Five Things Every Christian Should Think About A Lot

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

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

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

Such was the case this past week. 

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

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

Beginning with:   

People really can change-

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

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

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

 Feelings are mostly wrong-

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

Politics and religion are not equal-

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

Mercy is superior to judgment-

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

Five Ways We Have Failed Epically at Loving People

 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love- Ephesians 5:1 NIV

There is simply no subject that has been more thoroughly discussed or more hotly debated in the church today than the subject of love. My personal library contains at least a dozen volumes on the subject and hardly a day goes by when I do not come across an article or blogpost encouraging (sometimes even shaming) church people into behaving in more loving ways.

That being said, it could easily be argued that the Church is failing epically at this very basic and fundamental task (Matthew 22:36-40). The comments section of articles pertaining to hot-button issues (abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, immigration) reveal that most people view church people as a horde of angry, hard-hearted, insensitive meanies. 

Christians clearly have an optics problem when it comes to the subject of love. 

This problem has created angst in the hearts of most Christians and with good reason. It is simply impossible for those inside the church to convince those outside the church that God loves them if they do not first believe that Christians love them. Unless people believe that God loves them they will reject God; and willfully rejecting God’s love never ends well for anyone (Matthew 25:46, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:1-3, Revelation 20:11-15). 

Sigh.  

Our current optics problem came about as a result of some missteps on the part of Christians. Most of those missteps are not a result of deliberate mean-spiritedness; just a sad combination of obliviousness, biblical ignorance and misplaced zeal (Romans 10:2).  There are five mistakes Christians make that the cause the world to see us as fundamentally unloving:  

We do not love each other-

In the Christian world there is a huge emphasis placed on loving non-Christians. There is nothing at all wrong with Christians loving non-Christians. Loving non-Christians is without question a good and necessary thing. However, God also wants Christians to love each other. God intends the church to be a place where believers treat each other with the utmost love, grace, respect and patience (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, 1stPeter 3:8) so that our churches are a safe place for baby Christians to grow. God also wants churches to be places where unsaved people can clearly see the love and respect Christians have for each other. When unbelievers see authentic love and grace in our church communities they will want what we have. Sadly, many Christians are not always loving, patient or even courteous towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, many Christians publicly criticize their churches and treat other Christians with open contempt.  This breaks the heart of God and God will not bless the Western Church with revival until His people repent of this sin.  

We lack patience-

1stCorinthians 13 is basically just a treatise on loving like God loves. The very first thing the Apostle Paul tells us about love is that it is patient (1stCorinthians 13:4).  Too often we forget that genuine love gives people room to grow and develop and does not demand that people mature on our timetable. It is critical we correct those who are straying morally (2ndTimothy 3:16, 2ndTimothy 4:2). However, it is equally critical we temper our corrections with the patience, kindness and grace of God (1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Our corrections lack context- 

 In my experience, most Church people are good people who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-28). However, there are some church people who are a bit overeager when it comes to getting and keeping others on the straight and narrow. Church people forget sometimes that correction is best done in the context of relationship and should NEVER be attempted on church visitors, strangers or in front of a group. Period. It does not matter what the person is wearing or how many piercings or tattoos these folks happen to have. The only truly loving thing to do when someone shows up at church is to celebrate the fact that they are attempting to connect with God on some level. Their appearance (even if it’s inappropriate) should be irrelevant (Luke 15:15-31). 

Too many Christians think tough love is always the answer- 

Sometimes tough love (and tough words) really are the answer. There are situations in life where people need to be told the truth in a loving but straight-forward-no-holds-barred manner (Ephesians 4:15). However, most of the time a kinder, gentler method is far more effective and should always be attempted before tough love is applied (Proverbs 15:1 Titus 3:1-3, Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:1-2). 

We avoid truth telling- 

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of Christians in this world. The ones who say too much about the subject of sin and the ones who say nothing at all about the subject of sin.  Sadly, the ones who say nothing often feel justified in doing so because of the damage done by the ones who have said too much. Further complicating the situation is the fact that we have been conditioned by our society to believe that telling people the truth about their behavior is mean. That said, it is a fundamentally unloving thing to lead people to believe that they can continue to sin without consequences (Galatians 5:16-21).   

