At Least One Reason Why We’re Such a Flaming-hot Dumpster Fire of a Mess in This Country

 They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk and evil suspicions~ 1stTimothy 6:4 NIV

 I did something stupid this week. I totally knew better. But for some reason I still don’t completely understand I did it anyway.

 I engaged on the internet.

 It all started innocently enough (it always does). A friend posted an article about Robert De Niro’s f-word infused anti-Trump harangue at the Tony Awards on Sunday night. I have been preoccupied with several big writing and speaking projects lately and haven’t stayed on top of current events like I usually do. As a result, I wasn’t even aware of the hullabaloo surrounding Mr. De Niro’s comments.  

 So, I was curious.

 After reading the article I scanned the comments section of the post (first big mistake). In one of the comments a guy (I will call him “Tom”) compared Robert De Niro’s sweaty, wild-eyed, profanity-laced tirade to a speech given by Franklin Graham a while back where he stated (among other things) that our country is in a battle between good and evil and that the soul of our nation is at stake. “Tom” went on to say that Franklin Graham was essentially calling half the people in our country “evil” because half the country (give or take) is opposed to Trump and his policies. “Tom” inferred that Robert De Niro and Franklin Grahams speeches were more-or-less morally equivalent. He didn’t say it outright but he also implied that we all ought to slow the roll on judging Mr. De Niro.

 Sigh.

 Because I am a clueless doofus sometimes (and because I genuinely believed in my heart-of-hearts this guy must be confused) I calmly explained to “Tom” that Franklin Graham was not saying half the people in America are evil. He was simply saying that some ideas are evil and that we are in a battle for the heart and soul of the country. Then I went on to say (like a clueless doofus) that saying someone believes an evil idea doesn’t necessarily make them irredeemable (second big mistake).

 Well.

 It turns out my words were not as calming (or helpful) as I hoped (Proverbs 10:19). “Tom” jumped all over the word “irredeemable” and things got really tense really quickly. He said that it sounded to him as if I was saying that anyone who didn’t share the same beliefs I had were “irredeemable”. He then demanded that I tell him what beliefs made a person irredeemable.

 I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but at this point I was beginning to get an inkling that “Tom” was not seeking to understand or to be understood. He simply wanted to back me into corner and force me to call him evil. 

 I wasn’t in the mood to bite at that hook so I simply informed him he was wrong rather than evil and that there was a huge difference between being evil and wrong (third big mistake). This turned out not to be calming or helpful either (I already owned-up to being a clueless doofus). Needless to say, things did not end well and “Tom” and I did not become “friends” on social media.

 I did have an epiphany as a result of my conversation with “Tom”.

 I know at least one reason why we have become so divided. We have lost our way because we don’t discuss ideas and beliefs anymore. We don’t debate good and evil or right and wrong. Nor do we deliberate the outcome of policies or philosophies anymore. Instead we play ridiculous games of word-gotcha where we scrutinize people’s words, look for a way to attack them based on their words and debate the imagined meaning behind the words rather than the ideas, programs or philosophies in question.

 It is ruining us all (2nd Timothy 2:14, 1st Timothy 6:4).  

 My exchange with” Tom” is a textbook example. “Tom” jumped on one word and read a whole truckload of subtext into that one word (irredeemable). He did not want to know what ideas I felt were evil. He certainly didn’t ask what I thought might be done to improve things in our country. He simply jumped directly to the notion that I was calling him evil. For the record, I wasn’t suggesting that “Tom” is evil. I was honestly attempting to clarify what Mr. Graham actually meant for “Tom”.

 Word-gotcha is a legitimate problem but is a problem we can do something about. If you find yourself engaging with someone who attempts to trap you into a debate over the “real” meaning of a word you used DO NOT let them do it and DO NOT engage in the game.

 Call them on it.

 Explain in very simple terms exactly what they are doing and then inform them respectfully that you refuse to engage in silly games of word-gotcha. Let them know (in a kind and loving tone) that you would love to discuss issues and ideas but you simply will not discuss what you really meant by a particular word. Be polite, be willing to engage on the actual issues, be willing to hear a viewpoint you don’t agree with, be loving, be Christ-like but also be firm.

 Our civilization might actually depend on it.

 Seriously.

  

Seven Marriage Killing Behaviors

Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction~ Proverbs 17:19 NIV

 Marriage season is upon us once again and because my husband and I have reached the stage in life where we get invited to attend a lot of weddings I have been thinking quite a bit about the subject of marriage.  More specifically I have been thinking about why some marriages go the distance and others don’t.

