Why Bitterness Feels Good

I loathe my very life; therefore, I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul~ Job 10:1 NIV

 Okay, so, I am a little more familiar with the sin of bitterness than I or anyone else probably ought to be. I actually consider myself to be something of an expert on the topic.

 Sigh.

 Bitterness is not a subject that gets discussed much in church-y circles. It should be, because my experiences are not all that unique or special. Bitterness is one of those ugly little sins no one wants to own-up to but that we all struggle with at some point in our lives.

 Bitterness is simply a foul byproduct of living in a fallen world.

 All people are sinners (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12-14). Sinners universally have a tough time seeing their own faults and issues or the effect their faults and issues have on those around them. Because most sinners (even redeemed sinners) are really just clueless bumblers, sinners hurt a lot of people in a lot of really weird ways, sometimes without even realizing they are hurting people. It is true that there are evil people who hurt others intentionally simply because they like hurting people, but in my experience those people are fairly rare. Most folks just stumble around blindly, not realizing how much suffering (and bitterness) they are generating with their actions.

  I have done my time in the pit of bitterness. Thanks to God’s grace I came out of it with my faith, sanity and love for humanity firmly intact. Through the process of getting free I learned a thing or two about this rather painful subject. Following are four things every Christian should understand about the sin of bitterness:  

 Bitterness feels awesome-

 Most people only become bitter over legitimate hurts or injustices (Luke 17:1). Only a very few excessively sensitive souls become really bitter over stuff that wasn’t a big deal in the first place. In one sense we end up feeling bitter because we have a “right” to feel bitter.  As a result, when we choose to wallow around in bitterness it feels awesome, at least at first. Alcohol and bitterness have some similarities. Alcohol is essentially a slow-acting poison. As the poison begins to work we feel euphoric and awesome. However, if we drink too much for too long the choice to indulge can end in liver failure, brain damage and sometimes even death. Bitterness acts on our spirits in much the same way alcohol acts on our bodies. Because bitterness is usually the result of a valid hurt, nursing feelings of bitterness is emotionally satisfying and it feels great. Nonetheless, at some point, if we do not get a firm handle on our attitude the choice to indulgence inevitably ends in the spiritual equivalent of acute alcohol poisoning or liver failure. All analogies break down at some point and it is true of this one as well. The biggest difference between alcohol and bitterness is that a little bit of bitterness is never okay and there are no known benefits to bitterness. No one can indulge in a bitter spirit and walk away unscathed because bitterness is far more addictive and damaging than alcohol could ever be.   

 Prevention is the best medicine for bitterness-

 Hebrews 12:15 warns against allowing the sin of bitterness to take root in our lives. The text says: See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. The “see to it” phraseology of this verse tells us that the writer believed individuals have some personal responsibility when it comes to the sin of bitterness. There are times when circumstances that produce bitter roots appear out of nowhere and we have zero control over whether or not to allow those situations into our lives. There are also times when we simply cannot walk away from people or circumstances that have the potential to make us bitter. When that happens, our spiritual and moral responsibility is to deal with our feelings before God in a healthy way so that bitterness has no opportunity to take root in our lives.  That being said, there are also times in life when we willingly place ourselves in situations (or refuse to walk away from situations) that we know from day one will be fertile ground for bitter roots.  Taking responsibility for ourselves in the area of bitterness means being cautious about which situations we allow ourselves to get into and which situations we choose to stay in (Proverbs 6:1-3).   

 Bitterness is a temptation before it is a sin-

 Bitterness is a choice (Ephesians 4:31). Like all choices, bitterness is not something we fall into like helpless chumps. We are tempted long before the sin overtakes us (1stCorinthians 10:13). Wise, mature Christians are emotionally vigilant, they pay attention to their feelings so that they can avoid getting caught-up in something sinful, like bitterness (1stPeter 5:8).

 It is possible to get free of bitterness-

 Getting free from the sin of bitterness begins with recognizing that wallowing around in bitterness is every bit as sinful as whatever situation caused us to become bitter in the first place. In other words, we must confess our own sin. Then we must forgive the person who sinned against us. A key component of forgiving others is trusting God to deal with the person who sinned against us.  Praying for the person who sinned against us can help us let go of the desire for revenge.  Forgiveness is never easy and is typically a process that takes time. To get free we must take our hurt and pain to God until we are free from the hurt, anger and bitterness.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the Past Where it’s At

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  

 For the record, 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.

