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. 

Five Things Church People Do that are Wrecking the Church

 

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord~ Acts 3:19 NIV

 Recently, I have been wondering why the church is not having a bigger impact on our world.

 It should be.

 Seriously, the Church should be hitting it out of the park right now. The advent of the internet has made the Bible widely available to nearly everyone.  There are more solid Christian resources (radio, television, podcasts and books) available to more people in more languages than at any other time in history. Higher rates of literacy mean more people are capable of accessing and making the most of available resources. But, sadly no one could accuse the church of setting the world on fire (metaphorically speaking) at this point in history.

 This means that the church is not completing the one task that Jesus commanded us to accomplish (Matthew 28:16-20). I understand that one very real danger in talking about “the church” in broad terms is that sometimes we forget the church isn’t a building, group of leaders or an institution. The church is people who identify as followers of Jesus (1stCorinthians 12).  So, if the church isn’t getting the job done it means that individual people are the problem rather than some nebulous institution or group of leaders.

 The problems the church is having are not the fault of every person in the church. However, there are too many people in the church who do things or allow things that are simply unacceptable for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3-18). The list includes:

Church people have not really dealt with the sin of racism-

 The whole notion that some skin colors, genders or races are somehow superior to others is a weird and sinful social construct that has no place in churches (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, John 3:16). Every person regardless of race, skin color or gender is both equally loved and equally in need of a savior in God’s eyes. Therefore, prejudice and bigotry have no place in the church. Alas, some church people have failed to really take hold of that message and live it out in their day-to-day lives. The church’s reputation is suffering as a result.  

 Church people do not model healthy male-female relationships-

 I do not understand why a place filled with people who are commanded to practice self-control (Galatians 5:22, Titus 2:11-12, 2ndPeter 1:5) is the only place on earth where men and women cannot work together without things getting decidedly weird. By “weird” I mean sex becoming an issue in some way. Christians have managed to convince themselves that men and women are incapable of actually practicing self-restraint where sex is concerned and this has become a self-fulling prophecy in many Christian circles. We do need to be vigilant concerning the appearance of evil and I know all about the Billy Graham rule (conceived by Billy Graham rather than Jesus). That said, I do not believe separation of men and women in church settings is either biblical or the answer to the problem of sexual immorality in the church. That standard has created at least as many problems as it has solved. It does not require adult Christians to practice self-discipline (a biblical mandate) and because of that standard church people tend to become suspicious anytime they see men and women together (even if they work in the same church). Female opinions have effectively been silenced in the church out of fear that if a woman is near a man who is not her husband sexual sin of some sort will swiftly commence. We must do better. Even the pagans have figured this one out. We should too because it’s hurting our effectiveness and our witness.

  Church people worry about protecting institutions rather than people-

 Too many Christian women have been pressured into staying in marriages that really should have ended (due to sexual sin or physical abuse) because some church leaders care more about the institution of marriage than they do about the woman in said marriage. Then there are the thousands of children who have been sexually abused and deprived of justice because too many people in the church care more about the institution of the church than the souls of abused kids (James 1:27, Isaiah 10:1-3). Not cool. Not biblical. Not okay.

 Church people tolerate pornography-

 Anytime a Christian man is caught in sexual sin the first question asked is always: “Is it just pornography?”.  Every. Stinkin. Time. The “just” is ALWAYS put in front of the word pornography. As if pornography without some other form of sexual deviancy attached to it is somehow less sinful than other sexual sins. Pornography is every bit as sinful as “having an affair” (maybe even worse) because “having an affair” (unless the sex is with a prostitute) is almost always a consequence of some sort of a problem in the marriage. Affairs rarely occur in a vacuum, something else is always wrong: communication is poor, the couple is not connecting, the couple is unkind to one another, eventually one partner pursues companionship with someone else.  Conversely, pornography and sex with prostitutes is a result of lust, lack of self-discipline and covetousness. I am categorically not stating that an affair is acceptable simply because a person is in a difficult marriage (it doesn’t work that way). I am saying that the church will never have a measurable spiritual impact on the culture unless we deal with the sin of pornography in our own ranks.

 Church people don’t evangelize-

 \Seriously, we just don’t. A recent study revealed that forty-seven percent of all millennials actually believe it is wrong to evangelize the lost. Sadly, very few Christians have ever shared their faith with anyone and sixty-four percent believe that evangelism is an optional activity for Christians. Until we change this one thing we won’t change anything.

Sex and Sin – Why Words Matter

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

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

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

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

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

 Sigh.

