Five Ways Christians Can (and do) Limit God

 

 

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down~ Psalm 145:13b-14 NIV

 Fear is a strange thing.

Most people tend to fear absurd things that are unlikely to cause them harm. People fear spiders, the judgement of people they don’t know, wide-open spaces, missing out on stupid stuff and going to the dentist.

  I have my own fair share of (mostly) irrational fears. I am petrified of snakes (even the non-poisonous ones) and I avoid enclosed spaces like the plague. If there happens to be an enclosed space (like a cave) that might possibly be home-sweet-home to a snake you can totally forget about it. I will not, under any circumstances, willingly go within a hundred feet of that warren of evil. Conversely, most people do not fear things that can actually hurt them such as: dark alleys, lack of situational awareness, evil motives, and taking terrible advice.

 In general, healthy, growing Christians experience less fear than most people (Romans 8:15, Romans 13:3, 2ndTimothy 1:7, Hebrews 2:14-15, 1stJohn 4:18). That being said, there is at least one thing every Christian ought to fear, we should fear limiting God’s ability to work in our lives.

 For the record, I do not believe that people can prevent the All-powerful God of the Universe from doing anything He decides to do (Psalm 33:11, Proverbs 19:21). Nonetheless, we can (and often do) hinder God from working in our lives through our own willful sinfulness, egotism and stupidity. Following are five ways Christians can limit God:

 We limit God when we live out our fallenness rather than our righteousness-

 All people are born fallen. This simply means that people are sinners who delight in doing things God has declared to be wrong (Romans 1:18-33, Romans 3:23). Because of this people have no intrinsic righteousness of their own (Romans 3:10). Nonetheless, if a sinner puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ they are made righteous at the moment they truly believe (Romans 4:5, Romans 10:4, 2ndCorinthians 5:21, Titus 3:4-6). As Christians we must decide daily to either live out the righteousness we received at salvation or to live out the fallenness we were born into. Sadly, too many Christians choose to live as if they were never made righteous by Christ. This is tragic because we stop growing spiritually anytime we regularly choose to live sinfully rather than righteously (1stJohn 3:7). Furthermore, it is nearly impossible for a Christian who consistently lives according to their fallen nature to fulfill the primary mission all Christians have to tell others about the life changing power of Jesus (2ndTimothy 4:2, Matthew 28:19-20)

 We limit God when we refuse to take advice or we only take advice from people who are just as ignorant as we are-

 The only thing dumber than refusing to take advice (Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 12:1, Proverbs 20:18) is to only seek counsel from people who are every bit as ignorant as we are. The Bible urges us to seek wisdom and advice from those who are older, wiser, and more knowledgeable than we are rather than our own peer group (1stKings 8:1-18, Proverbs 13:20).  Wise people understand that no one knows everything and so they seek guidance on subjects such as parenting, marriage, career, spiritual growth, etc. from those who have acquired wisdom and who have effectively navigated those undertakings (or learned enough from their failures to effectively counsel others).

 We limit God when we separate ourselves from the church-

 Regular readers of this blog know that I am not shy about criticizing what I see as the missteps of the modern church. However, this does not mean I believe that the church is somehow irrelevant or unnecessary. To the contrary, God designed people to mature physically, mentally and spiritually within the context of community. We learn and grow by being in the company of those who have navigated areas of life we have not. A child is inspired to walk by watching the big people in his or her life walk. Conversely, a young Christian is inspired to grow spiritually by observing mature believers live out their faith.  For that reason, we will never reach our full potential in Christ outside of a community of other Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25).

 We limit God anytime we choose to hang on to an offense-

 It is not sinful to be hurt or to get offended. Some things really are offensive and hurtful.  Hanging on to hurt and/or coddling an offense is sinful (Ephesians 4:31, James 3:14). Offense and hurt that is not processed and forgiven in a reasonable period of time inevitably mutates into bitterness. Bitterness not only ruins the bitter person it also destroys the people the bitter person loves most (Hebrews 12:15).

