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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Really Good Reasons Not to Legalize Drugs

Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities~ Psalm 107:17 NIV

 Over the course of my lifetime, societal attitudes toward drug use have evolved dramatically. Drug use has gone from something shameful that was done in secret to something many are attempting to normalize and legalize.  I, for one have never been able to get on board the whole legalization bandwagon for a whole variety of reasons that I will hit on later.

  I am well aware that my views on this issue are in the minority (even among some Christians).  It’s important to understand that am not opposed to drug legalization because I’m ignorant of the arguments for legalizing drugs. I understand that there are a variety of people advocating for drug legalization for vastly different reasons.

 Politicians who support drug legalization are (generally speaking) money-grubbing pragmatists. Politicians want to legalize drugs (especially marijuana) because they see drugs as a cash-cow of never-ending tax revenue for state and local governments.

 Libertarians tend to take a more philosophical approach to the issue. They connect drug use to personal freedom and believe that individuals ought to be free to decide for themselves what they do or don’t do with their own bodies.

 Humanitarians favor abolishing drug laws because it would relieve some of the burden on the prison system and remove the stigma associated with drug use. They believe this would make drug use safer, slow the spread of diseases associated with drug use, and make information regarding addiction more widely available to a greater number of people.

 Passionate arguments aside, there are plenty of really good reasons to not to legalize marijuana (and other drugs). The most basic and profound reason being that God designed people for far more than the emptiness that drug use ultimately leads to (John 10:10).

 Some other reasons are:

 A person’s “right” to do stupid stuff with their own body ends the moment the stupid stuff begins to hurt others (1stCorinthians 8:9)-

 I am not, nor have I ever been, a supporter of big government or making laws for the sake of making laws. That said, one truly legitimate function of government is to keep citizens from inflicting harm on one another (Romans 13:4). Contrary to popular belief, drugs harm innocent people all the time.  According to the Department of Justice most crimes (violent and non-violent) are committed by people who tested positive for drugs. Nearly all property crimes are committed by people on drugs so that they can get money to buy more drugs. Taxpayers spend millions financing a foster-care system that has become overburdened by parents who are too high to care for their own children.

 Gateway drugs are a real thing-

 Supporters of legalization tend to scoff at the whole notion of gateway drugs. Nonetheless, I have never known a heroin addict who started with heroin. Nearly all drug users start with marijuana and then move on to harder drugs. Legalizing marijuana allows more people easy access to a drug that will make them increasingly more comfortable experimenting with other drugs. Not every person who smokes pot will progress to harder drugs, but enough do to make marijuana a bad bet for any society that values stability.

 We are creating a disadvantaged class of people due entirely to prenatal drug exposure-

 Roughly fifteen percent of all children are born drug and/or alcohol affected (experts believe the number is much higher). These children are burdened with emotional and intellectual deficits they will never entirely overcome (short of a miracle). I predict that society will reap a bitter harvest when these kids reach adulthood.

 Drug use makes people passive and easy to manipulate-

 I am not normally prone to conspiracy theories and tin-foil hat notions. Nonetheless, it has occurred to me that if a government were looking to create a population of docile, submissive, and easy to control zombies, promoting drug use would be the simplest way to make that happen.

 Drugs have a negative spiritual impact on individuals making it harder to reach them with the gospel-

 I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about life, God or the spiritual world. But I do know that Christians are told to be very careful to avoid drunkenness and to only be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18, 1stCorinthians 5:11, Proverbs 20:9, Proverbs 31:4). I assume this is because a spirit of drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18) dulls our spiritual senses, making it harder to hear the voice of God. It only makes sense that drugs would have the same effect. 

 Drugs hurt kids-

 Our youngest child is not our biological child. She is the daughter of a relative and her story is not unique, there are literally millions of children just like her. Her parents believed passionately that they had the “right” to do whatever they wanted with their own bodies. The exercise of “their rights” robbed a little girl of her rights. Including the right to a childhood without fear, loss and insecurity. I know for a fact that her parents never intended to become addicted, they certainly never intended cause their child hurt or pain. They loved their daughter; but ultimately, addiction caused them to love drugs more.  Drugs do that to people. They rob us of the ability to think clearly and wisely. Then they steal our humanity and decency. Drugs rob us of the most basic of human instincts, including the instinct to protect the most vulnerable among us. 

