Five Reasons Christians Don’t Grow

We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming~ Ephesians 4:14 NIV

 Life is full of peculiar little conundrums, mysteries, enigmas and paradoxes. I.e. it is possible to be busy all day without accomplishing anything of any significance. We can read an entire book without comprehending a single word of it. We can listen intently to what someone is saying and not hear what they are saying. It is even possible to live a long life without experiencing the joy and fullness of being truly alive (John 5:39-40).

 It is also possible to grow old without growing-up and, frankly, there seems to be a lot of that going around these days. It is not at all uncommon to see children well into their elementary years still throwing temper tantrums like toddlers. Teenagers with the mindset of elementary-age children and young adults, who have never held a paying job.  Immaturity and childishness is not limited to the young. Our society is jam-packed with grown-ups who bully, blame others and are lacking the ability to manage their most basic of impulses.

 Perhaps one of the most tragic forms of immaturity is spiritual immaturity. Spiritual immaturity is marked by a lack of love and concern for others (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Hebrews 10:24), an inability to distinguish right from wrong (Malachi 3:18, Philippians 1:9-11) and a tendency to rely on feelings rather than biblical truth for direction (John 8:32). Other indicators of spiritual immaturity are broken relationships, pride, anger, excessive complaining without any desire to problem solve and a tendency to church hop.

  Spiritual immaturity causes Christians to become stunted, self-centered and worldly, it is the root cause of “irreconcilable differences” in Christian marriages. The spiritual immaturity of congregations causes churches to become powerless and tragically ineffective.

 Sigh.

 Christian people are ultimately responsible before God for their own growth (Galatians 6:4-5, 1stPeter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-13). We cannot grow unless we commit to doing these five things:

  Forgive-   

 Forgiveness is not only a prerequisite to being forgiven (Matthew 6:15). It is the only way to keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). It is essential we avoid bitterness because bitterness causes us to become entirely focused on our own feelings, hurts and offences. Spiritual growth can only occur when we move past our feelings and focus on letting go of the sinful behaviors we practiced in our old (pre-Jesus) life (Colossians 3:5-11, Galatians 5:19-21) and put on new behaviors and attitudes that cause us to become more like Jesus (Colossians 3:12-14, 2ndPeter 1:5-11). Forgiveness is never easy. That said, it is worth whatever effort it takes because living free of the bondage of forgiveness is a critical first step in becoming the people God has called us to be (1stPeter 2:9).

 Get rooted-

 God wants every Christian to be firmly rooted in the truths of the Bible and in relationship with Jesus (Ephesians 5:17, Colossians 2:6-7). We become rooted through a commitment to the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer and regular church attendance. There is simply no truly viable excuse for not reading the Bible, praying and getting involved in a Bible believing church if you want to mature your way out of spiritual infancy.

 Give-up whatever is keeping you immature-  

 At the root of most spiritual immaturity is a sinful behavior or attitude that we simply don’t want to let go of. Sins like gossip, bitterness, addiction to drugs or alcohol, anger, backbiting, and lust are just a few of the attitudes and behaviors that will keep us from growing-up spiritually. Growth comes naturally when we make a regular practice of self-examination and repentance (1stCorinthians 11:28, 2ndCorinthians 13:5, Matthew 3:8, Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19).

 Serve-

 When Christians serve in their churches and communities two critical objectives are met. Things get done, the needs of people are met and Jesus looks good as a result. Serving also broadens our focus and causes us to take our eyes off ourselves. In the process, we begin to see the needs of others more clearly and our desire to be a blessing grows.  When this happens, God is glorified and we mature.

 Own our junk-

 Because no man (or woman) is an island we are all effected to one degree or another by the actions of others. The insensitive, sinful and selfish actions of other people can cause the kind of damage that makes reaching our full potential in life much more challenging (but not impossible). That being said, we are each ultimately responsible for our own actions (Ezekiel 18:20-25). Blaming a bad childhood, marriage, dating experience, etc. for the choices we make and the sins we commit stunts our spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth making it impossible for God to use us to our full potential. We become spiritually free and mature when we get real with God (and ourselves) about what we’ve done and why we did it. When we do that we are well on our way to becoming the people God wants us to be.

 

 

 

Spotting Hypocrisy

And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy~ Galatians 2:13 NIV

 Hypocrisy.

 It’s an ugly word. Unlike its similarly foul cousin ‘pride’, the Bible makes it painfully clear that there is no such thing as a “healthy hypocrisy” or “good hypocrisy” (Romans 11:13, Galatians 6:4). Jesus reserved His harshest criticism for hypocrites and made it excruciatingly clear that hypocrisy of any kind is bad (Matthew 23:13:36, Matthew 24:51, Mark 7:6, Luke 6:42).

 A hypocrite is a pretender, a person who play-acts at being better than they actually are. God is categorically not a fan. God hates hypocrisy because He calls Christians to live lives of sincerity (1st Timothy 1:5, Hebrews 10:22) and because hypocrisy is a pernicious sin that even really good Christian people can get caught-up in (Galatians 2:11-14).

