The Hardest Best Thing-

The testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing– James 1:3-4 NASB

Anytime a Christian makes the choice to persevere or endure through hardship, difficulty, injustice or pain in a way that leaves their faith intact and their hearts free from bitterness good things happen in that person. Enduring through the hurt of life builds emotional strength, develops grit in us, causes us to grow spiritually, makes us wiser and transforms us into the kind of people others can learn from (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-5). 

There are at least a million different types of experiences a human might have to persevere through. Some are “life in a fallen world” kinds of things, painful but random events we all experience at some point in our lives. Things like cancer, the death of a spouse, friend or child, accidents or financial calamities. Then there are the “people are crappy” sorts of experiences like religious persecution, being cheated on, being lied to or about, or being treated indifferently or with disdain by people who should care about us.

Sigh.

Persevering is made tougher for Christians because hard things naturally cause us to doubt the goodness, faithfulness and sometimes even the very existence of God. It is true that pain and difficulty can drive us towards God but hurt and struggle can also drive us away as well. The effect pain has on us depends entirely on how we choose to respond to it (1st Peter 15-6).  There are things we can do that will ensure pain, grief, trials, and difficulty make us better as opposed to bitter and more miserable. Following are four of them:

Take your focus off of people-

By far, the worst and most excruciating pain in life comes when we’re victimized or mistreated by people.  The pain of personal betrayal is compounded a million times over if the person who harmed us is a Christian. Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid being hurt by people because people, even Christian people, are at their core sinful, broken and sometimes even cruel and malevolent. For whatever reason, most of us lay the blame squarely on God when people hurt us. This is a huge tactical error. Humans have free will and can do whatever they choose with their free will. They can even be horrible, sinful, disgusting people if they want to. It doesn’t mean God approves of their actions or that there won’t be a price to be paid for their conduct, it just means God will not force anyone to be nice, honest, or just. That being said, the biggest problem with blaming God for the actions of people is that we deny ourselves access to the only one who can give us comfort, peace and the power to persevere through whatever horrible thing we are dealing with (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 86:17, 2nd Corinthians 1:3). Sigh. 

Take the long view-

The apostle Paul lived most of his Christian life in what most of us would consider absolutely unacceptable conditions (2nd Corinthians 11:21-29).  Literally, everyone hated him. The Jews hated him. The Romans hated him. The Greeks hated him. Sometimes even other Christians hated him (Galatians 4:16-18).  Paul went hungry, spent time in prison, was beaten, stoned and betrayed by people who pretended to be his friends (2nd Timothy 4:14). Nevertheless, none of this injustice appears to have bothered him because he was able to view all of these situations as temporary problems that would be righted by God at some point in the future. He believed with all his heart his trials were actually preparing him for future ministry and making him more fit to spend eternity with God (2ndCorinthians 4:17, 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3). One “key” to persevering and enduring through pain is to make the choice to believe pain that is stewarded well will make us better, wiser, more insightful and more like Jesus. 

Know that Jesus gets “it”- 

He does. Whatever “it” is. Jesus gets it. I promise. Jesus experienced the same types of things we experience. He knows exactly what temptation, betrayal, loss, loneliness, hurt feelings and personal pain feels like (Hebrews 4:15). This makes Jesus the perfect one to run to anytime the heaviness of life becomes too much too bear (2ndCorinthians 1:5). 

Don’t let yourself get hung up on the issue of fairness- 

Getting hung up on what’s fair or unfair in this life will literally drive a Christian insane. This is because life at least, in the present, is not fair. People “get away” with crappy stuff all the time. If we choose to focus on what kind of punishment people are getting right now in this life we will lose our faith and our minds in that order. Instead of worrying about what’s fair and unfair, God wants us to believe in Him and trust that He will make things right and just in His good time. Anytime we’re hurt we have to remember the Bible is clear: NOTHING is in all of creation hidden from God and there is nothing that will not be publicly disclosed (Matthew 10:26, Hebrews 4:13). Sin that is unrepented of will be made public and punished in time. Period. 

