Why Christians Don’t Always Overcome Addiction (It’s Not What You Think)

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

 No rational person would waste time arguing that addiction is not 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. Gambling, pornography, food, phone, video game, shopping and sex addictions are affecting millions of people from every walk of life and 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 me (or any other Christian) addressing the problem.  What non-Christians do and don’t do should not be the concern of those inside the Church (1stCorinthians 5:11). It is not our job as Christians to attempt 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 (in my opinion) 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 and addicts in churches affect everyone in the church. Christians are all individual parts of a body (1stCorinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:4-5, Romans 12:4-5) so 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 also 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 we cannot adequately manage our 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 (2ndKings 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) they have witnessed in the lives of their parents and parent’s friends than any other single issue.

 If we want to see spiritual revival in the Western world (and most Christians 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 any addiction in the church does not begin with starting a support group or an accountability program it begins with the recognition of 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.  I believe that is because we have adopted the world’s view that addiction can be overcome with nothing more than a healthy self-image, more accountability and lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes and accountability are good, helpful and necessary things but without an acknowledgment of the underlying spiritual issue 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.

Five Things You Must do Before You Confront a Spiritual Leader About Anything


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 the church (Acts 6:1-7, 1stCorinthians 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 goats running wild 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 individuals quietly leaving their church and taking their unresolved issues with them.  Sadly, these individuals rarely go back and work things through with the leader so the leader remains forever bewildered by the desertion and never learns anything that leads to better leadership. Those who leave take their anger and resentment with them to the next church, where 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 their love and energy 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 can and should do better. The health of the body is at stake and it is up to us to make it better. 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 ever 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 to project our junk onto others, therefore, it’s imperative that we examine ourselves before we begin a conversation.

 Pray before you do anything-

 Spend time praying for your leader but also 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-

 None of us can possibly know 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 not ready for a conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Things the Church Needs Right Now

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).

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Reasons Christians Don’t Grow

We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming~ Ephesians 4:14 NIV

 Life is full of peculiar little conundrums, mysteries, enigmas and paradoxes. I.e. it is possible to be busy all day without accomplishing anything of any significance. We can read an entire book without comprehending a single word of it. We can listen intently to what someone is saying and not hear what they are saying. It is even possible to live a long life without experiencing the joy and fullness of being truly alive (John 5:39-40).

 It is also possible to grow old without growing-up and, frankly, there seems to be a lot of that going around these days. It is not at all uncommon to see children well into their elementary years still throwing temper tantrums like toddlers. Teenagers with the mindset of elementary-age children and young adults, who have never held a paying job.  Immaturity and childishness is not limited to the young. Our society is jam-packed with grown-ups who bully, blame others and are lacking the ability to manage their most basic of impulses.

 Perhaps one of the most tragic forms of immaturity is spiritual immaturity. Spiritual immaturity is marked by a lack of love and concern for others (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Hebrews 10:24), an inability to distinguish right from wrong (Malachi 3:18, Philippians 1:9-11) and a tendency to rely on feelings rather than biblical truth for direction (John 8:32). Other indicators of spiritual immaturity are broken relationships, pride, anger, excessive complaining without any desire to problem solve and a tendency to church hop.

  Spiritual immaturity causes Christians to become stunted, self-centered and worldly, it is the root cause of “irreconcilable differences” in Christian marriages. The spiritual immaturity of congregations causes churches to become powerless and tragically ineffective.

 Sigh.

 Christian people are ultimately responsible before God for their own growth (Galatians 6:4-5, 1stPeter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-13). We cannot grow unless we commit to doing these five things:

  Forgive-   

 Forgiveness is not only a prerequisite to being forgiven (Matthew 6:15). It is the only way to keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). It is essential we avoid bitterness because bitterness causes us to become entirely focused on our own feelings, hurts and offences. Spiritual growth can only occur when we move past our feelings and focus on letting go of the sinful behaviors we practiced in our old (pre-Jesus) life (Colossians 3:5-11, Galatians 5:19-21) and put on new behaviors and attitudes that cause us to become more like Jesus (Colossians 3:12-14, 2ndPeter 1:5-11). Forgiveness is never easy. That said, it is worth whatever effort it takes because living free of the bondage of forgiveness is a critical first step in becoming the people God has called us to be (1stPeter 2:9).

