Why it's Critical We Get Free of the Past-

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  

  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.

Far too many of us get stuck in the past in all the wrong ways. 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. There are seven reasons to let go of the old so God can do whatever new things He’s looking to do in our lives:  

 Getting stuck in the past creates bitterness-

Oftentimes we get stuck in the past because we are hurt or angry about something unpleasant that happened there. The sense we were cheated or wronged can lead to bitterness in the present. It’s critical Christians keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in their lives (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness makes Christians utterly and profoundly useless (Hebrews 12:15, Acts 8:23) and no genuine believer in Jesus ever wants to be useless.  The key to getting free from bitterness is to the take time to prayerfully process painful events from the past and then make the choice everyday 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 junk. We become obsessed with our feelings and when we focus heavily on feelings we become blind to our own faults. This 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 way church was once done.   

 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, 2nd Timothy 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. No one in history 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 things (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 than ungrateful people are. We are the most grateful when we are living in the moment and choosing to see what God is doing for us right now.   

 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 very real 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.

 

Four Ways Churches Encourage 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 people 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 decisions out of impulse or reflex. 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 care if an engaged couple has sex before marriage (as long they are careful keep it on the down-low). However, many of these same people are appalled at the mere thought of two Christians living together before marriage.

 Conversely, there are churches whose 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 encourage 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 always required of Christians (Matthew 6:15). However, marital reconciliation should only take place if the injured party 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 the consequences of sin (1st Corinthians 5:11).

 We do not treat pornography like the sin that it is

 If I hear one more Christian (male) leader refer to pornography as “just pornography” I will need to be medicated and/or physically restrained. Sixty-eight percent of Christian men routinely view pornography precisely because it is treated 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).

 Some churches are 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 is NOT the proper authorities). 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 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.

Seriously. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winning the Battle Everyone Has to Fight at Some Point

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 one great-big-awful-thing that had me feeling down. Rather, it was just a bunch of irksome stuff that coalesced into a brutal case of discouragement.

 Part of the problem is situational: I live in Washington state and it’s January. I have not seen even a glimpse of the sun for more than a couple of minutes at a time in months. The vitamin D tablets I’ve been munching on are simply not getting the job done anymore. I am in desperate need of some actual sunshine. Some other problems compounding that issue were a tense meeting, our beloved little dog died and I have a problem that affects me personally that I have zero control over. On top of all that a mean person said some hurtful things that hit a little too close to home and I had a hard time getting over them.

 I am keenly aware of the fact that none of my problems are truly 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 truly significant stuff in 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 eating my feelings and focusing endlessly on the negative.

 Just as I reached the apex of my pity-party, I had 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 transforms 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 an unpleasant 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) and it is how we please God (Hebrews 11:6, Galatians 3:9).  

Five Ways our Generation has Screwed-up Prayer

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

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

 This visit was no exception.

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

 I will not lie.

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

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

 Beginning with:

 We plan instead of pray-

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

 We just don’t do it-

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

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

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

 We pray for dumb stuff-

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

 We don’t pray corporately-

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

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

Lies We Believe about Words

Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing. Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed~ Proverbs 12:18-19 NLT

 Words.

 There is certainly no scarcity of the little trouble-makers in our modern age. We are literally inundated with all kinds of words. I was recently reminded that the words we speak really do make a difference. Most of the words floating around today fall into one of two classifications:

 Life giving and soul sucking:

Life giving words are instructive, helpful and motivating. They are literally like honey to the soul (Proverbs 16:24). They build others up rather than tearing them down. Life giving words remind people in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways that we are the image-bearers of God and that our existence matters to Him. A life-giving word from a friend is sometimes all it takes to begin the process of healing a hurt or restoring a wandering soul. Life giving words make people feel cared for and confident about the role they play in this world. Life-giving words motivate us to become better versions of ourselves and propel us to accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible.

 Conversely, soul-sucking words tear others down and crush the life out of people (Proverbs 12:18). Soul-sucking words can be either cruel and insensitive or deceptive and misleading. Cruel and insensitive words are spoken selfishly with little thought to how they will affect the hearer. Alas, cruel and insensitive words are sometimes the words that stick with us the longest and make the most impact on how we see ourselves. Insults, name-calling, cursing and general cattiness all fall neatly into the category of soul-sucking speech.

 Deceptive words are by definition tougher to spot; they can come in the form of outright lies, twisting truth, gossip and backstabbing. Deceptive words sometimes sound legitimately wholesome and innocuous, at least on the surface. Sometimes they even come across as wise and life giving. However, because any wisdom embedded in this type of speech is worldly (false). Deceptive words eventually lead all involved down a path of destruction.

 Christians typically place a high value on words, and for a myriad of really good reasons. God has quite a lot to say on the subject. The Bible contains hundreds of verses instructing God’s people on the correct and incorrect use of words.

 Nonetheless.

