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Mark Beuving

70 POSTS 79 COMMENTS
Mark has been serving in pastoral roles for nearly 20 years. After a decade in various teaching and administrative roles at Eternity Bible College, Mark is a pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, California. His books include Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music and the New York Times bestseller Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, which he co-authored with Francis Chan.

Political Healing Before the Votes Are Cast or Counted

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I don’t care who you vote for. I have no intention of trying to persuade you regarding party affiliation, ideal candidates, or which issues are worth a single-issue approach to voting. But I’m going to begin posting about politics for a bit here because I think we need it desperately. I need it. We are prone to be political jackasses. This coming election has already been ugly, and it’s going to get worse. If we’re going to survive this election and its aftermath with our souls intact, we’re going to have to start NOW to work toward political healing. We’re going to have to de-escalate the partisanship and the spiritual-political bullying. We’ll need to set our hearts on something other than party politics. Because politics matters way less and way more than we currently think.

“If we’re going to survive this election and its aftermath with our souls intact, we’re going to have to start NOW to work toward political healing.”

We’ve got to go deeper than misguided questions like “How would Jesus vote?” That’s too myopic, it carries too many previous assumptions. I think a better question would be “How would Jesus have us engage with the project of our common life together?”

In this and the following posts, I want to interact with James K. A. Smith’s book Awaiting the King. Here’s how he frames the importance of a nuanced Christian engagement in politics:

“The church is not a soul-rescue depot that leaves us to muddle through the regrettable earthly burden of ‘politics’ in the meantime; the church is a body politic that invites us to imagine how politics could be otherwise. And we are sent from worship to be Christ’s image-bearers to and for our neighbors, which includes the ongoing creaturely stewardship and responsibility to order the social world in ways that are conducive to flourishing but particularly attentive to the vulnerable—the widows, orphans, and strangers in our midst” (16).

Our Christian engagement in politics is not about aligning with a party we consider to be more Christian, or a candidate that we consider to be more Christian, or a policy or platform that we consider most important. It’s bigger and more important than any of that.

We have a Christian responsibility to engage politics because it’s a facet of our common life together. Politics is one aspect of our needed realization that we do not live isolated lives. It’s easy for us to acknowledge that the concept of Church is important because it binds us to other people, it keeps us from unhealthy individualism. The same is true of society as a whole. We share a common life. It’s not just about an “I” and the preferences that accompany that “I.” It’s a “we,” so we must work toward the flourishing of that “we.”

This makes politics difficult in precisely the same way that public schooling is difficult. Public schools are often criticized for having lower test scores compared to private schools. But what we often miss in this assessment is that private schools choose which students they’ll accept; public schools take every student. So their test scores reflect honor students and English language learners who are taking standardized tests presented in a language they don’t yet know well. Public school, by definition, must work for the good of everyone. Which is a blessing and a curse. In many ways it’s better to make education individualized in the way a homeschool parent is able to do. In other ways, there’s an inherent good in making sure that every student has access to education.

This is how politics works also. Which is why our partisanship becomes so ugly. We want our interests represented and we want that to be good enough for everyone. But thinking of our common life together must push us to acknowledge that I’m not the only stake holder here. My opinions and needs matter, but so do those of the people around me. This is also why government can’t be run just like a business, or simply like a business. It has to care for all citizens, not just the ones that can be profitably catered to.

Our country is worse off if we all demand our special interests. We need to recover a sense of the common good. Of rooting for each other to flourish. Of being able to acknowledge the good that’s worth fighting for in the other person’s camp. Is it hard to imagine that our camp, that the people who think exactly like we do, might be overlooking some things that another camp sees more clearly and fights for more aggressively?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote with passion. I’m not saying you shouldn’t back a candidate. But I am calling all of us to zoom out a bit. How can we, as followers of the true King, work toward human flourishing in our common life together? Perhaps you’ve asked and answered that question already, and that’s why you’re set on voting as you intend to, why you post the things you post on social media, why you engage in the battles you engage in. But I ask you not to assume that your politics are in order, or that any political party is worthy of your allegiance. Let’s take a cue from Jamie Smith and see ourselves as “sent from worship to be Christ’s image-bearers to and for our neighbors.” If that sounds worthwhile, join me in the weeks ahead while I muse on some of the ways politics shape us, and the ways we can express our allegiance to Jesus by engaging in the political side of our common life together. I promise not to tell you how to vote, I just want us all to fight the inner political jackass.

Do We Still Know How to Apologize & Repent?

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It would seem not. I’m struck by this thought because I find myself frequently asking for forgiveness from my daughters. It’s weird to do. They’re 8 and 10 right now, and we have a great relationship overall. I grow impatient, raise my voice, or overreact. When I do this, it’s because they’re being unreasonable, stubborn, or refusing to listen and obey directions. The thing is, my wife and I teach our daughters that it doesn’t matter what their sister did, their job is to respond in love and grace even when they don’t like what someone else is doing to them.

