Is Hitting Back “Twice as Hard” Really the Way to Win?

Is the way of Machiavelli more effective than the way of Jesus?

Donald Trump Machiavelli Jesus-900If leaders treat people with contempt, insulting and belittling them, and violating their dignity, can it ultimately serve their best interest? Can it best serve the people who follow him or her? Can leaders hit others back hard and win both power and the hearts of the people?

Donald Trump lives by the advice he dispensed in his best-selling business book The Art of the Deal: “Fight Back–always hit back against critics and adversaries, even if it looks bad.” He has run his campaign under the banner of “You hit me, I hit you back twice as hard.”

For example, back in August, at the first Presidential debate, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked Donald Trump some pointed questions about the way he treated women. What many (most?) journalists considered a fair question Trump considered unfair and hit back hard with an unrelenting stream of negative tweets against Kelly. In January, when Fox refused to remove Kelly from moderating the Iowa debate, he dropped out and held a competing event.

On January 27th Fox News journalist Bill O’Reilly challenged Donald Trump to move past the exchange and rejoin the debate broadcast.

BILL O’REILLY: In your Christian faith, there is a very significant tenet and that’s the tenet of forgiveness. I think you should forgive not only journalists who come at you in ways you don’t like, but I think you should be a bigger man and say, you know what? I didn’t like it and you should make that case all day long. But, I’m not going to take any action against it. You know, don’t you think that’s the right thing to do?
DONALD TRUMP: It probably is. But, you know it’s called an eye for an eye I guess also. You can look at it that way.
O’REILLY: No, no, no, no. That’s Old Testament. If you’re the Christian, the eye for the eye rule goes out. Here’s what it is: turning the other cheek (taps his cheek).
TRUMP: You’re taking this much more seriously than I am. I’m not taking it seriously.

The Post-Easter Challenge: What do we do now?

My publisher, Crossway Books, has given me a beautiful book of the Masonite drawings by Robert Doares picturing the life of Christ, Immanuel, God with Us. The originals hung in the Billy Graham Center Museum at Wheaton College, wide-angle compositions and sweeping vistas fifteen inches high and four feet across.

Doares Great Comission

Before and after Easter, I lay the book out on my entry hall table, turning a page each day and letting the pictures take my imagination across two millennia, back to Jerusalem and Galilee.

In one of the final double-spread pictures, several paths converge on the top of a small mountain in Galilee. From the artist’s helicopter view, a lofty cloudbank rises toward the northwest where the gospel would spread (too wide to be included in this picture).

A small robed figure thrusts one arm toward those distant lands, directing the gaze of eleven men seated in a half circle before him. The Scripture underneath the picture is Christ’s commission to go out and invite others to follow him (Matt. 28:19-20).

As I walked by the table yesterday, I looked at that tiny group sitting in the curve of a path across a broad stony terrace in the sweeping landscape. The sheer measure of Jesus’ invitation stopped me cold. Eleven men are invited to change…everything?

All those miles and miles and city after city? How do you imagine a church? How you imagine missions? How do you take what Christ said and did and roll it out to a world that has never heard of Jesus of Nazareth, or the God of Abraham, or a church?

United: Getting Over Our Differences

eg_shopicon_36Everyone interested in the Republican presidential primary hopes that at some point we can pull together. But at this point, it’s getting harder and harder to see how that will happen.

The challenge to resolve deep differences tears up families, churches and workplaces as well as political parties. The differences can feel as visceral as a punch in the gut.

For example, when Ben Carson, whom I respect so much, endorsed Donald Trump for president, I joined millions of evangelicals in a collective gasp.

eg_shopicon_36I called a friend of mine who has worked in support of his candidacy. “What has Dr. Carson done?” I moaned. “What?” she replied, “I haven’t heard.” “He’s endorsed Trump.” I informed her, “I feel like the world is tilting on its axis. How can this be?” She moaned with me.

When it comes to faith and politics, we wrap our opinions in heavy blankets of emotion. Beginning with our very first perception of any person, especially a political candidate, we’re not just taking in a scene.

Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous. We see something and immediately evaluate it and enfold it into an emotional response.

When You’re Feeling Stressed about This Election

cracked-ground-913-580“Why are you concerned about this presidential primary?” I ask.

“Because,” a friend said over dinner, “someone I don’t trust may gain control of our military might, our nuclear codes–someone who seems easily offended and vengeful.”

“Because,” another said, “I’m afraid I’m losing my homeland. It’s changing right under my feet.”

“I wonder,” said another, “what are people thinking?! They don’t appear to care about issues and substance. They seem charmed by the personality of a Pied Piper.”

It’s getting harder and harder to govern America by politics. The interests of different groups are getting further apart. As political compromise and deal-making breaks down, gridlock sets in. Anger boils.

David Brooks reminds us that, historically, when politics breaks down, the other alternative is a dictator. People give up on politics and look to a perceived strongman to fix the mess.

The strongman promises what he can never realistically deliver, which sets people up for more frustration and anger…

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats)

Yesterday I was speaking to another friend who confided that it was getting to the point where she didn’t even want to let her thoughts go to the state of our nation or the coming election.

How can we not feel threatened, frustrated, distraught…?

I was feeling the same occasional spasms of dread in this wild ride of an election process. Then Sunday two things happened:

Following Jesus: What Really Shapes Our Decision and Desire?

Is it a question of God empowering our reason and will, or is something more fundamental at work?

Godsight labelYou are praying for your children/siblings/spouse and suddenly you find yourself no longer praying but “writing the book” on how their challenges will sweep them away. The book ends in court or the hospital or the cemetery. Your stomach knots up. Will you give way to fear?

How do you picture that decision-making process between choosing fear or choosing to trust Jesus? Do you see it as I have often seen it—a daily taffy-pull between what our hearts fear here and what God promises over there? Between what the culture rewards over here and what God wants over there, leaving our souls feeling thin and stringy in the middle?

If you’re like me you’ve been taught to view our decisions to love and follow Jesus in three stages:
We perceive a threat: I may lose my job, my husband, or in today’s culture, my child. Our candidate may not win. America will go in the wrong direction. We face a choice: Will we give way to fear?
We perceive a temptation: More time dialed in to our phones. Eating fat instead of healthy. An attraction to someone besides our spouse. Will we indulge our desires?
I submit what I perceive to logical reflection. Will my desire/choice honor the Lord Jesus? Does it line up with Scripture? Is it loving to others? Will it help me move toward the long-term joy Jesus has for me?
Life is a contest between a torrent of sinful desire and the way of God. My heart wants this, but my will chooses that. On a good day, my will is stronger than my sinful desires. But not always. (See Romans 7 (“what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”)

We focus and teach our kids so much about surrendering our will to Jesus. Logically processing our decisions through the grid of God’s Word.

But what if our battle is not primarily fought at the level of our will, or even our reason? What if our greatest battle is fought at the level of our perception?

Mad as hell…or mad as heaven?

Getting mad like Jesus did.

It feels like we are living in the 1976 award-winning film Network. I feel surrounded by people throwing open their windows, leaning out and yelling, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  (Caution for a bit of R-rated language in the clip)

Although the movie came out forty years ago in the midst of gas lines, recession and spiraling inflation, it feels even more relevant today, when we are living more from emotions than ever before.

People want good jobs–meaningful work that leaves them time for life with their families, churches and communities. We want health care premiums that don’t break the bank. Safety from terrorists. We want institutions–government, schools and businesses–that hear our voices and respond to our needs. In this political season the candidates cast a vision of the way the future could be, stirring and heating up our desires to a fever pitch. That is their job. It’s our job to keep our eyes on Jesus. Get mad like he gets mad.

We want, we want, we want…we have so many desires–the soil out of which our expectations grow. Unfulfilled, they can set us up for disappointment and anger. How should we deal with them?

