follower and do not routinely treat all people with respect, you have a serious sin problem called pride and you should deal with it.

Today.

 That being said, I do wonder if simply “showing love” to people who are obviously stuck in a sin spiral is doing more harm than good from an eternal perspective. I’m not proposing we stop being nice. I am proposing we stop helping sinners to feel safe in their lost state. Our compassion and acts of kindness need to be followed up with loving, but truthful conversations about the eternal consequences of choosing a lifestyle of sin over a heart of repentance. We forget that Jesus (arguably the nicest guy ever) made it uncomfortably clear on more than one occasion that an unrepentant sinner is anything but “safe” from a spiritual standpoint (Matthew 4:17, Luke 5:32, Mark 9:47).

 I fear that we have we have traded the hard work of evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) for the path of least resistance: being pleasant and inoffensive. In the process we have become a lot like my daughter’s gym. We are safe and welcoming to sinners, but nothing significant ever really happens and no one ever changes anything that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Church Must Do to Win Back the Millennial Generation

May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors~ 1st Kings 8:58

  Monday morning just as I was preparing to leave Facebook and go do something productive with my life, a question popped-up on my newsfeed that I almost ignored. It was a religious question and I tend to avoid getting involved with religious questions on social media. The questions are typically stupid and the people asking seldom ask out of pure motives. As a result those questions tend to veer into debates that devolve into quarrels that inevitably end with me searching frantically for a legal outlet for my rage.

 However, this was a very good question. I knew the answer and someone I like asked it in a respectful and sincere manner. So, I fired off a hasty response assuming that would be the end of it. Rather, it was the beginning of a one of the more thought-provoking conversations I have had in a long time. One question led to another and then a few of the original questioner’s friends (all millennials) chimed in with related questions and thoughts. A plethora of differing opinions were shared but the entire discussion remained very courteous and civil.

 I emerged from cyberspace ninety minutes later, drained, but armed with what I believe are some answers to a question that has been plaguing the modern Church for the better part of a decade.

 Why are millennials leaving the church?

 For years Church leaders have suspected that too many rules and a focus on doctrinal issues have bored and offended millennials, causing them to seek answers elsewhere. After my discussion with a half dozen or so random millennials this past week I am beginning to suspect our assumptions are at least partially incorrect.

 The millennials I interacted with do not seem to have an issue with the notion of God having rules. In fact I got the sense that most of these millennials believe that IF there happens to be a God (most are still very much undecided) then it would only make sense that He would have at least a few rules for His people to follow.

 They do have questions about which rules ought to be followed (Old Testament? New Testament? Both?). And they want some sensible explanations as to why the rules matter. It’s clear that most millennials are not blind followers; they want to know the why of everything before they buy into anything. It’s also clear that they do have an issue with the lack of consistency they see in the lives of Christians and the lack of uniformity they see across denominations. More than one individual stated that it looked to them as if individual Christians just decide for themselves which rules they want to follow depending on the situation.

 They also seemed to feel that most Christians were very quick to apply rules regarding sexual behavior to others (homosexuals) but not so quick to apply rules regarding divorce and other forms of sexual sin (adultery, pornography) to themselves and other Church members. They seemed to be genuinely baffled and repelled by the hypocrisy of those double standards. As a result, they have a tough time reconciling the actions of Christians with the teachings of the New Testament.

 Those millennials who grew up in Christian homes appeared to be unfamiliar with what most would consider basic Christian teachings and doctrine (sin, Jesus, forgiveness, repentance, the Old Testament, etc.). One mentioned later in a private message that they stopped attending Church because they never really learned anything there. They also expressed frustration because no one would answer questions regarding what they saw as discrepancies between science and the Bible. Rather they were encouraged “to just believe”.

 The Christian community is on the threshold of losing a large portion of an entire generation. It’s possible to get them back, but it will require extraordinary effort from all of us. First, we need to restructure our thinking and let go of the absurd post-modern notion that no one really cares about doctrine or apologetics anymore. We also need to help our youth understand they “why” behind God’s directives. Intellectual laziness and “just believe” twaddle will not fly with a generation accustomed to getting their questions answered in seconds via Google.

