Head Heart Hand
Over the past few weeks, many questions have been asked about why professional institutions like Michigan State University and the United States Gymnastic Association would cover up Larry Nassar’s crimes.
But these events force another painful question to the surface. Why do churches also do this? Why do Christians cover up similar sin within the church? The same questions can be asked of para-church ministries and institutions, and all of what follows here is applicable to them too.
I’ve seen and heard of multiple occasions on both sides of the Atlantic where good people (and some not so good) have made horrendous decisions about how to handle complaints against individuals within the church. Time and again I’ve found myself utterly perplexed: “Why are they doing this? How can they do that? What is their motivation?”
As I’ve processed this agony and listened to people who have made bad decisions in these situations, I’ve come to realize there is no one reason that explains everybody. Instead there are numerous possible motivations, and often a few are found in the same heart.
I’m going to list the various motivations I’ve discovered over the years with a view to helping Christians in positions of power examine themselves as they make decisions and judgments going forwards. But, before that, a few caveats are in order.
First, This is not about one church or institution. I’m not referring to any particular case.
Second, this is not about recriminations about the past. It’s more about offering help and guidance for the future. It’s a kind of checklist to help men test their motives and therefore make purer decisions.
Third, I’m going to be referring to “men” throughout because, in most church situations, it’s men that are making these decisions.
Fourth, just because men find someone not guilty who is actually guilty may be a genuine mistake. It’s part of the pain of earthly justice, that men can make sincerely wrong judgments. When people make misjudgments we disagree with, we should not jump to the conclusion that they are corrupt and they are trying to cover up sin.
Fifth, many (I hope most) churches do the right thing. We only hear of the bad examples and the media only expose the cover-ups (as they should). However, there are many Christians who bravely and courageously stand up against evil and protect the innocent.
With these caveats in place, why do Christian churches, institutions, and ministries cover up sin?
Genuine belief in innocence: I just said that men can be sincerely wrong in their judgments and that we shouldn’t immediately condemn them as corrupt if they find a guilty person not guilty. However, this genuine belief in someone’s innocence can sometimes lead to a refusal to fairly consider evidence or even hear the accusers. That is corrupt and wrong.
Management approach: Some men who have been in positions of leadership for a long time can become pragmatic managers more than principled leaders. Their instinct when faced with serious accusations against someone is to manage the situation, to find a middle way, to take the path of minimal stress, to put peace above principle, to replace truth with accommodation and compromise. “Let’s see if we can come to some arrangement here.”
Gifted offender: Sometimes the accused is a man of great gifts and usefulness in the church or organization. It might seem that to lose him would sink the church or ministry. If an ordinary person were accused of the same thing, the approach would be much swifter and more serious, but charisma skews the judgment. “What a pity it would be to lose such a gifted preacher.”
Personal blessing: Related to the above, many have been blessed through the man’s ministry. Some were converted under him. Others were called to the ministry through him. Still others were brought to see the glory of Christ in a new way. God used him to guide people through dark times. This creates a spiritual and psychological debt and an obstacle to just judgment. “How can he be guilty if he’s been such a blessing to my life?”
Friendship: There can be a false sense of loyalty to someone due to a long and valued relationship with them. “How can I do this to a friend?” Or it may be a fear of losing friends who support the accused. Loyalty to men takes precedence over loyalty to God.
Lack of friendship: While the accused can benefit from the misplaced loyalty of so-called friends, victims can suffer from being unknown to the church or the examining committee. There’s no personal connection, there’s no relationship. Sometimes it’s only a written statement that’s before men looking at the case. Indeed, the accused’s defenders will often go to some lengths to prevent any direct contact with or examination of victims because they fear the power of that encounter. It’s far easier to dismiss the accusations of faceless strangers than the defenses of long-time friends.
Loss of reputation: If this gets out, the media will be all over it and our reputation will be destroyed. Or, perhaps it’s more “local” as people consider the impact on their own families. “What will people think?” or “How could I explain this to my unconverted children?”
Financial loss: Often related to the above. The loss of this person will mean the loss of money, the loss of some in the congregation, the loss of some donors. “We can’t afford to lose him and his supporters.”
Loss of career: I hate to acknowledge this, but sometimes men are afraid to ruin their chances of promotion within churches, or moves to other churches, or conference invites, or publishing contracts, and so on. “If I get involved in this, I’ll never be accepted in the ‘in’ crowd.”
Stalled agenda: Perhaps this person was at the forefront of a particular agenda within the church. It could be a modernizing agenda or a conserving agenda. Or it could be a particular theological or practical emphasis. If he goes down, then that agenda goes down too. “We don’t want to lose the leader of our party.”
Ignorance of effects: It’s very difficult for some men to grasp the long and serious psychological consequences of sex offenses, and that leads them to minimize the offense. “It was just a kiss…What’s in a cuddle?…He didn’t go the whole way….It was a long time ago…”
“Weak” accuser: Some men target women who are unlikely to be believed, either due to their age, personality, background, or circumstances, knowing that they will win any credibility battle. “Are you really going to believe her/them instead of him?”
