Leaving the Past Where it’s At

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland~ Isaiah 43:18-20 NIV

 Recently I heard a powerful and thought-provoking quote that left me feeling more than a bit navel gaze-y: 

 Always look forward. Remember there are no birds in last year’s nests~ Don Quixote  

 For the record, I am not opposed to looking backward as long as it is done for the right reasons. We should remember the events of the past because we’re incapable of learning anything from anything we willfully forget. I also believe the heroic acts of the past ought to be honored in the present; and it pretty much goes without saying that Christians should be mindful of the good things God has done for us in the past (Deuteronomy 32:6-8, 1stChronicles 16:11-13).

 All that being said.

 It is fair to say that far too many of us get stuck in the past in an unhealthy way. In doing so we give the past more power than it deserves which inevitably prevents us from accomplishing the tasks God intends for us to do today (Ephesians 2:10). Most of the time there is profound wisdom in leaving the past where it’s at and choosing to get on board with what God is doing right now. Following are seven reasons to let go of the old so God can do whatever new things He’s looking to do in the future:  

 Getting stuck in the past creates bitterness-

 Most of the time we get stuck in the past because we are hurt or angry about something unpleasant that happened there. The sense that we were cheated or wronged can lead to bitterness in the present. It is critical Christians keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in their lives (Ephesians 4:31). Mostly because bitterness makes Christians utterly and profoundly useless (Hebrews 12:15, Acts 8:23) and no genuine believer wants to be useless.  The key to getting free from bitterness is taking time to prayerfully process painful events from our past and then making the choice to live life with our hearts and minds firmly rooted in the present.

 An unhealthy perspective on the past stops spiritual growth in the present-

 Whenever we develop an unhealthy perspective on the past we naturally become neurotically focused on our own personal stuff. We become obsessed with our feelings and when we focus heavily on feelings we become blinded to our own faults and junk. That typically leads to blaming others for the things we choose to do. Transformation occurs when we see our faults clearly and ask God to give us the power to change the things that need changing in our lives.

 Living in the past makes us sentimental in all the wrong ways-

 Sentimentality is certainly not a sin. However, it can easily cross the line into sinful territory if we make the object of our sentimentality into an idol we worship. The classic worldly example is the former high school football star who cannot move forward in life because he simply cannot stop pining for his glory days. The timeless church example is the Christian who cannot enjoy church or serve effectively today because he or she cannot stop pining for the church services of the past.   

 Getting stuck in the past makes it impossible to effectively lead others-

 Christians are called to be leaders. Leaders look to the future and take people to places (physically and spiritually) they have never been before. Christians are called to lead others into biblical thinking, righteous living, healthy relationships and most importantly, relationship with Jesus (Colossians 3:16, 2ndTimothy 2:24, Titus 2:7, Hebrews 5:12). Everyone leads someone. Profession, gender and age are irrelevant to the call to lead others into spiritual health and relationship with Jesus. It is critical we remember that no one in the history of forever has ever led anyone forward while looking behind them.   

 Focusing on the past keeps us from being grateful in the present –

 Gratitude is all about noticing stuff (Colossians 4:2).  Grateful people don’t typically have more than ungrateful people they are just more aware of God and what He is doing for them. We are the most grateful when we are living in the moment and choosing to see what God is doing for us right now. It is impossible to see God work in the present when we are distracted by the past.  

 We lose our ability to forgive when focus heavily on the past-

 We will never be free do what God is calling us to do in the here and now while we are living in bondage to past hurt (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is hard because it always involves letting go of anger and hurt that in a worldly sense we have a “right” to hold on to. Forgiveness rarely happens quickly and without some processing. In order to forgive we need to walk through the hurt and then ask God (sometimes repeatedly) to empower us to let go of the feelings of anger and resentment that are keeping us stuck in past.

 

Five Ways Christians Can (and do) Limit God

 

 

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down~ Psalm 145:13b-14 NIV

 Fear is a strange thing.

Most people tend to fear absurd things that are unlikely to cause them harm. People fear spiders, the judgement of people they don’t know, wide-open spaces, missing out on stupid stuff and going to the dentist.

  I have my own fair share of (mostly) irrational fears. I am petrified of snakes (even the non-poisonous ones) and I avoid enclosed spaces like the plague. If there happens to be an enclosed space (like a cave) that might possibly be home-sweet-home to a snake you can totally forget about it. I will not, under any circumstances, willingly go within a hundred feet of that warren of evil. Conversely, most people do not fear things that can actually hurt them such as: dark alleys, lack of situational awareness, evil motives, and taking terrible advice.

 In general, healthy, growing Christians experience less fear than most people (Romans 8:15, Romans 13:3, 2ndTimothy 1:7, Hebrews 2:14-15, 1stJohn 4:18). That being said, there is at least one thing every Christian ought to fear, we should fear limiting God’s ability to work in our lives.

