Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • We interview Bryan Sederwall about the ministry of the Denver Dream Center. “Faith communities need to identity concerns in their cities and then establish a cause.”
  • Chris Colvin suggests different ways of saying “Thank you!” to donors. “If you want to see increased giving, watch occasional givers become consistent givers and instill a sense of purpose in your offerings, a ‘thank you’ is one of the best instruments you can employ.”
  • Paul Franks reviews Tactics, an apologetics book and small-group curriculum by Greg Koukl. “When we do begin to talk about our faith, it’s easy to find ourselves on the defensive.” Reading and using Tactics helps overcome that problem.
  • Here’s an encouraging note: “Even in an increasingly secular culture, about half of U.S. adults still bow their heads to pray when they sit down to a meal.”

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Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Joy Qualls joins me on the Influence Podcast to discuss how to debate hot button social issues well. Perhaps Christianly is the better adverb to use. “In an increasingly pluralistic and polarized culture, this skillset is an absolute must-have for Christian leaders.”
  • We note a new Barna study about how parents’ giving patterns affect their children’s giving patterns. “Respondents who said generosity was extremely or very important to them were most likely to report having extremely or very generous parents. On the other hand, people who placed little or no importance on generosity tended to rate their parents as less generous.” Teach your children well!

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Joy Qualls | Influence Podcast


People in America are increasingly divided ideologically and politically, and our public discourse reflects those divisions. Too often, however, our rhetoric becomes toxic, leading many to worry whether hateful words will result in violent deeds.

This worry came up again last week when Rep. Steve Scalise (R_LA 1st District) and several congressional staffers were shot by a man who didn’t like their politics. Few political disputes result in violence, but this incident is a good reminder to watch how we speak about others in the public square.

This week, I talk to Joy Qualls about how to have a constructive debate about hot-button social issues. In an increasingly pluralistic and polarized culture, this skillset is an absolute must-have for Christian leaders. Qualls is chair of the Communications Department and professor of Communication Studies at Biola University in La Mirada, California…and a personal friend with whom I have occasional disagreements on politics.

Take a listen!

The Honourable Schoolboy | Book Review


The Honourable Schoolboy is the second book in John Le Carré’s “Karla Trilogy,” in which George Smiley of Britain’s MI6 engages Russia’s KGB in clandestine warfare. In the first book—Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—Smiley exposed a long-time mole in the “Circus,” the nickname for Britain’s Now, Smiley reorganizes the “Circus” and chases down a “gold seam” of Russian money in a Hong Kong bank.

Set in the Far East, The Honourable Schoolboy introduces readers to sometime British spy, full-time journalist, and impoverished noble Jerry Westerby, whom Smiley taps to follow the money trail. Westerby follows the money, gets frustrated in the long days when Smiley isn’t sure what his next move should be, and falls hard for a woman who through some combination of bad choices and bad luck has fallen in with the wrong crowd.

The Honourable Schoolboy contains more action than Tinker, Tailor, and Westerby is a character more easily loved than Smiley. And yet, somehow, this novel still felt slower than its predecessor—hence the four-star review. Still, this is a page-turning novel set in the hottest part of the West’s long cold war with the East, and it is well worth reading.

 

Book Reviewed:
John Le Carré, The Honourable Schoolboy: A George Smiley Novel (New York: Penguin, 2011; orig. 1977).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

A Righteous Man | Influence Magazine


Over at InfluenceMagazine.com, I offer some thoughts about Joseph, adoptive father of Jesus, as a model for Christian fathers today. I’m reposting the article here with permission.

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One of my favorite memories growing up was playing basketball with my dad. He’d get home from work, and we’d head to the nearby park to shoot hoops. When I was little, he’d let me win the game, but as I got older, the games became more truly competitive.

I still remember the first time I beat my dad for real. I felt great, and he celebrated my win. Only now, as a father myself, can I understand how genuinely proud he must’ve felt that his boy was growing up.

This Father’s Day, many will celebrate their dads with affection. I certainly will. Some who have lost their dads will shed a tear because they miss him. Others, however, didn’t have good relationships with their dads, so they will honor them begrudgingly, if they do so at all.

America’s Crisis of Fatherlessness
Fathers make a difference in the lives of their children, whether they are present or absent. Present fathers help their children flourish. Absent fathers leave a hole in their children’s hearts that they can spend a lifetime trying to fill.

