How Peace can Become a Bad Thing –

Prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace- Jeremiah 10b-11 NIV

We are hardwired to pursue peace. 

Deep down in our souls we know every good and valuable thing human civilization has to offer was developed, advanced and flourished during times of peace. The finest art, music, theology, medicine and literature are all the outcome of extended periods of peace. Minus peace marriages dissolve, mental health declines, churches splinter, governments breakdown and societies crumble.  

Peace is a critical element of Christian doctrine. 

Jesus’ official title is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). He got that title by coming to earth, dying on the cross and rising from the dead in order to pay the penalty for human sin and rebellion. His purpose in doing all that was to broker peace between a sinless God and sinful humanity. Because Jesus is the bringer of peace Jesus’ followers are instructed to make peace whenever possible (Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14). The Bible teaches that the mere presence of an obedient Christian has the power to bring peace to a place or situation. (Matthew 10:13). One of the most profound benefits of knowing Jesus is the peace He brings to our hearts even in the midst of the worst kinds of trouble and chaos (John 14:27, John 16:33). 

Because peace is so vital to human flourishing most folks will go to super human and sometimes even sinful lengths to get it and keep it. A craving for peace is why we have divorce lawyers. Peace is the reason our culture loves pharmaceuticals so much. It’s why society collectively spends billions on police and it explains the existence of the military industrial complex.  Peace is so critical to human health people will fight wars just to keep it.  

It’s critical we understand. 

 Peace has a dark side.  It’s not all sunshine and gummy bears. There are situations in life when the presence of peace is neither good, beneficial or life-giving. Peace quickly becomes toxic anytime we: 

Get it in the wrong way-

Interestingly enough, the most totalitarian and repressive countries on earth are also, at least on the surface, some of the most serene and peaceful places on earth. You don’t see a lot of dissent or griping in dystopian regimes. The people in those places are not peaceful because they are thrilled with their circumstances. Beneath the veneer of peace and tranquility, there is a tyrant who rules with an iron fist. No one is allowed to tell the truth or say what they believe unless the tyrant gives them the go ahead. The same thing can happen in our families, churches, businesses and friendships. A strong personality or leader keeps the peace, not by leading well, working through interpersonal problems or helping people to figure out their conundrums. Rather, the leader keeps the peace through intimidation and coercion. Sometimes the coercion is stated verbally. Most of the time it’s implied. Sometimes the threat is physical, but usually it’s social or relational. Typically, anyone brave enough or dumb enough to refuse to “submit’ to the leaders demands ends up on the “outside” of the church, family or friend group. The only way to deal with a leader who sows false peace is to refuse to leave the situation. 

Want it for the wrong reasons-

Some people make peace simply because they are so averse to any kind of conflict, even healthy conflict they will do anything tolerate anything just to avoid the social discomfort that comes with rocking the relationship boat. Psychologists call this kind of peacemaking: codependence. Codependence is bad. The peace we broker through codependent capitulation never leads to anything healthy or lifegiving. Instead, codependent peacemaking always leads to repressed anger, game playing, bitterness and passive-aggressive revenge seeking, none of which pleases God (Hebrews 12:15, Matthew 5:37). The only way to achieve real peace is by moving forward with hard conversations in spite of any personal embarrassment or discomfort we feel.  Hard conversation is hard but it allows us to work through the issues in the relationship honestly and come to a place of real peace where people can flourish and grow.  

Take shortcuts to get it-

There are all sorts of shortcuts we can take to achieve a pretense of peace in our marriages, churches, friendships and workplaces. We can gloss over real problems, limit hard conversations, crush dissent, hide the conflict, avoid people who make us uncomfortable or pretend everything is okay when it isn’t. All of these shortcuts do give an illusion of peace, at least for a season. The problem with shortcuts is they also inhibit intimacy, limit growth, and kill straight forward communication.  There really is no shortcut or easy way to achieve real, authentic and lasting relationship health. We just have to be willing to be patient as we work through the conflict to get to the good stuff (cooperation, intimacy, friendship, trust). 

The pursuit of peace is a good, upright and noble thing—if we go about it in the right way. If we go about the wrong way we might get a short-term payoff that feels good in the moment but is in reality a cheap counterfeit, that brings with it a lot of long-term pain. 

How Conflict can Actually Save A Marriage-

So, I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you wont be doing what your sinful nature craves.  Galatians 5:16 NLT

 I have had the opportunity to see a lot of marriages go the distance. Unfortunately, through the years I have also seen a lot of divorces.

