Six Signs of Failure in the Christian Life-

 Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds- James 2:17-18 NIV

Saying that Christians today have been chosen to live in uniquely trying times is at the very least an outrageous understatement. The cultural moment we find ourselves in is literally unlike any in human history and it is getting stranger and more complex with each passing day. Our culture is literally inventing new ways sin. Good is oftentimes thought to be evil and evil is commonly celebrated as good and even virtuous (Isaiah 5:20-21). 

Sigh.  

I have no clue where all this going or where the madness will end. That said, one thing I do know for absolute certain, is that these times demand Christians get the Christianity thing right. Christians must live in a way that that stands in stark contrast to our unbelieving friends and neighbors if there is any hope at all of leading our culture back to some sort of health. Following are six indicators a Christian is going in the wrong direction and needs to redirect their spiritual life. 

First: 

You haven’t been prompted to do anything lately- 

Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear: people are not saved because they are good or because they do good things. Men and women are saved because they put their faith in the redemptive (saving) work Jesus did for humanity when He died on the cross and rose from the dead. Period. End. Of. Story. However, it must be noted that Ephesians 2:10 tells us that Christians are saved so that they can do good deeds. Consequently, if we are not regularly prompted by the Holy Spirit to teach biblical truth, stand up for justice, tell others about Jesus or offer help to hurting people something is terribly wrong with the way we are doing the Christian life. Immediate changes must be made.  

You don’t pray much or at all-

Prayer is how the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom and guidance. Prayer is how God transforms our thinking to make it more in line with His view of the world. When we pray God changes the hearts of the people we pray for and brings about transformation in seemingly immovable situations. When we don’t pray we don’t hear the voice of God or become the agents for change the world needs right now. When that happens, it is a tragedy for us and for the world we live in. 

You aren’t learning anything new about God or yourself-  

The first phrase ever used for a follower of Jesus was disciple (Matthew 5:1, Mark 2:15, John 1:35). A disciple is a student, one who decides to diligently learn from another. If we are not constantly learning new things about God and the things God wants us to work on in ourselves we will struggle to be a healthy reflection of God in this world. Without healthy Christians unsaved people struggle to see that God has the power to transform people. If people don’t see God’s power in His people they will never see the point of committing themselves to God. 

You aren’t actively seeking the power of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis-   

 Every Christian is called by God to the toughest of the tough things. Christians are commanded to love the unlovable, be holy, forgive the unforgivable, give beyond what is sensible, and pour ourselves out for the good of others (1st Peter 2:9, Matthew 5-7, 1st Corinthians 9:22). Fulfilling this calling is only possible through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 40:29). The Holy Spirit only empowers us when we ask. 

You aren’t working on your prejudices-

Heaven will be filled with men and women from every race, tribe and people group (Revelation 5:9). All of those people will be equal, equally loved by God and yet still distinctly different from one another (Revelation 7:9). This future reality leaves no place for racial bigotry or sexism in the lives of God’s people (Galatians 3:28, Colossians3:11). This means that any prejudices Christians have should be dealt with in an attitude of repentance. If we aren’t constantly evaluating our attitudes seeking to become more like Jesus in this key area we failing at a fundamental aspect of the faith. 

You think wokeness and Christianity are compatible- 

Wokeness is more than just a popular anti-racism movement. It is a false religion leading people away from the God of the Bible. It is a movement wants all the benefits of Christianity (love, equality, fairness, mutual respect, compassion) without submitting to God or the moral restraints of Christian ethics (2nd Timothy 4:3-4, 2nd Timothy 3:1-5). Because it ultimately leads people away from biblical repentance and faith in Jesus it will inevitably bring confusion and turmoil to those who embrace it. 

Historically, God does His best work in the darkest and most challenging of times. That said, God always chooses to work through people who have fully surrendered to Him. If we want to see Him change our world we must change our habits. We have to become people who put Him first and live spirit-filled, spirit-empowered lives. 

The Undeniable Link Between Courage and Personal Peace-

These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”- John 16:33 NASB 

This week I came across a quote I had never heard before:

Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace- Amelia Earhart 

Okay, so. 

With all due respect to Amelia Earhart, who was without a doubt an unusually courageous person. She got it wrong at least in one sense. It is not life that demands we have courage in order to gain personal peace. It is the God of the Universe who grants peace to those who choose to look past their fear and live life courageously. 

