Lessons we Failed to Learn From two Years of Misery-

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees- Psalms 119:71 NIV

This past week I had a moment of clarity that just sort of led to a whole bunch of other moments of clarity, some good, some profoundly unpleasant.  

It all began when it dawned on me life is back to normal.  Church is back on. Traveling is back on. Eating out is back on. Having friends over is back on.  Concerts are back on. Life is back on.  

I was so happy I celebrated shamelessly for about ten solid minutes. 

It also dawned on me most churches are back to normal as well. Most Christians are doing exactly what they did prior to March 2020.  Churches are doing the same events, preaching the same types of sermons and running all the same programs they did before the world went to hell in a handcart.  The only thing Covid seems to have changed forever was church bulletins. Bulletins are officially dead. 

Anyway.  

If we are collectively doing all the same things we did before the world literally went to pieces it most likely means we did not learn all the lessons God wanted us to learn from the world literally going to pieces. I’m just spit-balling here but it simply makes no sense God would allow all the misery we collectively experienced in 2020-2021 then be okay with His people coming out of it unchanged in any significant way.    

Choosing not to learn is never a viable option with God. He will keep going back to the same lessons over and over again until we get it. He’s relentless.  Trust me. I know. I am convinced there are three things God wants the church to learn from the events of the last two years. We will forget these lessons at our own peril. 

First: 

Community is the core of the Christian experience-

When Christians are deeply connected to other Christians they engage nonbelievers more confidently, absorb the truth of scripture, love each other sacrificially, and grow into the image of Jesus (Acts 2;42-47). It’s just how God designed the whole Christianity thing to work.  Unfortunately, the pandemic unearthed a shocking lack of authentic community in Christian circles. When the going got tough most Christians turned to Netflix, food and their PlayStations instead of the body of Christ for support and comfort. Everyone bemoans the lack of community in churches. There have been volumes written on the subject. However, little has actually been done to deal with the problem. Solving the problem will mean slowing down and stepping out of our collective comfort zones. No one can run from activity to activity in a frenzied fashion and expect to build deep, lasting relationships with other people in whatever time happens to be left over. Stepping out of our comfort zones means becoming a lot more welcoming and open to those who come to our churches. We need be intentional about developing the kind of friendliness that is genuinely curious about others. We need to seek to learn about others instead of simply hoping they will want to learn about us. Building community means inviting others in and making space for another seat at the table, even when it’s inconvenient (Hebrews 13:2). Without genuine community the body of Christ will find itself woefully unprepared for whatever comes next. 

The fear of man is a snare- 

 The pressure to conform to the morals of our time is nearly overwhelming. We have all seen what happens when someone is foolhardy enough to share an unpopular opinion or refuse to tow the party-line on some issue related to morality. As a result, we have all been tempted to keep our heads down and our opinions to ourselves in an effort to stay out of the line of fire. Consequently, evil has gained lot of ground politics, education, sexuality and law. It’s time for the body of Christ to suck it up and start being brave again (no matter the cost) because the fear of man is trap that will steal our spiritual effectiveness and our joy (Proverbs 29:25)

We have to live like the end is near

Seriously.  

This is the biggie.  I do not know when the end will be. Nobody does (Matthew 24:35-37, Ecclesiastes 8:7). That said, God commands His people to live like the end is going to be tomorrow. If we want to be sincerely obedient to Jesus we need to wake up every day and ask ourselves what would I do today if I knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow? Then we need to do those things (Matthew 24, Matthew 25:1-13, 1st Thessalonians 5:1-3). 

Thankfully, covid is no longer dominating every aspect of our lives. However, our world and the people in it are not (for the part) moving towards better things. Instead, governments are becoming more corrupt, evil is gaining ground, deception is getting stronger and hearts are growing colder. Hard times and evil days give God’s people an opportunity to shine, but in order to do that we must join together, practice bold faith and live like the end is near. 

The Surest Sign of Salvation-

The testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing– James 1:3-4 NASB

Anytime a Christian makes the choice to persevere or endure through hardship, difficulty, injustice or pain in a way that leaves their faith intact and their hearts free from bitterness good things happen in that person. Enduring through the hurt of life builds emotional strength, develops grit in us, causes us to grow spiritually, makes us wiser and transforms us into the kind of people others can learn from (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-5). 

There are at least a million different types of experiences a human might have to persevere through. Some are “life in a fallen world” kinds of things, painful but random events we all experience at some point in our lives. Things like cancer, the death of a spouse, friend or child, accidents or financial calamities. Then there are the “people are crappy” sorts of experiences like religious persecution, being cheated on, being lied to or about, or being treated indifferently or with disdain by people who should care about us.

Sigh.

