Strengthening the Church During the COVID-19 Crisis-

But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world- 1st Corinthians 11:31-32

I love the church. 

 When churches work the way God intended the church to work it’s a beautiful thing.  The people love Jesus, truth, the lost and each other. This combination is powerful. It brings peace to chaos, justice to lawlessness, it changes hearts and transforms cultures.  

When churches don’t work they devolve into grace dispensing spiritual social clubs where no one is ever challenged, sin is never called out and nothing of any spiritual significance gets accomplished. Many Churches in the West fall into the social club category. This has left many Christians without spiritual moorings and struggling to execute their primary mission (Matthew 28:18-20). The tragedy of this has been compounded by the fact that our world has been thrust into crisis. People who rarely worry about much of anything are worried about their health, the health of their families, the economy, and what the future is going to look like.

The world needs the church to be the church.  Following our five things every Christian can do to build the church in this time of crisis.  If we all do these things the whole body will be empowered to make a difference right now.  

Worry less about being liked-

Most Christians (including myself sometimes) are scared spitless of being disliked. This fear prevents us from sharing our faith, loving well and calling out sin (Ephesians 4:15).  Early Christians did not expect to be loved by anyone but Jesus. They understood that the Christian life was a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:10-20). This knowledge empowered them to embrace the hardness of Christianity with joy (Romans 14:17). In the process those brave men and women literally changed the world (John 16:33, Hebrews 11:32-37, Revelation 3:7-12). We must boldly and courageously follow their lead.  

 Grow a spine and pick a side-

Politics never saved anyone from anything and to my knowledge Jesus was not a member of any particular political party. That being said, how we think politically reveals a lot about our hearts. Politics all over the world have devolved to a place where Christians must acknowledge that some political opinions are just wrong from a biblical perspective. It is absolutely imperative Christian people get off the fence, pick a side and begin fighting for biblical truth, marriage and the unborn as well as against the gender confusion being pushed on school children all over the western world.      

Love like Jesus loved-  

  Biblical love is not about pumping people up or making them feel good about themselves. Authentic biblical love will fight to the death for the greater good of another person (1st Corinthians 13). This means speaking the truth and calling the people we care about to a higher standard of functioning. Fighting for the greater good of others is messy and sometimes even thankless.  We should love anyway. 

Be truthful about things that matter-

For generations Christians have taught that what one believes about God is not relevant and becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world to do. These are terrible lies. According to Scripture Jesus is the only way to the Father and the road to heaven is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14, John 14:6). To get right with God we must willingly and openly confess our messiness, sinfulness and be totally real with God and ourselves about exactly how screwed-up we are. Once we’ve done that we must repent of our sins, die to self and freely embrace God’s will for our lives (Luke 13:3, John 12:24, Acts 3:19, Romans 6:22). Always speak these truths boldly and lovingly. 

Stop worrying about how things look and worry about how things are- 

We live in an image obsessed culture. Everyone who breathes worries at least a little about what people think of them and how their activities are being perceived by others.  God does not care about our image. God cares about us and how things really are with us.  God cares about our hearts and what we do when we’re alone. He cares about why we do what we do (Matthew 5:8). If we want to please God (all Christians do) then we must worry less about what people think and more about living lives that truly please God (Psalm 7:10). When we do that we have the spiritual power we need to do what we are called to do (Matthew 10:8, Matthew 28:19, Mark 6:12, John 13:24-35)  

Every Christian has access to the wisdom of God and the mind of Christ (1st Corinthians 2:16, Ephesians 2:18, Ephesians 3:12).  It is up to individual Christians to access that wisdom so the church can be the church even in the scariest of times. 

How Evil Takes Root-

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done- Romans 1:28 NIV

 

Recently, I found myself in the unenviable position of attempting to encourage a relative of a professed Christian who is deep in the weeds of an ugly addiction. The addict flatly refuses to repent of their sin or even entertain the notion that their sin is a problem let alone a sin. To the dismay of the entire family the addict is willfully refusing to see the effect their sin is having on the lives of those they profess to love. Further complicating the whole messy mess, the addict is actively attempting to manipulate friends and family into believing that their perception of the situation is faulty and the obvious is not really true.  The addict has lost a lot and is on the verge of losing even more if they don’t make some changes.