The word courage or a derivative of courage is used one-hundred-fourteen times and the command “fear not” is used three-hundred-sixty-five times in Scripture. Abundant personal peace is explicitly promised to those who obey God’ commands (Leviticus 26, Romans 2:10, Galatians 6:15).  Those facts make it tough not to conclude that Christians are called to be courageous (Joshua 1:6-9). Empirical evidence backs up my view. Confusion, self-doubt and personal angst torment those who lack courage. I am convinced that much of the anxiety Christians feel is a result of cowardice in the following four areas: 

 Saying what needs to be said-

Life is full of times God clearly calls us to speak up for what we know is right, just and true. These moments pop up with children, spouses, friends and those we interact with on a regular basis. Anything hard should be said with a generous measure of compassion and grace (Colossians 4:5-6, Ephesians 4:15). However, it is critical we understand that choosing not to speak truth, especially hard truth always comes at a substantial price. Our culture is the way it is partly because good people have chosen for far too long to keep their mouths shut rather than run the risk of offending others. Many (including myself) wonder what the world would look like if more of us had the courage to challenge wrong thinking when it first began taking root in the lives of the people we love rather than waiting until bad ideas and wrong thinking became endemically entrenched in the culture (Galatians 5:9).   

 Living the way God calls us to live- 

We live in a world that’s broken in ways none of us will never fully understand this side of heaven. Consequently, there has never been a time when it was actually easy to put God first, live with integrity and speak out against sin and injustice. It is getting harder to do those things all the time. Nevertheless, God promises us peace that is literally beyond human understanding to those who choose to live courageous, counter cultural lives that put Him first (John 14:27, Philippians 4:6-7, Philippians 4:9, 2nd Peter 1:2).  

Standing up against the forces within Christianity that are pulling the church in the wrong direction- 

 Many churches and Christian denominations are being pulled away from biblical thinking into worldly philosophies that run counter to truth (Colossians 2:8, 2nd Timothy 4:3, 2nd Peter 3:3). This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Jesus never promised that the church would be occupied only by good, God-fearing Christians determined to live Jesus first lives. Truth-be-told, Jesus promised in Matthew 13:24-30 that weeds (unbelievers) will grow-up alongside wheat (believers) causing all sorts of difficulties and challenges for true Christians. Furthermore, all Christians are in various stages of spiritual maturity and health. It is possible for a genuine Christian to be wrong about all kinds of issues or misled by bad teaching or their own evil desires. This is why prayerful self-examination is critically important for all believers, it is a clear opportunity for God to set us straight. In order for us to be at peace with God and ourselves we must know the word, understand how God is calling us to live and not allow ourselves to be swayed by any voice not rooted in Scripture and led by the Holy Spirit (John 10:14) 

Being the right voice of righteousness-  

Christians are not called to defend a particular nation or form of government. Instead, Christians are called to be defenders of the faith (Philippians 1:7, 1st Peter 3:15, Jude 1:3).  There is nothing wrong with patriotism, however choosing country over fidelity the gospel always leads to a lack of peace.  

Finally.  

In Matthew chapter ten Jesus sends out the twelve and commands they do things that can only be done with God’s empowering presence and a serious dose of courage (Matthew 10:7-10, 2nd Corinthians 12:9).  Then He promises life will be hard for anyone who actually has the guts to do the things He asks (Matthew 10:16-21). He also lays out a series of promises throughout the passage. Jesus promises that the courageous will be loved by God (Matthew 10:30-31), be like God (Matthew 10:24), and be honored in the presence of the Father (Matthew 10:32). Then He promises that the courageous will have such and abundance of personal peace the world will be blessed by their existence (Matthew 10:13).

But first we have to be willing push past any fear we feel. 

Spiritual Warfare: How we Give the Enemy an Advantage-


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 NIV

Until recently I preferred to ignore the devil and demons. I believed in those things, but, like most post-enlightenment Christians I simply preferred to focus on “happier” aspects of the spiritual realm. Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit and angels were my jam and I would have been perfectly happy to keep it that way indefinitely. But, then the world went to hell. 

Literally. 