 Get rooted-

 God wants every Christian to be firmly rooted in the truths of the Bible and in relationship with Jesus (Ephesians 5:17, Colossians 2:6-7). We become rooted through a commitment to the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer and regular church attendance. There is simply no truly viable excuse for not reading the Bible, praying and getting involved in a Bible believing church if you want to mature your way out of spiritual infancy.

 Give-up whatever is keeping you immature-  

 At the root of most spiritual immaturity is a sinful behavior or attitude that we simply don’t want to let go of. Sins like gossip, bitterness, addiction to drugs or alcohol, anger, backbiting, and lust are just a few of the attitudes and behaviors that will keep us from growing-up spiritually. Growth comes naturally when we make a regular practice of self-examination and repentance (1stCorinthians 11:28, 2ndCorinthians 13:5, Matthew 3:8, Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19).

 Serve-

 When Christians serve in their churches and communities two critical objectives are met. Things get done, the needs of people are met and Jesus looks good as a result. Serving also broadens our focus and causes us to take our eyes off ourselves. In the process, we begin to see the needs of others more clearly and our desire to be a blessing grows.  When this happens, God is glorified and we mature.

 Own our junk-

 Because no man (or woman) is an island we are all effected to one degree or another by the actions of others. The insensitive, sinful and selfish actions of other people can cause the kind of damage that makes reaching our full potential in life much more challenging (but not impossible). That being said, we are each ultimately responsible for our own actions (Ezekiel 18:20-25). Blaming a bad childhood, marriage, dating experience, etc. for the choices we make and the sins we commit stunts our spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth making it impossible for God to use us to our full potential. We become spiritually free and mature when we get real with God (and ourselves) about what we’ve done and why we did it. When we do that we are well on our way to becoming the people God wants us to be.

 

 

 

Five Ways our Generation has Screwed-up Prayer

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread”~ Matthew 6:9-11 NIV

 This week I got to enjoy a very long lunch with an old friend. This particular friend is not just an old friend in the sense that we have known each other a long time. She is also an old friend in the sense that she is a good bit older than I am. I don’t know if it’s because she’s older than I am or if it’s because she’s acquired some wisdom in life (or a combination of the two), but this woman never fails to challenge me. The truly maddening thing is that I’m fairly certain she does it without even trying.

 This visit was no exception.

 We spent some time catching-up on our families and grumbling about all the madness in the world, then we moved on to the topic of church and ministry. I shared a little bit about what’s going on in my life right now, she shared what she’s doing and a couple of “back in the day” stories.

 I will not lie.

 There was a time (to my eternal shame) when I would sigh quietly anytime an older Christian began to wax eloquent about how ministry was done “back in the day”. I assumed (like all youthful idiots) that there is nothing significant to be learned from how church or ministry was done in the past. However, my generations’ complete and utter failure to make meaningful spiritual inroads into to our culture has humbled me a bit. I am now much more inclined to listen to those with a few years on me.

 It didn’t take long for me to recognize that all of her stories had a shared theme. The theme did not include tales of strategic outreach, careful planning or exciting gimmicks used to lure the unsaved into church buildings or a relationship with Jesus. Rather, the common denominator to all her stories was prayer. In every story she told, Christians prayed really hard and then crazy-cool stuff would happen, hearts changed, non-Christians became Christians, sin got confessed and repented of, and miracles took place. By the end of our lunch I was deeply convicted that our generation has forgotten how to pray and screwed-up the concept of prayer in at least five ways.

 Beginning with:

 We plan instead of pray-

 I am a planner. One of my favorite adages (much to the chagrin of my poor children) is “failure to plan is like planning to fail”. I have even been accused of over-planning a time or two. That said, I suspect we might see more success in our churches and at our events if we spent at least as much time praying for events and services as we do planning for them.

