Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1) My friend at work is leaving. He has been here a year. He’s good at his job and still leaving for another.

2) I keep reaching for my phone to call my mom.

3) I can sit in the heat of my hometown with relative ease. The air is alive with memory.

4) The greatest threat to me is myself.

5) In an interview for a job in ministry I had to admit our fear of leaving the kindness of our church for the unknown of another.

6) At Bible Study last night, some students asked me about being married for 15 plus years and I thought “she is really now the best part of me there is.”

7) People keep telling me I should be good at sales because of my previous work in ministry.

8) Hemingway.

9) On social media you can say something provocative to no one in particular and then get personally insulted for saying it…by people you have never met.

10) It is a uniquely good these days when you can call your pastor your friend. I’m glad I can do that.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. If you are frustrated with God, good. That means 1) you believe in him, 2) you believe he is in control, 3) and that he is not like you.

2. On Sunday, at church, two men came up to me after and talked about the orphan feeling when both parents have gone on ahead. I have felt more comforted by those two conversations than you can imagine.

3. A lot of people are talking about how we Christians can talk less freely about our faith these days. Not due to the law so much as societal pressure. The church must not mirror this. People need to be able to talk about their faith among Christians without fear of judgmental reprisal. One small example is the authors a person likes. Let’s not assume the worst because someone likes a particular author we have rejected because of a particular view. Just because someone likes Doug Wilson doesn’t mean they are part of the patriarchy movement. And just because someone likes N.T. Wright doesn’t mean they buy into the Federal Vision.

4. There is a freedom in Christ the flesh finds hard to tolerate.

5. The other day I posted a joke about how parenting is hard. And once again someone told me I was being insensitive to parents who are struggling with infertility. It happens every time I’ve done this. Parenting is hard. We need to be able to laugh about it. Those who know our situation know how hard it is. Yes, some have it harder. And some do not have it all. But we need to laugh. Man, do we sometimes need a laugh.

6. I’ve been listening to the music of Bill Mallonee relentlessly over the past couple of months. Mainly, because I need some words to process what we’ve been dealing with. With words that stand entirely on their own as poetry, his songs have given me “nomenclature” to understand the struggle and the grief. A compass to navigate the sea with its wide open fears. His music has been a companion for over 20 years, shaping me and my own use of words. If I were on an island or jail cell or hospital bed, I’d want his writings stuck in my head. Sixty albums later, he’s still making unbelievably great music.

7. The list of those I know who have been burned by the Mars Hill/A29 firey machine continues to grow.

8. My wife asked me why there are so many pastors who cover up crimes of sexual abuse by other pastors they work with and by parishioners. It’s a good question. And my gut tells me it has something to do with money…money over integrity.

9. We are to never accommodate legalism. For some reason, we’ve bought into the idea we can and sometimes should. After all, it’s “safe.” Or seems so. But underneath it’s deadly. And a slavery.

10. My wife is a gift like no other. We have seen our fair share of troubles over the past few years. Her presence and support are of incalculable value. Glad I get to gather wrinkles with her.

A Father’s Day Sermon…If I Had to Preach One


(This is a repost of one from three years ago.)

I had not planned on this post. But there were enough requests to get me thinking. A few guys were encouraged by the Mother’s Day Post so they wanted one for themselves. But I just wasn’t sure. The Mother’s Day Sermon post is my most popular post. It went all over the world and was used in pulpits everywhere. I didn’t want to do one for Fathers that was unpopular. Or worse, was seen as  trying to capitalize. And to be honest doing one for Fathers felt self-serving.

And then it turned out to be so.

For whenever I lacked imagination, I just inserted myself in, and voila. I’ve been doing this whole preaching-the-good-news-to-myself thing for so many years – as my pastor asked me to so long ago – that I figured I might as well do so here.

Further, as I thought about this, an irony struck me. It is less acceptable to feel condemned for men than for women. (I could be wrong about that, sure. But I’m gonna err on the side of being right here.) It reveals weakness. And weakness is social kryptonite for men.