 Anything that can do that is not a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Parent Without Cursing the Future

Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave~ Exodus 18:20 NIV

 A theme that remains consistent throughout the Bible is the notion of blessings and curses (Leviticus 28, Deuteronomy 30:19, Psalm 128:2, Proverbs 10:6, Malachi 2:2, 1st Corinthians 9:2). The Bible clearly communicates that certain attitudes and activities bring with them blessings and other (usually opposite) attitudes and behaviors bring with them curses.

 I, for one, have never been a big proponent of the view that the Almighty is sitting around heaven scrutinizing the actions of people searching feverishly for opportunities to bring curses down on people, their children, or their children’s children. Rather, I believe that we bring curses on others and ourselves (sometimes unwittingly) with the choices we make in this life.

 There is no area where this is truer than in the arena of parenting.

 The notion that parents bless or curse their children (sometimes without knowing it) is a biblical one (Ezekiel 18:2, Psalm 37:26, Proverbs 31:27-29, Ephesians 6:1-4). However, this concept is not just a Christian notion. It’s an idea even an idiot can grasp. One does not need a crystal ball to see that a child born to a married Mother and Father, determined to provide a stable and loving home, will have a much greater chance of success in life than a child born to a poor, drug-addicted Mother and an indifferent baby-daddy.

 It’s common sense.

 There is more to the notion of blessing children (and future generations) than simple economics or even marital status, and it’s bigger than just our kids or grandkids. No man (or woman) is an island; therefore the values one generation sows into their children impacts society in powerful ways, sometimes for generations to come. It is not excessively melodramatic to say that history can be altered (for good or bad) by the parenting choices of a single generation.

 That said, as a society we aren’t exactly hitting it out of the ballpark in this area. In fact, judging from the sorry state of our culture, we are long overdue for a gut check in how we parent our kids. I believe there are five changes we desperately need to make if we want to parent in a way that blesses rather than curses our children and our culture.

 Beginning with:

 Living lives free of addiction-

 Nothing does more to curse future generations than a drug, alcohol, or porn addiction. Period. The most productive thing one generation can for another is to stay off of drugs.

Letting kids lose-

 Educated middle-class American parents are undoubtedly some of the kindest and best-intentioned parents in the history of the world. Alas, the road to hell really is paved with good intentions. In an effort to shield children from the hurt, frustration and disappointment we all encountered as children we do stuff that looks and feels merciful and kind (like giving everyone a trophy). However, those acts of kindness keep kids from growing into adults who know how to work for what they want and who can handle the setbacks of life with grace and resilience. Kids who are not taught to handle disappointment inevitably grow into adults who act out and hurt others when the going gets tough.

 Being the leader-

 Some child-rearing “experts” have duped parents into believing that children instinctively know what is best for them. This twaddle is going to create a leadership crisis in the future because we learn to lead by following. Young children (under seven) are by their very nature immature, egotistical and for all practical purposes kind of dumb. God gave kids parents to teach them to be healthy, altruistic, thoughtful human beings (Ephesians 6:1). We do that by taking the reins and making most of the decisions when they are very young (under seven) and then coaching them into good decision-making (while still giving them freedom to fail), as they get older.  

 Being in the room-

 In order to parent well, parents need to be fully present; it is all but impossible to be fully present while playing a game on your phone or perusing Facebook. Furthermore, kids learn to be good communicators (a prerequisite for a healthy future) by communicating. No one communicates effectively while preoccupied by a screen.

 Teaching them to work-

 The Bible clearly teaches that work is good (Colossians 3:23, 2nd Thessalonians 3:10). Work is important because it keeps us out of trouble, makes us productive, teaches us to manage our time and gives us the ability to share with those less fortunate. I firmly believe that young people should have at least one job working with the public. Working with people will keep them humble and free from the sin of elitism (James 2:1-9).  

 Fearing God-

 Loving God is good (Deuteronomy 11:1, Mark 12:30), but fearing Him is better (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 10:27, Leviticus 25:7). This is because the fear of the Lord leads to wisdom, (Psalm 111:10) obedience, (Psalm 128:1) the shunning of evil, (Job 28:28) long life (Psalm 14:27) and all of that leads to a society that thrives. We teach kids to fear God by teaching them that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do.

 Anyone with eyes can see that our culture has serious problems. Most of our problems are a result of the choices parents have made with their children over the course of the last four decades. It is not too late to course correct, but it will take parents acting like parents again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Battle Between the Sexes is Hurting the Church

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created~ Genesis 5:1-2 NIV

 I rarely write follow-up posts. This is mostly due to the fact that I have a ridiculously short attention span and I prefer to make all the points on a topic in one post. Then I move on to another topic and a new post.

