The One Thing Every Christian Needs More of-

Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God– John 3:21 NIV

Okay, so. 

No one just decides to let their perfectly good life spiral into a dark and ugly disaster. This is even more true of Christians. No authentic follower of Jesus has ever made the willful decision to just let their life dissolve into a chaotic tragedy. Seriously. It just doesn’t happen. The hope we receive at salvation simply doesn’t allow for that kind of willful foolishness (Romans 5:5).

However.

There are plenty of Christians whose lives do spiral out of control. Sometimes there is no returning from the dark places they go. Unfortunately, it’s a trend that seems to be growing. More and more people are beginning their spiritual lives well and ending them by rejecting Jesus altogether or telling the world they are “reimagining” their faith (Galatians 5:7). When we choose the things of this world over the full life Jesus offers we end up turning away from God. Turning from God never ends well (Hebrews 6:4-6, Matthew 24:10-11). 

The key to preventing that fate is found in asking God to empower us to seek, understand and walk in truth (John 8:32, 2nd Corinthians 3:12 Galatians 5:5). Living out the kind of truth that keeps us from becoming the worst version of ourselves is about more than simply learning some Bible verses that tell us how we should live.   In order for truth to become a protective force in our lives we have to seek it purposely in specific areas of our lives (Ephesian 6:14, Ephesians 6:17). We seek truth by asking God to show us truth in the following four areas: 

The truth about who we are-  

It is critical we know who we are in Christ and what that means for us spiritually (Ephesians 3:16-20, Colossians 1:13, Galatians 4:6).  Knowing we are loved by God gives us incentive to grow and protects us from discouragement.  We have to know that even when we fail God is for us. He never stops rooting for us to become the best possible version of ourselves. However, it is also critical we understand no one reaches that status without some effort. We grow by asking God to show us truth about the parts of ourselves that still need redemption.  We will never see our blind spots and the areas of our life that are tripping us up without God’s help. We are simply too easily misled by our own desires.  

The truth about the motives of our heart- 

The human heart is the most insanely devious thing in all of creation (Jeremiah 17:9). We are able to trick ourselves into believing our motives are pure and we are good when we are anything but good and pure. It’s possible to do this without even realizing we are doing it. We can easily fool ourselves into thinking we are simply being friendly to a member of the opposite sex when in reality we are testing the waters to see if that person might be open to an inappropriate relationship. We tell ourselves it’s the churches fault we aren’t growing when in reality we aren’t making any attempt to feed ourselves outside of the weekly church service. We fool ourselves into thinking we’ve forgiven someone when in reality we are holding onto a grudge the size of Texas. Only God can show us what’s really going on in our hearts but that only happens when we ask Him to do it. 

The truth about who God is –

People—even redeemed people tend to make God into something much smaller and less powerful than He really is. We are simply more comfortable with a God who is like us. So, usually without realizing it we cast God into the image of a human who isn’t all that different from us. In the process we talk ourselves out of taking God seriously. When we stop taking God seriously we stop obeying Him in any area of our lives that feels hard. The way to end this cycle is to ask God daily to remind us who He is and how worthy He is of our full attention and obedience. 

The truth about other people-

It is all-too easy for us to view other people as our enemies, rather than as people who are made in the image of God and deeply valued by Him. When we devalue people, we tend to overestimate the harm they do us and underestimate their ability to be transformed. When we do this we inevitably end up doing the one thing God doesn’t do: give up on people. Asking God to help us see people the way He sees them keeps us from giving up on people when they disappoint us. As people inevitably do. 

No Christian chooses consciously to fail in the things that matter most. The key to success in the Christian life is knowing the truth of God and then walking in it. But in a world fraught with lies and deception truth is something we have to want badly enough to go after it with our whole hearts (Jeremiah 29:13)

Why we all Need to get our Butts Back in the Church Building-

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  – Acts 2:42 NIV 

According to Pew Research Center as of March 2021 almost half (forty-three percent) of church members have yet to return to in-person church services. A forty-three percent loss of almost anything is at best unsustainable. At worst such a loss could prove fatal. 

Think about it. 

