By / Jun 16

Rich Stearns, former president of World Vision U.S., has been a leader for a long time. Over the course of his life and career, serving within several organizations, he’s learned some important lessons about leadership, but none more important than being a leader with character and, as a Christian, one who is preoccupied with the will and way of God.

In his new book, Lead Like it Matters to God: Values-Driven Leadership in a Success-Driven World, Stearns outlines many of those lessons learned, encouraging readers to embrace a cross-shaped leadership model. In our world today, where leadership failings, missteps, and sins seem ever before us, Stearns’ vision of leadership is a challenging, yet gracious and encouraging call for the Christian to lead in a Christlike way.

Stearnes was kind enough to spend time answering a few of our questions about his book and his time as a leader. 

As you mention early in your book, there are a lot of leadership books that have been written. So, what compelled you to write this leadership book? What do you hope that it accomplishes?

I wanted to write a book on the critical importance of character in our leaders — especially in Christian leaders. Corporate scandals, the #MeToo movement, the coarseness of our politics, and scandals within churches and ministries are all the result of leaders of poor character who have abused their power. And, we live in a world where the temptations of success, influence, and financial rewards are all around us. Success and the drive to achieve it can become idols in our lives that cause leaders to stray from any sense of a moral compass. The result of this ‘unanchored leadership’ can be catastrophic for organizations and the people who work in them. 

Mother Teresa once said something profound — something that redefines success for a Christian: “God did not call me to be successful, he called me to be faithful.” Christian leaders, whether in ministry or in the marketplace, need to intentionally resist the lure of money, fame, and success and anchor themselves in the character of Christ. For Christian leaders, faithfulness is success, and success is faithfulness.

You say that “good leaders can change the world in remarkable ways.” Whether in business, church life, or in the home, why is good leadership so important, and what are some of the dangers of leadership done poorly?

Virtually everything that is accomplished in our world is the result of leaders who organize and direct groups of people to achieve something that none of them could have achieved alone. Whether bringing a product to market, passing important legislation, or building a church or ministry, leadership is the key ingredient that makes all of these things possible. But when a leader lacks integrity, uses people to achieve their own success, puts profit ahead of people, or is manipulative and abusive, the results can be devastating. 

Look at the opioid pandemic, where corporate leadership kept pushing more and more opioids through the healthcare system even after they knew that their own customers were becoming addicted and even dying. Or, closer to home, look at some of the church and ministry leadership failures that harmed thousands of people and discredited the name of Christ. For the Christian leader, your character matters much more to God than your achievements. God is not impressed by the title on your business card, the size of your bank account, or even the growth rate of your ministry. God is looking for leaders after his own heart — leaders who are winsome ambassadors for Jesus Christ.

As a Christian, you advocate for some very distinct leadership principles that may not often find their way into an environment like corporate America. For example, you begin with surrender. For Christians (again, whether in business, church life, or in the home), why is “surrender the place where leadership must begin?”

When we first place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are called to surrender our lives to him — not my will Lord, but thy will. And God is not interested in a partial surrender subject to a long list of conditions. Some of us would prefer not to surrender our finances, our careers, or our ambitions. But God calls us to sacrifice our ambitions for his ambitions for us. And once we fully surrender those things to God, it is very freeing. We can rise above the typical workplace stresses and politics because we have already handed those things over to the Lord. We might receive promotions and advancement, or we might not. Either way, we have entrusted those things to God. Again, in the words of Mother Teresa, “God did not call us to be successful, he called us to be faithful.” 

If we truly want to be used by God to further his kingdom, it starts with surrender. I believe that there are pastors of very small churches, who have been faithfully surrendered to God for decades, who will receive greater praise from God than some megachurch pastors who have built huge churches driven by their own ambition. Again, God is more interested in a leader’s character than a leader’s accomplishments. Success is not the goal.

One section that stood out to me was your chapter on courage. What role does courage play in leadership?

Leaders are often called on to make consequential decisions. Sometimes those decisions come with a cost. For example, during the COVID pandemic, many business leaders were forced to choose between protecting profits or protecting people. It took courage for leaders to put people first and then deal with criticism from shareholders or constituents. Elected officials had to decide on COVID protocols that inevitably brought praise from some and criticism from others. 

In Scripture, think of the courage it required for Joshua to enter the Promised Land with armies arrayed against him, or for the 12 disciples to lead the early church in the face of horrific persecution. We often overlook the fact that 11 of the disciples died violent deaths as martyrs. It often takes courage for a leader to do the right thing — the thing that puts people above profits or politics or personal gain.

In the early 2000s when the AIDS pandemic was killing millions in Africa and leaving a whole generation of orphans behind, World Vision had to decide whether to help. It sounds like a no-brainer today, but at the time, AIDS was deeply stigmatized in the U.S. as a ‘culture war’ issue, and polling showed only 3%  of evangelicals in America said they were ‘definitely’ willing to help children orphaned by AIDS. In other words, most of World Vision’s donors were opposed to getting involved with the victims of AIDS. We had to decide whether to do the right thing or the expedient thing, risking the relationships with our church partners and donors. We believed that caring for widows and orphans in their distress was the right thing — even if it was extremely unpopular. 

Over the next five years, we campaigned tirelessly, raised hundreds of millions of dollars to help victims of AIDS, and helped to change the attitude of American Christians toward the issue. But at the beginning, it took courage.

How can a leader or prospective leader cultivate courage?

It’s important to understand that courage does not mean that we have no fears; it means that we try to do the right thing anyway. But the most important thing for leaders is to be deeply rooted in God’s truth. I mentioned the importance of a moral compass to help leaders navigate the blizzard of challenges and decisions they will have to make. That moral compass comes from embracing the love of Christ and the character of Christ in our own lives. 

