Six Signs You Might Have Problem with Pride

Six Signs You Might Have Problem with Pride

 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory~ Daniel 5:20 NIV

 Pride is a weird thing.

 A teensy bit of the right kind of pride is actually a good thing (Romans 11:13, 2nd Corinthians 7:4, Galatians 6:4). However, even a smidgen of the wrong kind of pride is a terrible thing (Proverbs 16:18, Proverbs 13:10) and too much of even the good kind of pride can quickly become a really bad thing (1st Corinthians 8:1). Pride is the sin that corrupted Lucifer (the Grand Poobah of angels) and transformed him into Satan.

 Sadly, none of us are immune to the lure of it.

 Pride is never difficult to recognize in others but nearly impossible to spot in ourselves. The more of a problem we have with pride the less likely we are to believe we have a problem with it. Pride makes us think we are better and smarter than we really are and keeps us from seeking the God who has the power to actually make us better and smarter than we really are. Quite possibly the scariest thing about pride is that it can destroy a person without them ever even knowing they have a problem.

 The nature of pride is such that just about anytime anyone hears a sermon or reads an article on pride they immediately apply everything they read or heard to their friends, family, boss and coworkers.

 It’s critical that Christians think and talk about the subject of pride. Mostly because God is so stinking opposed to it. Anytime the God who defines Himself as love (1st John 4:8) says He hates something (Proverbs 8:13) we ought to do everything within our power to avoid getting tangled up in that thing.

 Because pride is a sneaky sin, it takes a firm commitment to frequent self-examination to avoid getting snared in the trap of pride. Pride typically manifests itself in one or more of the following tendencies:

 You won’t take advice from anyone you see as less successful or feel is less intelligent than you are-

 One sure sign of pride is when we believe that the only people who have anything to offer us in the way of advice are those who have achieved more than we have achieved. While, I do not recommend seeking career advice from the pizza guy (unless, of course, you’re also a pizza guy), that does not mean the pizza guy doesn’t have some spiritual, moral or practical wisdom to impart.

 You won’t apologize or admit wrong-

 If apologies always seem to stick in your throat or your family complains you never admit you’re wrong (even when it’s obvious you are). Trust me. You have a problem.

 Everybody else’s sin is a bigger deal than your own-

 Prideful people have a habit of constantly comparing their sins to the sins of others. The problem with grading personal holiness on a bell curve is that you can always find SOMEONE who is more sinful than you are. Besides God does not want us to be like other people. He wants us to want to be like Jesus.

 You won’t go to Church-

 There are at least a million excuses for not going to church. Some of the more popular include “church is boring”, “the people are too judgmental” “our family is super busy”, “the kids have sports” “the music is too girly/too hard to sing along with/too loud/too old/too new” “the pastor is an idiot/talks over my head/is a hypocrite”, and “I listen to podcasts all week”. At the heart of 90% of excuse making is a lack of willingness to submit to the spiritual leadership of others and/or a sinful desire to completely control our intake of spiritual food.

 You won’t forgive-

 It takes humility to forgive others, because at the heart of forgiveness is the acknowledgement that we ourselves are far from perfect. Humble people forgive because they recognize their own desperate need for forgiveness. Prideful people rarely (if ever) acknowledge their own sinfulness and therefore have a tough time forgiving others and letting go of grudges.

 You’re sure you understand all the facts all the time-

 Prideful people tend to think they have the inside track when it comes to understanding the motives and actions of other people. The truth is that most of us know a lot less than we think we know about why people do what they do. It’s not wrong to judge the rightness or wrongness of an action (Luke 12:57, Acts 4:19, 1st Corinthians 5:12). However, motives are an altogether different issue. Only God knows what drives people. A good policy is to assume good intent in others and leave the judging of motives to God (1st Corinthians 4:5).

 The only way to deal with a pride problem is through soul-searching, brutal self-honesty and a heartfelt commitment to making real and lasting changes in the way we view others and ourselves.

 Anything else just perpetuates the problem.

 

 

 

 

When Life Hits You With A Curveball

When Life Hits You With A Curveball

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near~ Job 17:11-12 NIV

 Regular readers of this blog know that I typically write out of my own personal experience and only very rarely tell the stories of others. There are numerous reasons for my reluctance to tell other people’s stories.

 First, I feel really weird telling other people’s stories and I hate feeling weird. I also worry excessively (probably neurotically) about violating the privacy of others. Moreover, I only know what I know, not what other people know, so I am reluctant to assign motives to others and it’s hard to tell some stories without assigning motives. And finally, I avoid offending others unnecessarily and there is no quicker route to provoking an offense than to tell someone else’s story and get it wrong or to assign the wrong motives.

