Biblical Advice for Healthy Relationships – Part 4

In our last post we discussed the primary ingredients in a godly relationship. Love is patient and kind. Without patience and kindness, human beings quickly find themselves driven apart. No one can sense love from someone who seems perpetually impatient or unkind to them.

Another key point is that love does not envy or boast.

That sounds so benign, though. Let’s look at it a bit closer. The ESV reads that love “does not envy,” however, the original word used here is ζηλόω, pronounced zēlóō. It is a Greek word that imitates the sound of boiling water. The word picture painted here would be a simmering jealousy that threatens to bubble over. To be boiling inside with jealousy.

We must be careful here to place this jealousy in its rightful context. Jealousy is not necessarily wrong. For example, God Himself is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14) Therefore, from the context of the verse we can gather that a protective jealousy of affections is a godly attribute. In a marriage, a protective jealousy of the affections of a spouse is right and proper. That form of jealousy communicates that this person is bonded with me and cannot be bonded with another.

The kind of jealousy mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:4 is more accurately represented as a jealousy of instead of a jealousy for. Imagine for a moment that both you and your spouse are actors in Hollywood. Your spouse releases a film and becomes a huge star. Everywhere you go, fans flock in giddy expectation of a word or an autograph. You, on the other hand, find yourself in your partner’s shadow, unnoticed and seemingly unappreciated. Well, you might think, he’s not so great! If only they knew the flaws that I see on a daily basis! I’ve got more talent in my little finger than he’s shown in his entire career!

I use the stereotype of the Hollywood marriage because we’ve all seen it happen a dozen times. But it happens daily in relationships that are far less public, as well. A wife excels in her career or has a very outgoing personality. The husband feels underappreciated or neglected. He attempts to level the playing field by cutting her down, being domineering, or passive-aggressively controlling her time. A wife gets annoyed because everyone thinks so highly of her husband. He makes people laugh, knows how to present himself well in public, and is generally admired by the people in their circle. She, on the other hand, sees herself as underappreciated because she is always busy taking care of the needs of the children. She begins to resent him because he spends all day at the office while she’s at home playing referee between bickering children.

We’re all guilty of this at one level or another. But the thing to remember is that love doesn’t see one’s partner as a competitor. Love sees one’s partner as an extension of oneself. My wife is an extension of me, and I of her. We are one. If my wife is recognized because of her skills, personality, or accomplishments, I should rejoice in that. I should be promoting and admiring her rather than being jealous of her. Love prefers to show honor to our loved-ones rather than to heap it on ourselves. Love exalts one’s partner, often at the expense of oneself. Love is self-sacrificing.

At this point, I think it appropriate to point out that the Greek language contains multiple words that are often translated to mean love. It is important to note that Christ points us to, and exemplifies, agape love. Agape is a selfless kind of love that causes one to be willing to set aside one’s own desires in preference of another’s, to sacrifice one’s goals in favor of another’s good, or to even lay down one’s life for another. It’s the kind of love Jesus showed when he gave His life for us. God doesn’t call us simply be collegial or cordial with our partners. He calls us to live lives of agape love, always willing to place our partner’s needs before our own.

This is not a popular thought in today’s culture. In the West, we are taught to look out for ourselves. We are taught to promote our own sense of self, our own desires, and our own ambitions. We are taught that we need to “love ourselves before we can love others.” Such a sweet sounding sentiment, but such an ungodly lie. Take a look at 2 Timothy 3:1-5, for example:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV

The point is, anything that calls itself love but is not a selfless, self-sacrificing love falls far short of that to which God has called us. If you’re jealous of your partner, feel the need to elevate yourself in importance above your partner, or are puffed up because you’re not feeling like the center of the relationship, you might need to rethink your definition of love.

One of the major keys to a godly relationship is this: true love places a higher priority on others rather than oneself. The world will tell you that you need to love yourself first before you can truly love others. This is a false and destructive piece of advice. The kind of love Christ points to–the kind of love Jesus–lived is a love unattainable outside of Him! It’s a kind of love that is so selfless as to allow oneself to want to lay down one’s life for one’s partner! It is an utter freedom from self-interest. It is a love that longs to serve and honor others without regard for one’s own interests.

