Seven Churches Series- Smyrna the Brave and Faithful Church

Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them- Hebrews 11:36-38

There was no place in the ancient world where it made sense from a practical perspective to be a Christian. Everywhere in the Roman world there was always a very real chance persecution would break out. Men, women and even children were put to death simply for professing Jesus as Lord.

That said. 

There were some places where it was easier to be a Christian than others. This is because most persecution against Christians tended to center around a practice known as Emperor or Caesar worship. 

The Roman Empire was massive. Its territory covered most of Europe, Greece, all of Asia Minor (Turkey), much of the near East, Israel, Spain, much of Africa and then some. The sheer vastness of the territory created a complex problem for Roman rulers. 

Unity. 

How exactly does one unify millions of people from literally hundreds of diverse cultures and all sorts of religious backgrounds? This was a critical question. Without something to unify all those diverse people groups mayhem, rebellion and anarchy would break out all over the Empire. Clearly, none of the emperors wanted any of those things on their watch.  

This is where Caesar worship comes in. 

All adults living in the Roman Empire were obligated by law to go to a temple in their city once a year. While there they were required to throw some incense onto an altar and declare to a Roman official that whatever Caesar happened to be in power at the moment was God. If the person declined for any reason they would be transported to the nearest arena posthaste where they would be crucified, torn limb from limb, fed to a wild animal or beheaded ASAP. 

This ritual was quite effective at unifying the territories. 

However.

It also created all kinds of problems for Christians who refused to worship anyone but Jesus (Exodus 20:3, Psalm 16:4, 1st Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:5). 

There were cities where Caesar worship was not always strictly enforced. Christians were safer in those places. Jews were one of a handful of groups lawfully excluded from Caesar worship. If the synagogue leaders in a city allowed the church to be recognized as a sect of Judaism the Christians in the area would be given a break as well. 

The Christians in Smyrna got no breaks. Zero. Zilch. Nada. 

 The bureaucrats in Smyrna gleefully engaged in Caesar worship and were more than happy to execute anyone who refused to give Caesar his “due”. Moreover, the Jews in Smyrna loathed Christians. Not only did they refuse to protect Christians. They were so meanspirited towards the Church they would routinely report Christians as a deviant (anti-government) cult. Jewish leaders would suck up to government officials by suggesting Christians be given the “test” of Emperor worship, thus ensuring their death. The Jews were so off-the-charts cruel to Christians in Smyrna Jesus referred to the whole lot of them as a “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9). 

Further complicating an already difficult and scary situation, a person’s ability to work anywhere in the Roman Empire was always tied to idol worship. Because the Christians in Smyrna refused to compromise on this issue they were the poorest people in arguably one of the richest cities anywhere in the Roman world. There are two words commonly used for poverty in the Greek language. One means worker. It describes someone who worked with their hands for a living. The other means utter destitution. Jesus used it to describe the poverty of the Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:10). The Christians in Smyrna were—by any measurable human standard— a rather sad and pathetic group of people. 

But. 

Jesus loved them. A lot. I don’t know if Jesus has favorites, but if He does they were for sure a favorite.  Smyrna is one of two churches out of the seven Jesus does not criticize in any way.  The Christians in Smyrna held a special place in Jesus’ heart for one reason and one reason only: they were faithful. They refused to cave to the immense social pressure they were under. They could have chosen to avoid taking unpopular stands on certain social issues. They could have chosen to pay lip service to Caesar and then told their church friends they didn’t or that they didn’t really mean it (Matthew 10:32).  They could have worshiped in pagan temples to keep their jobs. They could have lightened up on teaching Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). Those choices would have helped them gain favor with those in power. Those choices would have allowed them to make a decent living. Those choices would have kept them alive. 

Instead. 

The Christians in Smyrna loudly and proudly declared Jesus to be the only God and took the many lumps that came with that declaration.  Jesus did not promise them life would get easier, in fact, He did the exact opposite. He forecasted more suffering in their future (Revelation 2:10). However. He also promised He would be with them through the trouble. He also promised He would personally and lavishly reward them for their faithfulness (Revelation 2:10-11).

 Smyrna was not the polished church (that was Ephesus). Nor was it the wealthy church (that was Laodicea). It certainly wasn’t the popular church (that was Sardis) but it was a church Jesus loved passionately because it was the brave and faithful church that was unafraid to take a stand on the things that mattered most. 

What are Warning Signs of a bad Spiritual Leader?

My anger burns against your shepherds, and I will punish these leaders. For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has arrived to look after Judah, his flock- Zechariah 10:3 NLT

Bad leadership is a booming problem in our world. 

However.

I believe there is a huge difference between an ineffective leader and bad leader. Ineffective leaders are seldom terrible people.  They simply lack the knowledge, skills and/or personal appeal necessary to lead well.  They have the best of intentions and try their hardest but they just can’t get the job done. 