 Sigh.

 All that being said, this week I feel inclined to share what I gleaned from watching someone else live out a really unpleasant chapter of their story with honesty and grace.

 I have a close friend who has been through more tough stuff in the course of the last two weeks than one could reasonably expect to experience in a decade of living. In the interest of protecting my friend’s privacy, I will spare you the nitty-gritty details of her private hell. I will tell you that the situation manifested itself suddenly and with no warning. Within days it morphed into the kind of nightmare we all secretly fear will happen to us and pray never does.

 Life has hit my sweet friend with some nasty curveballs in recent days.

 I define a curveball as any situation we were not expecting that abruptly alters our life in an unpleasant and unanticipated way. Curveballs are frustratingly common in this life. No one, no matter how well they manage their personal affairs, makes it through this life without experiencing at least one season of curveballs.

 Curveballs come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they come in the form of an unforeseen job loss, a financial or health crisis, divorce, affair, or the death of a loved one. In truth, the details of said situation matter less than how we handle them.

 Today I am going to share four strategies for managing the curveballs of life I picked-up from observing my friend this week. First….

 Run to God rather than away from Him-

 Alas, the first instinct many of us have when trouble strikes is to get mad at God. We do this because logic tells us that God is the omnipotent maker of the universe and if anyone is capable of preventing trouble, it’s God. While that may be true, it ignores a couple of vital truths. First and foremost, trouble and hardship are a sad but inescapable consequence of living in a fallen world (John 16:33). Even Jesus experienced hardship and trouble in this life (Hebrews 2:10). Secondly, God wants to be there for us and give us comfort in the midst of our trials. And finally, God sometimes uses hardship and trouble to shape us into the people He has called us to be and to prepare us to minister effectively to others. God cannot do any of the things He wants to do in us or for us if we push Him away in anger.

 Accept help-

 God does His best work through His people. Anytime someone offers to help in a crisis we should view that person as the hand of God reaching out to offer practical support in our time of need. It’s essential we take the help that’s offered.

 Own what you need to own-

 With a few notable exceptions, curveballs rarely just appear out of nowhere. Typically there’s a history of reckless/sinful/unwise choices that led up to the life-altering mess. It’s crucial we take responsibility for any part we may have played in creating the situation that led up to the curveball. Taking ownership of mistakes and failings keeps us from blaming God and will ultimately set the stage for us to make better and wiser choices in the future.  

 Find someone you trust and be as real as you need to be about how you feel-

 Talking is the ONLY way to stay sane in a curveball situation. Sadly, we simply cannot be honest with everyone because not everyone is worthy of trust or equipped to deal with the negative emotions that accompany a curveball. So find the one or two people who will listen, pray, and offer wise counsel without judging and share what you need to share to preserve your sanity.

 

 

  

 

 

 

Should Christians and Non-Christians be Friends?

Should Christians and Non-Christians be Friends?

 Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character~ 1st Corinthians 15:33 NIV

 I subscribe to a LOT of Christian leadership blogs, podcasts and websites. Most of the stuff I subscribe to is pretty good. A few are hit or miss and one or two are just kind of meh. The best ones consistently tackle issues I have never thought very deeply about, challenge my biases, and help me think more imaginatively about problem solving. The not-so-great ones tend to hit on the same dozen or so issues over and over again and never really give any answers, just raise a lot questions.

 In recent months, I have noted a clear trend regarding the subject matter of many of the blogs I subscribe to. All of them have been encouraging Christians to be bolder in their pursuit of authentic and meaningful friendships with sinners (their word, not mine). A few have openly shamed other Christians for not having and pursuing more intimate friendships with non-Christians.

 Every article I’ve read on the subject holds Jesus up as the example we ought to follow when it comes to pursuing friendships with “sinners”. For the record, I believe with all my heart Christians ought to pursue friendships with non-Christian people (more on that later). However, I am convinced this teaching trend has become dangerously unbalanced because it presumes without offering cautions.

 I will begin with the presumptions.

 The most common presumption is that Jesus spent most or all of His time just chilling with sinners. To hear many pastors and teachers tell it, Jesus spent every moment of His life on earth at the local bars, crack houses and brothels hugging and high-fiving the local riff-raff.  

 He didn’t.

 A careful reading of the gospels reveals that Jesus did indeed attend events and parties where “sinners” were present (a very sketchy thing in His world). We also know that Jesus was kind and welcoming to everyone (including sinners) and He definitely wasn’t shy about interacting with sinners or building meaningful relationships with very messed-up people (Luke 19:1-9, John 4). However, that was one part of His over-all ministry. Jesus spent most of His time with the twelve disciples and others (Luke 8:1-3, Luke 10:1) who were interested in following Jesus and learning to live a holy life.

