Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Jun
24
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
13
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
05
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
20
2014

Our Snarky Eye-Rolling Might Actually Be Sinful

My pastor has been preaching thru 1 Corinthians. He’s a terrific expositor, always providing the nuance and thrust of the text at hand. Lately we’ve come upon 1 Corinthians 8, the well-known “meat offered to idols” text that helps inform the way we treat each other when disagreeing over the gray areas of the Christian life. (By gray areas, I mean areas of liberty not clearly outlined in the text of Scripture, not fake gray areas brought about about newer, suspect interpretations of Scripture).

Andy took this in three installments, first giving an overview of this and what it is saying. This series of messages ministered to my soul in so many ways, but I learned three important things:

Legalism and self-righteousness is not a sign of holiness, but a sign of weak faith. 

Flaunting freedom and wounding consciences of our brothers and sisters in the Lord is a sin. 

We shouldn’t value our preferences or our spiritual freedom more than we value our fellow believers. 

It’s this last one that really got to me. You see, I’ve been in both extremely legalistic environments and I’ve been in extremely permissive environments. One thing that is identical to both is a kind of Phariseeism that sees one’s own view of the gray areas as sacrosanct and the biblical position.

Today there are many addressing legalism and the way it suffocates the soul. Even for those who don’t have this biography need to be reminded of John Newton’s words, “Grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” For the recovering legalist, there are few passages better than 1 Corinthians 8.

And yet, Paul doesn’t end this chapter with his rebuke to legalists. He then turns toward those who delight in their spiritual freedom. There is, among those who understand the freedom found in the gospel, an easy temptation to wound the consciences of our brothers and sisters by mocking their choices in the gray areas. Paul said that to compel someone to violate conscience, to belittle the rules they have set for themselves, is to sin, against Christ. 

As I sat hearing this sermon, my heart was convicted. I wonder if this is the sin of our generation of evangelicals. We consider ourselves more enlightened than our parents, we’ve thrown off the shackles of their legalism. We can now feel the freedom to engage in activities they considered sinful. In many of these cases, most of these cases, we’re probably right. A previous generation may have erred on the side of rules, equating preference with orthodoxy and making it seem that the Bible said things it didn’t say.

But our sins may be an eye-rolling, snickering, elitism. I see it every day online and offline. There is a whole cottage industry within evangelicalism that exists to mock their fellow believers. Over the last year I’ve had numerous conversations with youngish Christian leaders who are so proud of their Christian liberty, they used it as a cudgel against someone who disagreed with them. This, Paul says, is a sin. To value our freedom so much so, to hang on to our right to indulge certain activities so much so that we offend and wound others who don’t see it our way–this is not the way of love.

Paul thought eating meat offered to idols was no big deal. But Paul also said he’d never eat another piece of meat for the sake of loving his brothers and sisters in the Lord. Paul would put down his steak for unity and gospel advance. And so should we.

Let’s not be so quick to identify as “not that kind of Christian who is legalistic” that we sin by not loving our brothers and sisters, fellow believers for whom Christ died. Let’s not let our zeal to love the world in which we serve, the lost neighbors and friends and coworkers that we end up not loving the Bride of Christ. After all, we are called to “do good, especially to the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).”

May
10
2014

Mother’s Day and the Three Women Who Have Shaped Me

I’m writing this from an airport in NY, waiting for a plane that is delayed back to Nashville. I’m reminded by my iPhone that Sunday is Mother’s Day. It seems these holidays continue to sneak up on me. In a way, its sad we need Hallmark to remind us to think of the contribution of our mothers. We should do this naturally and more than once a year. But the calendar beckons and so I remember fondly the three women in my life whom God has used to shape me.

I first think of my own mother. Mom, born into to a second-generation Jewish family on the North Shore of Chicago, converted to Christianity in late teens. She fell in love with my father, who grew up in a broken home and became a believer thanks to the ministry of Billy Graham. Mom and Dad built a life together. Dad is a skilled plumber and Mom a homemaker, a teacher, and helped Dad run his business. When I think of her life, I think of how much she has had to endure: multiple miscarriages, a life of mostly being sick, and the hardships of seeing her parents, my grandparents, pass away.

Mom has taught me so many things and shaped me in many ways. For one thing, I think I have her sense of humor, her keen eye for getting a good deal (nobody is better at negotiating, nobody), and most of all, how to love those close to you. Mom taught us kids how to be thankful, to never, ever enjoy a meal, a gift, or a favor without expressing gratitude. To this day this is something we try to instill in our own four children. Most of all, though, Mom, a Jewish girl who found Jesus, led me to Jesus when I was young. She was driving and I was riding in the backseat of our red Chevy Malibu.

