Five Totally Fixable Reasons Christians Don’t Grow Spiritually-

We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming~ Ephesians 4:14 NIV

 Life is full of peculiar little conundrums, mysteries, enigmas and paradoxes.

It is possible to be overwhelmed with busyness and not accomplish anything of any significance.  We can listen intently and not hear a word the other person is saying. It is even possible to live life without experiencing the joy and fullness of being truly alive (John 5:39-40).

 We can also grow older without actually growing-up. It is not at all uncommon to see children well into their elementary years still throwing temper tantrums like toddlers. Teenagers with the mindset of elementary-age children and young adults, who have never held a paying job.  Immaturity and childishness is not limited to the young. Our society is filled with grown men and women who bully, blame others and lack the ability to manage their most basic impulses.

 A form of immaturity in a class all its own is spiritual immaturity. Spiritually immature people are characterized by a lack of love and concern for others (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Hebrews 10:24). They are also unable distinguish right from wrong (Malachi 3:18, Philippians 1:9-11) and have a tendency to rely on feelings rather than biblical truth for direction (John 8:32). Some indicators a person is spiritual immature are broken relationships, pride, anger, excessive complaining without any desire to problem solve and a tendency to church hop.

 A lack of spiritual maturity will cause a Christian to become morally stunted, selfish and worldly. Ultimately, immaturity is the root cause of “irreconcilable differences” in Christian marriages and spiritual immaturity is what causes Christian friendships to falter and churches to be ineffective.  Christians are responsible for their own growth (Galatians 6:4-5, 1st Peter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-13). We will never grow spiritually unless we commit to doing the following five things:

  Forgive others-   

 Forgiving others is a prerequisite for receiving forgiveness from (Matthew 6:15). It is also the only way to keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness stunts our growth by keeping us so focused on the flaws and shortcomings of others that we just don’t see our own areas of weakness and sin. Allowing bitterness to take root in our lives will steal the mental and spiritual energy we need work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:4)

Become a learner-

 It is God’s will for every Christian to be firmly rooted in the truths of the Bible (Ephesians 5:17, Colossians 2:6-7). Christians only become rooted through a commitment to the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer and regular church attendance. There is simply no reasonable excuse for Christians not reading the Bible, praying and becoming a contributing member of a Bible believing church.

 Repent–  

 At the root of most spiritual immaturity is a sinful behavior or attitude that we love too much to let go of. Sins like gossip, lust, bitterness, addiction to drugs or alcohol, anger and backbiting are a few of the attitudes and behaviors that will keep us from growing-up spiritually. Growth comes naturally when we make a regular practice of self-examination and repentance (1st Corinthians 11:28, 2nd Corinthians 13:5, Matthew 3:8, Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19).

 Serve-

 When Christians serve in their churches and communities a couple of critical objectives get met. Stuff that needs to get done gets done, human needs are met and Jesus looks good as a result. Serving is critically important because it broadens our concern for others and causes us to take our eyes off ourselves. In the process, we begin to see the needs of others more clearly and our desire to be a blessing grows.  When this happens, God is glorified and we grow up.

 Own your junk-

 Because no human being is an island we are all effected to one degree or another by the actions of others. The insensitive, sinful and selfish actions of our parents, friends, total strangers or a spouse can cause emotional and spiritual damage that makes reaching our full potential in life much more challenging. Nonetheless, every individual person is ultimately responsible before God for their own choices (Ezekiel 18:20-25). Blaming a bad childhood, marriage, dating experience, etc. for the choices we make and the sins we commit stunts our spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth. This makes it impossible for God to use us to our full potential. We become spiritually free and mature when we get real with God (and ourselves) about what we’ve done and why we did it.

 Men and women who do the work they need to do become fully mature in Christ have all the power they need to reach their full potential in Christ and change their corner of the world. 

 

 

The Real Reasons Christians are not Impacting Others for Jesus-

Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished~ 1st Chronicles 28:20 NIV

 Recently, I have found myself in a number of conversations with other Christians where the discussion ultimately devolved into an analysis of the church and culture. We were all trying to figure out why Christianity is not having a bigger impact. All of the obvious causes were debated in grim detail. We discussed powerless-preaching, mean Christians and the pathetically low moral standards of many churches.  During each discussion, I would listen intently, chime in from time-to-time and nod along enthusiastically.

