The One Thing Every Christian Can Do to Improve the Culture-

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge- Hosea 4:6a NKJV


I had a couple of rude awaking’s this past week.

 The first came by way of a blogpost I ran across on social media.  It was written by a Christian Mother who is helping her twelve-year-old son transition from male to female. The mother is “openly queer” the wife of a pastor, writer, speaker and LGTBQ activist.  Her “daughter” was featured in a recent issue of People Magazine. In the post the Mother speaks proudly about her child undergoing a second surgical procedure to halt puberty, so that her son can become her “daughter”.  Mom expresses her gratitude to God for “topnotch medical care” and a church willing to provide health insurance for her “daughter’s medical treatments.

 Sigh.

 The second situation was less directly messy. However, it is, in my opinion more worrisome. Mostly, because the flawed thinking was far more nuanced and subtler than the first.

 A man I am choosing to assume is young because if he is not he has a lot of growing-up to do replied to a comment I made on social media. He boldly declared that Christians who support the current president in any way are “idolatrous bootlickers”. He also strongly suggested that Christians who support the President aren’t really Christians at all and in very real danger of going to hell. He felt it’s reasonable to make those rather harsh judgments because: 1. The president has sinned. 2. He does not have the proof he needs to determine whether or not the President has truly repented. 3. the church refuses to hold the president to the standard found in 1st Corinthians 5:9-11 (Paul insists a sinning person be put out of the church and Christians refuse to associate with that person until they repent) 4. He doesn’t think the President is fit to lead.

 I initially responded to both situations with a cursory eye-roll and face-palm and moved on.  Later I realized that both situations illustrate a growing problem in Christian churches:

 The Mother claims to be a Christian but appears to be lacking the knowledge base to understand that God is all-knowing and all-wise. For whatever reason, she has not grasped the basic truth that God does not make mistakes, nor do events on earth escape God’s attention. Apparently, she does not know, and is therefore incapable of teaching her child the truth that God wants her child to be the gender he was given at conception (Genesis 1:31).  The child should not be affirmed, rather he should be taught that gender is not an accident of fate, nor is it something we have a “right” to alter willy-nilly. The Bible is clear that if we don’t agree with the Creator on an issue it is our responsibility to get on board with God, not to take matters into our own hands and attempt to change reality.  The woman seems to be ignorant of the fact that God is infallible and we are not. Human beings are led by emotional impulses, faulty information and flights of fancy. God on the other hand has access to information we do not and He is always right.  Therefore, if we choose to fight God’s choice regarding our gender (or anything else) we run the risk of producing massive levels of regret and chaos. However, the only way to know all that is to know the overarching message of the Bible not just a few verses taken out of context.

 The second issue is different. The man did not seem to understand what the Bible says about secular leaders. First off, every human being has sinned, the president is not special (Romans 3:23). The only instruction the New Testament gives Christians concerning secular leaders is that we obey them and pray for them (1st Timothy 2:1-3, Romans 13:1-7). Furthermore, very few people know the president well enough to know if he is even a Christian and should be held to the standard found in 1st Corinthians.  Even if the President is a Christian there have been no issues of gross immorality we know of since taking office (braggadocios tweeting does not constitute gross immorality). Even God does not hold our sins against us forever if we repent. Lastly, America is not a theocracy. Therefore, Christians should be careful about judging political leaders. It is perfectly acceptable to pray out, vote out, or in extreme cases throw out a leader because they are grossly corrupt, unjust or evil. However, it is not acceptable to throw out a leader simply because we dislike their demeanor or deem them unfit to lead (Romans 13:1).

 We must never forget that expecting flawless perfection from a leader is dangerous. The Bible promises that someday there will be a flawless political leader. He will be the antichrist and some Christians will swear allegiance to him because he fits the mold of an “ideal” leader (Matthew 24:24).  

 Okay. So, here’s the thing.

 The above-mentioned examples are of people who do not have a firm grasp on what the Bible teaches about some key issues. However, the real question is how many Christians would be able to recognize those flaws and explain them to someone else?

 The answer is very few because Christians are quickly becoming biblically illiterate.

 Our culture wouldn’t be in such a spiritual muddle if the average church person were capable of parsing out flawed thinking regarding biblical issues and gently correcting wrong thinking. The one thing every Christian can do to improve the culture is to be intentional about becoming biblically literate.  Get into the word this year, learn what it says, commit to understanding what the Bible says as a whole rather than picking out pieces and parts we like to obey. Then commit to living out God’s truth in a gentle and gracious way that draws others into the Kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dumbest Thing We Do-

A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it~ Job 4:12 NIV

At this point, everyone with access to the Internet and a news channel has probably at least heard about the latest Peloton commercial. The one where the man gives his wife an insanely expensive exercise bike on Christmas morning. The 107-pound woman (who does not look like see NEEDS an exercise bike) squeals with joy when she sees her gift. Then for some reason never fully explained she spends the following year recording EVERYTHING she does with the bike. The commercial ends with her practically weeping tears of joy as she describes how the Peloton has transformed her life.  