It is freedom. True freedom! The world thinks freedom is defined as the unrestricted ability to please oneself. However, the joy that comes from pleasing someone else without regard to oneself is far beyond what any earthly, self-serving definition of love can ever afford. Love is the freedom to lay aside self-interest and the restrictions of selfishness in order to please and honor another. That is a freedom that cannot be adequately described. It is a freedom that cannot be attained while harboring jealousy and boasting.

When reading or hearing relationship advice, it is important to keep a godly perspective. The feel-good seminars, memes, and quotes must be held up next to scriptural standards to gauge their truth. Always ask: Does this advice point me toward a Christ-like love, or to a self-serving counterfeit? Does this advice directly or indirectly boast of my own strength, value, or importance? Does it draw attention to me, or shine a light of honor on another? Memes and quotes may sound soothing to the soul, but they can actually wreak utter destruction. God calls us to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds! Let us challenge the thinking of our society and focus like a laser on Christ’s example of true love!

Prayer…

Father, I thank you for the relationship with which You’ve blessed me. I thank you for the partner You’ve brought into my life. Help me to honor my partner and help me to honor You. Help me to seek to bring joy and honor to the spouse You’ve given me. They are a gift from you. Help me to experience the freedom that comes from Christ-like love. Help me not to be self-serving, proud, envious, or boastful. Help me, instead, to be caring, giving, and observant. Help me to love others the way Jesus loves me.

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Biblical Advice for Healthy Relationships – Part 3

What does it mean to pursue the Fruit of the Spirit in our relationships? We live with a spouse or spend time with a potential spouse day in and day out. They see us at our best and at our worst. When everything is going our way and when the floor falls out from under us, they are there to witness it all.

In our last post, we discussed the Fruit of the Spirit as a whole. We acknowledged that, though we are human and fallible, though we stumble and make mistakes, though we struggle with weakness and sin, if the Spirit of God dwells within us the attributes of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control will manifest themselves in our lives. The light of God’s Spirit will shine out from within us, though He is sometimes eclipsed by our own flaws, weaknesses, and choices.

Each of us is flawed, damaged by sin, and wounded in different ways. There’s a brokenness in even the most seemingly healthy individual. This means that we all respond differently to different situations. Our history, upbringing, traumatic experiences, and the level of our relationship with Christ all impact our responses to certain stimuli. Because each of us is a unique recipe, and because each of us is broken in some way, each of us responds differently. In ourselves we do not have the strength to consistently maintain a flawless manifestation of the Fruit of the Spirit.

However, nowhere in scripture are we told that we are expected to be perfect in our own strength. Far from it. We are told to rely on God to be who He has called us to be. As we rely on Him, we make a conscious effort to learn His ways, His attributes, and His will for our lives and to conform to them.

So, let’s look at the various attributes listed in scripture as the Fruit of the Spirit. Let’s break each attribute down to its basics so that we can remake the recipe of our relationships as God has designed it to be.

Image result for John 15:5
There seems to be a theme here…

Love

What is it? Our society certainly has a few suggestions as to the definition. But, our society dwells in a perpetual state of confusion and chaos in regards to the subject. Music, literature, television and movies, psychologists… The myriad definitions of love in today’s world can make one’s head spin.

So, what does scripture say love is?

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians is a great starting point. In order to exercise the attributes of the Fruit of the Spirit, we need to be able to define each attribute clearly. There are several ways to gauge how loving a relationship is. For the purposes of this article, I would like you to focus on judging your own approach to your partner.

Patient and Kind…

It can surely be no simple coincidence that this scripture begins its definition of love with the terms patient and kind. Those attributes seem to be the first to evaporate when times are less than ideal. Our patience wears thin and the very uniqueness we once so admired often seems to get under our skin the most. Our communication becomes short and our nerves are raw, and seemingly everything our partner says or does makes us crazy.

