Three Little Words We Christians Need to Say


The worst teaching we get here in America is to always stick up for ourselves. From the time we take our first steps, the mantra we hear over and over is to stand up for our rights and stand against “the bad guy.”

But in the rush to always reinforce the American collective mentality, found in our forefathers as they battled British “oppression,” humility has taken a devastating hit. Somehow, we lost the way to fight for what is good while simultaneously being humble people. Worse, our lack of humility causes us to gloss over atrocities, both individual and collective.

And no entity in America has suffered more for this than the Christian Church.

Here are three little words you almost never hear in the average church:

We were wrong.

Or the individual version:

I was wrong.

Our inability to confess to failures continues to compromise the effectiveness of the Church in our country. Swept along by the spirit of the age, the Church here has forgotten what it means to be humble. Haughty, arrogant, prideful, judgmentalAs a result, like other failed institutions wracked by hubris, the Church has been lumped with all the pride-filled transgressors and relegated to meaninglessness in the lives of most Americans. And for those people who have not thrown the Church on the dung heap, usually Christians, they continue to be slaves of their own pride, unable to say those three little words.

We live in a cynical age. I would argue that our cynicism is borne out of witnessing far too many instances of pride run amok. When that pride is only reinforced in the wake of obvious failure, when confession and remorse should be the response—and yet are not—we throw another log on the fires of “wisdom” and harden ourselves further, like Damascus steel, over the flames.

When was the last time a church confessed publicly that…

…all the money dumped into the new youth program hasn’t made the teens better disciples?

…for all the talk of community, people in the church were getting no help finding work or were unable to pay their bills?

…the enormous building campaign was fueled more from a need to outdo neighboring churches than to lift up Jesus?

…the beloved special speaker brought in for a yearly teaching series is doctrinally wonky?

…it personally failed the young person who wound up pregnant/in jail/homeless/drug-addled?

…the latest spiritual bandwagon it jumped on went off a cliff?

…the nationally known Christian, whose ministry it supported unquestionably, needed to be questioned more throughly, long before the scandal broke?

Why is it we are so afraid to say we blew it?

Why is so much swept under the proverbial rug?

I know so many charismatics who have come to me over the years glowing with some exciting “word of knowledge” they received from some “Spirit-filled” leader or traveling prophecy show and yet that “amazing word” never came to pass. And still those same people are the first ones in line to grab another “word.”

Some bizarre denial mechanism exists in Evangelicalism that takes all that failure and walls it off in our psyches as if it never happened. This hardens some to the point they become unable to discern anything. Others wind up wrecked on the rocks of those failures, and in the midst of everyone around them denying the problem, end up walking away from the Church—and often from God.

How is it that we cannot weep with those who have been burned by the inability of the Church to say We were wrong? Are we THAT filled with pride?

People keep wondering how we can fix the horrible mess we find ourselves in as Christians in America. Confessing our pride and our failures would be a great start. They used to call that repentance, though I know that word is not popular when applied to us. Usually we reserve it for the other guys. You know, the sinners.

A nation of people who are not humble will be humbled. A Church that asserts pride-driven power will be brought low. God is not mocked, and placing ourselves on a platform on His level, demanding rights only He can possess, is a sure recipe for a butt kickin’—ours.

You and I are dust. Remembering that would go a long way toward fixing a world of problems.

And maybe, just maybe, if we were a lot more humble, people who are dying for real answers to real problems would again look to America and the American Church for solutions.

Every revival starts in the ashes of humility.

For the Good of the Overall Redemptive Story Only?


A friend told me this story:

A teenager in his small hometown had announced from an early age that she was called to missions work. So apparent was Cori’s calling, no one in that small town questioned it. Most everyone saw it operating in her life. So when Cori was old enough to go on a mission trip that would encompass nearly her entire summer, the whole town chipped in to assist her. And when the day came for Cori to leave for sub-Saharan Africa, many in that town came out to see her off. Bright and beautiful, she represented not only the ideal young woman, but the hope and dreams of that small Midwestern town.

But something went wrong.

Within a day or two of landing in Africa, Cori took ill at the mission station. A few days later, she died.

Another story:

Karl and Jen had spent years trying to conceive a child. Now into their early 40s, hope dwindling, they heard about a new fertility treatment. Folks in that church loved Karl and Jen. Jen worked in the nursery and had a real gift with babies. Karl managed the church’s financial assets. So their plight had the entire church praying for a miracle.

Thanks to that new treatment, Karl and Jen got their miracle. Baby Amanda was born.

Everyone thought Jen would be thrilled with the birth. And she was. For awhile. But postpartum depression is a tricky illness, and few people understand its effects, especially on a miracle mom. Everyone thought Jen would get over it. Then one day, she told Karl she was going to the grocers. They found her car wrapped around a tree.

Karl mourned. Taking care of Amanda became his primary duty. He stepped down from managing the church funds, and Mavis, who had ably assisted him, took over. Life, though sadder, seemed to settle down.

