Archive for the ‘5 Things’ Category


Three Things to Consider Before You Hit “Send”


Today communication has never been easier. Most of the time this is good, allowing us to communicate good news quicker, to socialize with family and friends, and, in emergencies, get in touch with people faster. It also allows us to publish our thoughts at lightening speed. Most of the time, this is good. But not always. The ease of pressing “send” has not always brought out the best in people–even God’s people.

I’ve often said that James 1:19 has never been more relevant and never more ignored: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Slow to speak sounds like an old-fashioned relic from another era. How quaint, we moderns say, to actually be “slow to speak.” Why, that blog post, that tweet, that Facebook rant must be posted. And it must be posted now or I’ll lose clicks.

Following Christ means following him even in the way we engage online. I’ll admit that if this verse from James hits anyone, it hits me first. As disciples of Jesus, we can and should do better. So here are three things we might try to consider before we hit “send” on that tweet, status update or blog:

1. Did I get my facts right? 

If I’m writing about a news story or reacting to growing controversy, did I get all the facts or is my response a knee-jerk reaction? What’s more, am I believing the worst about someone with whom I disagree? Am I leveraging incomplete and sensational bad news to advance my argument? Or have I slowed down enough to read the best of the other side, process their arguments and respond with charitable disagreement? Of all things, we should be about the truth; not just the objective, orthodox body of Christian truth passed down from generation to generation. We should also be about the truth in every situation, even the truth about those with whom we most vociferously disagree.

One of the things you learn in seminary, at least from the best scholars, is to present the other side’s argument so well, so accurately, that he could recognize it. We ought to do that with our online discussions. But this takes a bit of work, it might mean not writing that blog post and not reacting so quickly to breaking news. Thankfully, Christians have the freedom to not be controlled by their passions, but by the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:22-23).

A neglected part of the truth is resisting caricatures and stereotypes. It is so easy to simply tag an entire group or tribe, with whom we disagree, as the problem or the enemy. In reality, there are diverse views in every denomination, association and network. I always cringe when I see lazy generalizations of networks to which I belong, because I know how wrong they often are. I’m guessing that same reaction happens when I carelessly do this to others.

2. Did I obey this oft-neglected verse? 

Galatians 6:10 says Christians should “do good, especially to those of the household of faith.” This means we should give other believers the benefit of the doubt. It’s so much easier to do the opposite. Today there is so much self-loathing among Christians online, a rush for us to beat up the Church or, rather, “those Christians.” There isn’t a sense of loyalty anymore to at least give our brothers and sisters in the Lord the benefit of the doubt, to say, “That brother or sister was purchased by the same blood of Jesus that secured my redemption. I at least owe them respect, dignity and the benefit of the doubt.”

Jesus said we were to be known by our love for each other (John 13:35). We have a strange way of showing love. Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean there is no room for substantive, even sharp disagreement. Jesus isn’t speaking to his disciples about a kind of fuzzy, touchy-feely love that’s all unicorns and no weight. Paul, at times, showed love by sharply rebuking those in error (1 Cor. 4:21).

And yet, when writing to Christians about the Church, we should do as Paul did: always with a heart of love. And I’m not just talking about loving the people with whom we agree, who are in our tribe, but we should love Christ’s church. Some of the rants, blogs and tweets I read from Christians reflect such a near-hatred for the body, the bride, for whom Christ shed his blood. We forget that Jesus loves the Church (Eph. 5:25). Even though the Church disappoints, sins and fails, Jesus still loves the Church. When writing, posting and speaking, everything we say about Christians, to Christians, should at least reflect this reality. Sometimes we must defend the truth against error, sometimes we must stand against brothers and sisters for the sake of the gospel, sometimes we have to do and say things that are unpopular. Even so, in all of that, we should do it with tears, with reluctance and with a kind of heartbroken love for the Church.

3. Did we envision the real person we are criticizing? 

There are a lot of things we say behind a keyboard that we’d never say to someone in person. That’s because there is something about speaking to a flesh and blood person, measuring the reaction in their eyes and face, and weighing its effect on the heart. But keyboards and touch-screens reduce our communication by a dimension. You can’t convey tone in a blog post, tweet or a Facebook rant. This is why, even in an age of email, text and phone, some things are best said in person.

