Another Church Peeve

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart~ Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

 I love the church.

 I believe with every fiber of my being that the local church is God’s chosen instrument for proclaiming truth to the world, training believers for works of service and transforming heathens and moral reprobates into faithful Jesus followers. For that reason, I am convinced that every Christian ought to regularly attend a local church and contribute their time, energy, and treasure into making that church a great place to worship, learn and grow.

 That said, I also have a whole host of weird pet peeves when it comes to church and how we do church at this time in history. Basically, I have an aversion to anything weird, gimmicky or shallow. Those things include (but are not limited to) fog machines, unfriendly congregations, worship songs that remind me to breathe, Pastors that dress like homeless people and a lack of relevant teaching or opportunities to learn.

 These peeves (and many others) have been well documented in some of my previous blog posts. I just sort of assumed (until recently) that I had discovered and explored every single one of my many peeves related to church and had nothing left to write about on the subject. I was wrong.

 I have discovered a new one.

 Everywhere I turn these days I am being told that I should speak the name of Jesus over my problems and worries. If I am afraid, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have cancer, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I need money I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have a drug or alcohol addiction, I should speak the name of Jesus. This advice is usually followed up with the instruction to “just walk in it”.

 Whatever the heck that means.

 My concerns with this trend might appear to be a bit silly and trivial on the surface, but unlike some of my other peeves this one really isn’t all that petty. This one actually has some potentially serious practical and theological ramifications.

 Christians should understand that nowhere in the Bible are we told to speak the name of Jesus over anything. We are told to believe in the name of Jesus (1 John 3:23). We are told to openly profess the name of Jesus (Hebrews 13:15). We are also told to baptize people into the name of Jesus (Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5) and we are commanded to speak the name of Jesus as we teach the truth about God and call people to repentance (Matthew 28:16-20). Not once are we told to speak the name of Jesus over our problems, anxieties or doubts.

 Speaking a word (any word) over something in an effort to change it, is a practice that has more in common with witchcraft than it does with Christianity. I am NOT suggesting that someone who tells you to speak the name of Jesus over your problems is a witch or is active in witchcraft. I am saying that simply speaking the word ‘Jesus’ over a problem, worry or concern will not solve it and might even distract you from doing the things God wants you to do in order to solve your problems.

 I promise you that God does not want you to speak the name of Jesus over your bratty two-year-old, job loss, addiction, crumbling marriage or serious medical condition. That’s just not how God works. Instead, God wants you to do these three things:

 Understand that tests and trials are simply a part of this life-

 We live in a fallen world, and sadly bad things happen in our fallen world (1st Thessalonians 3:2-4, 1st Peter 1:6). People get hurt and sick, they lose their jobs, and sometimes they turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with negative feelings and traumatic experiences. Other times people are evil and cruel and the innocent get hurt or exploited. On the positive side of all of that, God will use those trials to make you a better, wiser more compassionate person if you ask Him to (James 1:2, James 1:12, 2nd Corinthians 1:3-6).

 Seek God on a deeper level-

 More than anything God wants you to work at getting to know Him better in the midst of your trial. He wants you to become a student of the Word and someone who runs to Him in prayer with all your fears, sinful inclinations, insecurities and problems. Doing that will give you a supernatural source of strength, knowledge and wisdom that will empower you to deal with whatever trial has come into your life, in a way that pleases God and benefits you.

 Become increasingly more obedient to God-

 We solve our problems in this life by first identifying areas of sin in our lives, repenting of those sins and then doing more and more of what God instructs us to do in His word. Romans 12:1-21, 2nd Peter 1:5-8, Colossians 3:1-26 and Ephesians chapters 4-6 give believers abundant instruction on the behaviors Christians should be embracing and eliminating in their lives. However, eliminating sinful behavior is not enough. We also have to ask God to help us (sometimes repeatedly) change our hearts, hate sin and see life the way He sees it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways our Generation has Screwed-up Prayer

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread”~ Matthew 6:9-11 NIV

 This week I enjoyed a very long lunch with an old friend. This particular friend is not just an old friend in the sense that we have known each other a long time. She is also an old friend in the sense that she is a good bit older than I am. I don’t know if it’s because she’s older than I am or if it’s because she’s acquired some wisdom in life (or a combination of the two), but this woman never fails to challenge me. The truly maddening thing is that I’m fairly certain she does it without even trying.

 This visit was no exception.

 We spent some time catching-up on our families and grumbling about all the madness in the world, then we moved on to the topic of church and ministry. I shared a little bit about what’s going on in my life right now, she shared what she’s doing and a couple of “back in the day” stories.