 We just don’t do it-

 According to a bunch of self-surveys I looked at, the average Christian admits to spending about three minutes a day in prayer. The ugly underbelly of that already ugly fact is that it tells us that at least half of all Christians either don’t pray at all or pray for less than three minutes a day.  

 We don’t really believe anything will happen when we do pray-

 Over and over again in the New Testament we are told that God is much more inclined to answer prayer when the person praying actually believes that something will happen because they prayed. I will be the first to admit that God does not answer all our prayers the way we want Him to answer our prayers. However, that does not mean we should stop believing that God will answer when we do pray.  

 We pray for dumb stuff-

 I know I’m going to get some flak for this one. But seriously, the world is going to hell right in front of us (literally and figuratively) and I have been at prayer meetings where people requested prayer for the health of their pets and for a relaxing vacation. God does care about pets and rest (He cares about everything). However, I suspect He cares more about the souls of the lost and is more inclined to answer in the affirmative when we pray about stuff that actually matters.  

 We don’t pray corporately-

 Even when we do gather to pray corporately, most of the time we wander off by our selves and pray alone. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He talked about “two or three being gathered” in His name.

 I think our generation has screwed-up prayer because we have lost touch with the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not about getting God to do the stuff we want or getting stuff from God. Prayer is about getting our purposes aligned with His and getting the spiritual power we need to do the stuff that really matters.

The Key to Surviving Unwanted Changes

 

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there~ Genesis 39:1 NIV

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I believed with all of my heart that I was one of those unicorn-like individuals who actually liked and even thrived on change.

 I know now I was an idiot who probably aggravated the fire out of everyone unfortunate enough to have a conversation with me about the subject. I am sure there were those who contemplated homicide, as I waxed eloquent on my love for change and ability to adapt to whatever came my way.

 Then along about five years ago I had an unpleasant reality check in the form of at least a dozen different changes I did not like, want or understand.

 Sigh.

 The good news is that I got to be a lot less annoying really quickly as I figured out that I (like all normal people) really only like change I have at least some control over. Change is wonderful when you’re discussing it in the abstract or contemplating something fun, like a move to a new city or a job promotion.

Change is just not nearly as thrilling when it is thrust upon you like ugly and impromptu blind date; or when it comes in the shape of something awful and unwanted like a job loss, a car accident, a death in the family, a grim diagnosis or a divorce you didn’t want.

 However.

 As a Christian I have confidence that nothing enters our lives without God’s foreknowledge. I also believe that if we seek to live for God in the midst of circumstances we do not like or understand, good will eventually come out of even the ugliest of situations (Romans 8:28). Because I truly believe all that, I had to come to terms with the fact that God had a purpose for the changes disturbing my peaceful reality.

 I learned a few lessons during that period in my life; and not just to shut my pie-hole about circumstances I had yet to experience. I also learned that whether or not we barely survive changes or thrive in the middle of it all depends on whether or not we understand and live-out these four truths…

 Unwelcome change brings losses that should be grieved-

 I am not intimating that the trauma of an unexpected pregnancy is somehow equal to the trauma of the death of loved one. However, both changes involve loss and all losses deserve at least a quick trip through the five stages of grief. Taking the time to feel the feelings that come with loss, rather than pretending those feelings don’t exist, will prevent emotional problems (such as depression) and spiritual problems (such as bitterness) in the future.

 Guard your heart against bitterness and hate-

 The greatest danger in unwelcome change is bitterness. We can easily become embittered towards the people who wronged us, didn’t see our value or who betrayed our trust in some way. We can also become bitter towards God for not working our circumstances out in a different way. Bitterness towards anyone is poison to our souls and must be dealt with decisively by grieving the loss, forgiving the jerks that hurt us and accepting the new normal.

 Embrace the opportunities change brings-

 When one door closes another opens. However, we can get so caught-up in what we are losing that we don’t see the opportunities that opening up right in front of us. If you are in the center of an unwelcome change, ask God to show you the doors He’s opening on your behalf. I guarantee you there are some.

