Why Destroying Arguments Doesn’t Work

So there’s this video that’s making the rounds on the Internet, perhaps you’ve seen it.

It’s a video of a guy riding in the back seat of a car, taking a video of himself. He starts by telling the imaginary “Mr. Atheist” he is going to “destroy evolution” in three minutes. He then proceeds to try to do just that….in around four minutes.

This thing keeps popping up everywhere. Someone even posted it on my Facebook page (I’ve since removed it).

I don’t mean to pick on the guy, but it should be noted that the arguments made in the video are not scientifically accurate. Regardless of what you think about evolution, or God, or creationism, or any of that stuff, the fact is nearly everything he says in the video can be proven false by a very brief Google search.

I believe the guy in the video believes he’s telling the truth, but he’s not. I don’t think he’s a bad guy- by all accounts he seems to be a guy who really wants people to meet Jesus, which is obviously a good thing. He’s just not telling the truth in this instance.

But that’s not my real issue with the video, because people – both Christian and non-Christian – unknowingly say factually untrue things to support their agenda all the time. I’m sure I’ve done it myself (though I try really hard not to).

My issue is that the goal of the video is to “destroy” evolution.

Destroy it?

Really?

Did Jesus say, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you destroy their arguments.”?

I don’t think so.

If I set out to “destroy” something you believe in, I’ve lost you, haven’t I?

If I’m trying to destroy something you believe in, I obviously don’t love you. I’ve decided you’re an enemy. You’re not a person to me won over, you’re an enemy for me to try to (verbally) beat into assimilation.

Why would you want to listen to me?

Think about it, how many times have you changed your beliefs about an issue because someone attacked you and made you feel stupid? I’m guessing not very many. When someone treats us like that, the last thing we want to do is agree with them. Even if the facts are on their side.

We live in a culture where trying to “destroy” people’s arguments is popular, but it doesn’t do any good. Pundits in the media don’t actually convince anyone, they just convince people who already agree with them that people who believe differently are stupid.

I don’t see much value in that.

Because the best you can do if you try to “destroy” someone is you can win an argument.

But you’ll never win someone’s heart that way.

And yet, we as Christians too often buy into this combative way of relating to people we disagree with.

But if a conversation starts with, “Let me show you why you’re an idiot,” it rarely ends with, “I’m so glad we agree now.”

I will be the first to admit that there are plenty of beliefs in our culture that deserve destroying. On a daily basis I read about people who believe things are are crazy, hurtful, thoughtless, or all of the above.

But seeking to “destroy” those beliefs is not going to convince those who hold them to change.

Those sorts of tactics only deepen the divide.

I’d rather be about winning hearts. It’s more work, it requires a gentler, humbler spirit, but it’s worth the effort. It requires taking the time to truly understand your opposition so you can characterize them in terms they accept, but that extra work at least creates the possibility of an honest conversation.

So I don’t want to destroy arguments, even if they’re (in my opinion) worth destroying.

I want to have conversations, understand people’s stories, understand why they believe what they believe, seek the truth no matter whose “side” it supports, and speak that truth with love.

 

 

Are You Overreacting To Your Past?

