Friday, September 24, 2021

The Hidden Harm of Gender Transition


As a young teenager, Grace Lidinsky-Smith experienced deep depression and profound anxiety. She took refuge in incessant internet usage and became immersed in Tumblr. Now in her 20s, Grace looks back and describes how young people are told that they will only be “truly themselves” if they discover their “unique gender identity.”

But Grace suggests this is an info hazard: a false claim that, if it obsesses you, also destroys you. In the area of gender, in particular, many young people are trapped in compulsive self-analysis. They follow and seek to imitate vloggers who post daily video diaries of their gender transition.

Grace looks back on all this as a process that alienated her from reality. By her early 20s, like countless others, she believed the online trans community’s promise that transition would solve her unhappiness. Within four months, Grace started cross-sex hormone injections and had a double mastectomy. She soon realized she made a horrible mistake. She reverted to living as her birth sex but has lasting physical damage.

Grace is one of many who have been fast-tracked down a pathway of “treatments” for gender dysphoria, while underlying mental health issues have remained undiagnosed and unaddressed. They are victims of the false claims of gender ideology. According to this ideology, all people have a gender identity—the gender they feel they are—that may have no relation to their biological sex.

There are a small number of people who suffer deeply because of genuine gender dysphoria (a sense of being in the wrong body). They do not necessarily promote gender ideology.

How Do Outsiders View Your Inside?


It’s pretty easy for us to think about what we think about when we think about the weekend experience at our churches. (Feel free to re-read that sentence. I won’t be offended.)

After all, they’re our experiences. We gather together on a regular basis. We catch up with our long-time friends. We walk through the same old doors, sit in the same old seats, and – for the most part – experience a familiar, somewhat predictable, unsurprising service. Read More

Ten Truths About a Liar


Is Satan capable of inception? Does he whisper temptations in our ear? Is Satan’s authority, power, and relationship to unbelievers the same or different from Christians? These are all valid and, frankly, somewhat haunting questions. I am not left emotionally unmoved by the many destroyed marriages and ministries around me Satan has devoured. I trust your experience is comparable. It is vital that you and I rightly discern and evaluate Satan. He is not to be trifled with nor buffooned, but in Christ, his back was utterly broken on Calvary’s hill. Therefore, it is important we establish a few implications that help us to discern the person and activity of Satan.... Read More

Increasing Generosity in Your Church


Recently, NCS Services surveyed more than 8,000 churches regarding their current stewardship needs. There was an overwhelming response that increasing the generosity of the individuals in their congregation was by far the most important. You will not believe how simple it can be to accomplish!

If you have ever attended workshops for personal or professional improvement, you have probably left with at least one key idea to execute. You have also undoubtedly been able to nod your head during the presentation in affirmation of concepts with which you were already familiar, but had forgotten. This article will be no different. Sometimes, we just need someone with a different perspective to remind us of valuable precepts. Read More

I Can’t Stop Sinning, So What’s the Point of Stopping?


Many young people (and people of all ages, in fact) struggle with the idea of sin. I’ve had countless conversations with junior and senior high students about their habitual sin patterns. Kids tend to think, “If I can’t stop sinning, then what’s the point of stopping?”

These young people have prayed, sang, gone to camp, read their Bible, and frequently attended church and youth group. Yet they still haven’t seen any life transformation. Their desire to stop sinning is dead.

Their logic: I love Jesus, and I love to sin. Somehow kids think it’s okay to live this dual lifestyle. That’s a very confusing logic for any adult youth worker to understand.

The problem? These students don’t know how to live out the text of Romans 6 and 7. Kids think living the Christian lifestyle is nearly impossible. They don’t know how to answer the question: How can I pursue righteousness when I can’t stop sinning? Read More

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Caring for the Emotional and Mental Well-Being of Our Brothers and Sisters in Christ


Jesus in the Gospels and the apostles in their writings emphasize the importance of Jesus followers loving one another. They provide us with a measure of guidance as to what loving our brothers and sisters in Christ means in practice. In this reflection, I am going to take a look at a particular area of loving one another—emotionally supporting one another, caring for each other’s emotional and mental well-being. In writing this reflection, I drew upon my experience and knowledge as a counselor working in a mental health center setting and a social case worker working with teenagers, children, and their families or other caretakers. I also reviewed the latest literature.

A local church, if we emulate Jesus’ character and following his teaching and example, should be a community of love and healing. It should not be a group of people who cause injury to each other or to those outside their group—a group which an undetermined number of local churches have become, based upon the reports of former members and attendees of the church and the reports of people living in the same area as the area from which the church’s members and attendees come.

How then do we give each other emotional support? The following ways of caring for each other’s emotional and mental wellbeing are in no particular order.

1. We pray for each other. I don’t mean telling someone, “I’ll pray for you.” We pray for them then and there. The prayer need not be a long one. We draw them to God’s attention and ask him to help, comfort, strengthen, or heal them. We may place a hand on their should or upper part of their arm as a gesture of good-will toward them. Before we touch them, we ask their permission first, “May I lay a hand on your shoulder or arm while I pray for you?”

2. We offer them genuine encouragement and positive affirmation. We not only do this vocally but also we do it by showing our confidence in them. We give them a task to do, a task which we might do ourselves but which we give them to show that we trust them. We show them we believe they are reliable and trustworthy.

3. We are free in our praise. When they make a genuine effort to do something no matter how well it is done, we commend them on what they have done. We go out of our way to look for things in them we can praise and affirm. We are liberal and sincere in giving what are called positive strokes, warm fuzzies. “What a pretty pink scrunchie! You wear such cute scrunchies!” We stroke them not only for what they do—conditional strokes—but for who they are—unconditional strokes. For strokes to register as fuzzies, they must be sincere. We avoid rubber-band strokes, backhanded compliments, which are cold pricklies in disguise. “Cute dress. I had one like that in the 90s.” Cold pricklies are negative strokes. “Wow! What an ugly dress!” They leave the person who receives them feeling bad about themselves. Fuzzies leave them feeling good about themselves.

There are four different kinds of strokes.

Verbal—a kind or friendly word, a genuine compliment. “Wow! That dress looks great on you!”

Touch—a hug or a pat on the back. A fist bump. Unless they are close family, we should ask someone their permission before we touch them and then we should make sure the type of touch is appropriate to whoever we are touching. For example, we would not give a full body frontal hug to someone with whom we are not in relationship. We would give them a side-hug.

Written—a thankyou note. A “Good job, well done” email or text. A positive comment on social media. Likes, loves, and cares on Facebook. Friends, those who like us, will copy us. They will like or love on Facebook what we like or love. They will comment on what we comment.

Time—Spending time with someone, taking time to listen to them, showing interest in what they are saying or doing are positive strokes. Just quietly sitting together.

