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. 

How “Experts” are Turning us all into Idiots-


“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”- Luke 11:52 

I have had a number of curious interactions recently. The finer points of the interaction vary but it all begins when I make a common-sense statement. These statements have included but are not limited to such things as:

Masking is tough on kids

Men who become women still have male DNA-

It’s questionable whether or not that proposed law would even pass constitutional muster. 

The second the words come out of my mouth the smug little wisenheimer I’m speaking with demands in a very chippy manner I produce my early childhood education degree, medical degree, or law degree or whatever stupid degree they deem necessary to continue the conversation.  I then point out, as politely as I am able—that no one really needs a degree in a particular field—or any field for that matter to know whether or not what I said is true. My statement clearly falls under the heading of common sense, common knowledge or empirical wisdom. Nine times out of ten at this point in the conversation the smug little wisenheimer will roll their beady little eyes and tell me to come back when I’m qualified to give an opinion. I’m convinced we are witnessing the death of wisdom.

These exchanges literally make me insane. Literally. Because, if one were to take this lunacy to its logical end-game in order to make a statement such as “I had a dog with the exact same symptoms and it turned out to be mange” one would need to be a veterinarian. Or if you wanted to say: “children ought to eat something besides candy and hotdogs three meals a day” one would have to be a nutritionist or have a degree in early childhood development.

I have nothing against knowledge, education or experts. In fact, I am all for knowledge. I love education. Experts are awesome and at times necessary. Furthermore, I am convinced wise people freely admit when they are dealing with a situation above their pay-grade or outside of their expertise. Intelligent people consult multiple counselors before forming an opinion or making a decision (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 24:6). 

However, 

There are a lot of potential problems with choosing to only take advice from an expert. For one thing, who exactly gets to decide who the expert is?  Do we all get to pick our own expert?  Or are the people in power the people who decide who the experts are? Is it you? Or is it the people in the media? Or your Mother?

It would be easy to settle on education as the qualifier for title of expert.

However, education alone cannot be the only deciding factor in what constitutes an expert, there are lots of folks who have similar or even identical educational experiences who have differing opinions on nearly every subject.  Who is or is not an expert in a particular field can and often is politicized in our increasingly political culture. It’s just a fact that one political administration may have an entirely different take on what makes a person an expert than the one before or after it. 

Furthermore.

Experts are most useful when they are totally unbiased or operating completely without an agenda of any kind.  This is rare because experts aren’t robots or computer programs.  Experts are just fallible human beings who spent a lot of time in school being taught by other fallible human beings. Unfortunately, people—even people with a great deal of education can be corrupted by money, media attention and/or the promise of power.  Experts can be bought. It happens all the time.  Experts are also prone to having biases that may or may not be grounded in facts. Experts have experiences that can turn them in a particular direction. Experts can be also swayed by peer pressure.  

Moreover.

Experts are sometimes just plain wrong. It was experts in the early 20th century that claimed certain races were genetically inferior to other races.  This belief led to the holocaust. It was experts that assured us margarine was healthier than butter. It was theology experts in the middle ages who claimed common people were too stupid to understand the Bible for themselves. It was medical experts in the 1940’s who said baby formula was superior to human breast milk.

By far, the biggest problem with placing all our trust in “experts” is doing so demands we stop thinking for ourselves. Sadly, not thinking has become endemic in our society. Many have simply shut off their brains and let the experts decide what’s best and it’s not working out real well for anyone. Our society is falling apart at the seams despite all the “experts” we have advising us. 

 We have forgotten the hard truth that each one of us is ultimately responsible before God for the choices we make. No one gets to blame an “expert” for the consequences of a poor choice on judgment day. God blessed us with brains and He expects them to be used. We have to wake up and recognize the fact that anytime we stop thinking for ourselves we become a sitting duck for those looking to deceive.  Instead of placing our trust in the experts we ought to go back to the age-old practice of seeking out a multitude of opinions, analyzing the data, praying like crazy for wisdom before deciding for ourselves.  

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).  

How to get Your Spiritual Growth Going-

Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ- 1st Thessalonians 5:21-23 ESV

I am a bit of a cynic.

 I am always a bit slow to embrace any new idea, theory or belief without some hard evidence that the idea, theory or belief could actually be true or a good idea.  