For several decades now, America has experienced a crisis of absent dads. Statistics collected by the National Fatherhood Initiative reveal the problems that result. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 24 million children — 1 in 3 — live without a biological father in the home. Children in father-absent homes experience a greater risk for these ills:

  • Abuse
  • Behavioral problems
  • Criminal behavior
  • Dropping out of high school
  • Incarceration
  • Poverty
  • Substance abuse
  • Teen pregnancy

Children are resilient, of course, and single moms do heroic work. But God designed families to have moms and dads. Together, they create a home environment where children can thrive.

Joseph as a Model Father
Fatherhood needs to be about more than mere presence in the home, however. Dads need to be actively engaged with their sons and daughters. As the father of one boy and two girls, I am drawn increasingly to the Bible’s portrait of Joseph — husband of Mary, adoptive father of Jesus — as a picture of the kind of father I myself want to be.

The Gospels say little about Joseph. Only Matthew and Luke describe him at any length. He seems to have died by the time Jesus began His public ministry. What they do say about Joseph, however, is enlightening. Matthew 1:19 describes him succinctly as a righteous man, my translation of the Greek word dikaios. The parallel Hebrew term for dikaios is tzadik, which Jews in Jesus’ day reserved to describe someone who was especially close to God.

I hope to be a righteous man who does the right thing kindly and who remains always open to God, assuming whatever responsibilities He sends my way.

What did Joseph’s righteousness look like? Notice four things.

First, as a righteous man, Joseph did the right thing. Matthew says that Joseph and Mary were engaged and chaste (1:18). However, Mary became pregnant. Knowing that he wasn’t the father, Joseph resolved to divorce her. (For Jews of that period, an engagement was as binding a covenant as marriage, which was why divorce was Joseph’s only legal recourse.) He couldn’t condone her perceived adultery, and her son was some other man’s responsibility.

Righteousness is more than doing the right thing, however. In Jesus’ day, the word “righteousness” — dikaiosoune in Greek, tzedekah in Hebrew — was the word used to describe charity. For example, when Jesus said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them,” He was talking about giving to “the needy” (Matthew 6:1–2). If you go to Israel even to this day, a beggar requesting tzedekah is asking for charity.

When we understand that righteousness is charity, we understand why Matthew says Joseph resolved to divorce Mary “quietly.” As a charitable man, he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace” (1:19). For him, righteousness meant doing the kind thing.

I cannot help but wonder whether Joseph’s quiet resolution about Mary — whom he no doubt thought had been sexually immoral — shaped Jesus’ own compassion for sexually immoral women. Consider these three examples:

  • Jesus revealed himself privately as the Messiah to the Samaritan woman at the well, who was cohabiting with a sixth man after five failed marriages (John 4:1–26).
  • When Jesus’ religious opponents caught a woman in the act of adultery, He sent her accusers away before He told her privately to sin no more (John 7:53 through 8:11).
  • At a dinner in Simon the Pharisee’s house, a sinful woman — perhaps a prostitute — anointed Jesus’ feet. When Simon mumbled about the impropriety of this, Jesus publicly praised the woman’s devotion, favorably contrasting it with Simon’s own inhospitality (Luke 7:36–50).

Contrary to Joseph’s perception of the circumstances, however, Mary had not in fact been sexually immoral. The Gospels emphasize that she was a virgin when the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in her womb (Matthew 1:18, 22–23; Luke 1:27; cf. Isaiah 7:14). Joseph didn’t know that; however, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” and set him straight, saying, “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

This reveals a third dimension of Joseph’s righteousness: openness to God. A tzadik, as I said above, was someone especially close to God. This certainly describes Joseph, to whom God revealed himself even in Joseph’s dreams. According to Matthew 2:13, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph a second time, urging him to “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt … for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

Joseph’s openness to God in his dreams was the result, it seems to me, of his openness to God in the details of his life. Luke shows us what both Joseph and Mary’s mundane righteousness looked like. They circumcised Jesus on the eighth day and then performed “purification rites,” both required by “the Law of Moses” (Luke 2:21–22; cf. Leviticus 12:2–8). Similarly, they participated annually in the Passover Festival in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41; cf. Deuteronomy 16:1–8). They were people who, as Luke puts it, did “everything required by the Law of the Lord” (2:39).

