Seven Churches Series- Thyatira the Hot Mess Church


For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions- 2nd Timothy 4:3 ESV

Peculiar fact:

Comfort and ease do not always make people better people.  

Such was the case with the Church in Thyatira.

Unlike most of the churches in Asia Minor, the church in Thyatira was not living under the constant threat of brutal persecution. Martyrdom was not an everyday occurrence in Thyatira. There is zero evidence the believers in Thyatira were suffering from the consequences of extreme poverty like the Christians in Smyrna. Emperor worship was not a huge issue in Thyatira. All-in-all Thyatira was a rather peaceful place to be a Christian, at least compared to other cities in the Roman Empire. This means all of the problems in the church came from within the church.  

Thyatira was a hot mess.

Even so, the letter begins with an encouraging tone. This little detail indicates Jesus chooses to sees the good in our lives even when we are failing to live up to His expectations. Jesus praises the Christians in Thyatira for their faith in God, their love for one another other and their faithful service to Him (John 13:34-35). He applauds their perseverance (Hebrews 10:36) and acknowledges that their good deeds have grown in number rather than diminishing over time (Ephesians 2:8-10, Hebrews 10:24). 

Then the tone changes. 

Dramatically.

 Most of the problems in Thyatira appear to have revolved around a female teacher Jesus calls “Jezebel”. It is possible (but unlikely) “Jezebel” was this woman’s actual name. It’s far more likely Jesus was equating the woman in Thyatira with Queen Jezebel in 1st and 2nd Kings. This was by no means a complimentary comparison. The Old Testament Jezebel was a foul woman who normalized Baal worship in Israel. The sexual immorality and child sacrifice that went hand-in-hand with Baal worship ultimately led to judgment and seventy years of Babylonian captivity for the Jewish people. (1st Kings 16:30-32, Jeremiah 19:5, Jeremiah 32:35). 

Yikes. 

Jesus has three primary issues with the woman He calls “Jezebel”:

First, she called herself a prophetess when she was a complete fraud (Revelation 2:20). There is no shortage of good examples of female prophets in both the Old and New Testaments (Exodus 15:1, Judges 4:4, 1st Samuel 25:28-32, Isaiah 8:3, 2nd Kings 24:14, Luke 2:36, Acts 2:17-18, Acts 21:9). That being said, a title does not automatically make someone the thing they claim to be (James 3:1, 2nd Peter 2:1-4, Jude 16-21). 

Second, this woman’s teaching was ultimately a concession to the surrounding culture. Her teaching permitted Christians to practice paganism while still claiming to “be Christian”. The pagan worship she encouraged which would have certainly involved sexual immorality (adultery, homosexuality, promiscuity) and drunkenness as part of the “worship”. Joining in pagan worship was appealing to less mature Christians because it enabled them to blend in with the surrounding culture, thus keeping persecution at bay. Jesus forbids this type of compromise because He knows Christians never reach the lost with the gospel by mimicking the civilization they live in.

And finally, Jesus had in some way confronted “Jezebel” concerning her teaching and she refused to change. He confronted her, either by speaking directly to her conscience or through people He used to challenge her. She chose to continue on in her false teaching in spite of the warnings she had been given (Revelation 2:20-22). Jesus was not amused. He promises to “cast her on a bed of suffering” for her refusal to repent. This stands as a stark warning to anyone who is tempted to ignore their conscience. 

Jesus also liberally criticizes those in leadership who looked the other way while this woman led the ignorant into a spiritually treacherous compromise with the culture (Revelation 2:20).  “Jezebel” was guilty of false teaching but the weak leadership in Thyatira gave her a place to preach. Her ministry would not have lasted without the platform they provided. It’s clear from the text: the spiritual leadership at the helm in Thyatira were not oblivious nubs led astray by an evil mastermind who was outfoxing them with her excellent (but untrue) arguments. Jesus is clear: by refusing to deal with her sin they aided her ministry. 

Sigh. 

Jesus’ tough talk to the church in Thyatira teaches us that we believe about life and God matters to Jesus. It is not okay for a believer in Jesus to passively accept or willfully go after “Christian” teachings that tickle their ears and make space for sin (2nd Timothy 4:3-4). Nor, is it acceptable for Christians to help a false teacher by buying their books, listening to their podcasts or attending their church. Those who knowingly help a false teacher to grow their ministry bear a share of the responsibility for the harm they cause.  

Jesus finishes His letter to the church in Thyatira with some encouragement to the discouraged faithful there. He encourages them to simply “hold on to what they have” (faith in the goodness of God) in spite of what they see going on in their church. That’s it. That’s all He expects is their fidelity. In return He promises them a place in His Kingdom and the future opportunity to rule and reign with Him if they choose to remain faithful and true even in a church full of compromise and sin. 

The Seven Churches Series- Ephesus

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart- Proverbs 3:3 NIV

I have this theory that all Christian churches, denominations and organizations follow the same basic development pattern.

It always begins with a dream, desire or idea God plants in the heart of a person or a group of people.  This dream ultimately produces the birth of something new and beautiful (Isaiah 43:19, Acts 2:42-47).

Then comes childhood.  