The accuser’s supporters: Sometimes supporters of victims can be over-zealous and can say and do things that rub establishment types up the wrong way. Sometimes people with their own personal agenda and mixed motives can attach themselves to victims as their “advocates.” In both situations, the establishment then closes ranks and the victim is forgotten in the cross-fire. “We’re not going to let that guy/group beat us.”
The judges’ pasts: Men who are in positions of judgment have sinned in similar ways as the accused. They don’t have a clear conscience and therefore cannot deal truthfully with other people’s sins. In one case I know of, the accused had, over the years, counseled many men with various problems. Men had disclosed their deepest secrets to him. Some were terrified that if they found him guilty, he would reveal their own secrets. They used “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone….” as a defense of inaction.
Dug into a hole: Men can dig themselves into such a deep hole by defending the accused to the hilt at the beginning, that they make it very difficult to change their mind when more and more evidence is revealed. “I don’t want to be proved wrong.” But if you’re in a hole, you not only need to stop digging, you need to get out and fill in the hole.
False view of sovereignty: Some men take the theological high ground and say that God is sovereign and God is judge and we should therefore wash our hands of the matter and trust God to act. But they refuse to see that the Sovereign Judge has also called men to judge on his behalf. Once we have taken responsibility and done all we can, then we may eventually have to say, “We have to trust the Lord to put this right.” But we don’t say that up front.
Abusing grace and peace: “Aren’t we all about forgiveness and second chances?” “Shouldn’t we just love one another?” Related to this is also the ”peace” card: “What will the world say if we are just fighting one another and condemning one another.” “Disunity is a bad witness.”
Intimidation: The accused often has very loud and confident advocates acting on their behalf and sometimes the loudest voices silence any opposing voices. “Procedure” can also be used to by adept administrators and bureaucrats to silence or stifle legitimate questions and investigations.
Inexperience: Men who have never dealt with serious accusations like these, or dealt with such deceitful men, have no idea what to look out for. Instead of calling in professionals immediately, they bumble around making lots of amateurish mistakes which they then try to cover and hide as their folly is realized.
Fear of condemning the innocent: This is a genuine and legitimate concern. It’s a huge responsibility to have to come to a judgment of guilt. Some men fear making a mistake here so much that they forget the equally serious error of failing to protect genuine victims.
As I said at the beginning, let’s use this checklist not for past recrimination but for future self-examination, to purify our motives when we’re called to make judgments on serious cases. I know my own deceitful heart and I’ve felt the tug of all these temptations when called to make costly decisions in these areas.
And if you’ve ever succumbed to the pressure, bring your sin to the Savior of sinners, confess it, and you will find mercy (1 John 1:9). But then go and sin no more. And, if you can, go and put the wrong right — privately certainly, and publicly if necessary. And do it before you stand accused before the Judge of all the earth who will do right (Gen. 18:25)
Longing for likes: How to capture the hearts of Gen Z with a greater love
“This hyper-connected, hyper-concerned generation in on a quest for transcendent love. With bold love and kind invitations, let’s show them their value and invite them into a better story. Let’s help them put down their devices and find deeper satisfaction in Jesus.”
Perfectionism Is Increasing, and That’s Not Good News
“There is growing evidence that the increase in psychological ill-health of young people may stem from the excessive standards that they hold for themselves and the harsh self-punishment they routinely engage in. Increasingly, young people hold irrational ideals for themselves, ideals that manifest in unrealistic expectations for academic and professional achievement, how they should look, and what they should own. Young people are seemingly internalizing a pre-eminent contemporary myth that things, including themselves, should be perfect.”
“The Lord has clearly laid out the stepping-stones for us. Following His steps each Lord’s Day will help prepare and lead us eagerly to our final meeting with Him.”
The End of Anonymous Access to Pornography?
“This new law will not eliminate pornography. And, yes, lots of people will sign up so they can keep accessing porn. But doing so will no longer be anonymous. Removing the veil of anonymity will have an inhibiting effect. At least with individuals who know, deep down, that it is wrong.”
Who Watches Porn? 3 Key Predictors of Porn Use
Pornography reveals your sin, but far more, it reveals the themes of your life that God is relentlessly committed to transforming within you. In this way our sexual struggles are messengers. You may not like the news they bring, but they will continue to knock on the door of your heart until you listen to what they are attempting to tell you. Rather than exclusively focusing on saying ‘no’ to pornography, learn to say ‘yes’ to purpose, ‘yes’ to healing the harm of abuse, and ‘yes’ to turning to face your shame.
Lincoln’s Battle with God: A President’s Struggle with Faith and What It Meant for America by Stephen Mansfield $2.99.
The Most Important Place on Earth: What a Christian Home Looks Like and How to Build One by Robert Wolgemuth $2.99.
John Knox: Fearless Faith by Steven J. Lawson $2.99
Here’s the video to show your kids at the end of Expedition Five of Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos will eventually appear, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.
