Five Ways Christians Can Turn the Tide of Church Culture-

 

 The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So, let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light- Romans 13:11-12 NIV

My week began on a spiritual high note.

  Sunday, I attended one of the most moving church services I have ever been a part of. It was a sweet reminder that God is and people are still being transformed by His presence in their lives.

 It was all kind of downhill from there.  

 The rest of the week was mostly just a series of weird and unpleasant reminders life is short, the world is still a dark place and there is no shortage of spiritual work to be done.

 One such reminder came via a long conversation with an individual who was, from a biblical perspective one of the most tragically ignorant people I have ever interacted with. The whole discussion was frustrating. However, the thing I found most maddening was how this person is fully convinced they already know everything they need to know about God and the Bible. In reality, all they really know is what other ignorant people have told them and precious little of it is accurate or nice.

 Sigh.  

 My heart is still broken for the lostness of that person. I was reminded once again that there is a battle raging—not a physical battle— we are not literally at war with anyone. Christians are, or are supposed to be fighting for the hearts, minds and souls of people who do not know Jesus (Philippians 2:25, 2nd Timothy 2:3-4, Ephesians 6:10-17). The shocking number of biblically ignorant individuals in the Western world indicates that we have lost more battles than we have won in recent years. 

 We are losing because EVERY professing Christian, regardless of age, gender or denominational preference is a soldier called to fight.  However, some of our soldiers appear to be woefully ignorant of their status. Others understand there’s a battle but are too busy arguing about stupid stuff to be of any use to anyone. Still others are simply not in any kind of spiritual shape to fight. Even more are so busy chasing worldly squirrels they don’t have the focus they need to fight even the tiniest battles effectively (1st John 2:15). 

 A course correction is desperately needed in our ranks. If we all commit to making a few changes in what we do and how we view the world Christians would become far more effective very quickly. It all begins with:

 Understanding the times we live in- 1st Chronicles 12:32

 Americans live in a culture that is rapidly becoming post-Christian. This is a complex issue but basically it means the gospel is irrelevant at best and stupid at worst to the majority of people in our culture. Furthermore, most churches have done a sloppy job of teaching people who already believe in Jesus what the Bible teaches about most issues. This means our primary responsibility as Christians right now is to help the world and the church to understand that individuals CAN choose to live their lives anyway they wish. However, there is such a thing as “best practices” when it comes to relationships and life choices. Those “best practices” are found in the Bible and begin with making a commitment to Jesus Christ and then choosing to live life the way the Bible calls us to live it. This means Christians must make a real commitment to self-education so we can teach others the truth of God’s word.  

 Getting in fighting shape-

 This means dealing with the sin in our lives decisively and doing our best to live a holy life (Matthew 5:29 Colossians 3, 2nd Peter 1:3-11, 1st John 4:9).  Getting in shape spiritually means committing serious blocks of time to prayer and learning as much as possible about the Bible and what it says about life. It means knowing ourselves. Every Christian should have a complete understanding of their own strengths so they can be used effectively for the Kingdom. Believers must also understand their own weaknesses so that they are not destroyed by them.

 Aligning yourself with the right people-

 Christians should love everyone but only align themselves with those who believe in inerrancy of the Bible and are willing to live out its principles.

 Putting your armor on-

 Every believer should study Ephesians 6:10-18 in depth and have the entire passage committed to memory. It should be a prayer we pray daily.  For a sample of what I pray click here-

 Engaging the right way-

 It is imperative Christians make a regular practice of getting into the world and interacting with the people in it (Matthew 5:13-16, John 3:17. It is equally critical we do it the right way. Christians should never bully, intimidate or make people feel like anything less than a person made in God’s image.  That said Christians should never be afraid to speak the truth of the gospel with passion.

 We are where we are mostly because too many of us have been spiritually complacent for far too long. It is time for all of us to set ourselves aside and get into the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young White Men Really Are A Problem- Here’s Why

They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore, the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes- Hosea 4:1-3b NASB

It’s been a long sad, grief-filled week with two mass shootings last Saturday, one in Dayton, Ohio and the other in El Paso, Texas. There were few parallels between the two shooters. The El Paso shooter appears to be a right-wing racist nut-job.  The Ohio shooter appears to be a left-wing socialist nut job.   

 The one clear connection between the two shooters is that they were both young white males. Much has been written on the subject of “toxic masculinity”. Most of it is patently ridiculous and blatantly sexist. That being said, it’s simply a fact that young white men are the only demographic who routinely walk into crowds, pull out weapons and proceed to massacre as many humans as possible in the shortest time imaginable. 

The question we must answer as a society is “why”? 

