Posts Tagged ‘grace’


Misunderstanding Forgiveness

Leslie Leyland Fields had a painful relationship with her father, a journey of pain, healing, and forgiveness she outlined in a beautiful piece for Christianity Today. This was part of a brand new book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers, Finding Healing from Hurt and HateThis is such an important book for many who endure difficult relationships with their parents.

I had the chance to interview Leslie for Leadership Journal about her own story and about forgiveness. Here is one of my questions:

Do you think many of us have a misunderstanding of what forgiveness is?

Yeah, there are a lot of misconceptions out there. Here are two of the biggest I see: People expect forgiveness to be a one-time event rather than a process and rather than a daily practice I think there’s a reason Jesus teaches us to pray “And forgive us our debts as we forgive out debtors” right after “give us this day our daily bread.” And people expect forgiveness to take away all the pain. It doesn’t. If your father didn’t show up for your graduation or your mother just kicked you out of her house, you’re going to feel hurt, no matter how forgiving you are. And you should feel hurt! Forgiveness is not about being pain-free; it’s about being like Christ, pouring out the mercy we received—undeservedly—to the ones like us, who don’t deserve it either. It’s not a bullet-proof vest. In some ways it even makes us more vulnerable.

You can read the entire interview here:


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.


Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Nabeel Qureshi grew up in a Muslim home, but came to faith in Christ after a search for meaning and truth. He tells his conversion story in a new book,  Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters ChristianityI had the chance to interview Nabeel today for my weekly Leadership Journal blog. This is one of the questions I asked him:

What finally drove you to a point of decision between Islam and Christianity? What was holding you back—and what finally drove you forward?

The first thing that had to happen was that someone had to show me the truth about Christianity. Only when I saw the truth would I be able to assess whether I would follow it or not. David didn’t just tell me why he believed in the gospel, he showed me how we could be confident it is true and therefore everyone should believe it. The historical evidence he provided for Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as Jesus’ claim to be God, made all the difference. When I contrasted the evidence for Christianity against the evidence for Islam I knew that intellectually there was no comparison. So I asked God to reveal himself to me in truth, through dreams and visions. All those things, combined with actually reading the Bible, are what drove me forward to the point of accepting Christ.

Read the entire interview here:


Preaching as a Craft to Be Cultivated.

I love preaching. I love the act of preaching and I love listening to preaching. There is something wild and mysterious and beautiful about God’s Word flowing through a flawed man empowered by the Holy Spirit as a primary delivery method for spiritual change.

This week I had the chance to interview Matt Woodley, managing editor of, an excellent resource for pastors and church leaders. Our conversation was wide-ranging, really. I queried him on plagiarism, fact-checking pastors, etc. But my favorite part was reading Matt’s thoughts on the act of preaching itself. Here’s a question I asked him:

If you could give one piece of advice to an up and coming pastor or church leader about preaching, what would you tell him?

Love preaching. It is a craft like mending shoes, fixing cars, throwing a curve ball, writing poetry, performing surgery, teaching British literature, and so on. You can grow as a preacher. So apply yourself to the craft. Learn from other preachers. Read good sermons (and reading is better than listening). Get feedback. And for Christ’s sake (and I mean that literally) stop being so defensive about your preaching! My gosh, it’s not like a sermon is your child or something. But when it comes to preaching, decide right now that you will be a lifelong learner of the craft.

But on other hand, don’t take your preaching too seriously. You aren’t primarily a preacher. You are a child of God. You are a member of the body of Christ. You are a friend, spouse, and parent. Your identity is not wrapped up in how well you preached last Sunday. So read and do lots of stuff that have absolutely nothing to do with your role as a preacher. Preachers who just preach are really boring. Be an interesting person, do interesting stuff, go to interesting places.

Read the entire interview here: 


From Pulpit to Pew: On Joining a New Church

After five years in the pulpit and 30 years prior growing up in, working, and serving in my home church, I found myself in the oddly new position of looking for a place to worship. And so our quest for a new church began as soon as we moved from Chicago area to Nashville. After years of looking askance at those who “church shop”, I was in the buying mood. We felt it was important for us to find and get settled in a church as soon as we could, but we knew our search must be spirit-directed and guided by prayer. Our criteria was pretty simple:

  • It must be a church that preaches and teaches the Word of God (in a systematic, deep way.) We’re big on gospel-centered, expository preaching and teaching.
  • It must be proudly Southern Baptist.
  • It must be close to our house. In my pastoral experience, I’ve found greater distance from home to church usually prevents the type of community and closeness needed to become an essential part of a local body.