We gravitate toward people who give a lot of positive strokes; we shy away from people who give a lot of negative strokes or do not give any strokes at all. Everyone has a stroke bank in which they store up positive strokes and good feelings. If they do not get enough positive strokes, they will settle for negative strokes and bad feelings.

People need strokes. They cannot survive without them. This is one of the reasons that they need other people in their lives. People who appear to be independent may be counterfeiting strokes. “Counterfeit strokes are created when people distort what is happening in their transactions with others. they are used to reinforce one's life position and to fill a stroke deficit.” A life position is how we see the world, ourselves, and other people. Someone may say something that is completely harmless. They hear it as a putdown, a sexual innuendo, or something else other than what it was. They use it to feel insulted, threatened, or prickly in some way. They turn it into a negative stroke, a cold prickly.

People collect negative feelings like people once collected S&H Green Stamps. At one time stores gave customers S&H Green Stamps as bonus when they made a purchase. Customers stuck the stamps in a book the store provided. When they had enough books filled with stamps, they took them to S&H Green Stamp redemption store and redeemed them for premiums in the S&H Green Stamp catalog. In Transactional Analysis (TA) the negative feelings people collect are called stamps. When people accumulate enough negative feelings, they cash them in. They may use the stamps to justify doing something hurtful to someone or themselves. Someone who collects anger stamps may use them to justify murdering a spouse or partner, dumping a friend or ending some other relationship, binging on alcohol, drugs, or sex, watching porn videos, and so on. They may use their anger stamps to rebel against someone whom they perceive as a parental authority figure. Someone who collects sad stamps may use them to justify killing themselves.

The condition of not having enough strokes is known as stroke deprivation. Babies have died from stroke deprivation, having received insufficient physical contact and nurturing from those caring for them. They become listless and unresponsive and exhibit other symptoms of failure to thrive and then die. Due to severe depression, psychosis, intellectual impairment, physical disability, or immaturity a mother may not be able to meet a baby’s needs.

Even if the baby survives, stroke deprivation in infancy or early childhood can affect the child for the remainder of their lives. For example, a woman who received very little positive strokes from her mother in infancy or early childhood may go through life seeking positive strokes from women. She may become passive, having learned in infancy or early childhood that she received more maternal attention when she was passive than she did when she fussed or cried. Passivity in adulthood may result in her exploitation in adulthood by others. She will do anything to please them. She may have difficulty in expressing anger because when she was an infant or a small child, she was ignored or punished when she expressed anger. Her mother may have ignored her as a punishment. When she is angry with someone, she may snub them, ignoring them as her mother ignored her. She may give expression to her angry feelings in other ways. She may be catty with other people, being deliberately hurtful in her remarks. How we were treated when we were young will often show in the way that we treat others when we are adults.

Some women, when they give birth to a child, suffer from post-partum depression. Other women may be overwhelmed by their circumstances. They may have fled a situation in which they were the victims of domestic violence. They may have other small children to care for. They may have not been prepared for an additional child. They may have a spouse who has a catastrophic illness or who is terminally ill. They are faced with caring for a family on their own.

One way we as Jesus followers can show our love for others is to support expectant and new mothers, identify their needs, and help them to meet them.

Some people give plastic, or marshmallow, strokes. They are big and fluffy, but they are fake. Whoever gives them is not sincere. They do not really mean what they are saying. “That’s a cute dress you are wearing.” (“She has such awful taste in clothes! I wonder where she found that rag!!”)

A good rule of thumb in giving compliments is “If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.” I will compliment a friend on her dress because I believe she looks great in it. Otherwise, I will look for something else to compliment her on. If I like someone, it is not too difficult to find something else. I am basically saying, “I like you and everything about you!!”

A simplistic explanation of why Christians are not attracting people to their churches and why they are loosing their young people when they grow old enough to leave is that they do not emulate Jesus’ character or follow his teaching and example and they hand lots of cold pricklies to other people. In fact, they have come to associate being a Christian with giving negative strokes.

4. We show compassion to each other. Compassion is “a feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” Researchers have found that “when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the ‘bonding hormone’ oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people.” 

Compassion and empathy enable us to show kindness and love toward others. They can not only improve our academic performance and raise our self-esteem, but they can also enable us to live longer. Compassion fosters connections among adults and children. It strengthens bonds, reduces aggression and anxiety, and makes us happier.

5. We offer each other care, sympathy, and comfort when they are needed. We show them physical gestures of affection such as a hug with their consent. Physical touch can be reassuring but it also can be a violation of someone’s boundaries if we do not have their permission to touch them. It may cause them emotional distress. They may also misinterpret our motives for touching them.

To identify how we might be emotionally supportive to a brother or sister in Christ, we ask them opened-ended questions like “what’s been happening in your life lately?

6. We work at empathizing with each other. We do our best to put ourselves in each other’s shoes. We do our best to feel what each other is feeling. We do our best to see things from each other’s perspective.

7. We actively listen to what each other is saying. We give them our full attention. We do not look at our cell phone, act disinterested, or fidget. We do not turn our body away from them, cross our arms, or cross our legs but use non-verbal cues to convey that we are listening and interested in what they are saying.

We may take the Adult listening position, feet resting flat on the floor or ground, legs uncrossed and apart, hands at our side if standing, palms down on our knees if sitting. We maintain eye contact. We do not look down or away. I have used the Adult listening position when talking with agitated, angry, or anxious clients. It can have a calming effect on them.

When we allow someone’s agitation, anger, or anxiety to affect us, we may exacerbate their agitation, anger, or anxiety. On the other hand, our own calmness may help them to reduce the intensity of their feelings and may defuse a potentially violent situation.

When someone speaks to us, we reflect back what they said, “I heard you say….” We make sure that we understand what they are saying. If we do not understand what they said, we ask for clarification. We try not read into what they are saying something other than what they are saying. We summarize what they said to show that we grasp what they are saying.

We offer them validation. “It sounds like you are going through a difficult time.” We do not make judgments.

We keep our opinions on what they should have done or where they went wrong to ourselves. We avoid asking questions which they might interpret as blaming them or judging them. “How did you make her mad at you?”

We watch our tone of voice. We do not allow disapproval or disgust to creep into our voice. We focus on feelings like compassion and sympathy when we speak.

8. We can emotionally support each other with our presence. The presence of someone whom we know loves and cares for us can be very reassuring. Their presence can help us in times of doubt or fear.

I do not believe I would be wrong in saying this is one of the reasons Jesus and the apostles stress the importance of reconciliation. If we are estranged from each other, our presence will not provide the emotional support that it should. If something comes between us and a brother or sister in Christ, we should do all that we can to put things right with each other. We should let go of any anger or resentment that we may feel toward them.

9. We are emotionally available to each other. I grew up in a church tradition in which members of its churches were frequently described as cold, distant, and reserved, not only to outsiders but to each other. To be emotionally supportive to each other, we need to be emotionally available to each other. This more difficult for some people than it is for others.