 It’s how I roll.

 However, last weeks blog was not actually finished. One observant reader pointed out that I said there were five reasons I felt Christians shouldn’t support the #MeToo movement and then proceeded to make four points. Truth-be-told I planned on making five points and then only made four, mostly because the post was getting a bit long and the point I wanted to make was not the kind of point that can be made effectively in a hundred words or less. After some thought I decided that the point I initially intended to make is still something that needs to be said.

 So here goes.  

 One issue I have with the #MeToo movement is that they tend to see interactions between men and woman in black and white and nearly always in negative terms. They routinely paint women as victims of men and men as victimizers of women. This view is skewed and dangerous. It is true that some men do indeed victimize women. However, not every woman is blameless and not every man is a victimizer. Sometimes the woman is the one doing the victimizing and the man is the victim. Men and women are both sinners (Romans 3:23, 1st John 1:10) and there is no end to the ways both sexes can and do victimize one another. Painting men or women with an overly broad brush oversimplifies complex issues and pits men and women against one another.

 Many so-called “advocates of women” appear to believe that men and women are mortal enemies. That is a pernicious lie. Sadly, it’s a lie people have bought into since the dawn of time. That lie has generated chaos between the sexes and is currently wrecking havoc on our culture and destroying the effectiveness of the Christian community.

 It is simply a fact that men and women are distinctly different from one another. The differences between men and women run far deeper than the obvious plumbing issues and are not (contrary to popular belief) a result of eons of successful social conditioning. Men and women think differently, behave differently and oftentimes see the exact same situation from radically different perspectives. Contrary to popular opinion, ‘different’ in this case is not bad a thing (Genesis 1:26-31).

I believe with all of my being that the differences between men and women are not something that should be minimized or eliminated. The differences between the sexes should be celebrated, refined and merged to make the world a better place. Sadly, we don’t see a whole lot of this happening even in churches which, arguably, ought to be the most unified and integrated places on earth (Galatians 3:28).

 Sloppy Bible translation is part of the problem.

 The word used to describe the role of the woman in in Genesis 2:18 is traditionally translated into “helpmate” in English. The Hebrew word (ezer) is far less milk-toasty and flaccid than the word chosen by early Bible translators. The word ezer is a powerful word, one loaded with military and tactical overtones. Ezer is used twenty-one times in the Old Testament. It is used five times to describe the role of women and sixteen times to refer to God as Israel’s helper in times of trouble. The varied use of this tells us that God designed men and women to be partners, allies and co-laborers in every sphere of life (Genesis 2:18, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Proverbs 18:3).

 For far too long, too many Jesus followers have bought into the lie that women should stand by quietly while their brothers in Christ do the hard work of Kingdom building. We have forgotten that men and women are better together because we were made by our Creator to be better together. It’s time to end the war so we can work together and do what God has called us to do. If we want to reach the world we need to respect and celebrate our differences and work together for the sake of the Kingdom.

 Lives are literally hanging in the balance.

 

 

*My views on this issue have evolved over the years with input from a number of sources. One of those sources is the Bible, and another is the author Carolyn Custis James. Her books (The Gospel of Ruth, Lost Women of the Bible, When Life and Beliefs Collide) are well-researched, unfailingly respectful towards men, incredibly challenging and in my opinion ought to be required reading for all Christians- male and female- regardless of denomination. If you have read her books you undoubtedly saw some of her views reflected in my own. If you have not read her books, I highly recommend them.

 

 

 

 

The Sad Truth Concerning #Metoo

The plans of the righteous are just, but the advice of the wicked is deceitful~ Proverbs 12:5

I will not lie. I had high hopes for the #metoo movement.

 Back in the day, I found myself on the receiving end of some bad behavior from men who were well beyond the point of knowing better. These days, that behavior would without a doubt be considered sexual harassment.

 Back then we called it “boys being boys”. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now. It just got a whole lot less attention back then.

 Crude comments, unwelcome touching, and rape are wrong for many reasons, most of which are clearly obvious to thinking people. At the root of every single one of those many reasons is the reality that predatory sexual behavior is an attack on the God-given dignity and personhood of women (Genesis 1:27). For that reason sexual violence against women is an attack on God Himself (as the author of life and giver of human dignity).