How One Bible Teacher Got it Wrong This Time

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path~ Psalm 119:105 KJV

  In recent years I have witnessed seismic shifts take place in evangelical churches. I have also learned that even God-fearing Christian people can get it wrong sometimes (Jeremiah 17:9). As a result, there is little that happens in the church world that shocks me anymore.

 Nonetheless, occasionally something happens in the church world that is so peculiar or just plain awful that I am profoundly shocked by it. This occurred last week as I was catching up on some old podcasts.

 One of the podcasts I listen to regularlyfeatured as their guest pastor and guru of all things evangelical Andy Stanley. Like most American Christians I have read several of Andy Stanley’s books. Some I liked okay, others not so much. To be perfectly truthful, up until about ten minutes into the podcast I would not have classified myself as either a fan nor a detractor. I was fairly middle-of-the-road on the topic of Andy Stanley.

 But then.

 He began to make a case for minimizing the use of the Bible in preaching and evangelism.  Mr. Stanley believes that rather than steering people towards what the Bible says about issues that we ought to simply point them to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and teach them to love others. The following quotes were taken directly from the interview. They sum up the essence of the program fairly succinctly:

 The Bible did not create Christianity. Christians created the Bible…. What created Christianity was the first Easter morning…”

“In the culture and in the marketplace and in the public square, we have to shift the focus from the Bible to the Resurrection. Because the Resurrection is completely defensible now just as it was in the first century.

“I think [some people] put [the Bible] in the place of Jesus.”

 All the New Testament imperatives that we find after the gospels are simply applications of Jesus’s new covenant command to love as I have loved you. The Apostle Paul wasn’t coming up with new rules and new laws.”

 Sigh.

It is not my intent to malign, besmirch or vilify Mr. Stanley (I try really hard to avoid that sort of thing). Rather, I want to share five things that inevitably happen anytime Christians intentionally or unintentionally choose to minimize the importance of the Bible.

We lose our true north-

 The Bible is more than just simply a book filled with dusty old ideas. The Bible is our true north. It is the one thing fallible humans can count on to act as a reliable guide anytime human wisdom fails us (as it inevitably does). Without the Bible to act as a compass we quickly begin to lose our way and devolve into doing our own thing. Without the Bible guiding us through life we become like the Israelites in the book of Judge where every person did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).

 We devolve into myth and superstition-

 Andy Stanley correctly points out that few (if any) early Christians had access to personal copies of the Bible. This is because few people could read and books as we know them today simply did not exist. The scrolls that did exist were prohibitively expensive for all but the most outrageously wealthy of people.  However, this situation was far from optimal. Because few people had access to the Bible the church frequently fell into fits of heresy and individual Christians were prone to superstition, mystical thinking and believing all kinds of weird myths about God.  This problem reached an apex just prior to the reformation when even well-educated church leaders were commonly biblically ignorant and spiritually lost. Without an ongoing emphasis on the Bible we will assuredly follow their path.

  We construct our own standards of right and wrong-

 The great thing about the Bible is that it spells out in no uncertain terms exactly what is right and what is wrong. This prevents Christians leaders from playing favorites (most of the time) and applying standards of behavior to some people and not to others. It also keeps Christians from simply adopting the standards of an everchanging culture.

 We become hopelessly reliant on subjective definitions of right and wrong-

 We know exactly what sin is because sin is clearly defined in Ephesians 5:3-7, Galatians 5:19-20, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:21-31. We know what love is because God spelled it out for us in 1stCorinthians 13. We know when divorce is morally acceptable because of Jesus’ teaching on the subject in Matthew 19:4-9. Without these and other teachings found in the Bible we are left to decide for ourselves the definitions of key issues. Anytime foolish humans are left to define right and wrong for themselves there will be some monster who decides that it is a loving act to kill people he or she finds distasteful or burdensome. It’s simply a fact that life gets really weird, really fast without hard and fast definitions of right and wrong.   

 We doom ourselves to stupidity and repeating the mistakes of the past-

 Most of the New Testament letters were written to correct wrong thinking concerning various doctrinal issues. When we willfully ignore the vast storehouse of wisdom and knowledge contained in the Bible, we doom ourselves to make the same mistakes early Christians made. The only difference between those early believers and us is that we are without excuse because God has graciously given us everything we need in the word of God to avoid the doctrinal errors of the past. 