 I will not lie.

 There was a time (to my eternal shame) when I would sigh quietly anytime an older Christian began to wax eloquent about how ministry was done “back in the day”. I assumed like all youthful idiots that there is nothing significant to be learned from how church or ministry was done in the past. However, my generations’ complete and utter failure to make meaningful spiritual inroads into to our culture has humbled me a bit. I am now much more inclined to listen to those with a few years on me.

 It didn’t take long for me to recognize that all of her stories had a shared theme. The theme did not include tales of strategic outreach, careful planning or exciting gimmicks used to lure the unsaved into church buildings or a relationship with Jesus. Rather, the common denominator to all her stories was prayer. In every story she told, Christians prayed really hard and then crazy-cool stuff would happen, hearts changed, non-Christians became Christians, sin got confessed and repented of, and miracles took place. By the end of our lunch I was deeply convicted that our generation has forgotten how to pray and screwed-up the concept of prayer in at least five ways.

 Beginning with:

 We plan instead of pray-

 I am a planner. One of my favorite adages much to the chagrin of my poor children is “failure to plan is like planning to fail”. I have even been accused of over-planning a time or two. That said, I suspect we might see more success in our churches and at our events if we spent at least as much time praying for events and services as we do planning for them.

 We just don’t-

 According to a bunch of self-surveys I looked at, Christians admit to spending an average of three minutes a day in prayer. The ugly underbelly of that already ugly fact is that it tells us that at least half of all Christians either don’t pray at all or routinely pray for fewer than three minutes a day.  

 We don’t really believe anything will happen when we do pray-

 Over and over again in the New Testament we are told that God is much more inclined to answer prayer when the person praying actually believes that something will happen because they prayed. I will be the first to admit that God does not answer all our prayers the way we want Him to answer our prayers. However, that does not mean we should stop believing that God will answer when we do pray.  

 We pray for dumb stuff-

 Seriously, the world is going to hell right in front of us (literally and figuratively) and I have been at prayer meetings where people requested prayer for the health of their pets and for a relaxing vacation. God does care about pets and rest (He cares about everything). However, I suspect He cares more about the souls of the lost and is more inclined to answer in the affirmative when we pray about stuff that actually matters.  

 We don’t pray corporately-

 Even when we do gather to pray corporately, most of the time we wander off by our selves and pray alone. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He talked about “two or three being gathered” in His name.

 I think our generation has screwed-up prayer because we have lost touch with the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not about convincing God to do what we want or getting a blessing from God. Prayer is about getting our purposes aligned with His and receiving the spiritual power we need to do the things that really matter to God.

How We Came to the Place Where We are too Scared to Tell the Truth-

 They are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind~ 1st Timothy 6:4-5a NIV

 One of the weirder aspects of growing older is that it is possible to look back in hindsight and identify exactly when a cultural transformation began to take place in society. 

 One of the more remarkable transformations that has taken place over the course of my lifetime as been our perspective on the subject of words and language. When I was a child no one cared all that much about the rightness or wrongness of words. People just said what they wanted to say and everybody was expected to get over any hurt feelings that resulted.

We were taught very early on in life to say:

 “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”

  Okay, so in retrospect it was not the most sensitive limerick to teach to tender little children. But in those days people where a little thicker-skinned and the rhyme had the effect it was intended to have. Kids (and grown-ups) rarely made much over the insensitive, mean or stupid things things other people said.

 All that began to change in the late eighties and early nineties. I distinctly remember a church service in my twenties where the Pastor preached a sermon on the potentially hurtful consequences of words. He recited the above-mentioned rhyme and informed his listeners that everything we had been taught about words as children was a terrible lie. He made the (totally true) point that words do indeed hurt and can leave emotional scars. He closed the sermon by encouraging us all to be mindful of our words because words are powerful and potentially hurtful. I had never heard such a thing before in all my life. Seriously, it was all new news to me.

 It was just the beginning.

 Out of nowhere there was a crusade to change the way Americans spoke and perceived language. There were public service announcements on the dangers of harsh words and verbal abuse. Talk show hosts interviewed people who had been wounded by the cruel words of classmates and parents. Pop-culture icons began educating the public on the dangers of dehumanizing and harsh words. Task forces were formed to stop bullying in schools and end insensitive and sexually charged language in workplaces. As a result using racist, sexist or just plain mean language became taboo in schools and most workplaces.

