Attitudes and Behaviors that Totally Squash Spiritual Growth-

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven- Hebrews 12:25 NASB

 My twenties and early thirties were incredibly formative from a spiritual standpoint. My husband and I were blessed with a wonderfully diverse group of Christian friends and mentors who loved Jesus and were determined to grow in their faith and help us grow in ours.  Over time some of those friends and mentors grew spiritually, others stopped growing but remained in the church and a few just quit Christianity altogether.

 The ones who chose to do the hard work of growth are all impacting the Kingdom in profound ways today. I have stayed in touch with a few of those who dropped out, some are okay (at least on the surface) but all of them have some sad stories to tell. But, it’s the ones who stayed in Church but didn’t grow who concern me the most (Revelation 3:15-17).

 Jesus had hard words for Christians who choose not to grow their faith (John 15:1-7). This is because Christians who don’t grow spiritually are weak, ineffectual and reflect poorly on Jesus.  Immature believers tend to stay on the fringes of the church and have little to offer the church or the world in the way of knowledge, wisdom, faith and practical support.  Because they are immature and worldly they tend to lead other Christians astray and turn those outside the church off to the whole notion of church and Jesus.  

 Sigh.

 Most Christians believe using drugs, getting caught up in sexual sin or a lack of Bible study or church attendance is what keeps us from growing. In reality, those issues are just symptoms of deeper, more systemic issues. The following five mindsets and behaviors are where halted growth gets started. Best-case scenario the following attitudes and behaviors will keep us stuck where we’re at, worst-case scenario they cause us to go backwards (Hebrews 5:12).  It all starts with:

 We tell God He can’t have authority over some part of our lives-  

 Jesus did not come to earth and die on the cross simply to save our sorry behinds from the fires of hell (Matthew 13:41-42). The God of the universe wants much more than just that for His people. He wants to redeem and reshape every part of our lives by bringing our thoughts and our actions into alignment with biblical truth (Romans 12:2). God wants to impact how we operate in our sexuality, marriages, social interactions, parenting, money management and business practices.  Unfortunately, transformation is uncomfortable, so, many believers shut God out of the parts of their lives that most need transforming. We shut God out when we choose to do some part of life in our strength, using our own wisdom instead of taking the time to learn God’s way of doing things.  Not allowing God access to some corner of our lives means we choose not to grow in that area and slow our growth in every other area.

 We don’t seek wisdom or ask for advice-

 No one is born with the wisdom, insight and information they need to be truly successful in life. God helps us to become well-informed and wise by providing us with friends, family members, authors and various experts who have studied and experienced things we have not (Proverbs 20:18). Being too stubborn, stupid or prideful to ask for advice when we clearly need it will limit our spiritual growth as well as our emotional and intellectual growth (Proverbs 12:1, Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 19:20).

 We give all the wrong people too much influence in our lives-

 Christians who don’t grow tend to think 1st Corinthians 15:33 is a warning intended only for teenagers. Truth-be-told bad company corrupts good character no matter our age or position in life. Everyone should know someone who knows Jesus. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with being on friendly terms with unsaved people with questionable character or Christians who need to grow.  However, our closest friends should be Christians who hold us accountable and propel us towards spiritual maturity (Proverbs 27:17).

 We refuse to deal with our weakness-

 I am a huge believer in identifying our strengths and then finding ways to maximize them for the Kingdom (Romans 12:6). That being said, our flaws should never be overlooked, minimized or treated as trivial aspects of our character. People who ignore their weakness or pretend they don’t have any are inevitably devastated by them. The tendency to misrepresent facts, manipulate others, indulge the flesh, act out in rage or embrace laziness will halt spiritual growth and sometimes even undo a lifetime of good works.  

 We aren’t discerning when it comes to doctrine-

 There is nothing the enemy loves more than bad doctrine. The worst doctrine twists biblical truth rather than rebuts it.  The wrong thinking that results from this kind of bad teaching not only halts growth it also produces believers who unknowingly pollute the church with even more falsehood (Hebrews 13:9, 1stTimothy 4:16).  Every Christian should commit to studying Scripture for themselves rather than simply accept what others tell them is true (Acts 17:11, 2nd Peter 2:1, Jude 1:4).

 Sadly, not everyone who begins the race of faith finishes well (Galatians 5:7). Some don’t finish at all (Matthew 13:1-23, 1st Corinthians 9:24). The key to finishing well is to give every part of our lives over to God and ask Him daily to show us our blind spots so we will continue to grow into the image of His Son (2ndCorinthians 3:18).

 

 

Six Weird Lies Christians Believe About Forgiveness-

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

Humans believe all sorts of weird lies. 

It all started with Adam and Eve and little has improved since our predecessors bought into that first stupid lie (Genesis 3). Even really smart people believe really weird stuff about relationships, what actually makes us happy, sex, money, the moon landing, God’s goodness, and what gender they are. 

 Sadly, Christians also believe lies.  

It’s true that most Christians believe in the goodness of God (at least on most days) and know what gender they are. However, believers in Jesus are still predisposed to believe lies about every other topic under the sun. The lies most Christians believe are spiritual lies that contain a small seed of truth. In my experience the number one issue Christians are most likely to believe lies about is forgiveness. Following are six lies we believe about forgiveness that keep people from forgiving. 