Persevering is made tougher for Christians because hard things naturally cause us to doubt the goodness, faithfulness and sometimes even the very existence of God. It is true that pain and difficulty can drive us towards God but hurt and struggle can also drive us away as well. The effect pain has on us depends entirely on how we choose to respond to it (1st Peter 15-6).  There are things we can do that will ensure pain, grief, trials, and difficulty make us better as opposed to bitter and more miserable. Following are four of them:

Take your focus off of people-

By far, the worst and most excruciating pain in life comes when we’re victimized or mistreated by people.  The pain of personal betrayal is compounded a million times over if the person who harmed us is a Christian. Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid being hurt by people because people, even Christian people, are at their core sinful, broken and sometimes even cruel and malevolent. For whatever reason, most of us lay the blame squarely on God when people hurt us. This is a huge tactical error. Humans have free will and can do whatever they choose with their free will. They can even be horrible, sinful, disgusting people if they want to. It doesn’t mean God approves of their actions or that there won’t be a price to be paid for their conduct, it just means God will not force anyone to be nice, honest, or just. That being said, the biggest problem with blaming God for the actions of people is that we deny ourselves access to the only one who can give us comfort, peace and the power to persevere through whatever horrible thing we are dealing with (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 86:17, 2nd Corinthians 1:3). Sigh. 

Take the long view-

The apostle Paul lived most of his Christian life in what most of us would consider absolutely unacceptable conditions (2nd Corinthians 11:21-29).  Literally, everyone hated him. The Jews hated him. The Romans hated him. The Greeks hated him. Sometimes even other Christians hated him (Galatians 4:16-18).  Paul went hungry, spent time in prison, was beaten, stoned and betrayed by people who pretended to be his friends (2nd Timothy 4:14). Nevertheless, none of this injustice appears to have bothered him because he was able to view all of these situations as temporary problems that would be righted by God at some point in the future. He believed with all his heart his trials were actually preparing him for future ministry and making him more fit to spend eternity with God (2ndCorinthians 4:17, 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3). One “key” to persevering and enduring through pain is to make the choice to believe pain that is stewarded well will make us better, wiser, more insightful and more like Jesus. 

Know that Jesus gets “it”- 

He does. Whatever “it” is. Jesus gets it. I promise. Jesus experienced the same types of things we experience. He knows exactly what temptation, betrayal, loss, loneliness, hurt feelings and personal pain feels like (Hebrews 4:15). This makes Jesus the perfect one to run to anytime the heaviness of life becomes too much too bear (2ndCorinthians 1:5). 

Don’t let yourself get hung up on the issue of fairness- 

Getting hung up on what’s fair or unfair in this life will literally drive a Christian insane. This is because life at least, in the present, is not fair. People “get away” with crappy stuff all the time. If we choose to focus on what kind of punishment people are getting right now in this life we will lose our faith and our minds in that order. Instead of worrying about what’s fair and unfair, God wants us to believe in Him and trust that He will make things right and just in His good time. Anytime we’re hurt we have to remember the Bible is clear: NOTHING is in all of creation hidden from God and there is nothing that will not be publicly disclosed (Matthew 10:26, Hebrews 4:13). Sin that is unrepented of will be made public and punished in time. Period. 

Ultimately, choosing to persevere through the pain of life means clinging to our faith and choosing to tenaciously love God no matter what goes wrong or who hurts us. Faithful endurance through hurt, loss or persecution is the hard route but God promises rich rewards for those who choose it. 

Making a Difference in A World that’s Gone Stupid-

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is- Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV

Covid-19 is, for all intents and purposes, over. 

Between vaccines, therapeutics, a rebirth of common-sense and folks finally putting their collective foot down, for the first time in a long time a mindless virus is no longer running the show. 

That doesn’t mean life is all snow cones and roses. 

The economy is a flaming-hot mess. Thanks to punch-drunk government spending post-covid, inflation is out of control and a nasty recession appears to be on the horizon. Politicians all over the world are openly flirting with authoritarianism. As they pass legislation designed to create the kind of chaos that causes folks to welcome authoritarian control. These realities make future hardships likely. Further complicating the whole messy mess, morally we have officially hit the skids. People are stupid with sin. All common sense has vanished into thin air. Our culture is so utterly ridiculous college educated people can no longer tell the difference between boys and girls. Literally anything goes and God help the individual dumb enough to say some behavior, lifestyle choice or way of identifying is wrong or potentially harmful. A harsh and hasty canceling is in their future. 

Sigh. 

So, what is a Christian to do? There are no easy answers to that question. What the church has been doing clearly isn’t working. The culture is devolving and the church is shrinking. Most church growth in recent years has not been conversion growth. Some churches are growing because already saved people are going from church to church desperately searching for something healthy and life-giving. The church has been shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic for decades. This has to stop. Churches have to grow again.  The church is called to be a preserving and healing presence in the culture, we can’t do that if we aren’t fulfilling the call to make disciples (Matthew 29:18-20).  In order to get back to that calling some collective self-examination is needed.   As Christians, we are called to transform the culture by living such good lives that we reveal truth and call the people around us to repentance with our actions and attitudes (1st Peter 2:12).  

To accomplish that end leaders must lead well. 

Alas, many Christian leaders have fallen into the trap of believing there is something innately special about them and that’s the reason they’re church leaders. Truth-be-told it is a leader’s obedience and willingness to serve that makes them useful to the Kingdom of God.  If a leader stops being obedient or stops seeing themselves as a servant of Jesus, that leader instantly becomes worthless to the Lord (1st Samuel 13:1-14, 1st Samuel 15:22, Psalm 128:1). Period. In these topsy-turvy times it is imperative leaders remember they are only as special as they are obedient.  Leaders cannot use any perceived specialness they have as an excuse to hurt people or skirt the rules. Neither is it okay to use Jesus as a vehicle to build their own kingdom. That kind of behavior is crushing the churches ability to be a witness for Jesus. 