 Unwanted changes are a time for reflection and self-improvement-

 I don’t believe God brought unwanted change into my life because I was doing anything wrong or sinful. However, in retrospect I was really bad at saying “no” and standing-up for myself. As a result I was going in a direction others had chosen for me and I had little inclination to do the things I was actually called to do. That period in my life gave me the downtime I needed to self-analyze and eventually form more of a backbone. I also got to know God and myself a whole lot better. In the process of all that reflection I figured out who I really was, how to say “no” and what I was really good at.

 Joseph (Genesis 37-50) is the poster-child for surviving and prospering in the midst of unwelcome change. He was sold as a slave by his brothers, jailed for a crime he didn’t commit and forgotten by the person who had the power to rescue him and yet he never stopped learning, growing and serving God. As a result of his willingness to embrace the opportunities that came with unwelcome he literally changed his world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Dropping the D-Bomb and Other Tips to Stay Married

He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord~ Proverbs 18:22 NIV

 My husband and I have officially been married for more years than most millennials have been alive. Alan and I were barely into our twenties when we got married and like all couples who marry young, we kind of grew-up together.

 I would love to tell you that every moment of our marriage has been a blissful one. Like all married people we have had good and bad times, however, at this point in our relationship I can honestly say that I would not trade even a minute of any of it for anything this world has to offer. There is simply no sweeter or more effective way to learn about life, love, God’s grace and what it really means to forgive and be forgiven.

I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about marriage, I am still learning. However, through the years I have learned a thing or two about the art of keeping love alive. Today I want to share six practical things I have learned (mostly the hard way) about the art of keeping a marriage healthy. Beginning with:

 Learn to let go-

 I am convinced that most divorces aren’t caused by big problems that cannot be solved. Divorces are the result of little irritations we refuse to let go of. I learned this a few years into our marriage when I observed that my sweetie had what I concluded were some vexing personal habits. Most notably Alan is a “piler”. He piles things neatly and continues to pile them until he is ready to deal with the mess or the pile outgrows the space available. This habit came to my attention via an enormous heap of clothing in the corner of our bedroom. I decided to see how big it would get before he did something about it. It took longer than I liked, and my outrage grew in direct proportion to the size of the pile. Three weeks in, I was done with keeping the peace and spent the better part of a day formulating an impressive lecture on the merits of tidiness and importance of respecting one’s partner. I was prepared to nail him with it, and then I had one of those gut-wrenching moments that are painful to experience but are totally necessary sometimes. It hit me that the pile of laundry was going to be the beginning of the end my marriage if I didn’t let go of my need to have it my way all the time. I promptly quashed my “righteous” indignation and vowed to stop letting that particular habit get the best of me.

 Connect without having sex-

 It’s easy to get carried away by the busyness of life and fall into the trap of living like roommates rather than two people who have made a life-long romantic commitment to one another. The key to changing that reality once it takes root is intentional connection. It’s important (especially for women) to connect in ways other than having sex. Get in the habit of making time to do the things you did while you were dating. Go places together, set-aside time just to talk, text each other, do the chores together and hold hands in public places. Those things are the reason you were happier while you were dating.

 Have sex-

 Find a pattern that works for both of you and have sex on a regular basis. Sex keeps the roommate vibe at bay and makes it easier (especially for men) to connect relationally outside of the bedroom.

 Stop dropping the D-bomb-

 Screaming you want a divorce in the middle of a stupid squabble is the emotional equivalent of choosing the nuclear option. There is absolutely nowhere productive the conversation can go from there. Divorce is not a word that should be uttered casually, in anger, or ever, if you care anything at all about staying married.

 Don’t let your marriage become entirely kid-centric-

 Little kids can suck-up all of our physical and emotional energy and sometimes it feels like they will always be a part of your daily routine. But I can assure that the little nippers do grow-up and move on with their lives. When they leave, you and your spouse will be stuck with whatever relationship you built while they were growing-up. Make it a good one.

 Become a student of your spouse-

 Learn everything you can about the likes and dislikes of your spouse for the sole purpose of bringing joy into their life. I promise it will bring joy into yours as well.