I think the reason we need Mother’s Day is because we sometimes forget–us adult children with our own busy lives and families–to thank our parents. And it is precisely when our parents have gotten older that we need to thank them. It seems that after your children are grown is when you begin to doubt yourself, to wonder if you did everything right. You have regrets–some genuine, many mostly made up because the devil loves to sow doubt–about the job you did as a parent. Our parents need us to look back and tell them how well they did. In spite of their mistakes. I had the privilege of growing up in a wonderful, Christ-filled home. But many didn’t. I know some of you reading this grew up in horrific, hard, sad homes. Still I urge you to prevail upon the Lord to help you summon the courage to forgive and to bless your parents. To bring a child in the world, to care for a child, to parent is difficult, hard, challenging work (I’m finding that out now). If you here, breathing, you have at least some kindnesses to send to your mother. So do that.

My wife. The first year I was a father and Angela was a mother, I didn’t realize the significance of Mother’s Day for my wife. I assumed (quite wrongly) that if I took care of my mother and she took care of hers, that I’d be good. Wrong. Guys, don’t do that. I was careless.

The truth is that God has used Angela to sanctify me in ways I didn’t even know I needed. I married Angela because she is beautiful, loves Christ and loves people, but it was motherhood that brought out her finest qualities. The way she thoughtfully cares for each of our children, her blend of discipline and love, grace and truth. She’s thorough, kind, thoughtful, and works harder than any woman I know. A mother has to be so selfless in those early years of raising children. There are so many days and nights of pushing through sickness and fatigue to be there for the little ones. What’s more, Angela has taught me how to love more fully, how to forgive those who have wronged me, and how to care for the poor and marginalized, and forgotten.

The home is the place where the gospel is lived out in living color. Where repentance, grace, forgiveness, and mercy are exercised daily. It is here where God allows us to shape and be shaped. I’m grateful that I go to work every day knowing my children are immersed in the Word of God, are taught the daily, practical things of life, and are challenged to use their gifts for the glory of God. Angela has been at the center of this ongoing endeavor. I’m grateful for her almost 12 years by my side. What a gift.

My mother-in-law. In January of 2012, we lost my mother-in-law, Linda Sullivan. A lot of guys joke (with a hint of truth) about their mother-in-laws, but mine fit none of those stereotypes. Linda was one of the sweetest humans on the planet. A single mom, she raised three children on her own. She was very devout in her Christian faith, faithfully attending church and bringing the kids her whole life. But more importantly, Linda exuded the love of Christ. She was dealt some pretty tough blows and yet never showed a hint of bitterness. She was an encourager, a relentless note-writer, and cheerleader. In fact, she was my biggest fan as my writing and ministry career took off. She’d save every byline and she’d take my books and shove them into the hands of everyone at her church. Mostly, she was always there whenever Angela or I grew discouraged and wanted to quit. I tear up even as I write this, because we miss her so deeply. She leaves a hole in our lives that won’t be filled until we see her again in Heaven. I’m deeply grateful for her investment in my life. (If you are interested, I wrote a tribute here to her after she passed.)

 

 

Apr
22
2014

A Subtle, but Powerful Way to Love Your Spouse

There are all sorts of big and small ways to show love to your spouse. One of the easiest, but powerful ways to demonstrate this is to talk about them positively in public. This one reason I am so grateful for Angela. She has to live with my sinful tendencies, my human weaknesses, and my annoying quirks. There is a lot of material from which she could easily draw when talking with her girlfriends or other friends. And yet Angela has always talked well about me in public. It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing to me. If she has a problem with me, she tells me. But never does she send a message through passive-aggressive shots delivered while in public. I appreciate and love her for that and I try very hard to return the favor.

I’m amazed at how often I hear good, faithful Christian couples undermine each other in public. I hear wives degrade their husband’s character and worth, sometimes in the church parking lot. I cringe every time I hear this because in my mind I can see the strength and confidence of the husband shrink. I also hear husbands rail on their wives in a sort of “can you believe what my wife just did?” kind of manner that tells me how much they really value the wive God has given them.

Angela and I are far from perfect. We have many flaws. But I’m grateful we’ve made this small commitment to each other. It’s hard for two people to walk together in mutual love if one or the other feels degraded. It’s crippling to the kind of long-lasting marital love that reflects the love Christ has for His Church.