Christians must think clearly, wisely and most importantly of all: biblically. 

In order to do that we must exercise some common sense about what we put into our minds because that determines how we see the world (Philippians 4:8). It is imperative Christians let go of the ridiculous fantasy that popular culture is harmless for anyone. It’s not and it never has been. Much of popular culture is meant to make us morally dumb. It’s simply a fact that no one has become more godly or wise watching Game of Thrones, The Office, Disney-plus or any other popular drivel that promotes the very stuff Jesus died to save us from. If you have any doubt about what I’m saying test it: stop watching television for ninety days, replace television watching with something live giving: Bible reading, Christian music, gardening, board games or playing with your kids. I guarantee after three months of not watching garbage you will see what you do watch from a completely different perspective.

Furthermore: 

 Christians must behave in a way that is loving towards those outside the faith (Colossians 4:5).  No one has ever been won over to team Jesus with meanness or judgment. That being said, we have to stop using “love” as an excuse to pander to the culture and keep quiet on matters of right and wrong. Ultimately, moral issues are not a matter of personal taste. They are matters of life and death. Christians do no one any favors by keeping quiet or pretending we agree on issues of homosexuality, gender, heterosexual sexual sin, pornography and the child grooming that has become commonplace by transgender activists in public schools. Nor is it acceptable for Christians to use grace (God’s forgiveness) as an excuse for ungodly, unwise or unruly living. 

Christianity is ultimately about calling—not so much the individual calling most Western Christians associate with calling. The calling I’m talking about is the corporate calling we all have to be holy (Ephesians 1:4, Ephesians 5:3) and live lives centered around the good of others (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13). If we refuse to embrace that calling we miss the whole point of Christianity and become powerless to help a dying culture find their way to Jesus. 

The Question God Longs for all of us to ask-


But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God
– John 3:21 NIV

We all want THE THING. “The thing” is that something, that bit of knowledge or understanding that will make us a better version of ourselves. Longing for “the thing” is why the self-help section of any bookstore is always the biggest and best stocked in the store. We all long for that magic bullet.

We want the thing because growth, self-awareness and maturity are the fast-track to all the other things we all want in life. Things like healthy friendships, successful careers and happy families. For believers in Jesus the thing is the path to spiritual growth and wisdom. Those blessings inevitably lead to deeper understanding of our faith and greater intimacy with Jesus (2nd Peter 1:5-8, 2nd Peter 3:18, 2nd Corinthians 3:18)

Humans are hard-wired to want all those things.

If a person has stopped caring about healthy relationships, career success and a happy family it is likely they experienced some sort of trauma that caused them to give up on a fundamental aspect of what makes us God’s image bearers.  

However. 

Few actually get it. Even most Christians fumble around hoping to find the answers to this longing we have to become a better version of ourselves. 

The good news is the secret isn’t really a secret. Getting “the thing” is easy. Literally, anyone can do it.  That said, few are willing to do what needs to be done to get it. All it takes to achieve real growth and lasting change comes down to asking one simple question and really wanting to know the answer to that one simple question: 

“What don’t I want to see about me?” 

We all have something we would rather not see about ourselves. It might be that we’re actively running from God, or perhaps we stubbornly refuse to confront sin in our life or the lives of those we love. It might be we have a mean streak or a raging pride problem. It might be an anger issue or we are inclined to take the easy way out of hard situations. Or, perhaps we insist on thinking the best of other people even when all the evidence is tells us not too.  Maybe we are unwilling to admit fault or we routinely take more than we give.

Those sins always lead to problems that appear to be completely unrelated to the issue we don’t want to see. Those problems could include but are not limited to unhealthy dynamics in our closest relationships, a lack of friends, persistent financial problems, poorly-behaved children, a stalling in our professional lives or a stubborn lack of spiritual growth.  

We call the stuff we don’t want to see blind spots. They are not blind spots. A blind spot is something we CANNOT see. The things I’m talking about are all things we simply don’t wish to see. The problem with calling something we refuse to see a blind spot is it neatly removes personal responsibility from the equation. Without understanding and owning our role in the problem nothing will change in our lives. We will be doomed to stunted growth and messed-up personal relationships.   

Sigh. 

The good news in all of this is that God loves each of us more than we can even understand. God is rooting for all us to become the best version of ourselves. He wants us to succeed in all the things that matter. Because He loves us and wants the best for us He longs to show us the things we don’t want to see.  He knows that seeing the things we don’t want to see is the first step in the kind of change that leads growth, maturity and self-awareness.  

So, here’s the thing.

If we find ourselves stuck in some area of our life or keep running up against failure it’s not because of how we were raised, or because we married the wrong person. It’s not the fault of the temperament we were born with and it’s not because we missed out on opportunities others had. It’s because there is something we refuse (consciously or subconsciously) to see about ourselves. Because God made us and is the ultimate authority in life, solving the problem ALWAYS begins with asking Him the question. 

