God Bless Criticism

Last week, I did something I didn’t want to do…

I reached out and attempted to build a bridge, even though it required stepping out of my comfort zone.  I picked up the phone and made a call, with the goal of smoothing things with someone who was willing to share that he was upset with me–but refused to specify how/why.

As I dialed, I could hear my little brother’s voice in my head: “Social media is where fights happen! You have to connect with people on a genuine level. Sit down face-to-face, or at least reach out by phone, to build real relationships…”

So I gave it an honest effort.  Rather than hashing out the issue in comments on Facebook (even though that’s where the disagreement started), I asked the angry person whether he was open to a phone conversation instead.

11.3.17 God Told Him to Shut Up (and he didn't listen)

The blog post in question is this one: God Bless Divorce.

I asked whether it’s wise for a pastor to brag about how many people are attending his services–even under the guise of bragging about God?  It’s especially complicated when that pastor suggests his divorce has something to do with God’s favor, and that the full offering plates (somehow) make the Devil look foolish.

My question was–and still is–how can we be sure God is the one orchestrating the senior minister’s divorce into more baptisms?… How does that work, exactly?

For the record, I censored the name of the pastor and the name of the church in the first blog post. But I’m not doing that now.

Now that I’ve tried a handful of times to open the doors of communication with Ryan privately (and failed), my dad and I talked about the details on the podcast.

Click here to listen.

Summarizing points:




#1.   I always much prefer an honest, angry email or message rather than a passive-aggressive note that you’re “praying for me,” followed by sticking your fingers in your ears.

#2.   Anyone who knows me, or who gives me the chance to explain, knows I welcome criticism about anything I’ve written, even from people I’ve never met.   I don’t put random stipulations on people (like “you need to have been in my youth group more recently than ten years ago,” for example.)

#3.  I feel bad for any Christian who doesn’t allow him/herself to have the blessing of being judged.  Many pastors of large churches are surrounded by layers of staff to protect them from unwanted criticism.  But, the rest of the Body has learned to do the exact, same thing by selectively blocking certain people on social media.  You only want to watch cat videos and hear a happy chorus of “I’m praying for you!” whenever you have a problem?

Easy! Just block everyone who makes you think.

Honestly, I understand how hard it is to hear criticism, especially if you’re already in the middle of an emotional crisis. (Listen to the podcast! Think of my toilet-paper story! I’ve had fragile moments, so I get it!)  🙂

But, I harp on the importance of being open to criticism, because finding the courage to do that (even when it’s hard) ultimately changed my life.  I’ve discovered it’s empowering!  It leads to mental toughness and a certain maturity that cannot come from hiding, and plugging our ears.

I teach my children how to appreciate criticism, even when the critic is wrong, because I can’t think of a more powerful gift I could give another person.


In closing, Ryan was partially correct a few weeks ago when he said that making a statement (like the Nashville Statement) “hinders the possibility of relationship in many ways.”

But he and Perry Noble should stop blaming “the statement” and recognize which person is really at fault.  Blame the individuals who build walls to protect themselves from disagreement.

9.1.17 Unanswered Questions (#3)

Unfortunately–it’s not just the “unchurched” who build walls.  Christians do it with each other, too.

To me, it’s a red flag when Christians talk about inclusion and dialog and then turn around and block each other. 

Unfortunately, the only way we can discuss that is if we come out from behind the walls we’ve built and face the possibility of criticism with courage.


Advice the World Won’t Give You (Part 6)

Dear Children,

There really isn’t a good reason to “block” someone on social media.  Ever.

People who “block” others think they’re putting up a boundary to protect themselves from the other person–because the other person is just so stupid or mean or wrong or generally tiresome that they have no choice except to build a wall.

But your mother sees things differently.

If I hear word that you cut ties with another person (unless that person poses a physical threat to you) then I will not blame THEM.

If/when you resort to blocking someone who used to be a friend, I’m going to have a talk with YOU, because I want to know:

What’s going on in your head that you’re not able to handle the stupidity or meanness or wrongness of another person, without permanently hiding? 

