So now what? You are utterly free. Because of my grace, there are no demands on you. You may do whatever you wish because the law has no bearing on your salvation. If what I say is true, does that mean you should continue in self-centeredness and pleasure-seeking? Beloved, if you choose to live that way, I will love you no less, but my Spirit will continue the work of changing your affections. As you internalize my message of grace, your motivations will begin to change. You are already moving from self-centered hedonism to other-centered service. Servanthood is the fruit of my love growing in you. Do you want to know how to follow every rule and regulation written in my word? Simple. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.. Love is the fuel that runs my whole kingdom. When you are stuck in self-centered living, do not be surprised when you are the one who loses it all.Galatians 5:13-15
Letters to the Beloved
Do not become obsessed with amassing material wealth. When you spend your life accumulating stuff, it takes the focus from relationships with me and others. All those things you acquire end up falling apart, or they get taken from right under your nose. Then what? These things serve no kingdom purpose. Beloved, invest yourself in something that has lasting significance: love. Loving other people, loving me, loving yourself–these are eternal investments. Valuing things over people will break your heart, but treasuring people is a sure sign of wholeheartedness.Matthew 6:19-21
Letters to the Beloved
Keep the end in view. Practice godliness. Control your passions with the help of my Spirit. Pray fervently for believers and unbelievers alike. Seek to love well. In the world, the concept of love has been diluted. Recapture what it means to love as my Son loves, with seriousness and service. True love wills another’s good, even when they fail you repeatedly. Open your home and your heart without complaint. I have given you so much, but I did not provide so that you could hoard my gifts. I gave lavishly so that you also could share generously and thus glorify me. When the abundance and variety of my gifts are shared freely, it pleases me. When you speak, speak my truth. When you serve, serve in my strength. In doing so, you reflect Jesus and glorify the Trinity.1 Peter 4:7-11
Letters to the Beloved
A few days ago, I shared this on Twitter:
I spent several years training for the culture wars. The Christians I was learning from were clear that secular culture was the enemy. So I trained in logic, apologetics, and worldview studies. I learned the answers to confront the evil out there. Over the past five years, it has become clearer that “my team” also harbored considerable evil. Several of my faith heroes were credibly accused of gross misconduct, which they uniformly denied. I witnessed friends defend evil to protect the church. I profoundly harmed and shunned others on behalf of the church. In 2018, my eyes were opened to my complicity and I couldn’t stay. I wish I could say all has been clear since then, but I remain disoriented. I have been in good churches since then, but the confusion and internal disintegration have continued to have profound effects. I want to be involved in a faith community. And I don’t. What is true is that the evil that I naively believed was “out there” was inside as well. That is partly why I am less interested in the us vs. them approach. The church isn’t exempt. I am not exempt. We’ve all been wrong. So for now, I am trying to do my own work uncertain where it will lead.
To be clear, I know too many outstanding Christians to name. I have seen churches and Christian organizations pull together to do amazing things. For example, my friend Perry is a pastor of a small congregation and also the founder of Touched Twice United, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. My friend Peggy is the founder of Teamwork Africa, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Both of these are amazing organizations. Countless believers have done and continue to do miraculous things around the world. I am grateful for every one of them.
However, over the years, I came to accept ideas that were not necessarily accurate, which were cultivated in the soil of an us versus them mentality. It is hard to say how much my thinking was shaped by those I was listening to and how much was shaped by my own mental life, but the fruit was division and arrogance. If I am honest, I believed Christians were better than non-Christians. The blogs and people I was reading suggested that if gays, liberals, atheists, or Muslims did something that benefitted the greater good, it was inconsistent with their own worldview. I even recall one blogger asking whether someone who was not a Christian could genuinely love others. The culture war mentality prepares soldiers to fight evil, and enemies are required, even if we have to create them.
At the same time my confidence in faith heroes was growing, evidence was accumulating of abusive behaviors among more than a handful of them. I still do not believe that the majority of Christians or Christian leaders are abusive. I do not think that most churches are evil. Still, it became increasingly apparent that many of the thought-leaders who shaped my thinking, both nearer to home and afar, could be harmful. Once I became willing to listen to stories of hurt, I also began to pay attention to my own story and listen to my own questions. I actively started to look for things like goodness, beauty, and peace wherever I could find them. I have also been sensitive to hatred, violence, and divisiveness– in the world, in the church, and in myself. And here’s the thing: the common divisions that many of us accept tend not to be particularly good predictors of goodness or evil, beauty or ugliness, peace or violence.
