“You Are Wrong, Brother”: On Disagreeing Better as Christians

The Spanish Inquisition has nothing on the current Evangelical online world when it comes to heresy trials. Though, unlike the Spanish Inquisition, you expect it. There was a time where theologians emphasized that the Christian life was lived coram Deo. Now, however, the work of theology possesses the gravity of a work done coram Mob. Theologians, pastors, and laypeople alike must guard themselves ever so closely, lest any small statement they make about God be the evidence against them in the next twitter tribunal. Facebook knows no mercy.

The church, it seems, is nothing but heretics. The Calvinists are heretics for their views on predestination. The Arminians are heretics for their man-centeredness. The revivalists are heretics for creating false converts. The Baptists are heretics for being Baptist. Some Reformed teachers are heretics for their Federal Vision theology, while others have become heretics for their sacramentalism. Whatever followers of N.T. Wright are called, they are heretics for reasons so multitudinous they can not be recounted here. The Anglicans are heretics for their sacerdotalism and the Methodists are heretics for refusing to separate from the liberals. The Charismatics are heretics for speaking in tongues, and the churches with an American flag in their sanctuary have abandoned the faith for Christian Nationalism. If you are concerned about matters of social justice–your heretical capitulation to the social gospel is easily documented. If you’re concerned about the excesses of social justice, then your’e probably a racist or a bigot. The egalitarians are heretics for compromising the Bible, and the complementarians are oppressors.

The one true church, thankfully, is still healthy and very much alive. It is composed of you, and me, and those who agree with us. God must be relieved to have us.

Obviously, the last two paragraphs were written fully tongue in cheek. With very little time, however, I believe I could identify accusations of heresy, compromise of doctrine or the gospel itself, or some other extreme allegation against dissenters from whatever preferred view in no time at all. I have managed social media accounts for two major Christian organizations and something stands out: the comment sections are a total, unmitigated disaster. No matter how many people I block or ban, toxicity oozes from the comment sections like stink from a sewer. Christian blog and YouTube comments make the TMZ comment section look tame. We hate each other, and ask you to subscribe to our Patreon if you hate the same people that we do. Entire networks are formed solely to oppose people we otherwise agree with 98% of the time. The comments would make more sense often if the reader imagine they were full of curse words. At least then the vocabulary would match the tone.

An Inheritance of Insults

It is past time that we began to do better. It is past time that we stop disgracing ourselves online. It is past time that we learned how to disagree while maintaining fellowship. If we are going to learn to disagree better, we have to acknowledge that the history of the Christian church has deeded us an inheritance of insults. We should refuse to carry forward that legacy.

If we are going to learn to disagree better, we have to acknowledge that the history of the Christian church has deeded us an inheritance of insults. We should refuse to carry forward that legacy.

This problem is not unique to us. Examples are easy to find. Jerome became so angry with Rufinus in a theological spat that the refused to refer to him by any name other than Grunnius Corocotta Porcellius. For those who don’t speak Latin, that translates roughly to “Porky the Grunter.” Research has not yet yielded answers as to whether he insulted his mother, too. St. Nicholas is rumored to have punched Arius (though the tale is widely disputed, it is also widely regaled). Martin Luther’s insults were so legendary, there is now an entire website devoted to them. We hear these stories, and we laugh. They’re common jokes around seminaries and churches.

I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5:2. He says, “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?” Of course, Paul’s context and the issue at hand was far different. But shouldn’t we? To state the obvious, Martin Luther was sinning when he spoke in such ways. Why do we talk about his foul language as if its a badge of honor, or wish we could talk like that if people weren’t so sensitive these days? Needless to say, naming a rival theologian Porky the Grunter in public debate hardly meets the standard of loving your enemies.

Are we not called to something better?

Why do we talk about Martin Luther’s foul language towards his opponents as if its a badge of honor, or wish we could talk like that if people weren’t so sensitive these days?

