God Gave Us a Crisis- Why We Can’t Waste It


When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways- 1st Corinthians 13:11 ESV

The popular quote “never let a good crisis go to waste” is nearly always attributed to Saul Alinsky. Mr. Alinsky may have taken the concept to new heights, but it was Winston Churchill who first said it.  But, in my view, it is God who deserves the credit for inventing the whole notion of never allowing a good crisis to go to waste.  We need look no further than the last ten weeks to see clear evidence of this reality.

 Think about it.

 Until recently most people have spent their entire existence enveloped in a never-ending haze of frenzied activity.  COVID-19 brought a hasty end to our frantic way of doing life. The pandemic has allowed individuals to see clearly, some for the very first time the lives they built in the midst of all their busyness. Much of it is decidedly not pretty. Many have been left staring at emotionally detached marriages, mountains of debt, shallow community, poorly behaved children, addictions, meager coping skills and myriad of other nasty issues that were easy to hide or ignore in a world without shelter-in-place orders. The result has been a deep sense of discomfort and distress for many. Everyone has been affected in some way. Many Christians have realized they lack the personal theology and relationship with God to effectively deal with their personal fears and answer the questions that arise when life suddenly gets difficult. Many non-Christians are seeing that every human life will have an ending point and that there are questions that cannot be answered by science or reason alone.

 God has used this crisis to bring all people to a place where they are asking the hard questions about life, death, and what it really means to have faith in God. I do not know if God caused COVID-19 or is simply using it for His purposes. I hate those kinds of debates (1st Timothy 6:3-5, 2nd Timothy 2:23, Titus 3:9). Silly arguments no one knows the answers to do nothing but distract from the things that really matter. There are two questions we have to be really real about right now if we want to make the most of what God is doing:

 First, what strikes fear in you post-COVID-19?

 Is it fear of death? That fear reveals something critical about our faith. Is it fear of government encroachment of your rights? If so, then perhaps, you have bought into the notion God is good because He allowed you to be born in country where you have rights. Are you afraid of losing your faith in persecution? That fear indicates something about the level of faith you have in your faith.   Do you fear poverty, loss of control, being alone or maybe you’re just scared spitless of losing the sweet little life He’s blessed you with?

 The second is a bit different:

 What is it about you or your life that makes you want to turn your head away? Is it your screwed-up kids, anger issues, shaky marriage, lack of faith, poor self-control or a past that haunts you? Maybe it’s the addiction you developed in an effort to ignore those things. 

 Here’s the thing.

Whatever IT is that keeps you up at night or makes you want to turn your head away, that’s where God wants to meet you. He wants to help you root-out the sin that is creating the fear so He can heal you. He wants to take your weakness or fear and turn it into strength He can use for His glory (Hebrews 11:32-35).  God can transform anyone into a stronger, braver, healthier and more faithful version of themselves. But God can only do that if they come to a place of decision and humility. To be changed we have to want to change. We must also be willing to admit our fears, weakness and problems. God will not heal us if we choose to run from our issues with busyness, drown them in alcohol, numb them with porn, pretend they’re not real or blame our choices on outside forces. We must take fears and problems to God as many times as necessary until we get to a place of freedom from sin and to where we can accept in faith that if our worst fear were to come to pass it would be okay because God is in control of whatever scares us.  

 God is using COVID-19 to make Christians and non-Christians aware of changes that must be made in their lives. He is stripping people of the coping mechanisms they have depended on in the past. This realty has resulted in personal discomfort, but discomfort is not the end goal. With God the end goal is always to bring people to a place where they are more dependent on His power and His strength than their own. God does this is to prepare His people for deeper relationship with Him and for new opportunities to serve Him with greater power and success.   

 Our responsibility is to cooperate with the process and then wait patiently for what’s next.

 

 

Hard Times Could be Right Around the Corner- Are You Ready?

At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved- Matthew 24:9-13 NASB

 Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled Will Churches Survive the COVID-19 Crisis? The piece generated an abnormally high volume of comments on the blogs Facebook page.  None of the comments were rude.  However, the vast majority were just kind of glib. Most commenters replied dismissively that “of course the church would survive”. At first, I responded to each by attempting to clarify my thinking.  By the second or third response I realized if I gave each comment the attention it deserved I would do nothing but respond to comments all week. 

 This was not the first time I was inadvertently unclear in a blogpost. Normally when this happens I just move on. I write another post and make every effort to do a better job clarifying my perspective in the future. However, I had a tough time letting this one go. Ultimately, I concluded my inability to move on was the Holy Spirit nudging me to clarify further.  

So here goes.

