The Surest Sign of Salvation-

The testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing– James 1:3-4 NASB

Anytime a Christian makes the choice to persevere or endure through hardship, difficulty, injustice or pain in a way that leaves their faith intact and their hearts free from bitterness good things happen in that person. Enduring through the hurt of life builds emotional strength, develops grit in us, causes us to grow spiritually, makes us wiser and transforms us into the kind of people others can learn from (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-5). 

There are at least a million different types of experiences a human might have to persevere through. Some are “life in a fallen world” kinds of things, painful but random events we all experience at some point in our lives. Things like cancer, the death of a spouse, friend or child, accidents or financial calamities. Then there are the “people are crappy” sorts of experiences like religious persecution, being cheated on, being lied to or about, or being treated indifferently or with disdain by people who should care about us.

Sigh.

Persevering is made tougher for Christians because hard things naturally cause us to doubt the goodness, faithfulness and sometimes even the very existence of God. It is true that pain and difficulty can drive us towards God but hurt and struggle can also drive us away as well. The effect pain has on us depends entirely on how we choose to respond to it (1st Peter 15-6).  There are things we can do that will ensure pain, grief, trials, and difficulty make us better as opposed to bitter and more miserable. Following are four of them:

Take your focus off of people-

By far, the worst and most excruciating pain in life comes when we’re victimized or mistreated by people.  The pain of personal betrayal is compounded a million times over if the person who harmed us is a Christian. Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid being hurt by people because people, even Christian people, are at their core sinful, broken and sometimes even cruel and malevolent. For whatever reason, most of us lay the blame squarely on God when people hurt us. This is a huge tactical error. Humans have free will and can do whatever they choose with their free will. They can even be horrible, sinful, disgusting people if they want to. It doesn’t mean God approves of their actions or that there won’t be a price to be paid for their conduct, it just means God will not force anyone to be nice, honest, or just. That being said, the biggest problem with blaming God for the actions of people is that we deny ourselves access to the only one who can give us comfort, peace and the power to persevere through whatever horrible thing we are dealing with (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 86:17, 2nd Corinthians 1:3). Sigh. 

Take the long view-

The apostle Paul lived most of his Christian life in what most of us would consider absolutely unacceptable conditions (2nd Corinthians 11:21-29).  Literally, everyone hated him. The Jews hated him. The Romans hated him. The Greeks hated him. Sometimes even other Christians hated him (Galatians 4:16-18).  Paul went hungry, spent time in prison, was beaten, stoned and betrayed by people who pretended to be his friends (2nd Timothy 4:14). Nevertheless, none of this injustice appears to have bothered him because he was able to view all of these situations as temporary problems that would be righted by God at some point in the future. He believed with all his heart his trials were actually preparing him for future ministry and making him more fit to spend eternity with God (2ndCorinthians 4:17, 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3). One “key” to persevering and enduring through pain is to make the choice to believe pain that is stewarded well will make us better, wiser, more insightful and more like Jesus. 

Know that Jesus gets “it”- 

He does. Whatever “it” is. Jesus gets it. I promise. Jesus experienced the same types of things we experience. He knows exactly what temptation, betrayal, loss, loneliness, hurt feelings and personal pain feels like (Hebrews 4:15). This makes Jesus the perfect one to run to anytime the heaviness of life becomes too much too bear (2ndCorinthians 1:5). 

Don’t let yourself get hung up on the issue of fairness- 

Getting hung up on what’s fair or unfair in this life will literally drive a Christian insane. This is because life at least, in the present, is not fair. People “get away” with crappy stuff all the time. If we choose to focus on what kind of punishment people are getting right now in this life we will lose our faith and our minds in that order. Instead of worrying about what’s fair and unfair, God wants us to believe in Him and trust that He will make things right and just in His good time. Anytime we’re hurt we have to remember the Bible is clear: NOTHING is in all of creation hidden from God and there is nothing that will not be publicly disclosed (Matthew 10:26, Hebrews 4:13). Sin that is unrepented of will be made public and punished in time. Period. 

