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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.   

My Biggest most Intense Church Peeve Yet

 

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing~ 1stPeter 3:9 NIV

Regular readers of this blog know by now I have some issues with the way many contemporary Christians do church. My various church peeves have been documented ad nauseum in previous posts. To be truthful, I decided recently that the peeve posts were getting a bit old and I probably wasn’t going to write another one. Then I came across a “Christian” video on Facebook and discovered my most passionate church peeve ever.  I literally could not stop myself from writing about it.

 The video features a Christian guy who has a bunch of tattoos. He begins his harangue by telling a story about another Christian (a woman) who informed him that his tattoos made him look trashy. She also said that his tattoos were so offensive she couldn’t stand to look at him.

 For the record.

 I sincerely believe that other people’s tattoos are none of my business. I do not care if he (or anyone else) gets or has a tattoo. Please do not assume that this is some sort of anti-tattoo screed. Because it’s not. I repeat. I do not care about his stupid tattoos. I do care about how he handled the situation with the woman because it hurt the reputation of Jesus. Badly.

 I will begin with what he did not do.

 He did not tell her she hurt his feelings with her harsh words (Luke 17:3).  He did not inform her that there are people in this world who have tattoos who need the forgiveness and grace that only Jesus can offer (John 3:16, Mark 2:17). He did not tell her that her attitude towards tattooed people might make them reluctant to become followers of Jesus (2ndCorinthians 6:3).  He did not attempt to educate her on the differences between Old Testament Law and New Testament freedom (Romans 7:6, Galatians 5:13, 1stCorinthians 10:23). He did not (from what I can tell) pray for her (Matthew 5:44). He did not take his concerns to the elders of her church and ask them to help him work out his issues with her (Matthew 18:15-16).

 In other words, he did not handle the situation biblically.

 Instead he posted a video where he proclaimed loudly and proudly that he “hates Christians and the church” because of “people like her”.

 It has become nauseatingly trendy for Christians to declare passionately that they love Jesus but hate the church and all the people in it. They feel justified (even righteous) in saying these things because they believe that all Christians (other than themselves of course) are hateful, judgmental and pretentious. They also nearly always believe that the church is simply a misguided, human-run organization that has nothing at all to do with God or Jesus.

 Insert eye roll here.

 This idiocy is hurting everyone, especially unbelievers. It needs to end now for at least four reasons:

 This is not about us or our stupid, trivial, easily-wounded feelings-

 This is about people who do not know Jesus. When a non-believer hears from a Christian that all Christians are terrible people; that unbeliever is given every reason in the world to never become friends with a Christian, attend church or consider the truth-claims of Christ. Some will undoubtedly spend eternity in hell because of Christians who didn’t have the sense or self-control to stop hating on other Christians in public forums. The very thought that our actions or words might keep another person from a relationship with Jesus ought to put the fear of God into us all (Luke 17:1, Matthew 13:41). If it doesn’t something is seriously wrong.  

 Christians who hate on other Christians are disobedient, perhaps unsaved and placing themselves in danger of judgment (2ndJohn 1:5, 1stJohn 3:10, 1stJohn 2:9) –

 It is unloving and judgmental to hate someone because of their tattoos or hairstyle or how many earrings they have (I have five). That said, it is equally as unloving and judgmental to hate someone because you have concluded they are unloving and judgmental (Matthew 7:35).  We are commanded to suck it up and love the unlovable. That includes Christians we don’t like or always agree with (John 13:34-35).

 God will set us all straight someday- 

  Everyone says thoughtless and hurtful stuff, frequently without even realizing it. It’s part of being stupid and human (but I repeat myself). It’s important to remember that someday God will call each of us into account for our insensitive and foolish words (Matthew 12:36). Rather than rail against Christians who say stupid things we ought to examine our own words carefully and pray we all have the foresight and good sense to repent before our day comes.

 We are commanded to keep “family” stuff in the “family”-

  Christians are a family (Psalm 68:8, Galatians 6:10, Hebrews 2:11, 1stPeter 2:17, 1stPeter 5:9). Paul makes it clear in 1stCorinthians 6:5-7 that it is far better to be wronged by a fellow believer than to shame Jesus and the church by publicly airing family junk to those who are not part of the family. In Matthew 18:15-16 we are given the pattern for working-out issues between Christians.