 In the beginning I was very much on board with the collective sensitivity training. I believed then and still believe that people should choose their words wisely. No one should ever intentionally wound another person with stupid, harsh or cruel words. Verbal abuse and bigoted or sexist language is simply not okay. Ever.

 That said.

 People have managed to take a good idea to a ridiculous and possibly perilous place. Not only is it no longer okay say anything that is obviously insensitive, sexist or bigoted. It is no longer okay to say anything that might possibly hurt another person’s feelings (even if what is being said is clearly true and desperately needs to be said by someone). Every word uttered by everyone is vigilantly scrutinized for obvious as well as incidental offense. Individuals (no matter their maturity level) get to decide for themselves what is hurtful; therefore anything and everything can be (and oftentimes is) construed as hurtful.

 The result of this collective insanity has been two-fold. First, we have produced a population of ignorant, narcissistic, panty-waisted crybabies who are so pre-occupied with the effects that other people’s words have on their feelings that they cannot function outside of their own carefully constructed safe-spaces. Not only is this quite clearly sad, it could easily be our downfall. A nation of self-indulgent crybabies cannot possibly remain a nation for long.

 Secondly, it is no longer okay to say anything at all unless it makes everyone feel good about their choices, no matter how wrong or ridiculous those choices might be. Our absurd preoccupation with the rightness or wrongness of words has turned us into a nation of liars. We tolerate insanity because we’re scared witless of saying something and being labeled “hateful”. We refuse to verbalize in public the truth we all speak about openly in private: that some things are simply wrong, stupid and detrimental to society.

 The real irony in all this madness is that our collective obsession with words has failed to make us better people. Our society is no kinder and no gentler than it was thirty years ago. Our speech is no more uplifting now than it was then. It could, in fact, be argued that our use of words is far cruder and meaner now than it ever was. We’ve forgotten that change, even changing how we speak cannot be commanded by decree. Authentic change comes from a transformed heart and only God can do that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, You Really Are Your Brother’s Keeper

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification~ Romans 14:7 and 19 NIV

 I live in the state of Washington.

 The state of Washington is famous (some would say infamous) for many things, some of them magnificent, others less so. A few of those things include (but are not limited to) Nirvana, evergreen trees, coffee shops, the Space Needle, apples, rain, really great seafood, Jimi Hendrix, and of course legalized marijuana.

 Sadly, it’s marijuana that gets the most attention these days.

 Typically when I talk to people from outside the state we eventually end up in a ridiculous discussion about drug use in general, and marijuana use in particular.

 The conversation typically goes something like this:

 Them: “So, you’re from Washington State?”

 Me: “Yes.”

 Them: “So is it true you can, like, buy pot anywhere?”

 Me: (tired sigh) “well, not exactly. There are special stores where you can buy marijuana. You can’t get it at Wal-Mart yet. But, I’m sure that’s coming.”

 Them: “I hear there are lots of tax benefits to legalizing marijuana. I bet your schools and roads have improved a lot.”

 Me: (barely controlling an overwhelming impulse to roll my eyes) “Well, no. Actually the schools are pretty much just bad as they have always been and our roads have potholes roughly the same size as the craters on the moon. However, the riff-raff are taking over the state and our property taxes have gone up every year since marijuana was legalized. Oh, and fatal car crashes involving marijuana have more than doubled since it was legalized. Because of that our auto insurance rates have gone through the roof. So, I guess that’s something.”

 Them: “I sure wish my state would legalize marijuana.”

 Me: “Why on earth would you want that?”

 Them: “I just think people should be able to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

 At this point, one of two things typically happens. If I’m feeling charitable I tag out and go find someone rational to talk to. If I’m in a bad mood or feeling feisty, I challenge their thinking.

 I typically begin with the above-mentioned facts regarding taxes, car crashes and insurance rates. I follow all of that up with a few statistics concerning the countless social ills that inevitably follow drug legalization. I usually include some statistics on addiction rates to harder drugs and point out the problems our society already has with children stuck in an overburdened foster care system because their parents are too addicted and/or screwed-up to care for them.

 The other person typically snaps back with what they believe is the final and conclusive response to every point I have made thus far in the conversation:

 “Well, it’s not like any of us are our brother’s keeper. Those are not my problems. Why should I be denied the “right” to use marijuana recreationally and responsibly just because some people move on to harder drugs or use drugs and drive.”

