Shaping Minds Thru Fiction – A Conversation With Trevin Wax

I had a chance to interview my good friend, Trevin Wax about his brand-new book, Clear Winter NightsTrevin is one of my favorite bloggers and authors. He’s also the managing editor of The Gospel Project curriculum from Lifeway, a fantastic tool that I highly recommend churches use for all ages.

In this video conversation, I talk to Trevin about his foray into fiction and how the power of story and conversation can help shape both hearts and minds.

 

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.”

 

The false gospel of cynicism

Today, at the ERLC blog, I talk about the mandate for joy in Philippines 4:8:

Yet Paul, without denying the misery of life in a fallen world, seems to say to followers of Jesus everywhere: “In light of what we have in Christ, let’s think on these things: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, what is commendable and what is praiseworthy.”

In other words, let’s not focus solely on the evil in the world. Let’s not live as negative, apocalyptic reactionaries. There is time for lament, certainly. But given that we know the Man of Sorrows who has borne our grief, let’s train our minds to glimpse the beautiful, the unbroken, the rays of heaven’s sunshine upon the earth and the people Jesus is redeeming.

Paul could say this, not because he was a Pollyanna escaping reality, but because he had a greater grasp of reality than anyone who lived. A reality that says while yes, the world is broken, a man from Galilee lived, died, rose again and is now the rightful King. A new Kingdom has dawned, and light has broken in the darkness. There is a city coming whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10).

Paul’s words don’t simply give us permission to smile when things are upside-down. They are a mandate to rejoice in the often barely perceptible pinpricks of grace that penetrate our canvas of evil. So let’s, without guilt:

Rejoice in the stunning hues of a sunset.

Be enraptured by the beautiful laughter of our children.

Appreciate the best artistic expressions, regardless of their source.

Enjoy our favorite sporting events.

Pursue deep friendships.

Feel the grain a well-crafted piece of furniture.

Treasure every intimate moment with our spouses.

Laugh at good jokes.

Cry at the moments that catch our breath.

Allow the best music to flow through our ears into the deepest part of our hearts.

We can do these things, even in a world of suffering, heartache and toil. Not because we are ignorant of evil, but because we are part of his story of redemption, renewal and grace. We can do all these things to the glory of God. Why? Because anything beautiful or lovely or good can catapult our hearts into worship of the creator who made it.

Every time your child laughs and gives you joy, you can silently worship God, the giver of good gifts. And you can do this with a delicious meal, a glorious soundtrack, a delightful conversation, or anything that brings you wholesome pleasure. You can do this because every glimpse of beauty is a reflection of the one who is beautiful.

Read the whole thing here:

Jesus and the Digital Pharisees

It’s kind of ridiculous to ask, “What if Jesus were on Twitter?” But indulge me for a second, anyways. I’ve noticed something about our generation’s engagement online and with those we consider “Christian celebrities” – famous pastors or church leaders who have big platforms. There’s a tendency among those of us who blog, tweet, write, post, instagram, etc toward a subtle kind of Phariseeism. Our generation prides itself on not being legalistic, of casting off the sort of religious, rule-making paradigm we didn’t quite like about our parent’s version of church. But in our zeal to not be like those we think are bad representations of Christianity, we’ve adopted a legalism of a different sort.

In Luke 18, Jesus shares a haunting parable about who is justified in the eyes of God. I’m struck by a few things in this passage. First, Luke gives us a vague description of the audience.  The NIV puts it like this: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” I”m guessing everyone in the audience thought that they were not in this self-righteous group. It was everyone else who needed to work on their pride.

Jesus then sets up a story of two people going to the temple to pray, a common occurrence in that culture. You first have the religious person, the spiritual one, who enters a time of prayer with pride. He wants to be seen as being prayerful and utters a public declaration, “I thank God I’m not like . . . . .” The people he names are people held in contempt by the culture, people who are “safe” to mock for their sin. Easy targets of ridicule and scorn. These are the people we might mock on Twitter and seek to distance ourselves from with heated denunciations or humorous take-downs. You can even envision the hashtags from this Pharisee’s prayer: #robber #evildoer #adulterer. Then the Pharisee, wanting to squeeze out every bit of public praise, narrows his focus to “and even this guy, the tax collector.” Here he is calling out the other man to enter the temple to pray, the guy with the worst reputation in the community, the easy target for manufactured outrage and public scorn. You can even envision this in a tweet, “So glad I”m not like @taxcollector who preys on the poor and betrays his own people.”

But Jesus, poking holes in the self-righteousness of the Pharisee, turns the narrative focus on the tax collector, who enters the temple, head down, full of remorse. Unlike the Pharisee he has no illusions of his own righteousness. He’s overcome with guilt and sorrow for his sin. He knows he doesn’t deserve anything from God but punishment and so cries out in mercy, even beats his breast.

This man, Jesus said, walked out more justified than the Pharisee. Why? Because it wasn’t others’ sin that so gripped his heart and soul, it was his own.

Now most of us would hear a story like that and shout “amen!” because we don’t think we’re the first guy, the self-righteous Pharisee. Those are the people with all the funky religious rules and weird clothes. Those are the fundamentalists of another generation or the obnoxious guy on Facebook who doesn’t celebrate Halloween or the celebrity pastor who keeps saying dumb things.

But I think Jesus would beg to differ. Remember he addressed this parable to “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” That cuts both ways. What’s more, if the tax collector in Jesus’ day was the easy target, the hated person in the culture, the one that reasonable, middle-of-the-road, kinda spiritual people are free to mock, then maybe it’s us who are the Pharisees.

Jesus words to the Pharisees of his day and to the Pharisees of our day is simple: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” (Luke 18:14). Empty, vacuous declarations of self-righteousness bounce off the ceiling. But desperate, humble cries for mercy and grace reach the throne room of Heaven.

Today, social media is our “public temple” in a way. It’s where we declare who we are and what we stand for, for better or for worse. And I’m afraid we’re so quick to make sure everyone knows that we’re “not like that other guy who keeps getting it wrong.” You might substitute “obnoxious celebrity pastor” or “outrageous Hollywood entertainer” or “corrupt congressman” for tax collector. Our generation of Christians seems too eager to “not be like those other kind of Christians.” We all think we are among the most reasonable people we know.

In our lurching attempts to not be Pharisees, we become Pharisees of a different stripe. But Jesus’ words to the self-justified should haunt us and then drive us to our knees in humility and cries for mercy. These may not be the stylish prayers of the digital world. But they are the prayers Jesus seems to answer.

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