Finding Joy in the Upside-down World of Coronavirus –

 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance– James 1:2-3

 Last week, I was asked how Christians can live a life of authentic joy in the midst of the “new normal”. The person asking was not some unenlightened heathen nub, nor were they looking for an emotional short-cut out of the pain that is the prevailing feeling of 2020. This person is mature enough to know joy is not the same thing as happiness in the sense that it not something we can manufacture within ourselves or acquire from outside activities. They just felt, as so many of us do, that their capacity to experience joy has been challenged by our current political, spiritual, and moral climate.

 I had no words.

 Seriously. I have never faced a global pandemic or race riots or a government power grab or this level of social instability. So, I prayed. Hard. Over the course of the next few days I was overcome with the conviction that we lack joy when we look for it in the wrong places. Joy is not is something that grows out of serene conditions or easy circumstances. Joy grows out of love for God AND acceptance of His will. Whatever that may be. Following are some practices that increase joy if we are willing to make the effort they require.

 First, we must:

Stop being gross-

 A wise woman I know made a casual observation this week about how gross contemporary Christians can be. Her words hit hard. Many Christians are kind of gross, and I am no exception. Some have literally expressed gratitude “for the break from church” in recent months (Hebrews 10:25).  Others shy away from doing anything even remotely hard (Galatians 6:9). Most are guilty of viewing the God of the universe as their own private blessing machine. Too many pray trivial prayers requesting material blessings rather than pleading for moral and spiritual transformation. Then when God does attempt to produce change in our lives we run as fast and hard as we can from the pain that inevitably accompanies growth. We become gross by permitting wrong beliefs about God and the role He is to play in our lives to fester and grow. We become less “gross” and more joyful when we choose to cooperate with God rather than fighting the methods He has chosen to make us better, healthier, more Christlike people (1st Corinthians 3:18, Philippians 4:11-13).

  Learn to welcome the interruptions God ordains-

 About six weeks into the Coronavirus pandemic I had an ugly public meltdown. I have too much personal pride to share the unpleasant details of that event at this time. Needless to say, it was not pretty. As I was sorting through the “why” of my behavior, it dawned on me that more than anything I loathed the interruption coronavirus had brought to my sweet little life (Job 17:11, Psalm 33:10). That insight got me to the place where I accepted that Coronavirus and all the nuttiness that goes with it is just what we get to do right now. I don’t have to like any of it. Nor, do I have to go along with all of it. However, I must accept it if I want to stay sane and experience joy. Interruptions, whether they be an unexpected phone call, an unplanned pregnancy, a cross-country move, or a global pandemic are not really interruptions. They are God’s plan (Psalm 40:10). We have two choices when God’s plan differs from ours: we can lean in and figure out how God wants to change us and use us or we can fight Him (Proverbs 19:21). The first choice yields personal growth, unanticipated blessings and genuine joy. The second brings despair, resentment and stunted spiritual growth. Welcoming interruption does not mean we cannot or should not fight injustice or work for needed change. It does mean our personal happiness can’t depend entirely on having life the way we want it. 

 Pray like you’ve never prayed before-

 Nothing produces joy and emboldens faith like answered prayer. In my experience God loves to answer bold prayers that focus on the spiritual needs of others. There is no shortage of needs in this world we can pray for right now.

 Recapture time and give it to God-

  I borrowed this idea from Mark Sayers, Pastor of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia. He suggests Christians recapture time spent on random activities such as watching television and goofing around on our phones and give that time back to God in the form of prayer and Bible study.  This works because joy grows out of intimacy with God and intimacy grows out of time spent seeking God. This concept became a game changer in my life shortly after my COVID meltdown. I took an hour a day I’d been spending on my phone and began using that time to pray. That hour transformed my attitude, restored joy and undoubtedly saved the world from further ugly meltdowns.    

 Finally, and most critically, Christians must become people who seek to impart hope to others. Hope is what the world most needs right now and it is the thing Christians have to give the world (Romans 5:3-5). When we share the hope of Jesus with others it causes our own joy to grow. In order to be an agent of hope our own hope has to be in the right thing.  If our hope rides on “everything going back to normal” we are hoping for the wrong thing. Furthermore, we will likely be disappointed and we will never become the change agents God intends us to be.

