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Who Are Your Enemies?

[ 1 min read ★ ]

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you—Luke 6:27-28

Who are your enemies? Do you have any? Who hates you? Anyone? Most of us would probably answer, no. We might even conclude that these words, spoken so long ago, have become a little irrelevant in our present, everyday lives. And we might try to just move on to the next set of instructions. But, should we? Can we? The answer is, absolutely not. These particular instructions are as relevant to us, right now, as they are challenging—and as they are important. Our King, Jesus Christ, is simply calling on us to love even those who are hardest to love. And we know people like that.

Who’s mistreated you? Who’s let you down? Who’s taken advantage of you? Maybe someone at work? A family member? A friend? A neighbor? Someone you barely know? "Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst" (Luke 6:27-30 MSG).

We must treat well those who’ve treated us badly (Luke 6:27-29). We must help those who will never help us back (Luke 6:31-34). We must be generous to those who are anything but (Luke 6:29-30). And we must be merciful to them all (Matthew 6:14-15). But, not only that, we must be merciful again and again and again (Matthew 18:21-22). You see, what Jesus is teaching us—what we must grasp and embrace—is that we don’t fight evil with yet more evil; we fight evil with good (Romans 12:21).

Okay, so what do we do?

Who’d be the hardest person for you to pray for? Got him? Got her in mind? Okay, that’s your person. Pray for them. Let God the Holy Spirit lead you in how to pray. Pray tomorrow too. Write their name down and pray for them every day for a week, at least.



Seeing Boundaries In A New Light​

After years of seeing and helping patients with boundary issues, I began researching the topic to gain clarity and information. Many of my clients need assistance in setting clearer boundaries in relationships. They complain that they often give too much to others, feel depleted, and have trouble saying “no” to others.

For example, Nina, 50, a client of mine (fictitious name) often spends endless hours running errands for her mother, Susan, age 75. Even if she has her own work to do, or is feeling tired or overwhelmed, Nina will agree to pick up groceries for her mother, or spend time talking with her about her medical issues. She has trouble setting boundaries for fear of appearing selfish but it is having a negative impact on her job and health.
While it’s important to care for others, the way Nina does for Susan, we all need to practice self-care and learn to set healthy boundaries so we don’t become exhausted or resentful.

An expert on boundaries, therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab, took to social media to spread the word about her observations and solutions. Her post “Signs That You Need Boundaries” clearly struck a chord with her followers, but reached an even larger audience when the post went viral.
These are the Glover Tawwab’s Signs that You Need Boundaries:
  • You feel overwhelmed.
  • You feel resentment toward people for asking for your help.
  • You avoid phone calls and interactions with people you think might ask for something.
  • You make comments about helping people and getting nothing in return.
  • You feel burned out.
  • You frequently daydream about dropping everything and disappearing.
  • You have no time for yourself.

In processing the “overwhelming response,” Glover Tawwab wrote that her “posts online show me how much people relate to the need for boundaries.” Indeed, she had tapped into a relatable dynamic in the lives of so many people and couples, and her pragmatic, straightforward approach led her to host weekly Q&As on Instagram where she is able to interact directly with a wide audience.

The response to her posts seemed to give a sort of permission to people looking to unpack and understand their boundary issues in a new, healthy and constructive way. Moreover, it unlocked the power of recognizing our shared experiences, demonstrating how much we can learn about ourselves by learning about others.
Glover Tawwab presented boundary issues in approachable terms, highlighting the fact that we all have “triumphs and fails” in our journey toward building and sustaining healthy relationships. She discussed the difficulties and risks in setting limits in our lives, but successfully reframed those scary hurdles by focusing on the positive impact of setting boundaries.

Her philosophy is simple and gives people the tools and perspective to view the practice of setting boundaries in a positive light. While establishing healthy boundaries might be uncomfortable — even painful — at first, Glover Tawwab provided clarity around the end result, showing her followers the light at the end of the tunnel.
Being mindful of effective and honest communication, self-evaluation, and the realities of taking action on setting boundaries both big and small, Glover Tawwab provided a sort of checklist to recognize boundary issues (“You feel overwhelmed,” or “You feel resentment toward people asking for your help,” for example).

But in addition to helping her followers recognize the telltale signs of boundary issues, Glover Tawwab also broke down the ways in which the setting of boundaries is easier to achieve. Ultimately, when writing recently about her Instagram experience on Maria Shriver’s website, this seasoned therapist put this all-too-common problem in perspective: “People don’t know what you want. It’s your job to make it clear. Clarity saves relationships.”

As with her philosophy and strategies for helping patients, clarity indeed rules the day. In the end, Glover Tawwab distills the hope that we all need in the emotionally wrought and often challenging process of setting boundaries, writing that “the more you do it, the easier it gets — especially when you experience the peace of mind that follows.”

Working with individuals with boundary issues, my take away from Glover Tawwab’s valuable insights is that becoming clearer about our own boundary issues is the first step in change. For many people, it’s a life long journey that’s worth the effort. For instance, in my work with Nina, I’ve facilitated her process of setting boundaries and still being a loving daughter to her mother Susan, but it’s a work in progress.



Why Are You Trading One Set Of Problems For Another?​

Every one of us has at least one problem at the forefront of our minds. We believe solving this problem will free us from negativity and open up a world of possibilities. The salvation of this circumstance will set us free. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case. What ends up happening is we trade one set of problems for another.

The idiom ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ is perhaps the most prevailent lie in our culture. Our essential belief is in the power of our circumstances. And, therefore, when life feels negative, it seems as if a trade in circumstances is just what we need.

The two circumstances we put our hopes in most often are money and relationship status. But there are others. Many others.

A Lateral Trade

The idea of being released from our current circumstance is enticing. If we could trade away our struggles for a better set of circumstances, how could life be anything but better?
A few weeks ago, our remote control went haywire. It randomly clicked buttons we hadn’t pressed. The channel would change randomly. The TV would turn off and we couldn’t get it back on. It was a thorn in my side. The remote was broken and it was making me more and more angry as the days went on.

Finally, fed up, I ordered a new remote online. It arrived and worked like a charm. I let out a big sigh of relief and waved my TV-watching-stresses goodbye. But then, a week into having the new remote, it started to malfunction. The remote flashes off randomly and we can’t get it back on. Now we can’t get the channels to change or the TV to turn off when we want to.

I’ve traded one problematic remote for another. One set of problems has replaced the vacuum left by the previous.
Our limited imaginations, mired by the specific annoyances we are facing, looks to the future and can see the hope of our current annoyance rectified. What we can’t imagine is the new problems that might arise in its stead.

One of the reasons we feel stuck in a hamster wheel is because we are making lateral trades. We trade to remove our annoying circumstance without properly understanding the potential annoyance of future circumstance. We are so impatient we just want out of where we are now without a healthy perspective of what awaits.

The Real Problem

The naked truth is this: the problem is not with our circumstances but with our perceptions. We make gods of our seasons, possessions (both ours and others), and relationships (both real and potential). A new relationship can’t save us, neither can a new job. A new diet or new hairdo or new car won’t eliminate our problems. We are obsessed with lateral trades, getting no more than we give.

What really needs an overhaul is the way we view our self and the world around us. When I traded the imperfections of one TV remote for another, I realized just how much power I was giving TV remotes in my life. The solution was not right in front of me, but right within me. I decided to laugh off the remote and be more at ease.
Some circumstances are not so easy to get over. But the fact remains that the solution to our turmoil is not an absence of the circumstance but a healthy perspective towards it. We set ourselves up for a renewed cycle of frustration and disappointment when we rely on our relationships and circumstances to fulfill us.

The Real Solution

The solution is simple. We need to decide what it is that truly brings us joy. What truly makes us come alive?
We can make choices that move us toward the person we most want to be. Circumstances and relationships are the arenas in which our identities play out. They shape, mold, and inform our choices. But a change in arena does not negate the need for us to own those choices. Each arena is going to have its imperfections. Every circumstance is going to come with hardship. We cannot find peace in arena-hopping, fleeing the difficulty of one circumstance for the false hope of salvation in another. We will find peace only when we face the circumstances with courage and make our decisions in the face of them.



Hymns Of Hope And Comfort: If Thou But Trust In God To Guide Thee​

Well, this was a weird Sunday.
As a professional Christian (or, Church Music Director) I only get a few Sundays off per year. So to find myself in my pajamas drinking coffee and watching the livestream of a spoken Low Mass in a parish a thousand miles away was, very strange. And while I’m grateful for the technology that made it possible, along with the backup copy of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer that I keep at home, I don’t really want to get used to this.

It’s not the way worship is supposed to be.
But it’s the right call for now. This is serious business. It’s not just a cold. It’s not the flu. It’s a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations. So during this time of fear and uncertainty in the COVID-19 wilderness, I’ve decided to do something a little different. I’m going to be using this blog to share texts and videos of hymns that pass along hope and comfort.
Take care, everyone. Wash your hands. And keep the faith.
First up, as played and sung by the Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, here’s an enduring classic.

If thou but trust in God to guide thee,
with hopeful heart through all thy ways,
God will give strength, whate’er betide thee,
to bear thee through the evil days.
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
builds on the rock that nought can move.

Only be still, and wait God’s leisure
in cheerful hope, with heart content
to take whate’er thy Keeper’s pleasure
and all-discerning love hath sent.

No doubt our inmost wants are clear
to One who holds us always dear.
Sing, pray, and swerve not from God’s ways,
but do thine own part faithfully.

Trust the rich promises of grace;
so shall they be fulfilled in thee.
God never yet forsook at need
the soul secured by trust indeed.

– Georg Neumark, 1641



The Theme, Just Now, Is Kindness​

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.

Times were tough for Christians in Ephesus, times were pretty bad for Christians everywhere. The wise teacher suggested that this was just the time to let go of anger and be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving.

A very good reason was that if martyrdom was coming, and in Ephesus it always might be, then one wished to face the Prince of Peace in a state of grace. The great teacher had told his followers to love their enemies and to pray for those who abused them. The hour of death was not then a good time to hold grudges.
Jesus forgave His enemies from the Cross. He did not indulge in a last minute put down. If this is to be a plague year, periodic in our past, then we should not risk going to God full of resentment for those who have slighted us.