 We would do well to follow it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

What I Learned From Joseph this Christmas

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife~ Matthew 1:24 NIV

 I will not lie.

 I actually enjoy some of the less-than-spiritual aspects of Christmas. I love Jesus (I am not a heathen). I also love the parties, the food, the trees, the decorations, the music, and the traditions of Christmas. I even like some of the stuff I should probably dislike. Things like Frosty, Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, and gift giving and getting. Basically, I like all the commercial stuff that sidetracks us from what should be a simple celebration of the birth of the Savior.

 Because I am drawn to the less-than spiritual side of Christmas I have attempted to discipline myself and spend a little extra time each year focusing on the birth of Christ. This year I started in Matthew and rediscovered an often forgotten hero of the Christmas story: Joseph.

 Like most people, I tend to overlook Joseph because Mary is obviously the star of the show. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of her story. Mary’s obedient response to Gabriel’s announcement is the picture-perfect example of how we should all respond to God’s call. She voluntarily endured personal loss, hardship and probably even ridicule to become the Mother of the Jesus.

 It’s impossible not to love Mary.

 However, this year it was Joseph that captured my attention. I’m convinced that if we were all a little more like Joseph the world would be a better place.

 The text tells us that God considered Joseph to be a righteous man. That, in and of itself was a fairly rare thing for God to say about anyone in those days. Then we are told that because of his righteousness he did not want to divorce Mary publicly. It’s important to note that at this point in the story Mary and Joseph were legally wed, the marriage was a done deal in the eyes of the law and their religious community. The only thing left to do was to consummate the marriage.

 According to both Roman and Jewish law Joseph had every right to publicly divorce (and humiliate) Mary. They were married and he had what appeared to be incontrovertible proof of infidelity. Her story about the angel was, by every standard, well, more than a little crazy. Most of us would have felt justified in publicly shaming a woman who slept with another man and then told a ridiculously outlandish tale about God and angels to cover-up her indiscretion.

 Seriously.           

 God’s evaluation of Joseph as a “righteous man” tells me that God has a special place in His heart for those who look out for the reputations of others. God blesses those who are willing to go out of their way not to behave in a vengeful way even when they have been legitimately wronged.

 I think my favorite thing about Joseph is how he ignored the opinions of people in order to gain the approval of God. Following the dream where Joseph was commanded to keep Mary as his wife, Joseph had to go back to his family and friends and tell them that he planned to go ahead with marriage to a girl most people were probably convinced was well, a hussy (for want of another word).

 I am persuaded that Joseph’s family and friends were convinced that Joseph was either a fool or a liar. It almost goes without saying that Joseph suffered heartache, humiliation and social disgrace for his choice to stick by Mary.

Joseph’s selflessness is a reminder that the kind of righteousness that pleases God almost always involves a high level of inconvenience and self-denial.

 I do not believe there is anything wrong with the fun side of Christmas celebrations. I am convinced that the God we serve is the originator of fun and joy. My prayer for all of us is that in the midst of all the fun and merrymaking Joseph’s story will serve as a reminder that our response to God’s goodness and generosity should be a life of authentic righteousness and self-denial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judgment, Change and the Real Reasons Non-Christians Don’t Go to Church

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God~ 2nd Corinthians 4:4 NIV

 One of the most contentious and thought-provoking debates in church circles these days’ centers on unbelievers and why they don’t go to church.

 Some believe that unchurched people avoid church because the stuff we do in church is simply too complicated for them to understand. Champions of this theory believe that the solution to Christianity’s dwindling conversion rate is to simplify and explain the heck out of how and why we do what we do in church. They sincerely believe that non-Christians will go to church if churches will remove any language or ritual that anyone who is not already acquainted with church might find even vaguely baffling.

 Churches that buy into this philosophy are not difficult to spot. Services last precisely one hour. The messages tend to focus almost entirely on practical issues like parenting and marriage. Communion is rarely if ever served. The songs are fun to sing but devoid of any thorny theological references (sometimes the songs are secular). And there is always a conspicuous “What You Can Expect Today” section in the bulletin or on the screen before the service.