 The second assumption many make is that the culture Jesus ministered in was exactly like the culture we live in.

Its’ simply not true.

Jesus lived in and ministered to a predominately Jewish culture where even the most messed-up “sinners” understood exactly what the Bible had to say about sin (John 4, Luke 9:1-9). This meant that the pre-evangelistic work of helping folks recognize the truth that they are sinners in need of redemption was done long before they met Jesus. We live in a post-Christian/atheistic culture where few people know or care about what the Bible has to say about much of anything. Even fewer feel guilt or remorse over their behavior. This difference is subtle and may seem trivial. However, it’s a difference that dramatically affects the dynamics of interacting with non-Christians. At the very least it makes spiritually productive conversations more difficult, and relationships trickier to navigate.

 And finally:

Some are assuming we are all a heck of lot more like Jesus than we actually are. Jesus was the perfect, sinless Son of God on a mission to save the world from the bondage and consequences of sin.

We are not Jesus.

 Even in our redeemed state we are still people who possess a nasty sin nature (1st John 1:8) that have been saved by the kindness of God and nothing else (Ephesians 2:9). We have also been commanded by a holy God to live a life of purity, holiness and righteousness (1st Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 5:3, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, 1st Peter 1:14-16, Hebrews 12:14). Our calling to holiness is sometimes made more difficult by our choice of friendships (Proverbs 13:20, Psalm 1, 1st Corinthians 15:33).

 All that being said, I still really believe Christians ought to be intentional about seeking out friendships with non-Christian people. People have to be led to Jesus and the only way that will happen in this culture will be through cultivating relationships. However, we need to initiate relationships with non-Christian people wisely and prayerfully, keeping two truths firmly in mind.

 First, the Bible warns us repeatedly concerning the dangers of spending an inappropriate amount of time around those who may tempt us to sin (Jude 22, 2nd Corinthians 6:14-15, 1st John 2:15-16). Secondly, we need to remember that we will NEVER lead anyone to Jesus if we make a habit out of sinning with them.

 

Can Christians Ever Really Be Free From Sinful Feelings?

Can Christians Ever Really Be Free From Sinful Feelings?

 If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed~ John 8:36 NIV

 Two things:

 First, I have an unwritten rule against criticizing Christians and Christian leaders by name in my blog posts. On the rare occasion I do feel the need to say something critical I generally try to stick to criticizing positions and philosophies, not people. With one notable exception (that I still feel kind of bad about) I do not believe I have ever criticized another Christian by name in this blog. Personal attacks and criticism get clicks and generate Internet traffic but don’t help me sleep at night.

 And I’m really into sleeping at night.

 Secondly, I am not much of a planner when it comes to writing. My typical “writing schedule” is as follows: The idea fairy comes calling sometime late Monday or early Tuesday. I begin writing on Tuesday (sometimes Wednesday) and do my best to be done by Friday (sometimes it’s more like Saturday). I publish on Sunday night. Since I never really plan ahead, I rarely deviate from this timetable.

 I say all that to let you know that this week God changed the plan and I’m breaking my rule (sort of).

 It all started late Wednesday when I read an article that got me so irked I was literally unable to continue with a post I had made a lot of progress on. The writer of said article is a fairly well known Pastor with a large church that I will not name here (on account of the rule). I will sort of break my rule by giving you the title of the article: Can Christians Eliminate Same-Sex Attraction Feelings?  

 My issue is not with the premise of the article.

 Whether or not Christians can successfully eliminate same-sex feelings is a valid question; a question deserving a well thought out answer.

 My issue is with the author’s conclusion and the answer he claims to give to those who are grappling with this painful emotional, spiritual and theological question.

 He leaves them hanging.

 He tells those struggling with same-sex attractions that he knows for a fact that they can control their actions and remain celibate if they wish to (true). However, he makes it clear that he believes feelings are an altogether different animal. He tells them that flat out that it may or may not be possible to change their feelings.  

He ends the article with a flaccid “I don’t know” and “what do you think” addressed to the reader.

 If this guy is telling the truth about what goes on in his counseling sessions (I pray he’s not), then he just owned-up to a rather heartless form of spiritual malpractice. Leaving a confused and hurting person to decide for him or herself whether or not they have any hope for real and lasting change is at least fifty different kinds of wrong.  