If we, as is most likely, will not face death, then mercy commends kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness to those suffering. Does any decent Christian rejoice when a foe suffers? Time enough for hard discussions in the future when we can enjoy the dialectic together. Surely pity and mercy commend to us acts of kindness. We might pick our favorite cause and rail about it, with malice, on social media or we might be Christians and continue in our opinions quietly for now.
Is there anything more ugly than the man who must press his view of predestination at the bedside of a suffering saint?

Once I asked my dad what he did at funerals where he was unsure of the beliefs of the deceased . . . or even. . . have mercy. . . had reason to believe the deceased was (to wax Dickensian) “a wicked old screw.” Dad always told the truth, yet Dad was also kind. In such a case, Dad said what was good, whatever bit it was (“He worked hard!”) and left the rest to God. Commending the mercy and grace of God, the ability of all of us to repent to the very end unknown to anyone but God, are truths that never grow tired.

That is the sermon to preach: damnation is a warning to the healthy, mercy the balm offered to the dying. We do not know the fate of any soul (save perhaps Judas), so we can always pray “may his soul rest in peace.”
May it. God have mercy. Christ have mercy on me a sinner.

That is all very great, but kindness in hard times to the family of God is often much smaller. Kindness is deciding this is not the time to drop a mic on a fellow Christian. This the time to see the atheist interlocutor and remember the goodness in him. We live in a moment where solidarity to every human is the key note.

This image, the key note, the main underlying theme of our speech, helps us understand why there are times for other dominant passions in our discourse. We should always be kind, but in the rough and tumble of a normal election debate in a healthy republic, verbal swords may be crossed! Jesus could engage in verbal conflict with his foes: He did not crucify them.
The time will come, say in the fall, when remaining kind, we will deploy the rhetoric used by Saint Paul with some of his foes. We will disagree, strongly, passionately, knowing that in the plague year the deeper love and kindness were there after all.


You're Built for Opposition

[ 1 min read ★ ]

The one who conquers, I will grant him
to sit with me on my throne—Revelation 3:21

Ever been in the middle of something tough, prayed for rescue, and heard . . . nothing? Ever questioned God, in frustration, "Why won’t you answer?"

Could it be that God doesn’t always answer because, sometimes, he wants us to stay right where we are and learn, there, how to fight? Could it be that God sometimes allows trouble and pain to train us, to build our maturity, to make us more reliable conduits of his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control? We often consider trouble and pain as unnecessary, to be avoided, hindrances to ease and happiness. Might it make more sense to consider trouble and pain as opposition, as a mountaineer views the pitch and the altitude, or as a linebacker views the block and the fake?

We aren’t meant to be men who avoid opposition, numb it or deny it. We aren’t meant to run from battles, to hide and to let others fight. We’re built for opposition. Truthfully, we’d probably wither without it. We must see it, though, for what it is: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). Our struggle is against being lured into selfishness, indifference, impatience, rage, resignation, or sin in the face of problems at work, or in our finances or relationships or families. These are epic struggles—battles worthy of any man.

Okay, so what do we do?

God doesn’t always take opposition away, brother, because he’s built you to conquer, not to cower. And he’s given you everything you’ll need. Spend time this week reading and meditating upon Ephesians 6:10-17. Write out what the words mean to you, personally, practically.



Christ Is Grace! Christ Is Life! Christ Is Resurrection!: The Healing Prayer (Saint Ambrose) (Part 5/5)​

Thee alone I follow, Lord Jesus, Who heals my wounds. For what shall separate me from the love of God, which is in Thee? Shall tribulation, or distress, or famine? I am held fast as though by nails, and fettered by the bonds of charity. Remove from me, O Lord Jesus, with Thy potent sword, the corruption of my sins. Secure me in the bonds of Thy love; cut away what is corrupt in me. Come quickly and make an end of my many, my hidden and secret afflictions.

Open the wound lest the evil humor spread. With Thy new washing, cleanse in me all that is stained. Hear me, you earthly men, who in your sins bring forth drunken thoughts: I have found a Physician. He dwells in Heaven and distributes His healing on earth. He alone can heal my pains Who Himself has none. He alone Who knows what is hidden can take away the grief of my heart, the fear of my soul: Jesus Christ. Christ is grace! Christ is life! Christ is Resurrection! Amen.

Today I had a long teleconference with some wonderful people . . .the kind that make you glad to be part of the Church. They were concerned about the world, but calm and carrying on. They showed courage: a rational understanding of the medical and economic dangers of the times with a refusal to panic or retreat into daydreams.

What if feelings of panic arise? What if we grow tired and wish to retreat to endless TCM movies?

We begin in prayer honest to God admitting how we really feel. Our feelings, one pastoral counselor once said to me, are our feelings. Like the weather, they are there, we are not always responsible for them, and need not judge them. They are. Having said they are, we can then decide if they are a sign to do anything.

If I read an article proclaiming our imminent doom, feelings of panic might arise. I should then stop, put the article down and ask: “What would I do differently? Can I really, at this point, prepare for what is being described?” “Perhaps when the doom develops, the best strategy would be to love God, love my neighbor, and do my duty?” If RMS Culture has ripped open too many watertight compartments, then let’s face the uncertain future like ladies and gentlemen. We misunderstand the expression “the band played on.” Those noble men played on to calm passengers and because if the end is coming what better way to meet it than music? Instead of panic, let’s play on. At the worst, we will have left a legacy of courage.

But then the worst almost never happens and I can just as easily pick up an article full of good news that tells me that soon, in a few months, if we do not panic, that all will be well. In fact, having learned a thing or two, we will be in very good times indeed. When I read this, then feelings of euphoria, might bring needed calm. There is still much that can be done and needs to be done. Normal duties must get focused attention. I should then stop, put the article down and ask: “What would I do differently? Can I really, at this point, prepare for what is described?”

“Perhaps when the good days come the best ‘strategy’ would be to love God, love my neighbor, and do my duty?” If V.V. Day is coming soon, if a long shot therapy pans out and we celebrate victory of the virus, then we can celebrate our heroes: the medicos on the front lines, the researchers, the companies who kept us going. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have won our bit and enjoy some jollification. At the best, we will have left a legacy of courage.

Most likely, we will muddle through between the two extremes. Our feelings of irrational panic or euphoria were not “bad,” though acting on them might be!
All of this comes to me as I have prayed for five days the prayer of Saint Ambrose, because the prayer focuses on the real problem for me: sin, falling woefully short of love. The outcome of the particular problems of Rome, and Rome had grave general and plaguish particular problems in Ambrose’s day, are not the focus. Eternal things are the key in this prayer for healing. We wish for healing of our bodies, yet our deepest desire is to become healed in our hearts. We hope all are healed in their hearts, if they wish to be healed.

What is the response of such an honest prayer? What happens when we name our fears and false euphoria and look past them to eternity? We gain every so often an eternal vision. We see what is true, what Saint John saw at the end of his visions. Foolishly, we recall his apocalypse for the figures he paints, the terrors of the world he acknowledges, but all of that is dismissed at the end in perfect beauty, justice, and joy. Only a coward gets stuck in Inferno, fails to follow Dante through his Purgatory. The final meaning comes when Dante, a mortal man, sees utterly sublime beauty and then returns to Earth. He does not stay in Paradise, but comes back and gives us a divine Comedy.

We can take our own glimpse of heaven and shout eternal truth: Christ is grace! Christ is life! Christ is resurrection! We do not shout this in heaven. We proclaim this in prayer here in Middle Earth as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. We feel, we think, we pray, we proclaim, then we act.



The Danger Of Emphasizing The “Exciting” Testimony​

On August 28, 2008, the Lord put to death a man who was an atheistic, drug-addled dealer, womanizer, drunkard, liar, thief, idolater, and suffice it to say: the fool of fools; the laziest of sluggards; the chief of sinners. I have the “exciting” testimony that many within the church are eager to lift up as an example of God’s grace and faithfulness. I came to Christ in a rather uproarious manner. Not only was I arrogant enough to think out of thousands of years and millions of people that I’d be the one who could sufficiently dismantle the historic faith, I had a life that boasted of doing things my way. I did what was right in my own eyes and didn’t particularly care how much damage it caused along the way.

God plucked a rebellious atheist out from the depths of a life of wanton rebellion. God saved a man given to the extremes of foolishness in nearly every way. Amazingly enough, God implanted a new heart with new desires and new affections. What was once a heart enslaved to sin became a heart enslaved to God. What was once a life devoted to delighting in evil became a life seeking to be devoted to glorifying God and delighting in Him forever, and one where, if the Lord wills, I will go on to plant a church this upcoming year as the lead pastor.

Indeed, it was a paradigm shift. I walked away from the life that I knew, which in retrospect wasn’t all that great to begin with. Yet this is, in a nutshell, why my testimony is “exciting” to many within the church. It has been that way since the day I was granted faith, and while some have placed more weight on it than others, it has nonetheless always been a point of amazement to Christians. Most recently, when I went through the church-planting approval process with the North American Mission Board, everyone in the room perked up when I mentioned who I was prior to Christ.

The fact that I have rather sordid past tends to be a strange form of currency with many in the church, as if this gives me more credibility, or perhaps means that I love Christ more than the one who has never shared my experience. People are shocked to hear of my past simply because it is unbelievable in light of who I am today. I get that in one sense, but this is the power of the gospel we proclaim. This is the gospel that gives hope to the worst offenders—that enables Christians to say that indeed, rapists, murderers, drug-dealers, thieves, liars, gossipers, slanderers—whatever is the sin that enslaves you—can be forgiven.

The gospel is scandalous.
The gospel promises not only that the worst can be forgiven, but that God will not leave us “as we are,” but continue in transforming us into the image of His Son. Yet more than this, the gospel is scandalous because it levels the playing field between the “worst of the worst” and the ordinary, moral pagan. The reason I say this is rather simple, but it bears stating plainly here: the gospel requires that we all see ourselves as worthy of eternal punishment as a result of our sins. All men are wicked before a holy and just Lord. God’s impartiality shines through, revealing that not a one of us is unstained with sin, nor any less in need of a Savior than the worst sinner imaginable.

