Men Forcing Women to Do What they Say – the modern evil of the Billy Graham Rule

When Billy Graham was on the evangelism circuit he was one of the most popular preachers in the United States, and known throughout the world for his multi-day events with gospel-soaked music, celebrity testimonies of faith and his nightly sermons calling people to Jesus.

He learned early on that such a life was fraught with dangerous temptations. As Mr Graham wrote in his autobiography:

The second item on the list was the danger of sexual immorality. We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife. We determined that the Apostle Paul’s mandate to the young pastor Timothy would be ours as well: “Flee … youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 1:22, KJV). (Excerpted from The Modesto Manifesto: A Declaration of Biblical Integrity.)

While this was merely one part of an agreement covering other topics such as financial integrity, the point concerning avoiding women in private settings has become known as the Billy Graham Rule. When Mr. Graham drafted the Modesto pact with his ministry partners, they were all men. It was easy to carry out their ministry without meeting a woman alone since the leadership of the ministry was made up entirely of men. That was not unusual in the late 1940s.

Seventy Years Later

Many men today continue to follow some version of the Billy Graham Rule: never be seen alone with a woman and never meet with a woman privately. But the Billy Graham Rule is not a solution to the problems these men think they face (real or imagined). It’s not even a band-aid. It’s a hindrance to pursuing the work of the kingdom of God.

Imagine how this plays out in modern ministry organizations.

Bill – “Tom and I were talking over lunch before the meeting today and thought you all might be ready to discuss a change in personnel for the Florida office.”

[Discussion ensues, and then as the meeting is wrapping up and everyone heads back to their offices …]

Karen – “I didn’t want to call you out in front of the others, Bill, but Florida is in my territory. Tom oversees the Pacific Northwest. You should have run this by me over lunch before bringing it up with anyone else.”

Bill – “Karen, you know you and I can’t do lunch. Tom probably would have had to be there anyway.”

Karen – “Hmm. Can we talk about this further in your office?”

Bill – “Sure. Bring Sandra.”

Karen – “Sandra? You mean the intern who orders our office supplies?”

Bill – “Yes. Don’t forget to leave my door open when you two get there.”

Some organizations would avoid this problem altogether by never allowing a woman in a position of authority. They’d all be Sandra, making sure the men who run the ministry have enough office supplies.

The Rule has gained traction beyond  churches and other ministry organizations, though. Men in leadership of private and public institutions say they feel the need to restrict themselves from contact with women.

Most of the time this comes up it’s not for the reason Mr. Graham and his colleagues made their pledge to one another – evangelists on the road are tempted to have sex. Rather, these men today feel that if they let themselves be seen alone with a woman at a restaurant they’d be opening themselves up to gossip, and if they let themselves meet with a woman behind closed doors they’d be opening themselves up to false charges of sexual harassment.

So every meeting with a woman needs a chaperone.

What does this mean? It means women are shut out from opportunities to serve to their fullest potential; if lunch meetings were not important for the work of the organization, the men wouldn’t be having them. It also means men lose out on the wisdom, guidance, help, and experience of people who may be better equipped and positioned to serve the organization’s goals, just because those people happen to be women.

And, above all, this modern insistence on the Billy Graham Rule gives men one more excuse to tell women who they can associate with, where they can go, and how they can spend their time.

Here’s some advice for those men:

  • Treat women and men the same. Meet with them or don’t, that’s up to you. But don’t base your decision on the basis of who has the same genitalia as you and who doesn’t.
  • If you think you are likely to have sex with a co-worker if left alone with her, don’t be alone with her. But this is a bigger problem than the Billy Graham Rule can solve, and you need to seek professional help to address it.
  • Don’t look on women as potential sources of false accusations. If someone – whether a man or woman – is going to lie about you, they won’t need the convenience of a closed door to make something up and accuse you of wrongdoing.
  • Give your friends and colleagues some credit for having brains in their heads. If you meet with a woman for lunch or dinner, or are seen conversing with her alone at a conference or sitting together at the bar for a drink, there certainly may be idiots who will jump to the wrong conclusion. Don’t let their concerns keep you from that lunch meeting or taking time to touch base at a conference.

Jesus’ Experience with Women and Gossip

Jesus confronted gossips head on:

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:16-19.)

Jesus knew there was no pleasing gossips. Jesus acted one way while his cousin John acted the other, and the gossips criticized both. His solution is that “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” In other words, do the right and wise thing and let gossips gossip as they may. That’s what Jesus did, that’s what John did, and both of them weren’t going to let small minded people keep them from doing what is right.

In fact, Jesus’ experiences with women would not stand up to the Billy Graham Rule, such as these two:

He met the Samaritan woman at the well. She arrived after his friends had left Jesus to go find food in the nearby village. Not only did Jesus not leave immediately, he engaged her in a lengthy conversation. She and his disciples alike were amazed he’d spend time alone her, but he didn’t bat an eye at the situation. (John 4.)