 It is fair to say that far too many of us get stuck in the past in an unhealthy way. 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. Following are seven reasons to let go of the old so God can do whatever new things He’s looking to do in the future:  

 Getting stuck in the past creates bitterness-

 Most of the time we get stuck in the past because we are hurt or angry about something unpleasant that happened there. The sense that we were cheated or wronged can lead to bitterness in the present. It is critical Christians keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in their lives (Ephesians 4:31). Mostly because bitterness makes Christians utterly and profoundly useless (Hebrews 12:15, Acts 8:23) and no genuine believer wants to be useless.  The key to getting free from bitterness is taking time to prayerfully process painful events from our past and then making the choice 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 stuff. We become obsessed with our feelings and when we focus heavily on feelings we become blinded to our own faults and junk. That typically 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 church services of the past.   

 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, 2ndTimothy 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. It is critical we remember that no one in the history of forever 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 stuff (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. We are the most grateful when we are living in the moment and choosing to see what God is doing for us right now. It is impossible to see God work in the present when we are distracted by the past.  

 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 worldly 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.

 

Four Ways Churches Unintentionally Promote Sexual Sin

Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. So, watch yourselves~ Luke 17:1 & 3 NIV

 Most of the stupid things we do are not done deliberately.  Most people just kind of fumble around blindly doing stuff without putting a whole lot of thought into the long-term consequences of their actions.  

 Sadly, this is even true of some Christians.   

  Too many Christians make too many decisions out of impulse or reflex. Sadly, most of us do not put any more thought into the unintended consequences our actions than anyone else does. This unfortunate reality has merged with a tendency to look at what the culture is doing rather than thinking through issues from a Biblical perspective.

 Sadly, these predispositions always play themselves out in one of two equally wrong responses. Either Christians do a “Christian” version of whatever is popular with the culture; or conversely, we go so far in the opposite direction of what the world is doing that we become a peculiar, cartoon-like version of what God intended the Church to be.

 Nowhere is this truer than in the area of sex.

 On one end of the spectrum, there are churches that have lowered their sexual standards in an effort to help unbelievers feel more comfortable in church settings. As a result, these churches have unwittingly adopted the same attitudes towards sex that non-Christians have. In other situations, Christians have been guilty of embracing a slightly more “Christian” version of a worldly standard. For example: many believers do not really have a problem with an engaged couple having sex before marriage (so long as they are careful keep it on the down-low). However, some of these same people are appalled at the mere thought of two Christians living together before marriage.

 Conversely, there are churches and Christians whose entire religious identity is built around preventing sexual activity of any kind from taking place in the lives of unmarried people. Those churches (and Christians) spend more time addressing the spiritual threats of swimsuits, hand-holding and premarital front-hugs than they do discussing salvation and related issues such as repentance and discipleship. This is not only a serious derailment from the churches principal mission (Matthew 28:17-20, 2nd Timothy 2:4, Matthew 10:8) it also makes Christians look like a bunch of sex-obsessed weirdos.  

 Sigh.

 The absurdity of all this aside, perhaps the biggest problem with how churches handle sexuality these days is that we have gotten to a place where we unintentionally promote sexual sin in four ways:

 The church is far too soft on the sin of adultery (especially where men are concerned)-

 The immense pressure placed on Christian women to forgive their cheating husbands simply cannot be overstated. Women are too-often coerced by well-intentioned but ridiculously overeager clergy to forgive their husband’s infidelity (and restore the relationship) right away. This typically happens long before the woman has processed her grief or the man has demonstrated sincere repentance. This has resulted in a shocking number of Christian men (and some women) who appear to have no qualms about committing adultery over and over again (Proverbs 6:32). It has also created a subculture of women (and a few men) who have been shamed into doing something they are under no biblical obligation to do (Matthew 5:32). Forgiveness is essential in every situation (Matthew 6:15). However, marital reconciliation should only take place if the one who was sinned against is truly willing and the adulterer (male or female) has demonstrated sincere repentance and a readiness to grow into a better spouse and Jesus follower.  Anything less simply encourages sinful behavior in the church by minimizing consequences in specific situations (1stCorinthians 5:11).