The reason for this is that grand sin of mankind is not that they’ve committed the most egregious deeds imaginable, but that mankind has not honored the Lord as Creator, nor have they given Him thanks. This is the reason one can look at a perfectly upright pagan and call them to repentance, for though they have perhaps even lived a life more noble than many a Christian, they are doomed to an eternity in Hell simply for their rejection of Christ. The manifestation of one’s sins in these more “heinous” sins we see is, in reality, the result of the highest order sin of living without reference to God. In other words: it is the futile thinking of one who rejects God as Creator that results in them being handed over to the litany of sins we find particularly nasty.

This is particularly why we find such sins as “disobedience to one’s parents” amongst Paul’s vice lists—for all such manifestations of sin are an unnatural consequence to a debased mind, meaning these sins are a perversion of how things are supposed to be in the natural order of things. Thus, these vice lists are a result of a debased mind subjected to judgment—not the root cause of a debased mind. The point being: the root cause is the same, whether or not you have a conversion story like my own. Your mind was subjected to futility in the rejection of God, and therefore, it required Divine intervention to rouse you from the dead. It required an act of mercy and grace from the One who has the power to “un-corrupt” the mind, and then give it over to righteousness instead.

The danger of “exciting” testimonies is that people tend to put the weight on experience rather than Scripture’s claims. People downplay the severity of every man’s sins before a holy God, and therefore, they downplay the magnitude of every sinner’s repentance before that holy God as a result of believing the gospel. The reason I say this is rather simple in my own example: people immediately make it about the life I lived rather than about the gospel of Christ. There’s almost this sort of reveling in how bad my life was before Christ stepped in to intervene. If that weren’t the case, people wouldn’t glorify the exceedingly dark days of my rebellious past. They wouldn’t care—not in the grand scheme of things. They would look upon me as any other person in Christ, as one having received the miracle of miracles, right alongside my son who just realized one day that he has always believed the gospel he has heard from the day he was born.

More problematic than this is that I believe the conversion story tends to make a litmus test of those who profess Christ, in that people are looking for a credible experience rather than a credible profession of faith and trust in Christ. What I mean by this is that people are often looking for the radical transformation of an individual’s life rather than the paradigm shift of heart and mind that accompanies genuine faith. In other words: people are assessing the merits of one’s faith based on how grand the experiential change is rather than the objective confession of faith in Christ and Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins.

The problem with this mentality is twofold: people can change their behavior for a multitude of reasons, but secondly, this places more weight on individuality rather than the corporate reality of salvation. We are saved unto a body—not merely as individuals who just so happen to belong to the body of Christ. We have a fundamental problem with focusing greatly upon the individual story in our culture, and one that I believe proves detrimental to other, corporate aspects of our faith. The reality is that we have been grafted in to Christ Himself and collectively are saved unto this purpose. We are not individual shoots sustained and nurtured as individual trees.

The point being: we think far too much of the individual and far too little of the corporate entity that is the church. I can say this with the utmost confidence simply because the de-conversion stories of apostates tend to draw as much focus from the Evangelical world as the conversion stories of those with particularly seedy pasts, like my own. Yet the secondary result of such rugged individualism plays out in how little people consider the necessity of gathering with that body they have been saved to. More clearly: a ruggedly individualistic understanding of salvation (i.e. a heavy weight on the individual conversion story) affects how one view the importance of going to church and being part of that body.

People look upon themselves as a part of the universal church—and this is undoubtedly true if they are in Christ—yet they often fail to see themselves as truly part of the whole body. Rather, they picture themselves as a component part of that body that is able to survive and thrive apart from the body’s presence.

Yet part and parcel to this gathering is the nature of all those who gather—whether exciting conversion story or not. Together they form this incredibly beautiful and wondrous testimony of God’s faithfulness to a myriad of people from all walks of life. He has saved not only a man such as myself, but others with far fewer skeletons in their closets (and arguably, some with more than my own). The goal is not to prop up a particular person and their story—as if God’s grace was somehow all the greater in the midst of a particularly dirty conversion. Rather, the goal is for us to lift up a unified song in praise to the One who has saved all of us, for not a single blameless man, woman, or child was to be found.

It is not the changed life of the atheistic, drug-addled dealer, womanizer, drunkard, liar, thief, and idolater that contains the gospel. Your personal testimony is not the gospel. Your changed life doesn’t contain the answers mankind so desperately needs to hear. The changed life is a product of the gospel—but it is not the gospel. In and of itself, it is but one of millions of similar stories where someone’s life in shambles comes to order.

With the gospel, it is a story of redemption—but one need not have an entirely messed up life in order to bring the hope of the gospel. The truth of the matter is that whether you’ve lived a life similar to mine, or you’ve lived a rather mundane, boring life as a morally acceptable person in the world’s eyes—your testimony is not what brings hope to the hopeless. Christ is. Your testimony will not save anyone. Only the gospel will.

The details of how that plays out in each individual’s life doesn’t matter as much as the fact that one grand story of redemption is taking place, particularly through the work of God in Christ. For that reason, I find the “boring” conversion story all the more attractive—for it is a testimony of familial faithfulness and intergenerational faithfulness on the part of God Himself. It required an “exciting” conversion at one point. It required that God step in and change the trajectory of a family who knew nothing of God, as He then made them a people of His own possession, and in this we ought to always rejoice greatly.

Yet what it is supposed to produce is a faithful Christian home where the gospel is present, and children didn’t need to hit rock bottom or have a definitive point where they “choose” Christ. Even if the child so chooses to eschew all of God’s blessings and go the way of the sluggard, which is a hedge of thorns, God has still made a highway where there was none before. All such a child must do is return to the way he knows and was raised in; he need not forge an entirely new path. Yet the goal is the same: the “exciting” conversion story ought to produce little “boring” conversion stories that will in turn continue to progenate and produce more and more “boring” conversion stories through faithful generations of Christian families. You should hope and pray that your children have such a “boring” testimony, and that your grandchildren do too.



Counting Sin’s Costs Can Help Foster Sexual Purity​

My goal in this series of blogs is for us to wake up and do what it takes in our own lives, families, churches, and ministries to confess and repent personally, as well as identify what is going on in our midst that fuels these things. If we can change things so that fewer Christian leaders fall, then there will be less need to talk about this! But neglecting to talk about it in a biblical and productive way has been one reason it’s happening far more.

Some Clarifications

It’s ironic to see commenters not wanting to deal with this issue cite Ephesians 5:3, which says, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you.” What’s the actual meaning of this passage? It’s captured in the NIV: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” and the CSB: “But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you.” Certainly, it does not mean “don’t talk about it,” but “don’t do it!” That’s obvious since Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:1, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?”

We’re told to “work out [NOT work for] your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). This is not God placing demands on us so we can prove our worth. Our salvation and sanctification are about the worth of Jesus, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Our God loves us even when we fail, and that’s often when He reveals His love to us the most. “No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39, NLT). Jesus invites us, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).

Jesus didn’t come to earth for righteous people but for sinners like you and me. He didn’t come to threaten us and make us dread Him, but to save us from threat and dread: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He invites us to come back to Him again and again every time we fail and sin and hurt others.
Jesus was known derisively as a “friend of sinners,” but He was honored to wear that badge. Dane Ortlund says this in his book Gentle and Lowly:

You might know that Christ died and rose again on your behalf to rinse you clean of all your sin; but do you know his deepest heart for you? Do you live with an awareness not only of his atoning work for your sinfulness but also of his longing heart amid your sinfulness?
If you are living in sexual sin, whether you’re a Christian leader or a “regular” Christian, don’t despair. You can reach out to Him right now and confess and repent and with confidence say these inspired words to Him: “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). It’s only if you do not confess and repent that you have reason for despair, for “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

What did Jesus mean when He said to an adulterous woman, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11)? We know He didn’t mean He expected her to live a sinless life, since God says, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves… If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar” (1 John 1:8,10). He meant “no longer live in sin.” He’s saying, “I have something far better for you.”

The problem when we react to the moral fall of a Christian leader by saying, “We’re all sinners,” is that it often means, “So what’s the big deal?”
Remembering the extremes and overstatements and legalism, many evangelicals now dismiss and ridicule “purity culture.” But in the process, we can end up ridiculing purity. Personally, I remember Christian students coming forward and committing themselves to pursue a life of purity. For some of them it meant a great deal and God used it in their lives. The problem with “purity culture” was that some turned it into a legalistic, rules-oriented self-righteousness in which people could boast, “I never kissed a girl until I married her.” (And in some cases, “I was so busy not kissing her that I never actually got to know her and discover whether we should really become life partners.”)

The problem with “purity culture,” however, was certainly not seeking to be pure! Sexual purity was God’s idea, not that of home-schooling parents: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Today the baby of sexual purity is being thrown out with the bathwater of self-righteous rule-keeping that prompts us to congratulate ourselves while judging and condemning everyone else. So how about we throw out the latter as ugly but cling to the former as beautiful? That’s what I’m trying to do in these blogs. The idea is not just to refrain from the bad, but to embrace the good, God’s higher plan for us. God is the creator of sex, not Satan. He intended it for marriage. Right after saying “Flee from sexual immorality,” Paul says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

God tells us to honor marriage, which is the first reason for being pure, the second being that immorality will bring God’s judgment on our lives: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).

Thinking of Particular Christian Leaders and Ministries as Indispensable Hurts Us​

I have often seen men guilty of immorality move on directly to another church or ministry, or sometimes “sit out” for a year and then go on to lead elsewhere. The logic is, “We’re all sinners, God has forgiven him, and besides, he’s such a gifted leader and we really need him.”
Too often the gifted man’s sins in previous places are repeated the next place he goes. Why wouldn’t they be? And unthinkably, because churches often don’t talk with multiple leaders at his previous church (not just those he lists as references) they don’t even know about his history of sexual immorality, financial compromise, or patterns of anger and bullying. Why? Because they didn’t bother asking, asked only superficial questions, or failed to ask enough people.
In 1990 I wrote this in our ministry’s original documents:
Eternal Perspective Ministries belongs to Jesus Christ. We are privileged to be His servants (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). EPM will exist only as long as God wants it to. If it becomes evident that His purpose for EPM is finished, we will close our doors. The sun does not rise or set on this ministry. It is simply a tool at God’s disposal (2 Timothy 2:21), for Him to use how and however long He chooses.

The belief that we are indispensable is nonsense. To imagine that without a particular ministry, founder, director, or pastor the work of Jesus would be seriously impoverished is self-deception. People who worship Christian leaders do them as great a disservice as those who crucify them.
The celebrity culture of modern evangelicalism hasn’t only hurt churches; it has also hurt pastors and other Christian leaders.