What on earth are we doing as a culture that triggers young white males to become so detached from humanity that they kill their fellow humans with wild-eyed abandon?  The kneejerk reaction on the left is to blame guns and mental illness. The kneejerk reaction on the right is to blame the collapse of the family and mental illness. I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about everything.  I do know that this problem is far more nuanced and systemic than knee-jerk reactions or mental illness. Fixing it will mean taking a hard look at the following six issues:  

Self-control ceased to be a “thing” a long time ago- 

 I get that emotional repression is bad. I understand that it is critical we allow kids to express their feelings. I have no issues with respectful, polite forms of verbal expression.  HOWEVER, I have to wonder if the opposite extreme we have landed on is really any healthier. Is it prudent to encourage kids to vent their aggression without some really firm boundaries, like respect for others? Should we really allow kids to scream, yell, hit and insult their parents and teachers in the name of averting emotional repression?  It seems to me that there were fewer (like no) mass shootings back in the day when kids were expected to control themselves and disciplined for not. 

Selfish adults do selfish things that inflict trauma on innocent kids sometimes the kids don’t recover- 

It is a fact that most mass shooters experience early childhood trauma (google it). The nature of childhood (and trauma) is such that it is pretty much impossible for a child to inflict trauma on him or herself. Parents who abuse drugs and alcohol, who are selfish, violent, neglectful and who put their own sexual gratification ahead of the needs of their children are the primary cause of childhood trauma. Traumatized girls are typically self-destructive, traumatized boys are just plain destructive. They take their rage and anger out on others including sometimes complete strangers.  Unless there is a revolution in the expectations we have of parents in this country we will continue to see young men acting out in violence.  

 We have encouraged young men to sear their consciences with violent, sexualized entertainment- 

A great deal has been said concerning mass shooters and violent video games. I see no need to belabor an already belabored point. However, video games are not our only problem. How about the spread of porn that combines sexuality and violence into a confusing, toxic, soul-twisting vortex of foulness? The Ohio shooter had a “rape list” as well as a “kill list”. He was also a regular consumer of pornography. The El Paso shooter reportedly spent a lot of time on the 8chan message board where sexual violence and misogyny are celebrated. When are we going to wake up to the fact that pornography is stripping us of our humanity? Wisdom recognizes that sometimes the rights of adults to see what they want to see needs to be curtailed in deference to the needs of children and society as a whole.    

We have not taught children to fear God- 

When God is discussed in our culture it is always in terms of love and grace. Love and grace are fundamental aspects of the Christian faith that should be taught. However, we have forgotten that good evangelization and biblical teaching carefully balances the concepts of judgment and grace. Without teaching on sin and judgment the reason for God’s grace lacks context. Without context we end up with a generation who sees God as nothing more than a feeble blessing machine who doesn’t really care what people do as long as they are happy (insert gagging noises here). 

We have not given young men a vision or purpose- 

 Instead we tell young men (and women) that God is dead and life is meaningless. We tell them they are blobs of protoplasm with impulses and urges. We tell them it is natural to act on their urges and impulses because they have no greater purpose than self-actualization. Mass shootings are just one natural consequence of this folly. 

Too many young men don’t have Dads and if they do the Dad is useless-

Nearly half (41%) of all babies are born to unwed Mothers. This is unacceptable on a million different levels and I mostly blame women.  Wise, intelligent women do not have sex with men they barely know. Nor, do they have sex with men who have not proven they have the character to adequately parent the children they produce. 

We have enshrined selfishness as a virtue- 

The Democratic Socialist Convention got lost in the madness of this past week. I tuned in and what I saw was mostly just a carnival of narcissism and silliness. On one level it was actually kind of amusing.  Privileged (mostly) white people spent a lot of time selfishly insisting that no one do or say anything that might possibly make them uncomfortable or hurt their feelings. I seriously doubt they accomplished anything of any significance. My take-away from what I saw is that too many kids in our culture have not been taught the virtue of self-denial. Nor have they been taught that feelings are far less relevant than facts. In the best situations these kids grow-up to enshrine their selfishness in silly political causes. In the worst situations these kids grow-up and think it’s acceptable to slaughter strangers. It’s tough to predict what will happen when you teach a child that selfishness is a virtue. 

Everyone wants a “one and done” solution to the problem of gun violence. It will not happen. There is no single law that will fix the problem we have produced with our willful foolishness. Instead we have to do the hard work of changing how we raise our children.  

Six Reasons Christians Still Need Church-

I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth- 1stTimothy 3:14b-15 NIV

There’s a lot of hating on the church that goes on these days. Just this past week a prominent church leader exchanged the truth of God for a lie and took to Instagram to renounce his faith (Romans 1:25, 2nd Peter 3:17, Matthew 24:12-13). Joshua Harris proceeded to make a point of theatrically apologizing for what the church believes and why it believes it. “Church leaders” are not the only ones who have taken to bashing the church. Many believers make a regular habit of apologizing for what the church has traditionally believed and taught.    

