Should Christians be Woke?

This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ- Philippians 1:9-10 NIV

“Wokeness “ or “being Woke” is a relatively new movement that has captured the hearts and minds of many Christians.   According to the Online Dictionary being “woke” is officially defined as: 

Being alert to injustice in society, especially racism. 

 A lot of believers are jumping on the woke bandwagon. But should they? 

So. 

The vast majority of Christians loathe injustice and racism. After all, God Himself conceived the whole concept of social justice (Exodus 23:11, Deuteronomy, 24:14-15, Zechariah 4:10, Malachi 3:5). Moreover, God is and always has been on the side of equity and impartiality when it comes to issues of race and nationality (Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:34, Romans 1:16, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, Revelation 7:9). Any Christian with even a shallow understanding of Scripture should realize that racism and social injustice are never okay. Period. 

That being said. 

It’s critical Christians understand the “woke” movement is about a whole lot more than being attentive to issues of injustice and racism. The woke crusade is intertwined with the teachings of Critical Race Theory or CRT. CRT began as an academic theory that presupposes all humans are born into one of two categories: oppressors or victims. Victims are people of color and women. Oppressors are white men. Anytime someone is born white and a man they just naturally victimize minorities and women, sometimes unknowingly. The propensity to subjugate others is literally a part of white male DNA. Sadly, DNA is tough to overcome. The only way a white person can cease to be an oppressor is to develop enough self-awareness to see their wickedness and confess their sins. Some proponents of CRT teach that in order for transformation to really occur the oppressor must experience the same bigotry and bias they have forced on others.  If a white male, or a white female for that matter, claims to not be racist that is verification they are the worst kind of racist. The kind that lacks self-awareness and is therefore hopeless from a redemption standpoint.   Victims are always depicted as people who lack free agency, they have no real way to break free of their oppressed status and are destined to stay victims. According to proponents of CRT the only way to solve the problem of racism is for society to step in and turn the oppressors into the victims. 

In my humble opinion Christians would be wise to stay far away from the woke movement.  Here’s why:

Wokeness is a weird post-modern religion- 

It just is. The Woke do not worship a specific deity. Those who embrace wokeness can be agnostic, Christian, atheist and or even a member of another faith community. Most people who support wokeness don’t realize that it is a religion with its own set of rituals and story of original sin (racism). It has its own priesthood. In this case the priesthood is those that teach and propagate CRT. Critical Race Theory has an elaborate system of language that can only be understood once a person is fully enlightened.  Like all religions Wokeness has a path that disciples must follow in order to be restored to perfection (a nonracist state). There is a word for mixing other belief systems with Christianity, its syncretism and it’s a form of idolatry that eventually led to the destruction of the nation of Israel (Isaiah 44:9, Jeremiah 18:15, 1st John 5:21, Deuteronomy 6:14).  

Wokeness is completely incompatible with Christianity-  

Seriously.  Wokeness teaches that racism is the original sin of mankind. It also teaches that not everyone has been stained by it. The oppressed are good and righteous simply by virtue of being born victims.  Therefore, they have nothing to repent of.  Christianity teaches that all human beings have sinned and need redemption (Mark 10:18, Romans 3:23, 1st John 1:10, Ephesians 2:1-3). In Christianity teaches that racism is a sin (John 7:24, Galatians, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11) but it is not the only sin people need to turn from. Furthermore, Christianity teaches that no one can save themselves and that no amount of good works will bring a sinner into right relationship with God. Only faith in the sacrifice of Jesus can do that. Wokeness teaches that people can save themselves by repenting of their racism and following the elaborate rituals of the woke. None of these views are even a tiny bit compatible with Christian doctrine. And therefore, must be avoided by sincere Christians. 

Wokeness separates and divides rather than heals-

Christians are commanded by God to be forces for good in this world (Galatians 6:9-10, Romans 12:2, Romans 12:21, 1st Thessalonians 5:15, 1st Timothy 6:18). One aspect of being a force for is bringing peace to divisive situations (Romans 12:18, Romans 14:19, Ephesians 2:14-17, Ephesians 6:15). Wokeness and CRT teach that peace is incompatible with social change and is therefore and undesirable state. 

We would do well to remember that Christianity has done more to bring racial reconciliation to this world than any other religious and social movement in history.  The world doesn’t need a new movement it’s just needs Christians to work harder to apply biblical principles to the social issues of our day. If we do that wokness will be unnecessary. 

Four Changes the Church Must Make Now-

Be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord– Colossians 3:15b-16 NKJV

By any measurable standard the last year and a half was bumpy for everyone. The world was collectively awestruck at how quickly a weird little virus could lead to compulsory lockdowns, financial uncertainty, social unrest, church closures and the shutdown of most schools. The gloom brought on by those unwelcome changes took a heavy toll on everyone, including most Christians (James 1:2-3). 