 I was very much on board with the plan to quarantine at the start of the pandemic.  The idea of placing a brief pause on normal activity so scientists could figure the virus out, prepare hospitals for an influx of very sick people and protect vulnerable populations made total sense to me. Still does. 

 That said, at some point the goalposts were moved and now it feels as if something malevolent has slipped into the mix.  In many places the “brief pause” has morphed into months or possibly even years of waiting for the virus to retreat and/or a vaccine to materialize. Political leaders worldwide have seized the opportunity to limit speech and movement. Food production and other commercial enterprise has all but ended.  It does not take a mastermind to grasp that placing the entire world on pause for months or possibly even years will likely end in economic calamity, political turmoil and food shortages.

 Christians were not winning many popularity contests prior to COVID-19. Many countries were attempting to or had already placed significant restrictions on what churches and Christian organizations could say and do. Now thanks to COVID-19 health departments and legislators alike tend to treat churches as nothing more than unnecessary germ spreaders.

 History tells us upheaval is rarely kind to groups already on the fringes of acceptability. It is possible we are only a couple of short steps away from Christians being unwelcome in all of society.  If this happens churches will be forced to shut down entirely.

The church is clearly not ready for this.

 When I say “church”, I am not talking about buildings. The church is not a building, the church is individual people who make up the body of Christ.  (1st Corinthians 12:12-27, Colossians 3:11-12, Galatians 3:28). Just as a physical body can become sick and weak a spiritual body can become sick and weak.  Christians who live in the West tend to be weak.  Most have never experienced hardship or difficulty, too many are spiritually and emotionally unhealthy. Captivity to sin is an issue with many and some are even afraid to let others know they are Christians and far too many lack the knowledge base necessary to effectively defend their faith (1st Peter 3:15). It takes deep faith and tremendous spiritual discipline to keep on keeping-on in the face of suffering (1st Peter 5:10, Revelation 2:8-11, Revelations 3:7-13). Scripture clearly predicts there will be a falling away from the Christian faith in the years prior to the return of Jesus (2nd Thessalonians 2:3, 1st Timothy 4:1). Objectively speaking, the church worldwide is ripe for that prediction to come to pass. (Matthew 24:3-13).

 I don’t know if this is where we are at or not. I am NOT declaring myself to be a prophet. Nonetheless, I do believe our current situation is a wakeup call for Christians. Whether or not any of my concerns come to pass we must ditch our overconfidence and prepare for what could be a less than ideal future.  

 Preparation will require change. If you are a non-Christian who reads this blog I urge you to become a Christian now. You need Jesus. You need the strength, peace and forgiveness only He can give a person. He will get you through whatever the future brings if you trust in Him.  Believers must make every effort to build deep relationships with other Christians so we will have likeminded people we can depend on if life gets tough (Hebrews 3:13). Change means we stop using the Bible only to gain information or as a fun thing to debate and instead use it as a tool to reveal our sin and brokenness. Change means we get into the habit of repenting quickly when God graciously reveals our sin and brokenness to us. It means we learn to be still and quiet so we can hear His voice. It means we pray for the courage to boldly share the hope we have in Christ (2nd Corinthians 3:12). Change means we start viewing ourselves as soldiers in a battle rather than consumers seeking experiences.

 That is what I meant when I asked if churches would survive the COVID-19 crisis. The real question is: are you ready? Are you ready for persecution if it comes? Are you ready to lead others if need be? If not, it’s time to get ready.  

 

 

Keeping Your Marriage Together Even in Tough Times-

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore- Psalm 133:1,3b NIV

 No marriage is immune from tough times.

 This is true no matter how compatible the couple or how much they both love Jesus. Marriage is hard because marriages involve people and people are universally weird, sinful and lacking in self-awareness. People do things all the time without understanding why they are doing them. Because the other person in the marriage is also a sinner they tend to interpret their spouse’s behavior and motivations in the most negative way imaginable. This weird dynamic is the trigger for most conflict in marriage. Throw in an irritating virus, a long quarantine, home schooling, financial concerns and the uncertainty that goes along with those stressors and even the healthiest marriages can get bumpy.   

 I will not lie.

COVID-19 has created some challenges in my usually happy marriage. We have experienced more conflict in the last eight weeks than in the previous eight years.  We are not alone. Every couple I know has struggled with conflict or hurt feelings in recent weeks.  Thankfully, the lockdowns are beginning to end. However, Coronavirus is not going anywhere and neither is the financial and emotional stress it has brought to families and marriages. Marriage is critically important to the health of families, churches and all of society. Therefore, married people must find ways to keep their relationships solid under the stress we are all experiencing.  It has helped me to remind myself of the following four realities as we learn to maneuver the new normal. 