 Contemporary wisdom tells us that prevention is key to avoiding marital shipwrecks.  Finding the right person, getting the right counseling beforehand and “being ready for marriage” are exalted as the gold standard of divorce prevention. It would be the height of foolishness to argue against the need for relational compatibility and pre-marital counseling. The importance of those things is obvious, and while I don’t think anyone is ever truly “ready for marriage”. Reaching a certain level of maturity before getting married is without question helpful to the over-all success of any marriage.  

 That said.

 All the pre-marital preparation in the world will not overcome stupidity, meanness, willful sin or relationship mismanagement. What we do after the vows are said is every bit as important (if not more so) than what we do before they are said. There are a number of common blunders people make in marriage that go way beyond mere mistakes, poor choices or communication snafus.  They are behaviors and attitudes that will literally kill a marriage if they are not corrected (and repented of) quickly.  

 The seven marriage killers are:

 The silent treatment-

 The silent treatment is a control tactic used by narcissistic people to bring about change they want to see in the relationship without actually discussing issues or compromising on solutions to problems. The silent treatment is at best, a sign of serious emotional immaturity and at worst it is a serious form of abuse. Those who use it need to understand that it tends to backfire over time. In the beginning of a relationship most partners will respond to silence by doing whatever they think needs to be done to get the conversation started again and the relationship back on track. That said, healthy people will eventually tire of the game playing and begin to distance themselves emotionally from the silencer, if emotional distance is not course-corrected in a marriage divorce is almost always inevitable. It all comes down to learning to use your words and being willing to compromise (Ephesians 5:21). It’s what grown-ups do in grown-up relationships.   

 Pornography-

 Conventional “wisdom” tells us that pornography is only a problem if one party in the relationship objects or if one person looks at pornography without the other being present. This “wisdom” is worldly idiocy. Nothing does more to create an environment where sin can flourish or erodes trust between two people more quickly than pornography (Exodus 20:14). Looking at pornography is the act of bringing other people into the part of the relationship that was intended (by God) for only the husband and the wife. Bringing pornography into a marriage directly contradicts the command given in Hebrews 13:4 to “keep the marriage bed pure and undefiled”. Pornography is not an acceptable or smart way to “spice things up”.

 Deceit-

 Deceitfulness can take on many different forms including emotional affairs, physical affairs, hiding financial information or just generally keeping secrets from the other person. Whatever form deceitfulness takes it puts up walls in the relationship and destroys trust. Marriages simply will not survive without trust.  (Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9, Proverbs 17:19, Deuteronomy 5:18).

 Using sex as a weapon

 Sex is one of those sticky-wicket issues that most couples avoid talking about to the detriment of the relationship. Don’t. Sex is one of the key reasons most people (especially Christian people) get married so it ought to be discussed. Do not get in the habit of withholding sex as “punishment” for real or imagined offenses. It’s not nice and it’s not biblical (1stCorinthians 7:4).

 Disrespect-  

 Disrespect covers a whole range of behaviors. It encompasses screaming, rudeness, spitefulness and not taking the other person’s desires, preferences or needs into consideration.  The worst and most damaging kind of disrespect almost always involves the words we use (Proverbs 12:18, Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:29). Cursing, belittling or name-calling during a conflict is a surefire way to kill romantic love quickly.  If we all just obeyed the command Jesus gave in Matthew 7:12 and treated our spouse how we want to be treated the vast majority of marital problems would disappear overnight.

 Abuse-

  Seriously, this one is a no-brainer (Malachi 2:15-17). If it’s a problem in your marriage get help immediately.

 Refusing to become a team-

 No marriage will survive unless the husband and the wife are both one-hundred percent committed to the good of the other. Once we say “I do” it ceases to be about us and becomes about the two of us (Matthew 19:5-6). Teamwork in marriage means willingly sacrificing our own personal wants, needs and desires at least some of the time for the good of the other person and the relationship (Ephesians 5:20-33) . If at any time sacrificing becomes habitually one-sided the team will crumble and so will the marriage.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Reason Christians Don’t 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 Myths that Wreck Marriages


For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, the two will become one flesh. So, they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate~ Mark 10:7-10

I have observed that Christians universally hold marriage in high regard irrespective of their denominational affiliation. The vast majority of Christians marry. Most Christians who are not married wish that they were. Marriage conferences are ubiquitous in Christian circles and the vast majority of books written on the subject of marriage were written by Christian authors. 