 Which brings me back to my original high-hopes for the #metoo movement. I like the idea of drawing attention to the very real problem of sexual violence. I also feel that those who commit acts of sexual violence deserve to have their deeds exposed (Numbers 32:23, Galatians 6:7). For those reasons alone, I wanted so badly for #metoo to be something that I, as a Christian woman, could support and stand behind.

 It’s not.

 For the record, I did not rush to judgment on that pronouncement. I sincerely wanted to see where the movement would go before I made up my mind about how I felt about it. I did this because, generally speaking, I feel that Christians are a little over eager to both condemn and embrace movements.

 When Christians criticize and condemn before getting the facts, we all end up looking like a bunch of small-minded, knee-jerk Judgy McJudgers. Conversely, when Christians choose to embrace movements prior to getting all the facts, we wind up looking ridiculous when we are inevitably forced to backtrack and retract our support.

 I have been observing the #metoo movement for a while now and have concluded that smart, thoughtful Christians should avoid the #metoo movement for at least four reasons:

 The movement is insincere-

 If #metoo were truly serious about ending sexual violence and the exploitation of women they would do more than simply point fingers at high profile predators. They would denounce the porn industry, fight for the end of prostitution and raise money to support those victimized by the sex trade. To my knowledge none of those things are happening, which makes all their talk about being “advocates for women” appear hollow and self-serving.

 Not every man is a bad man-

 One of my biggest concerns with the #metoo movement is that they seem to sincerely believe that every man is a sexual predator and every unsolicited flirtation from a man is somehow a form of rape. One does not need to be clairvoyant to see where this insanity might lead. Innocent interactions between men and women will no longer be seen as innocent, men and women will be further alienated from each other and the war between the sexes will intensify. If that happens we will all lose.

 The movement is quickly becoming one-big witch-hunt-

 The #metoo movement believes that all women should be believed regardless of evidence (or lack there of). They also believe that women should be able to accuse men anonymously. I am all for keeping the identity of victims of sexual violence who have reported the assault to the police out of the public eye. The privacy of victims should be protected from the press. Period. That said, sometimes people lie (Deuteronomy 19:15-17) and in the interest of fairness (and keeping our justice system just) the accused have a right to know who is accusing them.

 #metoo could set women back decades-

 I work in a field (ministry) where men tend to be very reluctant (for obvious reasons) to be seen interacting with a woman. This fact (as understandable as it may be) has not made my life in ministry easy, nor has it helped me to move ahead in a field I love. I’m not complaining. I am simply describing the world I live in. I am fearful that the law of unintended consequences will come into play and my (admittedly weird) problem will become a problem for all women. No man in his right mind will be seen associating with women (even in a business setting) if he knows there is a good chance his reputation will be ruined for it.

 Nothing in this world aggravates me more than the powerful taking advantage of the powerless. It is true that some men (not all) have taken advantage of women in the past and even prevented some from reaching their God-given potential. That said, the way to correct a past injustice is never with more injustice. We correct injustice through understanding, open communication and a commitment to believe the best in others unless there is an obvious reason not to.

 

 

Three Things We Can All Do to Make Church Great in 2018

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here~ 2nd Corinthians 5:17 NIV

 Its official (actually it was official in 2005) January is (at least for most people) the most depressing month of the year.

 I get it.

 January has its fair share of shortcomings. Once Christmas is over the snow promptly loses its charm and there is zero hope the weather will improve for at least another couple of months. The merriment of the holidays has ended and the irksome credit card bills have come due for the generosity we felt over Christmas. That leaves most of us feeling a bit Grinch-y in hindsight. Compounding the negativity, most of us are feeling a bit pudgy and gross after the all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy that is the month of December.

 Without question, all of the above is clearly true.

 However, you will never catch me hating on the month of January. I love January for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because it offers a respite from the frantic madness of November and December. The slower more relaxed pace of January provides a much-needed opportunity for rest, reflection and goal setting.

 In that spirit, I have spent the better part of the last week pondering some of the goals I have set for the coming year. And as I was thinking through all that it occurred to me that there are some small changes we could all make this coming year that just might make a huge difference in how the world perceives the Church, and by extension how they perceive Jesus and Christian people. Changing how Christians are perceived in the culture might just help us to reach more people this year with the love of Jesus.

 So, in the interest of making this next year a great one for the cause of Christ I want to suggest three small, relatively painless changes we could all make that would make Christianity more appealing to the world around us without compromising truth.