He went to a dinner party where a woman of bad reputation – perhaps a prostitute – arrived, started caressing his feet and kissing them, showing her devotion to him. Rather than send her away as his Pharisee host expected, Jesus honored the woman with his love and respect. (Luke 7.)

This is the way to follow Jesus, and it is not accomplished by keeping your distance from people with differing genitalia. Rather, it is accomplished by embracing all the people God has put in your life, men and women alike.


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Bad Parenting Advice That’s Worse Than Bad Parenting

[From the archives.]

A few years ago Voddie Baucham made the outlandish claim that shyness is a sin. Then he said that when he sees a shy kid he knows better than the kid’s own parents how to fix that kid’s sin. (Skip to 2 minutes 30 seconds if you want to bypass his insistence on corporal punishment when children are just a few weeks old, because “your kids desperately need to be spanked”.)

As he puts it toward the end of the video clip:

Let me give you an example, a prime example. The so-called shy kid, who doesn’t shake hands at church, okay? Usually what happens is you come up, ya’ know and here I am, I’m the guest and I walk up and I’m saying hi to somebody and they say to their kid “Hey, ya’ know, say good morning to Dr. Baucham,” and the kid hides and runs behind the leg and here’s what’s supposed to happen. This is what we have agreed upon, silently in our culture. What’s supposed to happen is that, I’m supposed to look at their child and say, “Hey, that’s okay.” But I can’t do that. Because if I do that, then what has happened is that number one, the child has sinned by not doing what they were told to do, it’s in direct disobedience. Secondly, the parent is in sin for not correcting it, and thirdly, I am in sin because I have just told a child it’s okay to disobey and dishonor their parent in direct violation of scripture. I can’t do that, I won’t do that. I’m gonna stand there until you make ‘em do what you said.

You see, it’s all about obedience: make that child obey or everyone’s a sinner!

Discernment Among the People of God

I first read about Baucham’s extreme claims about what God supposedly requires of parents at Julie Anne Smith’s blog a while back but it came to mind again because of an article John Piper later published.

Where Baucham is concerned about all the people being in sin – kid, parents, Baucham himself dragged into it as bystander – Piper sees more concrete problems. If you don’t make your children obey, you have only yourself to blame when they end up laid out on a slab in the morgue because they got shot dead.

His article Parents, Require Obedience of Your Children starts by referring to a recent tragedy: a California teen with a toy gun was shot by police. Piper admits he doesn’t know if the teen even heard the commands to lower the weapon, but decides to assume the teen did and then willfully disobeyed because his parents never taught him any better.

Such an assumption is a baseless sensationalization of that poor family’s tragedy and heartlessly capitalizes on their grief. But Piper insists on proceeding with his wild assumption because assuming the worst about things fits his point better than assuming the best. His real point?

I am writing this to plead with Christian parents to require obedience of their children.

You see, Piper saw a mother on an airplane handle her child in a way he disapproves of. The flight attendant told the mother her child needed to turn off an electronic toy. That’s when things took a turn for the worse, he says.

When the flight attendant took her seat, the boy turned his device back on, and kept it on through the take off. The mother did nothing. I thought to myself, she is training him to be shot by police.

There is so much wrong with this nonsense.

First, he jumps to the extreme conclusion that the mother’s failure to act in the manner he approves of on a single occasion means the child is going to grow up not knowing how to make good decisions.

Second, he judges another parent without knowing anything about the child, the family, or what had transpired before he saw them on the plane. He should know better, being a parent himself. How many of us – before we had kids – would see parents handling children and judge them thinking we would certainly do better once we had kids? I’ll tell you, becoming a parent ourselves is the surest cure for that nonsense.

Third, he applies his ignorant and baseless assumptions about the shooting of that teenager to every child whose parent does not require strict obedience. They’re training their children to get shot by police, he insists. Piper admits he doesn’t know why the California teen didn’t put the toy down, but he’ll insist that his death informs Piper’s view of the woman and her son on the plane.

Piper bases all this on Ephesians 6:1, arguing that since children are told to obey parents then parents are by that same verse required to force their children into obedience. I think this is a sloppy way to read Scripture.

Let’s say, though, that parents tried to force obedience. That doesn’t mean the children actually obeyed. It just means someone bigger imposed their own will. Sorry, that’s not obedience.

That’s coercion.

Happily, there is a way to honor God in how we care for our children, a way that doesn’t rely on Baucham’s and Piper’s extremes.

A Better Way to Raise Your Children

Here’s some good advice from Connie Jakab:

Sometimes as parents we stress when our kids are displaying less than desirable behavior.  We blame ourselves or them wondering what went wrong.  Nothing went wrong.  Perfection is not the aim we strive for in our kids – guiding them successfully through whatever bumps and shortcomings is what parenting is all about.  When we struggle with challenges our kids are experiencing, it’s our opportunity to show them the road to overcome.

Perfection is not the aim – not even perfect obedience. Instead, as Connie says, we are to guide our children. How do we guide them into making good decisions, to act in ways that honor God? I think it’s best to follow God’s own example.