It has created a subculture in which some, thinking they are “God’s man,” come to believe they are above scrutiny and accountability. Some who began as sincere servants wishing to honor Christ and love others end as privileged, entitled, self-absorbed, and unaccountable scoundrels who imagine they are somehow above the moral standards that apply to regular people (such as “it’s God’s will that you abstain from sexual immorality”). Often people in churches and ministries have flattered such men and fed their wrong thinking and behaviors instead of speaking the truth in love and confronting them about their sin. When that happens, everyone suffers.

Making a List of the Consequences of Sin​

I met with a man who had been a prominent ministry leader until he committed immorality. I asked, “What could have been done to prevent this?” He paused only a moment, then said with haunting pain, “If only I had really known, really thought through what it would cost me, my family, ministry, and my Lord, I honestly believe I never would have done it.”

That’s when I got serious and specific about counting the cost in my own life. Thirty-five years ago my fellow pastor and friend Alan Hlavka and I each developed a list of the specific consequences we could think of that would result from our immorality. The lists spoke to us more powerfully than any sermon or article on the subject.
Periodically, especially when traveling or during times of temptation or weakness, we read through our lists.

When we begin to think unclearly, reviewing the list yanked us back to reality. It cut through the fog of rationalization and filled our hearts with a healthy, motivating fear of God and the consequences of sin. (Being motivated by love for God is wonderful, but in Scripture the fear of God and of sin’s consequences are also legitimate motives.)
What follows is an edited version of our combined lists. I’ve included the actual names of my wife and daughters to emphasize the personal nature of this exercise. I recommend that you make your own list, adding consequences that would be uniquely yours. The idea, of course, is not to focus on sin, but on the consequences, thereby encouraging us to refocus on the Lord and take steps of wisdom to keep from falling.

I know some will think any list is legalistic. Like anything it can be, but in fact it is just heeding the warnings of God’s Word. “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:32). “Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished” (Proverbs 6:28-29).

Here were some of the items on my list when I wrote it thirty-five years ago:
  • Dragging Christ’s reputation into the m&d.
  • Having to one day look Jesus in the face at the judgment seat and explain why I did it.
  • Untold hurt to Nanci, my best friend and loyal wife.
  • Loss of Nanci’s respect and trust.
  • The possibility that I could lose my wife and my children forever.
  • Hurt to and loss of credibility with my beloved daughters, Karina and Angie. (“Why listen to a man who betrayed Mom and us?”)
  • Shame to my family. (“Why isn’t Daddy a pastor anymore?” The cruel comments of others who would invariably find out.)
  • Shame and hurt to my church and friends, especially those I’ve led to Christ and discipled. (List names.)
  • An irretrievable loss of years of witnessing to my unsaved father.
  • Bringing great pleasure to Satan, God’s enemy.
  • Possibly contracting a sexually transmitted disease, passing it on to Nanci.
  • Loss of self-respect, discrediting my own name, and invoking shame and lifelong embarrassment upon myself.
This is less than half of the items on my list. Today my daughters are grown, with children older than they were when I made the list. But the list of immorality’s consequences is longer for me than it’s ever been. I now have two sons-in-law and five grandchildren, and many dear friends and people in our church. Millions of people have read my books, and people have been reached through our ministry, so the circle of those I would be letting down has exponentially grown—which puts Satan’s target on me more than ever. I would be a fool to not heed Scripture’s warnings.

It would still break my heart to betray my Lord Jesus and my wonderful wife, daughters, and grandsons. That’s why I still try to avoid the little compromises that could lead to moral disaster. And why I still call upon God’s Spirit to empower my obedience. I genuinely love Jesus. And He’s the one who said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Because I love him, I will go out of my way to guard my purity. Because I believe His warnings about the consequences of sin, I will go out of my way to guard myself, my family, and our ministry from those consequences.

Of course, there’s nothing magic about making a list! But what if all the fallen Christian leaders of the past decades had made such a list and carried it with them? What if in moments of isolation and temptation they read it through? Might God have used that to help some of them dread sin’s immense price? Maybe it could have prompted some of them to reach out to God who could deliver and empower them?

Or to reach out to brothers who could have helped avoid the sin or confess it and escape from its entanglements? Maybe counting the cost could have provided one more incentive the Holy Spirit could use to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
This is not about legalism or self-righteousness. This is about loving Jesus wholeheartedly, heeding God’s warnings, and warmly embracing our standing and resources in Christ to say yes to the new nature and no to the old.

There’s a particular curve on a road near our house where I regularly see a large cross put there by a family I know. It’s where their teenage son died in a car accident. Many times I’ve seen that cross and been warned “slow down and be careful.” Seeing it makes me instinctively put on the brakes. I wonder if contemplating that terrible thing that happened over twenty years ago may have kept a terrible thing from happening to me. If we would rehearse in advance the ugly consequences of immorality which we have seen in others or in ourselves, we would be far more likely to avoid it.

Loving and Fearing God​

Because we don’t want to think about the moral tragedies in churches and ministries that have been going on decade after decade, we don’t. And they just keep happening. And they will keep on happening unless we take a hard look at them and learn the lessons God has for us. We are constantly dealing with people at the bottom of the cliff when we should have been doing far more to counteract the wrong thinking that that caused them to keep moving closer to the cliff when they were at the top.

What if we took seriously the accountability I’ve written about, and counting the cost of sin that I’ve addressed here? Couldn’t we develop a culture of happily depending on the Holy Spirit to empower us and commit ourselves to working together to pursue righteousness and avoid sin? Wouldn’t we then help more people to back away from the cliff and see fewer of us fall?

Truth without grace will accuse and shame people and fail to offer them the forgiveness and transformation of Jesus. Grace without truth will degenerate into deceitful indifference to sin, and increasing tolerance of it. Only grace and truth together, as manifested in the person and work of Jesus, can save churches and ministries from endless moral tragedies. It can and help us experience God’s best for us and the world we’re called to reach, so “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).



Your ‘Fur Babies’ Aren’t Children​

The pet industry in America is a booming industry. For the past several years, American pet owners have collectively spent nearly 100 billion dollars or more annually on their pets. While much of this can no doubt be accounted for with things like food, vet bills, and the like, there is a rather large market for all sorts of goods that go well beyond the scope of basic pet care. It shouldn’t be all that controversial to posit that the root of this goes hand in hand with the colloquial phraseology people adopt in referring to their pets as children, kids, fur Babies, etc. People love their pets—in an inordinate sense and much of this goes hand in hand with how our culture views actual children.

It shouldn’t strike us as all that odd when we consider the startingly large number of babies led to the veritable slaughter with abortion and abortifacients. Even if we ignore the topic of abortion, all one has to do to see the ample number of “return to school” videos posted each year where parents chomp at the bit to be rid of their kids. Many mothers likewise can’t imagine staying at home all day to care for their little ones, so the workforce is often seen as the enterprise for exercising their adult freedoms (or it comports with their identity in some sense). In both cases, someone else is raising their children for them for the majority of the day, and seldom do people connect this with why they have lost their child’s ear in the teen years.

What I believe it speaks to rather candidly though is a culture of perpetual adolescence, where people seek to express their maternal and paternal instincts whilst retaining maximal freedom. You can pour out your love on an animal as you desire yet lock them in a cage for extended periods of time or find a quality pet pampering place as you deem necessary. You can continue to progress in your career uninhibited; you can have a social life to whatever capacity you desire; you can even save a tremendous amount of money.

Let’s face it, both marriage and child-rearing are difficult and often arduous tasks that requires more than many are willing to give in today’s hyper-individualistic world. They take consistent energy, effort, and resilience, not only to maintain some semblance of order, but to cause these relationships to flourish. Despite our culture’s insistence that you can marry and raise children while retaining your identity and goals, the reality is that upon entering into these things, you give up your freedoms and goals for the good of the whole—at least in healthy, functional families.

Trading out a spouse or children for pets to fill these voids gives some the illusion of all the benefits of both worlds though. For the single person, pets can fill the void of companionship without the messy aspects of pursuing a God-honoring relationship and commitment one finds in a spouse. For the married couple who doesn’t desire kids, contra the dominion mandate of Gen. 1:28, pets fill the void of the pitter-patter of little image-bearers without much real, lasting sacrifice that is part and parcel to raising kids. In all of it, it speaks to the American ideals of comfort and freedom.

You don’t have to think much of others before yourself; you can travel the world, spend money as you like, and have little else as a goal beyond your own personal enjoyment of life. I believe much of this is tied into a greater reality behind the scenes, which I will touch on shortly, but the practical reality is that having pets is a rather easy task more often than not. One might have a pet with all sorts of behavioral and health issues, but it speaks more of the individual who clings to the life of their pet than the animal. Am I against pets then? In a word: no.

By all means, enjoy your pets and care for them well (Pro. 12:10), but let’s not confuse their nature with that of the nature of children, or people more broadly. Children are born with the Imago Dei and as such, are part and parcel to God’s most unique creative work in humanity (Gen. 1:27). They showcase the wonder and glory of God in ways that nothing else in all of creation can (Ps. 139:14). Children are a reward from the Lord (Ps. 127:3), and while pets may be a blessing, they are an altogether different one that is not even remotely deserving of elevating them to the level of a human being.

God cares for the image-bearer in a way that is utterly unique to all creatures; He deems people to be much more valuable than animals (Matt. 6:26). There is nothing that indicates little, beloved Fido has a spiritual aspect as man does (Gen. 2:7). Fido doesn’t have a God who redeems him, nor gives him eternal life. Fido doesn’t have a proverbial leg to stand on when it comes to all of the general benefits and kindness that God bestows upon all of humanity—the just and the unjust (Lk. 6:35, 16:25). Despite the often cringeworthy poem, “Dog is God Spelled Backwards,” little Fido may reveal God’s general benevolence, but he is not the crowning jewel of God’s creation.

The point here is not that God doesn’t preserve the animal kingdom and care for them. He does and will even redeem all of creation in the general sense (Ps. 36:6; Rom. 8:19-22). The point is that animals are not deserving of the unique status of human beings. It is only mankind that has been stamped in His image, and to ascribe this peculiar glory to an animal is fundamentally at odds with Scripture. To liken a pet to a child then is simply taking this logic to the extreme, and in essence, degrading both the image-bearer and the image-Giver. Pets are not children. They never have been, nor will they ever be children.