Childhood is an exhilarating time in a church or ministry. Childhood is all about beginnings and growth. All the activity of this phase is born out of genuine love for Jesus, passion for the mission of Jesus and a desire to honor and glorify Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).   Leaders seek to obey Jesus above all else and as a result this phase typically results in an abundance of fruit. The childhood phase is also marked by some chaos. Leaders don’t always know what they’re doing, important things don’t get done and there can be disputes between key leaders (Galatians 2:11-14).  Because this stage is naturally volatile, if an organization stays in childhood for too long the ministry or church will die. No ministry or church can endure the disorganization and volatility of the childhood stage for long. 

It’s just too dang messy. 

If the organization or church survives the birth and childhood phase (some don’t). It slides into adulthood. Adulthood is the sweet spot for a ministry or church. There’s still a lot of enthusiasm and there is also a clear vision for where the ministry is going. The vision is firmly rooted in biblical principles and prayer. The ministry is still very Jesus centered but there’s more discipline than in the childhood phase. The policies and leadership structure developed in the early adulthood phase provide the stability necessary to keep the thing from flying off the rails. This is typically a very long phase that is even more effective and fruitful than the childhood phase. The organization or church earns a good reputation in the community and it does a lot of good. People are saved, lives are transformed and Jesus is glorified in a big way (Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5). 

Then comes middle age.

If an organization makes it to the middle age stage everything is going super well from an optics perspective. Money is being raised, there are a ton of volunteers and the stated mission is still solid. 

However. 

There is a subtle shift that begins with leadership. Leaders become, usually without realizing it, much more focused on building the organization than they are on Jesus and glorifying Jesus. Jesus is still valued, but Jesus is no longer the main thing. He’s more of a figurehead at this point. Passion for Jesus and devotion to the mission gets lost in the day-to-day of “doing ministry”, “raising money” and “growing the church” (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 10:7-9, Ephesians 4:11-16). It not unheard of for shady conduct to become a common occurrence at this point, and because leaders are focused is on how things LOOK rather than holiness, righteousness and pleasing Jesus, it is also not all unusual for shadiness to be swept under the rug, rather than being dealt with.   All or most of the ministry work of this phase is centered on programs and fund raising rather than transforming people and glorifying Jesus.  On the surface the ministry activity APPEARS to be people and Jesus centered. However, most of it is focused firmly on keeping the ministry machine going, raising money and justifying the continued existence of the organization. 

This is exactly what happened to the church in Ephesus. 

The first church Jesus addresses in Revelation chapters 2-3 arrived at middle age and their love for Jesus and concern for the spiritual and emotional needs of people became lost in their desire to maintain the status quo. Jesus called this “losing their first love” (Revelation 2:4-5).

But here’s the thing: 

No one looking at the Ephesian church from the outside would have suspected there was a problem. Even most folks who attended the Ephesian church were likely unaware of the issues. The leaders were undoubtedly clueless. Leaders at this stage almost always lack any kind of real self-awareness. As a result, they thought everything was fine. And why not? All the externals looked awesome. The pastors were skillful, polished and well-educated. The doctrine was solid.  They avoided getting involved with problematic or divisive issues. The people attending gave money and willingly suffered hardship for Jesus (Revelation 2:2-3).  

But. 

Their hearts were far from God. The people stopped caring about the things Jesus cared about. The Ephesian Church was still very busy kingdom building. It was just the wrong kingdom. It was a human kingdom instead of Jesus’ kingdom.  

Jesus’ instruction to the Ephesian Christians is straightforward: “do what you did at first”.  

Jesus knew that one of two things happens at this crossroads.

Most of the time the ministry continues a slow drift further and further from the original mission. Bit by bit it loses its ability to make a spiritual impact on the world. The church remains but the power it once had to make disciples and transform the culture evaporates. The people lose their saltiness and the church or organization becomes spiritually worthless (Matthew 5:13). If it endures it morphs into more of a social service agency than an actual ministry. 

Or.

There is a spiritual awaking.  The people who attend and lead these churches recognize the problem. They see the drift. It breaks their hearts and they repent. They fully rededicate themselves to the cause of Christ. Jesus becomes the main thing once again and the church or organization continues to be a vital part of the body and a solution to the brokenness in this world (Revelation 2:7). 

However.

Spiritual awaking’s don’t just happen.  

We need to ask God to help us see the drift in our lives and our churches and our ministries. It’s imperative we pray daily for wisdom and self-awareness and a heart that is willing to see the problems and our role in those problems. Most importantly, must be eager to do what we did at first (Jeremiah 17:9-10). We have to fight to go back to that childlike state of spiritual existence where Jesus was our everything and our obedience was a gift we joyfully gave Him.  

Wisdom: What it is, why you Will Literally die Without it and how to get it-

Wisdom along with an inheritance is good, and an advantage to those who see the sun. For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, but the advantage of knowledge (wisdom) is that wisdom keeps its possessors alive– Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 NASB

Wisdom and folly.

Everyone understands folly. 

Folly is easy. Folly is stupidity and absurdity. Folly is knowingly doing the wrong thing because it feels good or appears to be advantageous or expedient in the moment. Folly is willfully ignoring the obvious, especially when the obvious is clearly not okay. Folly is rebelling against common sense or acknowledged facts in favor of feelings. Folly is not difficult to grasp (Ecclesiastes 10:3).