 Sigh.

 According to the Apostle Paul individuals become fully entangled in sinful patterns of behavior because they develop an evil and “depraved mind” (Romans 1:28, Hebrews 12:1). Deceitfulness, addiction and the refusal to deal with issues related to dishonesty and addiction are not the only indications of a corrupted and depraved mind. Nor is evil and depravity reserved for serial killers, sex traffickers and child molesters. Anyone who runs headlong with reckless abandonment into sinful behavior and is determined to keep on keeping on in their sin is likely suffering from a corrupt and depraved mind.

 The Bible does not exclude professed Christians from thinking or behaving in ways ultimately lead to a depraved mind. Like most issues in life prevention is key. Once wrong thinking leads to an entrenched pattern of immoral behavior it is difficult (but not impossible) to come back from it (Luke 18:27).

 It is critical we remember that people, even unsaved people do not become evil or depraved in a day.  Developing a depraved mind is a process that begins with the willful decision to ignore a known truth about God. For an unbeliever this can be as simple as choosing to deny the existence of a Creator despite all the evidence that exists to the contrary (Romans 1:18-20).

 For Christians it begins with choosing to ignore a straightforward New Testament command (Hebrews 12:25). The next step is choosing to disregard the guilt that goes along with choosing to sin.  Then the person becomes bloated (metaphorically speaking) with pride. Pride convinces them they are beyond all the silly rules other Christians have to follow. They convince themselves they are special enough to sin without the consequences lesser humans inevitably suffer. Then they actively resist accountability by dodging anyone who might possibly attempt to talk them out of their chosen course of action. Eventually, sin becomes an addiction and the driving force in their lives. At this point the addictive behavior (sin) is just a symptom of a bigger sin: idolatry (1st John 5:21).

 Okay, so, a couple of things:

 First, when we see these situations in the lives of professed Christians we should never tell ourselves we are better than they are. That response indicates pride. Pride is a serious sin to be avoided at all costs. Partly because once we start thinking like that we are more likely to get tangled-up in the same sins (Mark 8:15, 1st Corinthians 10:12) and partly because pride is just super gross (Proverbs 18:13, 2nd Chronicles 26:16). Nor, should we ever help anyone escape the consequences of the choices they have made. The technical term for helping people avoid the natural consequences of their choices is codependence. The problem with codependence is that codependent people secretly think they know more than God does about what will actually help people. God knows everything about everything and He brings consequences into the lives of people because He is constantly working to mold Christians into the image of Jesus (2nd Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3). No good ever comes from helping people avoid what God is using to make them healthier, wiser, and more like Jesus.

 Secondly, we should always be alert to sin in our own lives. The human heart is capable of an insane level of self-deception when it comes to sin (Jeremiah 17:9).  For that reason it is possible for Christians to be half-way to a depraved mind and not even know it. Therefore, it is critically important we take every opportunity to self-examine and evaluate our own moral and spiritual condition (2nd Corinthians 13:5).

 Finally, anytime we see another Christian struggling with sin our first response should always be to pray for them, not judge them. Once we’ve done that we need to beg God for the wisdom, grace and supernatural insight to know how to be Jesus to them in their time of need.   

 

 

The Seven Signs of A Sick Church-

 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. Colossians 1:17-18a NIV

When churches are what God intended them to be they motivate believers towards maturity and provide an opportunity for individuals to make a meaningful contribution to the world. Healthy churches help people to see Scripture from a richer perspective. A good church will naturally foster an atmosphere where love, forgivness, moral accountability and practical support become a reality.

 When churches are not what God intended them to be there is an absence of love, concern for others and sound biblical teaching that can be tough to see at first. People in the church frequently hurt each other without even realizing it. This causes church to morph into a confusing source of spiritual and emotional hurt. The lack of solid biblical teaching leads to spiritual apathy and sometimes even moral compromise. There is simply nothing better or more beneficial than a healthy, life-giving church. Conversely, there is nothing more spiritually and morally destructive than a truly sick church. Following are seven tell-tale indicators of a sick church.  