 For the record, I do not believe that people can prevent the All-powerful God of the Universe from doing anything He decides to do (Psalm 33:11, Proverbs 19:21). Nonetheless, we can (and often do) hinder God from working in our lives through our own willful sinfulness, egotism and stupidity. Following are five ways Christians can limit God:

 We limit God when we live out our fallenness rather than our righteousness-

 All people are born fallen. This simply means that people are sinners who delight in doing things God has declared to be wrong (Romans 1:18-33, Romans 3:23). Because of this people have no intrinsic righteousness of their own (Romans 3:10). Nonetheless, if a sinner puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ they are made righteous at the moment they truly believe (Romans 4:5, Romans 10:4, 2ndCorinthians 5:21, Titus 3:4-6). As Christians we must decide daily to either live out the righteousness we received at salvation or to live out the fallenness we were born into. Sadly, too many Christians choose to live as if they were never made righteous by Christ. This is tragic because we stop growing spiritually anytime we regularly choose to live sinfully rather than righteously (1stJohn 3:7). Furthermore, it is nearly impossible for a Christian who consistently lives according to their fallen nature to fulfill the primary mission all Christians have to tell others about the life changing power of Jesus (2ndTimothy 4:2, Matthew 28:19-20)

 We limit God when we refuse to take advice or we only take advice from people who are just as ignorant as we are-

 The only thing dumber than refusing to take advice (Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 12:1, Proverbs 20:18) is to only seek counsel from people who are every bit as ignorant as we are. The Bible urges us to seek wisdom and advice from those who are older, wiser, and more knowledgeable than we are rather than our own peer group (1stKings 8:1-18, Proverbs 13:20).  Wise people understand that no one knows everything and so they seek guidance on subjects such as parenting, marriage, career, spiritual growth, etc. from those who have acquired wisdom and who have effectively navigated those undertakings (or learned enough from their failures to effectively counsel others).

 We limit God when we separate ourselves from the church-

 Regular readers of this blog know that I am not shy about criticizing what I see as the missteps of the modern church. However, this does not mean I believe that the church is somehow irrelevant or unnecessary. To the contrary, God designed people to mature physically, mentally and spiritually within the context of community. We learn and grow by being in the company of those who have navigated areas of life we have not. A child is inspired to walk by watching the big people in his or her life walk. Conversely, a young Christian is inspired to grow spiritually by observing mature believers live out their faith.  For that reason, we will never reach our full potential in Christ outside of a community of other Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25).

 We limit God anytime we choose to hang on to an offense-

 It is not sinful to be hurt or to get offended. Some things really are offensive and hurtful.  Hanging on to hurt and/or coddling an offense is sinful (Ephesians 4:31, James 3:14). Offense and hurt that is not processed and forgiven in a reasonable period of time inevitably mutates into bitterness. Bitterness not only ruins the bitter person it also destroys the people the bitter person loves most (Hebrews 12:15).

 We limit God when we do not believe enough to obey-

 Clearly, anyone who labels themselves a “Christian” believes in God. However, there is more to believing in the New testament sense of the word than simple intellectual agreement to the existence of God. In the Bible believing in God always meant doing what God commanded or taught (John 14:23-24) New Testament Christians would not have understood the notion of a Christian who refused to obey the teachings of the New Testament (1stPeter 1:22, Hebrews 4:2, 1stJohn 4:6). They understood that no one who consistently chooses to disobey God really believes in Him. They also understood the nearly forgotten truth God cannot effectively work in the life of anyone who willfully ignores revealed truth.    

 

 

 

 

 

Four Ways Churches Unintentionally Promote Sexual Sin

Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. So, watch yourselves~ Luke 17:1 & 3 NIV

 Most of the stupid things we do are not done deliberately.  Most people just kind of fumble around blindly doing stuff without putting a whole lot of thought into the long-term consequences of their actions.  

 Sadly, this is even true of some Christians.   

  Too many Christians make too many decisions out of impulse or reflex. Sadly, most of us do not put any more thought into the unintended consequences our actions than anyone else does. This unfortunate reality has merged with a tendency to look at what the culture is doing rather than thinking through issues from a Biblical perspective.

 Sadly, these predispositions always play themselves out in one of two equally wrong responses. Either Christians do a “Christian” version of whatever is popular with the culture; or conversely, we go so far in the opposite direction of what the world is doing that we become a peculiar, cartoon-like version of what God intended the Church to be.

 Nowhere is this truer than in the area of sex.

 On one end of the spectrum, there are churches that have lowered their sexual standards in an effort to help unbelievers feel more comfortable in church settings. As a result, these churches have unwittingly adopted the same attitudes towards sex that non-Christians have. In other situations, Christians have been guilty of embracing a slightly more “Christian” version of a worldly standard. For example: many believers do not really have a problem with an engaged couple having sex before marriage (so long as they are careful keep it on the down-low). However, some of these same people are appalled at the mere thought of two Christians living together before marriage.

