Six Principles That Will Keep any Relationship Healthy, Happy and Thriving-

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift~ Matthew 5:23-24

 Relationships.

 The blessing and curse of human existence.

 When our closest relationships are healthy and thriving, there is little in this life more rewarding.  When a close relationship goes bad there is literally nothing more miserable and angst-inducing.  

 In our chaotic, sin-sick world fragmented relationships are pretty much a given. Almost half of marriages end in divorce, friendships end as quickly as they begin, business associations rarely stand the test of time and churches routinely split over the stupidest stuff imaginable. We live in a culture that has trained us to believe that life is “all about me”. This creates an environment where it feels natural to treat relationships like disposable commodities. We have basically forgotten the principle found in Proverbs that reminds us never to forsake a friend or the friend of a family member- (Proverbs 27:10a)

 The Bible clearly teaches that Christians bear an extra measure of responsibility when it comes to the care, keeping and healing of relationships. We are reminded over and over again in Scripture that human relationships are not always easy but the difficulties involved in maintaining healthy relationships will make us better people (Proverbs 27:6, Proverbs 27:17).  Christians are directed to treat others the way they want to be treated and encouraged to take the initiative when it comes to reconciling broken relationships (Matthew 7:12, Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 5:23-24, Luke 12:58). Repairing damaged relationships and helping others to do the same is probably the most basic task Christians are called to in this life (2nd Corinthians 5:12-18) The process begins with understanding and choosing to live out the following six principles:

 If something feels wrong assume something is wrong-

 Never trivialize or ignore the niggling sense you may have caused offense or alienated another person (Proverbs 18:19). When in doubt ask how the other person is feeling and/or modify your behavior. The earlier a damaged relationship is attended to the simpler it is to repair.

 Do not short-circuit the recovery process-

 Anytime we jump to simply restoring a broken relationship without working through the issues that fractured the relationship in the first place we set in motion a series of events that will inevitably lead to even more brokenness and hurt. Problems need to be talked out, not glossed over if we want to see permanent recovery in the relationship and personal growth in ourselves. 

 Be willing to assume at least partial responsibility for any relationship fracture-  

 I truly loathe the adage: “perception is reality”. Mostly because if you really break it down it sounds like something a really crazy person would say. However, when it comes to hurt in relationships perception really is reality. It is critical we remember ALL human beings tend to be self-absorbed and blind to their own faults. For that reason, it is possible to hurt another person without knowing how we hurt them. Healthy, mature believers are always open to the idea that they may not understand how their words or actions have affected another person

 Accept the other person’s opinions regarding the situation-

 If someone lets you know the relationship has been broken or feels they were wronged by you it is not wise, kind or emotionally intelligent to write that person off as stupid, incorrect, easily hurt or just plain clueless. As Christians we owe it to God and people to find out why others feel the way they feel about situations that involve us—even when we truly believe we have done nothing wrong.  Not caring about the other persons side of things is both narcissistic and grossly sinful.  The only time we are free from the obligation of exploring the other person’s perspective is if the individual flatly refuses to communicate with us.

 Be willing to let some things go-

 Our personal relationships matter to God because relationship health is a measure of our spiritual health and maturity level. It is also reasonable to say that from God’s perspective relationships are nearly always worth preserving (Proverbs 17:9). The key to achieving relationship health is a willingness to let some things go. Cruelty, gas lighting, unfaithfulness in marriage or flagrant disrespect for the other person is never okay. That said, most other issues can be worked through if both parties are willing to listen, change and forgive.

Choose to view relationship troubles as opportunities for growth- 

 No normal, healthy or sane human being likes relationship issues. That said, truly mature people view all problems including relationship problems as an opportunity for growth rather than a hassle or a personal attack.

 The health of our relationships is a measure of our maturity. It is also a reflection of the power of our God in the eyes of unbelievers. A God who has the power to impact our relationships is a God worth following. For that reason Christians should do everything they can do to ensure their relationships are healthy and God honoring. 

 

The Things That Kill Marriages


As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife~ Proverbs 26:21 NIV

My husband Alan and I are old. This reality is demonstrated in the number of years we have been married. We are currently closing in on the third decade of our marriage. The benefits and blessings of a lasting marriage are too innumerable to count. We have both come to really know another person on the deepest level possible in this life and as a result we have come to grasp what both love and forgiveness really looks like. It is also fair to say that we both know Jesus a little better than we would have without the other and without the challenges that marriage brings. 

One of the sadder realities of a lasting marriage is that over the years we have seen a lot of Christian people we have genuinely loved and respected fail epically at the art of staying married. Besides the obvious and widely understood reasons for marital failure (infidelity, selfishness, finances and in-law issues) most marital failures are the sad result of just a couple (well seven) behaviors and attitudes which always lead to break in relationship. If broken relationships are not mended properly the end result is death of the relationship. Those behaviors include:

Lies-

The ways humans can be deceitful are nearly infinite. They include (but are not limited to) hiding things, emotional affairs, fabricating stories, infidelity, not telling the whole story and helping children to hide sin from the other parent. All deceitfulness is sin (Exodus 20, Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9) and sin poisons marriages. Commit to keeping it honest in your marriage. This commitment will undoubtedly force you to suffer through some uncomfortable moments of truth-telling but overall you will have a healthier, happier more rewarding relationship.  