 Others believe non-Christians avoid church because church is just too offensive and weird. These folks strive to make their churches as non-judgmental, wishy-washy, and agreeable as possible. Churches that have chosen this path seek to be inspiring and encouraging above all else. Sermons tend to be short on the topics of sin, sacrifice, and repentance and entirely focused on positive thinking and positive living.

 In my view these notions are outrageously elitist and disturbingly humanistic. The premise of the first theory rests entirely on the belief that non-Christians are just too dumb to grasp any concept they are not already entirely familiar with. This is untrue, and in my experience that sort of contempt has never prompted anyone to embrace anything.

 Moreover, the only way to transform Christianity into something unfailingly positive is to purge it of teachings related to sin, guilt and repentance. When we remove the tough, thorny and convicting stuff (Romans 1:18-32) from Christianity we are effectively saying that we (flawed human beings) have a superior plan of action for presenting the gospel than God does.

 I am not an expert on why people do or don’t go to church. However, I am closely related to a number of pagans, atheists, agnostics and heathens. To this day few of my relatives attend church, and I did not convert to Christianity until I was an adult (early twenties). As a result I know a lot of unsaved people really well and clearly remember what it felt like to be unsaved. Following are five actual reasons unchurched people don’t go to church:

 There is no reason for them to go-

 Contrary to popular belief, church was never intended to be a place for non-Christians. Church was meant to be a place where Christians get equipped to reach non-Christians with the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-13). If we want unbelievers to want to go to church we need to find ways to reach them with the gospel first.

 They fear judgment-

 What they really dread is hearing someone say something that will confirm their deepest fear that they aren’t good enough and that God will judge them for it. The irony is that their fear is firmly grounded in fact. NO ONE is good enough and God will judge EVERYONE who dies without repenting and putting their faith in Jesus. Our job is to tell them that God loved them enough to provide a solution to the problem of not being good enough.    

 They don’t want to change (repent)-

 Most non-Christians know instinctively that if there is a God they are doing things that are totally not cool with that God (Romans 2:15). They also know (instinctively) that they will have to stop doing those things if they want to get into a right relationship with Him (Luke 13:5). Some churches have gotten around this problem by lying to unbelievers and telling them that they can be Christians without repenting. Regrettably, all this so-called solution has succeeded in doing is filling our Churches with heathens who sincerely believe they are Christians. The right answer is to lovingly present unbelievers with the truth and let the Holy Spirit work in their hearts.

 They have observed that many Christians don’t live what they believe-

 I think this is because some Christians have bought into the lie that in order to reach the unsaved they have to act like the unsaved. All this does is convince non-Christians that being a Christian is really no different than being a non-Christian and is therefore a pointless waste of their time.

 No one has ever invited them-

 Seriously. This really is the main reason non-Christians don’t go to church.

 I do not believe Christians or churches should ever be unnecessarily weird. I also believe that the answer to the problem of unsaved people who don’t go to church is not as complicated as we’ve made it. We just need to love them, pray for them, present them with truth and invite them into our world.

 It worked for me.

 

Why We Aren’t Connecting

 All those who had believed were together and had all things in common. They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved~ Acts 2:44a, 46b, and 47 NIV

 Connecting people is a passion of mine.

 I served as a Connections Coordinator for a couple of years. But long before all that, I recognized that the people most likely to stick around a Church or a group in a church were those who felt deeply connected to the people in the church or church group.

 The high school kids who had friends in the Sunday school class I taught were the ones who showed up week after week regardless of what I was teaching. I learned early on that if I could help a woman make a friend in the Bible study I was leading, the chances were pretty good that woman would come back and sometimes she would bring a friend.

 Legitimate research has backed up my observations.

 Research done by Thom Ranier reveals that roughly half (49%) of all people stay in their current church because they have a deep connection to the people in the church. According to some of my own less-than-legitimate research (asking a bunch of nosy questions about why people stayed in or left their church) the number two reason people gave for leaving a church (number one was weak or shady leadership) was lack of connection to people.

 Even the most introverted among us were created to connect with one another. It’s a fundamental part of who we are and a reflection of God’s nature in us. Most adults who convert to Christianity do so within the context of friendship. Many who began attending church looking for friendships have found Jesus in the process.

 Hospitality and developing healthy relationships is a basic and often overlooked aspect of evangelism and we all bear some responsibility for the task. We build healthy groups churches by doing five simple things consistently.

