Teaching Civility

Today I interview the fascinating Mark DeMoss, president and founder of The DeMoss Group, the leading public relations firm for Christian organizations. DeMoss has represented organizations such as The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Prison Fellowship, and The American Bible Society.

A few years ago, Mark launched The Civility Project, aimed at shaping a more civil public discourse. The idea was to get public leaders to at least agree to be civil with each other, even as they disagree. But after two years, hardly any signed up for the pledge.

I asked Mark if he thought Christian leaders should teach civility. As a pastor, I’ve tried to do this, but I often get pushback from Christians who think being civil equals being a compromiser. Mark disagrees.

Should pastors and church leaders make the teaching of civility a priority?

Yes! There are plenty of Scriptures to support that answer. For example, “In lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself.” Phil. 2:3 “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Col. 4:5 And then, “Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Cor. 16:14 I strongly believe it is never an option for me to claim Jesus Christ as Savior and behave in an uncivil manner with anyone, under any circumstance. Never.

Read the whole interview here:

The Lord’s Prayer and the Self-Made Man

In America, we pride ourselves on our rugged independence. We’re a self-made people. There is much good in this kind of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps way of life. Hard work and ingenuity are hard-wired into the Creation mandate by a God who gave man the gift of work in the garden and who commanded him to “subdue” the earth. When man works hard with his hands and his mind, when he takes the raw materials God has given him and makes something, he images God. God creates. And God created special creatures to create.

But man is not self-made in any way. Man begins with the earth’s substance that God provides. Man is born into a world not of his choosing, a time and place ordained by a sovereign God. The social structures, educational opportunities, parentage, even the obstacles you overcome on your rags-to-riches journey–these were all ordered by a God. You did not conceive yourself nor build the world into which you were created.

This reality–acknowledging our dependence on God even as we work hard and advance–seems important to Jesus. When offering the disciples a theological template for prayer, he used the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That phrase, so oft-repeated in the 2,000 years since they first came off Jesus’ lips, are at the heart of what it means to live by faith.

Yes, we work hard. We toil. We demonstrate integrity. We move against obstacles. But in all of our activity, we are not our own providers. We are not our own creators. We are not our own gods. We need daily bread to be given to us.

We are dependent on God. This is why prayer, while simple, is such a revolutionary act. To bow the knee and request something from God, something as simple as bread, acknowledges that He is God and that you are not. It reminds that there is a King, a Sovereign, a Lord of all. It reminds us of our humanity, our dependence, our gratitude for the Giver of all things.

We pray before our meals, not because if we don’t, we’ll choke on the steak or that somehow the calories in the casserole will magically disappear. We don’t pray for protection from poisoning or out of fear that if we forget, God will strike us.

We pray before meals as a simple act of faith and a bold declaration that there is a King who provides for His people. We pray before meals as an act of humility, recognizing that for all of our effort, the food only got to the table, primarily, because God in His Fatherly goodness, willed it to be there.

So Americans who work hard and pay their bills and put food on the table are best served by recognizing that there is really no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We’re all under the mercy and care of the only One who can make something out of nothing.

On Writing: “Strap Yourself to a Desk and Grind.”

I enjoy good sportswriters, mainly because I absolutely love sports, but also because I think sportswriting is among the best writing on the planet. Guys like Thomas Lake at SI, Bill Simmons, Rick Reilly, Gene Wojciechowski and the Grantland guys at ESPN, Jason Whitlock at Fox Sports, David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune–these guys are among my favorites and there are many more I read.

Sportswriters have to write quickly, on deadline, and have to write in a very tight fashion. They write for a very critical crowd: passionate sports fans. They have to be serious and funny and creative all at the same time, all without being too cute. Even if you don’t like sports (and if so, I’ll get on my knees and pray for your soul), you might appreciate sportswriting for the sheer value and quality of the writing.

Which leads me to a quote I heard on an edition of the Bill Simmons podcast. He was interviewing Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports (who is now moving to ESPN) about the nature of writing, his career, and getting published. Whitlock said a phrase that I think every aspiring writer/blogger/author needs to hear. He said that good writers succeed because they “strap themselves to a desk and grind.” In other words, good writers work hard at regularly, daily, grinding out content, working on their craft, laboring often in obscurity until they are good enough to be noticed.

This is a really, really good principle for today’s generation of writers. We live in an age of instant fame. And while sometimes something you write may go viral and make you instantly famous, mostly the way to success is to just work hard at producing good content while nobody is looking. The best sportswriters in America started somewhere obscure, in a small town grinding out columns about the local bowling league or something. The people whose work is being read, heard, digested are the ones who were willing to “strap themselves to a desk and grind.” There are no shortcuts to real, lasting, genuine success.

There is a connection here to Scripture. God has sovereignly bestowed on each of us good gifts and talents. It’s part of the Creation mandate to use our gifts to create things, to produce good work. We should work hard, not simply as an angle to fame and fortune, but because we take pride in our work. We want to do things well, to the glory of God. And any success we experience should come as the fruit of our labors. So let’s get busy and write well and put aside fleeting dreams of quick and easy fame.

*I feel I need a disclaimer here to say that I don’t always agree with all the content from guys like Simmons and Whitlock. Sometimes sports guys can be provocative. Christians should be discerning, picking the fruit from the rest.

People Are Hungry for Substance

Today I interview Stephen Miller for Leadership Journal. Stephen is a singer/songwriter and the worship pastor for The Journey Church in St. Louis. I’ve enjoyed Stephen’s music and his leadership in the Christian music world. His latest book is somewhat provocative: Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars. 

You’re part of a growing movement writing hymns for the church and recapturing old hymns. How do you explain this new popularity?

People are hungry for substance. There is a reason so many of the old hymns have stood the test of time and we still have them today. For the most part, hymn writers were pastors and theologians whose primary concern was teaching powerful, right doctrine to their congregations in a memorable way. We have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of these giants and building on the foundations they laid in order to shape the Gospel in our people. A lot of my generation and the one coming after me has decided hymns are for their grandparents, so I personally want to take those songs and revamp them for a new context that would appeal to modern musical sensibilities. At the same time, there is certainly a recurring biblical mandate “to sing a new song”. There is a tension there. While we have the privilege of church history, we should not cling to the past so hard that we abandon what God is doing here and now. The same principles that guided the hymns writers who have gone before us are good rails to work from. Let’s write singable, memorable songs that teach people who God is, what he has done, and who we are in light of that, and then respond in worship.

Read the rest of the interview here:

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