 All we have to do is study it.

 

 

Why Church People Need to Hurry-up and Get It Together Now

We can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth~ 1stJohn 2:2-4 NLT

 It’s been a long depressing week.

 A cursory glance at the news would quickly convince anyone that the whole stinking world has lost its mind.

 The rabble-rousers at ANTAFA have been protesting racism and fascism by lighting things on fire and punching strangers in the face. The news media is aiding and abetting this chicanery by openly defending ANTAFA’s methods and claiming that some punches are more “moral” than others (What?). Several American universities have begun stocking their men’s bathrooms with tampons in the name of gender equality and fairness (seriously, I am incapable of making this stuff up).    

 Sadly, that carnival of madness pales in comparison to the news that came out of the church world this week. Bill Hybels, guru of all things evangelical and lead Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church resigned after allegations of adultery, duplicity and ongoing sexual idiocy were confirmed. The resignation of the entire board of Willow Creek Church quickly followed when it was disclosed that they had dismissed and covered-up allegations of abuse from dozens of women over the years. Immediately following the news of that flaming-hot-dumpster-fire it was revealed that the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania lied about and aided in the systemic sexual abuse of thousands of children over the course of several decades.

Sigh.

 All this would be less worrisome if it weren’t simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shady behavior, sketchiness and sin in the church. It is not unusual for local church leaders to openly behave in ways that are questionable at best and downright sinful at worst. It is even more common for Christian laypeople to totally disregard clear instruction given in the Bible. Some have taken to treating bad behavior by other Christians as if clear-cut cases of sin were simply a matter of Christian freedom or lifestyle choices (1stPeter 3:16).

 This is not about freedom in Christ or the right some post-modern Christians think they have to be uninhibited by any and all rules (1stCorinthians 6:20, 1stCorinthians 8:9, 2ndTimothy 2:5). This is about people who do not know Jesus and probably never will because too many Christians flatly refuse to control their baser urges. It pretty much goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that it is highly unlikely that even one of those little kids who were molested by their parish priests grew-up to become Christians. If we want to turn things around we need to do five things fast:

 We must redefine what qualifies as suitable entertainment for Christians-

 Recently, I watched a television show that was wildly popular back in the day (twenty-plus years ago). Fifteen minutes in, I realized the real success of that program was in normalizing sin, especially the sins of pornography and homosexuality. When the devil can get us to giggle at behaviors that God forbids or to identify strongly with characters who are openly sinful and deeply flawed we are well on our way to accepting those behaviors as normal and even healthy. Over the course of the last two decades Christian attitudes towards sin has changed dramatically. Our entertainment choices are at least partly to blame.

 We need a return to church discipline-

 I get that this a touchy issue. I also get that we live in a ridiculously litigious society where few people (including most Christians) are willing to accept correction anymore. I also understand that Christians should be slow to judge and quick to forgive. I also know that too many churches have abused the notion of church discipline and used it as a means to bully, control and intimidate other Christians. That being said, Paul made it clear that certain behaviors are not be tolerated in Christian churches. He also gave clear-cut instructions on healthy church discipline and restoration of the repentant (1stCorinthians 5, 2ndCorinthians 2) 

 We should less time fretting about legalism and more time focusing on obedience-

 About two decades ago believers went on a crusade to eliminate every possible hint of legalism from the church. This is not a bad thing, so long as we do not equate obedience to New Testament commands with legalism. Until we recognize this has become a problem the church will continue to struggle with sin.   

 We need to stop thinking that attendance is the measure of a leader-

 Since the emergence of the first mega-church in the late 1980’s the ability to draw a crowd has become the gold standard for Christian leadership.  There is nothing wrong with having a guy on staff who can put butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate. However, it is critical we remember that nowhere in the New Testament are those things considered a requirement (or even a consideration) for biblical leadership. Rather, we are told to look for leaders who serve as examples of morality, love, grace and human decency for the rest of us (1stTimothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-7)

 We need to remember that God is to be feared-

 Seriously.  He knows stuff and He will judge everything. Including things done in secret (Hebrews 4:13, Revelation 20:12-13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Five Best Ways to Curse Yourself


Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, so a curse without cause does not alight~ Proverbs 26:2 NASB

 The word curse or curses is used a total of 178 times in the Bible. The conspicuously large number of times the word is used in the biblical text has led many to believe that God is all about cursing people. A lot of folks (including some Christians) believe God spends His spare time scanning the planet looking for those He can lay a horrible hex on.