Disrespect-

With all due respect (no pun intended) to Emerson Eggerichs, author of the popular book Love and Respect, romantic love simply cannot exist or survive without respect for the other person being present in the relationship. Mutual respect is an integral part of love. Relationships lacking in mutual respect die ugly, horrifying deaths (1stPeter 2:17).  Furthermore, contrary to popular belief even touchy-feely, girly-girl types of women need to FEEL respected in order to FEEL loved. We show respect to our spouse by watching our words and being careful about the tone we use. Husbands and wives who respect one another do not make decisions without consulting the other partner and they are always careful to speak well of their spouse to other people.  It is also critical that both the husband and the wife endeavor to behave in a way that is respectful in order for marriages to go the distance (Titus 2:2, 1stTimothy 3:11). 

Pornography addiction- 

I am convinced that at the heart of all addiction is the sin of idolatry. Once an addiction takes root in a person’s life the addict gets something from the addictive behavior that they should only get from God (a sense of wellbeing, relief from stress, comfort, peace). Because idolatry is a serious sin, God cannot bless the relationships or life of someone who is willingly bowing down (metaphorically speaking) to a false God (Exodus 34:17,1st John 5:21).  Further complicating the whole messy mess pornography is the act of inviting a third party into a relationship that was intended only for two people (Exodus 20:14, Hebrews 13:4). Even if the spouse is unaware of the pornography there will be spiritual and emotional consequences to viewing pornography. Intimacy will be compromised, walls will form and trust will be broken. These things can happen without the other person even understanding the nature of the problem. Just don’t. 

Lack of self-awareness on the part of one or both parties- 

Seriously. If a person is not aware of their own behavior and how their behavior is affecting other people they will never fix the problems in a relationship. Self-awareness comes through the practice of regular self-examination (1stCorinthians 11:28, 2ndCorinthians 13:5) and by looking for clues that we are loving our spouse in a way that makes them feel loved and cared for. 

Refusing to change-

No one knows it when they say “I do” but marriage is simply an invitation to change the attitudes and behaviors in our life that desperately need changing. For married people marriage is the tool that God uses to reveal our selfishness, pride and relational shortcomings. If we respond to those revelations by changing our ways, marriage becomes the tool God uses to mold us into the people He wants us to be (Colossians 3:5-12). When we refuse to change the things in our life that cause us or others pain we are effectively refusing God and everything He wants to do in our lives. Refusing God always invites bigger trouble and more pain.   

Unforgiveness-

“I forgive you” is more than just a syrupy sentiment or some empty words we utter to get the positive feels back in our relationship. Forgiveness is the choice to completely let go of hostility, resentment and the right to seek revenge for legitimate wrongs committed against us by another person. Forgiveness is without question the most arduous, gut wrenching, pride busting thing Christians are ordered to do (Matthew 6:15). It is also simply a fact that no marriage will survive without forgiveness.

Expecting everything to be fair and equal-

It won’t be, so the wise thing to do is to get over the notion everything should be fair and equal quickly (Luke 6:38). Marriage is not a fifty/fifty proposition. In a healthy marriage each partner is doing their best to give one hundred percent all the time but no one in the relationship EVER keeps score because scorekeeping always signals the beginning of the end of every marriage.  

Why Bitterness Feels Good-

I loathe my very life; therefore, I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul~ Job 10:1 NIV

 Bitterness is not a subject we discuss much in church. It should be, because bitterness is an ugly sin everyone struggles with at some point in their lives.

 This is because bitterness is a byproduct of living in a fallen world. All people are sinners (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12-14). Sinners universally have a tough time seeing their own faults and issues. They also have a tough time seeing the effect their faults and issues have on those around them. Because most people, even most redeemed people are really just clueless bumblers. People hurt others, sometimes without even realizing they are doing it. There are evil people who hurt others intentionally simply because they like hurting people, but in my experience those people are fairly rare. Most folks just stumble around blindly, not realizing how much suffering they are generating with their actions.

Sigh

  I have done my time in the pit of bitterness. Thanks to God’s mercy I came out of it with my faith, sanity and love for humanity firmly intact. Through the process of getting free I learned a thing or two about this rather painful subject. Following are four things every Christian should understand about the sin of bitterness:  

 Bitterness feels awesome-

 Most people only become bitter over legitimate hurts or injustices (Luke 17:1). Only a very few excessively sensitive souls become really bitter over stuff that wasn’t a big deal in the first place.  As a result, when we wallow around in bitterness it feels AWESOME, at least at first. Alcohol and bitterness have some things in common. Alcohol is a slow-acting poison. As we drink the poison begins to work we feel euphoric and awesome at first. However, if we drink too much for too long our choice to indulge can end in sickness, liver failure, brain damage and sometimes even death. Bitterness acts on our spirits in much the same way alcohol acts on our bodies. Because bitterness is usually the result of a valid hurt, nursing feelings of bitterness is emotionally satisfying and it feels great at least in the beginning.  However, if we do not get a firm handle on our bitter feelings the choice to indulge them inevitably ends in the spiritual equivalent of acute alcohol poisoning or liver failure. Every analogy breaks down at some point and it is true of this one as well. The biggest difference between alcohol and bitterness is that a little bit of bitterness is never okay and there are no known benefits to bitterness. No one can indulge in a bitter spirit and walk away unscathed because bitterness is far more addictive and damaging than alcohol could ever be.   

