Self-Righteous Scheming…for God!

I was talking with a friend and coworker yesterday morning about Jesus’ interactions with  people, particularly in the first several chapters of Mark’s Gospel.

In Mark 3:1-2, Jesus is in the synagogue and in walks a man with a deformed hand. Mark records that “they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.” They are the Pharisees. Pharisees are easy targets for us in the 21st century because that’s who Jesus got after.

The not-so-obvious irony in wanting to join Jesus in this crusade against self-righteous legalists who impose slavish expectations on people is that we, yes we, are all too often the self-righteous. As Andy Stanley said recently, “The self-righteous are rarely self-aware.” I am not really concerned what you think about Andy; the statement is true. If you disagree you’re just proving the point.

But what my colleague and I discussed was the fact that the Pharisees watched Jesus, not to discern what the Lord might be doing in Him or through Him, but to accuse Him. They were, in pious posture, rooting for Jesus to fail, to trip up, to finally fulfill the expectations they’d had for Him all along so that they might, well, win. Self-righteous people want to win. They have to win.

And if we aren’t self-aware we too will keep tabs on people in hopes they’ll fall. We will want to have our suspicions confirmed rather than work for the good of the person(s) and others around us.

Down in verse 5, Jesus is both angry and grieved by their hardness of heart. Jesus sees straight through them, into their shadowy hearts where  the light of grace has yet to take up residence. And the Pharisees go out to the Herodians in hopes of finding someone to agree with them.

When you find yourself looking for accomplices in your self-righteous scheming, you’re one step away from shouting, “Crucify Him!” All under the guise of righteous motivation.

Children’s Songs for the Childish Christian

If you’ve grown up in or around church, you’ve learned the same songs over the years…

“Jesus Loves Me”…really? Me?

“This Little Light of Mine”…should it shine, like, all the time? Can I hide it ever?

“Jesus Loves the Little Children”…which ones? ALL the children of the world.

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”…still? Yep. 

It turns out I have the hardest time believing and living out the songs deemed most suitable for children.  I fundamentally believe Jesus forgives me, but loves me is a different story. I know my light should shine, but how often I put it under that danged bushel or let Satan blow it out. Jesus loves all the children of the world, but I struggle with some of the folks around me.

Then there’s the mother of all kids sing-a-longs…God has the whole wide world in His hands. He does. I know that. But over the last 10 years I haven’t lived like it. I’ve tried to control. I’ve manipulated situations to ensure they turn out the best for me. I’ve tried to play the role of Geppetto the puppeteer in my attempts to steer others in a favorable way. It’s quite childish.

Yet every time I try to hold the world in my hands, I’m riddled with anxiety, fear, and a palpable sense of inadequacy. Turns out I make a horrible Sovereign. My hands aren’t big enough…which is true literally as well–I have smallish hands.

The prophet Isaiah reminds me that I’ll never be up to the task: Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand or marked off the heavens with the span of his hand? Who has gathered the dust of the earth in a measure or weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in the scales? Isaiah 40:12, HCSB.  Answer: Not I.

God has been so gracious reveal to me that I know way more than I believe and believe way more than I live. So I’m learning to believe and live the songs I’m singing with my kids. And with #4 on the way, I have a lot more late night concerts to come….

Good vs. Great — The Toughest Battle

Business strategist and author Jim Collins wrote in his book Good to Great that “good is the enemy of great.” In short it means the majority settle for what’s good instead of striving for what’s great or what’s best. 

Instinctively we know that’s true because a lot of us have done some good things. But there’s an aching to do something great. 

Yet here many of us sit, reading the blogs of those who’ve done great things, scrolling through tweets of those who’ve done great things, listening to their podcasts, and fantasizing away most days–about doing great things, of course. 

John Piper is one of the guys in the world I admire. Some theological differences aside, I can’t discount his contribution to the world of pastoral ministry and pastoral training. Beyond that, he is a man of simple means and steadfast single-mindedness. This is what pastor John wrote about the good and great tension:

            “The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing.” 

Not surprisingly, that quote comes from Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. Don’t waste your life with a bunch of goods and okays and acceptables. The point is not to say that you can only do one thing your whole life or have a sole interest like Dr. Frankenstein.

Rather, the point is to say, if you are mastered by an unending devotion to carry out God’s will no matter the kickback or obstacles, then you’ll make a durable difference in the world. That doesn’t mean you’ll be invited to speak at a conference or get a book deal (it’s possible), but it does mean you will influence and inspire those in your circles of influence. 

And what that person who inspires you has done for you, you may well do for others. It could be for co-workers, for your children, grandchildren, church members, who knows…

But be mastered by the most important thing, by a sensitivity and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit’s leading. That will serve you and God’s kingdom no matter the endeavor you choose. Nothing will count more in the end beyond the blood of Jesus than whether the Lord is able to say to you, “I spoke. You obeyed. Well done.” 

The Destination vs. The Path

Moses has been brought to life by the rifle-wielding Charlton Heston and shape-shifting Christian Bale. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen either movie–the 10 Commandments or Exodus: Gods and Kings.

But I’ve read the script.

As I was reading this morning in Numbers 20 and 27, I felt that “Hey, you should pay attention, Patrick” nudge. In Numbers 20 the Israelites are once again grumbling, complaining, mumbling…it was incessant.

They were frustrated with how this whole exodus things was going. And they were thirsty. Flash back to Exodus 17 when the Israelites were grumbling, complaining, murmuring and God told Moses to strike a rock with his staff, and VOILA, water.

Back to Numbers 20. God tells Moses to get water from a rock again, only this time he was to ‘tell’ the water to come forth from the rock, not strike the rock. Moses hit the rock twice and water gushed forth.