However.

Wisdom is more complicated and much harder to nail down, largely because wisdom is multi-faceted and nuanced (Proverbs 8:11, Proverbs 3:19).  Some of the best practical definitions of wisdom are:

Thinking God’s thoughts after Him-

The sum of all learning and knowledge-

Common sense, good judgment- 

The ability to apply knowledge appropriately to a given situation- 

But, by far, my all-time favorite practical definition of wisdom is… 

Drumroll please…

Understanding the connectedness of life-

Wisdom is understanding every single action in life produces a reaction or consequence.  It’s understanding the reaction or consequence is not always equal to or observably related to the action (Hosea 8:7).  Wisdom is understanding the seemingly unconnected things in life really are connected. Wisdom is knowing anxiety is not a freak event or strictly a biological occurrence. It’s the direct result of something else: an unfinished project, a lie we told, control issues or a conversation we’re scared to have.  Wisdom is recognizing the link between pride and abject failure in our relationships and work (Proverbs 16:18, Proverbs 11:2). Wisdom is understanding how I live today will impact tomorrow, sometimes in seemingly unconnected ways (Proverbs 20:25).  Wisdom is knowing how I choose to manage my sexuality has the power to dramatically impact not only my marriage but also my finances, friendships, parenting outcome and reputation (Proverbs 5:1-14). Wisdom is knowing sin in one area of my life will inevitably impact productivity and blessings in other areas of my life (Proverbs 5:21-23). Wise people know nothing happens in a void and everything is connected to everything else. Wise people also understand we get to choose our sin but we don’t get to choose the consequences of our sin (Proverbs 1:31).

 One need not be clever in order to be wise (Proverbs 17:28). That being said, no one gets wisdom, unless they pursue it (James 1:5, Proverbs 1:20-23). There are five primary ways a person acquires wisdom, including:

The Bible-

The Bible illuminates wisdom and defines foolishness very clearly in the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 1-4). However, there is more wisdom in the Bible than what’s found in Proverbs. The Bible teaches through stories, psalms and commands what will happen when a person chooses to act wisely and what happens when a person chooses to behave foolishly. Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Therefore, a wise life begins with making a commitment to Jesus (Proverbs 14:2). Once that is done a person should seek to learn the Bible and apply it their life. Wisdom always follows that course.   

Reflection about life-

Some assume simply living life and attaining an education will make them wise. This is categorically wrong. There are lots of really foolish old people and the world is abounding with educated idiots. Self-reflection is what makes us wise. We become wise and insightful when we take the time to contemplate which actions led to our successes and failures (Proverbs 4:26, 2nd Corinthians 13:5).  When we choose to think through what we did right or wrong in situations and then adjust our behavior accordingly next time wisdom becomes a part of who we are as people. 

Prayer-

Its critical we know God isn’t just wise and knowledgeable. God IS wisdom. God IS knowledge. God is THE source of all understanding about all things.  Praying to the source of wisdom and knowledge does two things: first, prayer allows clueless humans to ASK God for wisdom about life. A prayer for wisdom is God’s favorite kind of prayer. He is always ready to give wisdom to anyone eager to ask for it (James 1:5). However, prayer is not just about asking God for stuff.  Prayer is primarily about connecting with and communing with God. We become like those we spend the most time with. Therefore, if we make connecting with the all-wise, all-knowing, totally-holy maker of the universe a priority in our lives we will become wise just as He is wise. 

From other people- 

God blesses people with wisdom and then places those people in our lives as a gift (Proverbs 13:20, Proverbs 13:14). It is our responsibility to identify the wise people God places in our path and learn from them. As with any gift we can refuse the wisdom others have to offer but we do so at our own peril. 

And finally.

No one can acquire wisdom without humility. Period.  To become wise, we must understand and accept our limitedness in every area. Wisdom means conceding that sometimes we get it wrong and most of the time we don’t know what we don’t know. Wisdom is all about having a realistic perspective of ourselves and humbly asking God to give us the insight, wisdom and understanding we lack. 

Then we are unstoppable (Proverbs 21:22). 

How to Make Church a Little Easier for Those who Need it Most-

 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it– Hebrews 13:1-2 NASB 1995

Let’s just be real. 

Church can be really hard. 

Even if you’ve attended church forever and totally “get” church. Church can be hard.  Finding a new church is even harder. Meeting new people is hard. Stepping into an environment where you don’t understand all the rules is hard. Putting yourself out there is hard. Knowing out how to fit in is hard. Making new friends is hard.  

 Church is also important. 

It really is a nonnegotiable for a serious follower of Jesus.  Jesus established church (Matthew 16:18, John 3:3). He told us what it should look like (Matthew 5-6, Matthew 18:15-17). He prayed for it (John 17:1-25). He invested in it (Matthew 11:1, Mark 4:33).  He died for it (Matthew 26-27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19, Matthew 14:22-33). He rose from the dead to redeem and empower it (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20. Then He sent His people out to build it (Matthew 28:16-20).  

All that makes church a big stinking deal.  