Sigh. 

I am under no illusions regarding the church. Churches are made up of people. People, even redeemed people are always a work in progress. Consequently, any organization that people are a part of will inevitably have some flaws. It is also impossible to deny the truth that church people, even some church leaders have done terrible things and promoted terrible attitudes all in the name of the God who would categorically denounce those behaviors and attitudes

All that being said, I still believe the church is the most critically important institution to grace planet earth. I do not believe a church must be a huge church to be a legitimate church. There is nothing wrong with small churches or even home churches as long as the church is healthy and the body of believers (who should include more than one or two families) is learning, growing, changing and holding one another accountable. The size and structure of the church is not particularly important.  What really matters is that Christians make a point to be an active part of a local church.

Here’s why:

The church is the storehouse of spiritual truth- 

In spite of its many flaws, church is where sinners go to find their way to God and where the redeemed go to be built-up and sustained in their faith journey. Without church Christianity ultimately devolves into a rickety spiritual DIY project where every person does what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25, Proverbs 19:2, Jeremiah 51:17). Fallible humans need the church to be the arbiter of truth or we tend to go a little nutso. Furthermore, without a firm foundation of truth, we find ourselves powerless to rescue the culture God called us to save. 


Church is where Christian community becomes a reality- 

Truth is critical but if truth were the end-all-be-all of the Christian life Christians could become who and what God intended them to be  by simply reading a theology book or listening to a sermon online (Philippians 2:15, 1st Thessalonians 5:23, 1st Peter 2:5). Instead God designed believers to be part of a greater Christian community (1st Corinthians 12:27). When we dive into a functioning Christian community we are challenged to grow, we learn to love others (John 13:35), we have accountability when it comes to controlling our fleshly urges (Galatians 5:13). We also discover our spiritual gifts and have a place to use them (Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11-13). Those things cannot happen anywhere else. 

Church is where we find accountability (if we’re real with people)-

Everyone needs someone who loves them enough to call them out sometimes.  For Christians church is the place we find people who care enough to tell us the truth about our attitudes and direction in life. In order for this to work we have to do more than simply attend Sunday services. We have to be actively involved in the community and prepared to be real with people. This means being humble enough to admit we don’t always have it all together and that we need other people. 

Church is something Jesus told us to do- 

Seriously.  Church was Jesus’ idea. It is nearly impossible to be completely obedient to Jesus without involvement with His body (Matthew 16:18, 1st Corinthians 12:17, Ephesians 4:10-15).  

Church is where our values, attitudes and behaviors are challenged-

There are standards, beliefs and actions that are accepted and celebrated in our culture that are entirely antithetical to the Christian way of life (self-centeredness, sexism, racism, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, contempt, materialism). Christians in a healthy church that teaches truth are reminded on a regular basis that we are commanded to be different from the rest of the world (Romans 12:2, 1st Peter 1:14, Galatians 5:13-26)  

Church is where we learn to love people who aren’t like us-

Christian churches are the only places on earth where human beings of every race, gender and socio-economic class worship together side by side and serve each other out of love.  This naturally creates an environment where we learn to like and sometimes even love people who we would never get a chance to meet in any other environment. The diversity of church is a beautiful thing and the essence of New Testament living.   

 Our world is sick and dying partly because Christians have abandoned traditional church in favor of do-it-yourself spiritually that lacks the power to transform broken people into the image of Christ. When Christians are not actively being transformed into the image of Christ they are powerless to help others.   

Why it’s Critical We Get Free of the Past-

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland~ Isaiah 43:18-20 NIV

 Recently I heard a powerful and thought-provoking quote that left me feeling more than a bit navel gaze-y: 

 Always look forward. Remember there are no birds in last year’s nests~ Don Quixote  

  I am not opposed to looking backward as long as it is done for the right reasons. We should remember the events of the past because we’re incapable of learning anything from anything we willfully forget. I also believe the heroic acts of the past ought to be honored in the present; and it pretty much goes without saying that Christians should be mindful of the good things God has done for us in the past (Deuteronomy 32:6-8, 1stChronicles 16:11-13).

 All that being said.

