Finding Joy in the Upside-down World of Coronavirus –

 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance– James 1:2-3

 Last week, I was asked how Christians can live a life of authentic joy in the midst of the “new normal”. The person asking was not some unenlightened heathen nub, nor were they looking for an emotional short-cut out of the pain that is the prevailing feeling of 2020. This person is mature enough to know joy is not the same thing as happiness in the sense that it not something we can manufacture within ourselves or acquire from outside activities. They just felt, as so many of us do, that their capacity to experience joy has been challenged by our current political, spiritual, and moral climate.

 I had no words.

 Seriously. I have never faced a global pandemic or race riots or a government power grab or this level of social instability. So, I prayed. Hard. Over the course of the next few days I was overcome with the conviction that we lack joy when we look for it in the wrong places. Joy is not is something that grows out of serene conditions or easy circumstances. Joy grows out of love for God AND acceptance of His will. Whatever that may be. Following are some practices that increase joy if we are willing to make the effort they require.

 First, we must:

Stop being gross-

 A wise woman I know made a casual observation this week about how gross contemporary Christians can be. Her words hit hard. Many Christians are kind of gross, and I am no exception. Some have literally expressed gratitude “for the break from church” in recent months (Hebrews 10:25).  Others shy away from doing anything even remotely hard (Galatians 6:9). Most are guilty of viewing the God of the universe as their own private blessing machine. Too many pray trivial prayers requesting material blessings rather than pleading for moral and spiritual transformation. Then when God does attempt to produce change in our lives we run as fast and hard as we can from the pain that inevitably accompanies growth. We become gross by permitting wrong beliefs about God and the role He is to play in our lives to fester and grow. We become less “gross” and more joyful when we choose to cooperate with God rather than fighting the methods He has chosen to make us better, healthier, more Christlike people (1st Corinthians 3:18, Philippians 4:11-13).

  Learn to welcome the interruptions God ordains-

 About six weeks into the Coronavirus pandemic I had an ugly public meltdown. I have too much personal pride to share the unpleasant details of that event at this time. Needless to say, it was not pretty. As I was sorting through the “why” of my behavior, it dawned on me that more than anything I loathed the interruption coronavirus had brought to my sweet little life (Job 17:11, Psalm 33:10). That insight got me to the place where I accepted that Coronavirus and all the nuttiness that goes with it is just what we get to do right now. I don’t have to like any of it. Nor, do I have to go along with all of it. However, I must accept it if I want to stay sane and experience joy. Interruptions, whether they be an unexpected phone call, an unplanned pregnancy, a cross-country move, or a global pandemic are not really interruptions. They are God’s plan (Psalm 40:10). We have two choices when God’s plan differs from ours: we can lean in and figure out how God wants to change us and use us or we can fight Him (Proverbs 19:21). The first choice yields personal growth, unanticipated blessings and genuine joy. The second brings despair, resentment and stunted spiritual growth. Welcoming interruption does not mean we cannot or should not fight injustice or work for needed change. It does mean our personal happiness can’t depend entirely on having life the way we want it. 

 Pray like you’ve never prayed before-

 Nothing produces joy and emboldens faith like answered prayer. In my experience God loves to answer bold prayers that focus on the spiritual needs of others. There is no shortage of needs in this world we can pray for right now.

 Recapture time and give it to God-

  I borrowed this idea from Mark Sayers, Pastor of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia. He suggests Christians recapture time spent on random activities such as watching television and goofing around on our phones and give that time back to God in the form of prayer and Bible study.  This works because joy grows out of intimacy with God and intimacy grows out of time spent seeking God. This concept became a game changer in my life shortly after my COVID meltdown. I took an hour a day I’d been spending on my phone and began using that time to pray. That hour transformed my attitude, restored joy and undoubtedly saved the world from further ugly meltdowns.    

 Finally, and most critically, Christians must become people who seek to impart hope to others. Hope is what the world most needs right now and it is the thing Christians have to give the world (Romans 5:3-5). When we share the hope of Jesus with others it causes our own joy to grow. In order to be an agent of hope our own hope has to be in the right thing.  If our hope rides on “everything going back to normal” we are hoping for the wrong thing. Furthermore, we will likely be disappointed and we will never become the change agents God intends us to be.

 

 

The Real Reason We’re Losing our Freedoms-

 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love- Galatians 5:13 NIV

 We are rapidly losing long held freedoms.