You haven’t really forgiven unless you have also forgotten the offense. 

Christians are commanded to forgive others just as God forgave them (Ephesians 4:32).  Fun fact: God does not simply forgive sins He actually forgets them. God says this of Himself in Isaiah 43:25…

 I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. 

This statement and has created massive confusion in the minds of some people. There are Christians who beat themselves up mercilessly because they think they’ve done a terrible job of forgiving because they remember people’s sins. Others have become bitter towards God because they believe He has set a ridiculously unattainable standard for forgiveness. Here’s the deal: unlike God, humans are limited beings. God can do whatever He chooses to do. Conversely, there are some things humans simply cannot do. Humans cannot create other humans from the dust of the earth and humans cannot forget the sins of other humans. It’s critical we remember two truths: God is not a jerk and He is fully aware of our limitations (He made us). God does not ask us to do more than we can do.  All He asks is that we let go of our “right” to seek revenge and trust Him to work out justice on our behalf.  

Authentic forgiveness always includes restoration of the relationship-

This is a filthy-rotten-lie the devil uses to keep good people from forgiving and moving on. After all, who in their right mind would choose to forgive their rapist or abuser if forgiving means they have to become friends with them? It truly is possible to fully forgive a person without building or rebuilding a relationship with them. Sometimes (not every time) forgiveness without reconciliation is the safest, wisest route to take.  Reconciliation is more complicated than forgiveness because reconciling with a stubbornly unrepentant sinner usually leads to more hurt. Hurt leads to bitterness.  I believe that Hebrews 12:25 cautions Christians against placing themselves in situations that will likely lead to bitterness. No situation is more liable to produce bitterness than being repetitively hurt by the same person. That being said, in cases where reconciliation can be achieved every effort should be made to attain that end. A skilled Christian counselor or a Pastor can be helpful in bringing about healthy reconciliation in relationships damaged by sin.  

Forgiveness is a “one and done”-

It’s not. Because humans are powerless to forget pain (see point one). Hurt has a way of returning usually about the time we think we have conquered it. If you have forgiven someone and feel the old feelings of bitterness return, take those feelings to God and ask Him to help you let go of the anger and resentment you feel. Ask until your heart changes (Matthew 7:7-8).  

Forgiving should feel good- 

Being free of hurt feels great. However, getting free from hurt is one of the most awful, painful and emotionally agonizing things a human being can experience. The good news is that God Himself will walk you through that awful process and you will come out the other side on a better, healthier path transformed into a new and freer person. 

We don’t really have to forgive- 

If God asked us to forgive for the sake of others this would be true, but it’s not, because He doesn’t. Christians are commanded to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25) because forgiveness is the best thing for us as individuals. The other person is more-or-less irrelevant. Forgiveness frees us from the mental and spiritual distractions that comes from nurturing a spirit of bitterness.  When we harbor unforgiveness we become a shadow of what we might have been if we had been willing to fully obey the Lord.  

We only have to forgive the repentant- 

Only forgiving people who are truly sorry would certainly make forgiveness much easier and a lot more fun. Even a heathen can forgive someone who is sorry for what they’ve done.  Alas, God rarely asks His people to do the easy thing. Instead, He asks His people to the character-building thing. 

Forgiveness is the character-building thing.

Four Stupid Things Christians Settle For-

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom- Psalm 90:12 NIV

Humans do weird things. 

There is zero judgment in the aforementioned statement. I am speaking as a humble human who has been guilty of doing all sorts of weird things at various times in my life.  

Most of us will fight to the death for stupid stuff we don’t really want, need, or care anything about. Just about everyone has been guilty at some point of driving away the people they care about the most. And the majority of us have acted in a passive-aggressive way at some point in our lives. Passively-resisting, avoiding direct communication, faking compliance and forgetting things on purpose rather than simply asking for what we want is a very weird thing. Unfortunately, those weird things barely scratch the surface of what humans are capable of when it comes to weird things.  

Seriously.

We also settle for things that are far inferior to what God really wants us to have. We become spiritually lazy and rather than going after the best we settle for things that look and feel “good enough”. Settling for less than God’s best limits our spiritual growth and potential for doing good in this world. Furthermore, evil is accelerating at a startling pace in our day. (2nd Timothy 3:1-3). If Christians want to have any impact at all in these times we cannot afford to settle for anything less than God’s best. Following are four things that have the potential to ruin you spiritually if you choose to settle for them:

Losing influence-

Christians are redeemed for the purpose of influencing others (Matthew 5:14-16) and making a difference in this world (Ephesians 2:10). However, it is possible to forfeit our God-given influence by choosing to blend into and take on the attitudes and behaviors of our culture. If we blend in for long enough we eventually become powerless to effect change and spiritually useless (Matthew 5:13).