Learning to Disagree Better

It is time that Christians of all stripes learned to disagree better. There are countless ways to do this, but for the sake of this post I want to suggest we learn just one phrase. If we can internalize this phrase, what it means and what it doesn’t mean, it will make a radical difference for how we engage other Christians with who we disagree. The phrase is this:

“You are wrong, brother.”

Alternatively, “brother” can be exchanged for “sister”.

The threat of heresy is genuine and it does occur in the church. There are men and women who subvert the gospel itself: denying the bodily resurrection, teaching that we can save ourselves, proclaiming the gospel secures worldly riches instead of eternal salvation, or teaching against the Trinity, among other things. There are those who revive old heresies. Some false teachers are easy to identify and should be warned against. But others are simply wrong.

We must learn to differentiate between a malicious false teacher and someone with whom we have a serious disagreement.

Solely because you feel strongly about a particular second or third tier doctrine does not elevate its status of importance. I get it: I have strong opinions, and therefore some strong disagreements. I think John MacArthur’s dispensationalism is novel, lacking evidence, and leads to bad biblical interpretation. That does not make him a false teacher. I am grateful for countless charismatic men and women, and I also have countless disagreements with them on spiritual gifts. I love Presbyterians, I just hate that so few of them are actually baptized. Apologetics folks who love Van Til, just….no. I think the Purpose-Driven model drives you into a ditch. Pastors in my denomination talk about revival like it’s a lawnmower engine that just needs more gas and it drives me nuts. But, each of them in turn can be dead wrong without me either a) being a jerk about it or b) believing that my passion on a subject can make it a first tier issue worthy of separation. These brothers, and these sisters, are wrong. But I am not compelled to destroy them or call them heretics on the basis of our secondary disagreements.

When we learn to say, “You are wrong, brother,” we acknowledge our disagreement for what they are while affirming our love for our opponents that is grounded in the brotherhood and sisterhood we have in Christ. Because they are a brother, or a sister, we owe them a measure of respect and love in our engagements. By recognizing them as a brother or sister, we have a common ground: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all (Eph 4:5). Our union with Christ is greater than our theological opinions or missiological convictions. At the same time, we do recognize our conviction that they are wrong on the matter at hand. Or, at least I think they are—sometimes with great conviction. There is no reason for us to pretend we do not have differences, or pretend that those differences don’t matter! But our certitude about our union in Christ should outweigh and surpass our certitude that we have the final say in the debate.

Our differences matter. But affection does not require agreement.

Christians so often decry cancel culture, but it’s hard to understand why sometimes. When it comes to theological disagreement, Christians have perfected the art of the cancel. We speak it fluently. It has become our mother tongue. Internet trolls could learn a thing or two about online mobs by reading the comments of popular Christian blog ministries. The KGB could take notes on sowing division by monitoring Evangelical internet behavior. The church debated for centuries to establish orthodoxies in the ecumenical councils. Now, we label pastors, preachers, and people we don’t like as heretics after reading a single blog post.

Our differences matter. But affection does not require agreement.

Brothers and sister, things cannot continue this way. Our love for one another must surpass our disagreement with one another. Our desire for truth must be matched by our commitment to the foundational truth that we are united together in Christ. Our zeal for the gospel cannot create a standard of fellowship that is “the gospel + all of my secondary theological, political, and cultural beliefs.”

Jesus said we would be know for our love. Frankly, we ain’t.

If we are going to, we must learn to love one another: online, in disagreements, and in different denominations. Otherwise, what right do we have to talk about a gospel of grace that breaks down the wall of hostility between us?

You may be wrong, brother, but I still should love you. I’m going to try to do better.

How To Avoid Becoming the Next Ravi

Horrifying news broke recently of allegations that Ravi Zacharias for years used his power, influence, and money to sexually harass, abuse, and, in some instance, rape women he employed or otherwise knew. The more details you know, the more outrageous the story is. I won’t rehash the sordid details here. It is sickening and heartbreaking all at once. The story inspires rage, and rightfully so.