Ultimately, choosing to persevere through the pain of life means clinging to our faith and choosing to tenaciously love God no matter what goes wrong or who hurts us. Faithful endurance through hurt, loss or persecution is the hard route but God promises rich rewards for those who choose it. 

How Early Christians Survived Unjust Authority-

 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone– Titus 3:1-2 NIV

It is all-too easy to find outstanding examples of truly appalling leadership in families, governments, schools and even some churches. 

Bad leadership is nothing new. A sinful, broken world breeds autocratic, egocentric, prideful leaders in every sphere of life. God’s people have seldom been exempted from the curse of awful leadership.

The Hebrews were brutally enslaved by the Egyptians for centuries before God miraculously liberated them from bondage. David, prior to his ascension to the throne endured decades of harassment and abuse and more than one murder attempt at the hands of Saul. Early Christians were routinely persecuted, abused, denied work and even killed simply for refusing to violate God’s commands. Throughout church history sincere followers of Jesus have been victimized and oppressed sometimes even by so-called “Christian leaders” who loved power more than they feared God. Over and over again, throughout history in the face almost unspeakable suffering Christian people have grown stronger, wiser and more faithful to God. 

How they did that matters a lot.

 Especially now. Leadership is not, as a general rule getting any better. Events of the last few years have exposed a creepy authoritarian element in many political leaders from countries like Australia, Austria, New Zealand and Canada. Countries once thought to be unswervingly democratic and safe from tyranny. The church has had more than its fair share of greedy, narcissistic and exploitive leaders. Even some public schools and health departments have become despotic in their approach in their approach to leadership. 

Sigh. 

Christians throughout history were able to live with and pray for corrupt, evil and despotic leaders. They did this in spite of any suffering they endured because they understood deep in the core of who they were that every human being on earth is ultimately answerable to God.  Leadership is a stewardship. Human beings might think they are electing, appointing or hiring a leader—or an arrogant leader might imagine they have achieved their position due to their own cleverness, power or maneuvering but in reality, God—not human wisdom or control is what places people in positions of authority. This means that ultimately all human leaders whether they lead the church, the state or the family will someday be answerable to God for how they handle (or mishandle) the power and authority they have been given (Luke 12:47-48). 

Early Christians understood that no one actually gets away with anything. Not really. Contemporary believers do everything they can to avoid thinking about or talking about the J-word. Judgment. Most Christians are super uncomfortable with anyone getting punished, even if they deserve punishment. The writings of early Christians reveal they did not have any such issues (2nd Thessalonians 1:6, Romans 12:19, Jude 1:5-7, 2nd Peter 2:4-21). They understood God is not just a God of love. He is also a God of judgment. Early Christians actually took solace in knowing that evil, prideful leaders who refused to do what was right would someday be punished for their sins. Early Christians had the faith to believe God would settle the score, if not in this life, then in the one to come (Revelation 21:11-15). This knowledge empowered them to endure the suffering that goes along with living under the thumb of unjust and evil leaders.

They also knew enough about history and the Bible to know that sometimes God does not wait until death to begin adjudicating things. Occasionally evil people get a preview of their eternal suffering.  King Saul, the man who hunted David like an animal for years died by suicide and in disgrace. Queen Jezebel, arguably the most evil female leader in human history died from being thrown out a window. No one cared enough to retrieve her body. She was eventually eaten by wild dogs.   King Herod (Matthew 2:1-22) the man who murdered a village full of baby boys in an attempt to eradicate any competition for his power died of a horrible death from “intense itching”, “severe intestinal discomfort”, “breathlessness” and: wait for it… “gangrene of the genitalia”—His man part literally rotted off. A sure sign of divine retribution if there ever was one. Early Christians saw Nero, the royal nut-job who set Rome on fire and blamed Christians for it killed himself to avoid being murdered by his staff.   