I’ve never “blocked” anyone on social media because I have the ability to ignore what I can’t control or confront what I think is wrong.  And, if you don’t feel strong enough to do either of those things, then we can talk about building up a tolerance until you get there.

But hiding from different views isn’t healthy.   It demonstrates that you can’t control your emotions, so you need technology to do it for you…

…by making people disappear.

You may think you’ve solved a problem.  But, a person can’t be “cured” of their road-rage if they only drive on a closed course. And likewise, you’ll never be “cured” of your sensitivity if you simply block everyone who triggers you.

That’s not a healthy solution to the root problem.

There are ways to deal with annoying, rude, and even downright HATEFUL individuals, without having to run away, dear children.  And that’s what I pray you will learn to do…because you’ll never be able to hide from them all.

  1. Ignore what you can’t control.                     OR
  2. Confront what you believe is wrong.

When you feel that you have no choice but to block someone, let’s have a conversation about why…  (We can do that as long as we leave the door to communication open by not blocking each other.  See how this works?)

If you think I’m wrong, let me know. Or ignore me.

But you have no reason to “block” me–or pretty much anyone–ever.  🙂

As always, I love you immeasurably.


Whose “Stoning” Would Jesus Stop Today?

I read an article in Relevant Magazine recently that completely misrepresented the relationship between Law and Love. Here’s the quote that is problematic. See if you can figure out what’s wrong:

“Jesus, left alone with the [adulteress] woman, simply says to her two things: ‘I do not condemn you. Now leave your life of sin.’ The order of these two sentences is everything. Reverse the order of these two sentences and you’ll lose Christianity. Reverse the order and you’ll lose Jesus.

As was the case with Jesus, so it will be with his people when we create environments that communicate ‘no condemnation’ first, before we ever start talking about law, obedience and ethics. Because with Jesus, grace and love establish the environment for the morality conversation.”

So, is this factual?

Is it theologically sound?

To be fair, I had to spend quite a while thinking about it before I was able to put my finger on exactly the issue. So, here is a question that might help the lightbulb come on:

Was “Jesus” the same God as the one of the Old Testament?

If yes…then there’s simply no way to make the argument that he put “no condemnation” BEFORE “law/ethics.” He literally spent hundreds of years drilling law-and-ethics into his Children’s heads, before Jesus introduced the other side of the coin. 

When we understand that Jesus was the same God of Justice from the Old Testament, then we can understand why he didn’t “condemn” the religious leaders any more than he condemned the adulteress.  (That’s something today’s “Love and Mercy Pharisees” might want to consider.)  Jesus didn’t tell the religious leaders they needed to “go and sin no more.” 

Maybe that’s because the religious leaders weren’t wrong.

The angry, “scolding,” judgmental crowd was just following the rules that God himself had put into place. If Jesus hadn’t come along before the stoning that day, the religious leaders would have been completely justified in carrying out the execution of the adulteress woman.  Have you ever thought about that?

They were justified by God’s law to keep doing what He commanded them to do.

So, if Jesus was God, then law/ethics and obedience came first, long before grace/mercy. The Relevant article has it exactly backward.

In other words, the religious culture of Jesus’ day is exactly backward from the “religious” culture we’re dealing with in the West in 2017. 

We no longer live in a culture where the importance of law, ethics, and obedience has been drilled into our heads since childhood.   Most of us, instead, have been taught the Law of Never-Condemning, as preached by Relevant magazine.

That makes a huge difference!

When you don’t understand that you deserve to die (the way the adulteress woman understood it), then the grace of Jesus has no impact.  None.  

When you reverse the order and put “no condemnation”  BEFORE the lesson that all humans deserve condemnation, the ministry of Jesus doesn’t make any sense at all.

What if Jesus happened upon an adulteress woman being confronted today? How would that look?  This is what I think he would see:

Rare Religious Leader: This woman was caught cheating on her husband…

Crowd: So what? Nobody is perfect.

Rare Religious Leader:  True. Nobody is perfect. But she’s destroying her family.

Crowd: You just think you’re better than everyone!

