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). No genuine believer in Jesus 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.

 

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). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Reason “Good” People Self -Destruct

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him.  1stPeter 5:8-9a NIV

 Over the years I have known a number of Christians (some of them Christian leaders) who have shipwrecked their lives. When I say shipwrecked I do not mean they briefly made a mess out of one area of their perfectly good life, recovered and eventually moved on to bigger, better and more productive things. When I say shipwrecked I mean these people made such an epic mess out of their lives and relationships, there is simply no way they will ever completely recover from the fallout of their choices this side of heaven.

 When a Christian messes-up their life in an irrevocable kind of a way the rest of us tend to assume the shipwreck occurred as a result of one-great-big-sinful-decision (like having an affair, getting addicted to drugs or embezzling a bunch of money). Truth be told, most folks who ruin their lives don’t do it all at once. The shipwreck happens gradually, usually after a lifetime of covering-up and lying about their behavior.  The one great-big-sinful-decision that appears to be the cause of the shipwreck is actually just an ugly symptom of the root problem.

 The Bible has a name for this root problem, it’s called “giving the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). There are a million different ways a Christian can give the devil a foothold. Giving the devil a foothold basically means that at some point in time the person in question willingly gave a small area of their lives over to sin, then chose to keep their behavior a secret and effectively permitted that area of their life to become the devil’s playground. Over the course of time (usually many years) the person in question loses their ability to keep their sin a secret.  Eventually they get caught and their sin becomes obvious to everyone and their life is shipwrecked (Numbers 32:23).

 Sigh.

 The key to avoiding these tragedies is prevention. I already stated that there are at least a million ways we can shipwreck our lives, mostly because the capacity of the human heart to dream up clever ways to sin is nearly boundless (Jeremiah17:9). That being said, the areas where the devil attempts to gain a foothold in a person’s life are fairly standard to everyone. The first is:

 Pride-

 I have never known a person harboring secret sin who did not pridefully assume that they could handle “sinning a little bit”. At the root of this belief is almost always a sense that they are “different” from other people and don’t need to follow the same rules that all the other (sheep-like) Christians have to follow. If pride is left unchecked it inevitably leads to a shipwreck because it causes people to believe that they are better and smarter and worthier than they really are (Proverbs 11:2, Proverbs 29:23, Obadiah 1:3). This belief cause people to do incredibly stupid stuff that is guaranteed to be their downfall (Proverbs 16:18).

 Covetousness-

 Coveting is not just about wanting things we don’t have. It’s about wanting things that we should never have and refusing to be content with what we do have. Coveting is dangerous because it always leads to bigger sins. It is not wrong to want a wife (or a husband). However, it is wrong to want someone else’s wife or husband (Deuteronomy 5:21).  It is also wrong to want a husband or wife more than we love God (Exodus 20:3). Coveting sex eventually leads to infidelity and/or some kind of sexual deviancy.  Money is not sinful, but loving money and craving material possessions leads to fraud, theft, shady behavior and a miserly unwillingness to share what God has blessed us with.  (1st Timothy 6:10).  Spending an undue amount time thinking about what we wish we had instead of being grateful for what we do have is a huge red flag for this foothold (Hebrews 13:5, 1st Timothy 6:6-7)

 Resentment and unforgiveness-

 Resentment and unforgiveness are without question the devil’s favorite foothold. These sins always lead to bitterness, cynicism, and offense. A bitter, cynical and offended person can easily justify any and every behavior under the sun (Job 36:13). For that reason, resentment and bitterness must be dealt with quickly and decisively before they take root and defile a person (Hebrews 12:15)

 Jealousy-   

 Jealousy is the original gateway sin. It opens the door for every other sin. Jealousy is the reason Cain killed Abel and its why Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery.  No one in the history of forever has ever done anything in a fit of jealousy that they could be proud of (Proverbs 27:4, Galatians 5:19-21).