Right before my very eyes.  People began believing the most crazy-town stuff imaginable. Cancel culture became a thing, just as it also became fashionable to say there is no such thing as objective truth. People actually believe we all have our unique little truth we are entitled to even if there is no evidence to back it up. However, if you believe or say the “wrong thing” you will be “cancelled” and lose your reputation, livelihood and right to live in “polite” society.  Full-grown adults bought into the notion that gender is “fluid” and therefore changeable. Universities begin offering free tampons to “men” having their periods. Parents and teachers began encouraging kindergarteners to discover their true gender.  People were willing to throw a perfectly good country out the window because the founders of said country were fallible human beings. Everything went to hell in a handcart and Ephesians 6:12 is only plausible explanation for the madness that has engulfed the world. 

It says: 

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

 The devil is real. 

He is a created being who turned against God (Luke 10:18). He hates those who love God. It is critical Christians understand his tactics. Satan wants to steal our ministry opportunities, turn us against God and eradicate our influence in this world. He does this through attacks where he plants lies in our minds and tempts us to behave in ways that steal our effectiveness, kill our love for God and destroy any positive influence we have (John 10:10). Satan waits for just the right opportunity to attack us (1stPeter 5:8). We give it to him when we do the following:

We don’t pray or we suddenly stop praying-

I do not understand everything there is to understand about prayer. However, one truth I do understand is that regular prayer provides spiritual protection (Matthew 26:41).  When we stop praying regularly or never really form a habit of prayer we give the devil an opportunity to gain a foothold in our thinking (Ephesians 4:27). Once the enemy has traction in our minds he can plant all sorts of foul seeds that eventually grow into deception, dissatisfaction with God and curiosity about sin.   

We wander where we don’t belong-  

There are some places God’s people simply do not belong. Watching other people sin can awaken a desire within us to sin. Therefore, we should avoid anything that presents sin as normal or healthy behavior. Being around Christians who are willfully and proudly sinning breaks down the natural desire all Christians have to remain holy and please God (1st Corinthians 5:11). It is spiritually strategic to avoid anyone or anything that makes sin appear attractive (Matthew 13:41, Matthew 18:6-7). 

When our primary sources of information come from the world-

In Colossians 2:8 Christians are warned that they can be “taken captive” by “deceptive philosophies”. This is most likely to happen when we get most or all of our information on life, current events and how to do life from those who don’t know God or understand how Christians are to live in this world. There is nothing wrong with an occasional secular book, podcast or seminar. That said, getting all or most of our “how-to” information on living life from worldly sources gives Satan ample opportunity to take our thinking captive. Once our thinking is captive our actions always follow.

When we have the wrong kind of self-focus-

There are two types of self-focus. The first is when we think endlessly about making ourselves happy, being successful and getting our own needs met. The second is when we put our attention on where we need to grow and how we can become emotionally healthier, godlier, wiser versions of ourselves so we can glorify God and make the world a better place. The devil loves the first kind of self-focus but hates the second because the first inevitably leads to self-destruction and a life of sin. While the second always leads to a life of profound joy that inevitably points others to faith in Jesus (Matthew 5:19, Colossians 3).  

When we haven’t submitted our lives or some part of our lives to Jesus-

Seriously. Disobedience and rebellion are open doors the enemy will always walk through. Deal with those issues. Pronto. 

We refuse to forgive- 

We can’t even be forgiven unless we forgive others (Matthew 6:15). What would make us think Satan would not take advantage of that kind of opportunity to plant bitterness, rage and every other kind of evil in our lives (Hebrews 12:15)? Forgiveness is never easy but is is the most spiritually freeing thing we can do. It is worth the effort.

For too long most Christians have lived as if the devil is a joke, a fantasy or an exaggeration. This has resulted in a feeble church, worldly Christians and a world in crisis. We must endeavor to live lives that thwart the enemies plan and take back ground for the Kingdom.  We do that through constant prayer, a commitment to forgive quickly, submission to God, becoming the best version of ourselves and looking to the Bible and other Christians, not the world for answers to life’s questions.  

How to Survive and Thrive in Even the Toughest of Times-

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us– Hebrews 12:1 ESV  

For most people reading this blogpost the world they were born into did not start out as tough, challenging or threatening in any real way. In fact, it could easily be argued that the last sixty or so years have been some of the serenest and easiest in all of human history. Most of the problems and issues modern people have wrestled with have been what honest people would refer to as “first world problems”. Humans born in the western world have struggled mostly with issues that have centered around the kind of existential questions our more primitive ancestors lacked the time or inclination to ponder like “What is the meaning of life?” “Am I making a difference in this world?” and “Am I really doing what I was meant to do?” For most of us things like war, civil unrest and oppression were concepts we learned about in history books as children or by watching documentaries as adults on rainy mornings when we had little else to do.  

