Five Ways to Curse Your Stupid Self


Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, so a curse without cause does not alight~ Proverbs 26:2 NASB

 The word curse or curses is used a total of 178 times in the Bible. The conspicuously large number of times the word is used in the biblical text has led many to believe that God is all about cursing people. A lot of folks (including some Christians) believe God spends His spare time scanning the planet looking for those He can lay a horrible hex on.

  In the interest of fairness, I feel the need to point out that the only record I could find of God actually cursing anyone or anything is in the book of Genesis. In chapter three God lays out a series of curses related to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden of Eden.

 Issues of fairness aside, the Bible does not hesitate to reference the concept of curses.  The better part of Deuteronomy twenty-eight is just one long list of ghastly curses that will befall the Israelite people if they don’t get their spiritual act together and keep it that way. That passage coupled with the many other references to the word beg the question: Does God curse people for doing the wrong thing?

 I think not.

 Not that I don’t believe curses are a real thing. There are simply too many biblical references to the subject for a serious Christian to dismiss the whole thing as twaddle or voodoo. That said, God does not curse people willy-nilly just because they displease or annoy Him.

 It’s a bit more complicated than all that.

 God has designed the universe in such a way that if we do certain things certain consequences are inevitable. If someone places their hand on a hot stove, pain predictably follows. God does not cause anyone to put their hand on a stove and God certainly does not burn anyone’s hand.  Consequences occur because they are built into the design of the universe.  God doesn’t curse us.  We curse ourselves.  Following are four weird ways we bring curses on our own stupid selves.

 We curse ourselves when we refuse to break sinful patterns of the past-

 Many believe they are cursed to do stupid stuff because they a had a parent or grandparent or great-grandparent who did stupid stuff.  They believe that because some distant relative sinned in some foolhardy way God cursed the entire family line to sin exactly the same way for the rest of history.  It is true that patterns of sinful behavior run in families. It is also true that sinful behavior and attitudes can run deep. That said, the Bible makes it clear that God does not hold children responsible for the sins of the parents (Ezekiel 18:1-32). Furthermore, these types of curses are not difficult to break. Once a person repents of a sinful attitude or behavior the curse is broken.  Case closed.    

 We curse ourselves when we harshly judge situations we don’t understand or haven’t lived through-

 Back in the day my husband and I had some friends who were extremely critical and vocal in their criticism of how we parented our oldest daughter. We weren’t strict enough, we let her stay up too late, we let her eat too much candy, we didn’t discipline her enough or in the correct way. We naturally assumed that when these people had kids their kids would be the best behaved, sweetest, most well-mannered children in the history of children. They weren’t. They were awful. Those children were so dreadfully awful that both sets of grandparents refused to babysit them. I don’t say this to gloat (at least I am trying not to) I say this to make a point. When we judge people, we tend to repeat the same sins of the people we judge (Matthew 7:2), typically, we do this without even realizing we are doing it.

 We curse ourselves when we choose to become bitter-

 Anytime we chose the path of bitterness over the path of forgiveness we are cursed to become exactly like the people we refuse to forgive. I am not entirely certain why or how this happens. That said, I have observed it happen enough times to know it’s a real thing. I suspect we become like the person we are bitter towards because bitterness causes us to become extremely focused (in a very unhealthy way) on that one person. Having so much of our mental energy focused on the negative aspects of one person causes us, over time, to take on the characteristics of that person without being aware of what we are doing. So, if you do not wish to become a mirror image of your gossipy, critical Mother or your angry, alcoholic Father I strongly suggest you forgive immediately (Hebrews 12:15).  

 We curse ourselves when we refuse the Holy Spirit-  

 Anytime God tells us to do anything in His word or the Holy Spirit prompts us to action and we choose to ignore those promptings we curse ourselves.  Ignoring God hardens our hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8, Hebrews 4:7). The harder our hearts become the more difficult it becomes to discern truth from God’s word, to hear His still-small voice or even to care when the Holy Spirit prompts us to action.