  In the interest of fairness, I feel the need to point out that the only record I could find of God actually cursing anyone or anything is in the book of Genesis. In chapter three God lays out a series of curses related to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden of Eden.

 Issues of fairness aside, the Bible does not hesitate to reference the concept of curses.  The better part of Deuteronomy twenty-eight is just one long list of ghastly curses that will befall the Israelite people if they don’t get their spiritual act together and keep it that way. That passage coupled with the many other references to the word beg the question: Does God curse people for doing the wrong thing?

 I think not.

 Not that I don’t believe curses are a real thing. There are simply too many biblical references to the subject for a serious Christian to dismiss the whole thing as twaddle or voodoo. That said, God does not curse people willy-nilly just because they displease or annoy Him.

 It’s a bit more complicated than all that.

 God has designed the universe in such a way that if we do certain things certain consequences are inevitable. If someone places their hand on a hot stove, pain predictably follows. God does not cause anyone to put their hand on a stove and God certainly does not burn anyone’s hand.  Consequences occur because they are built into the design of the universe.  God doesn’t curse us.  We curse ourselves.  Following are four weird ways we bring curses on our own stupid selves.

 We curse ourselves when we refuse to break sinful patterns of the past-

 Many believe they are cursed to do stupid stuff because they a had a parent or grandparent or great-grandparent who did stupid stuff.  They believe that because some distant relative sinned in some foolhardy way God cursed the entire family line to sin exactly the same way for the rest of history.  It is true that patterns of sinful behavior run in families. It is also true that sinful behavior and attitudes can run deep. That said, the Bible makes it clear that God does not hold children responsible for the sins of the parents (Ezekiel 18:1-32). Furthermore, these types of curses are not difficult to break. Once a person repents of a sinful attitude or behavior the curse is broken.  Case closed.    

 We curse ourselves when we harshly judge situations we don’t understand or haven’t lived through-

 Back in the day my husband and I had some friends who were extremely critical and vocal in their criticism of how we parented our oldest daughter. We weren’t strict enough, we let her stay up too late, we let her eat too much candy, we didn’t discipline her enough or in the correct way. We naturally assumed that when these people had kids their kids would be the best behaved, sweetest, most well-mannered children in the history of children. They weren’t. They were awful. Those children were so dreadfully awful that both sets of grandparents refused to babysit them. I don’t say this to gloat (at least I am trying not to) I say this to make a point. When we judge people, we tend to repeat the same sins of the people we judge (Matthew 7:2), typically, we do this without even realizing we are doing it.

 We curse ourselves when we choose to become bitter-

 Anytime we chose the path of bitterness over the path of forgiveness we are cursed to become exactly like the people we refuse to forgive. I am not entirely certain why or how this happens. That said, I have observed it happen enough times to know it’s a real thing. I suspect we become like the person we are bitter towards because bitterness causes us to become extremely focused (in a very unhealthy way) on that one person. Having so much of our mental energy focused on the negative aspects of one person causes us, over time, to take on the characteristics of that person without being aware of what we are doing. So, if you do not wish to become a mirror image of your gossipy, critical Mother or your angry, alcoholic Father I strongly suggest you forgive immediately (Hebrews 12:15).  

 We curse ourselves when we refuse the Holy Spirit-  

 Anytime God tells us to do anything in His word or the Holy Spirit prompts us to action and we choose to ignore those promptings we curse ourselves.  Ignoring God hardens our hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8, Hebrews 4:7). The harder our hearts become the more difficult it becomes to discern truth from God’s word, to hear His still-small voice or even to care when the Holy Spirit prompts us to action.

 That perhaps is the worst curse of all.

Why the Football Players Who Refuse to Stand Are Not Civil Rights Heroes


I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, 
tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb~ Revelation 7:9 NIV

 This particular blog-post began as an ugly rant against (among other things) my personal loathing of purely symbolic forms of protest. Most of my wrath was targeted at what I see as a stupid, futile and divisive effort to bring attention to the problem of racism in America. After some thought I concluded that the subjects of racism and protests against racism deserve a slightly more nuanced approach than an angry rant.

