Six (seriously, not legalistic) Rules That Will Keep You From Going Totally Sideways In Life

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel~ Philippians 1:27 NIV  

I am not really much of a rule-follower.   

That being said, there was brief period early-on in my Christianity when I had a short but ill-fated love affair with legalism. Needless to say, it was not my finest hour. Over time through Bible study, the guidance of a gentle mentor, and some spiritual growth I concluded that laws are intended for law-breakers (1stTimothy 1:9). It is now my firmly held conviction that if Christians would simply seek wisdom, follow biblical principles and obey God, there would be little need for rules. 

That being said.

Recently, I was thinking about how one person can be incredibly successful from a spiritual perspective while another person in a similar set of circumstances can go completely sideways and end up shipwrecking both their lives and their faith (1stTimothy 1:18-19). As I was thinking through the how and why of all that. I came-up with was a list of attitudes and behaviors that spiritually successful people tend to have (Galatians 5:22-23, Colossians 1:9-11). Then I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with a way to express my thoughts without using the “rules” word. Ultimately, it was just too hard. Sigh. 

Following are a few rules that if followed, pretty much guarantee spiritual success, regardless of circumstances: 

Be teachable-

Being teachable is basically just being open to the notion that we might be wrong about something (doctrine, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors). Being teachable means owning it when we are not doing life well or we need help or guidance from other people. Being teachable is the polar opposite of being prideful. Teachable people ask God on a regular basis to reveal their blind spots and the areas of their lives that need work.  Then they ask for help and seek wisdom. Help and wisdom can come in the form of a wise friend, a Christian counselor, Christian books, a pastor or a spiritual mentor. What matters is that we are willing to humble ourselves and ask for it when we need it. 

Be obedient-

There has been some serious misunderstanding regarding obedience and legalism in recent years. For the better part of the 20thcentury the cultural pendulum in church world swung towards extreme legalism.  Beginning in the 1980’s the pendulum began to swing in the extreme opposite direction which eventually landed us where we are at now (extreme worldliness).  The simplest definition of legalism is the practice of adding manmade rules to straightforward biblical commands. For example: Christians are commanded to avoid sexual immorality (sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, prostitution etc.) Christians are NOT told to abstain from dating or told to only practice courtship or to avoid kissing or dancing. It is legalistic (adding to God’s commands) to prohibit dating, dancing or kissing. However, it is clearly NOT legalistic to tell someone to stop hooking-up with strangers or to obey the Bible (1stThessalonians 4:3-8, 1stTimothy 1:10, 1stCorinthians 6:8-10, 1stCorinthians 6:15).

Engage the world around you- 

We only get one shot at life on this planet (Hebrews 9:27) and our time here is so short that the Bible refers to human life as a flower that springs up for a season (1stPeter 1:24, Job 14:1-2). Furthermore, every season of life tends to be shorter than we think it will be. We only have so much time to be married, parent our children, love our neighbors, pastor our churches, lead the people around us and/or impact our workplaces for Jesus.  It would benefit us all to put down our phones, shut off the T.V. and be a lot more intentional about engaging the world and the people in it. Not only would we have a bigger impact on our world we would also enjoy our time here more.  

Recognize and run from unhealthy people and situations-

Sadly, in this fallen world there are individuals and situations that can be detrimental to our spiritual and emotional health. Those folks repeatedly take us to a place where we doubt God, lose faith in our ability to do the things God has called us to do and sometimes they even cause us to sin (Matthew 18:6, Luke 17:1). I am not a big supporter of simply cutting people out of our lives without a really good reason. That said, there are situations where a little (or a lot of) distance is just wise.

Become a friend of God-

Believe God is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. Get to know Him on a personal level rather than simply acquiring information about Him and God will call you His friend (James 2:23).   

 Develop people- 

Jesus spent the vast majority of His time helping people to become better and healthier versions of themselves. He wants us to do the same. Make a point of helping friends, strangers, co-workers and subordinates to become the best version of themselves they can become. In the process you will become an improved version of you. 