 Divorce is a heartbreak on every level, morally spiritually and relationally; our culture’s causal attitude towards marriage has devastated millions and generated incalculable social chaos. The Christian divorce epidemic is a big part of the reason the church has lost its moral authority in the culture. But most importantly divorce is a tragedy because even when every other alternative has been exhausted and divorce is deemed the only option (due to chronic infidelity or abuse) divorce is agonizing. Every divorce statistic represents two hurting and broken humans who had their dreams of a blissful, enduring union crushed and a large share of their personal history made null and void by a single legal decree.

 Prevention really is the only cure.

 

 

 

Surviving a Spiritual Dry Season

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord~ Amos 8:11

 Spiritual dry-spells or desert experiences typically begin with a sense that God is far away and our prayers are not being heard (Psalm 63:1). The sense that God is far away leads to the logical (but erroneous) conclusion that He is deliberately ignoring us. This predictably leads to an overwhelming sense of confusion. We feel lost and begin to believe we have been forgotten or abandoned by God. Every obstacle and disappointment feels like a rebuke and becomes a verification of the belief that God has turned His back on us.

 Some Christians react to their angst proactively. They step-up church attendance, pray with greater fervency, and work their spiritual tails off in a valiant effort to make God happy and get Him back on their side. Others become depressed and despondent. Some become irate and bitter, supposing God has turned on them. Spiritual pity parties and noble attempts to placate God are natural responses. However, these responses will not fix anything and may even lead to spiritual regression or rejection of the faith altogether.

 If this describes you, there are a few things you need to understand. First, you are not the first believer to experience a dry season. Some of the best and brightest of God’s people suffered through a dry season at one time or another. Naomi, David, Elijah, Jonah, Jeremiah, Esther and even Jesus (Matthew 27:46) all experienced situations where they felt God was remote and uninterested in their situation.

 No matter how you feel at this moment, you must understand that God has not stopped loving you, nor is He punishing you. His silence is not evidence of desertion. He still cares. He has a plan for you and He has no intention of allowing your pain to go on forever. Hang on to that. Memorize and meditate on Isaiah 42:3:

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick, He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.

 A spiritual dry season is not a time for self-pity but it is a good time for some healthy self-examination. God never moves away from us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 37:28) . He is steady and unchanging. We on the other hand are prone to wander, sometimes without realizing it. I have learned that when God feels far away it’s a good time to ask some hard questions:

 Am I making a daily effort to connect with God through prayer and Bible study?

 Is there some area of my life that has become a foothold for the enemy (Ephesians 4:26-28)?

 Have my personal dreams or desires become demands that I make of God?

 Am I harboring resentment in my heart because God has not answered a prayer to my liking?

  If the honest answer to any of the above questions is “yes” then change direction as rapidly as possible. Make a determined effort to connect with God, repent of wrong attitudes, deal with sin and spend some additional time in prayer realigning your dreams with God’s will. If, on the other hand, none of the above seem to apply to your situation then you should assume that God is taking you through a season of refinement and growth.

 Because we live in a fallen world, spiritual growth rarely comes easy and is always incremental. Growth comes as we shed old behaviors and change the mindsets and attitudes that allowed those wrong behaviors to flourish. Letting go of old behaviors and attitudes empowers us to reach new levels of spiritual understanding. The process is agonizing because our flesh longs to hang on to the old ways of functioning and looking at life. This painful process is the only way we can be transformed into the likeness of Jesus.

 We can fight growth or we can embrace it. We fight it by willfully refusing to see the issues in our life that need to be addressed. We embrace growth by asking God with a sincere heart to show us what exactly needs to happen in our lives for us to become more like Jesus. It is this place of humility and submission that allows God to do in us what needs to be done and frees us up to reestablish our sense of connection with God.

 

 

 

 

What Grace is Not

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age~ Titus 2:11-12

 I am not, nor have I ever been, much of a rule-maker. My husband and I had very few rules for our children while they were growing up. The rules we did make for our kids all tended to center around safety and relationships.