What compounds the pain is that Ravi Zacharias is just another Christian leader in a long line of Christian leaders guilty of sexual misconduct, abuse of women, and abuse of power. At the time of his death, countless men and women otherwise ingrate of these charges against him, hailed Ravi as a hero. Here was a man who finished well. Here was a good and faithful servant.

But he was not good. He was not faithful. All indicators suggest he was a manipulative serial abuser.
[See the Addendum at the end of this post: one of the complicating factors with Ravi is that unlike pastors who fall into a moment of passion and commit adultery, he appears to have engaged in a long-ranging systemic act of abuse. His intentionality and hiding of his sin is not adequately described as a fall from grace, as much as that he was a wolf preying upon the sheep for his own sexual satisfaction, and blackmailing them when threatened with exposure. This post will be no help to such abusers; it is focused on the original temptations long before a man or woman gets to such a place.]

Pastors and Christians globally are disheartened by the news. Many I have spoken to are shaken. If Ravi Zacharias can hide such horrible actions, who is safe? If he can’t be trusted, who can?

How do we avoid becoming the next Ravi Zacharias?

In the wake of the allegations against Ravi, many have also reported that Ravi was not an active church member. His life was mostly lived on the road and he didn’t have a regular presence at any particular congregation. Ravi’s memorial service was held at Passion City Church, but it’s difficult to tell where he was an actual member. According to a Ruth Maholtra, an RZIM employee, he was not a church member in any meaningful sense (HT: Justin Taylor)

I don’t have all the answers for how to avoid a moral downfall, becoming an abuser, or failing to finish well, but here is one thing I do know:

Church membership is essential. Alone it is insufficient.

If men and women are going to avoid giving themselves over to private sin that destroys themselves and others, simply being a church member won’t cut it. In some ways, saying church membership is the answer in a pithy way is naive beyond measure. Mere membership is not a cure all. No one should require telling that the church has not always been a surefire way to avoid abuse. There has been widespread and tragic tales of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct in nearly every major denomination, most recently the Southern Baptist Convention. At times, and to our eternal shame, powerful religious leaders have even used their influence to coverup abuse in the church and enable abusers.

Being the kind of church member who is part of a Sunday School class, attends the potlucks, gives to missions offerings, decorates for VBS is not the surest way to avoid falling into deep and harmful sin. Your church attendance record is not unimportant, and can even be a good indicator of your exposure to the truth of the gospel and to godly habits, but it’s not sufficient on its own.

Being a church member is not enough. Practicing regular habits of repentance and accountability in the local church is essential.

“Being a church member is not enough. Practicing regular habits of repentance and accountability in the local church is essential.”

Drinking the rubbing alcohol

I once heard a story of a woman who was an alcoholic. Nobody knew. She was high functioning alcoholic, and didn’t drink much in public. But at night, alone at home, she was a sloppy drunk. Her pastors had no clue until one day when she was rushed to the hospital and they received a call.

Attempting to fight her addiction to liquor, she had thrown out all of the alcohol. But in an intense swell of craving, in the middle of the night, she drank medical grade rubbing alcohol. It nearly killed her.

What is your rubbing alcohol?

Long before anyone becomes an adulterer, or a hypocrite, or, in Ravi’s case, long before they become an abuser that willfully and repeatedly hurts countless others, they are tempted with sin.

In Ephesians 5:11, the Apostle Paul tells us, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

Does anyone know your “rubbing alcohol moment”? Maybe it hasn’t even happened yet. I hope it hasn’t. But does anyone know you are tempted that way at all? For years I have tried to practice this kind of confession: “Brother, here is the thing I am tempted by that could destroy me if taken too far” or “Brother, here is the temptation I’m facing that I’m really afraid of gettin out of hand.” These things are not told in a large group or SS class. This isn’t the sin you confess on the microphone the last night of church camp. It can be painful. There may be tears. This kind of repentance will require you to bare your soul to another. It will require you to understand that you will need others to help you bear your great burdens (Gal 6:2).

