Jul 7th 2014

Barnabas Piper on Life in the Fishbowl

There are a lot of pastor’s kids out there, but few who grew up like my friend Barnabas Piper, the son of popular pastor and author, John Piper. That’s why I’m excited about Barnabas’ new book, The Pastor’s KidWhat is refreshing about this book, unlike so many other books in this genre, is that its not another angst-ridden, ex-evangelical memoir that hates on the Church. Barnabas writes this book from an honest, but honoring position. He loves the Church and wants to help pastors kids work through their unique struggles. I have a feeling this book will help a lot of pastor’s kids.

I had the chance to interview Barnabas for Leadership Journal. Here is one of the questions I asked:

We’ve seen more than a few angst-ridden memoirs by pastor’s kids and others who have grown up in evangelicalism. You’ve chosen not to do this, but still present an honest, realistic portrait of growing up in a pastor’s home. Why?

Angst offers little that is constructive or productive, no matter how justified it is. In fact, it usually isn’t all that justified. Not when you take the profound power of God’s grace into account. I have plenty of things about the church at large and about being a PK that annoy and anger me, but holding on to that eats me up and only makes me resent the very entity God gave us to represent him. I love the church. I need the church. Sometimes I want to choke the church. But I believe the church is God’s institution, so my responsibility is to figure out how to serve and help it.

On the personal side, I love my parents. They were good parents with flaws. Sometimes they fell into the traps so many pastors and their spouses do, but they loved my siblings and me and provided a godly, stable, generally happy upbringing. I wrote The Pastor’s Kid with the phrase “honor your father and mother” echoing in my mind. No, I didn’t pander to them, but neither did I want to disrespect or hurt them. That would be sinful and stupid.

Jul 2nd 2014

Civil Rights and the Gospel

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. To commemorate this landmark event and to discuss the Church’s role in working toward racial reconciliation, I had the opportunity to engage in a discussion with my ERLC colleague, Trillia Newbell, author of the new book, United. 

We filmed this in the Civil Rights Room at the historic Nashville Library, built on the spot of one of the key demonstrations of the Civil Rights movement. I’m grateful to my incredibly gifted team, led by Thomas Willis, who produced this special video:


Jun 24th 2014

Potshots Are Not a Spiritual Gift

It’s a bit morose and probably an exercise in ego-massaging to consider what one would wanted inscribed on his tombstone (if indeed one has left his family enough money to buy a tombstone). But indulge me for a moment. This can be a good exercise for us in that it requires us to think through just what our lives are made of–what will the one or two sentences in the first lines of our obituaries say when we pass? I’m not sure what that would be for me, but I can tell you what I wouldn’t want it to be.

I don’t want to be known as the guy who takes potshots at other people.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but in our social media age, it’s not a given. In fact, I think if more people considered their reputations, the weight of their words, the impact they are having on the people who follow their activity, they’d reconsider what they type or tap into the blank spaces on Twitter.

Twitter makes taking potshots pretty easy. It’s not that it’s Twitter’s fault. It’s that this medium–instant, fast, and rewarding of sharp wit–dredges up from the heart the worst kinds of things. What’s more, the safe distance it gives you from keyboard to flesh-and-blood gives the illusion of courage behind a veil of insecurity.

I say all that to say this: a lifetime of worthy work can be erased in a short amount of time if you’re someone who uses Twitter to continually sound off, take potshots, and be the self-appointed watchdog for the masses you think have made you their leader. This is especially true and sadly prevalent in the evangelical world. You can easily take potshots–that have all of your tribe saying comatose amens–pretty easily. You can skewer the theological tribes with whom you disagree and make a living pointing out their blind spots, hash tagging their crimes, and gathering a willing lynch mob. You can create narratives, half-true, half-false, about movements you despise and be successful, even drawing in the news media and other organizations interested mainly in eyeballs on their web ads. You can be an online bully, going after people with relentlessness and fake courage because you don’t have to see them in person, shake their hand, and realize they are humans and not avatars. You can do all of this and do it well.

But again, is this what you want said about you at your funeral? Is this what you want inscribed on your tombstone? Is the thing, the one thing, you want your children to say is your most significant contribution during the years you were given, as a stewardship, by God?

This is the conversation we have to have with ourselves almost daily as we fight the carnal tendencies to react and overreact. I certainly haven’t always gotten it right. I’ve made mistakes, said things, tweeted things, blogged things that I regret. But lately it’s been this long view of life that has held me back. Because when I look at the list of spiritual gifts in the Bible, I see a lot of things, but I don’t see a ministry of potshots as one of them.

Jun 23rd 2014

Jim Daly on Fatherhood

One of my favorite Christian leaders is Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family. If you’ve not read Jim’s powerful story of brokeness and redemption, you should really read Finding Home. Jim is the most unlikely candidate to lead a pro-family organization like Focus because his upbringing was unstable, chaotic, and broken. And yet it is out of this experience and God’s amazing work in his life that has not only led him to this place as a well-respected Christian leader, but as a father to his own children.

