All posts by Bryan McWhite

Disciple of Christ, husband and father, marathoner, World's Toughest Mudderer, dog owner.

On Spanking

This blog is originally from a Facebook post, but I’m parking it here for the sake of future reference.

My take on the Adrian Peterson/”Should you spank your kids?” brouhaha:

Hey Christians: Let’s not get too nuts about one verse of Scripture, and a Proverb (13:24), no less. Proverbs are, well, proverbial wisdom. They are not binding on the consciences of believers at all times and all places. They are meant to be generally applicable and true for most times and circumstances, but are to be considered and thoughtfully and contextually applied. Very few of the proverbs are universally applicable in all times and all places. I’ve spanked my kids (see below), but if other believers’ consciences dictate differently, I’m not doing to go all Proverbs 13:24 on them, like it’s a law. I’m probably going to ask them to help me understand why they don’t spank, exactly, but I’m not going to insist that they HAVE to spank if they love their kids. So let’s cool it with the, “If you don’t spank, you don’t love your kids” BS. This isn’t the gospel. There’s room for personal, contextual, conscientious application here.

Hey Christians: Even biblical precepts that Christ-followers view as binding on their conscience must be set within the overall context of Scripture. In this case, you can’t just pull out Proverbs 13:24 and apply it to AP, as though nothing else applies. I think AP’s method of “discipline” probably falls into the category of abuse and probably violates Colossians 3:21 and Ephesians 6:4. I’d also be curious to ask AP why he thinks he has the right to practice corporal discipline when he’s not present in most of his kids’ lives most of the time. Discipline without the context of overwhelming love is nothing more than being pissed off at behavior. If he’s not present in their lives, and loving, loving, loving them (as God calls him to do as a father), then I think he’s completely foolish to think that whacking his kids with a stick will do anything but anger and discourage his children. “This guy who slept with my mom, and now comes around once in a while, pretending to be my ‘dad,’ and hits me and makes me bleed and is hardly ever around?!… What the HELL?!” That’s all I can imagine his teenage son ever saying. If you don’t love your kids well, why do you presume that you can discipline them well?

Hey, Christians: Can we stop pretending like this is about whether it’s okay to spank your kids? This is about whether it’s okay to hit your kids with a stick until they’re bleeding, and stuff leaves in their mouths to muffle the screams. If someone else did that to my kid, they’d either be in jail or the ER. Just because it’s your own kid doesn’t make it just fine and dandy. This isn’t about discipline. It’s about abuse. AP should be in jail or he should not be allowed contact with his children until he’s gone through some sort of extensive education/retraining program–especially because he still thinks he’s right and said he’ll continue to disciple his kids the same way, if he feels it’s warranted.

Hey, everyone else: To think that the liberal city-dwellers of 21st century America have a historical corner on the market of parenting wisdom is absolutely asinine. Most societies for most of history have practiced some form of corporal discipline. I think we should be slow to say, “Hey look, WE finally figured it out that everyone else in history has been doing it wrong!” I’m just looking around and making informal observations, but… I don’t think most of the kids I see are going to give much credibility to your confident, pop-psych, self-esteem movement conclusions.

We discipline our kids in a variety of ways. They get vinegar on their tongues if they tell lies to remind them that what came out of their mouth was yucky. They get appropriate privileges taken away for smaller issues. And when they are disrespectful to Mommy, or when Owen has been aggressive with his sister, they get spanked by Dad. And I’ll say a few things about that: First, I never spank angry. I always bring them to their room, explain what’s about to happen and why, and tell them how many spankings they’ll be given (usually 2-3). I never spank until I’ve “gotten all my anger out,” or “feel like it’s probably enough.” It’s ALWAYS very limited and never leaves a mark. Good dads should know how to spank without injuring. Second, after the spanking is done, they usually cry a little and I hug and hold them and kiss them. And I know that matters because when I spank them, they turn toward me, not away from me. They know that the person bringing the discipline is the same person with whom they will find comfort and love. Which means they will never doubt how much I love them–even when they’re being disciplined. Third, we pray together after spanking and I confess the ways I’ve committed the same sins, and we ask Jesus for forgiveness together, and thank him for always forgiving us, because he died for us. At some point along the way, after we pray, we started falling over and tickling each other and laughing. I don’t know if there’s anything biblical about that. But that always happens now. Because… I don’t know. Tickling’s fun. Fourth, (and maybe most importantly), I haven’t had to spank them in about a year. They don’t disrespect Mommy and Owen doesn’t hit his sister anymore. They learned that lesson the hard (and effective) way.

