Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Author: Randy (Page 1 of 138)

The Romance of Preaching

Every year, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, our small group of Oviedo ministers hosts a shared Thanksgiving service in one of our churches. This past year it was held at Oviedo’s Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. Participating were Charles, the pastor of that church, Jayson, the pastor of an independent church, Jon, an Episcopal priest, John, a church planter with a congregational denomination, and Paul, a mainline Presbyterian pastor. Also in attendance were Bobby, a United Methodist pastor, Dan, a former Evangelical Presbyterian pastor who now pastors the Oviedo plant of an Orlando megachurch, and Joseph, a United Methodist pastor and professor at the Asbury Seminary branch here in Orlando. Wonderful men, all of them.

I had been asked to preach which I found terribly intimidating. All of these men are gifted preachers. When each had preached in previous years, my assessment of my own preaching abilities diminished. But they had asked me, and I agreed.

In the weeks leading up to the service, I felt inclined to preach on the subject of lament. At a Thanksgiving service. It was a crazy idea, but I couldn’t shake it. My heart told me that it is hard for the truly sad to endure Thanksgiving. People need to be given permission to lament, if that is where their hearts are, even when everyone else is telling them to be happy. The Psalms, from which I intended to preach, are rich in thanksgiving and lament. Perhaps we needed to learn that thanksgiving is richer and more real when it is expressed through tears and sorrow.

As the service began, and the time to actually preach this sermon drew closer minute by minute, I sat internally scolding myself for choosing such an awful topic for such a joyful occasion. The crowd would be too kind to boo me off the stage, but I was certain that the message would be met with stony silence.

I began, audaciously speaking about the musical genre of the blues to this predominantly black congregation. The “amens” from the gospel choir behind me and joined by the congregation before me encouraged me forward. I felt a comfort and a freedom in the pulpit that made it a surprising joy. The response of many was affirming.

After the service, a woman stood near me as I spoke with others. I could tell she wanted to say something to me, so I finished my conversation and introduced myself to her. She gave me a hug and thanked me. She said, through tears, that she had planned on not coming but at the last minute changed her mind. She explained that her best friend, in Ohio, on the previous Saturday had been killed. She needed to grieve and was afraid that a Thanksgiving service would not allow that. She said that my message was the one she needed to hear. I carefully probed to find out how her friend had died. She said, “Her husband shot her in front of her two children.”

She needed permission to lament, and God, using me, had given that to her. I had not known her, her life, her circumstances, and her need, but God did.

I think it was British pastor Martin Lloyd-Jones who called such experiences the romance of preaching. We never know what the Holy Spirit plans to do with the words we speak.

Sometimes he lets us see.

The sermon, for those interested, is posted here

Five Books Every Pastor Should Read

Of the four practices of pastoral self-care I recommended recently, the final one encouraged pastors to read good books. Of the naming of books, there may be no end, but here are five that I believe every pastor should read. I commend these with absolute seriousness. To practice ministry without the company of these books, to me, is to walk a tightrope without a net. It’s possible, but oh so risky.

1. The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.

Everything about pastoral ministry drives the pastor to do more and to push harder. The culture of American efficiency is not shed upon ordination, and many pastors land in churches where leaders ask increasingly more of them. Peterson deftly subverts that uncompromising culture inviting pastors rather to a more biblical and bearable ministry of the Word and of prayer. It is one of the few books I’ve read more than twice because its lessons I too easily forget. I recently asked other pastors to weigh in on what books they believed should be read by every pastor. Nearly all mentioned this book. For good reason.

2. The Imperfect Pastor by Zach Eswine

Breathing a spirit similar to that of Peterson, Eswine challenges pastors to see the beauty, power, and value of the ordinary place and the ordinary people among whom they are privileged to serve. Wrong notions of who the pastor is, what his role is, and where his power lies poisons pastoral ministry beyond bearing for many. Eswine gently administers a welcome and Christ-centered antidote.

3. Surviving Ministry by Michael E. Osborne

The first two books shape pastors’ attitudes toward their calling. This (short!) book, expressing the same heart as these, zeroes in on the challenges of ministry when ministry grows hard, as it is prone to do. Mike, a personal friend, is a good pastor who cares deeply for pastors. There is power in his honesty. Born from his humble and gracious mining of the lessons of his own struggles and failure, he offers guidance to the unwary.