“My theology tells me that humans are imperfect, so why should it be a rare occurrence that we turn to each other and ask for forgiveness?”

So I find myself apologizing to my daughters often. I’m not perfect about it, but it strikes me as important for my own soul and for their developing understanding of what it means to be a human being. My theology tells me that humans are imperfect, so why should it be a rare occurrence that we turn to each other and ask for forgiveness?

I have a concern about Christian celebrity culture, where big names make big statements and often go too far in speaking against someone or something. Often this involves outright sin and slander. But how often do these key figures backtrack or repent of what they’ve said? From where I’m standing it seems rare. More often they double down. And what I see with the Christian celebrities, I see in all of us (myself included, of course). Especially the online versions of ourselves.

“When a celebrity pastor makes a harmful statement, why is it so rare for them to issue an apology? Why do they more often double down on it? Doesn’t our theology teach us that we’ll need to repent—often?”

I want to share an older story in order to bring some hope to our current situation. Back in 2012, Ann Voskamp’s book Ten Thousand Gifts was very popular. It’s a wonderful book. But when Tim Challies reviewed her book, he was not gracious. It’s not a hateful review, but it’s marked by the sort of watchdog theology and uncharitable interpretations of her work that characterize a certain Christian subculture. As an example, Ann Voskamp describes having a spiritual encounter with God in the Notre Dame cathedral. Challies’ response was to question her understanding of the gospel because she felt the need to travel to a specific location (a location in which poor theology has been preached, nonetheless) in order to encounter God. There are several things like this. It’s sad for me to read now, as it was then.

But then something unusual happened. One day after Challies’ review was posted, Ann Voskamp and her family invited Tim Challies and his family over for dinner. I don’t know if that dinner ever took place, but the mere invitation caused Challies to issue a public apology to Voskamp for his uncharitable review. It really is remarkable. He doubles down on some of his critiques of the book (which is his prerogative as a subjective reviewer), but he reflects on all the things he might have done differently if he had thought of Voskamp as a real human being:

“Something happened inside me when I saw Ann’s name in my inbox… this strange feeling that comes when I suddenly realize that the name on the front of the book—’Ann Voskamp’ in this case—is not some cleverly programmed, unfeeling robot that spits out blog posts and magazine articles and books, but a person. A real person…

“In my review I had treated her as if her words mean less than mine, as if I was free to criticize her in a way I would not want to be criticized…

“I would have said certain things differently had I known that she and I might soon be sharing a meal together… I might have said certain things differently had I considered her an ‘insider,’ a fellow member of whatever little circle of the Christian world I inhabit… I can’t deny that somewhere in my mind lurks this insider and outsider kind of thinking which somehow encourages me to extend greater courtesy to one group than another. I did poorly here and I can see that I need to grow in my ability to critique the ideas in a book even while being kind and loving to its author.”

Challies ended that article by explicitly asking Voskamp’s forgiveness. It’s so refreshing. It’s beautiful, and all the more so because it’s rare.

In this fallen world, we’re all going to be jackasses from time to time. This shouldn’t surprise us. But let’s take a note from Challies and learn to own up to jackassery and repent when we find it.

More than that, let’s take a note from Ann Voskamp and begin inviting people to dinner. Notice that what prompted Challies’ response was Voskamp inviting him to a meal. It was the simple relational gesture that acknowledged him as a human and initiated a relational path forward that helped him see the jackassery. That’s powerful stuff. We all have so much room to grow in this. We need more of these stories.

Culture Is a Garden, Not a Battlefield

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In his excellent book Culture Care, artist Makoto Fujimura says that culture is a garden to be tended, not a battlefield to be won or lost. This thought has been like a thorn in my brain—it constantly nags at me, it won’t let me pass on by.

“Culture is a garden to be tended, not a battlefield to be won or lost.” – Makoto Fujimura

I’m part of a generation that was taught to fight and win the culture wars. I see that mentality continuing on, steering the artistic endeavors of many Christians, setting the agendas for churches and organizations, fueling much of Christian Twitter and Facebook. There’s something good here: it’s right to desire that God’s character be reflected in the world around us.

But the battlefield approach is wrongheaded from the start. It implies enemies: there’s a world full of people that Jesus died to heal and reconcile to himself, and instead of offering those people the grace and love of Jesus, we’re attacking. It implies victory and defeat: rather than reconciliation, this approach has us either gaining or losing territory. It implies weapons and strategies: people and groups and cultural landscapes become projects and pawns and leverage. I’m not saying you can’t find any biblical statements that lean in any of these directions, but I do think that Fujimura’s garden metaphor is more in line with our overall calling.

When we view culture as a garden, we’re not saying that we don’t care if there are harmful elements in culture. Every garden in this fallen world must be tended. Weeds must be rooted out. Vines must be trained. Harmful insects and vermin must be managed. But the goal is not to defeat the enemy and claim the realm. The goal is flourishing. Growth. We enter the cultural space not as generals or soldiers, but as gardeners. We are there to tend and bind up and train.