If a family were to suddenly lose forty-three percent of their savings, the loss would create untold chaos in their financial future. If a nation were to lose forty-three percent of their population the nation would inevitably become weak, ineffectual and find themselves at the mercy of their enemies. The church is no different. A forty-three percent loss of regular attenders is no small deal. 

I totally get that there are some individuals who cannot or should not go back to in-service church attendance at this time.

For the record; 

Elderly folks unable or unwilling to get the COVID vaccine, get a pass on returning to in-person services. The immune compromised, or parents with an immune compromised child are also exempt from returning to in-person services at this time. Those with serious comorbidities who cannot or do not wish to take the vaccine, get a pass on resuming in-person church attendance at least for now. 

Everyone else needs to get their butts back in the church building. 

Pronto. 

Here’s why:

It’s not necessarily going to be smooth sailing from here- 

I do not fancy myself a prophet. That said, the culture has taken a turn for the worse and every fiber of my being tells me that the shaking God has given our world over the course of the last fifteen months is not even close to being over (Hebrews 12:25-27). God will continue to shake our world until people respond to Him in repentance (Revelation 9:20). What the shaking will look like and where it will end are questions far above my meager paygrade.  Nonetheless, it’s not over. More trouble and hardship is coming and the body of Christ will likely not be exempt from the trouble (1st Peter 4:17). If I’m right Christians will need the encouragement and connection they can only get from the body of Christ in order to continue their growth as believers (Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:24-26) When Christians fail to grow spiritually they run the risk their faith will die a slow and painful death that could end in apostasy (Hebrews 6:1-9, Matthew 24:9-11).  Church community is critical because it prevents apostasy.  

The church needs all hands-on deck to accomplish the mission of the Church- 

The mission of the church is clear (Matthew 28:18-19). The church is to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. To accomplish this end church leaders are commanded to teach and train all believers to live out the truth of the gospel so they can reach their unsaved friends and family with the gospel (Ephesians 4:10-12). This task is massive. It demands the whole-body work together to accomplish the mission (Romans 12:4-6, 1st Corinthians 12:17). If one person stays home or refuses to do their part a ball gets dropped that ensures the whole body is less effective than they could have been. 

Christians need the church to stay anchored and spiritually healthy-

Without a solid church to anchor a person to the faith individual believers either drift away from Christianity altogether or they begin to adopt strange theories and attitudes regarding God and Scripture. Strange beliefs make it very difficult to reach others with the gospel. These things happen without the person even realizing they are happening. Regular community involvement in a local church is the only way to prevent drift from taking place and eccentric beliefs from taking root. 

There are some things you cannot experience while watching a screen- 

Online attendance has its limits. It is possible to get the essence of a sermon from an online format. That said, it is impossible to experience unity and connection with other believers alone in your living room. It is also impossible to experience the knitting together of the body that takes place when the whole church worships their God in one accord (Acts 2:42-47, Revelation 7:9-10). It is also impossible to effectively use one’s individual gifts to grow the body of Christ while isolated from the body of Christ. We need each other for all these things.  

This pandemic is winding down- 

An estimated thirty percent of the population has recovered from COVID-19 and has natural immunity, another fifty percent of the population has had at least one COVID vaccination. This is a clear indicator it is time for God’s people to ditch their fear and get back to the business of living hard for Jesus.  

The bottom-line in all this is that we go to church because God tells us to and it is the pattern we see throughout the entire Bible. We cannot say we love God and refuse to do what He says (John 14:15, 1st John 5:2, Hebrews 10:25) at least not without experiencing dire consequences. In this case consequences could include a slow separation from God that gives the devil a foothold in our lives and place for sin and even apostasy to take root. Nobody who really knows Jesus wants that. In order to prevent it we all need to get our butts back into the church building. 

Now.  