A Life Well-Lived

ProverbsMay 25, 2014

My children, there could hardly be a more important book for you to read, understand, ponder and internalize than the book of Proverbs. You are going to discover soon enough that while there are many Christians, there are not many wise Christians. Most Christians believe that if you believe in Jesus, that is enough. And that is enough for salvation. But it is most certainly not enough for a life well-lived. A life well-lived requires insight, prudence, and understanding what is right and just and fair. It requires knowledge and discretion, learning, understanding, and wisdom. And Proverbs promises all of these to its students. I’m more convinced than ever that this book would have saved me from the vast majority of my self-inflicted wounds. I’m more convinced than ever that the more I internalize this book, the more fully, usefully, satisfyingly and joyfully I will live. Hear, my sons and daughter(s?), your father’s instruction.

When Are You Gonna Be a Pastor Again?

I get this question just about every week, and I never quite know how to answer it.

Or rather, I don’t know how to answer it in under 10 seconds, which is the time frame most people are looking for when they ask a question.

The 10-or-fewer-second answers I have are: (1) “I don’t know,” which is actually true, but not particularly informative; (2) “When God tells me to,” which is also true, but comes off as flippant—like I don’t really want to answer the question, so I’m punting to God; (3) “Maybe next year. Maybe in five years,” which may or may not be true, for all I know; and worst of all, (4) “Well… it’s a good question, but it’s a really complicated answer” (followed by no explanation whatsoever).

If you’ve had lunch or coffee with me and received answer #4, you know it’s the worst one because once you’ve received it you have to make the uncomfortable choice of either saying, “Oh, okay. Nevermind,” and risk making me feel like you don’t really care enough to hear the long answer, or you have to commit to buckling up and listening to an attention-span-testing monologue.

There may be an easy solution to this problem. From now on I’m just going to say, “Well… it’s a good question, but it’s a really complicated answer. So, I wrote a blog post about it, if you’re interested in the long version.” I already know that people are going to say, “Oh. Well, give me the short version.” (Insert answer #1, #2 or #3 here) But it’s worth a shot.

Q: So… When do you think you’re gonna be a pastor again?

A: Man… Thank you for asking that. I guess I don’t know for sure why you’re asking it, but I think I know why, and I really appreciate it. Being a pastor was an unbelievable honor, and the fact that people wanted me to be their pastor and were actually sad when I wasn’t anymore is mind-blowing to me. And I don’t say that with any kind of obligatory faux humility. It’s… I honestly don’t how to wrap my mind around that. So, thank you.

Here are the things that come to mind when I try to formulate an answer to that question (in no particular order):

First of all, I really like my job. And I’m good at it. Which is a very rare combination that I don’t want to take for granted for a second. I love my team. I love working with very high-caliber people. I love my bosses. I love their vision for doing real good in the lives of people. I love my clients. I love that I get to employ a large swath of my skill set in this role. I love the rewards that come from doing this job well. I love being welcomed into people’s homes. I love helping people make wise decisions. I love being trusted as a guide and advisor. No one in their right mind would leave this job and this team.

Is this job the purpose of my life? Of course not. But I don’t know too many guys whose purpose in life is their job. My best friends—the best guys I know—are all among the best in their field in sales, finance and music. None of them have made their job their purpose in life. Their purpose in life is clearly to know Christ and make him known. And that can be done well without getting paid for doing it.

I might be made to be a pastor. That might be what I’m supposed to do. I guess that remains to be seen. But my purpose in life is to know Christ and make him known. And I don’t need to get paid to do that in order to do that well.