4. The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott

John Stott pastored an Anglican church in London for many years. One cannot measure the impact of that legacy or that of his worldwide speaking ministry. But perhaps his greatest gift to the church is this book on the central work of redemption. Pastors are called to preach “Christ and him crucified,” a calling from which we too easily are distracted. Our congregations have no greater need than to hear a clear and consistent preaching of the hope of the gospel which is rooted in Calvary. Too often we send people out with burdens of what they must do without a reminder of what God has done for them. Perhaps the reason for this is that we ourselves have lost sight of this great truth. Stott’s is a deep and stirring call to make what is most important, most important.

5. The Matares Circle by Robert Ludlum

This, like Ludlum’s better known The Bourne Identity, is a spy thriller. So what is it doing on a list of books geared toward pastoral health? Well, first, it’s here because it is really good. But primarily it is here as a placeholder into which pastors may pour all the books that they may want to read for fun, for relaxation, and for escape. Read for these reasons. It’s not just okay. It’s necessary. A pastor recently sent me a screen shot of his Kindle library which was full of mysteries and thrillers like this. The subject line of his email was “Pathetic, huh?” No, not pathetic. Wise. Those who have seen the movie The Shining are aware that all work and no play did not end well for Jack Nicholson. It rarely ends well for pastors either.

More Than Mere Words

The American Library Association has changed the name of the award they give which honors works that make major contributions to literature for children. Formerly the “Laura Ingalls Wilder Award” it is now the “Children’s Literature Legacy Award.” That news moved one widely renowned American poet to tweet, “I hate my literary era.”

Hating the era in which we live, literary or otherwise, can be attractive at times. I’ve been there and often return for a visit, sometimes short and other times protracted.

The blessing we are studying (Numbers 6:24-26 and discussed previously here) was given to be pronounced over the people of God. Repeatedly. Repetition is necessary for those things we are prone to forget. And we can easily forget that the God who blesses and keeps us is the God of all history, even over our current era. Perhaps we need to look at this and every era with renewed eyes.

This blessing is a poem, and poetry serves meaning and memory. In the Hebrew, the first line is three words, the second is five, and the third is seven. The blessing is given with an economy of words exposing a depth of meaning. And so the matters pronounced and the desires longed for occupy our attention. God is commanding his blessing to be upon us, his people, in such a way that we not forget.

This command and the words which comprised it were given many centuries before Christ. It was given in a world and in a setting when all was not the way it was supposed to be. Its content would find resonance when God put flesh to the blessing in the incarnation, sending his Son to deliver his people from the kingdom of death and to bring them into the kingdom of his Son. It would be in the cross that victory over death was secured and in the resurrection that it was confirmed. But all that was far in the future and yet God was in the blessing and knew the way in which he would bless, even when the recipients could not yet see it.

The world in which we live suffers from the death throes of death itself, but the things we despise in it will not prevail. The content of this benediction is not empty. These are not mere words. They touch upon things that God is doing, will do, and cannot fail but do.

As Christians we have no right to be pessimistic. We have no cause to believe the father of lies who invites us to fear. We sorrow over the broken things, we seek the kingdom in our prayers and our work, and we accept the cost that that entails. But we can never forget that the God of blessing, the living God, the God of promise, the God of the empty tomb, is at work.

That we long for one that is yet to come to make all things well does not mean that we must hate the era we are in.

11 Aspects of Loveliness

As a pastor I’m urged by others to read the Puritans. Often I’ve tried and often I’ve failed. I have at times found them tedious and sometimes impenetrable. But rarely so with John Owen.

John Owen

Somehow, Owen, writing in the mid-1600s, bears a spirit that would surprise those who insist on dressing the Puritans in the overly tight clothes of fundamentalism. Owen, like many of his kin, wrote and preached out of a deep love for Jesus, an “affliction” I wish more of us could catch.

Sometimes we get more excited about the Bible or some insight we have gained from it than we do about the One whom the Bible reveals. Other times we can be more excited about a system of truth than we are about the One of whom that truth speaks. Or we celebrate our salvation and get caught up in worship with only a side glance at the One who made that salvation possible and who is to be the object of our worship.

That John Owen did not easily succumb to those pitfalls is evidenced by the fact that he wrote an entire book celebrating Christians’ “Communion with God.” This book was not an idle, speculative venture. It arose from his heart. He never lost sight that the object of our systems and our worship, and the author of our salvation, was Jesus.

I was recently reminded of this when flipping through his book I stumbled upon the following reflections. Here he reflects on the loveliness of Jesus in twelve affirmations. Read them, and let them resonate in your heart and mind.