If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version.
Called to the cubicle: Regardless of where we work, we’re all in full-time ministry
“Our work is not just a means to an end, an ATM to fund church work, or a place to grudgingly evangelize. No matter what we do for a living, we’re engaged in full-time Christian ministry from nine to five each day. The cubicle is not a prison but an altar, and knowing that should radically change how we think about the place where we spend a large part of our adult lives.”
If You’re So Successful, Why Are You Still Working 70 Hours a Week?
“My research, published in my new book about leadership in professional organizations, shows that our tendency to overwork and burn out is framed by a complex combination of factors involving our profession, our organization, and ourselves. At the heart of it is insecurity.”
Why You Can’t Measure the Value of Homemaking
“As we consider our work and the work of those around us, remember that the size of the paycheck does not equal a job’s value to God. Many very important tasks do not come with a wage attached. If we reduce the value of work to the size of its paycheck, we risk being dismissive of some people because of their work or we, ourselves, may miss out on some of the best work of our lives.”
When It Comes To Screen Time, Learn To Tell Kids ‘No’
“Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book ‘Be The Parent, Please,’ warns of a growing body of evidence that digital media is harming our kids—and offers practical solutions for raising kids without it.”
“This Is Serious”: Facebook Begins Its Downward Spiral
“Facebook was always famous for the sign that hung in its offices, written in big red type on a white background, that said “Move Fast and Break Things.” And every time I think about the company, I realize it has done just that—to itself. But I think that Zuckerberg, and the people who work at Facebook, also realize that the things they have broken are things that are going to be very difficult to put back together.”
Depressed and Thankful: 6 Ways to Find Joy
“A melancholy side to my personality makes me prone to see the glass as half empty. I realize that for many individuals, medication is truly necessary. But the weapon that has made the most difference in my life in fighting depression, and something we can all benefit from, is gratitude.”
True Community by Jerry Bridges $2.99.
Love Walked among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus by Paul E. Miller $2.99.New Books
Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials by Dave Furman.
Over the past few days Revive our Hearts has been publishing and broadcasting Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s interview with Shona and I which we recorded last summer. You can listen or read the transcripts at the links below. It was in connection with Shona’s book Refresh: Embracing a Grace-paced Life in a World of Endless Demands.
You can also find some videos on Revive Our Hearts Facebook page. Here’s one of them.
This brings back happy memories of out time with you Nancy. Thanks so much!
I have many possible links for today’s Check out post but there’s only one you must read, so I’m not giving you a choice today. It’s a Christianity Today interview with Rachael Denhollander, the Christian woman who gave such an outstanding statement and testimony at the recent trial of Larry Nassar.
I’d encourage you to watch the whole video. Don’t just watch from where she “preached the Gospel and offered grace” to Nassar. That would be to miss the biggest lessons the church and society has to learn from this modern-day Deborah.
In this statement she mentioned how she “lost her church” in her fight for justice for sexual abuse victims. I was curious, though not surprised, about that and had been waiting for more information to emerge. That’s part of the important background covered in this Christianity Today interview. Here’s how Rachael’s husband Jacob tweeted a link to the interview:
If you wondered what it looked like for us to “lose our church,” this article from @CTmagazine might explain a few things.
I doubt this story will get as many blogs, tweets, links, and likes as Rachael’s video, but it should. It’s the most important interview Christianity Today has published in many years. It should be required reading for every church, every Seminary, every para-church ministry, and for every Christian conference that wants to show care for victims and avoid adding to their pain. As she said:
I have found it very interesting, to be honest, that every single Christian publication or speaker that has mentioned my statement has only ever focused on the aspect of forgiveness. Very few, if any of them, have recognized what else came with that statement, which was a swift and intentional pursuit of God’s justice. Both of those are biblical concepts. Both of those represent Christ. We do not do well when we focus on only one of them.
It’s not enough to admire Rachael’s incredible offer of grace and walk away. It’s time to listen to all that she has to teach the church about justice and the damage of cover-ups. It’s time to listen to her warnings about how the evangelical church and Christians in general are among the worst at victim blaming and perpetrator sheltering. I’ve seen this time and time again in my twenty-plus years of ministry on both sides of the Atlantic. As she said:
The extent that one is willing to speak out against their own community is the bright line test for how much they care and how much they understand.
And here’s her final challenge:
Obedience costs. It means that you will have to speak out against your own community. It will cost to stand up for the oppressed, and it should. If we’re not speaking out when it costs, then it doesn’t matter to us enough.
What’s the biggest lesson church leaders must take from this? It’s that covering up abuse is just as serious and sinful as the abuse. #Timesup Church.
The Wonderful, Amazing Blessings Of The Fear of the Lord
“This wonderful gift from God has brought joy and gladness into my life and has spared me from unimaginable pain and suffering. Yet I have never heard a message preached on it. I don’t hear Christians talking about it. It doesn’t seem to be in the forefront of many people’s minds. It may be, but I don’t hear much about it. What is this wonderful gift from God, this incredible blessing? It is the fear of the Lord.”