I see a strong echo of this concept in Philippians 4:8, where Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things” (CSB). Sometimes we (rightly) put the emphasis on the adjectives true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, etc. That approach yields a lot of insight. But we can also read it with the emphasis on the “whatever is.” The Greek term (hosa) means “as many things as are…” So don’t just focus on the true things that come from your own small subgroup. Whatever is true, focus on those things. As many things as are lovely, dwell on these things. It has often been said that truth is truth wherever it is found. The same is true of beauty. Sure, we’ll find truth and beauty and morality distorted in every place we find them (including in the church)—I think this is the clear implication of Romans 1:18–25. But that does not cancel out the truth and beauty and goodness around us.

Here’s the reality: this world is brimming with truth and beauty and goodness. We can walk through life as pessimists, blinkered to every bit of God’s goodness and light and beauty that does not flow from those who think exactly as we do. But let’s not pretend that this pessimism is virtuous or that this approach is something God calls us to. God made human beings to be gardeners. This world is a great garden that needs constant tending. So when God made the first human being, “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it” (Gen. 2:15). That’s literally our job as human beings. Culture, the physical world, society, is a garden to be tended, not a battlefield to be won or lost.

Notice that this change of metaphor does not call for inaction or resignation. There is still much work to be done. But it changes the goal of our work and the nature of our interactions. Other people cease to be my enemies and instead become part of the garden that I am called to tend. They are even fellow gardeners with whom we can and must collaborate. I’ll find many fellow gardeners with whom I will strongly disagree and who will be trying to build something that I find harmful. But the answer is not to attack and reclaim the garden for my tribe. The answer is to affirm all that is good and beautiful, to work to amplify those positive elements, and to continue working to remove the weeds and cultivate a healthy garden. The call here is simple, yet profound: stop fighting to dominate culture, start tending and nurturing so that we can all live in a culture in which health, growth, and reconciliation thrive, as God intended.

Christians Doing Satan’s Work

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I don’t want to read anything more about Covid, and I’m sure you don’t either. I don’t have any insight on the best way to handle the virus or the timeframe for when we’ll regain some normalcy. There’s only one thing I know: It’s really hard to be a pastor during Covid. That’s not surprising because it’s hard to be a church member during Covid. And that’s not surprising because it’s hard to be a human during Covid.

As I look at the other churches around me, we’re all doing things differently. My church family is meeting in backyards around our area to talk through Scripture, encourage each other, and pray together. Other churches are meeting in their parking lots or under tents on their church property. Some churches are fully online right now. Some churches have chosen to continue meeting indoors. I don’t know of any churches that haven’t changed course a few times.

The bottom line is this: we’re all just doing our best. Believe it or not, the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically how to do a church service. (I know, right?!) We get some descriptions of what the first Christians did when they gathered, and some corrections of specific churches when they veered off course, but you simply cannot read through the New Testament and walk away saying, “Yes, the way my church gathers is the one and only biblical way to do it.” You seriously can’t. And yet, miraculously, so many seem to be doing that right now. To be honest, I have to fight that impulse in myself.

A famous pastor and his megachurch recently chose to defy California Governor Newsom’s ban on holding indoor church services, saying very clearly, “We cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedient to our Lord’s clear commands.” I personally find this so frustrating. The “moratorium” in California right now is on indoor gatherings. So which “clear command” of the Lord tells us that we must worship indoors?

But this is exactly the moment I need to stop myself. I don’t need to agree with this pastor. I think he and his team are doing the best they can to be faithful in their context. It’s so hard to be a pastor right now, they don’t need me telling them they’re doing it wrong. I’ve seen several videos make the rounds online with pastors literally yelling at other pastors for not opening their churches back up. That is so out of line! I could yell back that our church is still open, we just aren’t meeting indoors. I don’t need these guys yelling at me for not doing exactly what they’re doing. They don’t need me yelling back at them that they’re doing it wrong. Honestly, we need to stop telling each other what we’re doing wrong and instead focus on following Jesus in our unique cultural moment.

Early in the pandemic, I had to delete Twitter from my phone. I had anxiety as I read opinion after opinion (which is all social media gives us, by the way) about what the virus meant and how it should be responded to: If you keep meeting in person, you’re murdering people. If you stop meeting in person, you’re caving to government and disobeying Jesus. If you meet only online you’re impoverishing people’s spiritual lives because we’re made for human interaction. If you meet in person you’re compromising your church’s witness to the community and no one will ever love Jesus again. If you stop meeting in person your church has abandoned its mission to share the love of Jesus with the community.

“In the Bible, Satan is called ‘the accuser of the brothers and sisters.’ So when we accuse each other regarding how we’re doing church right now, it’s not the Lord’s work we’re doing.”