Religious Leader: What do you think, Jesus? Should there be consequences for this woman’s sin?

Jesus:  Let the woman speak.  What do you say for yourself, woman?

Adulteress:  Well, my actions weren’t right.  But–I know you won’t condemn me. You will love me no matter what!

Jesus: As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.

Adulteress: Uh…Jesus…that’s Old Testament stuff…

Religious Leader: How about this one, then:  “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them…?”  That’s from the book of Hebrews.

Crowd:  Pharisee! Pharisee!  We should focus on grace, like Jesus did!

Religious Leader:  I’m sorry, but it kind of sounds like you’re making a new Law out of your favorite Jesus quotes…and maybe ignoring others…

Crowd: *picks up stones*  Judgmental heretic! You are precisely the type of person Jesus hated!

*Religious Leader Cowers*  *Adulteress Woman also picks up a stone*

…What would Jesus do?

For more about the role of Justice in the Gospel message, you can read this personal story about the time my 3-year-old experienced mercy for the first time.  Would that lesson have been impactful, if my daughter hadn’t learned about rules/obedience FIRST?  What’s the point of mercy, if a child doesn’t really believe they deserve consequences?

God Bless Divorce

I’ve been asked, “Why are you so negative?”   But that’s just one way the question is phrased. Others say, “You just enjoy creating division!”  or “You can’t leave things alone.”

The nicer folks will simply offer some positive advice: “Maybe try giving people the benefit of the doubt instead of being skeptical all the time!”

But, there’s a problem with that.  I can’t just give people the benefit of the doubt or stop asking questions, unless I silence my own conscience. 

There are certain issues, in the culture and the Church, that genuinely bother me.  I wrestle with what’s true and how to make good choices. And that’s where my “skepticism” comes from.

These are genuine questions I have.

So, unfortunately, certain people will always assume that I’m TRYING to start arguments, just for the pleasure of upsetting people. But I’m taking the time in this introduction to explain to whoever will listen: that’s not the case, at all.

I realize I’m going to say a few things, and use a few examples, that could get some feathers ruffled.  But I’m working through these issues in real life. And writing about them is part of that process.

If you’re looking for something fully fleshed-out (and “not too negative”) this is my way of warning you…


I want to know, what do you think of this statement by a pastor?

10.23.17 Humble Brag (Edit) (#1)

My main question is, what does church attendance REALLY have to do with a pastor’s failed marriage?




Is the lead pastor’s divorce related to baptisms at all–or was that just a random, off-handed comment that was tagged on to the equally cringe-worthy “Weekly Numbers Humble Brag” that (some) pastors do regularly?

Well, the commenters seem to see a correlation:


10.23.17 Humble Brag (Edit) (#2)

Ah, Roman’s 8:28.  We really like that verse, don’t we?

We think it says, “No matter what my wife and I choose to do, good things will be given by God.”

I suppose this overlaps with my post last week. I asked “How do we know when GOD has ‘called’ us?”  (Or, is it our own flesh which we can find ways to justify, no matter what?)

When enjoyable stuff happens, God is confirming that we’re on the right path!

But, when negative stuff happens, that just means we’re being tried/tested, and we need to stay on the same path!

In other words–no matter what happens–keep walking that path.

No need to wonder if you’re doing something wrong.

You’re God’s vessel, either way.

10.23.17 Humble Brag (Edit) (#3)

10.23.17 Humble Brag (Edit) (#4)

10.23.17 Humble Brag (Edit) (#5)

So, you see? The momentum of people joining the church is a sign the pastor is doing great things for the Kingdom!

AND, the fact that his wife is leaving the church (and family) is also a sign that God is doing great things for the Kingdom. Got it?

Look, I’m sorry.

I just can’t shut off my mind and go along with these comments without asking questions.

Is it actually good that people are continuing to donate, no matter what happens in their pastor’s personal life?  Is there anything this particular man could have revealed about his family which WOULD (rightly) affect how many people come to be baptized and give their money?

Are we bragging about a congregation that isn’t bothered by divorce?