Second, being a pastor sucks. And it’s the sweetest vocational calling imaginable. And it sucks.

Maybe I should unpack “it sucks” a little bit…

Earlier this week someone on my team at work asked me whether being a real estate agent—especially this time of year, in a booming market, on a very driven team, when 60+ hour weeks are common, and I’m away from home several nights a week on appointments— is harder, or whether being a pastor is harder. My response was that it’s a very different kind of hard. For the most part, I can deal with my current vocational fatigue with one full day off. If between Friday night and Sunday night I get in a date night with my wife, a good run, some time in the Word, play time with my kids, and a few pages of a novel, I’m pretty much good to go for the five days that follow. In other words, there are distinct times in my life right now when I’m not a real estate agent. I’m much more clearly a husband, or a dad, or a Bible student, or a runner, or a reader, or a House of Cards fan.

That was never really the case when I was a pastor. When I wasn’t at the office, I was a pastor-husband (“Is my marriage a good example to my congregation?”), a pastor-dad (“Am I raising my kids to be example-setters for my congregation?”), a pastor-Bible-student (“How would I preach this text?”), a pastor-runner (“God, I need you to download a sermon outline into my brain by the time this 5-miler is done”), a pastor-reader (“Are there any good anecdotes in this novel that I could use as sermon illustrations?”), and a pastor-House of Cardsfan (“I probably should watch this show if I’m going to be able to engage with real people, not just squared-away church-goers”).

It’s exhausting. The spiritual, mental and emotional fatigue of being a pastor is staggering. To never really turn off being a pastor is an enormous struggle for most pastors. And not just for pastors. Also for pastors’ wifes and pastors’ kids. And certainly, a lot of that is pastors’ own fault. I certainly should have worked harder to create margin, to shut my pastor-brain off, and to say “no” to more ministry opportunities and responsibilities. But some of it is inevitable. It’s just part of what you sign up for when you say ‘yes’ to being a pastor. And, what’s more, the devil knows it. He makes a living out of shredding tired pastors.

All of that to say, I want to make sure I’m ready for that, and that my family is ready for that. Don’t get me wrong. Being a pastor is an amazing vocation. “You’re going to pay me to read the Bible and help people understand what it means and live it out?! You’re going to pay me to have coffee with hurting people? You’re going to pay me to help people become the best, most God-saturated version of themselves? You’re serious?!” It’s almost unbelievable. It’s an incredible privilege. I can’t describe how happy it made me.

But I want to make sure I’m ready for the spiritual, mental and emotional onslaught as well. I’ve spent the last 21 months with my heart and soul plugged into a monitor to assess my health, get rid of disease, heal, and make sure that I’m as strong and robust as possible if I’m called to head back into the fray. I think I’m there. God’s redemptive and renovating power is as advertized, I’m happy to say. But I want to see a clean bill of health from people who are in a position to give it. Which leads me to…

The third thing that comes to mind is this: It’s not really up to me. I’m only one of the people who has a significant say in whether I become a pastor again or not. I’ve invited at least a dozen people in on that decision, and I take them all very seriously. Some of them are friends. Some are pastors and church leaders. Several of them are people who know me, my heart, my tendencies and struggles, my strengths and virtues, and my character better than anyone else in the world. The most significant one, of course, is my bride. Leslie has absolute veto power over any plan I devise, any opportunity I want to pursue, any interview I want to take, or any church plant I create in my mind. If she’s not a million percent on board, it’s just not happening. So… ask her.

Fourth, and most importantly, I’m not going to be a pastor again until I have a very clear sense of a callI had an undeniable sense of calling to be a pastor for almost six years, and it came with two crucial elements: A group of people asked me to come be their pastor, and God said, “Yes, I want you to go do that,” in a way that I couldn’t possibly ignore or deny.

A calling to the pastorate doesn’t come with a guaranteed lifetime appointment. This isn’t the Supreme Court. There’s no tenure track in pastoral ministry. Maybe I was supposed to be a pastor for a season of life, and now I’m supposed to be a real estate agent for the rest of my life, pastoring my family, loving my neighborhood toward Jesus, and offering my gifts in service to a local church as a layperson. I spent six years urging men and women who weren’t pastors to do pretty much exactly that.