In fact, I would bet there is more value to not saying negative things about a spouse than the kind of over-the-top flattery we sometimes display in order to have others commend us. If my wife never said I was “the best husband alive” on Facebook, but committed to not criticizing me in public, I’d be a happy man. And I”m guessing she’d say the same about me. Not tearing her down in public is better than a thousand “smoking hot wife” references on Twitter.

The reason this matters, I think, is because we often reveal our true selves when we’re trying to posture ourselves in front of other people, in a crowd. We reveal our true motivations. And for the other person to observe us sort of using them as fodder for a well-timed quip or cutting remark–this hurts more than we might realize.

So maybe my advice today is pretty simple: speak well of the one you are committed to love. You’ll be surprised how well this cements your bond of love.

Mar
28
2014

Faith at Work: More than Evangelism

A recovery of the doctrine of vocation is one of the most encouraging things I see in the evangelical church. In the last few years, there have been some really good books written on the intersection of faith and work. Work Matters by Tom Nelson and Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller are two notable ones. Recently, pastor Greg Gilbert and businessman Sebastian Traeger coauthored a book, The Gospel at Work that promises to further equip the church to think holistically about the workplace.

I had a chance to interview Greg Gilbert for today’s edition of The Friday Five for Leadership Journal. Here is one of the questions I asked:

I’m guessing the typical Christian, when hearing “the gospel at work” thinks of evangelism. But you are aiming for a more holistic vision of the workplace, right?

That’s right. This is not really a book about workplace evangelism (though we do talk about that). We’re actually aiming to try to help Christians think about how their faith in Jesus changes the way they think about and act in their jobs.Most Christians fall into one of two traps when it comes to their work. Either they make an idol of their jobs, or they become idle in their jobs.

Most Christians, we think, tend to fall into one of two traps when it comes to their work. Either they make an idol of their jobs, or they become idle in their jobs. In other words, they either find themselves trying to find ultimate satisfaction and meaning from their jobs, or they lose sight of God’s purposes for them in their work. Neither of those, though, is the right way to think about work. Work shouldn’t be the center of our lives, but it also isn’t merely a necessary evil. Whatever you do, the fact is that you work for the King. It’s God who has deployed you to that particular job (or lack of a job!) at this particular time, and he has purposes for us in our work. In fact, our jobs are actually high profile arenas in which he wants to bring glory to himself and make us more like Jesus. If we remember that, it changes everything about how we approach our work.

You can read more here: 

Feb
13
2014

A word to husbands on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that sneaks up on you. Well, at least it sneaks up on me. The winter is rich with holidays for the Darling Family: Angela and I were married the week before Thanksgiving, two of our four children have December birthdays, and my birthday is in late January. It gets busy and  . . . expensive.

And I’m guessing I’m like most men. We do the Valentine’s thing sort of reluctantly. It’s a bit of an eye-rolling holiday. We feel we’re getting hosed by Hallmark. Think about it: Mother’s Day, Sweetest Day, Valentine’s Day, Anniversary. I’ve even heard some (very unwise) husbands (who apparently have a regular cot in their garages) say they ignore it and just “love their wife the entire year.”

My advice is to . . . not do that. Don’t do that at all. For one thing, your wife doesn’t want to be nor does she deserve to be the only wife on the block, in her small group, and in the office who sheepishly tells her friends that her husband “doesn’t do this holiday.” Man up, buy a card and some flowers or chocolate or whatever she likes and do it. Secondly, we should use this cultural moment as a divinely appointed opportunity to show our wives some love. After all, we are supposed to, as Paul instructs, love our wives as Christ loves His Church (Ephesians 5:22-23). You don’t very well do that by leaving the Mrs in the cold on Valentine’s Day. We need these prompts, even if created by Hallmark, to be reminded to show our wives just how we feel about them, to renew our commitment to loving them as we love no other human being on the earth. Yes, it is true that love is more than show displays of flowers and chocolate and candy and balloons and teddy bears. But loves is not less than that either. Verbal expressions of love, tangible gifts are important to communicate what we say we feel in our hearts. So we need to do this. We need to make our wives feel every bit the treasure they are. I admittedly struggle with this, to show Angela just how much I love, cherish, and respect her. Valentine’s Day is like a cultural slap upside the head to do what I should be doing more often.

So guys, let’s get it together. I’ll see you in the Hallmark aisle at Walgreen’s tonight.