We may not be comfortable with meeting other people’s emotional needs. It may be a new or unfamiliar experience for us.

We may have come to question our ability to meet the emotional needs of others. Early in life we have been around a parent who was emotionally demanding. Their unreasonable expectations and our inability to meet these expectations may have led us to doubt our ability to meet anyone’s emotional needs.

We may be emotionally needy ourselves, having emotional needs that went unmet in the past—a need for love, caring, acceptance, and affection.

We may be afraid of our own feelings or other people’s feelings. We may fear where our emotions may lead us. We may fear that someone else’s feelings may overwhelm us, drowning our self-identity, and swallowing up our independence.

We may be accustomed to keeping an emotional distance between ourselves and other people. We may have difficulty in forming emotional attachments due to our past experiences.

We may have less flexible emotional boundaries than do other people.

These are just a few of the reasons we may shy away from being more open with our own feelings and more receptive toward other people’s feelings.

Being emotionally available to each other can enhance the quality of our relationships with each other and our level of emotional support for each other.

Human beings are not entirely unemotional. We may learn to hide or repress unwanted or unwelcome feelings which other people in our environment discourage us from showing for a variety of reasons. They may not actively show disapproval of these feelings. They may simply not respond to them. A depressed parent may not react to a child’s displays of affection toward them or show much affection themselves toward the child. Children will often exhibit affection toward a parent in hopes that they will return the affection. The child, in turn, may learn not to show affection or may have difficulty in exhibiting affection. On the other hand, they may become indiscriminate in showing affection.

Some families, while their members may feel affection for each other, are not physically demonstrative in showing their affection. I grew up in such a family. They show their affection in other ways. My grandfather showed his affection for my grandmother by growing her favorite roses. I am apt to show my affection for someone by surprising them with gifts of things that I believe they might like or which they can use to obtain things that they like.

Different families have different ways of showing affection. A friend of mine in college was very physically demonstrative in showing affection for friends. She came from a family where being physical demonstrative was the normal way of showing affection. On the other hand, my grandmother and my mother would show their affection by fixing foods whole family liked to eat. I showed my affection for my mother and my nieces by taking them to their favorite restaurants and on outings to places they wanted to go—the zoo, the aquarium, the botanical gardens, the mall, and the like. Every family has its own ways of showing love. When we take a friend to their favorite pizza restaurant and buy them their favorite pizza and beverage and then take them to a movie they want to see, we are not only doing fun activities with them, but we are also heaping them with warm fuzzies. We are showing our fondness or liking for them too.

10. We need to recognize and avoid saying or doing things that others will perceive or experience as rejection of them. If our aim to give each other emotional support, to care for each other’s emotional mental wellbeing, we will not want to say or do things which do not do that, things that do the opposite.

We all are sensitive to rejection, or lack of acceptance. We sense how others are reacting to us before we consciously become aware of what they are doing. Rejection actives the same part of the brain where we feel physical pain. All rejection hurts—literally. The pain from being rejected is not much different from the pain of being physically injured.

We can misread a situation and believe that someone is deliberately rejecting us or showing unfriendliness toward us when they may not be. This can cause feelings of deep anxiety and dread. In the different ways we react to what we perceive as rejection, we can actually trigger the rejection that we fear. Believing we are being rejected can lead to rejection.

This can occur easily when we are communicating by text and email. We do not have the cues such as facial expression, body language and tone of voice which help us in interpreting what is going on when we talk to someone in person or even by video chat or on the phone. Consequently, we may use our imaginations to interpret what is happening, which may lead us to believe the worst. Anxiety arising from the thought that we may confirm what we fear may prevent us from using these other means of communication or circumstance may not permit their use.

Rejection can affect us emotionally, cognitively, and even physically. We have a fundamental need to belong, to have relationships that are positive and which are lasting. Rejection increases our feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy and sadness. It can decrease our ability to perform difficult intellectual tasks. It can result in aggressive and impulsive behavior. Rejection can affect our sleeping pattern and weaken our immune systems.

One study found that the participants’ brains were more active in areas associated with motivation, reward, craving, addiction, physical pain, and distress when they looked at the photo of a romantic partner who had rejected them than when they looked at the photo of a neutral person. All the participants reported that they were still in love with this partner. The researchers concluded that the participants had become addicted to the romantic partner who rejected them.

A second conclusion can be drawn from this study. The romantic partner who rejected them was a source of motivation and reward for the participants. In non-romantic but significant relationships this suggests that those with whom we involved in some kind of relationship such as friendship can also be a source of motivation and reward for us. We can become addicted to something or someone because they affect us positively. We ourselves can stimulate the production of chemicals in the brains of others, which affect them positively.

I have noticed a shift in my mood and an increase in my productivity when a friend gives me attention. This has further convinced me that God does put specific people in our lives not only for our good but for their good too.

When someone rejects us, our self-esteem is damaged. We may react by damaging it even further. We become intensely critical of ourselves. We engage in all kinds of negative self-talk, which elicits feelings of disgust with ourselves. We beat ourselves up!

Imagine the hell through which someone who perceives themselves as being rejected put themselves and the emotional, cognitive, and physical toll it takes on them. They may experience anxiety, depression, bouts of sadness, mental anguish, and worse.

Researchers have found that being rejected by someone who chooses someone else over us hurts worse than someone who rejects us hands-down. We feel far more hurt when we are rejected in favor of someone else. We may go to a party with someone only to have them ignore us throughout the evening and leave the party with someone else. We may discover our friend who has recently dumped us has a new friend. They dumped us for the new friend. Such rejections damage our sense of belonging as well as leave us feeling unaccepted and unwanted.

When we are rejected, we often do not have any idea of why were rejected. When this happens, we experience the rejection far worser than we would if we knew the exact reason for our rejection. Researchers found that not knowing why we were rejected can be just as bad as knowing someone else was chosen over us. It may inspire the same feelings as knowing we were rejected for someone else. This can cause us to look for reasons why we were rejected, further making us to feel bad about ourselves.

11. We support the ministries in which each other is involved. We offer our help if they needed it. If they are raising funds for a ministry or community service project, we make generous contributions. If we are involved in a joint ministry project, we give them full recognition for their contribution to the project. We do not take all the credit for ourselves. If they made the larger contribution, we draw attention to that and downplay our own role.

This list of ways that we can emotionally support our brothers and sisters in Christ, how we can care for each other’s emotional and mental well-being is not exhaustive. You may think of other ways.

We Are All Baptists Now—So Let’s Not Fight Like It


American democracy and democratized Christianity face a similar crisis of disunity.