 Conversely, there are churches and Christians whose entire religious identity is built around preventing sexual activity of any kind from taking place in the lives of unmarried people. Those churches (and Christians) spend more time addressing the spiritual threats of swimsuits, hand-holding and premarital front-hugs than they do discussing salvation and related issues such as repentance and discipleship. This is not only a serious derailment from the churches principal mission (Matthew 28:17-20, 2nd Timothy 2:4, Matthew 10:8) it also makes Christians look like a bunch of sex-obsessed weirdos.  

 Sigh.

 The absurdity of all this aside, perhaps the biggest problem with how churches handle sexuality these days is that we have gotten to a place where we unintentionally promote sexual sin in four ways:

 The church is far too soft on the sin of adultery (especially where men are concerned)-

 The immense pressure placed on Christian women to forgive their cheating husbands simply cannot be overstated. Women are too-often coerced by well-intentioned but ridiculously overeager clergy to forgive their husband’s infidelity (and restore the relationship) right away. This typically happens long before the woman has processed her grief or the man has demonstrated sincere repentance. This has resulted in a shocking number of Christian men (and some women) who appear to have no qualms about committing adultery over and over again (Proverbs 6:32). It has also created a subculture of women (and a few men) who have been shamed into doing something they are under no biblical obligation to do (Matthew 5:32). Forgiveness is essential in every situation (Matthew 6:15). However, marital reconciliation should only take place if the one who was sinned against is truly willing and the adulterer (male or female) has demonstrated sincere repentance and a readiness to grow into a better spouse and Jesus follower.  Anything less simply encourages sinful behavior in the church by minimizing consequences in specific situations (1stCorinthians 5:11).

 We do not treat pornography like a serious sin-

 If I hear one more Christian leader refer to pornography as “just pornography” I will need to be medicated and/or physically restrained. Sixty-eight percent of all Christian men routinely view pornography precisely because it is regarded as a lightweight and trivial sin. Choosing to view pornography is not only a categorically icky form of sexual immorality (Hebrews 12:16, Hebrews 13:4) it is also a clear violation of Matthew 5:28. Like most sins, the sin of viewing pornography leads to other sins such as hypocrisy, adultery, dehumanizing others through lust, spiritual and social isolation and even an inability to perform the “marital duty” (1st Corinthians 7:3).

 The church is still inclined to cover-up pedophilia-

 The Catholic church has gotten a lot of bad press over this issue recently. However, it is far from unheard of in Protestant and Evangelical churches.  A valued leader gets accused of touching a child inappropriately and the church decides to deal with the problem “in-house”. At that point the whole messy mess gets swept under the rug or the leader is simply asked to leave the church. This is never okay. Every accusation should be thoroughly investigated by the proper authorities (the Elder or Deacon board does not count). Yes, this is hard, yes it makes the church look bad but not nearly as bad as it does when the church covers-up sin. 

 We don’t help young adults to date-

 The Bible is clear that marriage is a virtuous, noble and necessary thing (Genesis 2:24, Proverbs 18:22, Hebrews 13:4). That being said, for some inexplicable reason there is a ton of shame in the Christian culture surrounding Christians participating in the process of finding a spouse (dating).  Because dating is taboo in many Christian churches most churches do not give Christian kids a lot of instruction on how or who to date and there are literally no opportunities for Christian young people to get to know each other inside the church. As a result, most young people date outside of the church which leads to a lot of missteps (Tinder, bars, campus parties, drunken hook-ups). Those missteps inevitably end in sexual immorality and sometimes even a departure from the faith. Maybe it’s time for churches to be intentional about setting-up opportunities for young Christians from similar denominations to get to know one another so they can get married; rather than shame them for having a natural desire to find a spouse.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sex Addiction and Sin – Why the Words We Choose Matter

In spite of all this you say, ‘I am innocent; He is not angry with me.’ But I will pass judgment on you because you say, ‘I have not sinned’~ Jeremiah 2:34-36 NIV

 It really kind of goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that the world we live in is a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess right now.

 Church attendance is down, biblical ignorance is up and Christian kids are leaving the faith faster than rats abandoning a sinking ship. Thanks to rampant immorality at every level in church leadership Christians have completely lost their moral authority in the culture and (short of a miracle) we will not be getting it back anytime soon. Those are just the problems inside the church. The problems outside the church are bigger, messier and will be even trickier to solve.

 Gender confusion is officially the new normal. Being born with a penis or a vagina is no longer something to be considered when we evaluate whether or not an individual is male or female and it is considered anti-science to suggest that there might possibly be fewer than sixty-three genders (Genesis 1:27). Mental health professionals and many educators are working overtime to eliminate the notion of masculinity as it is now thought to be toxic. Despite that fact gender reassignment surgeries are the latest rage among high school girls.

 Drug use has become appallingly common among every age group and social demographic. Divorce has become so routine that social commenters have coined the term “starter marriage”.  It is now considered an act of hate speech to suggest that anything some people find pleasurable is somehow morally wrong.

