The Seeds of Hypocrisy

I know almost nothing about the Duggar family.

I know that there exists a family called the Duggars, that they have quite a lot of children, and that they had a television show at some point. I know that they are known for being Christians, and that it was recently made known that one of their children, named Josh, did some absolutely deplorable things when he was young.

Before yesterday, that’s honestly all I knew. If you had asked me my opinion of the Duggar family, I would have shrugged and said I didn’t have one.

As of yesterday I also know that Josh Duggar is, in his own words, “The biggest hypocrite ever.” You’ve likely heard that while he was the executive director of an organization called The Family Research Council, he maintained an active account with a company called Ashley Madison, a company that exists to help married people have affairs.

Awful. Beyond awful.

I’m certainly not going to defend him, but I also don’t see much benefit in throwing another log on the fire on Internet rage that is currently burning white hot against him.

Because here’s the thing:

If any benefit at all is going to come from a scandal like this one, it’s not going to come from calling for Josh Duggar’s head. What he did is inexcusable, and he will likely suffer greatly for it. He has risen to positions of great influence, and that influence is almost certainly gone forever because he chose to live a lie. He was a hypocrite.

But there is something we like to ignore when we read about scandals like this:
The seeds of hypocrisy exist within each and every one of us. 

The seeds of hypocrisy that grew inside Josh Duggar into a full-blown double life exist in each and every one of us.

And it’s up to us whether we are going to let them grow, or continually work to uproot them.

Even as we gawk at this latest revelation that a public figure was not who they claimed to be, we are in grave danger if we suppose that hypocrisy was a problem for Josh Duggar but it’s not a problem for you and for me.

Yesterday as I read about Mr. Duggar, I used it as an opportunity to examine the state of my own heart.

One of the strongest values I hold to is transparency. Whether I’m having coffee with a friend or talking into a microphone in front of 1000 people, I’m committed to telling people the truth, and saying only what I believe. I’m committed to representing myself honestly and accurately. Perhaps more importantly, I’m committed to being the same person when no one is around as I am when lots of eyes are on me.

But that doesn’t mean the seeds of hypocrisy don’t exist within me. 

And so I take specific measures in an effort to ensure there is no room for hypocrisy to grow in my heart.

-I have men in my life who know they can ask me any question at any time.

-My wife has the password for all of my email addresses and social media accounts.  I don’t know that she’s ever felt the need to “check on me”, but she knows she can log into those accounts at any time for any reason and read whatever she wants without asking me first. She knows I have nothing to hide.

-If I have anything more than a passing conversation with a female I make sure my wife knows who that female is.

-I value and protect my relationship with God, making sure that I am delighting in him above all else. I earnestly believe that delighting in God is one of the greatest ways we can crush hypocrisy.

And there are a handful of other safeguards and standards that I hold myself to.

But I still know the fight against hypocrisy is a daily fight.

I know all the safeguards in the world ultimately will not protect me if I’m not committed to the daily fight against hypocrisy. I know that, if left unchecked, the seeds of hypocrisy can and will grow in my heart, and when those seeds grow they lead people to places they never thought they’d go.

The choices Josh Duggar made are tragic, and the impact those choices will have on his family is tragic. My heart breaks for his wife and his children. There is grace and forgiveness at the cross of Jesus Christ for the worst of sinners, and I sincerely hope Josh finds it.

And for the rest of us, may we not simply use this scandal as an opportunity to point the finger at some else’s sin.

May it be an opportunity to look inside ourselves. May it be an opportunity to commit ourselves to being the sorts of people who get to celebrate 40th wedding anniversaries, and raise kids who respect us, and love people in a way that they don’t have to question our motives.

So I’m begging you, let this tragedy be an opportunity to look inside yourself, and be honest. Are you letting the seeds of hypocrisy grow? Have you allowed hypocrisy to find room in your heart?

Those seeds can grow at an alarming rate, but if we are willing to receive it, God grants us the grace to uproot them.



Writing Again…Again

Have you ever had a car that was in such bad shape you didn’t worry about anyone stealing it?