Conversely.

 Bad leaders are typically quite capable. They tend to have a great deal of personal appeal and they understand how to get things done. However, because they are also oblivious, prideful, manipulative and self-absorbed they do a great deal of damage to those unfortunate enough to be led by them. 

Regrettably, bad leadership is not limited to the secular sphere.

 After nearly thirty years in all sorts of different ministry situations I feel I can say with some authority that American Christianity is infested with bad spiritual leaders. Bad spiritual leaders do far more damage than bad secular leaders. This is because spiritual leaders are the mouthpieces of God in the body of Christ (2nd Peter 1:21, 1st Corinthians 12:7-11). Moreover, many mistakenly see spiritual leaders as God’s mini-me or stand-in.  As a result, many people (saved and unsaved) are incapable of separating the actions and attitudes of a spiritual leader from the will of God. It is not uncommon for individuals who were treated badly by spiritual leaders to erroneously believe it was God’s will for the leader to mistreat them. Consequently, they blame God for the hurt they experienced at the hands of a bad spiritual leader. 

Sigh.

 God will not bless sin, therefore bad leaders are a principal reason why even many “successful” churches are powerless to convert sinners and make disciples. It’s one reason American Christianity losing people like rats fleeing a sinking ship. 

Satan is real (1st Peter 5:8, 1st Timothy 5:15, James 4:7) and not everyone who says they are a Christian really is (Matthew 7:15, Matthew 7:21).  Moreover, Christians are not robots who do exactly what God wants them to do all the time. Due to these and other factors, problematic leadership has been an issue in the Church since the dawn of Christianity (Acts 15:1-2, Acts 20:28-31, Jude 1-25). Additionally, the Bible warns us, as we approach the end bad leaders will become common in the Church (2nd Timothy 3:1-9). It is our responsibility as believers to be on the lookout for spiritual leaders who give indications of being bad leaders (2nd Timothy 3:5, 2nd Peter 2:1-22). Judgment is God’s responsibility (Ecclesiastes 3:17). However, it is our job to exercise discernment and protect ourselves and our families from the damage these leaders do.

 Bad Christian leaders are as diverse in personality as any other type of leader. However, there are certain hallmarks of a bad spiritual leader we can all look out for. Those hallmarks are:

They universally misunderstand their role- 

Contrary, to popular belief a pastor’s primary responsibility is not to deliver a well-prepared message on Sunday mornings. The primary role of a Christian leader is to equip and prepare Christians to do ministry and serve others (Ephesians 4:11-12). Good spiritual leaders empower the people around them to become the best version of themselves. They value every person for who they are not just what they can do. Conversely, bad spiritual leaders view people as a means to an end. The end is always making themselves popular and influential.  

They tend to isolate themselves from those they lead- 

Bad spiritual leaders are frequently AWOL at church events and rarely interact socially with people in their congregations even though the Bible clearly commands them to do so. (1st Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7-8). Some isolate themselves out of pride. Others just don’t care enough about people to get past their own awkwardness in social situations. Yes, there are introverts and extraverts and there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Furthermore, it is the height of emotional and spiritual immaturity to think a leader can or should be besties with everyone in a congregation.  That said, every Christian should care enough about others to go out of their way to make them feel comfortable in social situations. This is especially true of spiritual leaders. 

They demand blind obedience- 

Christians are called to a life of obedience (Deuteronomy 6:25, 1st Samuel 15:22, 2nd John 1:6).  Christians ought to obey leaders who are doing their level best to fully obey God. However, no one is commanded to obey a self-serving or evil leader living in contradiction to scripture. 

They are faultfinders- 

Bad leaders will read a great book like The Emotionally Healthy Leader or Emotionally Healthy Discipleship and immediately weaponize it to assess unhealthy or unspiritual attitudes in others. Bad spiritual leaders don’t self-reflect. This creates a situation where they can only see the sins of others, never their own (Jude 16).  

They don’t apologize- 

Even when it’s evident they should. An inability or unwillingness to admit wrong and apologize is an obvious indicator of a bad leader. 

They don’t have their own junk under control-

All humans struggle with sin; however, bad spiritual leaders are fleshly and carnal at heart.  Consequently, bad leaders struggle to keep their worst impulses in check. This leads to problems with sins like boastfulness, control, anger, greediness, lust, pride and dishonesty.  (Jude, 2nd Peter 2, 2nd Timothy 3:1-9, Matthew 23:23-33). 

Christianity is in crisis. 

Much of the crisis is directly due to the excess of bad spiritual leaders in the fold. Christians must protect themselves and their churches from these men and women. In order to do this Christians must lead themselves well and understand what the Bible says about life and leadership. Bad leaders flourish in the midst of immature followers who lack the wisdom and spiritual sensitivity to see a bad leader or the moral bravery to walk away from one.  