 Sigh.

 I do not pretend that I know everything there is to know about everything. Most of the time I am painfully aware of the fact that I really don’t know what I don’t know about most stuff. However, there is one thing I do know for absolute certain. There is simply no way we will get out of the mess we’re in until the church takes the lead and gets back into the business of calling sin, sin.   

 The problem that’s developed with Christians reframing sin in new (and far less offensive) terms was brought to my attention recently when I was asked to review a Bible study/curriculum intended to support, educate and guide women whose husbands have been routinely sexually immoral (adultery, pornography, homosexuality, etc.). All the women going through the curriculum have professing Christian husbands who are attending a similar study.

 The authors of the curriculum clearly have good intentions and it’s evident they want to help women who are suffering through no fault of their own. Good intentions notwithstanding, the execution of the program fails epically short. This is mostly due to the language the writers elected to use. Rather than labeling the men who have willfully chosen to disobey God and break their marriage vows with terms like ne’er-do-wells, reprobates or adulterers (Hebrews 13:5, Hebrews 12:16, 1st Corinthians 6:18-20). The men are simply referred to by the sanitary term of “sex addicts”. If the men begin misbehaving after a period of repentance their behavior is called a “relapse”.  

 The women are instructed to be endlessly patient with their straying husbands and to do everything within their power to keep their marriages intact. Not once were the women (who were sinned against) coached to treat their stubbornly unrepentant husbands like unbelievers or to go to the elders of their Church and ask for church discipline to be applied to the cheaters (1st Timothy 1:20, 1st Corinthians 5:5). Instead the women were encouraged to “make a safety plan” in the event of a “relapse”. None of the safety plans included putting the guy out on the street until he gets his act together and repents permanently (Exodus 20:14, Proverbs 6:32, Matthew 5:27-28, 1stCorinthians 5:9-11).

 Insert eye roll here.

 I understand that most of the men we refer to as “sex addicts” have experienced serious childhood trauma. The writers of the curriculum do an excellent job of explaining the roots of addiction and how childhood trauma tends to create addictive tendencies in some people. That being said, there was precious little said about taking personal responsibility for sin, the need for ongoing repentance or the role obedience to the Holy Spirit plays in living a life of holiness. Nor was there much said about God’s ability to permanently transform the heart (and behavior) of a sinful human being.

 Sadly, there are examples everywhere of framing sinful behavior in more positive terms. Drug use is a disease, drunkenness is alcoholism and most sins are now called “mistakes” or “moral failures”. Language matters and the language we are choosing to use in the church is at least part of the reason Christians are not taking personal responsibility for their sin. Sex addiction sounds like a malady to be cured while “sexual immorality” sounds like the terrible choice that it is. No one can fix a problem they refuse to name or be honest about. Truth-be-told, men who cheat on their wives are not sex addicts. They are people who have chosen to let their sin nature run wild and they will be judged for it if they refuse to repent (Hebrews 10:30, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10).

 The church does no one any favors by withholding that fundamental truth (Ephesians 4:15-16).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Newest Non-Church Related Peeve

 

Buy the truth, and do not sell it; Get wisdom and instruction and understanding~ Proverbs 23:23 AMP

 I have been burdened with more than a few pet peeves and irritations. I loathe cheap socks and people who are mean to dogs. I get super cranky when I encounter a seemingly intelligent person who knows exactly what they need to do to solve a problem or fix a situation and yet they refuse to do it. I hate it when motorists will not get their stupid, egocentric selves into the other lane so drivers can merge on to the freeway in a civilized fashion. If you really want to see me go a little crazy-town just leave an empty cereal box in the cupboard (an empty box is basically just a lie sitting in the pantry).

 I have a longstanding peeve that is quickly becoming my most intense non-church peeve of all time.  I am sick to death of being manipulated and lied to by people who are supposed to be unbiased reporters of the facts.

 For the record, I believe this mess is much bigger than our current president and his disputes with the media. Ultimately this issue is about truth and whether or not truth matters enough to fight for it. It has enormous spiritual, political and practical implications (more on that later).

 My frustration boiled over this past week when every news agency in the universe reported that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) arrested an illegal immigrant for the sole purpose of deportation.  According to the storyline the poor man was simply minding his own business and driving his wife to the hospital to have their baby when ICE arrested him for no good reason.

  If the story were true it would be legitimately awful, an enormous waste of tax dollars and clear evidence that ICE needs to rethink their priorities.  However, the story was factually incorrect on just about every level. It turns out that the guy is not a squeaky-clean family man just trying to make a better life for himself and his family.   It is true that he was wanted in Mexico for murder. It is also true that ICE arrested him at the request of the Mexican government. Immigration enforcement chose a traffic stop because they felt it was the best way to ensure the safety of others.

 There is simply no way so many journalists (who are trained to uncover facts) could be so wrong about so many details. There is simply not that much stupid in the world. Facts were deliberately omitted in the hopes that no one would check them out.