 We do not treat pornography like a serious sin-

 If I hear one more Christian leader refer to pornography as “just pornography” I will need to be medicated and/or physically restrained. Sixty-eight percent of all Christian men routinely view pornography precisely because it is regarded as a lightweight and trivial sin. Choosing to view pornography is not only a categorically icky form of sexual immorality (Hebrews 12:16, Hebrews 13:4) it is also a clear violation of Matthew 5:28. Like most sins, the sin of viewing pornography leads to other sins such as hypocrisy, adultery, dehumanizing others through lust, spiritual and social isolation and even an inability to perform the “marital duty” (1st Corinthians 7:3).

 The church is still inclined to cover-up pedophilia-

 The Catholic church has gotten a lot of bad press over this issue recently. However, it is far from unheard of in Protestant and Evangelical churches.  A valued leader gets accused of touching a child inappropriately and the church decides to deal with the problem “in-house”. At that point the whole messy mess gets swept under the rug or the leader is simply asked to leave the church. This is never okay. Every accusation should be thoroughly investigated by the proper authorities (the Elder or Deacon board does not count). Yes, this is hard, yes it makes the church look bad but not nearly as bad as it does when the church covers-up sin. 

 We don’t help young adults to date-

 The Bible is clear that marriage is a virtuous, noble and necessary thing (Genesis 2:24, Proverbs 18:22, Hebrews 13:4). That being said, for some inexplicable reason there is a ton of shame in the Christian culture surrounding Christians participating in the process of finding a spouse (dating).  Because dating is taboo in many Christian churches most churches do not give Christian kids a lot of instruction on how or who to date and there are literally no opportunities for Christian young people to get to know each other inside the church. As a result, most young people date outside of the church which leads to a lot of missteps (Tinder, bars, campus parties, drunken hook-ups). Those missteps inevitably end in sexual immorality and sometimes even a departure from the faith. Maybe it’s time for churches to be intentional about setting-up opportunities for young Christians from similar denominations to get to know one another so they can get married; rather than shame them for having a natural desire to find a spouse.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking Free From the Sin That Threatens Us All

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more~ Psalm 71:20-21 NIV

 Sin is a strange thing.

 There are sins that (thankfully) seem to be unique to a few (seriously creepy) individuals. We might joke about murder. However, few of us actually kill people.  Even fewer people joke about cannibalism, human sacrifice or most of the sins listed in Leviticus chapter twenty. Thankfully even fewer people commit those sins (if they do I choose to remain blissfully ignorant). 

 Then there are the other sins.

 Those irksome, run-of-the-mill sins that sprout-up like weeds in a garden. The sins we all (no matter how good we appear to be on the outside) struggle with at some point in our lives (1stCorinthians 10:13). There is simply no one in all of human history who has not grappled with lust, inappropriate anger, jealousy, hatred, selfish ambition and the inclination to gossip (Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6).

 Bitterness is another one of those sins. Scripture clearly instructs Christians to avoid becoming bitter and remaining bitter (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). That being said, most of us (if we’re honest) will admit to giving into the sin of bitterness at some point.  

Truth-be-told, few people become bitter without reason. This reality can lead bitter people to feeling justified and even extraordinarily righteous as they wallow around in the anger and resentment that inevitably leads to bitterness.  Regrettably, I am well-acquainted with the sin of bitterness. I learned first-hand over the course of several miserable and painfully unproductive years that bitterness is one of those sins that hurts us far more than it hurts the people who have sinned against us.

 It is critical we understand that God does not forbid bitterness because it is never defensible, logical or understandable. God forbids bitterness because bitterness gradually obliterates every good thing God has done in us.  At the root of a bitter spirit is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness causes us to miss the grace of God and prevents us from experiencing the Christian life in all of its beauty and fullness (Matthew 6:14-15, Hebrews 12:15, Luke 17:4).