Five Massive Errors the Church is Making Right Now-

You will know how people ought to conduct themselves in Gods household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth– 1st Timothy 3:15 NIV

Every generation of Christians has had its own unique set of excesses and errors. The 1980’s church was filled with dramatic personal “testimonies”. Many of which turned out to be crazy-pants lies. The 1990’s church became consumed with end times prophecy. Leaving many Christians looking like fanatical nut-jobs. The late 1990’s and 2000’s birthed the well-intended but tragically misguided purity movement. The movement inadvertently drove Christian dating completely underground and left a whole generation feeling an unhealthy level shame due to natural sexual desires intended to keep the human race in the business of reproduction.   

Sigh. 

Today’s church is struggling to share the gospel in a culture shaped by events in church world that have created a toxic spiritual environment for reaching the lost. In one sense our generation is no different. Like previous generations of believers, the spiritual mistakes and doctrinal errors of our time will be felt in the future. Believers in coming years will undoubtedly struggle to undo the consequences of our own unique lack of spiritual insight and wisdom. 

However. 

In some ways what this generation thinks and does matters more. Not because we are inherently more important than past generations. We’re not.  But because technology has given humanity the ability to spread bad ideas, misinformation, and wrong thinking faster than ever before. This is one of the reasons the church today is struggling in such profound ways. Thanks to advances in technology the spiritual errors and excesses of the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s had a much deeper reach into the culture than the errors and excesses of previous generations.  Following are a few of the more dangerous ideas floating around this generation. 

Starting with: 

I can be a Christian and reject everything the Bible teaches- 

No one can. It is true that no one comes to faith automatically believing the “right way”. We all have to be taught. It is also true that there is some room for disagreement on some of the particulars of what the “right way” is. However, to reject what God says about Himself as well His clear instructions pertaining to sexuality, gender and justice as well as His standards of right and wrong is to reject God Himself. One simply cannot reject God and still be a Christian. Period. It just doesn’t work like that.  

Bible knowledge doesn’t matter- 

This is usually preceded by a reference to 1st Corinthians 8:1 where Paul states “knowledge puffs up while love builds up”. Context is key here.  The apostle Paul wasn’t talking about spiritual or Bible knowledge in general terms. He was talking specifically about knowledge related to eating food that had once been sacrificed to an idol (1st Corinthians 8:1-13). Some Corinthian church members had become aware that food sacrificed to idols was just food and began openly and arrogantly eating that food in public spaces. This created all sorts of confusion for less-mature Christians who didn’t understand that food is just food. Some of them had rejected Jesus and returned to idol worship in response to the freedom they saw other Christians exercising. It would be absurd to assume the man who wrote well over half of the New Testament’s instructive passages was somehow opposed to people learning the Bible. It is true that people can become prideful about what they know about the Bible without really applying biblical truth to their lives. That does not make biblical ignorance somehow superior to spiritual knowledge.      

 Bible knowledge is the most important thing-

It is important, critical even. Those who do not acquire basic biblical knowledge rarely stay believers for very long (Matthew 13:18-23). That being said, knowledge is not the most important thing. Having our hearts transformed so we become a loving reflection of Jesus is (Romans 12:2, 2nd Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3:1-17). However, even that requires at least rudimentary Bible knowledge. So, there’s that. 

Christians can be spiritually formed outside of spiritual community-  

Individual believers are always at their most healthy when they are living in community with other Christians (Acts 2:42-47). This is because God designed people to be like Him (Genesis 1:27). God is a community within Himself (Genesis 1:26, Isaiah 46:16, Matthew 3:16-17). As a result, we were literally made to need other Christians in order to grow and mature (1st Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 10:24-25). Without healthy community individual Christians either drift away from church altogether or they adopt strange pseudo-biblical beliefs that make it very hard for them to effectively share their faith. 

We don’t need to half the Church to make the Church work- 

Men and women were intended to work together to bring about God’s purposes in this world (Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:18). Anytime church leaders think they can do church without the contributions of half the church something valuable and vital will be missing in that church community. That loss will affect the churches ability to effectively reach the lost and disciple Christians God has placed in their care. 

The church in the west stands at a crossroads (Jeremiah 6:16). We can continue down the path we have been on for years. If we do, the church will continue to lose influence and we will see our culture continue to disintegrate into moral bedlam. The other option is to do the hard work of correcting the errors we have fallen into.  This route will be much more challenging but it will pay dividends that will be felt for generations.   