[Jesus is . . .]

Lovely in his person,—in the glorious all-sufficiency of his Deity, gracious purity and holiness of his humanity, authority and majesty, love and power.

Lovely in his birth and incarnation; when he was rich, for our sakes becoming poor—taking part of flesh and blood, because we partook of the same; being made of a woman, that for us he might be made under the law, even for our sakes.

Lovely in the whole course of his life, and the more than angelical holiness and obedience which, in the depth of poverty and persecution, he exercised therein;—doing good, receiving evil; blessing, and being cursed, reviled, reproached, all his days.

Lovely in his death; yea, therein most lovely to sinners, never more glorious and desirable than when he came broken, dead, from the cross. Then had he carried all our sins into a land of forgetfulness; then had he made peace and reconciliation for us; then had he procured life and immortality for us.

Lovely in his whole employment, in his great undertaking,—in his life, death, resurrection, ascension; being a mediator between God and us, to recover the glory of God’s justice, and to save our souls,— to bring us to an enjoyment of God, who were set at such an infinite distance from him by sin.

Lovely in the glory and majesty wherewith he is crowned. Now he is set down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; where, though he be terrible to his enemies, yet he is full of mercy, love, and compassion, towards his beloved ones.

Lovely in all those supplies of grace and consolations, in all the dispensations of his Holy Spirit, whereof his saints are made partakers.

Lovely in all the tender care, power, and wisdom, which he exercises in the protection, safe-guarding, and delivery of his church and people, in the midst of all the oppositions and persecutions whereunto they are exposed.

Lovely in all his ordinances, and the whole of that spiritually glorious worship which he hath appointed to his people, whereby they draw nigh and have communion with him and his Father.

Lovely and glorious in the vengeance he taketh, and will finally execute, upon the stubborn enemies of himself and his people.

Lovely in the pardon he hath purchased and doth dispense,—in the reconciliation he hath established,—in the grace he communicates,— in the consolations he doth administer,—in the peace and joy he gives his saints,—in his assured preservation of them unto glory.

What shall I say? There is no end of his excellencies and desirableness;– “He is altogether lovely- This is our beloved, and this is our friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”

(John Owen, Communion with God, Collected Works: Volume 2, pages 75, 76)

No cold academic, preacher this. Nor should we be.

Four Practices of Pastoral Self-Care

Before leaving the subject of pastors and their survival in ministry (touched upon here and here and here), there are several things that need to be said to pastors themselves. That is, you need to take care of yourselves. Others would like to take care of you, yes. But they may not know what you need, or how to give it to you.

To many you work only when you are visible and the rest of the time you are, well, they have no clue. So other than praying for you (greatly appreciated!), they are not sure how to care for you. Therefore you need to care of yourself. Take care using all the regular and ordinary channels – good diet, exercise, brushing your teeth, getting medical check ups, finding sabbath rest, and so forth. But I would like to suggest several perhaps not so obvious strategies.

1) Engage a hobby. 

Find an activity which is unrelated to ministry and which you do just for fun. Make it one which at the end of the day you can stand back and say, ‘It is done.’ Ministry is never done and the job description is completely open-ended. But a hobby can be taken up and put down at will and has a clear measure by which progress can be measured. Learn woodworking, stamp collecting, gardening, or something similar. If Winston Churchill could find time to take up painting while leading a country at war, you are not too busy to take up, say, crocheting. You need it.

2) Find a friend. 

As well, you need a friend. Most pastors do not have one, not one with whom they can be completely honest. Find a friend outside the church to whom you can express your mind, unload your frustrations, and find time to laugh for no reason at all. Sometimes we just need to vent, to unload our thoughts on someone who understands, whom we can trust, and whom we cannot offend. I would not have made it this far without friends in ministry who have heard my gripes, comforted my tears, and pushed me back out into the fray when I wanted to quit.

3) See a therapist.

I’m not joking. Don’t be so proud to think you don’t need help. This is a calling you cannot pursue alone! If anger or depression or listlessness or marital bickering become an issue, it is time to seek outside help. There is nothing shameful in that. Your ordination does not make you invincible nor does it remove your human struggles. Sanctification is neither immediate nor perfected in this life. Good therapy can be a part of your growth in grace, and growth in ministry. Pursue it.

4) Read good books. 

There are books that I have returned to frequently over the years, books which have encouraged me and shaped me, books which have centered me and which have reined me in when I was wandering afield. There are five that I would want every pastor to have read or be reading….