When I have been tempted in this way, I don’t post it on a blog or announce it to the church. But with close friends, in the context of the local church, I bring the darkness to light. The group of men I meet with to talk in this way is often lighthearted, joking, and fun. There is always a time for confession the regular struggles of daily life as husbands and fathers. But from time to time, our confession becomes more somber as we take seriously the need to confess serious temptation. And it is utterly life-giving.

Have you ever taken part in that kind of confession of sin? If your godly friends who are close to you in your day-to-day life have no clue what the temptation is that could bring you down, may I suggest that you might want to reconsider your habits of confession, repentance, and accountability?

You’re not too good to fall.

I once heard a pastor* say that in pre-marital counseling he makes the couples write out a brief sketch of how they would commit adultery, if they ever did. I understand how that sounds at first. What a terrible pastor! But his point is this: not one of us is above a wandering eye! Not one of us is just so inherently holy that we could not fall into sin. Typically the respondents would talk about meeting someone on social media or meeting someone at the gym. Some would talk about old relationships, and other may talk about seasons of extreme stress and a friend begins to show them attention. What this practice does is teaches the individuals to be honest about where their weaknesses are, and it helps their future spouse to love them by seeing warning signs and by keeping them out of such vulnerable situations.

Christians can not flourish if they cherish their little sins. You are at grave risk if you do not know how you will fall. Sin is a liar. It is insidious. The moment you think you cannot fall is the moment you are most at risk.

I never knew Ravi Zacharias. I didn’t follow him. I haven’t read his books. I have watched maybe 5-6 clips of his on YouTube I my life. But if I were a betting man (and I’m not), I would wager that Ravi was missing that kind of soul-baring accountability and he has been missing it for a long, long time.

It’s not enough to be a church member. It’s not enough to be a regular attender. If we are going to avoid moral failure, if we are going to avoid a great fall into sin (or worse–abusive or harmful behavior to others!), we must be repenters. Our church membership but be a certain kind of membership: the kind that is ruthless against our own sin, confesses it, and seeks accountability. We must submit ourselves to systems of accountability—elders and pastors, D-groups, accountability partners, Covenant Eyes, or heart-rending confession to dear friends—that will expose our darkness and bring it to light.

What kind of church member are you? Does anyone know what’s really in your heart? Are you active in “catching the foxes that spoil the vineyard” (Song of Solomon 2:15)? Christians are not called to white-knuckle it to the finish line. We also do not have the power to stop things from spinning far beyond our control. Instead, we have the gospel of grace. Because of Jesus, you are free to confess. There is nothing to fear: there is grace. Stamp it out now. Catch the foxes. Don’t befriend the cunning serpent. There is mercy at the cross. Christ is greater than all of your sin. If you don’t have this kind of accountability, find it as soon as possible. Storehouses of grace await you as you pray for one another, offer forgiveness, point one another to Christ, and help one another resist the big fall.

* I am almost certain this pastor was Russell Moore, but I can’t seem to find anything online about it.

Addendum: My friend Samuel James offered some pushback privately on one aspect of this piece, and I think it’s more than valid: it’s good and needs to be said here as well:

“What Ravi did was not just “falling into sin,” as if he ran off with his secretary or texted a lewd picture to someone who wasn’t his wife. What Ravi did was horrific abuse of the most unimaginable kind. It was far more comparable to Larry Nassar than Carl Lentz. And I don’t think we would talk about Larry Nassar’s crimes as a kind of sin that we could all “fall into.” There is a kind of othering that we need to adopt when it comes to predatory sexual abuse, not to comfort ourselves that it could never be us but to encourage the moral outrage necessary to not let ourselves be empathetic with someone who was cooperating with extraordinary evil, not just his flesh…. My fear is that if people are encouraged to see their own sin as part of a general continuum with stuff like Ravi or Larry Nassar, they will 1) feel less outrage toward sexual abuse qua sexual abuse, and will sanitize moral language to make what is fundamentally abuse more about “sin” (which is bad for establishing accountability and consequences for those in authority), and 2) they will interpret their own struggles not in the light of the gospel that creates safe place for regular confession and repentance, but as something grievously wrong with them that probably disqualifies them from normal life in the assembly of God’s people (thus, driving them deeper into sin).