5 Great Things That Happen When Leaders Get Out of Their Offices
“It takes a love for the people and the work, coupled with a discipline to throw oneself into the work, for leaders to leave their offices. The pull to stay in your office can be strong. There are plenty of emails and plenty of meetings to keep leaders stuck in their offices. But wise leaders get out of their offices; here are five great things that happen when they do.”
When Revival Happens Elsewhere
“What about when you pray for revival and it comes…but to someone else? What are we to think of extraordinary measures of grace that God seems to pour out on others, while He seems pleased to withhold it from us? What am I to think of my neighbor’s revival?”
And now Generation Z
Some cultural insights into the upcoming generation.
When Someone You Admire Does Something Disgusting
“Almost every sector of culture is hit right now with revelations about long-admired people revealed to have secret, disgusting lives. Almost every one of you will face just such a revelation about someone you have admired, maybe even someone you thought was a godly Christian. By this, I do not mean seeing an admired Christian fall into sin (every Christian does). I mean the public unveiling that what you knew about the very basic character of this person was false: that he or she is a predator or a fraud. If that happens, how should you react?”
Here are two brand new books that are heavily discounted.
Supernatural Power for Everyday People: Experiencing God’s Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life by Jared C. Wilson $1.99.
The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution by Albert Mohler $2.99.
Our enemy says, “Youth for pleasure, middle age for business, old age for religion.” The Bible says, “Youth, middle age, and old age for your Creator.”
But as it’s especially in our youth that we are most inclined (determined?) to forget our Creator, it’s especially in these years that we must work to remember our Creator (Ecc.12:1). Remember that he made you, that he provides for you, that he cares for you, that he watches you, that he controls you; and remember that he can save you too. That’s a lot to remember, but it’s much easier to start memorizing when we are young!
1. Energetic Years
However, that’s not the only reason why God commands us to remember our Creator in our young years. It’s also because these are our most energetic years.
Why wait until we are pegging out, until we are running down, until our gas is almost empty, before serving our Creator? The God who made us deserves our most active and healthy years: our bodies are strong and muscular (well kind of), our minds are sharp and clear, our senses are receptive and keen and sensitive, our enthusiasm is bright and bushy, our wills are steely and determined. Remember him in your energetic years.
2. Sensitive Years
Why do far more of us become Christians in our youth than in our middle or old age? It’s because youthful years are sensitive years. Without giving up our belief in “Total Depravity” we can say that it’s “easier” to believe and repent when we are younger. It’s never easy, but it’s easier. And it’s easier because as we get older our heart is hardened thicker, our conscience is seared number, our sins root deeper, our deadness becomes deader.
Use youthful sensitivity and receptivity to remember your Creator before the evil days of callous indifference set in.
3. Teachable Years
We learn more in our youth than in any other period of life. That’s true in all subjects, but especially true in religious instruction. All the Christians I’ve met who were converted to Christ late in life have expressed huge regrets about how little they know and how little they can now learn. I encourage them to value and use whatever time the Lord gives them, but they often feel they have to study twice as hard to learn half as well.
4. Dangerous Years
Young years are minefield years: hormones, peer pressure, alcohol, drugs, pornography, immorality, testosterone, etc. Few navigate these years without blowing up here and there. Dangers abound on every side – and on the inside. How many “first” temptations become “last” temptations! How much we need our Creator to keep us and carry us through this battlefield.
Remember to Remember
Let me then give you some helps to remember your Creator during these best of years (and “worst” of years):
- Be persuaded that you have a Creator: Get well grounded in a literal understanding of Genesis 1-2 and shun all evolutionary influences.
- Get to know your Creator: Study his Word using sermons, commentaries, and good books. But also study his World using microscopes and telescopes and any other instruments he gives.
- Join with your Creator’s friends: Build friendships with other creatures that love to remember and respect their Creator.
- Follow your Creator’s order: He set and gave the pattern of six days work followed by one day of rest for contemplation of His Works.
- Ask for your Creator’s salvation: Even if your rejection of your Creator has broken you in pieces, he’s willing to re-create you in his image.
And while we’re on the subject of salvation, I don’t want older readers to be discouraged. Compared to the aeons of eternity, you are still in your “youth.” It’s not too late to remember Him, before these evil days come even nearer.
Young Teens and Social Media
“Our children are growing up in a world that thrives on technology, and we must be faithful in helping them engage with it. As with many things, technology can be a useful tool and a source of enjoyment, connection, and education. It can also become an addiction, idol, or tool for malice. The more we build strong character in our children, and the more we actively teach them to steward technology, the more likely they are to handle it with skill and wisdom.”
10 Things You Should Know about Suffering
Dave Furman speaks from experience.
