Displaying 16 - 20 of 175

Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 33 34 35

A Word About Preaching

Monday, May 16, 2022

These days, it seems like most of what I read about preaching on social media is negative. Interestingly, almost all of the people responsible for this negativity are preachers themselves. They point out all the ways that preachers are mistreated in the brotherhood and appeal for more kindness and respect.

I can't help but wonder whether the behavior these stories describe is more responsible for the current preacher shortage, or whether the stories themselves are. It's not hard to imagine young men who otherwise would take up the sword of the Spirit being deterred by thought of the potential negative consequences for themselves and for their families. I don't deny that preachers often are treated badly or that these were genuine experiences. However, by themselves, these narratives misrepresent the reality of what it means to be a preacher.

Now that my own time in the pulpit is drawing to a close, I can reflect on both the highs and lows of my preaching experience and what it has meant to me. My conclusion is simple. I am humbled and thankful that I had the opportunity to preach the gospel.

We live in a society that is so fake and meaningless that its members crave nothing more than authenticity and meaning. These past 18 years that I have been preaching the gospel, I have done what was most important to me, and I have lived a life that was saturated with meaning. Right now, I wouldn't trade that for all the money in the world!

Part of this joy has come from studying and writing about the Bible. Because I am a writer, being able to spend my life in the word has been akin to being a painter who gets to live in the Louvre. I do not regret a second that I have had the Book open in front of me, and it has been a delight to use my writing to share it with others.

However, the people my work has brought into my life are more important to me than every word I have ever written. We make much of how the Scriptures are inspired by God, and they are. It also is true, though, that the most ordinary person on the planet has had the breath of God breathed into them too. The depth of the Bible reveals its divine origin, but the unfathomable depths of humankind reveal us as God's greatest work.

It has been my privilege, then, to spend my life surrounded by and immersed in the people of God. As their preacher, I have seen them at their best and their worst, their noblest and their basest.  They have shared themselves with me and given me a life of unimaginable richness.

It hasn’t all been good, of course. I could tell some stories too if I were of a mind to do so. However, all the troubles I’ve had were caused in part by my own failure to love and understand others. If you want to find a blameless-victim preacher, your search won’t end with me.

Why be a preacher, then? If you love the word and love people, there’s no better way to learn to love both better. As a side benefit, if you find yourself dying of ALS one fine day, you get to look back and be utterly satisfied with the life you’ve lived.

Also, to all the people who have been members anywhere I’ve ever preached: I love you. Thank you.

The Bible I Want

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

I want a different Bible.  By this, I don’t mean that I want the latest fancy goatskin Bible in my preferred translation.  My hands are bad, and it’s difficult for me to use paper Bibles anymore.  Rather, I want a Bible that says different things than the Bibles I already own.

I want a Bible that says that the road to life is broad and found by many.  It doesn't contain specific instructions about salvation or the church.  This new Bible would say that sincerity is enough.  Then, I wouldn’t have to fear for my Methodist neighbors or have awkward conversations with them.  They’d be fine already.

I want a Bible that allows women to teach and exercise authority over men in the church.  My sister and my wife are good Bible students and gifted public speakers, more so than I am.  My new Bible would let them take the pulpit just as I do.  As a side benefit, it wouldn’t make me look like such a Neanderthal!

I want a Bible that doesn’t condemn the practice of homosexuality.  I have friends and loved ones who are caught up in that sin.  Some of them would get baptized tomorrow, if only this stumbling block were removed. 

In my new Bible, I’d take the stumbling block right out.  I like those people!  Why cause them pain by telling them that God hates their behavior?

I want a Bible that allows divorce for any good reason.  There are a lot of terrible marriages out there in which people suffer greatly.  I don’t like telling them that they must not separate what God has joined together.  For that matter, I don’t like disagreeing with my brethren who make emotional arguments in favor of divorce.  I take no pleasure in Scripture-checking people.

My new Bible would let the good people whom I like get divorced, and it would let them get remarried too.  It’s so hard to live alone!  My revision would let them find happiness with someone else.

I want a Bible that is different in many other ways too.  Its message would conform to the world and to my own inclinations, instead of demanding that everyone conform to a revelation that has not changed in 2000 years.