I keep thinking, what if Joel Osteen started bragging (factually!) that–despite all the criticism of his personal finances–there have been increases in attendance and giving at Lakewood Church.   So take that, Devil!

Is that valid reasoning? Does it make sense, theologically?

Something tells me, if Joel Osteen announced tomorrow that he’s getting a divorce, then suddenly a few people would remember, “God hates divorce!”  And they would add that the list of reasons he’s a slimy manipulator for turning literally every situation into a sign that God is supporting his ministry.

Imagine Joel posting this on Facebook tomorrow:
“Not every church still pledges to write MORE checks–even when the pastor announces he’s getting a divorce–but Lakewood Church did!  Way to go Church! You’ve made the Devil look silly!”

At least a few people would go, “Uh, you’re nuts, Joel. Since when does a failed marriage make THE DEVIL look silly?”

“And what does your divorce really have to do with the greatness of your congregation?”

It seems to me, the only thing my example would demonstrate is that a false gospel successfully convinced thousands of Lakewood Church members to keep giving both time and money, regardless of what happens in the pastor’s personal life.  (“Because the more my family falls apart, the sillier you make the Devil look by following me anyway!”)

Sorry, I’m not super jazzed about that.

Life As an Unfair “Race” (Video Featured)

Perhaps you’ve seen “privilege” explained with the race analogy, as portrayed in this video:


One of the things I appreciate about this video is that it doesn’t focus on whiteness or blackness.  The creators made it clear from the beginning that the analogy represents PRIVILEGE in general–and not necessarily “white privilege,” specifically. 

By the end of the video, it’s clear mostly white kids are out in front, while mostly black kids are left back toward the starting point.

But that’s because kids got to take two steps forward if their parents are still married…and if they have a relationship with their fathers…and if they “never had to help mom or dad with bills.”   And, sadly, far too many Black American youth can’t say those things apply to them.

Through no fault of their own, based on choices their parents made, many black kids (and a growing number of white kids) are starting behind. That’s true.

If the gym teacher is trying to make some generic point about fairness and the differences between well-educated, two-parent families (and under-educated, single-parent families), that’s fine.

But, if he wants to make a broader point about the way American culture REALLY IS, I need to make some adjustments to his experimental race for the $100 bill:

#1.  The video wrongly implies that life has a limited amount of money, and the first person to be successful (i.e. cross the finish line) is the ONLY one who will get anything.

In reality, there’s plenty of room at the finish for everyone. Successful people literally create wealth, no matter how many $100’s have been “taken” already by peers who crossed the line first.

For an accurate picture of The Race of Life, the gym teacher should offer an unlimited number of $100 bills, because any child who crosses the finish will get a reward, no matter how long it takes him/her to accomplish the goal.

#2. The video stops before asking WHY black children are being forced to grow up without their fathers.  

I understand this point may have been too large to tackle with a short video designed to get clicks and shares on social media.  But, ideally, viewers will begin to think about “why” for themselves. “Okay–WHY are black American families in poor shape?”

Unfortunately, people are quick to assume “White Privilege” is an evil, rather than asking whether “Black Self-Sabotage” might be a more accurate term.  I actually read multiple comments saying, “It’s up to those white kids in the front of the line to fix the inequality!”  But, until we know why one group is more successful than another, we can’t solve the problem.

How, exactly, are the white kids supposed to make their black peers get married before having babies? What can “successful” kids do for the rest, other than giving away parts of their reward to those who don’t make it? (That’s called “charity,” by the way.) To answer those questions, we have to peg WHY people are making poor choices that keep their kids behind in the first place.

#3. The gym teacher should have asked a couple more questions.    Again, I realize the video would need to be longer. But it would have been easier to find answers to the question “why is this happening” if the gym teacher had said something like this:

“If you’ve been told by influential people in your life that the entire country is working against you, take two steps BACK.”

Or maybe this:

“If your parents had a ‘talk’ with you–telling you how ‘different’ you are and planting the idea that you can’t trust white people–then take two steps BACK.”

Or maybe:

“If you were taught ‘the system’ is rigged and that you’ll probably be killed by a cop for no reason, then take two steps BACK.”