Makeovers

Humans are extraordinarily perceptive when comes to sensing social patterns. No sane individual wants to be branded as a weirdo, so we carefully monitor and regulate our public behavior. Christians are pros at this. The minute we get saved we take a look around at what other Christians are doing or not doing and dutifully fall in line. If none of the other Christians are dropping F-bombs we stop dropping F-bombs (at least in front of people). If none of the other Christians are drinking beer we steer clear of beer. If the other Christians are going to Bible study, we get our butts to a Bible study.  We alter our external behavior to fit into whatever Christian culture we are a part of, oftentimes without changing the attitudes of our heart (Romans 12:2).  Regulating behavior is not necessarily wrong or sinful. There are times when it is even healthy (Proverbs 16:32). However, simply copycatting good behavior falls painfully short of God’s will for our lives. God wants more for His people than wrong thinking covered-up with right behavior.  He wants to transform our thinking so that our behavior falls in line with what the Bible says rather than simply settling for behavior that “appears Christian” on the surface. Transformation cannot happen without effort on our part. We have to want it, pray for it and work our tails off to get it (Philippians 2:12, Ephesians 4:17-32). 

Being smart- 

Everybody understands what it means to be smart. Smart people can read, write and solve tricky mathematical equations. Smart people speak well and they know how to get things done. Smart is good. Wisdom is better and infinitely harder to define (Proverbs 2:12-16). Wisdom empowers people to think like God thinks and to see problems, situations and people from His perspective (James 3:17). Wisdom enables people to look at every side of an issue and think through all the conceivable outcomes of issues. Wisdom enables people to know good advice when they hear it and teaches them to tactfully ignore bad counsel (Proverbs 13:10) Wise people know when to give a little so they can get a lot and they know when they should go to war to eventually achieve peace. Wisdom is gift. God bestows wisdom on those humble enough to admit they don’t have it (2nd Chronicles 1:7-12, Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 2:6, James 1:5). 

 Approval–  

It is human nature to hunger for approval and acceptance. However, there are times when that aspect of our human nature bumps up against God’s will for our lives. Anytime a Christian chooses being liked over the freedom to speak out against anything God clearly labels sin we break the heart of God and limit our usefulness for the Kingdom. 

Our world is getting darker and scarier by the day and the darkness is not going anywhere anytime soon (Matthew 24:7-13). In a world where sin is celebrated and there is a clear and present danger that biblical Christianity will be criminalized. It is imperative God’s people do not settle for anything less than being the world changers we are called to be. 

Six Things-

For the ear tests words, as the palate tastes food. Let us choose justice for ourselves;
let us know among ourselves what is good- Job 34:2-3 NKJV

I had an unusual problem this week. I found myself totally at a loss for a decent blog topic. 

Typically, blog topics just kind of come to me. But, for some reason it just didn’t happen this week.  Typically, by Tuesday afternoon I have an idea locked down and ready to go but for some reason I literally had nothing this week. 

Zero. Zilch. Nada.

 So, I did this thing I do on the rare occasions I find myself utterly desperate for thought-provoking writing material. I spent a couple of hours one-night binge-watching some of the popular cable news channels (FOX, CNN, MSNBC). I have found in the past that there is almost always enough crazy stuff being reported on the news to generate at least a blog post or two. 

It worked. 

I learned a lot that night, most of it was more than a bit maddening. I also ended-up with a serious glut of excess material. It turns out there is quite a lot of super outrageous stuff going on in the world.  I do not believe Christians should run or hide from the ugliness and sin in our world. Christians are called to fight darkness rather than flee from it. Because I believe that I decided to share (most) of what I learned. My hope is that you will spend some time in prayer over these issues and looking for ways to engage with our sin-sick world.

The sex industry is being normalized for teens by adults who are smart enough to know better- 

A popular periodical marketed to girls between the ages of 12 and 17 published an article about the importance of destigmatizing and normalizing “sex work” (AKA prostitution). The article was entitled “Sex Work is Real Work”. For the record, no one has to convince me that sex workis real work. Sex work is without a doubt the most grueling, dreadful, dehumanizing, horrific work there is. What I don’t understand is why a magizine that presents itself as pro-girl and pro-woman would write an article that glamourizes the job and might possibly inspire young women to consider a vocation that degrades, marginalizes and damages women solely for the sexual gratification of men. Wasn’t that the sort of thing feminism was supposed to end? 

Drug use is trendy once again-

Recreational drug use became popular in the 1960’s and use rose steadily throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Then drug use plummeted in the early years of the 21stcentury.  For the first time since the 1980’s drug use is rising among 8th, 10thand 12thgraders. When questioned about drug use teens admit that this is due almost entirely to decriminalization and legalization efforts on the state level. Legalization and decriminalization have removed fears of addiction and being saddled with a criminal record. As a result, for the first time in decades teens view drug use as a potential positive rather than an overwhelmingly negative experience. This means that millions more teenagers are voluntarily damaging their brains before they really even get an opportunity to use them.  

City and State leaders are refusing to be honest about homelessness- 

Homelessness is booming (especially in the West). Leaders in cities where homelessness has become an issue refuse to blame the thing those who work with the homeless say is the number one cause of homelessness: drug use. Perhaps it’s because those states are beginning to view taxing drug use as a potential money maker and they don’t want to admit that there is a cost to legalizing drugs and encouraging drug use. 