 Prevention is the best medicine for bitterness-

 Hebrews 12:15 warns against allowing the sin of bitterness to take root in our lives. The text says: See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. The “see to it” wording of this verse tells us that the writer believed individuals have some personal responsibility when it comes to the sin of bitterness. There are times when circumstances that produce bitter roots appear out of nowhere and we have zero control over whether or not to allow those situations into our lives. There are also times when we simply cannot walk away from people or circumstances that have the potential to make us bitter. When that happens, our spiritual and moral responsibility is to deal with our feelings before God in a healthy way so that bitterness has no opportunity to take root in our lives.  That being said, there are also times in life when we willingly place ourselves in situations, or refuse to walk away from situations that we know from day one will be fertile ground for bitter roots.  Taking responsibility for ourselves in the area of bitterness means being cautious about which situations we allow ourselves to get into and which situations we choose to stay in (Proverbs 6:1-3).   

 Bitterness is a temptation before it is a sin-

 Bitterness is a choice (Ephesians 4:31). Like all choices, bitterness is not something we fall into like helpless chumps. We are tempted long before the sin overtakes us (1stCorinthians 10:13). Wise, mature Christians are emotionally vigilant, they pay attention to their feelings so that they can avoid getting caught-up in something sinful, like bitterness (1stPeter 5:8).

 It is possible to get free of bitterness-

 Getting free from the sin of bitterness begins with recognizing that wallowing around in bitterness is every bit as sinful as whatever situation caused us to become bitter in the first place. In other words, we must confess our own sin. Then we must forgive the person who sinned against us. A key component of forgiving others is trusting God to deal with the person who sinned against us.  Praying for the person who sinned against us can help us let go of the desire for revenge.  Forgiveness is never easy and is typically a process that takes time. To get free we must take our hurt and pain to God until we are free from the hurt, anger and bitterness.  

What the Kavanaugh Hearings Say About our Culture-

Buy the truth and do not sell it— wisdom, instruction and insight as well~ Proverbs 23:23 NIV

 My husband and I are not exactly world travelers.  In almost three decades of marriage we have left the continental U.S. exactly once (to build houses in Juarez, Mexico). This past week we broke with our pathetic tradition of staying put and made our first trip to Europe. We spent almost two weeks in Ireland and loved every minute of it.  We found the people of Ireland to be genuinely warm, good-natured and hysterically funny. They were quick to engage in conversation with anyone willing to learn about the history of their country.

  In the mornings we drank truly terrible coffee and watched the European news stations (BBC and Sky). The thing about European news is that it’s really short on actual news stories. There were quite a few biased views regarding Brexit and negative opinion pieces thinly disguised as actual news concerning the American president.  However, all the other stories tended to be focused on the environment, events that took place decades ago that have zero relevance to life in this decade and lifestyle pieces. Sadly, European news makes American news look downright illuminating.

 Sigh.

 The one relevant news event that managed to make it across the pond was the scandal brewing at the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. The newscasters in Europe went to great lengths to cover every salacious aspect of the story in grim detail. Most of them had a tough time hiding their glee at the prospect of this particular nominee going down in flames.  

 It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that I have no clue what exactly happened between Bret Kavanaugh and his accuser. No one does. It is the ultimate he-said she-said.  It is clearly evident that Ms. Ford sincerely believes something happened and has experienced pain and trauma. Whether or not it was at the hands of Bret Kavanaugh could not be less clear.  That aside, I believe that most of us are missing the bigger picture. This hearing is about bigger things than this hearing.  Sadly, how the Kavanaugh inquiry is being handled says a lot about where we might be headed as a culture. Following are four major concerns we should all have about this situation and how it’s being conducted.

 We are rapidly devolving into a people that believes that the hoped-for outcome of any given situation always justifies the means used to achieve that outcome-

 It is clear that the allegations leveled against Kavanaugh are absurdly partisan at their foundation. If this were not true the matter would have been handled quietly and Ms. Ford would not have become a public figure. It’s clear the Democrats desperately want to prevent Kavanaugh from being confirmed before the mid-term elections because they are hoping to gain enough seats in November to prevent the President from confirming more Justices during his remaining time office. If they succeed they will effectively prevent the President from transforming the political landscape for a generation or more. I do not agree with what the Dems are attempting to do but I do understand what’s motivating them. They believe that the direction the country is headed in under this administration is wrong. Rather than trust the process (as Republicans were forced to do) they have chosen to ruin the reputation of a man based on what can only be described as the thinnest of evidence just so they can get their desired outcome (a more liberal America). It’s a corrupt political move and ultimately it will hurt everyone including the Dems (Proverbs 28:10, Amos 5:14).  

 We have decided that past injustice towards a particular group validates present injustice towards a different group-

 It goes without saying that women have been treated unfairly by men in the past (Proverbs 22:8). Until recently women were not permitted to vote, own property or even decide the direction of their own futures. Additionally, women were seldom believed when they were raped or sexually harassed. Even when they were believed they were frequently blamed for the assault. That said, just because women have been treated badly in the past it does not make it okay to accuse men without evidence in the present (Psalm 5:5). Nor does past injustice towards women automatically make every present allegation against men true.