But love is patient and kind. It is the nature of love. In fact, patience and kindness are such integral parts of love that if one removes them from the equation, the hollow shell that remains cannot be defined as love.

Love, kindness, and patience are all parts of the Fruit of the Spirit. In the context of our previous studies, that means that when the Spirit of God dwells within us, love, patience, and kindness grow outward from us. Again, that does not mean we’ll get it right all the time. We’ll have our moments of exasperation or frustration. But our lives should show a track-record of expressing love through patience and kindness.

Day after day I hear people speaking negatively about their spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends. The general consensus seems to be that our partners should wear on our nerves. People speak of their partners as though they are unintelligent, incompetent, and would not survive without their help.

When speaking–or even thinking–of your spouse, are your thoughts patient and kind? If they aren’t, they aren’t love, and need to be cast aside. Even in disagreement, we can be patient and kind.

Your spouse should be the person you choose to respect more than any other. There is no one on earth who should hold a higher level of respect in your life. This means, both in their presence and in their absence, you should speak of and to them with the utmost respect.

To speak with respect means to not respond with sarcasm or snark.

Definition of sarcasm

1: a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain

2 a: a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual b: the use or language of sarcasm

merriam-Webster.com

I’ve taken heat for speaking and writing against sarcasm and snark. In fact, I’ve met with substantial mockery and ridicule for speaking and writing against sarcasm and snark, which I find a bit ironic. Or maybe not. However, ask yourself this: from the definition above, do the underlined and italicized words show patience? Kindness? In point of fact, one cannot intentionally direct caustic or bitter language meant to cut or give pain to someone and simultaneously show love. Either you show love, kindness, and patience, or you try to verbally injure with your bitterness.

Often people say, “Well, that’s just my personality.” No, it’s a habit. A bad habit. A destructive habit. And it can be changed. Perhaps not on your own, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within you, you can overcome it. Stop making excuses and pray about it. Every time you find yourself responding in a less than loving way, pray about it. You are responsible for you. The good news, though, is that the Holy Spirit is in you to help you be what He has called you to be. He’ll help you break those bad habits. Rely on Him. Pray and ask Him. You’ll find that you begin to hear your own remarks differently, soon after, you’ll begin to catch yourself before making that cutting or hurtful comment. (See also: self-control)

Love is patient. Love is kind. The fruit of the Spirit is love. God is Love. We ought to remember this when we’re tempted to be unloving, impatient, and unkind to those around us.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:7-8 ESV

The sad fact is, many of us feel free and comfortable treating those we claim to love the most in the most unloving ways. However, love is not how you feel for someone. Love is how you behave toward them. Love is patient. Love is kind. Without a pattern of patience and kindness, the love we profess for one another does not match up with God’s definition of the word.

Prayer…

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the relationships with which you have blessed me. I thank you that your Holy Spirit dwells within me and equips me to show your love and grace to those in my life. I ask that you will show me the areas in which my words and actions fall short of your definition of love. Help me to want to change, and to take action to change. May I be a blessing as I act in love, speak in love, and walk in love. Guard my heart, my mind, and my words that I may speak life, and not destruction. May I honor you with my words, my thoughts, and my actions toward others. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

Biblical Advice for Healthy Relationships – Part 2

One of the difficulties in writing or teaching about something like healthy relationships is the presumption of success in the teacher’s own life. People could easily look at me and find out that my relationships have up days and down days. That is part of the human condition. There are days when I handle things like a champ and days when I fall flat on my face. The beautiful thing about the Word of God is that it does not change with my successes or failures [Isaiah 40:8]. It is on that Word that I choose to stand and from it that I choose to teach. What we will discuss in the following sessions will not be my opinions, anecdotes from my experiences, or societal trends. They will be standards and precepts from scripture that, if put into practice consistently, will lead to healthier, stronger, and glodlier relationships.

So, where do we start for a list of relational tips? Scripture has many options from which to choose. As followers of Christ, the place I believe we need to begin might not make most people’s lists, though. Because of our relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. When the Holy Spirit dwells within a person, the following fruit will manifest itself. That fruit is spelled out in Galatians 5:22-24.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:22-24 ESV
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-Control

Imagine if this fruit were displayed in all our interactions with others, regardless of the type of relationship we’re discussing. In the failure of any relationship, you can guarantee that multiple facets of this fruit have not been on display.