For more on this subject…

Surviving an Unfair, Unjust or just Plain Horrible Situation-

 Nothing in all creation is hidden from Gods sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account– Hebrews 4:13 NIV 

Fairness, justice, equity are more than just woke talking points. 

They are a really big deal.

They are a big deal in a global sense. Every human being, no matter who they are or where they live wants the world to be fair and just. Civilized people want evil to be punished and good rewarded. No decent person wants anyone to be denied a fair shot at life. All people want the same rules to apply to everyone regardless of gender, race or social status (Proverbs 21:15). It’s simply how humans are wired (Genesis 1:27). 

Fairness, justice and equity are also a big deal from a personal perspective. We all want to know when someone harms us or treats us unfairly some authority somewhere will see to it the wrong is righted and the wrongdoer is punished. We all want to be treated equally and fairly. We want to be judged by the content of our character rather than by our age, the color of our skin, our gender, marital status or job title.

For Christians the longing for fairness, justice and equity goes beyond the global or even the personal. These issues are deeply spiritual. We serve a God who describes Himself as both the architect and the ultimate champion of equity, justice and fairness (Psalm 11:7, Psalm 50:6, Psalm 103:6, Psalm 67:4). As God’s people we want to know God sees us in a personal way. We want to know He is aware of the wrongs committed against us. We want God to care enough about us personally to punish those who sin against us (Deuteronomy 32:43).  

Christians rarely discuss it, but most go through a season where they struggle to see and experience the goodness of God in a personal way. Due to painful circumstances these folks can’t help but wonder if God really does see them and if He really does care about what they are experiencing. 

Doubt isn’t always simply due to lack of faith. 

Sometimes doubt is due to what feels like a tardy response on God’s part (2nd Peter 3:8). Times of doubt tend to occur when we really NEED to know God is attentive to our situation and cares about the details of our pain, loss or the oppression we are dealing with. I call these times “seasons of silence”. A season of silence is a time when God feels far away. Because God feels far away our pain or loss feels utterly unbearable.  In order to survive a season of silence a Christian has to have a theology of pain. We have to understand what the Bible says about God so we are not left to rely on our feelings without the guidance of His word (Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 119:105).  

Anytime God feels distant and uninterested in our problems it’s critical we remember first and foremost, we are not the only people to feel the way we feel. Some of God’s best and brightest, including David, Elijah, Daniel, Moses, Mary Magdalene and even Jesus went through an experience or season where they felt God had abandoned them, hadn’t heard their prayers or was simply inattentive at the point of their deepest need (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46, Daniel 10:1-18, Exodus 5:1-19, John 20:11).  We are fortunate to see those stories in the rear-view so we know God has never actually abandoned anyone in their greatest need.  

We also need to remember we live in a world broken by sin (Romans 5:12, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:1). On a practical level this means evil, unjust and unfair things happen all the time.  People lie, take advantage of others, oppress people and cover-up their own sin at the expense of others (2nd Timothy 3:1-4). Sometimes it appears God has chosen to overlook the sin of those who willfully do wrong. 

Justice delayed does not mean justice will be denied indefinitely with God. He promises there will come a day when every wrong will be righted and every sin punished (Hebrews 12:23, Exodus 32:34, Leviticus 26:27-29, Isaiah 13:11, 1st Thessalonians 4:6). God is so not okay with sin, evil and disobedience He punished the Israelites for their idolatry and sexual sin by sending them into servitude and exile for seventy years in the country of Babylon (Isaiah 5:12-16, Jeremiah 29). God is also not okay with injustice and the mistreatment of His people, He later punished Babylon for the sins committed against Israel while they were in exile (Jeremiah 25:12). Babylon was a very short-lived super-power entirely because God cannot bear to see injustice go unpunished. It is wisdom to remember there is nothing in all of creation that goes unnoticed or undealt with by God (Hebrews 4:13). 

 God often defers justice simply because He is merciful and good (Genesis 15:16, Exodus 34:6, Nahum 1:3, 2ndPeter 3:9). God graciously gives sinners time to get their heart right and repent before judgement comes. Our responsibility during a season of silence is to remember the goodness of God, to be merciful just like God is merciful and to pray for those who have sinned against us as we wait on God to do what he promises to do (Matthew 5:44).   

Understanding the Movement to Sexualize Children-

If anyone causes one of these little onesthose who believe in meto stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea– Matthew 18:6 NIV

There is without question, an organized movement afoot to sexualize the children in our culture. 