 The ways we can become bitter are endless. Something as small and seemingly insignificant as being offended or ignored can cause a bitter root to develop in more sensitive people. An unfaithful spouse, a twofaced friend, an unpleasant childhood or ongoing injustice can cause bitterness in even the most thick-skinned of individuals.  

 Because bitterness is such a common sin and because it is something we are cautioned to avoid at all costs there are at least four things every Christian needs to understand about bitterness.

 Bitterness makes spiritual growth impossible-

 It does not matter how many Bible studies the bitter person attends (or teaches). Nor does it matter how much of the Bible someone can repeat verbatim. There is something about the choice to remain bitter that makes it impossible for that person to apply the truth they have learned (or taught) to their own life. Any learning that does take place is typically just empty academic agreement (head knowledge) rather than a full emotional and intellectual adoption of truth we have understood and embraced (heart knowledge). Satan celebrates when Christians become bitter because bitterness keeps Christians stuck in a cycle of obtaining knowledge without actually growing (2nd Timothy3:7).

 Bitterness halts clear communication with God-

 Bitterness is a sin (Ephesians 4:31). Repentance from sin is the only way to restore clear and unrestricted communication with God (2nd Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 9:1-19). Sadly, bitterness blinds us to the lack of communication we have with God, making it more difficult to get right Him.

 We have a responsibility to prevent our own bitterness-

 There will always be situations that come into our lives that have the potential to make us bitter. Some of those situations are one-hundred-percent unforeseeable and therefore entirely unavoidable. That being said, the author of the book of Hebrews tells the readers of the book to “see to it” that no “bitter root grows up”. The writer is instructing Christians to process and forgive offenses as quickly and completely as humanly possible.  Likewise, Christians should be very careful about voluntarily placing themselves in situations where bitterness is an obvious and foreseeable end result of said situation (Ephesians 5:15).

 Behaving in a way that causes others to become bitter is as sinful as bitterness-

 The New Testament clearly teaches a principal of mutual accountability when it comes to sin (Matthew 18:6). For example: Christians are clearly forbidden from committing adultery (Exodus 20:14, Mark 7:21). That being said, spouses are cautioned against refusing each other sexually because doing so could tempt their spouse to commit adultery (1st Corinthians 7:1-5). Obviously, a lack of “IT” in a marriage does not make adultery acceptable to God (Hebrews 13:4). However, it does make the other partner accountable to God for their refusal to obey Scripture.  Similarly, each person is responsible before God for their own choice to become bitter. However, we have an obligation to live in such a way that we do not give people just cause to become bitter. If we don’t we will be accountable to God for our refusal to obey Scripture.

 There is only one way to deal with bitterness-

 Forgive.

 Seriously.  It really is that simple. Let go of any bitterness you are holding onto and let God be the judge and jury of the other person.

 It’s His job (1st Samuel 24:12, Hebrews 4:13, 1st Peter 4:5). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Constantly Taking Offense Has Turned Us Into Insufferable 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.   

Moving Past Church Hurt

 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News~ Philippians 4:2-3 NLT

 Church hurt happens. 

 Church hurt comes in all shapes and sizes. Church hurt can be born out of something as simple as an unresolved conflict or disagreement. It can happen when we feel overlooked or marginalized by Christians we assumed were our friends or Christians we wished were our friends. Church hurt rears its ugly head anytime we discover we have become the target of gossip or excluded from a group. By far, the nastiest and most damaging form of church hurt comes at the hands of so-called shepherds (Isaiah 56:11). False teachers, who use and abuse their spiritual authority to control, manipulate, defraud or sexually exploit those they have been tasked with caring for.

 How deeply we are wounded by church hurt is dependent on a whole host of factors. Including, but not limited to how new to the faith we were when the offense occurred, our over-all maturity level at the time of the hurt, the gravity of the offense that occurred and the willingness on the part of the offender to own their part in the hurt.

 I am convinced church hurt is the leading cause of spiritual shipwrecks and church dropouts. I know from experience that church hurt is practically inevitable, however it does not have to devastate our lives or destroy our faith. How and why people get hurt in the church is far less important than how they handle the ensuing hurt. In the interest of preventing anymore spiritual disasters, today I am going to give four (very basic) guidelines for recovering from most church hurts.