The last time we see Joseph alive in the Gospels, it was Passover, Jesus was 12 years old, and the family was at the Temple. The boy Jesus engaged in a discussion with religious teachers. Perhaps it was His bar mitzvah. “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). Preachers often attribute Jesus’ wisdom at this young age to Jesus’ divinity, and that no doubt played a part. But I can’t help but wonder whether Joseph’s openness to God — and Mary’s too, of course — played the greater role at this stage. Luke says, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (2:52). Thankfully, God had provided Him a good dad (and mom) in the growing years.

And this reminds us of one more thing about Joseph’s righteousness: it involved the assumption of responsibility. Joseph had nothing to do with Jesus’ conception, but he assumed responsibility for Jesus’ life nonetheless. He adopted Jesus into his family, and in doing so, conferred a heritage as heir of King David (Matthew 1:16–17).

This aspect of Joseph’s fatherhood has struck me with particular force over the last four years, in the course of which my wife, Tiffany, and I first fostered and then adopted two little girls. (We have a biological son as well.) I am not my girls’ dad, in a biological sense, but I am my girls’ in every other sense. When they think of their dad, it’s my face they see.

So, happy Father’s Day! And father well!

To me has fallen the awesome responsibility — and privilege — of not only housing, feeding and educating these girls, but also loving, disciplining and preparing them for adulthood. Someday, I’ll walk them down the aisle at their weddings, and their children — though not related to me biologically at all — will be my grandchildren. They are, together with my wife and son, my forever family.

I know what kind of thoughts Joseph must have asked himself when that angel of the Lord set him straight in a dream. I’ve asked them myself. But I hope that, like Joseph, I too will father all my children in such a way that they grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.

Father Well
In other words, I hope to be a righteous man who does the right thing kindly and who remains always open to God, assuming whatever responsibilities He sends my way. My children need me to be that man. And, men — whether you’re fathers or not — our nation needs you to be a righteous man as well.

So, happy Father’s Day! And father well!

Friday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey writes about the Influence Conference on August 7-8 in Anaheim, California: “The challenges ahead for the church are real, but we have an unprecedented opportunity to reach people with the gospel and expand the kingdom of God. We recognize the unique moment in history we find ourselves in as leaders — and the need to hear a fresh word from God for this moment. With that in mind, we are looking forward to gathering with thousands of leaders this summer in Anaheim for the Influence Conference.” To register, follow the link at the bottom of Chris’s article.
  • America continues to experience a crisis of fatherlessness. As Father’s Day approaches this weekend, I look to Joseph, adoptive father of Jesus, for help in how a dad can be “a righteous man.” I conclude the article this way: “I hope to be a righteous man who does the right thing kindly and who remains always open to God, assuming whatever responsibilities He sends my way. My children need me to be that man. And, men — whether you’re fathers or not — our nation needs you to be a righteous man as well.”
  • We note a Gallup poll indicating that Americans’ opinions on abortion remain steady. “Overall, 49 percent of all U.S. adults identify as pro-choice, and 46 percent say they are pro-life. Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to consider themselves pro-life (61 percent vs. 26 percent) and say abortion is morally wrong (65 percent vs. 32 percent).”

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The Power of Life and Death | Influence Magazine


Over at Influence Magazine, I offer some opinions about hateful words and violent deeds in the wake of yesterday’s shooting of Rep. Steve Scales (R-LA) and GOP congressional staffers. The article is posted here with permission:

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“The tongue has the power of life and death,” Proverbs 18:21 says, “and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

This proverb came to my mind yesterday when I learned that a gunman had shot and wounded Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La., 1st District) and four congressional staff members in the early morning near Washington D.C. The shooter later died from wounds sustained in a gun battle with Capitol Police, who were protecting Rep. Scalise, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives.

The shooter evidently supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Sen. Sanders immediately denounced the violent act. Regardless, some right-wing pundits quickly tied the incident to anti-Trump and anti-Republican rhetoric by some left-wing pundits and Democratic politicians. They claimed that rhetoric had created the “climate of hate” in which the shooter acted.

This is not the first time partisans blamed violence against them on the other side’s rhetoric. Democrats, for example, pointed to Republicans’ “climate of hate” in 2011 when a gunman shot then-Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords (D-Ariz., 13th District) and 17 others. Giffords suffered brain injuries, and six people died.