Several years ago, my eyes stopped on a two-panel cartoon that made me both laugh and grimace. The first had a typical Jordan River scene of a familiar bearded figure in camel’s hair dipping someone under the water, with the caption “John the Baptist.” The second depicted a similar scene, but the penitent was held under the water, thrashing about for life, while bubbles indicated drowning. That one was captioned “John the Southern Baptist.”

Once upon a time, the old cartoon could have prompted smugness in Christians of other denominations, but not anymore. In one respect, we are all Southern Baptists now.

Years ago, historian Martin Marty spoke of the “Baptistification” of American religion—by which he meant that the individualistic creedalism, the entrepreneurial drive, and the voluntary-society model of the church were so consistent with the American ethos that almost every Christian communion—regardless of polity or theology—was starting to reflect it. Read More

Image Credit: Illustration by Andrius Banelis

‘Evil,’ ‘Sad,’ ‘Unbelievable’—Survivors and Leaders React to SBC Executive Committee Decision


Sexual abuse survivors and church leaders inside and outside the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are reacting with grief and shock to a Tuesday (Sept. 21) decision from the SBC Executive Committee (EC). The EC decided—in direct opposition to the will of messengers—to delay waiving attorney-client privilege in the investigation into whether or not the EC mishandled allegations of sexual abuse.

“There were so many things bothersome about these last two days,” said survivor Tiffany Thigpen. “My emotions are switching between anger and sorrow. Waking during the night feeling like I wish I could wash it off, the icky feeling of watching some of these people at work. The lies that drip from tongues.”

Survivor Jennifer Lyell called the meeting a “train wreck” and wrote, “There is much cause for SBCrs to go to bed with aghast hearts tonight. You must. Because you just watched SBC leaders fight against truth. And it’s completely evil. But I also saw some eyes open. I also saw my angst manifest in some who literally couldn’t sit still with it.”

Pastor and EC member Dean Inserra, who spoke out about the importance of waiving attorney-client privilege, tweeted, “Been an emotional two days. I don’t even know how to explain how I feel and what I saw go down. It messed me up.” Read More

Related Articles:
SBC Executive Committee Agrees to Pay for Abuse Review, Stalls on Waiving Privilege
SBC Executive Committee Balks at Directive to Open Up to Abuse Investigation

Image Credit: RNS, Bob Smietana

Creeds and Confessions: What’s the Difference?


You may belong to a church that calls itself “confessional,” and you may even have heard of the phrase “confessional identity.” If so, you’re probably aware that at the time of the Reformation and afterward, numerous Christian denominations wrote (and still write) “confessions,” that is, statements of what that group of Christians believes.

These confessions vary a great deal in length. They might make a small handful of points, each expressed in a short paragraph (Anglicanism’s 39 Articles) or they might stretch out much longer and read more like theological treatises (such as the Second Helvetic Confession). Some of these confessions have been adapted into catechisms (such as the Larger and Shorter Catechisms based on the Westminster Confession of Faith), in which the points of the confessions are recast into question-and-answer format as an aid to teaching them particularly to children.

If you’re familiar with confessions, you may be wondering about creeds. There are two major creeds in Christian history, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, and if you attend a church that recites a creed in worship, you’ve probably heard your worship leader introduce the recitation with the question, “Christians, what do you believe?” If confessions and creeds are both statements of what we as Christians believe, what is the difference between them? Read More

How to Help Our Teens Deal with LGBTQ Issues


There is a lot of confusion in this culture today over gender and sexual identity issues. There is a lot of head scratching in the church, as well. But God’s Word brings clarity where the world and religion often brings a fog.

So how do we help our teenagers deal with LGBTQ issues (stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning”). How do we help them navigate their own identity issues, as well as those of their peers? How do we do it in a way that strikes that balance between conviction and compassion? And how do we equip our teenagers to share the Good News of Jesus with others in a Good News way?

Here are five truths to remember as you help your teenagers navigate through these hard questions.... Read More

The First 5 Minutes of Your Small Group Are Critical. Are You Doing This?


The first five minutes of your small group are the most important. It is a good idea to start with some kind of icebreaker—a get-to-know-you question. Ideally, this will tie in to the lesson itself. For example, if you are teaching the story of the Prodigal Son, you might ask everyone where they fit in the birth order of their family. The story specifically mentions an elder brother and a younger brother, so birth order is relevant. Once we spend a few minutes with an ice breaker, we dive into the lesson itself, starting with the introduction.

In this article, I want to talk about the introduction to the group Bible study & discussion time. What is a good introduction to do, and why is it important? Why do we need an introduction—or do we? If you use the suggestion in this article, you will never again struggle to keep people’s attention. Read More

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Model for “Church” is Changing. The Question is: How Are We Responding?


Thanks to the incredible team at Alpha Australia, over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the opportunity to teach about communication and media to nearly 200 pastors and church leaders in that country. During two sessions, one of the most interesting conversations we had is how pastors and leaders are exploring new models for church as we emerge from the pandemic.

In a similar way, marketing guru Seth Godin recently dealt with the changing markets as it relates to business.... Read More

Raising Your Church's Profile in Your Town

In my role as canon to the ordinary, it was my responsibility to visit all the churches in our diocese on a consistent basis. My standard practice for churches in rural areas and small towns was to drive to the town, visit a local coffee shop, order coffee, and ask the waitperson or cashier if they could give me directions to the local Episcopal Church. Seldom did anyone even know the name of the parish, much less how to get there.

I have been involved in the discernment of people exploring ordination to the priesthood for the past 20 years. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find people who either want — or are even willing — to consider serving a church in a small town away from the larger cities and suburbs.

That is a shame. Serving as priest in a small town can be greatly rewarding and, really, a lot of fun. Although I have served churches in cities and towns of just about every population size — rural areas (population 2,400 to 4,000), small town (7,000), largish town (31,000), suburb (40,000), and city (5.5 million) — I have found the smaller towns the easiest to get involved in, through community organizations, and thus the easiest places to raise our parish’s profile.

This essay will cover the things I have learned about ra ising a church’s profile in towns with populations of 2,500 to 40,000. Read More

I may have missed it but I did not see any mention of opening the church building to the use of community groups and organizations. Churches need to do as much as possible to make connections with their communities and to expand those connections. The church with which I am presently involved, a downtown Methodist church, has build several bridges to the community but it needs to build more bridges and further raise its profile in the community.

Church leaders must repeatedly ask themselves the question, “If we closed our doors tomorrow, who would miss us?” The previous church with which I was involved, a small Continuing Anglican church, if it closes its doors, the only people would miss it is the maternity clinic to which it made a small annual donation, the utilities company, and the man who mows its lawn. The church has negligible connections with the community in which it is located. One of the reasons is that most of its remaining members do not live or work in that community. The few who do are not actively involved in their community in any way. Community engagement is vital if a church is going to thrive in a particular community.