If we ask and actually want to know the answer God will tell us.  Honesty is His jam. He literally cannot lie (Numbers 23:19). The answer might come in a still small voice. It might come in the form of some angry words from a loved one. It might come in the form of a bad review at work. But it will come. 

We just have to be willing to do something about it.  

How to Become a Voice of Reason in an Unreasonable Time-

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world– John 16:33 NIV

We live in an age of division and hate. 

The list of issues dividing us is long and growing at a rapid clip. These would include tax policy, the minimum wage, immigration, the number of genders that exist, abortion, who should use which bathroom, sexual orientation, education, critical race theory and how elections ought to be managed. We are divided over masks and whether it’s safe to gather in groups and how to protect the most vulnerable from COVID-19. The vaccinated accuse the unvaccinated of being dirty, ignorant, backward, uncaring unscientific super spreaders. The unvaccinated accuse the vaccinated of being sheep, followers, sellouts, judgmental jerks and silent super spreaders.

 Sigh. 

How do we become a voice of reason in an increasingly unreasonable time? 

Do we keep our heads down and hope for the speedy return of Jesus?

Do we dive into the melee and fight the man? If so, which man? How do we fight?

How do we represent Jesus well while we fight?

Do methods matter?   

There are no easy answers to any of those questions. Christians are expected to do hard things (Matthew 10:8). The methods we employ do matter to God (Philippians 2:14-15, 1st Corinthians 14:26, Hebrews 4:13).  Hope is not a strategy. Therefore, simply hoping fervently for the return of Jesus will not make disciples or reform broken systems. God does not call His people to retreat (Genesis 1:28). To the contrary, the uglier the age the more a Christian witness is needed in every sphere of society and life. To be that witness we have to recognize three realities:

There is no distinction on God’s team- 

 1st Kings details the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Ahab and Jezebel were sinful, horrible, apostate leaders who championed Baal worship in Israel. They oppressed and slaughtered faithful believers without mercy. In chapter eighteen there is a meeting between Obadiah, an official in Ahab’s court and Elijah, a prophet of God.  It’s obvious from the text that Elijah is openly disdainful of Obadiah, while Obadiah clearly longs for Elijah’s approval.  It appears that Elijah saw Obadiah as a sellout and a collaborator. While Obadiah appears to envy Elijah. On the surface it looks like one man is better than the other. It appears that one man is clearly more righteous than the other. It seems as if one is taking a much bigger risk for the kingdom than the other. However, that view is simplistic, incorrect and absurdly human. Both were righteous. Both were risking everything for the cause of Yahweh. Both were serving on the same team and doing exactly what God had called them to do. Obadiah was operating covertly (at great risk to himself) within the existing political system to protect the remnant of faith who refused to worship Baal (1st Kings 18:13). Elijah was working openly (at great risk to himself) within the religious community to bring the wayward people back to faith, obedience and moral purity. Both men were preforming crucial, albeit different roles.  Too often we do what Elijah and Obadiah did, we judge one another (and ourselves) without mercy or grace.  We make arbitrary and unbiblical distinctions between the sacred (religious) and the secular (political). Anytime we make this error, we miss out on opportunities to encourage one another and correct each other’s wrong thinking and actions. When that happens, the whole team suffers. 

Some times we have to fight- 

As a general rule Christians are called to live in peace with others (Hebrews 12:14). This does not mean it is somehow godly to excuse ourselves from every fight (Philippians 4:3, 1st Timothy 6:12). We should never ignore societal decay, divisive ideologies or outright lies. Christians should not force their views on anyone.  That being said, neither should Christians ignore acts of evil or philosophies that will clearly lead to evil if left unchecked (Proverbs 24:10-12). Christians should act to protect women, the weak, children, the elderly and the unborn from exploitation and evil.  Protecting the vulnerable is an issue of justice and righteousness—not politics (James 1:27, Malachi 3:5, Deuteronomy 24:17).  Christians should be cautious about acquiescing to evolving ideas on gender (Genesis 1:27). Gender ideology literally places children in danger and causes confused and hurting people to degrade themselves in devastating and sometimes irreparable ways. Christians should fight to protect the God-given rights every human on earth has to life, equal treatment under the law, free speech, and the ability to worship God freely and without fear (Exodus 20:13, Galatians 3:28, Exodus 9:1). We cannot in good conscience concede to the culture on issues of right and wrong just to maintain “peace” (Jeremiah 8:11).  

We have to do all the things but in the right order-

There are two things Christians are called to do. Leading the lost to Jesus is the first thing (Matthew 28:19).  However, discipleship is a critical thing as well. We must begin the process of helping people to align their behavior and politics with the truth of the gospel. But only after their hearts have been transformed by the power of the gospel. Confusing the order short-circuits the work of the Holy Spirit and only succeeds in producing well-behaved heathens. This error is how we got into the cultural mess we find ourselves. 

God is calling His people to better. He has called us to unite around the person of Jesus and support all members of the body of Christ. He’s calling us away from the tribalism of our culture and into a purity of heart and action that might just transform our age of division and discord into a glorious season of spiritual reform and revival. 

Could Christianity use a Little More Rebellion?