Notice for a moment an important point: When scripture talks about the fruit of the Spirit, it mentions a single fruit. It isn’t nine separate fruits. The takeaway from this fact is that because it is one fruit with nine facets, all nine will manifest themselves in the life of the Spirit-filled individual. That means that we do not pick and choose which part of the fruit displays itself. All nine facets will, by default, issue forth from the Spirit-filled soul.

A Spirit-filled individual will show love, walk in joy, strive for peace, exhibit patience, act kindly, be genuinely good, remain faithful, treat one another with gentleness, and control himself (or herself). You may be looking at that list and thinking, I can’t always display all those characteristics. You’re right. No one can. That’s because we are imperfect and full of flaws. In ourselves, we do not possess the strength, the determination, nor the will to manifest all nine attributes listed here on a consistent basis. That’s why it isn’t called the Fruit of the Flesh. It’s the Fruit of the Spirit.

The works of the flesh are partially enumerated in the previous verses:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 ESV

Interestingly, most of the root causes for the destruction of relationships fall under the umbrella of this list. This is why we should approach every relationship in our life, indeed, every interaction with other people through the filter of the Fruit of the Spirit.

Guess what… You’re going to stumble from time to time. You’re going to mess up. You are not perfect. Neither is your partner. There will be sharp disagreements and failures on both sides. However, when you live under the leadership of the Holy Spirit who dwells in you, you will build a lifestyle pattern that exhibits the Fruit of the Spirit. You can’t help it.

Think of it this way: If you plant apple seeds, you get apples. You don’t get pomegranates. You get apples. It’s the natural result of planting the apple seed in the soil. You are the soil. When the Holy Spirit takes root in your life, the fruit that naturally begins to grow within you is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

These manifest characteristics will change your relationships for the better.

So I offer you three initial steps in building biblically healthy relationships:

  1. Be Filled With The Spirit! This might sound daunting at first blush, but scripture indicates that when you turn your life over to Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within you. He’s right there! You’re never alone, no matter what you’re facing! What a glorious promise!
    • 1 Corinthians 3:13 “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
    • 2 Timothy 1:14 “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”
    • Romans 8:11 “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
    • Romans 8:9 “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
  2. Realize That You’re Human, and Prone to Mistakes. (…and so is your partner!) Rely on the Holy Spirit Within You, and Realize You Are Both Growing! I once heard a man say “anything that isn’t growing is dead.” As long as you live, though you may make mistakes and stumble, you can choose to use those errors as opportunities for growth. Don’t be so hard on yourself or your partner.
    • 2 Peter 3:18 “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
    • 2 Peter 1:5-8 “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
    • 1 Peter 2:1-2 “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
  3. Read My Upcoming Blog Posts As They’re Released Over the Next Few Weeks! We are going to dig deep into the Word and discover keys to building, repairing, and strengthening relationships, directly from the Word of God!

Biblical Advice for Healthy Relationships – Part 1

One cannot turn on a radio, walk through a bookstore, watch television, or even walk through a workplace without being a witness to a wide variety of relationship advice. It’s everywhere. It permeates our conversations and is the basis for many of our sources of entertainment. In fact, even in many churches, relationship classes are quite common. There are library shelves full of relationship advice books.

I took a position at a church, working as the minister of music many years ago. As a member of the pastoral staff, I felt it important that I take part in the adult Sunday School classes. There were two from which I could choose. First, one geared toward married couples from their thirties to their fifties. The other class was made up of senior citizens and was taught by a very good-hearted man whose passion for teaching far surpassed his oratory skills. I attended class with the younger group for a few weeks. They were doing a series based on a popular relationship book written by a Christian author. I was single at the time, but felt compelled to be a part of my age group.