 

 

The Real Reason We’re Losing our Freedoms-

 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love- Galatians 5:13 NIV

 We are rapidly losing long held freedoms.

 The rights to freely assemble, speak, worship and bear arms are being challenged at every turn. Politicians argue the Coronavirus has made the restriction of rights necessary for “the greater good” of society. Others argue Coronavirus has become a convenient pretext to restrict any right that happens to be irksome or inconvenient to legislators.

 Individuals have responded to the loss of liberty in one of two ways.  A small but vocal minority is quick to express gratitude. They sincerely believe the loss of liberty is worth the security gained. However, the vast majority feels far less appreciative towards the rule makers.

 Rulers throughout history have tended to view personal freedom as a privilege that can be revoked at a moment’s notice by the will of human authority. However, history has proven freedom causes human beings to flourish. Without personal freedom the human spirit withers, creativity dies and discovery is stifled. Countries that allow the most freedom are also the most productive and innovative. Authoritarian governments that relentlessly limit autonomy inevitably collapse because human freedom is the key to human productivity.

 The Bible presents human freedom as both a gift and a test (1st Corinthians 10:23, Genesis 3). God is the giver of human freedom. People have the right to do whatever they please with God’s gift of freewill. However, God reserves the right to punish people for the sinful and selfish use of their freedom (Romans 2:6-8, Romans 6:23, Galatians 6:8, 1st Corinthians 6:9).  In the Bible freedom without obedience to God inevitably led to moral ruin and bondage (2nd Chronicles 29:6-9).  

 Americans have been blessed with a wider variety of freedoms than any people in the history of mankind. Both men and women, regardless of race, creed or social class are free to live where they want, build what they want, associate with who they want, buy what they want and sell what they want. Americans are free to have any kind of relationship they choose to have with anyone they choose to have it with. Americans can raise and educate their children however they want and wherever they want to do it. We can use our free time for any purpose we choose. The only real stipulation placed on these freedoms is that we do not harm others with our independence. No other country on earth has been blessed in this way.

 This begs a question:

 Are we living lives worthy of these blessings?

 The answer is nope.

 Rather than using the freedom we have to create a healthier, more just society we have used our freedom to abort millions of children and deprive them of their right to life, liberty and a pursuit of happiness. We have pushed the boundaries of good sense and tested the patience of God by denying reality and insisting gender is a choice we get to make. Our culture has twisted the blessing of sexuality into a multi-billion-dollar industry that enslaves and objectifies millions of women and children. Many publicly funded-school systems actively seek to corrupt the innocence of children through the implementation of curriculums that introduce ideas and concepts that go beyond “the basics” of human sexuality into a distorted and even creepy perversion of human sexuality. Rather than expressing gratitude for the abundant material blessings available in our culture full grown adults cry, whine, riot and set things on fire, and demand MORE all the while refusing to work for anything. Some are actively using the racial injustice suffered by too many in our society as an excuse to tear everything down and reshape society in their own twisted image (2nd Peter 2:19, 2nd Timothy 3:1-3).

 Many Christians are no better just different.  

 Statistics reveal the vast majority of Americans who identify as Christians do not use their religious freedom to worship regularly on Sunday mornings. Nor, do the majority of Christians share their faith with others, volunteer in their churches or contribute to missions. Churches are some of the most segregated places in the country and Christians routinely show more kindness to unsaved people than they do to saved people.  Christians view porn almost as much as non-Christians, infidelity is far from unheard of in the church and scandals among church leaders have become a routine occurrence.

 Here’s the thing.

 God sometimes judges by removing blessings that are not used responsibly. We have not used our freedom responsibly.

 It’s not too late but it is time for the Church to repent.

 Christians have got to stop being a part of the problem and must seek to be the solution. We must model the reality for the world that genuine freedom is not found in doing anything we want to do. Authentic freedom is found in knowing Christ and being free from bondage to sinful behaviors and thought patterns (Romans 6:6).  We must be intentional about using freedom to do good rather than as an excuse to evil. We must make a practice of examining ourselves daily and searching diligently for sinful attitudes and behaviors that need to be repented of. God has not blessed the Church so we can live for our own pleasure or have everything just the way we want it at the expense of those who are dying without Christ. God has blessed the Church so we can be a blessing, preach the gospel fearlessly and lead the greater culture towards living righteous and holiness.   