 We limit God when we do not believe enough to obey-

 Clearly, anyone who labels themselves a “Christian” believes in God. However, there is more to believing in the New testament sense of the word than simple intellectual agreement to the existence of God. In the Bible believing in God always meant doing what God commanded or taught (John 14:23-24) New Testament Christians would not have understood the notion of a Christian who refused to obey the teachings of the New Testament (1stPeter 1:22, Hebrews 4:2, 1stJohn 4:6). They understood that no one who consistently chooses to disobey God really believes in Him. They also understood the nearly forgotten truth God cannot effectively work in the life of anyone who willfully ignores revealed truth.    

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking Free From the Sin That Threatens Us All

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more~ Psalm 71:20-21 NIV

 Sin is a strange thing.

 There are sins that (thankfully) seem to be unique to a few (seriously creepy) individuals. We might joke about murder. However, few of us actually kill people.  Even fewer people joke about cannibalism, human sacrifice or most of the sins listed in Leviticus chapter twenty. Thankfully even fewer people commit those sins (if they do I choose to remain blissfully ignorant). 

 Then there are the other sins.

 Those irksome, run-of-the-mill sins that sprout-up like weeds in a garden. The sins we all (no matter how good we appear to be on the outside) struggle with at some point in our lives (1stCorinthians 10:13). There is simply no one in all of human history who has not grappled with lust, inappropriate anger, jealousy, hatred, selfish ambition and the inclination to gossip (Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6).

 Bitterness is another one of those sins. Scripture clearly instructs Christians to avoid becoming bitter and remaining bitter (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). That being said, most of us (if we’re honest) will admit to giving into the sin of bitterness at some point.  

Truth-be-told, few people become bitter without reason. This reality can lead bitter people to feeling justified and even extraordinarily righteous as they wallow around in the anger and resentment that inevitably leads to bitterness.  Regrettably, I am well-acquainted with the sin of bitterness. I learned first-hand over the course of several miserable and painfully unproductive years that bitterness is one of those sins that hurts us far more than it hurts the people who have sinned against us.

 It is critical we understand that God does not forbid bitterness because it is never defensible, logical or understandable. God forbids bitterness because bitterness gradually obliterates every good thing God has done in us.  At the root of a bitter spirit is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness causes us to miss the grace of God and prevents us from experiencing the Christian life in all of its beauty and fullness (Matthew 6:14-15, Hebrews 12:15, Luke 17:4).

 The ways we can become bitter are endless. Something as small and seemingly insignificant as being offended or ignored can cause a bitter root to develop in more sensitive people. An unfaithful spouse, a twofaced friend, an unpleasant childhood or ongoing injustice can cause bitterness in even the most thick-skinned of individuals.  

 Because bitterness is such a common sin and because it is something we are cautioned to avoid at all costs there are at least four things every Christian needs to understand about bitterness.

 Bitterness makes spiritual growth impossible-

 It does not matter how many Bible studies the bitter person attends (or teaches). Nor does it matter how much of the Bible someone can repeat verbatim. There is something about the choice to remain bitter that makes it impossible for that person to apply the truth they have learned (or taught) to their own life. Any learning that does take place is typically just empty academic agreement (head knowledge) rather than a full emotional and intellectual adoption of truth we have understood and embraced (heart knowledge). Satan celebrates when Christians become bitter because bitterness keeps Christians stuck in a cycle of obtaining knowledge without actually growing (2nd Timothy3:7).

 Bitterness halts clear communication with God-

 Bitterness is a sin (Ephesians 4:31). Repentance from sin is the only way to restore clear and unrestricted communication with God (2nd Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 9:1-19). Sadly, bitterness blinds us to the lack of communication we have with God, making it more difficult to get right Him.

 We have a responsibility to prevent our own bitterness-

 There will always be situations that come into our lives that have the potential to make us bitter. Some of those situations are one-hundred-percent unforeseeable and therefore entirely unavoidable. That being said, the author of the book of Hebrews tells the readers of the book to “see to it” that no “bitter root grows up”. The writer is instructing Christians to process and forgive offenses as quickly and completely as humanly possible.  Likewise, Christians should be very careful about voluntarily placing themselves in situations where bitterness is an obvious and foreseeable end result of said situation (Ephesians 5:15).