 First:

 Show up-

 Sadly, many of the same people who attend services once or twice a month also grumble about not feeling a sense of belonging in their church. No one in the history of forever has ever grown spiritually, made a friend or become a functioning part of a church body without first committing to consistently attending a church service (Hebrews 10:25).

 Join a small group-

 It can be an adult Sunday school class, weekday Bible study or a small group that meets in a home. Go and do more than show-up. Show-up early, stay late, participate in the discussions and invite people in the group into your home, your heart, and your inner circle. Do your part to make that group into a family and then encourage new people to become a part of the family (1st Corinthians 12:28).

 Be real-

 God only made one you. Being authentic about who you are and what you’ve experienced (without being excessively detailed or graphic) is honoring to God and can be useful (if it’s done right) to those who are struggling on their spiritual journey (2nd Corinthians 1:3-4).

 Don’t judge others for being real-

 Just don’t. Judgment destroys community. Our role as Christians is to encourage, correct, redirect and cheer-lead (Galatians 6:1, Hebrews 3:13, 2nd Timothy 2:24-26). We must leave the judgments to God. He knows more than we ever could. However, it’s equally critical we don’t buy into the lie that correction or redirection is the same thing as judgment. Correcting sinful or spiritually dubious behavior is NOT the same as judging. Correction is biblical AND necessary in a healthy Christian community (James 1:21, James 5:20).

 Use the gifts you have-

 My fondest wish for every Christian on earth would be for them to know and use their gifts to grow their local church (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 12:6-11). Sadly, many Christians have all but stopped serving and churches are dying as a result of our disobedience. Volunteering to teach a class, hosting a group in your home, baking cookies for VBS or serving on the greeting team or in the food pantry is about more than filling a spot. It’s about bonding with other believers, building community and being the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken and hurting world (Matthew 25:44-46).  

 Don’t close your circle-

 Building connections with people is both horribly complex and enormously rewarding. Keeping our hearts open to people and finding creative ways to meet their needs is one of the most significant and basic ways we serve God (1st Peter 4:9). It’s also the only way to build a healthy Christian community.

 

 

Should Christians and Non-Christians be Friends?

 Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character~ 1st Corinthians 15:33 NIV

 I subscribe to a number of Christian leadership blogs, podcasts and websites. Most of the stuff I subscribe to is pretty good. A few are hit or miss and one or two are just kind of meh. The best ones consistently tackle issues I have never thought very deeply about, challenge my biases, and help me think more imaginatively about problem solving. The not-so-great ones tend to hit on the same dozen or so issues over and over again and never really give any answers, just raise a lot questions.

 Over the course of the last couple of years, I have noted a clear trend regarding the subject matter of many of the blogs I subscribe to. All of them have been encouraging Christians to be bolder in their pursuit of authentic and meaningful friendships with sinners (their word, not mine). A few have openly scolded other Christians for not having and pursuing more intimate friendships with non-Christians. Every article I’ve read on the subject holds Jesus up as the example we ought to follow when it comes to pursuing friendships with “sinners”.

For the record, I believe with all my heart Christians ought to pursue friendships with non-Christian people (more on that later). However, I am convinced this teaching trend has become dangerously unbalanced because it presumes without offering cautions.

 I will begin with the presumptions.

 The most common presumption is that Jesus spent most or all of His time just chilling with sinners. To hear many pastors and teachers tell it, Jesus spent every moment of His life on earth at the local bars, crack houses and brothels hugging and high-fiving the local riff-raff.  

 He didn’t.

 A careful reading of the gospels reveals that Jesus did indeed attend events and parties where “sinners” were present (a very big deal in His world). We also know that Jesus was kind and welcoming to everyone (including sinners) and He definitely wasn’t shy about interacting with sinners or building meaningful relationships with very messed-up people (Luke 19:1-9, John 4). However, that was one part of His over-all ministry. Jesus spent most of His time with the twelve disciples and others (Luke 8:1-3, Luke 10:1) who were interested in following Jesus and learning to live a holy life.

 The second assumption many make is that the culture Jesus ministered in was exactly like the culture we live in.

Its’ simply not true.