 Later it dawned on me that most of the problems we discussed were actually symptoms of bigger problems no one (or at least no one I know) ever talks about. It occurred to me that until we get to the place where we are willing to acknowledge the real problems as the real problems we will never find solutions to the symptoms the real problems are causing.

Sigh.

One major problem is that church people tend to blame the culture for problems that Christians have created. Those problems include:

 We fall all over ourselves to tell people they are okay just the way they are when God wants to tell them the opposite-

 I have been guilty of this from time-to-time. The scenario always goes something like this: I will be talking to someone and out of no where they begin to confess in excruciating detail exactly how awful, flawed and sinful they are. Then they tell me how guilty they feel about their sin (James 5:16). Then, because I love people and I hate to see anyone suffer, I would then proceed to tell them how awesome they are. Then I would give them a big hug and urge them to be kinder to themselves. Every single time I did this, I unwittingly undid all the work God was attempting to do in the people I was trying to “help”. We must keep in mind that sometimes people feel guilty because they are guilty (Leviticus 5:5). We also need to remember the only way to get free of our guilt and self-loathing is to confess sin and repent of it (Psalm 34:1-6, Psalm 52, Luke 13:5). Any time we fall all over ourselves to tell others they are awesome when God or their circumstances are telling them something different we are assuming in a kindhearted but prideful way we know the person better than they know themselves. We are also saying we know more about the situation than God does. I am not suggesting that we respond to heartfelt confessions with shaming or by heaping on of even more guilt. That would be cruel. That said, rather than attempting to talk people out of their guilt we need to lead them to repentance and reconciliation with God.

 We care more about how people feel about themselves than the state of their souls-

 A LOT of church people have bought into the completely unchristian notion that no one should ever feel bad about anything. Because the word “sin” universally makes everyone feel terrible about themselves, even Christians use words like disease, problem, bad choices, and genetic predisposition to describe behaviors and attitudes that previous generations would have been quick to label “sin”. We need to get back to the understanding that feeling bad is good (2nd Corinthians 7:10, 2nd Peter 3:9), if the bad feeling  leads to repentance and restoration.

 We fail to call Christians out when they tell non-Christians how bad Christians are–

 It has become fashionable for Bible-believing, church-going Christians to loudly declare to anyone who will listen how awful Christianity is. According to them ALL Christians, themselves being the singular exception, of course, are mean, awful, judgmental people who bear absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to Jesus. It is true that some Christians, especially those who are immature or untaught can be judgmental and unloving. It is also true that every Christian, myself included)has days where they could stand to act a lot more like Jesus and lot less like themselves. That said, there is a fine line between calling for Christians to do better (something I am doing right now) and turning people away from the truth claims of Jesus because we are a little too quick to paint all Christians with an ugly brush. We need to be very careful not to cross that line (Matthew 13:24-29 and 13:36-42). When judgment day comes, God is not going to let anyone off the hook for rejecting Jesus because they heard from a Christian that all Christians are bad people (Revelation 20:11-13). However, He might judge a Christian for turning others off to Christianity. 

 Ephesians 6:10-18 tells us we are in a battle. Many of us have forgotten Satan’s main goal is to win the hearts and minds of men and women with lies and half-truths. Christians must be willing to fight.  We can’t win if we foolishly try to convince people there is something wrong with the Church. Or if we attempt to convince people they don’t have anything wrong with them that needs fixing.   Instead, we must speak the truth, live righteously, correct gently and love fiercely.

Those things will lead people to the Savior (Jude 17-22).  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Parent Without Cursing the Future

Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave~ Exodus 18:20 NIV

 A theme that remains consistent throughout the Bible is the notion of blessings and curses (Leviticus 28, Deuteronomy 30:19, Psalm 128:2, Proverbs 10:6, Malachi 2:2, 1st Corinthians 9:2). The Bible clearly communicates that certain attitudes and activities bring with them blessings and other (usually opposite) attitudes and behaviors bring with them curses.

 I, for one, have never been a big proponent of the view that the Almighty is sitting around heaven scrutinizing the actions of people searching feverishly for opportunities to bring curses down on people, their children, or their children’s children. Rather, I believe that we bring curses on others and ourselves (sometimes unwittingly) with the choices we make in this life.

 There is no area where this is truer than in the arena of parenting.