Despite my inherently cynical nature I am fully convinced the whole stupid world is under the judgment of God right now. Judgment is on the docket for every people group on earth. No one is special right now. Too many people in too many places have either participated in or voluntarily tolerated every kind of evil for far too long Romans 1:18-30). The Almighty God of the Universe has finally had enough. He is lifting His hand of protection and letting humanity have a taste of what we have been begging for: life without God. Therefore, every man, woman and child on earth is in for some rough waters until there is a movement of repentance. The evidence is just too overwhelming not to believe it. Bad leaders, weird weather, random acts of violence, hostility, disease, fear and crime are all telltale signs of divine judgment (Deuteronomy 28:16-64). 

HOWEVER.

This season might just turn out to be the most productive of our lives from a spiritual growth perspective. Rough waters often cause people to seek God and let go of the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1). Trials can empower us to break free of the behaviors and attitudes that trap us in the mindsets that keep us mired in worldly thinking.  When we seek God and ask Him to help us break free of worldly thinking and sinful strongholds we inevitably do the things that please and honor God (Revelation 2:5). When Christians obey God, He is faithful to move in powerful ways and good always comes out of it. (1st Peter 1:6-9). 

Here’s how to make spiritual growth happen:

Stop being a baby-

Churches today are crawling with spiritual and moral toddlers. People who never grew past the sippy-cup and fit-throwing stage of spiritual development (Hebrews 5:12-14).  In order to flourish spiritually we must be intentional about letting go of the childish and/or sinful things holding us back from becoming truly Christlike.  This means learning to do hard things, like examining our attitudes on a regular basis. It means accepting difficulty and learning from it rather than getting angry and bitter about it (1st Corinthians 13:11, 2nd Timothy 4:5).  It means caring about people enough to tell them the truth about where their choices will lead them even if it means they don’t like us when the conversation is over. It means forgiving those who wrong us and praying for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). 

Know what having “good fruit” actually means- 

We all know the fruit of a person’s life matters because Jesus said it matters (Matthew 7:16). However, having a life that consists of good fruit is about more than looking good or even doing good deeds. “Good fruit” like church attendance, taking on leadership roles in church or even leading people to Jesus is really only good if those things are accompanied by by true holiness, virtue and love for one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43, Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:3). This means doing the right things with the wrong heart will not result in reward. In order to get this vital issue right we must be vigilant about examining our motives.  We must ask ourselves: am I doing what I’m doing so others will think well of me? Do I do things for people to help them or gain influence? Do I love everyone or just people who love me back? If we get the answers to any of these questions wrong we need to ask God to change our hearts until He does. 

Deal with your spiritual junk

In order to deal with our junk we have to WANT to see the sin our life. Most people, even most Christians don’t really want to see the sin their lives. It’s just too painful and hard see our own grossness head-on. It We have to ask God to show us. He will do this in a whole bunch of different ways that probably won’t involve verbal communication with the Almighty.  He will show us through conflicts we have in our marriages and jobs. He will show us through the attitudes we see in our own kids and the entertainment we gravitate towards. 

Don’t get confused about what repentance really is-

Repentance is a twofold deal. It’s dealing with sinful behaviors in a decisive way (Matthew 5:30).  That means stopping it (whatever “it” is) as quickly as possible. However, simply stopping bad behavior is not enough. In order to truly repent we have to deal with the heart attitude that caused us to sin in the first place. That means we have to dig deep and figure out the why of what we do. Without that knowledge will never move on to a higher level of functioning. 

If we know God and are called according to His purpose then life is good even when its tough. It’s good because God is always at work using the hard stuff to mold us into someone He can use. 

But we have to let Him.

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.  

How to Recover from a Serious case of 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

 Anyone who has gone to church knows church-hurt is a real thing.

 It comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s born out of something as basic as unresolved conflict or disagreement or feeling overlooked or marginalized by Christians we assumed cared about us. Church-hurt happens when we discover we have become the target of gossip or excluded from a group we wanted to be a part of. By far, the nastiest and most damaging form of church-hurt comes at the hands of bad pastors and false teachers, who use their spiritual authority to control, manipulate, defraud or sexually exploit those they have been tasked with caring for (Isaiah 56:11, 2nd Timothy 3:1-9).There is a special place of punishment for those kinds of leaders (Jude 4-16).