 The situation at the Southern border is yet another example of deliberate deceitfulness. Hardly a day goes by when we are not reminded (usually a dozen times or more) that there are still children in custody who are separated from their parents. What we aren’t told is that those children share no DNA in common with the person claiming to be their parent. Those children have been traveling in the company of human traffickers who plan to sell them to perverts for sex. That’s the real outrage.  We are being purposefully misled in order to stir-up hatred and pit people against each other. 

 Refusing to report the facts is just one way we are being deceived. It has become all-too common for politicians to refuse to answer the question they have been asked. Instead they point out that the other party (or another politician) has done way worse things than they have done. Even “conservative” commentators allow politicians and pundits to get away with this childishness. This willful stupidity confuses the ill-informed and creates an atmosphere of laziness and excuse making among the political class (like we need more of that).

 The political, social, and spiritual implications of this situation are massive. Millions of people are being manipulated into thinking a certain way about issues (Deuteronomy 32:28).  I saw the results of this firsthand this past week when I visited my eighty-year-old father (a scientist with a college degree). Thanks to certain “news” networks he believes (among many other weird things) that the KKK is growing rapidly and that gangs of white people are roaming every city in America searching for victims to harass and terrorize.

 Insert eye roll here.

 This idiocy could easily lead to a civil war. If decent people really believe that what is being reported is happening they will at some point feel honor-bound to do something about it. At that point we will have a vicious revolution based on fabrications and deceit.

 On a spiritual level this situation is seriously troubling because Scripture clearly teaches that it is truth that sets us free (John 8:32) and that lies are the devil’s work (John 8:44, Revelation 12:9). If enough people believe enough lies for long enough it will shrivel their souls, harden their hearts and alter the landscape of our country permanently.

 We ought to be very wary of everything we read or see on the news these days. Christians need to get in the habit of going to sources to check facts and listening to both sides of every story and political issue. If something doesn’t make sense, question it until it does. Christians ought to be praying daily for wisdom and discernment when it comes to distinguishing truth from error (Psalm 119:25, 1stChronicles 12:32). 

 Democracy is critical to Christianity because it’s the field where Christianity grows the healthiest. Democracy is entirely reliant on an unbiased press.  If we don’t figure out a way to restore an honest press, we might just lose democracy in this generation and freedom of religion along with it.  

 

 

                                      

 

 

 

 

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Church People Need to Hurry-up and Get It Together Now

We can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth~ 1stJohn 2:2-4 NLT

 It’s been a long depressing week.

 A cursory glance at the news would quickly convince anyone that the whole stinking world has lost its mind.

 The rabble-rousers at ANTAFA have been protesting racism and fascism by lighting things on fire and punching strangers in the face. The news media is aiding and abetting this chicanery by openly defending ANTAFA’s methods and claiming that some punches are more “moral” than others (What?). Several American universities have begun stocking their men’s bathrooms with tampons in the name of gender equality and fairness (seriously, I am incapable of making this stuff up).    

 Sadly, that carnival of madness pales in comparison to the news that came out of the church world this week. Bill Hybels, guru of all things evangelical and lead Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church resigned after allegations of adultery, duplicity and ongoing sexual idiocy were confirmed. The resignation of the entire board of Willow Creek Church quickly followed when it was disclosed that they had dismissed and covered-up allegations of abuse from dozens of women over the years. Immediately following the news of that flaming-hot-dumpster-fire it was revealed that the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania lied about and aided in the systemic sexual abuse of thousands of children over the course of several decades.

Sigh.

 All this would be less worrisome if it weren’t simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shady behavior, sketchiness and sin in the church. It is not unusual for local church leaders to openly behave in ways that are questionable at best and downright sinful at worst. It is even more common for Christian laypeople to totally disregard clear instruction given in the Bible. Some have taken to treating bad behavior by other Christians as if clear-cut cases of sin were simply a matter of Christian freedom or lifestyle choices (1stPeter 3:16).

 This is not about freedom in Christ or the right some post-modern Christians think they have to be uninhibited by any and all rules (1stCorinthians 6:20, 1stCorinthians 8:9, 2ndTimothy 2:5). This is about people who do not know Jesus and probably never will because too many Christians flatly refuse to control their baser urges. It pretty much goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that it is highly unlikely that even one of those little kids who were molested by their parish priests grew-up to become Christians. If we want to turn things around we need to do five things fast:

 We must redefine what qualifies as suitable entertainment for Christians-

 Recently, I watched a television show that was wildly popular back in the day (twenty-plus years ago). Fifteen minutes in, I realized the real success of that program was in normalizing sin, especially the sins of pornography and homosexuality. When the devil can get us to giggle at behaviors that God forbids or to identify strongly with characters who are openly sinful and deeply flawed we are well on our way to accepting those behaviors as normal and even healthy. Over the course of the last two decades Christian attitudes towards sin has changed dramatically. Our entertainment choices are at least partly to blame.