Anytime a person refuses to repent they spend eternity in hell. Therefore, no one ought to revel in anyone else’s punishment. That being said, the beliefs of early Christians serve as a reminder for us in tough times that God is not unaware of anything. Nothing is hidden from His sight (Hebrews 4:13).  

This affected the early church in profound ways. 

 They were able to pray for and feel compassion for their tormenters.  They were also thoughtful and cautious in the way they handled any authority they were given. They did not lord it over anyone.  It did not matter if the authority they held was in the church, the family or the state. They understood that true Christians wear any authority they are given with a measure of humility and with a fear of the Lord. They knew no one is exempt from God’s judgment. 

We would do well to learn from them. 

Fixing the Mess in Church World-

 They went far from Me, and walked after emptiness and became empty– Jeremiah 2:5b NASB

The Western Church is in crisis. 

Somehow over last century or so both Church-goers and Church leaders have lost sight of what a real spiritual win looks like (Judges 21:25). As a result, there is little actual spiritual power in the lives of most church-goers.  Our lack of spiritual power has left the church incapable of transforming people and society.   

Sigh. 

The average church-goer has gone after the wrong objectives (Jeremiah 2:5). For many the primary aim of the Christian life has become one of personal fulfillment. In the minds of the average Western church-goer God exists mostly to meet human needs and fulfill personal desires. Many feel God’s job is to make us happy and fix our problems. If God fails to provide what we want in a timely manner or in the way we want it we find a new spiritual model, hobby or cause that gives us more of what we think we need. Sometimes, this involves Christians making flowery proclamations on social media stating their intention to “reimagine”, “reconstruct” or “reinvent” their faith. Those expressions are all just twenty-first century colloquialisms for willfully choosing to create a new god in. our own image. The “reimagined” or “reconstructed” God is always a little more progressive and tolerant than the God of the Bible. The new God is always willing to put His (or Her) blessing on self-actualization that leads to selfishness, sexual sin and bitterness. 

Christian leaders have looked to God primarily for a sense of achievement.  When leaders lack an understanding of their purpose God becomes a means to an end rather than the whole goal of the Christian life.  Leaders who lack purpose kingdom build. However, instead of building God’s Kingdom they build their own. These leaders end up working really hard to create a cool place for people to hear them speak. On the surface this can appear to be a good thing. But, the environments these leaders construct inevitably lack the power to bring Christians and non-Christians out of their sin and selfishness and into right relationship with God.  

It’s a hot mess. 

The answer to the problem is simple. However, that does not necessarily mean it will be easy to actualize the solution. In order to solve it we must rethink a whole bunch of different things including our perspectives on what God is for, what the church is for and what the outcome of Christianity is supposed to be. This will take a combination of humility, self-awareness and a willingness to make hard changes.

Unfortunately, most humans suck at all that stuff. 

Mercifully, what is impossible for man is possible with God (Matthew 19:25-26, Luke 18:27). The Western church will regain its purpose and spiritual power when God’s people go back to the Bible and seek to understand what God really says about the mission of the Church. 

The gospel message is the mission. Period. The average Christians job is to tell everyone they know how Jesus can transform a person and change the trajectory of their life (Matthew 28:18-20, 2nd Corinthians 5:17). Ephesians six commands Christins to “put on the shoes of the gospel of peace”. That directive is a statement of our mission as believers. We exist to take Jesus into every interaction we have and every situation we find ourselves. In order to do that well we must live lives that reflect the goodness, kindness and moral purity of Jesus. 

Christian leaders are to be in the business of building and growing people spiritually, morally and in their gifting’s and abilities. Leaders must emphasize the importance of spiritual growth, emotional health and holiness in their teaching, preaching and interactions with church people.  Leaders must encourage and teach their people to maximize their giftings in such a way they build up the church body. The goal of every Christian leader should be for every person in their body to be told “well done good and faithful servant” on judgment day by Jesus (Matthew 25:21).  

If we want to win the world to Jesus everything we do as believers must be done in a spirit of humility. Church-goers must tell the world about Jesus with an attitude of grace and love that shows the world that everything we say about our God is true. Church leaders must manage their lives and ministries in such a way that church people become a natural reflection of the leaders in their lives (Romans 12:8).  

What to do When Life Becomes too Much-


Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test  yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 2nd Corinthians 13:5 NIV 

2021 has been another bumpy year and 2022 isn’t looking real good either. Endless social strife, race riots, job losses, censorship, lockdowns, school closures and the weirdest pandemic in history have made for two long years unlike any other in history. 

Sigh. 

Times like these take a toll, psychologically, emotionally and financially. All that affects us spiritually if the tough times drag on for too long (like say two solid years). It’s not always easy to know when stress has become too much for us and we have stepped over the line into a place of spiritual unhealth. In 2nd Corinthians 13:5 the Apostle Paul encourages Christians to “examine themselves” frequently. Times like ours demand frequent self-checks. Following are five indicators all is not well on a spiritual level. 

Beginning with:  

Prayer is a struggle or worse yet you gave up long ago-

Christians are commanded to pray continually about every issue under the sun (Romans 12:12, 1st Thessalonians 5:17, 1st Timothy 2:1-3). This is not because God needs our prayers. God has no needs (Acts 17:24-25). Christians do need to pray because prayer builds connection with God. Ongoing connection with God transforms how we think, feel and behave over time. Prayer also empowers fallible human beings to see people and events the way God sees those things. Without a regular prayer life spiritual health becomes nothing more than a pipedream. A weak or non-existent prayer life is proof positive a spiritual realignment is needed.   

You have morphed into worst version of yourself-

Everyone has a unique worst version of themselves. Mine is introverted, distrustful, and weirdly obsessed with minor details. Yours might be dramatic, braggy and fixated on personal pleasure. Another person might be critical, unforgiving, and intolerant of differences of opinion when they are at their worst. Someone else might be fearful and closed off to new experiences.  It’s vital we know who we are, and have a firm grasp on what our “normal” looks like. When our normal morphs into something different and less than healthy than our best selves it’s a sure sign we need a spiritual readjustment. Pronto.  

Politics take precedent-

Politics are not trivial. There is little in this life not touched in some way by politics. Furthermore, one facet of being a good Christian is being an involved citizen, which means taking our civic responsibilities seriously, that cannot be done without some understanding of politics. (1st Peter 2:13). That said, earthly kingdoms will all pass away eventually. Politics are strictly an earthly issue.  (Philippians 3:20).  God calls you and I to adopt an eternal perspective and remember it is only what we do in and for the Kingdom of God that truly has an impact. If you find your attention is entirely focused on the political realm God wants you to change your focus. 

You’re afraid all the time-

Fear and anxiety are a little bit like the check engine light in a car. Feelings of fear and anxiety are not the real problem. They are just an indicator there is another problem that needs to be found and addressed. Sometimes Christians get far too focused on the emotions of fear and anxiety and don’t stop to ask God why to reveal to us the real reason those volatile emotions are out of control. Fear and anxiety are almost always a sign there is an area of our lives we haven’t completely surrendered to God. 

Spiritual community is not a priority- 

Spiritual community is mandatory for followers of Jesus (2nd Thessalonians 1:3, Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:25). Christians are called to meet together regularly, care for each other in times of trouble and love one another other deeply and sacrificially. The only way to do those things effectively is in spiritual community. Community is about more than church attendance although church is the place to begin building spiritual community. Spiritual community forms when a group of Jesus followers commit themselves to the good and growth of the rest of the group. There are layers to community. Every Christian should attend a local church. Christians should also have a group of fifteen to thirty Christian friends they routinely fellowship with. Christians also need a smaller group of three to five people we can go deep with and be real with on a regular basis. If any of those layers of community are lacking, there is a problem. 