 Lust-

 Thanks to the internet and a nearly universal lack of self-control in our culture, lust is probably the devil’s most fruitful foothold at this point in history. It almost goes without saying that this one sin has ruined more men and women than any other sin in the history of sin. Lust is dangerous because it is not a difficult sin to hide and it gradually changes the sinner, hardening their heart and making it harder for them to hear from God or to care about hearing from God. When Christians stop hearing from God it is almost inevitable that they will act on the most deviant desires of their heart.

 Sinful footholds are one hundred percent preventable. We avoid them by dealing with our sin on a daily basis and walking in the light of truth.  Once a foothold is formed there is only one way to break its power: honesty. We get free by coming clean and then choosing to live our whole lives in the light (Psalm 119:9, Psalm 119:5, Hebrews 4:13).

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Christian kids need to experience “life”-

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

  God is somehow nicer than He used to be-

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

 What I do in private won’t hurt anyone-

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

 God loves me just the way I am-

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

 He wants the same thing for all of us.

 

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.

 

Six Foolproof Signs of Pride

 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory~ Daniel 5:20 NIV

 Pride is a strange thing.

 teensy-tiny bit of the right kind of pride is actually a good thing (Romans 11:13, 2nd Corinthians 7:4, Galatians 6:4). However, even a smidgen of the wrong kind of pride is a terrible thing (Proverbs 16:18, Proverbs 13:10) and too much of even the good kind of pride can quickly become a really bad thing (1st Corinthians 8:1). Pride is the sin that corrupted Lucifer (the Grand Poobah of angels) and transformed him into Satan.

 Sadly, none of us are immune to the lure of it.

 Pride is never difficult to recognize in others but nearly impossible to spot in ourselves. The more of a problem we have with pride the less likely we are to believe we have a problem with it. Pride makes us think we are better and smarter than we really are and keeps us from seeking the God who has the power to actually make us better and smarter than we really are. Quite possibly the scariest thing about pride is that it can destroy a person without them ever even knowing they have a problem.

 The nature of pride is such that just about anytime anyone hears a sermon or reads an article on pride they immediately apply everything they read or heard to their friends, family, boss and coworkers.

 It’s critical that Christians think and talk about the subject of pride. Mostly because God is so stinking opposed to it. Anytime the God who defines Himself as love (1st John 4:8) says He hates something (Proverbs 8:13) we ought to do everything within our power to avoid getting tangled up in that thing.

 Because pride is a sneaky sin, it takes a firm commitment to frequent self-examination to avoid getting snared in the trap of pride. Pride typically manifests itself in one or more of the following tendencies:

 You won’t take advice from anyone you see as less successful or feel is less intelligent than you are-

 One sure sign of pride is when we believe that the only people who have anything to offer us in the way of advice are those who have achieved more than we have achieved. While, I do not recommend seeking career advice from the pizza guy (unless, of course, you’re also a pizza guy), that does not mean the pizza guy doesn’t have some spiritual, moral or practical wisdom to impart.

 You won’t apologize or admit wrong-

 If apologies always seem to stick in your throat or your family complains you never admit you’re wrong (even when it’s obvious you are). Trust me. You have a problem that needs fixing.

 Everybody else’s sin is a bigger deal than your own-

 Prideful people have a habit of constantly comparing their sins to the sins of others. The problem with grading personal holiness on a bell curve is that you can always find SOMEONE who is more sinful than you are. Besides God does not want us to be like other people. He wants us to want to be like Jesus.

 You refuse to go to Church-

 There are at least a million excuses for not going to church. Some of the more popular include “church is boring”, “the people are too judgmental” “our family is super busy”, “the kids have sports” “the music is too girly/too hard to sing along with/too loud/too old/too new” “the pastor is an idiot/talks over my head/is a hypocrite”, and “I listen to podcasts all week”. Really and truly at the heart of 90% of our excuse making is a lack of willingness to submit to the spiritual leadership of others and/or a sinful desire to completely control our intake of spiritual food.