Staff members tend to be absent outside of church services –

The Bible refers to a church as a body (1st Corinthians 12:12-27, Romans 12:3-5, Ephesians 4:1-6). One part of a body cannot avoid other parts of the body and still maintain overall health. This is especially true of members who hold leadership positions. Leaders lead through their example. In a church setting, leaders should be leading others towards participation in healthy community and into deeper relationships with other Christians. This cannot happen if the pastors and staff members are always the last to show up at events and the first to leave. 

You never feel guilty, challenged or convicted at the end of a sermon- 

Church is supposed to be the place the Bible is explained and expounded on. In the hands of a skilled preacher or teacher the Bible is a powerful instrument to comfort, encourage and support the brokenhearted and hurting (Psalm 34:18, Psalm 147:2-4).  However, the Bible is not all rainbows and lollipops.  The Bible describes itself as being sharper than a two-edged sword. If the Bible God is taught properly it will penetrate our souls and cast judgment on our bad behavior, the sinful thoughts we think and the rotten attitudes we harbor in our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). If the preaching in your church rarely or never leaves you feeling convicted about the things that need changing in your life, you are probably in a sick church. 

People are the means not the end- 

Healthy church leaders know that people are the reason we do church. People are not the means to some other end like building a big building, having a gazillion followers or being the church with a ton of campuses where all the cool people attend. People are the primary reason churches do what they do and if they are not then the leaders of that church have lost sight of the mission of the church. The church was established by God to promote spiritual growth, train individuals to do the work of ministry and reflect the heart of Jesus to the unsaved world (Luke 6:40, Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 4:11-13, Galatians 2:20).  Anytime a church forgets the original point of church it’s a sick church.  

Sunday morning is all there is- 

There are 168 hours in a week. Most folks spend 52 of those hours sleeping, 40ish hours a week working, 30 hours watching television, 22 hours a week messing around on their phone and only one, perhaps two measly hours of any given week involved in spiritual activity. We need more spiritual food than that to process through all the spiritual and emotional junk we encounter in a given week (Hebrews 10:24-25). If a church does not routinely provide a means for people to connect outside of the Sunday morning service (small groups, Sunday school classes, midweek services, prayer groups) it’s not a healthy church (Acts 2:46-47). 

There is only one kind of people in the church- 

The early church was scandalously diverse. The rich socialized freely with the poor. The old and the young were equally valued (1st Timothy 4:12, 1st Timothy 5:1-2). Slaves were sometimes the spiritual leaders of their masters and women and men worshiped together with individuals of all races (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:27-29).  A healthy church has a mixture of age groups, races and people from all sorts socio-economic circumstances. If a church is mostly millennials or mostly old people or mostly white people or mostly rich people, something is probably not right. 

There is no replication- 

Healthy organisms reproduce (Acts 6:7). If a church isn’t planting other churches and the attendees are not leading people to Jesus, there is a problem.  

Finding a church is about more than simply finding a church that matches our particular doctrinal or musical preference. Nor is it about finding a place “we feel comfortable”. Finding a good church is about finding a place where we routinely feel spiritually uncomfortable and yet deeply loved for who we are as people. 

The Wrong Way to Handle a Celebrity 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.

Finding the Grace to Forgive-

If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses- Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV

Let’s be real. 

Hard things are hard and Christianity demands a LOT of hard things of Christians. Christians are called to love the most unlovable of people (Luke 6:27), and exercise self-control in the most unjust of circumstances (Romans 12:17-19, 1st Peter 3:17). Christians are even expected to do good things to and for people who mistreat them (Matthew 5:44). 

Perhaps the hardest of all the hard things Christians are called to do is to forgive those who sin against us. 

The New Testament passages that mandate total forgiveness are insanely comprehensive and leave no legitimate wiggle-room for compromise (Matthew 18:21-35, Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13, 1st Peter 2:18-21). These requirements go so far as to teach that our being forgiven by God hinges on our willingness to forgive others.  Furthermore, Hebrews 12:15 tells us that if unforgiveness is allowed to harden into bitterness that bitterness will not just defile (taint, corrupt, ruin) the bitter person but the people they love as well. 

Sigh. 

Over the course of the last fifteen years or so I have had several “opportunities” to forgive people who really did not deserve to be forgiven. Mostly because few of them were actually sorry. These were not small slights like having my feelings hurt, being overlooked in a social situation or being ignored by someone I felt should care about me. Each experience was extremely personal and painful.  I am not going to share the details of any of them. All you really need to know is that all the situations demanded more of me than I honestly thought I was capable of giving at the time. 

Through that I learned that there are steps that must be followed for the process of forgiveness to work itself out. If any aspects of the process is skipped or glossed over the forgiveness will be incomplete and our feelings towards the person who hurt us will harden into bitterness. 

 Following are some steps to forgiving others. They don’t have to be done in a particular order but they all have to be done. It all starts with: 

Recognize that forgiveness is a process rather than an event- 

Forgiving really big offenses is rarely, if ever, a one and done. Forgiveness begins with the choice to forgive. However, that choice must be followed by a commitment to do the work necessary to truly move on from the hurt. The length of time it takes to work through the process depends on many things including the level of hurt involved and the maturity of the person who was hurt. 

Ask God to help you-

Any reasonably mature adult can forgive a social slight or a minor offense easily.  However, there are some hurts and offenses so grievous that even the most spiritually mature people cannot forgive them without God’s help.  

Allow yourself to feel the impact of the hurt-

Anytime I hear someone who has just experienced a hurt at the hands of an evil person say “I forgive them”. My heart breaks for that person because I know they aren’t Jesus.  Jesus is the only person who ever lived who is truly capable of forgiving an act of evil without first sorting through their feelings about the situation (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness is hard because it is the act of surrendering the right we all feel we have to hold people accountable for sinning against us. Because feeling the impact of hurt is painful it is tempting to simply utter the words “I forgive” without counting the cost and really working through how we feel about the person who hurt us. If we skip this step we will likely find that the feelings of forgiveness do not last long.    All that being said, it is critical that we don’t get stuck in this step because if we do bitterness is inevitable. 

Find a person to help you process- 

God designed the human race in such a way that people need people (Genesis 2:18). Christians are commanded to comfort the hurting and to mourn with those who mourn (2nd Corinthians 1:3-5, 1st Thessalonians 2:11-12, Romans 12:15). No one needs comfort more or is mourning harder than someone who is processing injustice.  If you are hurting find a Christian counselor, Pastor or mature Christian friend who can walk you through the process. If you happen to be in a good place right now be the person who helps someone when they need comfort. 

Pray daily for the person who hurt you- 

Pray God blesses the person who hurt you. Ask God to make them more self-aware so they will know how their actions are affecting others.  Ask God to do whatever needs to be done in their lives for them to grow into the best version of themselves possible (Luke 6:28). Keep praying those prayers until you feel freed from any bitterness you feel towards the person who hurt you. 

Forgiveness is not easy but it is worth the trouble because unforgiveness makes it impossible for us to grow and change.  Authentic forgiveness frees us from the mental bondage of thinking about the person who hurt us all the time. This frees us up to focus on the things that will empower us to become the people God wants us to be.      

How Fear Steals From Us-

 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 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 some people think I’m a nutcase for doing these things. However, for a good chunk of my life I had some serious misgivings concerning 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 believe it or not, he was a pug.  My husband and I decided to we wanted a pug because pugs are not typically aggressive. We wanted a sweet little dog everyone would love.  Unfortunately, Bruno was only sweet to us and almost no one 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 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 get 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 also makes good 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 is like my horrid little 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. 

Nine Crazy-Bold Prayers Christians Should Pray Everyday

Lord my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence- 2ndChronicles 6:19 NIV

It does not take any exceptional insight or wisdom to see that our world has morphed into a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess in what feels like record time. 

Human life does not have the value it did just a few years ago. Poor neighborhoods in larger cities have morphed into war zones with weekly body and injury counts. One out of every three children conceived is aborted and the body parts of many of those children are peddled for profit under the guise of “science” and “improving life”. The market for sex slaves is booming. Millions of boys and girls are bought and sold for the pleasure of adults who have no regard for anyone or anything including vulnerable children. 