 But by far, the biggest problem with hypocrisy is that it hurts everyone. Hypocrisy hurts hypocrites because hypocrisy is a sin that makes the person sinning more comfortable with all forms of sin. Sooner or later all hypocrites buy into the lie that they really are as good as they think everyone thinks they are. Because of that, every hypocrite eventually gives up on things like confession, repentance and living a life of holiness (James 5:16, 1st John 1:9, Matthew 3:2, Acts 3:19, Romans 12:1). Instead, they simply settle for pretending.

 Hypocrisy hurts the church because hypocrisy is contagious. Which (as an aside) is why some churches (and denominations) seem to have more of a problem with it than others. Any time one respected Christian leads a life of hypocrisy it doesn’t take long for others to figure out that it’s a whole lot easier to act holy when people are looking than to actually do the hard work of becoming holy. When Jesus warned His disciples concerning “the yeast” of the Pharisees and Sadducees he was referencing the infectious nature of hypocrisy (Matthew 16:11).

 Hypocrisy hurts non-Christians because one insincere Christian can easily convince all non-Christians that hypocrisy and pretense is standard operating procedure for every Christian. In the process of dismissing all Christians as hypocrites they end up dismissing Jesus and everything He had to say about life, death and eternity.

 Sigh.

 Like the sin of pride, the nature of hypocrisy is such that it is weirdly easy to spot hypocrisy in others but nearly impossible to see it in ourselves. Unfortunately for us, Jesus doesn’t call His people to worry about the sins of others. He does call us to worry about our own sin. Hypocrisy is definitely something Christians ought to worry about. Mostly because it’s one of those sins that the God who defines Himself as love (1st John 4:8) hates (Matthew 23:13-33, Matthew 24:51).

 Spotting hypocrisy in ourselves cannot happen without a bone-level commitment to brutal self-examination and a steely-eyed determination to live lives of openness and sincerity. Then we need to begin looking for the signs that all is not well in this area of our life.

 You might have a problem with hypocrisy if…

 You have two very different sets of friends-

 Having two very different sets of friends is not a problem per se. However, it is a problem if your behavior (and speech) is very different when you are with different groups. Another sign of a problem is if you spend a lot of time hoping that your divergent social circles never meet.

 You judge others harshly-

Hypocrites are generally quite reluctant to admit they sin at all (1st John 1:9-10. They also tend to lack mercy and are weirdly judgmental towards the sins of others. Oftentimes hypocrites are the most judgmental towards people who have the same sin issues they do.

 You live a secret life-

Seriously, this is a no-brainer. If you’re leading a secret life, just stop.

You have a problem with gossip-

 Not every gossip is a hypocrite. However, in my experience, hypocrites are always gossips. Hypocrite’s tend to gossip because they secretly believe that sharing the sins and shortcomings of others will keep people from noticing their own sins and shortcomings.

 You will do anything to avoid looking bad-

 Hypocrisy is all about projecting an image of goodness. Protecting that image is ultimately more important than anything or anyone else. That is why hypocrites oftentimes hurt others in their misguided attempts to safeguard their own image.

 We all have singular moments of hypocrisy. Anyone who claims otherwise is either delusional or deeply dishonest. That said, we should work tirelessly to root out all forms of hypocrisy in our lives. I am convinced that the secret to dealing with the sin of hypocrisy is to understand and walk in the reality that all sin will eventually be uncovered and laid bare (Hebrews 4:13) before God and to know that sooner or later our sin always finds us out (Numbers 32:23).

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Responding to Hurt

I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know. For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst~ Job 32:17-19 NIV

 My father-in-law died seventeen years ago without warning from a massive stroke. He was a good man, relatively  young and reasonably healthy. Needless to say his death was a huge shock. At the funeral an acquaintance “comforted” my husband by telling him he could “relate to his grief” because his dog had died the week before.

 I know a man in his sixties who still remembers with tears in his eyes the sting of having his first-grade teacher tell him he was struggling to learn to read because he was “dumb.”

 A friend of mine suffered through the heartache of several miscarriages before giving birth to two healthy children. After each miscarriage at least one person told her that she should be grateful she miscarried because “there was probably something wrong with it anyway”.

 If had a dollar for every time some nitwit encouraged me in an overly calm tone to “just relax” when freaking out was clearly the reasonable option, I would be writing from a lawn chair on a sunny beach right now.  

 Words.

 Anyone who has lived longer than a decade in this world has undoubtedly been the casualty of stupid, hurtful or just plain thoughtless words. The most painful kind of hurtful words are words that attack things about ourselves that we cannot change, such as our looks or intellectual abilities. Insensitive words wound by getting inside our heads and altering how we see ourselves and view the world.

 God has plenty to say on the subject of words. The writer of Proverbs reminds readers that, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” 1st Corinthians thirteen teaches that a significant aspect of loving others well is avoiding the use of rude or boastful words. In Matthew 12:36 Jesus warns of looming judgment for those who habitually speak without carefully considering the impact their words might have on others.    

 Decent people agree that words should never be impulsively spoken or unnecessarily rude. No one should speak without carefully considering how they would feel if someone said the same thing to them if they found themselves in the same situation.