 HBO has a new program for teens- 

In its first season Euphoriahas showcased hardcore drug use, full frontal nudity, masturbation, endless expressions of nihilism and transgender teenagers having sex with adults. Whoo-hoo. Thanks HBO, we didn’t have nearly enough filth on T.V. 

A small minority of parents are cashing in on their children’s gender confusion-

Apparently, there are parents who dress their kids up as the opposite gender and parading them around for money. I literally have no words and I always have words. Words are my thing. We obviously need revival if these parents aren’t in jail for this.

Powerful words are being abused- 

This is nothing new.  Hardly a week goes by when a lawmaker or newscaster doesn’t call someone a NAZI or refer to the holocaust in an inappropriate manner. But this week Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took it to a new level when she claimed that immigrants who voluntarily turned themselves in at the border hoping to become citizens are being forced to live in “concentration camps”. Sigh.   

A tiny minority is redefining morality-

A particular senator who is hoping to become the President stated emphatically this past week that taking a pro-life position is so outside the mainstream that pro-life people shouldn’t be judges. What? Who gave this woman the “right” to redefine what the mainstream is or isn’t?  

Okay, so, now you have a prayer list for the week. Let’s get to it. 

How Hospitality Kills Community-

We cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well~ 1stThessalonians 2:8 NIV

There is a theory circulating in the academic corners of Christianity that every four to six hundred years God shakes things up and the result is a seismic shift in the way Christians do church. The first shift occurred at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The second transpired when the Eastern and Western Churches parted ways in A.D. 1054. The third occurred on October 31st 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in the sleepy little hamlet of Wittenberg Germany.

 It is being theorized by the wise and learned that the Church is in the middle of one of those seismic shifts right now. Recent political and social changes could have a dramatic impact on the way church is done a hundred years from now.

I am by no means a scholar. However, I do have a keen interest in Church history and a passion for weird theories. It occurred to me that the aforementioned shifts have resulted in a net loss and a net gain of something enormously significant to the church. At the council of Nicaea, the Church gained respectability but lost its simplicity and doctrinal purity. When Luther posted his theses, the Church gained a much-needed anchor (biblical truth) but lost its unity, cohesiveness and eventually its authority. 

As the modern church shifts due to technological, social and political changes Christians have no control over, we are in danger of losing important things we do have control over.  One of those things is community. The sense of community the early church experienced was the beacon that drew both gentiles and Jews into a life-changing relationship with Jesus. It was community that fueled the evangelistic fire of the early Church (Acts 2:42-47)

The church is losing community because Christians have adopted a non-biblical view of the Christian concept of hospitality. This is doubtless due to the influence of wildly popular cable channels like Food Network and HGTV. These networks have drilled into us that hospitality is simply preparing tasty food and decorating our homes in an appealing manner. Hospitality is the glue that binds community together. Following are misunderstandings Christians have about hospitality that kill community:

Hospitality and entertaining are the same thing-

Hospitality and entertaining guests look similar because one piece of hospitality is entertaining guests in our homes (Acts 16:15). That said, it is possible to have guests in our home on a regular basis and not actually practice biblical hospitality. Hospitality in the Christian sense of the word means caring deeply for the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of other people in an intimate setting (Acts 18:26, Romans 12:13, 3rd John 1:8). An intimate setting can be a home, a coffee shop, a church foyer, a street corner or a public park because intimacy is about the emotional and spiritual environment we generate with our presence, not our physical location.

Hospitality is optional-

 Hospitality is a command rather than a suggestion (Hebrews 13:2, 1st Peter 4:9, 1st John 2:3). When we practice hospitality, we not only show people we love them but we also demonstrate that God loves them too (Galatians 5:22-23, John 13:34). There is nothing optional about loving and caring about people if you’re a Christian.  

Hospitality has nothing to do with Evangelism- 

Hospitality is intrinsically connected to evangelism. Caring for the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of others is the fertile ground where the seeds of faith take root and grow (Colossians 4:4-5, Galatians 5:14).

I don’t have time for hospitality- 

This is by far the most common reason given for not practicing hospitality and on the surface, it looks and feels legitimate in our culture. People are busy, in most households the husband and the wife both work outside the home. Kids are frequently involved in extracurricular activities and sports teams. These activities eat up much if not all of our spare time.  Most are overwhelmed at the prospect of managing and maintaining close family relationships. Adding yet another relationship to the mix feels like an unreasonable burden.  All of these objections are perfectly defensible if the definition of hospitality is entertaining. However, if the definition of hospitality is caring for the needs of others in an intimate setting (and it is). Then all of a sudden, the reasons we give for not being hospitable sound more like poorly constructed excuses than rock-solid reasons. We are commanded in Scripture to make time to care about people, to listen to their problems and find out what’s going on in their lives. Saying we do not have time to be hospitable we are essentially saying we don’t have time to care.  I openly question the salvation experience of a “Christian” who says that they do not have time to care about the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of others (Matthew 22:39, John 13:34, 1st Thessalonians 2:8, Matthew 25:31-37). If we don’t have time to care, we need to cut something else out so we do have time to care. 

 Hospitality is not about getting it’s about giving (1st Peter 4:9). Christians should always be ready and willing to provide a listening ear, a warm meal, a soft heart and an open door.  When we don’t have time for those things we’ve lost the essence of being Christian.  