Jesus lived in and ministered to a predominately Jewish culture where even the most messed-up “sinners” understood exactly what the Bible had to say about sin (John 4, Luke 9:1-9). This meant that the pre-evangelistic work of helping folks recognize the reality that they are sinners in need of redemption was done long before they came into contact with Jesus. We live in a post-Christian/atheistic culture where few people know or care about what the Bible has to say about much of anything. Even fewer feel guilt or remorse over their behavior. This difference is subtle and may seem trivial. However, it’s a difference that dramatically affects the dynamics of interacting with non-Christians. At the very least it makes spiritually productive conversations more difficult, and relationships trickier to navigate.

 And finally:

Some are assuming we are all a heck of lot more like Jesus than we actually are. Jesus was the perfect, sinless Son of God on a mission to save the world from the bondage and consequences of sin.

We are not Jesus.

 Even in our redeemed state we are still people who possess a sin nature (1st John 1:8). We are people who have been saved by the kindness and mercy of  a seriously benevolent God and nothing else (Ephesians 2:9). We are also people who have been commanded by a holy God to live a life of purity, holiness and righteousness (1st Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 5:3, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, 1st Peter 1:14-16, Hebrews 12:14). Our calling to holiness is sometimes made more difficult by our choice of friendships (Proverbs 13:20, Psalm 1, 1st Corinthians 15:33).

 All that being said, I still really believe Christians ought to be intentional about seeking out friendships with non-Christian people. People have to be led to Jesus and the only way that will happen in this culture will be through cultivating relationships. However, we need to initiate relationships with non-Christian people wisely and prayerfully, keeping two truths firmly in mind.

 First, the Bible warns us repeatedly concerning the dangers of spending an inappropriate amount of time around those who may tempt us to sin (Jude 22, 2nd Corinthians 6:14-15, 1st John 2:15-16). Secondly, we need to remember that we will NEVER lead anyone to Jesus if we make a habit out of sinning with them.

 

Why We Need to Stop Getting Offended All the Time

Many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many~ Matthew 24: 10-11 NKJV

A few years back I did something incredibly stupid.

 My Mother-in-law (a wise and perceptive woman) attempted to give me a friendly warning concerning the character of a person I considered at the time to be a very close friend.

 Rather than doing the smart thing and simply taking her warning to heart- or perhaps probing a bit to try and find out what exactly caused her to come the conclusion she came to about the situation- I took offense. I got angry with her for telling me something I did not want to hear.

 Long story short I continued to share way too much information with this person who was (in hindsight) not at all trustworthy. I will not weary you with all the particulars of the long-term consequences of my idiocy. I will tell you that to this day I am paying a price for snubbing the wisdom of my Mother-in-law.

 I recently found myself on the other end of a similar situation. It all started when I attempted to alert someone to some potential pitfalls I perceived in a particular situation. The person I tried to warn took obvious offense and assumed I was being critical rather than helpful. As soon as I realized I had caused offense I apologized and moved on.

 Finding myself on the receiving end of another’s offended-ness got me thinking about the whole issue of offense. Unless you have been living in a cave for the better part of the past decade you know that we live in a society full of people who are easily offended by pretty much everything.

 I recently read about a group of women who have decided it is a heinous form of cultural appropriation for white women to wear hoop earrings (yes, you read that correctly). These women have posted some utterly intriguing rants describing in vivid detail exactly how offended they are that white women wear hoop earrings.

 Seriously. You can Google it.

 One definition of offense is a feeling of displeasure that is caused by the words or actions of others. We all get offended from time-to-time, and sometimes our offense is justified. Some words and behaviors really are offensive and should not be tolerated. Nonetheless, living life in a perpetual state of offense is a spiritually dangerous thing to do for at least four reasons…

 Offense sets us up for deception-

 In Matthew 24 Jesus describes what life will look like prior to His second coming. Jesus predicted that as we near the end people will take offense at just about everything. Offense will lead to hate and betrayal. Out of all that hate, betrayal and offense, false teachers will arise and lead people away from truth. Jesus was doing more than giving as a vision of future events in this verse. He was providing insight into the very nature of offense. Offense (by it’s very nature) causes us to become heavily focused on feelings. When feelings are running the show we become unwilling and/or unable to comprehend truth that doesn’t line up with what our feelings are telling us. 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 (2nd Timothy 4:3).