They can never replace a child who has died, nor fill the void of those who have left the roost—and we ought to take stock in that reality. The brokenness of barrenness and death should hold its full weight upon us, namely, because it is then that we can remember the beauty of God’s grace and the resurrection from the dead. In other words: these realities testify in a most horrendous way that creation is broken and distorted by sin, yet One has come who has defeated sin in every regard, and even the most brutal of our enemies: death.

The years of singleness, childlessness, and loss, no doubt filled with many tears, are tears of pain promised to be wiped away by the hand of our loving Father. No pet can come close to filling that void, nor console the inconsolable—but God can. This is perhaps where I believe the trend of calling pets your children can be all the more sinister in its practical implications, albeit in quite a subtle way. It fosters the mindset we are warned of in Rom. 1, where mankind exchanges the glory of the immortal God for created order, and all of it is born out of a faulty elevation of that created order. In other words, pets, at least in American culture, tend to be a means by which all sorts of idolatry can be maintained, or become idols in and of themselves.

This is obviously not the case with all who have pets, but we all ought to be able to recognize there is a fundamental issue in referring to pets as if they are children. In a saner time, I don’t think this would have garnered much controversy, but in our current day and age, saying this is almost guaranteed to draw the ire of a rather large segment of the population. Yet again, I believe it speaks to where our culture is at in a rather profound way.

This is but one of many ways people have defamed the image-bearer, all as a result of defaming the image-Giver. To use the cliché line: this is what happens when you remove God from the equation. This is what happens when you cobble together all sorts of opinions about the world and everything in it without giving God the honor and glory, He is due. When one thinks little of image-Giver, they are bound to think little of those who bear His image.



Justice Without Love Is Not Justice: Justice#5​

Two weeks ago, in my post “What is Justice?” I examined the meaning of “righteousness” and “justice” and noted the prevalence of these terms throughout the OT. From Genesis to Malachi (or Genesis to 2nd Chronicles in the Hebrew Bible), the people of God are called to pursue righteousness and justice.

Last week, in my last post “Jesus and the call to Justice: what does Justice look like in a NT world? I noted that Jesus not only continues the ethical call of the OT, but He intensifies it. Thus, in the kingdom of God, Jesus calls us to not only to not murder but to not even have hatred in our hearts (Matt 5:21-22).
It is critical to observe that Jesus and the NT continue the call to pursue righteousness and justice, but they do so under the guise of the law of love.

One of the problems here is that the meaning of love has often been tamed so that it means something along the lines of feeling good about others and being nice to them. This is one of the reasons why people have trouble with God being angry in the Bible (the subject of a future post). Anger is not considered a corollary of love, but something antithetical to love.

This is not biblical love. As I noted in my last post, biblical love looks like Jesus on the cross! Love is sacrificial. It is willing to regard others as more important than oneself (Phil 2:3).
This is why Jesus says that His disciples will be known by others because of their “love for one another” (John 13:35). Yet, at the same time, Jesus defines a disciple as one who denies himself, takes up his cross, and follows Jesus (Mark 8:34).

What kind of difference in the world would the church be making if those who profess Christ, by the power of Spirit, were striving to love like this?

How many of our churches (I realize that many have not attended for some time due to Covid restrictions) look like this? How many of us can say, come to my church and you will see people who are diligently striving to love the other as Jesus loves?
Now, before we get all frustrated with the state of the contemporary church, let’s ask: “how are you doing?”

Righteousness and justice in light of Jesus’ command to love

What I intend to do in the rest of this post is to cement the connection between Jesus’ call to love and the OT exhortation to do righteousness and justice.
In Luke 6, which is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (corresponding to Matt 5-7), Jesus lays forth His law of love. Jesus continues to expound on the law of love by noting that we should love even our enemies (Luke 6:27, 35). He, then, adds, “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38).

This expression, which is mostly foreign to our modern, western culture, seems out of place. What does a “good measure” have to do with love?
The notion of a “measure—pressed down, shaken together” refers to the practice of generosity in a marketplace. When purchasing a measure of grain, if it were shaken, the grain would settle in the container, thus, allowing more grain to be added. This would be of benefit to the buyer—ensuring them that they obtained a “good [i.e., fair or just] measure.”

The fact that Jesus provides this illustration demonstrates that the love He advocates has application to the marketplace. It is a love that does right within a society: i.e., it is “just.”
For Jesus, love is of the kind that cares for the other in a business dealing to such an extent that one is willing to disadvantage oneself for the sake of the other. It is not about making a profit. It is about doing the “right” thing.

Interestingly, Jesus’ words correspond to the Holiness Code in Lev 19 and the call to righteousness: “You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin” (Lev 19:35).
Jesus, in other words, takes the OT principles of righteousness and justice and absorbs them into His radical call to love Jesus’ love, however, is not about some feel-good niceties. Jesus’ love weeps at injustice. Jesus’ love angrily denounces injustice. Jesus’ love sacrifices self for the sake of justice.

This corresponds with what Bruce Waltke noted with regard to the “righteous” in the book of Proverbs; namely, that the righteous are those who are willing to disadvantage themselves for the sake of the community![1]
Jesus’ understanding of love filters through the rest of the NT. Paul, in his advice to the church in Corinth with regard to lawsuits among believers (cf 1 Cor 6:1-8), reminds them that the people of God must be willing to be disadvantaged for the sake of the Gospel and our witness to the world.

Imitate this!​

It is the kind of love that sacrifices for the other—even our enemies—that the Bible calls us to imitate! “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet 2:21).

Though this series is on justice, one might begin to see why I have spent so much space addressing the foundation for biblical justice. I dare say, unfortunately so, that most discussions of justice do not derive from the starting point in which the other is more important than oneself.
For Jesus:
justice without love is not justice.
And love without justice is not love.



What Truly Motivates You?​

In this season of new beginnings, all of us are contemplating change to one degree or another. We all want to change. We want to feel better or be better or look better. We want more money, more friends, more free time.

And all of these things are possible. They really are. But it takes work. There aren’t any shortcuts to change. Well, there are, but they are as rare as winning the lottery. We are convinced we want to change, but our behavior does not match our desire. Why?
The key to all of life is motivation. It is what transforms desire into action. Without motivation, we will give up. The key to progress is not understanding what we ought to do but understanding what truly motivates us.


There are really only two things that motivate us. The first being less effective than the second.
The first thing that motivates us is fear. We are afraid of all sorts of things – not being good enough, not receiving love, not being happy, etc. The fear of absence launches us into a pursuit of something.

Passion, in and of itself, is a kind of fear. We are emotionally charged about something. This is often a mask to spin our fear into something more positive and easily digestible. But it is fear nonetheless.
There are a few problems with fear as a motivator. The biggest, in terms of effectiveness, is that our fears crash onto one another. We’re afraid of not having something but we’re also afraid of failure.

The result is a crippling kind of complacency. Apathy is the wreckage left over when our fears collide. Another problem with fear as a motivator is that it doesn’t really work. We want to be bold so we don’t have to be afraid. But boldness requires fear. We can never outrun the root causes of fear – that we aren’t in control and the world is bigger than us. So it won’t ever go away completely.


The other thing that motivates us is vision. The image we want to attain. Fear is using THP as a problem-solving mechanism. The trouble is that another problem will quickly rise in its place. But vision is the best process of inspiration, the best motivator for a fulfilled life.
Seeing where we truly want to go is the only way to navigate the obstacle course of fears. It is the only thing that pushes us forward when things get difficult, when expectations aren’t met, and when challenges get in the way.

Vision is not just a vague idea of a better future. It is a specific and intentional naming of what we deeply desire. In accordance with our values, our vision has to be true (the truest thing about who we are) in order to wade through the challenges. It is exactly this, the deep-rooted connection to our values, that motivates us. Because nothing is more important to us than our values. They matter more than our fear, our uncertainty, and the circumstances we face along the way.


Here’s a Little Heresy

[ 1 min read ★ ]

. . . what will it profit a man
if he gains the whole world?—Matthew 16:26

"Life’s not all about success." Those are fairly heretical words for most of us men—men trying to ascend—men for whom success in careers, success in raising kids, or success in just looking successful have become so important. Planning for success, working for it, worrying about it—they dominate our everyday lives. And, I mean, look around. How could life not be all about success? Well, brother, it’s not. Our King, Jesus Christ, teaches us that it’s not.

"Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot" (Luke 12:15 MSG).
Now, make no mistake, life is partially about success—we’ve got to spend our lives for something, and we should do that something as well as we can. So, we mustn’t forget success entirely. We just can’t make it an ultimate thing. "If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live," wrote Thomas Merton. When we focus all, or even most, of our lives on achieving success, we fall short of the full life Jesus promises in John 10:10. We miss those parts of life we’re meant to devote to the success of others.

How many of us sacrifice huge portions of the lives we’re meant to live—loving wives; spending time with kids; eating meals with families; hanging out with friends; helping people in need—spending too much time on our own success? How many of us are unavailable to those who need us most, whose lives are enriched by us—and who’ll enrich ours, right back?

Okay, so what do we do?

If you struggle with this, start talking about it. Confess it to friends, to brothers in community. Confess it to God. Repent it too. Tell God you don’t want to be that man anymore. He’ll help you change, if you want to.



Sorry Tim Keller, People Reject Christ Because They Reject The Bible​

Tim Keller is no stranger to saying some rather enigmatic things on social media. Over the past few years especially, he has made some rather grand-sweeping statements that might betray a level of rhetorical flair for some, but leave the careful reader puzzled. Some of this is simply due to the fact that what sounds fairly intelligible at first blush is, at times, rather senseless (e.g., “It’s true that we must bring the gospel to the city. But we should also recognize how much the city brings the gospel to us.”). In other instances, what he says is simply incorrect and at odds with the witness of Scripture, which is the substance of this particular blog post.

Tim Keller recently tweeted, “Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending Bible-believing religious people of His day. However-our churches do not have this same effect which can only mean one thing. Our preaching and practices are not declaring the same message that Jesus did.”