Four Truths to Cling to Anytime Life is Hard-

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me~ 2nd Corinthians 12:9

  I won’t lie. I hate doing hard things.

Truth-be-told I am a spoiled first world-er and like most normal people I prefer the easy option in virtually every situation. Like most people right now I also just happen to be deep in the weeds of some really tough stuff. There are moments when I fear that stuff could be the end of me.  I would really love to dump everything that’s even remotely hard and go relax on a beach somewhere.  

Sigh.

 I get that dumping the hard stuff of life is not a viable option. I also get that I am not alone, all of us go through something tough at some point. So, I came up with a short list of reasons to never give up on doing good (Galatians 6:9).   

Hardness is inescapable in a fallen world- 

Hardness in life is never an accident of fate, nor is it always a result of sinful choices. Hardness in this world came about as a result of sin (Genesis 3:14-19). Until sin is dealt with once and for all (Revelation 19-21) hard things will simply be an integral part of life on Earth. The whole messy mess is complicated by the reality that Christians have an enemy (1st Peter 5:8, Ephesians 6:11) who has a vested in interest in making life harder for God’s people (more on this in point 4). 

Doing hard things prepares us for harder things- 

I am currently reading through the book of Exodus. In chapter five God sends Moses to Pharaoh for the first time.  Moses tells Pharaoh that God wants Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go so they can worship their God. Pharaoh did not react the way Moses hoped he would. He laughed at Moses and cruelly increased the workload of the Hebrew people. The very people Moses was trying to help turned around and laid the blame for the whole messy muddle squarely at the feet of Moses. By the end of the chapter Moses was clearly bummed-out and was what the heck-ing God. He says:  

“Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Exodus 5:22-23

Because I have the advantage of knowing how the story ends, I was struck by the thought that if Moses had realized at that moment that he was actually doing the easiest leadership task he was ever going to have to do he probably would have laid down on the floor and cried like a tired child. Moses didn’t know it yet, but the mission in front of him was going to be hard in ways he could not even begin to imagine. Before the whole thing was over Moses would an intimate understanding of how to deal with both difficult people, intense disappointment and intensely disappointed difficult people.  Mercifully, God did not tell Moses exactly how tough things would eventually get. Instead God just used the hard thing (dealing with Pharaoh) to prepare Moses for the harder thing (leading the people through the wilderness). God does the same thing with us. 

God has a special place in His heart for people who do hard things- 

The Christians in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) did the hardest things Christians are ever called to do. They suffered and some even died for their belief in Jesus. God had nothing but positive things to say about them and the sacrifices they willingly made. In the text God tells the Christians in Smyrna that He understands their pain and difficulty and then praises them for standing strong in the face of intense adversity. He gently and lovingly encouraged them to continue to stand strong and be courageous as they waited for the relief that would come in time.  Throughout the Scriptures God exhibits a heart of compassion for those experiencing hard things. God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). 

The hardest things in life have the biggest potential to impact eternity in some way-

 Sharing our faith, living honorably, speaking hard truths in a gentle way, raising decent kids, having a healthy marriage, going the distance in ministry and laying down our lives for others are hard things. They suck-up our energy, eat away at our free time, cost us money and try our patience. Sometimes those things feel like they will break us.  However, hard things also grow our faith, give us wisdom, make us better people and have the potential to change someone else’s eternity. Changing eternity for others is a very good thing. 

It really is the best thing.    

When Help Actually Hurts-

Do to others as you would have them do to you~ Luke 6:31 NIV

The city of Albuquerque has a problem. 

The city has become littered with hypodermic needles. Not the clean, shiny needles you get from the needle factory or a doctor’s office but the kind of needles that have been used to shoot heroin. This is an issue because used hypodermic needles are dirty. Used needles oftentimes harbor unpleasant and sometimes even incurable bloodborne diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, syphilis and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). 

Yuck. 

Like many American cities, Albuquerque boasts a “clean needle” exchange program. Needle exchange programs allow intravenous drug users to get a free clean needle anytime they want to inject drugs. Until recently if a drug user wanted to acquire a clean needle in Albuquerque they had to turn in a dirty needle. This policy did nothing to reduce drug use but it did incentivize drug users to dispose of their dirty needles safely.  Thanks to a recent policy change, trading in dirty needles is no longer a thing in Albuquerque. Now if a drug user wants a clean needle all they have to do is ask for one and they get it. No questions asked.   

 The policy change has resulted in dirty needles being left wherever the drug users happened to be when they used their drugs. Ballfields and parks just happen to be popular places for drug users to inject heroin. Despite the valiant efforts of parents and coaches to keep local ballfields needle-free a little girl playing softball was stuck with a dirty needle as she was sliding into home base. Doctors say that it will be at least three months before they know for absolute certain whether or not she is infected with anything. 

Sigh. 