Far too many of us get stuck in the past in all the wrong ways. In doing so we give the past more power than it deserves which inevitably prevents us from accomplishing the tasks God intends for us to do today (Ephesians 2:10). Most of the time there is profound wisdom in leaving the past where it’s at and choosing to get on board with what God is doing right now. There are seven reasons to let go of the old so God can do whatever new things He’s looking to do in our lives:  

 Getting stuck in the past creates bitterness-

Oftentimes we get stuck in the past because we are hurt or angry about something unpleasant that happened there. The sense we were cheated or wronged can lead to bitterness in the present. It’s critical Christians keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in their lives (Ephesians 4:31). This is because bitterness makes Christians utterly and profoundly useless (Hebrews 12:15, Acts 8:23) and no genuine believer in Jesus ever wants to be useless.  The key to getting free from bitterness is to the take time to prayerfully process painful events from the past and then make the choice everyday to live life with our hearts and minds firmly rooted in the present.

 An unhealthy perspective on the past stops spiritual growth in the present-

 Whenever we develop an unhealthy perspective on the past we naturally become neurotically focused on our own personal junk. We become obsessed with our feelings and when we focus heavily on feelings we become blind to our own faults. This leads to blaming others for the things we choose to do. Transformation occurs when we see our faults clearly and ask God to give us the power to change the things that need changing in our lives.

 Living in the past makes us sentimental in all the wrong ways-

 Sentimentality is certainly not a sin. However, it can easily cross the line into sinful territory if we make the object of our sentimentality into an idol we worship. The classic worldly example is the former high school football star who cannot move forward in life because he simply cannot stop pining for his glory days. The timeless church example is the Christian who cannot enjoy church or serve effectively today because he or she cannot stop pining for the way church was once done.   

 Getting stuck in the past makes it impossible to effectively lead others-

 Christians are called to be leaders. Leaders look to the future and take people to places (physically and spiritually) they have never been before. Christians are called to lead others into biblical thinking, righteous living, healthy relationships and most importantly, relationship with Jesus (Colossians 3:16, 2nd Timothy 2:24, Titus 2:7, Hebrews 5:12). Everyone leads someone. Profession, gender and age are irrelevant to the call to lead others into spiritual health and relationship with Jesus. No one in history has ever led anyone forward while looking behind them.   

 Focusing on the past keeps us from being grateful in the present –

 Gratitude is all about noticing things (Colossians 4:2).  Grateful people don’t typically have more than ungrateful people they are just more aware of God and what He is doing for them than ungrateful people are. We are the most grateful when we are living in the moment and choosing to see what God is doing for us right now.   

 We lose our ability to forgive when focus heavily on the past-

 We will never be free do what God is calling us to do in the here and now while we are living in bondage to past hurt (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is hard because it always involves letting go of anger and hurt that in a very real sense we have a “right” to hold on to. Forgiveness rarely happens quickly and without some processing. In order to forgive we need to walk through the hurt and then ask God (sometimes repeatedly) to empower us to let go of the feelings of anger and resentment that are keeping us stuck in past.

 

How One Bible Teacher Got it Hopelessly Wrong This Time-

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path~ Psalm 119:105 KJV

  Seismic shifts have taken place in evangelical churches in recent years and it is true that even God-fearing Christian people can get it wrong sometimes (Jeremiah 17:9). Because of these two realties there is little that happens in the church world that shocks me anymore.

 Nonetheless, every once in a while something happens in church world that is so peculiar or awful that I am profoundly shocked by it. This occurred last week as I was catching up on some old podcasts.

 A podcast I listen to regularly interviewed Pastor Andy Stanley. I, like, most American Christians have read several of his books.  I liked some of his books, others not so much. To be perfectly truthful, up until about ten minutes into the podcast I would not have classified myself as either a fan nor a detractor. I was fairly middle-of-the-road on the topic of Andy Stanley.

 But then.

 He began to make a case for minimizing the use of the Bible in preaching and evangelism.  Mr. Stanley believes that rather than steering people towards what the Bible says about issues that we ought to simply point them to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and teach them to love others. The following quotes were taken directly from the interview. They sum up the essence of the program fairly succinctly:

 The Bible did not create Christianity. Christians created the Bible…. What created Christianity was the first Easter morning…”

“In the culture and in the marketplace and in the public square, we have to shift the focus from the Bible to the Resurrection. Because the Resurrection is completely defensible now just as it was in the first century.

“I think [some people] put [the Bible] in the place of Jesus.”

 All the New Testament imperatives that we find after the gospels are simply applications of Jesus’s new covenant command to love as I have loved you. The Apostle Paul wasn’t coming up with new rules and new laws.”

 Sigh.

It is not my intent to malign, besmirch or vilify Mr. Stanley (I try really hard to avoid that sort of thing). Rather, I want to share five things that inevitably happen anytime Christians intentionally or unintentionally choose to minimize the importance of the Bible.