 Remember:

 Everyone is stressed-

 I get this is rather obvious but sometimes we forget stress causes people to behave strangely and stressed-out people rarely realize they are behaving any differently than they normally do. Stress changes how we respond to situations and stimuli.  Someone who is typically laid-back and very patient with noise may become outraged when the kids are loud. Someone who is normally okay with disorder and chaos may morph into a controlling clean-freak. A normally tidy individual may become a total slob in stressful times.  The situation we find ourselves in is far more stressful than any most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. No one in our culture has a point of reference for a peculiar virus no one really understands, long periods of quarantine, political unrest, financial strain and the million different levels of fear and uncertainty this pandemic has produced. It is critical we take a step back when our spouse is behaving strangely. Ask questions about how the other person is feeling rather than simply walking away or responding to their unusual behavior in anger (Proverbs 15:1)

 You’re probably acting weird too-

 Self-examination is critical to relationship health.  This is especially true when life is challenging (Psalm 139:23-24, 2nd Corinthians 13:5). Take an inventory of yourself. Are you more withdrawn than usual? More aggressive? Less patient? Checked-out? Hyper-critical? Irritable?  Are you pretending everything is okay when it’s clearly not? Are you indulging in behaviors you normally avoid like drinking, cursing or fits of rage? If any of those things are true, spend some quality time seeking God and asking Him to help you figure out what is driving your behavior. Is it fear? Hopelessness? Anger? Putting a name to the feelings helps us to process our emotions in a healthy way. Once we understand why we are doing something it becomes much easier to stop doing it.

 Understand that everyone will come unraveled at some point-

 Everyone processes stress differently. Some get mad, others become despondent or enslaved to fear.  Some make futile attempts to avoid the thing that that’s causing them pain or worry.  I became emotionally unraveled the week prior to Easter. My private unraveling involved a lot of ranting and raving. I angerly questioned the wisdom of every rule and the motives and intelligence of the people making the rules. After a week of some shockingly aggressive behavior on my part and another week of the darkest depression I’ve ever experienced. I spent some time alone with God and came out the other side with a level of peace. I still have bad days but I’m okay. My husband’s unraveling took much longer and looked entirely different from mine, but it was every bit as real and unsettling.  It helps to ne on the lookout for signs of emotional unraveling in yourself and others. Rather than becoming frustrated with your own or your partners response to the stress, take the time to pray for yourself and your partner. Give each other grace.  Look for creative ways to tangibly love your partner and care for each other right now.   

 Talking is always the answer-

 One of the worst things that can happen in a relationship is to make any topic off-limits. Talking through tough stuff is the only way to work through the issues. Push through any discomfort either of you feel and say what needs to be said. Say it in the kindest way possible and always be on the lookout for solutions rather than simply laying blame.

 Stress happens.

 How we respond to stress has the power to make or break our relationship. If we work with our spouse rather than against our spouse and choose to see them as our ally rather than our enemy we will come out of this better people with stronger relationships.

 

 

 

 

 

How We Went Wrong with COVID-19-

If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us- 2nd Chronicles 20:9 NIV

 I am by no means a flat-earther when it comes to COVID-19.

 I was one of “those people” warning friends and family about a “weird virus” coming from China way back in early December. I told anyone who would listen about the “weird virus” that would cause terrible problems everywhere. No one listened. Not even my long-suffering husband who is (and I remind him of this often) contractually obligated by our marriage vows to listen to me talk. Any and all talk of “the weird virus” was met with odd looks and fishy-eyed stares. 

  Turned out I was right.

 However, I was wrong about the types of problems COVID-19 was going to cause. I assumed Corona virus would cause a lot of deaths and some fear.  Instead Corona virus has caused some deaths and more fear than I could have ever imagined.  I have never seen a stranger response to anything in all my life.

 Educated journalists have hypothesized Coronavirus can “jump” twenty-three or more feet and is spread through farting though there’s little science to support such theories. There is a popular store where EVERYONE wears gloves but employees will not touch a customer’s card or receipt, however, they will touch the groceries the customer touched.  Zealous politicians have banned activities with little risk of spreading disease such as fishing, hiking and gardening but do encourage people to mingle freely in marijuana shops and liquor stores. A municipality in California prohibited church worship teams from singing on camera because expelling air “could” spread the virus. Church services where people sit alone in their cars listening to sermons on the radio have been declared “unsafe” and shutdown. I have seen with my own eyes people screaming at strangers for politely sneezing into their arms even though sneezing is not a symptom of Coronavirus.

 We’ve lost our minds.