I had the chance to interview him for Christianity Today about fatherhood and his new book, The Good Dad, Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be. One of the questions I asked him was this:

Many men will find solace in knowing that someone who grew up in your circumstances can become not only be an effective parent, but also the leader of a pro-family organization. Was that part of your motivation in writing the book?

Absolutely. I believe with all my heart that to be in Christ is to be a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). Among other things, this suggests that followers of Jesus are not defined by their past. They don’t have to be locked into or held down by the sins of their fathers. Christ has set them free from slavery to the “same old same old” of previous generations. I’m convinced that, in God, all things are possible. This has huge implications for marriage, parenting, and family life.

I find it encouraging that God can use us, where we are, to be good dads to our kids. You can read the rest of the interview with Jim Daly here.

Jun 21st 2014

What The Church Needs

This week I had the privilege of interviewing the new President of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, Ronnie Floyd, the Senior Pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas. I’ve had the chance to meet Dr. Floyd and am inspired by his heart for evangelism and his desire to the Church awakened with revival and prayer. One of the questions I asked him was: What is your vision for the next two years of Southern Baptist life. In the first part of his answer, he said this:

I will call upon us to cry out to God in extraordinary prayer for the next great spiritual awakening in America. No great movement of God ever occurs without being preceded by the extraordinary prayer of God’s people.

You can read the rest of his interview here.

Jun 13th 2014

What Dad taught Me: 5 Invaluable Principles I Use Every Day

My dad is a quiet man, more comfortable working with his hands than delivering a speech or writing an essay. But this doesn’t mean Dad wasn’t a teacher. Dad’s life spoke to me in ways that I still think of today. Most of these lessons were simply by following his example.

My father grew up in a broken home. He didn’t know his real father until he was fourteen years old. He dealt with the devastating effects of alcoholism and was forced to grow up fast. While still in high-school, he got up early to work at a bakery, using this income to support his mother (my grandmother) as she helped raise six children with my father’s step-dad.

While in his late teens, my father came to faith in Christ through the ministry of Billy Graham. He later met my mother, a Jewish girl who converted to Christianity, and they got married. I’m the oldest of three children.

Dad was a blue-collar guy, a licensed plumber, who has always been known for the quality of his work. It wasn’t the specific job he did but the way Dad carried himself that taught me the most about life, about manhood, and about living out the gospel. These five lessons are ones I’ve adopted as I seek to honor the Lord with my life:

1. A real man acknowledges his dependence on God. Even though my father is a rugged, hardworking, “man’s man”, he has always been unafraid to admit his weakness and need for Christ. I remember getting up every morning and seeing my father, up early, reading his Bible.

Now to be sure, I’m not a morning person, so my sons don’t find me up early reading the Bible. I do my Bible reading at other times, mostly at night. But I have tried to carry Dad’s dependence on the Word with me. Dad taught me the value of making Scripture the center of a family’s life. I think this is why all three of his children are actively following Christ to this day.

2. A real man takes his family to church every week. I guess I didn’t realize the importance of this until I became a father and had my own children. It was just assumed that every Sunday we went to church. There was never a question. No matter what was going on that week, no matter how tired Dad was, no matter who was playing whom that Sunday, we were in church. Dad had a pretty iron-clad policy: if you stayed home sick, then you were sick that whole day. You didn’t play hooky, pretend to be sick, and then play outside on Sunday.

For a young man, this is an important visual statement. Kids need to see their fathers faithfully leading them to church every week. This tells the family that worship of the risen Christ matters so much so that we voluntarily set aside a day each week in worship. What’s more, a real man invests and is involved in the work of a Bible-believing church. Dad gave himself, his time, his money, and his talents to the work of the Kingdom. I hope that one day my kids will say the same thing about me.

3. A real man works hard to provide for his family. Again, I didn’t realize how rare this is until I grew older and observed the sad lack of purpose and vision among contemporary men. Dad modeled what it looks like to get up every day, whether he liked it or not, and go to work for the family. Plumbing is a hard job. It’s physically demanding and requires focus and discipline. But Dad never wavered in his commitment to provide for us.

I remember asking Dad, “Dad, do you ever get tired of doing this every single day?” His reply, “Son, yes. I do. But then I remember that I don’t get tired of eating. I don’t get tired of having a house. I don’t get tired of seeing my kids’ needs taken care of. So I quickly get ‘untired’ of working.”

Great answer. Not every day at work, even in your chosen vocation where you are working in your giftedness, is a day at the beach. Many days are mundane. Some are frustrating. Some days you want to quit, even in the best of jobs. But a real man, a man of God, labors to provide for the ones God has called him to love and serve. By God’s grace, I’ve tried to carry on this work ethic, and it will benefit me my entire life.