Times are changing.  

War is still not something that has touched most of our lives in a personal way (thank God). However, thanks to COVID-19, censorship, selfish leaders and a whole bunch of really bad decisions on the part of those leaders all of a sudden, the rules are changing. Civil unrest is a thing, war is suddenly imaginable and oppression feels like it is knocking on the door for too many people. 

Sigh. 

This is not the first generation of believers to find themselves in times that suddenly got tough. Far from it.  From the dawn of time God’s people have been called to live, love and lead people to faith in the toughest of times. It is possible not just survive unexpected changes in our world but also to thrive in the midst of suffering and difficulty (Jeremiah 29:1-11, John 16:33, Acts 14:22). In order for that to happen we must choose to adopt the five following attitudes and practices. 

Beginning with:

Understand that sometimes God shakes things up- 

 From time-to-time God shakes every kingdom and people group who dwell on the earth (Hebrews 12:25-28). If He didn’t, individuals would become so self-centered and sinful that all of humanity would inevitably self-destruct.  Our job as Christians is to stay resolutely on mission and lead others to God no matter what the rest of the world is doing or not doing (Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 6:37). 

Refrain from pampering our weaknesses- 

In early December, for no obvious reason, I began to experience a lot of pain in my left ankle.  I immediately took measures to shelter the ankle. I wrapped it daily, rubbed it with icy-hot, and deliberately put most of my weight on the other leg. One day I realized the muscles in the lower part of that leg had started to atrophy and as a result my left calf was noticeably smaller than the right and I was still in constant pain. I quickly altered course and began to gently work on building strength back in that ankle. It still hurts but it’s getting better and it looks almost normal. Lord willing, I will not be permanently gimpy. It occurred to me one night as I was reading Hebrews 12:12-13 that we oftentimes trear our spiritual weaknesses the same way I treated my ankle. We shelter and protect our moral and spiritual shortcomings rather than dealing with the issues that could lead to our downfall. Tough times make it even more critical we deal decisively with shortcomings, weaknesses and moral flaws (Matthew 5:29, Hebrews 12:1-3). 

Learn to embrace God’s correction-

God is the author of pleasure, joy and celebration (Deuteronomy 16:14-15, 1st Chronicles 29:22, Luke 15:23). That said, we are not here just to experience happiness or to live a life of leisure. This is where we are transformed into the image of Jesus and where we prepare for the next world (2nd Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:29, Colossians 3:9-10). This means that sometimes God will correct our thinking or deny us something we want. He doesn’t do this to be cruel but to mold us into the image of Christ and make us useful for His Kingdom.  

Understand what Christian people have in Christ- 

The writer of Hebrews tells us the temptation to leave the life of faith is always strongest in times of suffering, persecution or correction. Giving up, pulling back or losing faith inevitably results in a loss of personal growth, spiritual joy and eternal reward (Hebrews 10:35, 2nd John 1:8, Colossians 3:23-25). Conversely, faithfulness, especially in times of suffering always results in deeper joy now and greater personal reward later.  The key to staying faithful and bold when life gets hard is to remember Jesus is and all He has done for us through His suffering (Hebrews 12:22-24). When we focus on His suffering ours suddenly feels far less permanent and significant. 

Pursue holiness-

Holiness is a precondition for spending eternity with God (Hebrews 12:14) Thankfully God does not leave us on our own to figure out the process for ourselves. He gives us clear direction and step-by-step instruction on how to accomplish the task but we must be persistent and intentional about pursuing it (2ndPeter 1:3-9, Colossians 3). 

We have zero control over what we are born into or encounter in life. We do have power over how we respond to our circumstances. If we respond to difficult with an attitude of trust we will grow and God will use us. If we respond with anger, bitterness or by demanding God makes life easier for us difficulty will inevitably wreck us. 

The choice is ours. 

Four Steps to Breaking Free of Almost Anything-

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds- 2nd Corinthians 10:4 NIV

The world is a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess right now. 