Because the vast majority of my friends are Christians, most of the divorces I have witnessed were between couples I am convinced are genuine Christians.  The saddest and most common divorces have been between what I call “long-haulers”.

Long-haulers are couples who stay quietly but miserably married for two, sometimes three or even four decades. Then, seemingly out of nowhere the couple announces to the shock of everyone they know they are divorcing. 

Divorce is always sad but these types of divorces are heartbreaking on multiple levels. These couples almost always feel as if they have “wasted” the best, most productive years of their life in a relationship that brought little real intimacy or joy. Long-haulers nearly always have kids, grandkids, a vast network of friends and a church family who are all psychologically, emotionally and/or spiritually impacted by the divorce. And finally, there is nearly always a disturbing lack of emotional, spiritual and sometimes even intellectual growth in long-haulers. Sometimes this is due to sin in the lives of the couple. However, most of the time the lack of growth occurs because both partners are too busy trying to manage the pain of the relationship to focus on their own spiritual development and health (Hebrews 2:1-3). 

The “reason” given for divorce in these types of marriages is almost always the hazy, vague catch-all term: “irreconcilable differences”. In most cases “irreconcilable differences” really means there was conflict in the marriage that was never really dealt with openly (Ephesians 4:26). The unresolved issue became, over time, a cancer in the relationship that eventually led to the death of the relationship. Sometimes the conflict was over sex.  Either they didn’t have much of it at all over the course of the marriage or one person in the relationship was having way more of it than the other (Exodus 20:14, 1st Corinthians 7:3-5, 1st Corinthians 6:18).  Sometimes, the conflict was over communication. At some point it broke down and they stopped talking about everything in life that really matters, leading to isolation.  Other times the conflict was over things as mundane as the division of labor in the relationship or as complex as money and how its allocated in the marriage. 

Here’s the thing:

Every long-hauler I have known has admitted that their marriage probably could have been saved if they had been willing to deal with the problems in the relationship early on. Many have also revealed they feared that having a fight would make the problems worse. Their fear kept them from initiating conflict that might have led to relational healing and a restoration of intimacy. 

The 5th Century Chinese military leader Sun Tzu said “sometimes the path to peace is war”. Nowhere is this truer than in marriage. Conflicts that bring issues out into the open where they can be discussed and dealt with openly are the only path to true peace in a relationship.  Following are four ways to leverage conflict for a healthy marriage:  

If there’s a problem find a way to discuss it- 

It doesn’t matter what kind of problems are present in the marriage. The problem can be sex, kids, interactions with parents, chores or money. The reality is any problem that gets pushed to the margins does not actually go anywhere.  All this does is give the problem space to fester and grow. At some point it will begin having an adverse effect on the rest of the relationship. If you can’t find a way to talk productively to each other get a professional involved. Whatever you do, don’t just hope the problems go away. They won’t. If you don’t fix it now the problem will still be there in thirty years and you will want a divorce. 

Deal with trust issues openly and honestly- 

Frequently, at the root of poor or blocked communication in marriage is a trust issue. This usually happens because there has been a history of shady behavior with one partner. Shady behavior can include emotional and/or physical affairs, use of pornography, verbal abuse, mishandling money or any other behavior that has caused one person to become distrustful of the other. The only way to deal with a trust issue is through talking about it openly so real healing can take place in the relationship. Oftentimes a professional is needed to help heal the hurt. 

No blaming or shaming when you talk about an issue- 

The problem should be the enemy not your partner. This means finding a way to deal with the issue at hand without being accusatory or cruel. 

No quitting till the problem is worked out- 

The most important rule in conflict management in marriage: no one gets to quit until the issues are truly resolved and healthy change has taken place in the relationship.

Marriage is meant to be a picture of the relationship between Jesus and His people. It is the place where children are nurtured into adulthood. If marriage is done right it becomes a safe place for two people to grow into the image of Jesus. Those are the things worth fighting hard for.

 Literally. 

Seven Habits that will Kill your Marriage-


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 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 come to 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. 

Over the years we have seen a lot of Christian people we 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 really just the sad result of a couple (well seven) behaviors and habits which always lead to a 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 our spouse respect 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 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.  

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. 

Five Ways we Curse our Stupid Selves-


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?

 Nope.