Having written all of that, I remain confident that many people who love me are concerned about the state of my soul or doubt whether I am a true Christian. The 2011 me would certainly have questioned the eternal security of 2021 me. Still, a large part of my own spiritual journey has involved coming to a place where I am comfortable in my own skin and believe that God’s love is far more expansive than the divisions and categories I previously believed.
I am currently filled with both confusion and clarity. I have wondered if I am experiencing a dark night of the soul. I don’t know my destination, but I am trying to pay attention to where the Spirit leads.
 Some will point out that as Christians, we should not have faith heroes, but in truth all of us have learned about Jesus from someone. Even the apostle Paul said “follow me as I follow Christ.”
 People will point out that I have often been critical of certain ideas and people. Granted. In some cases, I have acted in the very ways that I have tried to dispute. At the same time, I believe one of our tasks as humans is to speak out against divisiveness and hatred, which perhaps is divisive in and of itself.
 Yes, please pray for me, but also sincerely pray that if your understanding is wrong that the Spirit may reveal truth to you.
What then is essential? Your purpose is love, pure and simple. Bind yourself to my Son, follow his ways, and live with integrity. Keep love as your goal. When you find yourself wandering away from love, come back again. Be cautious about chasing theological rabbit trails; too often, the motivation is pride. You use theological knowledge to make yourself appear better than others. Instead, remember who you are and who I have called you to be–a vessel of my love.1 Timothy 1:5-6
Letters to the Beloved
Letters to the Beloved is available on Amazon.
“If I had not come and showed them the Father and the Messiah’s identity, they would have remained ignorant, but I have shown them, and still, they hate me. They have no excuse for their hatred now. Those who hate me hate the Father. I performed many works before them, things no one else can do, and even so, they reject me, revealing their hatred for the Father and me. Their rejection was also prophesied by the psalmist who wrote, ‘They hated me for no reason.'”
People do not want to accept the way of Christ, preferring religion built around performance, power, and position. My Son’s extravagant grace reflects my character, and still, they hate him. When you proclaim a message of love and belonging, you too will be a threat to the status quo. Many will brand you as a heretic and outside the pale of orthodox belief, but love is true holiness.
-John 15:22-25, Letters to the Beloved
Hear me: Love your enemies, even those who make your blood boil. Let love show up in your actions. Treat others well and do good for them. Bless those who are cursing you and want to see you hurt. Pray for the hearts of abusers. These people will do everything they can to steal your joy. Do not let them. Bring them to me in prayer. Release you negativity and do not give hatred a place in your heart. Bitterness will damage you far more deeply than your enemy ever could.Luke 6:27-28
Letters to the Beloved
“By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”-John 13:35
John 13:35 is a continuation of verse 34. Francis Schaeffer wrote some of the most remarkable pages about these two verses in The Mark of the Christian (1970). Following Jesus, Schaeffer said that how we carry out Jesus’s commandment is the key criterion by which the world may know what Christianity is all about.
We often assume that people determine the truth of the faith based upon well-reasoned apologetics, culturally relevant messages, or excellent facilities. We stress secondary issues, and we miss the main point.
These other considerations are not unimportant, but they are not ultimate. What if our principal focus was on the reality that every person desires to be loved and accepted?
Jesus told his disciples, “Look…you have seen how I have lived my life. I have loved the unlovable. I have healed the broken. I have crossed cultural lines, even with those most people consider morally deplorable, including some of you. I have sought to serve rather than be served. I want you to do likewise, and when people see my love through you, walls will come down.”
Love defines my essence, and I want it to represent you too. My followers often do well loving people who look, think, and live as they do; however, they ignore, criticize, and attack those who are different. Conservatives attack liberals, Christians dishonor Muslims, and pro-choice advocates smear pro-life groups. Every single day, my image bearers treat one another with contempt. Listen, hatred is evil. Love those who live differently than you do. Even if others continue to lie about you, attack you, or seek to tear you down, pray for them. You know that I am love, and if you are indeed my child, love defines you too. Do you not know that I made the sunshine and rain for everyone and not just for those who think like you?