This is one of those tweets that tends to be “red meat” for a particular brand of modern evangelicalism. The trend for many today is to knock hard against the “establishment church,” in that nearly everything they say and do is believed to be some sort of quasi-revival of 20th century fundamentalism. The term du jour of the erudite social-medialites is Christian Nationalism. Reject the modern psychoanalytic framework, evolution, gender ideologies, and egalitarianism?

Congratulations. You’ve just qualified for broad enough criteria that you are likely considered a Christian Nationalist. While Keller himself may not imbibe these same sentiments of you, it is oddly coincidental that many who would find these sorts of tweets to be profound. All of that aside, the simple question we should be asking, is if Keller’s statement here is true.

The first claim he makes is that Christ’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing religious people of His day. One need not look very far to find numerous examples of the contrary in Scripture. We find men like Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee (Jn. 3:1) and a member of the Sanhedrin (Jn. 7:50-51), who by all measurable criteria, would be considered a Bible-believing religious person of Christ’s day. While it is clear Nicodemus had difficulty grasping what Christ was saying in their exchange in John 3, what is also clear is that he was indeed drawn to Christ’s teaching.

We also find other notable examples, such as Simeon the Levite (Lk. 2:25-34), Anna the prophetess (Lk. 2:36-38), and others if we take into account the book of Acts (such as the apostle Paul, and very likely, members of the Sanhedrin who would be leaders, scribes, and priests). If we take Keller to mean “devout” people who believed the Scriptures, there are even more examples of this (Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Elizabeth, the men of Acts 2:5 who were cut to the heart and believed in 2:37-39, the many added to the early church as the apostles taught in the temple). We could likewise assert that in times of antiquity, many people were clearly “religious,” yet they did not believe in the One true God (see Acts 17:16-34).

Additionally, it must be stated that the people Christ offended were not Bible-believing religious people. They may be considered “religious people” in the pejorative sense of that phrase, but they certainly were not those who trusted in the Scriptures and believed their account. Routinely we find Christ chastising the “religious” for their unbelief of God’s Word. In John 5:39-46, one finds that Christ Himself cuts past all of the pretenses by demonstrating that though they devoutly read Scripture, they do not believe it. In John 8:30-47, we find much the same as Jesus speaks to those following Him.

He instructs them that if they continue in His Word, they will truly prove to be His disciples. Yet again, they reject His teachings, proving instead to be children of their father, Satan (see esp. vv. 43-47).
All throughout His ministry to the Jews, Christ presumed a knowledge of Scripture (Matt. 22:31). We see this clearly enough with His abundant quotations of the Old Testament for the purpose of explicating that He was the promised Messiah to come. But it must be noted: it was on this basis that Christ confronted their unbelief. In other words, it was not because they believed the Scriptures that they were offended; they were offended because they didn’t believe the Scriptures. If they had believed the Scriptures, Christ is very clear in saying, “You would believe that the Father sent me.”

Yet a more subtle issue arises when we consider the fact that Christ was never impressed with the multitudes gathering around Him, who would be considered the “irreligious” if we take Keller to mean people who were not those with positions of influence and authority within the synagogue. At multiple points, the “irreligious” were not too impressed with His teachings, but were instead, rather impressed with the miraculous phenomena He performed. It’s rather important to point out that Christ did not entrust Himself to men, irreligious or religious, for He knew what was in their hearts (Jn. 2:24).

Out of the ten lepers healed, only one returned (Lk. 17:11-18). The rich young ruler went away sorrowful because he could not part with his possessions and follow Christ (Lk. 18:18-23). Of the many disciples of Christ from the 5,000+ men and women fed, nearly all of them turned away from following Him after His teachings on being the bread of life (Jn. 6). Most notably, many (irreligious and religious) who shouted, “Hosanna in the highest!” upon Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem would be the very same people to later shout, “Crucify Him!”

With regard to Tim Keller’s second claim that, “…our churches do not have this same effect which can only mean one thing. Our preaching and practices are not declaring the same message that Jesus did,” this again falls short on basic tests of logic. More importantly though, it falls short of Scripture’s actual teachings on the matter. It is abundantly clear that the “religious” Keller seems to be targeting here did not believe because they were not of Christ’s sheep (Jn. 10:22-30). It was not due some winsomeness found within Christ, the abundance of miracles He performed, or any stately appearance that He held, that some came to faith and others didn’t. It was solely due to the electing love of the Father that any came to be effectually drawn to Christ’s teaching, because Christ’s sheep hear His voice.

To deal with the more substantive part of Keller’s argumentation though, which seems to be that he is placing primacy on the manner in which modern preachers and teachers handle the Word and how people live, there are several short observations to be made. For one, there are a multitude of reasons why the irreligious may not be drawn to the teaching and preaching of the Scriptures in our modern era, thus, Keller’s statement is overly hyperbolic. To reduce it down to one is actually fallacious reasoning, as it assumes Christ’s prerogative was to reach the “irreligious” over and above the “religious,” when the contrary has already been demonstrated.

One of the reasons why the irreligious aren’t flocking to the church may simply be what was highlighted above; they are not drawn to preaching and teaching of the Word simply because they are not Christ’s sheep, and therefore, they do not hear His voice. It is not particularly difficult to understand that we are living in an “out of season time,” where people will not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2-3).

Virtually every doctrine under the sun is currently up for debate within the broader church and it seems that there is no end in sight to this for the time being. In light of that, it paints a woefully naïve picture to suggest that the one and only reason why religious-nones are not flocking to the church to hear the preaching of the Word is due to the fact that preachers are teaching a contrary message to Christ’s own.

One reason may in fact be due to poor teaching and preaching and the lives of hypocritical, professing Christians. I don’t think many people would disagree that there are several inept pastors and people pretending to be pastors, who are, in fact, unqualified at best, and wolves at worst. Undoubtedly, many do not declare the same message that Christ did. It is also clear that many who profess Christ do not faithfully model that in their lives, and the practice of some churches is indeed antithetical to Christ’s own. However, to suggest these are the sole reasons is untenable, especially considering that many pastors and congregants are faithfully preaching the same message and seeking to live out their faith in accord with the Scriptures.

More to the point though, truth is qualitatively true, regardless of hypocritical people, false teachings, and whether or not people believe it to be true. In light of this, the onus is on every man, woman, and child to submit themselves to the authority of the Scriptures. But we’re not living in a Christianized culture any longer, where certain truths are taken for granted even within the Evangelical world.

We are living in a post-Christian culture, which denies nearly every fundamental tenet of the Christian faith, but especially denies those truths most evident in natural revelation (e.g., gender norms, sexuality, etc.). Holding these teachings often gets one labeled as persona non grata in the public marketplace of ideas simply by virtue of saying Scripture is true in what it claims.

Much of what would fall under the purview of “preaching and practices [that] are not declaring the same message that Jesus did,” as our culture understands it, is not even remotely biblical. The popular sentiment on the person and work of Jesus Christ is little different than the beach bum who “lives and lets live” with regard to societal sins, beliefs, and a general mindlessness of God. More clearly, the Jesus that the irreligious conceive of is not the Jesus of Scripture, and no amount of cow-tailing it to the culture will somehow make Scripture’s teaching on things like human sexuality more palatable for unbelievers.

This would also be an appropriate time to distinguish between a mere assent to what Scripture teaches, and a genuine belief in what they teach. This is one of the vital doctrines of the Reformation, where the Reformers noted that one must not only have the right facts about the gospel, they must also assent to them, and then trust in them to have what constitutes as a genuine faith, or belief—even in Scripture itself (i.e., notitia, assensus, fiducia).

In this, I believe Keller roundly misses the mark, as he assumes that somehow the fault is in the preaching of the Word and the lives of Christians rather than a godless, reprobate people who are God-haters at heart, who reject God and His ways (Rom. 1:18-32). This is what brings me to my actual critique of Keller, which is that he is overly fixated with what might bring offense to unbelievers. This is what led Keller to speak to a crowd of atheists and not give a clear answer on the question posed to him regarding Hell awaiting those who reject Christ. This is also what has given him reason to suggest that a man like Steven Colbert can give a [sic] winsome portrayal of the Christian faith. In clearer candor, this is not a new problem with Keller, and many who hold his same views.

Yet the fundamental issue at hand is that the very task of the church is in fact to simply proclaim the gospel, and subsequently, to teach obedience to that gospel, trusting that Christ Himself will see to drawing in His sheep. Those who believe in Him will hear His Word. Those who do not will be offended over it and consider it foolish (1 Cor. 1:23). In all of it, my point is relatively simple: the sentiments of the nineties and early two-thousands evangelical approach to evangelism has proven to be a rather inept way of reaching the lost. Much like the Jews who rejected Jesus in His incarnation did so on the basis of unbelief, they do so today.

Much like the Gentiles reject Jesus on the basis of seeing the Christian faith as folly, still do so today as well. Simply preaching Christ crucified is enough to make one unpopular amongst the “irreligious” and the “religious” alike who do not trust in Christ and reject His Word, yet in our day and age, one need only say something as simple as, “A man is a man and a woman is a woman,” to offend. The task, therefore, is still the same regardless: preach the Word and let the chips fall where they may.



The Choices That Steer Your Life​

Someone I respect once said: ‘If you want to know which direction your life is going in, look at the things you do every day’.

You know when a single sentence cuts through all the noise and speaks straight to your heart? It was one of those moments, reframing the whole concept of personal discipline as empowerment rather than an obligation.

I’m not a naturally disciplined person. I have a creative mind, tend towards pleasure, and like to go with the flow. Like all behavioural styles, this has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side I have a lot of fun and tend to inspire the same in others, but on the downside I can miss the opportunities that deliberate, regular disciplines offer.

As a child it was drummed into me that I should be disciplined in the practice of faith. There was even a Sunday School song about it – ‘Read your Bible pray every day if you want to grow’. As a creative, free-thinking kind of person I reacted against that, considering such discipline a voluntary prison and an impediment to personal expression.

Reframing personal discipline as a chance to steer my life in the direction of my choosing helped me see things in a new light. First of all, it brought home to me that bad habits are also a form of personal discipline, in the sense that they shape our lives and prophesy our destinies.

Many of life’s pleasures are damaging to the body, but if only enjoyed occasionally that’s no big deal. It’s important to celebrate life, and every culture under the sun enjoys times of feasting to commemorate important events, for example. Occasional indulgences serve a purpose of their own, and should not be shunned lest we make life a drudgery, but if those pleasures become daily habits, we embrace self-harm.