It also makes the subsequent story super sad. I have a friend who is looking for a church. I won’t share the ghastly details but suffice it to say her reasons for leaving her church were one-hundred-percent valid. She attended four churches in nine weeks. She realized immediately the first two were a poor doctrinal fit. The third was tiny (not necessarily a problem). However, the pastor was also seriously unprepared (a problem). Number four was promising. The size was right, not too big, not too small. It was a healthy mix of age groups (young families, older adults, teens and young adults). The music was beautifully done and doctrinally on point. The sermon was solid and the doctrinal statement was sound. 

One problem. 

No one talked to her. There were greeters and they all smiled politely and made eye contact but did not say anything more significant than “hello” to her. Not once. There was a welcome time prior to the sermon and no one welcomed her. She did all the stuff you’re supposed to do. She showed up early and stayed late. She bathed. She dressed and behaved appropriately. Even with all that, no one, not even a staff member interacted with her.  

Nonetheless.

She soldiered on. A serve day was announced from the pulpit. She knew getting out and serving her community would be a good thing to do. She also knew it would give her a chance to interact with some of the people she was going to church with. 

At the serve day, she was assigned to a team and she tried to engage the other people on the team. She asked good questions, complimented the pastor on the sermon the week before and just generally did her best to be an agreeable, involved and helpful member of the team. To no avail. No one attempted to engage her when she arrived on site. No one asked her questions about herself. No one noticed when she left and went home. 

Two things. 

First.

Not every church is unfriendly. There are churches that do an outstanding job greeting new people and finding creative ways to integrate them into their church family. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If this were the first story I heard about an otherwise solid church where the congregants appeared to lack basic social skills I would cheerfully write it off as an anomaly. It’s not. This stuff is real. Lots of people have lots of stories just like my friends’ story. 

Second. 

My friend is a committed and mature Christian. She gets church. She has social skills. She understands reality. She knows relationships are a two-way street. She did not show up at church and expect everyone to do the work for her. She was more than willing to smile, ask good questions, be friendly and get involved in the activities the church was offering. 

However.

My friend is not the only type of person who shows up at churches. Some people who show up at church don’t know Jesus. Some are clueless about how church works. They don’t understand how to get involved or make friends. Some of have poor social skills or a chip on their shoulder. Some are looking for an excuse to reject Jesus. We give them the excuse they’re looking when we don’t make every effort to engage new people in a meaningful way. 

 Sometimes we become so fearful of rejection we refuse to step outside of our own tiny relational circles.  Or we become so locked into a tight little friend group that we have no room for anyone new. The problem  with letting fear or self-centeredness run the show we give the devil a foothold in someone else’s life and run the risk of running them out of church (Ephesians 4:26-27, 1st Peter 5:8). 

Here’s the thing:

Just because you feel welcome and loved at your church it doesn’t mean everyone who walks through the door feels the same.  Next week when you go to church, say a prayer, look around, let the Holy Spirit to lead you to the person who’s all alone or looks lost. Say hello, ask some questions, maybe invite them to lunch. Love on them. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference for the kingdom. 

Lessons we Failed to Learn From two Years of Misery-

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees- Psalms 119:71 NIV

This past week I had a moment of clarity that just sort of led to a whole bunch of other moments of clarity, some good, some profoundly unpleasant.  

It all began when it dawned on me life is back to normal.  Church is back on. Traveling is back on. Eating out is back on. Having friends over is back on.  Concerts are back on. Life is back on.  

I was so happy I celebrated shamelessly for about ten solid minutes. 

It also dawned on me most churches are back to normal as well. Most Christians are doing exactly what they did prior to March 2020.  Churches are doing the same events, preaching the same types of sermons and running all the same programs they did before the world went to hell in a handcart.  The only thing Covid seems to have changed forever was church bulletins. Bulletins are officially dead. 

Anyway.  

If we are collectively doing all the same things we did before the world literally went to pieces it most likely means we did not learn all the lessons God wanted us to learn from the world literally going to pieces. I’m just spit-balling here but it simply makes no sense God would allow all the misery we collectively experienced in 2020-2021 then be okay with His people coming out of it unchanged in any significant way.    

Choosing not to learn is never a viable option with God. He will keep going back to the same lessons over and over again until we get it. He’s relentless.  Trust me. I know. I am convinced there are three things God wants the church to learn from the events of the last two years. We will forget these lessons at our own peril. 

First: 

Community is the core of the Christian experience-

When Christians are deeply connected to other Christians they engage nonbelievers more confidently, absorb the truth of scripture, love each other sacrificially, and grow into the image of Jesus (Acts 2;42-47). It’s just how God designed the whole Christianity thing to work.  Unfortunately, the pandemic unearthed a shocking lack of authentic community in Christian circles. When the going got tough most Christians turned to Netflix, food and their PlayStations instead of the body of Christ for support and comfort. Everyone bemoans the lack of community in churches. There have been volumes written on the subject. However, little has actually been done to deal with the problem. Solving the problem will mean slowing down and stepping out of our collective comfort zones. No one can run from activity to activity in a frenzied fashion and expect to build deep, lasting relationships with other people in whatever time happens to be left over. Stepping out of our comfort zones means becoming a lot more welcoming and open to those who come to our churches. We need be intentional about developing the kind of friendliness that is genuinely curious about others. We need to seek to learn about others instead of simply hoping they will want to learn about us. Building community means inviting others in and making space for another seat at the table, even when it’s inconvenient (Hebrews 13:2). Without genuine community the body of Christ will find itself woefully unprepared for whatever comes next. 