“I recently finished For The Glory: The Untold and Inspiring Story of Eric Liddell, Hero of Chariots of Fire, by Duncan Hamilton. It has become one of my all-time favorite biographies, and I have been sharing with others insights from that book that have influenced my thinking and are beginning to shape my own life.”
Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules
I’ve been watching a lot of Jordan Peterson’s videos with a view to writing a review like this, but this is better than anything I could have done:
I want to reflect on what lessons can be learned from Peterson. Not just in the sense of ‘Why is he so popular?’ (popularity per se, as Trump has shown, is scarcely an indication of moral or intellectual virtue). But instead asking what can be learnt from both what he is saying and how he is saying it.
Loneliness Is Such An Honest Word
It’s this kind of cultural pain that Jordan Peterson is responding to. What an opportunity for the Christian community.
Eldership by Eric Alexander
These are 4 articles on Eldership by Rev. Eric Alexander who was formerly Minister of St George’s Tron Church, Glasgow.
Judge Not by Todd Friel $4.21.
The Deacon: Biblical Foundations for Today’s Ministry of Mercy by Cornelis Van Dam $4.99.
Pleasing God: Discovering the Meaning and Importance of Sanctification by R. C. Sproul $1.99
Is social media “ripping apart” society?
“Question: As Christian leaders, how do you evaluate social media? Is it good for America? Is it good for Christians? How have your social media practices changed since you first entered the social media world?”
Science Is Giving the Pro-Life Movement a Boost
“Activists like McGuire believe it makes perfect sense to be pro-science and pro-life. While she opposes abortion on moral grounds, she believes studies of fetal development, improved medical techniques, and other advances anchor the movement’s arguments in scientific fact. “The pro-life message has been, for the last 40-something years, that the fetus … is a life, and it is a human life worthy of all the rights the rest of us have,” she said. “That’s been more of an abstract concept until the last decade or so.” But, she added, “when you’re seeing a baby sucking its thumb at 18 weeks, smiling, clapping,” it becomes “harder to square the idea that that 20-week-old, that unborn baby or fetus, is discardable.”
Personality Tests—A Waste or a Resource?
Ed Stetzer discusses the pros and cons of personality tests.
Help! I Caught My Son Looking at Porn!
“Two days ago I caught our almost 15 year old son looking at inappropriate pictures on the Internet. We are purchasing software for our devices, etc. but I was wondering if you have any resources that you would recommend for the discipleship process that we now need to embark on to help my son work through and hopefully overcome this temptation. I appreciate any help/resources you could suggest.”
What Pastors Could Learn From Jordan Peterson
“While watching it, and reflecting upon Peterson’s work more generally (about which I’ve written in the past), I was struck by some of the lessons that preachers can learn from Peterson.”
“An Enforced Rest”
My Dad’s vacation did not turn out as planned.
Table Grace: The role of hospitality in the Christian Life by Douglas Webster $2.99.
Four Views of the End Times by Dr. Timothy Paul Jones $3.03
A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology by Kelly M. Kapic $2.99
Here’s the video to show your kids at the end of Expedition Four of Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos will eventually appear, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.
If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version.
New Research Confirms That Abortion Hurts Women
“The largely ignored findings run completely afoul of today’s narrative about how abortion is a benign, safe procedure that represents the pinnacle of female empowerment.”
Four Reasons to Think About Hell Every Day
“Hell is a real place. Currently, there are millions, if not billions, of people there burning in excruciating pain. They are real people. They lived on the same earth as us and now will be in hell for eternity. This truth should make you squeamish. It should make you uncomfortable, and suppressing this truth is not only foolish, but it is harmful for your soul. Here are four reasons not to ignore hell, but to think about it often.”
The Fear of the Lord
“The reality is that people don’t want to fear God because they don’t want God in their lives. Some professing Christians don’t fear Him because they don’t actually know the God of Scripture, while they presume upon His grace to save them.”
The Hard Job of Interpreting Job
“In order to help the reader work through many of these challenges, I want to recommend a few books, articles and sermon series to help us navigate the difficult terrain of this wonderfully complex portion of God’s word.”
A Psalmic Faith
“I found my Psalmic faith personally challenged last year when my father died suddenly. I was a daddy’s girl. Despite sharing the gospel with him many times, he rejected the claims of Christ. ”
Should You Quit?
“Some of you are wondering whether to quit your jobs. Some of you are wondering whether to quit ministries you have within your local church. Some of you are wondering whether to quit other aspects of your life that I don’t even know about. You’re discouraged and you’re ready to give up. Should you?”
Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame by Heather Davis Nelson $4.99.
“Imagine growing words as crops.” That’s the advice found on page five of Expressing Theology: A Guide to Writing Theology that Readers Want to Read. Why? Because the agriculture metaphor of farming captures two very important aspects of writing (and of using words in any teaching capacity).
1. Words, like crops, need to grow.
“A single word is like a seed, full of potential and possibility. Words need to be planted in the deep soil of human experience so they can send down roots that touch the basic needs of humanity, and bring forth shoots and stems that reach up for the dreams and visions of a better future.”