It stands to reason that the advertising professionals at Peloton were assuming viewers would see the ad as a sweet and uplifting story of a man loving his woman the way she wants to be loved. They were probably also hoping potential buyers would see the wife’s blissful reaction to the gift and be motivated to plunk down $2,245.00 for the bike plus $39.00 a month for the streaming service and iOS app. The streaming service and app are required throughout the first year of ownership.  

That’s not exactly how things worked out.

  Social media lit up like a Christmas tree with opinions over the ad. Men and women alike claimed the ad was “sexist”, “dystopian” and “cringe-worthy”.  One or two twitter users even suggested Peloton ought to be charged with sexual misconduct for producing the ad in the first place. Peloton stock took an ugly tumble.  

That was not all. 

People made peculiar and ugly judgments about the “couple” and their “marriage”. Most commenters simply wrote the husband off as a sexist, fat-shaming Neanderthal.  Others concocted complicated back stories for the couple. One woman claimed the wife seemed to be apologetic for her existence. Others proposed that she was suffering from a poor self-image. Many were alarmed that the woman seemed little too eager to lose weight for such a skinny girl (perhaps she has an eating disorder?). One person stated the woman was suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Almost every commenter feared she is a victim of spousal abuse. 

Personally, I found the comments about the commercial much more compelling than the actual commercial. I spent a good thirty minutes one evening sifting through them. As I shutdown my laptop for the night I was struck by a series of questions: 

Are these people crazy? Do they not know that this is a commercial? Are they confused about what commercials are for? Why is everyone so upset by this? Do they not have jobs or families to worry about? Do they actually believe these people are real? Am I the only sane person left on earth? What am I going to do if I am? 

It was a scary moment for me. 

Then I started thinking about the whole silly mess and I realized that the reaction to the Peloton commercial is actually indicative of one of the dumbest things we do in our culture. Someone will say a few words that appear innocent on the surface and someone else will read a whole bucket of subtext into the words and/or facial expressions of that person. Then they run with whatever their impressions are of the situation and next thing you know they have created a whole bizarre storyline out of a handful of words and a few facial expressions. 

Sadly, this madness is not consigned strictly to the realm of advertisements. This trend is driving the presidential impeachment hearings. The President said three little words: “do us a favor” and half the country has read a truckload of subtext into those words.  Everyone thinks they know what he “was really saying”, what his intentions were and what will happen if he is not impeached (the world will come to a fiery end).  Many have devised long, complicated backstories for the conversation. Some believe this is one of many secret conversations the president had with that particular leader.  Others think that rather than being concerned about irregularities in the 2016 election the President was so concerned with his 2020 competition that he wanted to “dig up dirt” on an old guy even most Dems admit they would only vote for out of desperation. 

Sigh. Sadly, the drama is beginning to borderline on collective mental illness.

The madness is not limited to suspicions regarding the President or pretend couples on television. This weirdly mistrustful way of looking at the world is becoming incredibly common. Even Christians can get caught up in thinking they know what people “really mean” when they say something that appears innocent on the surface. When we share those suspicions with others our foolishness can split churches, ruin reputations and may even destroy a perfectly good marriage or friendship. 

It’s critical we remember that Christians are called to love others (Matthew 5:44, John 13:34). Love always chooses to believe the best in others (1st Corinthians 13:7). If we choose to live like the world we become just like the world. If we live like Jesus we become like Jesus and the world sees Jesus in us (1st John 2:16, Philippians 2:14-16).

Six Weird Lies Christians Believe About Forgiveness-

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

Humans believe all sorts of weird lies. 

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

 Sadly, Christians also believe lies.  

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

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

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

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

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

Authentic forgiveness always includes restoration of the relationship-

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

Forgiveness is a “one and done”-

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

Forgiving should feel good- 

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

We don’t really have to forgive- 

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

We only have to forgive the repentant- 

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

Forgiveness is the character-building thing.

The Wrong Way to Handle Kanye’s Conversion-

 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!
 Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” ~ Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

Kanye West shocked pretty much everyone in the Christian and secular world when he “came out” as a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. A week later he released a Christian album entitled Jesus is King. In the six weeks or so since his big reveal he has spoken out about his new-found faith on late night television, on at least one news program, appeared at numerous Christian events and was interviewed by Joel Osteen at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston Texas. 

A few weeks back one of our older daughters asked me what I thought about Kanye’s conversion to Christianity.  She wanted to know if I thought it was the real deal and if I believed it would last. 

It’s tempting to lie but I won’t. 

My initial (admittedly sinful) inclination was to list in grim detail all the celebrities over the course of my lifetime who have made “heartfelt” commitments to Jesus only to break those commitments in a spectacularly horrifying fashion that ultimately brought incalculable shame to Jesus. I was also tempted to bring up all of the “celebrity” Christians who have presented themselves to the world as Christian role models and then proceeded to live like heathens before they finally “came out” as unbelievers. 