Unparalleled world events swiftly exposed a whole host of systemic and potentially lethal problems lurking in Western churches. Most believers lacked the spiritual tools and community support necessary to keep their faith vibrant over a year of forced isolation. Even fewer Christians were prepared to answer the questions that surfaced out of the COVID crisis. Questions like: where is God when we suffer? What role should government play in faith communities? What does honoring authority look like in a global pandemic (Romans 13:4-6)? Is online church a suitable substitute for the real deal (Hebrews 10:25)? Furthermore, local churches struggled with an unprecedented loss of attendance and financial support. Many pastors suffered a crisis of identity when they learned exactly how expendable most political and public health authorities felt their contribution to society was.

Sigh.

Thankfully, the worst seems to be passing. I am personally overjoyed, no one hated COVID world more than this girl. That said, we should all have some very real reservations about churches returning to the “normal” we foolishly embraced pre-COVID. Our Western Church version of normal was anything but healthy and live-giving from a spiritual perspective. The last thing the church needs is more of what created the problems that became evident during COVID.  Instead the church needs a twenty-first century reformation that begins with:

An end to the Christian celebrity culture- 

Little good has come from idolizing Christian pastors, musicians, and influencers. Most of the men and women put on pedestals by the Christian community have become prideful and arrogant and proven themselves to be completely unteachable. Too many “celebrity Christians” have embraced a life of sin and destroying the reputation of Jesus and other Christians in the process.  Some have become so addicted to media attention that they eventually denounced Christianity altogether to keep the spotlight on them. It’s time for Christian to say “no more” to the celebrity culture.  Instead we must be intentional about looking within our own local churches for faithful men and women to hold up as examples of the faith (1st Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17). 

No more shallow teaching-

A shocking lack of doctrinal depth has become standard in Church world.  Like most of our mistakes this one was made with good intentions. Dumping discipleship programs (Adult Sunday school) and replacing them with small groups was intended to build community and make unbelievers more comfortable in the church. It did neither. All it did was shrink the Church and produce a generation of genuinely ignorant and spiritually immature Christians. If we want to save the Western Church we need to find ways to make Sunday school cool again. 

Theology that empowers the church to deal with secular authority in a biblical manner- 

It’s simply a fact that Christians are called to obey secular authorities.  However, early Christians continued to meet together (sometimes daily) despite the fact it was forbidden by “authorities” on and off for more than three centuries.  If they hadn’t the church probably would have disappeared altogether early in the first century. Leaders and individual Christians need to do some soul searching and decide what sort of edict is worthy of violating the command to “gather together” before the next round of shutdowns. 

An openness to a movement of the Spirit of God- 

Sadly, there are two equally stupid views of the Holy Spirit that have prevailed in most denominations over the last century. On one end of the spectrum there is a history of gross excess. This group has taken 1st Thessalonians 5:19Do not quench the Spirit” to mean that almost anything done in the name of the Holy Spirit goes with or without any biblical precedent. Period. This has been a huge turnoff for those on the other end of the spectrum who have declared anything they see as out of the ordinary (speaking in tongues, raising hands in worship, prophetic utterances) as evil and “of the devil” even if that thing has biblical precedent. Both attitudes are wrong, Truth lies in the middle. It is not our job to manufacture the work of the Spirit in the name of “having an experience”. Neither is it our job to dictate to God how He can or cannot work. Our job is to seek the Spirit with an open heart asking Him to reveal more of Himself and His truth to us. However, we also need to understand that any genuine work of the Holy Spirit will be accompanied with a greater desire to obey God. The Holy doesn’t do anything without the purpose of bringing greater obedience and purity to God’s people. 

Community- 

We are made in the image of a relational God (Genesis 1:26). We need each other. Period. Churches have to figure out how to create authentic faith communities in the midst of twenty-first century busyness. If we don’t the church will continue to lose people. 

It is the churches responsibility to be ready to offer hope, help and healing when the worst happens. Most churches weren’t ready for any of that with COVID. Welcoming a movement of God, building community in the church and being prepared to answer  tough theological questions is how we get ready for whatever comes next. 

Why Government Can’t Save Society and What Can-

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it- Hebrews 12:11 ESV

A couple of recent events have got me thinking about all manner of things. 

On March 29th a thirteen-year-old-boy believed to be brandishing a gun was shot by police at 3:00 a.m. in Chicago. Three weeks later a sixteen-year-old girl in Ohio was fatally shot by police as she stabbed another girl. These events are hardly outliers. Reports of minor children being killed either by other minors or by police officers attempting to keep minors from committing a crime have become a fairly routine occurrence.  