The fear of man is a snare- 

 The pressure to conform to the morals of our time is nearly overwhelming. We have all seen what happens when someone is foolhardy enough to share an unpopular opinion or refuse to tow the party-line on some issue related to morality. As a result, we have all been tempted to keep our heads down and our opinions to ourselves in an effort to stay out of the line of fire. Consequently, evil has gained lot of ground politics, education, sexuality and law. It’s time for the body of Christ to suck it up and start being brave again (no matter the cost) because the fear of man is trap that will steal our spiritual effectiveness and our joy (Proverbs 29:25)

We have to live like the end is near

Seriously.  

This is the biggie.  I do not know when the end will be. Nobody does (Matthew 24:35-37, Ecclesiastes 8:7). That said, God commands His people to live like the end is going to be tomorrow. If we want to be sincerely obedient to Jesus we need to wake up every day and ask ourselves what would I do today if I knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow? Then we need to do those things (Matthew 24, Matthew 25:1-13, 1st Thessalonians 5:1-3). 

Thankfully, covid is no longer dominating every aspect of our lives. However, our world and the people in it are not (for the part) moving towards better things. Instead, governments are becoming more corrupt, evil is gaining ground, deception is getting stronger and hearts are growing colder. Hard times and evil days give God’s people an opportunity to shine, but in order to do that we must join together, practice bold faith and live like the end is near. 

How Does a Good Person Refuse God?  

The waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm- Proverbs 1:32-33 NIV

The pages of Scripture are filled with uplifting, encouraging and inspirational verses. 

We eat that stuff up.    

We put those verses on tee-shirts, paint them on walls, embroider them onto throw pillows and turn them into magnets to slap on our refrigerators. Passages like Psalm 23:1-4 and Deuteronomy 31:8-9 are the warm-fuzzies of Scripture. Reading them is like drinking a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day.  It just feels good. The feel-good verses are our go-to’s anytime we want a warm comforting cup of spiritual goodness.    

To be fair: 

There are also some scripture passages that hit more like a bucket of icy cold water thrown on us in the middle of a dead sleep.  No one has ever put Matthew 7:21-23 or Jude 14-16 on a tee-shirt. Nor do emotionally healthy people paint those verses on their walls. We all know this world is full of trouble but nobody wants to wear it on a tee-shirt or be reminded every time they step into their living room.  

However.

 Those icy-cold water kinds of verses do serve a critical purpose. The hard words of Scripture remind us God is more than our own personal blessing machine and that we exist for Him, not the other way around (Acts 17:24-28).  Scary verses make us think about our spiritual walk and remind us to examine ourselves. No one is ever mature enough or righteous enough to grow past needing those reminders.

Hebrews 12:25 is one of those icy-cold water verses that immediately snaps us to attention. It’s says:

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.

Part of what makes this verse scary is all the stuff that surrounds it. The better of Hebrews twelve is a reminder God is the biggest of big deals and not to be trifled with. 

Christians understand how God communicates. He communicates most clearly and most often through His word. He also speaks through wise people and the circumstances of our lives. Anytime we hear the same thing repeatedly from different people we should assume God is attempting to get our attention. Hardship and trouble in our relationships, finances and work are another way God communicates with us.  Anytime we humble ourselves, self-reflect and pray we are opening ourselves to be led by the God’s spirit. 

Refusing God comes in many different forms and even good Christians refuse God sometimes. Christians refuse God anytime we shut off some part of our lives to God or when we willfully choose to do the opposite of what we know He wants us to do.  There are five primary ways we refuse God. Each is an easy trap to fall into (Ephesians 4:16-17). 

First. 

We refuse God when we hide sin rather than confess and repent of sin. Sin must be dealt with decisively. There is simply no other way except confession and repentance to effectively get free of the effects of willful disobedience (Matthew 3:8, Acts 2:38, James 5:16, Psalm 32:5, Psalm 38:18, Ezra 10:1). When we refuse to confess and repent of our sin, we are basically telling God through our actions we believe He’s wrong about the whole subject of what sin is.

Second.

We refuse God when refuse the correction he brings into our lives (Proverbs 12:1). No one gets it right every time. We all act stupid, make mistakes and do the wrong thing from time-to-time. God frequently uses the rebukes of other people to speak to us about the rightness and wrongness of our choices. When we ignore Him, we risk being turned over to the consequences of our choices. This is never a pleasant experience (Romans 1:18-32, Acts 7:42-43).

Third.

We refuse God when we make judgments about other people without clear understanding of their situation (Job 38:2). There is little God hates more than when one-person judges another without taking the time to hear their story (Proverbs 18:17, Matthew 7:1-5). Making ill-informed judgments about people and situations means we think we are too wise to consult God or others. 

Fourth. 

We refuse God when we refuse to forgive others. If forgiving other people is a perquisite for being forgiven, and it is. Then refusing to forgive is pretty much the ultimate in refusing God. Refusing to forgive is also the fast track to all kinds of spiritual trouble (Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:34-35, Luke 17:4). 

Fifth.