It’s stupid, it’s wrong, and perhaps most significantly, when we make these kinds of accusations at each other, it’s not the Lord’s work we’re doing. In Scripture, Satan is called “the accuser of the brothers and sisters” (Rev. 12:10). That’s literally Satan’s job. He accuses us of wrongdoing, of not being enough, of being unforgivable, of being unredeemable. And here we are, claiming the name of Jesus even as we step out in a complete lack of grace and accuse one another. As Paul warned us, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15).

When I look around, I see a creativity in churches that I’ve never seen before. Losing this one approach to doing church that we all held to be sacred has led so many churches to innovate and try to find life amid new constraints. That’s a good thing! It’s not a virtue to step up and accuse other churches or other Christians. (I am, of course, talking here about preference issues like whether to meet indoors, outdoors, or online. When it comes to sin issues, abuse, etc., darkness must be named and brought to light and justice.)

The kingdom of God doesn’t look like hatred and strife and division and self-exaltation and political jockeying. This current cultural moment has given us yet another opportunity to be jackasses in the name of Jesus. But it’s also an opportunity for love, grace, and encouragement. So I want to fight the impulse to accuse and tear down and instead look at so many of my brothers and sisters who are simply doing their best and say, “Great job! Hang in there! You’re doing well, and I know God will continue to guide you.” May God use this time to shape his church into what he wants it to be for this time and for the times ahead.

How We Disguise Self-Love as Love for Others

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I can’t stop myself from returning to Kierkegaard’s brilliant Works of Love. His take on Paul’s words that “love does not seek its own” is helping me to process how much of what I call “love” is actually just love for myself disguised as love for others.

Here’s Kierkegaard’s summary:

“Love seeks not its own. For the true lover does not love his own individuality. He rather loves each human being according to the other’s individuality. But for the other person ‘his own individuality’ is precisely ‘his own,’ and consequently the lover does not seek his own; quite the opposite, in others he loves ‘their own.'”

The picture here is of a person who truly sees every person around her and is fascinated by them. She sees what makes them distinct and is willing to put her effort into helping each person become more fully who they actually are, to dive deeper into the God-given distinctiveness they already possess. Kierkegaard sees that each person’s individuality is a beautiful gift from the Creator. In that sense, by helping someone lean into who God made them to be, we’re not even the true gift givers. The gift we give is a gift God has already given.

I love this way of considering self-sacrificial love. What are the actions I’d point to in order to prove that I’m a loving person? I’d probably talk about things I do for my wife and daughters or my friends. I’d think of the time I dedicate to those people or the ways I try to make them happy. But are these the best examples of true love? Kierkegaard would say no. When our acts of love are spent on people we are naturally attracted to, people for whom our acts of love also involve some benefit to ourselves, then these could be portrayed as acts of self-love.

Kierkegaard calls this type of loving small-mindedness.

The small-minded person finds others who are like him, or whose company he enjoys, and that’s where he’s willing to invest his time. But this is not love. Because the small-minded person is not giving himself to the one he loves. Instead, he loves that person because they already conform to him in some important way. True love, by contrast, seeks to pour itself out for the other. It seeks to make that person better. But making someone better is not the same thing as making someone more like what I want him or her to be. It actually means pouring out my own desires and interests in order to help the other be more fully who God has made them to be.

“One of the key factors that turns otherwise delightful people into jackasses is the insistence that everyone look, think, and behave just as I do. But true love invests in what makes each person unique.”

What do I see when I look at my neighbor? Do I see traits that I enjoy and so choose to invest my time there? Do I see traits that turn me off and so choose to make myself scarce? Or do I see what makes that person unique and value those traits for what they are rather than for the way they could benefit me? And do I see those traits as an opportunity to invest in that person, helping him or her to flourish more fully according to God’s design for him or her, rather than according to my preferences?

Imagine what our world would look like if we all looked at people in this way! Or forget about the world: what would our churches be look if we could adopt this mindset? What if we were a group of people who were serious about “stirring up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24)? Kierkegaard calls this approach to life “squandering our lives”:

“In a certain sense his life is completely squandered on existence, on the existence of others; without wishing to waste any time or any power on elevating himself, on being somebody, in self-sacrifice he is willing to perish, that is, he is completely and wholly transformed into being simply an active power in the hands of God… His labor consists simply in this: to aid one or another human being to become his own, which in a certain sense they were on the way to becoming.”

One of the key factors that turns otherwise delightful people into jackasses is the insistence that everyone look, think, behave, and believe just as I do. But if we were all “squandering” our lives by investing in the things that make each person distinct, we would stop needing other people to match our preferences because we’d be so intrigued by their individuality and all of the potential that is simply waiting to be unlocked. Potential not to be more like what we imagine they could become, but potential to be more fully what God has created them to be.

Memorial Day’s Lesson for Our Polarized World

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I’m not the best one to write about Memorial Day. But as I grow increasingly disappointed with the polarization of seemingly every aspect of our world right now, Memorial Day seems almost shocking by comparison.