 At this point if my sweet husband happens to be within earshot he places his hand gently on my arm and attempts to lead me away from the unfortunate chump who is about to get an earful of my feelings on this subject. He knows that I do believe we all are to one degree or another our brother’s keeper. Each and every one of us has a sacred duty to look after the health and well being of the other seven billion souls who live on this planet whether we feel like it or not and this is not just about marijuana or drug legalization.

 It’s about a little thing we call “being human”.

 Decent people voluntarily set aside their own interests and avoid doing things that have the potential to hurt others or lead weak people astray. That is why past generations avoided things like smoking marijuana, cursing in public, using hard drugs, looking at porn in public spaces, and dumping their spouses for younger models. Not just because some of those things were unlawful but also because they had the good sense to understand that those things can and do cause harm to other people, especially children. And the culture was better off for it.

 Christians are called to an even higher level of “being human” than the rest of humanity. The Apostle Paul went so far as to suggest we give up eating meat and drinking wine if our eating and drinking causes another person to stumble. I for one believe our society could use a fresh dose of that kind of thinking.

 

 

 

Should Government Promote Some Kinds of Families Over Other Kinds of Families?

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation~ Hebrew 6:9

 Monday night I tuned into the news just in time to see a rather spirited interview with a woman who wants tax incentives for traditional (two parent) families eliminated from the U.S. tax code. This woman is convinced tax incentives that encourage couples to marry before they have children are fundamentally unfair to “other kinds of families”.

 The man conducting the interview (a moderately conservative guy) seemed to be more than a bit perplexed by her line of reasoning.  He made repeated  attempts to explain to her those incentives were intentionally placed within the tax code to promote two parent families as anti-poverty and pro-family measures.

 After she rebuffed his valiant attempts at dragging reason into their conversation, the interview quickly devolved into a verbal cage fight. He was on one side attempting to goad her into admitting out loud that some family structures are better than others, and should therefore be encouraged. She stuck to her guns and proclaimed repeatedly and vehemently that the current tax code is “unfair to other kinds of families”.

 The exchange (fascinating as it was) left me feeling discouraged and peeved. My irritation was not just due to the fact that the woman being interviewed gave every indication she is a clueless nitwit.  

 It’s the bigger picture that’s bugging me. In one sense, the woman has a valid point. It really is unfair for government to use the tax code to promote and encourage one kind of families over other kinds of families. If fairness is always the end-all-be-all objective of everything, then tax incentives for those who are married with kids and not those who are single with kids is unfair and the practice ought to be stopped.

 But.

 Should fairness always the objective in every situation? Should fairness be the objective in this situation?

 The clear answer is “no” and “no”.

 There is a bigger issue at play here than fairness. That issue is the overall health of our society.  Common sense, empirical evidence and numerous social studies have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that society is demonstrably benefitted in a multitude of ways when people get married before they have kids and stay married for life.

 But that pesky set of facts is really nothing more than a side issue in my mind. The bigger picture leaving me peeved is the fact we have devolved to a place where it is no longer okay to say some things are better than others. Even when facts clearly demonstrate some things really are better than others.

 It’s not okay to say it’s better for kids to be raised in a two-parent home than by a single mom. It’s not okay to say that a committed marriage is better than hooking-up. It’s not okay to say that marriage is better than divorce. It’s not okay to say it’s better to help people (especially children) embrace the gender they were assigned at conception rather than help them to physically transform into a gender they can never really become from a genetic standpoint. It’s not okay to say that a religion that promotes peace and love is better than one that does not.

 Sigh.

 Even some Christians have bought into this silly drivel. We have become so convinced that God does a happy dance every time He sees us (no matter what we’ve been up to) that it is no longer okay to say God teaches us some things are better than other things. It’s not okay to say that going to church on Sunday mornings is better than going to brunch on Sunday mornings. It’s not okay to say going to a Bible Study is better than going to a bar for a couple of drinks. It’s not okay to say that having sex in marriage is better than having sex outside of marriage.

 It’s not okay to say much of anything anymore (even in the church) unless, of course, our words are unswervingly positive and affirming.

 Insert eye roll here.

 Scripture is clear, some choices are better than others not because the people who make those choices are better people, but rather because the choices have demonstrably better outcomes (Proverbs 16:8, Proverbs 28:6, Matthew 5:29, Mark 9:42, Romans 14:21, 1st Peter 3:17). The world needs those of us who believe this to be true to live that truth and proclaim that truth loudly and proudly. 

 

 

Me, Myself and I Do

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God~ 2nd Timothy 3:2-4 NIV

 I was recently struck by a painful reality. The nature of the times we live in is such that the instant I dare to think I have finally seen it all, something new (and unimaginably bizarre) comes along and reminds me all over again that the human race never stops inventing crazy crap to do.