Then you must add this overlooked reality – failure has a weight, a weight with all the pressure of a culture which pushes relentlessly against the soul of a man. The net effect of wanting to be Superman as a boy is not just dusty comics in moldy cardboard boxes pushed into the corner of attics. There is also the failure to become one. Whether unconscious or not, the reality is Fathers want to be super and seen as being so, if only by those citizens, plucked up out of harms way, residing within his own home. But deep down, the weakness is known to be there, like a scar needing to be covered up.

Fathers are more likely to brag on the scar than confess their displeasure with it.

I’ve no wish to create a movement of weepy men, though Jesus did weep over a friend. And I’ve no wish to guilt Fathers into being more in tune with their weakness. To share it, even. Mainly because the guilt is already there, residing. It’s feet are propped up on the coffee-table and it knows where the silverware is in the drawer.

I’m calling it. The guilt is real and it’s there whether I say anything about it or not. It gnaws like mice and slithers through veins like an asp. It feels like poison. It feels as if it’s thieving life from under your very nose. And sometimes the taking of a deep breath is as the death rattle.

And when the dust settles and the echo ceases to bounce around inside your skull and the night is still, more than anything the Christian Father is faced with the specter of condemnation. An accusing finger rises up and points at his heart and says “condemned” for one thousand failures. Or worse, one in particular.

So Fathers need to also hear the message that in their God-given calling, they are not condemned. The following is not the only sermon that could be preached for Fathers. But it’s one.

Romans 8:1

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Thesis: Fathers, if you are in Christ Jesus, you ought to have no fear of condemnation because of your standing of righteousness because of Christ’s work on your behalf on the cross.

Fathers, even though you may feel you are…

You are not condemned because you cannot take your family on a dream vacation. Or on any vacation at all.

You are not condemned by the sins in your past which haunt like unsatisfied ghosts.

You are not condemned by your need for rest.

You are not condemned by your inability to fix all the broken things.

You are not condemned by your lack of promotions.

You are not condemned by your child’s lack of abilities in comparison to others.

You are not condemned by the obscurity of your job.

You are not condemned by the check engine light.

You are not condemned by a dwindling savings account.

You are not condemned because you are divorced.

You are not condemned by your son’s lack of interest in what interests you.

You are not condemned by a lack of desire to play with the kids after work.

You are not condemned by your failures as a father, that repeat themselves like the days, themselves.

You are not condemned by your wayward daughter.

You are not condemned by being fired or laid off.

You are not condemned if you find it difficult to talk to your children.

You are not condemned by not being able to afford to throw the birthday party of the year for your kids.

You are not condemned by the size and state of your home.

You are not condemned by your introverted personality.

You are not condemned for not living up to the standards of your Father or Father-in-law.

You are not condemned by the debts hanging over you like death itself.

Fathers, even though you may feel condemned, if you are in Christ, you are not condemned. This is the real reality.

You are not condemned, because if you are in Christ, your identity…your righteousness is Christ alone. Therefore, enjoy the unending love and affection and acceptance of being a son perfectly loved with an unwavering love that flows from your Father in Heaven.

And to all those who are not Fathers…do nothing to diminish this reality. Nothing.

Pray for the Victims Appealing the Dismissal of the Suit Against SGM, CLC, and Mahaney

Just over a year ago the Second Amended Complaint against Sovereign Grace Ministries, Covenant Life Church, C.J. Mahaney, et al was dismissed by a judge due to the statute of limitations. It was not the evidence itself but the success of the guilty causing the suit to be dismissed. The suit alleges the cover-up of sexual abuse. Grant Layman, who is named in the suit, has already admitted he and the other pastors should have but did not alert the authorities to the crimes of sex abuse against children committed by Nate Morales. The goal was to keep victims and their families quiet. The guilty were so successful the case was dismissed due to the statute of limitations. An appeal was filed soon thereafter.

On Monday, June 9th at 9 am, the appeal made by those represented in the civil suit as outlined in the Second Amended Complaint will be heard.

Please be in prayer for the victims, their families and those representing them. Pray the judge will rule in favor of the victims and hear their case, let evidence be presented and justice prevail. Pray the guilty would repent and that God would be glorified no matter what.

