The Lie Remains the Same


Due to an overwhelming number of tasks on the old to-do list at year’s end, I called a halt to interacting on Facebook, that great time suck. I said goodbye to birthday congrats for people I hadn’t seen in 30 years, bid adieu to keeping up with other people’s holiday plans, and articulated a hearty aloha to commenting on someone’s else post that got my goat. And there were plenty of goat-getting updates to note.

Too many.

Now returned from exile, it seems to me that Facebook is awash with the kind of commentary guaranteed not only to get one’s goat, but raise hackles, rub the wrong way, get dander up,  make to see red, and stand hair on end. Everyone seems angry on the Internet, especially on Facebook.

But it’s the way people respond to the things that make them angry that should alarm a thinking person. Everyone and his brother must add their two cents, and it might as well be counterfeit coinage.

In nearly every conversation regarding culture, societal shifts, current events, politics, or religion, you see the following:

Does the Bible really say…?

People should be free to do what they want, so….

Over and over and over. And in almost every case, those two are used to justify something antithetical to orthodox Christian theology or to godly, righteous living.

I wonder if the people who resort to using that question and that statement recognize their source:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
—Genesis 3:1-5 ESV

That supposedly clever line of reasoning some guy used to justify his immorality or someone else’s is old, old stuff. Back to the beginning kinds of justification and argument—just with contemporary wording to fit the spirit of the age.

Did God actually say…? Well, yes, He actually did. And your argument that He meant it in some other way that no one in 2000 years of Christian history has ever proffered as true should tell you something about the wrongness of your interpretation.

But then…

…And you will be like God…. You will be self-determining. You will be free to decide what is right and wrong. You will do whatever the heck you want to do, and no one will tell you otherwise because you told God to take a hike and enthroned yourself on His plush chair. You.

Red-eyed snakeEngaging the conversation in 2014 means a near-constant return to the Garden. Any time some postmodern Socrates chips away at traditional morality or invokes an alternate interpretation of truth, you can hear hissing between the words.

The part that no one who resorts to the old lies ever thinks through is this:

You will not surely die.

Actually, you will. And you’ll start that dying long before you get to the genuine finale. And then you’ll get a nasty, nasty surprise.

At least it will be a surprise to you. To some who weren’t spouting lies, it’s no surprise at all. They know that people who argue Satan’s way get to meet the originator in person.

Meanwhile, people who know better than to quote evil keep seeing the same old lies everywhere they turn.

If it weren’t so sad, it would be boring.

Hardship, Blame, and the Real Will of God


One phenomenon I’ve noted in the American Church that keeps getting resurrected and used as a club to beat frustrated and hurting Christian is this issue of who is at fault when things go awry.

In the Christian pantheon of blame, these four are the most prominent whipping boys:

  • God
  • Satan
  • The Individual
  • Society

Frankly, I’m burned out of the “it’s okay to get mad at God” mantra that I hear from some Christians. Job expected God to explain Himself for all of Job’s troubles and God smacked that down hard. So, the get mad at God thing is a dead end.

Well, it should be a dead end except that a lot of Christians sugarcoat that same idea by framing it within the context of God’s will. Bad things happen because of God’s will, and, because we love God so much, we should be happy that our house collapsed and our kids perished. It was all for our good.

Honestly, though, Job wasn’t happy with that answer. While he did not take his wife’s advice to “curse God and die,” this most righteous man still bristled at all the things that had happened to him. He still wanted God to explain Himself. If Job wasn’t happy with “God’s will” in his own awful situation, what chance do I have when things blow up miserably?

So we peel back the curtain on the Job epic and find that fouler Satan messing with the rigging backstage. Blaming the Enemy is big, especially within those churches that sprang from the Azusa revival.

Sadly, for many Christians, Satan becomes the universal excuse when something goes wrong. We blame him and that’s the end of the discussion. Calls for spiritual warfare go out, everyone prays binding and loosing prayers, and that’s the end of it.