 All that being said, the divorce rate among Christians remains stubbornly high and nothing any of us do seems to budge it.

I am convinced that the problem is not with our attitude toward divorce. I have never met a Christian (or anyone else) who advocated for divorce or who felt divorce was a desirable outcome. I believe the problem lies in how many Christians view marriage. We have bought into some dangerous myths regarding marriage. 

It is not my intention to heap guilt on the divorced. Most divorced people have experienced more than enough guilt for a lifetime and I have no desire to add to their pile. I do want to attempt to save some relationships by sharing some common (and hurtful) myths we believe about marriage:

Myth #1 There is one “right” way to do marriage-

My husband and I are not big fans of marriage conferences. Mostly because they tend to offer one-size-fits-all solutions to complex problems. The speaker typically begins by informing the audience that there is a “detailed biblical blueprint for marriage” and if followed to the letter the relationship is “guaranteed to be successful.” It is true that the Bible offers clear teaching on what a Christian marriage should look like. The essential components of a healthy,  Christian marriage include faithfulness (Hebrews 13:4), mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21), love (Ephesians 5:25), respect (Ephesians 5:33, 1st Peter 3:7), as well as an understanding of responsibilities within marriage (1st Corinthians 7:2-5, Colossians 3). The how of working all that out simply does not exist anywhere in the biblical text. I believe the Bible is intentionally vague on this issue because it’s up to each individual couple to figure out what all that looks like within the confines of their own relationship.Anytime someone presents a “detailed blueprint” for marriage, the blueprint tends to ignore the reality that every couple is different, all marriages are unique and the needs of individuals change over time. There is no one way to do the details of marriage as long as the relationship itself is built on mutual respect, love, kindness, and forgiveness.

Myth #2 Words don’t matter-

Words hurt, and if we hurt others often enough with our words any love that was once present dies a slow and agonizing death. Telling your wife she is a fat pig, or calling your husband a stupid moron is the quickest and most efficient way to destroy a marriage. The best advice my husband and I were ever given was to speak kindly to each other even during conflict. Choosing our words wisely does not mean that we ignore issues or never disagree. It just means that we say what needs to be said without attacking the personhood of our spouse.

Myth #3 Love means being accepted exactly the way I am- 

The self-esteem movement has taught us that we are all unique, flawless creatures designed by our Maker to bless the universe with our existence. Self-examination is not a big part of the self-esteem movement so when someone comes along who refuses to affirm our “uniqueness” as perfection, our initial instinct is to simply ignore their negativity and/or cut them out of our lives. The Bible teaches that the truth sets us free (John 8:32) and marriage was designed by God to reveal the (sometimes ugly) truth about ourselves.  It is essential we face the reality no one is perfect and we all have things we need to change about ourselves (Romans 3:23). We love others well when we demonstrate a willingness to change the behaviors that are creating conflict in our relationship.

Myth #4 Marriage is all about finding the right one- 

This lie is the stuff of fairy tales and is at the root of every other lie we believe about marriage. This myth implies that there is only one person who is suited to each of us and finding that one person guarantees a blissful union.  Hard work, personal responsibility and commitment to personal growth are not a big part of the “right one” mythology. Some spiritualize the myth by telling themselves that if they aren’t happy “they didn’t find the one God had for them”. Happily married people will tell you that a successful marriage is more about being the right person than finding the right person. Marriages are successful when both parties are willing to work through conflict, serve one another, find common ground, and meet each other’s needs (1stCorinthians 13, 1stCorinthians 7:3-4, Ephesians 5:33). Compatibility should not be overlooked when choosing a spouse, but it is possible to find a person with whom you have perfect compatibility and still destroy the relationship with pettiness, spitefulness, selfishness, and disrespect. 

 

Slaying the Faith Killer


Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken~ Psalm 55:22

 For the record, I do not consider myself to be an unusually anxious person. Nor, I am under the illusion that I am an extraordinarily relaxed or chill person. I probably fall somewhere squarely in the center of the anxiety spectrum (if there is such a thing).