Many are quick to blame police and police tactics for these heartbreaking stories. Anytime a tragedy occurs involving a kid and cop a glut of Monday-morning quarterbacks crawl out of the metaphorical woodwork to second-guess prevailing police tactics and/or the character of the officer involved in the shooting. Others are eager to blame “society” for not caring more about the kids involved. Typically, the lack of care is attributed entirely to the child’s race, sex or socio-economic status. 

 Blaming either feels like the easy way out to me. 

 When we blame society for our problems what we are really doing is blaming the government. One of the more peculiar qualities of modern thought is the belief that government is the answer to all our problems.  We tend to forget that “the government” is a heartless, soulless, nebulous machine entirely lacking in human feeling, wisdom or insight. There are good people who work in government. I know some of them. However, the government is not emotionally nimble enough to view people as individuals. Neither is government capable of teaching good habits, imparting insight or training a child to put others first or think wisely about life. 

Neither is it fair to lay the blame for these situations at the feet of the police. Truth-be-told the police are not, nor were they ever intended to be anything other than the last line of defense between lawbreakers and law-abiding citizens. By the time a police officer is involved in a person’s life a long line of choices has been made that the officer had no control over. There are bad cops and everything possible should be done to weed them out of the ranks. However, most police are decent people who got into their line of work because they genuinely care about people and want to make the world a better place. 

The government or the police are not to blame when a sixteen-year-old girl feels stabbing someone is a reasonable response to her frustration or when a thirteen-year-old has access to a gun and the freedom to roam about at three a.m.

Seriously. 

That sort of thing is the fruit of a lifetime of crappy parenting (Proverbs 17:25, Proverbs 19:13). 

Somewhere over the course of the last couple of decades two equally bad but entirely different kinds of parents have emerged on the scene. The first sees their children as an extension of themselves and believes it their job to orchestrate and micromanage every aspect of their child’s existence. These parents would rather be gunned down than have their kids experience anything painful or difficult. Their greatest fear for their children is trauma.  They have bought into the lie that people are not resilient and that trauma will devastate them for life. Because all humans experience trauma and they are no different they see themselves as less than whole and want to prevent their own children from experiencing the same fate.  This group is responsible for raising the pearl-clutching millennials who scream “CANCEL” at any idea or opinion that makes them even vaguely uncomfortable.  

The other group tends to think that once a kid can feed and dress themselves their job is done. This group of parents typically did experience genuine trauma they never dealt with (Psalm 147:3). These parents tend to be self-involved to the point of being completely checked-out of their child’s life. These are the parents who say they can’t stop their thirteen-year-old from doing what they want to do and they’re right. They cannot get their teenagers to obey because they never took healthy authority over them as young children (Hebrews 12:14, Proverbs 5:23). 

There are no easy answers to systemic parenting problems in a culture. 

The government can’t help, the government is completely stumped by how many genders there are. They don’t have the wisdom or skills to lead people to better parenting choices. The police can’t help. Police are the last line of defense we slap on a problem before it gets completely out of hand. 

What our world needs is three-fold. First, Christians needs to make a regular practice of praying specifically for families. Parents of all income levels need the kind of wisdom that can only come from God. Second, Christian parents need to do their very best to get their own homes together so other parents start looking to the church for answers. And finally, churches need to get into the business of teaching parents outside of their own walls what love really looks like so they can lead their children well. 

Why Woke Opinions Regarding Words Must be Kept Out of the Church-

Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen– 2nd Timothy 2:14b NIV 

Warning: weird personal confession ahead. 

Lately, I have been a bit down. I have not felt like myself and I am not a fan of not feeling like myself. After one especially gloomy day it occurred to me that getting mad about something might pull me out of my funk. I don’t enjoy getting fired-up over stupid stuff willy-nilly.  However, I have found that getting angry over an issue of right and wrong has a way of taking my mind off of my feelings and helping me get some perspective about what really matters. 

Anyway.  

Sometimes God takes His sweet time responding to my requests. Other times I get what I want when I want it.  This was one of those times. The next morning, on Facebook I came across a story about a memorial at Wheaten College.  

The memorial in question honors the death of Wheaton graduate and missionary Jim Elliot and four of his missionary colleagues. The men were murdered while attempting to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador in 1956.   The plaque has been deemed problematic because it uses the word “savage” to describe the Auca tribesmen who brutally executed Jim Elliot and his colleagues. 

So. 

What the heck? This is about more than a difference of opinion regarding the suitability of a word. Among other things, this is a brazen attempt to reframe and rewrite someone else’s story. 

 Who are we to think that is okay? 

Is it really our place to reframe or reword someone else’s experience, especially when they are no longer around to weigh in on the situation? What makes this generation of Christians righteous enough or wise enough to get to decide how past generations tell the stories of THEIR life experiences?  Isn’t that arrogant and more than a bit condescending? 