There are certain common habits that are generally accepted as harmful – overeating, unhealthy eating, too much alcohol, etc. But what about other, more pernicious habits, the effects of which are not yet fully accepted? Distraction has become a major problem. I went through a phase of playing games on my smart phone. I thought my usage was harmless enough, as I always put my phone away when talking to people, but given a quiet moment, or the commercial break in a favourite TV program, my phone would be in my hand and I’d be stabbing away at the screen without making the conscious choice to pick it up.

The effect of this was to eradicate silence and repose from much of my life. We all need windows of quietness and reflection. Silence is challenging, as in those spaces we begin to think, to question, to assess, and ultimately to make decisions. Given the endless opportunity for constant, petty distraction that modern life provides, we can rob ourselves of the healthy rhythms of cognition and awareness.

Sometimes I’d listen to a podcast and play a game at the same time, thinking it made no difference, but in reality my attention was divided, and what I took from the podcasts was diminished. Distraction comes in many forms – TV, social media, and manufactured domestic chaos among them. If this is a feature of our lives, our growth and happiness is directly impacted.

What about you? What damaging habits do you repeat every day, or most days? These are currently determining your destiny, along with the quality and perhaps even the length of your life.

The flip side is positive and exciting. Adopting new daily habits is a way to take charge of the direction of your life. One of the joys of good habits is that they deliver measurable rewards. For example, taking a daily walk that raises your heart rate for 20 minutes or so releases endorphins and dopamine – natural bodily chemicals that produce feelings of happiness. I used to live a sedentary life, and found my body sluggish and toxic, but introducing daily exercise made a huge difference. I found that while walking I feel great and gain a kind of clarity that helps me make good decisions and gain creative and spiritual inspiration.

Eating a balanced diet is much the same. Modern, Western culture can be rushed and pressured, leading to consumption of fast foods that clog the system and increase toxicity. In turn, this has an impact on mental health and wellbeing. Making small, manageable adjustments in these areas is one of the most significant changes a person can make on the journey towards satisfaction.

And what of spirituality? Our connection with God can be a paddle in the shallows or a dive into the deeps of the River of Life. God always desires closeness with us, and for each of us to know his love in more wonderful, transformative ways, but whether or not we walk with him is a choice. There is no lack of willingness on his part. Hebrews 11:1-6,

‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.’

That God ‘is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him’ is a promise I’ve clung to all my adult life, which has led to tremendous breakthroughs, personal healing, and deep spiritual experience of divine love. God does not change, has no favourites, and can be utterly trusted to keep up his end of the deal.

If God is willing, the rest flows from our response. Psalm 1:1-3,

‘Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

There are many important discussions going on around the periphery of the Christian faith – questions that need asking about stuff we’re busy working out, such as how to interpret the Bible after de/re-construction, diversity and inclusion in the church, gender and sexuality in a Christian context, and many other matters. But if the practice of faith is replaced with an endless battle over contested territory, we starve ourselves of spiritual nourishment.

If all you do is read and/or comment on article after article about matters that are divisive, but fail to cling to the pillars of a life of faith, we fellowship with controversy and doubt without a balancing force.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good discussion and I have an enquiring mind, but I also recognise the essential value of spending time in God’s presence and meditating on the word. Just like many of my readers, I have questions, and am not afraid to challenge ideas that have been accepted in the Church for decades if not centuries, but it is far more important to spend time with God and draw strength from the word.

It is important to question assumptions about the Bible in order to understand it better, but that does not mean we need to put all engagement with the word on hold. If you want to be like the tree planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth its fruit in season, whose leaf doesn’t wither, blessed and prospered by God in your endeavours, stick with the word, even as you put it to the question. Don’t drift; walk closely and deliberately with Love.

Further Resources for Study and Discipleship​

For readers who want to delve into other teachings of mine, I’ve written four spiritual books under the pseudonym James Bewley (to avoid cross-pollination of my fantasy/sci-fi and spiritual readerships), linked below:

Who Am I to Judge examines the nature of judgement and its pivotal role in ‘the fall’. I examine the nature of judgement, including divine judgement, and lay out strategies for personal freedom.

How to Know God is the story of my own journey from spiritual emptiness to the experience of daily divine encounters, before addressing what I believe are the keys to spiritual abundance.

Job: A Story of Salvation goes through the book of Job chapter by chapter, demonstrating that the Church has made a colossally consequential error in its interpretation of Job. I examine the results of that error, the poor theology that stems from it, and the joy and peace found when we shed this deception and move into freedom.

How to Meet God is a short work written for those who are yet to know God. It’s essentially a tract that I know has resulted in salvation for some.

I trust you will get what you need from these writings, and am always happy to discuss any questions arising from them.


No, Actually, We Must Choose

[ 1 min read ★ ]

And he said to them, "Follow me"—Matthew 4:19

We confront two mutually exclusive, diametrically opposed if-then statements, each claiming to be true. The first is from the enemy and goes like this: if we chase created things—wealth, status, sex—then our lives will be more full, then we’ll have more peace, joy, security, freedom, fulfillment, significance. The second is from God: if we chase him, our Creator—if we listen to him, if we surrender, if we love, if we serve—our lives will be more full then, we’ll have more peace, joy, security, freedom, fulfillment, significance then.

The simple question before us, therefore, is which statement we’ll believe and adopt and follow in faith. But, before we can answer, we’ve got to get serious. We’ve got to stop playing around, trying to convince ourselves the statements are not actually mutually exclusive and not actually diametrically opposed. We’ve got to stop trying to convince ourselves we can believe both statements at once, that we can prioritize both created things and the Creator—and that it’ll be okay if we try. We can’t and it’s not.

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other" (Matthew 6:24).
We must choose. And, it’s a real choice between good and evil. For, while God uses his if-then statement to invite us into "more and better life" than we could "ever dreamed of," the enemy uses his to "steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:6-10 MSG).

Okay, so what do we do?

Spend some time searching for, and meditating upon, those places in the Bible where God offers if-then statements. There are so many. Do any come to mind, right now? Focus most on his promises that, for you, stand out from the rest.



This Is My Father’s World . . .​

The urban garden at the College and School

The beauty of the moon last night reminded me of the goodness of the world.

When I walked over to the gardens, fields, and copse of trees behind the College and School, I saw beauty, design, and transcendence. I did not bring the glory to nature, God did and nature still reflects that glory well. We do not listen or we could hear the song of creation. When I walk to work (now sadly empty of folks), I can take joy in birdsong. The feral cat that dashes away when I open one of the doors to the garden is sleek, fast, and marvelous.

This is also the time of the pandemic, a runaway virus that is also part of the world. I was reminded of the brokenness of the cosmos.

Love made a cosmos full of wonders.
Romantic poets understood and expressed this truth. Wordsworth is one of the best, because while he could see the beauty, he was also not afraid to look at what hate had done. As he grew older, his romanticism was grounded in hard Christian truth. Wordsworth could write movingly, without too much schmaltz, about a daisy.
He also knew death. When, like any great romantic, he was surprised by great joy, then Wordsworth knew the pain of having lost the one person with whom he wished to share that joy. Wordsworth’s Christian faith allowed him to see his Father’s world and also how that world fell short of the glory of God. Wordsworth retained beauty and a reasonable view of reality, because of God. God stands behind His creation as a guarantee that all the suffering and sorrow will have a purpose.

Hate broke the cosmos causing imperfections.
The Victorian secularist looked at nature and saw only hopelessness in deep time. In millions of years, nothing a person does counts for anything in the grand scheme of things. Ugliness and competition were basic to life: Nature was red in fang and claw. The poetry was ground out of such men by a vision of matter in mindless motion.
Secular romantics avoided the hard edges of nature, the pandemics, the ugliness, for wombats and flowers. One could pretend, paint, play at something better. This helps for a time, but not when death comes to call. Death cannot be distracted by a joke, a quip, or a song.

A Christian sees the beauty that was, is, and is coming without denying the death.
We must see nature as she is and as we have made her: beautiful, cooperative, cruel, seemingly without meaning. We can also see what should be, what will be, what is coming.
When I was a boy, a favorite hymn was This is my Father’s World. Few hymns get the sentiment right about nature, embracing the beauty and the brokenness. This hymn is not afraid of the battle: the wrong that would wreck the world, the just God who will right all wrongs. Heaven and earth are not yet one, but inevitably will be, because the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus makes this victory inevitable.
Read the words, especially the last verse, and rest in God:
  1. This is my Father’s world,
    And to my list’ning ears
    All nature sings, and round me rings
    The music of the spheres.
    This is my Father’s world:
    I rest me in the thought
    Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—
    His hand the wonders wrought.
  2. This is my Father’s world:
    The birds their carols raise,
    The morning light, the lily white,
    Declare their Maker’s praise.
    This is my Father’s world:
    He shines in all that’s fair;
    In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
    He speaks to me everywhere.
  3. This is my Father’s world:
    Oh, let me ne’er forget
    That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
    God is the ruler yet.
    This is my Father’s world,
    The battle is not done:
    Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
    And earth and Heav’n be one.



How The Apostle Peter Reconciled A Good God With Pain And Suffering​

In the first century, in the Middle Eastern province of Galilee, part of the larger Roman Empire, there was an uneducated, most likely illiterate fisherman named Simon. He spent his days sleeping and resting and his nights fishing on the sea of Galilee to try and scrape out a living. For all intents and purposes, we should never even know Simon’s name, because he never ruled a country, he never led armies, he never built lasting monuments. But we remember this uneducated redneck fisherman because of his association with the worst thing that could have happened to the best person in history, a very dear friend of his. If anyone could address this issue of why God allows bad things to happen to good people, he could.

When we first encounter Simon, it’s because of his proximity to a new rabbi (teacher) that began to preach in Galilee named Jesus of Nazareth. Pretty soon after his ministry launched Jesus saw something in Simon, gave him the new name of Peter (rock) and well, the rest is history. At the end of his life, Jesus was betrayed by one of his own, Judas, and executed by crucifixion. Today we wear crosses as a piece of jewelry and put them on our steeples, but in church history crosses didn’t appear in Christian art until every generation that personally saw a crucifixion had died. No one who lived through a crucifixion ever thought to use a cross as art. That’s how barbaric, painful and cruel it was. And that’s what Jesus went through. That’s a really bad thing that happened to not just a really good person, but a perfect person.