We also had some other criteria, but things that are not as much “deal-breakers” such as church culture, children’s ministry, welcoming atmosphere, friends who go there, etc. One thing we were determined not to do was choose a church based on flimsy things like the color of the carpet or the flavor of the coffee. We want to worship where God would have us worship, meaning we knew we wouldn’t find a church that exactly matches our preferences–and this is good because the point of worship is not me, but God.

So I created a spreadsheet of about 8 churches to visit, based on referrals from friends and web research and other criteria. Our plan was to visit all eight, then circle back and do second visits, just to get another look. But halfway through our search, something happened. We found a church we not only liked, but felt God calling us to join: First Baptist Church of Mt. Juliet. Angela and I went one after the first Sunday and said, “It’s okay if we just say we like this one and stay here, right?” And so we did.

There are a few reasons we feel compelled to worship at FBMJ. First, we just had a sense, after worshipping there, that this was the place for us. It was amazing, after talking with Pastor Andy Hale and his team, just how much we track with where God is taking this congregation: the desire to take the gospel to the community, to exalt Christ and seek His glory in all we do. Secondly, we really enjoy Pastor Andy’s preaching. By “enjoy” I don’t mean, “we found someone who politely affirms everything we believe so we leave feeling good.” By “enjoy,” I mean, we are fed by the rich, deep truths of Scripture every week. We’re challenged, convicted, and brought to repentance and confession weekly. Third, we have good friends who are involved at FBMJ. Jonathan and Beth Howe are longtime friends. Beth is the new director of children’s ministry at FBMJ. It’s helpful to have at least one family that you know very well attend church with you. Fourth, this church is close to our home, so we can be involved in activities and begin to build relationships with this body of believers.

Those are just a few of the reasons we like our new church home. There are many more. Mostly, though, we’re glad to join, get involved, to give and to take, to love and be loved, to nurture and be nurtured.

It’s a bit of a strange feeling sitting in a pew after being in the pulpit. I’ll admit there is a part of me that wants to get up and preach, but I know in this season of life God is wanting me to hear preaching rather than deliver preaching. And yet there is some relief in enjoying worship as a church member and not a church leader. Plus, I’m grateful to serve an organization at ERLC whose mission is to serve the Church.


What I’m most encouraged by is God’s work in every community, every corner of this world, building His church in big and small ways. There is much hand-wringing and debate about “the future of the Church”, but we have this sure promise from Jesus:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18 (ESV)


The courage to be civil

Today, on the ERLC blog, I continue my series on civility and courage:

How do Christians navigate the tension of civility and courage?It’s easy to grow discouraged by the way we often get it wrong, but rather than embracing cynicism, we should do our part to model civility through engagement, humility and prayer.

In an interview with Christianity Today, ERLC president Russell Moore said: “I hope to speak with convictional kindness. I hope to speak of a holistic vision of human dignity and human flourishing rooted in the kingdom of God—and to do so in a way that is grounded always in the gospel. I don’t view people who disagree with me as my enemies or my opponents. I hope to speak with civility and with kindness and in dialogue with people with whom I disagree.”

We can’t stop every instance of incivility, but we can begin by setting a good example for our friends, family and anyone in our sphere of influence. I’m particularly sobered by the way my own children watch the way I engage issues and the words I use when talking about public figures. What am I teaching them about respect and dignity? Extending this out to our social networks, churches, community groups and small groups, let’s use our platforms, however big, to demonstrate a gospel-centered approach to truth-telling.

Read the whole article here:


Peter, Revolutionary, Sellout, Champion of Grace

Yesterday on the ERLC blog, I continued my series on speaking with grace in the public square: 

For several hundred years, basic Judeo-Christian values have held a dominant place in Western culture. But things are changing. While the Church is experiencing explosive growth in the Global South, the West is rapidly becoming post-Christian. For many followers of Jesus, this new reality is unsettling. Suddenly, long-accepted views on issues like marriage and sexuality are now viewed as intolerant, even bigoted.

Though the post-Christian paradigm is new in America, it’s not new in the history of the Church. There are very few moments in history where the surrounding culture affirmed the Church’s values. God’s people have always been a counter-cultural movement. Jesus, in his final discourse on the night before his arrest, warned his disciples about the possibility of social marginalization and physical persecution:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:18-20).

“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” –these words are as relevant to us as they were to the disciples. But they are words that don’t exactly go down easy. It’s human nature to want to be liked and yet, the call of Christ is, at some level, to embrace the role of a subversive, an outsider, a revolutionary. The gospel upends the dominant social order, always confronting and provoking.

So the question for followers of Jesus is not if we’ll face opposition or why we’re facing opposition, but how should we react when the culture winces at our message?