Also. 

The wording of the plaque was composed with the consent of Jim Elliot’s wife as well as the families of the other martyred missionaries. They had no issue with the words that were chosen. It should also be noted that the tribesmen and women who later converted to Christianity because of the martyrdom of the missionaries described their own behavior as completely unacceptable and even savage. It was guilt over their actions that eventually led many in the tribe to repent of their sins and embrace Jesus. 

This is a vastly different time than when the memorial was created. It is true that words like savage can be dehumanizing when used the wrong way.  Most Christians (me included) would not use the word savage to describe a people group in the year 2021. It is also true that many Christians feel the church has gotten missions work wrong for the last two thousand years. Those folks feel it is this generations responsibility to right the wrongs of past Christians. 

Is it really? 

Are Christians in 2021 really clever enough or righteous enough to correctly judge the intentions or even the actions of past generations? Wouldn’t it be wiser for contemporary Christians to worry about themselves for a change? Perhaps it would be spiritually safer to leave the job of judging past generations up to God and let Him decide who got it right and who got it wrong? 

 I’m just spit-balling here. 

I believe with all my heart, soul, mind and spirit that ALL people are made in the image of God. Dehumanizing others is ALWAYS wrong. Nonetheless, some actions are wrong, evil and yes, even savage. It’s okay to call out evil and savagery when we see it.  There is simply no room for woke idiocy in the church world when God Himself describes the human heart as “wicked” and so “corrupt” that no one but Him can even come close to understanding it. Let me be clear: telling the truth is not the same as dehumanizing someone. In fact, being real about who we are and what we’ve done is the only way to bring about repentance, salvation, personal healing and restoration of relationships.  Furthermore, telling the honest truth about the past is the only way to prevent ugly events from being repeated. 

 The bigger issue at play here is where woke ideas concerning words will eventually lead us. Rewriting a memorial some might judge offensive might not feel like a big deal. However, it sets a precedence in church world. Non-Christians have been rewriting history and censoring what they don’t like for some time now.  Christians would do well to remember that writing and art from the past chronicles history and helps us understand the feelings and experiences of those who lived before us. Literature and art also helps us to understand and even define what it means to be human. If we lose or revise those works we will remove some opportunity for offense. However, we also lose a chunk of our history and even some vital pieces of our humanity in the process.  Most concerning to me is what will happen to the Bible if Christians decide to start taking their cues on this issue from the world. It could very well be next in line for some serious “rephrasing”.  

After all the Bible was intended to offend (John 6:60-62, Matthew 11:6) 

Clear Evidence we Have Entered a Season of Judgment-

There is an evil I have seen under the sun, as an error proceeding from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity– Ecclesiastes 10:5-6a NKJV

 The city of Seattle is currently debating and is expected to pass a “poverty defense” law.  If the proposal is passed, offenses such as harassment, sexual exploitation, trespassing and unlawful use of weapons will no longer be crimes if the defendant has symptoms of mental illness, is poor and/or homeless. This proposal would effectively legalize stealing as long as the stolen property is sold to pay for rent, food or other “basic needs”. 

 Seriously. This is a real thing. Google it. 

Seattle, Washington is not the only city or state that has enacted or is considering enacting a law that shows zero insight concerning human behavior or compassion for victims of crime. San Francisco, California and Baltimore, Maryland have defunded their police departments despite rising crime. The state of Oregon has legalized the use and sale of all drugs including highly addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin. In Berkley, California a person can be heavily fined simply for calling someone by a “non-preferred pronoun” (Job 34:17, Amos 5:15).  

Here’s the thing:

In every one of the above-mentioned cities, a group of leaders (who we can assume are at least marginally intelligent) got together in an official capacity and discussed the issues at hand in length. It is likely they debated the pros and cons, looked at data and consulted experts in the field.  After all that these “smart people” then decided these particular laws were the most prudent and just course of action. Sadly, the fact that some of these laws were even given consideration is irrefutable proof we are being ruled over by fools (Proverbs 1:22, Proverbs 3:35, Proverbs 12:23). 

Being ruled over by a fool is a sign a people is under judgment. 

Judgment is not a popular topic. The whole issue is kind of icky and makes everyone feel very awkward. Most people prefer to focus their attention on the love, grace and mercy of God (2nd Timothy 4:2-4). It’s just nicer. However, God makes it clear in His word that He does judge men and women immediately following their death (Hebrews 9:27). It’s also clear there will come a day when God is done with showing mercy and grace to an unrepentant world and bring judgment to all people for their willful sin and the deliberate testing of God (1st Peter 4:7, 2nd Peter 3:7, Revelation 14:7, Revelation 19:1-2). 