Addiction, divorce, sexual sin, rage, hate and offendedness have all become routine in our increasingly unhappy and unhealthy culture. Government leaders everywhere are failing to meet the needs of those they were elected to serve. Corporations are filling the leadership gap and are quickly becoming weirdly authoritarian taskmasters with zero checks on their worst impulses.   Social unrest is at an all-time high and no one really seems to know what to do about any of those issues. 

The question we should all be asking ourselves is why? 

Why are people so much messier and more evil than they were just a few years ago? Why does the world seem to be teetering on the edge of madness all the stinking time? Why has evil taken root in the hearts of so many? Why are so many becoming despotic?  Why are people so easily offended?  Why are people so incredibly vindictive and cruel when they are offended?  

Well. 

The short answer to all those questions is of course sin. People are sinners and fewer and fewer people care about sin or putting any kind of restraints on their own corrupt inclinations these days. As a result, the world and the people in it are becoming more immoral, more sinful and more wretchedly unhappy. 

Sigh. 

The longer answer is much more complicated, as longer answers always are. Due to sin in the church Christianity has lost much of its moral authority and spiritual influence in the world. This has left people without a roadmap to figure out life.  People on their own rarely make good choices which always leaves a moral vacuum and evil inevitably finds a way to fill moral vacuums. 

This has led to a proliferation of spiritual strongholds in the lives of those both inside and outside of the church. A stronghold is a place where Satan has gained a foothold in the life of a person and sin has taken root. A stronghold is a place in a person’s life that has become a fortress for the enemy. When someone has a spiritual stronghold in their life they become controlled by unhealthy behavior or thoughts. 

The Church and the people in it cannot do anything about what the world chooses to do or not do. We cannot force non-Christian people to make healthy or wise choices about how they live life.  However, Christians can make healthy choices that empower them to get and stay free of addictions, life-controlling behaviors and thoughts. In the process, we can lead other people to a better place. But, first we have to be free of our own spiritual strongholds. The most common strongholds include unforgiveness, offendedness, shame, perfectionism, anxiety, rage, addiction, productivity, insecurity, unbelief, deception, critical spirit and control.

The only way anyone can be the influence God intended us to be in this world is to get free of the strongholds in our lives. We get free through the following four practices:  

Ruthless self-examination- 

No one can get free of anything they refuse to see or acknowledge. Because the human heart is both naturally wicked and self-deceptive it is sometimes difficult to see our own sin (Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 21:4). For that reason, is critical we examine our hearts and lives frequently for sinful behaviors and attitudes that have taken root (2nd Corinthians 13:5) or sin that we have never really dealt with (Acts 8:23). 

Once we become aware of a sin or sinful stronghold, we must:

Make prayer a priority-  

Sin that it is not confessed and prayed through can never completely be eliminated from our lives (Mark 9:29). The longer a behavior has been a part of our lives the more entrenched it will become and the longer it will take to effectively deal with it. There is a temptation for Christians to turn to worldly means to deal with spiritual issues. Christian counseling and coaching can be useful in helping us to understand why we do the sinful stuff we do and in keeping sinful habits broken. However, prayer must be our first line of defense when it comes to dealing with a sinful stronghold. 

Always choose obedience- 

In Luke 11:24-26 Jesus makes it clear that new habits and behaviors are the key to staying free of spiritual oppression and strongholds. Too often Christians who have been set free from life-controlling behaviors stupidly believe they can live any way they choose without spiritual consequences. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anytime we make the choice to willfully sin we invite demonic oppression into our lives (1st Peter 5:8, Ephesians 4:26-28). Making the choice to become increasingly more faithful and obedient to Jesus is absolutely necessary if we wish to stay free of demonic strongholds. Period

Immerse ourselves in a community of believers-

The Christian life is all about working out our brokenness after we receive salvation (Philippians 2:12). However, we were never meant to do that solo (Ecclesiastics 4:9-12). We all need a core group of people in our lives who will spur us on to better choices (Hebrews 10:23-25). 

Authentic Christians have a natural desire to make the world a better place.  However, for too long too many Christians have tried to skip over the necessary step of working through their own junk before they tried to assist the world with theirs.  This has been a miserable failure. It is time for the Christian world to face the hard reality that we can only help others with their sin after we have broken the strongholds in our own life. 

Five Things Christians Should Always Celebrate Even in the Darkest of Times-

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn- Psalm 89:15-17 NIV

There is not a whole to celebrate right now.  