We lose our true north-

 The Bible is more than just simply a book filled with dusty old ideas. The Bible is our true north. It is the one thing fallible humans can count on to act as a reliable guide anytime human wisdom fails us (as it inevitably does). Without the Bible to act as a compass we quickly begin to lose our way and devolve into doing our own thing. Without the Bible guiding us through life we become like the Israelites in the book of Judge where every person did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).

 We devolve into myth and superstition-

 Andy Stanley correctly points out that few (if any) early Christians had access to personal copies of the Bible. This is because few people could read and books as we know them today simply did not exist. The scrolls that did exist were prohibitively expensive for all but the most outrageously wealthy of people.  However, this situation was far from optimal. Because few people had access to the Bible the church frequently fell into fits of heresy and individual Christians were prone to superstition, mystical thinking and believing all kinds of weird myths about God.  This problem reached an apex just prior to the reformation when even well-educated church leaders were commonly biblically ignorant and spiritually lost. Without an ongoing emphasis on the Bible we will assuredly follow their path.

  We construct our own standards of right and wrong-

 The great thing about the Bible is that it spells out in no uncertain terms exactly what is right and what is wrong. This prevents Christians leaders from playing favorites (most of the time) and applying standards of behavior to some people and not to others. It also keeps Christians from simply adopting the standards of an everchanging culture.

 We become hopelessly reliant on subjective definitions of right and wrong-

 We know exactly what sin is because sin is clearly defined in Ephesians 5:3-7, Galatians 5:19-20, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:21-31. We know what love is because God spelled it out for us in 1stCorinthians 13. We know when divorce is morally acceptable because of Jesus’ teaching on the subject in Matthew 19:4-9. Without these and other teachings found in the Bible we are left to decide for ourselves the definitions of key issues. Anytime foolish humans are left to define right and wrong for themselves there will be some monster who decides that it is a loving act to kill people he or she finds distasteful or burdensome. It’s simply a fact that life gets really weird, really fast without hard and fast definitions of right and wrong.   

 We doom ourselves to repeating the mistakes of the past-

 Most of the New Testament letters were written to correct wrong thinking concerning various doctrinal issues. When we willfully ignore the vast storehouse of wisdom and knowledge contained in the Bible, we doom ourselves to make the same mistakes early Christians made. The only difference between those early believers and us is that we are without excuse because God has graciously given us everything we need in the word of God to avoid the doctrinal errors of the past. 

 All we have to do is study it.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Sex- Why the Words We Use 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).

Five Things That Must be Done Right Now to Make the Church Healthy-

We can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth~ 1stJohn 2:2-4 NLT

 It’s been a long depressing week.

 A cursory glance at the news would quickly convince anyone that the whole stinking world has lost its mind.

 The rabble-rousers at ANTAFA have been protesting racism and fascism by lighting things on fire and punching strangers in the face. The news media is aiding and abetting this chicanery by openly defending ANTAFA’s methods and claiming that some punches are more “moral” than others (What?). Several American universities have begun stocking their men’s bathrooms with tampons in the name of gender equality and fairness (seriously, I am incapable of making this stuff up).    

 Sadly, that carnival of dysfunction pales in comparison to the news that came out of church world this week. Bill Hybels, guru of all things evangelical and lead Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church resigned after allegations of adultery, duplicity and ongoing sexual idiocy were confirmed. The resignation of the entire board of Willow Creek Church quickly followed when it was disclosed that they had dismissed and covered-up allegations of abuse from dozens of women over the years. Immediately following the news of that flaming-hot-dumpster-fire it was revealed that the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania lied about and aided in the systemic sexual abuse of thousands of children over the course of several decades.

Sigh.

 All this would be less worrisome if it weren’t simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shady behavior, sketchiness and sin in the church. It is not unusual for local church leaders to openly behave in ways that are questionable at best and downright sinful at worst. It is even more common for Christian laypeople to totally disregard clear instruction given in the Bible. Some have taken to treating bad behavior by other Christians as if clear-cut cases of sin were simply a matter of Christian freedom or lifestyle choices (1stPeter 3:16).

 This is not about freedom in Christ or the right some post-modern Christians think they have to be uninhibited by any and all rules (1st Corinthians 6:20, 1st Corinthians 8:9, 2nd Timothy 2:5). This is about people who do not know Jesus and probably never will because too many Christians flatly refuse to control their baser urges. It pretty much goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that it is highly unlikely that even one of those little kids who were molested by their parish priests grew-up to become Christians. If we want to turn things around we need to do five things fast:

 We must redefine what qualifies as suitable entertainment for Christians-

 Recently, I watched a television show that was wildly popular twenty-plus years ago. Fifteen minutes in, I realized the real success of that program was in normalizing sin, especially the sins of pornography and homosexuality. When the devil can get us to giggle at behaviors that God forbids or to identify strongly with characters who are openly sinful and deeply flawed we are well on our way to accepting those behaviors as normal and even healthy. Over the course of the last two decades Christian attitudes towards sin has changed dramatically. Our entertainment choices are at least partly to blame.