 Continued intellectual development is imperative but it will only take us so far. Revival and spiritual renewal is crucial but will only come through a movement of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in situations where God’s people are seeking to be obedient to God all the time, not pretending to be better than they really are in an effort to impress others while still hanging on to sin. It is time for God’s people to pursue true holiness—not the weird, superficial legalism we see in some circles. When we do those things, millennials will return.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving a Spiritual Dry Season

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord~ Amos 8:11

 Spiritual dry-spells or desert experiences typically begin with a sense that God is far away and our prayers are not being heard (Psalm 63:1). The sense that God is far away leads to the logical (but erroneous) conclusion that He is deliberately ignoring us. This predictably leads to an overwhelming sense of confusion. We feel lost and begin to believe we have been forgotten or abandoned by God. Every obstacle and disappointment feels like a rebuke and becomes a verification of the belief that God has turned His back on us.

 Some Christians react to their angst proactively. They step-up church attendance, pray with greater fervency, and work their spiritual tails off in a valiant effort to make God happy and get Him back on their side. Others become depressed and despondent. Some become irate and bitter, supposing God has turned on them. Spiritual pity parties and noble attempts to placate God are natural responses. However, these responses will not fix anything and may even lead to spiritual regression or rejection of the faith altogether.

 If this describes you, there are a few things you need to understand. First, you are not the first believer to experience a dry season. Some of the best and brightest of God’s people suffered through a dry season at one time or another. Naomi, David, Elijah, Jonah, Jeremiah, Esther and even Jesus (Matthew 27:46) all experienced situations where they felt God was remote and uninterested in their situation.

 No matter how you feel at this moment, you must understand that God has not stopped loving you, nor is He punishing you. His silence is not evidence of desertion. He still cares. He has a plan for you and He has no intention of allowing your pain to go on forever. Hang on to that. Memorize and meditate on Isaiah 42:3:

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick, He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.

 A spiritual dry season is not a time for self-pity but it is a good time for some healthy self-examination. God never moves away from us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 37:28) . He is steady and unchanging. We on the other hand are prone to wander, sometimes without realizing it. I have learned that when God feels far away it’s a good time to ask some hard questions:

 Am I making a daily effort to connect with God through prayer and Bible study?

 Is there some area of my life that has become a foothold for the enemy (Ephesians 4:26-28)?

 Have my personal dreams or desires become demands that I make of God?

 Am I harboring resentment in my heart because God has not answered a prayer to my liking?

  If the honest answer to any of the above questions is “yes” then change direction as rapidly as possible. Make a determined effort to connect with God, repent of wrong attitudes, deal with sin and spend some additional time in prayer realigning your dreams with God’s will. If, on the other hand, none of the above seem to apply to your situation then you should assume that God is taking you through a season of refinement and growth.

 Because we live in a fallen world, spiritual growth rarely comes easy and is always incremental. Growth comes as we shed old behaviors and change the attitudes and mindsets that allowed wrong behaviors to take root in our lives. Letting go of the old and embracing the new empowers us to reach levels of spiritual understanding and growth. The process can be agonizing because our flesh longs to hang on to the old, comfortable ways of functioning and looking at life. However, this painful process is the only way to transformed into the image of Jesus.

We can choose to fight growth or we can choose to embrace it. We fight growth when we willfully refuse to see the issues in our life that need to be addressed. We embrace growth by asking God with a sincere heart to show what needs to change in us so we can become more like Jesus. It is this place of humility and submission that allows God to do what needs to be done in us to reestablish a sense of connection with God. 

 

 

 

 

The Biggest Lie of Them All

 

At seven years of age, I learned a painful truth about life.