 That said, I have had more than a few flashes of panic recently on account of all the stupid, weird and vexing things that have occurred over the course of the last week. As a result of those things I have a list of legitimate concerns that is long, diverse and growing at an worrying pace. The list includes (but is not limited to) a really nasty cold (more annoying than worrisome, but still) my identity potentially being stolen (again), serious issues with an aging parent (again), and some troublesome logistical glitches with helping one of our kids move to another state. Complicating issues further, the above-mentioned problems have led to some irritating time-management snafus, which, in turn, has only compounded all my other worries. Then, last but definitely not least there was the fallout from the embarrassing (but not life-altering) antics of one of our teenage children.

 Sigh.

 Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time (like me) knows that Christians are strongly cautioned against worrying about things they cannot control (Luke 12:22-29). That said, anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time also knows that even for people who are not excessive worriers there are times in life when it is far easier to recite Bible verses forbidding worry than it is to obey said verses.

 Sigh.

 Because I have worried more this week than I typically do, I have also thought about worry far more than I typically do. As I was thinking through the ins-and-outs of this issue it occurred to me that worry is dangerous from myriad of different perspectives, some obvious, others less so. Most of us know (at least on an academic level) that worry is pointless, wastes mental energy, and has been proven to trigger a multitude of psychological and physical health problems. However, I am also convinced that worry is destructive from a spiritual and a relational perspective. Mostly because it’s a behavior that can easily lead to other behaviors that eventually lead to sin.

 Worry is the antithesis of faith. Faith, by its very nature leads to trust and confidence in God’s ability to solve our problems. Conversely, worry inevitably produces doubt and leads to fear of the future (Hebrews 11:6). For many individuals, the doubt and fear that worry breeds leads to skepticism regarding the goodness and sovereignty of God. This skepticism can cause even really good people to take matters into their own hands, doing whatever looks and feels right to them in the moment (Genesis 16). When this happens we nearly always step outside the will of God in the process of attempting to figure life out without God’s assistance.

 For others worry leads to anger and frustration. Because there is little in this world worse than being stuck in a relationship with an angry person, and because angry people are typically selfish and tragically terrible at communication; unresolved anger creates all sorts of relational issues. Anger leads to serious spiritual issues as well. Ongoing and excessive worry has caused many to turn away from God in a spirit of bitterness because He didn’t do what they thought He ought to do (Hebrews 12:15).

 Everyone agrees that worry is pointless and solves precisely nothing (Matthew 6:25-34). However, knowing that does not stop most of us from worrying. Nor do I believe that simply pretending that we have no problems is the only alternative there is to worrying our heads off about our problems.

 Dealing with worry successfully involves both the practical and the spiritual. Practically speaking, doing a realistic evaluation of our situation and then fixing the things we are capable of fixing is not only sensible, it is our sacred duty as creatures made in the image of a rational, intelligent and wise God.

 However, the nature of this life is such that there are some things we simply cannot fix, no matter how smart we are or how hard we try. When we come up against one of those things (or a dozen of those things) then our worries need to be transformed into prayer (1st Peter 5:7). We need to take our worries and give them over to God in prayer as many times as necessary until we feel the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7)

 Then we need to wait and see what God does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Really Messed-up Things Every Christian Ought to be Praying About

He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers~ 2nd Corinthians 1:10-11a NIV

 Life in the present-day Western world certainly has its fair share of peculiarities. On the one hand, pretty much everyone agrees that those lucky enough to live in the Western world at this time in history have more blessings, conveniences and creature comforts than people at any other period in human history.

 We also have more than our fair share of curious worries. Even really normal people worry about stuff past generations would have thought a bit odd. Things like microbes; random terror attacks, getting old, and despotic dictators in distant countries. The more neurotic in our midst (i.e. me) do not worry about “normal things” instead we worry about more exotic issues like the long-term effects of worry on our health and whether or not cell phone radiation is scrambling our brains and turning us into a horde of mindless zombies (please don’t judge).

 Sigh.                                        

 Most of the stuff we worry about is directly related to situations we have little actual control over. The angst that grows out of lack of control typically leads to one of two opposite and equally unhelpful, unhealthy, and unspiritual responses. Some people worry their heads off about things they know they can do absolutely nothing about. Others go out of their way to avoid news concerning the relentless (and troublesome) drama in our world, in a misguided effort to prevent them from freaking-out about things they can do nothing about.