I played a lot of sports growing up, and I remember I would often see people my own age and younger who were totally unapproachable after a sporting event if they had lost. I only learned later such behavior is also common among adults. I couldn’t have been older than ten years old when I swore I would never be unapproachable after losing (And I was never very athletic, so I had a lot of opportunities to practice this). I’ve also watched sports my whole life, and when I was young I saw adults who would be nearly inconsolable when their favorite team(s) lost. I promised then that, even though I enjoy sports a great deal, and even though part of the fun is getting really “in” to a game, I would never ever allow a sporting event to impact they way I treated those around me. To this day I can intently watch a close game, and as soon as I’m done watching it, regardless of the outcome, I can turn and talk with a family member as if nothing happened. Similarly, I can show quite a bit of emotion when doing just about anything where a score can be kept and “flip the switch” and be completely composed almost instantly. Part of it is genetic wiring, but another part of it is the commitment I made when I was young. I’m never going to be like that. I saw people behaving badly, I saw how their behavior made me and others feel, and I decided I was never going to act like them. 2941655917_cd7626cff3 We’ve all been impacted by those sorts of experiences, and we’re probably better people for it. I’ve learned about having patience in frustrating situations by seeing people in front of me in line freak out, I’ve learned about being self-aware by watching self-absorbed people steamroll others, and I’ve learned about public speaking from sitting through boring sermons and lectures (and let’s be honest, we’ve all inspired other people to say that after observing our bad behavior). But lately I’ve started to wonder if it’s possible to overreact to those experiences. Is it possible, in our efforts to not be “like that”, we can overreact to the point where we adopt alternate flawed behaviors. As I’ve looked at my own life I’ve wondered if that is exactly what has happened. I’ve met on Tuesday afternoons with some of my colleagues for the last several weeks, and these meetings have inspired no small amount of introspection. Our conversations have forced me to evaluate some of my strengths and weaknesses, and they’ve driven me to investigate the “why?” behind some of my perceived weaknesses. And the most glaring answer to many of my “why?” questions is this: I don’t want to be like that. For example, while I’ve been blessed to serve in really healthy ministry environments and be mentored by a lot of great people, I’ve also been in environments where leaders used people. I’ve been in environments where leaders blatantly manipulated people so they’d get on board with their agenda. Those experiences have caused me to write “Thou shalt not use people” near the top of my list of my most strongly held values. That’s a good thing. But what’s not a good thing is going so far out of my way to make sure I’m not using people that I hesitate to challenge them at all. After all, it’s not leadership if you’re not calling people to follow. I’m not unwilling to challenge or lead people, but I sometimes hesitate to call people to deeper commitment for fear I will appear to be using them. This fear has replaced the imbalance I want to avoid with its opposite. The truth- which I know from my many years as a church volunteer- is volunteers love the opportunity to serve if it’s in line

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with their gifting, and they typically love to be called to grow. There’s a balance in all of this, to be sure, but I suspect I tend to be a bit too passive. And that’s largely an overreaction to my past. It’s an overreaction I’ve recently noticed in a few areas of my life. So what do you think? Is there anything to this idea? Do you see this sort of tendency in yourself?   Photo Credit: hans s via Compfight cc