I get that this confession makes me sound like an awful person and an even more awful Christian. In my defense (which I admit is pathetically weak), I am not the only Christian who has been a bit skeptical of Kayne’s conversion story. The internet has been buzzing with opinions (many of them negative) on this subject.

The good news is that before I had a chance to open my stupid pie-hole and spout-off my rather self-righteous opinion on the subject the Holy Spirit caught me up short. In the space of about ten seconds God reminded me in a not-so-gentle way that people can change and I am living proof of that fact. 

Sigh.  

So, all this begs the question. How should a Christian respond to the news that an unlikely person has made a commitment to Jesus? I believe we should respond in four ways anytime anyone makes a commitment to Jesus. 

In faith-

As believers in Jesus we should have the faith to believe that God has the power to change anyone He really wants to change. If we believe in the gospel we also have to believe that God really can change people, even people we see as unlikely candidates for change (2nd Corinthians 3:18). The Bible is packed with examples of people who most of us would have written off as utterly hopeless (Acts 9). It’s critical we remember that without faith in God’s ability to do what He says He can do it is literally impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). 

With prayer-

This is a tough a time to be a Christian and it is likely that things will get worse before they get better. The struggles Christians experience are mostly spiritual in nature (Ephesians 6:12-18). Because our struggles are mostly spiritual, prayer is the most powerful thing one Christian can do for another Christian. This is especially true for new Christians who have never experienced difficulty or persecution. Our prayers really will make a difference in how well they walk out their commitment to Christ.  

With a sense of awe and wonder-

Every conversion is literally a miracle and the second we lose sight of that fact we lose sight of what it means to be a Christian. All human beings (even the really nice ones) have hearts that are hard, indifferent and even hostile toward God. When someone submits their life to Jesus Christ and repents of their sin God changes their heart (Ezekiel 36:26). This begins a process that eventually transforms them into an entirely new creation with a whole new set of priorities and desires (2nd Corinthians 5:17). It doesn’t get any more miraculous than that. 

With understanding-

Baby Christians are, more often than not, flaming-hot-messes, practically speaking. They do things they shouldn’t do, say things they shouldn’t say, their motivations tend to be all over the map and they can be oddly judgmental for people who clearly don’t get what Christianity is supposed to “look like”.  It is the job of more mature believers to prove their maturity by being there in practical ways for new believers. This means treating them with grace and mercy as they maneuver through the always challenging process of maturing in Christ (Philippians 2:12). 

Jesus’ came to earth to transform sinful, pigheaded, foolish people into something better than we could ever be in our own power (2nd Corinthians 3:17-18).  All too often Christians (especially Christians who have been Christians for a long time) forget that God changed us and that He is still very much in the business of transforming messy people into messages of His grace, truth and love.

Six Reasons Christians are Leaving the Church

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart- Jeremiah 29:12-13 NIV 

Recently there has been an upsurge in individuals who have abandoned Christianity and renounced their faith in Jesus Christ. Some have been influential Christians like Joshua Harris, Katy Perry and Marty Sampson. There has also been an uptick in average Joes and Janes who have walked away from the faith. Most Christians know someone (or several someone’s) who were once actively involved in church who haven’t attended church in years.  

Most lay the blame for this problem at the feet of church leaders.  I have personally pontificated on more than one occasion and in more than one blogpost about all the ways I believe the church and church leaders have failed to the last two generations of church goers. 

However.

In the interest of objectivity and because it’s critical I do my part to prevent more spiritual fatalities. I feel it is imperative I point out the fact that with a few notable (and incredibly sad) exceptions’ churches have not driven people away.  People have chosen to leave. Individuals who make a heartfelt commitment to Jesus do not just wake up one day and decide to stop serving God. 

There is a process involved in departing the faith that ends with a hardening of the heart and a defection from the faith (Hebrews 3:12-15). It begins with the adoption of attitudes and behaviors that open the door to apostasy. Christians should be on the lookout for those attitudes and behaviors in their own life and they should be ready to come alongside other Christians that are struggling with behaviors that can eventually lead to apostasy.  Those behaviors include: 

 You put a lot of faith in human leaders- 

Human leaders are, under the best of circumstances, a gift from God. If a human leader is fully obedient to Jesus they can lead others into greater understanding of the faith, provide inspiration and give moral direction to other followers of Jesus. However, human leaders are sinners just like everyone else. They lie, have affairs, are tempted to embezzle, become prideful and they get things hopelessly wrong sometimes. Wise Christians never put more faith in a human being, (no matter how wise or knowledgeable that person is) than they do in Jesus. If our love for Jesus is dependent on the virtue of a human leader our love for God will grow cold at some point (Matthew 24:11-12). 

You don’t pray-

According to surveys most Christians (over half) spend less than three minutes a day in prayer. That means most Christians pray over their meals (maybe) and when they find themselves in dire emergencies.  As Christians have begun praying less, more are leaving the faith (Matthew 26:41). I strongly suspect there is a correlation as well as causation between these two issues (Jude 20-21). 