 Four weeks ago, it felt as if there were some valid reasons to lose our minds. People were getting sick. Older people were dying. Italy was a disaster. Computer models were predicting 2.2 million people would die from Coronavirus in the United States. There was a shortage of medical equipment. Doctors were terrified the healthcare system would be overwhelmed and millions would die unnecessarily.

 Well.

 It turns out COVID-19 has a relatively low fatality rate (between 0.2-0.7 percent) in most countries. The vast majority of healthy people recover with few problems. The healthcare system was strained in places like New York but thanks to the valiant efforts of medical personal and the quick action of federal and state governments we came through just fine.

 COVID-19 is a real issue and a real threat to some groups. That being said, the whole world has gone mad where this thing is concerned. Churches are shutdown, millions are reduced to receiving welfare, once wealthy nations teeter on the verge of bankruptcy, children aren’t being educated and the rights to freely assemble and speak are being ripped out from under us.

 We are where we are because we dutifully obeyed a media class who have a vested interest in scaring people. In the beginning they assured us Coronavirus was no problem at all. Anyone who thought it a problem was branded a racist.  Then the press collectively switched gears and screamed in our faces 24/7 this was a level ten problem that required a level ten solution. It turns out COVID-19 more like a level four problem. Now we are left with a level ten mess to clean up.  

 Collectively we must humble ourselves and acknowledge we responded to COVID-19 out of fear and with little wisdom (James 4:10). We saw a spider and burned our house down.  At least now we know why God commands His people to be courageous and clear minded in the face of scary circumstances (Joshua 1:9, 1stChronicles 28:20)

 Perhaps, the saddest aspect of all this is we have allowed Coronavirus to change the way we see people. Somehow, we have managed to dehumanize one another in six short weeks. We no longer see others as prospective friends or individuals made in the image of God. Instead every human is treated as if they are a potential source of infection and a disgusting bag of germs.  Satan is rejoicing at our stupidity (Psalm 37:8, Isaiah 8:12, 1st Peter 5:8).  

 This cannot continue.  

 Christians must take the lead in fixing this mess before we completely lose what’s left of our humanity and culture. We have to educate ourselves on the real threats of COVID-19 and push past any fear we feel. The virus is a real problem but it’s a level four problem not a boogeyman with super powers. It’s critical we do what needs to be done to protect the older population, but the rest of the world has got to get back to work and to living life in a safe and sensible way before we implode. Everyone must make a concerted effort to stop looking at their fellow humans like bags of infections and go back to loving them like the image bearers they are. Most importantly we must get on our knees and beg God to give us the wisdom to make this mess right before it’s too late.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Should Christians Confront the Culture of Death in the Age of Covid-19?

Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart- Ecclesiastes 7:2 NKJV

 I have seen some crazy stuff in recent weeks.

 I have seen individuals so committed to sanitation they wear face masks driving alone in their car. Last week I saw a store clerk with a weed sprayer filled with what I can only hope was hand sanitizer shooting it into the air and at shoppers who happened to be passing by.  I have concluded there are people who believe germs die instantly upon hitting the surface of a glove of any kind. It’s the only reasonable explanation for the people I have seen wearing plastic gloves and sticking their fingers in their mouths.

 Just wash your hands people.  

 On a more serious note the outbreak of Covid-19 has brought our culture’s deeply conflicted attitudes concerning death to the surface.  On the one hand, our culture embraces death (Proverbs 8:36). Over half of all Americans consider abortion and euthanasia to be inalienable human rights. Over the course of the past month many critical medical procedures have been declared “unnecessary”. The reason given is those procedures “waste” valuable medical resources like masks and PPE’s.  However, in some states including my own, abortion clinics that “waste” those same resources have remained open for business. Even more shocking, there is an active campaign within academic circles to place a thirty day “waiting period” on the lives of all newborns (Psalm 127:3-5). Parents would be free to end the life of their newborn son or daughter anytime and for any reason within that thirty-day period with no earthly penalties or consequences.

 Conversely, many of the laws passed in recent decades expressly forbid adults from doing stupid things that might cause them to accidently take their own life (seatbelt laws, helmet laws, warning labels on tobacco products). I, like many people my age was taught growing-up that open casket funerals were icky and wrong because it was “cruel” to force funerals-goers to look at a dead person for an hour (Ecclesiastes 7:2). No one says “died” anymore. Instead we’ve developed dozens of idiotic euphemisms like “expired” “passed” or “moved-on”. Even a casual perusal of social media clearly indicates many people, even some Christians are absolutely terrified at the possibility of dying from COVID-19. The most persuasive argument that’s been made for the widespread quarantine of healthy people is that it is “unacceptable” for anyone no matter how old or sick to die from Covid-19.