A long list of random thoughts ran through my mind as I was reading this story. The mama-bear in me felt a crushing compassion for the little girl and her family (Romans 12:15). I simply cannot imagine the torment they are experiencing and will continue to experience for three agonizing months. My heart literally aches for them. The analytic, business-minded part of me wondered about liability issues for the city. That side of me suspects the city of Albuquerque may be embroiled in a nasty and potentially very costly lawsuit soon. The vacation organizer in me who is always thinking about new places to visit made a mental note not to vacay anywhere near Albuquerque, New Mexico anytime soon. The fussy, pedantic worrier in me (she’s a bit prone to hysteria) was seriously freaked out by the idea that someone could get stuck with a dirty needle at a ballfield or park. She was reminded once again that walking around barefoot is never a good idea.  

Then the God-follower in me stepped-up and asked a question that no one seems to be asking:

When exactly did our society give-up on actually helping people? 

For the record, I am not a dolt, nor am I the public-health equivalent of a flat-earther. I get the shared benefits of needle exchange programs. I understand that diseases passed by dirty needles are also sexually transmitted. I get that people who are high are not likely to stop and think about practicing “safe sex”. Nor, are they likely to remember or act on the warnings they heard in the abstinence-based sex education class they attended in high school. I understand that needle-exchange programs save lives and prevent diseases. I am one-hundred-percent on board with saving lives and preventing diseases, especially diseases like HIV, Hepatitis C and MRSA. 

That said. 

I can’t help but feel that needle exchange programs (as well-intended and necessary as they may be) are the ultimate in giving-up on people and writing them off as not worth saving or helping. When we offer drug users a clean needle to shoot a substance that will eventually kill them off without also offering some sort of help or hope we are not treating drug users the way we would want to be treated.  This breaks my heart. We have become so callous as a society that we have decided there is an entire segment of the population not worth saving or helping (Romans 15:1, 1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Seriously.  

There’s a lot of talk these days about the very real problem of homelessness. Experts on the subject universally agree that homelessness is nearly always a byproduct of drug use. If a drug problem can be dealt with in a person’s life it becomes much easier to work on the problem of homelessness. Conversely, as long as a person is using drugs their emotional growth halts and no other issues in their life can be dealt with effectively. No has ever actually been helped by mollycoddling the problem of addiction. 

Voters ought to be demanding local governments do more than simply hand out clean needles to drug users. At the very least local municipalities should require drug users to turn in a dirty needle in order to get a clean one This rudimentary requirement serves the purpose of reminding drug users that they are human and as members of the human family they have an obligation to do their part (no matter how small) to be helpful to the rest of society.    

As Christians the growing problem of addiction ought to break our hearts the way it surely breaks God’s. We must never forget that we are called to be the voice of Jesus in our culture and advocates for those without a voice.  It is our holy obligation to fight for those the world has written off as not worth saving. As Christians we should demand a return of anti-drug education in public schools and we must challenge the relaxing of drug laws and the movement towards complete legalization. Most importantly, we need to remember we have something to offer drug users the government can never give. Freedom from addiction and hope for a better future through a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ (Luke 19:10, Acts 16:31). 

Five Truths Every Christian Must Grasp to be Whole, Happy and Spiritually Productive-

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things~ Philippians 4:8 NIV

 I have been “cursed” with a temperament that tends to overthink just about everything. I also veer towards thinking a lot about a lot of different issues. There is literally no end to the number of random thoughts and ideas that flit through my mind in a given day. Regrettably, I do not have a mind like a steel trap. As a result, most of those thoughts and ideas depart as quickly as they appear.

All that being said, occasionally someone will say something that will cause a random thought to take root and I will spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about a subject and that subject makes its way into a blog post. 

Such was the case this past week. 

 We have teenager in our home who states at least six times a day that she “just didn’t think” about something. The things the girl does not think about are things most people think about all the time without even realizing they are thinking about them. Her curiously vexing acknowledgement has gotten me thinking a great deal about the subject of thinking. More specifically, I have been thinking about how what we think about (or don’t think about) shapes who we become and what we do. In the NASB version of the Bible Proverbs 23:7 says that what a man thinks about he eventually becomes and Jesus further expresses the same idea in Mark 7:21 when He states that evil thoughts always precede evil behavior. 

 Very few (if any) Christians are inclined toward the kind of thinking that leads to openly evil behavior. Rather, most Christians tend towards the kind of wrong thinking that leads to misguided or incorrect behavior. The problem with misguided or incorrect behavior committed by Christians is that it almost always leads to a kind of passive evil that hurts people on an eternal level because it is done in the name of religion. The bottom line on this issue is that what Christians choose to think about matters. I came up with five random things I believe we should all think about on a regular basis because if we don’t we suffer and so does everyone else.  

Beginning with:   

People really can change-

The gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ is about far more than simply sidestepping an eternity spent in hell (although that message is definitely in there). The really good news of the gospel is that sinful, dirty, mucked-up human beings can be entirely transformed into new people with new desires and new attitudes when they put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ (Romans 12:2, 2ndCorinthians 3:18, 2ndCorinthians 5:17). When we forget this categorically startling truth it diminishes the churches power to transform the culture because we tend to sideline those Christians we deem less desirable due to their lack of education, past mistakes or upbringing. It also keeps individuals from personally seeking the radical transformation necessary for every Christian to reach their full potential in Jesus. 