 I do not know everything about everything and I certainly don’t have any inside information on God’s eschatological (end times) timetable (Matthew 24:36). That being said, I do believe the whole world has entered a period of judgment. 

Here’s why:

Throughout history human beings have had access to knowledge about right and wrong. God writes truth about right and wrong on the hearts of all people (Romans 2:14-16). This alone leaves men and women without a valid excuse for their sinful behavior. However, we live in a truly unique and blessed time where the vast majority of people alive have access to the Bible and Christian teaching. Most have heard the good news of the gospel and know that trusting in Jesus and repenting of their sin is the only way to be saved (Acts 17:24-31, Romans 10:9-12, Hebrews 4:3). Nevertheless, most have flat refused to repent of their sins even in light of exposure to biblical truth. Instead somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy percent of the population take great pleasure in doing the exact opposite of what God says is right and true (Exodus 20:1-10, 1st Corinthians 6:8-10, 1st Timothy 1:9-11). Many are not content simply to sin themselves instead they intentionally seek to lead others (including children) into what they themselves KNOW to be sin, showing zero fear of God in their behavior. 

Christians are not much better. 

Some do not know the Bible well enough to live their lives based on biblical principles. Many Christians choose churches based on their readiness to soften what the Bible says about issues pertaining to righteousness, the sanctity of life, marriage and gender (Micah 6:8, Malachi 2:13-16, Matthew 19:1-9, 1stCorinthians 6:8-10, Hebrews 13:4).  Other Christians choose churches for their entertainment platforms rather than their willingness to share the gospel message clearly. Too many Christians have chosen to vote for political leaders based on their ability to deliver economic security rather than their willingness to fight for the good of all people (Isaiah 10:1, Ezekiel 22:12). 

Those are the basic reasons why the world is the way it is right now. We are being judged. It’s not nice but it is true. The world is being judged for spiritual complacency, sexual deviancy, murder, and witchcraft (among other things).   The only way out of any kind of biblical judgment is through repentance. Repentance begins with the people of God examining their own hearts and lives and searching for areas that need transformation. Then we must ask God to give us the wisdom we need to reach our friends and neighbors with the gospel. 

Five Paradigm Shifts Every Christian Must Have to Navigate a Post COVID-19 World-

Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith- Hebrews 12:1b NASB

 I do not know everything there is to know about everything. However, there is one thing I do know for absolute certain, God never stops calling Christians to a higher level of functioning in every corner of their lives (2nd Peter 1:4-11, Philippians 3:12-14). God wants His people to move beyond the inclination we all have to live for our own pleasure into a level of existence that glorifies Him and blesses others. The topsy-turvy post COVID-19 world we live in makes obedience to this call even more critical. This is a time for believers everywhere to become radically focused on living out biblical truth and bringing others into relationship with Jesus. One positive benefit to the kind of civil and social upheaval we have recently experienced is it causes non-Christians to begin searching for answers to life’s biggest questions. We must endeavor to live at a higher level so that we can give those answers and lead people to Jesus. Living differently begins with the five following shifts in how we think about life and spiritual truth:

 Fear should never be denied or indulged it must be dealt with-

 No one can help anyone else when fear is the driving force in their lives. Furthermore, we cannot deal with anything we deny and we will never overcome anything we indulge.  If you fear dying from COVID-19 deal with it. If you fear persecution deal with it. If you fear government infringement on your rights, deal with it.  We overcome our fears by facing them head on and taking them to God in prayer until the fear subsides and we feel at peace with whatever situation we find ourselves in (Isaiah 41:10). 

 We are no longer the majority and most people do not think like we do-

 We live in a post-Christian world. This means Christians are perceived as irrelevant to the greater culture. The average non-Christian no longer processes life or their moral choices through the grid of Christian truth, Christian ethics and Christian standards. What the Bible says or doesn’t say about issues is utterly meaningless for most people. On a practical level this means becoming angry at people for not thinking like you do is a pointless waste of time that will only alienate them further from God.  We must look for ways to lovingly and logically explain to friends, neighbors and co-workers not just what we believe about God and life but why we believe those things (1st Peter 3:15).

 Life is about more than amusement-

 Recently, I overheard one Christian bragging to another about all the Netflix they had consumed over the course of the quarantine. The other Christian immediately began boasting about how many hours they were spending every day playing video games. Netflix, video games and other forms of entertainment are not inherently sinful. There is nothing wrong with decompressing with a little T.V. time or a good novel.  However, the wrong kind of entertainment dulls our spiritual senses and normalizes sinful behavior. The more time we spend simply amusing ourselves with pointless twaddle the less time we will have for activities that facilitate growth. Continuous intellectual, moral and spiritual growth is the only path to a higher level of functioning and sanctification (Hebrews 12:14).