You never really committed to a local church-

Church attendance cannot and will not save anyone from their sin (only Jesus can do that). That said, a Christian who chooses not to connect in a local church will probably at some point be tempted to leave Christianity altogether. This is because church is the place where Christians build relationships and acquire the accountability necessary to get them through seasons of temptation and difficulty.   (Proverbs 27:17). 

You have not done the work necessary to transform your thinking- 

Because we are all sinners from the moment we are born wrong thinking is an integral part of our human operating system. One of the primary tasks of a new Christian is to begin the process of renewing their mind and changing their thinking about just about every subject under the sun (Romans 12:2, 1stCorinthians 14:20, 2nd Peter 3:1). If your attitudes towards sex, relationships, politics and work haven’t changed since you became a Christian it’s possible you are not a Christian or you are in danger of falling away (Hebrews 5:11-12)  

You love secular advice- 

Christians are called to live life by a different set of rules and values than the rest of the world. Non-Christians and immature believers know very little, if anything about how Christians are called to live (Matthew 5:43-48, Romans 12:12-14, Colossians 3:5-6). When we take most of our counsel or direction from those who are ignorant of Christian values (secular talk show hosts, women’s magazines, non-Christian counselors)  our thinking will remain stuck in a secular mindset. No one stuck in a secular mindset is capable of bringing glory to God or bringing anyone else into the Kingdom. (Colossians 3:1-3).  

You love the world a little too much- 

We “love the world” when we take our cues about how to live, love and function from the world’s system rather than from the Bible (John 2:15, Romans 12:2). Loving the world means the values of the world are influencing us and we are not influencing the people God has put around us.  

Sometimes I am overwhelmed to the point of tears that God loves every human on earth with an absurd and crazy passion. However, people have a responsibility to respond to God’s love in humble faith, obedience and with a heart that is determined to persevere in the faith. It’s imperative Christians remember that no one will get a free pass from Jesus on judgment Day because the church disappointed them (Revelation 20:11-15)

Four Reasons Why God’s Rules Still Matter

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world~ 1st Peter 2:12 NLT 

Heresy is a just a fancy-pants theological term for the act of departing from a pattern of sound biblical teaching (1st Timothy 6:20-21, 2nd Timothy 1:13, 2nd Timothy 4:3). 

Sometimes heresy takes the form of some seriously insane theories about God. 

 There were once Christians who believed that Jesus was simply a human being who was formally adopted by God at his conception. Once the adoption was “finalized” he developed a divine (God) nature while growing in Mary’s womb (Adoptionism). Other early believers were convinced Jesus was a phantom who didn’t leave footprints when He walked rather than a flesh and blood person (Gnosticism). For nearly a thousand years some “Christians” believed people are born without a sin nature and are capable of living a holy life apart from Jesus and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (Pelagianism).  

Most heresies are not wholesale lies about God or crazy misinterpretations of Scripture. Most heresies are more like tiny kernels of truth wrapped-up in half-truths and weird errors.  There are two such heresies deeply rooted in our contemporary Christian culture. The first is legalism. Legalists believe they can earn God’s favor by doing the right things and obeying the right rules. 

It is true that God really cares about our behavior (more on that later). However, legalists would do well to remember that even the best-behaved person in the world cannot save themselves from their own sin (Ephesians 2:8, 2nd Timothy 1:9, Hebrews 10:39). Legalism sidetracks Christians from relationship with Christ by placing the emphasis on what we can do for ourselves rather on what Jesus did for us. Perhaps, the biggest drawback to legalism is that it falsely paints God as demanding, callous and impossible to please. This can lead legalists to feel discouraged and resentful towards God. This can lead to hopelessness and eventually even a departure from the faith.

On the other end of the doctrinal spectrum are those who believe there are no rules and that behavior is a nonissue for Christians. These folks think that once a person is saved there is nothing they can do or not do to offend God. Christians who have intentionally or unintentionally adopted this view do not worry seriously about the effects sin, even deliberate, premeditated sin. Adherents to this view are growing in number and having an enormous impact on the Christian culture. 

The truth is that our behavior does matter but not because it saves us, or makes God like us more. Correct behavior and following the rules matter for four reasons:

Righteous behavior protects us from moral failure- 

Ephesians 6:14 instructs Christians in a metaphorical sense to put on the “breastplate of righteousness”.  The primary purpose of a breastplate in Roman body armor was to protect the soldier’s heart from injury. In Proverbs 4:23 the writer instructs readers to “guard your heart because everything you do flows from it”. Behaving in a way that is righteous (avoiding sin and questionable behavior) protects us from all sorts of pitfalls and potential disasters. For example, going out of your way to avoid pornography protects against addiction, the sin of lust and at least a dozen other really ugly sins. Avoiding people who gossip ensures that you will not become a slanderer (Psalm 15:1-3) and if you never drink alcohol you will never become an alcoholic.  