Six Reasons Christians Should Prepare for an Uncertain Future

There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 2ndTimothy 3:1-4 NIV

I am not someone who worries excessively about the world going to hell in a handcart—not because the world is perfect but because Christianity enables me to be an optimist. I steadfastly believe that God is on His throne and that He is firmly in control of even the messiest and most troublesome of situations (Romans 8:28). 

That being said.

Only a clueless fool would attempt to argue that life is somehow getting less weird and scary. Just last week my Mother-in-law and I were cracking each other up remembering how we used to wring our hands and bellyache about how bizarre, awful and generally sinful the world was back in the early 1990’s.

As if. 

We were convinced at the time that there was simply no way the world could get any weirder, meaner or more sinful. We were wrong. The world is far weirder, meaner and more sinful and the Bible makes it clear that while improvement is possible it is also unlikely (2ndTimothy 3:1-5, 2ndPeter 3:3, Matthew 24:4-14). The Bible is also clear that Christians will at some point in the future bear the brunt of the world’s hatred and meanness (Matthew 24:9). 

We are obviously not there yet. However, it appears that we just might be headed in that direction. There are things every Christian can and should be doing to prepare for that eventuality (more on that later) but first are six reasons every Christian ought to be preparing for tough times ahead: 

Sixty-four percent of Pastors feel they cannot speak out on social issues-

According to the Barna Research Group most pastors do not feel “safe” speaking out on thorny social issues.  I am not sure if this fear is grounded in experience or if we have all just devolved into a bunch of timid simps. I do know that the church is called to be salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). I also know that pastors are meant to be the mouthpieces of the church in this world. If sixty-four percent of pastors feel they cannot speak out about abortion, sin, sexuality and issues of fairness without suffering some sort of personal backlash then the world will quickly lose even more of its preserving (salty) influence. 

Socialism/Communism has made a major comeback-

 Despite nearly a century of utter failure communism is being ballyhooed as the salvation of the masses and a lot of people are buying into that line of thinking. This development does not bode well for the church. Communists and socialists have never been big fans of Christianity nor have they had a lot of use for Christians. 

Politics are headed in a dangerous direction- 

In some ways the political climate FEELS slightly safer than it has in the past but political rhetoric is quickly becoming incendiary and scary. Complicating things further, the vast majority of folks vying for power right now are socialists who happen to be very open about their plans to centralize governmental control and squash opposition. The political situation that is emerging right now is bad for anyone whose values do not align with the existing political and social orthodoxy.  

Libertarianism is rapidly becoming the new conservatism-

Libertarians think that nearly everything (drugs, hardcore pornography, etc..) should be lawful and widely accessible for adults (1stCorinthians 8:9). A cornerstone of libertarian dogma is that there should be no laws that hinder an individual’s personal choices (1stCorinthians 6:12, 1stCorinthians 10:23).  This would be a sensible viewpoint if every adult were wise, mature, moderate in their behavior and possessed at least a smidgeon self-control (Romans 3:23). Sadly, in our broken and fallen world a lot of people don’t possess any of those things.  In recent years many conservatives, even some religious conservatives have begun adopting a libertarian mindset. As a result, it is quickly becoming unacceptable even in Christian/conservative circles to say that some things are simply wrong or bad for society.  

The Western Church has lost its moral authority-

We have no one to blame but ourselves. Moral compromise, the prosperity gospel, pathetically feeble preaching and a lack of evangelism have caused the Western Church to lose its moral authority. This has left most of the Western world without a reliable moral compass. Most of Western culture has already bought into the notion that issues of morality are best left up to people to figure out on their own. It is only a matter of time before this view takes an uglier turn than it already has.  

Common sense is now a form of hate speech- 

It is now immoral to say (or even think) that some behaviors are wrong, dangerous or sinful. This development has and will continue to undermine the notions of free speech and free thought. Unless something changes it will eventually become unlawful to speak biblical truth simply because a small minority finds the truth offensive.  

Preparing spiritually for whatever the future might hold begins with accepting that Christians should not expect to be “safe” in this world. Christians are promised trouble, persecution and oppression in this life (John 16:33, Matthew 13:21, Romans 8:35). If by some chance we are not experiencing any of those things we should thank God for that blessing daily. 