 The notion that parents bless or curse their children (sometimes without knowing it) is a biblical one (Ezekiel 18:2, Psalm 37:26, Proverbs 31:27-29, Ephesians 6:1-4). However, this concept is not just a Christian notion. It’s an idea even an idiot can grasp. One does not need a crystal ball to see that a child born to a married Mother and Father, determined to provide a stable and loving home, will have a much greater chance of success in life than a child born to a poor, drug-addicted Mother and an indifferent baby-daddy.

 It’s common sense.

 There is more to the notion of blessing children (and future generations) than simple economics or even marital status, and it’s bigger than just our kids or grandkids. No man (or woman) is an island; therefore the values one generation sows into their children impacts society in powerful ways, sometimes for generations to come. It is not excessively melodramatic to say that history can be altered (for good or bad) by the parenting choices of a single generation.

 That said, as a society we aren’t exactly hitting it out of the ballpark in this area. In fact, judging from the sorry state of our culture, we are long overdue for a gut check in how we parent our kids. I believe there are five changes we desperately need to make if we want to parent in a way that blesses rather than curses our children and our culture.

 Beginning with:

 Living lives free of addiction-

 Nothing does more to curse future generations than a drug, alcohol, or porn addiction. Period. The most productive thing one generation can for another is to stay off of drugs.

Letting kids lose-

 Educated middle-class American parents are undoubtedly some of the kindest and best-intentioned parents in the history of the world. Alas, the road to hell really is paved with good intentions. In an effort to shield children from the hurt, frustration and disappointment we all encountered as children we do stuff that looks and feels merciful and kind (like giving everyone a trophy). However, those acts of kindness keep kids from growing into adults who know how to work for what they want and who can handle the setbacks of life with grace and resilience. Kids who are not taught to handle disappointment inevitably grow into adults who act out and hurt others when the going gets tough.

 Being the leader-

 Some child-rearing “experts” have duped parents into believing that children instinctively know what is best for them. This twaddle is going to create a leadership crisis in the future because we learn to lead by following. Young children (under seven) are by their very nature immature, egotistical and for all practical purposes kind of dumb. God gave kids parents to teach them to be healthy, altruistic, thoughtful human beings (Ephesians 6:1). We do that by taking the reins and making most of the decisions when they are very young (under seven) and then coaching them into good decision-making (while still giving them freedom to fail), as they get older.  

 Being in the room-

 In order to parent well, parents need to be fully present; it is all but impossible to be fully present while playing a game on your phone or perusing Facebook. Furthermore, kids learn to be good communicators (a prerequisite for a healthy future) by communicating. No one communicates effectively while preoccupied by a screen.

 Teaching them to work-

 The Bible clearly teaches that work is good (Colossians 3:23, 2nd Thessalonians 3:10). Work is important because it keeps us out of trouble, makes us productive, teaches us to manage our time and gives us the ability to share with those less fortunate. I firmly believe that young people should have at least one job working with the public. Working with people will keep them humble and free from the sin of elitism (James 2:1-9).  

 Fearing God-

 Loving God is good (Deuteronomy 11:1, Mark 12:30), but fearing Him is better (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 10:27, Leviticus 25:7). This is because the fear of the Lord leads to wisdom, (Psalm 111:10) obedience, (Psalm 128:1) the shunning of evil, (Job 28:28) long life (Psalm 14:27) and all of that leads to a society that thrives. We teach kids to fear God by teaching them that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do.

 Anyone with eyes can see that our culture has serious problems. Most of our problems are a result of the choices parents have made with their children over the course of the last four decades. It is not too late to course correct, but it will take parents acting like parents again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Things That Must Be Done to End the Scourge Of Gun Violence

 Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established~ Proverbs 24:3 NKJV

By now, pretty much everyone reading this is aware that there was another horrific school shooting last week, this time in the state of Florida.

 The shooter was troubled young man with a hazy past who suffered from a plethora of shockingly obvious psychological problems. That said, at this point there is little to be gained from discussing the shooter, the body count, the young man’s family situation, or even the appalling number of local, state and federal agencies who bungled the job of preventing this bizarrely preventable tragedy.

 All that is painfully irrelevant at this point.

 It seems to me that it’s far more productive to discuss what we can do to fix the flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess we have made out of our society. News outlets have interviewed a number of high school students who are understandably panicked about their safety and concerned for the future. It’s become painfully obvious that too many of these people are having their fear exploited by manipulative activists who are feeding them the lie that there is a quick fix to our nation’s problem with random gun violence.