So when we go off on a rant against a particular group of people with whom we disagree, we should first envision an actual person. Perhaps it’s a friend, a relative or a coworker. If they read what we just wrote, how would it make them feel? Would they at least know, despite our disagreements, that we love and care for them? Would they think we were fair to them? Would they feel we took gratuitous shots?

Digital communication is a helpful tool, in many ways. But it can also remove the personal touch, the layer of one-to-one relationships of community. We’d do well to remember, as Tim Challies says, that “pixels are people.” That person with whom we disagree is not an avatar,  an entity or a static head-shot. He or she is a person created in the image of God and deserves respect.


What Are Your Goals for 2014? Here are mine

Yesterday I poo-poohed New Year’s posts on Twitter:

And yet here I am, today, sharing a New Year’s post. I thought I would share my goals for 2014. By making them public, it gives me some accountability and perhaps it will help inspire others to set some good, God-centered goals. New Year’s is a great time to reevaluate, to set aside the past, look to the future, and pray with Moses, “Lord, teach us to number our days so we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12). So, without further ado, my five goals for 2014:

1) Get in better physical shape. Frankly, I’m probably in the worst shape of my life. I intend to get back in shape by losing weight and exercising. Weight Watchers has always worked for me, so I’ve signed up and will start attending weekly meetings and following the plan. Yes, I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me and it’s balanced and nutritional and reasonable, given my travel schedule and other factors. (and please, though I know you mean well, don’t send me your diet books, new formulas, or special powders. I’m sure they work wonders for you, but I’m not interested).

2) Continue pursuing my Master’s degree. Since I recently moved to Nashville, I recently transferred from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. SBTS has an extension center in Nashville and also offers convenient online and hybrid courses. I’ve already started one for this winter term. Studying takes extra work and takes away some other pleasures, but in the long run, it will be worth it both to honor the Lord with my mind and equip me for my current and future callings.

3) Spend quality time with my wife and kids when I’m home. This is something I honestly struggle with. It’s hard for me to be home when I’m home, if you know what I mean. It’s difficult to put down my phone and be present. It’s not that I think my work is more important than my family, it’s just that I really love my job and have struggled to shut it off when I walk in the door. I’ve done pretty well, I think, as a husband and father, but this is one area where I really need the Lord’s help. I know I have much room for improvement here.

4) Lead my team with intentionality, purpose and quality. This year I really want to equip and encourage the coworkers who work on my team at ERLC. I’m praying for the Lord to mold me into a leader worth following and a servant of those I’m called to follow. I have high hopes that this will be a great year for us as God uses us to represent Southern Baptists in the public square and to help equip Christians to think through important issues of ethics and culture.

5) Become a more intentional giver. I’m not sure what this will look like, but Angela and I both feel compelled to invest more in Christ’s Kingdom, where “moth nor rust does corrupt nor thieves break thru and steal”  (Matthew 6:19-20).



5 Tips to Establish Yourself as a Writer

I have people ask me all the time how to get started writing. I suspect there are many who enjoy putting words together and just don’t know how to get going. Maybe they are intimidated by the idea of writing a book or a long-form piece to a journal or magazine. Or even the idea of “blogging” and social media scare them. Here is the best advice I can give them. I hope this helps you if you are reading it:

1) Get started somewhere, even if it’s small. My advice now is to just get started. Create a blog and start putting your best stuff online. Michael Hyatt’s book, Platform is a great way to get started, though I advise you not to be intimidated and think you HAVE TO DO ALL OF THIS RIGHT NOW. Start with a free service like Tumblr, Blogger, or any of the others. Select a nice template, come up with a creative name and maybe tagline and then GET STARTED. Besides blogging, you might try to query some magazines or periodicals. The best way to do this is to purchase Sally Stuart’s Christian Market GuideFind publications that might be a good fit for your writing style. Start, maybe, with devotional publications, curriculum publishers, etc. You might also consider guest-posting on popular blogs that offer content in your niche. Blogs are consistently in need of new content, so you might contact the proprietors and see if they are interested in your ideas. But do take risks and get started.

2) Publish that first piece. I talk to a lot of would-be writers and I hear the same thing, “I have this thing I wrote, but I’m not sure . . .” My advice is to get that piece of writing as good as you can get it and then publish it on your blog. Then get started writing another piece and publish it on your blog. The only way to get better at writing is to . . . write. You need to write hundreds, then thousands of pieces before you get good. Then you’ll discover that you’re only marginally good and need to write another hundred, if not another thousand to get better. But, for Heaven’s sake, stop perfecting that first piece like it’s the Mona Lisa. It’s probably not. Publish.