He’s right. When I wrote this post I was primarily focused on those who were saying “this wouldn’t have happened if he had been part of a church.” My point was that church qua church isn’t enough, as so many have claimed: an ongoing pattern of repentance is required to stem this kind of sin before it ever spirals to anything remotely close to that point. I have updated the language of this point throughout to try and clarify that point. However, let me add to that now, in light of Sam’s comments, and say this.

  1. Ravi’s actions appear to be more than a mere fall from grace. It was a years-long intentional act of abusive behavior. It wasn’t a slip up, as if one day he was tempted and the days later he fell into a temptation he longed struggled with of privately harboring desires of being a manipulative abuser. Whenever his fall happened, it was long before he became an abuser. His actions are far more akin to that of a wolf, than the fall of a brother. It’s not oh, he fell into sin just like I could any old day. What Ravi did was far worse because it happened over a long range of time, in a well-planned manner, with institutional coverup, and a web of lies. That’s not a temptation, that the fruit of sin fully embraced.
  2. As such, this post is relevant to Ravi only in that there was a time as some point, early on, that I suppose he could have engaged in habits of ongoing repentance such that he never what he ultimately did become. What Ravi did goes beyond an accountability group, and abusers as such often groom such groups to deceive them to hide behavior as extreme as what he engaged in during his lifetime.
  3. In the case of Ravi, I am convinced his actions warranted the response of 1 Corinthians 5. He didn’t need to be restored to ministry. He didn’t need to be in an accountability group. His actions are so heinous, according to these well-documented allegations, that if he belonged to a church, he needed to be put out of it utterly and treated as an unbeliever until he utterly repented. If he had repented, he should never, ever be restored to a public facing ministry and should be welcome back only into the church with a close eye on his future behavior, lest their be any sign of more grooming or abusive behavior. Likewise, his actions should face the full force of the justice system if any of it was in violation of law. If you are tempted, repent and find grace before it ever gets this far.
  4. If you have been abused, I hope your church will a) call the cops with you, b) support you entirely, and c) not try to handle it merely internally as if the answer to horrible crimes against victims is a small group or prayer time with the pastor. Do not stay with your abuser. Do not blame yourself. Get out and get professional, qualified help as soon as you can.

Uprooting Evil in the Fields We Know

Some time ago I went on an adventure. At least, that’s what it feels like whenever I open the pages of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In my reading, I came upon this quote from Gandalf. He says:

“Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

As is often the case with Tolkien, I had to stop and read it again. Then again. And again.

It is the mood of our times to aspire to be world changers. We are supposed to irrevocably change things for the better. Even in the church. My time in youth and college ministry was filled with language of “changing the world”, “bringing revival”, being a “chosen generation”, and “taking back our country!” Not all of this came from the church. Much of it simply came from the Evangelical subcultural waters I was swimming in. I know, however, that I am not alone in this experience. Nor is such an experience unique to those of my generation. This sentiment continues in the church and in the world. This is an age of protest—many of them good and right—and the younger generations have become fully engaged. Each generation of the modern era has been filled with dreams of utopia: we can fix this once and for all.

I think we know better, deep down. Gandalf’s point speaks to this. We are too finite, too small to ‘fix it’ once and for all. But doing nothing is not an option. We are not without a task. We have a mission. It is not to master every incoming tide. Instead, we are to use all of the strength we have in the times we have been placed to uproot evil on our little plot of earth, in the little time we have. We cannot fix this world. Nor can we determine the weather for our children. But we can uproot evil in our day.