 First:

 Don’t misplace blame-

 Healing from hurt can only occur if we embrace the truth that God did not CAUSE our hurt. Another Christian (or someone who claimed to be a Christian) hurt you and caused the pain you are feeling, not God. Too many Christians never recover from church hurt because they insist on blaming God for things He had nothing do with.

 Honestly assess your level hurt-

 There are things that are never okay. No one should causally dismiss abuse, embezzlement, or vicious slander. Nor should we demand someone who has been wounded by say, sexual abuse in the church to “just get over it”. Big hurts (like sexual abuse) require special attention and time to heal. That said, there are other forms of church hurt like petty disputes, being treated rudely, or feeling excluded, that are very real and painful, but also simply need to be put in perspective. Sadly, being a follower of Jesus does not automatically mean that a person will never be rude, self-serving, insensitive, flakey, or stupid. We are all guilty of those particular sins from time-to-time and we ought to give grace accordingly (Proverbs 19:11).

 (Almost) always make an attempt at reconciliation-

 There are cases of severe abuse where attempts at reconciliation (being friends again) are ill advised and even dangerous. That said, in most cases if you cannot simply forgive and move on, an honest conversation to clear the air is in order (Matthew 18:15). The key to making these conversations productive is a heartfelt desire to restore the relationship rather than a desire to punish, prove a point, or justify your feelings (no matter how justified they may be).

 Don’t get stuck-

 It’s normal to be angry when we’ve suffered a hurt at the hands of a fellow believer and it’s healthy to grieve hurt. However, it’s not healthy to stay stuck in perpetual state of woundedness (Yes. I made that word up.). Staying stuck in anger inevitably leads to bitterness and bitterness ruins us (Hebrews 12:15). Reconciliation may or may not be advised, but with Jesus, forgiveness is always possible (Matthew 6:15). Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It will likely take time and may require some help from a wise and mature friend, Christian counselor, or pastor to work through. Get help if you need it. The health of your soul and your usefulness to the Kingdom is at stake here.  

 Church hurt is as old as the church. Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Mark, Euodia, and Syntyche were Bible people who all experienced serious hurt at the hands of other believers (2nd Timothy 4:14, Galatians 2:11-14, Acts 15:39, Philippians 4:2-3). Every one of those men and women recovered from their hurt and went on to do great things for the Kingdom of God because they chose the painful but life-giving path of forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation.

 

When God Calls You to Love a Jerk

To you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you~ Luke 6:27-28 NIV

 Pretty much every Christian I know (myself included) likes to pontificate endlessly on the topic of love.

 Why on earth wouldn’t we?

 In a world that is increasingly more hostile towards Christians and their faith, love is one of the few doctrines left that everyone likes discussing. Sin, judgment, obedience and hell are sensitive, uncomfortable, sticky-wicket kinds of issues that are all-but certain to offend pretty much everyone. However, no one can quarrel with the whole notion of loving people.

 That said, even a hasty analysis of the comments section of any news article or blog piece posted on the Internet clues us in to the fact that although most people love the idea of love, and we adore quoting scriptures concerning the importance of loving people, we struggle mightily with the implementation of loving people.

 The Christian standard of love is outrageously high and almost impossible to achieve, mostly because some people are jerks and God calls us to love them anyway. Scripture commands we love people who do not love us back and those who openly despise us. We are also instructed to love people who make fun of what we believe, insult our intelligence and tell lies about us (Romans 12:9-21).

 This is quite obviously easier said than done.

 There is no question that loving people (even nice people) is a concept that is far less painful to achieve in theory than in practice. That said, it’s easier to love a person when there is relationship in place or an emotional bond that has already been established.

 Showing love to a wayward child or a spouse with a less than pleasant disposition is somehow much easier than trying to muster up some emotional warmth or caring for a heartless, egomaniacal boss or an intellectually pretentious brother-in-law/college professor/auntie/co-worker. The one who cannot seem to stop themselves from insinuating that the only possible motivations anyone could possibly have for voting for a particular political party would be racism, homophobia or a criminal level of stupidity. It’s even harder to muster grace (let alone love) for the media personality who is constantly undermining decency and openly supporting actions and attitudes wholeheartedly contrary to God’s way of doing things.