I think you get the idea.  What kids are taught at home (and now at school!) really matters. And we should take a hard look at those lessons to see whether we’re actually disadvantaging kids with our good intentions.


Just as an interesting side note, the out-of-wedlock birthrate among white mothers is about the same as it was for blacks in the 1960’s…

In other words, the destruction of white families is about 2-3 generations behind black families, but the trend is still headed in the same direction.  Just give Americans another 50-60 years, continuing down the same cultural path, and (I predict) most of us will be “equal” at the starting line again.

All the kids–both black and white–will be in a row, thousands of yards away from Success…

All of them–both black and white–will be unable to take any steps forward because they don’t know their fathers, they don’t know how money works, and they’ve been taught this makes them victims with no chance of reaching that single, $100 at the finish line, so there’s no reason to move.

Ah, equality.

No more privilege.

Sounds great, huh?

If Jonah Were “Called” Today

I heard someone say recently, “God always answers prayers one of three ways: yes, no, or wait.”

But American Christians have a special ability.  They NEVER have to hear the word “no” from God, if they don’t want to.

We always have the option of telling ourselves that guilt, negativity, and obstacles come from Satan himself.

If we’re successful in our plans, then obviously God has blessed them.

But, if we’re unsuccessful, it’s just a test of faith.

“God wants us to keep persevering,” we say.

“He always works everything for our good!”

So keep going with those selfish and ill-advised ideas!  God is right behind you, ready to bless your plans!

Against all external evidence, God is still saying, “Yes” or “Wait.”   (But never “no,” Dear Child.)

That’s why I think Jonah’s calling would have looked different, if it happened today…


God: Go to Ninevah, Jonah.  Preach to the people there.

Jonah: (*cringes*)  Ew…. About that, God.  I’m really feeling like I’m being called to Tarshish. They need preachers there, too!

God:  I literally just called you to Ninevah. Did you miss it?

Jonah:  See, it almost sounds like you’re saying “Ninevah.” But I’ve always had a passion for Tarshish.  I’m going to keep praying about it.

God: Ninevah.

Jonah: I’m going to give Tarshish a try.

God: Ninevah.

Jonah:  You know, it’s better to try and fail than never to try at all!

God: (*facepalm*)

(*a few days later*)

Jonah: One-way ticket to Tarshish, please! I’ve been called to do God’s work there.

Captain: Cool, man! I’ve been called to be the lead singer in a country music band!  But I’m still waiting on his perfect timing…

Jonah: Cool!

(*big, big storm starts boiling*)

Captain: Yikes, that’s not good!

Jonah: Meh, don’t worry about it…  If God brings you to it, he will bring you through it!

Captain: Very true, Brother Jonah! Thanks for the encouragement! Full speed ahead!

(*big storm gets serious*)

Jonah:  Wow–I guess the Enemy really feels threatened by my calling. That’s how you know God’s got something special planned for me in Tarshish.

Captain:  And for my band, too! Well, not today, Satan!

Jonah: (*almost falling overboard*)  The greater the obstacle, the greater the glory in overcoming it!

Captain: (*tossing luggage into the sea*) Hear, hear! We will overcome!

(*the other sailors begin to doubt*)

Doubtful Sailor #1: I’ve never seen a storm like this in my life! It’s as if God is trying to tell us something!

Doubtful Sailor #2: You guys are going to get us killed!

Jonah:  Oh, what little faith you have, gentlemen.  Remember in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Doubtful Sailor #1:  And how do you know this is HIS purpose, again?

Jonah:  (*pauses thoughtfully, while clinging to the side of the boat*) Um…I’m pretty sure the “all things” is the most important part there. Stay focused.

Captain: Your perseverance is inspiring, Jonah! ON TO TARSHISH!!!

(*waves are crashing*) (*boat is creaking*) (*sailors are puking*)

Doubtful Sailor #2: The only way we’ll get to Tarshish is if our bodies wash up on the shore in a few weeks!