 You will not forgive-

 It takes humility to forgive others, because at the heart of forgiveness is the acknowledgement that we ourselves are far from perfect. Humble people forgive because they recognize their own desperate need for forgiveness. Prideful people rarely (if ever) acknowledge their own sinfulness and therefore have a tough time forgiving others and letting go of grudges.

 You’re sure you understand all the facts all the time-

 Prideful people tend to think they have the inside track when it comes to understanding the motives and actions of other people. The truth is that most of us know a lot less than we think we know about why people do what they do. It’s not wrong to judge the rightness or wrongness of an action (Luke 12:57, Acts 4:19, 1st Corinthians 5:12). However, motives are an altogether different issue. Only God knows what drives people. A good policy is to assume good intent in others and leave the judging of motives to God (1st Corinthians 4:5).

 The only way to deal with a pride problem is through soul-searching, brutal self-honesty and a heartfelt commitment to making real and lasting changes in the way we view others and ourselves.

 Anything else just perpetuates the problem.

 

 

 

 

Breaking Free From Regret


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

 Regret is a tough topic.

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

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

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

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

 That said.

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

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

 The first is…

 Own what you need to own-

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

 Change what you can change-

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

Make right what needs to be made right-

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Why We Cannot Do the Christian Life Solo

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing~ 1st Thessalonians 5:11 NIV

 When I was in the third grade I missed winning the classroom spelling bee by one word. I remember the stupid word as if it was yesterday.

 Banana.

 It was the n’s that messed me up. They still do. More often than not, I still spell banana with three n’s. For some reason banana with two n’s still feels a bit sad and inadequate to me.

 Although I did not win the third grade spelling bee that year, the taste of a near-victory ignited within in me a fiery-hot passion to dominate at the next year’s spelling bee. I vividly imagined the sweet victory I would bask in as I sauntered into my house sporting the snappy blue ribbon the teacher awarded to the winner. I believed with all my heart that if I could win the classroom spelling bee I would surely go on to win the school spelling bee and then the regionals, perhaps even nationals. I would be the spelling-bee champion of the entire universe.

 Every human being on earth would bow to my spelling prowess.

 Unfortunately, I lacked commitment to the one component essential to any sort of academic success, studying. My intentions were noble, but I was kind of lazy and had yet to make the connection between short-term sacrifice (studying) and long-term payoff (spelling bee champion of the universe).

 Since then I have learned that there is more often than not a connection between commitment to one thing and success at something that feels completely unrelated. This is particularly true of spiritual growth.

 If you have been a Christian for longer than fifteen minutes you have likely heard the tried and true formula for Christian growth and maturity.

 Bible reading + prayer + church attendance = Mature believer in Jesus

 Bible reading, prayer and church attendance have long been thought to be the holy grail of Christian growth, and with good reason, all three are vital to spiritual growth. However, I am convinced it takes more than just those three things to grow into the people God has called us to be.

 We need people.

 Sadly, most of us have all but forgotten the fact that spiritual maturity is a complicated process that takes place most successfully in the company of other believers. Bible reading, prayer and church attendance absent of close relationships with other Christians can easily devolve into reading without understanding, prayer without power and the awful sensation of being utterly alone in a gathering of people.

 That is a recipe for hopelessness.

 Spiritual growth happens when we are exposed to people who have successfully walked through the junk we are currently walking through. This takes place most effectively in small groups or classes where we really get to know people, where we have our ideas about the Bible and life challenged by people who know more than we do and who have experienced things we have not. We grow when we learn to love people, and we cannot truly love people we do not know.

 Some things simply cannot be accomplished alone. It is almost impossible to encourage ones self without sounding like a crazy person. But without encouragement there is a very real danger our hearts will become hard towards God (Hebrews 3:13). We will never become wise without the ongoing influence of wise people in our lives (Proverbs 13:20) and it is only in the company of others that our faulty thinking is exposed and rough edges made smooth.