6855538268_d698f73704_mI remember I drove my dad’s 1993 Toyota Camry in the year after I finished college (lame car > the bus). It was so worn out and beaten down that I hardly bothered to lock the doors. The notion that someone would think a car like that was worth getting booked for vehicle theft was unfathomable. Heck, when I eventually sold the car (for a whopping $500), I felt so guilty that I gave the guy $100 back right on the spot.

In early 2014 my blog was the 1993 Toyota Camry of the Internet.

I didn’t write much. What I wrote was hardly world-changing. All of the people who read it regularly could probably fit in my family room (though it would be a little tight). If there was ever a blog that was the equivalent of an early 90s sedan with a driver’s side mirror that was held on by packing tape (true story), it was mine.

And yet, my blog was “stolen”.

No, no one picked the lock and hot wired it. It just got hacked. I’m not entirely sure what goes into hacking a blog, but one way or another, my blog was infiltrated by viral yuckiness that shut down the whole thing.

I literally had to delete everything. The website formerly known as turned into a vacant parking space with cracked asphalt. Fortunately, I subscribe to my own blog, so I at least had email copies of my own posts.

Resurrecting my blog hasn’t been a terribly high priority for me, but in the last month or so I’ve been slowly working through that process. Now I’m at least ready to share it publicly. It’s been stocked with a handful of old posts (with the dates they were written conveniently deleted).

While this is 2.0, it’s really the fourth or fifth time I’ve started writing (or writing again). I know better than to make promises about how consistently I’ll write, but I went through the effort of rebuilding a basic blog because I believe in the power of ideas, and I believe I have some ideas worth sharing.

If you want to keep up with what I’m saying, I’d sure love it if you’d subscribe by entering your email address at the very bottom of this page.


Rest Isn’t Random (And Random Isn’t Rest)

In a weekly discipleship group I’m in we’ve been talking about work/rest balance lately.

We’ve talked specifically about the somewhat radical concept that God has designed us to work from our rest rather than rest from our work. I know, that hardly seems to make any sense. Work from our rest? But if you look at Genesis 1 and 2 you’ll find that God created man and woman on the sixth day, and the very first thing they did was take a day off together. Instead of working until they were at capacity and only resting when necessary, they first rested to prepare for the work that was ahead of them. Rest wasn’t a necessary evil or unrealistic fantasy, it was a non-negotiable part of God’s design.

We’ve been using the shape in this image “the work/rest semicircle” to guide our conversations, and it’s been really helpful.

All of this talk about rest has caused me to look at both the quality and quantity of rest in my own life. I’ve learned a lot through this process, but my biggest takeaway by a mile is this simple truth:

Rest isn’t random.

Or, here’s another way to say it: Just because something is unproductive doesn’t mean it’s restful. Just because I can’t check off a box on my to-do list after a half hour doesn’t mean that half hour was life-giving, refreshing, or rejuvenating.

And what I’ve realized- maybe this is obvious- is that sometimes the reason I don’t feel rested is because I spend time that is available for rest on activities that can best be described as random.

Because the truth is that work has a cumulative value. If I work, and continue to work, that will eventually accomplish something (I know, I’m wading into deep waters, try to stay with me). Similarly, if I rest that will eventually accomplish something. I might not beproductive, but the time will have purpose. I’ll be more prepared for work, I’ll feel refreshed, I’ll be energized and more confident. Random, however, has no cumulative value. Random is just, well, random. Time spent randomly leaves me with nothing more than time spent. And often as a result I don’t feel rested, even though I was unproductive.

So during these last few weeks I’ve tried to be extra conscious about how I spend the precious moments of free time that I have. These moments are typically in the evening after everyone else in my family has gone to bed (I’m an involuntary night owl). During these moments when I’m filling discretionary time I ask myself a simple question: Is this rest, or random?

Put differently, is this rejuvenating, or it is just wasting time? Is this soul-enriching or soul-draining? Will I feel refreshed when I’m finished with this, or will I feel the regret of misspent time?

And I believe these questions are so critical for a few reasons:

1) Our time is limited- You can overspend, overeat, and oversleep, but you can’t overlive. Time is the most valuable resource we have, and the knowledge of how limited it is can give us the wisdom we need to spend our time well.