 We need a return to church discipline-

 I get that this a touchy issue. I also get that we live in a ridiculously litigious society where few people (including most Christians) are willing to accept correction anymore. I also understand that Christians should be slow to judge and quick to forgive. I also know that too many churches have abused the notion of church discipline and used it as a means to bully, control and intimidate other Christians. That being said, Paul made it clear that certain behaviors are not be tolerated in Christian churches. He also gave clear-cut instructions on healthy church discipline and restoration of the repentant (1stCorinthians 5, 2ndCorinthians 2) 

 We should less time fretting about legalism and more time focusing on obedience-

 About two decades ago believers went on a crusade to eliminate every possible hint of legalism from the church. This is not a bad thing, so long as we do not equate obedience to New Testament commands with legalism. Until we recognize this has become a problem the church will continue to struggle with sin.   

 We need to stop thinking that attendance is the measure of a leader-

 Since the emergence of the first mega-church in the late 1980’s the ability to draw a crowd has become the gold standard for Christian leadership.  There is nothing wrong with having a guy on staff who can put butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate. However, it is critical we remember that nowhere in the New Testament are those things considered a requirement (or even a consideration) for biblical leadership. Rather, we are told to look for leaders who serve as examples of morality, love, grace and human decency for the rest of us (1stTimothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-7)

 We need to remember that God is to be feared-

 Seriously.  He knows stuff and He will judge everything. Including things done in secret (Hebrews 4:13, Revelation 20:12-13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Reasons the Church Is 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 that my last (not political at all) blog post was too political and they refused to promote it.  I was seriously irritated by this turn of events and I am not easily daunted when I’m irritated about something. So, I dug through the archives, unearthed an older post, did a little editing, published the older post and got the-powers-that-be to promote that one instead.

 Hah.

 The 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 the feeling of “being in love”. This theory is backed-up by the statistic that sixty-four percent of adult Christians surveyed no longer believe it is wrong to have sex outside of marriage.

  An astute reader (Aaron Mendenhall) 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?”

 Aaron’s question got me thinking about the whys and how’s of where we are today, not just concerning the issue of sex but a whole host of other issues as well.  It is simply a (sad) 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 value-free sex education and secular entertainment for problems we are having 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 these days are exactly 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 relationships and support 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 messing around on 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 (and act on that belief by being obedient) that God will do what He says He will do. This includes things like judging people.

  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 make better choices.

 

 

How Constantly Taking Offense Has Turned Us Into Insufferable Babies

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense~ Proverbs 19:11

 We live in strange times.

 Ideas, customs and behaviors that were once considered right are now thought to be offensive and just plain wrong (Isaiah 5:20).

 Some of those things actually make sense.

 No rational human would even attempt to defend indentured servitude, human sacrifice, child brides or the practice of female genital mutilation. That said, some of the ideas and behaviors our culture finds offensive these days are not nearly as easy to understand or defend. Like taking offense at those who identify as the gender they were assigned at conception (CIS genderism), the notion of nations having borders and the belief that humans should have a right to be born.

 Sigh.  

 One of the stranger things that was once considered a good thing (or at least a neutral thing) that has become a bad thing is cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the practice of borrowing (some would say stealing) the best aspects of a culture and appropriating or adopting those things into another culture. Ancient Romans were among the first to brazenly appropriate other cultures but Americans have perfected the practice. That is why Americans can say with a straight face that something is as “American as apple pie” when apples are from Asia and the practice of baking apples into pies began in England during the Middle Ages.

 Because cultural appropriation is now considered offensive there are people who are sincerely offended when they see a college student with a sombrero on or basic white girls wearing hoop earrings (true story). A few years past a horde of folks became frothing-at-the-mouth offended when they saw a not-so-basic white girl wearing a Chinese inspired prom dress. This tells me we have become a people who are far too easily offended by just about everything.

 As a culture we have forgotten that taking offense is a choice.  It’s a choice that inevitably leads to broken friendships, shattered marriages and split churches. If offense is allowed to run amok in a society it can eventually lead to ugly social upheaval and in the most extreme cases: civil war.  On a personal level the greatest danger in habitually taking offense is that being offended all the time transforms otherwise intelligent people into insufferable boobs who are far more concerned with feelings than with facts.  Christians are called to be salt and light in our broken and hurting world (Matthew 5:13-15). We simply cannot do that if we are heavily focused on our feelings all the time.

 Here is how offense ruins people:

 Offense stops spiritual and personal growth-

 Even secular experts agree that the ability to examine ourselves and see the things we need to change is the key to personal growth. Self-examination is also a prerequisite for spiritual growth (Lamentations 3:40, 2ndCorinthians 13:5). Offense takes our eyes off our bad behavior and weak spots and places our focus entirely on other people’s actions and attitudes. When that happens, we become so focused on others and what they need to change that we fail to see our own sins clearly.     