It was during those weeks that something solidified in me. That something was this knowledge: There is a lot of bad advice being given to people about their relationships. With the American church’s passionate pursuit of all things psychological, with emotional intelligence, and with relational theology, a massive volume of relationship advice is given that, though it sounds good, is not biblical in its approach.

Needless to say, I quickly found myself sitting with a delightful group of octogenarians listening to a very enthusiastic minister with a captive audience.

What is needed in the church is a counterpoint to the humanistic approach proffered by so many authors and lecturers today. What is needed is teachers who will look to biblical authority rather than to the wisdom of men. What is needed is listeners who are more interested in pleasing God in their relationships rather than pleasing and comforting themselves. Psychology and popular catch-phrases are not going to mend broken lives and families. Godly wisdom from His word will.

Simply put, we either believe in the sufficiency of scripture, or we believe it needs the help of secular psychological studies.

A hallmark of biblical wisdom is its remarkable lack of catchy idioms or trendy catch-phrases. Scripture tends to cut to the chase, as it were. In this series of messages, we will delve deeply into sound biblical instruction for healthy, godly relationships without all the humanistic psycho-babble so commonly heard today.

Join us as we look to the only true source of wisdom for some of the most perplexing issues we face.

The Fool Has Said…

According to The History Channel, one of the theories behind April Fools’ Day:


Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563.
People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes.
These pranks included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

When I was younger, we used to prank people quite often. We’d set the bait by asking a leading question or letting them believe something that was obviously untrue. Then, when they fell for it, we’d bend our index finger in the shape of a hook, use it to pull at the edge of our lips while yelling: “Fished in!” The whole point was to demonstrate the foolishness of that person’s gullibility.

The world does this as well. The enemy of our souls lays a trap by leading us to believe things that are contrary to the Word of God. Things like the evolutionary theory, false religions, and even humanism are thrown at us from all directions, trying to fish us in to the folly of unbelief.

Stephen Charnock, in his timeless work, The Existence and Attributes of God, proffers the concept that there is a sense of atheism within each person. The logic of his argument is that if we truly believed God is Who He claims He is in His word, we would not dare to knowingly commit sin. If we truly believed he split open the earth and swallowed the wicked, if we truly believed God poured out the flood upon the whole earth, if we truly believed that God is the holy and righteous God who will one day welcome the faithful into heaven or cast the unfaithful into the Lake of Fire, we would be so in awe of His power and authority that we would not dare fail to obey Him.

When placed in that context, we can all be called fools, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Born depraved and with a sin nature, we have all turned our backs upon the things we know are right, upon the Creator Who calls us to holiness.

The fool, a term in scripture signifying a wicked man, used also by the heathen philosophers to signify a vicious person, גבל as coming from נבל signifies the extinction of life in men, animals, and plants; so the word נבל is taken, a plant that hath lost all that juice that made it lovely and useful. So a fool is one that hath lost his wisdom, and right notion of God and divine things which were communicated to man by creation; one dead in sin, yet one not so much void of rational faculties as of grace in those faculties, not one that wants reason, but abuses his reason. In Scripture the word signifies foolish.

Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God,
Discourse I – On the Existence of God

We have all been fools. We’ve all been wicked. We’ve all been vicious. We’ve all lost that juice that made us lovely and useful. We’ve all embrace the unbelief at one time or other.
The good news, though, is that His grace is greater than all our sin. His love stretches beyond our failures. His forgiveness is available to those who recognize His sovereignty and His righteousness.

Notice Charnock’s words here: “So a fool is one that hath lost his wisdom, and right notion of God and divine things which were communicated to man by creation; one dead in sin, yet one not so much void of rational faculties as of grace in those faculties, not one that wants reason, but abuses his reason.” It isn’t a question of intelligence. It is a question of wisdom.

Mankind has been given an innate hunger for God. Mankind knows he needs a savior. The fool, knowing the truth, denies it.

Confusing Sugar With Salt: 6 Harmful Effects

Confusing Sugar With Salt: 6 Harmful Effects

One day we had some fresh blackberries at home that needed to be eaten or used. I decided to make a simple blackberry syrup topping for ice cream. I was going to surprise my family, who takes its ice cream very seriously. I grabbed the clear plastic container and liberally added sugar to the hot, bubbling berries and juice.