Everybody hates everybody. Name-calling and character assassination are the new normal. One wrong word either spoken or written and the thought police is unleashed. No one is exempt from the hate and nothing is too outrageous to say anymore. Words that were once earmarked for truly dastardly people with proven track records of actual evil, words like racist, white supremacist, Nazi and fascist are now lobbed around with casual indifference at anyone foolish or brave enough to offend the thought mob. Those who hold to a conservative view of morality and truth are hated and no group is more despised than Bible-believing Christians.  

Sigh. 

These are times that are sure to test even the best and brightest of God’s people (Matthew 24:9-13).  Christians should strive to remember two truths about the time we live in. First and foremost, God promised this day would come (2ndTimothy 3:1-5, 2ndPeter 3:3).  There is nothing we are seeing or experiencing that should come as a shock to anyone with even a casual familiarity with the New Testament. Secondly, Christians are told to stand against evil. We are not to run or hide in our bunkers or curse the darkness on social media. Rather we are told to do what we can to fight the evil and then stand brazenly against it (Ephesians 6:13).  The way we stand is through prayer. I believe God is calling His people to pray some crazy bold prayers these days. Following are ten hard prayers every Christian should consider praying every day. 

Pray for the delusion to be lifted- 

2ndThessalonians promises that there will come a day when people will hate truth so much that they will consciously reject God and refuse to be saved (2ndThessalonians 2:10b-11). The result of this reckless rejection of God and His truth is that a powerful delusion will come on the earth causing people to hate truth (all truth, not just spiritual truth) even more.  Christians should do their best to be as much like God as humanly possible. This means we should want people to be saved and we should never, ever delight in the death of a wicked person (John 3:16, Ezekiel 33:11).  Pray the delusion is lifted and people will embrace truth.

Pray for an end to lawlessness- 

A natural consequence of the above-mentioned delusion will be a level of lawlessness that will be unlike anything the world has seen since the days of Noah (1stJohn 3:4, Genesis 6:11). The rise in violence, sexual-slavery, hate groups and the upsurge in attacks against the police are natural consequences of human beings willfully choosing spiritual rebellion over spiritual obedience.  

Pray for genuine racial healing- 

All human beings are made in the image of God. Conflict between the races breaks the heart of God (1st Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). Furthermore, we will not move forward as a nation without authentic racial reconciliation. 

Pray church leaders will rethink how church is done- 

In recent decades there have been radical changes in the way Christians do church. Church has shifted from a member model designed to train Christians to evangelize unbelievers into a seeker model designed to attract unbelievers to church services. Intentions were noble but outcomes have been less than stellar. There have been very few lasting conversions in recent years and many “Christians” are leaving the faith altogether. Most alarming of all, most believers freely admit they do not feel adequately equipped to reach the lost. We must return to a model of church that attracts non-Christians to Jesus (John 13:35) and teaches and trains Christians to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-15). 

Pray God will show you your junk- 

Every single person, Christian or non-Christian has junk. Junk is our stupid, sinful and weird ways of relating to God and people.  Junk is bad because it hurts other people and holds us back from maturing into the person God wants us to be. Pray fervently that God will show you your junk so you can repent, change and become the man or woman God needs you to be at this point in history. 

Pray for a movement of repentance in the church- 

God moves when people repent (2ndChronicles 7:14, 2ndCorinthians 13:5). We need God to move, so, pray for repentance. 

Pray for the crazy person who is convinced you’re a racist or a meanie or whatever- 

There is literally nothing worse than being falsely accused of something awful and nothing easier than loathing the people who accuse us falsely. Pray for the haters. There’s a lot of them out there and they need our prayers more than they need our judgment.

Pray for transparency in government and that duplicity will be revealed- 

Seriously. 

Pray for boldness, wisdom and spiritual strength-

What the world needs more than anything is Christians who will use wisdom and sound biblical theology to boldly and lovingly reach out to their friends and neighbors with the good news that Jesus really does love them. People need to know God has the power to transform them into something infinitely better than they are right now.  