As Christians we must learn to fight the ever increasing battles of this world with prayer, righteous living and truth rather than simply depending on the political system to save us.  We will never do that successfully without a healthy relationship with God and other Christians. It is time for Christian people everywhere to band to together, pray like crazy and seek God like we’ve never sought Him before. 

The Real Reasons Bad Things Happen to Good People

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead~ 2ndCorinthians 1:8-9 NIV

 I had a bad week.  

 I will not weary you with all the details.  I will tell you that my misery involved some irritating and insane demands on my time (which I didn’t have a lot of this week). Then there was a hostile, ungrateful and foul-mouthed person who shall remain nameless, a puppy who has zero intention of ever being house-trained and some hurt feelings that were mostly over a misunderstanding but my feelings were still hurt. Sunday and almost all of Monday was spent dealing with a (normally very sweet) teenager who is doing her level best to remind my husband and I that she is still a teenager. My misery was made complete with a badly pulled hamstring.   

 Sigh.

 By midweek, I was feeling pretty dang sorry for myself. So, I spent some time grumpily telling God my troubles and complaining about the obvious injustice of it all (like He didn’t already know). About half way through the list I swear I heard a still small voice say quite clearly:

 Count it all joy.

 I was neither amused nor joyful. Truthfully, I was more than a little irritated with the Almighty for whispering that particular Bible verse into my heart at that exact moment. All I really wanted from life right then was to vent a bit, feel sorry for my wretched and pitiful self and have the Almighty place His seal of approval on my pity party.

 Seriously. Not amused. Not joyful.

 Shortly afterward, I had a weirdly painful moment of spiritual clarity. It occurred to me that as a 21stcentury American I probably (obviously) have some fairly twisted views on what exactly constitutes a trial and what I was put on earth for. Truth-be-told in my heart-of-hearts I tend to think (unconsciously, most of the time) that the point of life is for me to be happy, milk as many experiences out of life as possible and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

 It occurred to me that this isn’t exactly a biblical view of life, but in the interest of proving myself wrong I spent some time diligently searching the Scriptures and I could not find a single verse that commands God’s people to “enjoy life” or “work towards personal fulfillment” or “have an awesome week”. Rather the Scriptures have a lot to say about hardship and why even good people seem to experience so much of it in this life (1stThessalonians 3:3). Following are four reasons Christians experience trials and hardship:

 Crummy experiences mold us into the image of Christ-

 I sincerely wish trips to Disney land made people more Christ-like but in my experience, they simply do not get the job done. It is the tough stuff of life that prepares us for future events (Genesis 37-47), eliminates our rough edges and molds us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Sigh.

 Difficulties in life build compassion for others and can be the catalyst for future ministry-

 For some reason I will never completely understand human beings are nearly incapable of understanding the needs of others until they experience those needs for themselves or they find themselves in a similar situation. Because God wants His people to be lovers of justice, doers of good and compassionate towards one another (Ephesians 2:10, Ephesians 4:32, Hebrews 10:24). There are times in life when God will allow His people to experience a hurt or injustice so that we will have a desire to fight injustice on behalf of others or provide comfort to the hurting (2ndCorinthians 1:3-7).   

 Hardships allow us to see our blind-spots and weakness more clearly-

 Regrettably, salvation does not spontaneously bring spiritual or moral perfection (Philippians 2:12, 2ndCorinthians 4:17).  The fancy-pants theological term for the oftentimes slow process of being perfected in our faith is called sanctification. Sanctification is a process that begins at the point of salvation and continues until the moment of our death. There is nothing like seeing our own negative or ugly response to a difficulty, problem or unpleasant person to help us clearly see what still needs to be sanctified (perfected) in our character.

 Difficulties in life drive us to prayer and prayer is an important part of the sanctification process-

 Prayer is the way we build intimacy and friendship with God (1st Peter 3:12). It is also the only way for sinful, fallen people to understand God and His plans (Philippians 4:6, Hebrews 5:7) clearly. Sadly, most of us (including me) are a lot less likely to pray when life is easy and everything is going our way. So, God in His infinite wisdom sometimes brings trouble into our lives so we will take our troubles to Him. In the process He provides love, comfort, strength and peace in our times of trouble as He mold us into the image of His son.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Our Silly Obsession With Racism Could Be the Undoing of Our Culture

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us~ Colossians 3:11 NLT

The self-proclaimed gatekeepers of all that is good and decent have officially reached a new level of lunacy. Students at the annual Whiteness Forum (it’s a thing) have concluded that the cartoon Veggie Tales is racist. 