 Behaving in a way that causes others to become bitter is as sinful as bitterness-

 The New Testament clearly teaches a principal of mutual accountability when it comes to sin (Matthew 18:6). For example: Christians are clearly forbidden from committing adultery (Exodus 20:14, Mark 7:21). That being said, spouses are cautioned against refusing each other sexually because doing so could tempt their spouse to commit adultery (1st Corinthians 7:1-5). Obviously, a lack of “IT” in a marriage does not make adultery acceptable to God (Hebrews 13:4). However, it does make the other partner accountable to God for their refusal to obey Scripture.  Similarly, each person is responsible before God for their own choice to become bitter. However, we have an obligation to live in such a way that we do not give people just cause to become bitter. If we don’t we will be accountable to God for our refusal to obey Scripture.

 There is only one way to deal with bitterness-

 Forgive.

 Seriously.  It really is that simple. Let go of any bitterness you are holding onto and let God be the judge and jury of the other person.

 It’s His job (1st Samuel 24:12, Hebrews 4:13, 1st Peter 4:5). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Marriage Killing Behaviors

Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction~ Proverbs 17:19 NIV

 Marriage season is upon us once again and because my husband and I have reached the stage in life where we get invited to attend a lot of weddings I have been thinking quite a bit about the subject of marriage.  More specifically I have been thinking about why some marriages go the distance and others don’t.

 Contemporary wisdom tells us that prevention is key to avoiding marital shipwrecks.  Finding the right person, getting the right counseling beforehand and “being ready for marriage” are exalted as the gold standard of divorce prevention. It would be the height of foolishness to argue against the need for relational compatibility and pre-marital counseling. The importance of those things is obvious, and while I don’t think anyone is ever truly “ready for marriage”. Reaching a certain level of maturity before getting married is without question helpful to the over-all success of any marriage.  

 That said.

 All the pre-marital preparation in the world will not overcome stupidity, meanness, willful sin or relationship mismanagement. What we do after the vows are said is every bit as important (if not more so) than what we do before they are said. There are a number of common blunders people make in marriage that go way beyond mere mistakes, poor choices or communication snafus.  They are behaviors and attitudes that will literally kill a marriage if they are not corrected (and repented of) quickly.  

 The seven marriage killers are:

 The silent treatment-

 The silent treatment is a control tactic used by narcissistic people to bring about change they want to see in the relationship without actually discussing issues or compromising on solutions to problems. The silent treatment is at best, a sign of serious emotional immaturity and at worst it is a serious form of abuse. Those who use it need to understand that it tends to backfire over time. In the beginning of a relationship most partners will respond to silence by doing whatever they think needs to be done to get the conversation started again and the relationship back on track. That said, healthy people will eventually tire of the game playing and begin to distance themselves emotionally from the silencer, if emotional distance is not course-corrected in a marriage divorce is almost always inevitable. It all comes down to learning to use your words and being willing to compromise (Ephesians 5:21). It’s what grown-ups do in grown-up relationships.   

 Pornography-

 Conventional “wisdom” tells us that pornography is only a problem if one party in the relationship objects or if one person looks at pornography without the other being present. This “wisdom” is worldly idiocy. Nothing does more to create an environment where sin can flourish or erodes trust between two people more quickly than pornography (Exodus 20:14). Looking at pornography is the act of bringing other people into the part of the relationship that was intended (by God) for only the husband and the wife. Bringing pornography into a marriage directly contradicts the command given in Hebrews 13:4 to “keep the marriage bed pure and undefiled”. Pornography is not an acceptable or smart way to “spice things up”.

 Deceit-

 Deceitfulness can take on many different forms including emotional affairs, physical affairs, hiding financial information or just generally keeping secrets from the other person. Whatever form deceitfulness takes it puts up walls in the relationship and destroys trust. Marriages simply will not survive without trust.  (Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9, Proverbs 17:19, Deuteronomy 5:18).

 Using sex as a weapon

 Sex is one of those sticky-wicket issues that most couples avoid talking about to the detriment of the relationship. Don’t. Sex is one of the key reasons most people (especially Christian people) get married so it ought to be discussed. Do not get in the habit of withholding sex as “punishment” for real or imagined offenses. It’s not nice and it’s not biblical (1stCorinthians 7:4).