 The rights to freely assemble, speak, worship and bear arms are being challenged at every turn. Politicians argue the Coronavirus has made the restriction of rights necessary for “the greater good” of society. Others argue Coronavirus has become a convenient pretext to restrict any right that happens to be irksome or inconvenient to legislators.

 Individuals have responded to the loss of liberty in one of two ways.  A small but vocal minority is quick to express gratitude. They sincerely believe the loss of liberty is worth the security gained. However, the vast majority feels far less appreciative towards the rule makers.

 Rulers throughout history have tended to view personal freedom as a privilege that can be revoked at a moment’s notice by the will of human authority. However, history has proven freedom causes human beings to flourish. Without personal freedom the human spirit withers, creativity dies and discovery is stifled. Countries that allow the most freedom are also the most productive and innovative. Authoritarian governments that relentlessly limit autonomy inevitably collapse because human freedom is the key to human productivity.

 The Bible presents human freedom as both a gift and a test (1st Corinthians 10:23, Genesis 3). God is the giver of human freedom. People have the right to do whatever they please with God’s gift of freewill. However, God reserves the right to punish people for the sinful and selfish use of their freedom (Romans 2:6-8, Romans 6:23, Galatians 6:8, 1st Corinthians 6:9).  In the Bible freedom without obedience to God inevitably led to moral ruin and bondage (2nd Chronicles 29:6-9).  

 Americans have been blessed with a wider variety of freedoms than any people in the history of mankind. Both men and women, regardless of race, creed or social class are free to live where they want, build what they want, associate with who they want, buy what they want and sell what they want. Americans are free to have any kind of relationship they choose to have with anyone they choose to have it with. Americans can raise and educate their children however they want and wherever they want to do it. We can use our free time for any purpose we choose. The only real stipulation placed on these freedoms is that we do not harm others with our independence. No other country on earth has been blessed in this way.

 This begs a question:

 Are we living lives worthy of these blessings?

 The answer is nope.

 Rather than using the freedom we have to create a healthier, more just society we have used our freedom to abort millions of children and deprive them of their right to life, liberty and a pursuit of happiness. We have pushed the boundaries of good sense and tested the patience of God by denying reality and insisting gender is a choice we get to make. Our culture has twisted the blessing of sexuality into a multi-billion-dollar industry that enslaves and objectifies millions of women and children. Many publicly funded-school systems actively seek to corrupt the innocence of children through the implementation of curriculums that introduce ideas and concepts that go beyond “the basics” of human sexuality into a distorted and even creepy perversion of human sexuality. Rather than expressing gratitude for the abundant material blessings available in our culture full grown adults cry, whine, riot and set things on fire, and demand MORE all the while refusing to work for anything. Some are actively using the racial injustice suffered by too many in our society as an excuse to tear everything down and reshape society in their own twisted image (2nd Peter 2:19, 2nd Timothy 3:1-3).

 Many Christians are no better just different.  

 Statistics reveal the vast majority of Americans who identify as Christians do not use their religious freedom to worship regularly on Sunday mornings. Nor, do the majority of Christians share their faith with others, volunteer in their churches or contribute to missions. Churches are some of the most segregated places in the country and Christians routinely show more kindness to unsaved people than they do to saved people.  Christians view porn almost as much as non-Christians, infidelity is far from unheard of in the church and scandals among church leaders have become a routine occurrence.

 Here’s the thing.

 God sometimes judges by removing blessings that are not used responsibly. We have not used our freedom responsibly.

 It’s not too late but it is time for the Church to repent.

 Christians have got to stop being a part of the problem and must seek to be the solution. We must model the reality for the world that genuine freedom is not found in doing anything we want to do. Authentic freedom is found in knowing Christ and being free from bondage to sinful behaviors and thought patterns (Romans 6:6).  We must be intentional about using freedom to do good rather than as an excuse to evil. We must make a practice of examining ourselves daily and searching diligently for sinful attitudes and behaviors that need to be repented of. God has not blessed the Church so we can live for our own pleasure or have everything just the way we want it at the expense of those who are dying without Christ. God has blessed the Church so we can be a blessing, preach the gospel fearlessly and lead the greater culture towards living righteous and holiness.   

 It’s time to get to it.