Should that approach not work—and from my own experiences it doesn’t a lot of the time (because Satan isn’t entirely the cause)—some Christians start blaming themselves. “I did something wrong and have no one to blame but myself” may be true or it may not be. And if nearly 48 years of living have taught me anything, rarely is the individual entirely at fault either.  Sure, we sin and do stupid things. But God gives grace to follow, which covers our individual sins and deficiencies. With that the case, can I postulate that God’s grace is insufficient for a dingbat such as myself? Hardly.

Then society gets the blame hammer. The Christian culture wars are almost entirely driven by the idea that our society is the cause of every bad thing in…well, our society. Beyond the circular logic on that one, yeah, sometimes society does foster awful outcomes.  Sometimes society is to blame for problems—or at least for serving as a petri dish for their wicked growth. Problem is, the Bible makes it clear that we Christians can’t blame society for every bad thing in life. Rarely did society stand in the way of early Christians accomplishing miraculous things for God.

Ultimately, organizing blame into one or more of those four basins still cannot completely answer the question of why some happenings in life are just plain rotten.

I love the practicalness of the Book of James. In it are these true words:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
—James 2:14-26

In this case, whose problem is it that a brother and sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food? Is God to blame? Satan? The individual? Society?

While most people quote this passage as a primer on practical faith, too few understand it as a lesson on God’s will, which it is—in spades.

See, when we want to find blame for the condition of that brother and sister, it is the rare few who ask the question of the Church’s role in the will of God and the vagaries of life. We’ll blame our typical four sources, but do we in the Church ever wonder if we as a group are the reason for some of the awfulness we see in life?

Now, I’m not talking about being the cause of awfulness, but as the unused, mothballed resource for fixing that awfulness. James would rightfully contend that the brother and sister in Christ who remain poor and hungry will stay so unless the Church wakes up and does something to rectify the problem.

But we don’t hear that enough in our churches, do we?

Actually, let me revise that. We hear the clarion call to action in the culture wars, but we almost never hear it in cases of individual need, especially those needs that fly under the radar.

What about the case of the person crushed for the rest of her life under the burden of an uninsured operation? Does the Church have anything to say about that need? Better yet, does the Church have any responsibility toward rectifying that situation? Or will we blame God, Satan, the sick woman, or society for her plight?

More than anything, I wish more Christians would break from the standard blame game and instead ask, “What can we as a Church do?”

I’ve had a terribly stressful last couple weeks that landed me in the doctor’s office yesterday. I missed church on Sunday, which is not something I do. I play drums on the church worship team, and I don’t really have a backup at this point, so me calling in sick meant a scramble for the team leaders. Mercy in the midst of griefMore stress, more feeling bad, but I’d been up most of the night before and was just exhausted.

Now I could come up with a lot of directions for blame for causing all this stress, and I could imagine a million things God, Satan, society, and li’l ol’ me have to do with it all, but none of them trump dinner last night. Yes, dinner. Because Lisa, our pastor’s wife, brought us a homemade dinner last night.

And honestly, that kind of small act by the Body of Christ goes a long way toward defusing all these issues of God’s will and blame and highfalutin’ solutions and all that wacky stuff we get into.

When the Body of Christ is working as it should, these radically tough-to-solve problems suddenly lose much of their juice. Sometimes the answer to rotten things happening in life is as simple as showing up at the bedside of a sick person, writing a card to a shut-in, banding together to pay a medical bill, clothing someone who has nothing to wear, and on and on. It’s keeping our feelers feeling out where people need a little touch from the Lord through our being His hands.

It’s so easy to point fingers. But Church, more often than not the finger is reflected in a mirror right back at us. Rather than assigning blame or explaining the reason for someone’s plight, what are we doing to meet the needs of others in their times of distress?

When the Devil Seems to Win


A little country church tucked just off Main Street, Trinity Fellowship had served the community for years and did it well. They had experienced growth over the last year—eight new families—but they had also experienced something less encouraging.

Rebecca Simms worried that her youngest daughter would end up in jail. She did.