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body- 2nd Corinthians 4:8-11 NIV

According to the Center for Disease Control 47,444 people committed suicide in the United States in 2020. This number is roughly equivalent to a city the size of Cheyenne Wyoming.  2020 was not special in this area, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. Unfortunately, experts in the field suspect that number is just the tip of the iceberg.  Most believe many deaths believed to be drug overdoses and accidents were in fact suicides. Suicide attempts are also on the rise. According to the CDC 2020-2021 saw a fifty-one percent increase in suicide attempts among adolescent girls aged twelve to seventeen.  America is not alone.  Suicides all over the globe have increased exponentially over the course of the last decade.  

We live in a culture of despair. 

Suicide is not the only indicator we live in a world where a whole lot of people lack purpose, meaning and hope.  Drugs that dull our senses and numb our feelings are very much a thing. Eighty-one thousand people died last year from accidental drug overdoses.  One in twelve adolescents self-harm in an effort to distract themselves from the pain and hopelessness they feel.  This means that in a high school with seven-hundred students eighty-four of those kids harm themselves intentionally. 

Sigh. 

The reasons for the rampant despair are legion.  Abuse and neglect of children has become common as fatherlessness has exploded and single parenting has become standard. Children who experience abuse or neglect almost always grow up feeling a lack of hope for the future. That said, I suspect abuse and neglect of children is simply a symptom of a greater problem rather than the root of our overwhelming sense of hopelessness. 

I suspect our pain is caused by our own willful foolishness.

These days most non-Christians and even many Christians live outside the set pattern and design God created for human beings. We lean on our own understanding of how to do life instead of seeking God’s wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-6, Genesis 1:28). Then we wonder like a bunch of idiots why life is hard and we feel bad all time. 

Think about it.

For one thing. 

Sex lost its sacredness decades ago. 

Now we have hookups, starter marriages, pornography and prostitutes instead of one partner we bond with for life. Few adults marry before thirty and the stated goal for many is to have as much sex as possible with as many people as possible before “settling down” and “starting a family”. Fewer than half of all women wait until marriage to have children, pretty much guaranteeing their kiddos will grow up in a home without a biological father. All this taken together simply means that the ties that bind people together are weaker than they have ever been. 

For another. 

The economic system our culture has trapped itself in ensures most families live far from their extended family and both parents work. This leaves kids (especially teenagers) to figure life out without the input of their parents and the wisdom of their grandparents. Most people work non-stop and as a result community and the close relationships we were all made for fall to the wayside in our lives.  

Christians must show the world a different way of doing life. 

Fast. 

And we have to find a way to do it without being strange, judgmental, creepy or weirdly patriarchal (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 5:21-33). Getting this right is the only way people will know there’s something better out there. We get it right by bucking the system and refusing to get caught up in the lies our society tells about sex and relationships. The world needs to see that it is possible to be happy and fulfilled while not having sex with a gazillion people or having multiple spouses. 

But first Christianity needs a few rebels. 

Christians rebel against this world’s satanic system by getting married young, having lots of sex, making babies with only one person, buying a house and building a life (Genesis 2:24). We buck the system by building community and remaining loyal to the churches we attend. We rebel when we give up other things to spend quality time with friends and family. We become the best kind of revolutionists when we are willing to admit we got it wrong and change directions.  We could change the world simply by choosing to love Jesus and obey God even when our obedience makes us look weird and causes us to be out of step with the rest of the world. 

Rebelling without giving a reason will get us nowhere. 

We need to loudly and proudly proclaim why we are doing what we’re doing. We need to be willing to look weird in the eyes of the world in order to shine the light of Jesus in an increasingly dark world. 

How Christians can Stay Hopeful in a World of Evil and Injustice-

  There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground- Amos 5:7 NIV

  I have been spending my elliptical time listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The podcast chronicles more than just Mars Hill Church in Seattle. It tells the story of numerous leaders within the mega-church movement. The first-hand accounts of the people damaged by the pride, shoddy doctrine and longing for celebrity endemic within the movement left me grieving for the body of Christ. The unjust and sometimes even evil actions of a few have forever sullied the name of Jesus and caused many to leave the church.  

This morning when I turned on the news the first story I saw was about a mother whose soldier son was killed in the military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The woman is angry about the death of her son.  Very angry. She is frustrated with how the governing authorities have handled every sordid detail of the withdrawal. So, she did what many of us do in 2021 when we are angry and frustrated. She got on social media and vented her anger. Her evaluation of the situation was censored by the social media platform and flushed down the memory hole. This is wrong on a million different levels. A grief-stricken Mother should be permitted to vent her anger. The people in charge should own their mistakes and the memory hole should be forever left on the pages of George Orwell’s 1984.  

These are not the only examples of injustice and evil in our world. They are just two of at least a million possible examples out there. Injustice and evil have become ubiquitous. Truth is routinely twisted and lies have become so routine that in some situations it is really hard to know what’s actually true. We live in a time where good is called evil and evil is called good (Isaiah 5:20). 

Our brave new world can leave even mature Christians feeling angry and bitter about bad leadership and lack of justice. Christ-followers are instructed to avoid the sin of bitterness at all costs (Hebrews 12:15, Ephesians 4:31). Bitterness is spiritually dangerous because it inevitably leads to attitudes and actions that have the power to defile anyone in our direct orbit.  