 God calls us to a more proactive solution. He calls us to pray (Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2, 1st Thessalonians 5:13). We are called to pray for those closest to us and we are called to pray for people we will never know. We are also called to pray for situations entirely outside of our control (1st Timothy 2:1-2). In the interest of promoting peace rather than anxiety I have compiled a list of things I believe every Christian ought to be praying about everyday (James 5:16). All of these issues are vast and far-reaching; so vast and far-reaching that nothing will change on any of these fronts without God’s gracious assistance.

 Pray America does some intense soul searching-

 It’s been another long, painful week in America with yet another horrible and senseless school shooting. Everyone with even the teeniest scrap of humanity in their heart wants to do SOMETHING to prevent another shooting from occurring. However, few people seem to be interested in talking about WHY these incidents continue to happen with such shocking regularity. It’s time for Americans to think a little deeper about why our culture is producing people who care so little for their fellow humans that they want to kill as many of them as possible in the most dramatic way imaginable.

 Pray for children in our culture-

 A shocking number of kids today are being born to parents who care more about themselves and their idiotically sinful habits than they do about their own offspring. This trend is rapidly producing a sizable subculture of disturbed, academically challenged and drug-affected children and young adults who are (in many cases) incapable of functioning in a healthy and life-giving way in the culture. These kids need our assistance and our prayers. And our culture needs to change this trend quickly or we are going to reap a bitter harvest in the coming years.

 Pray for a resurgence of Christian families-

 At the root of the vast majority of the problems in our world lay a lack of virtue, common sense, concern for our fellow humans and an absence of conscience. God intended for people to acquire these things in the context of loving Christian homes. Until we have a return of the Christian family our world will continue to struggle with these issues.

 Pray for leaders around the world-

 Because I am American and about 90% of the people who read this blog also happen to be American I sometimes forget that the entire world needs prayer every bit as much as America does. We need to pray that leaders worldwide will govern from a standpoint of wisdom and common sense rather than worldly twaddle. This is a tall order and something only God can make happen. It is a cause worthy of some serious prayer time.

 Pray for revival-

 We need revival in our world because God is the only one who can successfully and permanently change a human heart. We need heart change in our world because without it none of the other things that need changing ever will, and our world desperately needs change.

 

 

 

 

Winning the Battle Everyone Has to Fight at Some Point

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged~ Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

It’s been a long couple of weeks and I have found myself in a nasty battle with the d-word:

Discouragement

 It wasn’t one great-big-awful-thing that had me feeling down. Rather, it was just a bunch of irksome stuff that coalesced into a brutal case of discouragement.

 Part of the problem is situational: I live in Washington state and it’s January. I have not seen even a glimpse of the sun for more than a couple of minutes at a time in months. The vitamin D tablets I’ve been munching on are simply not getting the job done anymore. I am in desperate need of some actual sunshine. Some other problems compounding that issue were a tense meeting, our beloved little dog died and I have a problem that affects me personally that I have zero control over. On top of all that a mean person said some hurtful things that hit a little too close to home and I had a hard time getting over them.

 I am keenly aware of the fact that none of my problems are truly significant. I have a roof over my head, a solid marriage, healthy children, a relationship with God and some close friends that I trust. In other words, all the truly significant stuff in is still okay in my world.

 However, knowing all that did not stop me from wallowing around in negativity like a pig in the mud. I spent the better part of a day eating my feelings and focusing endlessly on the negative.

 Just as I reached the apex of my pity-party, I had an uncomfortable but essential insight into the situation. I knew at that moment that if I didn’t find a way to get a grip on myself I was going to fall into pit of discouragement and stay there indefinitely, and the longer I stayed the harder it was going to be to get out.

 Discouragement left to fester is potentially dangerous from a spiritual perspective. Discouragement is not a sin (thank God). However, it is a reaction to circumstances that can easily mutate into something more permanent like despair or more sinister like bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). After my recent epiphany, I have come to believe that the key to dealing with discouragement effectively is to firmly grasp hold of the four following principles.

 Understand that discouragement is simply part of living in a fallen world-

 Admittedly, recognizing this reality changes exactly nothing. However, embracing the fact that EVERYONE goes through periods of discouragement does help put our feelings in perspective and it keeps us from buying into the lie that the universe is picking on us in a unique or personal way (John 16:33).

 Do not fall into the trap of focusing only on what can’t be changed-

 One of the truly dangerous things about discouragement is that it can blind us to answers that are right in front of us (Exodus 6:9). Discouragement transforms even really smart, really spiritual people into one of those annoying souls who always has a really great reason why whatever solution is offered (no matter how practical, workable or wise the solution might be) will not work in their particular situation. Unless you want to be that guy (or girl) it is essential we don’t let the emotion of discouragement drive our decision-making or willingness to apply solutions to our problems.