Everything feels kind of dark and hard right now. 2021 seems to be determined to follow in the footsteps of 2020.  Destructive philosophies have taken root and many western countries seem intent on committing cultural suicide. The thin veneer of civilization is getting thinner every day and governments all over the globe are struggling to get a grip on the growing chaos.  Even people who don’t worry all that much are anxious, depressed and fearful on some level.  

Furthermore.

There is lot of spiritual fruit for Christians to grieve right now.  The western church has sinned by majoring on spiritual minors for far too long. Church leaders have focused on the number of butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate rather than on making disciples and the state of people’s souls.  We have sought the applause of the unbelieving world, watered-down truth and exhibited contempt rather than love to sinners.   As a result, legions of people are so morally confused they literally believe right is wrong and wrong is right (Isaiah 5:20). Christians should grieve all sin because God looks on those who mourn sin with favor. (1st Kings 8:46-48, 2nd Chronicles 32:26, Ezekiel 6:9, Proverbs 1:23).

All that being said.

God’s people are called to celebrate God and His greatness no matter their circumstances (Leviticus, 23:40-42, Psalm 100, 2nd Samuel 6:21, 1st Corinthians 5:8). Hezekiah became King of Judah during some of the darkest days of Israel’s history. The nation was deeply divided. Both the North and the South were in a state of profound moral, spiritual and economic decline. The nation was weak militarily and threatened by powerful enemies on all sides. However, in the middle of all that gloom and doom Hezekiah issued a decree that the whole nation should come together and celebrate the Passover like they had never celebrated it before. The result of their choice to celebrate God’s goodness in the midst of their pain and grief was their prayers were heard and revival resulted (2nd Chronicles chapters 30-31). Despite all the ugliness in the world there are five things Christians can and should celebrate right now: 

Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed- 

Every day we draw breath brings us that much closer to the day when our earthly problems and struggles will be nothing more than a distant memory (Revelation 21:3-5). That’s something to celebrate. 

Jesus is not missing in action- 

True story. It might appear that this sin-weary world is completely out of control and teetering on the edge of madness. However, the chaos we are experiencing is not without purpose. I do not know where all of this will end but I do know God sees our hearts and will ultimately lead those who remain joyful in affliction (Romans 12:12) into a reward that is infinitely better than anything our feeble minds can imagine (Revelation 21:1-27). 

Everyone will eventually answer to God for their choices- 

Okay, so, I get that this feels like a weirdly dark thing to celebrate. However, sometimes life is hard.  The Bible teaches there will come a time when all Christians everywhere will suffer at the hands of evil people who will refuse to repent of their sin (Daniel 7:21, Matthew 24:9-12, Revelation 6:9-11). It will appear for a season that those people are getting away with their evil treatment God’s people.  Nothing will be further from the truth. God wants His people to be comforted by the truth He will reward the righteous for their good deeds and punish the wicked for their evil deeds (2nd Thessalonians 1:5-10).  We must not allow the sinful choices of others to erode our belief that God is good. Rather, we should pray for the salvation of our enemies and trust God to bring justice in His timing.  

God is still in the business of transforming people- 

The good thing about bad times is that God frequently uses personal pain to draw people closer to Himself and into His Kingdom. This taking place right now. I have observed that God has used this very painful season to reveal the idols and worldly desires that have taken root in the lives of God’s people. As result, many Christians are experiencing a renewed obedience and a desire to serve God with their whole being. In the past this has always been a clear sign revival (unsaved people coming to faith in Jesus) is always just around the corner. 

And finally, 

Christians can celebrate God even in the darkest places because for Christians life really is good even when it’s bad. Christians experience things no one else can. Christians experience joy even in the darkest valleys and community in the midst of personal and shared crisis. We experience peace in chaos and get to see God bring hope and transformation to those who trust in Him. 

That is worth celebrating. 

How Christian Atheists are Killing the Church –

  Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching- John 14:23-24 NIV

A couple of things: First of all, dear reader, I really do appreciate you. The fact that anyone would read what I write every week is honor and privilege God has allowed me to have that never ceases to blow my mind. Second, many Christians are, for obvious reasons, leaving social media sites. If you are considering making an exit from the social media site where you found A Wise Life, or even if you are not, please consider subscribing. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom of the page and type in your email address. A Wise Life will be delivered to your in-box every week for as long as the Lord allows me to continue this ministry or until you unsubscribe. I promise to never sell or give your email address to any other business, blog or ministry. 