The old WWJD bracelets had it right: what would Jesus do? That question should always be on the lips of a Christian leader. And, of course, the only way for us to become more Christlike is the lifelong process of discipleship — and again, surrender to his will for our lives.

You also discuss a leader’s role in creating/casting vision, which you call one of the chief tasks of leadership. Would you call vision-casting a skill? If so, how can leaders grow in this area?

Vison-casting sounds like a kind of ‘prophesying’ skill, but in the context of an organization, it is really just about defining the desired future for that organization. Where are we now, and where do we want to be three or five years from now?  What are the things we will need to achieve to get there, what steps do we need to take in what sequence, and what are the values we will embrace on the journey? 

One of the key jobs of the leader is first, to help the organization decide on these things, and then to clearly articulate and model them. It’s a little like the GPS in your car: where am I now, what is my destination, and what are the steps I will need to take to get there? If a leader fails to bring clarity around these things, the organization can drift aimlessly without any clear sense of where they are headed. 

And it is critical for the leader to ‘own’ that vision — to constantly model and communicate it by ‘eating, drinking and sleeping’ the vision in full view of the organization. The best-led organizations have clarity about where they are headed. 

How can vision-casting be applied to the home and family?

I think many of the same principles apply to our family life. Who are we as a family? What do we believe, and what values do we share? Do we teach and model honesty, integrity, excellence, compassion, humility, courage, respect, and perseverance to our kids? As parents, how can we ‘eat, drink, and sleep’ these values in front of our children so that they will have clarity about who we are as followers of Christ?

In Deuteronomy, Moses speaks to God’s people just before they enter the Promised Land, and he exhorts them to live their lives according to God’s values and purposes: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut 6:6-9). That’s not a bad prescription for equipping our children with God’s Word.  

As you survey the state of society today, what challenges should Christians be prepared to face as they assume positions of leadership?

First and foremost, Christian leaders need to understand that their most important job is to represent Christ wherever they live and work. The verse I had stenciled on my office wall at World Vision was 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God is making his appeal through us.” 

Whatever title you have on your business card is superseded by your responsibility to be an ambassador for Christ. Once that becomes the bedrock of your leadership, you will be better able to resist the gravitational pull of the workplace culture, the ever-present drive for success that permeates our culture, and the temptations of money, power, and influence that can so easily lead you astray. You have surrendered those things to the Lord. When you do this, you may be ‘the odd man out’ in your place of work, but that’s exactly what we are called to be as believers. We are to be ‘salt and light’ in our culture and ‘the fragrance of Christ’ in our workplaces and communities. We should stand out.

Looking back over your career as a leader, what are one or two key things that God taught you through your vocation?

Our character is our witness. We live and work in front of a watching world. What will they see when they look at our lives, our conduct, and our values? What are we modeling? 

I’ve learned that God wants us to take our faith to work with us. The places we live and work are the places where God has intentionally stationed us to be his ambassadors. And when we live out our Christian convictions authentically, we can become an encouragement to our neighbors and co-workers, and an island in the storm for people who are struggling. Our career is the place we live out our calling.

Leadership is often described as difficult or challenging or even lonely. And though this may be true, each of these carries with it a subtle negative tone. I’m curious, what would you say are the joys of leadership?

The Olympic Gold Medalist in the 1924 Olympic Games, Eric Liddell, once said: “God made me, and God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” When we exercise our God-given abilities and talents in our places of work, God wants us to feel his pleasure. He has given us leadership responsibility over a group of people and wants us to rejoice at seeing each of them realize their own God-given potential. Think of the joy an orchestra conductor feels at bringing the beautiful music out of her musicians.  Leadership can be incredibly gratifying when we see our job as helping those around us release their talents to achieve their own dreams and ambitions. 

What encouragement would you give to younger leaders who aim to serve faithfully within their sphere of influence?

There is a truth I discovered late in my career that I wish I had better understood as a younger leader. What God is doing through us involves us, but does not depend on us. Let me say that again: what God is doing through you, involves you but does not depend on you. What do I mean by that? When we surrender our lives and careers to God, we can trust him for the outcome. 

In Scripture, David was involved in slaying Goliath, but it did not depend on David. Moses was involved in leading God’s people out of Egypt, but it did not depend on Moses. And Peter, an uneducated fisherman, was called to lead and establish the early church in a hostile world, but it did not depend on Peter. Once you understand that God will use you wherever you work if you are truly faithful to him,  you can relax and enjoy the journey — because God is looking to use leaders after his own heart in powerful ways. Remember, faithfulness is success for the Christian leader.

By / Feb 17

Over the last several years, it’s become a tradition over the Christmas holidays to take the kids—by which I mean my daughters and all of our nieces and nephews on my wife’s side—to see a superhero movie. Many of us adults love these movies as much as the children. 

This year, we didn’t venture out to the theater. Instead, we crowded into my in-laws’ den and streamed Wonder Woman 1984. And as we watched this latest installment from Warner Bros. and DC, I began to think about how this film does something that’s a bit unusual. It uses the fantasy genre as a way of critiquing our culture’s desire to escape reality. 

WW84’s critique of living in delusion isn’t totally unique. In many ways, the movie’s plot mirrors that of the new television series, WandaVision, from DC’s competitor, Marvel Studios (Warning: From this point forward, this post contains some spoilers for Wonder Woman 1984 and WandaVision, episodes 1–6):

  • WW84 centers around a wish-granting Dreamstone, a “monkey’s paw” created by a powerful trickster god that grants a person’s deepest desires while taking what’s most important—their dignity and identity.
  • In WandaVision, the leading character, Wanda Maximoff, attempts to escape her past by creating an alternate TV-land reality, but dark memories haunt her sitcom dream world.