Why We Still Need Church

I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth- 1stTimothy 3:14b-15 NIV

There’s a lot of hating on the church that goes on these days. Just this past week a prominent church leader exchanged the truth of God for a lie and took to Instagram to renounce his faith (Romans 1:25, 2nd Peter 3:17, Matthew 24:12-13). Joshua Harris proceeded to make a point of theatrically apologizing for what the church believes and why it believes it. “Church leaders” are not the only ones who have taken to bashing the church. Many believers make a regular habit of apologizing for what the church has traditionally believed and taught.    

Sigh. 

I am under no illusions regarding the church. The church is made up of people. People (even redeemed people) are always a work in progress. Consequently, any organization that people are a part of will inevitably be flawed. Church people (sometimes even church leaders) have done terrible things and promoted appalling attitudes in the name of the God who would categorially denounce those behaviors and attitudes. 

My understanding of the shortcomings of the church run so deep that I have a sizable collection of blogs under the category of “Church Peeves”. That being said, I have nothing against the church. 

To the contrary, I believe that church is the most critical institution to grace the face of the planet. I do not believe a church must be a mega-multi-site-church to be a legitimate church. There is nothing wrong with small churches or even home churches as long as the church is healthy and the body of believers (who include more than one or two families) is learning, growing and keeping one another accountable. The size and structure of the church doesn’t matter all that much. What really matters is that Christians make a point to be an active part of a local church. Here’s why:

The church is the storehouse of spiritual truth- 

In spite of its flaws, church is intended to be the place sinners go to find their way to God and the place the redeemed go to be strengthened and sustained in their faith journey. Without the church Christianity ultimately devolves into a rickety spiritual DIY project where every person does what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25, Proverbs 19:2, Jeremiah 51:17). Fallible humans need the church to be the arbiter of truth or we tend to go a little nutso. Furthermore, without a firm foundation of truth, we find ourselves powerless to rescue the culture God called us to save. 


Church is where Christian community becomes a reality- 

Truth is critical but if truth were the end-all-be-all of the Christian life Christians could become who and what God intended them to be (Philippians 2:15, 1st Thessalonians 5:23, 1st Peter 2:5) by simply reading a theology book or listening to a sermon online. Instead God designed believers to be part of a greater Christian community (1st Corinthians 12:27). When we dive into a functioning Christian community we learn to love others (John 13:35), control our fleshly urges (Galatians 5:13). We also discover our spiritual gifts and have a place to use them (Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11-13) 

Church is where we find accountability (if we’re real with people)-

Everyone needs someone who loves them enough to call them out. For Christians church is the place we find people who care enough to tell us the truth about our attitudes and direction in life. In order for this to work we have to do more than simply attend Sunday services. We have to be actively involved in the community and prepared to be real with people. This means being humble enough to admit we don’t always have it all together and that we need other people. 

Church is something Jesus told us to do- 

Seriously.  Church was Jesus’ idea. It is nearly impossible to be completely obedient to Jesus without involvement with His body (Matthew 16:18, 1st Corinthians 12:17, Ephesians 4:10-15).  

Church is where our values, attitudes and behaviors are challenged-

There are standards, beliefs and actions that are accepted and celebrated in our culture that are entirely antithetical to the Christian way of life (self-centeredness, sexism, racism, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, contempt, materialism). Christians in a healthy church that teaches truth are reminded on a regular basis that we are commanded to be different from the rest of the world (Romans 12:2, 1st Peter 1:14, Galatians 5:13-26)  

Church is where we learn to love people who aren’t like us-

Christian churches are the only places on earth where human beings of every race, gender and socio-economic class worship together side by side and serve each other out of love.  This naturally creates an environment where we learn to like (and sometimes even love) people who we would never get a chance to meet in any other environment. The diversity of church is a beautiful thing and the essence of New Testament living.   

When the Church dies moral and spiritual truth dies with it-

When that happens moral chaos and human suffering inevitably follows.  

How “Nice” Has Become an Idol We Worship We with Wild Abandon

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols~ 1stJohn 5:21 NIV

“Being nice” is an idol we worship with abandon in Western culture. 

Before you tag-out to write me a long rambling comment listing in horrific detail the countless ways people have become rude, vulgar and belligerent, please hear me out. 