I am not suggesting we allow anyone to die without a fight from Covid-19 or anything else. Nor, am I suggesting human life becomes less valuable at its end. That being said, there are no words for the horror I felt at the macabre hypocrisy of Andrew Cuomo losing his mind over the prospect of even one unnecessary death from COVID-19, just fifteen short months after he gleefully signed into law the most liberal abortion bill in the country.

 Covid-19 is forcing our culture to examine its view of death. For that reason, this is a good time for individual Christians to do some soul-searching concerning their views concerning death. Christians should never do anything to cause death before God wills it and it is perfectly reasonable to feel a certain level of fear over the possibility of something we have never experienced before. However, it is not natural or reasonable for a physically healthy believer in Jesus Christ to be so terrified at the prospect of their own death that they cannot live life joyfully (albeit somewhat more carefully) during the outbreak of an illness with a relatively low death rate (Revelation 12:11) such as the one we are experiencing.  Any Christian who has an excessive fear of death should carefully and prayerfully examine that fear (2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1stJohn 4:18). 

In a culture where life expectancies have shot up in recent years it is easy to forget that we will all eventually die of something. Christians and Christian leaders must become more comfortable gently confronting people concerning their fear of death. It’s time for all of us to stop avoiding the subject of death and what happens after we die. In a very real sense death is the best evangelistic tool we have in our toolbox and it’s our responsibility as followers of Jesus to use it.  

 It is critical Christians be willing and able to articulate the hope that we have in Jesus Christ (1stThessalonians 4;12-14) 1st Peter 3:15). It is our high and holy responsibility as believers to tell the world that death is not an end. Death is a beginning. For those who choose to put their faith in Jesus Christ death is the realization of hope and the beginning of every good thing imaginable (Romans 5:1-5). That said, it is every bit as critical we tell others the hard truth that death is the beginning of eternal punishment for those who foolishly refuse God’s free offer of salvation (Matthew 13:24-36, Mark 9:43-47, Hebrews 9:27).

 God loves people enough to force them into situations where they must decide what they think about key issues. It’s clear to me God wants people everywhere to think a little harder about what happens after they die. Christians should be ready to give answers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Recommendations for Living in Scary Times-

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You- Psalm 56:3 NKJV

At this moment in human history the list of things to be afraid of is lengthy.

 At the top of the list is stupid COVID-19.  Even those who don’t fear the virus itself are anxious about all the practical issues it has created:

 The economy has tanked, once-thriving business have closed and unemployment has become a reality for millions who once felt financially secure. Those who live alone are feeling overwhelmed by the isolation of quarantine.  On the other end of the spectrum many are learning it is impossible to social distance from those we live with. This reality has placed a tremendous strain on relationships. Incidents of domestic violence have soared and many are turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with their gloom and despair.

 Then there are the more esoteric worries.

 As states push quarantine guidelines far beyond federal recommendations some worry that something more sinister than public health concerns is driving those decisions. Governmental overreach is becoming a very real concern as states and municipalities suspend constitutional rights in an effort to “keep people safe”. Even Christians wonder where God is in this mess.  

 Sigh. 

 Truth-be-told these times are a challenge even for the most mature of Christ-followers. Despite the apparent evidence to the contrary, our God is still on His throne. I believe God wants all of us to:

 Redeem the time-

 This may be the only season in our lives when we have the time and opportunity to learn something new about God, teach our children the deeper truths of the Bible and purposefully grow in our faith. We should use it wisely.  Choose a book of the Bible and purchase some commentaries online, then take the time to learn everything you can about that book of the Bible. If you have kids at home use this time to teach your kids how to think about life from a truly Christian perspective.

 Get your heart right-

  God is practically pleading with the whole stupid world to get right with Him by turning away from their sin (Matthew 3:8). If you are NOT a Christian this means confessing your sin to God and asking Him to forgive you and willingly submitting every aspect of your life to Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19, Acts 17:24-31, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, Romans 3:23 Ephesians 2:8).  If you’re are a Christian this is a time for reflection, personal repentance and crying out to God on behalf of the willfully disobedient around us (Daniel 9:1-15). God wants Christians to give Him permission to tell us what’s wrong with our thinking and our behaviors (Psalm 139:23-24).

 Channel concerns into action-

 If you don’t already know, find out who your state representatives are and spend some quality time on their Facebook pages. Share any concerns you have with them. Respectfully and rationally give them reasonable ideas for dealing with this crisis. If you’re frustrated with how the crisis is being handled in your state, prayerfully consider ways you can help bring about new leadership in your area.


