How Christians can Survive and Thrive in the Dumpster Fire that is 2021-

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Lisa 

Now, this week’s post:

And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”- Mark 9:28-29 NKJV

So far 2021 has been a massive dumpster-fire.  

 Wednesday afternoon, protesters entered the capitol building in Washington D.C. They were tear-gassed by police and forcibly removed from the building. Five were killed. 

The progressives on my social media feed were beyond elated by this turn of events. To them it was proof-positive conservatives and conservative Christians (who they tend to lump together) are no better than anyone else.  Any moral authority conservatives may have had pointing to the riots this summer evaporated into thin air. I have had a heavy heart all week.  It is agonizing to watch a perfectly good civilization crumble before your very eyes. 

Thankfully, none of this has taken our God by surprise. He knew it was coming and it is a part of His overall plan for this world. I do not know where all of this is heading or what the future holds. That said, there are a couple of things I do know for absolute certain, first, this is not a time for “what about ism” where we point our fingers at all the moral failings of the other side, rather than looking at our own sin and stupidity.  I also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a time for Christians everywhere to commit to becoming a Jesus presence in a sin-weary world (Matthew 5:9, Ephesians 4:3, Ephesians 6:15). Jesus and Jesus alone can transform the hearts of men and women and there are a lot of hearts that need transforming. In order to do that we must commit to a lifestyle of growth and maturity with the following five practices. 

First:

Become “strong in the Lord”- 

In Ephesians 6:10 Christians are told “to be strong in the Lord and His mighty power”. It is a prerequisite for effectively putting on the armor of God and strength in the Lord seems to ensure we will remain steadfast in our commitment to Jesus.  We are strong in the Lord when we are seeking the Lord and His wisdom, rather than worldly sources for direction and wisdom in living life. No one has ever become strong in anything on accident. Becoming strong in the Lord happens through a regular rhythm of self-examination, personal repentance, church attendance, Bible reading, fasting and prayer. 

Building Christian community- 

It probably will not get any easier to be a Christian anytime soon.  God wants all of us to have people in our lives who we can build up in the faith and who will build us up in the faith (Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:24-25, 1st Thessalonians 5:11).  Building healthy community is hard work. It means making a commitment to emotional transparency, kindness, generosity, selflessness and forgiveness.  Community means we don’t get to be fake or exclusive or hold a grudge when we feel like holding a grudge.  It means we love people where they’re at and fight like crazy for them to become a better version of themselves.  

Commit to a regular routine of prayer and fasting for our world- 

In Mark nine the disciples wanted to know why they couldn’t extract a demon from a boy. They had done everything they had done before and none of those things had gotten the job done. Jesus’ heart for humanity bleeds through the pages of scripture when He says: “this kind only comes out with prayer and fasting”. Here’s the thing: we live in a world riddled with demonic strongholds because people have turned their back on God and embraced every kind of evil and moral absurdity. As Christians we cannot continue to do what we have done in the past and expect those spiritual strongholds to be broken. Instead we must commit to a regular pattern of prayer and fasting for the people we love and the situations in our world that appear to be immovable. Nothing else is going to get the job done. 

Engage wisely- 

Engaging people wisely begins with understanding that nowhere in Scripture are Christians called to convert people to a particular political ideology. Instead, we are called to make disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:19) and trust the Lord to work on everything else in their lives AFTER they come to know Jesus. Engaging wisely means we choose our battles with unbelievers carefully especially on social media.

Resist the urge to view those who think differently with contempt-

Jon Tyson points out in his book Beautiful ResistanceThe Joy of Conviction in a Culture of Compromise that it has become normal for people, even Christians to show open contempt for anyone who thinks differently from them. Contempt is an ugly and divisive form of hate. We will never reach anyone with the love of Jesus if our hearts are filled with any kind of hate. We must pray that our contempt will be replaced with compassion for the lost and morally confused.

The best thing about the time we live in is that it easy for God’s love and goodness to shine in a dark place. It is up to us to adopt daily practices that allow His light shine through us (Matthew 5:16) 

Don’t Let Fear Run the Show-

The people, the men of Israel, showed themselves courageous and lined up for battle again in the place where they had lined themselves up on the first day– Judges 20:22 NASB

We live in scary times. 