I’m not pro-war by any stretch. I have major questions and concerns regarding my country’s spending on and general approach to war. Honestly, I don’t know anything about this, so I’ll refrain from saying anything ignorant. But with Memorial Day, we remember military personnel who died while serving in our Armed Forces. In other words, we’re celebrating people who laid aside their own self-interests. I don’t believe I need full confidence in the righteousness of every military campaign to recognize the goodness of a person sacrificing themselves. (Isn’t this how a whole generation felt about the Vietnam wars?)

By contrast, it seems to me that our division stems from each individual’s unwillingness to concede a point. It seems that each person is demanding that everyone else agree with their perspective. Anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot. Anyone who doesn’t belong to the party is an idiot or a nazi or an enemy of humanity. Everyone is demanding their own rights. No one acquiesces. No one is willing to live with tension or conflicting beliefs. When a person’s actions don’t fit our approach to life or politics, we mock them.

“When each demands his or her own way, everyone thinks they’re getting what they deserve, but what we’re actually doing is building our own hell.”

It should be shocking to us. In the early days of the pandemic, it seemed all humanity was united in a common experience. Now people are being mocked for wearing masks in public, even as people are being mocked for refusing to wear masks in public. We have lost the ability to see things from another’s perspective. To concede that they might have a legitimate concern or—even if we can’t understand where they’re coming from—to grant that it’s okay for them to do things differently. You’re a fool and an agent of evil if you believe and follow what the government says. Or you’re a fool and an agent of evil if you don’t believe and follow what the government says. And when the government changes policies, the shoe is suddenly on the other foot, and we make the same accusations that were just hurled against us.

When each demands his or her own way, everyone thinks they’re getting what they deserve, but what we’re actually doing is building our own hell.

Meanwhile, walk through a military cemetery. The gravestones are uniform, and unless you take the time to look at individual names, it’s a nearly-endless repetition of the same theme. And that theme is startling in contrast to our current political-social-theological moment. The theme is willingness to sacrifice oneself. Again, I’m not trying to make every fallen vet into a saint. I’m not trying to paint war as noble. There are plenty of others who will do all of those things for you. What I’m saying is that giving your life for something that does not serve your best interests feels like something from a distant past or another planet. It seems to me that most of those soldiers probably retained their will to live. But they weren’t demanding their right to live on their terms or at all cost.

“A military cemetery carries a theme: giving your life for something that does not serve your best interests. In this climate, that feels like a lesson from the distant past or another planet.”

There’s a lesson in that for all of us. We pour contempt on congress every time they vote entirely along partisan lines, refusing to work together for the greater good. But what indication is there that American society is any better in any way? Are we not repeating the party lines as delivered by the news outlets to which we pledge our allegiance?

I’m not saying I’m above any of this, by the way. Only that I’m convicted. And that I’d like to improve. I’d like to see an America where people can yield their rights for the sake of others. Where people are willing to serve rather than insist. Where we listen more than we protest. Where relationships matter more than party platforms (or at least are not chosen solely on the basis of party affiliation).

And as I’m typing this, I’m realizing that I’m also describing the many people who have been going to work in hospitals and first responder jobs every day and setting aside their best interests for the many people who desperately need their care. And the law enforcement officers in my own church who lay aside their political beliefs to provide crowd control for protestors demanding their political beliefs win the day.

I’m honestly not trying to paint anyone as evil here. We have a political process that allows us all to hold firm beliefs and express them. You have the right to do that, you don’t have to listen to me. But let’s also consider our opportunities to honor and serve someone else by giving up our rights here and there. We have cemeteries full of people who have shown that this is possible. Perhaps Memorial Day this year could be a reminder of a nobler element of society than we typically see in an election year.

Clanging Cymbal Theology

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“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1–3

I have only one question in this post: Was Paul serious when he said this? Because these are strong words. In fact, I think these are the kinds of words you or I would take heat for saying were they not recorded in the Bible.

Think about it. What if we didn’t have these verses in the Bible, and I told you that you could have perfect theology, knowing everything about the mysteries of God, but it would be absolutely meaningless without love for the people around you? Or imagine that I told you that you could have perfect faith, or put that faith into practice by giving away all of your possessions, but that without love for people this wouldn’t matter whatsoever. What if I told you that you could be a fearless martyr for the faith, but that if your life wasn’t marked by love, you’d gain nothing and be nothing?

I honestly think that if Paul hadn’t written these words, and if I came making statements like these, that I’d be shut down by people quoting chapter and verse on why doctrinal accuracy is most important, why God wants us to rebuke heretics rather than love them, and why we should be careful not to “love people into hell.”

But Paul’s words here are stunning. Get every theological nuance exactly right, he says, and without love, it doesn’t do anyone any good. Say anything you want, no matter how right or beautiful or biblical it is, and if it’s not saturated in and motivated by love, then your words sound like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.