 There are some serious errors floating around Christian circles concerning the right and wrong use of words.

 Many believers have bought into some erroneous and rather absurd beliefs where speech is concerned. This flawed thinking is quickly becoming embedded in much of our Christian culture. Many are being deceived, discipleship has become compromised and, in some cases, our ability to share the gospel and communicate truth to the world has been diminished.

 The first lie says that in order for a message or word to be life giving the words communicated must be “nice”, “encouraging” or “uplifting” to the hearer or reader. Those who have bought into this lie reject out of hand any message or statement that causes the hearer of said statement to feel guilty or uncomfortable about anything at all.

 If we assume this ridiculous notion to be true then logically Christians need to get busy throwing out huge chunks of the Bible. This would include most of the Prophets, many of the Proverbs and vast portions of New Testament books. This would include parts of the Gospels, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd Timothy, Jude and Revelation based on the fact that these books contain warnings that are far from “nice” ‘encouraging” and/or “uplifting” (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:43-47, 1st Corinthians 6:9, Ephesians 5:5, Hebrews 6:4-6, 2nd Peter 2:4). 

The second lie is essentially the converse of the first lie, that it is somehow more “authentic” or “real” to say what needs to be said in the bluntest and in some cases rudest way possible. Those who have bought into this drivel confuse political correctness with respect and believe that the only honest speech is raw speech. In my experience “raw speech” or “honest speech” is frequently just a thin cover for intentionally aggressive and cruel speech.

 Truth lies somewhere in the middle and, as always, there is wisdom in striving for balance. Ephesians 4:15 is the gold standard of instruction concerning Christian speech, it instructs Christians to tell people the truth about their choices (truth can be unpleasant and hard to hear) in a loving way (which is incredibly tough to do) and that those two things are how we help people to grow into Christian maturity and the image of Jesus Christ.

Dealing with a Creep Problem

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been~ 1st Kings 11:4

 Our home is currently on the market. Having a house up for sale is a little like being in the final weeks of pregnancy. Each morning dawns with optimism and hope, and the sense that today could be the day. Every evening ends in despondency as you wonder if anything is ever going to actually happen.

 Daily despair aside, by far the toughest thing about having a house on the market is the level of vigilance that must be maintained regarding cleanliness. Realtors will tell you that items a family uses on a regular basis should be kept out of sight and every surface should be tidy and dust-free at all times. The whole idea is to create the illusion that nobody actually lives in your house so that buyers can envision themselves living there.

Maintaining this absurd illusion is even more challenging than it sounds.

 As the process has dragged on, I have learned a few sanity-saving tricks. I keep the ceiling fans running so buyers won’t notice any dirt on the blades. I hide items I don’t want people to see in my husband’s workbench in the garage. I have also cut back on the time I spend doing laundry. I stash our dirty laundry in the trunks of our cars before showings.

 My lack of attention to the laundry has resulted in a rather foreseeable consequence. We are all running a bit low on clean clothes. This has got me searching the darkest regions of my closet for clothing I quit wearing and should have donated ages ago.

 Recently, I pulled out a pair of shorts I hadn’t even looked at in at least two years. They were clean, not horrible looking and all I had left, so they met all the essential criteria. It didn’t take me long for to recognize there was going to be a problem.

 The shorts were, well, a bit snug. However, at that point I was running critically low on options and feeling desperate. So I persevered. I tugged and yanked and sucked in my gut and held my breath and finally managed to get them zipped. After some more effort I even succeeded in getting the button fastened.

 I stood in front of the mirror for a good while debating whether or not I should put on a long shirt to cover my hind-end or go back to my closet for a more suitable option. Just as I concluded that a long shirt would do the job, the button I had labored to fasten popped off with such force that it ricocheted off the bathroom wall.

 I was not a happy woman. And not just because I was faced with needing to do laundry; I also realized I needed to lose weight. Fast.  

 As I pondered my new eating plan (fewer greasy carbs, no more late night nibbles with the dog) I realized that sin and weight gain have more than a few things in common.

No one wakes up fat; weight gain is a process.

 It starts with choosing fries instead of salad. Next you throw caution to the wind and order deep-fried everything and a big messy dessert with one fork every time you go out. The routine of sharing a little nibble with the dog before bed slowly devolves into a carbo-loading frenzy for both of you every night of the week. Before long, your adorable little dog is wearing a jumbo size harness and your buttons are ricocheting off the bathroom wall.

 Sin works much the same way.

Nobody wakes up one morning blindsided by an addiction or just decides to begin an affair. It all starts fairly innocently with a seemingly inconsequential moral compromise here and a teensy little concession to sin there. Before you know it, you are stuck in a shame-spiral due to a deep-rooted habit you can’t break or a relationship that is clearly not God’s best for you.