 No such fix exists because the problem with gun violence is not about guns; it’s about people and the condition of their hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). The number of gun owners in this country has actually decreased over the course of the last century. During the same period, more restrictions have been placed on who can and cannot own guns and yet gun violence has risen sharply in recent decades. This detail is troublesome and it ought to motivate us to dig deeper rather than simply looking for a quick fix to a complicated issue.

 Gun violence can be slowed substantially if we as a society are willing to do a little soul searching and make some changes in our attitudes and behaviors (Mark 1:15, Acts 3:19).

 Those changes must include:

 An end to the drug culture-

 Over the course of the last three decades there has been a sharp increase in the number of children born to drug using mothers. These babies tend to grow into children and young adults with intellectual deficits who have a tough time in school and later with securing gainful employment. Children born to drug-using mothers tend to struggle with impulse control, anti-social behavior, relationship skills, making responsible choices, and anger (all risks for violent behavior). I am not suggesting that all children born to drug-using mothers are doomed to be school shooters, or that every school shooter was born with drugs in their system. I am saying straight up that every single time a child is born to a drug user the risk-pool for violent behavior is increased by one. If young people want to change the future of this country and decrease the risk of violence they should seek to end the drug culture.

 Getting married and staying that way-

 Loving, healthy, stable two-parent homes rarely produce mass-murders. If we as a society want to reduce gun violence we should celebrate intact families and encourage young people to build said families.

 An end to celebrating narcissism-

 We live in a pathetically sad age of me, me, and more me. Selfies are actually a thing and people are marrying themselves for the love-of-all-that-is-good-and-decent. If we want to change the future we must change our focus (Leviticus 19:18, Romans 13:8, Matthew 22:36-40). When a child spends their youth focusing entirely on his or her feelings and needs-to the exclusion of everyone else’s feelings and needs-it makes it shockingly easy for some of them to hurt other people and not feel bad about it.

 Fighting for reform in public schools-

 For decades now, public schools have sought to carefully craft a value-neutral environment. This means avoiding teaching children values that might be considered controversial out fear of offending a family who might have a differing set of values. The problem with not teaching values is that values are as much caught as they are taught. If one does not teach the value that human life should be protected and nurtured at all costs, then some kids will catch the value that taking a human life (or seventeen human lives, or a hundred human lives) is not really that big of a deal. Parents and students should demand more from their public schools.

 Ending our love-affair with violent entertainment-

 Seriously. There is no way Game of Thrones, Dexter, American Horror Story and violent video games are making us better, healthier and more compassionate people. If we want to end violence in our schools we have to stop feeding children (and adults) an unending diet of violent and vile entertainment that hardens hearts and sears consciences.

 Going to church-

 I hesitated to add this one—not because I doubt the value of church but because without the heart change that can only come through a relationship with Jesus, simply attending church can easily devolve into a meaningless exercise that does little for anyone. That said, church is God’s chosen vehicle for bringing truth to those who don’t know Him and for training those who do know Him (Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 4:11-16). It is also the place where we learn what God requires of people (Mark 1:15, Acts 16:31, 1st John 3:23) and where (if church is being done right) we develop a desire to please Him by treating other people with respect, kindness and mercy (Micah 6:8).

 Truth be told, even the best laws are incapable of changing a single human heart and without changed hearts societies remain sick. If we want to make our society better we have to become better people and we cannot do that without God (Ezekiel 36:26).

The Sad Truth Concerning #Metoo

The plans of the righteous are just, but the advice of the wicked is deceitful~ Proverbs 12:5

I will not lie. I had high hopes for the #metoo movement.

 Back in the day, I found myself on the receiving end of some bad behavior from men who were well beyond the point of knowing better. These days, that behavior would without a doubt be considered sexual harassment.

 Back then we called it “boys being boys”. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now. It just got a whole lot less attention back then.

 Crude comments, unwelcome touching, and rape are wrong for many reasons, most of which are clearly obvious to thinking people. At the root of every single one of those many reasons is the reality that predatory sexual behavior is an attack on the God-given dignity and personhood of women (Genesis 1:27). For that reason sexual violence against women is an attack on God Himself (as the author of life and giver of human dignity).