Matthew 5:43-45, Letters to the Beloved
In 1980, Isaac Asimov wrote, “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” Remarkably, he said this before the onset of social media. His quote is perhaps truer today than ever. Every day, outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are seemingly overrun with examples of misinformation and rampant, ungrounded opinions. If one has a feeling about the way something is, they are free to express their opinion freely and loudly. Indeed, with billions of interconnected voices on the planet, we can even provide support for our opinions by citing experts whose viewpoints reflect our own, even when the overwhelming majority of experts disagree.
Assuredly, the advent of the 24 hour news cycle, which coincidentally began in 1980 with CNN, has also fostered a culture wherein opinions are widespread and facts often get lost in the chaos. In a similar way to the availability of supposed expert opinions, we now have numerous options for getting our “news,” which has sadly become less about the reporting of facts than about propaganda.
In addition to the nearly complete penetrance of social media and the unrelenting cacophony of propaganda presented as news, some of the shifts in education have not served us well. The self-esteem movement, for all of the good it has done, has also gone wrong in many ways. It has moved beyond helping people to understand their unique value to overvaluing of one’s own opinions. I recall reading in D.A. Carson’s The Intolerance of Tolerance that this elevation of opinion was even finding its way into math classes where students were not corrected for making mistakes even in simple calculations.
These seeds take root. We learn from an early age that every person’s opinion is as valid as everyone else’s, but then we confuse opinion with fact. Social media then provides a platform for every person who wishes to share whatever they want and, because of the proliferation of the 24 hour news cycle and self-professed experts who conflate opinion and fact, anyone can provide evidences for their pet positions. This ends up providing fertile ground for animosity and division.
So what then is the answer? Let me suggest a few things. First, I think we as a nation would benefit from a large infusion of humility. Unfortunately, we don’t have many visible models for humility because our society does not value it and truly humble people are often in the background. Listen, it is perfectly okay to admit that we do not possess all of the answers on everything. Not only do we not need to be “experts” on everything, in humility, we are free to acknowledge that we actually are not experts. There are experts out there, but in most cases, it isn’t you or me. I have frequently encouraged people and myself foremost, to ask “Is it possible I am wrong?” Let’s not start from a position that asks is it possible if the other person is wrong, but begin with ourselves. Another unfortunate trend in the last several decades has been a lack of training in logic and critical thinking. We are unable to look at information critically and accurately, assessing strengths and weaknesses of the arguments that are presented. Too often, we accept as true the loudest opinions, not the ones that are the most well reasoned. Routinely, we overvalue our own perceived reasoning abilities, believing we are immune from manipulation. But here’s the thing: You are not immune to propaganda. Neither am I. The multi-billion dollar advertising industry counts on it.
Second, before you click “share” on something, ask yourself “is it true?” Many of the provocative memes and “news stories” that make the rounds on Facebook have no basis in truth, but again, with flashy words and tantalizing pictures, we believe them. If you feel compelled to share something, do a little leg work first. But let’s not stop with the question “is it true?” Let us also ask is it good and beautiful. Too many of the things we are exposed to every day and too many of the things we share add to the ugliness. Each of us has the opportunity to be light bringers. Let’s not spread darkness.
Third, develop humble curiosity. Become a listener. Seek to understand the viewpoints of others. Too often our interactions, and especially those that happen online, are characterized by an against mindset. We view those who hold alternative viewpoints as our enemies though we may not use that word. As a nation, it seems we are increasingly divided. We do not seek to understand; we look for people to blame, a perspective that has increasingly characterized our major influencers–news agencies, politicians, public figures, and even pastors. Sadly, these models give us implicit permission to be divisive. When we constantly hear accusatory messages, we come to believe that a) there is definitely someone to blame and, b) it isn’t us. What would change if there was a movement to develop a with mindset instead? From a with mindset, we do not view others as our enemies, but as fellow citizens of the planet. Larry Crabb wrote, “we are people of radical worth and largely unrevealed beauty.” Every one of us. Do our interactions, even with those with whom we disagree seek to reveal beauty and worth? Let’s stop looking for people to fight and instead look for people to love. Sometimes, I think that we forget that our battle isn’t against people, but against evil and divisiveness (see Ephesians 6:12). When there is continued misunderstanding, perhaps ongoing dialog is appropriate, but I think it would be beneficial to engage in “mutual inquiry” and not “debate,” a suggestion I heard from the late Dallas Willard. The difference in language may seem subtle, but I think it does change perspective. Admittedly, social media is rarely the place for such truth seeking, but sometimes, we can dialog together respectfully, patiently, and lovingly. Otherwise, it may be best to offer our peace and disengage with grace.