Why You Don’t Need to Change Your Behavior

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” -Matthew 6:1-4

Beware, Jesus says, of doing good in order to get noticed. 8338771610_1843f82f07Beware of seeking to draw attention to yourself for your supposed good deeds. This brings to mind a certain recently-disgraced NBA owner, who apparently has a habit of taking out newspaper ads to thank himself for his charitable donations. Don’t be that sort of person, Jesus says. When you do good, do not feel the need to tweet, Facebook, Instragram, Snapchat and/or blog about it. That, Jesus says, is what the hypocrites do. There’s an emptiness to it. They, it stands to reason, are motivated not by a desire to do good, but by a desire to be praised for their goodness (before we condemn them, we should all probably admit we can relate to them a little bit…or a lot). But it’s interesting what Jesus prescribes as an alternative. Because it’s not a change in behavior. Sure, there is a behavioral component to it. He says to not make a big deal about your good deeds (“sound no trumpet before you”). But he doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t stop with simply, “Do good deeds quietly so that no one else knows you are doing them.” He doesn’t stop with, “Change your behavior from that of a boisterous person to that of a humble person.” He says, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” Here’s the truth: I can buy a meal for a person in need or make time for a person in crisis or otheand tell no one about it, but still give myself a thousand pats on the back. I can still let that little voice in my head run wild with praise for my “good” deed. I can consider how I am so much kinder and so much more generous than all of those people who don’t give to the poor. You get the idea. Most, if not all, of us have done something like that. In other words, I can quite easily change my outward behavior while allowing my prideful heart to remain unchanged. When I do that the emptiness remains. And that is why Jesus says, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Here’s a translation: Simply be the sort of person who does good and thinks nothing of it.  I don’t applaud myself for eating breakfast, brushing my teeth, getting dressed before I leave the house, or completing various administrative tasks at work and at home that are a part of my weekly routine. It’s simply what I do, and I think nothing of it. They’re just the stuff of normal life. Jesus is instructing us to become the sort of people who do good as naturally as we brush our teeth in the morning. He’s instructing us to become people whose hearts are inclined- out of love for God and love for others- to live in a way that blesses others and thinks nothing of it. Because it’s one thing to change our behavior. It’s one thing to will ourselves into being “good”, even if our hearts want none of it. It’s entirely another to change our hearts. And Jesus, over and over again throughout the New Testament, is concerned with our hearts, not our behavior. And I don’t know about you, but I’m really grateful for that. Because I can change my behavior…for a time. I can fake it and put on the happy face. I can keep the rules, even if my motives are anything but pure. But “good” behavior with a wicked heart always creates tension. And that tension makes “goodness” a burden. A changed heart, on the other hand, makes true goodness natural. So I’m glad Jesus isn’t content with changed behavior. I’m glad the alternative to doing “good” things for the purpose of getting noticed isn’t a life of quiet pridefulness. I’m glad he wants to address the tension found in seeking to do good for the wrong reasons. I’m glad the gospel is about heart change not behavior change. I’m glad he wants to transform our hearts with his love, so that we have hearts who seek to bless others naturally and without fanfare. It’s a process, an incomplete process, to be sure. But it’s a process that leads to God’s glory and our joy.   Photo Credit: Defence Images via Compfight cc

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.

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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.

But I do remember that, in my mind, this was 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

got

nothing.

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.
Photo Credit: Lori Greig via Compfight cc

Resurrection Monday

I don’t know what your day was like this last Sunday, but it you are a follower of Jesus I’m guessing it was a little different than usual.

Perhaps you went to church, but this time you dressed a bit nicer.

Perhaps you volunteered at church, but this time for a bit longer than normal.

Perhaps you found there to be a little bit less elbow room around you, and perhaps it was a bit more difficult to find a parking spot.

Perhaps you sang, but this time with a bit more enthusiasm.

Perhaps your preacher preached, also with a bit more enthusiasm.

Perhaps you saw people meet Jesus for the first time.

Perhaps you left encouraged, but this time a bit more than normal as you considered the reality of Easter Sunday: The grave is empty, death is defeated, eternal life begins now.

And perhaps the rest of the day was filled with some combination of Easter egg hunting, family and/or friend gathering, and special meal eating.

But I’m guessing today is a bit more normal.

Today is the day we return to alarm clocks, and commutes, and traffic, and time cards, and cubicles, and child-wrangling, and clients, and deadlines, and grocery shopping, and exercise regimens, and playgroups, and sinks full of dirty dishes.

Today is the day when the glitter of Easter disappears, but the reality of Easter takes root. 

Because resurrection is celebrated at church, but it’s lived out in the every day. The point of the resurrection isn’t that we get to go to heaven when we die- it’s that Jesus really is Lord, his mission really continues, and he really does call us to be a part of what he is doing.

Here.

Now. 

And so we get to embrace Resurrection Monday with the truth of Easter lodged in our hearts. We get to bring resurrection power to the very things Jesus came to transform- our minutes, our hours, our days.

So I hope it’s a Happy Resurrection Monday for you, as you return to whatever “normal” means for you. May you carry with you the fresh reminder that you have been given resurrection power, and you are a vessel of resurrection hope.

 

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.

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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 in church world.

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 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.

Photo Credit: JD Hancock via Compfight cc

 

Looking for Hope in the Only Right Place

What follows is loosely based off of a devotional thought I had the privilege of sharing at a recent all-church worship night at Bridgeway.

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When Christians gather to worship God through music, or through the teaching of His Word, or through prayer, hope is a common theme.

There is hope in the cross, we say.

We can hope in Christ, hope in heaven, hope in the promises of God.

And yet we live in a world where we are constantly encouraged to place our hope in other things, things that ultimately prove wanting.

What we have experienced in the global economy over the last decade has shown us that perhaps the apostle Paul was on to something when he told Timothy to warn the rich not to “set their hope on the uncertainty of riches.” (1 Tim. 6:17)

We can’t put our hopes in our jobs, because a day will come when we either quit, retire or are laid off.

We can’t put our hope in our marriages, our kids, or our other relationships. No matter how wonderful the people who fill those roles in our lives are, they simply are not able to be our ultimate source of hope.

We can’t put our hope in our possessions because they break. Or get old. Or get boring. Or get replaced.

We can’t put our hope in our sports teams because they lose (if not this year, then next), our politicians because they disappoint us (same), or our physical health because it eventually goes away (but keep eating that kale).

But what is fascinating to me is that if there was one person in the Bible who could say with some legitimacy, “I’ve accomplished so much in my life that I don’t think I really need God, I can place my hope in all of my success,” it was David.

He had everything.

And that makes what he said in Psalm 33 starting in verse 16 all the more fascinating:

“The king is not saved by his great army;”

And David would know, seeing as how he was a king with a heck of an army.

“a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.”

And David would know, seeing as how he was a warrior with great strength.

“The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.”

And David would know, seeing as how he had a bajillion war horses.

“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.

Even David- with all the stuff, all the wealth, all the strength, all the resources, and all the power- knew where it all came from. And he knew who to place his hope in, as shown by the beautiful prayer in the last verse of the psalm:

“Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in our wealth, our families, our good looks, our power you.

So then the question for each of us is,

Where is your hope?

Because while it good and right and beautiful to enjoy God’s gifts, it is a tragic thing to place our hope in them. True, lasting hope can only be found in one place.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Why Brokenness is Essential

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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

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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 walk 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. photo credit: flickr via compfight

Effectiveness is not Most Important

There are times in your life and mine when we will have to choose between faithfulness and effectiveness.

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Times when we have to choose between faithfulness to Jesus and worldly effectiveness. Times when valuing a life of faithfulness will get in the way of getting things done as quickly as they otherwise could. It’s not that pursuing effectiveness is bad. It’s not. Usually it’s good. Whether it’s at home or at work, I’m all about using the input I have in a way that maximizes output. I read books that will help me get better at work/marriage/parenting/Jesus-following. I analyze aspects of my work and personal life looking for ways I can use my time better. In short, in every area of my life I want to pursue excellence and effectiveness. It’s all part of stewarding the resources God has entrusted to my care. I don’t think there is anything wrong with any of that. In fact, most of the time pursuing effectiveness is an important part of being faithful with God’s gifts. But there are times when maximizing effectiveness will mean reducing faithfulness, and maximizing faithfulness will mean reducing effectiveness. And in those moments we have to choose. Because Jesus said some things that don’t really “work” all that well. He said to build up

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treasures in heaven, and that might make us less effective at building treasures on earth. He said to turn the other cheek, and sometimes it feels like it would be more effective to hit back. He said whatever you’ve done for the least of these you’ve done for me, when it’s easier to get noticed if you’re doing things for movers and shakers . He said to love your enemies, and that makes us less effective at degrading, destroying, or defeating them. He said you’ve got to die to yourself, and that just might make us less effective at making a name for ourselves. He said if you want to be the greatest you’ve got to be the servant of all, and when you’re the servant of all it’s hard to look impressive. And I could go on for quite some time. So it’s not that effectiveness is bad. I’m all for getting results and setting goals and creating accountability. But there will inevitably come times when the path of faithfulness to Jesus is clear, and our initial response will be, “But that just won’t work. Not today. Not in the 21st century. Not is this situation.” And it’s in those moments that we have to choose. Faithfulness or effectiveness. Everything in our being wants to choose one. Jesus calls us to the other.      

When Self-Promotion is OK

I want to write more often. I really do.

And there are several reasons, of varying quality, why I don’t.

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There’s the lack of prioritization. Note I didn’t say lack of time. I have the same amount of time as people who write every day, I just prioritize different activities. There’s “market” saturation. Does the Internet really need

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someone else like me sharing their thoughts about how the world should be? Hardly. There are the subjects I’m drawn to. My wife doesn’t believe me, but I really don’t like stirring up controversy. But the fact remains I enjoy thinking about subjects that, to quote Jen Hatmaker, “best (belong) in true relationships, around dinner tables, over coffee, in real life.” I like to reflect on nuanced ideas, subjects that can’t quite be nailed down in a bumper sticker slogan or a 30-second sound bite, subjects that don’t fit neatly into categories like “for” and “against”. It is borderline irresponsible to post these sorts of thoughts in blogs, where they are read outside of the context of relationship and understanding. There is also the way I want to write. I don’t want to give advice, and it seems much of blogging today is advice-giving. I don’t have the “7 Things You Simply Must Do” if you want to retire early, have a better quiet time, make your family vacation the most super-duper awesomest ever, prevent your children from becoming godless monsters, or grow a better vegetable garden. I have also not yet mastered the art of getting people to click your links by writing misleading headlines (nor do I care to). But the biggest reason I don’t write more than I do is because getting people to read your stuff requires tons of self-promotion. And I hate promoting myself. And I hate the idea of promoting myself in a social media space where seemingly everyone has something for you to buy, read, support, oppose, listen to, reject, boycott, or fundraise for. To be clear, it’s not that I’m remarkably humble (but could I be if I thought I were?). If anything it’s the opposite. But it’s always been something I’m uncomfortable with. But as I wrestle with my desire to write and my aversion to self-promotion, I remember a conversation I had with my dad many years ago. At the time I was the college pastor at a great church in Southern California that was foolish trusting enough to hire 24 year-old me as their college pastor. A team I assembled and I had started a college ministry, and it was going really well. But I felt a ton of pressure to build the group larger. Of course, I wanted the group to grow, but I felt the primary means by which I would be evaluated was how many people were attending our services (it probably wasn’t the case, but I’d convinced myself it was). Needless to say, I was uncomfortable. I didn’t like the idea of making it sound like all we cared about were numbers. I didn’t like the idea of making it sound like we only cared about being the biggest. And as I shared all of this with my dad, he asked me one simple question: “Well, do you believe what you’re doing is helping people?” I didn’t have to think about it for more than a second. “Of course I do!” “Then is it really self-promotion?” “I guess not.” In that case it wasn’t just self-promotion because I didn’t care about being the biggest, or about impressing anyone with the size of our group. But I did care about people connecting to Jesus and community, and what we were doing with our college group was helping people do just that. And there-in lies the challenge for everyone who does creative work, or starts a business, or designs a product, or promotes a cause, or otherwise asks others for anything online. It can’t just be about self-promotion. There must be more behind it. There must be the more noble goal of actually and authentically making people’s’ lives better with your words, or your song, or your article, or your product. There must be a sincere effort to not simply be another voice shouting for attention, but instead be a voice looking to influence the world for the better in some small well, regardless of personal gain. So to be honest, I don’t know if I’m ever going to start writing (on the Internet) regularly. I want to. I just don’t know. But I want to keep that idea about self-promotion in front of me, and if you share your ideas or your creations online I hope you will, to. I want what I create to enrich the lives of those who trust me enough to give me three minutes of their attention. And if I believe I’ve done so, I’m self-promote without shame. And if you’ve done so, you should, to.

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