We refuse God when we refuse to grow and change. The Christian life is a life of transformation and growth (Romans 12:1-21). No one ever grows past the need for change. When we refuse the changes, God wants to make in our attitudes, opinions or behavior we refuse God and stunt our own spiritual development (Hebrews 5:11-14). 

Here’s the thing about refusing God:

 Anytime we willfully refuse God we run the risk of what the writer of Hebrews calls “falling short of the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). Falling short of God’s grace means we voluntarily forgo the blessing and peace that being in right relationship with God brings. Furthermore, we risk cursing ourselves and our generational line through our willful disobedience.

Holy-Moley.  

No one sane wants that. 

What is Syncretism and why is it so bad?

Once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light- Ephesians 5:8 NLT

Syncretism. 

 It’s not really a Bible word.

However, it was a relentless problem in Bible times. Syncretism is the blending of different systems, practices and ideas. Most paganism practiced by Jews in the Old Testament was actually some sort of syncretism—a mingling of the worship of Yahweh with the worship of other gods such as Baal and Moloch. 

Syncretism was also an enormous temptation for the early church. Early Christians were steeped in a culture of paganism.  Many early believers were saved out of pagan religions. Additionally, Christians were under relentless social and governmental pressure to conform to the existing systems of paganism. Earning a living, being considered a good citizen and sometimes even just staying alive demanded paying homage to various pagan gods and goddesses. Rather than conforming fully to paganism many simply combined the two. They worshiped Jesus AND participated in the customs of paganism. 

However.

Jesus had nothing positive to say about their practicality. Like. Seriously. Nothing. It was a major theme of the letters to the seven churches, it was at the core of the criticism aimed at most of the churches in Revelation 2:1-3:22. 

Most Christians do not see syncretism as a contemporary problem. But it is. It just looks a little different in our world. In the ancient world syncretism always involved idol worship. Christians would attend Church services AND burn incense (worship) the emperor or honor a deity tied to their profession. This allowed early Christians to stay alive, feed their families and live at peace with their culture. 

Contemporary Christians do not bow down to idols or politicians to stay employed or alive. However, Christians are constantly tempted to syncretize secular morality, practices and ethics with Christian morality, practices and ethics. We do this to avoid being “canceled” or rejected by “polite” society. We do it so we can live at “peace” with the woke mob.

For example:

Many contemporary believers will pay lip service to the idea of homosexuality being an acceptable lifestyle, mostly as a way of “loving” a practicing homosexual or to avoid the sin of “judgement”. Some have acquiesced publicly to the notion of multiple genders. Most Christians don’t say these things because they really believe there are sixty-four genders or because they think God changed His mind about homosexuality sometime in the recent past. They do it because it’s practical and it feels nicer than being truthful about what the Bible really says. It keeps the woke censors at bay and makes life easier and from a human perspective easier is always awesome.  

Please understand. 

I believe with all my heart, soul, mind and spirit Christians ought to treat every human being on earth with the dignity and respect due a person made in the image of almighty God. It’s categorically not okay to be mean. Furthermore, I believe God is the only being in all of creation with the ability to rightly judge the heart of a human being. However, being kind and treating others with dignity does not mean we can verbally agree with every deviant behavior under the sun in the name of “loving our neighbor”. 

Jesus hates syncretism.

Passionately. He has no patience for it at all. Jesus knows the human heart is bent towards evil and sin even post salvation. Syncretism is a problem because the sin of syncretism transforms us into the image of whatever culture we happen to be living in and when we become like the culture we live in we become both sinful and spiritually useless. Sin is not limited to participating in sinful behaviors it also includes accommodating sinful ideas and practices in the name of “loving one’s neighbor” or “fitting in”.

Syncretism is something we must actively work against. The spiritual practices of prayer, Bible study, church attendance and Christian community are critically important because those practices sharpen our spirits and make us more aware of right and wrong and more willing to stand against wrong. We cannot lean on our own understanding where culture is concerned. We need constant dependence on the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and show us where our thinking has become morally muddled and in what ways we are acquiescing to cultural patterns of behavior or thinking rather than biblical patterns. And finally, and most critically we have to stop marinating in the culture if we want to think and live counterculturally. We have to turn off our televisions and put down our phones. We have to shut off the noise so we can hear God’s voice. 

I am convinced the enemy loves syncretism almost as much as Jesus hates it. Satan knows that when we make space for sin of any kind it clouds our thinking, weakens our ability to share our faith and makes spiritual growth pretty darn close to impossible. Therefore, anytime we begin to really think and live counterculturally we inevitably face hardship and trouble just like the early church did. But we are also given the peace we need to withstand the pressure and the power necessary to change hearts and minds. 

Just like the early church did.

What is the one Question that has the Power to Change Everything?


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

Everyone, everywhere wants the THING.

“The thing” is that little bit of knowledge or understanding that will give us an edge, enlighten us and ultimately make us a better version of ourselves. The thing explains why the self-help section of any bookstore is always the biggest and busiest in any bookstore. Everyone wants the magic bullet that will bring transformation.

We all want growth, self-awareness and maturity because those things are the fast-track to everything else everyone wants in life. Things like healthy friendships, successful careers and happy families. For believers in Jesus the thing is the path to spiritual growth and wisdom. Those blessings inevitably lead to deeper understanding of our faith and greater intimacy with Jesus (2nd Peter 1:5-8, 2nd Peter 3:18, 2nd Corinthians 3:18)

Humans are hard-wired to want all those things.