  We could easily be setting victims of sexual assault back a hundred years-

 Cultural pendulums tend to swing dramatically. So, if we as a society choose to simply believe (and act on) every accusation of sexual assault (no matter how flimsy the evidence). Sooner or later the pendulum is bound to swing back to a place where no one is believed. That will be a sad day for everyone.   

 We are becoming a people who lack moral insight and wisdom-  

 There has been endless dialog surrounding this investigation (Job 13:5) however, none of the talk has centered on the prevention of sexual assault or the prevention of false accusations of sexual assault. We need to get back to a place where we are teaching our boys as well as our girls that attending parties where drunkenness is the sought-after outcome is dangerous and could easily lead to traumatic, life-altering consequences for everyone involved (Proverbs 1:7, Psalm 119:104).

 Period.

 

 

How People Ruin What God is Doing-

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain ~ 2nd Corinthians 6:1 NIV

 I tend to overthink just about everything.

I don’t know if it’s the writer in me or sin or the byproduct of a weird childhood or perhaps I was just born freakishly introspective. Whatever the case may be, I do tend to process events in life by becoming ridiculously and annoyingly reflective.

I actually annoy myself with this idiocy.

Recently, I have spent a lot of time thinking about all the ways decent people can undo God’s work (Romans 14:20). This particular bout of navel gazing was the result of a very nice person coming along and undoing a whole lot of work God has done in a situation I have been dealing with for some time.

Sigh.

All this led me to thinking about the different ways we can undo what God has done in our lives or in the lives of others. There are probably a million ways we can undo the work of God but in the interest of keeping this post to a reasonable and readable length I will stick to four.

The first is:

We undo God’s work when we refuse to believe the gospel story-

The gospel story is simple. We are all sinners who love to sin. Sometimes we sin on accident, other times we sin on purpose. We need Jesus to forgive us, save us from our sin and give us a new nature (2nd Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 2:1-3, Ephesians 2:8-9). Once we are forgiven we are given a new nature and our lives are in Jesus.  Because we are in Jesus we have the power to overcome our most sinful tendencies and vilest proclivities (Romans 8:10, 1st Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 2:10, Colossians 1:27). Most of us do not struggle at all with the first half of the story. Most Christians, at least the authentic ones understand they’re sinners and that they cannot save themselves. It’s the second half of the story that we sometimes fail to grasp. Many do not truly believe Jesus living in us is enough to overcome our struggles with fear, laziness, lust, lying, anger, unbelief or whatever other weird, sinful thing is holding us back from being all that God made us to be. As a result, many of us live lives of spiritual desperation and shame because we are not victorious over our sin nature. We actually undo a lot of the work God did in us at our conversion when we believe the lie that Jesus is not enough. The key to getting free is to understand and acknowledge daily that Christ in us really is enough for us to get free of the sin that tends to entangle us (Philippians 4:13, 2nd Corinthians 12:9). As we do this we must be vigilant about recognizing sin and calling it sin (rather than a bad habit, genetic trait, or a weird personality quirk). Freedom comes when we get into the habit of repenting of sin immediately and we commit to living lives of obedience to God’s word (Hebrews 12:1).  

We undo God’s work when we hold onto worldly attitudes-

The world system we are all a part of teaches us from the day we’re  born that smart people are selfish with their time, energy, and treasure. We also learn that only fools, nincompoops and halfwits give up their “rights” for any reason. Conversely, the Bible teaches the more we give the more we will have (Luke 6:38). The Bible also teaches that sacrificing for the good of others is the key to living a life of joy and personal fulfillment (1st Corinthians 8:9). Basically, the Bible teaches the opposite of what the world teaches us about just about every issue under the sun. We undo God’s work when we revert back to selfish thinking and sinful attitudes.

We undo God’s work when we insist on dealing with people and situations our own way-

Very few Christians actually pray before they act or open their pie-holes (trust me, I’m speaking from experience on this one). Instead we tend to wait until after we have said something outlandishly stupid before we ask God to step in and fix the mess we created by jumping in and dealing with situations with our own limited wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 3:5). God wants us to pray, seek the wisdom of wise counselors and think things through completely before we act (Proverbs 11:14). When we don’t, we sometimes unwittingly undo the things God is attempting to do in our own life or someone else’s life (Proverbs 16:25).    

We undo God’s work when we don’t learn the Bible-

God does a massive work at the point of our conversion.  He gives us all the tools we need to live a successful and fruitful Christian life (2nd Peter 1:3). The most important tool we are given besides the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the Bible. It contains all we need to know and tells us what God wants us to do. When we don’t learn the stories, principles and doctrines of the Bible we cannot possibly know or understand what we have to do to live lives that are pleasing to God. Willfully refusing to become a student of God’s word effectively undoes the work God did in us when we became Christians. 