 It’s time to get to it.

 

 

 

Why Christians Don’t Overcome Addiction-

Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies~ Jonah 2:8 NLT

 Addiction is a growing problem in our society. 

 One in eight Americans are clinically dependent on alcohol. 12.5 million Americans abuse prescription (legal) opioids (Codeine, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Methadone Morphine, Oxycodone). Heroin addiction has reached a twenty year high. New addictions are invented all the time. We now have gambling, pornography, food, phone, video game, shopping and sex addictions. These are affecting millions of people from every walk of life. Sadly, the vast majority of those individuals are not winning their personal battle with addiction.

 Sigh.

 If addiction were an issue only non-Christians struggled with then there would be little point in addressing the problem.  What those outside the church do and don’t do should not be a concern for those inside the Church (1st Corinthians 5:11). It is not our job as Christians to modify the behavior of those who do not profess faith in Christ. Christians are commanded to pray for non-Christians and share the gospel with them. Period. Forcing a non-believer to act like a believer before they become a believer causes more spiritual harm than good. Forcing non-Christians to act like Christians simply produces well-behaved heathens with a false sense of security.     

 But that is another topic for another day.     

 Christians struggle with the same addictions as non-Christians. Addiction in churches affects everyone in the church. Christians are all individual parts of a body (1st Corinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:4-5, Romans 12:4-5). When one part of the body is sick, hurt or sinning the consequences of the sickness, hurt or sin are felt throughout the rest of the body.

 Christian addiction causes the church to lose its credibility and its voice in the culture. When the people in the church struggle with the same stupid stuff everyone else struggles with Christians cannot legitimately advise others on the saving power of Jesus (or anything else) if they cannot adequately manage their own junk. 

 Furthermore, anytime one member of the body of Christ struggles with sin the whole body becomes corporately weaker. Spiritual weakness in the body makes us all less able to fulfill our calling as salt and light in the culture (Matthew 5:13-16, Luke 14:33-35). Christians with addictive behaviors lead Christians and non-Christians alike to believe that Christ has no real power to change our nature or keep us from sin (2nd Kings 17:15). This leads to fewer conversions and fewer people who were raised in the church sticking around. I am convinced that the mass exodus of Christian kids leaving the church in recent years has more to do with the lack of power to overcome problems, including addiction than any other single issue.

 If we want to see spiritual revival in the Western world (and most of us do) then addiction is an issue that must be addressed in our churches. We will never lead the unbelieving world to spiritual freedom until we experience it in our own lives. Dealing with addiction in the church does not begin with starting  support groups or accountability programs. It begins with recognizing the true nature of addiction.

  Contrary to popular belief, addiction is not simply a bad habit, a sign of poor coping skills or a genetic predisposition gone awry. Addiction does have physical, emotional and genetic factors but ultimately addiction is a deeply spiritual issue. The addicted person gets something real and tangible from the addiction (usually a sense of peace or ability to cope). In exchange the addict becomes physically and/or emotionally dependent on that thing. They eventually grow to love that thing more than they love God or anything else.

 I am not, nor have I ever been a “there’s a demon behind every beer bottle” kind of a Christian. However, I do believe we need to acknowledge the reality that there is a deeply demonic aspect to the issue of addiction. At the root of all addiction is the sin of idolatry. Addicts receive a sense of comfort, wellbeing, peace or an ability to cope with stress, etc. that they should only receive from God. The addict must figure out exactly what their addiction gives them and why they aren’t going to God to have those needs met.   

 With a few notable exceptions most of what the church has done to combat addiction has not worked all that well.  This is because the church has adopted the world’s view that addiction can be overcome with an improved self-image, more accountability and lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes and accountability are good, helpful and necessary. However, unless the addict acknowledges and repents of the underlying sin of idolatry they are powerless to permanently change much of anything.  

 Freedom from addiction can only be achieved through right thinking about the problem (sinful behaviors are always a choice). Freedom comes with a deep commitment to living in complete obedience to God and His commands and the love, acceptance and grace of a healthy Church family.