3) Have confidence that in time, good writing gets noticed. It’s my own personal law of creativity that the best stuff gets noticed. So before you try to sell yourself ahead of time, write in the trenches, write in obscurity for a good long time and actually get good at writing. Trust the process and know that if you consistently put your best content online, if you grow, if you’re open to critique and change, then you’ll get discovered. You will. Case in point: I’ve been writing for about 15 years. But I’ve only been seriously blogging for about 5 or so. I still don’t have one of the most highly trafficked blogs in the blogosphere, but after I committed to working hard and putting good stuff online, I got noticed. People starting reading my stuff, linking to it, passing it along. I think this goes back to a good theology of work. We work, we develop our gifts, not so we can get a fat contract or be rich and famous, but to the glory of God. The work itself matters, not who sees it and what happens. God sees it. So do your best work, even if only one human reads it. And, typically, you will get noticed and good things can happen.

4) Don’t be the one who pesters everyone to tweet, link to, or give you attention. Maybe this is a pet peeve of mine, but don’t be the guy who on Twitter tags someone famous and says, “You might like this . . . .” or “I wrote this, can you tweet it out.” Look, if your writing is good, people will notice. That’s not to say there is something wrong with promotion or marketing. Not at all. If you believe in your message, you want it to get out there. Still, there is a crass way to do this that skips all the steps it takes to be good enough to be well read. Don’t take that shortcut. Write well and you won’t have to convince anyone to read your stuff.

5) Don’t build your platform on outrage. There is a increasingly rich market for “evangelicals who are not like other evangelicals.” Controversy sells and generates clicks. And for a short season, this formula works. But over the long haul, if this is your game, you’ll end up running out of steam and having to generate outrage to keep your rapid fan base happy. But is this the way of Christ? Is the way to glorify God with your gifts? And do you want to be that guy know solely by what you are against? Now, an important caveat to those, right now, queuing up blog posts to say that I’m part of a secret cabal stifling dissent: there is a place for thoughtful, robust, substantive, even satirical critique. But always check your motives and make it your mission to be creative, tell your story, take risks, and use your gifts to glorify God.


5 Things to Consider Before Rebuking a Christian Celebrity

The new online world has flattened leadership. Most of the time this is good, increasing accountability and allowing undiscovered talent to rise. But there is a downside. Criticism now comes easier, with the click of a “send” button on a variety of media tools, you can “call out” Christians with whom you disagree. I would argue that a few rules should guide our online rebukes. Here are five questions I try to ask myself before writing critically about someone:

1) Do you have all the facts? 

Proverbs 18:3 seems wise counsel in this social media age: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” We mock news organizations when, in their rush to break news, get the details wrong. But when Christians do this, pushing out accusations against people they either a) don’t know or b) don’t know except from afar, they look foolish, not only to those who do know all the facts, but also in the sight of God.

We should be wary, really wary, about writing about, acting on, publishing information based on hearsay, half-truths, etc. We shouldn’t simply read headlines and react to them. We should read the full story and know the whole truth before opining. Once the facts are out, there is a place for winsome, thoughtful critique. But we have to guard against a carnal desire to believe the worst about people with whom we disagree, which violates the law of love (1 Corinthians 13:7).

2) Am I the best person to write about it? 

Just because I’m a blogger and I have a Twitter account doesn’t mean I’m the best person to opine on someone else’s poor choices. There is a carnal pride in being “the one who took down so and so”, but this is not the spirit of Christ. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have thoughtful, sober, robust engagement with ideas we consider unbiblical. What we believe matters. If God has given a gift of writing, speaking, and teaching, we should employ those wisely for the good of His Church. But each of us must know his place.

There have been controversies about which I’ve had opinions, but I’ve not felt I was the best or most qualified person to write on them. There are others with more respected voices, whose platforms cry out for a response. Sometimes its better to admit, “I’m not the best one to write on this.” Sometimes its wiser to simply retweet or link to someone who might be more thoughtful and biblical, whose experience and proximity to the situation is deeper than my own.

3) What are my motives here? 