 Which brings me back to my original high-hopes for the #metoo movement. I like the idea of drawing attention to the very real problem of sexual violence. I also feel that those who commit acts of sexual violence deserve to have their deeds exposed (Numbers 32:23, Galatians 6:7). For those reasons alone, I wanted so badly for #metoo to be something that I, as a Christian woman, could support and stand behind.

 It’s not.

 For the record, I did not rush to judgment on that pronouncement. I sincerely wanted to see where the movement would go before I made up my mind about how I felt about it. I did this because, generally speaking, I feel that Christians are a little over eager to both condemn and embrace movements.

 When Christians criticize and condemn before getting the facts, we all end up looking like a bunch of small-minded, knee-jerk Judgy McJudgers. Conversely, when Christians choose to embrace movements prior to getting all the facts, we wind up looking ridiculous when we are inevitably forced to backtrack and retract our support.

 I have been observing the #metoo movement for a while now and have concluded that smart, thoughtful Christians should avoid the #metoo movement for at least four reasons:

 The movement is insincere-

 If #metoo were truly serious about ending sexual violence and the exploitation of women they would do more than simply point fingers at high profile predators. They would denounce the porn industry, fight for the end of prostitution and raise money to support those victimized by the sex trade. To my knowledge none of those things are happening, which makes all their talk about being “advocates for women” appear hollow and self-serving.

 Not every man is a bad man-

 One of my biggest concerns with the #metoo movement is that they seem to sincerely believe that every man is a sexual predator and every unsolicited flirtation from a man is somehow a form of rape. One does not need to be clairvoyant to see where this insanity might lead. Innocent interactions between men and women will no longer be seen as innocent, men and women will be further alienated from each other and the war between the sexes will intensify. If that happens we will all lose.

 The movement is quickly becoming one-big witch-hunt-

 The #metoo movement believes that all women should be believed regardless of evidence (or lack there of). They also believe that women should be able to accuse men anonymously. I am all for keeping the identity of victims of sexual violence who have reported the assault to the police out of the public eye. The privacy of victims should be protected from the press. Period. That said, sometimes people lie (Deuteronomy 19:15-17) and in the interest of fairness (and keeping our justice system just) the accused have a right to know who is accusing them.

 #metoo could set women back decades-

 I work in a field (ministry) where men tend to be very reluctant (for obvious reasons) to be seen interacting with a woman. This fact (as understandable as it may be) has not made my life in ministry easy, nor has it helped me to move ahead in a field I love. I’m not complaining. I am simply describing the world I live in. I am fearful that the law of unintended consequences will come into play and my (admittedly weird) problem will become a problem for all women. No man in his right mind will be seen associating with women (even in a business setting) if he knows there is a good chance his reputation will be ruined for it.

 Nothing in this world aggravates me more than the powerful taking advantage of the powerless. It is true that some men (not all) have taken advantage of women in the past and even prevented some from reaching their God-given potential. That said, the way to correct a past injustice is never with more injustice. We correct injustice through understanding, open communication and a commitment to believe the best in others unless there is an obvious reason not to.

 

 

Three Things We Can All Do to Make Church Great in 2018

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here~ 2nd Corinthians 5:17 NIV

 Its official (actually it was official in 2005) January is (at least for most people) the most depressing month of the year.

 I get it.

 January has its fair share of shortcomings. Once Christmas is over the snow promptly loses its charm and there is zero hope the weather will improve for at least another couple of months. The merriment of the holidays has ended and the irksome credit card bills have come due for the generosity we felt over Christmas. That leaves most of us feeling a bit Grinch-y in hindsight. Compounding the negativity, most of us are feeling a bit pudgy and gross after the all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy that is the month of December.

 Without question, all of the above is clearly true.

 However, you will never catch me hating on the month of January. I love January for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because it offers a respite from the frantic madness of November and December. The slower more relaxed pace of January provides a much-needed opportunity for rest, reflection and goal setting.

 In that spirit, I have spent the better part of the last week pondering some of the goals I have set for the coming year. And as I was thinking through all that it occurred to me that there are some small changes we could all make this coming year that just might make a huge difference in how the world perceives the Church, and by extension how they perceive Jesus and Christian people. Changing how Christians are perceived in the culture might just help us to reach more people this year with the love of Jesus.

 So, in the interest of making this next year a great one for the cause of Christ I want to suggest three small, relatively painless changes we could all make that would make Christianity more appealing to the world around us without compromising truth.