 Nationalism must be put into perspective-

 There is zero shame in nationalistic pride. Every time I travel to another country I return to my own with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  That said, baby Jesus was not born with a copy of the Constitution in His hand and the Bill of Rights is not the same as the Bible. Christians should value the “rights” we have and work to preserve those rights because they have freed millions from tyranny and elevated human dignity.  However, it’s critical we remember our founding documents are really just societal constructs. They are not real in the same way Scripture is real. Our founding documents can only be enforced if the vast majority of people in our society believe them to be true and agree to abide by them. The Bible is real and true even if no one believes it or obeys it because it is the word of God not created by man (John 1:1, 2nd Timothy 3:16).  If our “rights” are lost because our culture is too stupid to value the wisdom of our founders we should grieve the loss but we cannot allow it to shake our faith in Gods goodness (Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:13-15).

 We must learn the difference between a personal preference and a biblical command-

 Most Christians are egocentric and spoiled when it comes to their personal preferences. Many Christians have convinced themselves it is immoral for the government to ask them to do anything they don’t WANT to do (Romans 13:1-3, 1st Peter 2:13, Titus 3:1), even if what is being asked is not forbidden in Scripture. There will undoubtedly come a day when Christians will be forced to draw lines about what they will and won’t do because they will be asked to violate clear biblical commands (Exodus 20:3, Acts 5:29, 1st Peter 4:12-19, Revelation 13:17, Revelation 20:4). In the meantime, we must choose our battles wisely.

  It is critical at this juncture we stop focusing on the rights we feel we have. Instead we must focus on the responsibilities we really do have to grow in our faith, lead others to Jesus and honor and glorify God.

 

 

 

 

Will Churches Survive the COVID-19 Crisis?

 Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching- Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV

  I hate COVID-19.

  I hate the trouble, awkwardness and expense this idiotic infection has created for the whole world. I despise the suspicion I see in people’s eyes at the grocery store. I hate the look of panic I see when people realize they have accidently broken social-distancing rules. I hate that I feel the need to reassure people who are clearly terrified I am going to scream at them I am not afraid of them. I despise the cold plastic walls we’ve erected everywhere.  I hate that COVID-19 has made it clear to me that I am still in desperate need of sanctification as revealed by the level of aggressiveness and cynicism I feel about this whole thing.

 I also hate what the virus is doing to the body of Christ. In the early days of the pandemic I wondered if Coronavirus might turn out to be a net-positive for the church. In some ways, it has been. Many once apathetic Christians are seeking God on a deeper level and praying more and harder than they’ve ever prayed in their lives (Revelation 3:15-17). Sales of devotionals are up and Bible aps have seen a marked increase in users. The forced separation from church family has made many believers more grateful for their local Church and the community it provides. These are clear wins for the church.

 However.

 It’s not all sunshine and roses in church world. Online attendance of services was good early on but there’s been a sharp decline in recent weeks. Some have made online commitments to Jesus. However due to circumstances beyond their control leaders have been unable to follow-up on those people in a meaningful way. Sadly, most of those baby believers are MIA. Even some mature Christians have lost connection with their church family. Some have taken to bouncing from online service to online service. Churches are closed almost everywhere. In some areas they will stay closed for the foreseeable future.  Some Christian leaders have begun to hold what are essentially illegal gatherings. A few have even been arrested for doing so. More moderate Christians cite Romans 13:1-7 and contend it’s simply wrong to disobey government authority. Other Christians have decided that online church is just as good as meeting together in person. They believe Christians should be content to worship alone in their homes until the authorities give us permission to do otherwise.

 What is a Christian to do?

 The church is not a building (1st Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 3:6). The church is individual people from divergent backgrounds and races who come together to make up a living, breathing organism called the body of Christ. (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).  No one has to attend church in a building to be a Christian.  However, it could be argued that one very effective, albeit slow way to kill a body, especially a spiritual body is to separate the parts.

 It is not healthy, wise or biblical to replace the freedom, fellowship, accountability and warmth of in-person meetings with technology. There is no accountability with a computer screen. Sin, bad doctrine and complacency all breed in secret.  Furthermore, the longer one goes without church the easier it is to forget that Christians are commanded to meet together on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:25).

 That being said, law-breaking should never be our go-to as Christians.

 Therefore, if you live in an area that’s prohibited church gatherings, it is imperative you exhaust every legal avenue available to get the right restored. Contact the office of your governor, state senators and legislators as quickly as possible. POLITLEY, GRACIOUSLY and RESPECTFULLY ask for an exception for churches on large gathering bans. Use Daniel’s interactions with Arioch in Daniel 1:1-8-16 as a guide for dealing with government officials. If your church is granted an exemption, members and leaders should cheerfully follow any and all rules mandated by the state (masks, hand-washing, social distancing, hand sanitizer stations). Every rule should be followed to the letter. Even if people believe the rules are stupid and/or unnecessary.  This isn’t about what we think or feel. It’s about the greater good.