 Find something to be thankful for-

 Thankfulness alone will not magically transform an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one (sorry). That said, Christians are commanded to be thankful (Hebrews 12:28, Colossians 3:15, Colossians 4:2) even in less than ideal circumstances (1st Thessalonians 5:18). I think this is because the act of offering gratitude to God takes our focus off our problems and frees us up to see possibilities that we were previously blind to. Thankfulness reminds us that there is more to this life than problems and trouble, it reorders our focus and helps us to see the good in life. The ability to see something (anything) good in a bad situation really is a game-changer when we are stuck in a pit of discouragement.

 Trust that God is working on your behalf in spite of what circumstances are telling you-

This is obviously easier said than done, especially when negative circumstances look and feel insurmountable. But believing the truth of God’s word, rather than what circumstances are telling us, really is the essence of faith (Hebrews 11:1) and it is how we please God (Hebrews 11:6, Galatians 3:9).  

Another Church Peeve

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart~ Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

 I love the church.

 I believe with every fiber of my being that the local church is God’s chosen instrument for proclaiming truth to the world, training believers for works of service and transforming heathens and moral reprobates into faithful Jesus followers. For that reason, I am convinced that every Christian ought to regularly attend a local church and contribute their time, energy, and treasure into making that church a great place to worship, learn and grow.

 That said, I also have a whole host of weird pet peeves when it comes to church and how we do church at this time in history. Basically, I have an aversion to anything weird, gimmicky or shallow. Those things include (but are not limited to) fog machines, unfriendly congregations, worship songs that remind me to breathe, Pastors that dress like homeless people and a lack of relevant teaching or opportunities to learn.

 These peeves (and many others) have been well documented in some of my previous blog posts. I just sort of assumed (until recently) that I had discovered and explored every single one of my many peeves related to church and had nothing left to write about on the subject. I was wrong.

 I have discovered a new one.

 Everywhere I turn these days I am being told that I should speak the name of Jesus over my problems and worries. If I am afraid, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have cancer, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I need money I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have a drug or alcohol addiction, I should speak the name of Jesus. This advice is usually followed up with the instruction to “just walk in it”.

 Whatever the heck that means.

 My concerns with this trend might appear to be a bit silly and trivial on the surface, but unlike some of my other peeves this one really isn’t all that petty. This one actually has some potentially serious practical and theological ramifications.

 Christians should understand that nowhere in the Bible are we told to speak the name of Jesus over anything. We are told to believe in the name of Jesus (1 John 3:23). We are told to openly profess the name of Jesus (Hebrews 13:15). We are also told to baptize people into the name of Jesus (Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5) and we are commanded to speak the name of Jesus as we teach the truth about God and call people to repentance (Matthew 28:16-20). Not once are we told to speak the name of Jesus over our problems, anxieties or doubts.

 Speaking a word (any word) over something in an effort to change it, is a practice that has more in common with witchcraft than it does with Christianity. I am NOT suggesting that someone who tells you to speak the name of Jesus over your problems is a witch or is active in witchcraft. I am saying that simply speaking the word ‘Jesus’ over a problem, worry or concern will not solve it and might even distract you from doing the things God wants you to do in order to solve your problems.

 I promise you that God does not want you to speak the name of Jesus over your bratty two-year-old, job loss, addiction, crumbling marriage or serious medical condition. That’s just not how God works. Instead, God wants you to do these three things:

 Understand that tests and trials are simply a part of this life-

 We live in a fallen world, and sadly bad things happen in our fallen world (1st Thessalonians 3:2-4, 1st Peter 1:6). People get hurt and sick, they lose their jobs, and sometimes they turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with negative feelings and traumatic experiences. Other times people are evil and cruel and the innocent get hurt or exploited. On the positive side of all of that, God will use those trials to make you a better, wiser more compassionate person if you ask Him to (James 1:2, James 1:12, 2nd Corinthians 1:3-6).

 Seek God on a deeper level-

 More than anything God wants you to work at getting to know Him better in the midst of your trial. He wants you to become a student of the Word and someone who runs to Him in prayer with all your fears, sinful inclinations, insecurities and problems. Doing that will give you a supernatural source of strength, knowledge and wisdom that will empower you to deal with whatever trial has come into your life, in a way that pleases God and benefits you.