 Starting with:

 A commitment to change the things that need to change-

 It’s true that some people are turned off by the message of Christianity (believe in Jesus and repent of your sin [Mark 1:15]). That said, more often than not, people are turned off by the behavior of Christians long before they get to hear the message of Christianity. Being purposeful about our own spiritual growth (Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 12:14, 2nd Peter 1:3-10) prevents this tragedy. Intentionality in the arena of spiritual growth has to begin with a commitment to examine ourselves daily so that we will be painfully aware of our own sinful inclinations. It ends with an unwavering commitment to honoring God in every area of our lives. The payoff for a commitment to spiritual growth is two-fold. We grow into the people God has called us to be (Ephesians 1:4, 1st Peter 2:9) and the holiness we acquire through this process gives us the spiritual power we need to lead others into relationship with Jesus.

 Expanding your circle of friendship-

 It is true that we grow in our faith and knowledge of God and life anytime we spend quality time with other Christians (Hebrews 10:25, Proverbs 27:17). It is also true that non-believers have their view of the world challenged when they spend time with and engage in meaningful conversations with Christians (John 4, Acts 17:16-34). If we would all commit to building some meaningful relationships with a few people (Christians and non-Christians) outside our circle I believe we could have a significant impact on our own little corner of the world. That in turn would make our world a better place and in the process we will learn more about life and God and make some new friends all at the same time. That’s a win all the way around.

 Forgiving someone-

 Over and over again in Scripture Christians are commanded to forgive others (Matthew 11:25, Luke 17:4, Colossians 3:13), Jesus even tied God’s forgiveness towards us to our willingness to forgive others (Matthew 6:15, Luke 6:37). I believe that God wants us to forgive others because unforgiveness leads to bitterness (among other things). Bitterness turns us into ugly, unpleasant people who are unlikely to attract others to Christianity or anything else. This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us that bitterness causes trouble and defiles many (Hebrews 12:15). The New Year is a perfect time to begin the process of forgiving those people who have hurt us. When we forgive others we become people that God can use for the good of others and for His glory.

 Wishing you all a joyful and spiritually productive 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Hero of Christmas-

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife~ Matthew 1:24 NIV

 I will not lie.

 I really love some of the less-than-spiritual aspects of Christmas. I love Jesus (because I am not a heathen). I also love the parties, the food, the trees, the decorations, the music, and the traditions of Christmas. I even like some of the stuff I should probably dislike. Things like Frosty, Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, and gift giving and getting. I actually enjoy  the commercial stuff that sidetracks us from what should be a simple celebration of the birth of the Savior.

 Because I am drawn to the secular side of Christmas every year I attempt to discipline myself and spend a little extra time each year focusing on the birth of Christ. This year I started in Matthew and rediscovered an often forgotten hero of the Christmas story: Joseph.

 Most of us overlook Joseph because Mary is clearly the star of the show. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of her story. Mary’s obedient response to Gabriel’s announcement is how we should all respond to God’s call on our life. She voluntarily endured personal loss, hardship and probably even ridicule to bring the Messiah into the world.

 Everyone loves Mary.

 However, this year it was Joseph that captured my attention. I’m convinced that if we were all a little more like Joseph the world would be a better place.

 The text tells us that God saw Joseph as a righteous man. That alone was a fairly rare thing for God to say about anyone in those days. Then we are told that because of his righteousness he did not want to divorce Mary publicly. At this point in the story Mary and Joseph were legally wed, the marriage was a done deal in the eyes of the law, their religious community and their family and friends. The only thing left to do was to consummate the marriage.

 According to both Roman and Jewish law Joseph had every right to publicly divorce (and humiliate) Mary. They were married and he had what appeared to be incontrovertible proof of infidelity. Her story about the angel was, by every measurable standard, more than a little nutso. Even most “good” people would have felt justified in publicly shaming a woman who slept with another man and then told a ridiculously outlandish story to cover-up her misdeeds.

 Seriously.           

 God’s evaluation of Joseph as a “righteous man” tells me that God has a special place in His heart for those who look out for the reputations of others. God blesses those who are willing to go out of their way not to behave in a vengeful way even when they have been legitimately wronged.

 I love that Joseph was willing to ignore the opinions of people in order to gain the approval of God. Following the dream where Joseph was commanded to keep Mary as his wife, Joseph had to go back to his family and friends and tell them that he planned to go ahead with marriage to a girl most people were probably convinced was less than honorable woman.