I love this new theme for both comic book franchises. In a culture that says you can define your own reality, stories that blow holes in that assumption are beautiful. 

Our love affair with illusion

Fantasy is a good thing. The story world of knights and dragons, wizards, and superheroes teach children deep truths about how righteousness triumphs over great evil. As we grow, more complicated stories, like Maleficent for example, can show us the complexity of our own villainy. What’s imparted to us through the best fantasies is moral imagination, a sense of empathy, and—when we identify with those who persevere in the crusade for justice and beauty—perhaps even faith and courage.

Illusion, however, is different. It’s comforting to curl up with a good book or movie on a cold and depressing winter’s day. But the truth is that we’re all tempted not only to escape from life’s harsh realities for a moment’s solace but to attempt to create alternate realities of our own design. 

Our culture is in love with illusions. Influencers carefully manicure their online personas for public adoration while inside they are secretly starving for friendship. Suburbanites amass debt, possessions, and retirement accounts as safety nets that moth and rust will one day destroy. Men spend billions of dollars each year on pornography, building mind palaces for sexual experience while destroying their real relationships. Growing numbers devote their hearts to the conspiracy theories of QAnon, believing secret knowledge is a pathway to political power. Many young people (and some old) are seeking to redefine their gender, believing that rewriting their biological sex will numb social discomfort and pain. 

Each of these world-building exercises is a house of cards—like Wanda’s enchanted town of Westview, they may be elaborate but they are ultimately fragile and impossible to live in. Such illusions simultaneously seek to hide from and are driven by fear, shame, guilt, greed, and grief. But even though our alternate realities are built with strong chaos magic, their foundations ultimately crumble, because they’re constructed on lies. 

Facing down the devil

WW84 alludes to a trickster god behind the Dreamstone without revealing his identity. Marvel fans, meanwhile, have speculated that there’s darker magic from the comic universe at work behind Wanda’s delusions—perhaps the witch Agatha Harkness, the demon Mephisto, or Lethal Legion leader Grim Reaper. But even if the evil in the TV series is only found within Wanda herself, there’s a real devil in the details, hiding in the shadows behind the lies we want to believe. 

The Bible’s testimony prevents us from reducing evil down to impersonal forces and ideologies that stand in opposition to Christian teaching. It’s not even sufficient to name sins like greed, lust, and fleshly hunger for power. These are all real, but behind both sinful systems and individual temptations is a personal devil, our accuser, the archenemy, the evil prince of this present darkness (1 Chron. 21:1; Job 1:6–13; 2:1–7; Zech. 3:1–2; Eph. 2:2). 

After Jesus’s baptism, the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1–11). There Satan tested Jesus with three particular lies—untruths that still lay at the heart of the illusions within which we’re tempted to live.

The first was the illusion of independence (vv. 2–4). Will we trust in our own desires and abilities or in the Father’s loving care? 

After fasting for 40 days, Jesus was hungry. So the devil prompted Jesus to take care of himself—to break his fast by turning some stones into bread. When we’re living in the illusion of independence, we can delude ourselves like Wanda Maximoff and say, “I have this under control.” But when Satan tempted the Savior to act on his own apart from the Father, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man doesn’t live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” 

Moses spoke those words to remind Israel how God had tested them during their 40 years in the desert. God allowed them to be hungry and gave them manna so they might learn that people don’t merely need bread but God’s sustaining care. 

Sometimes we quote the words of Deuteronomy 8:3 as if Jesus was talking about having good theology, knowing the right Bible verses for each and every temptation or circumstance. But Jesus (like Moses before him) wasn’t talking about mere head knowledge; what he expressed was a deep trust in the Father’s goodness no matter his circumstances. The first step toward fighting illusion is trusting that whatever pain or griefs may come in life, God’s every word for us—all he ordains—is loving and good.

Second was the illusion of presumption (vv. 5–7). Will we treat God like a vending machine, thinking that he somehow owes us comfort or protection on our timetable? 

The devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple: “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.” This was a temptation to presume upon God’s promises. Satan cited Psalm 91:11–12: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up. . . so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” It’s as if he was saying, “Didn’t God promise to protect you? Let’s test that out.” 

But putting God to the test and presuming that he’ll give according to our standards doesn’t recognize God as God. It attempts instead to paint God in our own image and bribe him to act according to our expectation of how he should or ought to respond. When we presume, we fail to remember that God is the distant and holy one who came to Job in the whirlwind. Jesus knew better, and he answered, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Last was the illusion of attaining kingdom glory apart from the suffering of the cross (vv. 8–11). Will we worship the lie and the liar or will we embrace our call to suffer for others? 

Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to kingdom glory. He could rule and reign as Messiah over the world’s splendors and even avoid the sufferings of Calvary. There was only one small catch. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 

The trouble with the devil’s logic was that for Jesus to worship him would have entailed a redefinition of the Savior’s identity. It’s true that Jesus was the Davidic king, but he is also the Lamb of God, the Suffering Servant, who did not come in his first appearance to rule a splendid world (that’s an illusion) but rather to pour himself out for a fallen world, one mired in death and sin.