Lisa

Now for this week’s post: 

A while back someone asked me if I thought Christianity was losing its power. The person asking was not a hater or a jerk, nor were they attempting to throw shade on Jesus or the church. On the contrary, the person asking is a believer who is genuinely concerned that the Christian faith appears to losing its ability to change people and transform the chaotic situations that are becoming increasingly more common in our world. The Christian faith has made massive inroads into the world in the last century but at the same time the people are becoming more evil, more creative in spreading evil and far less interested in learning what God has to say about much of anything.  

Sigh.

I will not lie. The question shook me. Seriously. It forced me think about the how and the why of where we have landed. After some thought I decided that I simply cannot accept the notion that Jesus has somehow lost His ability to transform people or heal situations. If Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever and I believe He is then problem can’t be with God (Hebrews 13:8). 

The problem is with us. 

Too many Christians have become what I call “functional atheists” or Christian atheists. Functional atheists are people who believe in God and attend church, many functional atheists even routinely read their Bibles and pray. However, in their day-to-day lives they don’t live like they believe God is real.  Functional atheists have come into the kingdom of God but have never had the deepest areas of their lives touched by God’s transformational power. They make Christianity weak because most of the time God chooses to do His most powerful work through people. Therefore, if Christians are spiritually weak then God’s power will be limited in certain situations. Not because God lacks power but because He will only work through those who are faithful and obedient (Mark 6:4-6).   

Following are five signs you might just be a functional atheist. 

You have ongoing struggles with sexual immorality- 

Fear of God is a clear indicator that a person is in the process of being spiritually transformed. Fearing God is not about being afraid of God (1st John 4:18). Someone who fears God genuinely believes God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. God has nothing good to say about sexual immorality or those who make a practice of it (Romans 1:18-28, 1st Corinthians 5:9-11, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19). Because God is so clear about how He feels about this issue, sexual sin is an indicator that person does not really fear God. When a person doesn’t fear God they inevitably end up living like an atheist. 

Misplaced faith-

Christians are commanded to put their faith and trust in God alone (Proverbs 3:5-6, Nahum 1:7). Too often, as believers we do trust God but we trust other things just a little bit more. We trust things like political figures, education, our finances, our social standing and jobs to protect us, give us peace and provide comfort in times of trouble. When we put our trust in anything but God to give us comfort, protection and peace those things inevitably end up functioning as idols in our lives. Idols never deliver what God can and trusting them causes us to live like the atheists around us.  

You feel contempt rather than compassion for most people-  

This world is full of sin and hate. Christians are called to hate sin and cast-off  foolish and sinful behavior (Matthew 7:24, 2nd Corinthians 6:14). It is all too easy to allow our hatred of sin and desire to be free from worldly ties to morph into contempt for sinners and their stupidity. The problem with this is we are never called to feel hate or contempt for anyone and when we do we look more like our atheist neighbor than Jesus. 

There are places in your life that are unknown to others and untouched by God- 

Becoming a Christian is supposed to be a comprehensive, life transforming event. The only catch is that God will only change the parts of our lives we give Him access to. We give God access to our lives when we make regular practices of Bible reading, self-examination and prayer. This is how it works: When we read the Bible, we learn how God wants us to think and live. When we make a regular practice of examining ourselves to see if our lives match up with Scripture God will then tell us when we pray what needs to be changed in our lives in order for us to grow into the people He has called us to be. If we aren’t constantly seeking to grow we will go backwards in our spiritual maturity and eventually our lives will look more and more like the atheists around us. 

Because the world is so broken it is more important than ever that Christians live lives that embrace the truth of Scripture because it is only way people will see the power of God in this world.  

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

A couple of things: first of all, dear reader, I really do appreciate you. The fact that anyone would read what I write every week is honor and privilege God has allowed in my life that never ceases to blows my mind. Second, many Christians are, for obvious reasons, leaving social media sites. If you are considering making an exit from the social media site where you found A Wise Life, please considering subscribing. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom of the page and type in your email address. A Wise Life will be delivered to your in-box on a weekly basis for as long as the Lord allows me to continue this ministry or until you unsubscribe. I promise to never sell or give your email address to any other business, blog or ministry. 

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.