We Are All Wrong–And That’s OK


Recently, the Phil Vischer Podcast had an episode with a Bible expert, and the team talked about the many ways people mishandle the Scriptures and how not to. It was a good show.

More than anything, what God drove home to me from that episode is that all of us, in some way, mangle our use of the Bible. Further, that’s OK.

Well, maybe it’s not OK that the Bible gets used wrongly by people but more that everyone is going to do it at some time. Because people are fallible, broken, wrong, stupid, selfish, and just plain messed up. How then can we expect them to always handle God’s words perfectly?

If you asked me what one piece of wisdom I could contribute to the vast collection of human understanding, I’d offer this: Every person you encounter in your life you see a slice of only. You don’t see their whole life, their joys, their failures. You don’t see what molded them for good or for ill. You just see that slice. And like a core sample from arctic ice, that person’s life consists of multiple layers of events and realizations that can only be interpreted after careful and prolonged study. And truthfully, some of it may never be understood by you because the person himself/herself doesn’t understand it either.

There is no growth in the Christian life without starting from a place of error and moving to a place that is less error-filled. You and I don’t get to decide whether the person before us now is in that error-filled place or not. Sometimes, that person is the one we see in the mirror.

This is why grace exists. Remember grace? It’s meant by God for us to use when we encounter flawed people who are in the process and on the journey. And frankly, that’s every person on earth.

God’s promise to us:

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.
—Jeremiah 18: 1-4

That verse applies to Israel, but what it says about God is what matters.

We are all spoiled vessels. We are all mistaken, wrong, off. And if you catch any one of us in the process of being remolded to the potter’s ideal, we will look ill-formed, ugly even.

But God as potter is faithful to mold us into something beautiful.

So when you come across someone who is wrong or “stupid” or acting ignorantly by your standards, realize that he or she is in that molding stage. It is unfair to judge an artistic work mid-stream, by that slice of life that you see now but which is not the entire creation story. The best thing we can do is to be as faithful as we can to stick around and see how that half-finished vessel will turn out. To the potter at least, it will be gorgeous in His eyes. And ultimately, is not the Author of beauty its best judge?

Why the Kitschy “God’s Not Done with Me Yet” Is the Most Profound Truth You’ll Encounter Today


It starts with a girl, because for many a guy, that’s where life lessons often begin.

I’d known her for years, but one day she took me into the off-limits basement of her home to show me a secret. There sat her dad, engineer’s hat in place, surrounded by his model train “kingdom.”

I say kingdom because the spread was impressive, perhaps 20 feet by 15, and from his perch, her dad controlled it all. Multiple trains, switches, throttles, and on and on. You could tell by the look on his face: He loved this hobby.

And nothing on those tracks escaped him. He knew the beginning, end, and everything in-between.

This imagery comes back to me because I continue to think we all need some perspective about perspective.

It bothers me greatly to see America descending into factions so imprisoning that no one seems capable of understanding anyone else. Soon, the verbal sparring turns into questions of an opponents’ intelligence, and all parties retreat to their corners still attempting murder with words.

We have become a people with no ability to step outside ourselves and to inhabit another person’s perspective. Worse, we question the other person’s motives, without any understanding of that person’s past, upbringing, hurts, joys, or hidden beliefs.

One of the sad realities I see played out online every day consists of the “enlightened” Christian believer tearing to shreds the novice. The sage must publicly destroy the naïf to show not only the sage’s wisdom but also to defend the honor of God against fools, regardless of how much punishment the supposed fool must endure and its personal cost.

And because pounding idiots into the dust is fun.

But it shouldn’t be.

You see, God is not done with any of us yet. Each of us is made in the image of God, yet we are all marred by sin. In our current form, we are flawed, but God can reshape us as He will. And He promises He will if we let Him.

When you and I encounter another human soul, we see a slice of a life, a moment in another’s journey. We do not see the departure from the gate, nor the arrival at the final destination.

But Father God watches over it all. Like my friend’s dad, He is the celestial engineer who knows the entirety of the track and all that is possible on the journey. He stands apart from time and sees the beginning, the end, and everything in-between. To Him, no surprises are possible, and the ultimate journey of each passenger He knows down to the second.

But only the Father knows.

The Bible says this:

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
—Colossians 3:3-4 ESV

Not only can we not know another’s life, we cannot even know our own. We do not know the future. We incorrectly process the past. And we don’t see at all the workings of God in our inmost person. Our life truly is hidden in Him.

But He sees everything.

Which is why it’s such foolishness for any person to presume superiority over any other. We see a fleeting slice of another’s life, but if we try to draw suppositions from that slice, chances are we will miss the truth entirely. We critique another, and the criticism is based on vapor. If each of us cannot comprehend even our own thoughts and lives correctly, how can we be assured of anything about another’s life, especially as to where that person might be in the journey?