Managing Our 2016 expectations

Back in the saddle of weekly activities,  2016 is already barreling along, the stock market and the weather jerking around like a bull in the Houston Rodeo. (Or…maybe that should be a bear?)

bull rider

Whether we write down our goals and vision for the year ahead or not, we all have this picture of the way we’d like things to be. And then life happens. Here are some reminders to think about, pray about, as we try to live on purpose when life starts bucking around:

We hold our expectations with open, God-trusting hands. Like Nehemiah, we may long to see certain outcomes and ready strategic plans for the moment when doors of opportunity swing open, but our God is a God of shock and awe, disruptions and surprises.

He fulfills his promise to be Emmanuel, God with us, by means of the incarnation and a virgin birth. He fulfills his promise to deliver us from sin and death by means of crucifixion. If we weren’t so used to it we would find it utterly amazing. God thinks and acts completely out of the box.

As I look back over the last twelve months of my own life I see so many totally unexpected, disrupting developments: two deaths and a cancer diagnosis on the parent front, five last-minute plane tickets, stepping into the vacated leadership of women’s ministries at our church, surgery avoided and several as-good-as-winning-on-Jeopardy! gifts.

When we look back over the last twelve months in our culture, we see the threat of ISIS, the rise of Trump, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the exposure of Ashley Madison and Planned Parenthood, and in my own state of South Carolina, heart-breaking flooding and church shootings.

All of which reminds us that our strategic plans rest on a sure, but unpredictable foundation: “If the Lord wills.” Control is in the hands of a God who is always, always doing something new, far beyond our imagining, even (especially) n the midst of tragedy.

Did Gabriel sugarcoat the truth to Mary? The beauty of how God deals with us

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Annunciation by Ossawa Tanner, The Philadelphia Museum of Art

I’ve often wondered if Mary was disappointed with God. It’s clear from the way she sings her famous Magnificat that her buoyant expectations do not match the unfolding reality of life as Jesus’ mother. Face to face with Mary, Gabriel made some astonishing promises. Did God deliver?

How Change Happens

Guest Post from Sue Bohlin, Probe Ministries

Today’s post is by my friend Sue Bohlin, a speaker with Probe Ministries who has long worked with ministries to the LGBT community.

close up of a butterfly

On my 2010 trip to Australia, one of the topics I was asked to address at a conference featuring a redemptive view of homosexuality was “Is Change Possible?” This is a controversial question because there are some loud, insistent voices in the culture who say, “Unless you never again have a homosexual thought or feeling, you haven’t changed. And since no one admits to that, any claim of change is an illusion.”

No one would apply that strict a standard to any other issue! Former alcoholics living sober and free from the chaos of their drinking for decades still would like a cold beer on a hot day, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t changed!

Is change possible? Change is part of life! But transformation is also part of what it means to be a Christ-follower. Understanding how change happens, on the other hand, is another matter. So I have been thinking about the process for a long time as I prepared for my message.

Gun to Your Head. “Are you a Christian?” What would you say?

We can never know how we would respond to the ultimate threat. But a thoughtful heart check sheds light on what we treasure most.

Pray for RoseburgWhile our choices matter to God, he tells us our motives matter even more. God is always looking at our hearts.

Thinking of what I would say to a shooter pointing a gun at my head was not nearly as revealing for me as pondering why I would say it. As you read these wildly different responses from the candid crew over on Reddit how does it clarify your motives?

Captive the Movie: WOW

A serial killer and his hostage grapple with God's purpose in their crashing lives

On March 11, 2005 the Atlanta police locked the city down in a massive manhunt for Brian Nichols, an escaped convict who had bludgeoned his police escort, burst into the courtroom, murdered his judge and, before the day was over, gunned down three others.

Across town a meth addict widow, Ashley Smith, makes yet another promise to her recovery group and her daughter that she will show up clean. Hours later she holds a packet of crystal meth over the toilet…then rolls up a dollar bill and inhales it.

Of all the women Nichols could have captured that that day and forced to hide him, he chose Ashley. Of all the books Ashley could have been reading, the one on her kitchen table was Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

“Read it to me,” Brian orders. The words change both their lives.

Is the Gospel Mainly about Going to Heaven?