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

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

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

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

 Insert eye roll here.

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

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

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

No, Not All Sin is Exactly the Same and Why it’s Stupid to Think it is


There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community~ Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV

 I do a fair amount of speaking and teaching in a number of different settings. On occasion, I will refer to a particular sin or behavior as especially heinous from God’s perspective. Inevitably, someone will approach me afterward and ask in a rather incredulous tone if I really believe that some sins are more heinous than others. The question is typically framed in the following way:

 “Don’t you believe that all sin is the same as all other sin?”

 Admittedly, my answer appears on the surface to be a bit ambivalent: 

 “Yes and no” 

 I say “yes’ because I sincerely believe that all sin is sin (and therefore terrible) and in one sense no sin is anymore sinful than any other. Any sin (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant) will keep a person out of heaven if they refuse to repent of their sin and put their faith Jesus (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:32, 2ndCorinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:1-3).

 Period.

 That said, I do not believe that “all sin is the same”.  Nor do I believe that the view that “all sin is the same” can be backed up biblically (1stJohn 5:17, Matthew 12:31, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, Galatians 5:21). Furthermore, this ridiculous view is actually leading to more sin rather than less, and therefore ought to be examined more closely.

 Before you write me off as a wild-eyed heretic, hear me out.

  The notion that “all sin is the same” is a relatively new idea that has become both wildly popular and accepted as fact in recent years. I suspect this notion developed out of a desire to keep certain sinners from feeling that their sins (and they) were being singled out as worse than other sins (and other sinners). Telling people that participating in an orgy (or practicing idolatry, or being greedy, or having an abortion, or oppressing a widow) is exactly the same on a sin scale as telling someone their hair looks nice when it does not, is not nearly as kind as it appears to be on the surface. Mostly, because it causes both the saved and the unsaved to feel more safe and comfortable with the whole notion of sin.

 The average person tends to think (at least subconsciously) that if telling a small lie concerning someone’s appearance is exactly the same on a sin scale as cheating on one’s spouse then cheating on one’s spouse must not be so bad. In a perfect world (one not populated by idiots and sinners) people would come to the opposite conclusion and we would all be terrified to tell lies AND commit adultery. Sadly, we don’t inhabit that world. We inhabit a world where people tell themselves that if watching a movie with questionable themes is just as bad as viewing porn then viewing porn must not be such a bad thing (Jeremiah 17:9).

 I repeat.  People are idiots and sinners.

 Because people are idiots and sinners and because the human heart is capable of an insane level of self-deception when it comes to this subject there are four things we have to understand about sin:

 All sin is harmful and wrong (and not just because it sends people to hell)-

 I am NOT saying that “small” sins are acceptable or even safe. All sin is dangerous, because sin is insidiously progressive and hideously deceptive. Even the smallest sins (if not repented of quickly) lead us to become more comfortable with sin. This leads to a hardening of the heart which inevitably leads to more sin which eventually leads to a rejection of the truth (Romans 2:8).

 Not all sin has the same consequences-

 Looking at porn is worse than watching a movie with swear words in it because looking at porn twists one’s view of sexuality and other people and will inevitably lead to more sin. Telling a lie about someone’s appearance is wrong (and it will make you more comfortable with lying) but it does not cause the same ripple effects that sexual sin does. In 1stCorinthians 5:11 the Apostle Paul tells believers that some sins are so serious and infectious that Christians should refuse to eat with other Christians who practice those sins. Paul does not say that about every sin, partly because if he did we would all eat alone and partly (mostly) because not all sin has the same consequences for the sinner or for the people around the sinner.

  The Bible clearly states that “Christians” who habitually commit certain sins aren’t going to heaven-

 Seriously, it does (1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5). Depending on your theology (Calvinist or Armenian) you can view this in one of two ways. Either genuinely saved people do not commit those sins (Calvinist theology) or committing those sins causes you to lose your salvation (Armenian theology). Either way it should make us think long and hard about what kind of sin we allow ourselves to get entangled in (Hebrews 12:1).

  Even the worst most sinful sin can be forgiven and forgotten by God-

 Sin can separate us from God forever but it doesn’t have to. God does not want anyone to pay the penalty for their own sin and that is why Jesus died for sinners like you and me (Romans 5:6, 1stCorinthians 15:3, 1stThessalonians 5:10, Hebrews 9:15). All you have to do is trust Him to save you and turn away from your sin (Mark 1:15)

 It really is that simple.

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.