“But, like a farmer, the writer cannot just drop a seed into the ground and walk away. Words must be carefully nourished. They need to be pruned and shaped. Unnecessary words need to be weeded away. And like the farmer, the theologian needs to provide the right amounts of water, sunlight, and nutrients during the proper season of the year for seed to grow into award-winning, beautiful narratives.”
2. Words, like crops, need to feed.
“Farmed words need to foster hope in the light of feeding readers. We need to grow words with a purpose…Farming reflects the purpose writers of theology need to cultivate in their work. Farming isn’t about growing rows of corn and acres of potatoes and letting the crops rot in the field. We need to do something with the crops. We need to plant words with a purpose to feed the spiritually hungry, to bring people together around a table of fellowship, to nourish.”
Questions: What words are you nourishing? Are your words aimed at feeding others? What is the specific purpose of your words?
New Harvard Research Says U.S. Christianity Is Growing Stronger
Here’s an encouraging report:
The percentage of Americans who attend church more than once a week, pray daily, and accept the Bible as wholly reliable and deeply instructive to their lives has remained absolutely, steel-bar constant for the last 50 years or more, right up to today. These authors describe this continuity as “patently persistent.”
Healing from the Trauma of Abortion
“One in four women will have an abortion by age 45. Women like me are hidden in our churches—your church—grappling with haunting cycles of shame and regret despite what we know to be true about sin, forgiveness, and grace. Here are three things I’ve learned in the midst of my struggle toward healing. I hope they offer a helpful perspective for those trying to minister to post-abortive women. And I hope they encourage those silently suffering. You’re not alone.”
Parents, Take Note of the Spiritual Practices Common to Kids Who Flourish As Adults
Fellow parents, the biggest factor in your kids staying in the church is Bible reading!
Children who regularly read the Bible while they were growing up were more likely to have a vibrant spiritual life once they became adults. This statistic doesn’t surprise me. God’s Word is powerful. The Bible lays out the great story of our world and helps us interpret our lives and make decisions within the framework of a biblical worldview. Bible reading is a constant reminder that we live as followers of God. Our King has spoken. He reigns over us. We want to walk in his ways.
Seven Thoughts on the Billy Graham / Mike Pence Rule – Tim Challies
Sanity as usual from Tim:
The long and short of it is that there is great freedom within the Christian life to hold or not to hold to the Billy Graham slash Mike Pence Rule. In this, as in so many other areas, “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).
The Battle for a Man’s Mind
“Every man must realize that of first importance in winning the spiritual battle of our lives involves framing his life according to biblical truth. Here are some suggested reminders to help a man frame his thinking (and his sons) in the battle for a renewed worldview:”
Disabled by Design: My Abundant Life Without Arms
“Blindness, deafness, amputation, and mental disability do not detract from any person’s worth. The church must be faithful to proclaim and defend that every unborn child, regardless of disability, has a right to life. Every unborn child can display the works of God.”
Seven reasons why church is difficult for those touched by mental illness
“In my experience, families in which a child or parent is being treated for a mental health condition are significantly less likely to regularly attend worship services or participate in small groups, Christian education, or service activities than their friends or neighbors. Given that one in five children and adults in the U.S. experience at least one mental health condition at any given time, their families represent a large population desperately in need of tangible expressions of the love of Christ and the spiritual benefits associated with active participation in the life of a local church.”
The Pastor’s Wife: Strengthened by Grace for a Life of Love by Gloria Furman $4.99.
Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church by Gloria Furman and Kathleen Nielson $3.99.
“Let’s face it; most theology is boring.”
Why am I reading a book that begins with that sentence?
Because I agree with it. Because I’m guilty of it. And because I want to do something about it in the one person I can influence. Me.
But if you’re also interested, and you “want to buck the trend of boring theology and help move talk about God back to the heart of everyday life,” then why don’t you pick up Expressing Theology: A Guide to Writing Theology that Readers Want to Read.
Remember, this isn’t a challenge just for authors, pastors, and academics. If you’re involved in teaching the Bible in any capacity, whether it’s in Sunday school, a Bible Study, or a small group, then you too can learn from this book about how to make your teaching more enjoyable and edifying.
Let’s start with the author’s stated aim in chapter one:
I want to spark a revolution that transforms how theologians from all walks of life and traditions express theology. I believe theology should be engaging, compelling, and beautiful.
So, what makes for “bad” theological writing? The authors identify three problems:
1. Poor writing skills
- Incorrect grammar, confusing sentence construction, common usage and punctuation mistakes.
- Wordy, fat sentences that are held together by weak verbs.
- Choppy repetitive sentence construction.
- Unclear, boring prose that commits to nothing.
- Writing that lacks personality and fails to draw the reader in through examples such as stories and illustrations (usually the result of writers trying to sound “academic” and in the process losing their personality and voice.
2. Shallow writing
- Words spewed on the page without purpose or direction, integration, or reflection.
- Summarizing multiple sources without ever reflecting on or discussing the material or trying to bring it together.