 We need a return to church discipline-

 I get that this a touchy issue. I also get that we live in a ridiculously litigious society where few people (including most Christians) are willing to accept correction anymore. I also understand that Christians should be slow to judge and quick to forgive. I also know that too many churches have abused the notion of church discipline and used it as a means to bully, control and intimidate other Christians. That being said, Paul made it clear that certain behaviors are not be tolerated in Christian churches. He also gave clear-cut instructions on healthy church discipline and restoration of the repentant (1stCorinthians 5, 2ndCorinthians 2) 

 We should less time fretting about legalism and more time focusing on obedience-

 About two decades ago believers went on a crusade to eliminate every possible hint of legalism from the church. This is not a bad thing, so long as we do not equate obedience to New Testament commands with legalism. Until we recognize this has become a problem the church will continue to struggle with sin.   

 We need to stop thinking that attendance is the measure of a leader-

 Since the emergence of the first mega-church in the late 1980’s the ability to draw a crowd has become the gold standard for Christian leadership.  There is nothing wrong with having a guy on staff who can put butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate. However, it is critical we remember that nowhere in the New Testament are those things considered a requirement (or even a consideration) for biblical leadership. Rather, we are told to look for leaders who serve as examples of morality, love, grace and human decency for the rest of us (1stTimothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-7)

 We need fear God-

 Seriously.  God knows everything and someday He will judge everything. Including the things people fool themselves into thinking are being done in secret (Hebrews 4:13, Revelation 20:12-13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Christians Don’t Overcome Addiction-

Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies~ Jonah 2:8 NLT

 Addiction is a growing problem in our society. 

 One in eight Americans are clinically dependent on alcohol. 12.5 million Americans abuse prescription (legal) opioids (Codeine, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Methadone Morphine, Oxycodone). Heroin addiction has reached a twenty year high. New addictions are invented all the time. We now have gambling, pornography, food, phone, video game, shopping and sex addictions. These are affecting millions of people from every walk of life. Sadly, the vast majority of those individuals are not winning their personal battle with addiction.

 Sigh.

 If addiction were an issue only non-Christians struggled with then there would be little point in addressing the problem.  What those outside the church do and don’t do should not be a concern for those inside the Church (1st Corinthians 5:11). It is not our job as Christians to modify the behavior of those who do not profess faith in Christ. Christians are commanded to pray for non-Christians and share the gospel with them. Period. Forcing a non-believer to act like a believer before they become a believer causes more spiritual harm than good. Forcing non-Christians to act like Christians simply produces well-behaved heathens with a false sense of security.     

 But that is another topic for another day.     

 Christians struggle with the same addictions as non-Christians. Addiction in churches affects everyone in the church. Christians are all individual parts of a body (1st Corinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:4-5, Romans 12:4-5). When one part of the body is sick, hurt or sinning the consequences of the sickness, hurt or sin are felt throughout the rest of the body.

 Christian addiction causes the church to lose its credibility and its voice in the culture. When the people in the church struggle with the same stupid stuff everyone else struggles with Christians cannot legitimately advise others on the saving power of Jesus (or anything else) if they cannot adequately manage their own junk. 

 Furthermore, anytime one member of the body of Christ struggles with sin the whole body becomes corporately weaker. Spiritual weakness in the body makes us all less able to fulfill our calling as salt and light in the culture (Matthew 5:13-16, Luke 14:33-35). Christians with addictive behaviors lead Christians and non-Christians alike to believe that Christ has no real power to change our nature or keep us from sin (2nd Kings 17:15). This leads to fewer conversions and fewer people who were raised in the church sticking around. I am convinced that the mass exodus of Christian kids leaving the church in recent years has more to do with the lack of power to overcome problems, including addiction than any other single issue.

 If we want to see spiritual revival in the Western world (and most of us do) then addiction is an issue that must be addressed in our churches. We will never lead the unbelieving world to spiritual freedom until we experience it in our own lives. Dealing with addiction in the church does not begin with starting  support groups or accountability programs. It begins with recognizing the true nature of addiction.

  Contrary to popular belief, addiction is not simply a bad habit, a sign of poor coping skills or a genetic predisposition gone awry. Addiction does have physical, emotional and genetic factors but ultimately addiction is a deeply spiritual issue. The addicted person gets something real and tangible from the addiction (usually a sense of peace or ability to cope). In exchange the addict becomes physically and/or emotionally dependent on that thing. They eventually grow to love that thing more than they love God or anything else.