 Sigh.    

 Thankfully, authentic Christian love is more about making a choice than manufacturing a feeling. We can choose to behave in a loving way towards people we don’t particularly like. In the process we might actually change hearts and minds in a way that hateful and nasty rhetoric or sidelong glances never will.

 Loving jerks needs to begin with some honest self-examination. Sometimes we are the innocent victims of jerks and other times we are the ones acting like a jerk. Even Christians are capable of less than Christian behavior from time-to-time, especially when someone is intentionally pushing our buttons. Any time we feel offended or hurt, it’s a good time to prayerfully evaluate our own actions and attitudes to see if we are doing anything that is contributing to the problem.

 Nothing about honest self-examination is pleasant or easy, however it is necessary if we want to grow and mature spiritually.

 Sigh.

 If after some soul-searching we discover we are indeed part of the problem, then we need to repent. Repentance is all about changing how we think about the person who has hurt us. Instead of focusing on the things we don’t like we need to look for positive qualities. We also need to cease any hurtful actions on our part such as gossip, ugly or passive-aggressive comments, and writing rude things about the person on the Internet. Genuine repentance always includes praying for the person who wronged us.

 Praying for the person who offended or wronged us really does make any repenting on our part that needs to be done easier and less painful, and prayer actually has the capacity to change the heart of the other person.

 Bonus.

 Then God calls us to the truly hard thing, blessing those who curse us and actually doing good to those who have wronged us. Doing good is about more than an absence of malice. It’s about thinking through to what Jesus would do to the person and then doing it.

 Love is an action.

 

Stop Dropping the D-Bomb and Other Tips to Stay Married

He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord~ Proverbs 18:22 NIV

 My husband and I have officially been married for more years than most millennials have been alive. Alan and I were barely into our twenties when we got married and like all couples who marry young, we kind of grew-up together.

 I would love to tell you that every moment of our marriage has been a blissful one. Like all married people we have had good and bad times, however, at this point in our relationship I can honestly say that I would not trade even a minute of any of it for anything this world has to offer. There is simply no sweeter or more effective way to learn about life, love, God’s grace and what it really means to forgive and be forgiven.

I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about marriage, I am still learning. However, through the years I have learned a thing or two about the art of keeping love alive. Today I want to share six practical things I have learned (mostly the hard way) about the art of keeping a marriage healthy. Beginning with:

 Learn to let go-

 I am convinced that most divorces aren’t caused by big problems that cannot be solved. Divorces are the result of little irritations we refuse to let go of. I learned this a few years into our marriage when I observed that my sweetie had what I concluded were some vexing personal habits. Most notably Alan is a “piler”. He piles things neatly and continues to pile them until he is ready to deal with the mess or the pile outgrows the space available. This habit came to my attention via an enormous heap of clothing in the corner of our bedroom. I decided to see how big it would get before he did something about it. It took longer than I liked, and my outrage grew in direct proportion to the size of the pile. Three weeks in, I was done with keeping the peace and spent the better part of a day formulating an impressive lecture on the merits of tidiness and importance of respecting one’s partner. I was prepared to nail him with it, and then I had one of those gut-wrenching moments that are painful to experience but are totally necessary sometimes. It hit me that the pile of laundry was going to be the beginning of the end my marriage if I didn’t let go of my need to have it my way all the time. I promptly quashed my “righteous” indignation and vowed to stop letting that particular habit get the best of me.

 Connect without having sex-

 It’s easy to get carried away by the busyness of life and fall into the trap of living like roommates rather than two people who have made a life-long romantic commitment to one another. The key to changing that reality once it takes root is intentional connection. It’s important (especially for women) to connect in ways other than having sex. Get in the habit of making time to do the things you did while you were dating. Go places together, set-aside time just to talk, text each other, do the chores together and hold hands in public places. Those things are the reason you were happier while you were dating.