There is no easy way to avoid feeling bitter towards unjust leaders.  However, there are four things we can do that will help us avoid bitterness if we do them routinely: 

Remember nothing escapes God’s observation- 

Because God is merciful He does not punish every sin or sinner in real time (2nd Peter 3:9). This can sometimes make it look and feel like God is unaware of injustice or that He doesn’t care about evil. If we believe that lie we will either become bitter towards God and the world or we will join in with the sinners and sin our heads off. Doing either of those things will cause us to quickly lose our ability to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16, Matthew 3:10). If enough Christians lose their ability to be salt and light the brokenness and evil in this world will win. The key to staying both holy and hopeful in these times is to remember that the Bible does promise that there will come a day when God will deal decisively with sin and those who have caused other people to sin (Mark 9:42, Romans 2:9-10, Revelation 20:11-15). 

Be the person this world needs right now- 

Seriously. Just do it. Be the person who stands up for the subjugated, who fights obvious injustice and loves without limits. Love and righteousness are transformative in culture and in relationships. Acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God is the key to a living a life God blesses (Psalm 11:7, Proverbs 21:15, Micah 6:8)

Don’t give into the temptation to be vengeful- 

Vengeance can take many forms that don’t include acts of physical violence. It can take the form of rude verbal or written retaliation (my biggest personal issue). Vengeance can also include things like refusing to pray for or do good things for people we view as our enemies (Matthew 5: 38-41, Matthew 5:44).  Jesus directly commands us to pray for and do good to those who do us wrong. Refusing to obey Jesus always leads to hardness of heart that leads to both more sin and more personal misery. 

Pray-

Okay, I get it, encouraging people to pray while the world goes to hell in a hand cart sounds trite and feels like a copout. However, prayer is anything but a copout. Prayer transforms circumstances. I do not know or understand all the particulars on how all of that works but it does work. Prayer also transforms our hearts. Prayer, if it’s done consistently and in faith gives the person praying an awareness of God’s presence.  Awareness of God’s presence always leads to a love for others and a sense of hope for the future. 

Life is tough right now. Goodness, righteousness and justice are in short supply. The good news about dark times is it makes it much easier for our light to shine but we have to let it.

How to Become Spiritually Healthy even in Tough Times-

 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom- James 4:6-9 NIV 

Dear Readers, 

Beginning October 1, 2021 will no longer be sponsoring my blog posts on Facebook. However, I will continue to post all new blog posts on my personal Facebook page and my A Wise Life Facebook page for right now. There are a couple of reasons for this change: first I can no longer in good conscience give Facebook my money when they actively censor what I say by refusing to promote any blog they deem too “political”. Second, with so many people getting off of Facebook my reach has shrunk and it is no longer worth the hassle of being careful about what I say just to get a little promotional help.  This means that it will be much harder for readers to find A Wise Life. It will no longer simply pop up on your feed. You have two options if you want to continue reading A Wise Life. You can search for my page every week or you can subscribe for free. Subscriptions are easy: just go to the bottom of this blog where it says “subscribe” and type in your email address. A Wise Life will arrive in your email every Sunday night. I will not sell or give your email address to anyone. I would appreciate it if you  would “do me a solid” and continue to share any blog you feel is worth sharing on social media. That is the only way I will continue to acquire new readers. 

Thanks, 

Lisa Price

Now this week’s post:

The whole stupid world has fallen under the judgement of God.

Seriously. It’s just true.

Anytime large groups of people fall under judgment life changes dramatically and becomes far less pleasant for everyone. Crops fail, wars break out, birth rates plummet, conflicts increase, the weather gets weird, economies flounder and fail, fear increases, pandemics occur, wild animals become more vicious, leaders make dumb decisions and individuals everywhere just go kind of feral and crazy (Deuteronomy 28:15-64). Judgment is terrible. Everyone in a place under judgment feels the changes judgment brings.

This is where we’re living right now. 

However.

All the terribleness is not without purpose.  God always has two primary purposes for judgment. First, judgment is designed to bring the dead (spiritually speaking) to life in Christ. The hardship and pain that always accompanies judgment can and often does cause people who have rejected God to examine themselves, seek God and repent of their sins. When that happens, a person moves from death to life and all of heaven rejoices (Ezekiel 37:1-14, Luke 15:10).

If enough people repent and turn to God we get revival and change occurs on every level of society.  (Psalm 85:6, Acts 3:19, Acts 19:18-20). God also uses judgement to strengthen the church and make it holy (1st Peter 4:17). The church becomes stronger and holier anytime it encounters persecution. The hardship that comes with persecution draws genuine Christians even closer to God (strengthening the church) and drives non-Christians who think they are Christians away from the church (thus purifying the church).

It’s a win win situation.

  Persecution often accompanies judgment.This is because unbelievers when begin experiencing the effects of God’s judgment (crop failure, conflict, disease, weird weather, etc.) they often make rules or laws designed to manage the difficulties of the judgment. The laws they make inevitably end up affecting the churches ability to operate and share the gospel. Secondly, those who are actively rebelling against God despise being told where their rebellion will lead them. People do not enjoy being told there will be more judgment, more personal pain and eternity spent in hell unless they repent. Those who speak the truth in a season of judgment are always persecuted in some way. 

We are in a judgment. 