I can’t deny that I’m a dreamer. I make plans in my mind, and scrap them, and revise them, and scrap them again, and start over…. I doubt I’ll ever be able to turn that off. But none of it will ever take shape unless there is a clear sense of calling. I’m not telling God how he has to do it. He can do what he wants. I’m just anticipating that when and if it happens, it will be because a group of people said, “Would you come do this?” and God says, “Yes, I want you to go do that.”

So, there’s the long answer. What can I say? I’ve never been good at short answers. I never had a problem figuring out what I was going to talk about for 35 minutes on a Sunday. My problem was always figuring out how to cut out 25 minutes worth of material to get it down to 35.

Maybe I should be a pastor.

This Is Mine.

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 7:1-8

Part 15 (6:9-17)  ΑΩ  Part 17 (7:9-17) →

Okay, where were we?

Somewhere between the sixth and seven seal being opened, unfurling God’s plan and purposes for the rescue and restoration of his broken world. Right? We’re at the point of no return in the Book of Revelation. The symbolism and imagery of the book are getting more and more thick and vivid and, frankly, strange.

As the scene opens in chapter 7, we meet four angels who are standing at the four corners of the earth (Don’t laugh. God knows the earth doesn’t have corners. But he’s speaking to people who don’t know that yet. Nice of him, if you ask me.) And John tells us that the angels are actually holding back a cataclysm that they’re about to bring on the earth. Another angel—a direct representative of God himself—arises and speaks:

“Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” (v. 3)

And then John hears the people of God being “sealed.” We’ll talk about “sealing” in a moment, but it’s important to understand who these “144,000” people are who are being sealed. As we’ve seen before, numbers are almost always symbolic in apocalyptic literature, including in the book of Revelation. So it’s very unlikely that God is literally sealing 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. After all, even the tribe names are rich with symbolism here. Notice that Judah comes first, instead of the firstborn, Reuben. This is no doubt because of the preeminence of Jesus, the lion of Judah. Dan is nowhere to be found, likely because lots of Jews believed that the anti-Christ would come from Dan. And Manasseh, one of Joseph’s children, subs in for Dan.

Twelve is, of course, a particularly symbolic number that we’ve already seen in Revelation. In chapter 21, we’re going to see that the New Jerusalem—the “capital city” of the new heavens and new earth—is going to have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on its gates, and the foundations will have the names of the twelve apostles, both of which symbolize the completed people of God—both Jews and non-Jews. The same idea is at work here. The people of God as a whole are being sealed.

A wax seal was, in John’s day, a way to keep a scroll closed and untampered with, as we’ve already seen. But a seal could also be used as an identifying mark. For example, I have a stamp in my library at home that impresses a personal seal into all of my books, so that when people borrow them, they remember that they don’t own them and (hopefully) return them. The seal marks out the books as mine.

That’s exactly what God is doing here. God is saying to the entire world and all the forces at work within it: These people are mine. Jews and non-Jews, men and women, people from every language and ethnic group and nation—all who commit themselves to God’s Christ by their confession and by their lives—are marked as God’s special possession. And here, he is marking them out for protection and rescue from the very forces that will soon sweep through his creation to cleanse and purify it.

As we will see in 7:9-17, this doesn’t mean the people of God won’t suffer. All throughout history the people of God have suffered, and the present and future will be no exception. We in the West haven’t felt it as acutely. The first two centuries of Christians in America were a historical aberration in that Christians didn’t face persecution much at all. But we will. It is coming.

But the message of this text to the followers of Christ is: You will come through this. Not because you’re strong. Not because you’re good. But because you’re God’s.

What an incredible gift, honor and privilege to be God’s beloved. You almost can’t put words to it. It’s amazing to know that God is our guard when the world revolts against him and his people. He hasn’t left us alone to fend for ourselves while he watches, like some general who sits on his horse, far off on a cliff while his soldiers are slaughtered in the valley below. He’s with us. He’s at the front. He leads the charge. His shield doesn’t crack. And he knows each soldier’s name.