Any one of the above is a sure sign of spiritual sickness. All have the same simple solution: a shift of priorities to make more time for the things that God says matter most. This might mean disconnecting from 24/7 news or social media for a while. It will likely mean cutting activity to make space for spiritual community. It definitely takes more prayer, more reflection and more repentance. It takes more of what feeds our souls and less of the things that leave us feeling spiritually tired.  

Why it’s Critical We Get Free of the Past-

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland~ Isaiah 43:18-20 NIV

 Recently I heard a powerful and thought-provoking quote that left me feeling more than a bit navel gaze-y: 

 Always look forward. Remember there are no birds in last year’s nests~ Don Quixote  

  I am not opposed to looking backward as long as it is done for the right reasons. We should remember the events of the past because we’re incapable of learning anything from anything we willfully forget. I also believe the heroic acts of the past ought to be honored in the present; and it pretty much goes without saying that Christians should be mindful of the good things God has done for us in the past (Deuteronomy 32:6-8, 1stChronicles 16:11-13).

 All that being said.

Far too many of us get stuck in the past in all the wrong ways. In doing so we give the past more power than it deserves which inevitably prevents us from accomplishing the tasks God intends for us to do today (Ephesians 2:10). Most of the time there is profound wisdom in leaving the past where it’s at and choosing to get on board with what God is doing right now. There are seven reasons to let go of the old so God can do whatever new things He’s looking to do in our lives:  

 Getting stuck in the past creates bitterness-

Oftentimes we get stuck in the past because we are hurt or angry about something unpleasant that happened there. The sense we were cheated or wronged can lead to bitterness in the present. It’s critical Christians keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in their lives (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness makes Christians utterly and profoundly useless (Hebrews 12:15, Acts 8:23) and no genuine believer in Jesus ever wants to be useless.  The key to getting free from bitterness is to the take time to prayerfully process painful events from the past and then make the choice everyday to live life with our hearts and minds firmly rooted in the present.

 An unhealthy perspective on the past stops spiritual growth in the present-

 Whenever we develop an unhealthy perspective on the past we naturally become neurotically focused on our own personal junk. We become obsessed with our feelings and when we focus heavily on feelings we become blind to our own faults. This leads to blaming others for the things we choose to do. Transformation occurs when we see our faults clearly and ask God to give us the power to change the things that need changing in our lives.

 Living in the past makes us sentimental in all the wrong ways-

 Sentimentality is certainly not a sin. However, it can easily cross the line into sinful territory if we make the object of our sentimentality into an idol we worship. The classic worldly example is the former high school football star who cannot move forward in life because he simply cannot stop pining for his glory days. The timeless church example is the Christian who cannot enjoy church or serve effectively today because he or she cannot stop pining for the way church was once done.   

 Getting stuck in the past makes it impossible to effectively lead others-

 Christians are called to be leaders. Leaders look to the future and take people to places (physically and spiritually) they have never been before. Christians are called to lead others into biblical thinking, righteous living, healthy relationships and most importantly, relationship with Jesus (Colossians 3:16, 2nd Timothy 2:24, Titus 2:7, Hebrews 5:12). Everyone leads someone. Profession, gender and age are irrelevant to the call to lead others into spiritual health and relationship with Jesus. No one in history has ever led anyone forward while looking behind them.   

 Focusing on the past keeps us from being grateful in the present –

 Gratitude is all about noticing things (Colossians 4:2).  Grateful people don’t typically have more than ungrateful people they are just more aware of God and what He is doing for them than ungrateful people are. We are the most grateful when we are living in the moment and choosing to see what God is doing for us right now.   

 We lose our ability to forgive when focus heavily on the past-

 We will never be free do what God is calling us to do in the here and now while we are living in bondage to past hurt (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is hard because it always involves letting go of anger and hurt that in a very real sense we have a “right” to hold on to. Forgiveness rarely happens quickly and without some processing. In order to forgive we need to walk through the hurt and then ask God (sometimes repeatedly) to empower us to let go of the feelings of anger and resentment that are keeping us stuck in past.