Yes.

You read that correctly.

The cartoon featuring anthropomorphic vegetables who tell Bible stories to little children has been deemed “dangerous” for said children because the villainous vegetables shown are colored. For those not familiar with Veggie Tales, all the vegetables in the show are colored. This includes the protagonists, Bob and Larry who are red and green respectively. For the untaught: red and green are colors. Colors are just colors, colors are neither good nor evil. People who believe colors are capable of being anything but colors are (in my humble opinion) irrational, ignorant, pinheads who probably also believe the earth is flat.  Moreover, ALL Bible stories are set in the Middle East (that is where the stories took place). Those native to the Middle East were and still are, not white.  

Veggie tales is not the only thing branded as racist these days. White women who wear hoop earrings are racist. The NFL is racist because most of the players are black and most of the team owners are white.  Math is racist because it “operates on whiteness” (whatever the heck that means) as are farmers markets, black kids being friends with white kids, the Bible, Dr. Seuss and singing Jingle Bells.

I am not kidding. This is all real. God as my witness I made none of it up. 

It’s easy to dismiss the current hysteria as nothing more than cultural idiocy run amok (because it clearly is). However, it is dangerously short-sighted to simply write-off the ever-increasing lunacy as a passing fad (as I am tempted to do) or assume it is the next step in our cultural development (as many on the left are tempted to do). It’s more than that. 

It could easily be the undoing of our civilization (Mark 3:25).

Because people are fallen and sinful (Genesis 3, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:23, 1st John 1:10), the veneer of civilization is thin even in first-world nations. When a sizable portion of a population adopts an erroneous viewpoint (like believing everyone and everything is racist) widespread suspicion results, which can cause the thin veneer of civilization to crack. When the veneer of civilization cracks all the sinful gunk and goo that simmers just below the surface of humanity leaks out. When that happens, all hell can and sometimes does break loose.  The Serbian-Bosnian war is a horrible, heartbreaking, and very contemporary example of what can happen when a civilized first-world country loses its veneer of civilization.  

Western society is unique because it is uniquely multi-cultural. In other words, lots of different kinds of people with lots of different kinds of viewpoints and belief systems live in America and other Western countries.  Because of this, Western society (especially American society) has functioned for centuries under some mostly unwritten but critically important rules and assumptions.

Perhaps the most important belief that has guided Western nations is the idea that tribalism is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Tribalism is when individuals choose to see themselves as belonging exclusively to a minority group (Native American, Muslim, African American, Latino, LGBTQ) rather than viewing themselves as part of the greater society. Tribalism leads to social turmoil because it causes individuals to become protective of the rights of their tribe.  In the past, Americans have avoided tribalism by focusing on what people have in common rather than what makes them different. Sadly, individuals have begun to dwell endlessly on gender, political opinions, sexual preferences and skin color which has led to deep division and intense tribalism which has led to widespread xenophobia (fear of those outside the tribe).  

The second idea that has protected Western culture from anarchy is the belief that most people (even most stupid people) mean well. This does not mean that most people are wise or thoughtful. It simply means that in the past most people chose not to dwell on the stupid or thoughtless things others said or did.  That ship has officially sailed. We are now at a place where every word and facial expression is endlessly scrutinized, not only for intended offense but for unintentional offense as well. This has transformed our society into a horde of wounded crybabies.

In the not-so-distant-past it was simply expected that immigrants would cheerfully embrace the customs and language of their new country. This unwritten rule encouraged newcomers to assimilate into the culture. In recent years the gatekeepers of society (intellectuals, the entertainment industry, politicians, the news media) have concluded that immigrant assimilation is racist. Immigrants have been encouraged to hold tightly to their nationalistic zeal. This has created distinct and separate cultures within our society which has led to some immigrants mistrusting and sometimes even scorning their new homeland.