 How deeply we are wounded by church-hurt depends on a whole host of factors. Including, but not limited to how new to the faith we were when we were hurt, our over-all maturity level at the time of the offense, who hurt us (pastor vs. lay person) the seriousness of the hurt 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 have been in church long enough to know church-hurt is inevitable. Anytime sinners are in close proximity to one another there is going to be hurt and pain. That said, hurt does not have to devastate our lives or destroy our faith. How and why one gets hurt in church is far less important than how one handles the hurt. In the interest of preventing anymore church dropouts, today I am going to give four (very basic) guidelines for recovering from most church-hurts.

 First:

 Don’t misplace blame-

This is without question the one that matters the most.  Healing from church-hurt can only occur if we understand and embrace the reality that God is not the CAUSE of 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 literally had nothing do with.

 Honestly evaluate the level of hurt that occurred-

 Some things are never okay. No one should ever causally dismiss abuse, embezzlement, or vicious slander. Nor should we demand someone who has been wounded by say, sexual abuse at the hands of a church leader just “get over it”. Big hurts (like sexual and spiritual abuse) require special attention, care 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 super painful, but that need to be put in perspective and forgiven quickly. Not for the sake of the person who hurt us, but for the sake of our own mental and spiritual health. It is critical we remember, being a follower of Jesus does not automatically mean a person will never be rude, stuck-up, self-serving, insensitive, flakey, or stupid. We are all guilty of those particular sins from time-to-time. Therefore, we ought to give grace accordingly and move-on (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 suffer especially when the hurt is at the hands of someone who ought to know better and it’s healthy to grieve hurt. However, it’s not healthy or spiritually wise to stay stuck in perpetual state of woundedness (Yes. I made that word up.). Choosing to stay stuck in anger (and yes, it is a choice) inevitably leads to bitterness and bitterness is guaranteed to ruins us for every good thing God has for us (Hebrews 12:15). Reconciliation may or may not be advised, but with Jesus, forgiveness is always possible (Matthew 6:15). Remember, 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 New Testament believers 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. You can too. 

I promise.

The Why of Trials-

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed~ 1st Peter 1:6-7

At the end of every year I spend a little time mentally recapping the events of that year. I spend some time deliberately praising God for the good and then I ask for the wisdom to make the bad stuff better in the coming year.

 As my mind meandered through the events of the past year, it did not take me long to conclude that this past year will not go on record as one of the better years in Price family history. It was, in fact, legitimately quite awful. Everything was a struggle. Nothing worked out the way we hoped it would, or in a way that made any sense at all to any of us. There have certainly been blessings, but for the most part even the blessings this year were born out of enormous difficulty and came as result of some hard-fought battles.

 Don’t get me wrong:

I believe with all of my heart God is firmly in control of all of the events of our lives, even the crummy ones. I also believe our happy ending will be arriving at some point in the (hopefully) near future but we sure haven’t experienced it as of this writing.

 I am sharing our story not because I want to bum you out with a laundry list of disappointments and difficulties. I am sharing because I believe it’s imperative Christians are truthful about their struggles. If we always put on a happy face and pretend not to have have any problems or stress or, in my case, an unbelievably crummy year, we will never really understand the reason God allows struggles and heartache in the lives of His people.

 Not understanding the why of the tough, bothersome, tedious junk of life is spiritually confusing. Living in a state of spiritual confusion tends to make us hard, bitter and resentful and can cause us to leave the life of faith altogether.

 There are all kinds of reasons why God allows us to struggle or suffer through stuff that FEELS completely unnecessary. Sometimes struggles come because there are things we need to learn about ourselves. There is nothing like a little stress to show us all the attitudes and knee-jerk responses to pressure that are not exactly what Jesus would do in the same situation. We can never change what we don’t see, so it could even be argued trials are a necessary evil that help us see what areas of our lives still need work.

 Trials also prove our faith. Not to God. God knows exactly how much or little faith we all have already. Persisting through a trial with our faith firmly intact proves to you and me and all people around us that we are not just flocking to God for what He can provide. Perseverance proves our love for God and is the surest sign of salvation that there is.