God loves people we don’t love just as much as He loves us-

God loves all of us in spite of our idiocy, faults, weaknesses and inability to pull it together and get the job done. That means that God wants the ridiculous, bothersome, entirely not self-aware people in our lives to learn from their mistakes, grow in their relationships and become better people. He might even be using us to orchestrate those things in their lives. Keep this truth at the forefront of your mind next time another Christian starts to bug you.  

 Feelings are mostly wrong-

Recently, a real live human (a Christian) told me with a straight face that if they “felt that something was true their feelings made it true”. I will not lie, it took me a minute to recover my bearings. I am categorically unaccustomed to hearing that kind of bold-faced insanity being spoken aloud. Once I recovered, I quickly pointed out that two people can have opposing feelings about the exact same issue or situation.  When that kind of conflict develops it has to be an agreed upon set of facts that becomes the deciding factor in what is true. If any other standard becomes the norm we will devolve into moral and intellectual chaos.

Politics and religion are not equal-

I have some strong political views, most of them are solidly conservative. I try to base my views on biblical truth rather than my feelings or what our Western culture believes about a particular issue. However, even with those qualifiers my political views are not on the same level as my religious beliefs. We should be very careful about writing off other people based entirely on their political opinions. Rather, we should attempt to persuade those who think differently than we do with reason, grace and biblical truth. 

Mercy is superior to judgment-

 I am a truth person. This reality is demonstrated in the fact that every spiritual gifts’ test I have ever taken I consistently scored lowest on mercy. Every. Single. Time. Even the times I tried to cheat and game the test I still scored dead last on mercy.  I am not proud of this fact but it is a fact. I fought against this fact for years and tried desperately to be softer and squishier than the way God made me. It took me a while to realize that people like me add something necessary to the body of Christ. We keep the feelers from getting excessively feely and the mercy folks from handing out cheap grace like it was fun-size candy on Halloween. That being said, with God mercy always wins out over judgment (James 2:13) and if I want to be like Jesus I have to embrace the grace and mercy He came to give. 

Why Saved People Still Need to do Good works

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do~ Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

If you are a Christian and reading this blog-post you can count yourself blessed because God has granted you the privilege of living in the age of Grace.

This simply means that Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection paid the penalty for your sins (Acts 13:38-40, Romans 6:23, 1stPeter 3:18).  You do not have to follow a bunch of rules, preform weird rituals or submit to the Old Testament law to get God to like and accept you (Galatians 2:19-21, Galatians 3:1-6, Galatians 5:6). If you have trusted in the finished work Jesus did on the cross and repented of your sins, when God looks at you He sees the righteousness, virtue and goodness of Jesus and that is more than enough for Him (Romans 10:10, 2ndTimothy 1:9). 

He totally digs you. Happy sigh. 

For the average Christian this is not exactly new news. Contemporary Christians have been inundated with the message that it is grace rather than works that save us from our sins and make us right with God. This is not in and of itself a bad message.  It is critical we remember that good works cannot save anyone from anything (Isaiah 64:6). During the Middle Ages the church lost sight of this vital truth and as a result the church (and the people in it) also lost sight of its purpose in this world. The spiritual and ethical chaos that resulted from this error is still being felt in our world today.

Sigh.

 That being said, humans tend to be creatures of weird extremes. We rarely do, think or believe anything in a halfhearted fashion. As a result, the current emphasis on grace has caused many Christians to view good works as an optional activity for Christians at best and as an affront to the grace of God at worst. Some Bible teachers and Pastors have inadvertently encouraged this flawed thinking by leading people to believe that salvation is an end rather than a beginning. Many Christians sincerely believe there is nothing left for us to do but glory in our salvation and wait for heaven once we have become Christians.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God could not be clearer in His word: we were saved by grace but we were created for the express purpose of doing good works (Ephesians 2:9-10, Matthew 5:16, 1stTimothy 6:18, Hebrews 10:24). Those good works include (among other things) living righteously, building the church (body of Christ), providing for the physical needs of the poor, sharing truth, loving the lost, fighting for fairness in an unfair world and helping Christians and non-Christians who need help. Today I want to make a biblical case for good works. Not so that we can get saved but because we are saved. Christians should do good works because:

Good works reveal who we are- 

In Genesis chapter 24 Abraham sends his most trusted servant to find his son Isaac a wife. The instructions Abraham gave the man were insanely hazy and vague. Mostly, Abraham did not want Isaac’s wife to come from outside of his clan. The servant very wisely prayed that he would find a woman who voluntarily did good deeds (my words) for strangers. He prayed that he would find a woman who would offer him (a complete stranger) water and be willing to water his camels as well (a time-sucking act of kindness that went above and beyond prevailing social expectations). Abraham’s servant understood that our behavior towards others (especially strangers) reveals our inner nature more effectively than words ever could (Matthew 12:35).  When Christians do good deeds for the right reasons (because we love God) it shows the world that there is something different about us and they tend to find that difference intriguing, perplexing and appealing (Matthew 7:18).   

Good works reminds us of who we belong to and what we are all about- 

Anytime we choose to go above and beyond for someone our good deeds also serve as a reminder to us that we are not called to live for ourselves. Rather, we are called to live beyond ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others. 

