The Way Home: Episode 71 featuring Daniel Patterson

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What does productivity have to do with the gospel? This is the question I pose to my friend and colleague Daniel Patterson. Daniel is the chief of staff at ERLC and an expert at productivity and leadership. He also has a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Daniel and I discuss his role as chief of staff, getting things done, and why we are both longsuffering Cubs fans.

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Show Notes

Learn more about the 2016 ERLC National Conference here.

Friday Flashback: My Prayer Before the Illinois State House

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Three years ago, I was graciously invited to deliver the opening prayer before the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield, IL. This was my prayer:

Prayer of Convocation

Illinois General Assembly

Monday, May 20th, 2013

2:00 PM

 Dear Heavenly Father. We offer our humble gratitude for the gift of freedom as Americans, forged over 200 years of messy democracy and protected by the blood of our fighting men and women. Let us be ever mindful of the many peoples around the world who are not as free, as prosperous, as blessed as we are.

 We are grateful to live in the beautiful and diverse state of Illinois. For the leaders who have risen from this hallowed chamber. For the movements birthed here on our rich soil.

We ask humbly for your blessing on our great land. We offer prayer for the leaders today who serve you, here, in this town. As you have commanded us, we pray for them. For their families while they are away. For their safety while they serve here. For their integrity and wisdom in shaping the laws that will shape our future.

We are thankful for each representative who has stepped out of his ordinary life to serve in leadership here. They have spent countless hours campaigning and now serving. They have given up precious time and resources. They have sacrificed their privacy, putting their lives and their families’ lives on public display. Care for each representative, each senator, each staffer and all of the family members in a special way.

I pray that your Spirit visits this place in a powerful way. I pray these men and women find the fortitude to lead well. Give each leader rest, refreshment, and a clear mind. We ask you to move our leaders to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before their God.

Help each lawmaker to consider your command to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, mindful of the dignity and worth of each human life, created in the image of God. Help them not to forget the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized, and the unborn. Help them create laws that support the institutions that make our communities flourish, that encourage and sustain healthy families, that give hope to those struggling to find their way.

We ask your forgiveness for yielding, too often, to the temptation to forget you in our national and political life. For the times we reject your gracious providence. For confusing courage with incivility. For confusing liberty with license. For substituting our own agendas for yours. For putting our own interests above those we serve. For the tendency to abdicate our responsibility to deal with the tough problems.

Lord, we ask for your grace this day as these men and women endeavor to govern the people of this great state. May they realize that their power is limited, granted to them by your gracious decree. Help them wield this power with caution and humility.

We long for the city to come whose builder and maker is God. We’re thankful for the gift of your Son, who has offered entrance into his kingdom by his sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection.

Grant each of these legislators fresh grace today.

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.

Photo credit: David Wilson

Everyone Is a Culture Warrior. Some Admit it.

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My friend and colleague, Samuel James, has a brilliant piece (you should read the whole thing) on why the culture wars are inescapable:

The idea that conservative Americans can escape the “wrong side of history” if only they will shut up and be kind is an idea based on a myth: The myth that progressivism has a fixed destination and, once arrived, will seek to go no further. Was it for bombastic rhetoric or theocratic zealotry that the Little Sisters of the Poor now await for the Supreme Court to decide whether they can be consistently Catholic? Was it for political activism that people like Barronnelle Stuzman faced crippling fines and public scorn? Of course not. These Americans were prosecuted for their beliefs, not their bullying.

Rather than thinking of culture war as a Byzantine byword, we should consider the realities behind it. As Richard Weaver wrote many years ago, ideas have consequences. There is an undeniable conflict in American culture between the doctrines of self-authentication and autonomy and those of transcendence and obligation. “Culture war” may be too small or too cute a phrase for this conflict, but it nevertheless gets to the heart of something very important. Conservatives who think they can opt out of the culture war may think they are skipping schism en route to charity, but they are really skipping charity as well.