 Last week I was given a reminder of perhaps the most critical reason of all that God allows us to experience trials and difficulties. I had the privilege of looking someone I care deeply about in the eye and telling them in all honesty that I completely understood the weird, crazy, absurd situation they were dealing with. I could do that because I had been through something very similar just a few years before. I could assure this person that they too would survive their shock just as I had survived mine. The Apostle Paul gives us an image of how the cycle of trial and comfort works in the life of a Christian in 2nd Corinthians 1:3-5:

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

 My prayer for all of us  is that God will comfort us in a way that we can feel tangibly as we go through the trials that are sure to come our way. I also pray that He will give us all many opportunities to be the hands, feet and source of comfort our hurting world will undoubtedly need in the coming year.

Divorce-Proofing Your Marriage-

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure~ Hebrews 13:4

 There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are good at math and those who are not. I fall squarely into the later category. My aversion to anything math-related could probably be classified as some sort of a neurosis or phobia. When confronted with a complex math problem I can actually feel my brain overheating, seizing up and shutting down like an oil-deprived engine.

I will do anything short of sin to avoid any sort of math-related activity.

 There is one exception to my firm no-math policy: statistics. It’s the one kind of math I actually enjoy, maybe because it’s easily applicable to real life. Last week I came across a statistic that got my attention. Researchers from the Gottman Institute discovered not only do forty percent of marriages end in divorce, but half of couples who stay married report being unhappy or very unhappy in their relationship.

Sigh.

 It was by far the gloomiest news I have heard in ages. Half of all people who DO NOT divorce claim to be miserable in the most significant human relationship we experience. It’s no wonder our society has so many issues with rage and alcohol abuse.

 The study went on to explain that there are two behaviors that appear to offer protection against both divorce and marital misery: kindness and generosity. Personal experience has proven the research to be true. Kindness and generosity are indeed vital to a healthy, happy marriage. No one sane wants to be married to a mean cheapskate.

 As important as kindness and generosity are in a spouse, they are not the only behaviors that contribute to long-term happiness. Kindness and generosity are traits that grow out of other even more vital attitudes and behaviors. Kindness and generosity will never take root in a relationship that is lacking in other areas, including:

 Respect– 1st Peter 2:17, Ephesians 5:33, 1st Peter 3:7

 Respect means to hold a person in high esteem. Respect is real when it’s shown by giving honor and by openly displaying admiration and appreciation for what your spouse does and who they are as a person. Respect is at the heart of all healthy adult relationships. No other positive behavior will flourish over the long haul in a marriage that is lacking in mutual respect.

 Loyalty– Malachi 2:14-16, Matthew 19:9

 Loyalty is about more than just sexual fidelity. Loyalty is also about how we choose to speak about our spouse in front of other people and how we treat our spouse in both public and private. Loyalty is linked to our priorities concerning time, outside relationships and even how we spend money.

 Cooperation– Ephesians 5:21

 Sometimes it’s called teamwork or collaboration. The Bible calls it mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21). Whatever you call it, marriages fail when it’s missing. Cooperation is the unwavering commitment to work together on things and pull in the same direction. Cooperation comes down to our willingness to give up a little bit of what we want, or think we need, for the good of the other person and the health of the relationship.

 Forgiveness– Mark 11:25, Ephesians 4:32

 One fact you can count on in this world is that people, even the best people, will inevitably disappoint and fail you. But it’s okay because you will undoubtedly end up disappointing and failing other people. We are all disappointing failures at some point in our lives. The key to making a relationship work between two imperfect people is the daily commitment to forgive and let go.

 Selflessness– Philippians 2:1-5, 1st Peter 4:10, Romans 12:3

 We live in a time and a place when self-centeredness has, for all intents and purposes been enshrined as a virtue. We are constantly encouraged to “consider your own needs” and “focus on what makes you happy.” The Bible gives an entirely different set of messages, including: “consider yourself with sober judgment,” “do not think more highly of yourself than you ought,” and “serve rather than be served.” Nowhere do these messages matter more than in marriage.

 One of the things I like about statistics is that, unlike other forms of math, they are not fixed. A statistic can be changed. The unhappy state of a marriage does not have to be permanent. I am convinced that any marriage can be a happy marriage. Respect, loyalty, cooperation, forgiveness, selflessness, kindness and generosity are the behaviors that define and comprise love. When these behaviors become standard operating procedure in a marriage, the people in that marriage cannot help but be happy.