 It’s become a popular play on the Socratic method of teaching for spiritual leaders to ask hard questions in both private and public forums and then not to give answers to those questions. Challenging folks to draw their own conclusions about tough questions is an entertaining exercise that works well with eager young students in an Intro to Theology class. However, it is clearly not the job of a spiritual leader (Acts 20:28, 1st Peter 5:1-4).

 The job of a spiritual leader is to lead people to the God who brings freedom from the sinful thoughts and feelings that inevitably lead to sinful actions and behaviors (Matthew 5:28). It is the job of a pastor (shepherd) to teach hurting men and women the truths clearly laid out in Scripture and then to walk them through the steps necessary to get free from whatever sinful bondage they have gotten themselves tangled up in (Hebrews 12:1).

 The Bible is clear that freedom from sinful bondage is possible, but not necessarily easy (Romans 6:22-23, Galatians 5:1). There is no tea we can drink or magical formula we can follow to eliminate same-sex attraction or any other sinful desire (sorry).

 Freedom from bondage requires effort on our part. The work begins with repentance (a change in our thinking) but also has to include a change in our behaviors and habits (Philippians 2:12). To be completely free from bondage we must train our hearts and minds to think differently about life and sin so that we eventually start to see things the way God sees things. (2nd Corinthians 10:5, Romans 12:2).

 Christian leaders are called to give confused and hurting people the hope the gospel offers. If they can’t (or won’t) they should get out of the game.

 

 

 

 

 

Manchester, Multicultural Madness and Why We All Should Care About Politics

Manchester, Multicultural Madness and Why We All Should Care About Politics

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight~ Isaiah 5:20-21 NIV

I was preparing dinner when I heard the sad and all-too familiar news that there was yet another terrorist attack in Europe. This time the attack was a bombing at an arena in Manchester, England. The suicide bomber killed 22 and wounded 116 (mostly school girls and their parents) as they were leaving a concert Monday night. 

 This type of tragedy inevitably highlights the bigger issues of life. It gets thoughtful people focused (at least temporally) on both the innate goodness and incomprehensible evil of mankind, the preciousness and brevity of life, and the importance of vigilance when it comes to our safety and the safety of our children.

 As central as these issues are, it’s not where we ought to get stuck at this moment in history. Rather, the attack in Manchester ought to place our focus squarely on the importance of politics; or more precisely on political ideas and why we ought to care about them.

 It has become almost a badge of honor in Christian circles not to care about politics or political ideas. I get it. Following the epic disappointments (and outright failures) of the “Religious Right” and “Moral Majority” political movements in the eighties and nineties many Christians concluded that politics are a distraction to the real mission of Christianity and there is little value to Christian political involvement.

 For the record, I do not believe politics are the be-all-end-all solution to every problem we have. To my knowledge, no law or political idea has ever changed a human heart or healed a sin-sick society. Only Jesus can do that. That said, politics matter because politics are the soil in which a society grows.

 If the politics of a society are bad, the society will eventually go bad.

 Nazi Germany is the classic example. In less than twelve years Nazi political ideas annihilated twelve centuries of cultural Christian witness, obliterated the flourishing Jewish culture in most of Europe and ended the lives of six million men, women and children.

 Conversely, good politics produce good cultures.

 We possess the blessings of individual liberty, economic freedom and the ability to speak our minds and worship in any way we see fit because of the political ideas and leanings of our Founding Fathers.

 America never would have become America and Nazi Germany never would have become Nazi Germany if it had not been for political ideas.

 For at least two decades Western political leaders have embraced the notion of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is the belief that all cultures and all aspects of all cultures are all equal. Because all cultures (and all traditions within cultures) are equal, no one has a right to judge the deeds or beliefs of another culture.

 It’s all very tolerant, broadminded and progressive.

 However,

In order to fully embrace multiculturalism you must also embrace the notion that a culture that protects, educates and nurtures young girls is no better (just different from) a culture that ritualistically mutilates the sexual organs of young girls and sells girls into sexual slavery. One must also embrace the notion that a culture where most folks respect the beliefs (religious and otherwise) of others is no better (just different from) a religion where some followers think terror and violence are a legitimate means to a political, religious, or social end. You must also accept that those followers will cultivate those beliefs in their places of worship and in the hearts and minds of their children.

 Let’s be real here.

 Not every person who comes from a culture that observes bad traditions is a bad person. However, some cultural traditions and beliefs are quite clearly bad (burning widows alive, slavery, racism, sexism, terrorism, genital mutilation, eating people). Those traditions have no place in any society.

 Yes. I am judging. Get over it.