 Disrespect-  

 Disrespect covers a whole range of behaviors. It encompasses screaming, rudeness, spitefulness and not taking the other person’s desires, preferences or needs into consideration.  The worst and most damaging kind of disrespect almost always involves the words we use (Proverbs 12:18, Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:29). Cursing, belittling or name-calling during a conflict is a surefire way to kill romantic love quickly.  If we all just obeyed the command Jesus gave in Matthew 7:12 and treated our spouse how we want to be treated the vast majority of marital problems would disappear overnight.

 Abuse-

  Seriously, this one is a no-brainer (Malachi 2:15-17). If it’s a problem in your marriage get help immediately.

 Refusing to become a team-

 No marriage will survive unless the husband and the wife are both one-hundred percent committed to the good of the other. Once we say “I do” it ceases to be about us and becomes about the two of us (Matthew 19:5-6). Teamwork in marriage means willingly sacrificing our own personal wants, needs and desires at least some of the time for the good of the other person and the relationship (Ephesians 5:20-33) . If at any time sacrificing becomes habitually one-sided the team will crumble and so will the marriage.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Things You Must do Before You Confront a Spiritual Leader About Anything


Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you~ Hebrews 13:7 NIV

 Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has doubtless been there:

A trusted spiritual leader (a pastor or Bible study leader) says something (or a lot of somethings) we find troubling from a doctrinal perspective-

We are uneasy with the spiritual direction our pastor is taking the church-

We have (or know someone who has) a spiritual, physical or emotional need that is not being met in the church-

Our church has become dangerously inwardly focused-

Our feelings are hurt by the pastor or another leader-

We suspect our pastor (or someone in the church) is not living a moral life-

 These situations are not unique to contemporary church life. The church has been dealing with sticky issues since the dawn of the church (Acts 6:1-7, 1stCorinthians 5:1-11, Galatians 2:11-14 Acts 15:36-39). How church people choose to handle these types of situations matter and typically they are handled very poorly. Generally speaking, leadership problems are either ignored until they become intolerable and detrimental to the health of the church (Ephesians 4:26); or an individual (or group of individuals) will confront the leader with a long list of the leader’s faults, problems and inadequacies. Face-to-face confrontations are typically handled with all of the elegance and grace of a herd of goats running wild at a tea party (Proverbs 13:3, Proverbs 29:20).

 Both scenarios inevitably end in disaster. The first typically results in a large group of unhappy individuals quietly leaving their church and taking their unresolved issues with them.  Sadly, these individuals rarely go back and work things through with the leader so the leader remains forever bewildered by the desertion and never learns anything that leads to better leadership. Those who leave take their anger and resentment with them to the next church, where they perpetuate the cycle of unresolved problems and church hurt (James 1:20). When leaders are confronted poorly it typically results in a hurt leader who feels bullied by people he or she has invested their love and energy in. It is not at all unusual for these leaders to leave the ministry in anger and disillusionment. 

 Either way, Satan wins and the church loses.

 We can and should do better. The health of the body is at stake and it is up to us to make it better. Following are five recommendations for having a tough conversation with a spiritual leader.

 Keep your expectations in line with reality-

 Even the very best pastors and leaders are fallible, broken and inclined towards stupidity and pride (Romans 3:23). Because leaders are in the process of working out their salvation (as we all are) they need our prayers more than they need our condemnation. This does not mean a spiritual leader is ever above correction or redirection. There are times when leaders need to be corrected and should be corrected. That said, if we want to facilitate healthy change (and avoid the sin of pride) we must recognize the reality that no human (leader or follower) will ever be perfect or do things perfectly. Our expectation for spiritual leaders should not be perfection but rather a teachable spirit and a desire to become better and more Christlike (Proverbs 9:9, Proverbs 10:8).    

 Ask questions and seek to understand (Proverbs 12:18)-

 Many confrontations with leaders come about because of decisions that people did not like or understand. It’s critical we recognize that sometimes leaders make decisions based on information the rest of the congregation doesn’t have. That is why it is imperative we ask questions with an attitude of humility before we assume we understand why things are being done the way they are being done.