I’m not interested in assessing whether the Left’s rhetoric is more hateful than the Right’s or whether the Right’s actions are more violent than the Left’s. As far as I have seen, the answer to those questions generally lines up with the respondent’s ideology. A person on the Right thinks the Left bears the blame, and vice versa. This suggests that we’re not coming at the answer from an objective, statistical point of view.

Instead of assessing blame, I want to make an obvious point and a less obvious point and then offer an explanation and several suggestions:

Points Obvious and Less Obvious
The obvious point is this: Both sides think climates of hate are capable of producing violent action. Nobody thinks there’s zero connection between words and deeds. Everybody acknowledges some connection.

The less obvious point is this: Regardless of that acknowledgment, neither side changes its rhetoric in a significant or enduring way. Oh sure, after a tragedy, right-wingers and left-wingers will come together, pray for the victims, sing “Kumbaya” and pledge to work together. A few days later, however, they’re back at each other’s throats, using the same nasty rhetoric they used before the violence that temporarily brought them together.

Explaining Why Our Rhetoric Doesn’t Change
Why? How can people who acknowledge the connection between words and deeds go on to think their hateful rhetoric doesn’t generate violence on their side? The explanation, it seems to me, is that they think their rhetoric is true. Partisans and ideologues don’t merely disagree with the policies of the other side; in other words, they think the other side and its policies are objectively evil. That’s why both sides in political debates are tempted — and too often succumb to the temptation — to compare the other side to Hitler and the Nazis, which all sides agree to be symbols of perfect evil.

But here’s the deal: In American politics today, if you really think that people on the other side are like Hitler and their policies are like the Nazis’, then the obvious response is to go to war — to engage in more violence, not less.

Nobody in their right mind thinks that way, though. After a tragedy like yesterday’s shooting, we all get together and pledge to talk kindlier and work together more constructively. That implies — and you need to pay attention to this point! — that the other side in current American politics doesn’t deserve the hateful rhetoric your own side sometimes throws its way.

Three Practical Suggestions
Once you and I realize this point, several suggestions come quickly to mind.

First, repent! We constantly tell people on the other side of an issue from us to cease and desist from their climate of hate, but Jesus told us to take our own advice first: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3,5).

Applied to political rhetoric, this means we need to police our own words — and the words of those on our own side — first.

Second, follow the Golden Rule! How do we know which of our words are hateful? The answer to that question is as simple as the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

If you want people to ascribe good motives to your actions, ascribe good motives to their actions. If you want people to characterize your statements accurately and in context, do the same for them. If you want people to acknowledge your right to speak and act, acknowledge their similar right.

Third, don’t retaliate! In my experience, I practice self-criticism and the Golden Rule as long as the other side does so. The moment they deviate from those two standards, though, I am tempted to ditch those standards and start throwing mud. That’s a bad idea, for as some wag once pointed out, when you wrestle with a pig in the mud, you both get dirty … and the pig likes it. Responding to bad rhetoric with more bad rhetoric creates a vicious cycle of bad rhetoric.

Once again, Jesus points the way: “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39).

The best way to stop a vicious cycle is to stop being vicious, and turning the other cheek does that. It stings, of course, but it also stops things from escalating to violence.

What I’ve written here applies to politicians and citizens, to leaders and followers. It applies most of all to Christians, however, and especially Christians leaders. We lead our congregations, and we represent them in the public square. It is incumbent on us especially — as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ — to do what He said to do.

As our nation wrestles with a vicious cycle of hateful words and violent deeds, let’s make sure we model a better way. Our tongue has power. Let’s use it in a way that brings life, not death, to ourselves, our churches and our communities.

Thursday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • I draw lessons for Christian leaders from the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R_LA) about the connection between hateful words and violent deeds .
  • Elizabeth Rios continues her series, “Church Dropouts,” with three ways to stop the flow of people leaving the Church.

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Wednesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Stephen Blandino writes, “”Perspective is the difference maker in how we handle adversity.” And how! Read the whole thing!
  • We note a new report from the Barna Group about America’s most churched, unchurched, and dechurched cities. Pastors have their work cut out for them, for as our note says, “ust under 1 in 4 U.S. adults regularly attend services.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

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