Seriously.

What with a bizarre pandemic, seemingly endless social chaos, shutdowns, widespread unemployment, riots, censorship and political leaders worldwide taking a more authoritarian stance than at any other time in recent history.  This is a legitimately weird time to be alive and there is much to worry about. Over the course of the past nine months I have felt moments of panic and I have seen more fear in more people than at any time in my life.  Now I know why God tells His people over and over again in His word not to fear, to be courageous and to trust Him in all circumstances (Psalm 27:1). 

There are two truths Christians should understand regarding fear. First, no one in the history of the human race has ever made a really great decision out of fear.  Second, at its root fear is a profoundly spiritual thing. Anytime we allow fear to take root in our lives we immediately stop trusting God. When we stop trusting God we hand power to the enemy and effectively give him authority over us (1st Peter 5:6-8). We then lose our ability to think clearly and logically about issues and we believe any lie the devil wants to tell us. No matter what is actually true we become convinced we are unsafe and inevitably do one of two equally stupid things: we either act swiftly without thinking through all the possible consequences. We then do damage to ourselves and/or others with our impulsive actions. Conversely, we can become paralyzed in a mental maze of what-ifs that leads to inaction. Our lack of decisiveness nearly always creates a chain of events that we have no control over. Fear is especially dangerous for Christians because it affects our ability to communicate effectively with God in prayer (Philippians 4:6, 1st Peter 4:7). This causes Christians to be spiritually ineffective on nearly every level and therefore useless to those who desperately need help, hope and something tangible to hold on to.

 Our current situation is a perfect example of what can happen when fear is given free reign. The most disastrous consequences of the pandemic have not come from the virus itself.  But rather from dumb and impulsive choices leaders have made out of fear. Those same leaders have universally refused to admit their folly and instead pridefully double-downed on their choices. Fear causes non-Christians to panic in the face of circumstances outside of human control.  This can lead people to foolishly hand control of their lives over to human leaders who promise them safety and security in uncertain times.   

Sigh.

More than anything our world needs brave, clear-minded Christians right now. Therefore, any fear we feel must be dealt with quickly, wisely and aggressively. Following are some do’s and don’ts for when we feel fear taking over and threatening to run the show.  

Don’t 

 Ask God to make it go away- 

Asking God to simply make our fear go away never works.  This is because God loves us and He wants us to learn something from everything in this life including scary things like fear.  

Simply accept it as normal-

To some degree fear is normal in a fallen world where real danger exists.  That said, there are plenty of normal things that are neither good nor even kind of okay (sin, hatred, injustice, disease). Fear may be normal but it is never healthy to allow it to control our existence.  We are told eighty-eight times in the Bible to not be afraid or fearful. God would not bother being so repetitive on the subject if He wanted us to accept fear as a routine part of our existence. 

Lean into it-

No one really likes to be afraid or anxious. However, paradoxically fear has a strangely addictive quality to it. If we lean into feelings of fear too often or for too long we get to the place where fear feels normal and almost like an old friend. When this happens, we become weirdly superstitious about our fears and may even secretly believe something bad will happen if we stop being fearful. 

Instead of ignoring our fears, accepting them or leaning into them God wants us to examine our fears when we feel them and: 

Ask God to help us understand what is driving the fear- 

 Some fears are rational. If a crazy guy is holding a gun to your head you have legitimate reason to be afraid.  However, most of the time the thing driving our fear (even legitimate fears that make sense) is a lack of trust in God. When we understand that we understand why God hates fear and why fear is a curse when it’s allowed to run wild in our lives (Deuteronomy 28:58-66).  

Ask God to help us know Him better- 

The key to dealing with fear effectively is knowing God and walking closely with Him. The only way to really know God is to ask Him daily to reveal Himself to us. The better we get to know God the less power fear has over us and the more hope we have to offer the rest of the world.   