 Figure out if there is something deeper driving you before you confront-

 Sometimes a pastor or spiritual leader will rub us the wrong way for reasons that really and truly have nothing to do with them or their leadership. Sometimes we will reject a new leader because we really loved the style and personality of the old leader and what we really want is to get our old leader back. Other times a leader will irritate us because they remind us of a family member we have unresolved issues with. It’s unfair to project our junk onto others, therefore, it’s imperative that we examine ourselves before we begin a conversation.

 Pray before you do anything-

 Spend time praying for your leader but also pray for yourself. Pray that God will reveal any destructive attitudes you have that are motivating the confrontation. Pray for wisdom and most importantly pray that everyone’s heart (including yours) will be open to healing and ready to receive truth.

 Say what needs to be said without assigning motives-

 None of us can possibly know why anyone does what they do. Therefore, it is critical that we be very careful about accusing people of doing things out of motives that we do not know for an absolute fact they have (Proverbs 3:7).  

 Don’t write a letter-

 Seriously. A text can be a great way to arrange a meeting and it might be helpful for you to write down your thoughts and concerns before you go into a meeting.  There is nothing wrong with taking notes into a meeting. That said, letters are a one-way conversation that offer zero opportunity for true understanding of both sides of a given issue.  If you aren’t ready for a face-to-face conversation you are not ready for a conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Myths that Wreck Marriages


For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, the two will become one flesh. So, they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate~ Mark 10:7-10

I have observed that Christians universally hold marriage in high regard irrespective of their denominational affiliation. The vast majority of Christians marry. Most Christians who are not married wish that they were. Marriage conferences are ubiquitous in Christian circles and the vast majority of books written on the subject of marriage were written by Christian authors. 

 All that being said, the divorce rate among Christians remains stubbornly high and nothing any of us do seems to budge it.

I am convinced that the problem is not with our attitude toward divorce. I have never met a Christian (or anyone else) who advocated for divorce or who felt divorce was a desirable outcome. I believe the problem lies in how many Christians view marriage. We have bought into some dangerous myths regarding marriage. 

It is not my intention to heap guilt on the divorced. Most divorced people have experienced more than enough guilt for a lifetime and I have no desire to add to their pile. I do want to attempt to save some relationships by sharing some common (and hurtful) myths we believe about marriage:

Myth #1 There is one “right” way to do marriage-

My husband and I are not big fans of marriage conferences. Mostly because they tend to offer one-size-fits-all solutions to complex problems. The speaker typically begins by informing the audience that there is a “detailed biblical blueprint for marriage” and if followed to the letter the relationship is “guaranteed to be successful.” It is true that the Bible offers clear teaching on what a Christian marriage should look like. The essential components of a healthy,  Christian marriage include faithfulness (Hebrews 13:4), mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21), love (Ephesians 5:25), respect (Ephesians 5:33, 1st Peter 3:7), as well as an understanding of responsibilities within marriage (1st Corinthians 7:2-5, Colossians 3). The how of working all that out simply does not exist anywhere in the biblical text. I believe the Bible is intentionally vague on this issue because it’s up to each individual couple to figure out what all that looks like within the confines of their own relationship.Anytime someone presents a “detailed blueprint” for marriage, the blueprint tends to ignore the reality that every couple is different, all marriages are unique and the needs of individuals change over time. There is no one way to do the details of marriage as long as the relationship itself is built on mutual respect, love, kindness, and forgiveness.

Myth #2 Words don’t matter-

Words hurt, and if we hurt others often enough with our words any love that was once present dies a slow and agonizing death. Telling your wife she is a fat pig, or calling your husband a stupid moron is the quickest and most efficient way to destroy a marriage. The best advice my husband and I were ever given was to speak kindly to each other even during conflict. Choosing our words wisely does not mean that we ignore issues or never disagree. It just means that we say what needs to be said without attacking the personhood of our spouse.

