5 Things I’ve Learned After 500 Posts

Yesterday’s post was my official 500th blog post. That’s over two years of writing. I thought I’d take a moment to pause and process some things I’ve learned after 500 posts:

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1. Dreaming of a blog is easy. Writing a blog is difficult. I’ve dreamt for years about the possibility of writing a blog. In my visions of grandeur, the writing was easy, conversation generating, and of course, heavily trafficked. And then I actually started it. All my great ideas dried up in two weeks, but I had still committed myself to write. Writing is one part creativity and inspiration and four parts discipline and hard work.

2. You never know which blog will go viral. This continues to surprise me. I’ll work on a particular blog, knowing for certain that it will take off and go viral. I’ll spend extra time to word smith and polish for when a major news outlet picks it up. Those blog posts tend to bomb. And then every once awhile, one will take off and go viral. It will get hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of hits. It’s usually never the ones I’d expect. That’s why the discipline of writing everyday is so important. You never know which blog post will go viral.

3. Anger is easy. Hope is hard. I made a conscious choice early on to avoid the angry rants that can too easily fill up a Facebook newsfeed and reinforce the negative stereotype of the judgmental evangelical. After 500 blog posts, I now see why so many blogs and Facebook rants are angry: anger is easy. It’s simple. It’s can be devoid of actual facts. Hope, on the other hand, is hard. It takes focus. It takes effort to see the silver lining through all the clouds. But more than anything I want my blog to offer hope. So I do things the hard way.

4. Sometimes I wonder if it’s making an impact. There’s honestly seasons where I just write and write with little to no feedback. Am I making a difference? Am I actually helping people, inspiring people, or simply clogging up the internet with another useless blog? It’s in those moments that God usually steers someone my way. Recently I walked into my local cell phone provider’s store and the sales associate who helped me shared how it was crazy he saw me that day because just yesterday his wife emailed him my blog post from the previous day for them to discuss together. Moments like that remind me that it’s making a difference.

5. At the end of the day, I’ve loved it. Countless hours have been put into this blog. I’ve yet to make a penny off of it (some people actually make their living off of a blog. Pipe dream!) At the end of the day I love writing this blog for two reasons: I’m continually learning new things as I teach others and I’m helping people. It’s made me a better person and a better pastor.

To all of you who are reading this, thank you! Here’s looking forward to the next 500 blogs!

* (Technically this post is #501, so only 499 to go!)

A Cynical View of Why the World Wants You To Get Divorced

Your wedding day is a beautiful, emotional, magnificent promise of what you want your marriage to be. We love weddings. We celebrate weddings. In 2012, the median cost of a wedding was $18,000. That’s a nice wedding! Little girls dream about this day for years! To help you plan this incredible day, there’s an entire wedding industry designed to help you have an incredible experience (and make some serious cash on the side). Walk into a bookstore and there are entire sections of wedding magazines.

Our society loves weddings. Our culture celebrates weddings. Our society wants you to have a successful first day of marriage. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a day that culminates with a beautiful promise. What society is horrible at is helping you at is the next 18,250 days of marriage (if you’re going to be married 50 years). Think about it: there are tons and tons of wedding magazines out there, helping you plan an amazing wedding. But how many marriage magazines are there, helping you be successful at marriage long-term? None!

Look at this: I searched Google for the “top wedding magazines.” Here were my results:

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Next, out of curiosity, I googled “top marriage magazines.” Here were my results:

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Isn’t that amazing? Google, which can find anything, couldn’t find any magazines on marriage, so it just pulled up all the results I’d just searched for with weddings. I would make the argument that from society’s standpoint, the wedding day is the most important day of the marriage. That’s where all the emphasis is.

Here’s my cynical take on why all the emphasis is on the wedding and not the marriage: society today doesn’t care about making your marriage work, they care about you have an amazing wedding day. In fact, the wedding industry wins when you get divorced, because then you can start planning your next wedding and fork over another $18,000.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts? Am I off base here or am I on to something?