 Joseph’s family and friends were likely convinced that Joseph was either a fool or a liar. It almost goes without saying that Joseph suffered heartache, humiliation and social disgrace for his choice to stick by Mary.

Joseph’s selflessness is a reminder that the kind of righteousness that pleases God typically involves a high level of inconvenience and self-denial.

 There is nothing wrong with the silly side of Christmas celebrations. The God we serve created fun and joy. My prayer is that in the midst of all the fun and merrymaking Joseph’s story will serve as a reminder that our response to God’s goodness and generosity should be a life of authentic righteousness and self-denial.

How the Birth of Jesus Changed the World-

We love because he first loved us~ 1st John 4:19 NIV

 Three years ago I vowed in a fit of self-pity to never write another Christmas blog as long as I lived. My Christmas blogs have a history of less-than-stellar readership and I prefer to write things I think people are actually going to read. However, I recently rethought my vow and concluded that it’s high time I got over myself and give it another try.

 This moment of clarity arrived as I was watching a community Christmas celebration. It hit me pretty much out of nowhere that Jesus’ first coming changed literally everything about life in the ancient world. Those changes in turn, paved the way for the freedoms and prosperity much of the western world enjoys today. I was also struck by how oddly trivial our Christmas celebrations tend to be in light of the impact the first coming of Jesus had on our world.

 It’s not that I have anything against the way Americans celebrate Christmas. I love Christmas and everything we do to celebrate Christmas. That said, snowmen, sparkly lights, cookies cut into adorable shapes, and even traditional nativity scenes don’t exactly capture the magnitude of the impact that Jesus has had on our world. So, in honor of Jesus and all He accomplished, following are four seldom recognized ways Jesus’ first coming made our world a better place:

 Jesus made it cool to care about the poor, sick and marginalized-

 Until the coming of Jesus no one cared all that much about the sick and poor. Most believed the poor and sick were poor and sick because they were bad people who had been cursed by their god’s. As a result they were viewed as profoundly unlikable. Little was done (outside the Jewish community) to alleviate the suffering of the sick or to help poor people. Because Jesus cared deeply about the needs of the poor, sick and marginalized (Luke 12:33, Luke 14:13, Luke 10:30-3), so did His followers. From the earliest days of Christianity, charity (caring for the less fortunate) was a fundamental feature of Christian worship and outreach (Acts 6:1-7, Acts 9:36, Romans 15: 25-27, James 2:5-6). As Christianity took root in the Western world caring for the less fortunate became a natural part of life and something even non-religious people do. This was certainly not the case before Jesus came into the world.  

 Jesus gave children value-

 Before Jesus came children were considered disposable in most societies ( Jews were a notable exception). Abortion was a common practice, and live newborns were routinely placed in the foundations of buildings (for luck). In Greece and Rome unwanted infants (mostly girls) were simply left on rocky cliffs to die of exposure. Attitudinal change towards children began with the coming of Jesus. Jesus loved children (Luke 18:15-17) and He was concerned with their physical and spiritual welfare (Matthew 18:6). Early Christians followed in the footsteps of Jesus and forbade the practices of abortion and infanticide among their members. Early Christians also made a practice of adopting the newborns that had been left to die of exposure. Over time, societies touched by Christianity enacted laws to protect children, but it was Jesus who forever changed the way we view the worth of children.

 Jesus gave women dignity-

 Prior to the first coming of Jesus, women were (in virtually every society) thought to be profoundly inferior to men in every way. Respectable women lived cloistered lives and simply did not interact with men they were not closely related to. Unlike other religious leaders of His day, Jesus frequently had meaningful conversations with all sorts of women (John 4, Luke 8:1-3, John 11), and He allowed women to receive the same training as their male counterparts (Luke 10:38-41, Luke 8:1-3). Jesus even entrusted a woman with passing on the message of His resurrection (Matthew 28:1-8, Luke 24:1-12); this was a VERY big deal in a world where women were not considered legitimate witnesses in a court of law. After Jesus’ resurrection women were used in significant ways to build the early church. The Apostle Paul founded the Philippian church along with a handful of women (Acts 16). Pricilla along with her husband Aquila helped to plant churches and train believers in Corinth, Ephesus (Acts 18) and Rome (Romans 16:3). Women acted as deacons in the early church and were entrusted with significant tasks (Romans 16:1-2, 1st Timothy 3:11) and a woman (Junia) is even referred to as “outstanding among the Apostles” in Romans 16:7. Admittedly, throughout history some church leaders have not always valued women or the contributions of women. However, that does not change the fact that Jesus did. Jesus’ high view of women paved the way for many of the freedoms women enjoy today. If you doubt my word, take a look at the way women are treated in societies where Christianity has not made significant inroads. It’s a sharp and ugly contrast.    