 My latest epiphany came in the form of a strange new movement: sologamy. Otherwise known as the act of marrying oneself.

 Seriously, it’s a thing.

 There is a website (imarriedme.com) that sells kits for those folks (kits start at $50.00 and go as high as $230.00) interested in making the ultimate commitment to self-love. The individual making the promise to love him or her self till they breathe their last breath procures the kit and clothing befitting the occasion (some purchase wedding dresses or rent tuxedos). Guests are invited to observe as the person recites their vows while gazing into a handheld mirror. The service can be completed with or without a pastor or Justice of the Peace officiating. The vows are followed by a reception where the attending guests celebrate the happy individual and their promise to satisfy their own best interests above all others.

I am not making this up.

 Then, I suppose, (I have no actual data on this) the newly committed solagamist goes off on a solo honeymoon trip to memorialize their newly minted commitment and to get to know them-selves better.

 Sigh.  

 I struggled a little bit with where exactly to go with this post. On the one hand, the whole concept of marrying oneself is just a silly, frivolous and rather sad trend. It’s easy to argue that solagamy is really not significant enough to bother getting worked up over. It really is tempting to dismiss solagamy as just another weird example of 21st century self-indulgence run amok.

 Nevertheless, the trend of solagamy (and it is rapidly becoming a trend) says some significant and scary things about where we are at and where we are going as a culture.

 I find this peculiar trend troubling for a number of different reasons and on a number of different levels.

 The decadence of a ceremony that celebrates commitment to self-love leaves me with a skeezy, almost dirty, feeling. The uninhibited hedonism is disturbing. Then there’s the sad reality that marriage has been dumbed-down to a place where many in our culture sincerely believe that a wedding is just a big fancy party we throw for our own pleasure and an occasion to show-off our event planning skills. All that being said, mostly I just feel a soul-wrenching sadness that so many in our society have become so lonely and isolated that solo weddings are actually becoming an industry.

 Sigh.

 Sadly, it’s not just the world of romance and weddings that has been affected by our collective love affair with self. Instilling self-esteem (another term for self-love) in their children is now the number one concern of today’s parents, beating out almost every other parenting concern including teaching their kids right from wrong and ensuring that their children are educated well enough to enter the work force. It’s not just parents who are concerned with self-esteem. According to forbes.com, Americans spend a whopping eleven billion dollars on self-help and self-esteem books every year. We are encouraged in obvious-and not so obvious- ways to find ourselves, love ourselves and do right by number one, because if we don’t no one else will.

 All this self-adoration is a far cry from the biblical mandate to “lose yourself” (Luke 17:33) and the biblical call to put the interests of others above our own (Philippians 2:3, Romans 13:8). Self-worship (and that is what this is) is as different from “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:30-33) as cats are from kangaroos. The biblical mandate presupposes that we already think enough of our selves and care enough for ourselves to set a reasonable standard for how we ought treat others. The self-esteem movement assumes that we need to focus more attention on ourselves before we even begin to think about anyone else’s needs or wants.

 As Christians we may or may not be able to change the trajectory of our self-focused culture (2nd Timothy 3:2). However, we can model healthy self-care (a biblical concept) and show people that it is possible to be happy, fulfilled and cared for without having a romantic relationship with ones self.

Why Kneeling During the Anthem is Not Fighting for Civil Rights-


I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, 
tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb~ Revelation 7:9 NIV

 This post began as an ugly rant detailing my personal loathing of purely symbolic forms of protest. Most of my anger was targeted at what I see as a stupid, futile and divisive effort to bring attention to the real problem of racism in America. After some thought I concluded that the subjects of racism and protests against racism are worthy of a slightly more nuanced approach than an angry rant.

 So.

 I will begin by saying that if there was ever something worthy of a protest its racism. Hating or discriminating against anyone because of their skin color is ridiculous, prideful, and totally anti-Christian at its core. Racism is not something that should be tolerated in Christian circles (more on that later) or in a civilized society.

 That being said.

Some have compared the protests of the 1960’s to football players kneeling during the national anthem. There really is no comparison between the heroism of the Civil Rights Movement and the kneeling during the national anthem idiocy we see today.

 With a few notable exceptions (all of them white) the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were severely marginalized people who lacked power, money, influence and options. There were literally no other alternatives open to them other than peaceful protest to draw attention to their plight. It’s also important to note that those protesters were not attempting to vilify their country or the people in it. They were simply striving to bring much-needed attention to a very real problem plaguing our nation.

