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. 

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 to Heal an Unhealthy Marriage

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

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

 It just sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

Lay down your weapons-

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

 Nix the silent treatment-

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

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

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

 Look at you-

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

     

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.

Stop the Scourge of Useful Idiots

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 working overtime to repair some damaged relationships and has been baffled as to why she isn’t making more progress. She recently learned that a “friend” has gotten in the middle of some significant relationships and repeated things said in confidence and exaggerated some things that were said.

 My friend is understandably irritated with the situation. She’s frustrated by her own carelessness and because the third party mixed up in the mess (a professed Christian) appears to be ignorant of the chaos she’s created. As the conversation progressed it became obvious to me 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 a criminal tricked them into criminal activity. 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 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.