 In the meantime, Pastors and church leaders must assume the current situation will continue for a while or will return sometime in the future. Pastors should develop systems to train lay-leaders so they are able to provide teaching, support, accountability, fellowship and pastoral care to groups of fewer than ten. Even if the system is unnecessary at this time this will not be the last outbreak of COVID-19, so it will probably prove useful in the future.

  Individual Christians should realize the current situation is part of a much bigger spiritual battle and do everything in their power to build themselves up in the faith. Bible reading, prayer and daily self-examination are not optional activities for Christians at this moment in history (Matthew 26:41, 2nd Corinthians 13:5).

 They are our greatest need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 Anyway.  

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

 I am not opposed to psychology.  

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

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

 However.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Being A Good Christian

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.  – 1st John 2:4 NIV

 This morning I read an article that left me heartbroken for the body of Christ. The piece was about a well-known Christian “influencer” who has made his mark on the world as a wordsmith. His career has consisted of crafting pithy little sayings to encourage other Christians. Well— it turns out that at least some of those sayings were not really his, they were “borrowed” from other speakers, authors and historical figures. As someone who spends a good deal of my time crafting not-so-pithy compositions to encourage Christians I do not see anything wrong with wordsmithing, influencing or encouraging.

 However.

 There is something very wrong with stealing other people’s ideas and intellectual property and presenting them as our own.

 The whole messy mess got me thinking about a lot of things. Like grey areas, right and wrong and the hazards of “influencing” when influencing for Jesus morphs into self-promotion. It occurred to me that there is very little agreement about what a Christian should “look like” in our day and age.

 The standard definition of a Christian is someone who has dedicated their life to following the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. Figuring out what the Christian life should look like in our world is not as cut-and-dried as it once was. Even concepts as elementary as love can be confusing if we have the wrong definition. What Christianity should look like is something we need to figure out fast because if we don’t we will ultimately fail at the most basic assignment Christians have been tasked with (Matthew 28:19-20).  Following are five do’s and two don’ts that will empower us to live the Christian life successfully in our messy mess of a world.

Christians Do-

 Judge sometimes-

 The notion that Christians should never judge is a misinterpretation of Scripture and a lie straight out of the pit of hell. It is true Christians should never judge whether or not another person is worthy of forgiveness or heaven, that is always God’s call to make (Matthew 7:2, Luke 6:37). That being said, Christians are called to make judgments concerning right and wrong (Luke 12:57, John 7:24, Acts 4:18-20, 1st Corinthians 5:12). Anytime we stop judging the actions of ourselves and others we quickly devolve to an ugly place where everyone does “what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). When that happens, we forfeit our power to influence others in a healthy way (Matthew 5:13).

Love People-

 Okay, so, this is a bit of a given. Even demons and the foulest of unbelievers understand that love is one of the defining marks of a Christ-follower (John 13:34-35). However, some Christians do not get that Christian love is multifaceted and complex. It protects, encourages and believes the best in others but it also cautions, corrects and sometimes even rebukes (1st Corinthians 4:14-20, 1st Thessalonians 5:14).  Jesus loved the Pharisees enough to die for them but that didn’t stop Him from warning them of the consequences they would encounter if they continued to live in opposition to the will of God (Luke 11:11-53).  If we really want to love like Jesus loved we have to embrace every aspect of Christian love—not just the parts and pieces that make people like us. 

Do good-

 Christians are commanded constantly in Scripture to “do good” (Galatians 6:9, 2nd Thessalonians 3: 13, Titus 1:6, Titus 2:7, 1st Peter 2:12). The specifics of “doing good” are left somewhat up to the discretion of individual Christians. In the New Testament “doing good” always involved helping people, providing for the less fortunate and avoiding sin. Doing good is not about being “the next big thing” or “a big deal” in the Church. It’s about doing what God called you to do to the best of your ability right where He put you. 

Tell the truth-

 This does not just mean Christians don’t lie.  It also means we live our lives openly and we fight the human tendency to compartmentalize and hide our sin rather than confess and repent (Matthew 3:8, James 5:16).   

 Obey Jesus-

  Obedience is a mark of an authentic Christian (John 14:23-24). When we obey Jesus we love people, hate sin, tell the truth and honor God. If we would all just do our best to obey Jesus most problems we have in the body of Christ would be a nonissue.