The members of this church’s sole interest is to gathering weekly, worship in the way to which they are accustomed, fellowship over coffee and baked goods, and then go home. Unfortunately this description fits not only many small Continuing Anglican churches but many small Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist churches too. It is a major reason that these churches are experiencing decline. They have become too ingrown. They are not outward looking at all.

What may help churches to become more outward looking and mission minded is to focus more on emulating the character of Jesus, living his teaching, and following his example.

One of the reasons that I left the small Continuing Anglican church was its supply priest regularly skipped the love commandments in his preaching and expressed views on social media, which were not consistant with Jesus’ teaching or example. This, along with the congregation’s apathy toward community engagement and their tepid support for my own ministry eventually led me to look for a new church with which I would be a better fit. I served the church as a service leader and lay preacher for roughly three years, one of which I had pastoral charge of the church. I was at the time pursuing holy orders in the denomination with which the church was affiliated.

For small churches, whatever their denominational affilation, community engagement is key

‘There Is No Credible Religious Argument’ Against COVID-19 Vaccines, Says Pastor Robert Jeffress


Back in May, when COVID-19 vaccines became widely available to the American public, Pastor Robert Jeffress hailed them as “the best way for churches to fully open.” Now Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, says there’s “no credible religious argument against” being vaccinated against the coronavirus.

In an emailed statement to the Associated Press last week, Jeffress, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, joined other religious leaders in downplaying any arguments for religious exemptions to COVID vaccine mandates. The First Baptist staff, says Jeffress, is “neither offering nor encouraging members to seek religious exemptions from the vaccine mandates.” Read More

Related Article:
Missionaries Want to Carry the Gospel to the Ends of the Earth. Not COVID-19.

4 Hidden Realities Behind a Lack of Vision in Your Church


Pastor, what’s your vision?”

Those four simple words carry a hidden complexity of meaning for many church leaders. Minuscule molehills of insecurity become mountains of defensiveness as we assume the motivation behind that question.

The reason those four little words can strike fear, however, most often comes back to one of four unspoken realities of leading with vision in the local church. Read More

Related Article:
Why Your Church Needs To Be Thinking 100 Years Down The Road

The Jesus Prayer


“I don’t know what to pray. I’m not sure, right now, I know how to pray. I’m not even sure I want to pray, but I know I need to. I’m just a mess.”

Ever felt that way? We all have. Whether we are facing the stark nature of our depravity, the aftermath of sinful choices, devastation caused by grief, the crushing weight of setback or the sense of just being overwhelmed,

… we can be so spiritually depleted, or spiritually numb, that the thought of prayer is simply too much. We don’t know what to say, how to feel, what can break through the complexity of our feelings. We know we need to pray but have little spiritual or emotional strength to even begin.

That’s when you should say the Jesus prayer, one of the most ancient of all prayers, and it is only one sentence:

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Read More

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

All Hallows Evening Prayer for Wednesday Evening (September 22, 2021) Is Now Online


All Hallows Evening Prayer is a service of worship in the evening for all pilgrims on the journey to the heavenly city.

We are in many ways living ads for our faith. But it would appear that we are turning people off to the gospel, not turning them on. This includes our own young people. Instead of transforming into winsome disciples of Jesus, the very image of our Lord, we are morphing into ugly Christians, bearing little or no resemblance to our Lord. Where are we going wrong?

The Scripture reading for this Wednesday evening is Mark 9: 14-29 Jesus Heals an Epileptic Boy.

The homily is titled “Are We Building Our Lives on Jesus’ Word?”

The link to this Wednesday evening’s service is—

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/2021/09/all-hallows-evening-prayer-for_21.html

Please feel free to share the link to the service with anyone whom you believe might benefit from the service.

If an ad plays when you open a link to a video in a new tab, click the refresh icon of your browser until the song appears. An ad may follow a song so as soon as the song is finished, close the tab.

Previous services are online at

https://allhallowsmurray.blogspot.com/  

May this service be a blessing to you.

It's Tuesday: 'No One Likes the Product' and More


Why aren't the younger generations attracted to Christianity? Ugly Christians. Why are young people leaving our churches? Ugly Christians!

Being so Right You’re Wrong: 3 Dangers of Valuing Politics More Than People

Churches need to be intentional with the tone they use to interact with people today.

Becoming the Best Neighbors
How do we go about obeying the second half of the great Commandment in this season of time. This article was written before the second COVID-19 wave and the resurgence of the virus across the United States should be considered in what it recommends.

Intimate Partner Violence
Violence against other members of a household--adults and children--has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. It requires our attention.

Why Misguided Love Isn’t Really Love
We live in a day and age when the word love means one thing in church and a different thing in the Bible.

“Love Me Anyway” Releases Today!
Jared C. Wilson's new book is out.

Critique Purity Culture, but Teach Sexual Ethics to Teens
Cameron Cole shares six lessons we can learn, in light of the purity movement, that will help us to wisely teach teens about sex in the generations to come.

4 Types of Itching Ears and What Pastors are Charged to Do
Itching ears are not new but they have multiplied in our digital age.

The Best Digital Mixer for Church Might Actually Be Analog
Digital mixers is not my area of expertises. But I do know that if you have a sound system, you need a good digital mixer.

Children’s Ministry Leadership Lessons: 5 Must-Know Insights
Greg Baird shares some hard-learned children's ministry leadership lessons.

The 59 One Anothers in the Bible
Do see any one another on this list you would like your congregation or small group do more? How about yourself?

Monday, September 20, 2021

Blessing and Cursing


I am doing research for an article on rejection, its effects, and its ethical considerations for Christians. To date my research shows that it has major ethical considerations for Christians seeking to live their lives in accordance with Jesus’s teaching and example and those seeking to create a welcoming, affirming environment in their church.

It also has major ethical considerations for Methodists seeking to follow John Wesley’s “simple rules”: First, do no harm, avoid evil of every kind, in particular the evil most often seen in the world; second, do good, be merciful after our own power, as we have opportunity, doing good of every sort, and as far as possible, to all people; third, attend upon all the ordinances of God, the means of grace which God has given us to enable us to grow in our love of God, our love of Jesus, his Son, and our love of others.

Rejection can be very damaging to the individual who was rejected. At the same time, it also can be damaging to the individual or individuals who rejected them. In my own life I have experienced the pain of rejection both as a child and an adult. When someone rejects us, they do not accept us for who we are. Instead, they push us away.

For a child rejection is a very painful experience. It damages their sense of self-worth, their sense of belonging. For an adult it can be very painful experience too. It can cause anxiety, depression, grief, and sadness.

In this reflection I am going to look at blessing and cursing. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus says—

“But I say to all of you who will listen to me: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who treat you badly.” (Luke 6: 27-28 Phillips)

In this passage Jesus instructs his disciples to bless those who curse them. When we bless someone, we wish them well. A blessing is an expression of goodwill toward them. We ask God to show his divine favor to them. We ask God to look favorably on them.