[And here is where I would identify those five books. But I’m going to wait on that. First I’d like to hear from you, my readers. Whether you are a pastor or not, what books would you want to see populating such a list?]

So, yes, pastor, get your exercise, take your day off, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, cut back on the salt, and see a doctor. But there are elements of self care necessary to our calling that too many of us neglect, to our own, and our congregations’, detriment.

The Five (S1:E2)

Here are (five) more things that have captured my attention recently. This is the second installment (“E2”) of these during this first year, or season (“S1”). Let me know what you think!


1.As I’ve said before, one of the ‘funnest’ items in my Twitter feed is that of the dictionary people Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster). Here they team up with a comedian to explore the complexities of the English language – in this case what’s up with ‘one’ and ‘won’ and, well, other weirdness. Watch it here.


2.On a far more serious note, Scott Maxwell, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel wrote a very touching piece about his father’s dementia. A deeply human reflection.

My father was once president of the North Carolina Bar Association. He volunteer coached a high school swim team for nearly 30 years, winning five state championships and coaching all three of his children along the way. He was the chairman of the local homeless shelter, head of the arts council and mentor to students at Duke University School of Law.
But right now, all he wants to do is look for squirrels.
Squirrels make him happy.


3.The Christian Century recently posted a portion of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s memoir in which he reflects on the nature of grief, spawned by the death of his son. This is worth reading by those struggling with grief, those who think they someday might, or those who deal with those in grief. That is, by all of us.

Grief, I have come to think, is wanting the death or destruction of the loved one to be undone, while at the same time knowing it cannot be undone. Grief is wanting the loved one back when one knows he can’t come back. Tears and agitation are typical expressions of grief, but they are not the thing itself. My grief was wanting intensely for Eric to be alive when I knew that could not be.


4.The world of young adult fiction is varied, popular, and strangely devoid of religion. Interesting thoughts by YA author Donna Freitas,“Is Any Topic Off Limits When You Write for Teenagers? Maybe Just One.”

“The world of Y.A. is an activist one — an ideal sphere in which to interrupt the toxic religion-speak and attitudes that dominate our politics and culture at the moment, and to model the kind of spiritual longing so many young adults harbor, often secretly. Like me, they learn to be ashamed of it.”


5.Three of the above four items might be behind a paywall. I’m hoping not and I know to come across such things is frustrating in a world where we are used to so much on the internet being free.

And yet, as I type I’m drinking a cappuccino that I, not surprisingly, had to pay for. The coffee shop in which I’m drinking it makes a good one (Thank you, BrickHouse Coffee and Kitchen!) but I’m afraid were I and others not paying they would not exist.

I find that the things worth having out there are worth paying for.

To Receive the Name of God

[These are continuing reflections on the familiar (to some) benediction from Numbers 6. For other posts in this series, click here.]

God gave me parents who saw to it that I was raised in a church. That church, the Loveland (Ohio) United Methodist Church, was a good collection of unpretentious people following Jesus in a small town in the 1960s, and they blessed me.

Artwork by Carol Arnold and used by permission. 

When I was a teen, I attended the church’s youth group, the “MYF” – Methodist Youth Fellowship. At the end of each meeting we would all stand in a circle, hold hands, and speak the words of this blessing to one another:

“The Lord bless you and keep you….”

After that we would lift our arms over one another’s heads and, still holding hands, form a tight circle and sing together the first verse of the hymn ‘Blessed be the tie that binds.’ I know we did not think deeply if at all about what we were doing. But we were doing something right. We were sharing a blessing corporately which was the way it was meant to be shared.

Each ‘you’ in this benediction is singular, and yet, the blessing was never singular in intent. Aaron and his sons were commanded to speak it to ‘the people of Israel,’ over many people considered as one. It is now given to the gathered people of God considered as a single entity. It belongs to the church.

Through this blessing God says, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:27) When I entered into the covenant of marriage with my wife, I put my name upon her. I became a husband to her and she a wife to me. In sharing that name our unity could be seen. To speak this word over the people of God is to remind them that they, together as the church, belong to God in a devoted, committed, dependent relationship.

This does not mean that the blessing does not have individual application. It is not as if the church somehow is the object of God’s favor and not me as an individual. But it does mean that God’s heart is for his collective body. The blessing promised to me comes through my being a part of that body. To be of the church is to be in that place of blessing. To gather as teens with hands clasped was to be in the place where the name of the Lord was placed. So it was then, so it is now.