 

Five Ways We Made the Facts Feel Sad this Week

 

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

 It was a tough week to be a fact.

 During an interview with Anderson Cooper, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said something that implied she might be a-wee-bit intolerant towards certain facts:

 “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”

 Later in the week Kirstjen Nielsen (Secretary of Homeland Security), presented some statistics (a fancy word for facts) concerning the number of migrants, drug smugglers and gang members crossing the Southern border in a given year, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi interrupted Ms. Nielson’s presentation to say:

  “I reject your facts”

 Hmm.  That’s all I have to say about that.

 Dems were not the only ones coldshouldering the facts this week. During an interview with Mike Wallace, Whitehouse Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders stated that accuracy regarding the number of terrorists captured at the Southern border did not matter so long as the overall numbers of terrorists captured in the country were accurately reported.  

 Sigh.

 If I were a fact I would be a bit miffed.

 As I considered the flagrant fact-shunning, I found myself thinking some rather scornful thoughts regarding worldly people and their lack of logic.  Then I had a weird and fairly awkward epiphany. I realized that Christians do the same kinds of things with a different set of facts. We sometimes disdain, disregard and disrespect facts or truths simply because we do not like them. Following are five things Christians say when we just don’t like certain facts.    

 I think that God just wants me to be happy –

 Folks typically whip this weary line out when they really, really, really, want to do something that the Bible explicitly prohibits (adultery, bitterness, homosexuality, divorce without biblical grounds, premarital sex, etc.). Like it or not, it is a fact that God forbids certain behaviors (Galatians 5:19-21, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:3-6, Revelation 22:12-16). That said, I do not believe God forbids things because He is indifferent to the feelings of people. God is not an uncaring monster who gets a kick out of seeing people living out their lives in abject misery. Truth-be-told God just cares more about our eternal wellbeing and holiness than our momentary happiness.  God sees the bigger picture and potential consequences we are incapable of seeing in our fallen, finite state. He knows what making a specific choice (like committing adultery or becoming bitter) will do to our souls, our families and our ability to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. God loves people and He knows that we are all just stupid enough to forgo our future health and spiritual wellbeing on the altar of pleasure and expediency. God loves people too much to simply let us be led by something as stupid (and subject to change) as feelings.  

 My God wouldn’t do that-

 People typically say this in response to being told that God judges sinners who refuse to repent of their sin. They might say “my God doesn’t judge” or “my God loves everyone”. The biggest and most basic problem with this particular line of reasoning is that it is firmly grounded in willful ignorance. There is only one God and He does love everyone. However, God makes it clear in His word that He will judge anyone who refuses to repent (John 5:28-29, 1stTimothy 2:5, Job 21:22, Revelation 6:9-11, Revelation 20:12-13).

 That’s not my conviction-

 Conviction is a firmly held belief concerning whether or not something is right or wrong. Christians should feel conviction (a sense of guilt) anytime they knowingly violate God’s standards. In recent years some have concluded that if they don’t feel conviction (guilt) over something then it’s not a sin. Their lack of guilt or conviction makes the thing okay. But, here’s the thing, one does not have to feel conviction or guilt about something for it to be wrong (Romans 1:28-32, Jeremiah 8:12). There are people in thisworld who do not feel an ounce of conviction about doing really terriblethings (murder, bigotry, infidelity, blasphemy, theft). Their lack of conviction does not make a sin any less sinful.  The Bible clearly states that the only time our feelings should dictate whether or not something is right or wrong is when the issue is not clearly a sin (grey area). If we feel guilty doing something (even if that thing is not clearly violating Scripture) then God does not want us to do that thing (1stCorinthians 8)

 I haven’t experienced that so I can’t say if it’s right or wrong-

 There are actually people who sincerely believe that one must experience something in order to judge whether or not something is sinful. This simply does not pass the logic test. If you carry this line of thinking out to its reasonable conclusion it means one cannot know if it’s wrong to kill someone until they have actually committed murder. Please. That’s just stupid.

