TRIALS & When I look at Jesus’ life, when I look at Christian history, it is clear that you cannot play it safe & have abundant life. – @BobWhitesel

Recently while preparing a sermon for a client church in Austin, Texas this conclusion came to me:

When I look at Jesus’ life, when I look at Christian history, it is clear that you cannot play it safe and have abundant life. – Bob Whitesel


THEOLOGY & 5 Five observations and a summary definition of what Matthew (Jesus) meant by “hypocrisy.” #ScotMcKnight

by Scot McKnight, Pathos, 8/8/18.

…Hypocrisy is:

1. Inconsistency between what one teaches and what one does (23:3-4)

2. Desire for prestige and power and congratulation (23:5-12)

3. Abuse of teaching authority through both false teachings and false practices (23:13, 15, 16-22, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28).

4. Overconcern with minutiae and lack of focus on the major issues (23:23-24, 25-26, 27-28): that is, moral myopia.

5. Inconsistency between appearance and practice (23:27-28).

Put together, Jesus accuses the Pharisees for “hypocrisy” because (1) they had abused their teaching authority by teaching false things, (2) not living according to what they taught, and for (3) their desire for power and control. In addition, (4) their teaching was a focus on minor issues to the neglect of major issues.

They flattened the Torah into a listing of God’s will while Jesus saw love of God and love of others as the center of that Torah. If the Pharisees saw love as one of the commandments, however important, Jesus saw love as central and everything as expressive of that love. This reorients all of the Torah, all of teaching, and therefore all of praxis.

To be “hypocrite” is to be a false teacher who leads both self and others astray from the will of God. The term should not be limited to “contradiction between appearance and reality” (the classic definition of hypocrisy)…

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TRIALS & Reasons bad things might happen to good people by @BobWhitesel #BiblicalLeadershipMagazine #Job2


One of the most vexing questions for a Christian leader is how to respond when a godly colleague or employee experiences bad things they didn’t appear to deserve.  The Christian leader’s response should be based upon a solid biblical foundation and be practical.  Let me suggest ways to address each of these areas.

BIBLICAL BASIS: Job 2. We see that the message is summed up in the last sentence uttered by Job: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (v. 10).  This phrase isn’t comfortable because we don’t want to think of calamity being “from God.” But, looking closer we see it is theologically clear from this Job 2 story (v. 4-6) that:

    1. God is not the originator of the idea that his people should suffer, Satan is. (v. 4-5)
    2. And, God does not bring about suffering, but Satan does. NOTE: Satan’s power is limited by God and Satan cannot “kill” job (v. 6).  It is also interesting to note that the Hebrew word for Satan is not a name, but rather a description. The Hebrew word means, “‘the’ adversary who accuses” (Baker’s Dictionary of Bible Theology, 1995).

Job’s story depicts Satan as casting accusations about the reason for Job’s piety. The story seeks to clearly depict that it is not God who wishes for ill to befall his people. Rather Satan is the instigator of such calamity; but God may permit it, within bounds.

So if God permits calamity to befall good people at times, what are the reasons? Let me paint four biblical reasons with responses leaders can use to engage those going through such experiences.

WHY 1: Eternity makes a difference.  If one does not believe in the afterlife then their anger is understandable because it is not fair that a limited time here on earth would be subjected to pain and hurt. But the scriptures remind us that eternity makes a difference, i.e. this lifetime is a miniscule portion of our eternal existence. 

John 3:16 states: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (italics added for emphasis).  And 1 John 5:13 says that, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (italics added for emphasis)

Thus, a person who embraces a Biblical theology sees today’s sufferings as paling in comparison to the future bliss in God presence (Romans 8:18).  Historian Michael Corin described how Mary Queen of Scots, minutes before the axe fell upon her neck, said “This is my beginning.” For the Christian with a theology like that of Job and Paul, present sufferings pale in comparison for the eternal life that begins up ahead. 

Leadership Response: The leader should delicately foster a discussion of eternity and the central theme it plays in Scripture. Commentaries, books and personal bible study on the Biblical theme of heaven can give the leader and their colleagues a renewed perspective on heaven as Paul summarized, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

WHY 2: Sufferings can keep us humble. Paul had many blemishes on his life story. He had been an abuser because of his religious zeal. You might today called him a “religion terrorist” carrying off men and even women into prison, simply because they had converted to Christianity (Acts 8:1-2, 22:1-10) But a transformation began when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. A new life emerged with new fruits (Paul would describe such positive attributes that grew out of his conversion in Gal. 5:22-23 as, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Such fruit in Paul’s life demonstrated to most people, but not all, that Jesus was changing him. Still there with those that criticized him and accused him publicly in every town he entered (for example Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9, Bera in Acts 17:10-15, Athens in Acts 17:16-34, Jerusalem in Acts 21:17-40, etc.). Such repetitive and exasperating persecutions and hardships may have been what Paul referred to as “his thorn in the flesh.”   Notice how Paul describes this thorn in 2 Cor. 12:5-10:

I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses…. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Leadership Response: Just like having a thorn in your hand that swells and festers, a leader may encounter a hurt that swells and festers … always painful. But as Paul, the Biblical leader can eventually recognized it as a reminder to be humble. Such experiences can help keep leaders from being proud, self sufficient on in Paul’s words (v. 7): conceited.