The Church and the Republican Party

After six years of an increasingly unpopular president, the nation decided to vote the opposition party into power in both houses of Congress as a statement of dissatisfaction with the brokenness of Washington. That happened in 2006 when Democrats took control of Congress in George W. Bush’s final two years in office. To prove the truth of Ecclesiastes 1:9 that there is ‘nothing new under the sun,’ the same thing happened yesterday as America gave control of both houses of Congress to the Republicans as a statement of its dissatisfaction with the direction of the country under the leadership of Barack Obama.

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And yet this victory for the Republicans doesn’t come without danger. For the past six years, Republicans have been the minority party united by one thing: opposition to Barack Obama. Their whole platform has been the simple strategy of being anti-Obama. People put the GOP in power not because they necessarily believe in the Republican brand as much as they’re disenchanted with the Democrats. So as the talking heads are wisely spouting today, the big question now is: can Republicans lead? Can they be pro-solution as much as they’ve been anti-problem? We don’t need a party to simply point out the problems. We need leaders that can offer and implement solutions.

And here’s where the church comes in. In many ways, the evangelical church has mirrored the strategy of the Republican party for the past six years. The church is seen as anti-world and anti-culture. We paint ourselves as victims of a never-ending onslaught of depravity, heavy-handed government and the ‘nefarious’ gay rights movement. The church is known primarily for what it’s against.

And yet in spite of all that, guests and visitors are still flocking to churches today, not so much because they believe in God as much as they’re disenchanted with the world and desperately searching for answers. So, like the Republican party, the same question is before churches today: will we be anti-problem or pro-solution? Will we continue to rail against the sin of the world as our only platform, or will we be about solutions, about hope, about the gospel? People are coming to our churches looking for us to lead. They already know the problems out there. They’re looking for answers. The ball is in our court. What will we do?

What’s the Purpose of the Old Testament Today?

If you’re a Bible reader, the Old Testament presents a bit of a quandary. There are some amazing stories in the Old Testament, but also pages and pages filled with prophecies, genealogies and laws that don’t apply to New Testament Christians any more. By sheer volume (nearly 75% of the Bible), the Old Testament demands relevance. But as New Testament Christians on this side of the cross, a fair question is: what purpose does the Old Testament serve today?

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Paul himself answered that question in his first century letter to Roman Christians when he wrote, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). I absolutely love Paul’s words here because in one short statement he gives us an incredible lens through which to view the Old Testament. First, Paul tells us that the Old Testament was written to teach us. It still has meaning today.

Secondly, Paul gives us the two main lessons we should derive from the Old Testament: endurance and encouragement. Reading the Old Testament, you see story after story of God interacting with, caring for, redeeming and providing for his people. Even in judgment, God was faithful to the promises and warnings he had given his people over generations. Reading the Old Testament, you’ll see this recurring theme: God is faithful. God can be trusted. God cares for his people. This relentless, pursuing, enduring love should give encouragement today because the nature of God doesn’t change.

Finally, the result of the Old Testament in our lives today should be hope. Hope is an amazing place to land because it is so desperately needed today. We need hope in a reality bigger and better than our own. We need hope in a loving God in control of the chaos around us. We need hope for a better life after this existence. When we read the Old Testament with story after story of God’s divine nature, supernatural control over the earth and absolute love for his people, we should overflow with hope. The God of the Old Testament is alive and well today. He still reigns supreme, he still loves his people, and he offers us salvation through the fulfillment of the Old Testament: Jesus.

Why Aren’t There More Demonic Manifestations Today?

The scene from the Exorcist is forever etched in our brains: levitation, a head spinning around, cursing and demonic manifestations. Interestingly enough in today’s Christian-influenced culture, demonic manifestations are found mostly in fictitious movies and television shows. It’s nothing to see a horror movie with a demon or a television show with a demon (those tend to be of the more PG variety). But we don’t see or hear about real life manifestations that often. Why is that? Do demons still exist today? If so, why are they choosing to remain hidden?