 Have sex-

 Find a pattern that works for both of you and have sex on a regular basis. Sex keeps the roommate vibe at bay and makes it easier (especially for men) to connect relationally outside of the bedroom.

 Stop dropping the D-bomb-

 Screaming you want a divorce in the middle of a stupid squabble is the emotional equivalent of choosing the nuclear option. There is absolutely nowhere productive the conversation can go from there. Divorce is not a word that should be uttered casually, in anger, or ever, if you care anything at all about staying married.

 Don’t let your marriage become entirely kid-centric-

 Little kids can suck-up all of our physical and emotional energy and sometimes it feels like they will always be a part of your daily routine. But I can assure that the little nippers do grow-up and move on with their lives. When they leave, you and your spouse will be stuck with whatever relationship you built while they were growing-up. Make it a good one.

 Become a student of your spouse-

 Learn everything you can about the likes and dislikes of your spouse for the sole purpose of bringing joy into their life. I promise it will bring joy into yours as well.

 Divorce is a heartbreak on every level, morally spiritually and relationally; our culture’s causal attitude towards marriage has devastated millions and generated incalculable social chaos. The Christian divorce epidemic is a big part of the reason the church has lost its moral authority in the culture. But most importantly divorce is a tragedy because even when every other alternative has been exhausted and divorce is deemed the only option (due to chronic infidelity or abuse) divorce is agonizing. Every divorce statistic represents two hurting and broken humans who had their dreams of a blissful, enduring union crushed and a large share of their personal history made null and void by a single legal decree.

 Prevention really is the only cure.

 

 

 

The Hard Truth Concerning Forgiveness

I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept~ Genesis 50:17

 They have become ubiquitous on Facebook.

Photos of a man standing at sunset, back to the camera arms spread wide in an expression of complete and glorious freedom. Or sometimes the photo is of a young woman dressed in white strolling serenely down a long tree-lined path, suggesting a future filled with joy and endless possibilities.

 The quotes accompanying these images are sometimes spiritually questionable. Others are far too syrupy and sentimental for my taste. However, the vast majority of quotes on the subject are thought provoking and more than a little convicting…

 We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies~ Martin Luther King Jr.

 The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong~ Gandhi

 Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness~ Corrie Ten Boom

 Over the course of the last few years I have had the “opportunity” to work through two unrelated and dissimilar situations, both requiring me to forgive some massive and very personal hurts. I concluded after working through those situations that none of the quotes I have seen tell the complete story of forgiveness. Sappy sentimentalities and inspiring quips extolling the virtues and benefits of forgiveness inevitably miss a core truth.

 Forgiveness is hard.

 Sometimes it hurts almost as much as the offense that necessitated the forgiving. If the offense was particularly personal or the person who did the hurting was someone we trusted. The act of forgiving that person can hurt to the point of physical agony. Forgiveness is tough because involves a release of the right to seek revenge on someone who doubtless has earned some sort of retaliation. The letting go of what is logically a right can feel overwhelmingly unjust.

 Forgiveness is a foundational (albeit sometimes unpopular) doctrine of the Christian faith. God forgives without hesitation, and He clearly expects His people to forgive in the same spirit. Forgiving is so important to God that it’s a prerequisite for obtaining His forgiveness (Matthew 6:15).

 God knows enough about people to know that when we refuse to forgive, unforgiveness transforms us in a profoundly ugly way. We eventually become incapable of focusing on anything but our wounds and resentment. The relentless emphasis on the negative causes our patience to shrivel and our irritation with everyone to increase. Over time we inevitably twist into a hostile, unsympathetic and nasty version of ourselves. 

 Regrettably, knowing all this does not make forgiving any easier.

 It is considerably more difficult (if not impossible) to forgive without God’s assistance and power. Some offenses are simply too great to forgive on our own; we acquire the help we need to forgive through persistent and sometimes prolonged prayer. Prayer keeps us connected to God, prevents bitterness from taking root in our hearts and empowers us to forgive the unforgivable. We pray until our feelings towards the person who did the hurting change.

 Prayer also prevents people from blaming God for situations He had nothing to do with. Oftentimes, when Christians have suffered a serious offense they struggle as much with anger towards God, for allowing the hurt to happen as they do with the person who hurt them. It’s important to understand that God is not a puppet master who controls the choices of people.