- Fear-based writers believe they have nothing worth adding to the conversation.
- They hide behind infinite strings of long dense quotes and Scripture verses with barely a sentence or two of their own thought between them.
- Scared of being thought of as stupid, they’re terrified of exposing their thought for public consumption.
Questions: What other problems have you come across in theological writing? Are any/all of these problems found in preaching?
The Humble Leader
“Leadership is most dangerous when it ceases to be humbling, when success comes to the leader. When a leader starts to thrive, when the Lord grants success, or when things go better than planned, the leader can easily drift toward pride.”
A Gospel Prescription In Postpartum Depression
“Since then, I’ve suffered from postpartum depression two more times. Each time, I gained more clarity on the source of my help and the centrality of the gospel. I had to depend on the Lord to admit my physical need, ask my husband for help, to find wisdom in seeking a doctor’s opinion, and for evaluating and responding to the medical advice. The Spirit’s strengthening and enabling were essential in getting me the physical help I needed for my body and mind to heal.”
A feminist describes her abortion… and sadness
“Abortion has a human toll—not only in lives lost but also in mothers who have to live in the aftermath of a decision they weren’t fully convinced of in the first place. In their most vulnerable moment, mothers are counseled by abortion supporters and boyfriends and others to suppress their conscience and to make a choice for death. And then they often have to face the subsequent darkness alone. Not long ago, I sat with a 60-year old woman who shared with me through hot tears her heart-breaking abortion story. Decades later she still grieves what she did—the pain is very close to the surface.”
Why Has the Abortion Rate Declined?
“What then accounts for the declining abortion rate? There seems to be no clear answer. If we had to hazard a guess, though, we could say that it’s likely a combination of fewer teens having sex, increased contraceptive use, lower rates of unintended pregnancies, increased opposition to abortion by the young, and a greater willingness to have a child after an unintended pregnancy. While we may never know for sure what’s the cause, we can thank God for what appears to be a positive shift toward life.
R.C. Sproul’s Final Sermon: A Great Salvation
“Dr. R.C. Sproul (1939—2017) preached his final sermon on November 26, 2017, at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. The title of the sermon was “A Great Salvation” from Hebrews 2:1-4. He concluded that sermon with these words: “I pray with all my heart that God will awaken each one of us today to the sweetness, the loveliness, the glory of the gospel declared by Christ.”"
And so to Bed…: A Biblical View of Sleep by Adrian Reynolds $2.99.
Here’s the video to show your kids at the end of Expedition Three of Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos will eventually appear, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.
If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version.
Opioid Crisis Hits Home
“Drug overdoses killed more than half a million Americans from 2000 to 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”
If church leaders are looking for some practical help with this problem, here’s a new Practical Tool Kit for Faith-Based Leaders
Weariness is Part of the Job
Helpful distinction between burnout and weariness.
“Are you tired today? Do you feel worn-out? That’s OK. It is normal. Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t give up. Ministry is supposed to make you weary, but you can make it. Don’t quit. Press on. The work is worth the weariness and our God is of far greater worth than the cost of serving him.”
To Phone or Not to Phone—and When?
Eric Geiger thinks through the questions to consider when deciding if/when to give your teen a phone.
Everyone Wants to Be More Productive
Ligonier Connect and Tim Challies have launched an interactive video course that provides a practical and distinctly Christian approach to productivity.
New Accelerated Degree Program in Partnership with Several Respected Seminaries
And just in case you had any doubt that there was life after RC for Ligonier….
My Indebtedness to the Puritans – Meet the Puritans
Did you know that Joel Beeke likes the Puritans?
“While there are many ways that the Bible-saturated books of the Puritans have influenced me, I would like to highlight three special lessons I have learned from them about experiential, practical Christian living.”
Health Workers Who Oppose Abortion Get New Protections
Good news for Christians in healthcare.
“The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it was taking new steps to protect doctors, nurses and other health workers who have religious or moral objections to performing abortions or sex-change operations, or providing other medical services. The move, one day before the annual March for Life in Washington, was a priority for anti-abortion groups.”
Workplace Trial: How One Executive Led During Dual Tragedies
Fascinating story about how a successful Christian businessman navigated some huge workplace challenges.
If you’re into history, there are multiple history books on sale at Amazon.
Every church needs two preachers. We need a human preacher, one who is visible, audible, tangible. But we also need a divine preacher, one that is invisible, inaudible, and intangible. I’m speaking of the Holy Spirit, without whom the work of the human preacher is in vain.
A Personal Preacher
How can I call the Holy Spirit ‘a preacher’? In various places the Holy Spirit is called the parakletos (eg. John 14:16). There isn’t really a comparable English word to translate this, leading to varied inadequate translations such as ‘comforter,’ ‘helper,’ or ‘Advocate.’ The literal translation is something like ‘one who comes alongside to call with words.’ Do you see how I can call the Holy Spirit a preacher? He comes alongside Christians and calls them, or exhorts them, with words.