 I reject that reality-

 Reality is a fact. Facts cannot be debated or rejected (sorry, Nancy). Reality is what it is. Only crazy people reject reality and they are crazy precisely because they choose to reject reality.  People who do not wish to be labeled as crazy should not reject reality.

  Please be courteous to the facts this week folks. Last week was a rough one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winning the Battle Everyone Has to Fight at Some Point

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged~ Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

It’s been a long couple of weeks and I have found myself in a nasty battle with the d-word:

Discouragement

 It wasn’t one great-big-awful-thing that had me feeling down. Rather, it was just a bunch of irksome stuff that coalesced into a brutal case of discouragement.

 Part of the problem is situational: I live in Washington state and it’s January. I have not seen even a glimpse of the sun for more than a couple of minutes at a time in months. The vitamin D tablets I’ve been munching on are simply not getting the job done anymore. I am in desperate need of some actual sunshine. Some other problems compounding that issue were a tense meeting, our beloved little dog died and I have a problem that affects me personally that I have zero control over. On top of all that a mean person said some hurtful things that hit a little too close to home and I had a hard time getting over them.

 I am keenly aware of the fact that none of my problems are truly significant. I have a roof over my head, a solid marriage, healthy children, a relationship with God and some close friends that I trust. In other words, all the truly significant stuff in is still okay in my world.

 However, knowing all that did not stop me from wallowing around in negativity like a pig in the mud. I spent the better part of a day eating my feelings and focusing endlessly on the negative.

 Just as I reached the apex of my pity-party, I had an uncomfortable but essential insight into the situation. I knew at that moment that if I didn’t find a way to get a grip on myself I was going to fall into pit of discouragement and stay there indefinitely, and the longer I stayed the harder it was going to be to get out.

 Discouragement left to fester is potentially dangerous from a spiritual perspective. Discouragement is not a sin (thank God). However, it is a reaction to circumstances that can easily mutate into something more permanent like despair or more sinister like bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). After my recent epiphany, I have come to believe that the key to dealing with discouragement effectively is to firmly grasp hold of the four following principles.

 Understand that discouragement is simply part of living in a fallen world-

 Admittedly, recognizing this reality changes exactly nothing. However, embracing the fact that EVERYONE goes through periods of discouragement does help put our feelings in perspective and it keeps us from buying into the lie that the universe is picking on us in a unique or personal way (John 16:33).

 Do not fall into the trap of focusing only on what can’t be changed-

 One of the truly dangerous things about discouragement is that it can blind us to answers that are right in front of us (Exodus 6:9). Discouragement transforms even really smart, really spiritual people into one of those annoying souls who always has a really great reason why whatever solution is offered (no matter how practical, workable or wise the solution might be) will not work in their particular situation. Unless you want to be that guy (or girl) it is essential we don’t let the emotion of discouragement drive our decision-making or willingness to apply solutions to our problems.

 Find something to be thankful for-

 Thankfulness alone will not magically transform an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one (sorry). That said, Christians are commanded to be thankful (Hebrews 12:28, Colossians 3:15, Colossians 4:2) even in less than ideal circumstances (1st Thessalonians 5:18). I think this is because the act of offering gratitude to God takes our focus off our problems and frees us up to see possibilities that we were previously blind to. Thankfulness reminds us that there is more to this life than problems and trouble, it reorders our focus and helps us to see the good in life. The ability to see something (anything) good in a bad situation really is a game-changer when we are stuck in a pit of discouragement.

 Trust that God is working on your behalf in spite of what circumstances are telling you-

This is obviously easier said than done, especially when negative circumstances look and feel insurmountable. But believing the truth of God’s word, rather than what circumstances are telling us, really is the essence of faith (Hebrews 11:1) and it is how we please God (Hebrews 11:6, Galatians 3:9).  