WHY 3:  Pain can sometimes give us a deeper sensitivity to those who are suffering. Paul says in 2 Cor. 1:4 (MSG) that “He (the Holy Spirit) comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

The great Oxford theologian and writer CS Lewis (who left his mark writing wonderfully powerful children’s books such as the Chronicles of Narnia as well as theological books such as the Power of Pain) said “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  

Leadership Response: Sometimes God need get a leader’s attention when success, career, etc. seem to steal her or his time.  Thus, God may allow pain to make us more sensitive to others and their needs.

WHY 4:  Sometimes we just don’t know why.  When I get to heaven one day I’m going to ask God about some of this undeserved hurt people experience. But God’s knowledge and foresight are tremendously beyond our limited human prespective.  Thus, in Isaiah 55:9 (MSG) God states,  “For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.”  I like to translate the word “sky” in the more magnificent term, “universe.”  So, just as the universe soars high above earth, so the way God works surpasses the way we work, and what we understand.

Leadership Response: Like Job, we often just won’t know the “whys” until later and maybe never intros life.  And thus at many times Christian leaders must rest in the knowledge that there are at least four reasons (above) why bad things can befall good people.  

Yet most importantly the Christian leader recognizes that God wants only the best for His creation. Therefore He has crafted an eternity where His will, will be done.  According to the Bible it is in eternity where our real living will begin.  God has an intention and a future for his children that he describes in Rev. 21:4 as a place where, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

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Speaking hashtags: #StLizTX

ANGER & Don’t tweet or reply when you are angry. Instead do what Abe Lincoln did: vent pent-up rage by writing it down … then put it aside for 24 hrs.

by Carmine Gallo, Inc. Magazine, 11/6/18.

…when Lincoln was angry at a cabinet member, a colleague or one of his generals in the Union army, he would write a letter venting all of his pent-up rage. Then–and this is the key–he put it aside.

Hours later or the next day, he would look at the letter again so he could “attend to the matter with a clearer eye.” More often than not, he didn’t send the letter. We know this was Lincoln’s tactic because years after his death historians discovered a trove of letters with the notation: never sent and never signed.

Lincoln practiced this habit for three reasons. First, he didn’t want to inflame already heated passions. Second, he realized that words said in haste aren’t always clear-headed and well-considered. Third, he did it as a signal–a learning opportunity–for others on his now famous “team of rivals.”

In one example, Goodwin recounts the story of Lincoln patiently listening to his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, who had worked himself into a fury against one of the generals. Once Stanton was done venting, Lincoln suggested that he vent on paper, and write a letter to the general. It must have been quite a letter because it took Stanton two days to write. He brought it to Lincoln who said, “Now that you feel better, throw it in the basket. That is all that is necessary.” Stanton wasn’t pleased, but he took Lincoln’s advice…

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7Systems.Church & An introduction to the 7 church health systems and their ability to measure and increase church health.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D., Church Revitalizer Magazine, Dec. 1, 2018.

In a quest to understand the systems and benchmarks of a healthy church,  …

  1. Over the past 30 years …
  2. I’ve written 13 books,
  3. earned two doctorates from Fuller Theological Seminary,
  4. Coached hundreds of churches,
  5. Co-founded a seminary,
  6. Studied theology & church history (Fuller Theological Seminary) to add a solid Biblical understanding to my practical experience.

As a result I’ve discovered seven systems that must be healthy for the church to grow.

1. Visibility (communication system)

The communication system should increase the visibility of the good deeds and good actions of those who bring Good News (Acts 13:32). 

Visibility was historically created by a church’s physical building. A spire would stand out against the sky in London or a small town in Ohio. Building in conspicuous locations such as main thoroughfares and city crossroads became a reminder of a church and its message.  Today visibility is much more electronically mediated. Websites, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media channels allow churches to be visible even when their physical location is hidden. 

The benchmark is an increasing visibility among the non-churchgoing community of the spiritual growth of the faith community and the redemptiveness of their message.

2. Embracing a growing culture (reconciling system).  

A study of 32,000 churches (The American Congregations Survey) found that growing churches reach out to growing cultures. A growing culture might be an influx of younger families to which an aging church might adjust its traditions. A growing culture could be an African American community that together with a dwindling Anglo church works to overcome historical differences in order to experience racial reconciliation and health.

But, there is another important aspect to reconciliation. Paul stated, “Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know… Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17 MSG). Paul continues, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.

Healthy churches to do stop at cultural reconciliation (any more than Paul did when reconciling differences between the Greek/Roman and Christian/Jewish cultures). Like Paul, a healthy reconciling system says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). 

How well does your church reconcile people to one another and to God?