 That perhaps is the worst curse of all.

Lies We Believe about Life and God and How Those Lies are Killing Us

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised~ Romans 1:25

 Recently, I have noticed that a lot of people (who really ought to know better) are becoming less and less troubled by the whole notion of lying.  

 Seriously.

 Hardly a day goes by when I don’t turn on the television and catch a broadcaster or politician saying something with a perfectly straight face that is demonstrably and provably untrue. The truly tragic thing about all this is that no one seems to be calling anyone out on it.

 Sadly, this phenomenon is not unique to the secular realm. Lies are proliferating in our Christian culture as well. The lies Christians tell are especially dangerous for two reasons. First, unlike heathens who lie,  Christians typically believe the lies they tell. The vast majority of Christians who spread spiritual lies don’t want to hurt anyone. They are simply operating out of biblical or moral ignorance. Nevertheless, a lie told out of ignorance is no less harmful than a lie told maliciously.

 Secondly, when Christians lie the lies they tell almost always concern issues that have eternal consequences.  It’s one thing to lie about who-did-what-to-who. Those kinds of lies are ultimately between God and the liar and I for one am more than happy to let Him sort all that out in whatever way He sees fit. Spiritual lies on the other hand, inevitably lead to wrong thinking, wrong thinking leads to wrong behavior and wrong behavior has eternal consequences (Matthew 15:18-20, Ezekiel 18:20-23). So, in the interest of truth-telling following are five of the biggest lies Christians tell about life and God:

 As long as someone loves Jesus what they believe about life and God is basically irrelevant-

 Most people who have bought into this lie don’t even realize they believe it (Matthew 24:4-9, Luke 21:8, 2ndTimothy 4:3-4). The lie has simply become a part of our operating system as Christians. This particular lie has become so widespread that it has literally transformed the way we do church and Christianity. It is the underlying reason professing Christians don’t attend church services. It is also the reason churches have ditched Bible studies, midweek services and Sunday school classes for “connect groups” and “fellowship nights”. It is time for us to once again embrace the fundamental fact that acting on the truth laid out for us in God’s is what sets us free from sin and spiritual bondage (John 8:32).

 Love is the end-all-be-all of everything Christian-

 This lie is almost true and that makes it more believable and therefore very dangerous. Love is a really big deal to God. Christians are straight-up commanded nineteen times in the New Testament to “love one another”. The problem isn’t with love. Love is awesome. The problem is with how we have chosen to define love in our society. Christians have taken their cues from a godless culture and chosen to define love in feel-goody kinds of terms. The current definition presupposes no one should ever say anything to anyone that might make them feel bad about their choices. This is not love, it’s a form of deception (2ndTimothy 4:3-4).   

 Christian kids need to experience “life”-

  Too many Christian parents have bought into the lie that their kids are missing out on something vital and formative if they don’t get ample opportunities to sin like their peers do. I am all for Christian kids having experiences that will enrich their lives and expose them to different kinds of people (missions’ trips are great for this). However, too many worldly experiences without a lot of teaching and training will inevitably turn Christian kids into worldly people with zero interest in God. 

  God is somehow nicer than He used to be-

 Contrary to popular belief God hasn’t actually changed since Old Testament times. He is exactly the same God He’s always been (Numbers 23:19, Psalm 55:19, Hebrews 13:8). It is far less burdensome to be forgiven than it was once was (Leviticus 9:7, Leviticus 14:19). However, that does not mean God’s opinion of sin has changed the tiniest bit (Isaiah 1:16, 1stCorinthians 15:34).

 What I do in private won’t hurt anyone-

 This lie presupposes that sin doesn’t actually affect the sinner in anyway. This is simply not true. Sin changes us, it hardens our hearts and makes it much harder to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit when He is speaking to us (Hebrews 3:13). Sin also changes the way we view other people. Sin diminishes our compassion for others and makes us far more self-serving. Self-absorbed Christians who lack compassion and empathy hurt everyone.  