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4.)

God is our loving Father and he leads us to repentance by his kindness, patience and forbearance. It’s that last word that seals the fate of Piper’s and Baucham’s bad advice, because they don’t advocate forbearance but immediate action.

That’s not to say that parents should be marshmallows and let their kids get away with misbehavior. In fact, there are times when coercion is called for, like grabbing your kid and yanking them to the curb when they’re about to run into a busy street.

But when it comes to how one family handles raising children versus how another family does it, none of us should dictate a particular method; one size does not fit all families.

Instead we should support parents, pray for them, and trust that God is working in families now just as he has been for thousands of years.


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Evangelical – the label that left me behind

I haven’t used the label Evangelical for a long time now. It’s not that I’ve moved away from its classic definition but that the modern understanding of the word is far from who I am in Christ. So instead I turn to the words that have been honored for the past two thousand years:

Christian (Acts 11:26)

Person of the way of Jesus (Acts 9:2)

Child of God (John 1:12)

Friend of Jesus (John 15:15)

Co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)

These are merely a few of the passages describing our relationship with Jesus. The word Evangelical is nowhere found in any of them. They sound good to me, though.

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The Abuse of People Pleasing

[Today’s guest post is presented anonymously. If you’d like to leave a comment for the writer, let’s call her Maria.]

I was abused as a child and teased in school, so that opened the door up for me to be, and become, and struggle with people pleasing.

I was sensitive, insecure and often felt unloved and unaccepted.

I carried a lot of shame, depression and anxiety from the abuse.

Over twenty years ago, the Lord brought me to Himself, and He enabled me to start facing those issues. But I had no idea that I still had such a desperate need to feel loved and accepted by others, that I would start to develop a dysfunctional attitude and lifestyle.

The Twisted Knot of Seeking Leadership Love

I hit the ground running in my desire to prove that I was serious my choice to follow the Lord, even though I was very young and had a lot to learn. I wanted to prove to myself and to anyone around me that I “belonged” with my fellow believers. I worked hard, tried to be as helpful and useful as possible, opened my heart and my time, and tried to be a “team player.” I tried not to cause any trouble or make waves or cause any problems.

I also wanted a “family” environment due to my lack of closeness with my biological family. I especially wanted to please leadership figures who seemed to demonstrate spiritual maturity, because their approval meant I was on the right track. I sought the Lord’s love but I also sought to capture the love of those around me.

But it didn’t take long before I realized what a knot I had twisted myself into. I was afraid to say “no” when asked to do something, without having to explain or defend myself. I was afraid to stand up for myself; too worried that I would become the subject of gossip or slandering. I was afraid of getting a “reputation” for being a troublemaker if I spoke my mind, especially if it disagreed with the status quo.

I was tired, stressed out, edgy and anxious about everything.

My life revolved around making sure others felt loved, comfortable and accepted—and I was often willing to change myself or change my environment to accommodate the needs of others. I was helping others, but I often felt neglected and worn out—and very much alone. I wasn’t taking care of myself inside or out, and I was becoming resentful of my many burdens. I felt exploited, easy to take advantage of and often taken for granted. I didn’t know how to make sense of it all, or how to break out of this prison or even try to understand the harmful effects of my choices, because I truly thought I was being His servant.

Finding Freedom in Herod’s Story

One day I read the story of Herod’s stepdaughter shamelessly dancing for him and his company, leading to the murder of John the Baptist in Matthew 14:6, and the Lord shed new light into me.  Herod foolishly promised to give her anything she desired, in front of everyone, giving her no limits. He obviously wanted to impress his guests, his stepdaughter, but also his own ego as he demonstrated the absolute power he had.

The stepdaughter wanted to please her mom badly enough to follow her advice and ask for the murder of an innocent man, putting aside anything she might have desired to request for herself. The wife wanted to please her own lust for revenge (John had criticized her and Herod publicly) and had no problem manipulating her daughter to get her way. She even brought her mom John’s head on a platter, doing exactly what was asked of her.

And in the end – the one of whom Jesus said “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11) and His own cousin to boot – was horribly murdered.

It was like looking into a mirror. I saw much of myself woven through their story. I had thought I was being Christ-like and showing unconditional love. But It was really a sick version of fear-based, slave-mentality love.

This is not what He saved us for. This is what He saved us from.

Most of us will hopefully not cause the murder of an innocent person, due to our desire to please others. But it is fair to ask how far we will go to please our families, authority figures, or ourselves—and put Christ as a distant or even close second. Jesus made it clear He alone occupies the top spot in our lives, because He bought us with His own blood, a precious price that is put aside much too readily. It is not a spot that He is willing to share with anyone else.

None of the persons I tried so hard to please died for me to give me new life, but I looked to them as if they could. It was no wonder why I felt so unfulfilled and imprisoned for so long. I got on my knees and pleaded for His forgiveness, because I was living like a slave, not like His child. My pride was hiding but living large behind all my fear and insecurities, because I insisted on doing things my way, not His.