Family Photos and A Need for Good News


Ask my wife. I hate having family pictures made. They always make one of us mad or frustrated at the kids. The smiles and laughter and beauty of the kids captured is only part of the story of those moments. Behind the scenes there is bribery, threats, and more threats of punishment.

Last night I was looking at some pictures my wife took on a short family vacation with some friends. In most of the pictures we are smiling in front of monuments and have our arms around each other.

There were a few times smiles were hard to come by. My daughter got sick because of some medicine she is taking that aggravated anxiety. The boys fought. Tempers flared. Mine especially. We were all tired. Sometimes , I couldn’t tell the difference between being upset because my kids were being disobedient and being just embarrassed of their behavior in front of friends and strangers in public.

You’ve probably seen all the posts on Facebook of awkward family photos. Some are disturbing. Some are just plain disgusting. All of them make us laugh. Sometimes I’ve laughed to the point of tears.

Why do I laugh at them? Why do I keep going back to these familial train wrecks? They make me feel a little better about my own family and the issues we have. It’s the parental version of the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. “We may have out moments, but at least we aren’t like THEM.” It’s a self-righteous moment in which I feel a little better in comparison to those I can laugh at.

There is another kind of family photo that ends up on Facebook and Christmas cards. It’s the photo we try to take ourselves and many pay really *good* money for. It’s the picture perfect family photo. Everyone looks happy and tan and clean on the beach. You cannot see a blemish. Those photos look like joy.

I hate those photos.

Honestly, jealousy tends to raise its head. They are at the beach. Too expensive. Professional photos. Too expensive. Matching white outfits. Too expensive. They are probably about to go out to eat a nice seafood dinner when done. Too expensive.

But really it’s just me condemning myself with laws I’ve either borrowed from the world around me or I’ve made up myself. The law of looking good. The law of good vacations. The law of wealth. Laws we all look at and then despair of keeping. It is hard for me to look at these photos and not compare and feel like we aren’t measuring up.

Both self-righteousness and self-condemnation will eat away at the soul. We all know it. So we then look for some good news. Facebook will certainly unveil the cruelty of self-righteousness and the despair of self-condemnation. But one good thing it has done is show us we are not the only ones. Sure some people use it to show off and brag and get as many likes as they can for being a good parent (I do too). But there are those refreshing moments when parents are honest about their struggles. Some are funny. Some are raw and painful. But they all help us feel better. Knowing you are not alone is good news. And it feels like a kind of justification.

But it’s not. Misery loves company. True. It’s true. We all know it is. But that self-justification, while more respectable, is not really any better that self-righteousness or self-condemnation. All of them are reflections of a false gospel – good news that is false.

The good news of you’re family not being as awkward as other families.

The good news that holds out the hope of a better looking family.

The good news of others having the same parenting problems as you.

What we need is good news that humbles us so we will not be self-righteous when confronted with other peoples parenting issues. We need a gospel that gives us a real and lasting hope when we fail as parents. And we need good news that encourages us when the suffering.will.not.stop.

The good news of what Christ has done for us in his life, death, and resurrection is the gospel our souls are looking for. His righteousness has been credited to us, we do not need another righteousness. And “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” – even though we don’t always feel that to be the case. We have been “justified by his grace as a gift, through his redemption in Christ Jesus.”

When I don’t believe these things as a parent, I loss my temper, grow impatient, and parent as one who wants to stand justified before God and all those I imagine are watching, justified because of my abilities…my kid’s abilities. But when in those rare moments I parent as a “justified sinner” (simul iustus et paccator), I can love them as they are and not in comparison to other kids. And I can then parent them without comparing myself to other parents.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with all the other “pictures” of family we will see on social media. But my heart is shot through with the desire to take them as the gospel truth and then live accordingly.

But really, the truth of the gospel is so much more for us.

And our kids.

All This Defeat

Last week when all this started happening with Tullian and The Gospel Coalition, I, of course began looking into him a little deeper. I knew very little about him, did not follow him on Twitter, and didn’t think I had read anything by him. Turns out I read a book by him years ago called Unfashionable. I’d forgotten he was the one who wrote it, though I remember really enjoying it. So my exposure to him was minimal and foggy at best.

But then I remembered I had downloaded a free kindle edition of his book, Glorious Ruin, a while back. I began to dig in.