Turn worry into prayer

 Sometimes it feels like there are only two choices when it comes to worry. We can either castigate ourselves for agonizing over the stuff we find terrifying; or we can ignore what the Bible says about worry and worry our heads off anyway (Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:25). There is a third option. We can discipline ourselves to turn worry into prayer and gratitude. You can make a mental list (or a real one) of all of the things that worry you and all of things you are grateful for. Take both lists to God in prayer. Don’t get so hung up on your worry that you forget to praise God for the good things.  Continue to pray and praise until the anxiety subsides and thankfulness takes over (Philippians 4:6).

 Change what’s informing you-

 We are all informed by the information we allow into our minds. We are informed by what we learned in school, the news, the underlying messages thrust upon us by television programs and the mindsets of the people around us. The COVID-19 crisis is a good time to detox from some of those sources. It is also a good time learn to filter the information we receive through the lens of Scripture by getting into the habit of comparing what other sources say to what the Bible says.

 Work on you-

 This is a great time for prayerful self-examination (2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Peter 4:17). Look at your life in light of Scriptural standards and pray about what God is asking you to change (Luke 10:27, Galatians 5:19-20, Romans 6:11-14, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10).  Ask God to give you the inclination, power and motivation to change the things He wants you to change.

 None of the above-motioned practices will make the stupid COVID-19 virus go away.  However, they will ensure we all come out of this situation better people who have a bigger impact on our corner of the world.

Confessions of A Recovering Control Freak-

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near- Job 17:9-10

I am a recovering control freak.

 I am convinced some of my issues with control are partly due to the personality I was born with. My Mother was fond of reminding me that my first word was “no” and that word was quickly followed by my first complete sentence: “I will do it myself”. I am no expert in the field of child psychology, but I’m pretty sure that story indicates I was born with a strong desire to be in complete control of just about everything (Psalm 51:5).

 As I got older I grew quite philosophical when it comes to the issue of control. It hit me in my late thirties (I’m a slow learner) that control in this life is nothing more than an illusion.  A person can have all the resources in the world, make nothing but really great choices and get all of their ducks in a nice neat little row. Then one really bad day can come along, wipe away a lifetime of good choices and completely decimate all the ducks they worked so hard to put in that row (Job 1:1-22).

However.

 This last week was such a dumpster-fire that I wanted to throw all the spiritual and philosophical lessons I have learned about life, control and trusting God out the window. I was seriously tempted to cross out the recovering in the first sentence of this blog and boldly own my desire to control the whole stupid world.

 Some of the things outside of my power to control that I would dearly love to control include the presidential elections, the spread of coronavirus (one of my kids works in a hospital), and the downward spiral of our society. On top of all those “global” issues I am wrestling with some seriously problematic family problems that show no signs of ever going away.

 Sigh.   

 Just as I was preparing to jump into control-freak mode the Holy Spirit gently reminded me there are wiser and more productive ways to deal with life. Wisdom concerning this issue begins with recognizing and owning the following four truths:

 There are things in life that cannot be fixed or even managed-

 Because life is better and easier now than at any other time in human history; many Christians have bought into the lie that there is a fix for every problem in this life. Or an easy button that will magically empower us to manage all of life’s problems without any stress or struggle. There’s not.  Unfortunately, Christians and non-Christians alike encounter all sorts of things in life that cannot be managed or fixed, like stupidity and evil. When we encounter those things, we must walk by faith and trust God to use stupid and evil things for His purposes and our growth (Hebrews 11:1-2, Romans 8:28)

 Just because we can control something doesn’t mean we should-

 Anytime I have attempted to control a person or an outcome without clear direction from God I have made a flaming-hot mess out of that situation.  It’s important to remember that when we attempt to control things we have no business controlling we are essentially declaring with our actions that we do not really believe God is good or that He should be sovereign over people or outcomes. I am not advocating that Christians take on a “what will be will be” attitude towards life. I do believe there are times when we should proactively deal with issues but never without God’s clear direction and a really well thought out plan. 

 The only person you can really control is yourself-

 Okay, so this is so basic and so obviously true there is no need to elaborate further.

Control breeds anxiety-

 This point is full of paradoxes but it’s true. Taking control of situations that feel out of control ought to give us peace and quash our anxiety. Nonetheless, control freaks, even Christian control freaks are typically the most anxiety-ridden people on the planet.  This is because Christians are commanded to trust God (Psalm 37:4-6, Psalm 32:10, Psalm 139:23-24, Proverbs 3:5-6) and control is the antithesis of trust.  God is a respecter of our free will. When we choose to take control of anything other than ourselves God takes His hand off the wheel (metaphorically speaking) and lets us have our way. The anxiety we feel when we are the one “in complete control” is a direct result of spiritual disobedience and our foolhardy attempts to do something we will never be able to do. Letting go of the illusion we have control is one key to getting free from the bondage of anxiety.