 God loves me just the way I am-

 This is another lie with a kernel of truth at its core, making it more believable and therefore more dangerous. It is absolutely true that God loves everyone no matter what they have done (John 3:16). It is also true no one has to be perfect or have life all figured out to become a Jesus follower (Ephesians 2:8). That said, God does not want anyone to stay stuck. God wants everyone to change and grow and become better people after we begin a relationship with Jesus and if we don’t something is seriously wrong. In John chapter eight Jesus tells a woman that He had just forgiven to “go and sin no more”.

 He wants the same thing for all of us.

 

How Constantly Taking Offense Has Turned Us Into a Bunch of Silly Babies

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense~ Proverbs 19:11

 We live in strange times.

 Ideas, customs and behaviors that were once considered right are now thought to be offensive and just plain wrong (Isaiah 5:20).

 Some of those things actually make sense.

 No rational human would even attempt to defend indentured servitude, human sacrifice, child brides or the practice of female genital mutilation. That said, some of the ideas and behaviors our culture finds offensive these days are not nearly as easy to understand or defend. Like taking offense at those who identify as the gender they were assigned at conception (CIS genderism), the notion of nations having borders and the belief that humans should have a right to be born.

 Sigh.  

 One of the stranger things that was once considered a good thing (or at least a neutral thing) that has become a bad thing is cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the practice of borrowing (some would say stealing) the best aspects of a culture and appropriating or adopting those things into another culture. Ancient Romans were among the first to brazenly appropriate other cultures but Americans have perfected the practice. That is why Americans can say with a straight face that something is as “American as apple pie” when apples are from Asia and the practice of baking apples into pies began in England during the Middle Ages.

 Because cultural appropriation is now considered offensive there are people who are sincerely offended when they see a college student with a sombrero on or basic white girls wearing hoop earrings (true story). A few years past a horde of folks became frothing-at-the-mouth offended when they saw a not-so-basic white girl wearing a Chinese inspired prom dress. This tells me we have become a people who are far too easily offended by just about everything.

 As a culture we have forgotten that taking offense is a choice.  It’s a choice that inevitably leads to broken friendships, shattered marriages and split churches. If offense is allowed to run amok in a society it can eventually lead to ugly social upheaval and in the most extreme cases: civil war.  On a personal level the greatest danger in habitually taking offense is that being offended all the time transforms otherwise intelligent people into insufferable boobs who are far more concerned with feelings than with facts.  Christians are called to be salt and light in our broken and hurting world (Matthew 5:13-15). We simply cannot do that if we are heavily focused on our feelings all the time.

 Here is how offense ruins people:

 Offense stops spiritual and personal growth-

 Even secular experts agree that the ability to examine ourselves and see the things we need to change is the key to personal growth. Self-examination is also a prerequisite for spiritual growth (Lamentations 3:40, 2ndCorinthians 13:5). Offense takes our eyes off our bad behavior and weak spots and places our focus entirely on other people’s actions and attitudes. When that happens, we become so focused on others and what they need to change that we fail to see our own sins clearly.     

 Offense breeds bitterness-

 Offense is a knee-jerk reaction. Like most knee-jerk reactions, offense is not typically something we prayerfully evaluate. Nor is it something we typically ask God to help us deal with in a godly or wise way. Most of the time when people become offended the only thing they can think about is how justified they feel in their decision to be offended (Proverbs 18:19). This inevitably leads to bitterness. Nothing will transform a person into a defiling force faster than bitterness (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15).

 Offense leads to spiritual deception-

 In Matthew 24 Jesus gives us a preview of what life will look like just prior to His second coming. One of the certainties of that time is that people will take offense at just about everything (Matthew 24:10-11 NKJV). Offended-ness will lead to hate and betrayal. Out of all that offense and hate, false teachers will rise up and lead people (even some Christian people) away from the truth. Jesus is doing more than just giving as a trailer of future events in this verse. He is providing insight into the very nature of offense. Offense causes us to become heavily focused on our feelings. When feelings run the show, we become unable/unwilling to comprehend any truth that does not directly line up with our feelings. As a result, we become sitting ducks for false teachers who tell us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to hear (2ndTimothy 4:3).