The loss of these core beliefs is putrefying our culture.

 I am not suggesting that racism is not real, it clearly is. Nor, am I suggesting that racism is ever acceptable, it never is. As a Christian I earnestly believe that ALL people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27, Acts 17:24-28) and are equal in the eyes of God (Galatians 3:28). I also believe that all people will be held equally accountable for their actions and attitudes in this life including the sinful attitude of racism (Hebrews 4:13). That said, the notion that literally everything is racist is childish, absurd and counterproductive and it will cause our civilization to lose its civility.  

When that happens, we will all lose. 

Five Ways We Have Failed Epically at Loving People

 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love- Ephesians 5:1 NIV

There is simply no subject that has been more thoroughly discussed or more hotly debated in the church today than the subject of love. My personal library contains at least a dozen volumes on the subject and hardly a day goes by when I do not come across an article or blogpost encouraging (sometimes even shaming) church people into behaving in more loving ways.

That being said, it could easily be argued that the Church is failing epically at this very basic and fundamental task (Matthew 22:36-40). The comments section of articles pertaining to hot-button issues (abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, immigration) reveal that most people view church people as a horde of angry, hard-hearted, insensitive meanies. 

Christians clearly have an optics problem when it comes to the subject of love. 

This problem has created angst in the hearts of most Christians and with good reason. It is simply impossible for those inside the church to convince those outside the church that God loves them if they do not first believe that Christians love them. Unless people believe that God loves them they will reject God; and willfully rejecting God’s love never ends well for anyone (Matthew 25:46, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:1-3, Revelation 20:11-15). 

Sigh.  

Our current optics problem came about as a result of some missteps on the part of Christians. Most of those missteps are not a result of deliberate mean-spiritedness; just a sad combination of obliviousness, biblical ignorance and misplaced zeal (Romans 10:2).  There are five mistakes Christians make that the cause the world to see us as fundamentally unloving:  

We do not love each other-

In the Christian world there is a huge emphasis placed on loving non-Christians. There is nothing at all wrong with Christians loving non-Christians. Loving non-Christians is without question a good and necessary thing. However, God also wants Christians to love each other. God intends the church to be a place where believers treat each other with the utmost love, grace, respect and patience (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, 1stPeter 3:8) so that our churches are a safe place for baby Christians to grow. God also wants churches to be places where unsaved people can clearly see the love and respect Christians have for each other. When unbelievers see authentic love and grace in our church communities they will want what we have. Sadly, many Christians are not always loving, patient or even courteous towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, many Christians publicly criticize their churches and treat other Christians with open contempt.  This breaks the heart of God and God will not bless the Western Church with revival until His people repent of this sin.  

We lack patience-

1stCorinthians 13 is basically just a treatise on loving like God loves. The very first thing the Apostle Paul tells us about love is that it is patient (1stCorinthians 13:4).  Too often we forget that genuine love gives people room to grow and develop and does not demand that people mature on our timetable. It is critical we correct those who are straying morally (2ndTimothy 3:16, 2ndTimothy 4:2). However, it is equally critical we temper our corrections with the patience, kindness and grace of God (1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Our corrections lack context- 

 In my experience, most Church people are good people who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-28). However, there are some church people who are a bit overeager when it comes to getting and keeping others on the straight and narrow. Church people forget sometimes that correction is best done in the context of relationship and should NEVER be attempted on church visitors, strangers or in front of a group. Period. It does not matter what the person is wearing or how many piercings or tattoos these folks happen to have. The only truly loving thing to do when someone shows up at church is to celebrate the fact that they are attempting to connect with God on some level. Their appearance (even if it’s inappropriate) should be irrelevant (Luke 15:15-31). 

Too many Christians think tough love is always the answer- 

Sometimes tough love (and tough words) really are the answer. There are situations in life where people need to be told the truth in a loving but straight-forward-no-holds-barred manner (Ephesians 4:15). However, most of the time a kinder, gentler method is far more effective and should always be attempted before tough love is applied (Proverbs 15:1 Titus 3:1-3, Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:1-2). 