 Nothing worth having occurs without some sort of sacrifice, and relationships are no different. Building relationships with other Christians might mean giving up a night of television or having your kid cut back on sports so you can make time for a small group. Building relationships might mean dragging your weary butt out of bed an hour earlier on Sunday mornings so you can attend an adult Sunday school class. It might mean volunteering to lead a small group in your church or inviting a group of people over for dinner so you can get to know them better.

 Building relationships is time consuming and tricky but the payoff we receive is well worth the effort it takes. Because God has designed the universe in such a way that it is only within the context of Christian friendship where we find the support and encouragement we need to grow into the people God has called us to be (Acts 2:44-46).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s to Blame for the Blame Game?

 

I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.  For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want~ Romans 7:18-19 NASB

 I have concluded that our society has lost all connection to reason and common sense. Following is a small sampling of the evidence:

Any parent who has had a child who has been bullied will tell you that school counselors always tell the kid being bullied that they should feel compassion towards the one bullying them because the bully “has had a tough life”. A psychology professor at the University of Queensland made headlines with good news for cheaters. He asserts it is evolution and genetics, rather than morality or ethics that is ultimately responsible for a wandering eye.

 Last year ISIS recorded the brutal decapitations of twenty-one Coptic Christians. Secretary of State John Kerry cited lack of jobs and educational opportunities as the cause of the savagery. TLC has a show that follows the life of a teenage boy who wants to be, and is in the process of becoming, a girl. His parents blame fate for imprisoning their boy in the wrong body and say they support their son’s decision to pursue life as a female because they want their child to be “who ‘she’ really is” (what?).

 There’s more.

 It’s guns not the criminals who kill people blamed for gun violence. Schools and teachers- rather than parents and their children—are blamed for the poor academic performance of students. Fatty food and sugary soft drinks are often cited as the cause of health issues. Nobody blames the folks who eat the food and drink the sodas for the obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

 Video games, movies, television and rap music are routinely blamed for the degenerate conduct of millions of young people. No one ever talks about the parents who fork over their hard-earned cash so their kids can indulge themselves in sketchy entertainment choices or the kids who willingly and wantonly fill their minds with garbage.

 Every Christian with even a shred of rational thought left in their head ought to be concerned about how we got to this place as a society. This is a big deal. The tendency to blame is changing our society and the thinking has infiltrated Christian circles. We blame liberals for introducing worldly and heretical philosophies into the church. We blame the culture for normalizing abnormal sexual behaviors but little is said about the Christians who CHOOSE to believe the lies and embrace the behaviors.

 I am persuaded that our inclination to blame things rather than people is more of a spiritual issue than a societal one. At the root of this problem lies ignorance concerning the reality of human nature. Most churches have all but given-up on teaching the Christian doctrine that explains why people do the stuff they do. For those of you who are thinking about tuning me out (I know you’re out there) because I dropped the dreaded D-word (doctrine) hear me out. This is thought-provoking stuff.

 I promise.

 Years ago pastors and teachers in Evangelical churches became weary with teaching their congregations that human beings are inherently bad or born sinful, even though the teaching is found in many passages of Scripture, including: Psalm 51:5, Isaiah 64:6-7, Romans 5:12-14 and 1st Timothy 1:15-16. Understandably the teaching that people are born with a sinful nature made some folks feel bad and some Christian teachers concluded that making folks feel bad about themselves and their choices was keeping the church from reaching its full potential. So they dropped the doctrine of original sin like an ugly prom date and promptly moved on to cheerier topics.

 For decades many have accepted the deception that human beings are perfect little snowflakes. Buying into that deception means we also have to believe that any bad behavior on the part of our fellow humans or ourselves has to be the fault of outside forces rather than the fault of the person doing the sinning. So we blame mental illness, bad parenting, evolution, fate, food, the devil, coworkers, hormones, genetics or our spouse for our bad behavior. Nobody wants to face the unpleasant reality that we, rather than outside forces are usually the problem.