How “Good” Christian People Self-Destruct-

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him.  1stPeter 5:8-9a NIV

  I have known some Christians, including some Christian leaders who have shipwrecked their lives. When I say shipwrecked I do not mean they briefly made an ugly mess in one area of their perfectly good life, recovered and eventually moved on to bigger, better and more productive things. When I say shipwrecked I mean they made such an epic mess out of their lives and relationships, there is simply no way they will ever completely recover from their choices this side of heaven.

 When a Christian screws their life in an irrevocable kind of a way the rest of us tend to assume the shipwreck occurred as a result of one-great-big-sinful-decision (having an affair, getting addicted to drugs, embezzling money). However, few people ruin their lives all at once. Shipwrecks happen gradually, usually after a lifetime of covering-up and lying about their behavior.  The one great-big-sinful-decision that appears to be the cause of the shipwreck is actually just a symptom of much bigger problem.

 The Bible has a name for this root problem, it’s called “giving the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). There are at least a million different ways a Christian can give the devil a foothold. Giving the devil a foothold basically means that at some point someone willingly gave a small area of their lives over to sin, then chose to keep their behavior a secret. Which effectively permitted that area of their life to become the devil’s playground. Over the course of many years the person in question loses their ability to keep their sin a secret.  Eventually they get caught and their sin becomes obvious to everyone and their life is shipwrecked (Numbers 32:23).

 Sigh.

 The key to avoiding these tragedies is prevention. I already stated that there are at least a million ways we can shipwreck our lives, mostly because the capacity of the human heart to dream up clever ways to sin is nearly boundless (Jeremiah17:9). That being said, the areas where the devil attempts to gain a foothold in a person’s life are fairly standard to everyone. The first is:

 Pride-

 I have never known a person harboring secret sin who did not pridefully assume that they could handle “sinning a little bit”. At the root of this belief is almost always a sense that they are “different” from other people and don’t need to follow the same rules that all the other people have to follow. If pride is left unchecked it inevitably leads to a shipwreck because it causes people to believe that they are better and smarter and worthier than they really are (Proverbs 11:2, Proverbs 29:23, Obadiah 1:3). This belief cause people to do incredibly stupid stuff guaranteed to be their downfall (Proverbs 16:18).

 Covetousness-

 Coveting is not just about wanting things we don’t have. It’s about wanting things that we should never have and refusing to be content with what we do have. Coveting is dangerous because it always leads to bigger sins. It is not wrong to want a wife (or a husband). However, it is wrong to want someone else’s wife or husband (Deuteronomy 5:21).  It is also wrong to want a husband or wife more than we love God (Exodus 20:3). Coveting sex eventually leads to infidelity and/or some kind of sexual deviancy.  Money is not sinful, but loving money and craving material possessions leads to fraud, theft, shady behavior and a miserly unwillingness to share what God has blessed us with.  (1st Timothy 6:10).  Spending an undue amount time thinking about what we wish we had instead of being grateful for what we do have is a huge red flag for this foothold (Hebrews 13:5, 1st Timothy 6:6-7)

 Resentment and unforgiveness-

 Resentment and unforgiveness are without question the devil’s favorite foothold. These sins always lead to bitterness, cynicism, and offense. A bitter, cynical and offended person can easily justify any and every behavior under the sun (Job 36:13). For that reason, resentment and bitterness must be dealt with quickly and decisively before they take root and defile a person (Hebrews 12:15)

 Jealousy-   

 Jealousy is the original gateway sin. It opens the door for every other sin. Jealousy is the reason Cain killed Abel and its why Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery.  No one in the history of forever has ever done anything in a fit of jealousy that they could be proud of (Proverbs 27:4, Galatians 5:19-21).

 Lust-

 Thanks to the internet and a nearly universal lack of self-control in our culture, lust is probably the devil’s most fruitful foothold at this point in history. It almost goes without saying that this one sin has ruined more men and women than any other sin in the history of sin. Lust is dangerous because it is not a difficult sin to hide and it gradually changes the sinner, hardening their heart and making it harder for them to hear from God or to care about hearing from God. When Christians stop hearing from God it is almost inevitable that they will act on the most deviant desires of their heart.

 Sinful footholds are preventable. We avoid them by dealing with our sin on a daily basis and walking in the light of truth.  Once a foothold is formed there is only one way to break its power: honesty. We get free by coming clean and then choosing to live our whole lives in the light (Psalm 119:9, Psalm 119:5, Hebrews 4:13).

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Five Ways to Curse Your Stupid Self


Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, so a curse without cause does not alight~ Proverbs 26:2 NASB

 The word curse or curses is used a total of 178 times in the Bible. The conspicuously large number of times the word is used in the biblical text has led many to believe that God is all about cursing people. A lot of folks (including some Christians) believe God spends His spare time scanning the planet looking for those He can lay a horrible hex on.

  In the interest of fairness, I feel the need to point out that the only record I could find of God actually cursing anyone or anything is in the book of Genesis. In chapter three God lays out a series of curses related to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden of Eden.

 Issues of fairness aside, the Bible does not hesitate to reference the concept of curses.  The better part of Deuteronomy twenty-eight is just one long list of ghastly curses that will befall the Israelite people if they don’t get their spiritual act together and keep it that way. That passage coupled with the many other references to the word beg the question: Does God curse people for doing the wrong thing?

 I think not.