In the early church, new converts would not only be asked to confess “Jesus is Lord” before baptism but they were also instructed to renounce the devil publicly. If you’re familiar with the old liturgy, you may have heard echoes of it in the “I renounce my wish” refrain at the end of WW84. For me, it was a beautiful reminder that embracing a Christian identity has always involved renouncing the illusions of self and Satan and giving ourselves instead to the Truth—to the Lord who first gave himself for us.

Death and grief expose the lies

For Diana, Wanda, and for us, the truth quite literally hurts. WW84 and WandaVision wrestle with themes of death and grief as both leads attempt to use their reality-shifting power to resurrect lost loves. With Wonder Woman, this begins as an accidental wish to see her lost boyfriend, Steve Trevor. It’s coming to grips with letting Trevor go that teaches Diana how her desire must be limited by the truth. 

Wanda Maximoff’s sitcom reality similarly centers around her relationship with the deceased Avenger, Vision. While it appears—six episodes have been released at the time of writing—that she’ll do anything to protect the illusion of her life with him, it’s also clear that grief over the many losses in her past has never left her.

Facing death ultimately reveals how our fantasies are fleeting. Every year around this time, many Christians, like Jesus in the wilderness, fast 40 days to prepare their hearts for Easter. Though keeping a Lenten fast is less common for Baptists—after all, believers aren’t required to celebrate regular religious festivals (Col. 2:16)—I believe the broader Christian tradition carries with it a helpful reminder that can help us fight temptation and delusion. 

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday—a day that boldly acknowledges that no one gets out of this world alive. On this day, those who gather around the world receive an ashen sign of the cross on their foreheads. This mark is a reminder of our mortality and a call to repentance. Memento mori. Remember, you are going to die; “Dust you are, and to dust, you will return” (Genesis 3:19b). 

So prepare for Easter by preparing for death

Whether you live in the real world or a fictional one, building your life on conspiracies and lies will send you spinning into chaos. But Christians have a better hope than the devil’s illusions, one that allows us to be honest even about life’s starkest realities. 

We can speak the truth when temporary comforts, dreams, expectations, political hopes, and even our bodies are dying.  That’s not where our ultimate hope is found. We instead acknowledge even the hard truth of our death knowing we have a Savior who has already faced down the lies, the liar, and even the grave itself. And here’s the good news: Christ did not give in. On the other side of his long road of temptation and torment, there stands an empty tomb. It’s no illusion.

Brothers and sisters, Easter is coming. So put aside the lies and delusions which you renounced when you were baptized in him. Find in Christ the strength to be honest even about your griefs. And know that one day they will be fully conquered in him.

By / Aug 13

Herman Bavinck, Dutch theologian and Christian leader of the late 19th/early 20th centuries, delivered the first edition of his Christian Worldview in 1904, and later revised and republished it in 1913. Through the good work of Crossway publishers and editorial/translation work of Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, James Eglinton, and Cory C. Brock, this important work is now available in English.  

While the notion of a world and life view has persisted for millennia, the word “worldview” was not coined until 1790 by Immanuel Kant (originally the German weltanschauung) and quickly became common-speak in the Western world. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Christian worldview had become a central theme. David Naugle argues that the “headwaters of Christian worldview thinking can be traced back to the Scottish Presbyterian theologian James Orr and to the Dutch Reformed polymath Abraham Kuyper” (Naugle, Worldview; The History of a Concept, xviii).   

Summary of three chapters

In the vein of Kuyperian thought and influence, Bavinck offers his slim, three-chapter work on Christian worldview as a front-footed, unapologetic case for believing the truth of Christian Scripture as the only story that accounts for the world as we know and experience it. 

Weighing in at only 133 pages, let not the brevity of the book deceive concerning its depth or density. Bavinck addresses three basic questions that he believes are “problems” that have and continue to confront the human mind; “What am I? What is the world? And what is my place and task in the world?” (29).  His chapter titles address these questions respectively as “Thinking and Being,” “Being and Becoming,” and “Becoming and Acting.” He ends his introduction with this preliminary answer to these questions; 

Autonomous thinking finds no satisfactory answer to these questions—it oscillates between materialism and spiritualism, between atomism and dynamism, between nomism and antinomianism. But Christianity preserves the harmony [between them] and reveals to us a wisdom that reconciles the human being with God and, through this, with itself, with the world, and with life. (sic., 29)

As a point of advice to future readers, allow the quote above to serve as a constant clarifier for the rest of the volume. With each chapter, Bavinck attacks the question at hand, though the journey between question and answer is sometimes difficult to follow. He commonly takes sharp turns down the path of rival worldviews and ideas, sometimes seeming to agree or argue in favor of the position, only to turn back just as quickly in favor of the Christian view.  

In chapter one, Bavinck argues that we are capable of knowing only because God has known first. Then, “the doctrine of the creation of all things by the Word of God is the explanation of all knowing and knowing about,” for this assumes a correspondence between the knower and the thing known (46). He continues insisting that, “the deeper one thinks this through, [the clearer it becomes that] all truth is understood in the Wisdom, in the Word, who was in the beginning with God and who himself was God. The one who denies this Wisdom undermines the ‘foundation’ of all science…” (sic, 47, italics added for emphasis).  

Bavinck’s emphasis on wisdom is noteworthy and relatively unique in the broader—and more popular—worldview literature. Throughout the book, Christian wisdom serves as the clue to worldview. Thus, in chapter two Bavinck demonstrates the superiority of the “organic” worldview over what he calls the monistic-mechanical approach on one side and the dynamic/energetic approach on the other. He argues that the organic view does justice to the oneness and diversity of creation, and to “being and becoming.”  

Bavink notes that wisdom accounts for the essence of all things, but adds that God’s will (decrees) must be joined to wisdom to account for their existence in the world. Wisdom and will, then, account for the dynamism and development in the world that the mechanistic and energetic views cannot.  

Finally, Bavinck’s final chapter calls its readers to recognize that we are designed to conform to God’s laws and norms in the world: “You shall love the true, the good and the beautiful with all your soul; and you shall love God above all else and then your neighbor as yourself” (95). This isn’t accomplished by individualism, communism, or autonomous reason, but only by the Christian faith. “Christianity is not exclusively a teaching about salvation, but it is salvation itself, brought about by God in the history of the world,” centered on the person and work of Christ, concluding with the end of the ages (115-116).   

Three takeaways

First, Bavinck’s consistent pushback against individualism and autonomous reason remains timeless counsel that we do well to heed today. In our day, as in Bavinck’s, the temptation to assume center stage as though the function of human reason is the beginning of wisdom remains a fatal flaw in the pursuit of right living in God’s world.  

Second, Bavinck’s awareness of the broader disciplines is exemplary. He was not only conversant and up to date in the sciences, but his unique ability to penetrate the assumptions, methods, strengths, flaws, and plausibility of differing views yields insight that remains valuable even more than 100 years later.  

Finally, as noted above, the emphasis on divine wisdom is commendable and unique. While I have concerns about an over-intellectualized understanding of wisdom in the book, Bavinck rightly and repeatedly returns to God’s wisdom as essential for a proper view of the world. 

Bavinck’s work is an important addition to the last hundred years of Christian worldview literature. It will quickly become a classic volume for Christian philosophers, theologians, and worldview teachers everywhere.   

By / Apr 13

When the first of our spring activities were canceled a few weeks ago, my husband and I discussed the possibility that a shelter-in-place order would be in effect. At that time, it seemed like we were talking about a dystopian novel rather than our lives. Before that day was over, everything my family had scheduled for spring had been canceled, local schools were closed, and even regular rhythms on our calendar, like worship with our church family, had been indefinitely suspended. The shelter-in-place order recently took effect for our county. All across America—all across the world—people are experiencing the same thing as COVID-19 spreads. 

As I’ve been processing this time with my family, the word that keeps echoing through every conversation is change: rapid, unexpected, sweeping change. People are suddenly out of work. Kids and teachers have to adjust to online learning. Businesses and restaurants are closed. Even how we’re grocery shopping is different. But so much is also the same. In these tumultuous times, to comfort my heart, I keep coming back to three things that will not change. 

1. We can trust God even in uncertain times. 

Taking time to be in nature does me good. The children and I recently walked along a creek, following its bends and turns. The only sounds we could hear were the water babbling, toads croaking, and birds singing. They were accomplishing the job God had for them without a care about what was happening in the news. The same God who clothes them and put their songs in their throats is caring for us today. We don’t need to fear what news tomorrow will bring. Our God knows what is happening and what we need, and he will continue to provide for us. 

I have found myself anxious just to know what would happen tomorrow, next week, and next month. If I only knew, then I could cope and plan. My desire to know is a desire for control. I’ve forgotten my limitations and that God alone is omniscient. We have a good God even when the world around us is filled with what’s bad. As the world around us seems to be unraveling, we have the promise of the cross. Our hope in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the only thing we can count on. 

And this is the best news for us. This good news is for me, my children, my husband, and everyone else. We all already know that this world is full of pains and troubles. But there is hope, even in death, for those who are in Christ. We don’t need to be anxious about tomorrow. The Creator of the universe is in control, so we can rest in peace and put aside all anxiety. 

2. Jesus is the security plan. 

If you had asked me three weeks ago if I was trusting God, I would have said an emphatic yes. But this past week revealed that I was actually trusting in all sorts of other safety nets, and those have all proven to be not so safe after all.

We don’t need to fear what news tomorrow will bring. Our God knows what is happening and what we need, and he will continue to provide for us.

As I’ve been wrestling with the emotions and thoughts that keep popping up, my theology is reminding me of where my hope is. My hope isn’t in ease while grocery shopping or in fat investment accounts. I have no eternal security in jobs or even in our good health. There is no promise of businesses opening tomorrow or even next month. But I am promised that for those who love God, all things work together for good. Even in hard times, he is working in me to conform me to the image of his son. He has been kind to reveal sin in me that I need to turn from. He has shown me his lovingkindness and grown my affection for him. He has taught me more about who he is. My hope in him is secure. 

God provided us with the perfect security plan when he sent his Son to die for us. We needed to be rescued from our sins, and he accomplished that in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s the only security plan we need and the only one we can trust. 

3. God’s love will endure. 

All four of my children were belly laughing as we fed goats while out on a walk the other day. As my heart swelled with joy, I recognized that I was experiencing a moment that I want to remember forever. For a fleeting minute, I wished I could freeze my children in that happy place and keep them from the brokenness of this world. When I read the daily headlines about this global pandemic, I find myself scared for my family. Will we get sick? Will we have to tell the children that someone we love has died? Will we lose our income?

We can plan all we want, but only the Lord’s will comes to fruition. We can rest in that because God loves us so much more than we can even understand. His love is an enduring, never-changing, without failure, perfect love. We are not promised protection, but we have been promised that nothing—”death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” (Rom. 8:38-39)—will separate us from the love of God in Christ.

No one but God knows how quickly the spread of COVID-19 will end or what other changes we will have to make. We must turn to him, our refuge and strength, because everything else is apt to change. He has always been and will always be the same. And so I say, “Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” 

By / Mar 15

The whole world is reeling from the threat of the coronavirus. COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption as sports leagues, conferences, and churches have closed their doors and medical professionals race to treat those infected and to develop a vaccine. This can be a time of great despair and uncertainty.

For Christians, this should be a moment of vigilance as we do everything we can to love our vulnerable neighbors. It should also be a time of prayer. The Southern Baptist Convention has urged churches, most of whom will not be meeting, to make this Sunday a day of prayer. And the president has declared Sunday a National Day of Prayer.

So how should we pray? Here is a sample prayer for families, groups, and churches as we gather in digital diaspora to worship:

Heavenly Father, we acknowledge our dependence upon you. This virus has reminded us of our frailty. We have subdued much of the earth with our innovation and creative acts, but we are reminded in this moment how frail and powerless we really are. So we repent of our self-sufficiency and hubris.

Lord, we lament the fallen nature of our world, which mars the beauty of your created order. COVID-19 comes to steal and destroy, to worm its way through human bodies and spread its vile sickness across communities and nations and the world. We, like your Son, weep and rage at sickness and death. And yet we know that it was Jesus whose death and resurrection defeated this final foe. We long for the day you resurrect our bodies and restore the world.

As we endure this new normal in our lives, we pray earnestly for the heroic medical doctors, nurses, and health care professionals who are putting their lives on the line for their neighbors. May you give them strength and physical immunity during this time, so they can help push back against this ravaging virus.

We pray for the scientists, disease experts, and epidemiologists who are working feverishly on vaccines and testing mechanisms. Lord, we thank you for gifting them with knowledge and wisdom we don’t have. We pray for their endurance, for breakthroughs, and for resources. 

Lord, you are the Great Physician, so we pray for healing for the victims of COVID-19. Lord, you are the Creator, with power over the creation, so we pray for COVID-19 to be destroyed. Spirit of God, you are the Comforter, so please comfort our troubled souls.

Dear God, move in the hearts of our public officials. As you have instructed us in your Word, we earnestly beseech you on behalf of our president, Congress, governors, mayors, and local officials. We pray you guide them with wisdom and strength and discernment.

We also pray for the people in our nation and the nations of the world to be humbled and turn to you in repentance and faith. We know you are the Prince of peace, Lord of lords, the King of kings. We praise you for your goodness and your mercy. And we ask this all in the name of Jesus, our Lord. 


By / Jul 26

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson was elected the new Conservative leader in a ballot of party members and will become the next prime minister of the United Kingdom.

Here are five facts you should know about this controversial world leader.

1. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in New York City in 1964. Because his father was an Englishman studying economics at Columbia University, Boris was granted both American and British citizenship. He lived in the U.K. and the U.S. on and off until the age of 5 before moving back to England on a permanent basis. Because he was a dual citizen, in 2015 the IRS demanded Johnson pay capital gains tax on the hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit made in the sale of his home in North London. Johnson paid the tax before giving up his American citizenship in 2017. Had he retained his citizenship, Johnson could have run for election as president of the United States after serving out his term as prime minister of the U.K.

2. Johnson attended the elite boarding school Eton College and earned a degree in Classics (i.e., Latin and Ancient Greek) from the University of Oxford. After graduation he took as job as a journalist working for The Times but was fired for making up a quote he attributed to a historian who was also his godfather. Despite this deception, Johnson was able to secure jobs at The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator. He then went on to serve as a member of parliament from 2001 to 2008 and as a mayor of London from 2008 to 2016. He was appointed as Foreign Secretary from 2016–2018 after which he returned to his role as a journalist and member of parliament.

3. As a baby Johnson was baptized as a Catholic. But while attending Eton, he was confirmed as an Anglican. Despite his conversion to the Church of England, Johnson says it would be “pretentious” to suggest that he is a “serious practicing Christian” even though he "thinks about religion a lot." As he told a Christian media group in the U.K., “I suppose my own faith, you know, it’s like a bit like trying to get Virgin Radio when you're driving through the Chilterns. It sort of comes and goes. I mean sometimes the signal is strong, and then sometimes I'm afraid it just vanishes. And then it comes back again.”

4. Johnson is head of the Conservative party yet his views on many issues are—from the perspective of American politics—aligned with progressivism, and he describes himself as a "social liberal." Johnson is a longtime supporter and advocate of LGBT issues. In 2012 he wrote that he was in favor of same-sex marriage, saying, “I can’t see what the fuss is about.” He added that, “[Marriage] may well be beloved by God, but no religion has ever had a monopoly on marriage.” In his roles as the foreign secretary (equivalent to the U.S. secretary of state), Johnson lifted a ban on U.K. embassies and high commissions flying the rainbow flag during LGBT pride events. On the issue of abortion, his voting record shows that he has abstained from all votes that would limit abortion.

5. Johnson has frequently been criticized for his scandalous behavior (Conrad Black, his boss at The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, described him as being “ineffably duplicitous”). For example, Johnson was fired from a political position in 2004 for lying about an extramarital affair. At the time he was married to his second wife, with whom he has four children. Conservative party officials said he was sacked due to his lack of candidness following further allegations that Johnson had paid for his mistress's abortion. He has reportedly had several other affairs, and two of his former mistress claim to have had children by him. (Johnson refuses to say how many children he has.)

By / Jul 6

By nearly any measure, 2015 was the worst year to be a Christian in living memory. As the Obama administration and U.S. Congress recognized in early 2016, the so-called Islamic State has been perpetrating a genocide against Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims. As Secretary of State John Kerry said, the Islamic State “kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia.”

But the Islamic State is not the only threat to religious liberty in the world today. Sectarian violence is running rampant across the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia. In some ways, the lack of religious liberty in the world today is the fundamental problem we face across the globe.

Moving in the wrong direction?

When we examine certain signposts, it’s clear we are moving in the wrong direction. In 1948, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community rallied behind a strong definition of religious liberty that would put any religious minority at ease:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Since that time, international commitments and statements on religious liberty have been softening. The 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief was much weaker on the question of whether a person has the right to change his religion. In 2008, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for “Combating the defamation of religions,” a challenging concept to square with freedom of expression.

Global consensus on the question of whether a person has the right to change his religion is critical to securing soul freedom everywhere. This is particularly true in the 21 countries in the world today where leaving Islam for another religion is criminalized.

The sectarian strife in the Middle East and North Africa is rooted in part in local politics, regional rivalries and competition over natural resources. In some ways, sectarianism is simply a vehicle used to advance other agendas. But to deny that there is a religious element to the conflicts raging in the Middle East and North Africa today is to ignore the obvious.

This same complicated dynamic is at work today in Europe. In November 2015, Paris experienced a brutal, cowardly attack on civilian targets by jihadists with a background in bank robbery and petty theft, not Islamic law and doctrine. By March 2016, the same pattern repeated itself in Brussels through another set of barbarous attacks.

It is true that economic despair—unemployment, low income, lack of public services—played a key role in the Paris and Brussels attacks. But to deny that these attacks are motivated in part by religion prevents us from combatting the aspect of the problem for which religious freedom is part of the solution. Christians must advocate for a world where religions that make mutually exclusive truth claims can live side by side in peace.

Signs of hope

In 1990, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation issued the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which addressed religious liberty with the following: “Islam is the religion of unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of compulsion on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to convert him to another religion or to atheism.” This statement, to put it mildly, leaves much to be desired.

But in recent years, there have been signs of hope. In response to the rise of the Islamic State, hundreds of Muslim scholars and leaders joined an “Open Letter to al-Baghdadi,” which argued that the Islamic State is un-Islamic. And in early 2016, another group of Muslim politicians, religious leaders and scholars issued the Marrakesh Declaration on the the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities. The Marrakesh Declaration affirmed the rights of religious minorities under a concept of citizenship and moved the discussion toward equal rights based on a concept of equal citizenship.

Of course, there is a long way to go. But one of the striking things about the Marrakesh Declaration and the Open Letter is the fact that each document is seeking to come to terms with religious liberty and human rights within the context of Islam itself. As Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyeh said in his opening remarks of the Marrakesh Declaration conference, “We believe it is possible to heal this illness from the pharmacy of the sacred law of Islam.” Whether this is possible or not remains to be seen, but what matters is that Muslim scholars have set their attention to this agenda.

Moving forward

As advocates for religious liberty around the world today, what should we do, and where should we focus our attention? First, we need to pray. We need to ask that God would protect our brothers and sisters around the world, giving them wisdom on how to interact within their societies and providing courage to stand firm in the face of unimaginable difficulties. We need to ask that God would raise up Muslim leaders that are well-positioned to advocate for broad rights for religious minorities living in majority-Muslim countries.

Second, we need to recognize the religious character of many of the conflicts around the world today. Solving these conflicts means standing with and supporting religious leaders that seek to counter violent extremism and advocate for religious liberty.

Last, we need to recognize that there are other points of persuasion toward religious liberty. For instance, as Brian Grim and the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation have forcefully argued, there is a strong linkage between religious liberty and economic development. These arguments may provide support for those within the Muslim community as they come to draw upon their own Islamic tradition to articulate a strong vision for religious liberty and pluralism in majority-Muslim societies.

Let us remain hopeful as we advocate for international religious liberty, knowing that there is a day coming when every tear will be wiped from every eye and every wrong will be righted. This day has not come yet, but it is surely coming.

By / Jan 13

In January, we remember the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and we pause to hold high the value of human life. In just a week and a half, the ERLC and Focus on the Family are hosting the first annual Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, D.C. Tickets are still available, and if you can’t make it to Washington, there are options to live-stream the event.

But as we rightly focus on U.S. law, U.S. policy, and working to overturn Roe, we should also pause to consider the global unborn. Here are three things you need to know about abortion worldwide.

1. More than 40 million abortions are performed worldwide each year.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2008, 43.8 million abortions were performed worldwide. This is an increase of 2.2 million abortions per year since 2003. Of this worldwide number, 1.21 million were performed in the United States.

To put this in perspective, about 59 million abortions have been performed in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade in 1973. In other words, every two years, the number of worldwide abortions exceeds U.S. abortions since Roe v. Wade.

Staggeringly, 30 percent of all pregnancies in Europe end in abortion. The rate in Eastern Europe is even higher. Eighty-six percent of abortions are performed in the developing world.

2. International legal scholars agree that there is no international right to abortion.

Although it is common to hear or read that there is a “right to abortion” under international law, no such treaty exists. In 2011, an international group of elected officials, policymakers, and legal experts gathered in San Jose, Costa Rica, to produce an authoritative, legally reasoned statement that there is no international right to abortion. The proceeds of the gathering is called the San Jose Articles, an excellent resource on international law and abortion.

The occasion for the San Jose Articles was movement in the international community, particularly within the UN, to pressure governments to legalize abortion based on international legal obligations. For instance, Article 6 states:

The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) and other treaty monitoring bodies have directed governments to change their laws on abortion.  These bodies have explicitly or implicitly interpreted the treaties to which they are subject as including a right to abortion.

Treaty monitoring bodies have no authority, either under the treaties that created them or under general international law, to interpret these treaties in ways that create new state obligations or that alter the substance of the treaties.