Ultimately, choosing to persevere through the pain of life means clinging to our faith and choosing to tenaciously love God no matter what goes wrong or who hurts us. Faithful endurance through hurt, loss or persecution is the hard route but God promises rich rewards for those who choose it. 

Fixing the Mess in Church World-

 They went far from Me, and walked after emptiness and became empty– Jeremiah 2:5b NASB

The Western Church is in crisis. 

Somehow over last century or so both Church-goers and Church leaders have lost sight of what a real spiritual win looks like (Judges 21:25). As a result, there is little actual spiritual power in the lives of most church-goers.  Our lack of spiritual power has left the church incapable of transforming people and society.   

Sigh. 

The average church-goer has gone after the wrong objectives (Jeremiah 2:5). For many the primary aim of the Christian life has become one of personal fulfillment. In the minds of the average Western church-goer God exists mostly to meet human needs and fulfill personal desires. Many feel God’s job is to make us happy and fix our problems. If God fails to provide what we want in a timely manner or in the way we want it we find a new spiritual model, hobby or cause that gives us more of what we think we need. Sometimes, this involves Christians making flowery proclamations on social media stating their intention to “reimagine”, “reconstruct” or “reinvent” their faith. Those expressions are all just twenty-first century colloquialisms for willfully choosing to create a new god in. our own image. The “reimagined” or “reconstructed” God is always a little more progressive and tolerant than the God of the Bible. The new God is always willing to put His (or Her) blessing on self-actualization that leads to selfishness, sexual sin and bitterness. 

Christian leaders have looked to God primarily for a sense of achievement.  When leaders lack an understanding of their purpose God becomes a means to an end rather than the whole goal of the Christian life.  Leaders who lack purpose kingdom build. However, instead of building God’s Kingdom they build their own. These leaders end up working really hard to create a cool place for people to hear them speak. On the surface this can appear to be a good thing. But, the environments these leaders construct inevitably lack the power to bring Christians and non-Christians out of their sin and selfishness and into right relationship with God.  

It’s a hot mess. 

The answer to the problem is simple. However, that does not necessarily mean it will be easy to actualize the solution. In order to solve it we must rethink a whole bunch of different things including our perspectives on what God is for, what the church is for and what the outcome of Christianity is supposed to be. This will take a combination of humility, self-awareness and a willingness to make hard changes.

Unfortunately, most humans suck at all that stuff. 

Mercifully, what is impossible for man is possible with God (Matthew 19:25-26, Luke 18:27). The Western church will regain its purpose and spiritual power when God’s people go back to the Bible and seek to understand what God really says about the mission of the Church. 

The gospel message is the mission. Period. The average Christians job is to tell everyone they know how Jesus can transform a person and change the trajectory of their life (Matthew 28:18-20, 2nd Corinthians 5:17). Ephesians six commands Christins to “put on the shoes of the gospel of peace”. That directive is a statement of our mission as believers. We exist to take Jesus into every interaction we have and every situation we find ourselves. In order to do that well we must live lives that reflect the goodness, kindness and moral purity of Jesus. 

Christian leaders are to be in the business of building and growing people spiritually, morally and in their gifting’s and abilities. Leaders must emphasize the importance of spiritual growth, emotional health and holiness in their teaching, preaching and interactions with church people.  Leaders must encourage and teach their people to maximize their giftings in such a way they build up the church body. The goal of every Christian leader should be for every person in their body to be told “well done good and faithful servant” on judgment day by Jesus (Matthew 25:21).  

If we want to win the world to Jesus everything we do as believers must be done in a spirit of humility. Church-goers must tell the world about Jesus with an attitude of grace and love that shows the world that everything we say about our God is true. Church leaders must manage their lives and ministries in such a way that church people become a natural reflection of the leaders in their lives (Romans 12:8).  