Therefore, persecution of the church is likely inevitable. This means attitudes and behaviors that have become commonplace in Church world simply will not fly anymore. Following are four of those things:

Marginal commitment levels-

Attending church services weekly, reading the Bible, cultivating a strong prayer life and being actively involved in a church community do not make anyone a Christian. Good habits do not magically transform pagans into saints.  However, participation in these activities do make Christians stronger and healthier from a spiritual standpoint. Christians who have taken the time to cultivate healthy habits are more likely to stand strong when life gets hard and life always gets hard for God’s people in a judgment.    

Fakeness-

Christians are sometimes disturbingly fake. We pretend we are okay when we’re not okay and that we have it all together when we’re really falling apart. We do this for one reason: pride. We want people to think we are healthier, better and godlier than we really are so we fake we are the things we think we should be. This particular form of pride cheats us out of the growth and transformation that can only be achieved by being authentic and transparent with ourselves and God. We can’t grow if don’t admit we need to.  

Legalism-

Legalists want to follow a list of rules related to outward behavior without dealing with the heart issues that caused them to sin in the first place. God does care about what we do. Some behaviors are simply not okay for Christians (1st Corinthians 6:8-10, Galatians 5:19-21).  However, God also wants us to do the right things out of a desire to honor and glorify God rather than a desire to be accepted and liked by other Christians or because we think behaving the “right way” will gain God’s favor. Legalism can look genuine in good times because a person’s heart isn’t tested in good times. However, in times of judgment the true state of a person’s heart is always revealed. Furthermore, legalists frequently become bitter towards God in times of judgment because they feel their good behavior should be rewarded. They don’t understand intimacy with God is the greatest reward. Intimacy with God is a result of clinging to God in hardship.  

Double-mindedness-

Double-mindedness is when we attempt to live with one foot in the world and one foot in the church (1st John 2:15).  This often takes the form of adopting opinions and beliefs that allow a Christian to conform to worldly norms and standards on issues such as: homosexuality, gender, adultery, abortion or justice while still living as a “practicing Christian”. In a time of judgment God always demands that His people choose who they will serve (Joshua 24:15). 

No one gets to choose the events and circumstances of the time they live in. God does that for us. However, we do get the privilege of choosing how we respond to the circumstances of our life. How we choose is never more important than in a season of judgment. 

The Art of (Spiritual) Warfare-

 For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory– Proverbs 24:6 ESV

A few years back, my son gave me a gift. It was a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. I must have looked as perplexed as I felt because Alex looked at me knowingly and said: “Read it Mom. You’ll love it. I promise”. 

 I read it and to my surprise I did love it. 

Sun Tzu was a 5th century Chinese general, military strategist and tactical genius. Most of his advice is remarkably pithy, relevant and astute for a guy who’s been dead for well over fifteen centuries. For the record, Sun Tzu was not a follower of Jesus and like all non-Christian sources of wisdom his writings should be read with a degree of discernment. 

That said.

Sun Tzu’s advice can easily be applied to a plethora of twenty-first century leadership situations and conundrums. Just insert the word “leader” anytime he says general or commander and a lot of times you are left with what can only be described as leadership gold.  A few of my favorite tidbits of his include: “a good commander is benevolent and unconcerned with fame” and “it is the business of a general to be upright and thus ensure order.

Sun Tzu also said some things that relate shockingly well to spiritual warfare. My favorite is: Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster. I have observed that Christians are losing more spiritual battles than we are winning these days and it is mostly due to ignorance of this principal (1st Peter 5:8). So, in the interest of changing the outcome of the many spiritual battles we find ourselves in these days I would like to offer a little insight into the schemes of the enemy. 

Beginning with:

Satan uses ignorance of our own nature to gain an advantage in our lives- 

Christians tend to look down on the pursuit of self-knowledge as worldly, self-absorbed and even a bit narcissistic. It is true that self-knowledge can become all of those things if it’s not pursued in the right way for the right reasons. However, Jesus warned Peter, Satan wanted to “sift him like wheat” immediately following an argument Peter had with the other disciples that revealed some motivations he was clearly ignorant of. Specifically, a wish to rule over others rather than serve them (Luke 22:24-31). Being successful in the realm of spiritual warfare means we seek to learn as much as we can about our own strengths, weaknesses and hidden motivations. Self-knowledge is not an excuse to continue on in our unhealthiest behavior. No Christian should ever say “that’s just my personality” when confronted with their sin.  Rather, self-knowledge should give us a starting point to begin seeking the growth and transformation that should always be a part of our spiritual journey. Tools such as the Myers-Briggs Indicator, Strength Finders and the DISC assessment can all be helpful in the process of self-discovery.

Satan will attempt to discourage us anytime we do something worthwhile or good- 

We tend to think doing something good for God, the church or another person should automatically exempt us from difficulty and hardship. Unfortunately, this is not how things work in the realm of spiritual warfare.  Instead Satan intentionally attacks us when we are doing good in an effort to discourage us from our task. He has enough experience with humans to know we tend to give up when the going gets tough. We also tend to get angry or even turn on God anytime we experience hardship, difficulty or pain. It is critical we remember that contrary to popular belief Christians are not promised an easy time of things here on earth, even when we are doing good things with our lives (John 16:33, 2nd Timothy 4:5).  Instead, we should remember we are soldiers and soldiers don’t let circumstances discourage them from fulfilling the mission they were called to (2nd Timothy 2:3-4).