We don’t take Paul’s words seriously. How much of the Christian internet could be classified as clanging cymbal theology? Every sarcastic correction of someone’s theology, every “farewell” to a Christian leader who puts a doctrinal toe out of line (or is assumed to have done so). Honestly, I wonder if less than 99% of the theologically-related tweets launched into the twittersphere would pass Paul’s test.

How different would our culture be if we took Paul’s words seriously? Would the words “Christian” and “church” be synonymous with “hypocrite” and “judgmental” if we had been heeding Paul’s warning?

If we did pay attention to what Paul said here, what would it look like?

“Theology is not the main concern. People are. Actually, people are the main concern because God is always the highest concern. And God is love. So Theology without love is not theology: it’s heresy.”

I’ll make an important admission here: If my daughter says something theologically inaccurate, my initial response to her is very different than my initial response to someone on Facebook who challenges something I post. Why? Because I love my daughter deeply, and I’m so concerned for her personal growth and human flourishing that I try to avoid tearing her down. I want her to know and love God deeply, which is exactly why I don’t tear her apart for theological thoughts. Instead, I want to push her to wrestle, to think, to consider all of the information, to come to know the biblical texts, and to encounter Jesus for herself. In these moments, the last thing I want to be is a clanging cymbal. I want her to actually hear what I’m saying.

But when I respond quickly on social media, I’m often just trying to defend my point. The theology is my main concern, not the person. And this is exactly Paul’s point. The theology is not the main concern, the person is. And the person is the main concern in any given situation because God is the ultimate concern in every situation. And God is love. It’s NOT that theology doesn’t matter. But it IS that theology without love doesn’t matter.

Consider this last thought. Since I first started getting serious about theology, I’ve made it my goal to collect and develop answers to doctrinal questions. Love is one of those doctrines I believed in, but Paul’s strongly stated point here was lost on me. That’s not because I was a great theologian who was lacking one peripheral quality (love(. It’s because I was immature. Look at how Paul ends this passage:

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 11:11–13)

It’s eluded me for ages but it now seems so obvious. Paul’s “childishness” was not his inability to lay out theological arguments. It was his lovelessness. A child can speak confidently but lack love. But once Paul grew up, he realized that love was the greatest of all.

How childish I have been. How childish so much of the church insists on being (myself still included). If only we actually believed that the greatest of these is love.

The Evicted Church

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As I and every pastor I know follow the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, we have essentially been evicted from our church buildings. Our largest units of “gatherings” right now are single families. Every church I know of has done a great job of adapting and doing the best they can in the face of a crisis. I think people are having vibrant experiences of Jesus in this season.

Still, I cannot stop myself from thinking about what “church” should look like once we are allowed to gather in any unit larger than single families. I see an opportunity here. To my mind, it seems likely that we’ll be able to gather in small groups (size TBD) before too long. It also seems likely that it will be quite some time before we can meet in groups of hundreds.

Because of this, I think it is vital that we all think beyond what we did when we met in large gatherings in our church buildings. If all we do during this season is continue to export church services recorded in empty church buildings (I’m not knocking this, just saying it can’t be ALL we do), then our experience of church during this season of eviction will be unnecessarily anemic.

Now, that doesn’t mean modern church services are bad or unbiblical or ungodly. It just means that I’m convinced there’s more to the concept of church than what we have customarily squeezed onto a single stage and into a single hour on a Sunday morning. I’m also not saying that we should do away with our typical Sunday services when we eventually get the opportunity to resume. But I am saying that we should not equate those modern church services with church itself.

“We have all been essentially evicted from our church buildings. If ALL we do during this season is continue to export church services recorded in empty church buildings, the church will be unnecessarily anemic.”

I am convinced that when we cancelled the large church gatherings starting on March 15, we weren’t cancelling church. Because the church has never been about a service, a building, or a nonprofit organization.

Here’s the biblical reality: we are the church. You won’t find a New Testament reference to the church as a building or a service. What you’ll find instead is that the church is a collection of people.

So, yes, we’ve been evicted from our buildings for a time. But that doesn’t stop us from being the church. It’s only a hindrance if we allow it to be. And we’ll only allow it to be a hindrance if we are unable to imagine church beyond what happens during services in a specific location. Given the fact that God launched his church 2,000 years ago in a setting that looks almost nothing like 21st century America, we should feel free to use our Bibles and our imaginations to pursue healthy and vibrant approaches to being the church in our cultural moment.

So what does it mean for us to live as the church when we’re essentially evicted from our buildings? One thing we can say for sure is that church has never actually fit onto a single stage or into a single hour. The temptation is huge to think that it does. The challenge for us, now that we’re evicted from our buildings, is to avoid taking our cues from the worship services we’ve always known. Try this as a thought experiment:

Person A has never read the Bible, but has a lifetime of experience in attending a typical American worship service. Person B has never attended a typical American worship service, but reads the New Testament incessantly. Person A and Person B each set out to create a meaningful gathering with a handful of other people in their backyards. What do you think is the likelihood that the gatherings crafted by A and B will look anything alike?