Now, I love to cook. I love the creative process. I love the flavors and the smells. I also love the expressions of happiness from my family when they enjoy something I’ve created. Today was not that day.

I wasn’t feeling well, so I didn’t taste my syrup before popping it in the refrigerator to cool. When my wife came in, I told her what I was making, and she excitedly grabbed a spoon to sample the concoction. We laughed and she smiled as she dipped a dramatically large sample of the syrup and put it in her mouth while I explained that it hadn’t had time to set up yet.

The look on her face was priceless. It was not, I repeat, NOT what I was expecting. She began to gag, spit, and make the most unnatural sounds I’ve ever heard a human being make.

Apparently, the problem was that the clear container I’d used actually contained salt instead of sugar. As you might imagine, the briny fruit flavor my wife experienced was nothing like the sweet syrup she had expected. It was so different, in fact, that I had to profusely apologize to her and get her a glass of water to wash the taste away…once my fits of laughter finally subsided.

I had simply reached over and grabbed the transparent container with the white granulated substance in it, applied it in large quantities, and expected the logical result.

On my way to work yesterday, I spent some time thinking about the state of the church and the society in which we live. I was pondering the relative growth, yet spiritual ineffectiveness of the church in our current generation. Why is it that, in a time in which churches are larger and often more affluent than ever before, we seem to be having less of a spiritual impact on our society?

I think we often shrug our shoulders and sigh, “The Bible says in the last days, people will act this way. It’s just a sign of the times.” And, while I can see some logic in that process of thought, I reject it. At no point does scripture instruct us to disengage and stop trying. The fact that society seems to be on a prophesied spiral does not give the church license to shrug off the spiritual needs around us.

Then the story above came to my mind. The church, it seems, has confused salt for sugar. Except, the church has done it in reverse, and has done it intentionally.

For years now we have been led to believe that we needed to be more culturally relevant, less threatening, and more seeker friendly. While all of these things sound like positive steps, the problem is that cultural relevance is most often interpreted as cultural assimilation. Being less threatening is most often interpreted as avoiding challenging sin, and being seeker friendly to a world that doesn’t know it’s seeking righteousness often means avoiding anything that challenges thoughts, lifestyles, or behaviors.

Basically, the church has chosen to be sugar instead of salt. Jesus called His followers the salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13). His analogous use of salt is extremely interesting in the layers of truth that can be uncovered in the myriad uses and values of the element. There are countless sermons outlining the various uses and functions of salt.

Let’s talk about sugar for a moment, though. I did a quick search online on the effects of sugar on the human body.

  • Sugar causes glucose levels to spike and plummet, causing mood swings, fatigue, and headaches. In the spiritual life, spiritual sugar creates bursts of energy, followed by deep crashes when people realize they are suffering from spiritual malnutrition. The moods swing depending on the whims of the society around the church. We have lots of fun and exciting programs. But when the excitement wears off, we have to inject a whole new set of ideas or people lose interest and leave.
  • Sugar increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. As our teaching has become less challenging, we’ve become more sedentary in our approach to reaching the world. We simply put a little money in the offering, trusting that it’ll help some nameless, faceless person in another country. Or we send our teens to a big city nearby on a “missions trip” where they shop, do some skits, and come back feeling better about themselves. We’ve basically become spiritually obese people who don’t have the stamina it takes to endure trials or serve our communities. Our hearts have become weakened to the point that we don’t stop to help or even pray with a homeless person, share the love of Christ with an addict, or so much as mention the gospel of Jesus to a co-worker or family member. In some cases, the heart disease has become so advanced that we are much more interested in arguing politics, sports, or social issues than we are in sharing the Truth of God’s Word.
  • Your immune function can be permanently damaged by sugar. When nutrition is replaced by sugar and empty calories, the immune system doesn’t have the tools it needs to fight off infection or disease. In the church, when biblical Truth is replaced by fluffy feel-good self-help messages, the church loses its ability to recognize and reject false teaching. Heresy becomes a clear and present danger, as congregants rely on their subjective emotional responses to gauge the validity of what’s being taught and lack the knowledge, fortitude, and determination to fight against false teaching.
  • Sugar accelerates aging. Because spiritual sugar replaced strength and endurance, the church becomes weaker and unable to function with life and vitality. The church loses its effectiveness, and withers away.
  • Sugar negatively impacts the cognitive abilities of children. Too much sugar replaces foods with beneficial nutrients, the very definition of malnutrition. The brain needs nutrients to function properly. A church that replaces the meat of the Word with sugary-sweet desserts will produce children and youth who show no interest in biblical Christianity once they leave the children’s church or youth hall. This fact is borne out in statistical research as we see as high as 79% of young people leaving the church in the transition between youth group and adulthood. Ask these young people about the most basic of biblical precepts and they show utter confusion or even contempt.
  • Sugar is the prime cause of tooth decay. We’ve known this for decades. But in the spiritual sense, a sugary church/social/self-help approach is a prime cause of truth decay. Studies show that today’s church-goer either does not know the basics of scriptural content or rejects them altogether.