 Thankfully, issues with sin and weight gain are solved in much the same way. Begin with acknowledging that there really is a problem. Denial is the enemy. Owning the problem is the next step; don’t pretend sin isn’t wrong or fool yourself into believing it won’t eventually kill you.

 Confess it, first to God, then to a friend who cares enough to hold you accountable. Then change as quickly as possible. Cut ties to toxic relationships, go to church this week, sign-up for a Bible study, and reach out to people who want to help you.

 Most importantly of all, remember that the situation, whatever it might be, does not need to define you. You are so much more than a series of bad choices to God. He is ready to forgive and give you the new beginning you so desperately need; all you have to do is repent.

 If only weight loss were that easy.

 

 

 

 

What Grace is Not

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age~ Titus 2:11-12

 I am not, nor have I ever been, much of a rule-maker. My husband and I had very few rules for our children while they were growing up. The rules we did make for our kids all tended to center around safety and relationships.

 My dislike of excessive rules has made its way into nearly every other area of my life as well. To the chagrin of my rule-following husband one of my favorite personal axioms is:

 “Rules are for people who don’t know how to do things”.

 My aversion to man-made rules is born out of a deeply held conviction that laws are for law-breakers (1st Timothy 1:9-11); and that there would be no need for laws if people would simply use good judgment and obey God (Galatians 5:18). No one who knows me personally has ever charged me with being a legalist.

 All that being said, if I hear one more Christian who is actively skirting the edges of good sense or worse yet, openly sinning proclaim one of the following phrases: “I am under grace not law!” “You can’t judge me!,” or “Just because something is wrong for you does not mean it’s wrong for everyone”. I will need to be medicated.

 It is my conviction that these statements are born out of confusion over two concepts: God’s moral law and grace. Too many folks mistakenly suppose that God’s law and grace are things they are not.

 God’s moral law is not…

 Irrelevant- Matthew 5:17, Galatians 5:18-20, Colossians 3

 There are three types of law in the Old Testament, ceremonial, civil and moral. As the ultimate High Priest Jesus satisfied all aspects of the ceremonial law, it is now fulfilled and is therefore irrelevant for Christians. Civil law was intended for the nation of Israel, and is not generally pertinent today. However, that does not mean that Christians are not bound by moral standards found in the law. If a command or instruction from the Old Testament law is repeated in the New Testament, it still applies today.

 A club to beat people with- Ephesians 4:2, Galatians 6:1-3

 One reason there is so much confusion over this issue is because too many people have been far too focused on the actions of others for far too long. It is biblical for one Christian to warn another when their actions are crossing clear biblical lines (1st Corinthians 4:14, James 5:20). That being said, we have to remember that we are to judge our own behavior at least as harshly as we judge the behavior of others.  Our responsibility as believers is to lovingly warn others where their behavior will lead, what they choose to do with those warnings is on them (Ezekiel 3:21).

An excuse to make more rules- 1st John 5:3, Matthew 23:1-15

Too often Christians make rules around God-given commands and then treat the man-made rules as if they were God’s commands. Man-made rules are typically  well-intentioned and meant to assist us in keeping the God given command. However, generally speaking all man-made rules do is confuse the issues and lead to unnecessary legalism.  An example would be sexual immorality. Christians are commanded to abstain from sexual immorality. Period. Rules against dating, hand-holding, wearing make-up, premarital kissing and dancing do help some people to avoid sexual sin but those are personal choices, not God-given commands and should not be treated as such.

Grace is not:

 A justification for intentional sin- Jude 1:4

 Too many Christians have perverted the whole notion of grace and turned it into a free pass for willful sin, unruly living and bad behavior. Grace is not nor was it ever intended to be a free pass for anything. Furthermore, one has to wonder how sorry anyone can be for a sin they committed on purpose.

 An excuse to avoid the hard work of living a holy life- Ephesians 5:3, 1st Peter 1:13-15, Philippians 2:12

 In one sense Christians are made holy at the point of salvation (Hebrews 10:10-14). However, we are also commanded by God to work out the details of our salvation (Philippians 2:12) and to behave in a way that reflects our status as holy people (Colossians 3:1-17). It is impossible do either effectively when we are living a life of sin.

 The benefits of grace are nearly incomprehensible. Grace pardons us from the penalty of sin (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace allows us to do things and endure things the world writes off as impossibilities. (2nd Corinthians 12:9). Grace gives us peace beyond human understanding during difficult times (Philippians 4:7). Grace enables us to understand God on a deeper level (Ephesians 1:7-9). Grace empowers us to see people the way God sees people and, if properly understood, grace compels us to show mercy toward others. Perhaps, the most practical application of grace is that it empowers inherently sinful people to live holy lives (Titus 2:11-12). Because grace is so freely given it can easily devolve into a justification for self-indulgence and pleasure seeking or an excuse to avoid the long, sometimes difficult process of becoming holy. When we allow these things to happen, our version of grace devolves into a perversion of something truly beautiful.