We avoid truth telling- 

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of Christians in this world. The ones who say too much about the subject of sin and the ones who say nothing at all about the subject of sin.  Sadly, the ones who say nothing often feel justified in doing so because of the damage done by the ones who have said too much. Further complicating the situation is the fact that we have been conditioned by our society to believe that telling people the truth about their behavior is mean. That said, it is a fundamentally unloving thing to lead people to believe that they can continue to sin without consequences (Galatians 5:16-21).   

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.

Avoid Being a Useful Idiot

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour~ 1st Peter 5:8

 Recently I had a conversation with a friend struggling with some fairly serious family drama. My friend has been making every effort to repair the damaged relationships and has been baffled as to why she wasn’t making more progress. She recently learned that a “friend” has gotten in the middle of her family relationships and repeated things said in confidence and exaggerated some conversations to the point of dishonesty.

 My friend was exasperated with the situation, partly because of her own carelessness and partly because the third party mixed up in the mess (a professed Christian) appeared to be ignorant of trouble she was causing. As the conversation progressed it became obvious that her “friend” is a useful idiot.

 “Useful idiot” is a term sometimes used in place of “unwitting accomplice.” An unwitting accomplice is a person who participates in a crime unintentionally—often because the criminal tricked them into helping them pull-off the crime. Sometimes the poor fool is duped into believing that they are actually doing a good deed as they help the criminal break the law.

 The book of Job describes the devil as roaming the earth looking to cause trouble, and 1st Peter 5:8 describes Satan as one who prowls around looking for people to destroy. Ephesians 6:11 and John 10:10 tell us that the devil is continually scheming up ways to wreck havoc on the lives of people, especially God’s people. It’s a big job and even Satan needs a little help sometimes, and a useful idiot can come in handy.

 My friend’s story demonstrates that Christians sometimes unwittingly do the devils work. Even the best of God’s people can be guilty of helping the enemy steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Christians can become useful idiots when:

 They fail to get all the facts~ Proverbs 14:15

 It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of supposing that all our assumptions concerning people and situations are spot-on. The truth is that things are rarely the way they appear and there are two sides to every story. Wise people look beyond first impressions and go to the source to ask questions when a person’s character is in question. Proverbs 14:15 reminds us that only the simple-minded believe everything they hear and take every story at face value.  

 Involve themselves in situations that are none of their concern~ Proverbs 26:17

 There is nothing wrong with listening to a hurting friend or giving counsel to someone who needs it. We cross a line when we allow ourselves to become intermediaries in disputes that are none of our business. It is never okay to repeat something said in confidence and quarreling parties should always be encouraged to work things out between themselves or with a pastor or counselor. Be wary of any “friend” who is a little too eager to involve themselves in your private family affairs; it’s likely this person is a useful idiot.

 When they refuse to forgive~ Hebrews 12:15

 Refusing to forgive leads to bitterness. When bitterness takes root in our hearts, it colors the way we see the world and becomes a corrupting and defiling influence in our lives that negatively affects everyone we come into contact with.

 They allow pride to take over~ Proverbs 13:10

 The devil has figured out that the simplest way to recruit a useful idiot is to encourage pride. Pride blinds us to reality and is at the root of nearly every other sin. Pride is easy to spot in others but hard to see in ourselves because the nature of pride is self-deceptive (Obadiah 1:3). One sign we may be stuck in a prideful mindset is refusal to admit wrongdoing or when we justify our actions because of what somebody else did or didn’t do.

 Spread dissension~ Proverbs 6:16-19

 Dissension is an ugly thing that is spread by planting seeds of dissatisfaction in someone’s mind about a situation or person. Those who spread dissension point out problems without offering solutions, cast blame and repeat things that were said in confidence. It is our responsibility to be forces of good in our world; God’s people are called to be problem solvers and reconcilers rather than faultfinders and troublemakers.

I am convinced that the key to avoiding the trap of becoming a useful idiot in Satan’s schemes is self-examination and honest appraisal of the dynamics of whatever situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes the most loving and wise thing we can do for everyone involved in a given situation is to graciously remove ourselves from the situation and commit to prayer for all involved.