However, there’s a problem with the Bible I want.  In my new Bible, I would be lord, and Jesus wouldn’t be.  All of the above are my ideas, not His.

I am dying.  It’s a cliché to say that Jesus is my only hope, but words cannot convey the desperate clarity with which I see that truth.  I have no other hope left.

If I follow the Bible I want and appeal to Him for help at the last, He has told me what His reply will be.  He will ask, “Why did you call me Lord and did not do what I said?”  It chills my soul even to imagine hearing those words.

I don’t want the Bible I have, with so many hard sayings and painful demands, but I cling to it with all my strength.  I strive to honor and proclaim it, whatever the cost.  I have no alternative.

By contrast, the Bible I want is a luxury I can’t afford.

Perverted Incentives

Thursday, April 28, 2022

I'm hard to horrify these days, but this morning, I read an article from Forbes that did the trick. If you have a strong stomach, you can find it at  To summarize, it describes how perverts online are able to use TikTok Live to pay teenage girls for sexually suggestive behavior.

Naturally, TikTok condemns these practices, and they use various forms of content moderation in an attempt to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. However, TikTok has a problem. They make money when users exchange money over TikTok, and they have every reason to make the exchange of money as easy and appealing as possible.

For instance, the creeps are able to pay girls without using anything as crass as digits on a screen. Instead, they send money using cute little emojis: hearts, flowers, cartoon animals, and the like. I have a 12-year-old daughter. I understand all too well how appealing such a mode of payment would be to girls. You get money and you get adorable at the same time! Tragically, the cuteness conceals from the girls the danger and degradation that lie before them.

To put things another way, TikTok has a perverse incentive. On the one hand, they certainly don't want to be involved in child abuse. On the other hand, though, they make the most money from a platform that makes exploitation easy.

Many of the safeguards that TikTok has enacted rely on users. For example, users younger than 16 are prohibited from hosting live streams, and users younger than 18 cannot receive money. Sounds airtight, right?

Sadly, this is not the case. Even if teen girls aren't wise enough to see the traps in their path, they certainly are clever and tech-savvy enough to evade such rudimentary restrictions. All they have to do is lie about their age when they sign up, and they can host all the streams and receive all the money that they want to.

It's certainly appealing to have all that money to spend on clothes and coffee, and I would guess that many girls, especially those from troubled backgrounds, would find the attention appealing too. According to the Forbes article, these livestreams can attract audiences of thousands. If you're an insecure fourteen-year-old, how would you like to have thousands of men telling you that you're pretty? The girls have perverse incentives too.

For parents, this is grim news, and it underscores an unpleasant truth. We cannot trust social-media giants to protect our children, not even a little bit. The people in charge of all these platforms don't want to abet evil, but they want to make money more than they want to be righteous. Like Pilate, they will not intervene effectively because the costs of intervention are too high.

This is yet another reason why children under 18 should not have Internet-capable devices in private spaces. I understand that many children in public schools are required to have Internet- capable phones in order to do their class work. However, when children aren't doing class work, those phones need to be with Mom and Dad. We are naive enough that we are mainly worried about our children watching porn, but in truth, watching porn may be the least of the spiritual dangers online.


Monday, April 25, 2022

My in-laws own a Chihuahua named Boomer.  He is a dog of many faults.  For one, his toilet habits are erratic.  The worst fight that I’ve ever seen my wife have with my mother-in-law took place because my wife had stepped in a deposit that Boomer had left in the floor of the guest bedroom. 

However, Boomer does reliably erupt with yaps and snarls whenever a stranger comes on to the property.  His bark is worse than his bite, but it’s not for lack of trying.  My in-laws keep him penned up whenever they have visitors so that he does not fall upon them in his wrath. 

Occasionally, my in-laws’ vigilance has failed, with results both distressing and comical.  Most notably, Boomer once bit a political pollster.  If his abilities had been equal to his outrage, I suspect he would have killed the pollster.  In fairness, though, he never has tried to bite me nor anyone in my family.

I’ve never mistreated Boomer, but I’ve never been at pains to hide my opinion of the dog either.  The nicest thing I’ve ever said about him is that he’s not a cat.  At my urging, my wife once put a set of rat traps in my mother-in-law’s Christmas stocking to help her with her infestation.  Wherever I am, stories of Boomer the psycho Chihuahua are good for a laugh.