Good works point people to a good God- 

Human beings are for the most part motivated by selfishness, impure motives and greed. Because humans are self-serving and greedy good deeds that require personal sacrifice are a rare and noteworthy occurrence in our world. When Christians are open about being Christians and they do good things for no other reason than God wants them to do good things, our acts of righteousness inevitably point people to Jesus. 

Good works are a way to say thank you for a gift we could never earn-

It is simply a fact that no quantity of good deeds could ever make up for our innate sinfulness and pride. We needed Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could enjoy the benefits of salvation both now and in eternity. When we choose to do the good deeds God commands us to do (Deuteronomy 5:33, Matthew 25:31-40, Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12, 1stCorinthians 10:24, Galatians 2:10) it is a small way to tell God that we appreciate the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. 

Five Non-political Reasons Christians Really Ought to Care About Fake News

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil~ Hebrews 5:14 NIV

 Okay, so, regular readers of this blog are doubtless clued in to the fact that I have been burdened with an unusually large number of annoyances and pet peeves in this life. If you wish to get a clearer picture of the infinite number of irritants that plague me, simply type the words “peeves” and “rants” into the search bar at the bottom of the page. You will be immediately enlightened and have access to a wealth of really rant-y reading material.

 Seriously. A lot of stuff bugs me.

 Every time I write about a specific peeve I inevitably think that I have finally exhausted all the stuff I could write about that annoys me. Then low and behold I come across a new one. Such was the case this past week.  I was casually scanning Facebook and I stumbled upon a “news” story with dozens of comments from people who were obviously Christians and suddenly a brand-spanking new peeve was born:

 Gullible Christians and fake news.

 Not that fake news is a new development (or gullibility, for that matter). Liberal media outlets and the president act as if fake news is a 21stcentury brainchild. It’s not. Fake news has existed since the dawn of time. I’m convinced that our cave-dwelling ancestors scratched misleading graffiti onto the walls of their caves in a deliberate effort to deceive the other hunter and gathers. Double-dealing and duplicity are central to our character as fallen creatures (John 8:44, Romans 1:25, Colossians 3:9).

 It is not the fakeness of stories that bugs me. It’s the number of people (including many Christians) I see passing on obviously questionable news stories that make me crazy.

 We are smarter than that.

 Case in point: last week I found a story claiming that smallpox was discovered at the Southern border. There were so many logical problems with the story that it really shouldn’t have gotten a single share from anyone (it had a lot of shares). For example, if smallpox (one of the deadliest and most infectious diseases ever) ever made a comeback (it was officially eradicated in 1980) it would be big news and the entire country would be under quarantine. Besides, the picture was clearly (even to someone with zero medical training) a photo of someone with measles. Then there was the story that claimed there was a woman in California who proudly holds the world record for the most abortions ever. There is no such world-record. Furthermore, due to some issues with biology it would be fairly difficult for a thirty-four-year-old woman to have twenty-eight abortions in her lifetime.

 Sigh.

 Fake news is not simply a liberal fevered dream or a delusion the President is suffering from. It is a real problem that Christians ought to care about because when Christian people are not careful about what they share it causes four huge problems for all Christians and one potential problem that ought to terrify everyone:     

 Fake news makes Christians look like numbskulls-

 It just does. Anytime we believe questionable stories enough to share them it makes Christians look dumb when the truth is exposed. Looking dumb does not further the cause of Christianity. 

 Fake stories make it harder for Christians to share stories that are true but kind of hard to believe-

 Like the gospel. We really want people to believe the gospel because if they don’t they will go to hell (John 3:14-16).  The gospel is a story about a God who came down from heaven; became a man, lived among people, preformed all kinds of miracles and then died in our place to pay the price for our sins. Then that God rose from the dead after three days in the grave (John 1:1-4). This story is one-hundred-percent true. That said, the Bible and I both concede that it is a hard story to believe (John 20:29, Mark 16:10-12, Luke 24:1-11). Christians who share off-the-wall stories can cause unsaved people to think that the gospel is just another one of those stories.     

 Fake stories oftentimes make Christians look meaner than we really are-

 The story about smallpox on the border is a good example. Many who read the story believed that a conservative (perhaps even a Christian) made the story up because they hate brown people and want to make them look like filthy-disease-carrying-vermin. I know this is true because I read some of the comments (John 13:35).  I also know a lot of Christians and none of them think any of those things about anyone.

 When we share questionable stories, it reflects badly on Jesus-

 We represent Jesus. If we look stupid, Jesus looks stupid (1stCorinthians 12:27).

 If we don’t monitor ourselves the government will step in and “solve” this problem-

 Government interference rarely “solves” anything and if they step in to “solve” this problem the biggest losers will be the 1stAmendment and the people.

 I get that it’s easy to get excited when we come across a story that reinforces something we believe about the world (like abortion is out of control or unfettered immigration is hurting the country). However, we really need to stop and think before we share anything. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions before we hit the share button:

 Is this story plausible?

Are other news outlets covering this story?

 Do the views shared in this story represent Jesus well?

If you were not a Christian what would you think of this story?

 When in doubt just don’t.