 So.

 I want to begin by saying that if there was ever something worthy of a protest its racism. Hating or discriminating against anyone because of his or her skin color is patently ridiculous, appallingly prideful, and seriously anti-Christian. Racism is not something that should be tolerated in Christian circles (more on that later) or in a civilized society.

 That said, some have compared the protests of the 1960’s to football players kneeling during the national anthem. There really is no comparison between the heroism of the Civil Rights Movement and the kneeling during the national anthem idiocy we see today.

 With a few notable exceptions (all of them white) the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were severely marginalized people who lacked power, money, influence and options. There were literally no other alternatives open to them other than peaceful protest to draw attention to their plight. It’s also important to note that those protesters were not attempting to vilify their country or the people in it. They were simply striving to bring much-needed attention to some very real problems plaguing our country.

Furthermore, the Civil Rights Movement had an endgame in mind (i.e. an end to Jim Crow laws and the disenfranchisement of black voters). The leaders of the movement used protests in conjunction with legal action as they worked at a grassroots level to transform attitudes concerning race. Without question, the efforts of those brave men and women paid off. Hearts, minds and laws were changed and as a result America became a better country, not a perfect country, but certainly a better one.

 The football players protesting today are not marginalized poor people living out their lives on the fringes of society. They are in fact some of the wealthiest and most advantaged of all Americans (black or white). If they wanted to do something meaningful to solve the plethora of problems troubling the black community they certainly have the power, influence and financial resources to do almost anything they wanted to do.

 However, these bogus wanna-be’s do not appear to be interested in doing the actual work of becoming change agents. They simply want to bellyache about the issues in the most public, contentious and annoying way imaginable. To add insult to injury, they malign the nation and the people who have made them wealthy beyond reason for playing what is arguably just a really stupid game.

 Sigh.

 I do not begrudge anyone the right to express him or herself in any way they see fit. If overindulged football players want to kneel rather than stand during the anthem that is totally cool with me. That said, I will not be tuning in, nor will I be purchasing any overpriced football fan crap for my family this Christmas.

 But, I digress.

 The real issues here are two-fold.

 First, today’s protests are purely symbolic and I have no words for how much I despise pointless symbolism. The Civil Rights protests were not empty acts of symbolism. Protesters sought to bring attention to racial injustice by doing real things that impacted the cities where the protests took place in peaceable, but consequential ways. Kneeling during the anthem is the equivalent of telling a homeless person to “go, be warm and well fed” (James 2:16). Symbolic fits of melodrama do nothing to solve real problems and ultimately just spread dissension and pit Americans against each other (Proverbs 16:28). It’s simply wrong.

 I am convinced that God does not see skin color the way we see skin color. When God sees the variations in our skin tone He sees the beloved creation that He declared to be “very good” (Genesis 1:27-31). It’s our responsibility as Jesus followers to help our foolish and sin-sick world see the issues of our day the way God sees those issues. We do that by living our lives in a colorblind fashion and by pointing people back to the God who loves everyone and hates biases based on superficial and irrelevant things like skin color (James 2:1, 8-9).

 And by shunning purely symbolic forms of protest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Saying Nazi and Fascist Already

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint~ Proverbs 17:27a NIV

 I am a staunch defender of free speech.

 Free speech is ultimately the underpinning of every other human freedom. No one really has the freedom to do much of anything if they cannot first discuss what they want to do freely and without fear of retaliation.

 That said,

 I have developed some very real preferences as to when, how and where others exercise their right to say what they want to say, especially if they are determined to say something moronic, crude or ignorant.

 I have grown particularly weary of creative uses of the F-bomb. I am not a fan of the current trend of augmenting the F-word with suffixes such as -tard, nugget, weasel, blossom, weed or -ity. Neither do I advocate the adding of prefixes to said word, especially other swear words.

 Seriously.

 Truth-be-told I would prefer that we keep the use of any and all F-bombs to a minimum in public spaces. It’s not that I wish to stifle creativity or prevent folks from conceiving new ways of using old words. It’s just that I support the old-school notion that free speech doesn’t give anyone the right to be a foul-mouthed turd in front of someone else’s preschooler.