 Not that I don’t believe curses are a real thing. There are simply too many biblical references to the subject for a serious Christian to dismiss the whole thing as twaddle or voodoo. That said, God does not curse people willy-nilly just because they displease or annoy Him.

 It’s a bit more complicated than all that.

 God has designed the universe in such a way that if we do certain things certain consequences are inevitable. If someone places their hand on a hot stove, pain predictably follows. God does not cause anyone to put their hand on a stove and God certainly does not burn anyone’s hand.  Consequences occur because they are built into the design of the universe.  God doesn’t curse us.  We curse ourselves.  Following are four weird ways we bring curses on our own stupid selves.

 We curse ourselves when we refuse to break sinful patterns of the past-

 Many believe they are cursed to do stupid stuff because they a had a parent or grandparent or great-grandparent who did stupid stuff.  They believe that because some distant relative sinned in some foolhardy way God cursed the entire family line to sin exactly the same way for the rest of history.  It is true that patterns of sinful behavior run in families. It is also true that sinful behavior and attitudes can run deep. That said, the Bible makes it clear that God does not hold children responsible for the sins of the parents (Ezekiel 18:1-32). Furthermore, these types of curses are not difficult to break. Once a person repents of a sinful attitude or behavior the curse is broken.  Case closed.    

 We curse ourselves when we harshly judge situations we don’t understand or haven’t lived through-

 Back in the day my husband and I had some friends who were extremely critical and vocal in their criticism of how we parented our oldest daughter. We weren’t strict enough, we let her stay up too late, we let her eat too much candy, we didn’t discipline her enough or in the correct way. We naturally assumed that when these people had kids their kids would be the best behaved, sweetest, most well-mannered children in the history of children. They weren’t. They were awful. Those children were so dreadfully awful that both sets of grandparents refused to babysit them. I don’t say this to gloat (at least I am trying not to) I say this to make a point. When we judge people, we tend to repeat the same sins of the people we judge (Matthew 7:2), typically, we do this without even realizing we are doing it.

 We curse ourselves when we choose to become bitter-

 Anytime we chose the path of bitterness over the path of forgiveness we are cursed to become exactly like the people we refuse to forgive. I am not entirely certain why or how this happens. That said, I have observed it happen enough times to know it’s a real thing. I suspect we become like the person we are bitter towards because bitterness causes us to become extremely focused (in a very unhealthy way) on that one person. Having so much of our mental energy focused on the negative aspects of one person causes us, over time, to take on the characteristics of that person without being aware of what we are doing. So, if you do not wish to become a mirror image of your gossipy, critical Mother or your angry, alcoholic Father I strongly suggest you forgive immediately (Hebrews 12:15).  

 We curse ourselves when we refuse the Holy Spirit-  

 Anytime God tells us to do anything in His word or the Holy Spirit prompts us to action and we choose to ignore those promptings we curse ourselves.  Ignoring God hardens our hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8, Hebrews 4:7). The harder our hearts become the more difficult it becomes to discern truth from God’s word, to hear His still-small voice or even to care when the Holy Spirit prompts us to action.

 That perhaps is the worst curse of all.

Four Reasons Christians are Not Impacting the Culture-

 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge~ Romans 10:2 NIV

It’s been a week.

 It all started last Sunday night when the overlords at Facebook decided my last not political at all blog post was too political and refused to promote it. This seriously irritated me and I am not easily daunted when I’m seriously irritated about something. So, I dug through the archives, unearthed an older post,  made some edits, published the older post and got the-powers-that-be to promote that one instead.

 Hah.

 The older post was about sex and how Christian attitudes towards sexuality have evolved over the course of the last five decades. I stated in the post that I am convinced that the majority of Christians today believe what most non-Christians in the 1970’s and 1980’s believed about sex: that the rightness and wrongness of sex is determined not by a spiritual or legal commitment (marriage) but rather by a feeling of “being in love”. My theory is backed-up by the fact that sixty-four percent of adult Christians surveyed no longer believe it is wrong to have sex outside of marriage.

  An astute reader asked the following question regarding that statistic:

 “Has anybody bothered to ask the 64% of Christians aged 18-59 surveyed if they are aware of the Scriptures that explicitly condemn fornication (sex outside of marriage)? And, then, if they ARE aware of them, why they feel they have the right to IGNORE those Scriptures?”

 This question got me thinking about why we are where we are today. Not just concerning sex but a whole host of issues.  It is simply a fact that there are a large number of Christians who claim to love Jesus who, for whatever reason are not taking their cues on how to live life from the Bible (John 8:31, John 8:51, 2nd John 1:9).   

 Sigh.

 It’s convenient to blame outside factors like liberal sex education and secular entertainment for problems inside the church. However, outside factors cannot force anyone to do anything they don’t really want to do.  I believe there are at least four reasons why Christians are not doing what the Bible tells them to do.

 We do not use our time well-

 There are 168 hours in every week and 672 hours in the average (four week) month. The majority of church services are precisely one hour long. The average self-identified “committed Christian” attends church 1.2 times a month. Sunday school is no longer a thing in most churches and most small groups are more about friendship than Bible study. Moreover, according to a study done by Lifeway only twenty percent of “committed Christians” read or listen to the Bible daily. Conversely, the average adult spends twenty hours a week surfing the internet, five hours a day watching television and ninety minutes a day staring mindlessly at their phone.  It should not shock anyone that we have forgotten how to think biblically, Christian teaching is not a primary influence in our lives anymore (Hebrews 10:24-25, 1st Corinthians 15:33).