How to Flourish in the “New Normal”-

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age- Psalm 92:12-14a NIV

 Among other notable distinctions 2020 has been a year that has produced some annoying but unique catchphrases and buzzwords. Thanks to the “Rona” even those generally unfamiliar with medical jargon are now familiar with terms such as “self-quarantine”, “contact tracing”, “social distancing” and “flatten the curve”. 2020 has also given us some brand-new catchphrases such as: “show you care, mask-up” “spread kindness not COVID”, “we are in this together”, “remember to wash your hands”, “staying apart is the best way to stay connected” and “stay home to stay alive”.

Sigh.  

However, the award for the most annoying new slogan or catchphrase of 2020 has to go to the expression “the new normal”. I resisted this phrase from day one. I was horrified at how quick people were to accept the idea that a stupid GERM would automatically change everything about how we function in this world. After all, germs are not a new thing. Germs have been around since the fall and humans have managed to survive quite nicely in spite of their presence in the world. Moreover, this is the twenty-first century for the love of all that is good and decent! We are not living in the stinking dark ages for heaven’s sake! At this point in history humans ought to be sophisticated enough to cope with a stupid virus, even a novel virus without it destroying the best parts of our civilization (free speech, sporting events, live entertainment venues, face-to-face communication, free exercise of religion, unrestricted travel). Acquiescing to the notion that a virus with anything less than a twenty-percent mortality rate could change EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING is a kind of spineless defeatism I was and still am very uncomfortable with.  

Nevertheless. 

As time has worn on, I have been forced to acknowledge reality.  COVID-19 really has shaped a new normal that will doubtless continue to affect our daily lives for some time to come. Unfortunately, little of the new normal is healthy, pleasant or life-giving. In fact, most of it is corrupt, unhealthy, illogical and extremely distressing in some way.  So far, the “new normal” includes a lot fear, an appalling lack of logic, political division, hostility, hate, rioting and government control. 

I am still not a fan. 

That being said. Because God promises He will never leave us or forsake us, Christians will ALWAYS have the ability to flourish spiritually even in the most challenging of times (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).  The book of Jeremiah demonstrates this reality.  Jeremiah is mostly a grim and unpleasant book.  After generations of idolatry, sexual sin and open rebellion against God the people of Judah were finally faced with the consequences of their sinful lifestyle.  God lifted His hand of protection and the nation was conquered by the Babylonians. Jeremiah prophesied that this would not be a short-term inconvenience. Israel would remain in captivity to the Babylonians for seventy years. However, Jeremiah also assured the nation that even in the midst of their painful and ugly “new normal” God still loved them.  He promised God would still hear their prayers, He would continue to dwell among them, He would continue to bless them and He still had good plans for their future (Jeremiah 29:10-14). 

What was true for God’s people in 605 B.C. is still true for God’s people in 2020 A.D. God is still God and God is still good. He has plans for His people and they are good. 

This is without question a season of rebuke and judgment. God is not dealing just with those outside the church but also with Christians who have become disobedient and negligent in their devotion to God (1stPeter 4:17). During a season of rebuke and judgment it is vital we ruthlessly root out the idols in our lives and seek to become active participants in the sanctification process (2nd Corinthians 13:5, 2nd Peter 1:5-11). We must examine our lives and repent quickly so we can be a peaceful and life-giving presence to non-Christians who have reached the end of their own coping mechanisms and false belief systems. Our ultimate obligation before God is to live holy lives and seek the good of the culture we have been placed in, no matter how corrupt or sinful our culture happens to be (Jeremiah 29:4-7, Matthew 5:16, Matthew 28:18-20, 1st Peter 2:12). That means being spiritually ready when God  brings revival to the unbelieving.  

 Historically, God does His best work in the darkest of times. Our time is no different. God promises to do great things in and through the faithful.  The seventy years of captivity gave us some of the most heroic, encouraging, and instructive stories in all the Bible. The books of Daniel, Esther and Jonah are all stories that tell how God worked in and through those who remained faithful during their season of rebuke and judgment. If we cling to God and stay open to what He is attempting to do in us through this season we will not lose heart we will see God do great things in us and in our culture. 

We will flourish. 

How We Survive These Crazy Times-

`When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things– 1st Corinthians 13:11 NASB

In December of 1776 Thomas Paine penned his now famous words:

These are the times that try men’s souls”.