 There are other words I object to simply because I am sick to death of hearing them used incorrectly. I am not talking about the standard grammar-cop kind of stuff some folks get bent out of shape over. How one chooses to use words like their, there and they’re is entirely their business. That being said, I do reserve the right to silently mock anyone who uses those words incorrectly.

 My issue is with words that are used by people who have no idea what those words actually mean.

 Take for example the word “fascist”.

 Historically speaking a fascist is simply a socialist who also squashes free speech, regulates the public and private behavior of citizens, and eliminates any religious expression that does not directly support the interests of the state. Fascists will punish anyone who is unwilling to conform to standards set by the state.

 For the record, politely declining to bake a cake for a gay wedding does not make one a fascist. Although, to be fair it could be argued that a government that would penalize someone for not baking a cake for a gay wedding has clearly stepped over the line into fascism.

 Nazi is another word that makes me crazy.

 Nazi’s are for all intents and purposes just extraordinarily bigoted and brutal fascists. Contrary to popular belief, those who believe in rigorous immigration standards and border enforcement are not Nazi’s. They are just people who believe in borders and the rule of law. It is silly to classify anyone as a Nazi unless they are advocating for or committing actual acts of genocide.

 People who don’t agree with a particular set of political views are not Nazis and fascists. They are just people who have a different set of views.  It is not nice, wise or morally justifiable to demonize someone simply because they see the world differently than you do.

 That’s what Nazi’s and fascists do.

 Another peeve of mine is when folks overuse a perfectly good word. The word “offended” is a perfect example of a good word gone bad due to overuse. Not a day goes by that I don’t overhear someone sniveling about how offended they happen to be.

 The list of things I find offensive these days is nearly endless. On any given day I am offended at least a dozen times. You know what happens when I am offended?

 Nothing.

 I don’t demonstrate, cry, set things on fire or demand a puppy to cuddle (even though I love puppies). I don’t do any of those things because I am an adult and I figured out a long time ago that offended-ness is the price we pay to live in democracy where people have the freedom to make choices about what they do and believe.

 When we overuse, misuse or abuse a word that word loses it’s meaning as well as its shock value. Words like Nazi, fascist, and even offended are powerful words that ought to shock us when we hear them. When we stop being shocked by words like Nazi and fascist we may find ourselves unable to recognize an actual fascist or Nazi when they knock down our door and take our freedom.  

 

 

 

Is Being Nice Really What Jesus Would Do?

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all people everywhere should repent~ Acts 17:30 NASB

 My daughter has joined a gym. Her fitness goals are commendable and realistic.  She wants to gain muscle, increase her endurance and best-case scenario: drop a few pounds.

 Last night she confessed she’s run into a bit of a glitch in reaching her goals. The problem lies less with her than with the gym she belongs to. The staff is pleasant, but hands off when it comes to assisting clients.

 The staff does not help with technique or correct the wrong use of machines. There are no scales anywhere in the building. There is an enormous dish of candy at the front desk and the gym serves pizza on Fridays. If a client wishes to munch on a jelly donut while running on the treadmill, the management is perfectly fine with that. They do ask that you wipe the goo off the machine once your workout is completed.

 The goal of this organization is a noble one. The want to create a safe place for out of shape people to get into shape, without even a hint of disapproval or judgment from anyone.

 As always the only hitch is the curse of unintended consequences.  

 The employees are so wary of causing offense that the clients are not getting the help they need to make the changes they want to make. This is a legitimate problem when you consider that any gym anywhere in the world would assert that their sole purpose for existing is to help out of shape folks lose weight and get into shape.

 Her tale of woe reminded me of a blog post I read this week.

 I read quite a few blogs in a given week. Every once in a while I come across one that sticks with me and causes me to think on a deeper level.

 This was one of those.

 The writer (a Christian) shared that one afternoon while she and her husband were out shopping, they ran into a guy she had attended youth group with when she was a teenager. Except the guy wasn’t a guy anymore. He was a girl.

 Awkward.

 The writer handled herself with composure considering the delicate nature of the situation. She did not cast judgment, give disapproving looks or hurl Bible verses at him. Nor did she inform him he was headed straight for hell.

 She went out of her way to make friendly conversation and set him at ease. She asked about his family and inquired about what he had been up to in recent years. She introduced her husband, shared some of her own story, gave him a couple of big hugs and went on with her day.