He is very personal preacher, not only in that he is a person rather than a force or power – a real HE coming to a real you – but also because his pulpit is your own heart. He lives within the Christian and preaches to him with God’s words, preaching so personally and intimately as if he was the only one in his congregation.
A Pure Preacher
Every preacher has his flaws, and eventually the congregation will see them. That’s why visiting preachers often seem much better than our own pastor. It’s because we don’t know them and their flaws in the same way as we know our own pastor. But the Holy Spirit is different, primarily because he is the HOLY Spirit. As such, he is flawless and faultless.
He’s also pure in the sense of having the purest of motives. The entertainer is after your applause, the politician is after your vote, the attorney is after your verdict, the financier is after your money, the advertiser is after your eyeballs, but the Holy Spirit is after the good of your soul. He is pure in his effect as well, the result of his work in the Christian being a holier spirit.
A Present Preacher
When the Pope visited the USA a few years ago, one media commentator said, “Isn’t it wonderful that the vicar of Christ has visited the USA!” The ‘vicar of Christ’ means the stand-in, or spokesman, for Christ, and is one of the titles the Pope takes to himself. Well I’ve got news for you, the vicar of Christ visits the USA every day! That’s because the true vicar of Christ is the Holy Spirit, not the pope of Rome.
When Jesus was leaving his disciples he said, that he would send the Holy Spirit as his vicar, as his stand-in, someone who would stay with his disciples forever (John 14:16). That’s why the martyr Ignatius sometimes called himself Theophorus (literally, ‘God-carrier’), explaining to his hearers, “I bear about with me the Holy Spirit.”
Sometimes, Sunday sermons make a great impression on us, but it wears off by Monday morning, and we mourn, “If only I could have the preacher beside me every day to motivate and drive me on.” Well you can, because the Holy Spirit is your ever-present preacher.
A Perfect Preacher
When we looked at the Holy Spirit as a pure preacher, we were speaking of his character. Now let’s look at his perfect gifts and talents. Unlike the best human preacher, he has perfect knowledge of Scripture. As the Spirit of Truth, he knows it all, understands it all, and can apply it all perfectly. He has perfect knowledge of you, your character, your providence, your circumstances. He knows exactly how to fit the Word to you. He can even take sermons that seem irrelevant and make them applicable to you if you ask him.
A Patient Preacher
Many preachers go through seasons of discouragement. They get weary, cynical, self-pitying, and, sometimes, in frustration with their listeners, even lose their tempers. The Holy Spirit doesn’t fall into these traps. He comes to you again, and again, and again. Patiently calling, pleading, exhorting, directing. For the Christian, thankfully, he doesn’t give up but returns even after being ignored or deliberately rejected.
A Powerful Preacher
One common English translation of parakletos is ‘Comforter.’ That’s derived from two Latin words and means ‘with strength.’ The Holy Spirit comes with power. He strengthens the weak through speaking God’s Word. He takes the weakest human sermons and transforms them into almighty words.
When the disciples heard that Jesus was leaving them, they were discouraged. They felt weak and impoverished. But Jesus told them that, on the contrary, they are about to be enriched and strengthened by the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. What an encouragement to pastors when facing desperately difficult and even impossible situations. We are weak and our words are weak. But there’s another preacher with us who is omnipotent.
A Particular Preacher
The Holy Spirit is very particular and discriminating in his preaching. He doesn’t have the same message for everybody. Immediately after being promised the Holy Spirit, Jesus informed the disciples that the world cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it neither sees him nor knows him (John 14:17). While the primary preaching work of the Holy Spirit in believers is comfort, in the unbeliever it is conviction. “When he has come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (Jn. 16:8). He strengthens and comforts believers; he weakens and discomforts unbelievers. But he does so in order to make unbelievers seek his strength and comfort.
So, yes, pray for your human preacher—he needs it. But also pray for more of the divine preacher—you need him.
An excerpt from Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love by John Crotts.
Sometimes we have some important things to say to our Christian brothers and sisters, but the way we say it directly affects the way they receive our message. Sharing your message with harshness, a critical spirit, a condescending attitude, anger, or even a scowl is like communicating wonderful things with terribly bad breath. The person you are talking to could completely miss out on the benefits of your message simply because of the way you deliver it.
God cares about more than just the words you say. He also cares about how you say those words. It is not enough always to say the truth; you must also say the truth in love. The Lord Jesus Christ provides the greatest model of a per- son with zeal both to know and to apply the truth of God. Although He knew the truth better than anyone who ever lived, He was never guilty of selfishly showing of His understanding of the Scriptures. While He used the Word of God to correct and admonish others who needed it, His necessary corrections came accompanied with virtues such as love, gentleness, and kindness. These virtues can be summarized as graciousness. The apostle John describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). For zealous Christians to faithfully follow their Lord, they must pursue God’s truth in their minds and practice, but they must also intentionally cultivate graciousness in their hearts and lives.
Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love by John Crotts.