2) I fill the VAST majority of my time with activities that I care about deeply-  I care a lot about my job, I care a lot about my kids, and I care a lot about my wife (not listed in order of priority…in fact, listed in reverse order). When I’m giving attention any one of those areas I want to be at my best. It’s not enough for me to simply fill time in these arenas of life, I want to be fully present, operating (as best as I can) at maximum effectiveness. This means I have to rest well, because the quality of my work is often limited by the quality of my rest.

3) God made us for rest- Perhaps this one is obvious, but its easy for me to forget. So often I feel like I’m made to produce, or I’m made to do things I can measure or show someone. The truth is while God created us for fruitfulness, rest is a critical component of creating this fruitfulness.

So in the course of observing my own behavior and asking these questions, I’ve started categorizing different activities as “rest” or “random”. You might place activities in different categories than I would, but I think its important to know our own wiring and know how different leisure time activities impact us. Here are a few common activities that I’d put in each category:


1) Reading a (mostly) fun book I put the word “mostly” in there because I read almost nothing that is purely for fun. I read almost exclusively nonfiction, and I’m constantly looking for nuggets of wisdom I can use at work or in life. That being said, I find that sort of reading fun. And, more than that, I feel great after 20 or 30 minutes spent reading. It helps me connect with God, makes me thankful to live at a time when so many great books are so readily available, and it usually stimulates my thinking (or makes me think I need to find a new book).

2) Exercise- I’ve only recently started exercising again after nearly a year and a half of only occasional physical activity (thank you, knee injury). While it’s true that I hate exercising with the energy of a thousand burning suns while I’m actually doing it, it does great things for my psyche. Even as I type this, I’m looking forward to working out later today. It’s an opportunity to clear my mind and take care of my body. While I generally don’t feel awesome immediately after working out, I find that during the hours that follow I feel a level of refreshment that just can’t come from sitting on the couch.

3) Good conversation time with people- This one is tricky because I’m in a season of life where social time can be hard to come by. When I can find it, however, I love it. I get charged up talking with people I respect about things that matter. Far from wanting to get away from work when I’m not at work, I love talking about ministry, I love talking about books, I love talking about ideas. I also love talking about more trivial stuff that sports or (to a lesser degree) current events.

4) Sleep- This one probably doesn’t require much explanation. I’m not very good at sleeping (remember, involuntary night owl), but I’ve allowed myself to go to bed earlier a few days these last few weeks, and that’s good.


1) Random Internet surfing- I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really good at getting on my computer to “check something real quick” and then burning a solid hour reading articles like “27 Ways to (Some Random Thing I Don’t Care About)”. The best part is, once I’m done I usually feel like someone has punched my brain in the face. Burning time on the Internet is so obnoxiously easy, but it leaves me feeling some combination of guilty and stupid for wasting so much time.

2) Watching a lot of television- I follow three sitcoms, I very occasionally will watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, I watch a moderate amount of sports (usually while doing something else), and I watch the occasional Internet clip. I find that the occasional TV show is fine. I love to laugh, so a great TV episode is a fun little mental break. But if I sit down and watch two hours of television I get up feeling like I’m walking through mud. Initially I thought maybe this was due to some sort of obsession with productivity I have, but the more I’ve thought about it the less I think that’s the case. I just don’t enjoy passively sitting in front of a screen for a long time. That’s why I almost never watch movies, and its why even during major sporting events I almost always either a) record it so I can watch it faster, or b) have something else going on (a conversation, a book, etc.) while I watch. I know a lot of people find TV really relaxing, but I’m finding that I just don’t

What’s frightening is that those two activities are my default when I have some free time. They’re so easy. Getting out my Kindle, or exercising, or even making plans to hang out with someone, can feel like work. Part of what makes “random” so seductive is that it’s so easy. But the low barrier to entry is a trap.

These last few weeks as I’ve asked this question I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve closed the laptop and found something else to do. Where I previously would allow myself to fall into the pit of endless articles and TV episodes I’m instead being more intentional about redeeming the time I have and using in a way that will make me feel truly rested.

So I’d invite you to consciously look at how you spend your free time this week and ask the question, is it rest or random?