  Fearing God is not a thing anymore-

 The whole notion of fearing God is thought to be rather strange and antiquated these days. We have been taught ad nauseum that the entirety of all Christian teaching can and should be summed up with “love God” and “love people” However, we have forgotten that we are commanded more times in Scripture to fear God than we are told to love Him. Loving God is noble, good and absolutely essential but we need to remember that fearing God is equally as noble, good and no less essential. Fearing God is also the first step to acquiring wisdom and the key to living a life that pleases God (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 2:5, Proverbs 14:27). Fearing God simply means that we really believe that God will do what He says He will do.

  There’s a lot of biblical ignorance out there-

 One reason Christians don’t do what the Bible says is because they don’t know what the Bible says. It is tempting to lay the blame for this one squarely at the feet of pastors, but I am not sure that is entirely fair. It is true that most churches have adopted a “seeker friendly” model where little emphasis is placed on doctrine or the teaching of Christian ethics during Sunday morning services. However, it is also true that we live in a time and place where everyone has access to Bibles, commentaries on Scripture and books about the Bible. Biblical ignorance is truly a choice in our day and age (Proverbs 1:29, Matthew 13:12, 2ndPeter 1:5-7).

 Too many of us get spiritually stuck after salvation-

 God never intended for salvation to be the end goal of all things spiritual in the life of a Christian. Rather, salvation is meant to be the starting place of a lifelong journey of faith and transformation (Matthew 28:19-20). In recent years the whole notion of discipleship has taken a backseat to evangelism. We must focus on both.  

 Like it or not, what we do and how we choose to behave as Jesus followers matters because God has called His people (you and me) to be a preserving influence in the culture (Matthew 5:13-16, 1stPeter 2:12). When we do what God tells us to do, people who don’t know God want to know God. When we don’t, those same people rightly dismiss Christianity as just another religion that lacks the power to change anyone or anything.  The good news in all of this is that we can change what the world thinks.

 All we have to do is submit to God.

 

 

Seven Behaviors Guaranteed to Kill Your Marriage-

Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction~ Proverbs 17:19 NIV

 Marriage season is upon us once again and because my husband and I have reached the stage in life where we get invited to attend a lot of weddings I have been thinking quite a bit about the subject of marriage.  More specifically I have been thinking about why some marriages go the distance and others don’t.

 Contemporary wisdom tells us that prevention is key to avoiding marital shipwrecks.  Finding the right person, getting the right counseling beforehand and “being ready for marriage” are exalted as the gold standard of divorce prevention. It would be the height of foolishness to argue against the need for relational compatibility and pre-marital counseling. The importance of those things is obvious, and while I don’t think anyone is ever truly “ready for marriage”. Reaching a certain level of maturity before getting married is without question helpful to the over-all success of any marriage.  

 That said.

 All the pre-marital preparation in the world will not overcome stupidity, meanness, willful sin or relationship mismanagement. What we do after the vows are said is every bit as important (if not more so) than what we do before they are said. There are a number of common blunders people make in marriage that go way beyond mere mistakes, poor choices or communication snafus.  They are behaviors and attitudes that will literally kill a marriage if they are not corrected (and repented of) quickly.  

 The seven marriage killers are:

 The silent treatment-

 The silent treatment is a control tactic used by narcissistic people to bring about change they want to see in the relationship without actually discussing issues or compromising on solutions to problems. The silent treatment is at best, a sign of serious emotional immaturity and at worst it is a serious form of abuse. Those who use it need to understand that it tends to backfire over time. In the beginning of a relationship most partners will respond to silence by doing whatever they think needs to be done to get the conversation started again and the relationship back on track. That said, healthy people will eventually tire of the game playing and begin to distance themselves emotionally from the silencer, if emotional distance is not course-corrected in a marriage divorce is almost always inevitable. It all comes down to learning to use your words and being willing to compromise (Ephesians 5:21). It’s what grown-ups do in grown-up relationships.   

 Pornography-

 Conventional “wisdom” tells us that pornography is only a problem if one party in the relationship objects or if one person looks at pornography without the other being present. This “wisdom” is worldly idiocy. Nothing does more to create an environment where sin can flourish or erodes trust between two people more quickly than pornography (Exodus 20:14). Looking at pornography is the act of bringing other people into the part of the relationship that was intended (by God) for only the husband and the wife. Bringing pornography into a marriage directly contradicts the command given in Hebrews 13:4 to “keep the marriage bed pure and undefiled”. Pornography is not an acceptable or smart way to “spice things up”.

 Deceit-

 Deceitfulness can take on many different forms including emotional affairs, physical affairs, hiding financial information or just generally keeping secrets from the other person. Whatever form deceitfulness takes it puts up walls in the relationship and destroys trust. Marriages simply will not survive without trust.  (Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9, Proverbs 17:19, Deuteronomy 5:18).