 Become increasingly more obedient to God-

 We solve our problems in this life by first identifying areas of sin in our lives, repenting of those sins and then doing more and more of what God instructs us to do in His word. Romans 12:1-21, 2nd Peter 1:5-8, Colossians 3:1-26 and Ephesians chapters 4-6 give believers abundant instruction on the behaviors Christians should be embracing and eliminating in their lives. However, eliminating sinful behavior is not enough. We also have to ask God to help us (sometimes repeatedly) change our hearts, hate sin and see life the way He sees it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fixing A Bad Marriage

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV

 My husband and I have been married for nearly three decades and our marriage (like most marriages) has gone through its fair share of ups and downs over the years. Through the good and the bad I have concluded that there is nothing in this world quite as good as a great marriage. Nothing is better or more rewarding in this life than the closeness, camaraderie and fun of a healthy, happy marriage. Conversely, a bad marriage is nothing short of a living hell. There are simply no words to describe the awkward agony of waking-up every single day of your life next to the person you least want to talk to.

 It just sucks.

 I have observed that all marriages (even the really great ones) inevitably go through at least one season where communication halts and the relationship feels doomed. During this period both parties inevitably wonder if it’s even worth it to keep trying.

 Like many young couples, that season came fairly early on in our marriage. We spent the better part of a really miserable year either squabbling bitterly over the most stupid stuff imaginable or giving each other the silent treatment over the same stupid stuff. It was not our best year. However at the end of it, we had worked through a horde of really thorny issues, our relationship was stronger and we were both better, happier people.

 In my view everything that can be done should be done to fix a bad marriage. Every marriage is different and every situation is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fixing a bad marriage. However, the following five recommendations can be a game-changer in even the most broken relationships.

 Fixing a bad marriage must begin with:

 Choosing to be kind no matter how the other person responds-

 Not surprisingly, kindness is a quality conspicuously missing in all unhappy marriages. Too often we wait for the other person to be kind before we begin being kind. Sadly, this sort of willful pride never yields positive results. In order for the healing process to begin, one person has to humble him or herself and commit to speaking kindly to—and doing thoughtful things for—the other person (even if they act like a jerk at first). Usually, the other person eventually responds in kind and the marriage gets a new beginning.    

Laying down your weapons-

 Each part of an unhappy couple has their own arsenal of verbal weapons they use to emotionally pummel their spouse. It might be calling the other person hurtful names or constantly reminding them of a past sin or bringing up a character flaw. Whatever it is, at the root of any arsenal is one of two things: either the sin of unforgiveness or pure meanness. Either way I advise immediate repentance.

 Nixing the silent treatment-

 Not everyone uses the silent treatment. Those who do, use it to shut down conversations they are too immature to have or as a tool to get their own way. People who employ this method have learned that if they clam-up for long enough, more often than not, the other person will eventually acquiesce to whatever they want just to end the awkwardness. The silent treatment is a self-indulgent, passive-aggressive power play that not only destroys marriages but friendships and even the parent-child bond. It’s dangerous because eventually the other person will weary of the perpetual game playing and either walk out on the relationship or stay, adjust to the silence and begin living their own life. Either way the marriage is over. If one or both parties need time to calm down, that’s fine, as long as things eventually get talked out.

 Calling sin sin and repenting-

I am thankful to the modern psychology movement because it has helped us to understand the reasons why people do the weird, sinful things people do. That said, psychology has also helped to create an environment where we blame our sin on other people or trauma, rather than our own choices. It is not uncommon for Christians to blame genetics, stress, or a bad upbringing for behavior the Bible calls willful sinfulness. The bottom line is that no matter our experiences we are all responsible before God for what we do. We all have the ability to make changes. Change can only begin with the acknowledgment that our behavior is sinful (even if the behavior or attitude has a genetic component or came about as a result of trauma) and needs to be changed. This must be followed-up with a commitment to obedience and permanent repentance.

 Looking at you-

 One characteristic common to all bad marriages is that both parties have their focus firmly fixed on the bad behavior of their spouse. Conversely, typically both parties are totally unwilling to own-up to their own bad habits, problems, and sins and acknowledge how those behaviors and attitudes are creating chaos in the relationship. If you want to fix your marriage, stop focusing on what the other person is or isn’t doing. Instead, make a commitment to pray about what you need to change or begin doing so that you can become the husband or wife God wants you to be.