 It was a nice exchange and frankly it’s probably what I would have done given the same set of circumstances. So, please don’t accuse me of judging her or anyone else, because I’m not. That said, as I pondered her story I was overcome with a deep sense of spiritual conviction and left wondering:

 Is being nice enough?

 Being nice or “showing love” to sinners is bandied about as the latest and greatest in “being like Jesus” and “loving the unsaved”. But again, I wonder is it enough? And is it really and truly “being like Jesus”?

 I am not questioning whether or not Christians ought to be kind, respectful and compassionate towards all people, including those people with obviously sinful lifestyles. Jesus was and I believe being kind is a given. If you are a Christ-follower and do not routinely treat all people with respect, you have a serious sin problem called pride and you should deal with it.

Today.

 That being said, I do wonder if simply “showing love” to people who are obviously stuck in a sin spiral is doing more harm than good from an eternal perspective. I’m not proposing we stop being nice. I am proposing we stop helping sinners to feel safe in their lost state. Our compassion and acts of kindness need to be followed up with loving, but truthful conversations about the eternal consequences of choosing a lifestyle of sin over a heart of repentance. We forget that Jesus (arguably the nicest guy ever) made it uncomfortably clear on more than one occasion that an unrepentant sinner is anything but “safe” from a spiritual standpoint (Matthew 4:17, Luke 5:32, Mark 9:47).

 I fear that we have we have traded the hard work of evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) for the path of least resistance: being pleasant and inoffensive. In the process we have become a lot like my daughter’s gym. We are safe and welcoming to sinners, but nothing significant ever really happens and no one ever changes anything that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Fearless Truth-telling

These are the things that you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,’ declares the Lord~ Zechariah 8:16-17

 Recently I took a fresh look at two of my favorite books of the Bible, 1st and 2nd Samuel. The author divulges in vivid (and occasionally scandalous) detail the good, bad and ugly bits of David’s life, proving once and for all that one does not have to be faultless to be a man or woman after God’s own heart.

 Revisiting an old favorite inevitably causes me to see something I never really noticed before. This time it was Joab. He seems, at least in the beginning, to be nothing more than a bit player in the story. He emerges in 2nd Samuel as a military mastermind and the go-to-guy for all things ethically dubious.

 If there was a shady thing that needed to be done, Joab was the man to do it. The person asking did not have to worry at all about Joab questioning the morality of the proposed action, or attempting to set them on a more virtuous path (2nd Samuel 11:14-24. Joab just wasn’t that sort of a guy.

 Joab possessed some noble qualities. He was unquestionably loyal to David, a courageous warrior, and a brilliant military strategist. He was also power-hungry and egocentric. Joab appears to have been driven by the need to control and manipulate the people and circumstances around him. If he had a personal motto it would have been, “The end always justifies the means.” His best choices were morally debatable. His worst choices were brutal and wicked.  Simply stated, Joab was not a Bible character we ought to model our lives after.

 All that being said, Joab possessed one rather commendable quality. It was a character trait that is much needed in our wishy-washy, never say anything the way it really is, never offend anyone (no matter how stupid or harmful their beliefs might be) world.

 Joab was a fearless truth-teller.

 On at least two occasions Joab was willing to say things that urgently needed to be said. The first time Joab spoke hard truth to David was through a wise woman from Tekoa (2nd Samuel 14:1-13). The woman spoke Joab’s words for him. If David had followed Joab’s counsel and found a way to reconcile with his son while still adequately dealing with his sin, years of war and untold human suffering might have been avoided.

 The second time Joab confronted David was after a hard won battle with Absalom’s army. David was so grief-stricken over the death of his rebellious and horrible son that he neglected to show appreciation to the men who fought and won the war that saved Israel.

 Joab informed David harshly that there were things more important than his feelings (2nd Samuel 19:1-8)  He advised David to behave like a leader and to start thinking with his head rather than his heart. Joab told David in no uncertain terms to grow up, move past his grief and do what needed to be done. Joab’s truthful but hard words saved the kingdom and perhaps altered the course of Israel’s history.