Paul made it clear in Galatians 1:10 that being a servant of God and pleasing people were not the same thing. He also said that we can’t do both; it is either or the other. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare” (Proverbs 29:25), but “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1.) Which one will we choose?

I’ll end with one of the most comforting verses I lean and rely on: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18.)


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Blessings and Boasting – the place of pride

[Updated from the archives.]

Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy sat for an interview once and was asked: What are you proud of? The question stumped her:

There are so many ways to blow a question like that. There are the obvious ways: you can outright brag, which is bad, or humble brag, which is worse.

Or you can sabotage yourself in a more subtle way. Unfortunately, for women, talking about your business successes undermines your likability. It’s much safer to defer, claiming luck or circumstance as the cause of our success, rather than anything we did. Naming a professional success we’re proud of is dangerous.

It’s not that much easier for men. Tooting my own horn is no easier for me than a woman bragging about herself would be.

It might come down to what you mean by the word “pride”, though. Anne included a helpful definition.

pride: a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.

“the team was bursting with pride after recording a sensational victory”

synonyms: pleasure, joy, delight, gratification, fulfillment, satisfaction, a sense of achievement

In light of that dictionary definition, what it really looks like to me is not a matter of what I am most proud of but what I am most pleased about.

The Pleasure of Taking Pride

When I look at the things I’ve experienced (what some people might call my accomplishments) I see that dictionary definition of the word pride fitting perfectly, even if I don’t call it being proud.

Am I proud of how my kids have turned out? I see it more that I am pleased to say our son and daughter have grown up into wonderful young adults.

Am I proud of my marriage? I would say that I am pleased at the fact we just celebrated our 30th anniversary and that I enjoy my wife’s company over any other person I know. (There are tons of people who are tied for second, and our kids are in a category of their own – see preceding paragraph.)

Am I proud of how my blog has come along? I have to say that I am  pleased that people come by to read and comment and engage in discussion and thus make it a better blog than it could possibly be without them. (I count many of my bloggy friends as among those tied for second – see preceding paragraph.)

Am I proud of my accomplishments at work? I’m pleased to wake up in the morning and be able to say “I get to go to work today” and work at a job I really enjoy, seem to be good at, and get to do with wonderful colleagues I’ve gotten to know and make friends with from all over the state.

So if what I call “pleased” is what the dictionary defines as “pride”, then I suppose these are some of the things I’m proud of.

But either way, I’m blessed.

Getting Boastful About It

The danger of being prideful and boastful is that it puts the focus on us when it should be on God. Still, the Bible encourages boastfulness of a certain kind:

 This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24.)

It is not our earthly accomplishments that are worth boasting about, then, but the fact that we know God. After all, do you know anyone else who is truly kind and just and righteous? No wonder a relationship with God is something to be pleased with, something to be proud about, something to boast in.

Yet even this relationship is not something we can take credit for and boast about as if we accomplished it.

it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9.)

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31.)

So we see there truly is a blessing in boasting when the boasting is about God, who he is and what he has done. As the psalmist said, God is worth tooting a horn about.

Clap your hands, all you nations;
    shout to God with cries of joy.
God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
    the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
    sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
    sing to him a psalm of praise.
(Psalm 47:1, 5-7.)


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The Negative Doctrine of Biblical Manhood

Getting doctrine right is important. Reading the Bible – knowing what it says and what it means when it says it – is a blessing given by God. Which means that when you see the Bible say something you should strive to understand it.

It’s important too not to create doctrines based on things the Bible doesn’t say. This is a trap which a prominent ministry recently fell into.

Creating doctrine out of negative space

A student at the University of California at Santa Barbara visited the Grand Canyon years ago. An art major, she chose to represent her impression by sculpting the Grand Canyon. Rather than display the deep emptiness of the canyon with the walls rising high around it, she sculpted the emptiness as a solid mass by making the canyon’s actual shape into a mold, pouring plaster into the emptiness, and then removing it to show the shape of that emptiness as a free standing body.

Grand Canyon – National Park Foundation

It was a clever way to get people to think about the Grand Canyon, but nobody was fooled into thinking they were seeing the gorge created by the flow of the Colorado River flowing along the base of the canyon. The solidity of the negative space was a representation of an aspect of the canyon, yet it was not what anyone would call the reality of the canyon itself. The solid plaster represented what had been taken out of the canyon in its formation, not the canyon as it truly exists.

John Piper’s recent article at Desiring God, Do Men Owe Women a Special Kind of Care?, is likewise created from negative space. He uses the absence of information in a few passages to create an entire doctrine on how men and women are to relate to one another.

The article starts by decrying what Mr. Piper sees as an inability of some people to understand that men as a sex are spiritually – not just anatomically – different from women as a sex. He believes there are some things the Bible requires of men toward women that it does not require of women toward men. He calls this requirement “peculiar”: men, he insists, have a responsibility that women do not and cannot have if they are each to live out their spiritually sexual natures.