 I am not, nor have I ever been a “there’s a demon behind every beer bottle” kind of a Christian. However, I do believe we need to acknowledge the reality that there is a deeply demonic aspect to the issue of addiction. At the root of all addiction is the sin of idolatry. Addicts receive a sense of comfort, wellbeing, peace or an ability to cope with stress, etc. that they should only receive from God. The addict must figure out exactly what their addiction gives them and why they aren’t going to God to have those needs met.   

 With a few notable exceptions most of what the church has done to combat addiction has not worked all that well.  This is because the church has adopted the world’s view that addiction can be overcome with an improved self-image, more accountability and lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes and accountability are good, helpful and necessary. However, unless the addict acknowledges and repents of the underlying sin of idolatry they are powerless to permanently change much of anything.  

 Freedom from addiction can only be achieved through right thinking about the problem (sinful behaviors are always a choice). Freedom comes with a deep commitment to living in complete obedience to God and His commands and the love, acceptance and grace of a healthy Church family.

Confronting Shoddy Spiritual Leadership-


Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you~ Hebrews 13:7 NIV

 Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has doubtless been there:

A trusted spiritual leader (a pastor or Bible study leader) says something (or a lot of somethings) we find troubling from a doctrinal perspective-

We are uneasy with the spiritual direction our pastor is taking the church-

We have (or know someone who has) a spiritual, physical or emotional need that is not being met in the church-

Our church has become dangerously inwardly focused-

Our feelings are hurt by the pastor or another leader-

We suspect our pastor (or someone in the church) is not living a moral life-

 These situations are not unique to contemporary church life. The church has been dealing with sticky issues since the dawn of Church (Acts 6:1-7, 1st Corinthians 5:1-11, Galatians 2:11-14 Acts 15:36-39). How church people choose to handle these types of situations matter and typically they are handled very poorly. Generally speaking, leadership problems are either ignored until they become intolerable and detrimental to the health of the church (Ephesians 4:26); or an individual (or group of individuals) will confront the leader with a long list of the leader’s faults, problems and inadequacies. Face-to-face confrontations are typically handled with all of the elegance and grace of a herd of wild goats running free at a tea party (Proverbs 13:3, Proverbs 29:20).

 Both scenarios inevitably end in disaster.

The first typically results in a large group of unhappy people quietly leaving their church and taking their unresolved issues with them.  Sadly, these individuals rarely go back and work things through with the leader. The leader remains forever bewildered by the desertion and never learn anything that might make them a better leader. Those who leave take their anger and resentment with them to the next church, They perpetuate the cycle of unresolved problems and church hurt (James 1:20). When leaders are confronted poorly it typically results in a hurt leader who feels bullied by people he or she has invested in. It is not at all unusual for these leaders to leave the ministry in anger and disillusionment. 

 Either way, Satan wins and the church loses.

 We have to do better. The health of the body is on the line. Following are five recommendations for having a tough conversation with a spiritual leader.

 Keep your expectations in line with reality-

 Even the very best pastors and leaders are fallible, broken and inclined towards stupidity and pride (Romans 3:23). Because leaders are in the process of working out their salvation (as we all are) they need our prayers more than they need our condemnation. This does not mean a spiritual leader is above correction or redirection. There are times when leaders need to be corrected and should be corrected. That said, if we want to facilitate healthy change (and avoid the sin of pride) we must recognize the reality that no human (leader or follower) will ever be perfect or do things perfectly. Our expectation for spiritual leaders should not be perfection but rather a teachable spirit and a desire to become better and more Christlike (Proverbs 9:9, Proverbs 10:8).    

 Ask questions and seek to understand (Proverbs 12:18)-

 Many confrontations with leaders come about because of decisions that people did not like or understand. It’s critical we recognize that sometimes leaders make decisions based on information the rest of the congregation doesn’t have. That is why it is imperative we ask questions with an attitude of humility before we assume we understand why things are being done the way they are being done.

 Figure out if there is something deeper driving you before you confront-

 Sometimes a pastor or spiritual leader will rub us the wrong way for reasons that really and truly have nothing to do with them or their leadership. Sometimes we will reject a new leader because we really loved the style and personality of the old leader and what we really want is to get our old leader back. Other times a leader will irritate us because they remind us of a family member we have unresolved issues with. It’s unfair and unkind to project our weird junk onto others. Therefore, it’s imperative that we examine ourselves before we begin a conversation.

 Pray before you do anything-

 Praying for the leader and pray for yourself. Pray that God will reveal any destructive attitudes you have that are motivating the confrontation. Pray for wisdom and most importantly pray that everyone’s heart (including yours) will be open to healing and ready to receive truth.