Myth #3 Love means being accepted exactly the way I am- 

The self-esteem movement has taught us that we are all unique, flawless creatures designed by our Maker to bless the universe with our existence. Self-examination is not a big part of the self-esteem movement so when someone comes along who refuses to affirm our “uniqueness” as perfection, our initial instinct is to simply ignore their negativity and/or cut them out of our lives. The Bible teaches that the truth sets us free (John 8:32) and marriage was designed by God to reveal the (sometimes ugly) truth about ourselves.  It is essential we face the reality no one is perfect and we all have things we need to change about ourselves (Romans 3:23). We love others well when we demonstrate a willingness to change the behaviors that are creating conflict in our relationship.

Myth #4 Marriage is all about finding the right one- 

This lie is the stuff of fairy tales and is at the root of every other lie we believe about marriage. This myth implies that there is only one person who is suited to each of us and finding that one person guarantees a blissful union.  Hard work, personal responsibility and commitment to personal growth are not a big part of the “right one” mythology. Some spiritualize the myth by telling themselves that if they aren’t happy “they didn’t find the one God had for them”. Happily married people will tell you that a successful marriage is more about being the right person than finding the right person. Marriages are successful when both parties are willing to work through conflict, serve one another, find common ground, and meet each other’s needs (1stCorinthians 13, 1stCorinthians 7:3-4, Ephesians 5:33). Compatibility should not be overlooked when choosing a spouse, but it is possible to find a person with whom you have perfect compatibility and still destroy the relationship with pettiness, spitefulness, selfishness, and disrespect. 

 

Moving Past Church Hurt

 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News~ Philippians 4:2-3 NLT

 Church hurt happens. 

 Church hurt comes in all shapes and sizes. Church hurt can be born out of something as simple as an unresolved conflict or disagreement. It can happen when we feel overlooked or marginalized by Christians we assumed were our friends or Christians we wished were our friends. Church hurt rears its ugly head anytime we discover we have become the target of gossip or excluded from a group. By far, the nastiest and most damaging form of church hurt comes at the hands of so-called shepherds (Isaiah 56:11). False teachers, who use and abuse their spiritual authority to control, manipulate, defraud or sexually exploit those they have been tasked with caring for.

 How deeply we are wounded by church hurt is dependent on a whole host of factors. Including, but not limited to how new to the faith we were when the offense occurred, our over-all maturity level at the time of the hurt, the gravity of the offense that occurred and the willingness on the part of the offender to own their part in the hurt.

 I am convinced church hurt is the leading cause of spiritual shipwrecks and church dropouts. I know from experience that church hurt is practically inevitable, however it does not have to devastate our lives or destroy our faith. How and why people get hurt in the church is far less important than how they handle the ensuing hurt. In the interest of preventing anymore spiritual disasters, today I am going to give four (very basic) guidelines for recovering from most church hurts.

 First:

 Don’t misplace blame-

 Healing from hurt can only occur if we embrace the truth that God did not CAUSE our hurt. Another Christian (or someone who claimed to be a Christian) hurt you and caused the pain you are feeling, not God. Too many Christians never recover from church hurt because they insist on blaming God for things He had nothing do with.

 Honestly assess your level hurt-

 There are things that are never okay. No one should causally dismiss abuse, embezzlement, or vicious slander. Nor should we demand someone who has been wounded by say, sexual abuse in the church to “just get over it”. Big hurts (like sexual abuse) require special attention and time to heal. That said, there are other forms of church hurt like petty disputes, being treated rudely, or feeling excluded, that are very real and painful, but also simply need to be put in perspective. Sadly, being a follower of Jesus does not automatically mean that a person will never be rude, self-serving, insensitive, flakey, or stupid. We are all guilty of those particular sins from time-to-time and we ought to give grace accordingly (Proverbs 19:11).

 (Almost) always make an attempt at reconciliation-

 There are cases of severe abuse where attempts at reconciliation (being friends again) are ill advised and even dangerous. That said, in most cases if you cannot simply forgive and move on, an honest conversation to clear the air is in order (Matthew 18:15). The key to making these conversations productive is a heartfelt desire to restore the relationship rather than a desire to punish, prove a point, or justify your feelings (no matter how justified they may be).