Christians don’t-

 Mess with the word of God-

 Contrary to popular opinion not every biblical issue is always black and white, there are some grey areas. It’s reasonable for Christians to debate (among other things) how often to take communion, the role of women in the church (Judges 4-5, Romans 16:1), whether or not Christians should use alcohol and exactly how political a church ought to be.  However, most issues hotly debated today (homosexuality, premarital sex, gender issues, adultery) were settled long ago and should be treated that way.  

 Hate people-

 This one is easier in theory than in practice. (Matthew 10:22).  This is especially true when we are hated, openly mocked and persecuted just for loving Jesus.  Nonetheless, our calling is clear: Jesus wants us to love those who hate us and to do good to people who hate us (Luke 6:27-28). It is simply impossible for anyone to obey this command in their own power. It can only be accomplished through the emboldening and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (2nd Corinthians 12:8-10)

 Christians who wish to make a difference in this world never shy away from the calling we all have to repent and be constantly transformed into the image of Jesus even if that means being a little less popular and successful by worldly standards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Don’t Need More Christian Values-

 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead- Philippians 3:10-11 NIV

 Eleven years ago, a group of parents in our community became troubled by the lack of moral values that were rampant in our area. The parents approached the local schoolboard. After a series of meetings, the Central Valley School District decided to go all-in with values education. A committee was formed.  The committee came up with a program still used today that systematically teaches values and positive character qualities to children in public schools beginning in kindergarten.

 The values chosen were universally acknowledged as virtuous and helpful.  They were respect, responsibility, citizenship, caring, fairness, honesty, diligence, trustworthiness, courage, integrity, generosity and gratitude. 

 For the record, I have no idea how many of the parents on that committee where Christians. At that time, we lived in a neighboring district and I was not on the committee, nor was I friends with anyone on the committee. However, it did not escape my notice that every character quality on the list was in alignment with New Testament teachings. Furthermore, the definitions for each trait could have been written by an experienced Sunday school teacher. For example, the definition chosen for the citizenship value was:

 Positively contributing to society and community as well as dutifully respecting authority and the law.

 So, that sounds a bit like a synopsis of Romans 13:1-7 to me. But who am I to say what motivated the writer of the definition?

 Any-hoo.

 Last week I noticed one of the schools near our home had the character trait of the month and its definition (caring) on its reader board. The sign reminded me of the movement eleven years ago to bring “values” back into our community. 

 It occurred to me as I was driving home that little has improved in our community over the course of the last decade. Most kids (and adults) still lack the values those parents fought to have taught. Common courtesy is far less common now than it was then. Property crime occurs at a much higher rate than it did ten years ago. Our community has experienced one school shooting in recent years and nearly every social problem under the sun has increased in the years since the program was implemented.  

 Why, after all the years, all the tax dollars spent and all the hours put into teaching and training kids have we seen so little improvement in the moral climate of our community? 

 It is not the fault of parents who battled to bring values education into the schools. Those parents followed their conscience and worked their tails off to make a difference. That kind of moral courage is never wrong.  Nor, should the blame be laid at the feet of the school system. In a post-modern, post-values, post-Christian world some very brave leaders took a risk and made a valiant attempt at standing up for some timeless truths. That kind of bravery should always be celebrated. 

 The fault lies with society at large. For well over a century, individuals have wanted and, in some cases, even insisted that Christian values be taught without all the pesky ethical teaching that accompanies Christianity. Our culture wants nice people who practice Christian generosity in the event of a natural disaster or tragedy. We want people who are benevolent, compassionate and nice. We want people who tell the truth as Christianity demands.

 However, we do not wish to be burdened with any moral restrictions that might mess with our personal choices. We do not want Christianity meddling with our sex lives or telling us what we can or can’t watch on television. We for sure do not want Christianity to inform our views concerning drug legalization or childrearing practices.  

 The problem with this kind of thinking is that it will work for a generation or two, perhaps even three. When Christianity is authentic it is powerful enough that Christian virtues (patience, kindness, temperance, generosity, self-discipline) will live on in succeeding generations who don’t really know Christ. However, sooner or later the veneer of Christianity will begin to wear off of society and when that happens the society will begin to unravel.

 That is what we see happening today. Western Civilization has been living in the shadow of the blessings prior generations earned through their genuine faith in Christ (Deuteronomy 28, 1st Samuel 15:22, Psalm 128:1-3, John 14:23, 2nd John 1:6).  As those blessings fade we are left with the dregs of a post-Christian reality: disobedient children, corrupt politicians, lawlessness, sexual chaos, broken families and random violence (Ezekiel 23:35, 2nd Timothy 3:1-5).

 We will never get our homes, churches, community or country back to a place of blessing by painting society with yet another whitewashing of Christian virtues. We need Christianity not just Christian virtues. Christians need to get back to the business of repentance and making disciples. It all starts with making sure our own heart is right with God and other people. Once that is done Christians need to get into their communities with God’s truth and love.