It all started the day I found an advertisement for a super spy periscope on a box of Froot Loops. The ad promised that for only sixty cents and couple of box tops, I could be the proud owner of a Batman periscope that would enable me to see around corners and over walls. The advertisement promised in no uncertain terms to turn me into a super spy.

 I pestered my poor Mother into purchasing the necessary boxes of cereal, saved my money religiously and sent away for the device that was guaranteed to transform me into a super spy.

Six weeks later I learned that people tell lies on the back of cereal boxes.

The periscope was small, only about four inches high, and built out of cheap blue plastic. The people I spied on could easily see my hand as I peered around corners. The “spy glass” was clear plastic that was impossible to see through without straining my eyes. The third time I used it, the plastic pieces literally fell apart in my hand, and the “glass” shattered on the sidewalk. I was devastated. My career as a super spy was over before it began.  

 I have since learned that people lie about all sorts of things. Some lies are innocuous and even amusing—like the time my then-two-year-old daughter Abigail told her Dad that her brother Alex was the one that made the smelly mess in her diaper.

Sadly, the vast majority of lies are less humorous and far more damaging. Political lies are destructive because they mislead the public and pave the way for politicians to create laws and policies that lead us down a path of economic and social destruction.

 The lies we tell ourselves are amongst the most damaging because they keep us from seeing the truth about ourselves and keep us stuck in harmful patterns of behavior. The damage caused by self-deception is enormous, but its destruction pales in comparison to the devastation created by spiritual lies.

 Spiritual lies are becoming increasingly more common. Christians and non-Christians buy into them in equal numbers. Some of the most pernicious spiritual lies of our time include…

 God has loosened up His standards of right and wrong since the New Testament was written.

Asking for forgiveness and repenting are the same thing.

 Running away from hurt and pain is holier than dealing with it.

 God just wants me to be happy.

 By far the biggest, ugliest, most malevolent, fresh-from-the-pit-of-hell spiritual lie of our time is…. (Drumroll please)

 God accepts people just the way they are.

 Every spiritual lie is uniquely harmful and all lies produce their own brand of spiritual chaos. But I believe the “God accepts people just the way they are” lie is exceptionally dangerous—partly because it brushes right up against the truth and then bypasses it entirely.

 The message that God accepts people as they are is one that has been circulating for decades. It started with good intentions: Christians wanted people to understand they didn’t have to be perfect to get right with God. So with the best of intentions we changed our message from…

“You are a sinner and you need to change.  Get your life right with God so that you will have the power to change.

 To…

 “You are awesome just the way you are. However, you would be even better if you had God in your life.”

 The message was well intentioned, but because there is a subtle deception embedded within, it has produced a sad and lifeless shadow of saving faith.

 The truth is that God loves people just the way they are. Loving and accepting are not the same thing. When my kids were born I loved them. I was over the moon with love and affection for my kids. I loved each of them so much that I would have gladly taken a bullet for any one of them. That said, I would not have accepted their remaining infants indefinitely. They were normal, healthy newborns and I fully expected them to mature into more productive people.

 God loves all people—regardless of past choices—with such a passion that He did take a bullet for the entire human race (metaphorically speaking). But God knows us all well enough to recognize that we are not awesome just the way we are.

We see this demonstrated in Jesus’ attitude toward the woman caught in adultery in John chapter eight. Jesus loved the woman enough to rescue her from a perilous situation (she was about to be killed). He loved her enough to forgive her for her sinful lifestyle (she was cheating on her husband). However, Jesus loved her too much to leave her the way she was. His parting words to her were a powerful call to transformation and life change: 

 Go now and leave your life of sin~ John 8:11 NIV

 The call to transformation is not just for new believers and people caught up in sinful lifestyles; it’s for all of us. Christianity is more than a religion, and it’s more than a just a relationship.

Christianity is a journey of transformation.

 It is a priceless opportunity to be molded into the image of the Maker of the universe. In order for this to happen, we have to stop fearing what we will lose through obedience. We must accept the fact that God wants something better for each and every one of us, no matter where we are in the journey.