He starts by acknowledging that women and men are to care for each other generally.

While affirming the importance of mutual love, respect, honor, and encouragement between men and women, there is in our day a resistance against the biblical summons for men to show a peculiar care for women that’s different than they would for men — and a strong disincentive to women to feel glad about this.

He then cites a few passages where husbands are told to care for their wives.

But in Colossians 3:19, the apostle Paul told husbands, “Love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” That is not the same as saying, “Neither of you should be harsh.” We can tell from Ephesians 5:22–33 and 1 Peter 3:7 that this admonition to men is owing to a peculiarly male temptation to be rough — even cruel — and to a peculiarly female vulnerability to that violence, on the one hand, and to a natural female gladness, on the other hand, to be honored with caring protection and strong tenderness.

Contrary to Mr. Piper’s assertion, the passages from Ephesians 5 (which he failed to start with verse 21’s call for mutual submission) and 1 Peter do not reveal an inherently male temptation to be cruel and an inherently female gladness to be honored with protection. Yet he insists that these passage reveal:

God requires more of men in relation to women than he does women in relation to men. God requires that men feel a peculiar responsibility for protecting and caring for women. As a complementarian, I do not say that this calling is to the exclusion of women protecting and caring for men in their own way. I am saying that men bear a peculiar burden of responsibility that is laid on them in a way that is not laid on women. (Emphasis in original.)

Those concepts, in fact, are entirely absent from the Bible passages Mr. Piper cites. He looks at this emptiness and tries to make it stand as a solid body (much as the art student created a solid mass from what is missing) and sees a doctrine in what is not there.

That might work as an art student’s project but it doesn’t work as doctrine.

Learning from what is actually there

The passages Mr. Piper cites actually do lead to a discernible doctrine, but it is one found by looking at things that do exist, not matters that are absent. Look at them together:

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:19.)

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:28.)

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7.)

While Mr. Piper’s doctrine posits these passages somehow reveal that men have a responsibility to women that women do not have toward men, a more reasonable reading is that these passages teach that people in positions of authority and power (for example, husbands in ancient households) should not use their position to harm those in weaker positions (like wives in those same households).

Take 1 Peter 3:7, for example. As Margaret Mowczko explains in A “Weaker Vessel” and Gender Justice (1 Peter 3:7):

Peter calls wives “weaker vessels” because he wants husbands, not necessarily to pity them, but to be more understanding with their wives who were, with few exceptions, disadvantaged economically, legally, and politically in the first century.

Cultural context – something that exists for all writings, including the Bible – helps inform the reader’s meaning of a passage. The place of women in Peter’s day shows them to be disadvantaged compared to men.

The verses from Colossians and Ephesians likewise show a relationship where the husband is told not to use the superior position given by the world, but to love his wife with the same love Jesus has for all his people. These passages recognize the cultural context (something that actually exists) and tell people in power not to abuse that power.

This is a doctrine that applies to men and women alike.

  • If you have power, never use it to harm those who are weaker than you.
  • If you have authority, never use it to harm those who are subordinate to you.
  • If you have a position of responsibility, never use it to harm those who are under that responsibility.

Instead, use the power and authority and responsibility God has given you to love everyone he has put in your life, whether a family member, a co-worker, a classmate, or a stranger on the street.

This is the doctrine you can glean from those passages, and there is nothing negative about it.


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Doughboys, Flying Tigers and Coming Home – an Armistice Day post

[An archived post in advance of tomorrow’s commemoration of Veteran’s Day.]

My grandfather was a World War One doughboy. Of course it wasn’t called World War One back then. In fact, some thought it would be “The War to End All Wars“. I don’t know if my grandfather felt that way, but he fought in the trenches and suffered mustard gas poisoning just like you read about in books and see in the movies.

World War One memorial in Pennsylvania (Wikimedia)

A Doughboy depicted in a World War One memorial in Pennsylvania

The war ended in an armistice, not a surrender, so the commemoration of the end of hostilities at 11:00 on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 came to be known as Armistice Day rather than Veteran’s Day, as we now know it in the States.

A generation later, my father fought in World War Two. The U.S. entered the war less than a week before he turned 18.

He was a young boy who grew up ranching, and immediately volunteered for the Army Air Corps. They took him from central Washington and landed him in central China with General Chenault and the Flying Tigers. He worked on the planes to keep the pilots in the air.

A Flying Tiger squadron (Wikimedia)

A Flying Tiger squadron

When the war ended in 1945, he was about to ship back home when he got sick. Really sick. They transported him from an infirmary in China to a hospital in India, and he stayed there a long, long time.

At first it was all he could do just to lay in bed and try to eat something. After a while he got strong enough to go outside to sit in the shade with a couple of other patients. Eventually he was strong enough for day trips into town, but he was still under a doctor’s care and returned to the hospital after his short excursions.