When we curse someone, however, we wish them ill. A curse is an expression of ill-will and malice toward them. We may use an angry exclamation or obscene epithet. We may invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm on them.

Essentially Jesus is saying in the face of ill-will and malice, we should respond with goodwill, “return good for evil.” We may be thinking, “Payback time!!” Our minds are buzzing with ways of getting even. Jesus says “No, forgive them and ask God to show them his divine favor, his grace.”

If that is how Jesus expects us to act if someone has genuinely wished us ill and even acted on their desire to do harm to us, how do we think Jesus expects us to act when we read into someone’s words and actions motives of an unsavory or unwholesome character out of irritation or annoyance with them. The words they said and the actions they took were not meant to be disrespectful of us nor did they represent unwanted or unwelcome intentions toward us. We had misinterpreted them.

I do not believe that Jesus expects us to stubbornly cling to our misunderstanding of their words and actions, to insist that we are in the right and they are in the wrong. If Jesus expects us to forgive and show goodwill toward those who genuinely wish us ill, toward those who curse us, he expects us even more to forgive and show goodwill toward those whose words and actions were innocent in their intent.

Jesus teaches us to bless, not to curse; to forgive, not to hang onto ill-feelings toward others. This is something that I keep reminding myself. I also keep reminding myself to keep on loving others, and not become discouraged in the face of adversity.

It's Monday: '12 Traits of Churches Doing Well During the Pandemic' and More


Thom Rainer identifes 12 traits of churches that are doing well in the pandemic.

7 Reasons We Must Not Neglect Our Churches Covid Non-Returnees -- and a Suggestion
Some people will return when they feel safe; others may not return. We, however, should not treat all those who have not yet retured as if they are never going to return.

Hard-Copy Bibles Aren’t Just Nostalgic
As a seminary professor, Wesley Hill requiring the physical book in class. He explains why church should do the same.

7 Ways to Help Church Members Grow in Bible Study Skills
"If you are always giving the main idea and the application points to your members without teaching them how to derive the same conclusion and information, you have not taught them how to live on the Word of God for themselves." Very true. Our goal as Bible study leaders is to help participants to learn how to feed themselves.

Transgender, Non-Binary, and Intersex
Confused? Darryl Dash helps us to "understand complicated issues around sexuality, and respond with biblical conviction and a willingness to walk with people."

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?


I watch Psych2Go videos, something which I have mentioned before. One thing I have noticed about the videos is that they are largely about getting from a relationship. If someone is not getting what they want from relationship, they are urged to move on. The videos offer little advice about giving to a relationship except in terms of not getting from a relationship. In this sense they reflect our culture’s emphasis upon self-centeredness.

Jesus, in his teaching and his life, on the other hand, emphasizes giving to a relationship. It is not what we get from a relationship that matters but what we give to the relationship. This may be hard for a generation who is accustomed to getting more than giving. I am not singling out any particular generation. From Boomers on, the focus has been on getting, not giving. The younger generations are only following in the footsteps of their grandparents and their parents.

In its emphasis on being self-centered, our culture encourages people to put themselves first, to only care about their own needs and wants, to not be able to see another’s perspective, and to be uncaring of others. It may go as far as encourage people to lie or manipulate to get their way or make things work out in a way that favors them.

I am not surprised when I encounter people on social media, who express no responsibility for the health, safety, and well-being  of others, seeing themselves only responsible for themselves. It is a very self-centered attitude, but it is congruous with the attitudes our culture fosters.

The influence of our culture pervades our life further than we can imagine. The latest Barna Report suggest that its influence deeply pervades the church and may account at least in part for why a large percentage of the self-identified Christians surveyed in its study did not hold a worldview that was consistent with Jesus’ teaching and life.

Previous studies such as the ones conducted jointly by LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries suggest that local churches are not doing a good job of forming their members as disciples of Jesus.

Following a pastor whose views on politics, the pandemic, and other key issues fit with our own may be a contributing factor. In a growing number of churches politics and conspiracy theories are displacing Jesus’ teaching and pastors and political figures, Jesus, all hidden beneath a veneer of religion. The question is whether they are the cause or consequence of the erosion of beliefs and values embodied in Jesus’ teaching and life. They may be a bit of each.

For these reasons, I believe that we need to make allowances for these self-identified Christians. They are at an early stage of what John Wesley described as a linear process in which we become more and more like Jesus. If they have become stuck, we have a responsibility to help them get moving again. To leave them where they are would not be an act of kindness.

As followers of Jesus, we are our brother’s keeper. We are our sister’s keeper too. We are to do them good and to not do them harm. We are not to allow others to do harm to them if we can prevent it. The same is true for them harming themselves. They may resent what them may see as interference in their lives, meddling in matters that are none of our business. However, the well-being of a brother or sister in Christ is our business. We are to be good to each other and to all people.

As the apostle Peter wrote (I am borrowing language from J. B. Phillip’s translation of Peter’s first letter), we are to live like brothers and sisters, being of one mind and showing each other true love and sympathy. We are to be generous and courteous at all times. We are not to pay back a bad turn with a bad turn nor are we to trade insult for insult. On the contrary we are to pay back with good. As Peter tell us, “This is your calling—to do good and one day to inherit all the goodness of God.” Peter is not only echoing what he heard Jesus teach but he is also drawing on his memories of how Jesus acted.

If we are schoolteacher, teacher’s aide, or children’s ministry worker and we saw a child about to hurt themselves with a sharp object, we would not leave them to injure themselves. If a child banged their head on a hard surface and began to bleed profusely from their nose, we would not turn our back on them. If we caught one child hurting another child, we would not say to ourselves, “It is up to them to protect themselves,” and walk away. We would intervene. It is no different in the case of a brother or sister in Christ.

In de-emphasizing the self, Jesus is countercultural. In stressing love of others, he is stressing giving to a relationship, not getting from it. Loving others is self-denying and self-sacrificing. For example, we give up our time to help a friend or to keep them company, time that we might otherwise use to pursue our own interests. We may get something from what we are doing but getting something from it is not our purpose in doing it. For example, we may feel good about what we have done. Others may give us positive strokes for doing it. Feeling good or getting positive strokes, however, was not our motivation for doing it. They are a bonus for doing it.

In stressing being kindhearted and solicitous toward others, Jesus is also countercultural. He is saying that others matter, not just ourselves. They are important to God as we are.

At this point I think that I need to offer a caution. The people whom we think are stuck may not be stuck but moving slowly in the right direction. We may ourselves be impatient. We may not notice their movement. I do not remember which grandparent said it, but one of my grandparents often said, “There is none so blind as those who will not see.” It is a proverb which, while it does not come from the Bible, has its roots in the Bible. We may not be 
choosing to see their movement.