 Offense breeds bitterness-

 Offense is a knee-jerk reaction. Like most knee-jerk reactions, offense is not typically something we prayerfully evaluate. Nor is it something we typically ask God to help us deal with in a godly or wise way. Most of the time when people become offended the only thing they can think about is how justified they feel in their decision to be offended (Proverbs 18:19). This inevitably leads to bitterness. Nothing will transform a person into a defiling force faster than bitterness (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15).

 Offense leads to spiritual deception-

 In Matthew 24 Jesus gives us a preview of what life will look like just prior to His second coming. One of the certainties of that time is that people will take offense at just about everything (Matthew 24:10-11 NKJV). Offended-ness will lead to hate and betrayal. Out of all that offense and hate, false teachers will rise up and lead people (even some Christian people) away from the truth. Jesus is doing more than just giving as a trailer of future events in this verse. He is providing insight into the very nature of offense. Offense causes us to become heavily focused on our feelings. When feelings run the show, we become unable/unwilling to comprehend any truth that does not directly line up with our feelings. As a result, we become sitting ducks for false teachers who tell us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to hear (2ndTimothy 4:3).

 Offense prevents us from accomplishing God’s will for our lives-

 God’s will for all Christians is for us to glorify Him. It’s simply a fact that no one in the history of forever has ever glorified God while indulging an offended spirit.

 Chronic offended-ness is clear indicator of a pride problem-

  Most of the time offense comes as a result of someone telling us an unpleasant truth about ourselves or pointing out a fact we missed. It’s the height of pride to believe that we know so much that we never need to be educated, informed or redirected. Proverbs 16:18 tells us that pride comes before a fall. Falls almost always occur because a warning went unheeded (2ndChronicles 26:16, Proverbs 11:2).

 Taking offense is not always a bad thing. Everyone should be offended by sin, injustice and bigotry (2ndChronicles 19:7, Galatians 3:28). That said, we should all do regular gut-checks to ensure we are actually being offended by the right things.  If we find ourselves offended by the wrong things we need to take our offenses to God and seek to forgive those who have offended us.

 It really is that simple.   

At Least One Reason Why We’re Such a Flaming-hot Dumpster Fire of a Mess in This Country

 They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk and evil suspicions~ 1stTimothy 6:4 NIV

 I did something stupid this week. I totally knew better. But for some reason I still don’t completely understand I did it anyway.

 I engaged on the internet.

 It all started innocently enough (it always does). A friend posted an article about Robert De Niro’s f-word infused anti-Trump harangue at the Tony Awards on Sunday night. I have been preoccupied with several big writing and speaking projects lately and haven’t stayed on top of current events like I usually do. As a result, I wasn’t even aware of the hullabaloo surrounding Mr. De Niro’s comments.  

 So, I was curious.

 After reading the article I scanned the comments section of the post (first big mistake). In one of the comments a guy (I will call him “Tom”) compared Robert De Niro’s sweaty, wild-eyed, profanity-laced tirade to a speech given by Franklin Graham a while back where he stated (among other things) that our country is in a battle between good and evil and that the soul of our nation is at stake. “Tom” went on to say that Franklin Graham was essentially calling half the people in our country “evil” because half the country (give or take) is opposed to Trump and his policies. “Tom” inferred that Robert De Niro and Franklin Grahams speeches were more-or-less morally equivalent. He didn’t say it outright but he also implied that we all ought to slow the roll on judging Mr. De Niro.

 Sigh.

 Because I am a clueless doofus sometimes (and because I genuinely believed in my heart-of-hearts this guy must be confused) I calmly explained to “Tom” that Franklin Graham was not saying half the people in America are evil. He was simply saying that some ideas are evil and that we are in a battle for the heart and soul of the country. Then I went on to say (like a clueless doofus) that saying someone believes an evil idea doesn’t necessarily make them irredeemable (second big mistake).

 Well.

 It turns out my words were not as calming (or helpful) as I hoped (Proverbs 10:19). “Tom” jumped all over the word “irredeemable” and things got really tense really quickly. He said that it sounded to him as if I was saying that anyone who didn’t share the same beliefs I had were “irredeemable”. He then demanded that I tell him what beliefs made a person irredeemable.

 I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but at this point I was beginning to get an inkling that “Tom” was not seeking to understand or to be understood. He simply wanted to back me into corner and force me to call him evil. 

 I wasn’t in the mood to bite at that hook so I simply informed him he was wrong rather than evil and that there was a huge difference between being evil and wrong (third big mistake). This turned out not to be calming or helpful either (I already owned-up to being a clueless doofus). Needless to say, things did not end well and “Tom” and I did not become “friends” on social media.

 I did have an epiphany as a result of my conversation with “Tom”.