It all begins early on with “fun” activities and teaching tools like queer story hour and the gender unicorn. The campaign intensifies in elementary school where some (not all) teachers encourage kids to choose their own pronouns and urge them to “explore” all their gender possibilities. Even some elementary schools allow and even encourage kids to hide gender exploration from their parents.  During middle school a plethora of books are made available to kids containing sexually explicit content, including a substantial collection of gay and pedophilic reading material. It’s no surprise that by the time children start high school up to forty percent “identify” as non-binary, trans, gay or queer.  Some begin taking cross-sex hormones or begin the process of gender reassignment. In many states’ minors can begin the process of gender reassignment without parental consent. 

This movement to sexualize children early-on is active in most school districts across the country. If a child happens to live in a “blue’ state this is almost guaranteed to be the reality.  

These steps are no happy accident. 

This is an organized process designed to break down a child’s natural inhibitions regarding sexuality. It’s called “grooming”.  Pedophiles have been using similar techniques to sexualize and seduce children since the dawn of sin (Genesis 3, Genesis 6:5-8, Genesis 19). 

Sigh.

It’s critical Christians understand and are able to articulate the reasons why this premature sexualization of children is wrong and harmful and it’s not just because early sexualization dramatically increases the likelihood a child will begin having sex at a young age. To some extent early sexual activity is the least damaging outcome of untimely sexualization. 

Premature sexualization of kids can also lead to:

A delaying or halting of the maturation process- 

In a healthy society a kid has one job: to grow-up and acquire the skills necessary to navigate the complexities of life in their world. In order to become a healthy, functioning adult a child needs to stay focused on the task of growth throughout childhood. Kids need to spend the majority of their time concentrating on their school work, building relationships with their family and friends and participating in activities that help them to figure who they are, what they’re all about and what they want to do with their lives.  Sex is an incredibly powerful driver. For some kids early sexualization causes sex to become their sole focus. This pulls them away from learning what they need to learn to grow into a functional adult. Early sexualization causes some kids to become hyper-focused on their own bodies and gratifying their sexual urges. For some kids exploring their sexuality becomes an obsession and obsession with sexuality never ends anywhere good or healthy.   

A denial of the reality a good God- 

Trans advocates believe gender has little or nothing to do with the parts a person is born with. Militant trans-activists have convinced a large portion of the population a person born with a penis can be a female or a person born with a vagina can really be a man trapped in a woman’s body (Matthew 24.) Because so many people believe this lie much of today’s sex education is focused on helping children understand what gender they “really” are (Genesis 1:27).  This belief can get really messy from a spiritual standpoint because Christianity teaches that God forms each human being uniquely and distinctively. Christians believe people are the way they are because God crafted them in a good way for a good purpose (Psalm 139:13-16). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine a loving God would not make a person physically male but “really” female. Only a really mean or messed up God would make a person physically one way when in their hearts and minds they are really something totally different. God is either a cruel trickster or there is something emotionally and mentally wrong with a man or woman who believes they were “assigned” the “wrong” gender. Seriously. Those are the only two options.  The enemy loves convincing people God is cruel and doesn’t have their best interests at heart.  Trans ideology plays into this scheme.  

Runs the risk of destroying fertility-

Satan hates life and is always searching for clever ways to keep humans from producing children.  He will tell any lie to get people to destroy their own fertility.  Transitioning is a huge win for him because it almost always involves a complete loss of fertility when healthy sex organs are cut off so new ones can be formed and cross-sex hormones are given. 

Here’s the thing.

Most sex education today has little to do with explaining the mechanics of sexuality. Nor is it about protecting kids from sexually transmitted diseases or preventing pregnancy. Those are pretexts used to introduce kids to every kind of sexual oddity imaginable. None of it will lead anywhere good, healthy or life-giving. The path we’ve chosen will only lead to bitterness in children who are being told following their “hearts” will bring them the happiness they long for, when in reality it will leave them empty and broken.  

How “Getting Offended” Hurts the Person who is Offended-

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). 

 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 wearing a sombrero on or a basic white girl wearing hoop earrings (true story). A few years past a whole bunch of people 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 people 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’s how offense ruins us: 

 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 or self-awareness is also a prerequisite for spiritual growth (Lamentations 3:40, 2nd Corinthians 13:5). When we get offended it takes our eyes off our bad behavior and weak spots and places our focus entirely on other people’s bad behavior and weak spots. 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.

We should all be offended by sin, injustice and bigotry (2nd Chronicles 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.   

The Power of Courage-

These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”- John 16:33 NASB 

Okay, so,

The command “fear not” is used three-hundred-sixty-five times in Scripture and the word courage is used one-hundred and fourteen times.

God explicitly promises abundant personal peace to those who trust Him enough to courageously obey His commands (Leviticus 26, Romans 2:10, Galatians 6:15).  All that combined makes it tough not to conclude that Christians are straight-up commanded be courageous people (Joshua 1:6-9).