 It’s time for reformation of personal responsibility.

 The most successful societal reformations have all started with God’s people. It’s time for pastors to get back to the teaching of doctrine, including the doctrine of original sin, but it’s also time for individual Christians to become more aware of our own propensity to blame rather than take responsibility. Then we need to be an example and own up to our own issues.

 Change begins with us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God and the Election

Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare~ Jeremiah 29:7 NLT

 Life is filled with disappointments.

 For most of us, our acquaintance with disappointment begins fairly early usually around the same time we discover the truth about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Hopefully, as we mature, the issues that cause us disappointment evolve at least a little. Nevertheless disappointment tends to remain an issue for most of us.

 This reality has been validated by the outcome of the 2016 election.

 As of this week, the fix is clearly in. We know with absolute certainty that barring a federal indictment or a third party miracle candidate either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump will serve as leader of the free world come January 20th, 2017.

 This was not the outcome I wanted or I prayed for. I have made a gloomy sort of peace with the fact that this election will be a choice between the lesser of two evils and I have to choose one or I am in effect choosing the other, and I have chosen my candidate.

 However, I don’t have to like it.

 In my opinion neither is fit for public office. I have never in all my life seen two candidates who are both so terrible in their own unique way. For me, having to choose between the two is almost like being forced to choose which incurable venereal disease I want to have. Both have a consistent track record of flip-flopping, personal corruption, shady deals and less-than-stellar judgment calls.

 Sigh.

 My initial inclination was to purchase a tract of land in a remote section of Wyoming and begin hoarding dehydrated food and drinking water. Eventually I calmed down and began a journey through the five stages of grief. I probably spent more time in denial and anger than is healthy before landing on acceptance, with acceptance came the acknowledgement that God is still firmly in control.

 Then I started thinking.

 I started thinking about God’s purpose in all this and how Christians (including myself) ought to respond to the chaos that has erupted in recent years. After some thought and a lot of prayer I concluded that there are at least three things Christians can do right now to prepare for the future and be light in the increasingly strange times we live in.

 First:

 Pray- Matthew 7:7, 1st Timothy 2:1-3, Matthew 18:18-19

 Pray that spiritual leaders will be discerning and sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Pray for truth to take root in our world. Pray for wisdom. Pray for world leaders. Pray for the next President. Pray for people to get saved. Pray our political leaders will become the people we desperately need them to be. Just pray.

 Speak boldly- Acts 4:31

 For too long most of us have equated spiritual boldness with rudeness or disrespect for the values of others. Since no rational human wants to be an impertinent jerk, Christians have become timid and even fearful when it comes to proclaiming truth. It’s time to find some balance and start speaking the truth about sin, life, death, heaven and hell. We should choose our words wisely when we speak (Colossians 4:6). That being said, we need to speak up. Our world is literally perishing due to a lack of spiritual knowledge.

 Get grounded in the word- Psalm 119:105, John 8:32

 We live in an age of deception. We are constantly bombarded with the message that right is wrong and wrong is right. Even some who know better have departed from the truth and begun to assert that all spiritual paths lead to the same place and some prominent teachers and preachers have begun to claim that the God of the Bible goes by many names. None of this is true. Not coincidently, these radical shifts in thinking have taken place as corporate Bible studies are being dropped in many churches. The truth found in the Bible is the only antidote to the deception out there. We should study it.

 God has reminded me over and over again these past weeks that my hope is not in the political process. My hope is in God who calls each one of us to fully face the challenges of our world with hearts full faith.

 The fact that God has ultimate control over the political process is in a sense all the hope we need in this world. We know that no matter what happens in the coming weeks and months, we can rest easy knowing that God, not the next president is ultimately in control of all things.