 Offense prevents us from accomplishing God’s will for our lives-

 God’s will for all Christians is for us to glorify Him. It’s simply a fact that no one in the history of forever has ever glorified God while indulging an offended spirit.

 Chronic offended-ness is clear indicator of a pride problem-

  Most of the time offense comes as a result of someone telling us an unpleasant truth about ourselves or pointing out a fact we missed. It’s the height of pride to believe that we know so much that we never need to be educated, informed or redirected. Proverbs 16:18 tells us that pride comes before a fall. Falls almost always occur because a warning went unheeded (2ndChronicles 26:16, Proverbs 11:2).

 Taking offense is not always a bad thing. Everyone should be offended by sin, injustice and bigotry (2ndChronicles 19:7, Galatians 3:28). That said, we should all do regular gut-checks to ensure we are actually being offended by the right things.  If we find ourselves offended by the wrong things we need to take our offenses to God and seek to forgive those who have offended us.

 It really is that simple.   

Spotting Hypocrisy

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

 Hypocrisy.

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

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

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

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

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

 Sigh.

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

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

 You might have a problem with hypocrisy if…

 You have two very different sets of friends-

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

 You judge others harshly-

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

 You live a secret life-

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

You have a problem with gossip-

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

 You will do anything to avoid looking bad-

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

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

Five Ways our Generation has Screwed-up Prayer

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread”~ Matthew 6:9-11 NIV

 This week I got to enjoy a very long lunch with an old friend. This particular friend is not just an old friend in the sense that we have known each other a long time. She is also an old friend in the sense that she is a good bit older than I am. I don’t know if it’s because she’s older than I am or if it’s because she’s acquired some wisdom in life (or a combination of the two), but this woman never fails to challenge me. The truly maddening thing is that I’m fairly certain she does it without even trying.

 This visit was no exception.

 We spent some time catching-up on our families and grumbling about all the madness in the world, then we moved on to the topic of church and ministry. I shared a little bit about what’s going on in my life right now, she shared what she’s doing and a couple of “back in the day” stories.

 I will not lie.

 There was a time (to my eternal shame) when I would sigh quietly anytime an older Christian began to wax eloquent about how ministry was done “back in the day”. I assumed (like all youthful idiots) that there is nothing significant to be learned from how church or ministry was done in the past. However, my generations’ complete and utter failure to make meaningful spiritual inroads into to our culture has humbled me a bit. I am now much more inclined to listen to those with a few years on me.

 It didn’t take long for me to recognize that all of her stories had a shared theme. The theme did not include tales of strategic outreach, careful planning or exciting gimmicks used to lure the unsaved into church buildings or a relationship with Jesus. Rather, the common denominator to all her stories was prayer. In every story she told, Christians prayed really hard and then crazy-cool stuff would happen, hearts changed, non-Christians became Christians, sin got confessed and repented of, and miracles took place. By the end of our lunch I was deeply convicted that our generation has forgotten how to pray and screwed-up the concept of prayer in at least five ways.

 Beginning with:

 We plan instead of pray-

 I am a planner. One of my favorite adages (much to the chagrin of my poor children) is “failure to plan is like planning to fail”. I have even been accused of over-planning a time or two. That said, I suspect we might see more success in our churches and at our events if we spent at least as much time praying for events and services as we do planning for them.

 We just don’t do it-

 According to a bunch of self-surveys I looked at, the average Christian admits to spending about three minutes a day in prayer. The ugly underbelly of that already ugly fact is that it tells us that at least half of all Christians either don’t pray at all or pray for less than three minutes a day.  

 We don’t really believe anything will happen when we do pray-

 Over and over again in the New Testament we are told that God is much more inclined to answer prayer when the person praying actually believes that something will happen because they prayed. I will be the first to admit that God does not answer all our prayers the way we want Him to answer our prayers. However, that does not mean we should stop believing that God will answer when we do pray.  