Four Ugly Truths Covid-19 Revealed in the Church World-

Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away. A calamity will fall upon you that you cannot ward off with a ransom; a catastrophe you cannot foresewill suddenly come upon you– Isaiah 47:11 NIV 

The last fifteen months have been some of the weirdest, most challenging and most contentious of any in recent history. It feels as if the world is powder keg just waiting for the right kind of spark to set if off. Even in the Church, division over “what Christians should do” about masks, vaccines and staying home has become normal and sometimes totally contentious.  It’s convenient to blame the lack of respect, division and turmoil on COVID. It’s not as if the world were some sort of a utopia pre-COVID but it wasn’t anything like the flaming hot trash-fire we have come to know as the new normal. 

However. 

Logically, we should be moving past some of this turmoil and strife, especially in the church. Unfortunately, vaccines, higher survival rates and better over-all outcomes aren’t doing much of anything to heal the hurts of the past year. This goes a long way in proving that COVID isn’t the cause of our problems. All COVID has done is reveal the junk that has been simmering beneath the surface for decades.  Following are four issues that have contributed to the problems:

Our Faith is weak- 

One truth COVID has revealed is that Christianity in the west is a mile wide and an inch deep. From our Bible knowledge to our communities we have redefined shallow living and shallow learning. This is because few Christians routinely participate in basic Christian practices designed to keep their faith vibrant and healthy (routine prayer, reflective Bible reading, performing acts of charity, church attendance, and involvement in Christian community). Prior to COVID we were able to skate along attending Church 1.2 times a month and throwing up the occasional prayer when a huge need presented itself (Matthew chapters 5-7). Post-COVID it became woefully evident our shallow practices have not really anchored Christians to God or the church. 

There are those who love liberal social agendas more than they love God or even their own security- 

Seriously. There are. Our culture has actually come to a place where large numbers of people would rather suffer personal financial harm than implement a single traditional principal or idea. We see this most often in states where the economy is floundering and the people are badly overtaxed but residents keep reelecting leaders who support liberal social agendas because they love those agendas more than they want economic security.  This reality is a symptom of much bigger spiritual problems that will only be solved through repentance and revival.  

Christians want a single leader who will lead us into a “golden age of Christianity”- 

This sinful desire is at the heart of the celebrity culture that Christians have embraced with abandon over the course of the last three or four decades. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament Christians have longed for a “king” who will lead the modern church into an age of respectability and acceptance with the unsaved world (1stSamuel 8:5).  In a misguided effort to find a “leader” who will bring us the worldly status we crave, Christians have thrown themselves behind every twenty-year-old with a half-way decent idea or any smooth-talker who can build a big audience (1st Samuel 16:7). Then we wonder why these men and women inevitably end up in bed with someone they aren’t married to or denouncing Christianity altogether (1st Timothy 3:6-7). God isn’t going to bring a leader to save us. He already did that. His name is Jesus and the one the one thing we are promised is that following Jesus will not make us popular with anyone anywhere in the world (John 15:18). It’s time for us to embrace that reality and if we do God probably won’t bring us respectability but He will bring us a new level of effectiveness if we follow hard after Him rather than pine for a fallible human leader.  

Christians want a political savior- 

The desire for a powerful human leader is not limited to Church world. Many Christians long for a conservative political figure to step onto the scene to unite us as a people and fix the long list of social, legislative and moral problems we are currently grappling with. It’s not going to happen. At least not in the way we want it to happen, any leader who shows up on the scene at this point is almost guaranteed to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing (John 10:12). Rather than looking for a quick political fix Christians must learn to pray for wise leaders who will point people back to righteous living and personal responsibility. 

The season of COVID-19 ruling every aspect of our lives is hopefully coming to a close. However, that does not mean that the church should simply go back to all the things that got us to a place where we lacked the spiritual resources necessary to cope with a curveball like COVID-19. Instead, we should be looking to Jesus as our source of wisdom and direction in all things. We must seek out spiritual practices that lead to growth so that we can find ways to help other people grow.

This is the only effective way to prepare for what lies ahead. 

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).