Elsewhere, this chord is played.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!…
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore. (Psalm 133:1, 3)

His blessing rests upon that place where God’s people dwell as one people. There his name, his blessing, is placed.

My growth and stability through my teen years were not of my own doing. They were not a result of my careful practice of the spiritual disciplines or a result of a fortuitous set of high school friendships. It was a result of being placed in the place of blessing, among a people upon whom God put his name. So the church remains for the people of God.

Secret Handbook for Pastors (and Their Spouses)

Recently I posted a response to the pastor’s wife who wrote me to say, “I can understand why pastors and wives aren’t given a secret handbook when ordained, but I really wish we got one.”

My first post in response to this was directed to pastors. This one is takes into consideration their spouses, which in my context where only men are pastors, means their wives. I’m sure it applies in both directions.

This was written for and printed in Florida’s The Bradenton Herald, at a time when the Gulf oil spill dominated the news.

A friend who speaks at conferences in all kinds of churches used to tell me that pastoring the local church was the hardest job in the world. I don’t know. Those trying to contain the Gulf oil spill might put up a good counter-argument, as might many others.

Recently he told me that he had changed his mind and elevated single motherhood to the top spot. This is a wise adjustment.

Married male pastors, however, know they can’t lay claim to second place. That ‘honor’ belongs to the often thankless role assumed by their wives.
The ‘job’ of pastor’s wife comes with no job description, no pay, and plenty of unwritten expectations from church and husband. She is to lead, teach, and be outgoing. She is to do anything and be at everything. And she is to have perfect children.

Some avoid these expectations, but there is a weight she carries that cannot be avoided.

When pastors struggle with pastoral issues, it is the wife who watches, often helplessly. When he comes home enveloped in the dark cloud of concern for the flock, she sees. Concern for confidentiality prevents his letting her in. She can do nothing.

When others aim criticism at her husband, the arrows strike her heart, too. Other wives might find comfort in the body of the church, a balm often denied the pastor’s wife, who cannot share with other women her concern for her husband.

When someone leaves a church, the pastor is often the focus of that decision. Though those leaving may maintain relationships with others in the church, the pastor is often cut off. The wife becomes collateral damage and can grow fearful of pouring her heart into the next relationship for fear of it being crushed all over again. Many minister out of a broken heart.

Her role is not all heartache. There is much joy. Even those capping oil wells get to go for a swim in exotic waters. Most pastor’s wives would not change ‘jobs’ for another. So don’t cry for her. Pray for her. Love her. Encourage her.

This may not be the hardest job in the world, or even the second. But if there is a list of unseen and under-appreciated jobs, “pastor’s wife” will certainly lurk about the top.

Secret Handbook for Pastors

The wife of a pastor wrote me recently, “I can understand why pastors and wives aren’t given a secret handbook when ordained, but I really wish we got one.”

It’s an intriguing idea: an initiatory book of secrets and rules and rituals to keep us sane in the ministry. There are a number of good resources out there, but I decided to bite and offer my own modest contribution in that direction. Here and in a subsequent post, I will reprint two articles written years ago for Florida’s The Bradenton Herald. The first, which was never published, is a ‘open letter’ to a new pastor and the second, which I’ll post here later, is a word for their spouses.

None of this is secret, but I hope it is suggestive and helpful.

Dear __,

By your ordination you join in a great line of those who, like Mr. Greatheart in Pilgrim’s Progress, seek to lead pilgrims on the perilous journey to the Celestial City. God has uniquely gifted you for this calling and will use you greatly.

I am excited for you but want you to enter ministry with your eyes open. Ministry attracts idealists who can be shattered by its harsh reality. Instead of undoing you, these realities will, if you let them, enable you to see how quickly and personally Christ comes to encourage and support us all.

I trust then you’ll take the following to heart, as I must do daily.

1) You cannot fix everything.

Congregations expect their pastor to ‘fix’ them and to ‘fix’ their situations. You will be tempted to think you can. You can’t. Only Christ can. If you try, everything in your life will pay a price.

2) People will disappoint you.

Precious people will encourage you, care for you, support you, and love you. Others, just as beloved by Christ, will fall short of your best expectations and betray your most heartfelt commitments. They, too, are Christ’s gift to you. You will grow because of them to place your hope in Christ alone. The pain of the process will be real, but so is the gain.

3) You will disappoint people.