I cannot help but be reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:9–12:

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

The Christian life is countercultural in this way. It does not look like a cycle of drastic upheaval or violent riots: it is the quiet revolution of lives lived in peace, working faithfully, and walking properly before outsiders. It is a quiet resistance of hatred and selfishness, committing ourselves to the love of one another. It is the consistent commitment to repent of our own sins and refuse to tolerate unrighteousness in our midst, no matter how much it may benefit us in terms of power, influence, or riches.

It does not ignore the little foxes that terrorize our gardens. It does not turn a blind eye to evil. It does not make deals with the devil. The sheep do not make alliances with the wolves.

In 1938, Neville Chamberlain lead the UK to make a disastrous treaty with Hitler’s Nazi Germany. His description lives on as a farcical response to a disastrous compromise: “Peace in our time.” But, as the whole world now knows, peace does not come through compromise with evil. But neither does it come through our inner ability to change the world.

If we are to change this world, we must begin by uprooting evil in the field that we know. Jesus said it this way: If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.

It is true that God has and does often raise up heroes who introduce monumental change in our world. There is a place for that. Nonetheless, it seems to me that true change often comes when believers commit themselves to uprooting sin in their own lives, bringing light in their own community, and fighting sin where they see it. We cannot control the weather for tomorrow. We do not know what challenges will come in days ahead.

But we can see the weeds in our garden, and we can root them out by the Spirit.

Only then can we have peace in our time.

Attending to God in an Age of Distraction

If you don’t feel distracted by the entertainment, information glut, and noise of the world today, I think I speak for everyone when I say: are you an alien?

Jokes aside, it’s nearly impossible to focus these days. More than that, it’s nearly impossible to focus on the things that matter most. It’s especially difficult to focus on God and his word.

John Starke pointed out these lectures on that very issue on twitter from two thinkers who I greatly admire: James K.A. Smith and Alan Jacobs.

Smith has made his reputation in popular theology with his writing on how habit (which he calls “liturgy”) shapes and forms the heart (and our loves). In short, to borrow the title from his most famous book, “you are what you love.” Alan Jacobs is an excellent writer and one of the most reflective and intentional thinkers of our day. His recent book “Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind” is an incredible gift to the church.

I hope you find these lectures interesting and a blessing in your life. Here’s the description from the event where the lectures were given:

For this summertime retreat we’ll dig into how our technological environment—what Nicholas Carr has called our “glass cage”—has qualitatively changed our capacity for attention. Especially since the habits of attention, contemplation, and introspection are so crucial to the Christian life, and in many ways one of the great gifts of Christianity to the West.

What does a “liturgical audit” of our technological habits reveal? What spiritual insights emerge from an analysis of distraction? We’ll take up all of this (and more) in the blissfully cellphone free environs of the Frio River Canyon.

A Theology of Looking Over Your Shoulder

Have you ever been in a season of looking over your shoulder? For some, this is a season of pining over the things left behind or the things we wish were not drifting away. For others, it’s tremendous regret at things past. On occasion, it is the impulse of shame and guilt of what came before. It is the inability to look ahead because of the attachment to where you have come from.

The Bible is full of these moments. Lot’s wife is unnamed in Genesis. She is known only for her looking back, pining over a worldly city she was attached to as God destroyed it. This look was her last, and God cursed her for it as he said he would. The Israelites looked back at Pharaoh as he pursued them at the beginning of the Exodus and were filled with fear. Later, they would love back on their enslavement with the angst that only bitter nostalgia can produce: “We sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full (Exod. 16:3)!” Peter denies the Lord for the third time and hears the rooster crow. He looks back—Matthew 26:75 says he “remembered”—and he wept bitterly.

In Christian circles, looking back can often be met with scorn! The faithful don’t look back! We keep our eyes on the Heaven ahead! There’s something to that. Hebrews 11:10 tells us that Abraham looked forward to the city that had foundations, designed and built by God.