Because rest- real rest- isn’t random, and random isn’t rest.


Why Being Fake (Even in the Little Things) Hurts You

I remember when I was a teenager I went to several church mission trips to Mexico.

Those trips were awesome for all sorts of great reasons, and they were also awesome for one very shallow reason: On one afternoon during each trip we would go shopping. And shopping in the parts of Mexico we were going to meant one thing: cheap fake Oakley sunglasses.

I’m not going to say buying these sunglasses was the highlight of the trip, but I’m also not going to say it wasn’t pretty close. The opportunity to look like I had fancy sunglasses was quite enticing to this materialistic teenager who was growing up in a wealthy suburb where it seemed like everyone had fancy stuff.

And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with wearing knockoff sunglasses, it turns out wearing them has some unintended side effects.

Researchers at Duke, North Carolina and Harvard have studied the impact of “fake” accessorizing on our ethical decisions. In one study that I read about in John Ortberg’snew book Soul Keeping, researchers gave a group of women expensive Chloé sunglasses, but half of them were told the glasses were actually knockoffs.

Keep in mind, they were only told, the glasses were knockoffs.

Even though the women were randomly assigned to the “real” group or the “knockoff” group, the knockoff group was more than twice as likely to cheat or steal in a subsequent study than the women who were told they were wearing the real deal.

Merely being told they were wearing fake sunglasses made these women more than twice as likely to behave unethically.

That’s crazy!

In another study people who thought they were wearing the fakes were found to be more cynical in their attitudes towards others.

Ortberg concludes,

We fake it in life to bolster our ego. But the result is, we feel like phonies and become more deceptive and cynical with others – so exquisitely sensitive is the need of the soul to be whole.


Wearing fake sunglasses is one thing, and even given what these researchers have told us, it’s relatively harmless.

But I wonder if there are other seemingly minor ways we can project a false image of who we are that creates a bigger impact.

I live in the real world, and as such I sometimes feel the need to look the part when I’m anything but “the part”. I feel the occasional pressure to act like I’ve got things together when I don’t. I feel the temptation to put on the proverbial fake sunglasses and pretend like they’re the real deal.

But it just doesn’t work.

Walking through life in this way impacts us far more deeply than we realize. While we might be trying to fake it to fool others, it turns out we are not as good at fooling ourselves as we think we are.

And, what’s worse, dishonesty in the little things leads to dishonesty in places we never wanted it to be.

So its better for our hearts, our soul, and our blood pressure to be real. We’re better off if we accept the consequences of our “realness” and pursue deep-level change where it’s needed instead of pretending to be something we’re not.


Finding Fascination in the Familiar

“Wind from the Sea” by Andrew Wyeth

I don’t know about you, but I am a huge fan of “the new“.

I love new stuff. I love new books. I love new information. I love new foods and drinks. I love new experiences.

I’m constantly looking for new ideas to engage with, new concepts to learn, and newactivities to try.

I love to explore, and for the most part I think that’s a good thing.

However, there are times when my fascination with “the new” can have a negative impact on me, and you likely know all about this if you share my fascination with new things. Occasionally my fascination with experiencing something new can lead to shallow engagement with ideas, concepts, and even people. If I’m not careful, my fascination with finding something new can, for example, keep me from applying something I already know because it’s easier and more fun to interact with new ideas.

Fascination with “the new” isn’t wrong. Far from it. But when it gets out of control it is often problematic.

This morning I was reading a book chapter I was asked to read in preparation for a meeting I have this week, and the chapter began with the author recounting the story of an artist named Andrew Wyeth. I don’t know much about art, so I’ve never heard of Wyeth, even though according to the author of this chapter he is “one of America’s most significant artists, an unparalleled genius of realism.”

What fascinated me about Wyeth is that he painted for more than 50 years, and yet never sought to paint a landscape outside of the immediate surroundings of his home in Pennsylvania and his summer house in Maine.

Fifty years!

Fifty years of painting the same landscapes.

I love what the author said of Wyeth:

His creative mind and brilliant skill, turned loose for ten hours a day and for years on end, can be forever satisfied by radically full attention to the familiar.

Forever satisfied by radically full attention to the familiar.