 Offense derails us from God’s mission for our lives-

 Most people do not drop out of church or ditch ministry activities because of big doctrinal disagreements, insurmountable scheduling conflicts or lack of time. Those are the excuses we use to drop out of church and ministry. Most folks drop out of church (and derail God’s plan for their lives in the process) due to some petty personal offense they simply refused to let go of.

 Offense produces bitterness-

 Offenses and insults that are not quickly forgiven and forgotten inevitably breed bitterness. Hebrews 12:15, teaches that bitterness is a choice, a choice that defiles and ultimately destroys those who give-in to it.

 Continually picking-up an offense is a sign of pride-

 Usually we become offended because someone tells us an unpleasant truth about ourselves or points out a fact we missed. It’s the height of pride to believe that we know so much that we never need to be taught, informed or redirected. Proverbs 16:18 tells us that pride comes before a fall. Those falls almost always occur because a warning went unheeded.

 Because offense causes us to become dangerously self-focused, we are never more open to pride, bitterness and self-deception than when we are offended. It is impossible to live in this world without becoming offended, but it is possible to assume the best about other people and to forgive quickly when we do become offended.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Christians and Social Media

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets~ Matthew 7:12 NIV

 I have a love-hate relationship with social media.

 I love that social media is free. I love that Facebook has allowed me to stay connected to friends and family I would have likely lost touch with prior to the advent of Facebook.

 I love that social media connects people from every walk of life and every corner of the world. I love that disseminating information to large groups is now as simple as pushing a button. I love that Twitter and Facebook have played pivotal roles in recent social revolutions. I really love that it is now possible for any monkey with an opinion, rudimentary English skills and a laptop to write a blog and gain an audience.

 Sadly, the list of things I hate about social media is twice as long.

 I hate that sites like Backpage and Craigslist have made it easy and lucrative for evil people to exploit others. I hate that social media has more-or-less taken over much of our lives. I hate that some people actually sleep with their phones and that many of us are more engaged with electronic devices than we are with the people around us.

 I hate that social media has made it possible for lies and fake news to spread quicker than germs do. I hate that social media has made it easy for people to isolate themselves from ideas that stretch their thinking. I hate how it is now possible to “unfriend” a real live person without so much as a discussion as to why.

 And finally,

 The thing I hate most about social media is how stinking easy it is to be mean.

 It happens at least a million times a day.

 A reasonably decent person writes something on Facebook or shares something Twitter so mean-spirited and awful that only a certified nut-job would dream of saying the same thing out loud in a face-to-face encounter. Sadly, all this verbal savagery has created an environment where cruelty now feels absurdly normal.

 Most of us tend to believe only really dreadful people do this sort of thing. Sadly, it’s just not true. Most of us, (even many Christians) have been guilty at one-time-or another of writing something on social media we would never say out loud to another person.

 I am not opposed to frank dialogue and truth telling. I believe with all my heart that our culture would benefit a great deal from a little more of the right kind of honesty. That said, I also believe we need a lot less of the kind we are rapidly becoming accustomed to. So, in the interest of creating a little more civility in our world, I want to offer a few guidelines for interacting with others on social media.

 Remember four things…

 You don’t stop being a Christian on social media.

 Like it or not, most social interactions now occur on Facebook and Twitter. This means unsaved people are making-up their minds about Christianity and the church by what Christians say and post on social media. Be vigilant about how you present yourself, your political views and Jesus on social media. Our job in this world is to lead people to Jesus, build-up the body of Christ, and motivate others to positive change. There’s a fine line between making a valid argument, defending the faith or calling for change and tearing others or the Church down. Don’t cross it.

 For the love of God—just be kind.

 I’m not suggesting we soft-peddle truth. I am advising Christians to heed the warning given in Ephesians 4:15 and speak hard truth in a loving and gentle tone. There is a real live human being with feelings out there in cyberspace somewhere that may be hurt by how you choose to say something that really does need to be said. Ask yourself if Jesus would write the same thing in the same tone before you push the enter key.

 Hurting people are weird sometimes.

 Every single person on this planet is living with painful personal junk they are attempting to manage. The weirdly vitriolic woman freaking-out on the other end of our “abortion is murder” comment might just be overwhelmed with guilt from a past abortion. Anytime we choose to take a heartless and militant tone over any sin issue, we might be missing out on an opportunity to bring spiritual healing into the life of a hurting person.