Not every look over the shoulder is like Lot’s wife. As Christians, we need to develop a theology of looking over our shoulder. We need to learn to see who was at work when all of our own works failed us.

We need to develop a theology of looking over our shoulder. We need to learn to see who was at work when all of our own works failed us.

What Jacob Saw

Genesis 46 is the one where your eyes glaze over. In the middle of one of the grandest narratives in Scripture—God’s salvation of Israel through the faithful suffering of Joseph—we stumble upon a genealogy. Nothing causes Bible readers to skip ahead like a genealogy. But if you skip this one, you’re going to miss something important.

The passage walks through all of Jacob’s descendants: 70 in all, plus his son’s wives. Like a good baseball game, the stats tell the story: Four women who bore him children. Two wives. Eleven children. Ten sons.

Not learning from Abraham’s mistake, Jacob has taken multiple wives. More than that, he has also had children by their female children. Jacob’s life is one of struggle with God. We do not have the space in this post to retell his story, full of failures, unfaithfulness, and grief. Now Jacob is leaving his home to take his people to another nation for salvation from a famine.

When Jacob looks over his shoulder, what does he see? The children born from his lust, his lack of self-control, and his lack of wisdom. Two of his sons are killers. All of them, with one exception, contributing to the “death” of Joseph. His past is full of blood, deception, and sin.

It would be easy to stop there—easy to stop in this moment where Jacob is fleeing to Egypt in desperation, hoping this man whom his sons met will save them. It would be easy to see Jacob looking over his shoulder and only seeing failure. But there’s more to the story.

When Jacob looks over his shoulder, what does he see? He sees 70 offspring. God’s promise to Abraham so many years before was to give him a land, to multiply his offspring, and to bless him. He told Abraham he would make his descendants like the sand on the shore.

When Jacob looks over his shoulder, it is difficult to miss his own unfaithfulness. At the same time, when Jacob looks over his shoulder, he cannot miss God’s faithfulness.

In the midst of Jacob’s failures, the starvation of his family, and the uncertainty ahead in Egypt, God inserts a genealogy to remind the readers that God is fulfilling his promises, just as he said he would.

What Do You See?

I find myself in a season of introspection. I’ve been doing a lot of looking over my shoulder. What mistakes have I made? Where could I have taken a different turn? What if _________ hadn’t happened? What if I had handled this or that differently? Where have I done well? What do I need to remember next time?

It is easy, in a season of looking back, to look at the past like a mirror. Mirror, mirror on the wall, have I really blown it all?

This is not how Christians are called to look back. In the middle of famines, God builds families. In the middle of pain, he keeps his promises. In the middle of tragedies: a genealogy.

For believers, a look over the shoulder is as far away as we can possibly look from our own navel. Robert Murray McCheyne says it best: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”

Yes, our look over the shoulder will come with reminders of our sins, our failures, and our faults. Christians don’t do evasive autobiography. We are sinners. But Christians also life their eyes. Christians don’t find the good news within. Jesus Christ came to the world to save sinners.

Our look over the shoulder means seeing God’s faithfulness. It does not mean the alleviation of pain or grief or necessarily even regret.

Those who put their faith in Christ can look over their shoulder and see the most true thing: God kept his promises.

Scars of Loss and Waves of Grief

Every now and then, you find something truly great on the internet in the comment section. One such comment was found on Reddit in a thread about grieving and grief from user u/GSnow. If you’ve just lost someone, a loved one has and you’re helping them through it, or you never have and want to understand what the grief of loss is like, this comment will help you. You can read it in full below.

Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

I have never read such an accurate description of grief. It perfectly captures my own experience of losing my mother in 2008. Even now, I can remember the feeling of those waves rolling over me. More could be said about the consolation for grief, but I will leave that for another time, except for this: Christian, you are not alone. Christ is with you in the shipwreck. He will be with you until the end.