Let’s be honest here: controversy sells and many are willing to sacrifice unity for a few more clicks. Some topics are like catnip for bloggers. But we have to ask ourselves: what is the motive here? Am I building a platform on the mistakes and foibles of others? Am I a Christian tabloid, trafficking in all the stories that will make people click? Is my ministry, over the long haul, building up the body of Christ or tearing it down? Note: this doesn’t mean everything we write has to be toothless mush. There is a needed place for robust, deep, theological reflection. There is a place for warning the body of Christ about aberrant theologies that can shipwreck souls. But before we write, we should ask ourselves, “Am I doing this out of genuine concern for my fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord or am I doing this to increase my platform, to create controversy to help sell books, build traffic, etc?”

I haven’t always done this well, but God is teaching me to steward my words with caution. I can think of two instances in the last six months where I was deeply convicted by the Spirit of God to not publish something out of impure motives.

4) What’s my tone? 

There is such a gotcha mentality among some precincts of the Christian blogosphere. There are some who thrive on the misfortunes of others, ready to pounce on the smallest infraction. Ready to expose the falleness of the leaders they despise. Some leaders have made mistakes that they should answer for. Some eschew accountability and have created protective bubbles that keep them from genuine shepherding. But there is also a tone of nastiness among those who would gleefully expose them, an elevated sense of self among some Christian bloggers and journalists that looks for the smallest character flaws through which they can ram their Titanic agendas.

There is a place for winsome, public rebuke. But it should be done with tears, not glee. 1 Corinthians 13:6 says that love doesn’t “rejoice in iniquity.” We could all adopt a better tone. We could do without the sort of snarky, arrogant put-downs found too often online among God’s people. We should remember that at the very least, the person with whom we disagree was made in the image of God and very likely is a brother or sister in the Lord knit to our souls by the blood-bought sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary. We need to realize that there is a way to be right about an issue and yet sin in the way we deliver the truth. Humility is the oil of human relationships.

5) If this was read publicly in 25 years, would it make me blush with embarrassment? 

This last one is a hard one, because those of us who have spent our adult lives putting words together have work we hope nobody ever sees. We even have published pieces that, in hindsight, we wonder what in the world we were thinking. But, as we are composing that blog post or that article, especially ones we know will be controversial, we should ask ourselves: “Am I giving this my best effort?” “Will I read this in a few years and be embarrassed about it?”

I’m not simply talking about the quality of writing, but of the people about whom I wrote. Will what I write damage relationships? Is what I wrote fair? Is what I wrote kind and loving? Is what I wrote even true?

Bottom Line: The bottom line for all of us is that we should heed the words of James 1:19: “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”



5 Important Attitudes About Work

Today is Labor Day and good opportunity to think about our views of work. I wrote this article for Homelife Magazine on five important attitudes about work. Here is an excerpt:

American Christians have a rather uneasy relationship with work. On Sunday, the lay person hears an impassioned message about sacrifice, self-denial, and the mission of God. He might be treated to a stirring testimony of a wealthy CEO who gave up a promising career to enter “full-time” ministry.

Then, Monday morning happens. He takes his place on the factory line, at a desk, in a garage, or behind the wheel. The guilt and shame surge up inside of him, for he thinks that if he were truly committed to Jesus, if he were part of the A-team of Christians in the world, he wouldn’t get a check from a “secular” corporation or small business, but from a Christian company such as a church or a parachurch organization.

I’ve lived on both sides of this secular-sacred divide. My dad is a plumber. He’s a committed husband and father who’s given himself in service to his church. But still he’s … just a plumber. He’s not a pastor or missionary or worship leader. At times, I’ve felt that Dad was made to feel as if he were on God’s junior varsity. As if his entrance into glory won’t be met with the same applause as those who delivered the sermons on Sunday.

I’m also a pastor and have had to guard against unwittingly shaming the hardworking lay people I serve, simply because I’m privileged to work, full-time, in the business of church. Some pastors might consider themselves more dedicated and more like Jesus than those who sling it in the real world, getting their hands dirty in jobs that seem less than sacred. Although the pastoral and missionary callings are sober, serious endeavors, they don’t ascribe any more glory to the sinners who occupy them. Moreover, if faithfulness is God’s measure of success, everywhere you serve is God’s theater.

This divide between secular and sacred is an unhealthy one. I believe it stems from an incomplete theology of vocation. So I offer five important attitudes when it comes to the arena in which we spend the majority of our lives: the workplace.