Each of us is a clay pot in God’s hands. The final form we take is not up to us but to God:

Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
—Isaiah 29:16b ESV

But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
—Isaiah 64:8 ESV

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel….”
—Jeremiah 18:1-6 ESV

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
—Philippians 1:6 ESV

Potter & clayUltimately, if we rashly condemn another believer in Jesus and deem him or her inadequate by our standard, we presume to judge God’s working in that person’s life. We stand in judgement over God Himself, questioning His sanctification, His timing, and His thoroughness.

This does not mean that if we think that young woman over there is about to throw her life away or that elderly man is slandering someone without cause that we cannot make a judgment in that moment, one that might demand we intervene or correct.

But what we cannot do is write them off or think that they are outside of God’s redemption. If we do, then we presume to play engineer and to see all of the track, every train, switch, tree, hill, co-passenger, and all beginnings, middles, and endings. Or in the potter’s case, we question the artistry, the process, and the outcome. We commit the sin of the Garden. We attempt to strip God of His title and instead enthrone ourselves in His place as the engineer or potter.

Each one of us is in process. What you see in me now is neither who I was or who I will become. The same for you.

For the Christian, the journey is to make us more like Jesus. It’s an effort God undertakes but never completes this side of heaven. Much now is hidden. Only when the End comes, and Christ who is our life appears, will all be revealed.

Let’s not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. Instead, let us partner with God in the journey, whether it’s our journey or another’s. Let’s trust Him that He knows what He is doing in the lives of you, me, and everyone.

God’s not finished with any of us yet.

Rethinking Evangelicalism’s Tropes #2: Fixing the Other Guy


Sometimes it seems like we Evangelicals aren’t happy with anyone. Our perceived human foes are always in need of a good fixing by us, especially by our standard means of yelling at them, wrangling politicians to our side in opposition to them, manipulating media against them, and stewing about them to anyone who will listen. While the track record of positive results employing that process is somewhat abysmal, yet we press on.

In our favor, it’s hard not to think that the wheels are coming off the world. Really, a quick glance around seems to confirm as much.

I’ve written a lot of words to Christians in America over the years. I’m really no one, though. And I mean that. There’s no expectation that anyone will listen or change. Most days are shouting into the wind—like everyone else. I know that. Everyone’s got an opinion, and in America, everyone needs to express it.

But it still bothers me that with people in the American Church pointing fingers at this heretic and that sinner, we tend to forget the Golden Rule of  “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or as Jesus Himself phrased it:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
—Matthew 7:12

I can’t help but think that applying that one simple rule would change everything. And that one simple rule can be applied to EVERY aspect of life.

Such truth asks that we consider the other guy, that we think of him as ourself. Where we give ourselves grace, we should offer him the same grace in the same situations. And where we would want to be gently and lovingly corrected, we would offer the same to him.

But too often we excuse our sins and live to punish the other guy for his—even when his sin is the same as ours.

I’m increasingly peeved at the hubris that most of us operate under. Nor do I understand how it is that we’re always seeking to fix the other guy when we won’t fix ourselves first. We Evangelicals are constantly in a huff about the condition of the other guy’s eye speck and not so concerned about our own log.

The answer, of course, is a simple one. Jesus notes it in the Gospel of John:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
—John 21:15-22

Here, Jesus is trying to restore Peter after Peter’s betrayal. But what very human trait does Peter exhibit? He points to John and says (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Yeah, I hear what you’re trying to say about me, but what about this other guy?”

If that doesn’t sum up Evangelicalism 2011, I don’t know what does. We seem perpetually worried about “the other guy” even as the Lord is trying to restore us to our proper position. (I find it telling that John notes this in the context of his own question about those who would betray Jesus, almost as if Peter were trying to get back at John for bringing up the issue and John includes this passage—and its answer—as a deflection back to Peter.)

Jesus’ response is so fitting, it almost makes me weep:

“…what is that to you? You follow me!”

Heaven knows that I am a messed up person. Every day I have to remind myself that the only way the Lord is going to work through me is if I’m right with Him. And that’s going to take an enormous amount of work on His part. My part is to be willing and open to receive His fixes. Yet if I’m perpetually trying to hear about someone else’s fixes and trying to fix that other person my way, I’ll neither hear nor receive my fixes.

And if I’m not prepped the way I should be to minister, then I’m wasting my time and the Lord’s.

Evangelicals, please, please, please hear this. If we don’t get our own house right, judgment will fall on it. It’s time to stop worrying about the other guy’s problems first and start asking the Lord to fix our own. We’ve become like Peter, attempting to deflect responsibility, even as the Lord is telling us what we need to be doing and to stop worrying so much about the other guy.

Every day, I hope to live not only by the Golden Rule but also by personalizing the words of Jesus: “…what is that to you, Dan? You follow me!”

What words will you live by?