“How do we live as the church when we’re essentially evicted from our buildings? Church has never fit onto a single stage or into a single hour. It’s going to be all about small gatherings in homes for a while.”

Or think of it this way. If I’m reading an English translation of a book that was originally written in Danish, I should expect that I’ll get the idea clearly enough but will probably be missing some nuances in the original text. Now, what if I’m reading an English translation of a Cantonese translation of that Danish book? I’ll probably get the idea, but there will be some quirks that come through this telephone-game approach to reading the text.

So as we think about what it will look like to meet together in homes or backyards in small groups, I strongly encourage each of us to think through what it will look like for us to gather and scatter as the church based on the picture of the church we get in the New Testament. For this unique season, I think it would be enormously beneficial for each of us to forget that we’ve ever seen a typical American worship service and to instead custom create home church gatherings that are specifically designed for meeting in homes or backyards.

This is the moment for all of us to use our best creative energy to imagine what the church could look like during this season of eviction. What will vibrant gatherings entail? How will we empower mission and keep it at the forefront? What about engagement with Scripture, worship, prayer, and communion? If we stumble into this season without critical thought and careful training, I think the church will be impoverished for a time.

To that end, I put together a short mini-book (32 pages) to help pastors, small group leaders, and church members imagine what church could look like in their small, unique settings. It’s called The Evicted Church. I’m not laying out a model, just pushing us all to engage in critical thought so we can be prepared. The reality is that the early church looked more like the season we’re heading into (small gatherings in homes) than what we’ve been doing (large gatherings in specific buildings). Let’s enter this season with enthusiasm and purpose.

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Stuck at Home on Mother’s Day

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What a weird Mother’s Day! Add the one day we all stop to appreciate the mothers in our lives to the long list of things that the Coronavirus is ruining. For many moms, Mother’s Day always carries a tinge of disappointment anyway. You never truly get to relax the way you wanted to, the kids still get in fights even though they promised dad they wouldn’t, the chores don’t actually get done for you (they’re just postponed until you do them yourself on Monday), etc.

For many mothers, this might be the worst Mother’s Day yet. The one day that should feel special now has to (by law) look just like every day of the last two months. No special brunch, no time off to go wander the town or the mall or Target.

Here’s the thing, motherhood is all about the extremely local and the extremely specific. If you have younger kids, the badges of your motherhood are house imprisoned right next to you. Though we all long for a broader significance, for a broader recognition of what we do, of who we are, the true significance of parenting is always found within arm’s reach.

“Motherhood is all about the extremely local and the extremely specific. The badges of your motherhood are house imprisoned right next to you. The true significance of parenting is always found within arm’s reach.”

I wish you could all gather with whomever you want to today. I wish you could stand up in church and be rightfully applauded for what you do all day everyday. I wish we could have parades in your collective honor and could send you to resorts to recover from the many wounds of mothering.

But there are a few things I know about motherhood. I know that the vast majority of what you do as a mother is completely hidden from view. I cannot imagine all the tiny lessons you teach your children when the situation arises. All the times you heroically muster just a little more patience and thereby model God’s grace in an important but seemingly ordinary moment. All the self-sacrificial acts that are as big as offering your very body to bear a tiny human and as small as eating something gross for lunch or making four versions of lunch so that everyone will be happy. I know that as a mother, you are constantly doing heroic acts that are not recognized as such. I know that you often lay your own needs aside in an effort to show love, only to receive grumbling or anger in return. I cannot imagine the staggering amount of sleep you’ve gone without for the good of your family. I know that your kids, who see firsthand every sacrifice you make, are entirely incapable of recognizing your selflessness for what it is. I also know that your husband, wonderful though he doubtless is, has never come anywhere near to noticing or appreciating everything that makes you such a great mom.

“I know that as a mother, you are constantly doing heroic acts that are not recognized as such. I know that you often lay your own needs aside in an effort to show love, only to receive grumbling or anger in return.”

Motherhood often goes unnoticed. And no symbolic gesture on a given day of the year has ever been able to fix that.

Not only that, but motherhood comes with all sorts of pains. For some of you, you carry an enormous amount of guilt over what you could have done or should have done better at a given stage in your child’s life. For many of you, the pains of infertility or death make Mother’s Day the most painful day of the year. In these cases as well, no symbolic act or compassionate word on Mother’s Day can fix the pain.

Here’s what I know about Mother’s Day, and every other day of the year for that matter. You are seen and loved, today and always. Every human observer is imperfect in their observations here. Whether through immaturity (your kids), inattentiveness (your husband), judgmentalism (your parents?), or basic human sinfulness (literally everyone), the people around you can see and appreciate some of what you do, but will never come close to appreciating you truly.