Overcoming fear is not about white-knuckling it through the scary stuff of life. Nor, is it about pretending everything is okay when it’s clearly not. Overcoming fear is about doing what’s right and trusting God for the outcome. When we choose to trust God He not only makes us braver than we naturally are, He also blesses our bravery by using us to bring about change in the world. Following are four areas we could all be a little bit more courageous in order to bring about much needed change:

 Saying what needs to be said-

Life is full of situations where God clearly calls His people to speak up for what we know is right, just and true. These moments pop up with children, spouses, friends and those we interact with on a regular basis. Anything hard should be said with a generous measure of compassion and grace (Colossians 4:5-6, Ephesians 4:15). However, it is critical we understand that choosing not to speak truth, especially hard truth always comes at a substantial price. Our culture is the way it is, partly because good people have chosen to keep their mouths shut rather than run the risk of offending others. I cannot help but wonder what the world would look like if more of us had the courage to challenge wrong thinking when it first began taking root in the lives of people we know rather than waiting until bad ideas and wrong thinking became endemically entrenched throughout the culture (Galatians 5:9).   

 Living the way God calls us to live- 

We live in a world that’s broken in ways none of us will never fully understand this side of heaven. Consequently, there was never a time when it was actually easy to put God first, live with integrity and speak out against sin and injustice. That said, it’s getting tougher to do those things all the time. When life gets scary and the pressure to conform feels like too much we have to remember that God promises peace beyond human understanding to those who choose to live courageously and counter-culturally (John 14:27, Philippians 4:6-7, Philippians 4:9, 2nd Peter 1:2).  

Standing up against the forces within Christianity that are pulling the church in the wrong direction- 

 Many churches and Christian denominations are being pulled away from biblical truth into worldly philosophies that run counter to the gospel (Colossians 2:8, 2nd Timothy 4:3, 2nd Peter 3:3). This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Jesus never promised that the church would be occupied only by good, God-fearing Christians determined to live Jesus first lives. Jesus promised in Matthew 13:24-30 that weeds (unbelievers) will grow-up alongside wheat (believers) causing all sorts of difficulties and challenges for true Christians. Furthermore, all Christians are in various stages of spiritual maturity and health. It is possible for a genuine Christian to be wrong about all kinds of issues or misled by bad teaching or their own evil desires. This is why prayerful self-examination is a must for all believers. Self-examination gives God opportunity to correct our thinking and set us straight. If we want to be at peace with God and ourselves we must know the word, understand how God is calling us to live and never allow ourselves to be swayed by any voice not rooted in Scripture and led by the Holy Spirit (John 10:14) 

Being the right voice of righteousness-  

Christians are not called to defend a particular nation or form of government. Instead, Christians are called to be defenders of the faith (Philippians 1:7, 1st Peter 3:15, Jude 1:3).  There is nothing wrong with patriotism, however choosing country over fidelity the gospel always leads to a lack of peace.  

Finally.  

In Matthew chapter ten Jesus sends out the twelve and commands them to do things that could only be done with God’s empowering presence and a serious dose of courage (Matthew 10:7-10, 2nd Corinthians 12:9).  He then promised life would be hard for anyone who actually has the guts to do the things He asks (Matthew 10:16-21). He also lays out a series of promises throughout the passage. Jesus promises that the courageous will be loved by God (Matthew 10:30-31), be like God (Matthew 10:24), and be honored in the presence of the Father (Matthew 10:32). Then He promises that the courageous will have such and abundance of personal peace the world will be blessed by their existence (Matthew 10:13).

But first we have to be willing push past any fear we feel. 

When Life Becomes too Much-


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

Social strife, race riots, job losses, censorship, inflation, lockdowns, school closures and the weirdest pandemic in history. The last few years have been unlike any other in history. 

Sigh. 

Tough times take a toll, psychologically, emotionally and financially. The tough times will begin to affect us spiritually if they go on for too long and it’s not always easy to know when stress has become too much for us and we have stepped over the line into a place of spiritual unhealth. In 2nd Corinthians 13:5 the Apostle Paul encourages Christians to “examine themselves” frequently. Times like ours demand frequent self-checks. Following are five indicators all is not well on a spiritual level. 

Beginning with:  

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

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

You have morphed into worst version of yourself-

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

Politics take precedent-

Politics are not trivial. There is little in this life not touched in some way by politics. Furthermore, one facet of being a good Christian is being an involved citizen. That means taking our civic responsibilities seriously, which cannot be done without some understanding of politics. (1st Peter 2:13). That said, earthly kingdoms all pass away, eventually. It’s critical we understand politics are strictly an earthly issue.  (Philippians 3:20).  There will be no republicans or democrats in heaven. Therefore God calls His people to adopt an eternal perspective and remember it is only what we do in and for the Kingdom of God that truly has an impact. If you find your attention is entirely focused on the political realm I guarantee God wants to change your focus. 