New jerusalem JPGWith this week’s release of the movie 90 Minutes in Heaven, heaven is all over social media and the news. I’ll review the movie Tuesday, but today I want to ask you a more important question: Do you think that the “main point” of the Bible and salvation is escaping hell and going to heaven?

I grew up with the Wordless Book—one page black for sin, one red for Christ’s blood, one white for being cleansed of sin, one gold for going to heaven, one green for growing. It is a strategy often used in children’s ministry to explain the salvation message. It has no doubt been helpful to bring many to Christ.

But I think in my own life that gospel message and the children’s ministry I was a part of nurtured a “Salvation is a ticket to heaven” mentality. The main thing was to get rid of my sin, escape hell and get to heaven. I think there were some adults in my life who were trying to cast a vision of being reconciled to God so I could know him, so I could love and enjoy him more. But all the heaven talk kind of drowned it out.

Being a Christian became primarily about the destination, and then learning God’s word, and then obeying– black, red, white, gold and green. And somewhere after that, the relationship and intimacy. Anyone else growing up in a Christian home or church have that experience?

When I was twenty-nine I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. As I tried to live in a world of shattered dreams, chronic pain and limited mobility I lived`more and more from duty and resignation. In his mercy, God met me right where I was, as he always does, and drew me into the intimacy and joy that I was missing. I chronicled that journey in my book Godsight: Renewing the Eyes of Our Heart.

I discovered that there was a name for what I had experienced: “Destination Theology.” I decided to re-read the book of Acts with careful attention to the way Jesus’ disciples presented the gospel. What I found there surprised me.

Three Reasons Why Thinkers Should Feel more

thinker to feelerAre you a thinker or a feeler? If you’re a thinker like me, is growing into more of a feeler something you might want to be more intentional about? If you’re a feeler, how might you inspire a thinker to grow into more of a feeler? Or is that something we can change?

Before we go any further, what does it means to be a thinker? According to the Myers Briggs gold standard of personality testing…you know you’re a thinker if, when it comes to decision making,…

…you make decisions with your head and want to be fair.
…you like to find the basic truth or principle to be applied, regardless of the specific situation involved.
…you like to analyze pros and cons, and then be consistent and logical in deciding, not letting personal feelings get in the way.

You know you’re a feeler if…

The World’s Almost* Best Advice on the Rest of Your Life. No kidding.

Welcome to in this, the official launch week of my Faith and Culture: Live wisely │Love well website. Here you’ll find original weekly posts from a Christian worldview on any topic that helps us  thrive in today’s culture with a confident faith. I also scatter jewels of resources you may not find in Facebook memes.

axstj-successdsc_0808-1013-6142This week’s diamond is the June 2015 Dartmouth University Commencement address from my favorite comic sociologist and New York Times op-ed writer, David Brooks.

You’ll want to invite every 20-30 something you know to listen. You’ll glean great insight into the secrets of success and course corrections for your road ahead. Here’s a Fb Timeline-worthy Ivy Leage speech for all our friends that makes the extraordinary case, with wry humor and standing on reams of research, that what we really need is…steadfast love.

Not just Taylor-Swift good feelings, but love that sends down roots of commitment.  And the moral character that can keep it. The path to exploring your freedom and keeping your options endlessly open is “a path to a frazzled, scattered life in which you try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one.”

Back to School, Back to Work: How you can find more joy in work than play


We live in a culture where work is a means to leisure time. Where on Thursday the radio DJ starts celebrating the fact that it’s “Friday-Eve.” But what if God intends us to work…and enjoy it?

Just think: God could have created you as a pleasure machine. He could have created a world, even before the fall, where Adam and Eve did not have to work to tend the garden. (Yes, work came before the fall.)

He could have given us bodies that didn’t get soft from lack of movement. With appetites barely felt. Where we could take endless pleasure in swimming all day every day. Or playing harps. Or video games. Or hanging out on social media. Or watching movies. Or simply sitting in his presence.

But God decided to make you in his image. And God is not a God who takes his greatest joy in leisure. God is a working God. He takes his greatest joy in work. Good work. Always doing something deep and new.