 I know at least one reason why we have become so divided. We have lost our way because we don’t discuss ideas and beliefs anymore. We don’t debate good and evil or right and wrong. Nor do we deliberate the outcome of policies or philosophies anymore. Instead we play ridiculous games of word-gotcha where we scrutinize people’s words, look for a way to attack them based on their words and debate the imagined meaning behind the words rather than the ideas, programs or philosophies in question.

 It is ruining us all (2nd Timothy 2:14, 1st Timothy 6:4).  

 My exchange with” Tom” is a textbook example. “Tom” jumped on one word and read a whole truckload of subtext into that one word (irredeemable). He did not want to know what ideas I felt were evil. He certainly didn’t ask what I thought might be done to improve things in our country. He simply jumped directly to the notion that I was calling him evil. For the record, I wasn’t suggesting that “Tom” is evil. I was honestly attempting to clarify what Mr. Graham actually meant for “Tom”.

 Word-gotcha is a legitimate problem but is a problem we can do something about. If you find yourself engaging with someone who attempts to trap you into a debate over the “real” meaning of a word you used DO NOT let them do it and DO NOT engage in the game.

 Call them on it.

 Explain in very simple terms exactly what they are doing and then inform them respectfully that you refuse to engage in silly games of word-gotcha. Let them know (in a kind and loving tone) that you would love to discuss issues and ideas but you simply will not discuss what you really meant by a particular word. Be polite, be willing to engage on the actual issues, be willing to hear a viewpoint you don’t agree with, be loving, be Christ-like but also be firm.

 Our civilization might actually depend on it.

 Seriously.

  

Winning the Battle with the D-word

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged~ Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

It’s been a long couple of weeks and I have found myself in a nasty battle with the d-word:

Discouragement

 It’ wasn’t any one big, awful thing that had me feeling down. It was just a whole bunch of irksome first-world stuff that coalesced into a brutal case of discouragement.

 Part of the problem is situational: I live in Washington and it’s January. I have not seen the sun for more than a couple of minutes at a time in months. The vitamin D pills I’ve been eating like skittles are simply not getting the job done anymore. I am in desperate need of some actual sunshine. Among the other problems compounding that issue were some tense meetings, our beloved little dog died, I have a problem that affects me personally that I have zero control over, and a mean person said some hurtful things that I had a hard time getting over.

 I am keenly aware that in the grand scheme of life and eternity none of my problems are all that significant. I have a roof over my head, a solid marriage, healthy children, a relationship with God and some close friends that I trust. In other words, all the stuff that really matters in this life is still okay in my world.

 However, knowing all that did not stop me from wallowing around in negativity like a pig in the mud. I spent the better part of a day making terrible dietary choices and feeling sorry for my pathetic self.

 Just as I was reaching the highpoint of my pity-party, God gave me an uncomfortable but essential insight into the situation. I knew at that moment that if I didn’t find a way to get a grip on myself I was going to fall into pit of discouragement and stay there indefinitely, and the longer I stayed the harder it was going to be to get out.

 Discouragement left to fester is potentially dangerous from a spiritual perspective. Discouragement is not a sin (thank God). However, it is a reaction to circumstances that can easily mutate into something more permanent like despair or more sinister like bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). After my recent epiphany, I have come to believe that the key to dealing with discouragement effectively is to firmly grasp hold of the four following principles.

 Understand that discouragement is simply part of living in a fallen world-

 Admittedly, recognizing this reality changes exactly nothing. However, embracing the fact that EVERYONE goes through periods of discouragement does help put our feelings in perspective and it keeps us from buying into the lie that the universe is picking on us in a unique or personal way (John 16:33).

 Do not fall into the trap of focusing only on what can’t be changed-

 One of the truly dangerous things about discouragement is that it can blind us to answers that are right in front of us (Exodus 6:9). Discouragement can transform even really smart, really spiritual people into one of those annoying souls who always has a really great reason why whatever solution is offered (no matter how practical, workable or wise the solution might be) will not work in their particular situation. Unless you want to be that guy (or girl) it is essential we don’t let the emotion of discouragement drive our decision-making or willingness to apply solutions to our problems.

 Find something to be thankful for-

 Thankfulness alone will not magically transform a bad situation into a pleasant one (sorry). That said, Christians are commanded to be thankful (Hebrews 12:28, Colossians 3:15, Colossians 4:2) even in less than ideal circumstances (1st Thessalonians 5:18). I think this is because the act of offering gratitude to God takes our focus off our problems and frees us up to see possibilities that we were previously blind to. Thankfulness reminds us that there is more to this life than problems and trouble, it reorders our focus and helps us to see the good in life. The ability to see something (anything) good in a bad situation really is a game-changer when we are stuck in a pit of discouragement.

 Trust that God is working on your behalf in spite of what circumstances are telling you-

This is obviously easier said than done, especially when negative circumstances look and feel insurmountable. But believing the truth of God’s word, rather than what circumstances are telling us, really is the essence of faith (Hebrews 11:1). It is also the way we please God (Hebrews 11:6, Galatians 3:9).