Furthermore, the Civil Rights Movement had an endgame in mind (an end to Jim Crow laws and the disenfranchisement of black voters). The leaders of the movement used protests in conjunction with legal action as they worked at a grassroots level to transform attitudes regarding race. The efforts of those brave men and women paid off. Hearts, minds and laws were changed. As a result America became a better country, not a perfect country by any means, but certainly a better one.

 The football players protesting today are not marginalized poor people living out their lives on the fringes of society. They are some of the wealthiest and most advantaged people in all the world. If they wished to do something meaningful to solve the plethora of problems troubling the black community they certainly have the power, influence and financial resources to do almost anything they wanted to do.

 However, these athletes are not interested in doing the work it takes to become change agents. They simply want to bellyache about things they don’t like in the most public, contentious and annoying way imaginable. To add insult to injury, they malign the nation and the people who have made them wealthy beyond reason for playing what is arguably just a dumb game.

 Sigh.

 I do not begrudge anyone the right to express him or herself in any way they see fit. If overindulged football players want to kneel rather than stand during the anthem that is totally cool with me. That said, I will not be purchasing any overpriced football fan crap for my family.

 But, I digress.

 My biggest issue with these types of protests is that they are purely symbolic. No words exist for how much I despise pointless symbolism. The Civil Rights protests were not empty acts of symbolism. Protesters sought to bring attention to racial injustice by acting in ways that impacted the cities where the protests took place in peaceable, but consequential ways. Kneeling during the anthem is the equivalent of telling a homeless person to “go, be warm and well fed” (James 2:16). Symbolic fits of melodrama do nothing to solve real problems and ultimately just spread dissension and pit Americans against each other (Proverbs 16:28).

It’s just wrong.

 God does not see skin color the way we see skin color. When God sees the variations in our skin tone He sees the beloved creation that He declared to be “very good” (Genesis 1:27-31). It’s our responsibility as Jesus followers to help our foolish and sin-sick world see the issues of our day the way God sees those issues. We do that by living our lives in a colorblind fashion and by pointing people back to the God who loves everyone and hates biases based on superficial and irrelevant things like skin color (James 2:1, 8-9).

 And by shunning purely symbolic, stupid forms of protest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should Christians and Non-Christians be Friends?

 Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character~ 1st Corinthians 15:33 NIV

 I subscribe to a number of Christian leadership blogs, podcasts and websites. Most of the stuff I subscribe to is pretty good. A few are hit or miss and one or two are just kind of meh. The best ones consistently tackle issues I have never thought very deeply about, challenge my biases, and help me think more imaginatively about problem solving. The not-so-great ones tend to hit on the same dozen or so issues over and over again and never really give any answers, just raise a lot questions.

 Over the course of the last couple of years, I have noted a clear trend regarding the subject matter of many of the blogs I subscribe to. All of them have been encouraging Christians to be bolder in their pursuit of authentic and meaningful friendships with sinners (their word, not mine). A few have openly scolded other Christians for not having and pursuing more intimate friendships with non-Christians. Every article I’ve read on the subject holds Jesus up as the example we ought to follow when it comes to pursuing friendships with “sinners”.

For the record, I believe with all my heart Christians ought to pursue friendships with non-Christian people (more on that later). However, I am convinced this teaching trend has become dangerously unbalanced because it presumes without offering cautions.

 I will begin with the presumptions.

 The most common presumption is that Jesus spent most or all of His time just chilling with sinners. To hear many pastors and teachers tell it, Jesus spent every moment of His life on earth at the local bars, crack houses and brothels hugging and high-fiving the local riff-raff.  

 He didn’t.

 A careful reading of the gospels reveals that Jesus did indeed attend events and parties where “sinners” were present (a very big deal in His world). We also know that Jesus was kind and welcoming to everyone (including sinners) and He definitely wasn’t shy about interacting with sinners or building meaningful relationships with very messed-up people (Luke 19:1-9, John 4). However, that was one part of His over-all ministry. Jesus spent most of His time with the twelve disciples and others (Luke 8:1-3, Luke 10:1) who were interested in following Jesus and learning to live a holy life.

 The second assumption many make is that the culture Jesus ministered in was exactly like the culture we live in.

Its’ simply not true.