 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 those 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 both sets of grandparents flat refused to babysit them. I don’t say this to gloat (at least I am trying not to) rather 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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confronting Shoddy Spiritual Leadership-


Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you~ Hebrews 13:7 NIV

 Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has doubtless been there:

A trusted spiritual leader (a pastor or Bible study leader) says something (or a lot of somethings) we find troubling from a doctrinal perspective-

We are uneasy with the spiritual direction our pastor is taking the church-

We have (or know someone who has) a spiritual, physical or emotional need that is not being met in the church-

Our church has become dangerously inwardly focused-

Our feelings are hurt by the pastor or another leader-

We suspect our pastor (or someone in the church) is not living a moral life-

 These situations are not unique to contemporary church life. The church has been dealing with sticky issues since the dawn of Church (Acts 6:1-7, 1st Corinthians 5:1-11, Galatians 2:11-14 Acts 15:36-39). How church people choose to handle these types of situations matter and typically they are handled very poorly. Generally speaking, leadership problems are either ignored until they become intolerable and detrimental to the health of the church (Ephesians 4:26); or an individual (or group of individuals) will confront the leader with a long list of the leader’s faults, problems and inadequacies. Face-to-face confrontations are typically handled with all of the elegance and grace of a herd of wild goats running free at a tea party (Proverbs 13:3, Proverbs 29:20).

 Both scenarios inevitably end in disaster.

The first typically results in a large group of unhappy people quietly leaving their church and taking their unresolved issues with them.  Sadly, these individuals rarely go back and work things through with the leader. The leader remains forever bewildered by the desertion and never learn anything that might make them a better leader. Those who leave take their anger and resentment with them to the next church, They perpetuate the cycle of unresolved problems and church hurt (James 1:20). When leaders are confronted poorly it typically results in a hurt leader who feels bullied by people he or she has invested in. It is not at all unusual for these leaders to leave the ministry in anger and disillusionment. 

 Either way, Satan wins and the church loses.

 We have to do better. The health of the body is on the line. Following are five recommendations for having a tough conversation with a spiritual leader.

 Keep your expectations in line with reality-

 Even the very best pastors and leaders are fallible, broken and inclined towards stupidity and pride (Romans 3:23). Because leaders are in the process of working out their salvation (as we all are) they need our prayers more than they need our condemnation. This does not mean a spiritual leader is above correction or redirection. There are times when leaders need to be corrected and should be corrected. That said, if we want to facilitate healthy change (and avoid the sin of pride) we must recognize the reality that no human (leader or follower) will ever be perfect or do things perfectly. Our expectation for spiritual leaders should not be perfection but rather a teachable spirit and a desire to become better and more Christlike (Proverbs 9:9, Proverbs 10:8).    

 Ask questions and seek to understand (Proverbs 12:18)-

 Many confrontations with leaders come about because of decisions that people did not like or understand. It’s critical we recognize that sometimes leaders make decisions based on information the rest of the congregation doesn’t have. That is why it is imperative we ask questions with an attitude of humility before we assume we understand why things are being done the way they are being done.

 Figure out if there is something deeper driving you before you confront-

 Sometimes a pastor or spiritual leader will rub us the wrong way for reasons that really and truly have nothing to do with them or their leadership. Sometimes we will reject a new leader because we really loved the style and personality of the old leader and what we really want is to get our old leader back. Other times a leader will irritate us because they remind us of a family member we have unresolved issues with. It’s unfair and unkind to project our weird junk onto others. Therefore, it’s imperative that we examine ourselves before we begin a conversation.

 Pray before you do anything-

 Praying for the leader and pray for yourself. Pray that God will reveal any destructive attitudes you have that are motivating the confrontation. Pray for wisdom and most importantly pray that everyone’s heart (including yours) will be open to healing and ready to receive truth.

 Say what needs to be said without assigning motives-

 No one but God knows why anyone does what they do. Therefore, it is critical that we be very careful about accusing people of doing things out of motives that we do not know for an absolute fact they have (Proverbs 3:7).  

 Don’t write a letter-

 Seriously. A text can be a great way to arrange a meeting and it might be helpful for you to write down your thoughts and concerns before you go into a meeting.  There is nothing wrong with taking notes into a meeting. That said, letters are a one-way conversation that offer zero opportunity for true understanding of both sides of a given issue.  If you aren’t ready for a face-to-face conversation you are probably not ready for a conversation.