 Don’t get stuck-

 It’s normal to be angry when we’ve suffered a hurt at the hands of a fellow believer and it’s healthy to grieve hurt. However, it’s not healthy to stay stuck in perpetual state of woundedness (Yes. I made that word up.). Staying stuck in anger inevitably leads to bitterness and bitterness ruins us (Hebrews 12:15). Reconciliation may or may not be advised, but with Jesus, forgiveness is always possible (Matthew 6:15). Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It will likely take time and may require some help from a wise and mature friend, Christian counselor, or pastor to work through. Get help if you need it. The health of your soul and your usefulness to the Kingdom is at stake here.  

 Church hurt is as old as the church. Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Mark, Euodia, and Syntyche were Bible people who all experienced serious hurt at the hands of other believers (2nd Timothy 4:14, Galatians 2:11-14, Acts 15:39, Philippians 4:2-3). Every one of those men and women recovered from their hurt and went on to do great things for the Kingdom of God because they chose the painful but life-giving path of forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation.

 

Why We Need to Stop Getting Offended All the Time

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

A few years back I did something incredibly stupid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Seriously. You can Google it.

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

 Offense sets us up for deception-

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

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

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

 Offense produces bitterness-

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

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

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

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

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Christians and Social Media

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

 I have a love-hate relationship with social media.

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

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

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

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

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

 And finally,

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

 It happens at least a million times a day.

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

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

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

 Remember four things…

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

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

 For the love of God—just be kind.

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

 Hurting people are weird sometimes.

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

 Keep private situations private.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Should All Stop Blaming God for Stuff He Had Nothing to Do With

 Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God~ Job 1:21-22 NASB

 It’s been a strange couple of weeks.

There have been moments when I felt as if I might be stuck in a slightly off-kilter version of the movie Groundhog Day. I have had numerous conversations with all sorts of different people who all have vastly different stories but the exact same problem.

 At the heart of their individual problems is a situation most of us will experience in our journey through this life. The details of our individual stories differ but at the root of problem is always a terrible or unjust situation that is completely outside of our control.

 Sometimes we are born into said situation.

 One of the saddest consequences of living in a fallen world is the untold number of children who (through no fault of their own) lose the parental lottery at conception. Those children are subsequently born to immoral, inattentive or sometimes even sadistic parents. The fallout from being born to selfish or cruel parents is experienced well into adulthood.

 Other times the situation manifests itself later in life.

 A spouse we assumed would always be loyal isn’t. Someone we love is the target of senseless violence. A friend who claimed to be a Christian betrays our trust. The child we raised right goes terribly wrong. A boss or colleague steals the credit. We are the victims of injustice or prejudice. A loved one dies before we think it’s time. Someone tells a lie and our reputation is hurt by that lie.

 The problem always begins with being wronged or cheated in some profoundly unpleasant way. Hurt and anger follow, anger takes root in hearts and we do what humans do when we get angry about things that are unjust, unreasonable and completely outside of our control.

 We blame God for stuff He had nothing to do with.

 We blame God because blaming God gives us an outlet for our rage and because it makes us feel better, at least temporally. Nonetheless, blaming God for things He had nothing to with actually compounds our problems rather than solving them.

 Anger is not necessarily a “bad” or a “sinful” emotion. There is such a thing as righteous, just and even healthy anger. Some things in this world are simply horrible, and horrible things ought to make us angry. If they don’t there’s a problem.

That said.

Anger misdirected at God—rather than injustice— causes people to act out in sinful, inappropriate, and astonishingly self-destructive ways. Sometimes we indiscriminately vent our wrath on undeserving people or hurt others in the same way we were hurt. Others choose to abuse alcohol, engage in sinful sexual behaviors or use drugs in a misguided attempt to numb the pain and forget the hurt.

Sigh.                                                                                                          

 We blame God for the actions of people because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of God, human sovereignty and how God relates to His creation. God creates each person wanting them to do good things with the gift of life given to them. That said, God is not a creepy puppet master who forces people to obey His commands or do His bidding. God gave humanity freewill and we are able to use our freedom in anyway we please.