Read the rest of the article here:


5 Things I Learned in Canada Last Week

So last week my wife and I came back from a week of preaching and teaching and fellowship on Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada. I was honored to be one of the speakers at The Gospel Coalition, Atlantic Canada. We had an absolutely lovely time up there and I wanted to share with you about some of our experiences:

1) It’s an honor to be invited to share God’s Word with any audience. I hope this feeling never wears off, but every time I’m asked to preach somewhere, I feel a tremendous privilege. To hold in our hands the very precious words of the living God and to be used by the Spirit of God to teach His people is a gift of grace. For someone to trust me to handle the Word before their people is a job I try not to take lightly. All pastors and Christian speakers should realize that nobody owes them a platform or a pulpit or a speaking engagement. These are opportunities God graces us with as a generous Heavenly Father.

2) God’s creation never ceases to amaze. PEI is a beautiful slice of earth, with it’s beautiful stretches of farmland and rolling hills and forests. I was most captivated by the red sands and cliffs on the Atlantic shore. It’s no wonder that Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables and many other books, considered this, her homeland, a window into Heaven. Angela and I had a conversation with a PhD student from Chicago who was studying in PEI and he admitted to us that the stunning beauty makes him doubt that all of this could have simply happened. We, of course, told him of our faith in the Designer, the Triune God who spoke this beauty into existence. So, in the 21st Century, the Heavens are still declaring the glory of God, are they not?

3) The gospel has the power to unite people into a special family. It’s pretty remarkable, but after five days together with our hosts at the conference, the wonderful Grace Baptist Church of Charlottetown. Angela and I said often last week about how much we loved these good people and how much it seemed as if we’d known each other for a long time. We came to serve through preaching and teaching and conversations, but we came away far more refreshed than what we gave out. The music, the preaching from the other men, the conversations, the fellowship, the food, the hospitality–all revived and refreshed our souls. What a gift it is to be among God’s people united by grace.

4) Hospitality is a gospel-empowered gift to others. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a more generous, hospitable group of folks like the people at Grace Baptist. Steven Bray, Dan Thomson, Jeff Eastwood, Jim Newsome, and Jason Biech are a passionate team of elders leading this church to love the gospel more. And this love for the gospel was poured out in the way they cared for everyone who attended the conference. Jim and his wife, Betty housed us in their beautiful Bed and Breakfast. They drove us, fed us, and took care of every need with a spirit of grace and love.

5) Modesty is an underrated gift for a pastor. I saved this one for last, because it’s the best. By modestly I mean humility and grace. I had the chance to get to know two pastors, Mike Bulmore and Paul Martin. I had known of these men, but had never spent significant time with them. Mike is the Senior Pastor of Crossway Community Church in Bristol, Wisconsin, just a few minutes across the “Cheddar Curtain” from where we live in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Angela and I really got to know Mike on this trip. We flew out to PEI together (three flights, including a harrowing near-miss of a flight from Toronto to Charlottetown), we rode from our guest house to the conference together, we sat on panels together, we ate together. You really get to know a man when you spend that much time with him. Mike was as gracious and fun and willing to engage important discussions as any pastor I’ve met. He was genuinely interested in our lives and shared about some of his own experiences in ministry and family.

Paul Martin was much the same way. Paul is the Senior Pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto. I had known Paul only for being “Tim Challies’ pastor.” But spending this much time with him, driving, speaking, eating, etc, I came away with a wonderful respect and genuine friendship. We laughed together, shared stories, and just enjoyed the camaraderie. Paul also shared one of the most moving messages on the dignity of human life that I have ever heard, drawing from his own experience as the father of a disabled son.

From both Paul and Mike I saw a wonderful example of faithful, biblical pastoral ministry. Both are modest, mature, kind, and wise. Neither exhibit an ego nor took themselves too seriously, though they take the ministry seriously. It’s no wonder that among pastoral qualities listed in many New Testament passages is the idea of sobriety, maturity, a sort of balance and grace. From Paul and Mike I saw that demonstrated in action. With such an emphasis on platform, celebrity, and visibility in the evangelical world, these two pastors were examples of modest, faithful, humble ministry.

Bottom Line: We had a great time of ministry and built lifelong friendships. To God be the glory.


Healing Generational Divides

There is so much conversation lately about Millennials and the Church. Seems every blogger has addressed this subject from one angle or another. After reading the blogs and counter-blogs, it seems to me that the crux of the matter involves two things: a) a vast exaggeration of what generations think of each other, as if everyone born in a certain time period automatically approaches their faith the same way and b) the inability or unwillingness of various people groups, generations, to listen to each other well.