We’ve allowed the sugary fun to distract us from the vital content of the Word of God. We’ve developed such a taste for the manufactured sweetness of the philosophies of man that we’ve lost our hunger for the real things of God. Yet, there’s a deep longing in each of us that goes unfulfilled, as an epidemic of pornography, abuse, chemical dependency, and divorce plague the church.

The church. The people of God.

Or at least, we once called ourselves that.

The Question We’re Afraid to Ask

During my morning commute today I heard a well-known Christian radio broadcast. The hosts were interviewing, as they typically are, an author of a recent book on psychology. Today’s episode included many nice-sounding tips for reframing our view of life’s difficulties in a more positive way, embracing a positive mindset and refusing to give in to negativity. Overall, it was a pleasant, if not quite scripturally accurate, bit of psycho-speak. The general message was good, though it contained countless references to scriptures taken out of context and misinterpretations.

At the end of the half-hour, the guest author brought out the following thought: “I just noticed that breakups were extraordinarily hard for me. They would – you know, I would live in the breakup for years where my friends would be, you know…done and moving on. And, of course, I experienced lots of breakups. And so God’s mysterious way of healing me was allowing me to go through it again and again until I could stand on my own two feet. So that by the time I married, I had been healed of that and wasn’t expecting my husband to come into a place that was really due to something he could never have met.”

Did you catch that? Did you see what she did here? She had been discussing multiple relationships she’d had in her search for happiness. Then when those relationships failed, she suffered pain. She said she experienced “lots” of breakups. Her ultimate conclusion is that God ordained this as His “mysterious way of healing” her. In her mind, He allowed her to “go through it again and again until [she] could stand on [her] own two feet.” She, in essence, gave God credit for her choices. She chose to seek after relationships with multiple individuals. She participated in relationships that ultimately failed and caused her pain. She went through multiple breakups that can be traced back to her own choices. However, instead of acknowledging her role in causing her own pain, she spun it into a nice-sounding deflection, saying that it was God’s will to use it to heal her from past hurts. In one paragraph, she absolved herself of any responsibility in her relational issues and transferred that responsibility to God, while making herself sound stronger, wiser, and more spiritual in the process.

Do I doubt that she learned to be stronger through several negative experiences? No. Do I disbelieve that she gained wisdom over time and in response to wounds and regrets? Not at all. Do I believe that God ordains that we go through bad relationship after bad relationship in order to prepare us for “the one?” Don’t be silly.

This is not an attack on the person who said these things. It is, ironically, an effort to get us to reframe our thinking and ask a very important philosophical question.

What if…

What if our entire system is messed up? What if it isn’t God’s will that we date a bunch of people before settling in on the one we deem to be the most compatible one to our personal desires, quirks, and demands? What if that wasn’t His plan at all?

What if God didn’t design or ever even endorse the modern Western method of choosing a partner? What if it only seems normal to us because we’ve only been exposed to a flawed relational system, and we’re unable to see beyond our own limited experience?

What if…