3. Supernatural worship (numinous system)

“Numinous” is a theologian’s term for coming close to God. “Worship” in Hebrew carries the idea of reverence, such as bowing to kiss the king’s feet, that results from a close encounter  (Brown, Driver and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament). When people use the word “worship” they are describing an environment where they feel face-to-foot with God.

Striving to create a perfect experience, usually only creates an attraction to an event. But seeking to foster a supernatural encounter creates an attraction to God.

4.  People & places are changed (regeneration system).

Regeneration most notably happens at conversion (2 Corinthians 5:17). And though spiritual transformation may sometimes be downplayed as it is unfashionable, people still want to be changed (the self-help industry is a testimony to this). Furthermore, the Bible makes clear that spiritual transformation lies at the center of Jesus’ message (John 3:16) and humankind’s destiny (Romans 6:23).

When people are spiritually transformed so too will be their neighborhoods. Not by politics nor coercion, this happens by transformed people daily living out their changed lives (Acts 2:43-47). Healthy churches embrace a system that equally emphasizes spiritual and neighborhood transformation.

5.  Involved volunteers (leadership system)

This results from 3 STRand leadership (Ecclesiastes 4:12) i.e. a balance between three types of leaders.

Strategic leaders are visionaries who see future goals, but don’t see as clearly the steps to get there. A biblical example is the apostle John, who sketches the grand scenario of Jesus’ ministry, but leaves out many of the contributing details.

Tactical leaders enjoy watching how analysis and numbers lead up to a goal (Gr. taktike, meaning: to set in order). Found in professions like medicine, accounting, etc. a biblical example would be the physician Luke (Colossians 4:14) who fills in many of the details that lead up to the actions that John describes. Tactical leaders take ideas generated by visionaries and enjoy putting together steps to accomplish them. 

The relational leader leads through deep personal relationships with others. Functioning well in a small group/team environment, they watch out for one another’s spiritual progress. 

Leaders are a mixture of all three, but most have a propensity for one over the others. The strategic leader sees the long-term direction of the church, the tactical leader sees the steps necessary to get there and the relational leader gauges how people are feeling about the direction. A healthy leadership system ensures that major decisions involve input from all three types.

6. Lack of serious conflict (unity system)

The healthy church anticipates disunity and utilizes two tools to it from escalating into serious conflict.

a) They slow down the introduction of new ideas, building broader consensus before they implement new ideas. 

b) When disunity arises, they get the two sides talking together and finding common ground.

This ability to build consensus for new ideas before implementation and to discuss differences of opinion before they fester, are two benchmarks behind an effective unity system.

7. Signature ministry (competency system)

A healthy church knows what it does well, and focuses on it. Such a core competency is noticeable in the community where it is viewed as a signature ministry, e.g. children’s ministry, music ministry, missionary churches, a food shelf, grief recovery ministry, divorce recovery ministry, etc. The church is not trying to do many things poorly, but a few things well i.e.:

a) A signature ministry is not something that meets the needs of the congregation or congregants, but rather meets non-churchgoers’ needs (and they are glad the church does so).

b) It is an underlying, church-wide competency that the church does well in many different ministries throughout the organization, hence it is called a “core” competency.  

c) The church is so competent in this area that people outside the church may recognize this in various signature ministries. People are attracted to your church because these are things you are good at and they resonate with that. It also means that new ministries in the church (and the longevity of older ministries) will be evaluated based upon how well they dovetail with this greater church-wide competency.

Discover more at

  1. Visibility (communication system)
  2. Embracing a growing culture (reconciling system)
  3. Supernatural worship (numinous system)
  4. People & places are changed (regeneration system)
  5. Involved volunteers (leadership system)
  6. Lack of serious conflict (unity system)
  7. Signature Ministry (competency system)

WORSHIP & The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has revealed his favourite hymn is the Charles Wesley classic “And Can It Be” in an interview with BBC’s Songs of Praise.

by David Adams, Sight Magazine, London, 11/4/18.

The archbishop explained that the song – full name, And Can It Be That I Should Gain An Interest In My Saviour’s Blood – was the first hymn sung at his first church service after he “discovered the love of Jesus Christ for me and opened my heart to His love”. He said it’s been his favourite ever since.

The hymn was written in 1738 by Charles Wesley, the brother of the more famous John, and co-founder of the Methodist Church. Wesley wrote hundreds of hymns and wrote And Can It Be, according to the archbishop, “immediately after his discovery of God’s love for him in Jesus Christ”.

Watch the interview here:

FAITH & Watch this video zoom all the way into the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Before you watch this short video recreation by the European Southern Observatory of a star system being sucked into the middle of a supermassive black hole that lies at the center of our galaxy, consider what Isaiah said, “Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.” Isaiah 40:26.

Then, just stop for a minute and wonder at the power of God before you finish reading how Isaiah ends this passage with a familiar and oft quoted verse of reassurance.

“O Jacob, how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights? Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.” Isaiah 40:27-29