Jesus lived in and ministered to a predominately Jewish culture where even the most messed-up “sinners” understood exactly what the Bible had to say about sin (John 4, Luke 9:1-9). This meant that the pre-evangelistic work of helping folks recognize the reality that they are sinners in need of redemption was done long before they came into contact with Jesus. We live in a post-Christian/atheistic culture where few people know or care about what the Bible has to say about much of anything. Even fewer feel guilt or remorse over their behavior. This difference is subtle and may seem trivial. However, it’s a difference that dramatically affects the dynamics of interacting with non-Christians. At the very least it makes spiritually productive conversations more difficult, and relationships trickier to navigate.

 And finally:

Some are assuming we are all a heck of lot more like Jesus than we actually are. Jesus was the perfect, sinless Son of God on a mission to save the world from the bondage and consequences of sin.

We are not Jesus.

 Even in our redeemed state we are still people who possess a sin nature (1st John 1:8). We are people who have been saved by the kindness and mercy of  a seriously benevolent God and nothing else (Ephesians 2:9). We are also people who have been commanded by a holy God to live a life of purity, holiness and righteousness (1st Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 5:3, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, 1st Peter 1:14-16, Hebrews 12:14). Our calling to holiness is sometimes made more difficult by our choice of friendships (Proverbs 13:20, Psalm 1, 1st Corinthians 15:33).

 All that being said, I still really believe Christians ought to be intentional about seeking out friendships with non-Christian people. People have to be led to Jesus and the only way that will happen in this culture will be through cultivating relationships. However, we need to initiate relationships with non-Christian people wisely and prayerfully, keeping two truths firmly in mind.

 First, the Bible warns us repeatedly concerning the dangers of spending an inappropriate amount of time around those who may tempt us to sin (Jude 22, 2nd Corinthians 6:14-15, 1st John 2:15-16). Secondly, we need to remember that we will NEVER lead anyone to Jesus if we make a habit out of sinning with them.

 

The Words we Have Abused and Misused to our Own Peril-

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint~ Proverbs 17:27a NIV

 I am a staunch defender of free speech.

 Free speech is ultimately the underpinning of every other human freedom. No one really has the freedom to do much of anything if they cannot first discuss what they want to do freely and without fear of retaliation.

 That said,

 I have developed some very real preferences as to when, how and where others exercise their right to say what they want to say, especially if they are determined to say something moronic, crude or ignorant.

 I have grown particularly weary of creative uses of the F-bomb. I am not a fan of the current trend of augmenting the F-word with suffixes such as -tard, nugget, weasel, blossom, weed or -ity. Neither do I advocate the adding of prefixes to said word, especially other swear words.

 Truth-be-told I would prefer that we keep the use of any and all F-bombs to a minimum in public spaces. It’s not that I wish to stifle creativity or prevent folks from conceiving new ways of using old words. It’s just that I support the old-school notion that free speech doesn’t give anyone the right to be a foul-mouthed turd in front of someone else’s preschooler.

 There are other words I object to simply because I am sick to death of hearing them used incorrectly. I am not talking about the standard grammar-cop kind of stuff some folks get bent out of shape over. How one chooses to use words like their, there and they’re is entirely their business. That being said, I do reserve the right to silently mock anyone who uses those words incorrectly.

 My issue is with words that are used by people who have no idea what those words actually mean.

 Take for example the word “fascist”.

 Historically speaking a fascist is simply a socialist who also squashes free speech, regulates the public and private behavior of citizens, and eliminates any religious expression that does not directly support the interests of the state. Fascists will punish anyone who is unwilling to conform to standards set by the state.

 For the record, politely declining to bake a cake for a gay wedding does not make one a fascist. Although, to be fair it could be argued that a government that would penalize someone for not baking a cake for a gay wedding has clearly stepped over the line into fascism.

 Nazi is another word that makes me crazy.

 Nazi’s are for all intents and purposes just extraordinarily bigoted and brutal fascists. Contrary to popular belief, those who believe in rigorous immigration standards and border enforcement are not Nazi’s. They are just people who believe in borders and the rule of law. It is silly to classify anyone as a Nazi unless they are advocating for or committing actual acts of genocide.

 People who don’t agree with a particular set of political views are not Nazis and fascists. They are just people who have a different set of views.  It is not nice, wise or morally justifiable to demonize someone simply because they see the world differently than you do.

 That’s what Nazi’s and fascists do.

 Another peeve of mine is when folks overuse a perfectly good word. The word “offended” is a perfect example of a good word gone bad due to overuse. Not a day goes by that I don’t overhear someone sniveling about how offended they happen to be.