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I think Acts 19:13-20 explains it for us. First, the demonic manifestation:

13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. Acts 19:13-16

A couple of preacher’s kids try to mess around with the demonic world and get their butts whooped in the process. The demon clearly and demonstratively revealed itself in the ancient city of Ephesus. After this manifestation, what was the response? Did the people cower in fear? Or did the wake-up call to the reality of a spiritual world galvanize the power of the gospel?

17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in powerActs 19:17-20

The demonic manifestation backfired on the devil and his minions. The reality of the demonic only shed a brighter light on the reality of the Lord Jesus who had power over the demonic, leading to a full blown revival. And that (I believe), is why we don’t see more demonic manifestations today. Demons prefer to stay hidden, operating in the shadows, lulling us into a false sense of ignorance to their existence and their schemes.

QUESTION: Why do you think there aren’t more demonic manifestations today?

What Advice Would You Give Yourself on Your Wedding Day?

Last Sunday as part of our Married People series I posed this question, “If the me from last week could go back to the me on my wedding day and give myself advice, what would I tell myself?” The video below is what I came up with:

How to Break Free From the Clutter

I’m a news addict. My first temptation when I wake up is to grab my smartphone and scroll through all the important news stories that happened in the last eight hours since I checked it before going to bed. Politico, Fox News, USA Today, CNN, Christian Post, you name it, I check it. Before long, I’m inundated, overwhelmed by things I can’t affect and problems I can’t fix. Since I hit some Christian news sites (and since Fox News regularly plays to its evangelical base), I’m constantly told what I should be angry about, who I should be angry at, and what I can to do get involved. I’m pushed, pulled, angered and overwhelmed, all within the comfort of my own smartphone.

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Maybe it’s not news for you. Maybe it’s social media. Maybe that Facebook news feed calls to you during the night. You can be so wrapped up in others stories that you forget to live out your own. Maybe it’s that Sportscenter app that keeps you connected to the heart of your sports world. Whatever it is, we all have things that call to us, that want to captivate our attention and ultimately distract us from what’s truly important.

So what’s the answer? How do we break free from the clutter that keeps us from viewing and living life from God’s perspective? Simple. Just do what Jesus did. Luke 5:16 says this, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Go to a place. Remove your phone (or iPad, or computer, or whatever distracts you) from your sight. Get lonely, where it’s just you and God, and talk to Him. For some that’s a prayer closet. For some that’s an open Bible and a journal. For me, that’s walking around my neighborhood just before sunrise so I can watch God’s beauty unfolding into another day.

If your mind feels too cluttered, then put your phone down and pray.

How Many Words Will You Be Worth Today?

It has been said countless times, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” We repeat this endlessly because it’s true. I can write an essay on the beauty of creation, or I can show you a majestic sunset touching the African savannah. I can verbally tell you about the virtues of commitment and sacrifice, or I can show you a wife caring for her husband as he agonizes through a terminal illness. I can attempt to describe the depths of joy, or I can simply show you a baby’s laugh. A picture truly is worth a thousand words.

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So as Almighty God conveys His relentless and boundless love to us, he can and has used words, “For God so loved the world . . .” (John 3:16). But I think he’d rather show the world through pictures. And that’s where we come in. Those who call on his name. Those who lay claim to Jesus as our Savior. We’re the living pictures, walking and moving and breathing, all the while conveying to the world (through our words, through our attitudes, and most importantly, through our actions) just how much God loves this world.

The question is: how many words will you be worth today? Will you take the day off simply because it’s Monday? Will you be unintentional because there’s nothing worthwhile on your schedule? Or will you see every encounter as a divine appointment? Will you take advantage of today and make something beautiful out of it? Your audience may be large as you interact with hundreds of people today. Or it may simply be the same eight people you see at work or the same two children you take care of at home.