 Multiculturalism is a stupid political idea directly related to the proliferation of terror attacks in Europe, including the one in Manchester. Sadly, it’s just one of a hundred stupid political ideas destroying Western culture that Christians are not praying about or confronting. Sadly, many Christians don’t even recognize multiculturalism when they see it in their children’s textbooks or hear it preached from the pulpit.

 The real mission of the church is to act as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) and make disciples in whatever culture God places us (Matthew 28:19). We have to understand the times we live in (1st Chronicles 12:32) to do the things the church has been called to. Understanding our times demands political awareness and involvement.

 It’s that simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manchester, Multicultural Madness and Why We Should All Care About Politics

Manchester, Multicultural Madness and Why We Should All Care About Politics

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight~ Isaiah 5:20-21 NIV

I was preparing dinner when I heard the sad and all-too familiar news that there was yet another terrorist attack in Europe. This time the attack was a bombing at an arena in Manchester, England. The suicide bomber killed 22 and wounded 116 (mostly school girls and their parents) as they were leaving a concert Monday night. 

 This type of tragedy inevitably highlights the bigger issues of life. It gets thoughtful people focused (at least temporally) on both the innate goodness and incomprehensible evil of mankind, the preciousness and brevity of life, and the importance of vigilance when it comes to our safety and the safety of our children.

 As central as these issues are, it’s not where we ought to get stuck at this moment in history. Rather, the attack in Manchester ought to place our focus squarely on the importance of politics; or more precisely on political ideas and why we ought to care about them.

 It has become almost a badge of honor in Christian circles not to care about politics or political ideas. I get it. Following the epic disappointments (and outright failures) of the “Religious Right” and “Moral Majority” political movements in the eighties and nineties many Christians concluded that politics are a distraction to the real mission of Christianity and there is little value to Christian political involvement.

 For the record, I do not believe politics are the be-all-end-all solution to every problem we have. To my knowledge, no law or political idea has ever changed a human heart or healed a sin-sick society. Only Jesus can do that. That said, politics matter because politics are the soil in which a society grows.

 If the politics of a society are bad, the society will eventually go bad.

 Nazi Germany is the classic example. In less than twelve years Nazi political ideas annihilated twelve centuries of cultural Christian witness, obliterated the flourishing Jewish culture in most of Europe and ended the lives of six million men, women and children.

 Conversely, good politics produce good cultures.

 We possess the blessings of individual liberty, economic freedom and the ability to speak our minds and worship in any way we see fit because of the political ideas and leanings of our Founding Fathers.

 America never would have become America and Nazi Germany never would have become Nazi Germany if it had not been for political ideas.

 For at least two decades Western political leaders have embraced the notion of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is the belief that all cultures and all aspects of all cultures are all equal. Because all cultures (and all traditions within cultures) are equal, no one has a right to judge the deeds or beliefs of another culture.

 It’s all very tolerant, broadminded and progressive.

 However,

In order to fully embrace multiculturalism you must also embrace the notion that a culture that protects, educates and nurtures young girls is no better (just different from) a culture that ritualistically mutilates the sexual organs of young girls and sells girls into sexual slavery. One must also embrace the notion that a culture where most folks respect the beliefs (religious and otherwise) of others is no better (just different from) a religion where some followers think terror and violence are a legitimate means to a political, religious, or social end. You must also accept that those followers will cultivate those beliefs in their places of worship and in the hearts and minds of their children.

 Let’s be real here.

 Not every person who comes from a culture that observes bad traditions is a bad person. However, some cultural traditions and beliefs are quite clearly bad (burning widows alive, slavery, racism, sexism, terrorism, genital mutilation, eating people). Those traditions have no place in any society.

 Yes. I am judging. Get over it.

 Multiculturalism is a stupid political idea directly related to the proliferation of terror attacks in Europe, including the one in Manchester. Sadly, it’s just one of a hundred stupid political ideas destroying Western culture that Christians are not praying about or confronting. Sadly, many Christians don’t even recognize multiculturalism when they see it in their children’s textbooks or hear it preached from the pulpit.

 The real mission of the church is to act as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) and make disciples in whatever culture God places us (Matthew 28:19). We have to understand the times we live in (1st Chronicles 12:32) to do the things the church has been called to. Understanding our times demands political awareness and involvement.

It’s that simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Guilt Bad?

Is Guilt Bad?


Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin~ Psalm 32:5

The other morning I happened upon a Psychology Today article on the topic of guilt. Closer analysis revealed pretty quickly that the article wasn’t really about guilt per se. Rather, the article was about how destructive and futile the writer (a psychotherapist with an alphabet soup of degrees behind his name) believes the whole notion of guilt is to the average human.