But even in the light of that horrifying tragedy, Peter doesn’t disappear into the recesses of history. He shows back up. In fact, he leads the church in its early days. About 30 years after the events of the crucifixion, Peter is in Rome and writes a letter to this new movement called Christianity which had begun to spread all throughout the Roman Empire. And in this letter, what we know of as 1 Peter, we see him tackle the issue of why bad things happen to good people in a way we wouldn’t expect. Here’s how he starts:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 1 Peter 1:3
So even though Jesus suffered the way he did, even though the worst thing happened to the best person, Peter concluded that Jesus was in fact Lord, he was in fact God. How in the world could he believe that after what he saw and experienced? And how could he be so happy and give praise to a God that would allow Jesus to die?
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1 Peter 1:3
It all hinges on the resurrection. The foundation of Peter’s faith wasn’t tradition, a building, the Old Testament Law or even the teachings of Jesus. Peter had all that and he still abandoned the faith when Jesus died. His faith was based on the resurrection. When you see your best friend die and then you have breakfast with him the next week, that changes you.The resurrection gave him and gives us new birth into a living hope: a hope that grows every day as you follow Jesus, a hope not just for this life but for the life to come.

What’s amazing is that this man, who saw his close friend (best friend) Jesus unjustly tried and crucified. In Acts 12 one of Peter’s other closest friends, James, was executed by King Herod for his faith and Peter himself was thrown in prison to meet the same fate. This guy, who personally walked through more pain and suffering than most of us ever will, within a few short verses of starting his letter talks about praising God and this living hope that fills us. How in the world could he believe in a good God in the midst of all that pain and suffering?

and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:4-5
Peter talked about new birth, the resurrection and now an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. What’s he talking about? He’s talking about eternity and he’s giving us an incredible perspective that can help us process pain and suffering in our own lives.

Ladies, if you’ve ever given birth, without the drugs, the pains of labor are not fun . . . so I’m told. If you pinpointed that moment in history during the height of labor and I interviewed you and said, “How are you feeling right now? Are you finding joy and happiness? Is everything working out the way you want?” In that moment, that would be the only time you’d ever consider cussing out a preacher. But the pain of labor is part of the process that leads to the greatest blessing of them all: new birth. Peter’s friend Paul would use this analogy in a letter he wrote to the Christians in Rome associating the pain and suffering we face now with the pains of labor:


We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Romans 8:22-24
There it is again: in the midst of pain and suffering, cling to the hope of eternal life. That’s why mothers who have already gone through the pains of labor intentionally get pregnant again, subjecting themselves to the pains of labor: they know the gift that comes at the end, new life, makes it all worth it. That’s the hope that kept Peter going, someone who had personally walked through untold amounts of pain and tragedy. Let’s get back to Peter’s letter:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 1 Peter 1:6
Here’s the twist: Peter finds every reason to rejoice in God, even though bad things happened to him and those he loved. Instead of questioning God or abandoning the faith, Peter tells Christians to rejoice even in the midst of pain and suffering. And by the way, for them, pain and suffering for him wasn’t “I lost my job” or “my boyfriend broke up with me,” it was “The Roman government threw my husband to the lions in the colosseum because we’re Christians” or “Emperor Nero is killing every Christian in Rome.”

Peter’s faith wasn’t so small that everything in his life had to work out for God to be good. His God wasn’t so small that his version of God existed solely to meet Peter’s needs and make Peter happy, and if anything went wrong Peter started to question God, as if God was Peter’s personal assistant or butler. All Peter needed was the cross and the resurrection and the hope that gave him that one day his pain too would cease.

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7
Peter knew that bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. Life was hard in the first century. He never had social media and advertisers constantly fill his head with the lie that life was supposed to be easy and you should never have to work for anything or suffer any kind of discomfort whatsoever. He understood that life was hard. But there’s a greater purpose that transcends the pain. That’s how Peter reconciled a good God with pain and suffering in the world.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9



The Cult Of More​

Why do we want what we already have?
I was on the subway the other day and could not help but see the phone screen of the woman sitting next to me. She was in her sixties (I would guess) and was staring at her phone as if it held the secrets to the universe. I noticed she was scrolling through a website for a certain brand and style of shoe. That’s cute, I thought. And then, in the corner of my eye, noticed she was wearing the very shoe she was looking to buy.

The video player is currently playing an ad.

Spinning Plates

We are trying so hard to be satisfied. We are trying to be involved with different social groups, do our work well, buy things, make things, do things. We place our hope in our possessions and our hobbies. We search for meaning around every corner, every thought, and every action.


Sometimes it feels like I am spinning plates. You know, like those carnival acts. I pride myself in how busy I am, bragging about my lack of time like it is a merit badge. I tell people about how much I am doing as often as I lament about it, as if my commitments are holding me against my will.

It is all in an effort to feel meaningful, to feel as though I am doing something worthwhile.


The problem is, it isn’t working. And so, like the lady on the train, I start to think what I need is just a little more. I need one more plate or an upgraded version of the poles or whatever it is. One more thing. Piles and piles of crap.

This lady, like me, had a perfectly fine pair of shoes on. They looked brand new to me. But she was already looking for new ones. A clean start, a fresh beginning, a minor upgrade. It’s as if we believe the deep satisfaction we are longing for will happen now that we don’t have to plug in our headphones.

The obsession with more is so prevalent we don’t even notice it. We have closets bursting and so much food on our plate we habitually throw some of it away, scraping it into the garbage as if it isn’t valuable. And then we go for dessert.
Breaking these patterns is no easy task. And honestly, who wants to. I don’t, and I probably won’t. I will most likely finish writing this blog and, within 24 hours, waste food for the sake of dessert and start online shopping for more books or tickets to a sporting event. I just want one more, after all. Just one more.



How Do I Stop My Emotional Affair?​

Dear Terry,
I’ve been spending time outside of work with a co-worker, Eric, and sending text messages to him for a few months. I am married and have three children. My husband, Todd, would leave me if he knew and I’m feeling guilty about my relationship with Eric. At first it seemed innocent but we’ve been having lunch together and I realize that we have gotten close emotionally and I don’t feel intimate or want to have sex with Todd lately.

I think what I’m having is an emotional affair and I read an article that this type of affair can do great damage to a marriage. I don’t really want to get a divorce and Eric says he just wants my friendship but I know what I’m doing is wrong. I feel so comfortable with Eric and it’s hard to imagine ending this relationship but we’re both in unhappy marriages and give each other support.
Please help me stop this emotional affair before it goes any further.

Dear Suzanne,
If you are questioning whether you are enmeshed in an emotional affair, it’s important to define what they are. First and foremost, an emotional affair is characterized by an intimate connection with someone who isn’t your partner but the person takes on many of the functions of your partner. For instance, you spend a lot of time with him or her, you find yourself confiding in him/her, and you look to them for solace and support.

It’s key to acknowledge that in order for a relationship to qualify as an emotional affair, it usually involves a deep connection that is more than a friendship. Most emotional affairs involve secrecy from your partner. For instance, if you find yourself not being completely honest about how much time you spend with this person, and the closeness of your bond, you are probably entangled in an emotional affair.

Many people embroiled in emotional affairs attest to the obsessive quality about them. For instance, they might find themselves having frequent sexual fantasies about them or waking up in the morning thinking about the person. Another red flag of an emotional affair is frequent text messaging or sharing private details about your intimate life with your partner.

I used to believe that a breach of trust was something that couples could bounce back from quickly but I’ve gained insight about the ways this isn’t the case. For instance, most marriages don’t survive big betrayals or even a series of smaller ones. My current view is that finding healthy ways to be vulnerable, express your thoughts and feelings, and be honest with your partner, is the best way to build a trusting relationship. Vulnerability is the glue that holds a relationship together over the long run.

But is lying by omission or keeping a secret the same as lying? First, you want to consider how your partner would view your secret if he or she found out and you failed to tell them about it. Also, if you feel guilty or uneasy about not disclosing information to him or her, it’s a red flag you need to be honest or forthcoming about something you’ve kept a secret.
Many of my clients engage in emotional affairs because they believe its okay to find love and intimacy with someone other than their partner as long as it’s not sexual. Or they’ve convinced themselves that their significant other simply can’t handle the truth and might abandon them.

6 tips for rebuilding love with your partner after an emotional affair:
  1. You must put an end to your emotional affair. Stop spending time with the person who you’re having an emotional affair with. This may be a challenge if you work together or travel in the same circles put it’s a crucial step. In order to rebuild love with your partner you need to focus on restoring love, trust, and intimacy with them. This is impossible with you have one foot out the door.
  2. You must tell the person who you’re having an emotional affair with that it has to end. If you need do so in person that’s okay as long as you keep it short, don’t offer excuses, and don’t reassure them or give false hope about the possibility of you resuming your connection.
  3. You must tell your partner about this relationship and your intention to stop seeing the person who you’re having an emotional affair with. Now is not the time to be coy – it’s best to be completely vulnerable and tell the whole truth, including any reasons why you pursued the emotional affair such as loneliness or unmet emotional needs.
  4. Work on fulfilling any emotional needs that were being satisfied with the person you were having the emotional affair with. Take an inventory of all of the things you like about him or her so that you can work on filling these needs elsewhere – either with a close friend or your significant other. These qualities might include good listener, fun loving, or understanding.

  5. Foster admiration and friendship with your partner. There is recent evidence that happy, lasting relationships rely on a lot more than a marriage certificate and that the secret ingredient is friendship. Look for qualities you admire in your partner and remind yourself of these admirable qualities regularly.
  6. Adopt a mindset that great relationships are formed not found: This means they require a lot of effort and an intention to pay attention to your partners needs. John Gottman recommends that couples practice “turning towards” one another rather than away when they are having communication difficulties.

Spending time together daily with your partner and rebuilding your intimate connection with him or her will help you foster a deeper connection. At some point, your actual partner may seem dull or compare unfavorably to the other man or women and you run the risk of seeing your partner in a negative light, or becoming easily frustrated with them. However, your relationship with your partner needs to be a priority or you might find yourself slipping back into the same trap of seeking solace and intimacy with another person. Carve out time to spend with your partner on a daily basis and try a variety of activities that can bring you both pleasure. Over time, you will hopefully regain love, trust, and intimacy with your partner.