We need to remember the words of the apostles Paul:

"Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail."

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Iron Sharpens Iron


In this week’s reflections I took a look at the more serious aspects of being a follower of Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus means that we are imitators of Jesus.

Someone wrote that we “mimic” Jesus, but I do not believe that mimic is the right word. We mimic someone in order to entertain others or to ridicule the person we are mimicking.

We, on the other hand, imitate Jesus because we want to be more like Jesus, and we also want to experience Jesus. We imitate his character. We put into practice what he taught and how he lived.

By how Jesus lived, I do not mean we wear a robe and sandals, hangout with twelve guys, and walk from town to town preaching and teaching. I mean how he interacted with people. These interactions are expressions of his character.

Following him, Jesus tells us, deserves our complete attention. We cannot go about it in a half-hearted manner like we might many of life’s other pursuits. It concerns what really matters. Like karate we have to work at it. (Yes, I am a martial arts fan.) But it does not mean that we must adopt a somber mien, wear dark clothing, take up the lifestyle of an ascetic, and eschew all earthly pleasures. We do, however, take following Jesus with the seriousness that it warrants.

I have been reading excerpts from the latest Barna report. The percentage of people who claim they are Christians but do not follow Jesus’ teaching and example is stunning. If anyone who reads my reflections thinks I am singling them out and picking on them, they need to think again.

As human beings we are creatures of habit. Regrettably the habits that we have picked up over the years may get in the way of our following Jesus. Those that do, we must unlearn and learn new habits, better habits, to replace them, habits which are in line with the character, the teaching, and the example of Jesus.

Since we are followers of Jesus, imitators of Jesus, we can no longer think and act the way we used to think and act, nor can we think and act the way our non-Christian friends do. Jesus and the apostles make this point over and over again.

It may take us time to change, and it may take effort on our part to change but change we must. We cannot let old habits of rebelling against authority figures, stubbornly defying people whom we perceive as seeking to control us, interfere with making these changes.

If we are to be a follower of Jesus, we must become a new person altogether. We may not become a new person over night but it is the direction our life must take. If we are hazy about what kind of new person we supposed to become, take time to study Jesus’ character, teaching, and example. He is the model of the new person we are to become. He is the model whom God has given us.

One thing I have discovered is that we need each other to become that new person. I do not know how it works but God puts us in each other’ s lives for that purpose. We are gifts to each other. We may say to ourselves after sizing someone up, “Why would God give me such an awful gift. They are such an annoying, tedious person—a real pain in the neck!!” As Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, one person sharpens another.” God knows what he is doing.

Study: Majority of Self-Identified Christians Don’t Believe the Holy Spirit is Real


The Story

According to a new study, more than half of self-identified Christians in America say the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being.

The Background

The latest report from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University shows that self-identified Christians in America tend to hold beliefs that are thoroughly unbiblical—even on basic issues of theology.

Determining how many Christians are in America depends on how we limit the term. For example, the vast majority of American adults (69 percent) still self-identify as “Christian.” If we consider only those who consider themselves to born-again Christians, the number drops to about 35 percent of the population. Self-identified evangelicals constitute 28 percent.

The study breaks it down even further by classifying “theological born-again Christians” as those who say that “when they die they will go to heaven, but only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.” The smallest group in the study are labeled as “Integrated Disciples” since they hold such beliefs as that the Bible is the accurate and reliable Word of God, that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful, and just Creator of the universe who still rules the universe today, and that every moral choice either honors or dishonors God. This group is a mere 6 percent of the population.

Of self-identified Christians, 58 percent contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity. Surprisingly, those who identify as born-again Christians are even more likely to hold that view (62 percent), and half of “theological born-again Christians” also deny the Spirit is a being. Even among those with the most biblical worldview—the “integrated disciples”—40 percent hold an unbiblical view of the Holy Spirit. Read More

Leading Virtual Small Group Sessions


Meeting online is a great option for a number of situations. During a time of a public-health hazard, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, online meetings are a welcome opportunity for people to converse while seeing each other’s faces. Online meetings can also expand the “neighborhood” of possible group members, because people can log in from just about anywhere in the world. This also give those who do not have access to transportation or who prefer not to travel at certain times of day the chance to participate.

The guidelines below will help you lead an effective and enriching group study using an online video conferencing platform such as Zoom, Webex, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or other virtual meeting platform of your choice. Read More

Prayers for Protection and Boldness in Afghanistan


I have tossed and turned, fitful at night, for my Christian brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. I have prayed in that dim stretch of confusion and fatigue and twilight—that place between night and day. I wake up to the moon, still telling the story of darkness that feels like it will last forever, and lifted my voice and my angst to God, tearfully trusting that what He says about the coming dawn is true.

I have heard trusted reports of the Taliban going through the phones of believers in Afghanistan and slaughtering anyone with a Bible app installed. I have heard trusted reports of Jesus followers literally running for the hills with their children, who hang from their hips and backs, as they make their way into caves. I have heard and I’ve heard and I’ve heard—and I raise my intercession over and over.

But you know what else I’ve heard?

Reports of boldness. Read More

7 Tips for Sharing Your Faith


Principles for Evangelism

The Gospel according to Luke describes what “Jesus began to do and teach” leading up to his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Acts, on the other hand, tells the continuing story of Jesus’s work through the Spirit-empowered church. As such, the book of Acts is the church’s “playbook” for how to spread the gospel.

Acts 8 is one of the key chapters in Luke’s narrative. It describes how the early disciples, forced out of Jerusalem by persecution, spread the gospel in the surrounding area (Acts 8:1–4) and how Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8) preached the gospel in the city of Samaria (Acts 8:5–8) and to a eunuch from Ethiopia (Acts 8:26–40).

A close reading of this chapter suggests seven important principles for sharing our faith with others. Read More

Telling Untruths and Half-Truths

 

I decided to save my reflection on lying to last. It was perhaps the most difficult to write. 

We are living in a world that is increasingly tolerant of lying. I am not talking about little white lies but great big whoppers.

Outdoing each other in telling whoppers may have at one time been a form of entertainment. There was competition in seeing if one could outdo the others in deceiving the credulous, those who show too great a readiness to believe things. Those involved, except for their hapless victims, recognized that they were exaggerating, stretching the truth, or outright lying.

Lying, however, has taken on new dimensions since the advent of the internet and social media. People believe lies and spread them because they want to believe them. They fit with their view of the world, other people, and themselves. They do not want to hear the truth. The truth may conflict with what they have decided to believe. They may be forced to change how they see things.

Why do people lie? People learn to lie in a variety of ways. When they are little, they may observe their parents, grandparents, and other older family members lying and conclude it a normal way to behave. They may learn to lie to avoid parental disapproval and to deflect parental criticism. They may receive conflicting messages from their parents or parent figures. They may be told not to lie and may be punished when caught in a lie but also observe their parents or parent figures doing what they were told not to do. They may learn to lie to avoid embarrassment or loss of self-esteem.