 Say what needs to be said without assigning motives-

 No one but God knows why anyone does what they do. Therefore, it is critical that we be very careful about accusing people of doing things out of motives that we do not know for an absolute fact they have (Proverbs 3:7).  

 Don’t write a letter-

 Seriously. A text can be a great way to arrange a meeting and it might be helpful for you to write down your thoughts and concerns before you go into a meeting.  There is nothing wrong with taking notes into a meeting. That said, letters are a one-way conversation that offer zero opportunity for true understanding of both sides of a given issue.  If you aren’t ready for a face-to-face conversation you are probably not ready for a conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Church Really Needs-

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power~ 1stCorinthians 2:4-5 NIV

 I have observed that there is oftentimes in life a great chasm between what we think we need and what we really need.

  Nowhere is that truer than in the church.

 Most Christians (including me) spend a lot of time asking God for a lot of things. We pray for safety and protection for ourselves and our families. We pray that God’s favor will be on our lives. We pray that Christians will have greater political and social influence in the world. We pray that God will bless us with better jobs and more prosperity.  We pray that God will bless our churches with behinds in the seats and bucks in the offering plate.

 There is certainly nothing wrong with asking God for things (1stJohn 5:14-15, Hebrews 4:16) and none of those things are bad things. Some of them are actually noble, helpful and even necessary. No sane person would spend a lot of time arguing against the benefits and blessings of personal safety, financial security, influence, or growing churches.

 That said.

 I can’t help but wonder if maybe our desire for good things has caused us to lose sight of some better things that we actually need more than the good things we spend so much time and energy going after. Following are four things the church (and the people in the church) need more than safety, security, financial blessings or influence.

 What we really need is more:  

 Power-

 Early Christians lived during a period of history that was unbelievably dark and violent. The cruelty of what they endured simply defies comprehension. Early believers were victimized by both a despotic government with literally unlimited power (Rome) and a corrupt religious system that should have known better (the Sadducees and Pharisees).  (Acts 4:1-21, Acts 5:17-41, Acts 6:8-7:60, Acts 13:50, Acts 19, Acts 20:18-20). The government of Rome and the religious system of Palestine were hellbent on eradicating the fledgling new faith and were endlessly creative (and cruel) in their attempts to do so. Identifying as a Jesus follower was so dangerous that early Christians created a series of secret symbols to recognize each other in the hopes of avoiding swift and brutal deaths. A speaker recently blew my mind and forced me to modify my thinking on a whole slew of issues when he pointed out that nowhere in the book of Acts will we find an example of a Christian praying for their personal safety or protection. Instead early Christians prayed continually for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit’s power so they could do what God had called them to do (convert a culture and glorify God). We would do well to follow their lead.

 Challenges-

 Okay, I hesitated to add this one because I get that this isn’t exactly the sort of thing most (sane) people pray for. However, sometimes challenges and difficulties are exactly what we need (2ndThessalonians 1:2-5, James 1:2-4, 1stPeter 1:4-8).  Challenges and difficulties force us to grow-up and problem solve. Challenges prepare us for future ministry opportunities (2ndCorinthians 1:3-7) and they are oftentimes the motivation we need to seek God on a deeper level. We need to embrace the challenges we face for what they are: an opportunity to become more like Jesus, preparation for heaven and the thing that will make us grow (Acts 14:21-22, 2ndCorinthians 4:17, 2ndCorinthians 4:7-12).

 Influence with ordinary people-

 Political influence is not bad or wrong, so long as it is used for the right purposes and handled with wisdom and integrity. The apostle Paul used his status as a Roman citizen to gain an advantage on more than one occasion (Acts 16:37-38, Acts 21:31, Acts 22:22-29).  That said, no revival or enduring cultural change (that I have ever heard of) has ever started among the political elite and trickled down to ordinary people who were just living their lives. Lasting revivals always begin with ordinary people and eventually lead to political and societal change. Rather than praying for influence in high places we ought to be praying for revival among the ranks of the common man and woman.

 Discernment-

 We live in undeniably strange times where evil is routinely called good and good is called evil (Isaiah 5:20). Oftentimes the arguments made for calling good evil and evil good appear convincing and feel credible from a purely human perspective. Discernment is the ability to judge right from wrong by God’s standards. Discernment also gives us the insight and wisdom to see-through and argue against persuasive arguments that run contrary to biblical teaching (Colossians 2:4-8). Without discernment we are sitting ducks for the devil’s schemes (2ndTimothy 2:25-26) and almost certain to fall into wrong thinking that inevitably leads to wrong behavior (sin).