In my view, we typically adopt one of two equally misguided attitudes. We are tempted to worship at the altar of acceptance and willingly jettison core Christian teachings. The last several years have seen the rise of novel interpretations of Scripture, hoping to align shifting sexual mores with biblical values.

At the other end of the spectrum there is an equally dangerous posture. This is the temptation to proudly wear the badge of cultural provocateur. In this worldview, controversy is king and no rhetorical weapon is left unsheathed in the war of ideas.

But are these the only two choices for a follower of Jesus? I believe there is a third way, a more biblical approach to engaging culture. We see this modeled in the life of one of the most enigmatic characters in Scripture: Simon Peter.

In a 24-hour space of time, Peter was both the provocateur and the culturally timid. He pledged undying loyalty to Jesus and in a fit of defensive rage, lopped off the ear of a Roman soldier. And yet it was also Peter who sheepishly denied the Lord, not once, not twice, but three separate times. He was both a zealot and sellout in the same night.

Read the whole thing here:


Speaking with Grace: The gospel and the way we speak

Over at, I’m in the midst of a series of blog posts on speaking with grace in the culture. Here’s the second in this series: 

Mark DeMoss is a longtime public relations consultant who has represented some of the most well known evangelical figures such as Jerry Falwell and Chuck Colsen. DeMoss has also served as an adviser for several presidential candidates.

In 2009, conservative DeMoss teamed up with liberal Lanny Davis to create the Civility Project. Both men, informed by their Christian faith, were deeply convicted by the caustic rhetoric consistently employed by both sides of our political divide. The two men sent letters to every sitting member of Congress and every governor with a simple request. Would each public servant sign this simple pledge?

I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.

I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.

I will stand against incivility when I see it.

The Civility Project spent several thousand dollars and launched an extensive PR campaign. But after two years, DeMoss and Davis shut down the effort. Only two politicians signed on: Virginia Congressman Frank Wolff and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman. In an interview with the New York Times, DeMoss expressed his disappointment, particularly with his own tribe: “The worst emails I received were from conservatives with just unbelievable language…some words I wouldn’t use in this phone call.”

It’s easy to react to this story with typical outrage at Washington. It’s easy to be cynical about the American politician. But maybe we should ask ourselves if the problem of incivility is simply a fault of the political class or a reflection of the larger culture?

Some evangelicals use the state of political discourse to advocate withdrawal from politics. But, if we’re to embrace the full impact of the gospel, we’re to love our world like Jesus loved the world. In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6), we’re told to pray for God’s will to happen “on earth as it is in Heaven.” The resurrection of Jesus wasn’t just a ticket out of hell for believers, but the reversal of the curse, the sign that death, sin and the enemy have been defeated and that Christ is coming back to renew and restore his world. The Church, then, serves as a window into a future kingdom.

A few years ago I read a book that really helped me consider a third way. City of Man, written by two political veterans, Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner, advocates principled, but wise engagement. I had the chance to interview both men on my blog. I asked Gerson why weary evangelicals should still care about politics and culture:

“Because the Bible teaches that God is the author of history and isn’t indifferent to the realm of politics and history. In addition, politics can have profound human consequences. It matters whether the state is a guardian or an enemy of human dignity. The idea that people of faith can take a sabbatical from politics to collect their thoughts and lick their wounds is a form of irresponsibility. It is, in fact, an idea that could only be embraced by comfortable Christians. Particularly for the weak and the vulnerable, there is no sabbatical from the failures of politics.”

This thinking lines up with Jeremiah’s instruction to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Thousands of miles from their homeland, a minority in a pagan culture, God’s people were instructed in Jeremiah 29:7 to plant roots in in a world that was not their home: But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

This is a great call not to be indifferent to the plight of their communities and their nation. Loving our neighbors and our cities means we should have an active role in shaping society. In this way, applying our understanding of Scripture to cultural questions obeys the command to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31). By “seeking justice and loving mercy” we demonstrate our obedience to the God we love (Micah 6:8).

In recent years, evangelicals have reprised the phrase, “common good” to communicate the goals of civic engagement. Christians should not keep quiet in the face of suffering. We should be voices for the voiceless, motivated not by the pursuit of power, but a genuine desire for the welfare of our cities. Sometimes this means interfacing with issues with widespread cultural agreement. But at other times it requires a certain gospel-infused courage to tackle issues that cut against the cultural grain.

It’s beyond the scope of this particular blog series to examine the specific issues of importance. Rather, I’d like to talk about the way we speak. If the gospel compels us to love our communities, then it’s not enough to let our voices be heard. We must commit to applying the gospel to the very words we chose.