 Most folks are comfortable with this arrangement so long as it applies to their own personal choices. However, when individuals use their freewill in a way that hurts others we become enraged with God, the one being in all of existence that is the most outraged and brokenhearted by the depravity and ugliness of the human race.

 It is critical to our psychological and spiritual health we remember that God does not cause people to do cruel, insensitive or evil things. Nor does He endorse or support anyone’s bad behavior. God hates evil. That said, just because God allows something to take place it does not mean that anyone is actually getting away with anything.

 God promises in His word that there will come a day when every human being who has ever lived will be judged for what they did and didn’t do here on earth (Revelation 20:11-15). It is imperative we remember that NOTHING goes unnoticed by God and every deed, thought and motivation will ultimately come under His judgment (Hebrews 4:12-13).

 Until that day, we need to go to God with our pain, rather than blaming Him for it. Blaming God for stuff He had nothing to do with inevitably leads to shunning the only one who can give us the comfort, peace and healing we really need.

 

When God Ordains Trouble

 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God”~ Genesis 44:5a, 7, 8a

 I rarely worry during the day and I’m usually out like a light within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. I would love to tell you it’s because I am some sort of a super Christian who has completely conquered the sin of worry.

 However, that would be a terrible lie.

I do worry sometimes. Sadly, it’s never at an hour when I can constructively deal with issues or problems. For some reason I will never entirely grasp, my brain simply prefers to focus in on all the unsolvable problems of life around three-o-clock in the morning. It never fails to amaze me how I can feel perfectly relaxed and anxiety-free at ten only to wake up with an extensive list of thoroughly bizarre concerns that appear to require my full attention just a few hours later.

 I was back at it the other night, wide-awake at 2:45 a.m. staring at the ceiling, mulling over an issue that has been vexing me on and off for months. The situation in question can only be categorized as an interpersonal disaster. I cannot figure out for the life of me how exactly the situation got to be so bad or even where it all went wrong in the first place.

 Looking back, there are things I could have (and probably should have) done differently. That said, I’m not sure doing things differently would have improved the outcome all that much. The whole thing is a big, stupid mess that appears to have been fated to become a big, stupid mess from day one. And the mess just keeps getting messier no matter what I do (or stop doing) to fix it.

 As I lay awake in the wee hours of the night praying for wisdom, it struck me that there are times in this life when it appears as if God has simply ordained trouble for people. It happened to some of God’s best and brightest. Paul, Joseph, Naomi and David are just a few examples of people who found themselves in serious trouble they did not create and were powerless to escape without God’s intervention.

 When Jesus promised we would have trouble in this life (John 16:33), He was not overstating facts. Friends betray our confidence, the wrong people get elected, persecution occurs, financial misfortune appears seemingly out of thin air. As if all that were not enough, spouses are sometimes prone to wander, terrorists attack without reason or forewarning and kids who were raised right can still go horribly wrong. Even the seemingly most secure and peaceful of situations can and sometimes do transform in the course of a single day.

 God’s purposes are largely hidden and almost always easier to understand in retrospect. Sometimes, as with Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth, God has a much larger plan that is unfolding, and our pain is simply a stepping-stone to our true purpose in this life. Other times, God uses trouble to prepare us for responsibilities or blessings beyond anything we could possibly imagine, as He did with Joseph and David. Other times, trouble or persecution is simply the natural consequence of a life of obedience, as with the apostle Paul.

 God also uses trouble to reveal truth we need to see about ourselves. In the process of revealing those truths He refines us and makes us better people. Sometimes God uses trouble to draw us into a closer relationship with Him, and sometimes God uses trouble to reorder our priorities and steer us back to our original calling.

 If you live long enough and serve faithfully enough you will likely find yourself in the middle of a mess you did not make and have no clue how to fix. When trouble comes and life feels out of control, the natural response is to wonder what we did wrong or if God has somehow abandoned us. That response makes sense on a natural level but is an enormous waste of spiritual time and emotional energy.

 Rather, we should get busy praying for wisdom, direction and the ability to be flexible because something infinitely bigger and better is likely right around the corner.

The trouble you are facing today is simply God preparing you for the blessings and responsibilities of tomorrow.