The former has been addressed at length already. But I’m not sure the latter problem–listening–is discussed enough. As a thirty-something, I’m right at the edge of Generation X and looking behind me at Millennials. I consider myself a Millennial in many respects, though I disagree with some of the characterization of this generation and even the overuse of the term.

What worries me the most about this conversation, as a pastor, is the sense of tribalism, this idea of “my generation is going to stick together and fight for our rights in church life” that goes against the ethos of body life in Christ. The Church should be multi-generational. Young listening to old, old listening to young, all followers of Christ working out their salvation in fear and trembling. So, at the risk of adding another tired voice to the pile of opinions on this subject, I offer five ways that generations (Millenials, Gen-X’ers, Boomers, Busters, and any other group not given a clever name) can listen and grow in Christ together:

1) Younger Leaders Should Find Several Older Leaders as Mentors

For youngish leaders like me, we should recognize our wisdom deficit. We have much to learn from wise, older leaders who have gone before us. I’m grateful to have in my life several older pastors who pour into me wisdom and knowledge and, at times, rebuke. I love to drink from the rich fountain of their experiences. Not only do I come away with workable ideas for my ow leadership, I recognize the value of the way a previous generation dealt with issues. I learn the stories.

The best way to set up a relationship like this is to simply ask. You’d be surprised how many seasoned pastors or lay leaders would love to sit down for coffee and chat. You don’t need a curriculum or a structure, just a couple hours of uninterrupted time together. The way I do it is simple. If there is someone I’d love to learn from, I call or email and say something like, “Hey, I’d love to go out for coffee or lunch or something and pick your brain on some things.” Easy. You don’t even have to say the word, “mentor.” I have found that the most valuable wisdom I’ve gleaned is through casual conversations, by me asking probing questions about a person’s life and ministry. What’s surprising is that you will find older and younger generations have a lot more in common than you think.

2) Younger leaders would benefit from some humility. This will go down hard for some millennials, but it needs to be said. We need to dial down the hubris a bit. Part of the reason older generations don’t listen is because we’ve come out swinging, making demands and acting as if we’re the first generation to finally “nail it” when it comes to Christian ministry. I’m saying that mostly as a criticism of my own self.

The truth is this: like our parents, we are sinners. And in twenty years, some other rising generation will come and offer as substantive of a critique of our methods as we do of our parents. What’s more, making demands puts people on the defensive, it shuts down conversation, it is antithetical to the kind of rich body life Christ envisions for His church.

I realize that this can be reversed, that at times older generations have led with a sort of top-down structure. Still, let’s not emulate what we don’t like by making the same demands of those who may not agree with us. As God puts us in greater positions of power and influence, let’s wear it well. Let’s be “clothed with humility” (Colossians 3:12). Let’s offer respect and dignity to the leaders who have gone before. Let’s offer the same forbearance of their (seemingly) out of date methods as we desire for our own blind spots. Sometimes I think the Church chases relevance and youth so quickly, we make older generations feel useless, as if all their hard work and effort are in vain. Instead, let’s respect the previous generation even as we seek to improve or update the ministry model.

3) Older Generations Should Realize How Much They Have to Give

Most long-time, experienced Christian leaders I’ve met are extremely gracious, open, and willing to mentor the next generation. But there are some who have not aged well and whose attitude toward the younger set is one of disdain. Part of this might simply be fueled by the feeling of being put out to pasture or it may just be the hard reality of being passed by as the “next big thing.” I don’t know, but if I could say something to every single gray-headed Christian leader, it would be this: we need you. Your wisdom, your insight, your faithfulness poured into us so that we might carry the baton of leadership in our generation.

Thankfully I’ve been exposed to some of the most gracious, humble, godly leaders who are eager to both listen to and advise the next generation. I’m friends with some pretty well-known pastors in my area who surprise me when they ask me advice on certain things. It reflects a certain humility and willingness to change and grow.

It seems there are two ways to age as a Christian leader. You can age well, as most of the leaders I’ve seen do. Or you can age poorly, getting more prickly, less teachable, more dismissive along the way. I had a conversation earlier this year with a long-time ministry leader who shocked my by his arrogance. He dismissed, with a smirk, nearly everything I was doing at my church, in my writing ministry, and in my educational endeavors. I left feeling like a total failure. Needless to say, I’m not going to be seeking him out for advice anytime soon. Thankfully, leaders like this are rare. But if I could humble give a word to older generations: age well. Realize how much you have to give to my generation. There are those of us who are eager to seek out your wisdom and your grace. We’re ready to learn and be shaped.