Mike Travers heard about the layoffs a month ago. The pink slip came yesterday, his third in three years.

Emma Andersen, two semesters away from graduating from college (the first in her family), got that fated letter saying her full-ride scholarship money had dried up due to tough economic times.

Bryan and Lydia Preston found out two weeks ago they were expecting their first child. This morning, they learned something was wrong with the baby.

Between the six people on the leadership team at Trinity, they suffered a miscarriage, cancer, a bankruptcy, the suicide of a child, crippling depression, and an affair that led to divorce. Three are no longer in ministry and may never return.

Last Sunday, Daryl Wells, the worship leader, led a song that contained a lyric out of Isaiah 54:17: “No weapon formed against you shall prevail.” More than one person singing that morning wondered if the words were true.

Sometimes, the Devil seems to win.

Trinity Fellowship and the people who comprise it are the product of this writer’s imagination. But they might as well be real, because their stories are. Every Sunday in America, someone, somewhere, is sitting in church wondering how it all went wrong. For some, it’s a question asked many times.

It’s not enough to say we live in a fallen world. That brings no comfort at all. Nor does it make sense of the mountain of Scriptures that say that God rescues His people from calamity. Let’s be honest here: More than once, you’ve wondered why the Scriptures don’t line up with your experience of life.

I’m not wise. I make a lot of mistakes wise people wouldn’t make. But several decades of observation take me back to the same answer for this issue.

The Devil seems to win for one major reason: We don’t pray.

I think we’ve all learned that when someone says he will pray for us, he probably won’t. It’s not a malicious promise, though. The intent is there, but we all know how life intrudes and the best of intentions remains nothing but intentions. Angelic warfareIt seems to be the human condition.

Succumbing to the human condition is not what the Church is supposed to be about, though. Our God is not a god of settling.

I used to think that my condition was largely due to my own prayers—or the lack of them. I don’t believe that anymore.

Sure, what we pray for ourselves matters. But God means the Church to be a Body, a collective, a community that lives and dies by what the whole does. If I’m not praying for you and you’re not praying for me, then the Devil wins.

Several years ago, I attended a Christian Camping International conference, with Leighton Ford as the keynote speaker. He told us about a flight where he sat next to a man who prayed the entire flight. Ford assumed the man feared flying, so he broke in at one point to offer some comfort. Only then did he notice the sheet of paper the man clutched. On it were the names of many prominent Christian leaders. When Ford questioned him about this, the man confessed that he had been praying for the downfall of the people on the list.

Ford informed us that, with the passage of time, all but one of those leaders had seen their ministry—and their personal lives—destroyed.

I don’t think Evangelicals take the Devil seriously. We don’t see life as a battle. We blithely float here and there, mostly prayerlessly, and let the river carry us wherever it may. Then when we wash up on the rocks, we wonder what happened.

It’s not enough that we pray for ourselves. We need others to watch our backs for us, because many times we are too close to our own lives to see where we may be exposed to enemy fire.

People in ministry positions are the prime targets of the Enemy. Take down a pastor and an entire church can go down with him. I recently heard that a thriving, well-known church my wife and I visited a few years back blew up entirely after the pastor screwed up. And don’t think that doesn’t wreck a lot of bystanders, because it does. Maybe not at first, but that kind of disaster eats at people’s spiritual guts, fosters corrosive cynicism, and does enormous damage.

Really, how hard is it to pray for others in our churches, especially for those in prominent roles? Isn’t it much harder to fix the craters and wounds from shrapnel when a life blows up due to the lack of a prayer covering?

Kind of a Pentecostal term there, prayer covering. Regardless of whether or not it’s Christianese, it’s reality. When bad things happen to people, be they lost or saved, the holes in their prayer covering—if they even have a prayer covering at all—may explain everything.

I’m to the point in my life where I honestly believe that almost all of the hardship we see in life is due to a lack of prayer. Those Scriptures that don’t align with life don’t because we’re just not taking prayer as seriously as the Scriptures do.