Because of the current controversy over Sanctification, this book probably deserves a thorough review. You will not get that here though. But I do want to tell you about two things I learned. Actually, it’s only one lesson with two implications.

At one point in the book, he says, “The gospel is for the defeated. Not the dominant.”

My first reaction was to be comforted. I know what defeat feels like. For two years defeat has been our staple. Our companion. We have spent the last two years looking at the scoreboard and seeing defeat. I tell you that for honesty’s sake. Not pity’s. I am one of those people who doesn’t like to make others feel uncomfortable, so usually when someone asks how we are doing, I respond with something that will be less than honest because defeat is uncomfortable.

And our defeat has been varied. Thankfully our marriage and our church family has been a refuge for us. But nearly every institution has been marked by a defeat. Some probably of our own making. But much of it feels like it is out of control and could not have been predicted or deterred.

Misery may want company. Defeat wants to be alone for the most part. It wants to sit under the canvas of black and look for stars, listen to the blues, feel the cold. Feel the heat.

It took a while, longer than I wish, but it pushed me to the point of needing some hope. At some point, you look around and get tired of all the things breaking and look for something that will not break. Something fixed and strong and a light to dispel the darkness that not only hides good things but keeps you from seeing things as they really are.

So I began reminding myself of who I am in Christ…who I am because of Christ. You can call it “preaching the gospel to yourself” I guess. That’s what I was doing, I was reminding myself that all the defeat I could possibly experience cannot compare to the riches I have in Christ.

Now, you might be expecting me to say that the dark clouds of defeat are lifting. Nope. Hasn’t happened. It may never happen. Which to be honest is very inconvenient right now, because I’d like to return to the pastorate and I’m not sure there are many churches that want someone who feels defeated. Maybe there are, I don’t know. I’ve looked at the job descriptions and tried to shoehorn it in between the lines and it’s not easy to see it happening.

What I will say is this, the clarity of the gospel of grace for the defeated is before me. You have to get pretty close to the gospel being the only good news in your life before you can see the defeat as a gift. I wouldn’t call it a gift you hold, so much as a gift of sight. The more acute the suffering, the better the good news can be seen.

That’s the first lesson. The book didn’t tell me something I didn’t already know. But it did give me some words to say what I already knew.

The second lesson is this, I am not the only one feeling this way. Pastors and plumbers alike are dealing with defeat. Defeat as parents and bread-winners and spouses and friends and artists and workers and ministers and followers of Jesus. Defeat sits at my desk everyday, sometimes in tears and sometimes in rage. Defeat will put on a proud face too.

There’s a song by The Gaslight Anthem in which the words, “all this defeat…” are sung with all the emotion needed. And I think about those words when I run back over all the stories confessed across the expanse of cheap pressed wood of a desk I sit at all day. Just a lot of defeat. They come to me looking for good news in the form of refunds and loans.

So even outside of all the Sanctification discussion flying around social media and the blogs, I have found help unlooked for. This recognition of the gospel being for us who wake sopping wet in defeat and fight for sweet dreams, pushing against the defeat. This knowledge of a hope when all other hopes have shattered as we were defeated.

All this defeat? I’ll take it.

Josh Harris and “The Handling of the Nate Morales Issue”

Yesterday Josh Harris of Covenant Life Church spoke publicly about the Nate Morales trial. Honestly, I want to see nothing but sincerity in his words. I have always liked Josh Harris. Even when I didn’t agree with him, I liked what I saw in him.

Brent Detwiler and others, including myself, said that Josh had made an admission of knowing about Nate Morales and the issue of his abuse.
Soon thereafter people were saying they heard no such admission. Joe Carter, of The Gospel Coalition called it a fabrication. Some said we were spreading rumors. Lies even.

Why did we think he admitted he knew about Nate Morales and his sexual abuse of children? The following is what he said around the seven minute mark:

“The three other men who had any connection to handling the Nate Morales issue are ready to do the same thing (take a leave of absence). This is me, Kenneth, Corby and Robin.”