The mustard gas didn’t kill my grandfather, and that’s a good thing since it meant he was able to come home and marry my grandmother, leading to my mom’s birth a few years later. And my dad recovered after a long hospital recuperation, and that’s another good thing since it meant he met and married my mom, leading to my (and my older brother and sisters’) birth.

Not everyone who goes to war comes home. I am grateful for those who have served and continue to serve.

And I am grateful for our God who promises to put an end to war.

He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:9-10.)


Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, Evgeniy Vuchetich (Wikimedia)

He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
(Isaiah 2:4.)

The weapons of war will be no more and we will find peace in the presence of God.


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The Ins and Outs of Adoption – from one who knows

[From the archives.]

November is National Adoption Month, and when Jennifer Grant asked if I’d like to participate by doing a Q&A with her about her own adoption experiences I jumped at the chance. I read her compelling adoption memoir Love You More earlier this year and hope you are as blessed by her words as I am.

Q. Give us a rundown on your family – Husband, kids, pets, neighborhood, work, church, schools, extended family out to third cousins once removed. Whatever you think would give us the picture.

After having lived all over the country (Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, Michigan, and New York City), my husband David and I moved “back home” to Wheaton, the Chicago suburb where we grew up, when I was pregnant with our first child. We’ve been here ever since.

David and I met as students at Wheaton College (we were both faculty kids) when we were assigned seats next to each other in chapel. We married 25 years ago when I was 21. We have four children: Theo is 17 and a senior in high school, Ian is 15, Isabel is 13, and Mia is 11. It’s Theo’s last year at home before college, so ordinary events like carving pumpkins together or family movie nights feel bittersweet to me. Happily, he’s looking at a few schools in Chicago, so we’re hoping he won’t be too far away from home.

Pets? We have a fabulous mutt (part German Shepherd, part many things) named Shiloh. We adopted him as a little, mangy puppy seven years ago from a shelter. We currently have a “rescue fish” as well, whom Isabel has named Antonio. She insisted on bringing him home when he was going to be disposed of by a science teacher at her middle school.

We’re walking distance to our kids’ schools in a neighborhood with wide streets, lots of trees (which at the moment are at their most spectacular, aflame with color), and diverse and close-knit families. I was reminded on Halloween how many transracial families are in our neighborhood.

Thanks to adoption – and several other factors – Wheaton is now a much more diverse community than it was when I was growing up here. World Relief has a presence and re-settles refugees in our area. Another organization here that inspires me and has helped diversify the area is called Re:new. Re:new employs refugee artisans from all over the world (Somalia, Bhutan, Turkey, and other countries) to create bags, accessories, and other items. Their products are gorgeous.

David and I are members St. Mark’s Episcopal church in Glen Ellyn, IL. It’s a large, vibrant community that continues to challenge and nurture us.

Q. Before you had children, what’s the best way to describe the two of you as a couple?

What a great question. In a word, I suppose you could say “freewheeling.”

David is now in software, but received his MFA in acting from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. (I also attended SMU and earned my Masters degree in English there.) For the first several years of our marriage, he was, as he describes it, as an “underemployed stage actor.”

So, during those pre-kids years, we spent summers at repertory theaters. We lived all over the country: Brooklyn, New York; Holland, Michigan; Taos, New Mexico; and Grants Pass, Oregon.

Before kids, we both read through every Sunday New York Times cover to cover, got through many more issues of the New Yorker than we do now, and we never ever thought about the high cost of orthodontia, graphing calculators, or organic milk.

But, as I wrote in Love You More, I often felt “homesick” for the children we’d someday have.

Q. When did your family start considering adoption?

Adoption ideaDavid and I were always open to it, and both have been affected by international travel and seeing how orphans in some of the world’s poorest places live.

Q. Who broached the subject, you or your husband? How was it received?

As I describe in Love You More, I had a mystical experience that felt like a directive to start the adoption process. David was a little reticent. Under no circumstances did he want to go through “the baby thing” again, he told me. As it turns out, the daughter we adopted came home as a toddler so he was spared!

Q. Big softball question here, Jen – why is adoption necessary?

I love the mission statement of Both Ends Burning, an organization devoted to ethical adoption. They say, very simply: “Growing up in a family is a child’s most basic human right.”

NurtureIn the U.S. alone, there are more than 120,000 orphans in the foster care system. Globally (and here people argue about numbers and how to define “orphan”), there are more than 100 million children who are denied that basic human right.

I encourage your readers to look at Both Ends Burning’s site to learn more. Their documentary, Stuck, also shows why ethical adoption is necessary.

Q. This one’s a little tougher – what should people consider before even starting to explore adoption?

First, they should think about whether they actually want to raise a child, or another child. They shouldn’t adopt out of pity. There are many ways to alleviate poverty and promote the welfare of orphans without adopting a child. They should adopt if they are itchy to become parents, (or parents again), and want to open their families and lives to a child.

It can be exciting to begin the adoption process, but just as making elaborate wedding plans has little to do with the daily task of maintaining a healthy marriage, all the paperwork and travel and so on necessary to adopt a child doesn’t really relate to parenting a child.