4. A real man loves his wife unconditionally, in good times and bad. My parents have been married for thirty eight years. There have been many hardships along the way. My mother endured seven miscarriages. She’s been afflicted by illness. Dad has seen his own share of health challenges and, lately, unemployment struggles as the housing industry in the Chicago area has suffered. Dad has taught me, through it all, the value of simple, everyday faithfulness. Not all of life is easy. Many seasons are hard and difficult and make you want to get up and walk away. Dad’s faithfulness in good and bad seasons has shown me what a real man does: he endures.

I pray it’s said of me that I have the same character and faithfulness Dad exhibited. He isn’t perfect and neither am I. We are both in need of God’s amazing grace to cover our many sins. But if I could be half the man Dad has been in his life, that would be enough for me.

5. A real man is a living witness of the gospel in the daily grind of life. This is related to point #3. Dad not only worked hard, he took pride in his work. I remember asking Dad when I was working alongside him at 14 years old why he cared that the drain pipes we were installing inside the walls had to be so straight. “Nobody will see them,” I said. “But, Son, I will see them. God sees them. That matters.” Dad did his work with excellence, even staying an extra hour to get that one thing right that didn’t much matter to me. But it does matter, because the work we do with our hands reflects the Creator. He’s given us a job to do, and we should do it well–to His glory.

Dad’s work was his witness to an unsaved and watching world. The construction trades are not exactly a haven of clean-living. Dad never heard of the words missional and incarnational. He just got up every day and did the very best job he could. And this work was a witness. He was unafraid to vocally share his faith on the job, even though those opportunities were rare. I can tell you, however, that everyone who worked with my father knew he was a Christian, mostly because of the quality work he did.

Too many people in our day and age don’t know the treasure of a great father. I’m grateful, by God’s grace, that I do. In fact, my father is one of my heroes because he showed me what it looks like for a Christian man to live out his faith in the nitty-gritty, daily grind of life, among a lost and sinful people. And I’ll never, ever forget it.

Jun 5th 2014

Psalm 139 and The Miracle of Life

If you’ve followed my writing and speaking and blogging, you’ll know that one of my passions is the sanctity of life. When I pastored, I was proud to set aside a Sunday in January for the sanctity of life. We had the privilege of cooperating with a local Pregnancy Resource Center in our town. We raised money, volunteered, and championed the heroic work of the center. In my book, Activist FaithI detail the amazing, effective, gospel-motivated work of these types of centers all across America. In my view, this is the front lines of the prolife cause. This is where faithful followers of Jesus apply the gospel to young women in crisis.

In my new role with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, I am so excited to be a part of one of our long-standing initiatives: The Psalm 139 Project. This is a program that grants an ultrasound machine to a pregnancy resource center. Every year pro-life advocates donate money to Psalm 139, enough to place an ultrasound machine.

This year we are placing our ninth machine, to the CareNet clinics in northern Virginia. I’ve had the chance to meet with the executive director of CareNet, Karen Snuffer and was impressed by the professionalism, grace, and heart of her and her entire team. There is much need for this kind of ministry in the Washington DC area and it’s encouraging to see CareNet fill this need and to see the nearly 200 area evangelical churches who support and champion this work.

This Sunday I will be speaking at the First Baptist Church of Woodbridge as we make this presentation to CareNet. My prayer is that God will use this partnership to save many unborn lives and to bring many young girls from the edge of despair to hope in Christ.

May 31st 2014

What Do Do With the Nones?

What will ministry look like in an increasingly post-Christian age? James Emery White, a pastor and researcher, joins the fray with a fascinating new book, The Rise of the Nones. If you are not familiar, “Nones” describe the increasing number people refusing to affiliate themselves with any faith group. There is a lot of conjecture about how big this group is, what the date says, etc. James has a very thoughtful perspective. I had the chance to interview him this week for Parse, the Leadership Journal ministry blog. I asked him what Christian leaders should do with all of this data:

As pastors and church leaders survey the data on “nones,” how would you counsel them to approach their ministries in this new era?

Too many churches are taking an Acts 2 approach in an Acts 17 world.

Well, the entire second half of the book delves into this question, but here’s an overarching theme: I would suggest they move from an Acts 2 model to an Acts 17 model. By that I mean that in Acts 2, you had Peter addressing the God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem. On a spiritual scale from one to ten, they were probably on an eight. They believing in God, the Old Testament Scriptures, heaven and hell, and a promised Messiah. That’s a lot to begin with! And Peter fashioned his approach accordingly. Fast forward to Paul in Acts 17. On our imaginary scale, they were probably about a two. Paul didn’t approach them as God-fearing Jews, but as the (at best) agnostics that they were. He had to start with creation and work his way forward. He understood that evangelism, for that group, would involve both process and event. Too many churches are taking an Acts 2 approach in an Acts 17 world.

You can read the rest of the interview here: