Archive - March, 2012

5 Keys to Being A Truth Teller

Telling the truth is a skill.

An odd statement, I know, but it’s correct.

Not only is it a skill that must be learned, it is a skill that must be continually kept sharp. In a world of spin, bias, and agendas, truth tellers are rare, and the ability to tell the truth is undervalued.

Telling the truth is an important Christian ethic. Jesus is the Truth, and following him can and should create in us a commitment to truth telling that overrides our commitment to an ideology or agenda.

So, I give you 5 keys to being a truth teller.

1) Know thyself- Where are your biases? This is arguably the most important, and most difficult aspect of telling the truth. There was a terrific blog post the other day written on The Gospel Coalition blog where the author questioned our willingness to think critically about information that supports our worldview. “We tend to relax our critical powers when assessing what appears to confirm the narratives to which we’re deeply committed,” he wrote. The antidote to this is being especially critical of information that supports your worldview. There is a huge difference between convictions and bias. One is built on the truth, the other undermines it.

2) Know thy sources- If you only learn about Mitt Romney from the Huffington Post, or Barack Obama from Fox News, you don’t understand either man.  That’s not to say all sources should have equal weight, but rather we must develop the skill of filtering for bias, which can be difficult when it comes to bias favoring our views. Just because a story supports something that is true, it doesn’t mean the story itself is true. See the first paragraph of the article I linked to above.

3) Represent your opponents accurately- Would your opponents agree with the way you describe them? If not, you’re probably not telling the truth. One discipline of mine is developing good arguments for positions I don’t hold. If you can’t do that, you probably shouldn’t claim you have an informed opinion on the subject. It’s a helpful exercise and it keeps me honest. It’s one thing to disagree — and disagreement is often necessary– but it’s entirely another to misrepresent. Misrepresenting others is a big business in our culture, and Christians should have nothing to do with it.

4) Scrutinize yourself- Examine the words you use carefully. I appreciated these thoughts in a recent article on Christianity Today’s website by Sharon Hodde Miller:

In a world where truth is perceived to be somewhat relative, few take the time to make themselves students of the truth. But as Christians we cannot afford not to be. As image-bearers of the incarnate Truth, there is a lot at stake in speaking truthfully. Hyperbole and sloppy speech cannot abide. If we are to speak the truth in a way that sets people free and points them to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we must regularly scrutinize our words for even the slightest hint of deception. In a culture of half-truth, this is what being salt and light demands.

Christians have an opportunity to be a powerful witness to the world by refusing to engage in the “hyperbole and sloppy speech” that is commonplace today.

5) Make the truth your agenda- When our minds are made up, we can be both unfairly critical and naively accepting of information. We can be susceptible to jumping to conclusions before we are fully informed, neglecting the council of Proverbs 18:13, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”

Valuing agendas in spite of the truth makes us dumber. I read a beautiful article today about life on the West Bank, and the first line sums up this point: “If you go to the West Bank with your mind made up, you won’t learn much.” In other words, if you have decided to believe what is false, the truth will be of no use to you. This is true in many different arenas of life.

In a culture obsessed with spin, agendas, biases, and half-truths, it is vital that Christians live as truthful witnesses to the Truth. It doesn’t mean we all have to agree on everything, but it does mean we are to be honest, self-critical truth tellers. To be clear, while we must seek to free ourselves of bias, the goal is not neutrality. All perspectives are not equal, and a life informed by faith is a life of substantial convictions. The goals instead are truthfulness, integrity, and faithfulness for the glory of God.

What are some other keys to being a truth teller?

Links Worth A Look- March 29, 2012

Addicted to Technology? (Love the one you’re with)- Nokia is in the process of patenting a design for a tattoo that vibrates whenever you receive an incoming phone call . Nokia’s vibrating tattoo would effectively make your cell phone an appendage of your body and would essentially make it impossible to turn technology off. Or is it already impossible?

Jeremy Lin goes to lunch with editor who was fired over headline- This is a cool story. New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin reached out to the ESPN editor who was fired for an accidentally racist headline that he wrote about Lin. When the headline (which was, at the very least, thoughtless, even if there was no ill intent) was released the writer was lambasted as a racist in both the news media and social media, but Lin was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Probably a good lesson for all of us.

Why It’s OK (And Sometimes Important) To Disagree- This article was written for youth pastors, but it’s relevant for all of us regardless of our line of work. There is an important difference between disagreement and division, and this article fleshes that out. When we are afraid of or threatened by disagreement, everyone loses. In my life I have found that healthy disagreement has spurred personal growth like few other things have.

When is it Right to Argue with Referees/Officials?- An important reminder for my fellow Christians who are sports fans (and any other sports fan that doesn’t want to look silly).

This picture made me chuckle. Can you figure it out?


Finding Beauty in Your Calling

‘It’s hard to feel “important” when you’re feeding a five month-old.’ I thought. On that particular day the five month-old in question was not especially interested in his oatmeal, unaware the oatmeal held the power to keep him happy for the rest of the morning (everybody wins in that scenario). In this current season of life I stay home with my son for three days each week. That means on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays my life is filled with Elmo books, sweet potatoes (and the like), play dates, infant classes, singing, giggling, rolling around on the floor, and cleaning up spit up. I read the Bible during his morning nap, and if I’m lucky I might get a little bit of other reading time during the day, and maybe even take a phone call or two. That is the extent of my “productivity”. My work as a pastor is done almost exclusively on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Let me be clear about one thing: Staying home with my son is wonderful. My son is a continual source of delight for me. While I hope to be back to working full-time soon, I am relishing the chance to spend as much time with Matthew as I do. But it required an adjustment. I had to lay some things down. It’s not work that appears productive. But it’s my calling right now. It has required me to lay down my desire to fulfill my full potential as a pastor in this season. That was hard, because I have a weird obsession with productivity. I want to have something to show for my time. I also know I’m good at my work. God has gifted me, and I’ve spent thousands of hours developing those gifts. I want to use them and develop them further. And yet, in this season of life, for three days each week, I find myself in different trenches. I’m not counseling, studying, writing, preaching, vision casting or leading. I’m not doing the sort of thing that looks good on a resume.

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I’m trying to get my now seven month-old to eat his chicken and gravy (which, by the way, is gross). That’s my calling, for now. And that’s ok. There is a certain beauty to that I am learning to love. I often wonder how much beauty we miss out on because the picture of our lives is not the picture we envisioned. Someday I’ll go back to work full-time. I’ll work more, and perhaps I’ll spend a little less time feeding oatmeal. My wife and son will always come before my work, but someday I’ll have more work than I do at the moment. I’ll be honest, I hope that day comes soon. But for now, I’m laying down my desire to be productive, my desire to work more, my desire to impact more people, and I’m getting really good at playing peek-a-boo and singing “The Wheels on the Bus.” Not my plan, but it’s where I am. There is beauty in that. I’m bringing my passion to that. This is important work. And I am loving it. Where is your life not quite what you imagined it would be? And where is the beauty in that? And where are the opportunities for you to put your passions to work in a way you didn’t expect? Maybe it’s at work, maybe it’s at home, maybe it’s somewhere else. Don’t miss it.

The Anxious Christian by Rhett Smith – Book Review

I’ve enjoyed Rhett’s writing for a number of years, so I was thrilled to hear that he was writing a book. However, when I heard it was a book about anxiety, I wondered how interesting it would be to me. I don’t consider myself a particularly anxious person, and I wondered how relevant I would find a book on anxiety. In short, The Anxious Christian was very relevant. Throughout this book Rhett does an excellent job of showing the way that anxiety can impact different aspects of our lives. The truth is, anxiety impacts all of us to some degree, and it is ultimately up to us to determine what our response to anxiety will be. Rhett shows how anxiety can be a catalyst for progress in our lives, rather than a hindering force. I appreciated Rhett’s willingness to dispel some important false beliefs about anxiety. He directs significant attention early in the book to the false idea that “good” Christians should not be anxious. In my six years as a pastor, I have seen this false belief ravage people. Too often people begin to worry or feel anxious about something in their lives, and rather than use that anxiety

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as a motivator, they withdraw under the weight of the shame they feel. Rhett points

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out that anxiety should not be a source of shame, but rather it should inspire us to greater attentiveness towards God. Anxiety can be a means by which God speaks to us. That is a freeing truth. Rhett also encourages us to embrace our anxiety rather than suppress it, and he is honest about the ways that unchecked anxiety can cause us to get stuck in our lives. In the later chapters, Rhett suggests ways forward. Progress in our lives is rarely accidental. It requires intentional planning and execution. Rhett goes through several different areas of life and provides practical tools for getting “unstuck” in those areas. I found his suggestions to be very helpful, and as I considered anxiety that is present in my own life, I realized that I owed much of it to failing to be intentional about a few elements of my own personal growth. My favorite element of this book was that Rhett courageously weaved his personal story throughout it. From the tragic loss of his mother at a young age to his struggles adjusting to married life, Rhett is honest about various factors that have shaped him into the person that he is today. He is not shy about writing about how anxiety has affected him in different seasons of life. The very personal touch that Rhett gave this book added credibility to the advice contained in its pages. It also helped me to consider how moments from my past may still be affecting me today. As a pastor, I encounter anxious people regularly. There is no shortage of issues for people to be worried about, and I hear about many of them. As I read this book I thought about many of the students and adults I have counseled over the years. Some of them have overcome their anxiety, but it was a difficult road. I found myself thinking this would be a helpful book for those people, and for those still struggling. I will certainly be recommending this book in the future. Each chapter also includes exercises that I found helpful for myself and that I will remember for future use. I also learned a lot about myself from reading The Anxious Christian. As I mentioned, I don’t think of myself as an anxious person. This book helped me realize I am not immune from anxiety, and there are areas of my life where I need to be honest about my tendency towards anxiety. I found that even I have room to grow in the way that I handle anxiety and uncertainty. For that reason, I would recommend this book even to those who don’t feel palpable anxiety in their lives. Overall The Anxious Christian was a thoroughly practical, biblical, and helpful book, and I am glad to recommend it.

A Kony 2012 Lesson: Our Words Matter

What’s a youth pastor to do with Kony 2012?

I asked myself that question last week. I love Invisible Children, and I count a handful of their current and former employees as friends. As I thought about Kony 2012 as a cultural phenomenon, I realized it provided an opportunity to teach the students at my church about something that had nothing to do with Invisible Children, Uganda, Kony, or really any of the content of the video.

Before I get to what my message was for them, I need to tell a quick story.

I experienced my fair share of bullying when I was a kid. Fortunately it was entirely verbal, but we all know the well-intentioned person who wrote that limerick about sticks and stones was wrong.

I’m not entirely sure if time has made it seem like the teasing was worse than it really was, or if it has dulled the pain.

I know I was often afraid to go to school, or even get on the bus. And I know I often came home in tears because of the things people had said. I lacked self-confidence until well into my early 20s on account of the teasing I endured.

Many of us have had those sorts of experiences.

But here’s the thing:

When I came home, the teasing stopped. When I was out of the physical presence of my classmates, the teasing stopped. If someone wanted to say something to me, they said it to my face.  And people said incredibly hurtful things.

But again, when I was out of the physical presence of my peers the teasing stopped.

There was no Internet. There was no Facebook. There was no Twitter. There was no YouTube.

The avenues for bullying were limited.

Cyber bullying was a nonsense term.

Needless to say, that is no longer the case.

I was reminded of all of this as  followed the story of Invisible Children and Kony 2012.

Kony 2012 became the most viral video in the history of the Internet. No small feat.

And when it was created, Kony 2012 entered a world where cyber bullying was not just present, but pervasive.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you know what ensued. All sorts of media attention. All sorts of social media attention. All sorts of negative social media attention. While Invisible Children experienced incredible levels of support from around the world, they also received a deluge of criticism hardly worthy of Kony himself.

People jumped on social media and let loose. Ignorant people jumped on the comment section of every news organization in the world and let loose. They mocked Invisible Children. They mocked the organization’s leaders. They questioned their mission, their integrity, their qualifications, their finances, everything.

And the critics, armed with little more than an Internet connection and faulty information, didn’t have to say anything to anyone’s face.

In a cyber bullying world, inflicting pain with your words no longer requires courage.

Invisible Children has been classy beyond classy through all of this. They’ve faced the sort of pressure most of us cannot imagine, and they’ve done a tremendous job of patiently answering intelligent questions while not getting bogged down by childish criticism.

I can only imagine how difficult these last few weeks have been for those who have poured their heart and soul into the mission of bringing Kony to justice and bringing peace to Africa for the last several years. Sadly, we’ve already seen the way that an avalanche of cyber bullying can impact a great man.

It’s nothing short of tragic.

And it’s tragic to think how many young people are suffering on a smaller scale.

From bullying that is perhaps more limited in breadth, but similar in pain.

So at my youth group we watched the video. We talked about its content. We talked about how we could get involved.

And then we talked about the reaction, and all of the mean things angry, uninformed people have been saying.

We talked about cyber bullying.

And my message was simply this: Your words matter.

Even if words no longer have to be spoken face to face, they matter. They hurt just as bad.

Just because we can package our hateful words in Facebook posts and text messages doesn’t mean they hurt less.

So be careful. Use your words to build up, not tear down.

The reality is, over half of teenagers are victims of cyber bullying. The article I just linked to will also tell you nearly half of teenagers have engaged in cyber bullying.

The Internet has made words cost practically nothing to the speaker. I don’t need to face the person I’m teasing or criticizing. I can just sit at my laptop and let the venom fly.

But just because the words are cheap to me doesn’t mean they hurt those who hear them any less. If anything, our words make a greater impact now simply because there are more of them.

And that’s an important message we all need to take away from Kony 2012.

I have no doubt Invisible Children’s best days are in front of them. The critics will find something else to complain about, and the millions of Invisible Children supporters will continue the fight to make sure Kony is brought to justice and his madness ends. It’s been wonderful to see just how well Kony 2012 is working.