What a fascinating concept.

The chapter began with a quote from Wyeth himself where he says, “Most artists look for something fresh to paint; frankly I find that quite boring. For me it is much more exciting to find fresh meaning in something familiar.”

Satisfied by radical attention to the familiar. Excitement at finding fresh meaning in the familiar.

These are ideas that fly in the face of my fascination with “the new“, and I suspect that’s why they have caught my attention. And the more I’ve thought about this the more I’ve realized why these ideas are so important:

The familiar is what’s most important, and we can miss its depth when we only hunt for “the new“.

My family is familiar to me, but I know there is so much more I can learn about them and so many more ways I can serve them if I give them more attention.

The people outside of my family who I know the best are familiar to me, but there is so much more I can learn and so many more ways I can grow if I invest in them.

The day-to-day stuff of work is familiar, but it I can do my job better, and more important, serve people better, by giving radical attention to the everyday stuff.

The Bible is familiar, but its familiar words will nourish my heart, soul, and mind more than anything else I can read.

So these are areas where I want to grow.

I want to quiet down my ADD-brain enough to give my familiar my attention.

I want to embrace the reality that there is endlessly more fascination to be found in giving radical attention to what’s familiar and important than in constantly seeking out the new.

I want to embrace the reality that there is endlessly more fascination to be found in plumbing the depths of the familiar than in only chasing the new.

If you’re wired like I am, I hope you will, too.


Our Biggest Decisions Aren’t Our Big Decisions

I remember during the year between graduating from college and starting seminary I agonized over a big decision.


Do I move to the San Diego area, take the job at the church, and start seminary in Pasadena, or do I move to Vancouver and start seminary up there?

Leaving Southern California to go to graduate school somewhere (anywhere) else had always been “the plan”. But there was a job in Southern California. And a church I was familiar with. And a much shorter move. But then again Canada was beautiful, and interesting, and different.

I did everything to try to figure out what the right choice was.

I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. And prayed. I talked to friends. I made several pro/con lists. I talked to Christie. I talked to the pastor of the very large church I was attending at the time (he may or may not have used the phrase, “Heck, I’d do it,” to announce the choice he recommended). In one moment of insanity I even wrote “F” (for Fuller, the school in Pasadena) on a small piece of paper and “R” (for Regent, the school in Vancouver) on another small piece of paper, crumpled them up, and asked the impossibly obnoxious spoiled junior high student I was tutoring at the time to pick one (I don’t remember what he picked).

This was, after all, a big decision.

And surely God had a plan for me.

I just had to figure out what it was.

But as the days turned into weeks it became apparent that God was not as intent on revealing his will as I was on discovering it.

This seemed very strange to me.

After all, this was a big decision that was going to seriously impact the rest of my life. Surely God must have a will for this decision, or at least a preference. And surely if there were any decision for which an aspiring preacher man should be able to discern the will of God, it is a decision such as this. And surely God would be disappointed with me if I made the “wrong” choice.

But I



Have you been there?

Have you been in that place where you’ve got a big decision to make and you’re doing all of the stuff you’ve been taught to do (or at least assumed you should do) when you need God’s guidance and all you’re getting is static?

I honestly don’t remember how I finally made the decision. I just know that on one December morning on the way to work I took advantage of the fact that in 2006 it was legal to handle a cell phone while driving and called the guy who would be my boss in San Diego and told him I’d take the job. I started a few months later, still thoroughly confused by God’s apparent silence on such a life-altering decision.

What I know now but didn’t know then is that God has a very different definition of “life-altering decision”.

And he has spoken to the decisions that truly are life-altering.

He has spoken saying that he wills my holiness (1 Thess. 4:3).

He has spoken saying he wills that I would seek first his kingdom (Matt. 6:33).

He has spoken saying he wills that I would trust him (Prov. 3:5).

And on and on I could go.

And those are the decisions that will most impact my life.

I’ll be honest, that was a hard for me to get my mind around for a long time.

Surely who I marry, or what job I take, or what city I live in, or how many children I have, or what school(s) I attend will have the greatest impact on my life.

God says otherwise.

In fact, he grants us freedom in making those decisions.