When Christians behave virtuously non-Christians have the opportunity to experience something the Bible calls conviction-

Perhaps the most critical reason to avoid sin and to behave righteously is because when we do the people around us have a model of good behavior to follow. Sometimes our good behavior even leads sinners to feel guilt or conviction over their bad behavior (1st Peter 3:13-16). Conviction often leads to repentance. 

Christians are commanded to avoid certain behaviors and sins-

The New Testament gives a series of “sin lists” addressed to Christians (Mark 7:21-22, 1st Corinthians 5:10-11, 1st Corinthians 6:9-11, 1st Timothy 1:8-11, Colossians 3:5-8, Galatians 5:19-21). Most of those lists are predicated with or followed by the caution that people who routinely practice the sins listed will not “inherit the kingdom of God”.  In my view it is reasonable to question the salvation of any “Christian” who does not take these warnings to heart. 

Bad behavior causes Christians to lose their moral authority-  

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when most people (saved or unsaved) looked to the church for moral direction and spiritual guidance. However, allegations of fraud, sex abuse scandals, infidelity and wholesale hypocrisy amongst clergy and laypeople alike have stripped the church and the people in it of any moral authority they were once blessed with. Now our culture is swimming in moral chaos and thanks to the sinful antics of Christians over the last forty years no one is looking to the one source that truly has the answers to our problems: the church. 

God loves people so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to save people from their sin (John 3:16). His love doesn’t end there though. God also loved us enough to give us moral boundaries to keep us from going off the rails after we come to know Jesus. It’s up to us to stay within those boundaries.

The Biggest Liar of Them All

 For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you- Isaiah 41:13 NIV

I love dogs. 

I love dogs so much that I point excitedly at every dog I see and I stop to pet every dog I pass on the street. I love dogs so much that I don’t even care that this behavior makes me look like a lunatic.   All that being said, for most of my life I had some serious questions about people who were insanely devoted to their mean, yappy, horrid little dogs. 

Then we got a mean, yappy, horrid little dog. 

His name was Bruno and he was a pug.  My husband and I decided to we wanted a pug because pugs are not usually aggressive. We wanted a sweet little dog everyone would love.  Unfortunately, Bruno was only sweet to us and very few people loved him. He was slightly larger than a football but he would bark and growl and bully full-grown men into doing whatever he wanted. Mostly what he wanted was for everyone to stay far away me and the rest of our family. When the little jerk got riled up he was so fierce and ferocious that big, burly men would literally run away from him in terror.  But he loved us and we loved him and now I understand why people allow horrid little dogs to live in their homes. 

One day after an exceptionally embarrassing encounter between Bruno and a three-hundred-pound realtor, it occurred to me that Bruno and the emotion of fear had a lot of similarities. 

Bruno was not really capable of hurting anyone. He was short and squat and weighed twenty pounds after a big meal. His teeth were bad and even in his prime they were not really all that sharp. But boy could he act scary.  He had the power to make people believe that he really was going to hurt them. 

Fear should never be dismissed out of hand. There are times when fear can be logical, reasonable and even healthy. The Bible commands us to fear God (Leviticus 25:17, Psalm 96:4, Proverbs 1:7, 1stPeter 2:17). It makes sense to fear crazy people with weapons, stupidity, poisonous snakes and things that kill people. Sometimes fear is even our friend. We have all had those moments when we did something (or didn’t do something) because we suddenly became afraid of doing (or not doing) the thing. Later we learned that if we had done the thing it would have killed us or at the very least ruined our day.  

However,

Those situations are the exceptions. Most of the time fear is just a thief and a liar. There are five things fear will steal from us if we let it and none of them are things any of us can afford to lose:

Our trust in God-

Fear is not usually a “God thing”. The God who commands His people to be strong and courageous would only plant fear in their hearts if there were a really good reason for it. Fear is usually a “Satan thing”. Fear is Satan’s most effective tool. Fear persuades us that God isn’t really good and that He can’t do the things He says He can do. Fear can also convince us we can’t do the things God says we can do (John 14:12). 

The ability to accomplish our mission-

 If a person is drawing breath there is a reason for it.  Every individual has people only they can reach and tasks only they can accomplish. Fear wants us to believe the lie that God cannot empower us to be good enough, smart enough or capable enough to do what God wants us to do.   

Our boundaries- 

Boundaries are the bottom line of what we will and will not allow into our lives. They are like invisible shields that protect us from people and situations that might bring us physical, emotional and spiritual harm.  Good, solid boundaries keep us from sinning and being sinned against and the people who want to lead us into sin. Fear often causes Christians to accept the unacceptable in relationships. Fear of not fitting in, fear of making people mad or fear of not being liked inevitably cause our boundaries to be breached. Anytime we allow our boundaries to be breached misery and sin are sure to follow. 

Our joy-

It is literally impossible to be fearful and joyful at the same time. Anytime we allow fear to run the show we lose our joy, faith and peace of mind.  Fear steals our joy and peace of mind by getting us focused on the “what ifs” of every situation. What if I fail? What if no one likes me? What if the worst happens?

Fear really is like my dog Bruno. 