 Prayer is the answer to the conundrum of control. Every single time we pray about an issue we do two things. First, we loudly declare that we NEED wisdom (James 1:5).  Prayer is admitting to ourselves and God that we don’t know everything there is to know and that we cannot make life work with our own idiotic efforts to control. Secondly, we go directly to the source of wisdom, knowledge and power to get the help we need to manage life (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 2:6, Proverbs 3:19).

 This makes way more sense than the other alternatives.

 

 

Getting Over the Idea That Life Should be Perfect-

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them- 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3 NIV

 This past week some friends took me to see the movie Free Burma Rangers. The movie reminded me of three fundamental truths:

  1.  Life is hard.
  2. God is good even when life is hard.
  3. When life is hard it doesn’t feel like God is good.

 Most Christians eagerly agree with truths one and three. However, many Christians (including me), struggle to fully embrace truth two. Backing-up this belief is an increase in the number of Christians who have turned their backs on God when life got hard or other Christians disappointed them.

 Some who walk away from Christianity are spiritual snowflakes. These are the people who see a rude comment on social media as a form of persecution.  Deep down they tend to believe they are too special to suffer and when life gets a little bit tougher than they are comfortable with they melt under the heat of adversity, get mad at God and get out of the church. Spiritual snowflakes tend to carry their snow-flakiness into other areas of their lives especially into their relationships. These individuals are quick to take offense and get their feelings hurt. They tend to abandon relationships that challenge them in any way.

 However.

 There are also individuals who turned their backs on God after experiencing situations that are legitimately horrific and difficult to explain in the context of God being good. These people have lost a child to a dreadful disease or had a loved-one murdered or lived through horrible abuse or a genocidal massacre. Those in this category all came up against a situation they couldn’t find a reasonable answer for and they simply determined they could not live the Christian life without that answer. So, they turned away from God either in anger or unbelief.

 These two groups are vastly different in nearly every way and I definitely have more compassion for one group than the other. However, both groups share a common problem that has become endemic in Christianity.  

 They lack a theology suffering.  

 Theology is not just for bookworm-y, bowtie-wearing types. Theology is practical and necessary to survive life with our faith intact. Theology explains life and how God uses the stuff of life to accomplish His purposes in our lives.  Every believer in Jesus must have a solid theological grid to view life through; if they don’t they will never be able to effectively explain to themselves and others why they are experiencing the things they are experiencing.  

  One reason Christians lack theology in this area is because life is easier now than it has ever been before in human history.

 Think about it.

 Thanks to the miracles of central heat and air nobody is ever too hot or too cold. Unless, of course, they are freely participating in an activity that demands they be too hot or too cold. Two-hundred-years ago, most people spent the majority of their lives in a state of perpetual discomfort. Today, it is uncommon for people in the Western world to experience hunger unless they are attempting to lose weight. A hundred years ago famine was still a reality for much of the world. Illnesses that once wiped-out large portions of the human population have been controlled or eradicated with drugs, surgery or public health programs. A hundred years ago it was simply accepted fact that few people would see all their children live to adulthood. People in civilized countries do not go to jail for being poor anymore. One-hundred-years ago there was no such thing as bankruptcy. Developed countries had poor houses, which were basically just jails for poor people.

 All this progress is undeniably awesome. However, improved living conditions have raised our expectations for happiness to a level that cannot always be met. Truth-be-told most of us (including me) feel entitled to be comfortable, healthy, happy and entertained all of the time. We tend to get a bit cranky with God when life is anything less than perfectly pleasant.

 A couple of things:

 First, we live in a fallen world that is not fully redeemed (Romans 8:19-22). This simply means that no matter how good humans get at making the world a comfortable place to live we will never be completely free of adversity and tragedy this side of heaven (John 16:33). Secondly, Christians probably experience more difficulty and hardship than non-Christians. This is because God is relentlessly working to conform us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29, 2nd Corinthians 3:18).  This is no easy task and apparently it requires some hardship to get the job done (James 1:2, 1st Peter 1:6-7, Revelation 2:9-10).  Furthermore, life is full of tests (Luke 4:1, 2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Thessalonians 2:4, Hebrews 11:17, James 1:12). God does not test us so He can find out where we are at. He already knows everything there is to know about us. However, God sometimes allows us to be tested so we can figure out where we are at so we can make changes that lead to growth.