But he tells us to be holy. He tells us to seek his kingdom. He tells us to trust him. He tells us to marry a fellow believer. He tells us to number our days.

But he doesn’t say “Move to San Diego and take the job” (I made that decision though I was not 100% sure it was God’s will), he doesn’t say, “Marry Christie,” (I made that decision though I was not 100% sure it was God’s will), he does not say “Go to this school,” (I probably don’t need to repeat myself again).

Surely we can and should pray, and surely on occasion God may guide us in these sorts of decisions. But when he is silent we must remember that while the specifics of God’s will may be a mystery, it surely is not his will that we spend our days obsessing over gaining clarity from him in areas where he has never promised to be clear.

We are instead better off  loving him, pursuing holiness, loving others, seeking his kingdom, living on mission and doing as we please. The decisions to be faithful in those areas are the biggest decisions we will ever make. And in those areas he has been wonderfully, beautifully, mercifully clear.

Because once we’ve resolved to do those things, we can make decisions confident that we are walking in God’s will.


Rethinking Heavenly Rewards

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” -James 1:12

“…from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” -Colossians 3:24

“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” -2 John 8

Throughout the New Testament there is talk of crowns, rewards, and other such things that God has in store for his people.

I’ll be honest, I’ve always had a little bit of a hard time with that concept, or at least with the way that we often talk about it

How do rewards work? 

Because often in the past I’ve heard heavenly rewards talked about like they are some sort of payback for good behavior or exceptional service.

I mean, I like to joke with our junior high pastor and say that he will get more crowns in heaven because, well, he’s a junior high pastor. But when I do that I’m kidding (or am I?).

But when we’re not joking it quickly becomes not so funny.

And teaching about heavenly rewards can easily turn into manipulation:

“Give more money, after all, don’t you want to have treasure in heaven?”

“Go on that missions trip, after all, don’t you want a bigger reward in heaven?”

This sort of conception of heavenly rewards flies in the face of the notion of salvation by grace through faith. Worse than that, it teaches people to live in obedience not for its own sake, but rather for the sake of earning a payback.

And if someone is paying you back, they are, by definition, in your debt- which is, of course, ridiculous when that “someone” is God.

When these sorts of tactics are used they are essentially attempts to leverage human self-interest for Kingdom purposes, when the purpose of Kingdom living is heart transformation that gives us something more to live for than self-interest.

Recently I read Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (a phenomenal book, by the way), and he talks about heavenly rewards, and he addresses the concerns shared by me and so many others head on:

“There are several passages in the New Testament, not least in the words of Jesus himself, that speak of God’s future blessings in terms of reward. Many Christians find this uncomfortable. We have been taught that we are justified by faith, not works, and, somehow, the very idea of being a Christian for what we will get out of it is distasteful.

But the image of reward in the New Testament doesn’t work like that. It isn’t a matter of calculation, of doing a difficult job in order to be paid a wage. It is much more like working at a friendship or a marriage in order to enjoy the other person’s company more fully. It is more like practicing golf in order that we can go out on the course and hit the ball in the right direction. It is more like learning German or Greek so that we can read some of the great poets and philosophers who wrote in those languages. The “reward” is organically connected to the activity, not some kind of arbitrary pat on the back, otherwise unrelated to the work that was done. And it is always far in abundance beyond any sense of direct or equivalent payment.”

Now that’s a perspective I can get behind!

Obedience isn’t work we put in so we can get “paid”.  It’s time spent on the driving range that prepares us to enjoy our time on the course even more. It’s time spent seeking to understand someone else so we can deepen our relationship.

Thus, the crowns of heaven are not carrots to be dangled in front of us the way a paycheck or a pension might be. They are, instead, the natural result of a life of obedience. They are the ability to enjoy the classics for a lifetime because we made the effort to learn Greek.

We don’t do things to earn God’s reward, and we surely don’t manipulate people into doing things with the promise of a heavenly reward. Ironically, doing this deprives people of what is most necessary to appreciate God’s real rewards, that being a transformed heart.

Instead, we are called to be transformed by God’s love. And when that transformation takes place it is our joy to “spend time on the driving range”, so to speak, so when it comes time to step onto the “course” we can enjoy it to its fullest.