If a person has stopped caring about healthy relationships, career success and a happy family it is likely they experienced some sort of trauma that caused them to give up on a fundamental aspect of what makes us God’s image bearers.  

However. 

Few actually get it. Even most Christians fumble around hoping to find the answers to this longing to become a better version of ourselves. 

The good news is the secret isn’t really a secret. Getting “the thing” is easy. Literally, anyone can do it.  That said, few are willing to do what needs to be done to get it. All it takes to achieve real growth and lasting change comes down to asking one simple question and really wanting to know the answer to that one simple question: 

“What don’t I want to see about me?” 

We all have something we desperately do not want to see about ourselves. It might be that we’re actively running from God, or perhaps we stubbornly refuse to confront sin in our life or the lives of those we love. It might be we have a mean streak or a raging pride problem. It might be an anger issue. Or maybe we always choose to take the easy way out of hard situations. Perhaps we insist on thinking the best of other people even when all the evidence is tells us not too.  Maybe we are unwilling to admit fault or we routinely take more than we give.

Those kinds of issues and sins always lead to problems that appear to be completely unrelated to the issue we don’t want to see. Those problems could include but are not limited to unhealthy dynamics in our closest relationships, a lack of friends, persistent financial problems, poorly-behaved children, a stalling in our professional lives or a stubborn lack of spiritual growth.  

We call the stuff we don’t want to see blind spots. They are not blind spots. A blind spot is something we CANNOT see. The things I’m talking about are all things we simply don’t wish to see. The problem with calling something we refuse to see a blind spot is it neatly removes personal responsibility from the equation. Without understanding and owning our role in the problem nothing will change in our lives. We will be doomed to stunted growth and messed-up personal relationships.   

Sigh. 

The good news in all of this is that God loves each of us more than we will ever understand this side of heaven. God is both working and rooting for us to become the best version of ourselves. He wants us to succeed in everything that matters. Because He loves us and wants the best for us He longs to show us the things we don’t want to see.  He knows that seeing the things we don’t want to see is the first step in the kind of change that leads growth, maturity and self-awareness.  

So, here’s the thing.

If we find ourselves stuck in some area of our life or keep running up against failure it’s not because we had terrible parents, or because we married the wrong person. It’s not the temperament we were born with and it’s not because we lacked opportunities others had. It’s because there is something we refuse (consciously or subconsciously) to see about ourselves. Because God made us and is the ultimate authority in life, solving the problem ALWAYS begins with asking Him the question. 

If we ask AND we actually want to know the answer God will tell us.  Honesty is His jam. He literally cannot lie (Numbers 23:19). The answer might come in a still small voice. It might come in the form of some angry words from a loved one. It might come in the form of a bad review at work. But it will come. 

We just have to be willing to do something about it.  

Using Conflict to Save your Marriage-

So, I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you wont be doing what your sinful nature craves.  Galatians 5:16 NLT

 Unfortunately, through the years I have seen a lot of divorces.

Because the vast majority of my friends are Christians, most of the divorces I have witnessed were between couples I am convinced are genuine Christians.  The saddest and most common divorces have been between what I call “long-haulers”.

Long-haulers are couples who stay quietly but miserably married for two, sometimes three or even four decades. Then, seemingly out of nowhere the couple announces to the shock of everyone they know they getting a divorce

Divorce is never good but these types of divorces are heartbreaking on multiple levels. These couples almost always feel as if they have “wasted” the best, most productive years of their life in a relationship that brought little real intimacy or joy. Long-haulers nearly always have kids, grandkids, a vast network of friends and a church family who are all psychologically, emotionally and/or spiritually impacted by the divorce. On top of all that, a lot of times a disturbing lack of emotional, spiritual growth in long-haulers. The lack of growth occurs because both partners are too busy trying to manage the pain of the relationship to focus on their own spiritual development and health (Hebrews 2:1-3). 

The “reason” given for divorce in these types of marriages is almost always the hazy, vague catch-all term: “irreconcilable differences”. Most of the time this means there was conflict in the marriage that was never really dealt with openly (Ephesians 4:26). The unresolved issue became, over time, a cancer in the relationship that eventually led to the death of the relationship. Sometimes the conflict was over sex.  Either they didn’t have much of it at all over the course of the marriage or one person in the relationship was having way more of it than the other (Exodus 20:14, 1st Corinthians 7:3-5, 1st Corinthians 6:18).  Sometimes, the conflict was over communication. At some point it broke down and they stopped talking about everything in life that really matters, which led to isolation, which led to misery, which led to divorce.  Other times the conflict was over things as mundane as the division of labor in the relationship or as complex as money and how its allocated in the marriage. 

Here’s the thing:

Every long-hauler I have known has admitted that their marriage probably could have been saved if they had been willing to deal with the problems in the relationship early on. Many have also revealed they feared that actually having an argument would make the problems worse. Their fear of conflict kept them from initiating conflict that might have led to relational healing and a restoration of intimacy. 