 Keep private situations private.

 Do not air personal problems you have with another person in public forums (Facebook or Twitter) if you aren’t willing to discuss the issue with them in private first (Matthew 18:15-17). Only cowards and mean people air their personal grievances in front of strangers.

 If you are a believer in Jesus, treating people civilly (even people you don’t like or agree with) is not about you. It’s about Jesus. When Christians name call, use foul language, treat others with contempt, or “unfriend” people for no good reason on social media we hurt the cause of Christ and each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lies We Believe about Words

Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing. Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed~ Proverbs 12:18-19 NLT

 Words.

 There is certainly no scarcity of the little trouble-makers in our modern age. We are literally inundated with all kinds of words. I was recently reminded that the words we speak really do make a difference. Most of the words floating around today fall into one of two classifications:

 Life giving and soul sucking:

Life giving words are instructive, helpful and motivating. They are literally like honey to the soul (Proverbs 16:24). They build others up rather than tearing them down. Life giving words remind people in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways that we are the image-bearers of God and that our existence matters to Him. A life-giving word from a friend is sometimes all it takes to begin the process of healing a hurt or restoring a wandering soul. Life giving words make people feel cared for and confident about the role they play in this world. Life-giving words motivate us to become better versions of ourselves and propel us to accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible.

 Conversely, soul-sucking words tear others down and crush the life out of people (Proverbs 12:18). Soul-sucking words can be either cruel and insensitive or deceptive and misleading. Cruel and insensitive words are spoken selfishly with little thought to how they will affect the hearer. Alas, cruel and insensitive words are sometimes the words that stick with us the longest and make the most impact on how we see ourselves. Insults, name-calling, cursing and general cattiness all fall neatly into the category of soul-sucking speech.

 Deceptive words are by definition tougher to spot; they can come in the form of outright lies, twisting truth, gossip and backstabbing. Deceptive words sometimes sound legitimately wholesome and innocuous, at least on the surface. Sometimes they even come across as wise and life giving. However, because any wisdom embedded in this type of speech is worldly (false). Deceptive words eventually lead all involved down a path of destruction.

 Christians typically place a high value on words, and for a myriad of really good reasons. God has quite a lot to say on the subject. The Bible contains hundreds of verses instructing God’s people on the correct and incorrect use of words.

 Nonetheless.

 There are some serious errors floating around Christian circles concerning the right and wrong use of words.

 Many believers have bought into some erroneous and rather absurd beliefs where speech is concerned. This flawed thinking is quickly becoming embedded in much of our Christian culture. Many are being deceived, discipleship has become compromised and, in some cases, our ability to share the gospel and communicate truth to the world has been diminished.

 The first lie says that in order for a message or word to be life giving the words communicated must be “nice”, “encouraging” or “uplifting” to the hearer or reader. Those who have bought into this lie reject out of hand any message or statement that causes the hearer of said statement to feel guilty or uncomfortable about anything at all.

 If we assume this ridiculous notion to be true then logically Christians need to get busy throwing out huge chunks of the Bible. This would include most of the Prophets, many of the Proverbs and vast portions of New Testament books. This would include parts of the Gospels, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd Timothy, Jude and Revelation based on the fact that these books contain warnings that are far from “nice” ‘encouraging” and/or “uplifting” (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:43-47, 1st Corinthians 6:9, Ephesians 5:5, Hebrews 6:4-6, 2nd Peter 2:4). 

The second lie is essentially the converse of the first lie, that it is somehow more “authentic” or “real” to say what needs to be said in the bluntest and in some cases rudest way possible. Those who have bought into this drivel confuse political correctness with respect and believe that the only honest speech is raw speech. In my experience “raw speech” or “honest speech” is frequently just a thin cover for intentionally aggressive and cruel speech.

 Truth lies somewhere in the middle and, as always, there is wisdom in striving for balance. Ephesians 4:15 is the gold standard of instruction concerning Christian speech, it instructs Christians to tell people the truth about their choices (truth can be unpleasant and hard to hear) in a loving way (which is incredibly tough to do) and that those two things are how we help people to grow into Christian maturity and the image of Jesus Christ.