  1. Moses was supposed to speak to the rock. He was disobedient.
  2. Water still came from the rock. Why? I’m not sure, but I presume because Moses was God’s appointed man, and He knew these persnickety people would eat Moses alive if they watched as he failed.

Hey, at least the people got water, right? Well done, Moses.

But God watches this and decides that rather than commendation, Moses and Aaron will receive consequence. Death. They did not believe in God or uphold Him as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel (Num 20:12).  The two guys who have led the people over these decades and entertained their barrage of complaints and fallen down before the Lord to plead on their behalves, well, no Promised Land for you.

Take Heed: It is possible to do a good thing, a helpful thing, a productive thing, a newsworthy thing…in an unfaithful manner.

From the vantage point of the people the goal had been achieved–water! Mission accomplished.

From the vantage point of God, unfaithful means are unfaithful no matter the outcome. The means, in the economy of God, are more important than the outcome. Faithfulness along the way is more important than the destination

Our minds conjure up so many dreams and goals and such, especially the minds of a group of folks sitting around a table–be it a board or group of elders. How often I’ve heard of a decision to pursue this or that goal/agenda and thought, whose vision is that exactly? Of course it’s unarguable since it’s given a stamp of divine approval. 

But for all our conquests in the name of God, we must be clear that it is not by any means possible that these plans be carried out. There may be moments, and should be moments, in which leaders say, “Wait, are we certain this is God’s plan?” or even “We confess, this was far more a human agenda than a holy agenda.” 

I have to be cautious not to take the Lord’s name in vain by setting out to reach a destination devoid of faithful journeying. After all, how would the people I’m leading know? For all Israel knew Moses was doing exactly as God had instructed. But whether it was Moses’ emotions that got the best of him or his ambition, he didn’t heed the voice of God. 

Is there any area or venture in which you’re striving towards a goal or have a plan that may need some reworking according to what God is speaking to you?

“Do not fear. Be of good courage” is a refrain throughout Exodus and Numbers. Rest assured knowing that the outcome of a faithful pathway will please God. It may not seem as glorious to other people (like seeing you hit a rock and water come gushing out), but you’ll know you were faithful to God. 

Why I Deactivated Twitter

Because I’m so super spiritual, and I’m cutting out anything that might distract me from the all supreme purpose of glorifying God in the stratosphere of His immensity and indesribableness!!!!

(not sure who made this pic, but it’s superb)

Ok, just the opposite. And I made up indesribableness.

It’s really because Twitter makes my spirit struggle.

I’m a dreamer, as I’ve mentioned. With that comes a predisposition toward living vicariously–and ultimately, enviously–through the lives of others.

For me it tends to be other pastors. I see their successes and triumphs and how much they “LOVE their church” and “can’t believe they get paid to do this” and it takes me to places in my mind that don’t actually exist.

After 10 years of battling chronic, oppressive discontentment, I’m tired of playing the comparison game and asking 1,000 what ifs and on and on and on. It’s exhausting. It makes those closest to me exhausted.

I think about how many times I tweeted something that sounded so insightful and godly, all the while I was in a horrible place. Why? Because I had to have something for someone to like or retweet. I needed to keep up with the Joneses of the Twitterverse…only they aren’t Joneses. They’re Pipers, Chandlers, Giglios, Stanleys, Acuffs, etc. The Hebrews 11 of Evangelical Who’s Who.

So I kissed Twitter goodbye for Lent and probably for longer. At least until I’m mature enough in Christ to not need the adulation of cyber congregants.

Perhaps there’s something in your life that’s more of a distraction and deterrent to Spiritual maturity than anything else.

Happy Birthday to My Beloved




You are a joy in spite of having been pregnant for the last five years. I can’t even imagine the struggle you’ve put your body and emotions through. I know it has a mental effect because milk doesn’t go in the pantry. You’ve excelled at being mom. I go back and look at the pictures that mark our journey over the last 9 years and am blown away to see how you’ve become more beautiful inside and out….and when I say beautiful on the outside I’m talking hot, caliente, en fuego! (I’d put a chili pepper emoji here). Inside of course, it’s your love for the Lord and His kingdom that has grown and blossomed that has made all the difference.

Marriage is a sanctifying force unlike any other, and we’re both closer to the image of Christ because of it. He’s used you to reveal where I’ve tried to shut the Spirit out. He’s used you to make me a better preacher, teacher, pastor, and friend. You challenge me when others are silent, and it’s so sweet to my soul. Somehow I’ve come home everyday and you haven’t thrown all of my stuff in the yard, which is miraculous considering how many times I’ve been a jerk and antagonist and just flat out selfish.

Here we are on this amazing road together, part of one another’s story in the most beautiful of ways. We could never or would have never written it the way it’s gone. It’s scary to think how much easier of a story we would’ve chosen to write, but how much less fun would it have been to read?

I know people hear us talk sometimes and must think, “Why’d they have all these kids if they drive ’em crazy all the time?” To which we say, ” Come into our home and experience the cyclone of emotion that is 4.5, 3, and 1.5 + third trimester pregnant. We have some tough moments. But we love the madness. And while you’re at it, keep your judgment to yourself.” Yes, we say all that.

You do you, babe. Because there’s only one of you and you’re the only one I want. Have some of those Snickers bites and pound some decaf caramel frappes and get your nails done and binge on some Grey’s Anatomy (it’s not real, just a reminder). Here’s to you and us–growing older, earning wrinkles, wondering how we’ll survive at times, wishing we knew where Caroline is hiding all the caps to the markers, a dirty van, lots of ‘for the loves’, and a general sense of desperation. Life with you is incredible. Happy 33.



Our newest snow bunny