You’re afraid all the time-

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

Spiritual community is not a priority- 

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

Any one of the above is a sure sign all is not well with our soul.

In order to regain our mental and spiritual health we must be willing to cut empty, soul-sucking activities like streaming services, television and social media. Cutting those activities will naturally make time for the friendships and spiritual community that bolster our emotional and spiritual health. We must be willing to put our energy and time into the spiritual practices and people that refresh our spirits and feed our souls. Reclaiming spiritual health always requires more Jesus, more reflection, more family and friends and sometimes more repentance.   

What are the Greatest Threats to Christianity Right now?

Be sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame- 1st Corinthians 15:34 NASB

The biggest threats to the Church right now are not oppression and persecution.

Historically persecution and oppression has actually caused the church to grow and become more effective. No healthy, sane Christian wants to be persecuted. Persecution sucks. That said, no truly educated Christian would argue that persecution does not have a positive impact on the Church and the growth of the church (Acts 8:1).

 Our biggest problems are not coming from the government, or ungodly influences or even the devil. Christianity’s biggest problems are all coming from within Christianity. Christians are struggling to find their way through the cultural morass.  Mostly due to the following four problems:

 Christians who refuse to see the danger of false teachers-

 There are a lot of Christians, including some leaders who blithely quote Matthew 16:18 anytime they are confronted with false teaching, sinful leaders or any other problem that is clearly creating moral and spiritual chaos in lives of Christians. It is true Jesus promised Peter Satan would never defeat the church. However, it is also true Jesus instructed Christians to be on guard against false prophets who would pass themselves off as Christians and lead many astray (Matthew 7:15). Paul warned elders in Ephesus that “ravenous wolves” (false teachers) would infiltrate the Church and destroy the faith of many (Acts 20:28-30).  Jesus prophesied false teachers will rise up and deceive many in the last days (Matthew 24). Jesus and Paul were not chronic worriers with a penchant for overthinking. Therefore, they would not have given those warnings if they did not feel there was a clear and present danger to the Church. The Church will never be defeated. However, that doesn’t mean the church cannot lose its ability to effectively deliver spiritual truth for a season. When this happens, churches stop reaching the lost and everyone loses (Matthew 5:13-16, Revelation 2:5, Hebrews 6:4-8)   

 Christians who refuse to submit to the word of God-

 There are some attitudes and behaviors that are so wrong if they become standard operating procedure in a person’s life they will keep that person out of heaven (Galatians 5:21). Seriously. It’s true. Those sins include, but are not limited to lying, adultery, covetousness, bitterness, all forms of sexual immorality, debauchery, witchcraft, fits of rage and selfish ambition (1st Corinthians 6:9-10, 1st Timothy 9-11, Revelation 21:8). There is a grassroots movement within churches that effectively seeks to minimize the importance of holiness and maximize the importance of “accepting people the way they are”. This has led many within the body of Christ to think they can be a Christian without actually submitting to God’s moral leadership in their lives. Christians who have not yielded every corner of their lives to God always end up fighting for the relaxation of biblical standards. These Christians are leading others astray with the false doctrines of easy believe-ism and cheap grace.  

 Christians who are quick to publicly judge other Christians for all the wrong things-

 Coronavirus effectively exposed some real ugliness that exists in Church world. Some Christians have a seriously rebellious spirit (1st Samuel 15:23). These Christians will flatly refuse to obey any directive they do not like, regardless of whether or not it contradicts biblical teaching.  Other Christians are so gripped with a spirit of fear they have been rendered useless for Kingdom work (Isaiah 41:10). Other believers clearly put more faith in government orders than they do in God (Proverbs 29:25). But by far, the worst is the judgment Christians display towards one another (John 13:34-35). Take the public mask war we endured for two solid years. Half of Christians called the other half “compromisers” and “bootlickers” for wearing a mask.  The other half used some pretty condemning words like “selfish”, “unloving” and “anti-science” to describe any Christian who did not cheerfully put on a mask or who dared to question the wisdom of wearing one.   Nearly every day I come across some stupid social media post where a Christian takes it upon themselves to apologize for all the unkindness of all the other Christians in the world. As if they somehow cornered the market on kindness and moral goodness. Strangely, enough, they never think to apologize for the prideful, self-aggrandizing tone of their post. Christians are not called to judge each other. Christians are called to love each other. It is biblical to confront a Christian on something that is clearly sinful. However, this should only be done after a time of intense prayer where you ask God to show you clearly if your perception of the situation is wrong in any way. If after you have humbly sought God’s correction and still feel the need to confront the issue it should be done privately and in accordance with Matthew 18:15-17.   