However, there is one who sees and knows it all, and that is Jesus. Every sacrifice you’ve ever made for your family, he has seen and knows precisely what it cost you. Every frustration and pain you’ve ever experienced with regard to motherhood, he knows well and is very aware of precisely how bad it has hurt you. Furthermore, he knows better than anyone—better even than you yourself—all the ways you have failed or sinned as a mother. But the beauty in all of this is that his love for you is so great, that he literally came to suffer and die in your place to wipe away your failures and empower you to live in grace. None of your shortcomings matter in the shadow of the cross. None of your guilt is legitimate anymore. None of your pain is permanent. None of your sacrifices are wasted.

It’s Mother’s Day, and regardless of how you are or aren’t able to celebrate today, there are people around you who know (imperfectly) your value and contributions, and there is One who sees (perfectly) how special and important you are. Even if you’re having a hard time sensing the love from the humans around you, know that the one who matters most is surrounding you in nothing but perfect love. I pray that you’ll all experience love within arm’s reach, and that you’ll find your true evaluation from true model of all humanity, including motherhood: Jesus himself (Matt. 23:37).

Happy Mother’s Day, Moms.

4 Lies about Living During Covid-19

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A couple of weeks ago, as I prepared to preach on 1 Peter 5:8 (“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”), I began to think about the ways our “adversary” would use this global pandemic to bring us down. And that made me think of what C.S. Lewis’ demon Screwtape would have written to his nephew and apprentice Wormword had he been writing in 2020. Out of respect for Lewis’ unique genius, I won’t attempt to imitate his style, but here are 4 lies I believe the adversary would like us to believe during this time.

Lie #1: You Know What’s Going On and How to Best Handle this Crisis

It seems that judgmentalism and the arrogant sharing of our opinions are always in season, but a time like this seems to bring out dogmatic statements stemming from our unwarranted yet absolute self-confidence. Let’s be honest, none of us knows what’s going on here, what’s best for our world, etc. So before you criticize how everyone else is handling this, let’s all resolve to exercise humility in the face of something the world has never quite seen before. Opinions are important, but preaching those opinions as though all the experts and officials and families are ignoramuses is not a good look.

“Before we criticize how everyone is handling COVID-19, let’s resolve to be humble in the face of something the world has never seen. Opinions are good, speaking as though everyone else is an ignoramus is awful.”

Lie #2 Quarantine Means Isolation

You can’t have physical contact with people outside your household. But the lie you’ll be tempted to believe is that you’re isolated. That you can’t talk to people.

It’s not true.

We live at a time where you can be as connected to people as you’d like to be, with the one exception of making physical contact. Fighting this lie is important in two directions. You need the wisdom, love, and encouragement of other people if you’ll continue to thrive as a human. You also have an obligation to love other people (Rom. 13:8), which means reaching out. Pick up your phone, hop on a Zoom call. Many are finding so much life through digital interconnections right now. You’ll only let yourself miss out on this if you believe you’re isolated.

“Don’t believe the lie that quarantine means you can’t be connected to people. Many are finding life through digital interconnections right now. You’ll only be isolated if you choose to believe you are.”

Lie #3 You Have Nothing to Offer Anyone Right Now

Satan would try to convince us that our lives are on hold until the quarantine is lifted and everything can go back to the way it was, that there’s nothing meaningful to engage in during this time. But life only stops if we choose to sink into a morass of Netflix, Cheeto dust, and self-pity. The fact is that the Spirit of God has empowered you with unique abilities so that you can make the people around you better. Is it too much to ask that we exercise the slightest amount of God-given creativity to find ways to continue using those abilities for their God-given purposes? You have something to offer. Don’t squander that something.

“God has empowered you with unique abilities so that you can make the people around you better. Is it too much to ask that we use a little creativity to find ways of continuing to use those abilities for the sake of others?”

Lie #4 No Church Service Means No Church

Back in early March when we were wrestling with canceling our church services, we had to be very clear that we weren’t “canceling church.” Because the church has never been a building or a service. It’s always been people. People forgiven and redeemed and supernaturally empowered by Jesus.

Church only stops if we stop viewing ourselves as the church.

God still has a mission for his church, and now we’ve lost the illusion that a few church staff members will be the ones to carry that mission forward. You are the church. What does God want his church to be and do in this hellish season? We each have to discern and decide with regard to that question right now, and then act accordingly.

“God still has a mission for his church, and now we’ve lost the illusion that a few church staff members will be the ones to carry that mission forward. You are the church. What is the church going to do now?”

I’ll leave you with the verses surround 1 Peter 5:8 because of how much encouragement they brought to me.

Just prior, Peter says: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (vv. 6–7).

And after warning about the devil’s prowling, Peter says this: “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (vv. 9–10).

Cast your anxieties on the Lord. He cares, and his hand is mighty. And lean into that promise that after we have suffered “a little while” (a frustrating phrase that we can be sure won’t align with our timelines), we will see God restoring, conforming, strengthening, and establishing.