I think people should work closely with a reliable agencyand thresh through hard questions such as:

  • What special needs am I equipped to handle?
  • If I adopt a child of a race other than my own, how do I feel about people noticing us as a “transracial” family?
  • Do I have a network (family, friends, faith community) who will support me on this journey and continue to be there for me as I raise my child?

Q. Can you compare domestic and international adoptions for us?

Mia was born in Guatemala, so of course my own experience of adoption was international adoption, but I have many friends who have adopted domestically.

Domestic adoption usually affords the child and the parents more information about the child’s family history and even can allow close relationships to develop between the family and the child’s birthparents and siblings. Domestic adoptions tend to be less expensive, but of course there are exceptions to that. There are many children in our foster care system that are in need of families.

International adoption can be tricky. As Sarah Pulliam Bailey recently wrote, “International adoption is full of ethical and financial challenges, largely because adoptive children are coming from poor countries with opaque bureaucracies, and agencies stand to gain thousands of dollars per child.” Organizations such as Both Ends Burning and PEAR (Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform) work hard to expose unethical practices as they support adoption.

Prospective adoptive parents should be realistic about their own gifts, resources, prejudices, and support systems, and begin the adoption journey leaving as many doors open as possible. I believe God desires to put orphans in families, and will nudge parents toward the child with whom they are meant to share their lives.

Q. How does your faith in Christ inform your understanding of adoption? Got any Scripture to back that up?
I want my life, increasingly, to center around the verses in Matthew in which Jesus says (and I’m paraphrasing): “Whatever you did for a person in need, you did for me.”

Those are stunning words.

And yes, there are, of course, many verses more directly related to adoption and orphan care, but a few of my favorites are:

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress… (James 1:27)


Father to the fatherless, defender of widows — this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families. (Psalms 68:5-6)

(For more, see: Hosea 14:3, Exodus 22:22-23, Romans 8:14-16, Galatians 4:4-6, Psalms 10:14, 17-18, Deuteronomy 24:19, Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 31:8-9, Matthew 18:5, Matthew 25:40.)

homecomingIt’s a privilege to be Mia’s mother and to watch her grow up in a loving, healthy home after having been a “waiting child” in Guatemala. Although I wrote the book about her adoption (she loves Love You More and is very proud of it), I don’t think of her as my “adopted daughter,” and her siblings don’t think of her as their “adopted” sibling, just their sweet, silly little sister.

We really couldn’t do without her, and I thank God every day for the gift of each of my children.


JG[Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter, and When Did Everybody Else Get So Old (among other books). You can also read her thoughts on the writing craft in a guest post she wrote for me. She is a grateful believer, a reader, a sometime poet, a dog lover, and, with her husband of 25 years, mother to four wonderfully creative and quirky tween and teenage children. Learn more at]


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The Deception and Dishonesty of Legalism

Sermons on the first chapter of Paul’s letter to his friend Titus often present it as a job description for church leadership. It’s not. Instead, Paul is concerned with legalistic teaching and how to correct it with sound doctrine.

Paul begins:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness … . (Titus 1:1.)

He then tells Titus The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town and proceeds to list important qualities to look for. (Titus 1:5-8.)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632)

So yes, in one limited sense the chapter includes a job description for church leadership. But Paul’s point is not to create that job description but to make sure that the bad doctrine he ran across on the island is not spreading in the local churches. Paul’s conclusion lays out the main reason for appointing people who “hold firmly to the trustworthy message” is to encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9.)

The primary importance of countering false doctrine is clear from the verses immediately following.

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. … They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. (Titus 1:10-11, 16.)

Paul is once again working against legalism, the battle he’s been fighting his whole ministry as shown by his letters to the Galatians and Ephesians and others. As Paul writes, legalistic teaching is meaningless, deceptive, disruptive and dishonest, while he says legalistic teachers do not know God and are detestable and disobedient.

Not 5 easy steps to godly living

What is Paul’s goal? Teaching the “knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” as he puts it in his opening line.

Not rules that lead to godliness.
Not laws that lead to godliness.
Not guidelines that lead to godliness.

This is one of the reasons to focus on learning more about Jesus than figuring out the right way to live. The more you learn about Jesus, the more you’ll tend to live rightly in God’s kingdom. But if you try to focus on how to live rightly, you’d be spending time on that rather than learning more about Jesus and acquiring knowledge of the truth about him.

After all, it is not knowledge of the rules for right living that makes you godly. It is knowledge of God’s truth that leads you to godliness. This is one of the blessings of Jesus’ gospel of grace, a spiritual truth that leads you to God and godliness. The more you get to know Jesus, the more you become like him.

And that’s the truth.


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Embracing the Tack

[After years working with college students on California campuses, my friends Joe and Allison Priola have begin a new ministry called Cru City San Diego. Their focus now is on young adults who are navigating jobs and families and all the responsibilities that come outside college. Joe writes here on what a change this has been for Allison and him, and how they find God carrying them across the waters.]