 

 

 

Advice for Christians Living in a Crazy World-

 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others- Philippians 2:3-4 NASB

 It was another crazy week in a world gone mad:  

 Protesters and looters are still doing their thing. Politicians on the left have fallen all over themselves applauding their thing. Politicians on the right don’t seem to be doing much of anything. Cities are on fire. Churches are shuttered. Schools are closed. Business are shutdown or operating at partial capacity. Health care officials have thrown their support behind BLM protesters despite earlier insistence that EVERYONE should follow all social distancing guidelines at ALL TIMES. Then just when it felt as if we had finally reached the apex of violence, hypocrisy and absurdity people began suggesting in all seriousness that cities defund police departments. A few days after that discussion began in earnest protesters took over a large section of the Capitol Hill area in downtown Seattle and declared it the “capitol hill autonomous zone” otherwise known as CHAZ.

 Sigh.

 This blogpost isn’t about any of that. I briefly contemplated sharing some thoughts on defunding the police. Then I remembered society has been divided into two groups. The first consists of people who don’t need to be told defunding the police is the worst idea since well ever. The second consists of people who don’t read this blog. Needless to say, that topic was quickly tabled. Instead, I want share some thoughts I have had on how we, as followers of Jesus can live life, respond to the growing madness and behave in ways that are redemptive, wise and healing in times that seem determined to test us all. This is no easy task. It takes a blend of constant self-examination and prayerful action. The following five ideas are a place to start:

 Shut your pie hole till you have something helpful and lifegiving to say-

 No one loves a snarky, antagonistic meme more than I do. Nonetheless, this is not the time for that. Nor is it the time to argue stridently for perspectives we haven’t considered all sides of. Our world needs healers and truth-tellers not firebrands who passionately scream half-baked ideas at the sky. Christians must get in the habit of seeking out as many well-thought-out opinions as possible from as many wise, humble, God-fearing people as possible (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 19:20, Proverbs 24:6).  Before we actually share our thoughts, we should study, pray and be certain our thinking aligns with the Bible rather than the current culture. There are no words for how much I appreciate every reader of this blog. It humbles me to think that anyone would seek my views on anything. That said, I sincerely hope I am not anyone’s only source of information on any issue. There really is wisdom in an abundance of counselors.

 Pick the side Jesus would pick-

 Here’s the thing. Jesus was on the side of the weak and marginalized but He was also on the side of obedience to authority structures (Mark 12:40, Matthew 18:6, Mark 12:15-17, John 4, John 8:1-11). He loved all races enough to die for them (Matthew 15:22-28, Matthew 8:8-13, John 10:16). And He loved the sick and hurting every bit as much as He loved the rich and those in positions of authority (John 3:1-2, Matthew 8:16, Matthew 9:12). We live in a time where placing dividing lines between people has become standard-operating-procedure. Christians can’t do that.  Jesus taught that our greatest need as people is not to have our “side” validated but to have our souls saved. This truth must be the driving force behind our interactions with all people of all races.  

 Grow up-

 I am working together with a small group of smart people to establish a discipleship program in our church. This has got me thinking about what it means to be a mature Christian. I have concluded spiritual maturity is less about what we know in terms of academic knowledge (although knowledge is critically important) and more about BEING in Jesus and modeling our lives after His. Jesus modeled self-sacrifice and putting the needs of others first. Therefore, our religion is not truly Christian if our life becomes hyper-focused on having our individual desires catered too. Being a mature Christian at this period of history means we must seek to glorify Jesus first and look out for the greater good of others second. Our own preferences must come a distant third.

 Find balance between being an encourager and a truth-teller-

 Christians should be encouragers (1st Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13). God’s will is for every person to become a better, healthier version of themselves. Everyone needs human encouragement to get to where God wants them to be. However, it is equally as important we tell people the truth. This means that we should never encourage sinful thinking or behavior (as defined by Scripture) in the name of making people feel good about themselves or their choices.

 Be careful about jumping on popular bandwagons-

 PLEASE. Just because an organization believes one thing that is true it does not mean it’s a group Jesus would endorse or involve Himself in.  For the love of all that is good and decent at the very least do a sixty second google search and read the organizations statement of beliefs before adding its hashtag to your newest social media post. 

 We are blessed to live in scary times. They are unlike any I have experienced in my lifetime. We are blessed because God has historically done His best work in the darkest of times.  It is our responsibility as believers to align ourselves with Him in everything so we can be the redemptive presence our world desperately needs right now. 

 

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.