  Christians who foolishly kowtow to the culture

Being a Christian and being liked by unsaved people is sometimes mutually exclusive (Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:9, Mark 13:13, John 15:18). Christians should never be needlessly unpleasant or mean. However, there are times when choosing to stick to biblical convictions causes non-Christians to become angry at us because biblical truth makes them feel uncomfortable. Many Christians are embracing organizations, ideas and moral standards that are antithetical to Christianity, because they are persuaded it will help them reach the lost. It won’t. It just muddies the message and leads people to believe they can become Christians without being transformed into the image of Christ. They can’t. Christians must stop fretting about being liked and instead focus on being like Jesus. Jesus loved people but He never compromised truth to reach them (Luke 3:6-8, Matthew 23, Mark 10:16-22, John 8:11)

 The world we live in has never needed Jesus more than it does right now. In order for the Church to be the church Christians have to live holy lives, recognize that spiritual truth matters and stand together in love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Everyone Must Develop a Theology of Suffering-

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them- 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3 NIV

 This past week some friends took me to see the movie Free Burma Rangers. The movie was a stark reminder of three fundamental truths:

  1.  Life is hard.
  2. God is good even when life is hard.
  3. When life is hard it doesn’t feel like God is good.

 Most Christians readily agree with truths one and three. However, many Christians (including myself), struggle to fully embrace truth two. Backing up this belief is an increase in the number of Christians who have turned their backs on God when life got hard or when other Christians disappointed them.

 Truth-be-told, some who walk away from Christianity are spiritual snowflakes. These are the folks who truly believe a rude comment on social media is a form of persecution.  Deep down they tend to believe they are too special to suffer. When life gets just a little bit tougher than they are comfortable with they melt under the heat of adversity, get miffed at God and leave the church. Spiritual snowflakes tend to carry their snow-flakiness into other areas of their lives including relationships. They’re quick to take offense and get their feelings hurt. They readily abandon relationships that challenge them in any way.

 Then,

 There are individuals who turned their backs on God after experiencing legitimately horrific situations. They lost a child or had a loved-one murdered or lived through horrible abuse or a genocidal massacre. The folks in this category all came up against a situation they couldn’t find a reasonable answer for and they simply determined they could not live the Christian life without that answer. So, they turned away from God either in anger or unbelief.

 The two groups are vastly different in nearly every way and one group is far more worthy of  compassion than the other. However, both groups share a common problem that has become endemic in Christianity.  

 They lack a theology suffering.  

 Theology is not just for bookworm-y, bowtie-wearing types. Theology is practical and necessary to survive life with our faith intact. Theology explains life and how God uses the stuff of life to accomplish His purposes in our lives.  Every believer in Jesus must have a solid theological grid to view life through; if they don’t they will never be able to effectively explain to themselves and others why they are experiencing the things they are experiencing.  

  One reason Christians lack theology in this area is because life is easier now than it has ever been before in human history.

 Think about it.

 Thanks to the miracles of central heat and air nobody in the Western world is ever too hot or too cold. Unless, of course, they are freely participating in an activity that demands they be too hot or too cold. Two-hundred-years ago, most people spent the majority of their lives in a state of perpetual discomfort. Today, it is uncommon for people in the Western world to experience hunger unless they are attempting to lose weight. A hundred years ago famine was still a reality for much of the world. Illnesses that once wiped-out large portions of the human population have been controlled or eradicated with drugs, surgery or public health programs. A hundred years ago it was simply accepted fact that few people would see all their children live to adulthood. People in civilized countries do not go to jail for being poor anymore. One-hundred-years ago there was no such thing as bankruptcy. Developed countries had poor houses, which were basically just jails for poor people.

 All this progress is undeniably awesome. However, improved living conditions have raised our expectations for happiness to a level that cannot always be met. Truth-be-told most of us (including me) feel entitled to be comfortable, healthy, happy and entertained all of the time. We tend to get a bit cranky with God when life is anything less than perfectly pleasant.

 A couple of things:

 First, we live in a fallen world that is not fully redeemed (Romans 8:19-22). This simply means that no matter how good humans get at making the world a comfortable place to live we will never be completely free of adversity and tragedy this side of heaven (John 16:33). Secondly, Christians probably experience more difficulty and hardship than non-Christians. This is because God is relentlessly working to conform us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29, 2nd Corinthians 3:18).  This is no easy task and apparently it requires some hardship to get the job done (James 1:2, 1st Peter 1:6-7, Revelation 2:9-10).  Furthermore, life is full of tests (Luke 4:1, 2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Thessalonians 2:4, Hebrews 11:17, James 1:12). God does not test us so He can find out where we are at. He already knows everything there is to know about us. However, God sometimes allows us to be tested so we can figure out where we are at so we can make changes that lead to growth.