At Amanda’s two-year checkup, the doctor found a worrying lump on her arm. The diagnosis came back as bone cancer. Karl had never had great insurance through his workplace, and the costs to treat Amanda drained all his savings. The church put together a great fundraiser in response. Everyone was stunned when Amanda, the miracle child, failed to see her fourth birthday.

They were even more stunned to find later that Mavis, the new church financial manager, had run off with $300,000 in church funds.

One of the most well-known verses in the Bible:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
—Romans 8:28 ESV

I’ve heard a lot of sad stories in my life. Some don’t seem to have good endings.

I know that I struggle with Romans 8:28. A lot. So do many other people. We know the verse. We know that God is true. But we can’t always make life fit into that verse in a way that makes sense.

We Christians in America tend to read the Bible with one eye on the Scriptures and the other on the Bill of Rights. Nothing gets our goat more than thinking about our individual rights being infringed. Our sense of entitlement to personal happiness is enormous because it’s reinforced day in and day out by our collective American unconscious.

I’m not saying the following is the perfect exposition of Romans 8:28, but it’s something I’ve been pondering.

What if the Creator’s intention for “those who love God” isn’t primarily for the individual crushed by circumstance? What if the “those” consists of the greater mass of Christendom?

Perhaps we search in vain for Karl’s redemptive answer to his wife’s and child’s deaths. Maybe the happy ending isn’t Karl’s but another Christian’s, a doctor who hears about Karl’s story and leverages her talents from God to found a clinic for helping others diagnose and manage postpartum depression.

Perhaps answering the elusive Why? in the case of missionary Cori resolves not in her survivors’ joy, but in a next generation, when a young, local man completes that teenage missionary’s calling by establishing a missions center in that town that ends up blessing the world.Cry tears

Perhaps Mavis’s granddaughter gets a tap on the shoulder from God and starts an organization that helps churches better handle their money.

Perhaps it’s not about the happiness of the primary people hurt by life’s seeming injustices but about those who come afterward. Or even those sitting on the other side of the planet in a sub-Saharan missions HQ who decide to work toward improved health care for missionaries in their country.

Something about the Hollywood ending drives us Americans. And we always want to see it unfold in the lives of those immediately affected by life’s vicissitudes.

But what if this redemptive story that God placed us in is far greater than your happiness or mine? Do we ever look at it that way?

I’ve written many times about Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China. His work back in the 19th century is instrumental in the faith of millions of Chinese today. The work he started continues to flare brightly, lighting the world.

Yet those who knew Taylor best claimed that the man who left for China with his family was not the same man after their burial under the earth of his adopted country. A sadness permeated his life.

Did Romans 8:28 not “work” for this renowned missionary?

Perhaps we think too much of ourselves and not enough of the collective work of God in the lives of those other “those who are called according to his purpose.” We like to believe that the verse reads solely for our own private circumstances.

But what if it doesn’t? Are we solid enough in our faith to go to our own graves happy that God’s story is greater than our own lives? And that our tears may not be dried in this life?

The Devolution of Beseeching Prayer


Beseeching prayers since the Protestant Reformation:

Reformation Era to 17th century

Blessed Lord, may this servant’s death at the hands of those who oppose Thee and Thy Kingdom further the Glorious Light of Thy Gospel to the ends of the earth, that Thy Name be praised on the lips of them who hear Thy Words of Life, repent in dust and ashes before Thee, and receive Thy precious gift of Eternal Life. Amen.

17th through 18th century

Holy Father, Divine Flame, purge the dross from Thy servant’s life, that in humbling Thy servant, the Christ would be visible to all who do not acknowledge Thee. Make Thy servant pure in Thine Eyes, that I not be cast away and lose mine inheritance, but prove Thee true before all men, for the glory of Thy name. Amen.

19th century

Precious Jesus, my Beloved, teach me to bear thy burdens as a good soldier of the Kingdom. May I know patience as I wait by thy feet and learn of thee. And if there be any wicked way in me, purge it by the light of thy grace, that I may be found in thee perfect, a witness to the nations. Amen.

Early 20th century

Glorious Lord, empower me to be a light to the world, taking your Gospel where it has not yet been proclaimed. Let me always ask what I can do for you, and let me know you more deeply in each passing day. Build up my blessings so that others might see the fruits of a life devoted to you. Amen.

Late 20th century

Lord Jesus, show me how you will use me. Bless me for the many ways in which I serve you. Send me, but when you do, please let it not be somewhere like Calcutta or someplace too dangerous, like an urban ghetto. And I really, really need a mentor too. Amen.

March 2012

Please God, do you really need to keep asking me to do all this stuff in the Bible? I have this Facebook Timeline thingy that needs tweaking, and maintaining my LinkedIn profile takes a lot of time too. Seriously. You want me happy right? Then what are doing about it? Oh, and the new iPad 3 is out and mine is only a 2. Can you do something about that? Please? It would be a great place to start. Bye.