 Starting with:

 A commitment to change the things that need to change-

 It’s true that some people are turned off by the message of Christianity (believe in Jesus and repent of your sin [Mark 1:15]). That said, more often than not, people are turned off by the behavior of Christians long before they get to hear the message of Christianity. Being purposeful about our own spiritual growth (Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 12:14, 2nd Peter 1:3-10) prevents this tragedy. Intentionality in the arena of spiritual growth has to begin with a commitment to examine ourselves daily so that we will be painfully aware of our own sinful inclinations. It ends with an unwavering commitment to honoring God in every area of our lives. The payoff for a commitment to spiritual growth is two-fold. We grow into the people God has called us to be (Ephesians 1:4, 1st Peter 2:9) and the holiness we acquire through this process gives us the spiritual power we need to lead others into relationship with Jesus.

 Expanding your circle of friendship-

 It is true that we grow in our faith and knowledge of God and life anytime we spend quality time with other Christians (Hebrews 10:25, Proverbs 27:17). It is also true that non-believers have their view of the world challenged when they spend time with and engage in meaningful conversations with Christians (John 4, Acts 17:16-34). If we would all commit to building some meaningful relationships with a few people (Christians and non-Christians) outside our circle I believe we could have a significant impact on our own little corner of the world. That in turn would make our world a better place and in the process we will learn more about life and God and make some new friends all at the same time. That’s a win all the way around.

 Forgiving someone-

 Over and over again in Scripture Christians are commanded to forgive others (Matthew 11:25, Luke 17:4, Colossians 3:13), Jesus even tied God’s forgiveness towards us to our willingness to forgive others (Matthew 6:15, Luke 6:37). I believe that God wants us to forgive others because unforgiveness leads to bitterness (among other things). Bitterness turns us into ugly, unpleasant people who are unlikely to attract others to Christianity or anything else. This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us that bitterness causes trouble and defiles many (Hebrews 12:15). The New Year is a perfect time to begin the process of forgiving those people who have hurt us. When we forgive others we become people that God can use for the good of others and for His glory.

 Wishing you all a joyful and spiritually productive 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Hero of Christmas-

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife~ Matthew 1:24 NIV

 I will not lie.

 I really love some of the less-than-spiritual aspects of Christmas. I love Jesus (because I am not a heathen). I also love the parties, the food, the trees, the decorations, the music, and the traditions of Christmas. I even like some of the stuff I should probably dislike. Things like Frosty, Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, and gift giving and getting. I actually enjoy  the commercial stuff that sidetracks us from what should be a simple celebration of the birth of the Savior.

 Because I am drawn to the secular side of Christmas every year I attempt to discipline myself and spend a little extra time each year focusing on the birth of Christ. This year I started in Matthew and rediscovered an often forgotten hero of the Christmas story: Joseph.

 Most of us overlook Joseph because Mary is clearly the star of the show. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of her story. Mary’s obedient response to Gabriel’s announcement is how we should all respond to God’s call on our life. She voluntarily endured personal loss, hardship and probably even ridicule to bring the Messiah into the world.

 Everyone loves Mary.

 However, this year it was Joseph that captured my attention. I’m convinced that if we were all a little more like Joseph the world would be a better place.

 The text tells us that God saw Joseph as a righteous man. That alone was a fairly rare thing for God to say about anyone in those days. Then we are told that because of his righteousness he did not want to divorce Mary publicly. At this point in the story Mary and Joseph were legally wed, the marriage was a done deal in the eyes of the law, their religious community and their family and friends. The only thing left to do was to consummate the marriage.

 According to both Roman and Jewish law Joseph had every right to publicly divorce (and humiliate) Mary. They were married and he had what appeared to be incontrovertible proof of infidelity. Her story about the angel was, by every measurable standard, more than a little nutso. Even most “good” people would have felt justified in publicly shaming a woman who slept with another man and then told a ridiculously outlandish story to cover-up her misdeeds.

 Seriously.           

 God’s evaluation of Joseph as a “righteous man” tells me that God has a special place in His heart for those who look out for the reputations of others. God blesses those who are willing to go out of their way not to behave in a vengeful way even when they have been legitimately wronged.

 I love that Joseph was willing to ignore the opinions of people in order to gain the approval of God. Following the dream where Joseph was commanded to keep Mary as his wife, Joseph had to go back to his family and friends and tell them that he planned to go ahead with marriage to a girl most people were probably convinced was less than honorable woman.