 We pray for dumb stuff-

 I know I’m going to get some flak for this one. But seriously, the world is going to hell right in front of us (literally and figuratively) and I have been at prayer meetings where people requested prayer for the health of their pets and for a relaxing vacation. God does care about pets and rest (He cares about everything). However, I suspect He cares more about the souls of the lost and is more inclined to answer in the affirmative when we pray about stuff that actually matters.  

 We don’t pray corporately-

 Even when we do gather to pray corporately, most of the time we wander off by our selves and pray alone. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He talked about “two or three being gathered” in His name.

 I think our generation has screwed-up prayer because we have lost touch with the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not about getting God to do the stuff we want or getting stuff from God. Prayer is about getting our purposes aligned with His and getting the spiritual power we need to do the stuff that really matters.

Does Truth Matter Anymore?

 

The Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth~ John 1:14 NKJV

 It’s been a long, hot week in the the Pacific Northwest. Most of our region is literally on fire right now and the city I live in is so smoky and gross that our whole house smells like we’ve been barbequing in the basement. The local health department has classified our air quality as “hazardous”.

 The heat, smoke and air quality have left me feeling more than a little unmotivated. As a result I found myself struggling to come up with a topic for this weeks blog-post. Inspiration came early Tuesday morning when I opened Facebook and ran across what I felt at the time was a rather innocuous quote from Bible teacher, Beth Moore…    

 You will watch a generation of Christians—OF CHRISTIANS—set the Bible aside in an attempt to be more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible. This will be, perhaps, the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice truth for love’s sake, you will rise or fall whether you will sacrifice one for the other.

  Beth Moore literally could not to be any more correct on this point. The spiritual tension that exists between biblical truth and the current human definition of love is the greatest theological conundrum of our generation. I am convinced (and have been for a long time) that if the church doesn’t get its proverbial act together and figure out a way to communicate the truth concerning this issue, biblical Christianity will all but vanish with this generation. If that happens, our culture will enter a spiritual and moral dark ages, the likes of which the world has not seen since the dawn of the Christian age.

 It was not the quote that got me spoiling for a smackdown. It was the absurd responses to her quote that I found frustrating.  To my astonishment, most of those who commented disagreed with Beth Moore, some vehemently. All the dissenters called her unloving and accused her of lacking compassion. A few even criticized her for making an idol out of the Bible.

 Seriously. Is that even a thing?

 The comments were a reminder of a reality I frequently bump-up against when I’m interacting with some Christians. Sadly, too many in our generation have twisted love into something that is not found anywhere in the Bible.

 There are two truths we need to acknowledge concerning Jesus, love, and the Bible. First, we simply cannot separate the words of Jesus from the rest of the Bible. In the book of John, Jesus is referred to as The Word. By using that particular designation to describe Jesus, John is making a powerful statement about who Jesus is and how He fits into Scripture.

 John is declaring that Jesus is the personification and expression of the word of God. Jesus was the substance and incarnation of all that had been written in the Old Testament law and all that was to be written in the New Testament letters.

 What that means is that the statements Jesus made in the gospels (the red letters that contemporary Christians get all wound-up about) are no more or less significant than the Old Testament Law and the New Testament letters. Jesus is the perfecter of our faith and the author of all of Scripture. Not just the Scripture we feel comfortable with or those that reflect our current cultural values and sensibilities (Hebrews 12:2, 2nd Timothy 3:16, Luke 24:27).

 Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial requirements of the law and we no longer live in a theocracy, so as 21st century Christians we no longer sacrifice animals to have our sins forgiven (Jesus took care of that for us) or follow the civil laws that were given specifically to the nation of Israel. However, that doesn’t mean that the entire Old Testament should be tossed out because much of the Old Testament FEELS unloving to contemporary readers.

 The second truth we need to understand is that the good news of the gospel is wrapped up in a lot of really bad news. The good news is that God loves people so much that He sacrificed His only son so that we could be forgiven and spend eternity with God (John 3:16).