I’m not crazy.  

It is true that there are many people in our culture who become aggressively rude, foulmouthed and abusive at what looks like the tiniest provocation. However, if you look at the context of their aggression; their hostility is nearly always directed at people the aggressors categorize as hateful, rude or disrespectful in some way. 

It is never acceptable to be “not nice” anymore unless, of course someone else is determined to be “not nice”. That said, once the judgment of “not nice” has been established, literally anything goes. It is then acceptable to unleash untold hell on those judged to be “not nice”.  

Sadly, this phenomenon has turned many Christians into a horde of craven fraidy-cats (more on that later).  

This insight came as I was reading an article. The writer of said article believes evangelical support for the President (rather than the churches lack of holiness or the average Christian’s reluctance to share the not-nice parts of the gospel) is hurting our Christian witness in America. He believes that it would be best for Christian voters to dump the President and take our lumps with whoever gets elected next. Rather than discredit the reputation of Christianity with support for the President. 

The primary grievance the writer seemed to have with the President is not his with policies but rather his lack of politeness and absence of niceness. There are opponents of the President who really do have issues with conservative policies. However, they rarely attack those policies. Instead they focus endlessly on the Presidents lack of decorum, dignity and niceness.  

Sigh. 

Our collective obsession with niceness transcends the realm of politics.  Despite laws safeguarding free speech there is an influential movement afoot to shut down any and all speech thought to be “not nice”.  Racist, sexist and homophobic speech has been deemed the least “nice” speech and for good reason. Clever individuals have recognized that the most efficient way to silence someone else’s speech (and to be given the go ahead to be “not nice” to that person) is to twist that person’s speech into something racist, sexist and/or homophobic. Universities have made a practice of suppressing the speech of students who hold views that are thought to be “not nice”. Schools routinely disinvite speakers deemed problematic due to their lack of niceness. Professors have actually been fired from jobs for openly sharing views decreed “not nice”.

There’s more:

The Berkley city council has prohibited the use of gender specific pronouns in their city code because it is “not nice” to call someone a pronoun they don’t identify with. Berkley has determined that it is categorially “not nice” to offend a gender confused person or a woman or anyone so now a manhole cover will be called a “maintenance hole” and manpower will be termed “human effort” and brothers and sisters will now be called “siblings”. 

Welcome to 1984 folks. 

The entire west coast is being taken over by homeless people. Sections of entire cities are no longer fit to do business in. Nothing is being done to correct this problem (or help the homeless) because it has been determined by leadership in those cities that it is “not nice” to make judgments about the lifestyle choices of others. Medical professionals will admit in their more vulnerable moments they are reluctant to tell patients they are overweight or that their lifestyle choices are going to kill them because they do not want to be perceived as “not nice” or “judgmental”. 

The idol of nice has slipped into the church and it IS hurting our witness.  For years now, churches (even evangelical churches) have systematically softened language concerning sin. In some situations, churches have stopped discussing topics—no matter how biblical those topics might be— because someone— somewhere might possibly feel those topics are “not nice”. The teachings of Calvinism have made serious inroads in recent years, even in denominations that are not traditionally Calvinistic. I suspect one of the reasons Calvinism has become trendy is because Calvinism teaches that Christians never have to tell unbelievers they are going to hell or even evangelize them (decidedly “not nice” things). Calvinists believe it is the sole responsibility of the Holy Spirit to reach unbelievers and He does not want or need our help. If these strategies were effective I would support them, but they are not. Church attendance has plummeted as have authentic conversions to Christianity. The vast majority of church growth in recent decades has been what experts call “transfer growth” or Christians simply transferring from one church or denomination to another church or denomination.   

Idols must be dealt with decisively.  That does not mean it is okay to be rude, abusive or foulmouthed. Christians should strive to treat ALL people with the respect, dignity and the consideration that is due any being made in the image of a holy God. It does mean that we stop letting our fear of man outweigh our fear of God. 

It is critical Christians learn to balance “niceness” with truthfulness in a culture that is literally dying right before our very eyes (Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:25). It is the ultimate in fiddling while Rome burns to worry more about being labeled “not nice” than to worry about the souls of people or the future of our civilization.  