With all due respect to Mr. Paine and the times he lived in, his times had nothing on our times. 

Seriously.  

This is swiftly becoming a tough time to be alive and an even tougher time to be a Christian. Politics have become deeply divided, making it harder for individuals to find common ground on nearly anything of any consequence. Once-stanchly democratic governments are trending more towards authoritarianism. Violence has become routine in places where people once dwelt in safety. Additionally, the whole stinking world just got kicked in the behind by a pandemic that has produced even more division, more violence and more authoritarianism.  

SIGH. 

Christians must also deal with the reality that our God is routinely mocked in every way imaginable (Galatians 6:7). Many have taken to calling good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20). Those on the side of unlimited sexual freedom have LITERALLY invented new ways of doing evil and are doing their level best to lead our children down a path of inevitable personal destruction (Romans 1:30). Because almost no one believes in absolute truth anymore deception has taken root to such an extent that otherwise intelligent people literally believe lies when the truth is right in front of them. For most believers, it feels as if evil of every kind is gaining ground daily. This is disheartening on a level that is difficult to find words for. 

However.  

If we believe God is sovereign we also have to believe God placed us here in these times for a reason. If we believe that we also have to believe God wants us to live in these times in such a way that we bring Him glory (Esther 4:14). All that being said, these times are not for the faint of heart. Nor, are they for overly-indulged saints who love their own comfort and wellbeing more than they love God or the Church God has called us to love and serve (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, 2nd Corinthians 13:11, Galatians 5:13). If we want to live in a way that brings God glory in spite of circumstances we must be willing to ruthlessly root out attitudes and behaviors that are toxic to our spiritual health. A spiritually toxic behavior or attitude is any attitude or behavior that is sinful or will inevitably lead to sin.  Following are five spiritual toxins slowly killing Christians. 

Entitlement-  

Entitlement is a sense we have a “right” to certain freedoms or experiences or to have situations the way we like to have them.  Sadly, there are a lot of Christians more focused on their rights than their responsibilities as Christians. Entitled believers will withdraw from churches, not because of doctrinal issues they can’t overcome but because they have been “offended” or because changes have been made in their church they don’t like.  Christians are called to model their lives after Jesus who was literally entitled to EVERYTHING (Philippians 2:1-11) but rather than demand what He was rightfully entitled to He sacrificed His own wants and needs to benefit us.  Christians must learn to do the same.   

Expecting to be served rather than serving- 

Christians are never more like Jesus than when they serve others (Matthew 20:27-28, Luke 22:25-27).  However, in most churches twenty percent of the people do one-hundred-percent of the work that needs to be done. This is lazy and God is categorically not a fan of laziness (Matthew 25:26, Hebrews 6;12). It also tends to produce a spirit that is critical of the efforts of others (Ephesians 4:29).  The cure for this one is easy. Get busy serving and do it with a servant’s heart (Galatians 5:13, Ephesians 6:7). 

Allowing fear to run the show- 

The world is a scary and unsettled place right now and for the most part recent events not bode well for Christians. Even so, Christians are not called to live in fear but rather walk in faith (Proverbs 29:25, John 4:18, Romans 8:15). Walking in faith means we stay obedient to Jesus at all times with the understanding that even if things are not okay it will be okay because our souls are secure in Jesus (Luke 1:50 Romans 8:18, Romans 8:28).  

Refusing to let go of old behaviors- 

In Colossians chapter three Christians are given a list of eleven spiritually toxic behaviors we are commanded to put to death. Failure to do so inevitably results in some sort of spiritual and/or moral disaster. 

Depending on anything or anyone for hope or help in times of trouble besides Jesus- 

People were designed to crave a defender, comforter and source of wisdom and strength in times of trouble and upheaval.  But because we are a fallen and therefore imperfect (Genesis 3) we tend to want all the wrong defenders, comforters and sources of wisdom and strength. We turn to charismatic political leaders, the people we love, our founding documents, drugs or alcohol, dubious sources of information or the approval of others to give us the comfort and help we should only seek from God (Isaiah 41:13, Psalm 20:7). If God is not who we run to first in times of trouble we are in danger of becoming ensnared in the sin of idolatry. 