This statement means one of two things. Either all four had to handle the issue of Nate Morales or just the “three other men” did. And since you cannot handle an issue you do not know about, either Josh and the “three other men” knew or Josh did not know and he is throwing them under the bus. And the latter seems unlikely. I just see Josh doing that unless they gave him permission. And in that case, I would expect him to make that point clear. But none of that really jives with everything else he said. The only meaning that makes sense to me is that they all four were “handling the Nate Morlaes issue” and therefore knew.

I’m willing to entertain other opinions as to what this statement could mean.

Being Plagiarized and Reverend Ames

Last week I stumbled upon evidence that some of my writing had been plagiarized. And my first reaction was a strange anger. Anger mixed with flattery. Maybe that’s what it was. Pride too.

Plagiarism requires repentance. Just like theft. In the pulpit, more so. It was disheartening listening and reading men doing what I want to do, using my writing without giving me credit. I was mad. And then just got more mad.

And then I read the following from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead:

“I fell to thinking about the passage in the Institutes where it says the image of the Lord in anyone is much more than reason enough to love him, and that the Lord stands waiting to take our enemies’ sins upon Himself. So it is a rejection of the reality of grace to hold our enemy at fault. Those things can only be true. It seems to me people tend to forget that we are to love our enemies, not to satisfy some standard of righteousness, but because God their Father loves them. I have probably preached on that a hundred times.”

So I’ve decided to pray for them as pastors to fight my own anger and pride. I’m still mad. Give me a week.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts



1) My youngest child has begun doing some serious stuttering in the last few months. I’ve never looked into whether this is something handed down from parent to child but my own struggles and difficulties with stuttering make me hurt for him. Those who ridicule stuttering cannot know what they are doing. It is a painful thing to live with. Daily pain. It affects you socially in ways you cannot even know until you are an adult. I go through seasons where I stutter very little. But the fear is always there that I will be talking with someone and the words will not come out. And there are the seasons where you have to forgo saying certain things because you know words that start with ‘h’ will never pass across your lips without the repetition that makes people uncomfortable or induces ridicule. Do you know how many greetings start with words beginning with ‘h’?

2) I’ve been doing really well at work but it’s been hard to enjoy. A guy I work with is not doing well and he is getting very discouraged. It’s painful to watch because I’ve been there. You’re just waiting to get called into the boss’ office while you watch someone else succeed. The business world can be a dark place.

3) Watching someone struggle with belief can be attractive. It seems to be the thing to celebrate nowadays. But we need to understand that clarity of conviction is also attractive. At least it should be. In a world of shallow and soft thinking, clarity of what you are convinced of, should be prized while being patient with those who are sincerely struggling to get there.

4) Prediction: Kids in little league will soon have agents.

5) I’ve been reading Calvin’s Institutes for a couple of weeks and so of course I’m thinking about what is typically considered Calvinism. And I’ve been thinking about objections people have to the “5 points.” I sympathize with the objections since I was once an objector. But there are two things that I want these people to see outside of the goodness of “Calvinism.” People often complain that it doesn’t make sense and logically cannot be true. I usually respond with a question, “Do you hold any other beliefs that are hard to understand?” And then I ask if they believe Jesus is both God and Man and if they believe in one God that is three persons. The second thing I want them to see is specific to those who like to describe faith and belief and the Christian life as “messy.” These are people who revel in the contradictions. I like these people. In many ways these are my people. But one seeming contradiction that is just too messy for them is predestination/election. They often ask “how could a loving God do…” and they do not want a messy answer. They want squeaky clean answers. Bleached. I like these people but I fear they use “messiness” as a soft place for their unbelief to land.

6) I long to be a pastor again. Sometimes it’s painful. But I’m content to be where I am and do what I can where I am.

7) I think we are coming to a point in the history of our country where the most evangelistic endeavor we participate in will be faithfulness to our creed and love for those who despise it. Both will be very difficult.

8) There are a number of things I do not like about myself. But the thing I despise the most is when I laugh at other people’s expense. Making fun of people. Ridiculing them. It’s a short-term solution for my insecurities. Couple that with my own inability to laugh at myself sometimes…

9) Some: Theology is divisive.
Me: (shrugs shoulder) OK.

10) My wife’s birthday was yesterday. She is a joy to hold and a joy to behold.


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