 Finally,

 We must change how we view the Christian life. Someday we will dwell in heaven, and there will be no more tears, sickness, longing, pain or evil (Revelation 21:1-7). Life will be perfect and we will be perfect. We aren’t there yet. At this point in the story we are soldiers in a war (Philippians 2:25, 2nd Timothy 2:3-4, Philemon 1:1-2) We are fighting for the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings (Ephesians 6:10-20). Sadly, wars are messy and painful, they demand soldiers not snowflakes.

 

Christian Legalism vs. Christian Freedom- What’s a Christian to do?

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world~ 1st Peter 2:12 NLT 

The word heresy is a fancy-pants theological term for the act of departing from a pattern of sound biblical teaching (1st Timothy 6:20-21, 2nd Timothy 1:13, 2nd Timothy 4:3). 

Sometimes heresy takes the form of some seriously insane theories about God. 

 At one point there were Christians who believed that Jesus was just a human being who was formally adopted by God at his conception. Once the adoption was “finalized” he developed a divine (God) nature while growing in Mary’s body (Adoptionism). Other early believers were convinced Jesus was a phantom who didn’t leave footprints when He walked rather than a flesh and blood person (Gnosticism). For nearly a thousand years some “Christians” believed people are born without a sin nature and are capable of living a holy life apart from Jesus and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (Pelagianism).  

Most heresies are not wholesale lies about God or crazy misinterpretations of Scripture. Most heresies are more like tiny kernels of actual theological truth wrapped-up in a whole bunch of half-truths and weird errors.  There are two such heresies deeply rooted in our contemporary Christian culture. The first is legalism. Legalists believe they can earn God’s favor by doing all the right things and obeying all the right rules. 

God really does care about our behavior (more on that later). However, even the best-behaved person in the world cannot save themselves from their own sin (Ephesians 2:8, 2nd Timothy 1:9, Hebrews 10:39). Legalism sidetracks Christians from relationship with Christ by placing the emphasis on what we can do for ourselves rather on what Jesus did for us. This eliminates the element of of worship and gratitude from Christianity. Legalism also falsely paints God as demanding, callous and impossible to please. This leads some legalists to feel discouraged and resentful towards God. This can lead to hopelessness and eventually even a departure from the faith.

On the other end of the doctrinal spectrum some believe there are no rules for Christians. These folks believe once a person is saved there is nothing they can do or not do to offend God or break relationship with God. Christians who have intentionally or unintentionally adopted this view do not worry seriously about the effects of sin, even deliberate, premeditated sin on their relationship with God. Adherents to this view are growing in number and having an enormous impact on the Christian culture. 

The truth is that our behavior does matter, not because good behavior saves us, or makes God like us better. Correct behavior and following the rules matter for four reasons:

Righteous behavior protects us from moral failure- 

Ephesians 6:14 instructs Christians in a metaphorical sense to put on the “breastplate of righteousness”.  The primary purpose of a breastplate in Roman body armor was to protect the soldier’s heart from injury. In Proverbs 4:23 the writer instructs readers to “guard your heart because everything you do flows from it”. Behaving in a way that is righteous (avoiding sin and questionable behavior) protects us from all sorts of pitfalls, wrong thinking and potential moral disasters. For example, going out of your way to avoid pornography protects against addiction, the sin of lust and at least a dozen other really ugly sins. Avoiding people who gossip ensures that you will not become a slanderer (Psalm 15:1-3) and if you never drink alcohol you will never become an alcoholic.  

When Christians behave virtuously non-Christians have the opportunity to experience something the Bible calls conviction-

Perhaps the most critical reason to avoid sin and to behave righteously is because when we do the people around us have a model of good behavior to follow. Sometimes our good behavior even leads sinners to feel guilt or conviction over their bad behavior (1st Peter 3:13-16). Conviction often leads to repentance. 

Christians are commanded to avoid certain behaviors and sins-

The New Testament gives a series of “sin lists” addressed to Christians (Mark 7:21-22, 1st Corinthians 5:10-11, 1st Corinthians 6:9-11, 1st Timothy 1:8-11, Colossians 3:5-8, Galatians 5:19-21). Most of those lists are predicated with or followed by the caution that people who routinely practice the sins listed will not “inherit the kingdom of God”.  In my view it is reasonable to question the salvation of any “Christian” who does not take these warnings to heart. 

Bad behavior causes Christians to lose their moral authority-  

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when most people (saved or unsaved) looked to the church for moral direction and spiritual guidance. However, allegations of fraud, sex abuse scandals, infidelity and wholesale hypocrisy amongst clergy and laypeople alike have stripped the church and its people of any moral authority we once had. Now our culture is swimming in moral chaos and thanks to the sinful antics of Christians over the last forty years no one is looking to the one source that truly has the answers to our problems: the church. 

God loves humanity so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to save people from their sin (John 3:16). His love doesn’t end there though. God also loved us enough to give us moral boundaries to keep us from going off the rails after we come to know Jesus. It’s up to us to stay within those boundaries.