But until that day we need to remember that the people we criticize online are, well, people. With feelings. And it just isn’t right if the people trying to change the world are getting knocked off track by cowardly critics. And it just isn’t right if kids, teenagers, and adults are less able to grow to their full potential because they get crushed by bullies.

We can’t let that happen.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t criticize anything. I’m not saying we shouldn’t seek to stop those who seek to do harm. But I am saying we must be careful.

So may we remember, our words matter. Now more than ever.


Relational Refinement

This week I read The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good by my former college pastor Rhett Smith.

I’ll post a full review of the book on Monday, but for now I will just say that it is excellent. Rhett shares beneficial insights about anxiety and the myriad ways it impacts our lives. His perspective is ultimately hopeful, and he demonstrates several ways anxiety, when it is channeled appropriately, can be something God uses to move us forward in our lives.

As we all know, unchecked anxiety has an ability to sabotage us in a way few other emotions can. This is especially true when it comes to relationships. While we need fulfilling relationships, we are often hesitant to embrace the vulnerability necessary for such relationships. Rhett says, “Though we are wired for connection, we often without notice, very subtly, resist the refining process that relationships and community call us toward.”

That’s true, isn’t it? Am I the only one who has done this?

I can’t help but think that part of the reason for this is the way that we have become accustomed to shallow relationships. This shallowness replaces true acceptance with mere tolerance. We live in a culture where we are encouraged to tolerate one another rather than do the work necessary to truly accept other and feel accepted by them. Rhett says,

“An authentic human connection occurs when we can stand in front of others and can feel their acceptance and love and grace in spite of any flaws or differences that may exist. When we don’t have to put on our masks and try to pretend to be someone else, that is a truly freeing experience. But to get to that place takes work and it takes courage to go down that path that is fraught with so much relational anxiety.”

In short, acceptance takes work. It is one thing for us to merely put up with one another. It is entirely another for us to accept one another.

And acceptance is different than tolerance. Tolerance tells us to believe that we’re all ok. Acceptance allows us to love each other even though we aren’t ok. We need acceptance, not tolerance.

And the irony is that this sort of acceptance is the catalyst of real life change. When we know we are accepted with our flaws we can stop covering them up and instead allow them to be exposed and refined. Acceptance is real freedom.

The real tragedy is that the majority of our relationships never get to that place. The anxiety and fear inherent in our relationships inhibits this sort of authentic connection.

As with so many other worthwhile endeavors, experiencing acceptance requires a willingness to do the work. This is all the more true since it is arguably easier to escape real human connection now than ever before.

I find that I need to take Rhett’s advice that permeates the entire book. I need to lean into my anxiety and face it rather than run from it. We all do.

What do you think gets in the way of us experiencing true acceptance in our relationships with each other?



Well, after months of thinking about it, I finally took the plunge. I decided about a year ago that I was tired

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of my old blog and that it was time to shut it down. The reasons for that were many, and it’s not a decision I regret. I wondered at the time how no longer writing regularly would affect me. It did not take long for me to miss it. As those of you who blog know, blogging impacts the way that you think. You’re constantly viewing things that you read, see, and experience through the lens of “could I maybe blog about this?” To some that may sound odd, or even intrusive, but I like it. It encourages me to reflect a little bit more deeply on what is happening in my life. In other words, my thinking is more shallow when I’m not writing regularly. Beyond that, what little writing I’ve been doing lately has been flat out bad. That has reminded me that putting words together in a cogent and thought-provoking manner is a skill, and it’s not like riding a bike. It takes practice, and when that practice is absent, the skill goes away. And so, this blog.

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A place for me to reflect on ideas that catch my attention and sharpen my own writing skills. I will write mostly about matters of Christian faith, ministry, and leadership. I’ll reflect on books or articles that I read, and when life brings me interesting stories, I’ll try to tell them on here as well. I have subtitled the blog “thoughts on things that matter” simply because, quite simply, we all have plenty of noise in our lives. There is no shortage of banal, meaningless chatter. I want the time I spent writing to be spent reflecting on issues of significance. I want the time you invest in reading to be time well spent. I want the same for the time I spend writing. I can’t promise my thoughts will always be good, but I at least want to the topics to be interesting. I’ve included a few dozen of my favorite posts from my three years blogging at Live Generously. They’ll make this blog a little less bare as I’m getting started. I am going to try to keep future posts to about 500 words or less. I rarely read posts that are much longer than that in their entirety, and I believe there is something to be said for getting your point across succinctly. As always, I invite your comments and feedback. One of the beauties of a blog is that it provides a place for interaction. I will do everything I can to produce content that is worth a few minutes of your time a few times per week, and if that content stirs something in you (or makes you think I’m an idiot), I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for reading, and for joining me on this journey. If you would take a minute and either add me to your Google Reader or subscribe by entering your email address in the box in the top right I would appreciate it!