Fear has no power except what we give it. Fear feels scary and it makes us believe that something horrible will happen if we don’t do what fear is telling us to do. We must remember that feelings are not facts and that faith is the enemy of fear. The more we choose to trust God and believe that He can do what He says He will do the less power fear has over us. 

Satan’s Best Schemes- Racism

The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil- 1stJohn 3:8 NASB

Last week a theological bombshell came out of the Catholic church. In an interview with an Italian magazine Fr. Arturo Sosa stated the following:

 “The devil is not a person,” but is instead “a way of acting evil…It is a way of evil to be present in human life.”  Sosa went on to say, “Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”

Okay, so, Fr. Arturo Sosa, is the Superior General of the Jesuit priests and therefore a very big deal in the Catholic church. His declaration directly contradicts both Catholic doctrine and the Bible.  When I heard of this development, I did what most people do when they hear something they find shocking. I searched google to find out how many other people agree with him. I quickly learned that a whopping eighty-three percent of Catholics and fifty-five percent of Evangelical Protestants agree with Fr. Sosa that Satan is nothing but a figment of fevered imaginations.  

With all due respect to Fr. Sosa and every other Christian who does not believe in the devil. 

You all are wrong. 

Satan is a powerful being created by God. He eventually became filled with pride, turned against God and embraced evil (Isaiah 14:11-13, Luke 10:18).  The words devil and Satan are used interchangeably a total of eighty-two times in the Bible. Most describe the devil and his exploits (Luke 13:16, Mark 4:15, Luke 22:3, John 8:44, 1stThessalonians 2:18). The other passages are mostly just warnings to be on guard against the devil (Ephesians 4:26-28, James 4:7, 1stPeter 5:8).  It would be strange for God to describe something or someone that does not exist. It would be stranger still for God to warn people about something that does not exist. 

Seriously.

Ephesians 6:11-17 depicts Satan as a schemer. Satan is always looking for an opening so he can hurt individuals, ruin relationships, turn people away from God and basically just wreak havoc on the human race.  The Greek word for scheme in Ephesians 6:11 is a compound word.  The first part of the word means “to study” and the second part means to “run over”. What this word tells us about Satan is that he carefully studies people and situations looking for ways to run people over so that he can derail them from God’s purposes for their life. 

We are responsible for our own choices.  No one gets to lay all their bad behavior at the feet of the devil. That being said, Satan’s fingerprints are all over some of the greatest evils of our time. He does his best work when he plants ideas in our minds that appeal to our sinful tendencies and self-centeredness. Unless we are spiritually aware and walking in the Spirit (John 16:13, Galatians 5:16-17) we run with whatever questionable ideas have been planted in our heads. Because there are fewer and fewer people who are consciously choosing to walk in the Spirit, it is easy for Satan to introduce lies that turn people against each other and cripple the work of the church. 

Satan’s most successful schemes are the ones he uses to drive wedges between people, spread deception and destroy the work of the church. 

Racism is one of Satan’s most successful schemes. 

Racism is not new, nor is it strictly an American problem. Although, for the record, American racism has had some exceptionally ugly characteristics that kind of put it in a class of its own. The ancient world was rife with racism although racist attitudes were based less on skin color and more on achievement, political power and military might. Greeks were the pretentious eggheads of the ancient world, they believed they were superior to any race who lacked art or a written language of their own. Romans supposed they were better than any race of people they could conquer militarily.  Jews took their title as God’s chosen people pretty seriously and believed they were the only race God loved. This led them to believe they were superior to everyone. 

Jesus came to change all that. His coming was intended to eliminate racism from the heart of anyone who truly believes in Him. The Bible is clear that Jesus died for everyone and there is no race is superior to any other (Galatians 3:27-29, Colossians 3:11, Ephesians 2:15-17). Sadly, Satan has managed to use pride and human stupidity to convince some people (sometimes even God’s people) that they are somehow better than other people based on the color of their skin or country of origin.  

Well-meaning people have endeavored to eliminate the evils of racism by highlighting any attitude or action that they feel is even vaguely racist. Unfortunately, their definition of racism is so broad that our society has come to a place where literally everything is racist. Satan has cleverly made racism seem less horrible than it really is by calling everything racist. When everything is racist nothing is racist and the real racists get away with truly racist behavior.  

Sigh.

This is a place where Christians can bring much-needed balance to the table.  We do that by loving and respecting everyone regardless of color or nationality and by understanding that there is absolutely no room for racist thinking anywhere in the body of Christ.  

Seven Idols Christians Worship

They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them~ Psalm 106:35-36 NIV

Whatever book I happen to be reading in the Bible tends to have a discernable impact on my writing. However, I usually only see the impact in hindsight.  Last summer I studied Jeremiah. Looking back, I clearly see that the blogs I wrote during those months tended to be glum, cynical screeds against the evils of the culture. While I was writing a devotional on Galatians I frequently wrote about the wonders of grace and the hazards of legalism, racism, hypocrisy and self-righteousness. The difference between those blogs and this one is that this time I am intentionally connecting a biblical topic I have been studying with a cultural phenomenon we are experiencing in the church.  