 Using sex as a weapon

 Sex is one of those sticky-wicket issues that most couples avoid talking about to the detriment of the relationship. Don’t. Sex is one of the key reasons most people (especially Christian people) get married so it ought to be discussed. Do not get in the habit of withholding sex as “punishment” for real or imagined offenses. It’s not nice and it’s not biblical (1stCorinthians 7:4).

 Disrespect-  

 Disrespect covers a whole range of behaviors. It encompasses screaming, rudeness, spitefulness and not taking the other person’s desires, preferences or needs into consideration.  The worst and most damaging kind of disrespect almost always involves the words we use (Proverbs 12:18, Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:29). Cursing, belittling or name-calling during a conflict is a surefire way to kill romantic love quickly.  If we all just obeyed the command Jesus gave in Matthew 7:12 and treated our spouse how we want to be treated the vast majority of marital problems would disappear overnight.

 Abuse-

  Seriously, this one is a no-brainer (Malachi 2:15-17). If it’s a problem in your marriage get help immediately.

 Refusing to become a team-

 No marriage will survive unless the husband and the wife are both one-hundred percent committed to the good of the other. Once we say “I do” it ceases to be about us and becomes about the two of us (Matthew 19:5-6). Teamwork in marriage means willingly sacrificing our own personal wants, needs and desires at least some of the time for the good of the other person and the relationship (Ephesians 5:20-33) . If at any time sacrificing becomes habitually one-sided the team will crumble and so will the marriage.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Can Do to Make the Church Great Again

 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love~ Galatians 5:13 NIV

 The whole concept of the church is a strange one if you think about very deeply at all.

 Most organizations and institutions are founded by, led by and maintained by people who, for the most part, hail from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, have same types of upbringings and live in the same kinds of communities.

 Not so in the church.

 From its inception the church was filled with men and women from every tribe, tongue, education level and social class imaginable (Acts 2:5-12, 1stTimothy 6:2, Galatians 3:28, James 2:1-4, 1stCorinthians 12:13, Revelation 7:9).  The Church was intended from the very beginning to be a place where societal norms are challenged at every turn.

 God designed the church to be a place where serving is favored over being served (Matthew 23:1), where the weak are every bit as cherished as the strong and where each member is working for the good of every other member. Church is where every follower of Jesus regardless of age, race, gender or social position is equal and equally loved by God (Galatians 3:28). 

 All that being said, the distinctive design of the church has created some distinctive problems. For one thing, many people struggle to define exactly what the church is and how it should operate. Our culture (and most Christians) tend to believe that church is a location. A specific place that we go to hear spiritual messages and do spiritual things.

 The Bible depicts the church as a body, a living entity, made up of a whole lot of distinct parts that form a whole (1stCorinthians 12:12-27).  The church is not a building it is people who have been transformed by the power of the gospel and set free from the bondage of sin and death to preach the gospel and do good in this world.  

 Because we ARE the church, churches function best when each person in the church sees themselves as the church. Conversely, churches tend to be the least functional when the people in the church view church as simply a place we go once or twice a week to hear spiritual messages.

 There are at least five things each of us can do to be the church in our day-to-day lives including:

 Deal with bitterness-

 The Bible makes it clear that bitterness is something Christians must avoid at all costs. (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness has a corrupting effect on people making them unfit for Christian service (Acts 8:22-24). Moreover, bitterness has an infectious quality, it spreads like a germ from the bitter person to the people around them (Hebrews 12:15). We deal with bitterness by forgiving the people who have hurt us and letting go of our anger towards them (Colossians 3:13). This not easy, nor is it typically something that happens all at once. Rather, it is usually a process that takes time and prayer to achieve.

 Encourage the right way-

 Over and over again New Testament believers are commanded to encourage one another (2ndCorinthians 13:11, 1stThessalonians 4:18, Hebrews 3:13) Contrary to popular belief an encourager is more than simply a cheerleader who goes around telling people how awesome they are all time.  Encouragers do make an effort to notice and comment on the good they see in other people. However, biblical encouragers understand that encouragement is the act of inspiring others to be the best version of themselves that they can be (1stThessalonians 5:11, Colossians 3:16). Sometimes this means giving generous and heartfelt praise for a job well done. Other times it means gently correcting and admonishing those who are not living up to the potential they have in Jesus (1stThessalonians 5:14).  

 Be more than a doer-

 These days there is a huge emphasis placed on being a doer of the word of God. We are told that authentic love for Jesus is reflected in what we do for other people in Jesus name. For the record, I do not disagree with that view in the slightest. However, the only way we can know for certain if we are really doing what God wants us to do for others is if we know what He says in His word (Psalm 119:05). The only way to know what the word says is to study it.

 Love one another-

  I will not lie. I debated about whether or not to include this one. Not because I don’t think love is important or critical to the health of the church (it is).  Rather, I struggled because I think the definition of love we have adopted in the church is rather milk-toasty and uninspiring. Authentic biblical love does more than help people feel good about where they are at right now. Authentic biblical love loves people where they are (Matthew 5:46) and tells the truth about the consequences of sin (Ephesians 4:17, Acts 17:30).   

  Find a local body and contribute what you can-

You are the church but you also need the church. Find one where the pastor values the word and where the people love each other and get involved. God will be pleased (3rdJohn 1:4), you will grow and the church will become stronger (Romans 12).