Why Brokenness is Essential

We may ask why brokenness is so often a prelude to the surrender that God seeks, and for the answer, we need to go back again to the Garden. It was there that our human nature was forged. Our natural tendency is always to assert our independence, and seek to determine our own destiny. As we have seen, the consequences of this are grave. God in his wisdom will allow events that will curb our headlong dash for independence. Inevitably, the failure and disappointment of these events will lead to personal brokenness. God chooses not to leave us there, but to draw us back into his presence with his loving kindness, so that he might remake and start to really use us.

The above quote comes from Covenant and Kingdom: The DNA of the Bible by Mike Breen. Several of us on staff here at Bridgeway recently read the book, and it’s a really helpful overview of some of the grand themes of Scripture.

I appreciate Breen’s perspective on brokenness, in large part because of my own tendency to want to minimize brokenness rather than grow through it. Let’s face it- when faced with pain, hurt, brokenness, trials, or anything else of the sort, we react much like we do when we talk into a spider web.

Get. Rid. Of. It.

At best, we regard brokenness like the vegetables we hate the most- as a necessary evil.

But the truth is that brokenness plays an absolutely vital role in our spiritual formation.

It is seasons of pain and brokenness that can open us most to God’s activity in our lives- if we are willing. These seasons can also expose the folly of our own efforts towards independence. And while God’s precise role in causing these events and seasons is a matter of some debate (and is far outside the scope of a 400-word blog post!), the important point Breen makes is that God can redeem these times. He can use these times to “draw us back into his presence with his loving kindness”.

So while brokenness is unpleasant and undesirable, it is essential. It is essential because it prods us to dig up parts of our soul that are easy to neglect in “good” times. It is essential because it drives us to deeper self-awareness and self-reflection.  It is essential because it forces us to acknowledge our own frailty and weakness. It is essential because it is the garden where empathy grows.

I’ve known pastors who have said they will not hire someone to a high-level staff position who has not experienced great personal brokenness. Whatever you think of that policy, it’s easy to understand the reasoning.

And ultimately it is essential because God redeems it by using it to make us soft, so he might mold us and shape us into more effective representatives of his kingdom. So in our rush to make the pain stop, it is critical that we not waste our brokenness.

Because there is grace in it that might not be recognizable without it.


Eight Ridiculously Powerful Words

In the Old Testament book of Jonah, the title character- perhaps history’s most reluctant prophet- gets sent to by God to preach to the evil city of Nineveh.

“Tell them the gig is up,” God says (my paraphrase), “And they need to knock it off with their wicked ways.”

If you know the story you know Jonah responds by boarding a ship going the exact opposite direction of Nineveh. One crazy storm, a trip overboard, and a three night stay in world’s biggest water taxi later, Jonah found himself near Nineveh.

By this point he’d accepted his fate- he had to go to Nineveh.

And when he arrived at this wicked, godless, city he started to preach.

He preached eight words.

Eight words.

Eight ridiculously powerful words.

Shortest. Sermon. Ever.

“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”

And that’s all it took.

The people of Nineveh believed God, and in prayer and fasting “everyone turn(ed) from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” (Jonah 3:8)

The wicked city repented.

After eight words.

And as I’ve spent some time reading and re-reading Jonah this week I’ve been struck by the sensitivity to the Word of God in Nineveh.

They heard it, and they responded immediately.

How often do we, in our arrogance, do anything but that?

And so my prayer has been for a similar sensitivity to God’s Word to exist in my own heart. That when I open the Scriptures or hear them taught I would receive and respond to what God has spoken, and do so with great eagerness, knowing, as the psalmist did, “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.” (Psalm 19:8)

It took the people of Nineveh- who did not know God, and who were so unspeakably wicked that God was ready to wipe them off the face of the earth- eight words to do just that.

May God do a similar work in our hearts.


Peacemaking is More Than Peace Loving

I’m just finishing up Jim Wallis’s new bookOn God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common GoodI don’t always agree with Wallis on everything, but I agree with him most of the time, and this might be the best book he has written. I appreciate his consistent challenge to Christians to form political views that are consistent with biblical theology, rather than forming theology that is skewed by political views.