Satan loves it when Christians are lazy- 

Most of the time we know exactly what God wants us to do (Colossians 1:9-11).  Some of the things He might want us to do could include apologizing, praying more, having hard conversations, learning the Bible, being more vocal about what we believe, confronting hard issues, taking more of an interest in our child’s education or friend group or getting more involved in the life of our church or community. We don’t do those things for one reason: we’re lazy. Plain and simple. We just don’t want to. Those things are difficult and inconvenient and we know that doing them will cost us something. So, we don’t and truth-be-told, Satan loves laziness almost as much as he loves sin. The void our laziness creates gives him space to do his best work (John 10:10). 

Finally, Satan wants us to fight spiritual battles while completely discounting and ignoring the weapon of prayer (Matthew 26:41, Ephesians 6:18). Twenty-first century people tend to see prayer as a feeble and passive time-waster. Why pray when we could do something? Conversely, Satan sees prayer as a powerful act of warfare. He knows prayer is our number one source of wisdom, strength and discernment. (Ephesians 6:10-18). For that reason, he will do anything in his power to distract us from using this weapon to our advantage. If we want to practice the art of spiritual warfare we should always pray first and do second. 

Four Truths Key to Going the Distance Spiritually Even in Hard Times-

Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God– John 3:21 NIV

Okay, so. 

No one just decides to let their perfectly good life spiral into a dark and ugly disaster. This is even more true of Christians. No true follower of Jesus has ever made the willful decision to just let their life dissolve into a chaotic tragedy.

Seriously.

It just doesn’t happen. The hope we receive at salvation simply doesn’t allow for that kind of willful foolishness (Romans 5:5).

However.

There are plenty of Christians whose lives do spiral out of control. Sometimes there is no returning from the dark places they go. Unfortunately, it’s a trend that seems to be growing. More and more people are beginning their spiritual lives well and ending them by rejecting Jesus altogether or telling the world they are “reimagining” or “deconstructing” their faith (Galatians 5:7). When we choose the things of this world over the full life Jesus offers we end up turning away from God. Turning from God never ends well (Hebrews 6:4-6, Matthew 24:10-11). 

The key to evading that fate is found in asking God to empower us to seek, understand and walk in truth (John 8:32, 2nd Corinthians 3:12 Galatians 5:5). Living out the kind of truth that keeps us from becoming the worst version of ourselves is about more than simply learning some Bible verses that tell us how we should live.   In order for truth to become a protective force in our lives we have to seek it purposely in specific areas of our lives (Ephesian 6:14, Ephesians 6:17). We seek truth by asking God to show us truth in the following four areas: 

The truth about who we are-  

It is critical we know who we are in Christ and what that means for us spiritually (Ephesians 3:16-20, Colossians 1:13, Galatians 4:6).  Knowing we are loved by God gives us incentive to grow and protects us from discouragement.  We have to know that even when we fail God is for us. He never stops rooting for us to become the best possible version of ourselves. However, it is also critical we understand no one becomes the best version of themselves without some effort. We must make a practice of asking God to show us truth about the parts of ourselves that still need redemption.  We will never see the areas of our life that are tripping us up without God’s help. We are simply too easily misled by our own desires.  

The truth about the motives of our heart- 

The human heart is the most insanely devious thing in all of creation (Jeremiah 17:9). We are able to trick ourselves into believing our motives are pure and we are good when we are anything but good and pure. It’s possible to do this without even realizing we are doing it. We can easily fool ourselves into thinking we are simply being friendly to a member of the opposite sex when in reality we are testing the waters to see if that person might be open to an inappropriate relationship. We tell ourselves it’s the churches fault we aren’t growing when in reality we aren’t making any attempt to feed ourselves outside of the weekly church service. We fool ourselves into thinking we’ve forgiven someone when in reality we are holding onto a grudge the size of Texas. Only God can show us what’s really going on in our hearts but that only happens when we ask Him to do it. 

The truth about who God is –

People—even redeemed people tend to make God into something much smaller and less powerful than He really is. We are simply more comfortable with a God who is like us. So, usually without realizing it we cast God into the image of a human who isn’t all that different from us. In the process we talk ourselves out of taking God seriously. When we stop taking God seriously we stop obeying Him in any area of our lives that feels hard. The way to end this cycle is to ask God daily to remind us who He is and how worthy He is of our full attention and obedience. 

The truth about other people-

It is all-too easy for us to view other people as our enemies, rather than as people who are made in the image of God and deeply valued by Him. When we devalue people, we tend to overestimate the harm they do us and underestimate their ability to be transformed. When we do this we inevitably end up doing the one thing God doesn’t do: give up on people. Asking God to help us see people the way He sees them keeps us from giving up on people when they disappoint us. As people inevitably do. 

No Christian chooses consciously to fail in the things that matter most. The key to success in the Christian life is knowing the truth of God and then walking in it. But in a world fraught with lies and deception truth is something we have to want badly enough to go after it with our whole hearts (Jeremiah 29:13)