So. 

I have been reading the book of Hosea. A key theme of Hosea is idolatry. Hosea got me thinking about idolatry and how contemporary idolatry tends to differ from the standard bow-down-to-a-creepy-little-statue variety of idolatry we see throughout the Old Testament. 

While I was reading Hosea, Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye)and Marty Sampson (writer for Hillsong) both abandoned their faith in Christ and “came out” as unbelievers (Marty Sampson has since back-peddled a tiny bit). The book of Hosea and other prophetic books make a clear connection between the act of idolatry and the act of apostasy (Hosea 13:2, Zephaniah 1:3, 2nd Kings 17:11-13). In the Bible there is not a single case where apostasy occurred in a void. No person or nation just up and decided to stop believing in God. Apostasy always followed a lifestyle of idolatry. 

Some idols we worship today are unique to our generation. Some tend to more of an issue among Christian leaders while others affect most Christians in some way. The idols we worship are directly related to the apostasy we are experiencing. When we get a handle our tendency towards idolatry we may see fewer people leaving the church.  

Sadly, there is something in the following to offend pretty much everyone. Beginning with:

 Ambition- 

Ambition is not sinful until it becomes THE primary motivating force in our lives. If ambition is not kept in check it swiftly mutates into covetousness.  Covetousness then becomes an all-consuming focus on whatever it is we long for.  Ambition is particularly dangerous in the church world because unbridled ambition often disguises itself in Christians and Christian leaders as a healthy and godly desire to see churches grow and Christian beliefs spread. However, sometimes ambition for church growth is really just a ravenous appetite for celebrity and recognition.    

Success-

Christians have merged worldly measures of success with Christianity. Being wealthy, sought after and liked is perceived to be success in our Christian culture; although the biblical standard for success is vastly different (Isaiah 66:2, Matthew 22:36-40, Hebrews 11:36-38).  A person who has made success into an idol will do anything to hang on to the attention, money and adulation that comes with success. This includes compromising what they believe or even renouncing their faith in Christ so they can increase the size of their audience and number of followers. 

Grace- 

 God is insanely complex. He is good, merciful and kind. He is also unapologetically judgmental. Like it or not, God judges any person who declines to humbly repent and embrace Him as the sovereign Lord of everything (1st Corinthians 6:8-10, Jude 14:16-18, Revelation 20:13). When we insist on making God out to be all lollipops, sunshine and good vibes we aren’t really worshipping God anymore. We are worshipping the grace God offers only to those who choose to repent (Matthew 4:17, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:29-31). We know grace has become an idol when we buy the lie that a loving God cannot or will not judge people who refuse to play by His rules.   

Judgment- 

There are Christians who really, really want God to smite the daylights out of anyone who has committed certain acts of wickedness. They also want Him to do it without so much as a smidgen of mercy. If the notion that God would withhold judgment from someone just because they have repented bothers you; you just might worship the judgment and wrath of God rather than God (Ezekiel 18:23). 

Marriage-

In Mark 2:23-27 the Pharisees chastised Jesus and his disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath. This was a technical violation of Exodus 16:23. Jesus informed the Pharisees that the Sabbath was intended to be an institution that benefited and blessed people rather than an institution people became a slave to. I am not “soft” on divorce. I believe marriage is critically important and that most marriages could be saved if both people in the marriage would simply stop sinning. That said, I also believe many contemporary Christians make the same mistake with marriage that the Pharisees made with the Sabbath. We worship marriage when we put the institution of marriage above of the welfare of the people in the marriage. 

Freedom-

Freedom (especially where sexuality is concerned) is an idol that has been worshipped with wild abandon in Western culture for decades.  In recent years Christians have followed suit. Those who worship freedom do not believe even God Himself has the right to tell anyone that old-fashioned ideas about gender, sexuality and marriage are true and that some behaviors are simply unacceptable. 

Youth- 

1st Timothy 3:6 cautions Church leaders against placing new converts in positions of leadership. This is because when new converts become leaders they also become prideful. Eventually they may even begin to believe that they have more wisdom and insight than other Christians and even God. A twenty-year-old is by the nature of their age a new convert (even if he or she was raised in the church). Joshua Harris was nineteen when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbyeand twenty-one when the greater Christian community dubbed him a leader. Marty Sampson was barely out of his teens when he began leading worship and writing music for Hillsong.  In one sense it is not surprising that these men have decided that they have moved beyond Christianity.  Until we stop elevating every young kid with talent or a good idea into “a leader” we will continue to have problems with those leaders as they age. 

Idols need to be cast down and ours are no different. The only way to cast these particular idols down is a return to Bible study and prayer. When we study the Bible, it enlightens our minds and empowers us to see life the way God sees life. Prayer ensures that the attitudes of our heart truly reflect the heart of God. 