 Finally,

 We must change how we view the Christian life. Someday we will dwell in heaven, and there will be no more tears, sickness, longing, pain or evil (Revelation 21:1-7). Life will be perfect and we will be perfect. We aren’t there yet. At this point in the story we are soldiers in a war (Philippians 2:25, 2nd Timothy 2:3-4, Philemon 1:1-2) We are fighting for the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings (Ephesians 6:10-20). Sadly, wars are messy and painful, they demand soldiers not snowflakes.

 

 

Alcohol, Psychology, Environmentalism and Other Awkward Relationships I Have With the World-

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight- 1st Corinthians 3:18-19a NIV

 Christians are commanded to live in this world without wallowing around in the worldliness of the world (John 17:16-18, 1st John 2:15-17, 1st John 4:4-5). For mature believers this means having an awkward and uncomfortable relationship with a lot of the things in this world.

 For me, the list of worldly things I am at least somewhat uncomfortable with is long. Some highlights include most government funded poverty programs, modern environmentalism, public education and most of the stuff that comes out of Hollywood.  The enemy has gotten a firm foothold in every one of those arenas and found clever ways to use them to mislead people.

 Alcohol is yet another example of an awkward and uncomfortable relationship I have with the world. There is a little too much sanctioned alcohol use in the Bible for me to completely buy into the idea it’s a sin to drink alcohol (Song of Songs 8:2, Proverbs 3:10, John 2:1-8, 1st Timothy 5:23).   That being said. As the adult child of two raging alcoholics I have experienced firsthand the devastation and misery that comes with excessive alcohol use. Therefore, I am uncomfortable with anything other than infrequent alcohol use.

 Anyway.  

 Perhaps my most uncomfortable ongoing relationship with the things of this world is with psychology.

 I am not opposed to psychology.  

 My husband occasionally jokes I was raised by wolves. It’s a bit of an exaggeration but not completely out of line with reality. I credit discovering psychology in my early twenties with helping me make sense of my parents, myself and why they were the way they where and why I am the way I am. I credit Jesus with saving me and changing me but without the aid of some Christian counselors and Christian psychology books it probably would have taken a lot longer for me to work out the kinks that a sketchy upbringing created in my personality (Romans 12:2, 2nd Corinthians 3:18, 2nd Corinthians 5:17).

 If psychology is kept in perspective, it can be helpful to the church. Psychology is the science of understanding the human mind. It helps explain how past experiences influence human behavior.  When leaders understand the “why” behind human actions it enables them to help people get free of the bondage that comes with bad choices. Psychology helps people to better understand themselves.  Knowing the “why’s” behind why we do what we do is key to making changes that help us become better more effective followers of Jesus.

 However.

 Like all human wisdom, psychology has very real limits and should never take priority over the Bible (1stCorinthians 1:25). It’s important to remember that with the exception of Christian practitioners, psychology does not acknowledge God or the sin nature of humanity (Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:23). As a result, the science of psychology can never fully explain exactly how and why the human soul can become completely twisted and evil, nor does it empower people to fully transform into a better version of themselves (2nd Corinthians 5:17). Only Jesus can do that.

 Secular psychology relies heavily on behavior modification which some people (including some Christians) confuse with the Christian act of repentance. Repentance is usually a process.  It begins with the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life to convict them that their choices are wrong. The person recognizes their behavior is wrong, not because it bugs other people or because it creates chaos in their lives but rather because it is offensive to God. Then the person makes changes to please God rather than people. These kinds of changes tend to last.

  Conversely, behavior modification is usually motivated by social pressure. A spouse or friend says something judgy and it becomes apparent that relationships will be threatened if something doesn’t change. The individual then changes their behavior just enough to please people and get them off their back. Sometimes this happens without the person concluding that there was anything wrong with what they were doing in the first place.  

 Without true heartfelt repentance it is impossible to be saved because repentance is the fruit of faith (Acts 20:21, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, Mark 1:4). Unfortunately, psychology sometimes enables people to change just enough to keep them from feeling like they need to turn to God and repent. Psychology can make a person aware of their shortcomings and flaws but it can never bring anyone to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

 By far my biggest issue with psychology is that it places limits on compassion and forgiveness that God does not. Psychology tells us that no one is obligated to forgive a wrong and that no one should do anything they don’t really want to do.  God wants His people to be like Him. This means Christians are called to a radical level of living that sometimes demands we go further with grace and forgiveness than psychology tells us is healthy or wise. It means there are times in life when we look beyond worldly wisdom and love in ways that make no sense at all from a human perspective.

 

 

 

 

Attitudes and Behaviors that Totally Squash Spiritual Growth-

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

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

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

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

 Sigh.

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

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

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

 We don’t seek wisdom or ask for advice-

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

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

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

 We refuse to deal with our weakness-

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

 We aren’t discerning when it comes to doctrine-

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

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