 The list of things I find offensive these days is nearly endless. On any given day I am offended at least a dozen times. You know what happens when I am offended?

 Nothing.

 I don’t demonstrate, cry, set things on fire or demand a puppy to cuddle (even though I love puppies). I don’t do any of those things because I am an adult and I figured out a long time ago that offended-ness is the price we pay to live in democracy where people have the freedom to make choices about what they do and believe.

 When we overuse, misuse or abuse a word that word loses it’s meaning as well as its shock value. Words like Nazi, fascist, and even offended are powerful words that ought to shock us when we hear them. When we stop being shocked by words like Nazi and fascist we may find ourselves unable to recognize an actual fascist or Nazi when they knock down our door and take our freedom.  

 

 

 

Where We Went Wrong With the Millennial Generation

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things~ 1st Corinthians 13:11 NKJV

 Over the last dozen or so years a countless number of articles and blog posts have been written on the subject of the Millennial generation and their well-documented indifference towards organized religion in general and Christianity in particular.

 Most writers focus almost entirely on solving the immediate spiritual crisis. Concerned parties want to reach the eighty percent who have wandered from the faith, before the entire generation is irrevocably lost to secularism, humanism, and atheism. I truly care about reaching the millennial generation on a spiritual level. However, I believe its every bit as imperative we understand how we got into this mess in first place.

 History is always critically important.

 Unless we know where we went wrong in a particular area we will be doomed to repeat the same stupid mistake until we die. Sadly, a countless number of blunders were made with the millennial generation. Parents, schools and churches all carry a share of the blame.

It all began with how my generation was raised.

Few in my generation were ever told we were special or smart when we were kids. This was true even when we did things that were genuinely special or smart. We were seldom permitted to voice our opinions or encouraged to share our thoughts. It was NEVER okay to contradict an adult. So when we became parents we did what Americans do when they encounter a wrong.

 We overcompensated.

 We told our kids a hundred times a day that they were smarter, more special and better informed than any children in the history of forever. If they pooped we threw a party, complete with M&M’s and party hats. If they shared an opinion, we celebrated that opinion no matter how irrational or poorly thought-out it happened to be. We insisted every kid get a trophy and made certain no child ever felt less than AWESOME about his or her academic or athletic abilities, regardless of actual ability.

 Educators were quick to focus on feelings rather than facts and hop on to the self-esteem bandwagon. Discipline went out of fashion and subjects like history were taught from an extremely one-sided perspective. Kids were rarely expected to examine both sides of an issue nor were they taught to judge historical figures actions and attitudes in the context of the time period they lived in. Absurd viewpoints were rarely, if ever challenged in academic settings.

 Churches and youth ministries focused on having fun, forming relationships and making kids feel good about themselves. Learning the Bible was dropped in favor of “service projects” and “doing life together”. The whole notion of sin was marginalized. Youth ministries focused on transforming children not yet out of puberty, including some who exhibited no indications of salvation into “leaders” who would “reach their generation for Jesus”. Do not judge, lest you be judged (Matthew 7:1) was the one Bible verse every high school student memorized.

 The end result of this collective madness has been devastating to our culture.

 Many millennials never let go of childish ideas about life and reality. It’s appallingly common for grown people to think that feelings are more important than facts and that if you believe something to be true then it must be. Many become anxious and overwrought when a flaw is pointed out in their thinking or when a viewpoint that differs from their own is presented. That is why we now have “safe spaces” on college campuses and in workplaces, to shield people from words or ideas that make them uncomfortable.

 Sigh.  

 The most tragic consequences of our folly have manifested themselves in the realm of the spiritual. Many millennials believe that if a Bible verse FEELS wrong to them then the Bible got it wrong on that subject. Because teenagers were placed in positions of spiritual leadership long before they were actually converted, acquired any wisdom or knew much of anything about the Bible; many are prideful and will not tolerate correction, even when the correction comes directly out of the Bible.

 Sadly, that is the root reason many millennials have left the church to “work out their own spiritual experience”. They simply cannot tolerate the fact that there is a higher authority than them, be it God or the Bible.

 We must change the way we look at life, God, parenting, and the nature of reality. It’s time to put away childish thoughts about such things and think like adults, this is especially true for Christians.

 It is time to acknowledge some basic truths: facts are more important than feelings, believing something does not make it true and only children shield themselves from ideas that challenge their thinking or hurt their feelings. While we’re at it we need to get back to the understanding that God is real and due to His position as Creator and Sustainer of all things He really does have a fundamental right to tell us what to do.

 Before it’s too late.