 Jesus made it possible for people to actually change-

 Before Jesus people could change their actions but not their hearts. An evil or an unbelieving person was just kind of stuck that way forever. Jesus’ coming changed that reality. Because, Jesus’ presence indwells the people who believe in Him, His presence gives us the power we need to change not just our actions but also our hearts. Because of Jesus we can be better people tomorrow than we are today.

 That is something to celebrate.

Moving Past Church Hurt-

 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News~ Philippians 4:2-3 NLT

 Church hurt happens. 

 Church hurt comes in all shapes and sizes. Church hurt can be born out of something as simple as an unresolved conflict or disagreement. It can happen when we feel overlooked or marginalized by Christians we assumed were our friends. Church hurt occurs anytime we discover we have become the target of gossip or excluded from a group. By far, the nastiest and most damaging form of church hurt comes at the hands of bad pastors (Isaiah 56:11). False teachers, who use and abuse their spiritual authority to control, manipulate, defraud or sexually exploit those they have been tasked with caring for.

 How deeply we are wounded by church hurt is dependent on a whole host of factors. Including, but not limited to how new to the faith we were when the offense occurred, our over-all maturity level at the time of the hurt, the gravity of the offense that occurred and the willingness on the part of the offender to own their part in the hurt.

 I am convinced church hurt is the leading cause of church dropouts. I know from experience church hurt is inevitable. However hurt does not have to devastate our lives or destroy our faith. How and why people get hurt in the church is far less important than how they handle the ensuing hurt. In the interest of preventing anymore spiritual disasters, today I am going to give four (very basic) guidelines for recovering from most church hurts.

 First:

 Don’t misplace blame-

 Healing from hurt can only occur if we embrace the truth that God did not CAUSE our hurt. Another Christian (or someone who claimed to be a Christian) hurt you and caused the pain you are feeling, not God. Too many Christians never recover from church hurt because they insist on blaming God for things He had nothing do with.

 Honestly evaluate your level hurt-

 Somethings are never okay. No one should causally dismiss abuse, embezzlement, or vicious slander. Nor should we demand someone who has been wounded by say, sexual abuse in the church to “just get over it”. Big hurts (like sexual abuse) require special attention and time to heal. That said, there are other forms of church hurt like petty disputes, being treated rudely, or feeling excluded, that are very real and painful, but also simply need to be put in perspective. Sadly, being a follower of Jesus does not automatically mean that a person will never be rude, self-serving, insensitive, flakey, or stupid. We are all guilty of those particular sins from time-to-time and we ought to give grace accordingly (Proverbs 19:11).

 (Almost) always make an attempt at reconciliation-

 There are cases of severe abuse where attempts at reconciliation (being friends again) are ill advised and even dangerous. That said, in most cases if you cannot simply forgive and move on, an honest conversation to clear the air is in order (Matthew 18:15). The key to making these conversations productive is a heartfelt desire to restore the relationship rather than a desire to punish, prove a point, or justify your feelings (no matter how justified they may be).

 Don’t get stuck-

 It’s normal to be angry when we’ve suffered a hurt at the hands of a fellow believer and it’s healthy to grieve hurt. However, it’s not healthy to stay stuck in perpetual state of woundedness (Yes. I made that word up.). Staying stuck in anger inevitably leads to bitterness and bitterness ruins us (Hebrews 12:15). Reconciliation may or may not be advised, but with Jesus, forgiveness is always possible (Matthew 6:15). Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It will likely take time and may require some help from a wise and mature friend, Christian counselor, or pastor to work through. Get help if you need it. The health of your soul and your usefulness to the Kingdom is at stake here.  

 Church hurt is as old as the church. Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Mark, Euodia, and Syntyche were Bible people who all experienced serious hurt at the hands of other believers (2nd Timothy 4:14, Galatians 2:11-14, Acts 15:39, Philippians 4:2-3). Every one of those men and women recovered from their hurt and went on to do great things for the Kingdom of God because they chose the painful but life-giving path of forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation.