Better Questions: When Faith Evolves…In The Spotlight (With Guest Jonathan Martin)

I had the privilege of sitting down recently with author & communicator, & friend Jonathan Martin, to talk about an issue that’s been on the front burner of my mind as of late.

We talked about what an evolving, growing, or even deconstructing faith looks like for someone who has to walk that process out while standing in the center of, and more importantly, the PRESSURE of the spotlight. In other words, how do you wrestle with your own faith and understandings of God, while simultaneously leading others in theirs?

It ended up being an incredibly eye-opening conversation about the trap of idolatry, the pitfalls of influence, and the real cost of growing in your faith.

Even if you aren’t someone who is currently in the spotlight of organizational leadership, I think this conversation would be super encouraging to anyone wrestling through their own worldview and weighing the costs of being honest and vulnerable about it. Enjoy!

The Myth of the Moral High Ground


Several nights ago, just minutes from where we live, a local mom experienced what I’m sure will go down as the single most painful, confusing, traumatic, and tragic nights of her young life.  (But unfortunately, the days that followed haven’t been much better.)

As the historic rain and damaging winds in our state from Hurricane Florence began to subside on Sunday evening, and people began to get out of their homes for the first time to assess the damages, Dazia Lee of Charlotte, & her 14 month old son Kaiden got in the car and headed out to his great grandmothers house, located about an hour away.

Along the way, Dazia came upon some construction barricades sitting on the sides of the two lane road she was traveling.  Her assumption was that those were placed there earlier in the day when the roads were impassable, but had since been moved to the sides since the rain had stopped, and just hadn’t been picked up yet.  Her assumptions were affirmed as she looked ahead and saw cars traveling towards her through the barricaded stretch of road seemingly without issue.

But as Dazia began to drive through the standing water, her vehicle began shifting sideways and spinning due to the current.  Even though the depth of the water on the road was shallow, the current was still far too strong for her car to maintain traction on the road.  As her car was pushed off the road, it was quickly swept up into waters that exceeded 10 feet in depth, and had the current of a raging river.  Her vehicle slammed up against a tree and water began to fill the car.

Like any concerned mother would do, she immediately unstrapped her son and placed him in her arms.  As the windows had already been busted out from the impact, and the weight of the water pressed against the doors, she recognized that climbing through the broken glass was their only way out.

As she was climbing out, her foot got hung on her seatbelt.  So as she tried to reach down to free herself, water and debris begin to slam her in the face.  While all of this was going on, little Kaiden began to slip from her grasp.  She went from holding him in her arms to barely hanging on to his forearm.  And just like a dramatic scene from a movie, her grip slipped from his arm, to his wrist, to his fingers…until the force of the water overtook them, and he slipped out her grip.  She screamed.  Her baby was gone.

And there she was, at 12:23am, in the middle of nowhere…wet, tired, emotionally destroyed, and alone, with the weight of the unknown resting squarely on her shoulders.

She held onto hope until the moment she got that dreaded call.  She prayed in agony that somehow, her precious baby had gotten pushed off to the side of the water.  But tragically, that was not the call she received.  At 10:20am the next morning, her fears were confirmed.  They had found his body.  Her baby was gone.

As all of the media reports from the night before began to update their stories with the news of the child’s death, the comments sections on social media began to fill.

And not surprisingly, they weren’t filled with notes of sympathy, or words of condolence for this young mother that had just walked through the worst night imaginable.  But rather vitriol, disdain, disgust, and frustration over the decision this mother had made to unnecessarily put her child in harms way.

“What an idiot!” “Charge her.” “She deserves the same thing that baby got.” “She’s not fit to be a mother.” “How could you be so naive.” “That’s what the freaking barricades are for!” “Does she not watch the news?” “What a careless b!$ch!”

And thousands more…but you get the point.

This woman’s car and clothes were still dripping from the tragic flood waters that had snatched away her son, and the stones were already flying.

It was as if people were standing on the proverbial moral high ground with the perfect 20-20 clarity that hindsight provides, and were lobbing the rocks they had found beneath their dry feet toward the head of this grieving mother still standing in the low lying waters of regret and shame.

Maybe it’s because I’m a pastor and I study the scriptures for a living,  but as I began to read the comments and the sense the anger from the mob, all I could think about was the moment in the eighth chapter of Johns gospel, when the crowd brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery.  This woman had obviously made the decision to break the law and obviously deserved to be stoned, RIGHT?

In the same way, it was obviously this young mothers bad decision to drive her son out on unknown roads when the news and authorities had instructed her to stay home.  And it was obviously her bad decision to go past the barricades that led to her son being in the dangerous waters that night.  And she obviously DESERVED to be held accountable by those who had chosen to stay on higher ground…RIGHT?

I love Jesus’ response.  According to John’s gospel, Jesus spoke up and said “RIGHT! SHE DESERVES TO BE STONED. HOW ABOUT THE ONE HERE WITHOUT THEIR OWN SIN, WITHOUT THEIR OWN MISTAKES, YOU GO AHEAD AND CAST THE FIRST ROCK!”  He then knelt down, and began to write in the dirt.  Now we aren’t told what he was writing, but I can only imagine that Jesus began listing out the private sins of those who were holding the rocks.  Once people began to realize their OWN shortcomings, or more realistically, for fear of being outed, people began to drop their rocks and bail.  The mob was no longer an appealing place to be.

See, the problem with taking the moral high ground is that it doesn’t actually exist.  It’s a fantasy world we like to live in, but in truth, we are ALL standing neck deep in our own river of regret.

Jesus was saying, “you guys like to act like you’re better than her, but the truth is, you’re no different than her.  Your sin, mistakes, and shortcomings may look, sound, and smell different this woman’s, but you deserve no less than what you’re asking to be done to her.”

In other words…”you’re standing on a moral high ground that doesn’t actually exist. Because you’re all actually standing on equal footing.”

The truth is, there is only one who has ever had the authority to stand on a moral high ground and judge us, and He was the one who bent down, looked at the woman bearing the weight of her all of her mistakes and said…”I DON’T CONDEMN YOU.”

And I for one am so glad that there isn’t a moral high ground for you and I to stand on in judgement of those who’ve made mistakes or have regrets.  Because the mob we see judging this young mom this week is a picture perfect example of how we would handle it.

I’m even more glad to know that JESUS is the one who IS afforded it.  Because He chose to look down at us in the river, step off the hill, step into the raging waters of our lives, as tears stream down all of our faces, put his arms around us, and say “I don’t condemn ANY of you.”

The only one who’s ever had the ability to stand on the moral high ground used it as a launchpad for grace.

And now, He’s calling us to follow Him.  But how best do we follow Him?  Is is by trying to pretend like we’re as good as He is.  Of course not.  But rather, by extending the same mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, and understanding that He’s extended to us.

So the next time you hear about someone or know someone that royally screws up, even if that screw up has hurt someone else, don’t be the person standing on some non-existent moral high ground with rock in hand ready to strike.  Because were it not for grace, the royal screw up could be you.

Instead be the one that gets down in the dirt with the accused or the guilty, and whispers in their ear, “I don’t condemn you…let me help you up, we’re putting these mistakes in the past and together, we’re moving forward.”

A Change Of View


Several years ago, my wife and I planted a church in North Carolina and were privileged to start out in our own permanent facility rather than meeting in a portable setting like a school or movie theatre.  This was usually an unthinkable feat in most church-planting circles, and we knew it.  We considered ourselves unbelievably blessed.  After spending years with other church plants who did full set-up and teardown week in and week out, walking into a ready-to-go building on Sunday mornings was like taking a breath of fresh air.  (Now, before the portable church planters take this book and throw it through their office window, I should mention that that facility only accommodated us for a little over a year, and we quickly had to move into a much more portable situation at a local daycare, so trust me when I say, I get it, and you guys are my heroes!)

At any rate, the facility we initially utilized used to be an old furniture store that had been converted into a business office years later.  When we took possession of the building, we simply knocked out all the non-load bearing walls that had been installed for the office space and opened the building back up to it’s original design.  We kept things extremely minimalistic.  By just staining and sealing the concrete floors throughout the building, and painting the exposed roof deck black in order to give it that high ceiling effect, it became an extremely cool space.  It had a really modern feel when you walked through the doors, and we were proud of that.  Beside its overall size, the building really only had one major fault…sound.  It was an acoustical nightmare.  Now, between the padded chairs, and the ceiling insulation in the auditorium, we were able to overcome most of that.  But our lobby sound was absolutely atrocious.  Because of the floors and the ceiling, it had that old catholic cathedral effect and any noise that was made reverberated throughout the entire facility.  The one benefit was that it was like singing in the shower x10.  It was the one place where if I sang “Livin On A Prayer,” I actually sounded like Jon Bon Jovi. (hypothetically of course)

I remember one Sunday when we accidentally set off the fire alarm, the noise was so deafening in that lobby, that we actually had people complain of long-term hearing damage weeks after the fact.

The summer that we were there, we used the lobby space for a YMCA kids summer camp, and I remember choosing to avoid my office and work out of a Starbucks that whole summer, because of how loud that lobby echoed through our building.  No bluetooth speaker I could afford was going to cover it up.

One Thursday afternoon, I was sitting in our church office, which was adjacent to our lobby, trying to get some last minute work done for that weekends worship experience.  I remember sitting in the building, completely alone (which was a rarity at our particular facility), and thinking of how thankful I was that God had cleared the building that day, and that I had a place like that to get away from it all, as I DESPERATELY needed to focus on an important upcoming conversation I was going to be having with our church family.  I was in the zone too.  Thoughts were flowing. It was as if the presence of God speaking over my heart was a crystal clear audiobook blaring through a brand new pair of Beats by Dre that He was reciting audibly right to me.  It was one of “those” moments.  I was in a spiritual and study utopia.  No kids, no co-workers, no parishioners…just me, God, and my laptop.  It was glorious.  It WAS glorious.

Just as I had rounded the halfway point on my notes, I heard the front door unlock to the lobby of the building.  No, I wasn’t close by, that’s just how loud the lobby was, that you could literally hear a key turning 75 yards away.

I thought to myself “maybe if I sit right here, still and quiet, whoever it is will go to another part of the facility, and stay out of my proverbial moment of zen.”  And guess what, I was right.

Whoever it was made their way over to our children’s wing (which was on the opposite side of the building) to get some work done in one of our kids rooms.  Crisis averted.  I quickly went right back into “the zone.”

After a few more minutes of working, I began to hear what sounded like a preschool-age or early elementary aged child running around and playing in the lobby.  I thought, “Are you kidding me!?”  If you’re going to work, the least you could do is take your loud mouthed kid back there with you.”  I immediately started hearing the voices of the deacons I grew up with in my traditional baptist church as they scolded me and reminded me (and my parents I might add), that “the church was no place for a child to be running around acting a’fool.”  As much as I hated that rhetoric growing up, and certainly don’t agree with it now, in that moment, I was their amen corner.  All I could think was “that’s right, where has the reverence for the house of the Lord gone?”  In truth, I was probably more concerned about their reverence for me, but in the moment, it was justified.

As much as I wanted to go out and let my old school Baptist roots fly, and give that kid a piece of my mind, I simmered and restrained.  I reminded myself that whoever had come in was likely a volunteer giving their time and energy to the work of the church, and that the last thing I needed to do was put a bad taste for serving Jesus in their mouth, or in the mouth of their kid.  So I took a breath, reached in my bag, grabbed my headphones, and decided to rise above.

After about 20 minutes of doing my best to focus and get back in my rhythm, what we had affectionately called “the lobby effect” began to occur.  That was the term we had used when noises from the lobby began to outweigh any artificial noise you created to mask it in any other part of the building.  I literally had my headphones CRANKED to the max and could still hear noises coming from the lobby.

So I took off my headphones to listen and make sure I wasn’t crazy.  Sure enough, “the kid” had struck again.  But this time, it wasn’t just playing, it was screaming, like top of your lungs yelling over and over again.  That compounded with the acoustics of the lobby made for what sounded like Dumb and Dumber’s “most annoying sound in the world.”  Don’t know what I’m talking about?  Look it up for reference…it will help paint the picture of what I was dealing with.

Now remember, I had made the decision to leave it alone, and keep to myself.  But the problem was, it wasn’t going away.  The noise just kept going, and going, and GOING.  I started thinking to myself “I know if I can hear this THROUGH headphones, then this kid’s mom or dad HAS to be able to hear it.”  So I decided to wait, and give the parent a chance to swoop in and whoop up on some craziness.  But you guessed it…that moment never came.

The noise just kept going.  The kid just kept yelling, and I could feel my blood pressure beginning to rise.  I was ready to rip this disrespectful kid a new one.  Not only that, my anger for the parent that would let their child act that way was going through the roof.

At one point, I cooled off, and tried to give them them the benefit of the doubt, that maybe this kid was hurt or something and wasn’t being rude, but instead was crying out in pain.  But after hearing him jump across the lobby, and hearing the cadence change repeatedly, I quickly realized that this wasn’t the case at all.

I waited, and waited, and waited, and began to realize that waiting wasn’t going to solve the problem.  In fact it got to the point that if I waited anymore, I was going to roll out there and excommunicate this family (and I’m not even catholic!)

So I decided that I had had enough.  Something had to be done, and at this point, it would be irresponsible to leave this situation alone.  So in absolute anger, I slammed my laptop shut, threw my headphones down on the table, and jumped up out of my chair.  As much as I hate to admit it, I was on the warpath.  I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do when I got my hands on this kid, but whatever it was, I was fully aware that it might cost me my job, and in that moment I didn’t care.  I was LIVID.

So I threw open the door to my office, possibly denting the sheetrock behind it, and began to walk down the hall.  I remember rolling up my sleeves like I was about to have a schoolyard brawl, (which in retrospect was ridiculous considering I was fully aware  based on the sound of his voice that this kid had to be in like 1st grade or younger), and turned the corner into the lobby.

PAUSE.  This is the turning point in the story.  But as  I proceed, keep in mind…NOTHING about the circumstances have changed.

The moment I turned the corner, EVERYTHING changed for me.  A seismic shift took place in my heart and mind.  In a matter of milliseconds, I had forgotten all about my frustration, my anger, and my bitterness.  No, the screaming hadn’t stopped, and I didn’t get knocked on the floor by a bright light or a voice from Heaven.

I simply turned the corner and everything was different…not because of what what happening, but because of WHO. I. SAW.

For the past several years we have been friends with a couple from our church who has a little boy with severe autism.  His name is McConaughey.   McConaughey has never said a word because he’s non-verbal.  The best he can do is make noises at different levels to communicate his approval or disapproval of situations.  He also has an ipad that he listens to and mumbles along with while watching shows and listening to music.  He is one of the kindest, sweetest, and cutest kids on the planet.

When I turned the corner, I saw McConaughey in the lobby with his headphones on playing, and attempting to sing along to whatever he was listening to.  That was the noise I was hearing from the office.  His mom was doing some work in one of our children’s environments and didn’t realize anyone else was in the building to disturb, and so she was just letting her son play, the only way he knows how.

As I write these words, tears are literally streaming down my face as I remember and re-live the overwhelming emotion that flooded my heart the moment I turned that corner.

I no longer saw what this kid was DOING…I saw WHO this kid was.  And I wasn’t angry anymore.  Not even a little.  In fact I was filled with compassion.  All because I simply moved from seeing a problem, to seeing a person.

What’s interesting is seeing McConaughey standing in that lobby didn’t just completely transform the way I treated him that day, it transformed the way I WANTED to treat him.  It wasn’t just a change in my behavior based on conviction.  It was literally a change in the way I felt about the screaming kid from the lobby.  The internal feelings of anger and frustration made a B-line for the exit completely and immediately.

See the first time I heard him, I made a decision.  That decision was to change my behavior…change my actions, change my response.  But that never works does it?  We can choose to change how we treat people all day long, but eventually, we cave…just like I did.  Because ultimately, changing what you do isn’t permanent…but changing what you see, that’s eternal.

I think in our culture, we end up in one of two camps.  We either hope and pray the situations and circumstances in our world or relationships change, OR, we just accept the world for what it is, and we batten down the hatches and just try our best to respond to it differently.  But what if there’s a better way.  A way that actually changes our reality, from the inside out, rather than the outside in.

See, nothing about my situation changed.  This kid kept right on screaming even after I went out into the lobby.  And my attempt to keep my mouth shut didn’t work either…because eventually, we will always get to the point where we’ve had enough.  But everything did in fact change for me, the moment my paradigm changed.

I saw someone with a need for compassion.  I saw someone who needed grace.  I saw someone who needed support and understanding, rather than condemnation and disdain.  And all it took, was turning the corner, and opening my eyes.

After an exhaustive look through the scriptures, we come to the inevitable conclusion that when God looks at humanity, when he sees you and me, He doesn’t label us by what we do.  He doesn’t see us based on our mistakes, our shortcomings, or even our ignorant decisions based on faulty worldviews.  He sees US.  He sees our names, he sees our faces.  He sees people who were created in his image.  He sees people whom He loves with a reckless abandon, and whom He would bankrupt heaven for.  That’s why the creator of the universe has chosen to treat his creation with words like grace and mercy…because he knows us.  He doesn’t simply know about us…He KNOWS us.

The moment I turned that corner, my response to McConaughey changed.  Why?  Because I KNOW him.  I know his story, I know his family, I know their struggles, I know their heart for him, I KNOW him.  And when I saw HIM, not what he was doing, it changed my response, and not just my response, but honestly how I felt on the inside.

The amazing truth is, when we begin to see people the way that God does, [seeing people for who they are, rather than what they do] we won’t have to TRY so hard to treat them differently.  We won’t have to keep trying to mask our inner feelings towards people because our inner feelings will actually shift.  We won’t judge based off of mistakes or choices, but we’ll seek to care for and know someone IN SPITE OF their mistakes or choices.

If I’m being honest, there are a lot of people in this life that feel like the screaming kid in the lobby to me.  There are a lot of people I struggle loving, that frustrate me, that I disagree with, or that consistently say and do things that don’t make any sense to me.  But I’m learning that the REASON they frustrate me, or that I disagree with them, or that I have trouble loving them has NOTHING to do with who they are.  It has EVERYTHING to do with what they do.  If I can get past the things people are doing that I don’t like and begin seeing who people really are, I’m convinced it will COMPLETELY transform my response AND my feelings toward them.  But it will require us to see people the way that God sees people…

Can you imagine how differently we would treat every relationship we have if we SAW people the way their creator does?  The Psalmist gives us  a beautiful picture of how the creator sees his creation:

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;

   you formed me in my mother’s womb.

I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!

   Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

   I worship in adoration—what a creation!

You know me inside and out,

   you know every bone in my body;

You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,

   how I was sculpted from nothing into something.

Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.

-Psalm 139:13-16

Seeing someone who was created in detail, is loved as a son or daughter, is cared for beyond belief, is known without borders, and who has been passionately pursued WILL change how we treat that individual.  But first we have to SEE them that way.

But I feel like for many of us, we never leave the proverbial office.  We stay in this position of judgement, anger, and frustration over behavior that we don’t even fully understand.  We’ve never walked into the lobby and seen the who behind the what.  And we constantly respond to people based on the what, rather than the who.  And the biggest reason we never see the who, is because honestly, we don’t look.  When is the last time you had a conversation with someone you had an issue with , not to argue your point, but to get to know their heart?  When is the last time you took someone you don’t like out to coffee, just to get to get to know them a little better?

I realized in the hours following that instant in the lobby, that I had somehow made a critical error in the way I interacted with people, and I don’t think I’m the only one.  See with McConaughey, all it took was one look, and everything changed for me.  But that’s because of how I SEE him.  The problem is, most of the time, I DON’T see other people with those same compassionate eyes.  What if I looked at my neighbor the way I looked at McConaughey?  What about my spouse, my kids, my boss, that annoying co-worker, that estranged family member, that person who always votes for the other guy.  What if we began seeing EVERYONE through the eyes of compassion…for who they are, rather than what they do?  Because that’s how God operates.  Imagine how it would change us if we did too.

One of the greatest tools the enemy uses in our lives is the instrument of deception.  He plants thoughts in our mind about people that aren’t based in reality.  I had so many thoughts running through my mind about McConaughey, about his family, about their parenting strategy, about his behavior and ALL of it was based on false pretenses.  If I had seen who it was making the noise, it would have demolished all those thoughts.  But because I had not yet SEEN, it left the door open for deceit.  But the moment I SAW McConaughey, it immediately closed that door, and like a vacuum, sucked all those thoughts from my mind.

The truth is, you’ll never truly value who people are if you don’t see who it is God created them to be.  Imagine this:  what if we began to place the same VALUE on people, not just some people, but ALL people that God places on people.  What if those same people we struggle loving unconditionally because of what they DO, became unbelievably valuable to us the moment we see who they ARE.  I would argue that we never look and sound more like Jesus than when we look beyond people’s past mistakes and instead focus on their future potential.

In the tenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus sending out His twelve disciples for the work of ministry.  But before He sends them out, He wants them to know how valuable they are to Him, because of the difficulties they’re going to face.    He wants them to understand how much potential He sees in them because of how deeply He knows them.  Now, keep in mind, these were the very guys who would eventually run for their lives when he was arrested, deny they ever knew him, and doubt the truth of his resurrection.  He had PLENTY of reasons to struggle with being compassionate towards this particular group.  But in His encouragement to them, he says that His Heavenly Father is so aware of the details of His creation, that He even knows when a (monetarily worthless) sparrow falls from the sky.  But that they are FAR more valuable than any sparrow.  He’s wanting them to know just how VALUABLE they are to Him.  And that value is proven in the subsequent chapters time and time again when Jesus offers not only forgiveness, but commissions them for building His church, DESPITE their mistakes.  See, the value you place on someone will always trump what they’ve said or what they’ve done.

I’m convinced that when we begin to place the same value on people that God has placed on them, we’ll start to see past what they do, and begin to see who it is that God created them to be.  And that change of perspective will ultimately be the catalyst that changes who WE are.

Ask yourself, who in my life am I listening to from the office, rather than seeing in the lobby?  Who do I need to stop judging, and start seeing?  Who is frustrating me, that I struggle to understand, because I don’t SEE them the way their creator sees them?  And more importantly, am I willing to turn the corner at the end of the hall, and SEE who it is I’ve been missing…

Charlotte…This Is Us


So last night, my wife and I stayed up fairly late to watch a new show premier that she (ok, we) have been looking forward to watching for a while now called This Is Us.  If you missed it, I won’t spoil it for you but let me just say, well done NBC, well done.

At any rate, immediately following what was an emotionally charged ending to a spectacularly written show, breaking news flashed across our television screen.  As soon as the “breaking news” graphics and local news logos faded from view, we were met with images of anger, frustration, and pain fueled riots, protests, and chaos.  We saw police officers in full riot gear, smoke rising into the air, law enforcement vehicles under siege…and the all too familiar signs that read “black lives matter.”

After a moment or two of this imagery capturing my periphery, the local desk anchor began to speak.  As he read the freshly typed words off of the teleprompter, I began to realize that these protests were in response to an officer-involved shooting and death of an african american man…that took place earlier that day…in CHARLOTTE.

No, these images that we were watching live weren’t from Baltimore, Ferguson, or Baton Rouge.  This wasn’t old footage from the streets of Dallas.  I quickly began to realize these were scenes that were playing out in real time…in MY city.  What was once a headline from another part of the country immediately became a narrative that directly affected my own friends, and their families.  I was watching scenes of chaos unfold just a mere few minutes from the very church I have the privilege of pastoring.

I watched as police officers who weren’t even present during the original shooting do their best to maintain composure while attempting to restore law and order, all while trying to de-escalate a very tense situation.  I watched as anger, pain, and loss from an entire community of people poured out in the form of riot and protest against authorities they feel threatened by rather than protected by, whether that is the intent of the majority or not.  I watched as chaos engulfed peaceful streets, and as frustration that had obviously been quietly brewing for months and years under the surface finally broke through people’s filters.  I watched my city burn, in more ways than one…and I was heartbroken.

But I’ve come to realize that heartbreak is pointless if it’s accompanied by inaction.  We can allow the pain invoked by these scenes to send us into a spiral of depression or cynicism, OR, we can respond.  We can sit idly by, and allow chaos to rob our city of it’s joy and hope, or we can become peaceMAKERS.  See I’m convinced we have the capacity to be bridge builders in the face of division, but it will require something of us…something we hold dear.  It will require us to lay down our agenda, preferences, and platforms.  It will even and almost especially require us to do so in the face of those who refuse to do the same.

But what does that look like?  How do we make peace in the midst of pain?  How do we build authentic unity in the face of cynicism?

I’m convinced it starts with listening…a word our status update box doesn’t really afford us much of these days.

Today, I went to the scene of the riot.  I spent time listening to the protesters.  I spent time listening to the rioters.  I spent time listening to the family who lost their dad, and brother yesterday.  I listened to their pain, I heard their frustration.  And I responded with…”I HEAR YOU.”

Today, I spent time listening to the officers in RIOT gear.  I listened to their mothers and fathers, to their husbands and wives, and I heard their fear over escalating violence, and their frustration with misconception and blanket labeling & assumption.  And I responded with…”I HEAR YOU.”

See, the key to resolving ANY conflict is conversation, and at least 50% of any conversation should be listening.  The problem is, we do a LOT of talking, and share a LOT of opinions, and stand on a LOT of platforms.  But how often do we listen?  How often do we ask those DIRECTLY involved and affected by a situation our questions…and then honestly seek to understand their response.

How often do we DROP our preconceived opinions and notions at the door before beginning said dialogue?

See, I’m convinced that THIS is how we begin to make peace.

THIS is how we begin to build bridges.

This is how we begin to take ownership of our city…OUR city…and begin to heal what’s been broken.

This is how we have HONEST dialogue in our city…where ALL parties are heard and understood, and change is made.

This is how we take an honest assessment of our situation…by listening, understanding, and responding to what we hear.

The first step to solving any problem is recognizing there is one…and Charlotte, we’ve got one.  We can’t mask it, sugarcoat it, blame a demographic on it, or excuse it away.  Here’s the bad news…those images last night…Charlotte…THIS IS US.  But the good news is…it doesn’t have to be, and I don’t care if it takes a thousand conversations…I’M NOT GIVING UP ON US.  I’m ready to listen, and understand.  I’m convinced we can do better…we will do better.

I WON’T GIVE UP ON US…and you shouldn’t either.

Why Melania’s Plagiarism Might Be Our Saving Grace


Now there’s 8 words I never fathomed I’d type.

In case you missed it, last night was the opening night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.  There was an OCEAN of red-blooded American fervor throughout the day with wave after wave crashing just a bit further up the shoreline of conservative patriotism.  We saw everything from Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson guaranteeing that no matter what you face in life, Trump would “Have Your Back,” to Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani promising that Trump would do for America what he did for the city of New York.  But the pinnacle of the night was when Trump’s closest confidant and ally, his wife and possible future first-lady took the stage to talk about her husband, their ideals, and their heart for the future of our nation.

This is where an already shaky train began to come off the tracks.  All in all, it was a passionate, articulate, and beautifully worded speech.  The problem:  SOME (not many to be fair, but some) of those words weren’t hers.  They weren’t her speechwriter’s either.  They came from an unusual and unlikely source…take a look.

Now, I’m not a political pundit, advisor, or even enthusiast so I’m not here to debate the issue.  Whether you believe this was a problem or not for the RNC, the Trump campaign or even Mrs. Trump herself is really irrelevant to me.  I’m sure people will debate about what this does to the integrity of the campaign (if anything) for days to come.  That isn’t my agenda here.

My agenda is to communicate a much more encouraging gem that this “plagiarism” has unearthed from the ashes of what has looked like Rome burning to the ground over the past several weeks.

See, you would have had to have been living under a rock wearing your best pair of Beats by Dre noise cancelling headphones to not realize the seemingly insurmountable division, vitriol, hate, and anger that has flooded our news feeds in recent days.  It seems as if EVERYBODY in EVERY regard has taken a side on a particular reality or circumstance and has taken issue with anyone with the opposing viewpoint.

Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter…

law enforcement agencies vs. the African-American community…

radical religious terrorists vs. anybody else who doesn’t believe and live like them…

Republicans verses Democrats…

Republicans verses Republicans…

moderate Democrats versus Socialists…and the list goes on and on.

These divisions have led to bloodshed and have fueled the very anger which has led to even more bloodshed.

The life of the innocent is being snatched away right before our very eyes and we as a people have been left reeling in disbelief.  The divisive violence, vitriol, and hatred being poured over you and me (and out of you and me) have left many of us desensitized to the severity of the anguish filling our hearts and homes.

Up until last night, I saw a divided nation, with little to no hope for ever finding common ground in my lifetime.

That was until Melania took the stage.

The moment she begin to utter the words that had previously been spoken by what many would call a political enemy, both of which were followed by enormous support and applause…I saw it.  In plain sight.  As if it’s been there the whole time, just waiting on a slip up like this to create a visible crack in the walls.  Unquestionable commonality…and that’s a GOOD thing.

Look below at the portion of the transcript.


These are the words that were “plagiarized.”  But they are so much more.  They are also the words that members of the Republican party last night…and members of the Democratic Party just a few short years ago both APPLAUDED, RESONATED WITH, AND BELIEVED IN.

People in the law enforcement community believe these words, and people who proclaim that “black lives matter” believe these words.  People who love God believe these words, and people who aren’t sure God even exists believe these words.  People on EVERY side believe these words, evidenced by the fact that they were uttered in enemy camps and were met with the same response.

The reality is that no matter how divided we may seem right now, no matter how divisive the language has become, and no matter how horrific what is being said and done in moments of anger and vindication is, there are still some core realities that we ALL believe in. They are the realities which unite us.

We all believe that hard work pays off in the end.

Whether we are faithful in living it out or not, we ALL believe that keeping your word is the most important thing you can do among your fellow-man.

Deep down behind the anger and frustration, we all believe that human beings from EVERY background are worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.

We all believe that the best thing we could do for our country is to instill these values in our children and grandchildren.

And we all hope, pray, and believe that the sky is the limit for every single one of them as long as they are willing to carry out these values.

Forget policy for a moment.  Forget the content of your protest banner, or the ideology of your movement.  And remember that the very people you disagree with on what’s best for our future AGREE with you on some of these fundamental values.  From Melania to Michelle…and every human in between.

Last night, just a few seconds of accidental “plagiarism” might have very well revealed the very truth this world so desperately needs.  We were reminded that even though BOTH sides fail miserably and continuously at carrying them out, BOTH sides hold certain values in high esteem and want to instill those values in their children. Finding this common ground, despite our differences, enables us to extend grace to the other side.  It enables us to understand the other side.  It enables us to stop seeing people by the labels they wear, but instead by the hopes in their heart.

Whatever “side” you’re on, remember this.  The people on the other side aren’t perfect.  The people on the other side are hypocrites like you and me.  The people on the other side are often wrong and struggle to ever readily admit it.

But so are we.

I’m convinced when we stop looking at people through the lens of their own shortcomings and our own disagreements, and begin to see them through the lens of their hearts, their hopes, and their values, the walls of division might start coming down and unity might begin to creep across the border of our souls again.

And these walls MUST. COME. DOWN.

Are You An Evangelical Christian…or A Disciple Of Christ?


Because there’s a HUGE difference.  At least when it comes to the branding of the two.  But I think what may trouble me the most is how VASTLY different the reputations are, yet how interchangeable we’ve made them.

There’s a LOT of things that Evangelicals are known for currently in western culture.  Do evangelicals shop at Target? NOPE.  Do we drink Starbucks at Christmas?  Of course not.  Do we own a gun?  That’s like asking do we own a Bible. Would we ever even CONSIDER registering as Democrat? Are you kidding me!?

See what I mean…

Evangelical Christians in America have some clearly defined reputations that precede us in every conversation, before we ever even get the chance to open our mouth.

But a disciple of Jesus, now that’s a different story.  See nearly 2000 years ago, in the ancient near east, a Jewish Rabbi stepped on the scene.  He, like most Rabbi’s of that particular time period, had followers.  The uber-devoted ones, who wanted to be just like their masters were called disciples.  As modern day Jesus followers, we’ve inadvertently hijacked the word but all it actually means is a follower of someone who desperately wants to be just like his master.

Right before Jesus was executed, He gave His followers one last but extremely important command.  In fact, He told His disciples that simply consistently following THIS command would cause ALL people to know who they were disciples of.  Basically, following this ONE command would cause a reputation to precede you.

It went like this…

“By THIS all men will know you are my disciples, if you…

boycott stores that don’t support your values or belief systems…”

Wait, sorry, scratch that…

“By THIS all men will know you are my disciples, if you…

vote conservative.  all day, every day.  #stophillary…”

No that’s not it either…how about…

“By THIS all men will know you are my disciples, if you…

eat chic-fil-a at least 3 times a week…because, well, c’mon it’s Christian Chicken.”

No, as a matter fact, Jesus only wanted his followers to have ONE reputation that preceded them…

“By THIS, all men will know you are my disciples, if you…

LOVE. ONE. ANOTHER.  Just as I have loved you, you’ve got to love one another.”

And how did HE love?  With selfless, humble servitude, and sacrifice.  With compassion, and kindness.  With forgiveness, mercy, and grace.  Think about it, even while we were STILL all up in our sin, He gave his life for us.  He looked at the very people who put Him on the cross and begged His father to have mercy on them and their ignorance.

***Now, here me say this loud and clear to avoid a comment war below.  If you boycotted Target or Starbucks, eat at Chic-Fil-A, are a member of NRA, or hosted a Trump rally at your kids karate school last week, I’M NOT KNOCKING YOU.  This isn’t an article meant to demean, criticize, or make fun of your decision. (Well, unless you actually held a Trump rally at your kids karate school, in that case, quit being a loser.)

This isn’t about arguing the merits of those decisions.

This is about REPUTATION.

Which REPUTATION proceeds you?  Do people know you as an Evangelical Christian, or as a Disciple of this life-changing rabbi named Jesus?

Do people hear more about your political, and cultural positions & decisions than they do about the compassion and forgiveness you have towards your neighbor?

See, I’m convinced, that in the current culture of Christianity, we’ve somehow made the mistake of allowing our political & social values to overshadow our most important value, the value of love.

Here’s a great litmus test.  Go back and examine the past 72 hours of your social media posts, and face to face conversations and interactions.  What percentage was used to further a social position, political ideology, or cultural belief?  Now, what percentage was used to lift someone up from their despair, or provide hope to someone who is broken by sharing with them the heart and character of Jesus.

Culture isn’t the enemy.  They are the point.  Jesus died to rescue, restore, and redeem all of humanity to His Father in Heaven.  And WE are His conduit to do just that.  But if we allow ourselves to become so distracted by the things we oppose IN this world, that we rarely actually show the Love of Jesus TO the world, then we’ll never REACH the very world that Jesus commanded us to.

Disciples are known by their love.  Evangelicals are known by their positions.  So I ask again, are you known as an evangelical…or a disciple?  Which reputation precedes you.

When Good Becomes God (Plus a HUGE Announcement!)

February 29, 2016 was one of the worst nights of my life.  I couldn’t breath.  I threw up.  I was abrasive to my wife and kids.  My whole world felt like it had come crashing down.  I was an absolute mess.

Now to help this all make sense, I need to back up a few weeks.  My wife and I made the decision earlier this year to adopt a beautiful little girl from the Ukraine.  This was originally a stretch for me, because I was COMPLETELY CONTENT with our current family dynamic.  We have 3 beautiful biological children, all 2 years apart, and they all get along great.  I was happy with our family just the way it was and didn’t have a need or desire to add to it.

But throughout the month of January, God began dealing with my heart over it.  He helped me to realize that in our case, we weren’t adopting for us.  We were adopting for her.  We weren’t adopting as so many do to complete our family.  We were leveraging our family for the sake of a little girl who desperately needed one.

See, she is close to aging out of adoption eligibility, and where she is from, is highly susceptible to ending up in forced prostitution once leaving the orphanage.  So we aren’t doing this necessarily for us.  We’re doing this to rescue her and provide the loving family she may not otherwise have.

So finally, towards the end of January, God had helped me realize that no mater how I felt about our current family dynamic, this was a mission He was calling us to as a family on HIS behalf, to be HIS hands and feet in this little girl’s life.  So I got on board, and am now beyond excited about this journey God is calling us to.  (To read more about this journey, click here!)

Fast forward a few weeks, to the evening of February 29.  We are in the middle of making dinner and playing with the kids, and even talking about what paperwork needed to be completed that week for the adoption process.  My wife disappears for a few minutes, so I proceed to keep working on dinner.  About 10 minutes later I hear her scream “ROBBIE!!!  COME HERE!!!”  I rush down the hall, thinking she is hurt, and burst open the bathroom door.

Upon opening the door, she holds up a positive pregnancy test towards me and says “LOOK!”

It took me a second.  My world was spinning.  I said “what is that?”  I knew what it was but I couldn’t think of anything else to say.  She was crying.  She said “what do you think it is!?”

I slammed the door, walked in the kitchen, buried my face in my hands and began trying to catch my breath.

See we were done…like DONE DONE.  For the grammar nazi’s, this means we were FINISHED having children.  We had already gotten rid of ALL of our baby stuff.  ALL OF IT.  We were 4 years removed from the diaper phase, and had NO desire to return.

Our family was complete.  This couldn’t be happening.  We didn’t want another child.  I had JUST finished coming to terms with adding a fourth child, and that wasn’t even for us, it was for her.  But now this!?

How could this have even happened!?  She was on BIRTH CONTROL!!!  This stuff was supposed to be like 99 % effective!!!  All I could think of was Jim Carrey’s character from Dumb & Dumber saying, “so you’re telling me there’s a chance!?”

But in all seriousness, the worst part in my mind was the fact that we have several close friends who can’t get pregnant, and are DESPERATE to have another child, and God didn’t seem to be answering their prayers.  But here we were, not even wanting another one, and now expecting again.

All I could think was “God, what in the world are you doing!?” (Honestly it was probably a bit more colorful than that.)

Now, before you comment or send me an email about children being a blessing from the Lord, let me stop you right there.  I get it, I TOTALLY get it.  I’ve even preached it.  But it didn’t change how I felt in that moment.

The next few days were tortuous for me.  I had some of the most direct and honest conversations with God I have EVER had.  I even cancelled some of my appointments because I didn’t feel like I was on good enough terms with the Lord to fairly represent Him as a pastor.

I had to talk to somebody.  I HAD to.  This was killing me.  So I got together with another pastor friend of mine and began telling him my sob story.  It sounded SO stupid coming out of my mouth.  With all the real problems facing our world, here I was whining about having another kid.

But I just couldn’t shake it.  I knew it was a blessing, and I knew it wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it cast a weight of anxiety over me that I could hardly begin to explain.

After I finished my story, my pastor friend asked me a very simple, yet direct question: “What do you think God’s doing here?”  To which I responded “I don’t flippin’ know!  If I knew, I wouldn’t be so frustrated!”  He said, “no, no, no.  What do you think God is trying to do…IN YOU?”

I paused.  The question caught me so off guard.  But strangely, I knew the answer the moment he finished the question.  It was in that moment that I realized that what God was doing.

See, this was about me.  It was about what God was uprooting in me.  It was about something that I wouldn’t have EVER realized, OR let go of without God allowing this child to be conceived.  Adoption wouldn’t do it, church changes wouldn’t do it.  It had to be this.

In that moment, I realized that my family dynamic, the perfect little caucasian family with 3 kids, 2 boys, 1 girl, all two years apart, all almost old enough for the rides at Disney, all old enough to tie their own shoes and wipe their own butt, living in the suburbs with everything going exactly to MY plan…THAT dynamic…had become an IDOL.

I was committing idolatry with something so precious, and so good, MY OWN FAMILY.  And the proof was in my reaction.  As long as my family dynamic went according to my plan, I was good, but the moment God stepped in with HIS plan, I was angry, frustrated, worried, & fearful.  Why?  Because I had placed MY plan for my family, over GOD’s plan for my family.  And anytime you place something ahead of God in your life, it’s called idolatry.  And this was the only way God could shine a light on it and uproot it in me.

In that moment, it was almost like I could hear God saying, “to be the leader I am calling you to be, I need you to be ok with WHATEVER I send your way, not just the stuff you’re already ok with.”

I realized I had allowed something good (my family plan) to supersede GOD, and His plan for my family.  And God said, “let’s change that.”

So over the past few weeks I’ve been quiet about all of this.  Primarily because I’ve been seeking the Lord, and asking Him to move in my heart, and get me to where HE wants me to be.

I can honestly now say, I’m excited.  Like, I’m legit excited.  Am I still freaked out?  OF COURSE.  But knowing that we are about to embark on TWO new journeys, both of which were by HIS design, and not mine, is an exciting place to be.

This time next year, I’ll be a dad of a 14 year old, a 9 year old, a 7 year old, a 5 year old, and a 6 month old.  God sure has a funny sense of humor, huh?

But I’m learning that when I become completely submitted and surrendered to HIS plans for my life, NOTHING that comes my way will shake me.  Because my joy isn’t found in my circumstances…but in the one who holds them in the palm of His hands.

McLaughlin family, party of 7, coming soon!



Perspective Shift

As a pastor, year after year, I’ve watched followers of Jesus walk out the doors of the church on Sundays, and desperately try to consistently treat others the way God has treated them.

But inevitably, after a period of time…they always fail.  People ALWAYS seem to revert back to treating people the way they deserve to be treated, rather than how God has treated them…with grace, mercy, and love.  (Grace never comes natural.)

WHY?  Why can’t we seem to get this right?  Why is this so difficult for us?  Why do we allow our human instinct to get in the way of our supernatural calling?

Some would make the argument that it’s just human nature, and we’ll never get this right.  Well, that’s right AND wrong.  It IS just human nature, BUT we can get this right.  But it won’t come from trying harder.

Trying harder to be the hands and feet of Jesus always ends up in failure.  So what’s the answer.

I’m convinced we’ll NEVER consistently treat people the way God treats people, until we begin to see people the way God sees people.

Our paradigm is far more important than our performance.  Because our performance doesn’t affect our paradigm…BUT our paradigm (the lens in which we see things through) will ALWAYS affect our performance.

The way you see someone will ALWAYS determine how you treat them.  No matter how jacked up they are, or what mistakes they’ve made, if you see them like Jesus does, as lost sons and daughters, your PERSPECTIVE will change.

When someone makes a bad decision, and they break the law, our tendency is to say “throw the book at them, that’ll teach them.”  But when it’s our son or daughter that makes that same mistake, we SEE them differently, so we plead for leniency and mercy.

Maybe we need to stop asking God to make us His hands and His feet…instead, maybe we should start asking God to give us His eyes…because when we have his eyes, we’ll be MOVED with compassion, and naturally become His hands and feet.

When he SAW the crowds, he was moved with compassion towards them, because they were scattered, like sheep without a shepherd.  -Matthew 9:36 

So how do you do that?  How do you see the world through God’s eyes?  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a series of articles to talk about how to begin seeing people through the eyes of their Father.  If you’re interested, make sure to subscribe to get the latest.



After 12 hours of seeing responses to the State Of The Union, I feel the need to let the cat out of the bag regarding something…

I’m a follower of Jesus. That means I’m part of what the western world calls Evangelical Christianity.  I’m a fiscal conservative.  I’m pro-life.  I believe in a robust military and am a supporter of free-market capitalism.  I believe in limited and accountable welfare, and if that wasn’t enough to buy a willing ear, I’m also a supporter of the second amendment.  And here’s the crazy part…I still LOVE President Barack Obama.

See the very first thing I told you isn’t simply first, but it’s all-encompassing. I am a follower of Jesus.  That means I desire to follow the teachings of Jesus and his Church in every area of my life.  Yes, believe it or not, even in the way I approach political ideologies AND the way I converse with and speak about those who seek to represent or lead me in state and federal government.

This means I am seeking to follow the teachings of Jesus even when discussing someone who holds political office that I may or may not agree with regarding policy.

I don’t have a faith AND an approach to politics.  I have a faith that AFFECTS my approach to politics.  And my faith tells me that above all else, the most important thing I can do…is LOVE.

The practical way that love is expressed can be found in the thirteenth chapter of Corinthians.  Love is patient…it is kind.  It does not envy…nor is it proud.  It doesn’t boast.  It doesn’t dishonor others, and isn’t self-seeking.  It isn’t easily angered.  I can go on but I digress…

See, I’m called to love my fellow believers, AND to love my enemies.  I think that means I’m called to love EVERYONE…yes, even (or especially) our President…

Based on 1 Corinthians, I’m called to be “patient” with our President.  I’m called to be “kind” to our President.  I’m called to avoid “pride” when thinking of my differing opinions from our President.  I’m called to not boast when I believe our President has made a decision that has led to a negative outcome. I’m called to HONOR our President.  (We’ll get to that in a moment…)  And I’m called to be slow to anger with our President.

All because I’m called…above all else…to LOVE our President.  Because my allegiance to the teachings of my savior supersedes the allegiance to my political affiliation.

But to be honest…lately I feel like I’m in the minority.  I feel like those who bear the name of Jesus have allowed their party affiliation to overshadow their soul transformation.  And it’s sad.  To see those bearing the name of Jesus calling our President names like evil, liar, subhuman, etc…is disheartening to say the least…because I’m CONVINCED we can disagree with someone without being dishonorable.

The problem we currently face though, is it seems that many believers don’t mind dishonoring our current president.  Therein lies the problem.

Whether you like his decisions or not, we are called in the New Testament to HONOR those in authority over us.  Some would argue that doesn’t apply to someone making decisions they so vehemently and morally oppose.  But I would point your attention to 1 Peter 2:17:

“Honor everyone…love the brotherhood…fear God…and honor the emperor.”

Do you know who the emperor was Peter was referring to?  That would be a man by the name of Nero…one of the most evil and wicked tyrants in human history.  This guy not only MURDERED & MUTILATED countless innocent believers…he killed his own MOM.

And Peter instructs believers to HONOR even him.  Why?  Because the world takes notice when we respond to those we disagree with honor, because it’s so counter-reactive to how the rest of the world responds.  The early church spread like wildfire not because of their evangelistic acumen, but because of how they cared for, loved, and honored those who persecuted them.  And people wanted the ability to live like that.  People WANTED what the early church had…and I am saddened to think that after watching the vitriolic responses of believers to the SOTU, that is probably far from accurate today.

So how should we as believers who LOVE our country and want what’s best for it respond to those authorities we disagree with?  I can offer three appropriate responses.

PRAY:  Pour your heart and concern over our nation and it’s leadership out to God.  If He’s the one who allows those in authority to be there (Romans 13:1), then the BEST place to take our grievances is to Him.  That should be our first, and right response.

DISAGREE…WITHOUT DISHONORING:  Voice your concerns over issues…not people.  If you disagree with the policies of our current administration, voice those, and attempt to do something about them.  I’m not asking you to set aside your convictions.  In fact quite the contrary.  But don’t drag someone’s heart, character, and integrity through the mud in the process, no matter how much you question them internally.  Because one of the GREATEST detractors to real issues are personal jabs.  Let’s face our issues head on, with boldness and conviction, but maintain our obligation to honor those in authority over us.

FINALLY, LOVE:  Be patient and understanding with our President.  Speak kindly of our President.  Live out ALL the virtues of LOVE found in 1 Corinthians 13.  Because no matter how bad you may disagree with the president, if Jesus said to love your brothers…and your enemies, that certainly includes the President.  And we’re told exactly how to do that.

Look, at the end of the day…you won’t be held accountable for the decisions of this administration.  But you will be held accountable for how you respond to those decisions.  And ultimately, how we respond…THIS is how we change the world.