In one chapter of On God’s Side, Wallis offers some commentary on The Beatitudes. Here is what he had to say about Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Conflict is found in every corner of our world, and violence is the habitual way of resolving our grievances and disputes. Even being “for” or “against” wars becomes just another confrontation. What we need most are not just peace lovers, who talk against all the violence, but peacemakers, who actually learn how to resolve our endless and inevitable human conflicts without recourse to such destructive methods. The practices of conflict resolution are urgently needed in both our personal and political battlegrounds and will be the only way to break the tragic cycle of violence. In this new order, those who show the skills, behaviors, disciplines, and courage of peacemaking will have the honor of being called “children of God.”

If you know me at all, you know I’m a card-carrying peace lover. I’ve never been a fan of violence, but it was after becoming a follower of Jesus and reading the New Testament that I became a pacifist. You also know that if you’re a Christian I think you should be a peace lover as well. Jesus in particular and the New Testament in general teaches a consistent nonviolent, pro-life ethic, and I believe that obeying the Scriptures must trump abiding by culture norms.

However, if I’ve learned one thing about nonviolence, it’s that if you want to get Christians violently angry, start showing them what the Scriptures teach about nonviolence. I understand much of the objection to nonviolence is fueled by emotion, especially for Christians with connections to the military, and I am sensitive to that. For those willing to do serious, biblical thinking about nonviolence it’s clear to see that Jesus points us to a way of life that is better than violence. It’s holistically pro-life, and it’s really beautiful.

For those unwilling to do serious, biblical thinking about nonviolence it’s easy to come to all sorts of false conclusions about what a nonviolent-for-Jesus lifestyle and belief system looks like. “You must hate the military.” “You must be a liberal.” “You must hate America.” “You must have never read the Old Testament.” I’ve been told those things more times than I can count, even though they are not true. In fact, part of the reason that I don’t talk about nonviolence much anymore is that it’s hard to do so without sounding divisive, and that’s not what I want to be about.

I just believe Jesus meant what he said when he talked about loving enemies, blessing peacemakers, telling his disciple to knock it off when he tried to resort to violence to get business done. I believe the gospel story isn’t about opposing violence but is about embracing peace and radical, suffering love. It’s not about hating anyone (I have all the respect in the world for the courage of military personnel), it’s not about politics (I’m definitely not a liberal or a conservative), it’s not about hating your country (there is no place I’d rather live), and it’s not about a selective reading of Scripture (I’ve read all of the violent passages in the Old Testament). It’s about faithfulness to the teaching of Scripture, no matter how counter-cultural that teaching might be. It’s about being holistically pro-life, as Jesus has taught..

Wallis’s comments convicted me because I think at times I have been guilty of being a peace lover more than a peacemaker. This was especially true during my angst-filled early 20s. I’ve allowed war and peace to simply become another issue to argue about. And when that happens, the spirit of what Jesus said about peacemaking is lost. As Wallis points out, peacemaking is about pointing to a different sort of lifestyle, a lifestyle that avoids petty bickering, name-calling, and demonizing those we disagree with.

In that sense, peacemaking is about showing and not telling. It’s not enough to speak against wars, abortion, and other violence. It’s about demonstrating a lifestyle that rises about violence, a lifestyle that shows there is a better way than the violence ways so common in our culture. It’s about finding common goals shared by granola-chomping hippies who are Christ followers and decorated military service members who are Christ followers, and then doing the work of discovering how those goals can be accomplished through the way of Jesus instead of the way of violence. It’s about resolving conflict rather than creating it.

And in our increasingly divided world, peacemakers are needed like never before. Peacemakers need to provide alternatives to physical violence. Peacemakers need to show a willingness to suffer in the name of refusing to return evil for evil. Peacemakers need to help Republicans and Democrats learn to speak civilly to one another and focus their energies on the common good rather than partisan talking points. Peacemakers need to help Christians recognize that while “some trust in chariots (military power)…we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7), and this means we don’t join in with the violent ways of the world.

Peacemakers need to point to Jesus, and the power of his words, because those words transform in ways violence never can.