To what James is saying, I would add this idea: if we are gospel people, we are always, at some level, at war with the culture, at least the part of the culture that is under the rule of the “prince and power of the air.” In some ways, our definition of culture is deficient, because, as Andy Crouch will point out in his must-read, Culture-Making, culture is more than just the “out there” people and ideas of the world. We are part of culture. We create culture. We live in culture(s) (church, family, home, neighborhoods, etc).

Still, Jesus preached a gospel of the kingdom that he promised would, at some points, offend the larger, fallen, unredeemed world. He also promised this gospel would cause his disciples to be disliked and often hated (John 15:18). This is part of what I was getting at in my piece, a while back, for The Gospel Coalition:

Even if we committed to, as some ministry practitioners suggest, “only preach the gospel,” we still could not avoid areas of conflict with the larger culture. That is, if we preach the whole gospel and not a kind of easy-believism, cost-free message.

Consider why the early church was persecuted by Rome. They weren’t subjected to persecution because they were intolerant or because the Romans were especially mean. The first Christians were persecuted because of the message they proclaimed: there is another King and another kingdom. Caesar may be in power, but he’s not worthy of worship or adoration or sacrifice. Christ triumphs over Caesar and every other worldly ruler. This view offended the citizens who participated in emperor cult worship. What’s more, the early Christians refused to make sacrifices to gods they didn’t believe in. This resistance led to marginalization, separation, and eventually martyrdom for many.

The gospel message itself—this message of love, redemption, grace, and mercy—was the main reason the church was disliked. Christians did find favor in some parts of the empire and modeled both courage and civility. But even Christianity at its best could not escape the scorn and punishment of the larger world. Then, as now, genuine faith in Christ was seen as strange and dangerous.

Christians today shouldn’t seek martyrdom, nor should we go out of our way to offend. There is much we can learn from Jesus about living in the tension of grace and truth. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we can avoid the cost of discipleship. The gospel itself is, at many points, at war with a fallen humanity.

What’s more, we tend to pick and choose which parts of “culture-warring” we like and dislike. Another quote from my piece:

Often when I hear people say we should take a break from the culture wars, I want to ask, “Which ones?” Every time Christians apply the gospel to their communities, they are, at some level, enaged in “culture warring.” They are bringing the kingdom of Christ to bear on the fallen world, corrupted by the enemy. It’s a battle of light against darkness.

The term “culture wars” typically evokes hotly contested issues like abortion, gay marriage, and religious liberty. But to engage less controversial issues like human poverty, animal cruelty, and immigration reform does not make one less of a culture warrior.

Imagine if every Christian took a year off from fighting human trafficking or racial injustice. Imagine if every Christian stopped advocating for urban renewal and prison reform. Imagine if Christians silenced their voices against persecution of religious minorities or the economic injustice of payday lending.

This is what a real culture war timeout looks like. But what kind of gospel would this be? That gospel stays within the four walls of the church, doesn’t motivate God’s people to love their neighbors, to care about human flourishing, to embody the ethics of the kingdom. That half-gospel is not the triumphant, world-altering good news Jesus delivered.

The result of such a timeout would be catastrophic. How many lives, created in the image of God, would suffer? What’s more, we’ve seen that no amount of good works guarantees peace with the “prince and power of the air.”

Of course, 1 Peter 3 helps us discern between opposition due to our own sinful engagement and opposition due to faithfulness to Scripture. We should constantly evaluate the way we speak, interact with arguments, and do activism. We should be known for our compassion and our love. But let’s not fall prey to the fiction that we can make the gospel palatable enough so as to be inoffensive. The gospel is always a stumbling block to those who don’t believe. It’s always strange to the ears of those who hear it the first time. It is this very distinctiveness that makes it compelling.

The Way Home: Episode 70 featuring Zack Eswine

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What unique temptations do pastors face? Zack Eswine, author of The Imperfect Pastor joins me to discuss celebrity evangelicals, fallen pastors, and faithful ministry.

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Show Notes

Learn more about the 2016 ERLC National Conference here.

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