As summer vacation fades in our rear view mirror, and we head back to school and work, these truths will build our anticipation and increase our joy:

When Friends Frustrate Us: A Bonhoeffer alternative to criticizing or withdrawing

My Or Your Way Keys Showing Conflict Or Disagreement

How do you respond when people frustrate you? When their vision is smaller, their personalities grate, their pride annoys, their fears quash progress? Our culture nurtures a critical spirit. Social media affords more opportunities (and reinforcement) to vent and complain than ever.

German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew how to speak truth to people in the wrong and how to give grace when the relational issue was more a matter of personality or preference. As the Lutheran Church of Martin Luther fell under the spell of Adolph Hitler, he boldly joined the dissenting “Confessing Church,” becoming one of Hitler’s earliest and staunchest critics. (In Part 2 of this post I’ll review Bonhoeffer’s challenge, “When Politicians Fail Us.”)

But first, the personal challenge. Bonhoeffer’s commitment to speaking truth was tempered by great love. In his book, Life Together, he challenges our Western penchant for radical individualism, even (especially) in the church, and shows us, better than anyone I’ve ever read, how to forbear others who offend and try our patience. How to see and honor the image of God in each person.

Surprised by Majesty: How a Navy Honor Guard reveals what’s missing in our casual lives

Dad's funeral honor guard1

We arrive at my Dad’s graveside service and park behind the hearse. Even though we had asked for an honor guard, the sailor and Naval officer standing watch over his flag-draped coffin surprise me. While we welcome family and friends they face each other with unflinching gazes–all dress whites, gold buttons, epaulets and gloves.

The Guard’s gravity gradually pulls us into its orbit. In perfect synchronization they tuck under the ends of the flag. About a hundred feet away a sailor lifts his bugle and begins to play. The sailor and officer posted at the casket offer a slow-motion, final salute.

Dad is gone: What We Need to Let Go of the People We Love

My Dad died last night. Mom was on her way over to see him in his memory care facility, but Jesus, who holds “the keys to death and Hades,” slipped the key in the lock and opened the door.

Dad young and old

Today Dad is in heaven. And we are getting washed around by alternate waves of grief and urgency–to make plans and respond to family and praying friends. I’m a words girl and your words of sympathy and tenderness are washing over my soul. Comforting me. Encouraging me. Thank you.

Yesterday evening I was on the front row of a political forum, listening to Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal tell his story of how he found Christ (or Christ found him, and wow! he was impressive, more later) when I got the call.

Media vita in morte sumus. In the midst of life we are in death. The ultimate disruption.

Dad’s life has been severely disrupted by the deepening onset of Lewey-Body Dementia and Parkinsons. He fell and broke his hip in the summer of 2011. He has spent the last four years in that place where none of us want to be–losing his brilliant mind and his independence, living in a wheelchair. He did not go quietly into that good night. He hated the limitations of both.

What It takes to move people from here to there

Gate Gothic Fantasy Background

(“Best of” blog) This post was written when we moved from Houston, to Columbia, South Carolina almost five years ago. We are still delighted to be in our new church family and home. The lessons in how we can see a new hope and a future and move people there and keep them inspired are still fresh.

After months of transition, job search, selling a home, finding a home, a month of living with delightful, incredibly generous friends while we wait for the new home sale to close, we have finally, actually, irrevocably MOVED. What seemed so daunting and risky and unknown has become, step by step, reality. Actually, God is in the business of moving us all from HERE to THERE. And as Bill Hybels pointed out at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit last week: the essence of leadership is to lead people from HERE, the current reality, to THERE, the much preferred future.

Five ways to have a richer, more joyful vacation

DSC00260Vacation offers the possibility that, for at least a week or two, it really *can* be “all about me.” Relax and indulge in what we want to do when we want to do it.

But, if we were to pursue a vacation with Jesus at the center, might we actually find more joy? What would it look like? Here are five ways you can have a richer, more joyful vacation:

Plan and Pray

Part of the fun of vacation is planning what to do. Even letting the kids help pick out places to see and things to do. It ramps up everyone’s expectations and anticipation of the fun to come.