Today is a day to paint. Today is a day to create a masterpiece. Don’t allow apathy, unintentionally, anger or bitterness to diffuse your palette into dark and obtuse shades that mar the beauty of our Creator. Use the full spectrum of colors. Paint vividly. Laugh, cry, inspire, encourage, share, love. Give someone today a beautiful picture of God’s love in and through you. How many words will you be worth today?

I am Mark Driscoll

mark-driscoll_profile_imgNews just broke of embattled megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll resigning from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Driscoll has been a very successful yet controversial figure as he’s built Mars Hill into a behemoth, spawning over a dozen satellite locations, a university, a best-selling book and a church planting network, all while battling charges of pride, divisiveness, plagiarism, and deceptive marketing practices for those best-selling books. In past months criticism of his ministry style reached a critical mass, he was put on administrative leave while the elders of his church investigated the charges, leading to his resignation this week.

Now, the easiest thing to do here would be to simply pile on Mark Driscoll. Everyone else is. From the charges it seems like he certainly deserves it. No one would fault my ‘righteous anger’ if I did. But I want to take a different route. Mark Driscoll resigning scares me to death, and it should scare every pastor to death. Why? Because in a way we’re all Mark Driscoll. We all have selfish tendencies which, if not controlled, can poison and destroy our ministry. We all have that seed of pride that just won’t die. We’re all tempted to take the credit when God does something in our church, which can lead to the unhealthy delusion that we’re integral and vital to God’s plans. We all face stresses at home and work, which if we’re not careful can be released in divisive and degrading ways to those who work with us.

Every single pastor can have a lifetime of ministry wiped out because of a moral failing or unrepentant sin. The Apostle Paul himself was aware of this danger when he wrote, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I preach to others I myself am not disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:27) Instead of judging him, we should pray for him, and closely examine ourselves. If we do, we’ll discover that in a way we’re all Mark Driscoll.

Elle’s Baby Dedication Speech

Okay, Elle didn’t make the speech (it would have consisted of a series of ‘ooohs’ and fits of drooling). Last night we dedicated Elle at Mt Vernon’s Baby Dedication service. One of the things that makes these services unique is that the parents read a letter in front of everyone declaring their wishes and intent for their future child. Since she’s our fourth and since we’re Dafferns, Robin and I decided to go the humorous route with Elle’s speech. Here it is:

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Elle,

Your mother and I have waited twelve years for this moment. We thank God for you, especially that you’re a girl, because to be honest, if you were a boy, we wouldn’t be done yet. But praise God you are a beautiful girl! You are the cherry on our sundae, the ketchup on our French Fries, the sugar in our tea, the castle in our Disney World, the Who Dat to our football game, the caboose in our train.

We have already prophetically declared that you are going to be our easy child, which compared to your brothers is setting the bar pretty low. Zeke will inspire you with his energy, Shepherd will comfort you with his kind words, and Lincoln will do his best to use you as an MMA sparring partner. You are guaranteed lots of laughs, lots of tears, and probably a few good years worth of therapy. If nothing else you will be tough, ready for what the world will throw at you.

Your name is Emmanuelle, which means “God with us.” Your very presence on the earth is a constant reminder of God’s goodness and grace. As a girl, I know that your primary sense of self-worth will come from me as your father. It’s my job to pour worth into you, to tell you that you’re beautiful, you’re a princess, and if any boy tries to mess with you I’ll break his kneecaps. I promise to love you and set the bar so high that no stinky boy will ever come close to meeting your standards. Your mom and I will do more than just promise to love you. We promise to love each other, to fight for our marriage every step of the way, so that growing up you have a beautiful picture of how much God loves us and how much we’re supposed to love each other.

Elle, you have no idea of the wild ride you signed up for when God gave you to our family. We couldn’t be happier. Now please let us sleep through the night. Amen.