The 5th Century Chinese military leader Sun Tzu said “sometimes the path to peace is war”. Nowhere is this truer than in marriage. Conflicts that bring issues out into the open where they can be discussed and dealt with are the only path to true peace in a relationship.  Following are four ways to leverage conflict for a healthy marriage:  

If there’s a problem find a way to discuss it- 

It doesn’t matter what kind of problems are present in the marriage. The problem can be sex, kids, interactions with parents, chores or money. The reality is any problem that gets pushed to the margins does not actually go anywhere.  All this does is give the problem space to fester and grow. At some point it will begin having an adverse effect on the rest of the relationship. If you can’t find a way to talk productively to each other get a professional involved. Whatever you do, don’t just hope the problem goes away. It won’t. If it doesn’t get fixed today it will still be there in thirty years and you will want a divorce. 

Deal with trust issues openly and honestly- 

Frequently, at the root of poor or blocked communication in marriage is a trust issue. This usually happens because there has been a history of shady behavior with one partner. Shady behavior can include emotional and/or physical affairs, use of pornography, verbal abuse, mishandling money or any other behavior that has caused one person to become distrustful of the other. The only way to deal with a trust issue is through talking about it openly so real healing can take place in the relationship. Oftentimes a professional is needed to help heal the hurt that created the trust issue in the first place. 

No being mean when you talk about an issue- 

The problem should be the enemy not your partner. This means finding a way to deal with the issue at hand without being accusatory or cruel. 

No quitting till the problem is worked out- 


The most important rule in conflict management in marriage: no one gets to quit until the issues are truly resolved and healthy change has taken place in the relationship.

Marriage is meant to be a picture of the relationship between Jesus and His people (Ephesians 5:21-33). It is the place where children are nurtured into adulthood and people grow up together. If marriage is done right it becomes a safe place for two people to grow into the image of Jesus. Those are the things worth fighting hard for.

 Literally. 

Five Mistakes that must be Corrected Before we Lose Another Generation of Christians-

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

Every generation of Christians has had its own unique set of mistakes. The church in the1980’s was filled with dramatic personal “testimonies”. Many of which turned out to be crazy-pants lies. In the 1990’s the church became consumed with end times prophecy. This left some Christians looking a little nut-joby. The late 1990’s and 2000’s birthed the well-intended but tragically misguided purity movement. That movement inadvertently drove Christian dating completely underground and left a whole generation feeling an unhealthy level shame simply for having natural and healthy sexual desires.

Sigh.

 It is critical we understand the spiritual and doctrinal errors of our generation will have a greater impact than those of past generations. Not because we are inherently more important or special than past generations. We’re not.  But because technology has given humanity the ability to spread bad ideas, misinformation, and wrong thinking faster than ever before. This is why the church today is having such a tough time reaching the lost. Thanks to advances in technology the spiritual errors and excesses of the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s had a much deeper reach into the culture than the errors and excesses of previous generations.  Following are five the most dangerous lies Christians are believing and spreading right now.

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

Nope. Nope and more nope. No one comes to faith automatically believing the “right way”. It is true all have to be taught. Growth and learning is a lifelong process. It is also true that there is some room for disagreement on some of the particulars of what the “right way” is. However, choosing to reject everything God says about Himself as well as what He has to say about sexuality, gender, right and wrong and true justice is basically just rejecting God. A person cannot reject God (and/or everything God says about Himself) and still be a Christian. Period. It just doesn’t work like that.  

Bible knowledge doesn’t matter- 

This unbelievably stupid statement is always preceded by a reference to 1st Corinthians 8:1 where Paul says “knowledge puffs up while love builds up”. Context is key here.  When we read the text carefully it becomes clear: the apostle Paul wasn’t talking about spiritual or Bible knowledge in general terms. The apostle wasn’t encouraging ignorance. He wasn’t suggesting Bible study is somehow harmful. He was talking specifically about knowledge related to a particular thing: eating food that had once been sacrificed to an idol (1st Corinthians 8:1-13). There were some arrogant Corinthian church members who had embraced the teaching that food sacrificed to idols was just food. In response they had openly and pridefully begun eating that food in public spaces, sometimes even mocking those Christians who did not feel comfortable eating food that had been sacrificed to an idol. This created all sorts of confusion for less-mature Christians who didn’t understand as long as they did not sacrifice the food to an idol themselves eating food someone else had sacrificed and then sold in a market at a discounted rate wasn’t a big deal. Some of these less mature Christians had returned to idol worship in response to the freedom they saw other Christians exercising. Here’s the thing: it is positively absurd to think the man who wrote well over half of the New Testament’s instructive passages was somehow opposed to people learning the Bible. It is true that people can become prideful about what they know about the Bible without really applying any of the biblical truth they learn to their lives. However, those unfortunate realities do not make biblical ignorance somehow superior to Bible knowledge.      

 Bible knowledge is the most important thing-

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

Christians can be spiritually formed outside of spiritual community-  

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

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

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

I believe with all my heart the church in the west stands at a crossroads (Jeremiah 6:16). The church can continue to embrace easy-believism and just dance down the path it’s been on for years. If we do, Christians will continue to lose influence and we will see our culture disintegrate into even more moral bedlam. The other option is to do the hard work of correcting the errors we have fallen into and embrace the hard work of holiness and becoming more like Jesus in everything we do and say.   This route will is much more challenging but it will pay dividends that will be felt for generations.