Accordingly, any such body that interprets a treaty to include a right to abortion acts beyond its authority and contrary to its mandate. Such ultra vires acts do not create any legal obligations for states parties to the treaty, nor should states accept them as contributing to the formation of new customary international law.

3. Abortion providers are seeking to legalize abortion worldwide.

Abortion providers and abortions rights activists are working to make abortion on demand legal worldwide. Consider the revelations that came from the Planned Parenthood videos: Planned Parenthood operates like a business (“just a matter of line items”), and businesses seek to increase revenues and develop new revenue streams.

Cigarette companies have dramatically decreased their investment in the American cigarette market. Indoor smoking bans, restrictions on marketing, mandatory labeling requirements, and dramatic losses in American lawsuits have decreased the profit margins for selling cigarettes in the United States. So what have cigarette companies done? They moved overseas. Transnational cigarette companies are now focusing their efforts on developing the cigarette markets in China, Russia, India, and Indonesia.

Likewise, abortion providers are now focused on legalizing abortion in developing “markets” in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The Center for Reproductive Rights is actively engaged in global advocacy to legalize abortion. Planned Parenthood also has a global advocacy organization.


Legal reform to ensure that U.S. law respects and upholds the sanctity of human life is critical. But let us not forget that we have tens of millions of unborn neighbors worldwide whose lives will be cut short.

And if we ignore the global aspect of this situation, the problem will only grow worse; we can be sure that pro-abortion advocates are doing their best worldwide to improve and develop their markets.

At the same time, the pro-life community should recognize that women’s health issues are a significant concern in the developing world. And so let us invest in and stand with women’s health programs across the world that hold high the dignity of human life.

By / Dec 22

There are a lot of legitimate reasons for Christians to be distressed at Christmas:

  • Shifting sexual norms
  • Public policies that deny human dignity to the vulnerable
  • Heresy and controversy in the church.
  • The threat of terrorism
  • The commercialization of Christmas
  • Family dysfunction
  • Financial difficulty
  • Loneliness

I could go on, of course. Life in a fallen world presents us with much to be distressed about. Injustice, dishonesty and despair surround us on every side, more so in this social-media driven, twenty-four hour news cycle. What’s more, it seems people are less inclined to believe in the Christ of Christmas than in previous generations. So we are tempted to despair, to get angry, to lash out in cathartic rage on Facebook, in conversations at work, in our small group, at home with our families.

But when we do this, are we subtly denying the heart of this season’s story, one we claim to hold so dear?

The first Christmas didn’t happen in a sweet, sentimental time. Joseph and Mary are not characters from a Hallmark special; they were ordinary, poor, struggling young people in an otherwise ignoble small village in the Roman Empire. The world was dark, as it is now. Corrupt governments. Failed religious leaders. False messiahs. Life expectancy was short. Wages were low. Taxes were high.

Life was hard, very hard, for God’s people. God had not spoken for four hundred years. There was no prophecy. No visit by angels. Only silence. The words of the prophets, promising a King on David’s throne, a Messiah, a deliverer—these were beginning to ring hollow in the face of crushing Roman oppression.

This is the milieu in which Jesus was born. And yet his birth, as we know, inaugurated the beginning of something new. A new kingdom. A new creation. A new people.

We are the Kingdom people, and it is this story we tell. A story that has endured for 2,000 years, a story of hope and renewal, of mercy and grace, of redemption and forgiveness. More than ever, the world needs to hear the Christian gospel as told by those who are Christ’s disciples.

Christmas is the time of year when the world, at various points, looks afresh at the story of the incarnation. The question is: are we ready to share it. Is our Christianity one of outrage and anger? Or is it joy for the world?

By joy I don’t mean the hopeless sentimentality of vague spiritual promises, but the joy that springs from knowing the Christ, who entered a broken world like ours, took on human flesh, surrendered to the will of the Father at the cross, rose in victory defeating sin and death, and is building his kingdom. The king who reversed the curse of sin, both personally by being our sacrifice and cosmically by renewing and restoring what sin has destroyed.

Is our Christianity this kind of joy for the world? Do people see Christ in us, the ones who make up the church? Do they hear, in our singing and in our preaching and in our living, the story that tells the truth about the human condition, the hope of salvation in Christ, and the future hope of a restored world under the Lordship of Christ?  

It may seem that we are in an age when people are less inclined to love the gospel, but I think this world presents us with a fresh opportunity to press this story, our story, the Christmas story into a world looking for answers.

How do we do this?

We do this by resisting the urge to lecture the harried store clerk who says, “Happy Holidays,” and instead, by our disposition, make them wonder what makes Christmas so merry.

We do this by resisting the impulse toward self-protection and self-fulfillment, and instead, pour out our lives, like Christ, in service to those who are most vulnerable.

We do this by making ideological arguments for justice that recognize the basic humanity of those with whom we disagree, because we are the people who are looking, not backward with nostalgia, but forward toward that “city whose builder and maker is God.”

We do this by pressing the gospel into the broken spaces and places in society as we lift up Christ, not sentimentality, as the true source of joy.

We do this by singing, with joy, the rich Christmas hymns that help form our theology and by reading the Christmas story afresh, not as some other people’s narrative, but as our own story.

Let’s make Christmas big this year, not necessarily by the quality of our church productions or the amount of gifts we give or by how many traditions we continue, but by magnifying in our hearts the story of Jesus. This kind of Christianity truly is joy for the world.

By / Jul 15

Dan Darling interviews Greg Forster about his book “Joy for the World” and what Christian culture engagement looks like in an increasingly post-Christian America and the value of our work.