Tack [tak; verb]: Tacking, or coming about is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel, whose desired course is into the wind, turns its bow toward the wind so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other, allowing progress in the desired direction.

My father owns a sail boat. It was a dream of my mother and his once all of their boys got out of school. It is a beautiful boat and I will try to get out there on the water with him whenever I can, which is far too infrequent. It’s always a treat to spend time with Dad in his happy place. I’m not much of a sailor, but I always love being out in the water, and I do enjoy learning how the mechanics of sailing work.

When sailing, one quickly learns that getting somewhere is never really a straight line. To be honest, most of life is exactly the same way! A clear destination may be in mind, but arriving there often involves many twists and turns. In sailing the need to engage in tacking is critical to both the journey and arriving at your destination. Conditions can challenge the route. The wind shifts direction. And currents can nudge you off course amongst other unexpected factors out on the water.

The only constant is change (and God)

Let’s face it. Our lives are constantly in flux. Just when you think things are settling down and you have smooth sailing, a good rhythm to life, stuff happens – again. The unavoidable reality of change can be exhilarating and it can also be a struggle. Sometimes it can both at the same time. King David penned many wonderful poems about the hardship and the challenges of a life constantly in shift where hardship and struggle, chaos and confusion can run us aground. Pastor and theologian Dr. Walter Brueggemann made a wonderful observation about these poems by identifying a rhythm that occurs in these poems about change. This rhythm revolves around the themes of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation. Orientation is where things seem to make sense. You have a good wind and your boat has a good heading for your desired course. Then disorientation occurs. The conditions shift. Winds change the currents swirl. You may lose your momentum and maybe you’re your bearing because life happens. You can become disoriented. How do we respond? This is where the hard work and heavy lifting is done.

There are two things to remember in the disorientations we encounter in life. First, God is always present and very near. He tells us this. He demonstrates this. Secondly, reorientation will come. This is when God’s presence and power directs us into a new heading, and we can then realize a new sense of God’s mercies and love, as well as confidence in his guidance in the journey ahead. But as late Tom Petty once sang, the waiting is the hardest part.

Making course adjustments is vital

Tacking is necessary. Tacking allows one the ability to reposition the boat into the wind in order to best prepare to keep moving toward your end destination. For Allison and me, well, we are in the midst of a minor missional tack in some ways. Some holy disruption and disorientation has certainly taken place as we have moved from 18 years of familiarity in building movements of disciples on the college campus and are now entering into a new role to reach and disciple Twenty-somethings in our city. Yet our end destination is unchanged. Like you, our aim is to live into our God-given callings using our time, talents and treasure to make maximum kingdom impact for Christ. But we sensed God’s leading to make the appropriate tack in order to ensure we remain faithful to the journey and overall direction.

The tack can feel awkward

For the less experienced sailor the tack can feel sloppy or even confusing as it often involves some waiting. When you tack a sailboat, you can come into a drift. It can be a few seconds or even minutes. Sails flop around a bit. Your lines can slip into the water or clang against the mast. It can feel like forever, and it’s natural to ask, “What
are we doing? It seems like we lost all speed and are just sitting here? Where did our wind go? Was this tack necessary?” An experienced sailor will tell you that the tack is important. Not only that, but it’s necessary. Conditions change and you have to adjust your course in order to maintain the overall desired destination.

Wind dependent

The Spirit directs us. His breath is present and it is felt. And we are doing our best to posture ourselves as both open and expectant. This requires patience and attentiveness to the deeper work the Lord is doing in our lives and hearts “in the tack”. He is deconstructing some old patterns of life and ministry; old thoughts, old beliefs and practices of ministry, and even our pace of life needed to be addressed. The tack was necessary for us to keep going farther in the journey. We are re-learning some disciplines like greater dependency on him (rather than autopilot), re-orienting around prayerfulness in all things, better discernment of his working in us and through us, and a need to allow him to open doors and new relationships in the city. It feels awkward in the tack. Sails are flopping. Lines are clanking. There is a bit of drift. Oh, but how good and necessary it is. We are at his mercy. And this is right where he wants us. Dependent.

Stillness: be still and know he is God

Allison and I have a clear idea of our end goal – what it looks like when lives are being up-ended by God and communities are being transformed by Spirit-led followers of Jesus. And we are looking to this horizon with excitement, and we are completely confident in the directing and empowering of the Spirit of Jesus, compelling us to make disciples of all nations. The tack isn’t permanent. It is for a season. And we are readying our sails and lines in the awkwardness and stillness so that God will do a new work in us and through us. We are learning to embrace the tack – to even enjoy it! It can prove difficult, but it is necessary. And as the Spirit blows, our confidence that doing the hard work in the tack will properly prepare us for a new adventure in the journey ahead.


Allison and Joe look even cooler in person.

You can learn more about Joe and Allison’s work with San Diego’s young adults on their Facebook pages: here’s the one for Allison and the one for Joe.


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