Jonah: (*half-hanging over the side of the boat*) God’s got this, Captain!…  He’s still–

(*Suddenly, a giant fish jumps up and snatches Jonah off the deck, swallowing him whole.*)

(*The storm instantly stops*)

(*The others on board stand dazed in the calm for a few seconds*)

Captain:  Gentlemen, what we’ve seen is a miracle. God has sent a clear message in our hour of need.

(*The others nod*)

Captain: Obviously, God has provided exactly what we needed–at precisely the moment we needed it!

(*The others nod again*)

Captain:  God saw the Enemy trying to mess up his plans, so he provided a fish to take Jonah to Tarshish.

(*The others agree*)

Doubtful Sailor #1:  Forgive me for doubting, God!

Doubtful Sailor #2:  Me, too! …And, God, to demonstrate that I trust you now, I’m going to wait, in faith, for front-row tickets to see the Captain’s first concert, when he finally learns to sing.


For Jenni: God’s Best

My sleep was fitful last night.

I don’t like saying “God woke me up.” But I think God wanted me to be awake. (Shout out to a few of my friends, who have been part of the conversation about assigning motives to God!  Anyone who’s interested to read it can click here.)

Anyway, regardless of whether God did the waking or not–I spent several hours just thinking and praying.

It started with some news I heard yesterday morning:


Thom’s wife–pictured above–is my friend Jenni.  She became one of my most trusted advisers in college.

Jenni was the baby of the group. Her parents let her fly across the country to a new home when she was barely 17, because they trusted her to be solid and faithful and handle all the changes with a maturity beyond her years.

And she did.

Our group of friends would spend looooong hours after lunch and dinner, discussing theology, philosophy, and politics. Often the clean-up crews had to wipe our table around our elbows, while we kept talking.  Everybody else was gone.

Those conversations were good for my soul.

Whenever I asked a question of Jenni, she would look off in the distance and say “Weeeeeell…” as she considered it.  Until she inevitably concluded: “yes and no.”

Both yes and No.  Pretty much every time. And then she would thoughtfully outline both the pros and cons of my proposed theory.  Precisely the kind of discussion I love!

I haven’t been able to see Jenni face-to-face in almost a decade. But she influenced me in such a way that I will always call her Friend.

That’s why hearing there’s a tumor…it felt personal. I had to read it several times to make sure I understood.

This isn’t a cousin’s girlfriend’s mother.

That’s MY Jenni!

She’s not even 30 yet; just became a mom.  Things she has said and done have shaped who I am.  What in the world does God think He’s doing?

I can only imagine what her husband, parents, and church family are going through.

OUR Jenni.


These are just some of the things I was thinking around 3:00 this morning, when I was trying to figure out what I can DO in a situation like this.

Is it really very serious? Will she need a miracle? Should we pray, simply and generically, for God’s will to be done, as if that won’t be already?

Thom’s words about God using this trial for encouragement and growth ring completely true…but just what type of “growth” are we going to be experiencing?

When it’s all said and done, will we be thanking God for his mercy? For allowing a young mother to have many, many more years on the earth, serving her Heavenly Father?

Or will we be praising Him for the example of a race well-run…and for bringing his faithful servant home?

A C.S. Lewis quote came to mind:

As usual, Clive nails it.

Yes–God will do his best.  But, how painful will it be, oh Lord?

How much suffering should we be gearing up for here?

God, give my friend Jenni the patience to take it one day at a time, while you write the rest of this story.  And give the rest of us the wisdom to support her in a way that ultimately brings glory to YOU.

Just before I finally drifted back to sleep, I was reminded of what I already knew:  God loves “our Jenni” far, far more than I do…

I don’t understand exactly what He’s thinking. But it seems that Jenni’s Heavenly Father has made a decision very similar to what her earthly parents did years ago…

He’s letting his young daughter take a long trip, into an uncertain future, because he trusts her to be solid and faithful and to handle all the changes with a maturity beyond her years.

It was a privilege to be part of Jenni’s first journey.  And I expect those around her will get to witness God’s best play out in her life, once again.


For an example of Jenni’s thoughtfulness, you can check out her blog. She doesn’t write often, but this was the first post:  an introduction and a quest.