 The bad news for us is that God is a holy and perfect God who really hates sin. God decided a long time ago what actions were sinful and He has not modified or relaxed His standards on what sin is and is not. The penalty for for sin is awful: eternity in hell forever separated from God and all that is comforting and good. All people are sinners who cannot under any circumstances get right with God and be forgiven unless they are willing to leave their life of sin and follow Jesus wherever he leads (John 8:11, Mark 8:34).

 Those are at least two of the truths we need be honest about as we share the love of God with people. When we don’t tell the whole truth about life and sin and eternity we are really telling a lie that will eventually lead to the spiritual death of those we claim to love.

 There’s nothing loving about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What We Can Do to Change the Church

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. ~ Ephesians 5:8-10 NIV

Pretty much every Christian in the Western World agrees that Christianity is in a steady state of decline.  

Most blame the decline of Christianity on shallow teaching that is entirely focused on reaching unsaved people rather than teaching and training the already converted to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Others blame our problems on a lack of relationship (and accountability) in local churches. Still others blame a lack of opportunity to serve the underserved in their communities. All Christians are alarmed by the churches seeming inability to preserve morality and decency in the culture (Matthew 5:13-16).

 None of these concerns are without merit.

 In previous posts I have placed (directly or indirectly) much of the blame for the decline we find ourselves in on church leaders. I believe this is fair. Leaders lead. Consequently, if something is headed in the wrong direction the people running the show ought to take their fair share of the blame.

 However,

 I have served in enough leadership positions in enough churches to know that church has become just another product that we consume in this culture. I also know that most Pastors will tell you that recent changes in how church is done have been almost entirely consumer driven. Pastors are simply giving people what they say, through their words and actions, they want in church.

 Anytime we are unhappy with anything we ought to take a hard look at our own habits and attitudes, to see if we are somehow contributing to the problems vexing us. If we want change we have to be willing to change. So today I would like to offer five simple changes we could all make that could impact Christianity (and the culture) significantly.

 First:

 Show up- Hebrews 10:25

 Seriously. The average self-identified “committed churchgoer” only goes to church 1.2 times a MONTH. Most of us go to Costco more than we go to church. This is extremely discouraging to Pastors. The lack of committed attendance leads many Pastors to assume (rightly in my opinion) that their congregants are shallow believers who can’t (or don’t want to) handle the deeper truths of Scripture. It also sends the message to less mature believers that church attendance is irrelevant.

 Let go of your “rights”- 1st Corinthians 8:9

 In recent years many Christians have become very open about partaking in activities that fall neatly into the category of “gray area issues” (you can decide for yourself what I mean by that). This has made many pastors reluctant to preach on certain subjects out of fear of riling-up the saints and clearing out the church. The Bible teaches that mature believers are prepared to let go of their “rights” if that thing (whatever it may be) causes discord, hurt or confusion to anyone (1st Corinthians 8:7-9:22, Romans 14:13-15:1). Christians who live for themselves (rather than the good of others) are causing conflict in the church and destroying the reputation of Christianity. That needs to change.

Attend a Bible study- Acts 17:2, Acts 17:11

 In recent years many churches have dropped Sunday school classes and Bible studies. Typically this is due to a lack of interest and/or turnout. Trust me on this one. If there is a demand, there will be opportunities.

 Serve– Ephesians 2:10

 You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. Nonetheless I suspect we all spend at least a couple hours a week playing games and perusing social media on our phones. That time ought to be put to better use. Offer to teach the third grade Sunday school class, take a turn at nursery duty, serve in the food pantry, clean the church or lead a Bible study. Find out where and how you can serve, and then serve. I am convinced that Christians ought to tithe on their time as well as their money. If more did, it would literally be a spiritual game changer in our churches and communities.