How the Battle Between the Sexes is Hurting the Church

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created~ Genesis 5:1-2 NIV

 I rarely write follow-up posts. This is mostly due to the fact that I have a ridiculously short attention span and I prefer to make all the points on a topic in one post. Then I move on to another topic and a new post.

 It’s how I roll.

 However, last weeks blog was not actually finished. One observant reader pointed out that I said there were five reasons I felt Christians shouldn’t support the #MeToo movement and then proceeded to make four points. Truth-be-told I planned on making five points and then only made four, mostly because the post was getting a bit long and the point I wanted to make was not the kind of point that can be made effectively in a hundred words or less. After some thought I decided that the point I initially intended to make is still something that needs to be said.

 So here goes.  

 One issue I have with the #MeToo movement is that they tend to see interactions between men and woman in black and white and nearly always in negative terms. They routinely paint women as victims of men and men as victimizers of women. This view is skewed and dangerous. It is true that some men do indeed victimize women. However, not every woman is blameless and not every man is a victimizer. Sometimes the woman is the one doing the victimizing and the man is the victim. Men and women are both sinners (Romans 3:23, 1st John 1:10) and there is no end to the ways both sexes can and do victimize one another. Painting men or women with an overly broad brush oversimplifies complex issues and pits men and women against one another.

 Many so-called “advocates of women” appear to believe that men and women are mortal enemies. That is a pernicious lie. Sadly, it’s a lie people have bought into since the dawn of time. That lie has generated chaos between the sexes and is currently wrecking havoc on our culture and destroying the effectiveness of the Christian community.

 It is simply a fact that men and women are distinctly different from one another. The differences between men and women run far deeper than the obvious plumbing issues and are not (contrary to popular belief) a result of eons of successful social conditioning. Men and women think differently, behave differently and oftentimes see the exact same situation from radically different perspectives. Contrary to popular opinion, ‘different’ in this case is not bad a thing (Genesis 1:26-31).

I believe with all of my being that the differences between men and women are not something that should be minimized or eliminated. The differences between the sexes should be celebrated, refined and merged to make the world a better place. Sadly, we don’t see a whole lot of this happening even in churches which, arguably, ought to be the most unified and integrated places on earth (Galatians 3:28).

 Sloppy Bible translation is part of the problem.

 The word used to describe the role of the woman in in Genesis 2:18 is traditionally translated into “helpmate” in English. The Hebrew word (ezer) is far less milk-toasty and flaccid than the word chosen by early Bible translators. The word ezer is a powerful word, one loaded with military and tactical overtones. Ezer is used twenty-one times in the Old Testament. It is used five times to describe the role of women and sixteen times to refer to God as Israel’s helper in times of trouble. The varied use of this tells us that God designed men and women to be partners, allies and co-laborers in every sphere of life (Genesis 2:18, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Proverbs 18:3).

 For far too long, too many Jesus followers have bought into the lie that women should stand by quietly while their brothers in Christ do the hard work of Kingdom building. We have forgotten that men and women are better together because we were made by our Creator to be better together. It’s time to end the war so we can work together and do what God has called us to do. If we want to reach the world we need to respect and celebrate our differences and work together for the sake of the Kingdom.

 Lives are literally hanging in the balance.

 

 

*My views on this issue have evolved over the years with input from a number of sources. One of those sources is the Bible, and another is the author Carolyn Custis James. Her books (The Gospel of Ruth, Lost Women of the Bible, When Life and Beliefs Collide) are well-researched, unfailingly respectful towards men, incredibly challenging and in my opinion ought to be required reading for all Christians- male and female- regardless of denomination. If you have read her books you undoubtedly saw some of her views reflected in my own. If you have not read her books, I highly recommend them.

 

 

 

 

Raising a Kid Who Has a Conscience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Teach kids to fear God- Proverbs 1:7

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

Expect Gratitude- 2nd Timothy 3:1-3

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

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

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

 Only praise actual achievement- Proverbs 14:25

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

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