Young White Men Really Are A Problem- Here’s Why

They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore, the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes- Hosea 4:1-3b NASB

It’s been a long sad, grief-filled week with two mass shootings last Saturday, one in Dayton, Ohio and the other in El Paso, Texas. There were few parallels between the two shooters. The El Paso shooter appears to be a right-wing racist nut-job.  The Ohio shooter appears to be a left-wing socialist nut job.   

 The one clear connection between the two shooters is that they were both young white males. Much has been written on the subject of “toxic masculinity”. Most of it is patently ridiculous and blatantly sexist. That being said, it’s simply a fact that young white men are the only demographic who routinely walk into crowds, pull out weapons and proceed to massacre as many humans as possible in the shortest time imaginable. 

The question we must answer as a society is “why”? 

What on earth are we doing as a culture that triggers young white males to become so detached from humanity that they kill their fellow humans with wild-eyed abandon?  The kneejerk reaction on the left is to blame guns and mental illness. The kneejerk reaction on the right is to blame the collapse of the family and mental illness. I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about everything.  I do know that this problem is far more nuanced and systemic than knee-jerk reactions or mental illness. Fixing it will mean taking a hard look at the following six issues:  

Self-control ceased to be a “thing” a long time ago- 

 I get that emotional repression is bad. I understand that it is critical we allow kids to express their feelings. I have no issues with respectful, polite forms of verbal expression.  HOWEVER, I have to wonder if the opposite extreme we have landed on is really any healthier. Is it prudent to encourage kids to vent their aggression without some really firm boundaries, like respect for others? Should we really allow kids to scream, yell, hit and insult their parents and teachers in the name of averting emotional repression?  It seems to me that there were fewer (like no) mass shootings back in the day when kids were expected to control themselves and disciplined for not. 

Selfish adults do selfish things that inflict trauma on innocent kids sometimes the kids don’t recover- 

It is a fact that most mass shooters experience early childhood trauma (google it). The nature of childhood (and trauma) is such that it is pretty much impossible for a child to inflict trauma on him or herself. Parents who abuse drugs and alcohol, who are selfish, violent, neglectful and who put their own sexual gratification ahead of the needs of their children are the primary cause of childhood trauma. Traumatized girls are typically self-destructive, traumatized boys are just plain destructive. They take their rage and anger out on others including sometimes complete strangers.  Unless there is a revolution in the expectations we have of parents in this country we will continue to see young men acting out in violence.  

 We have encouraged young men to sear their consciences with violent, sexualized entertainment- 

A great deal has been said concerning mass shooters and violent video games. I see no need to belabor an already belabored point. However, video games are not our only problem. How about the spread of porn that combines sexuality and violence into a confusing, toxic, soul-twisting vortex of foulness? The Ohio shooter had a “rape list” as well as a “kill list”. He was also a regular consumer of pornography. The El Paso shooter reportedly spent a lot of time on the 8chan message board where sexual violence and misogyny are celebrated. When are we going to wake up to the fact that pornography is stripping us of our humanity? Wisdom recognizes that sometimes the rights of adults to see what they want to see needs to be curtailed in deference to the needs of children and society as a whole.    

We have not taught children to fear God- 

When God is discussed in our culture it is always in terms of love and grace. Love and grace are fundamental aspects of the Christian faith that should be taught. However, we have forgotten that good evangelization and biblical teaching carefully balances the concepts of judgment and grace. Without teaching on sin and judgment the reason for God’s grace lacks context. Without context we end up with a generation who sees God as nothing more than a feeble blessing machine who doesn’t really care what people do as long as they are happy (insert gagging noises here). 

We have not given young men a vision or purpose- 

 Instead we tell young men (and women) that God is dead and life is meaningless. We tell them they are blobs of protoplasm with impulses and urges. We tell them it is natural to act on their urges and impulses because they have no greater purpose than self-actualization. Mass shootings are just one natural consequence of this folly. 

Too many young men don’t have Dads and if they do the Dad is useless-

Nearly half (41%) of all babies are born to unwed Mothers. This is unacceptable on a million different levels and I mostly blame women.  Wise, intelligent women do not have sex with men they barely know. Nor, do they have sex with men who have not proven they have the character to adequately parent the children they produce. 

We have enshrined selfishness as a virtue- 

The Democratic Socialist Convention got lost in the madness of this past week. I tuned in and what I saw was mostly just a carnival of narcissism and silliness. On one level it was actually kind of amusing.  Privileged (mostly) white people spent a lot of time selfishly insisting that no one do or say anything that might possibly make them uncomfortable or hurt their feelings. I seriously doubt they accomplished anything of any significance. My take-away from what I saw is that too many kids in our culture have not been taught the virtue of self-denial. Nor have they been taught that feelings are far less relevant than facts. In the best situations these kids grow-up to enshrine their selfishness in silly political causes. In the worst situations these kids grow-up and think it’s acceptable to slaughter strangers. It’s tough to predict what will happen when you teach a child that selfishness is a virtue. 

Everyone wants a “one and done” solution to the problem of gun violence. It will not happen. There is no single law that will fix the problem we have produced with our willful foolishness. Instead we have to do the hard work of changing how we raise our children.