However, my opinion of Boomer has changed of late.  He seems to know that I have ALS.  I suspect he can smell it on me. 

When I get down on the floor to stretch, now Boomer will be there beside me.  Sometimes he stretches too; sometimes he licks my hand.  More generally, he wants to be in the room where I am, even if he’s just snoring in the corner. 

Now that I am recovering from COVID in my in-laws’ house, his vigilance has increased.  He certainly can smell the COVID stank on me (I fear that people the next county over can smell it), and he is concerned about me.  Last night, my mother-in-law had to pick him up and carry him out of my bedroom because he refused to leave. 

Boomer remains a dog of many faults.  As I write this, one of his omnipresent white dog hairs is on the keyboard of my laptop.  Given the rate at which he sheds, I figure he must be about half hair.  However, he is loyal, and in my book, that counts for a lot.

At the end of my life, I must acknowledge that I too have been a dog of many faults.  I haven’t bitten any pollsters (though I may yet if they hold still long enough), but I have transgressed the will of my Master in a myriad of ways.  However, I also have sought Him all my life, and I desire nothing more than to be where He is.  In a word, I have been loyal.

If the loyalty of a dog matters to me, how much more does our loyalty matter to God!  “I delight in loyalty,” He says.  Delight!  When we seek Him diligently despite our imperfections, our Creator is delighted!

In this I find great comfort, as should we all.  God isn’t looking for reasons to turn His faithful people away.  He is looking for reasons to forgive, to embrace, and to welcome.  “God knows my heart,” generally doesn’t get people as far as they think, but if loyalty is what He finds in our hearts, we have nothing to fear from Him.

Passing for Normal

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

ALS has brought many changes to my life, some anticipated, some not.  Though I have not welcomed my physical deterioration, it has proceeded in the ways I expected.  I did not expect, however, the ways that it has affected others’ perception of me.

Before my diagnosis, I looked like, and indeed was, a fit, healthy man in early middle age.  People look at you differently when they can tell you keep in shape.  I liked that.  In the earliest stages of my disease, my condition still was not obvious.  I could still bike, kickbox, and do pilates, and it showed.

Those days are gone.  These days, my capacity for exercise tops out at stretching and taking walks.  There’s nothing obviously wrong with me when I’m sitting in a chair, but when I try to do anything, the illusion vanishes.

Yesterday, I got my hair cut.  When my name came up, the stylist invited me to her chair.  A few seconds later, she repeated the invitation in case I was delaying because I didn’t know what to do.  She quickly realized that wasn’t my problem.  She watched me as I levered myself up from my seat, shuffled stiffly over to her chair, maneuvered around the footrest, and collapsed into place.

She treated me with great kindness, but as I bantered with her, there was an uneasy edge to her laughter.  She probably thought it was pretty weird that this messed-up dude was cracking jokes.  When I started to get up, she said, “Watch that footrest, hon,” as though I were not already painfully aware of it.

This bothers me, even though I think it’s a dumb thing to be bothered about.  I want to pass for normal, and when I can’t, I don’t enjoy the distance it creates between others and me.

One of the great puzzles of the modern church is the lack of evangelism by its members.  We talk about evangelism all the time, we pray about it constantly, we hold training sessions, but few indeed are the congregations of the Lord’s people that are evangelistically dynamic.

Explanations abound, everything from lack of devotion to fear.  I don’t think any of those are true.  I think Christians want to pass for normal, and they know that if they are vocal about their faith, they won’t be able to pass anymore.

The most successful personal worker I’ve ever known is Westley Pollard, elder of the Dowlen Rd. church in Beaumont.  When Lauren and I still lived there, she once ran into him at Walmart.  He was going up and down the lines at the registers, inviting people to church.  Normal behavior that is not, but in his time, Westley has baptized hundreds if not thousands of people.

I know this is a painful thing to say, but the question before each of us is whether we love God and our neighbor enough to not be normal.  Are we willing to act out, do the socially awkward thing, and have people look at us funny to possibly save a soul?  That sounds like a small price to pay, but I’m here to tell you that it isn’t.  It’s hard!  However, only if we are willing to pay it will we let our light so shine before men.

Displaying 16 - 20 of 175

Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 33 34 35