 The writer went to great lengths to convince the reader (in this case me) that guilt is nothing more than a societal and religious construct (a concept invented by society and religion to motivate people to do what “society” wants them to do). In the writer’s estimation, guilt serves no positive or healthy purpose for individuals and tends to keep people stuck in self-defeating patterns of behavior

 When I finished reading the article I was convinced of little but the likelihood that the writer is simply a well meaning, highly educated, and extremely articulate nut-job. However, his views did get me thinking more deeply about the subject of guilt. More specifically, it got me thinking about whether or not guilt is a good or a bad thing.

 The answer is “yes”.

 But, before we go there, I want to define the meaning of the word guilt for the purposes of this post. According to the word wizards at Dictionary.com, guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for an offense, crime, wrong and etc., whether real or imagined.

 Okay.

 Call me old-fashioned, nutty or whatever you wish to call me. But, I have a tough time accepting the view that a feeling of remorse or responsibility after committing a crime or offense is a bad thing. The exception of course would be if the person were feeling guilt-ridden over a fictitious or imagined offense. That situation is a bit trickier to navigate. The nitty-gritties of dealing with imagined guilt are without a doubt way above my pay-grade and outside of the scope of this blog.

 That said.

 I am convinced that guilt is neither good nor bad. Guilt is like the check engine light on a car. It’s simply an indicator there’s something going on that ought to be explored more thoroughly. A persistent sense of guilt warrants some self-examination to see if we need to change course or apologize for something we’ve said or done.

 Admittedly, there are folks whose check engine light goes off for no good reason. Those types of people feel guilty over situations they had absolutely no control over. There are also those who feel guilty when someone sins against them, some even feel guilty over the sins others people have committed (like their parents, kids or spouse).

 Feeling guilty when we’ve done nothing wrong or sinful is false guilt. False guilt is one kind of guilt that really is a pointless waste of time. Wallowing around in false guilt can feel good and even self-righteous at times. However, it can keep us from seeing clearly the things we really did do wrong and are in need of repentance.

 Feeling guilty or regretful when we do sin or commit an offense is a good and healthy thing to feel (Psalm 51, Isaiah 66:2). Guilt drives spiritually and emotionally healthy people to contrition. Contrition motivates people to repentance (change) and changing bad people into better people is what God is all about. However, guilt can quickly morph into a bad thing if we stay stuck and let the guilt fester into condemnation.

 Contrary, to popular belief condemnation is not the same thing as guilt. Condemnation is guilt’s ugly cousin, it breeds hopelessness and self-loathing by telling us that there is no way we can ever be good enough and that there is nothing we can ever do to be forgiven or become better. Condemnation, not guilt, is what keeps people stuck in unhealthy patterns of behavior.

 The Bible is clear that there is no condemnation (although there might be guilt when we sin) for Christians (Romans 8:1). In a society where people tend to either wallow in false guilt or deny there is any such thing as guilt, Christians need to model a healthy understanding of the issue. Christians should be quick to confess sin, eager to repent and ready to tell others about the freedom we have from condemnation in Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Can Do to Save the Church

What You Can Do to Save the Church

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. ~ Ephesians 5:8-10 NIV

 Many faithful churchgoers blame the recent decline of Christianity on the proliferation of shallow teaching that is entirely focused on reaching unsaved people rather than teaching and training already converted people to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Others blame the churches problems on lack of relationship (and accountability) in local churches and lack of opportunity to serve the underserved in their communities. Pretty much everyone is alarmed by our seeming inability to preserve morality and decency in the culture we live in (Matthew 5:13-16).

 None of these concerns are without merit.

 Throughout this series I have placed (directly or indirectly) much of the blame for the mess we find ourselves in on church leaders. This is fair. Leaders lead. Consequently, if something is headed in the wrong direction the people running the show ought to take their fair share of the blame.

 However,

 I have served in enough leadership positions in enough churches to know that church has become just another product that we consume in this culture. I also know that most Pastors will tell you that recent changes in how church is done have been almost entirely consumer driven. Pastors are simply giving people what they say, through their words and actions, they want in church.

 Anytime we are unhappy with anything we ought to take a thoughtful look at our own habits and attitudes, to see if we are somehow contributing to the issue. If we want to experience change we have to be willing to change. So today I would like to offer five simple changes we could all make that could impact Christianity (and the culture) significantly.

 First:

 Show up- Hebrews 10:25

 Seriously. The average self-identified “committed churchgoer” only goes to church 1.2 times a MONTH. Most of us go to Costco more than we go to church. This is extremely discouraging to Pastors and leads many to assume their congregants are shallow believers who can’t (or don’t want to) handle the deeper truths of Scripture. It also sends the message to less mature believers that church attendance is irrelevant.