4) All generations should read to get a better grasp of history. I’m a bit biased toward history, I guess, so forgive me. But one of the things that plagues our debates, I think, is a thin grasp of both world history and church history. By this I mean God’s sovereign hand over all of history in building His Church and establishing His kingdom. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with young people, gripped by the alarmism of “this is as bad as its ever been” in the church and in the world. And ironically I’ve heard older generations say the same thing, “In all my years, I’ve never . . . ” I think this happens because people have their view of the world shaped by Twitter and the Drudge Report and the flashing neon signs of “breaking news” all over. But settling down and reading, appreciating and absorbing history reminds us that we are not the first generation to face significant challenges. Our challenges may not be as severe as those faced by previous peoples. What’s more, church history connects our generation to a rich, 2,000 year history of God’s work among His people. We’re reminded that we’re not the first generation to wrestle with faith and politics, in the world and yet not of it, social gospel versus proclamation, etc. We’ll also be humbled to know that perhaps we are not the best and brightest and most innovative, like we think we are.

Here’s the other thing history gives us: hope. Read the biographies of men like Moody, Luther, Tozer, Augustine, Graham, Mueller. Read about leaders like Eisenhower, Washington, Lincoln, King, etc. You’ll see how God works through flawed people to bring about His purpose. Every time I finish a biography of a great leader, I come away with hope and humility. The same God who was active in previous generations is alive and active today. He isn’t depressed by what depresses us and isn’t waiting with white-knuckles for our clever new machinations.

5) All generations could work on building unity. I wish I could declare a moratorium on attacks against the Church by the Church. The market is rich for evangelicals to write a book, pen a blog post, preach a sermon on “The problem with the Church.” There is a place for self-criticism, but that is ground so well-covered as to be saturated. We forget that, for all of its flaws, for all of its warts and blind spots, the Church is the bride of Christ. Jesus loves the church. You cannot separate the groom from His bride. He won’t let you.

Rather than building a platform by shooting at one part of the church from our own fortified positions, we should promote unity: gospel unity. That means a Church that is intergenerational, multi-ethnic, diverse. There is a place for defending the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). But that’s not the same as standing up for preferences in a way that alienates those who think differently. Unity begins by respecting other generations, by listening, by avoiding the sort of over-heated blog posts that drive traffic, but also drive unnecessary wedges. Yes, you will go to Church on Sunday and worship with someone who probably thinks differently than you do about politics, music, and the precise meaning of all the bowl judgements in Revelations, but that’s okay. That’s even good. This is how you practice love, forbearance, and grace in community.

I don’t want to build a Church that looks just like me, but a Church that looks just like Jesus.


5 People We Should Pray For Even Though We Don’t Want To

Let’s be honest. There are certain types of people we are conditioned, by our culture, to not like. These are the people that nobody is going to give us credit for liking, the people we tend to distance ourselves from. For good reason. And yet, these are the sinners Christ most likely would have sought out to save, the people we should, at the very least, pray for. So here is a list of 5 People We Should Pray For Even Though We Don’t Want To:

1) Politicians (and really anyone in a position of power). Have politicians ever held a lower standing the eyes of the American public than they do now? There are whole cottage industries (talk show hosts, pundits, some columnists) who generate millions of dollars essentially mocking and criticizing politicians. Nobody will think you are cool for praying for a politician. Everybody will laugh if you criticize one and/or post some hilarious meme about one on Facebook. And yet there is this sneaky little prayer in the Bible that says this:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2, ESV)

Yeah, that’s a tough verse. Praying for politicians (and not just in the snarky Psalm 19:8 way) is counter-cultural. But here’s a reason we can and should pray for our government leaders, local and national: we believe that authority is granted by God. Psalm 75:6 says that power doesn’t come from east or west, but from God. Romans 13 reminds us that the “powers that be” are ordained of God. So we can pray for our leaders, not only out of obedience to the Scripture, but out of a deep and abiding trust in Christ as the ultimate sovereign authority. And here’s a tip. Let’s pray for these politicians, not always for the policies we’d like to see implemented, but in a personal way. Let’s pray for their families. Let’s pray for their spiritual lives. Let’s pray for their blessing (yes, you heard me right).