 My dislike of excessive rules has made its way into nearly every other area of my life as well. To the chagrin of my rule-following husband one of my favorite personal axioms is:

 “Rules are for people who don’t know how to do things”.

 My aversion to man-made rules is born out of a deeply held conviction that laws are for law-breakers (1st Timothy 1:9-11); and that there would be no need for laws if people would simply use good judgment and obey God (Galatians 5:18). No one who knows me personally has ever charged me with being a legalist.

 All that being said, if I hear one more Christian who is actively skirting the edges of good sense or worse yet, openly sinning proclaim one of the following phrases: “I am under grace not law!” “You can’t judge me!,” or “Just because something is wrong for you does not mean it’s wrong for everyone”. I will need to be medicated.

 It is my conviction that these statements are born out of confusion over two concepts: God’s moral law and grace. Too many folks mistakenly suppose that God’s law and grace are things they are not.

 God’s moral law is not…

 Irrelevant- Matthew 5:17, Galatians 5:18-20, Colossians 3

 There are three types of law in the Old Testament, ceremonial, civil and moral. As the ultimate High Priest Jesus satisfied all aspects of the ceremonial law, it is now fulfilled and is therefore irrelevant for Christians. Civil law was intended for the nation of Israel, and is not generally pertinent today. However, that does not mean that Christians are not bound by moral standards found in the law. If a command or instruction from the Old Testament law is repeated in the New Testament, it still applies today.

 A club to beat people with- Ephesians 4:2, Galatians 6:1-3

 One reason there is so much confusion over this issue is because too many people have been far too focused on the actions of others for far too long. It is biblical for one Christian to warn another when their actions are crossing clear biblical lines (1st Corinthians 4:14, James 5:20). That being said, we have to remember that we are to judge our own behavior at least as harshly as we judge the behavior of others.  Our responsibility as believers is to lovingly warn others where their behavior will lead, what they choose to do with those warnings is on them (Ezekiel 3:21).

An excuse to make more rules- 1st John 5:3, Matthew 23:1-15

Too often Christians make rules around God-given commands and then treat the man-made rules as if they were God’s commands. Man-made rules are typically  well-intentioned and meant to assist us in keeping the God given command. However, generally speaking all man-made rules do is confuse the issues and lead to unnecessary legalism.  An example would be sexual immorality. Christians are commanded to abstain from sexual immorality. Period. Rules against dating, hand-holding, wearing make-up, premarital kissing and dancing do help some people to avoid sexual sin but those are personal choices, not God-given commands and should not be treated as such.

Grace is not:

 A justification for intentional sin- Jude 1:4

 Too many Christians have perverted the whole notion of grace and turned it into a free pass for willful sin, unruly living and bad behavior. Grace is not nor was it ever intended to be a free pass for anything. Furthermore, one has to wonder how sorry anyone can be for a sin they committed on purpose.

 An excuse to avoid the hard work of living a holy life- Ephesians 5:3, 1st Peter 1:13-15, Philippians 2:12

 In one sense Christians are made holy at the point of salvation (Hebrews 10:10-14). However, we are also commanded by God to work out the details of our salvation (Philippians 2:12) and to behave in a way that reflects our status as holy people (Colossians 3:1-17). It is impossible do either effectively when we are living a life of sin.

 The benefits of grace are nearly incomprehensible. Grace pardons us from the penalty of sin (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace allows us to do things and endure things the world writes off as impossibilities. (2nd Corinthians 12:9). Grace gives us peace beyond human understanding during difficult times (Philippians 4:7). Grace enables us to understand God on a deeper level (Ephesians 1:7-9). Grace empowers us to see people the way God sees people and, if properly understood, grace compels us to show mercy toward others. Perhaps, the most practical application of grace is that it empowers inherently sinful people to live holy lives (Titus 2:11-12). Because grace is so freely given it can easily devolve into a justification for self-indulgence and pleasure seeking or an excuse to avoid the long, sometimes difficult process of becoming holy. When we allow these things to happen, our version of grace devolves into a perversion of something truly beautiful.