 Pray for your Pastor- Romans 15:30, 2nd Corinthians 1:10-11, 1st Timothy 2:8, Colossians 4:2

 Pray that your Pastor will have the wisdom to lead well. Pray they will see biblical truth clearly and teach it with clarity and power. Pray they will have insight into the spiritual issues behind the worldly problems in our churches. Do not talk to them about any concerns you have until you have prayed and fasted about your concerns for at least two weeks. This will prepare both of you for the dialogue.

 I said at the beginning of this series that we all bear some responsibility for the state the church is in today. It’s time for all of us to collectively examine our hearts to see what we can do as individuals to change the direction of the church.

 

 

 

Breaking Free From Regret


Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death~ 2nd 7:10

 Regret is a tough topic.

 Mostly because there are so many different levels of regret. Some regrets are minor in the grand scheme of things. Missed opportunities to do good or an occasional overindulgence (AKA taco night at my house) are lamentable for entirely different reasons. However, none of those scenarios leads to the kind of grief that steals our joy and keeps us stuck in destructive emotional and spiritual patterns.

 Other regrets are tougher to reconcile because some regrets are by their very nature trickier to overcome. A missed opportunity to do good can typically be made-up at another time and the consequences of most indulgences can be remedied with a little extra exercise. Other choices are less easily overcome. We might deeply regret getting married and/or divorced, our chosen career path, the choice to have (or not have) children, or a great big sinful decision that simply cannot be undone.

 Whatever the cause, regret can quickly become psychologically and spiritually debilitating. This is especially true if we allow ourselves to get stuck in the quagmire of “what if” and “if only” thinking. When this happens, we spend an inordinate amount of time wondering what life would look like if only we had made another decision or wishing we had taken another route in life.

 “What if” and “if only” thinking is a pointless waste of energy because it keeps us stuck in the past and focuses our energy in an introspective, navel gaze-y kind of way that will never actually change anything. To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge even God cannot change the past. Consequently, there is nothing to be gained by wishing we could do something that even the Omnipotent Maker of the Universe cannot (or chooses not) do.

 That said.

 Dealing with regret is about more than simply “getting over it” or “moving on”. I am convinced that God wants us to do more than just “get over” stuff. He wants to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ and sometimes God uses our deepest and most profound regrets in life to shape us into the people He wants us to be (Romans 8:28).

 There are four things we need to do anytime we are struggling with regret.

 The first is…

 Own what you need to own-

 Wise people own their mistakes because they know they will never grow past anything they refuse to take responsibility for (Psalm 32:5). If you have regrets concerning your marriage or how your kids turned out, do enough soul searching to figure out your part in the mess and own it. Don’t blame God, your parents, your spouse, society, or the church for the choices you made. No one can change what they refuse to acknowledge. Taking ownership is the first step to solving problems and living at peace with the past.

 Change what you can change-

 Taking responsibility frees us up to see what can and cannot be changed in any given situation. Sometimes even small changes in how we deal with people or circumstances can dramatically affect the outcome of the situation or the health of the relationship. If you don’t know what to do, read some Christian books, seek the advice of someone who has their life together or spend some time with a Christian counselor or pastor. Whatever you do, don’t give-up.  

Make right what needs to be made right-

 This means seeking forgiveness (Psalm 38:18, Hebrews 8:12). Every sin is ultimately a sin against God, so go to Him first and ask him to forgive you (He will). Then talk to the people you have hurt or wronged. If you were a crummy parent, spouse or friend be honest about your shortcomings and don’t blame others for your failures (Psalm 37:37, Hebrews 12:14). Seeking forgiveness from the people we hurt may or may not change how they feel about us but it does create an environment where God can bless and heal us.    

 Trust in the resurrection power of Jesus to do what we cannot do-

 Sadly, there are times in life when situations or relationships are simply broken beyond our ability to fix them. Once we’ve done what we can do, we need to trust God to do the impossible. The Bible is clear; if you are a believer in Jesus then the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is living in you and working on your behalf (Romans 8:11). The resurrection power of Jesus is not only about salvation. Over time (if we let it) God’s power infiltrates our lives and that power allows Him to do the impossible and fix the things that broken beyond fixing.

 

 

 

 

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.