Tough times are never something anyone hopes for, but for God’s people tough times are an opportunity to be a light in the darkness. In order to become the light our world needs we must pray continuously for wisdom, discernment, spiritual strength and freedom from these five sinful attitudes that can so easily entangle us and keep us from being the person God needs us to be in these times (Hebrews 12:1).   

Some Recommendations for Living in Scary Times-

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You- Psalm 56:3 NKJV

At this moment in human history the list of things to be afraid of is lengthy.

 At the top of the list is stupid COVID-19.  Even those who don’t fear the virus itself are anxious about all the practical issues it has created:

 The economy has tanked, once-thriving business have closed and unemployment has become a reality for millions who once felt financially secure. Those who live alone are feeling overwhelmed by the isolation of quarantine.  On the other end of the spectrum many are learning it is impossible to social distance from those we live with. This reality has placed a tremendous strain on relationships. Incidents of domestic violence have soared and many are turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with their gloom and despair.

 Then there are the more esoteric worries.

 As states push quarantine guidelines far beyond federal recommendations some worry that something more sinister than public health concerns is driving those decisions. Governmental overreach is becoming a very real concern as states and municipalities suspend constitutional rights in an effort to “keep people safe”. Even Christians wonder where God is in this mess.  

 Sigh. 

 Truth-be-told these times are a challenge even for the most mature of Christ-followers. Despite the apparent evidence to the contrary, our God is still on His throne. I believe God wants all of us to:

 Redeem the time-

 This may be the only season in our lives when we have the time and opportunity to learn something new about God, teach our children the deeper truths of the Bible and purposefully grow in our faith. We should use it wisely.  Choose a book of the Bible and purchase some commentaries online, then take the time to learn everything you can about that book of the Bible. If you have kids at home use this time to teach your kids how to think about life from a truly Christian perspective.

 Get your heart right-

  God is practically pleading with the whole stupid world to get right with Him by turning away from their sin (Matthew 3:8). If you are NOT a Christian this means confessing your sin to God and asking Him to forgive you and willingly submitting every aspect of your life to Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19, Acts 17:24-31, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, Romans 3:23 Ephesians 2:8).  If you’re are a Christian this is a time for reflection, personal repentance and crying out to God on behalf of the willfully disobedient around us (Daniel 9:1-15). God wants Christians to give Him permission to tell us what’s wrong with our thinking and our behaviors (Psalm 139:23-24).

 Channel concerns into action-

 If you don’t already know, find out who your state representatives are and spend some quality time on their Facebook pages. Share any concerns you have with them. Respectfully and rationally give them reasonable ideas for dealing with this crisis. If you’re frustrated with how the crisis is being handled in your state, prayerfully consider ways you can help bring about new leadership in your area.


Turn worry into prayer

 Sometimes it feels like there are only two choices when it comes to worry. We can either castigate ourselves for agonizing over the stuff we find terrifying; or we can ignore what the Bible says about worry and worry our heads off anyway (Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:25). There is a third option. We can discipline ourselves to turn worry into prayer and gratitude. You can make a mental list (or a real one) of all of the things that worry you and all of things you are grateful for. Take both lists to God in prayer. Don’t get so hung up on your worry that you forget to praise God for the good things.  Continue to pray and praise until the anxiety subsides and thankfulness takes over (Philippians 4:6).

 Change what’s informing you-

 We are all informed by the information we allow into our minds. We are informed by what we learned in school, the news, the underlying messages thrust upon us by television programs and the mindsets of the people around us. The COVID-19 crisis is a good time to detox from some of those sources. It is also a good time learn to filter the information we receive through the lens of Scripture by getting into the habit of comparing what other sources say to what the Bible says.

 Work on you-

 This is a great time for prayerful self-examination (2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Peter 4:17). Look at your life in light of Scriptural standards and pray about what God is asking you to change (Luke 10:27, Galatians 5:19-20, Romans 6:11-14, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10).  Ask God to give you the inclination, power and motivation to change the things He wants you to change.

 None of the above-motioned practices will make the stupid COVID-19 virus go away.  However, they will ensure we all come out of this situation better people who have a bigger impact on our corner of the world.