 Joseph’s family and friends were likely convinced that Joseph was either a fool or a liar. It almost goes without saying that Joseph suffered heartache, humiliation and social disgrace for his choice to stick by Mary.

Joseph’s selflessness is a reminder that the kind of righteousness that pleases God typically involves a high level of inconvenience and self-denial.

 There is nothing wrong with the silly side of Christmas celebrations. The God we serve created fun and joy. My prayer is that in the midst of all the fun and merrymaking Joseph’s story will serve as a reminder that our response to God’s goodness and generosity should be a life of authentic righteousness and self-denial.

Healing a Sick Marriage-

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV

 My husband and I have been married for nearly three decades and our marriage, like most marriages has gone through its fair share of ups and downs over the years. Through the good and the bad I have concluded that there is nothing in this world quite as good as a great marriage. Nothing is better or more rewarding in this life than the closeness, camaraderie and fun of a healthy, happy marriage. Conversely, a bad marriage is nothing short of a living hell. There are simply no words to describe the awkward agony of waking-up every single day of your life next to the person you least want to talk to.

 It just sucks.

 All marriages (even the really great ones) inevitably go through at least one season where communication halts and the relationship feels doomed. During this period both parties inevitably wonder if it’s even worth it to keep trying.

 Like many young couples, that season came fairly early on in our marriage. We spent the better part of a really miserable year either squabbling bitterly over the most stupid stuff imaginable or giving each other the silent treatment over the same stupid stuff. Needless to say we were not living our best life. However at the end of that really awful year, we had worked through a horde of really thorny issues, our relationship was stronger and we were both better, happier people.

 Marriage matters. Therefore everything that can be done to fix a bad marriage should be done. Every marriage is different and every situation is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fixing a bad marriage. However, the following five recommendations can be a game-changer in even the most broken relationships:

 Choose to be kind no matter how the other person responds-

 Kindness is a quality conspicuously missing in unhappy marriages. Too often we wait for the other person to be kind before we show kindness. This sort of willful pride and stubbornness never yields positive results. In order for a healing process to begin, one person has to humble him or herself and commit to speaking kindly to—and doing thoughtful things for—the other person. Even if the other person acts like a jerk at first. Usually, the other person eventually responds in kind and the marriage gets a new beginning.    

Lay down your weapons-

 Each half of an unhappy couple has their own arsenal of verbal weapons they use to emotionally pummel their spouse. It might be calling the other person hurtful names or constantly reminding them of a past sin or bringing up a character flaw. Whatever it is, at the root of any arsenal is one of two things: either the sin of unforgiveness or pure meanness. Either way I advise immediate repentance.

 Nix the silent treatment-

 Not everyone uses the silent treatment. Those who do, use it to shut down conversations they are too immature to have or as a tool to get their own way. People who employ this method have learned that if they clam-up for long enough, more often than not, the other person will eventually acquiesce to whatever they want just to end the awkwardness. The silent treatment is a self-indulgent, passive-aggressive power play that not only destroys marriages but friendships and even the parent-child bond. It’s dangerous because eventually the other person will weary of the perpetual game playing and either walk out on the relationship or stay, adjust to the silence and begin living their own life. Either way the marriage is over. If one or both parties need time to calm down, that’s fine, as long as things eventually get talked out.

 Call sin what it is and and make the choice to repent-

I am thankful for the modern psychology movement because it has helped us to understand the reasons why people do the weird, sinful things people do. That said, psychology has also helped to create an environment where we blame our sin on other people or trauma, rather than our own choices. It is not uncommon for Christians to blame genetics, stress, or a bad upbringing for behavior the Bible calls willful sinfulness. The bottom line is that no matter our experiences we are all responsible before God for what we do and don’t do. We all have the ability to make changes. Change begins with the acknowledgment that our behavior is sinful, even if the behavior or attitude has a genetic component or came about as a result of trauma. This must be followed-up with a commitment to obedience and permanent repentance.

 Look at you-

 One characteristic common to all bad marriages is that both parties almost always have their focus firmly fixed on the bad behavior of their spouse. Conversely, both parties are also unwilling to own-up to their own bad habits, problems. No one on a bad marriage is willing to acknowledge how their sin is creating chaos in the relationship. If you want to fix your marriage, stop focusing on what the other person is or isn’t doing. Instead, make a commitment to pray about what you need to change or begin doing so that you can become the husband or wife God wants you to be.