 All that being said, how we respond to the stupid stuff people say to us, is from a spiritual perspective, every bit as important as being careful about what we say to others. Responding with grace to hurtful words begins with the sometimes-difficult admission that we too have hurt others with our words just as we have been hurt by the thoughtless words of other people. I once informed a boy who declared his affection for me in a love note that I would never return his feelings because he “smelled weird” (proof-positive that sometimes mean things are also true). I still squirm when I think about some of the hasty and doubtless hurtful “guidance” I doled out to others when I was beyond old enough to know better.

 There is an inclination in our day and age for people, even Christian people, to take hurtful words to heart and nurture their hurt by ruminating on hurtful words rather than choosing to forgive and move on. Nurturing hurt makes us angry people and inevitably leads to using perceived wounds as a justification to:

  1. Shut the offender out of our lives completely.
  2. Gossip about their lack of empathy to any who will listen.
  3. Freak out, say whatever is on OUR minds and then demand an apology that the offender probably won’t mean even if they do say it.

 All of the above reactions are wrong because each response feeds our sin nature, shuts down communication and effectively ends the relationship. Offense and unresolved hurt over careless words are the devil’s preferred playground. Offense keeps us self-focused, bitter and unable to see ourselves or others clearly.

 Letting go of hurt feelings is not easy. We have to discipline our minds not think on the stupid stuff people say to us and choose (sometimes repeatedly) to let go of hurt, rather than hang on to it. We also must be willing to pray for people who say foolish, mean or hurtful things, because it is only by the grace of God that we are not the ones doing the hurting this time.

 

The Benefits of Gossip?

There’s nothing so delicious as the taste of gossip! It melts in your mouth~ Proverbs 18:8 CEV

 I have settled into a predictable morning routine. It goes something like this: I wake up, stumble to the kitchen, pour a cup of coffee and fight to appear engaged while the youngest child chatters incessantly.

Following is more coffee, more chatter, and a valiant effort on my part to ensure the lunches packed are at least somewhat healthy. I herd the girls out the door, savor the quiet, drink more coffee, read my Bible, drink more coffee and do a quick workout while I catch up on what’s going on in the world.

Yesterday, I finished the last of the coffee, climbed on the exercise bike and became so absorbed in working off my caffeine buzz that I was only marginally tuned in to the news program. That is, until a chirpy anchorwoman declared in an insanely happy tone that a recent study has determined gossip is actually good for us.

WHAT????

I will not tell a lie, for one fleeting instant I was elated. For an inquisitive person such as myself this story was without question the best news ever. All of my dreams had finally come true, I could cave to my baser instincts, listen to gossip and improve my health all at the same time. Just as I was preparing to call my best friend to tell her the good news I remembered something about the perils of buying into worldly wisdom so I decided to dig a little deeper. I found the related article and read it carefully. The author spoke glowingly of the benefits of gossip. According to the author, gossip will:

Tell you how to behave on your job

Help you to understand and improve your social standing

Inform members of a group which behaviors are socially acceptable

Possibly lead to self-improvement

Reading about the alleged benefits of a behavior God calls a sin (Romans 1:29) made me wonder what exactly God would say if we could get His unfiltered opinion of that article. I bet it would be interesting. He wasn’t available for comment, so I turned to the book of Proverbs instead. Proverbs cautions us on the more negative aspects of gossip, including:

Nobody actually likes a gossip- Proverbs 17:28, Proverbs 20:19

Everyone enjoys listening to a juicy piece of gossip, but nobody wants to be a victim of gossip. We all know intuitively that a gossipy person cannot be trusted. That’s why few gossips have many close friends. Smart people avoid a gossip like the plague once they realize anyone who will talk with you about another person will talk about you to other people.

Gossip is rarely completely true- Proverbs 26:20-22

Gossip is notoriously unreliable because most gossipers are also embellishers. It’s part of what makes gossip so insidious and interesting. The frame of the story may be true but the details are almost always made out to be more fascinating and salacious than they really are.

Gossip is the number one cause of family disunity-Proverbs 6:19, Proverbs 16:28

At the root of every unhappy family is at least one person who repeats unkind words and circulates gossip. Sometimes this person is another family member; sometimes it’s a “friend” of the family who likes to stir the pot and keep everyone at odds with each other. Beware of any “friend” who wants to know too much of your family business. They don’t have your best interests at heart.

Gossip ruins the gossiper- Proverbs 13:3, Proverbs 16:28

There is something about spreading stories and sharing personal information that eventually twists a person and destroys their character. If a person gossips for long enough they will develop an insatiable appetite for more and more information to share with others. This happens because the sharing of information makes them feel powerful and important. If there is no actual information to share, they will enhance stories that are true and even lie in order to continue feeling important.

All supposed benefits aside, there are undoubtedly less destructive ways to learn about our social standing, understand the world around us, and improve our social standing and ourselves. Consuming gossip is like eating a deep-fried Twinkie: it feels good while we do it, but the effects are ugly. Passing along gossip is like sprinkling arsenic on chocolate cupcakes. It’s a pleasant way to destroy people.