You are weak and you will fail. You will say unkind things and you will sin before those who look up to you. You will forget appointments and blame others for doing the same. You will change where people don’t want you to change and be unable to change where you should. Your grief over these things will again drive you to Jesus to experience his love even when we fail.

4) You will experience more deeply the pain of your sin.

People will call you ‘reverend’ and shush their cursing when you come into the room. They will think you holy. But in reality, you will come to see more clearly your own sin. You will begin to see it through the eyes of the sheep you have been called to shepherd. As the painfulness of this knowledge increases, you will need even more to know the refreshing grace of the gospel as a daily reality. As you preach grace to yourself, you will learn to preach it to others.

5) You will wrestle with the idol of success

You will not escape the expectations people (and you) place upon you. By whatever standard you and those you care about measure success, you will fall short. Such knowledge can destroy you. Remember, though, that Christ has already given to you every blessing you need for happiness and contentment in himself. His reward is far greater than the idol of success.

The calling of the pastor is noble but not easy. Find others in whom you can confide and work through the struggles. Most importantly, retreat frequently to the gospel of God’s grace so that it and it alone will be that which defines your ministry.

You will then do well and be of great usefulness.

Randy

A Plea for Reasonableness

We will never know what it is like to live in a society where someone can seem to act wrongly and not have it become lifted out of context and made a matter of public knowledge and scrutiny almost immediately. As I type much is being made regarding a confrontation in D. C. between teenagers and a Native American. Many will be the theories about what did and did not happen. It is not here the facts of the event that concern me, but the response given to it.

The whole matter makes me think that it is worthwhile to post a mildly edited portion of a sermon I preached in December on Philippians 4:4-9.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. (Philippians 4:5)

Something about Christians, is to be so well known to everyone that it is second nature to think of them in this way. Christians are to be known as ‘reasonable’ ones.

This does not mean ‘rational’ or ‘given to deep logical arguments.’ Rather, to be known as reasonable in this way is to be known as the one who is gentle and who shows mercy in verbal interactions. To be reasonable is to give others the benefit of the doubt. It is to not insist on our own rights or even our own rightness, but tempering our self-interest and our own causes for the sake of others. Paul is concerned with how we are known, for how WE are known will be how JESUS is known.

However, in this American moment, it is too often not our reasonableness that is known to all but our anger and our intolerance. And that should grieve us.

Paul, no stranger to controversy, instructed his protege Timothy to be reasonable. He, and we, are to be known as those who are

…kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting…opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:23-25)

Such may appear to some as a wimpy Christianity. If it is, so be it. It is this to which we are called: to patiently endure evil, and when necessary, correct it – but always with gentleness, with reasonableness.

As Christians we give up our right to win an argument with the hope of winning a person. We embrace what appears to be weakness because that is the way of the cross. We temper that zealous, argumentative streak in us with gentleness, that all might see we serve a reasonable, merciful savior.

Be zealous, yes. Be deeply committed to Jesus. As Peter reminds us,

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 

But how you manage that zeal matters:

…yet do it with gentleness and respect. (2 Peter 3:15)

From whom are we taking our cues? Every time I’m tempted to call someone in idiot or worse, I wonder about that. Are we taking our cues from our movies? From our sports figures? Perhaps from our President? It is well known that in response to some issue, he is prone to attack the person and not the issue, to call someone stupid or weak, or dumb as a rock.

He will be what he is. But Christian, be what you are. You are a follower of Jesus Christ.

Our interactions must be tempered by the stunning truth that the Lord who is near is coming to take us to be with him, we who were his enemies, who were perhaps zealous against him. He has loved us and given himself for us nonetheless. He looked upon us as people worthy of kindness. How can we do less for others?

If we are to reflect him, as we must, then we must let others see him in our reasonableness. We are not to let our cleverness be known to all, or our rhetorical wizardry, but our reasonableness.

Consider therefore before you speak, before you post, before you send,

  • Does this build up?
  • Does this need to be said?
  • Does this communicate a proper reasonableness? Gentleness?
  • Am I speaking what is aimed to help others, or to simply exalt my own standing in my tribe or in my heart?

The Lord’s nearness gives us hearts that are tolerant, hearts willing to let gentleness temper our zeal, for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

Lest any think that by this I am positioning myself to throw stones, I should say that I intended this to be edited and posted long before current events hit our devices. I post it because I see the tendency of my own heart to demand my rights and argue my cases and exercise my zeal and to do so with innocent restaurant servers and unsuspecting grocery store clerks. If stones are being thrown, I am feeling their sting. May we all.

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