2) People who we think poorly represent the Christian faith. There is a tendency among evangelicals to distance ourselves from Christians we think poorly represent the Christian faith. I do this. I could give you a list of people whose public displays of Christianity make me want to stand and shout, “But most Christians aren’t like that. We’re different. Don’t look at them.” You have a list like this, don’t you? Isn’t this pride? Do we ever consider that perhaps its me–yes me–who might be the poor display of Christian witness?

I’m humbled by Jesus’ words to Peter in Luke 22:32, where he essentially said, “I’m praying for you, that your faith doesn’t fail. Satan wants to sift you as wheat” (my paraphrase). Peter was the Christ-follower who embarrassed everyone by his public displays. He’s the guy who panicked and fell beneath the waves on the Sea of Galilee He’s the guy who blurted out about the tabernacles during the miracle of transfiguration. He’s the guy who cut off the soldier’s ear in the garden. He’s the guy who denied Jesus three times. Yeah, I’m guessing pre-Pentecost Peter is probably the guy who exemplifies, “Christian I don’t want to be like.”

And yet Jesus said to Peter, patiently, “I’m praying for you.” I’m deeply convicted by this. Rather than mocking those Christians who I don’t think “do it right” so I can make myself look better, I ought to . . . pray for them. Here’s what happens when we do this: suddenly we see the humanity in people we’re ashamed of. Suddenly we see our own clumsy attempts to represent Christ. Suddenly we accept them as brothers and sisters rather than enemies. This is a hard discipline, but like Jesus, we should pray for the Peters in our life.

3) People who openly mock the Christian faith. When I think of people who openly mock the faith, I think of the secularists, I think the late-night comedians who make sport of the gospel. I think of the pop culture icons who detest Jesus. Bill Mahr, Jon Stewart, Richard Dawkins. The knee-jerk reaction to mockers is to mock back. To come up with an equally witty response. To create a Facebook page with a bold Christian statement and have 10,000 people like it to make us feel better. But maybe, maybe, we should simply pray for them. I think of Jesus’ attitude on the cross toward the mockers. He said “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). What should we pray for them? For the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts to find salvation in Christ. Think of Saul of Tarsus. He had heard the sermons and mocked them. He held the coats of those stoning Stephen, the first martyr. He actively pursued Christians to put them in jail and even to their deaths. And yet God radically pursued Paul on the road to Damascus and he became the Apostle Paul. Maybe today’s mocker is tomorrow’s evangelist. Have we considered that? So let’s pray for those who mock the Christian faith. By doing so, we not only avoid the sin of bitterness in our own hearts, but we demonstrate that God’s sovereignty and power is not weakened by the open hostility of those who oppose Him.

4) Highly critical bloggers and commentors. If you want to get a glimpse of the depravity of our fallen world, scroll down on a news article and read through the comments. Even many Christian blogs and news sites attract vile responses, some even by professing followers of Jesus. The Internet has opened the floodgates for trolls and for angry, self-justified people. But have you considered that perhaps those who communicate ungracefully may be doing it from a place of insecurity, of brokeness, of a deep hunger for what only God can provide? I don’t know what motivates the hostility all the time, but I do know that these are people God wants to rescue from themselves. If God could cause revival among the ruthless Ninevites, God could do a work among those who use the Internet for vile purposes. We should pray that God enraptures their soul with the good news of the gospel. We should pray that we don’t fall into their trap of bitterness and vulgarity.

5) That person who has deeply wounded you. Jesus said to pray for those who “mistreat you.” I don’t think forgiveness means you have to endure injustice or abuse. I don’t think being a Christian means being a doormat over which evil people can walk all over you. But I do believe that, at the most basic level, we should pray for those who deeply wound us. Reconciliation is not always possible, but forgiveness–the letting go of the bitterness from our hearts–is possible as we immerse ourselves in the forgiveness Christ offers to us in his atoning death and resurrection. We can find peace and joy, we don’t have to nurse our deep grudges. I think we begin this process in prayer, on our knees, in honesty before God. We pour out the hurts and wounds we’ve endured and ask the Lord to help us forgive and to work in the hearts of those who did the wounding. The person who committed the injustice against you was created by God in His image. His soul matters to God as much as your soul. And so we pray for those who hurt us.