People may grow up with a parental prohibition about talking about “family business,” what goes on in their family, and may learn to lie to avoid disclosing things about their family. Some families have more rigid boundaries than others. In some families there may be a longstanding tradition of pulling the wool over their neighbors’ eyes, tricking or deceiving them and taking advantage of them. The family, if they operate a business, may have a reputation of fleecing their customers and engaging in dishonest practices.

My grandfather whose family was in the greengrocer trade told me stories of competitors who overcharged their customers and put poor quality fruits and vegetables in a customer’s shopping basket concealed beneath a layer of good quality ones. His family’s business was known for its fair prices, honesty, and courteousness. They did not cheat or otherwise ill-treat their customers. They benefited from a good reputation. Thinking about it, my grandfather through his stories may have influenced me more than I realized. I grew up valuing being fair, honest, and courteous.

People may learn to lie to manipulate other people and to get what they want. It becomes a way for them to control people in their environment. They may learn to lie to stir up trouble between other people, to pit them against each other, to prove to themselves that other people are stupid, and they—at least in their own mind—are superior to other people. They may discover that lying helps reduce anxiety.

Having picked up the habit of lying in certain situations, people will carry that habit into adulthood.

Our culture tolerates a degree of lying, that is, telling what are labeled “white lies.” White lies are sometimes described as “trivial or harmless lies,” but they are not entirely trivial or harmless as we shall see. White lies may act as a “social lubricant,” something that prevents or lessens friction or difficulty. 

We tell white lies to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. We tell white lies because we do not know how we should answer someone’s question or whether we should accept their invitation. We tell white lies to avoid what may prove an uncomfortable situation. If we come from an Asian background, we tell white lies to “save face,” to avoid having other people lose respect for ourselves or to avoid humiliating someone. We tell white lies to avoid giving too much information or showing how we really feel. We tell white lies to keep people at a distance and to avoid emotional involvement with them.

When we fall into the habit of frequently telling white lies, our lying can develop into an avoidance behavior pattern, a habitual pattern of behavior by which we avoid what we perceive to be difficult situations, situations which may elicit uncomfortable or upsetting thoughts and feelings in us, thoughts and feelings which we prefer to avoid rather than deal with them. For example, someone might ask us to have dinner them. We may excuse ourselves by saying that we are busy on that particular night. Eating dinner with them might make our relationship with them more complicated. It might lead to an emotional entanglement in which we are not interested or for which we are not prepared.

The more we tell white lies, the larger they are likely to become. They are no longer little white lies; they are large ones. We come to rely too heavily on lying to cope with situations where it would be healthier for us if we managed them in a different way. We also erode our inhibitions against lying. These inhibitions may provide us with guardrails which prevent us causing harm to ourselves and to others with our lying.

Lying entails a measure of self-deception. We deceive ourselves into believing what we are doing is harmless or the harm we might cause to ourselves and others is outweighed by the benefits to us. We discount the likelihood our lying will do harm, the extent of the harm, and the seriousness of the harm. We come up with all kinds of rationalizations for telling a particular lie.

We may become so accustomed to telling lies, we may tell them without thinking. It is our first impulse.

Lies can be harmful to us and others in a number of ways. We can lose the trust and respect of others. We may gossip about someone behind their back. Out of anger and resentment toward them, we may play fast and loose with the truth. We may be seeking sympathy or validation for ourselves, but in the process we may hurt their reputation. If and when the truth comes to light, our own reputation may suffer. Others may lose confidence in us. They may no longer believe that they can rely on what we say.

When we begin to lie, we may be forced to keep lying to prevent others from discovering the truth. With each lie we are building a house of cards which at any moment may come tumbling down, hurting us and hurting others.

Now it is very possible that we may ourselves believe what we have been telling others. We may have misinterpreted someone else’s words or actions. We may have allowed our feelings to color our judgment. We may have chosen at an unconscious level to misinterpret someone else’s words or actions to avoid feelings of guilt or shame associated with the part we may have played in a matter. Those from whom we have sought sympathy or validation may not know that. They may simply think that we have been lying to them. This may affect our relationship with them.

The Bible takes a dim view of lying and liars. The Bible recognizes the power of words that “are false, empty, deceptive, or even just spoken in ignorance” to do harm. The Bible contains several passages about making false accusations and not being truthful in giving testimony in court. The Ninth Commandment, a prohibition against telling lies, is one of the Ten Commandments.

In ancient times punishments for various offenses were quite harsh. A lie could cost a man or a woman an eye, a tooth, a hand, a limb, or their life. The forms of execution were painful and not quick. The condemned might be stoned or burned alive. If it was later discovered that someone had made a false accusation or lied in court, they would receive the same punishment as whoever was punished on their account received. Prophets whose prophecies did not come to pass were condemned as false prophets and put to death.

Jesus in the Gospel of John identifies with the truth. He describes the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth.” He warns the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were spreading lies about him that they are not doing God’s work. He reminds them that God does not sanction lying. He points to their attention that the devil is the father of lies. He is the one that takes pleasure in spreading untruths and half truths and causing harm with them. He is the one who is going to prompt us to tell lies, he or one of the fallen angels who serve him, and not the Holy Spirit.

The devil is no friend of humankind. He desires only to cause us harm, cause us to harm ourselves, and cause us to harm others. The devil is not the equal of God. While we may see his influence in the world, God’s grace is far greater.

As C. S. Lewis draws to his readers’ attention in The Screwtape Letters, we either deny the existence of the spiritual forces which oppose God, or we take a morbid interest in them. Either way they are delighted. They benefit from our denial and our morbid interest. Jesus did not deny their existence. He had an encounter with the devil in the wilderness. He broke the power of the devil on the cross.

As disciples of Jesus, we are held to a higher standard than the world’s. As we emulate Jesus’s teaching and example and grow in his likeness, as the image of God is restored in us, we leave world’s standard behind us and lean into what Jesus taught and exemplified. It means to be honest with ourselves and others. It means to be truthful and forthright.

When disciples of Jesus spread lies, believing that they are true, we are not exonerated from doing harm to others out of ignorance. We have a responsibility to ascertain the truth of what we hear or read. We cannot simply believe something because it is what we want to believe. Our belief will not make it true. We are accountable for the harm that we do when we spread untruths and half-truths.

Jesus taught us to love others. When we spread lies and do harm to others, we are not loving them as Jesus taught us. We are not treating them as we would wish to be treated. We are not being imitators of God as his dearly loved children, those whom God treasures. Imitators of God learn all they can about his character and imitate his character. They imitate his truthfulness and his trustworthiness as well as his love, his compassion, his mercy, his kindness, his patience, and his readiness to forgive.