 Sometimes people hurt others because they are egotistical, callous or even evil. Most of the time people hurt others because they are stupid, insensitive or lack awareness of how their actions affect others. Either way, it’s profoundly unjust to hold God accountable for the actions of free people.

 Forgiving would be easier if people were capable of simply forgetting offenses. We cannot do that. However, over time, with God’s assistance, we can reach a point where we are no longer held prisoner by the anger we feel towards those who have betrayed us. Forgiveness is freedom that will empower us to live a happy, useful and God-honoring life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay Christians, Let’s Talk About Sex

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect~ Romans 12:2 NLT

 By the time I hit my teen years, the sexual revolution had been fought and was well, pretty much over. The popular culture had for the most part moved away from the notion that sex ought to be exclusive to marriage. As a result there was little debate outside of the Christian community concerning the morality of sex outside of marriage.

 The rightness or wrongness of sex was determined by feelings and emotional rather than legal and/or spiritual commitment. If a man and woman felt they were “in love” and at least somewhat committed to one another then sex was thought to be morally acceptable. Without love and some level of emotional commitment most people felt sex devolved into something skeezy and morally dubious. It was certainly not the biblical standard of sexuality that their parents and grandparents honored, but sex and love were still considered to be inseparable in most peoples’ estimation.

 Thirty years later those notions have become rather quaint and archaic. The whole notion of love and sex being closely connected has been replaced with a culture of hooking-up. Hooking-up, sometimes called “friends with benefits” or “not-dating” for those fortunate enough to be blissfully ignorant, is the new term for sexual activity sans commitment of any kind.

 Hooking-up has replaced dating and long-term romantic attachments for the vast majority of non-Christian adults. The results of this brave new world include plummeting marriage rates among those under thirty, skyrocketing out-of-wedlock birthrates; and a shockingly large number of young adults who report difficulty forming connections with the opposite sex outside of the bedroom.

 It doesn’t take a mastermind to grasp the obvious and conclude that the loosening sexual standards of the 1970’s and 1980’s paved the way for the ethical anarchy we see today surrounding the issue of sexuality. A culture does not go from the absolutely no sex before marriage standards of the first half of the 20th century to a culture of detached hook-ups without at least a couple of stops along the way.

 As alarming as I believe these developments to be, I also understand that it is not my place to be concerned with what the greater culture is doing behind closed doors. Judging non-Christians is a waste of time. Without Christ, people have little reason to care about what the Bible has to say about sexuality or anything else and even less reason to modify their behavior based on the Bible’s teachings.

 I am deeply concerned about what Christians are doing behind closed doors.

 Christian Mingle is an online dating service that surveyed 2,647 single adult Christians about their attitudes concerning sexuality. The results revealed that sixty-four percent of Christians between the ages of 18 and 59 believe it’s morally acceptable to have sex outside of marriage. Additionally, a 2009 study conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reveals that eighty percent of never-been-married Evangelicals have had sex at least once. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed reported having sex the previous year and forty-two percent were in an ongoing sexual relationship at the time of the survey.

 To my knowledge the question was never asked, but I would bet that most of those surveyed felt that “being in love” was the only criteria that mattered when deciding whether or not to have sex. In other words, Christians have embraced the same standards of sexual ethics that the greater culture adopted in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

 The Church’s nearly universal loosening standards of morality have led Christians into an increasingly ugly ethical muddle. Divorce rates for Christians are nearly as high as divorce rates for non-Christians. Christian men view pornography as often as non-Christian men and it’s estimated that at least 650,000 Christian women abort their children every single year. As a result of all this ongoing sin the church has lost all moral authority in the culture. Nobody outside the church cares to hear what Christians have to say about anything of substance anymore because they see that our faith is so feeble that it does not even empower us to control ourselves in the most basic way.

 We live in a decaying culture filled with people who urgently need some solid moral examples to draw from. Christians can be that example again. But only if we are willing to embrace and live out the truth that it takes more than love to make sex right. It takes two people making a lifetime commitment to one another.