 Joab’s tough talk and David’s response reminds me of some truths that I am sometimes inclined to forget. First, God uses less than perfect people to communicate critical truths. I can get caught in the trap of expecting perfection of others before I am willing to listen to what they have to say. When this happens I inevitably wind up overlooking some critical and possibly life changing truths. David’s willingness to hear out a less than perfect messenger reminds me that wise people prayerfully evaluate what others say to them.

 That said, Christians should strive to be the kind of truth-tellers folks respect and respond to. Joab’s story reminds me that I should be striving to be the type of Christian whose actions and attitudes do not get in the way of God’s truth. Joab was a born leader, gifted with incredible insight and the ability to articulate truth in a powerful and life changing way. He was also a moral and spiritual failure.

Joab’s life is a reminder that the spiritual impact we have in this world is directly tied to what kind of life we choose to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love is Not Enough

Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside~ Exodus 9:20

 

It’s been a depressing week. Nothing truly awful occurred; just a whole bunch of petty little first-world problems that conspired together to wreck my week. I’ve been sick, my husband has been out of town, and we’ve had car problems, problems with the dog, scheduling issues with our kids, and on top of everything else it’s September and it still feels like July in Tucson.

 My blue mood intensified on Tuesday while I was searching the Internet for an article. I could remember what the article was about, but not the title or who wrote the stupid thing. As a result, I spent the better part of an hour undertaking the modern equivalent of searching for a needle in a haystack. I never did find what I was looking for, but I did come across a rather bitter tirade written by a former Christian turned irate atheist. Among other things, his diatribe contained a list of prominent Christian leaders who have failed morally in the last decade. The length of the list was appalling.

 But it got me thinking.  

Why do Christian leaders fail?

 They shouldn’t. If there is any type of leader on earth who should be able to hold it together it’s a Christian leader. And yet the last three decades have given the world some really outstanding examples of leadership failure within the Christian community. Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Doug Phillips, Bob Coy, Ted Haggard, and Tony Alamo are just a few of the more notorious examples of Christian failure the world has witnessed in recent years.  

 This is an issue all Christians should think about for a couple of reasons. First:

All Christians are leaders.

 Parents lead children, managers and business owners lead employees, employees and students lead their peers, and teachers lead students. If you are a believer in Jesus and you aren’t leading someone in some way, you are doing something terribly wrong. There is no leader on earth who is immune to temptation. We need to understand why leaders fail so we can avoid moral failure in our own lives and preserve our influence in the world.

 Christian leadership failure hurts everyone.

 Failure damages the person who fails; they lose their incomes, influence, reputations, and sometimes even their families. Moral failure devastates followers, shatters trust and tests faith. Moral failure makes it challenging for all Christians to spread the gospel. It is difficult to convince those on the periphery of the faith that Jesus has the power to change and empower people when Church leadership can’t uphold some very basic principles of the faith. Tragically, moral failure hurts unbelievers most of all, giving them a handy excuse to never ponder the claims of Christ, ensuring that they will spend eternity without Him.  

 Popular theories of why moral failure occurs are many and varied, but a list of contributing factors usually includes:

 Lack of accountability

Isolation of the leader

Stress

Pride

Too few boundaries

Too many temptations

Fatigue and depression

 All of these issues can and do contribute to leadership failure. However, I believe there is typically a lot more to it. One thing is clear, for most Christians moral failure is rarely about a lack of love for Jesus. I cannot speak for every Christian leader who has fallen. But I can tell you that every Christian I have ever known who has failed morally has loved God deeply and passionately.

 Lack of love is rarely the problem. Lack of fear is.

Love (even love for God) is a soft squishy emotion that is easy to push aside when other emotions like greed and lust are riding high. Fear on the other hand is much harder to ignore or push aside. For that reason, fear of God has become a central part of our belief system. If it doesn’t, we will undoubtedly fall victim to the first appealing temptation that comes along during a moment of stress or weakness.

 Fear of God has gotten a bad rap in the last few years. The expression conjures up images of harried-looking believers biting their nails and cowering in corners. It’s really a deceptive image of fearing the Lord. Fearing God is not about being afraid. Fear of the Lord simply means that we really believe that God will bring the consequences He has promised in His word to those who violate His commands.

 A fear of the Lord must be cultivated in a person’s life. Fear of God begins with remembering that not all of God’s promises are pleasant and that God really does discipline those whom He loves most.