Six Rules (Yes Rules) That Keep Christians From Going Totally Sideways In Life-

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel~ Philippians 1:27 NIV  

I am not really much of a rule-follower, in fact I despise them with every fiber of my being.  

That said, there was brief period early-on in my Christian journey when I had a short but ill-fated love affair with legalism. Needless to say, it was not my finest hour. Over time through Bible study, the guidance of a gentle mentor, and some spiritual growth I concluded that laws are intended for law-breakers (1stTimothy 1:9). It is now my firmly held conviction that if Christians would simply seek godly wisdom, follow biblical principles and do what God tells us to do, there would be little need for extra-biblical rules. 

That being said.

Recently, I was thinking about how one person can be incredibly successful from a spiritual perspective while another person in a similar set of circumstances can go completely sideways in every respect (1stTimothy 1:18-19). As I was thinking through the how and why of all that. I came-up with was a list of attitudes and behaviors that spiritually successful people tend to have (Galatians 5:22-23, Colossians 1:9-11). Then I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with a way to express my thoughts without using the “rules” word, mostly because I know rules are  a hot-button issue in some Christian circles.  Ultimately, I decided it was the only word that really made any sense. Sigh. 

Here they are:

Be teachable-

Being teachable is basically just being open to the notion that we might be wrong about something (doctrine, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors). Being teachable means owning it when we are not doing life well or we need help or guidance from other people. Being teachable is the polar opposite of being prideful. Teachable people ask God on a regular basis to reveal their blind spots and the areas of their lives that need work.  Then they ask for help and seek wisdom. Help and wisdom can come in the form of a wise friend, a Christian counselor, Christian books, a pastor or a spiritual mentor. What matters is that we are willing to humble ourselves and ask for it when we need it. 

Be obedient-

There has been some serious misunderstanding regarding obedience and legalism in recent years. For the better part of the 20thcentury the cultural pendulum in church world swung towards extreme legalism.  Beginning in the 1980’s the pendulum began to swing in the extreme opposite direction which eventually landed us where we are at now (extreme worldliness).  The simplest definition of legalism is the practice of adding manmade rules to straightforward biblical commands. For example: Christians are commanded to avoid sexual immorality (sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, prostitution etc.) Christians are NOT told to abstain from dating or told to only practice courtship or to avoid kissing or dancing. It is legalistic (adding to God’s commands) to prohibit dating, dancing or kissing. However, it is clearly NOT legalistic to tell someone to stop hooking-up with strangers or to stop looking at porn (1st Thessalonians 4:3-8, 1st Timothy 1:10, 1st Corinthians 6:8-10, 1st Corinthians 6:15).

Engage the world around you- 

We only get one shot at this life (Hebrews 9:27). Our time here is so short that the Bible refers to human life as a flower that springs up for a season (1st Peter 1:24, Job 14:1-2). Every season of life tends to be shorter than we think it will be. We all have a limited amount of time to be married, parent our children, love our neighbors, pastor our churches, lead the people around us and impact our corner of the world for Jesus.  It would benefit us all to put down our phones, shut off the T.V. and be a lot more intentional about engaging the world and the people in it. Not only would we have a bigger impact on our world we would probably also enjoy our time here more.  

Recognize and run from unhealthy people and situations-

Sadly, in this fallen world there are individuals and situations that can be detrimental to our spiritual and emotional health. Those folks repeatedly take us to a place where we doubt God, lose faith in our ability to do the things God has called us to do and sometimes they even cause us to sin (Matthew 18:6, Luke 17:1). I am not a big supporter of simply cutting people out of our lives without a really good reason. That said, there are situations where a little or in some cases a lot of distance is just wise.

Become a friend of God-

Believe God is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. Get to know Him on a personal level rather than simply acquiring information about Him and God will consider you His friend and even confide in you (Psalm 25:14, James 2:23).   

 Develop people- 

Jesus spent the vast majority of His time helping people to become better and healthier versions of themselves. He wants us to do the same. Make a point of helping friends, strangers, co-workers and subordinates to become the best version of themselves they can become. In the process you will become an improved version of you.