The Only Right Way for Christians to Deal With Current Events-

The righteous will never be shaken, they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes- Psalm 112:6-8 NIV

One of my personal axioms has always been: “the more you know, the more you know”. Because I have lived and breathed this conviction for more-or-less all of my days I have been a major news junkie for most of my adult life.  However, in recent months I have become a much less enthusiastic consumer of the nightly news. Mostly because the content has gotten pretty dang scary.

Seriously. 

The world is a scary place and it’s getting scarier all the time. A good many individuals really do appear to be going completely feral. Many appear to believe deep down in their hearts that violence and repressing the speech of others is a legitimate way to solve problems and silence voices that make them uncomfortable.  Elementary schools have become taxpayer-funded propaganda centers. Precious few politicians are defending the rights of “the average Joe or Jane”. No one seems to be on the side of anything good or wholesome anymore. The reality of this sorry state of affairs has left many Christians feeling powerless and even despairing. Some have given into the temptation to bury their heads in the sand to avoid feeling panic-stricken by the constant onslaught of bad news and cultural decay. 

Here’s the thing:

God does not want his people to live like cultural recluses or in a bubble. God wants His people to understand what’s going on in the world. Not for the sake of knowledge, but because knowledge empowers us to pray effectively.  Knowledge transforms us into voices of reason and wisdom in a chaotic world. When we know things, we can become actively involved in finding solutions to the problems plaguing society.  But in order to the voice our world needs we must respond to what we hear in the right way. 

The right way means:

Without fear- 

Christians are not called to live or behave in a way that is reckless or stupid. That said, the only thing anyone should really fear is God, displeasing God or not getting their lives right with God (Matthew 10:28, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 76:11). Fear paralyzes us.  It makes us forget the fundamental truth that God is ultimately in control of all things. Even death, by far the worst thing anyone can experience in this life is simply a door to a closer relationship with God for those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus. 

With discernment- 

Deception is our world’s biggest problem right now (Matthew 24:11, Colossians 2:4). Because deception is so commonplace, most of the nightly news is designed to propagandize rather than inform viewers. Some of it isn’t even true. Christians must learn to seek out conservative voices that are not weird or conspiratorial (I recommend The Daily Wire and Townhall). Then we need to pray daily for wisdom about how to interpret what we hear.  

In faith- 

In order to please God Christians must believe that God is and that He is working all events in this world out to achieve an end that He planned since the dawn of time (Hebrews 10:38, Hebrews 11:6) Revelation 21-22).  God wants us to show our faith (James 2:18) by holding on to the truth that God is working all things, even the most worrisome things (Romans 8:35-39) out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). 

With grace towards those who think differently- 

With a few notable exceptions, most people do not believe stupid things because they are willfully dumb or intentionally bent towards evil. Generally speaking most people who believe stupid and/or evil things do so because they have been deceived by the enemy (Titus 3:3).  Understanding that the average unbeliever is deceived rather than willfully stupid or intentionally evil should lead us to respond to their stupidity with concern and grace rather than contempt and scorn. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that deceived people who do evil will spend all of eternity paying for their folly. This should cause us to pray like crazy for them.  After all it is only by the grace of God that we aren’t just like them.  

Through the lens of eternity-

Everything we experience is this life no matter how good, bad, terrifying or delightful is fleeting and temporary (2nd Corinthians 4:18). We should never allow a temporal experience (whether the experience be positive or painful) to rob us of the truth that our lives should be centered around two things and two things only: preparing ourselves for eternity with God and attempting to bring others into relationship with Jesus so they can spend eternity with God. We should view events, even scary events as opportunities to grow in our own faith and as jumping off places to start conversations with others about their faith. 

Last, but not least: 

Knowing things, understanding the political world or being informed is absolutely pointless if we don’t combine our knowledge with a heart that is bent towards producing change in the world. The only way to produce change is to become an active participant in the world around us. We do that by praying fervently and specifically about current events, instigating conversations with our neighbors and making sure our voting habits reflect biblical values. When we learn to these things we become gracious, spirit empowered change agents.