 Let go of your “rights”- 1st Corinthians 8:9

 In recent years many Christians have become very open about partaking in activities that fall neatly into the category of “gray area issues” (you can decide for yourself what I mean by that). This has made many pastors reluctant to preach on certain subjects out of fear of riling-up the saints and clearing out the church. The Bible teaches that mature believers are prepared to let go of their “rights” if that thing (whatever it may be) causes discord, hurt or confusion to anyone (1st Corinthians 8:7-9:22, Romans 14:13-15:1). Christians who live for themselves (rather than the good of others) are causing conflict in the church and destroying the reputation of Christianity. That needs to change.

Attend a Bible study- Acts 17:2, Acts 17:11

 In recent years many churches have dropped Sunday school classes and Bible studies. Typically this is due to a lack of interest and/or turnout. Trust me on this one. If there is a demand, there will be opportunities.

 Volunteer- Ephesians 2:10

 You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. Nonetheless I suspect we all spend at least a couple hours a week playing games and perusing social media on our phones. That time could be put to better use. Offer to teach the third grade Sunday school class, take a turn at nursery duty, serve in the food pantry, clean the church or lead a Bible study. Find out where and how you can serve, and then serve. I am convinced that Christians ought to tithe on their time as well as their money. If more did, it would literally be a spiritual game changer in our churches and communities.

 Pray for your Pastor- Romans 15:30, 2nd Corinthians 1:10-11, 1st Timothy 2:8, Colossians 4:2

 Pray that your Pastor will have the wisdom to lead well. Pray they will see biblical truth clearly and teach it with clarity and power. Pray they will have insight into the spiritual issues behind the worldly problems in our churches. Do not talk to them about any concerns you have until you have prayed and fasted about your concerns for at least two weeks. This will prepare both of you for the dialogue.

 I said at the beginning of this series that we all bear some responsibility for the state the church is in today. It’s time for all of us to collectively examine our hearts to see what we can do as individuals to change the direction of the church.

 

 

 

The Real Purpose of Church

The Real Purpose of Church

 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us~ 1st Peter 2:12 NIV

 Over the course of the last month, I have heard the same quote repeated three times, by three different speakers in three entirely unconnected settings. It did not take me long to discover that the quote in question came from the book Christianity and The Social Order, written by William Temple (1880-1944), it reads:

 “The Church is the only organization that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.”

 It’s important to note that every speaker citing this quote used it to make a case for the belief that the only real mission of the church is to evangelize the lost. Each one stated (in slightly different ways) that the church exists to reach those outside the church and every activity the church engages in ought to be focused entirely on reaching people who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus.

 Period.  

 This is a bit off-topic, and I’m more than a little reluctant to bring it up at all. Mainly because I know that pointing out the following pesky little detail makes me sound like a smarty-pants-know-it-all jerk-face.

 That said…

 In context the quote had nothing at all to do with with evangelism, reaching the lost, missions, or becoming a mission minded church. In his book Mr. Temple was attempting to make a case for his view that churches and ministers ought to support the implementation of state-sponsored welfare systems. Whatever you believe about state-sponsored social welfare, it is far from an evangelistic enterprise.  

 Now back to the actual point I was attempting to make here.

 Long before I knew anything at all about Mr. Temple’s beliefs or motivations, the quote did not sit well with me (which is super weird because I’m typically all about reaching the lost). Admittedly, I had a hard time putting my finger on why I was struggling to agree with the statement. I agree that the church is not to exist for it’s own selfish gain nor is it to devolve into a spiritual “Club Med” for the redeemed. The New Testament is painfully clear that Christians and the churches they belong to are to be other-focused (Romans 12:5, 1st Corinthians 9:19, Galatians 6:10, Philippians 2:4).

 But does that mean evangelism is the churches only purpose?

 I think not.

 Contrary to popular belief, the church does not have a single purpose or mission. Rather, it has several. Some of those purposes are spiritual in nature (evangelizing the lost, worshiping God, proclaiming Jesus until He returns). Others are more down-to-earth (teaching believers, providing for the poor, widows and orphans, spreading peace, bringing justice to unjust situations). Essentially, every purpose of the Church will fit fairly neatly into one of three categories:

 1. Glorify Jesus (make Him look good)- Romans 15:6, Romans 15:9, 1st Peter 2:12

 2. Encourage the spiritual growth of Christians- Ephesians 4:11-14, Colossians 1:9-11, 1st Peter 2:2, 2nd Peter 3:18

 3. Reach the un-churched with the gospel- Matthew 28:18-20, 2nd Timothy 4:1-3, Romans 10:13-15

 Our inclination to rank the significance of tasks or purposes is a big part of what’s killing the church. Anytime we begin ordering the significance of a set of tasks or purposes, a priority list is formed in our own mind and something always gets pushed to the bottom of the list.

 In the case of the 21st century church, the priorities of glorifying Jesus and developing spiritually mature believers have taken a backseat to reaching the lost. Somewhere along the line we got it in our heads that teaching a saved person what the Bible says about how to live a holy life is somehow less vital than getting that person saved in the first place. The sad result of our prioritization of the purposes of the church is that fewer people are getting saved, and the ones who do are more likely to fall away.

 I do not believe that any one of the above listed purposes of the church are any more or less important than any of the others. However, I did list them in a particular order because I believe we never effectively evangelize the lost if we are not equipping Christians for works of service (Ephesians 4:10-12) and glorifying Jesus by living holy, God honoring lives.

 Period.

 

 

 

 

Rethinking Church

Rethinking Church

On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it ~ Matthew 16:18b NIV

 Churches today are beset with some seemingly insurmountable problems.

 In many churches attendance is down, conversions are down, baptisms are down, tithes are down and the number of people willing to serve in leadership positions is down. According to the Barna Research Group, few adult Christians can adequately articulate the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith and even fewer are willing to live out the traditional teachings of Christianity.

 An appalling number of Millennials are leaving the faith of their parents and grandparents faster than rats deserting a sinking ship for a new belief system they call “spirituality”.

 Whatever the heck that means.

 Millennials aren’t the only group leaving local churches at a troubling rate. Many empty nesters (45+) claim they no longer feel needed or wanted at church for anything other than financial support and pew warming. As a result, countless previously active church members are ditching Sunday morning services for Sunday morning brunches.

 Sigh.

 Despite the aforementioned doom-and-gloom I really am genuinely hopeful for the future of the church. The church is not a scheme of man but the plan of God and God’s plans have a way of working out (Psalm 33:10-11, Micah 2:1-3) despite the failings of humanity.

 We all bear some responsibility for the state the church is in today. Contrary to popular opinion churches are not buildings, nor are they denominational dogma residing in a building. Churches are groups of people who have come together around a common leader (Jesus) and a common cause (the gospel). Jesus passed on the responsibility and privilege of building His Church to individual believers (Matthew 28:18-20).

 Therefore, if Churches are struggling it is to some extent the fault of the folks in the church, because we are the church. I believe there are three changes that can be made in the way we do church. First we need to…

 Adopt a more biblical model of church-

 The New Testament church is not a seeker centric church model. The New Testament church is a believer centric model (Acts 2:42-47, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 4:11-13, 1st Corinthians 5:11-13, 1st Corinthians 11:21). The church was designed with the growth of the already converted person in mind. Unsaved people were welcomed into the church but they were not the primary emphasis, rather they were a consideration (1st Corinthians 14:23). New Testament churches focused on teaching, preaching and creating occasions for fellowship so that the people of God would grow spiritually and reach the people around them with the good news of Jesus Christ. The contemporary church has turned the biblical model on its head; we aim most of our programs and preaching at unsaved people rather than saved people. In the process we have neglected to teach the already converted the deeper truths of Scripture that they must know to become productive members of the body.

 Turn the responsibility of evangelism back over to laypeople-

 The biblical model of evangelism is for Pastors and teachers to train laypeople to do the work of reaching un-churched people with the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-13) and then for those folks to bring their friends into the church family. Most churches expect their congregants to invite their friends to church with little or no evangelistic preparation. This means most of the un-churched people who come to our churches are not prepared to hear the gospel or make a commitment to Jesus. As a result few make commitments and the ones that do tend to fall away rather quickly.  

 Do what Jesus did-

 It’s no secret we live in a culture filled with broken, hurting, people. Christians are called to minister to hurting people, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what they’ve done. Period. The knee-jerk response most of us have for brokenness is love. Clearly, we do need to love the lost as well as the less than lovable. However, love is a feel-good response and only half the solution. We also need to invest our time, energy and treasure helping broken people to become as whole and spiritually healthy as possible (1st John 3:18). Becoming whole and spiritually healthy is not something that happens in a twelve-week, ten-step mentoring program. Discipleship that changes lives and transforms people into the image of Jesus requires a long-term commitment of authentic friendship to a messy person.

 The solutions to the church’s problems will require a shift in our thinking and the way we view church and the discipleship process. We need to go back to the biblical models of training laypeople to do the work of ministry and trust God to work through them.