God, your maker, king, general and savior knows your name. You matter to him, because you’re his. Does that knowledge embolden you in your endeavors for him? It should. May it be so for all of us.

Wrath Is Way Underrated

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 6:9-17

Part 14 (6:1-8)  ΑΩ  Part 16 (7:1-8) →

I love the board game Risk.

If you’re not familiar with the game, it was created by a Frenchman a little over 50 years ago, originally as a game called La Conquête du Monde (“The Conquest of the World”). No doubt the frenchie was a little nostalgic for the glory days of Napoleon and French world dominance. And, to be sure, La Conquête du Monde is infinitely better than “Risk.” Because, after all, the game is entirely about conquering the world. Sure, “risk” is a big part of the strategy of the game, but calling the game that is a bit like calling the game of basketball “Dribble” instead.

There’s really only two ways the game of Risk can end.

First, one player can eradicate the armies of all his (or her) opponents, thus completing his conquest of the world. That’s the most common way for a game to end. The other way it can end is when a player, irate over the decimation of his armies and disgruntled over a broken alliance on which he relied too heavily, that instead turned on him and hastened his demise, kicks over the board in the ultimate act of Risk jihad: “I’m as good as dead and mad as hell, so I’m taking all you jerks and your armies with me.”

It happens. I’ve seen it. After all, it’s La Conquête du Monde. It’s war, and things get messy in war. Especially when there’s also queso dip on the table.

As Revelation 6 continues, things appear to be growing bleak for God and his people. The four horsemen of verses 2-8 are wreaking havoc all over the globe, bringing conquest and tyranny, war, famine, poverty and death—all of the basic ills that continue to plague humanity to this day. Furthermore, we’re told, that it’s not going to end until a certain number of believers have been killed for their faith.

The faithful cry out to God: “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?!” (v. 10). God’s perhaps less-than-fully-comforting response is to tell them to “wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, [are] killed just as they had been” (v. 11).

Tumultuous times and earth-shattering events are witnessed as the sixth seal is opened. John chooses the language of earthquakes and the moon turning blood red, stars falling and heaven and earth being rolled up like a scroll. As always, it’s important to remember that John is employing rich, symbolic imagery. As N.T. Wright observes,

“In the Old Testament, language about the sun turning black and the moon becoming like blood, the stars falling from heaven, and so on, was regularly employed as a way of speaking about what we would call ‘earth-shattering events’—not at all meaning actual earthquakes, but rather tumultuous events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the smashing of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001: events for which it is hard to find appropriate language except through vivid symbol and metaphor” (Revelation for Everyone, 66).

Obviously, the sun isn’t really turning black and the heavens aren’t really being rolled up, or this would be the end of the book. There would be no place for the rest of the story to unfold.

The point is that just when you thought the situation on the world stage couldn’t have gotten any messier or grown any more bleak, it does just that. Persecution, martyrdom, famine, war and death reach epidemic levels.

And the people of God cry out, wondering why God hasn’t just gotten up and kicked the board over.

After all, he did it in the days of Noah, right? Game over? Let’s start a new one? Clearly this one is lost. I mean… Look around.

But God is playing the long game. The enemy has made a mess of the board, strewing armies all over the map. But God has Alaska, Argentina and Greenland locked up (translation for non-Risk players: It doesn’t look like he’s winning, but he’s in a position of power). He is waiting for evil to do its worst, to display to the world fully the ugliness and bankruptcy of its self-centeredness and rebellion against its rightful king. Only then will his armies come flooding into the world, bringing God’s wrath to every corner:

“Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their  wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Rev. 6:15-17).

“Wrath?… You mean justice and love and mercy and goodness, right? Wrath is such an ugly word. Would a loving God really be wrathful?”

Wrath is very misunderstood and completely underrated. Wrath is the supreme expression of the love of God in this context. God’s wrath is the eradication of injustice, corruption, of abuse, of poverty, neglect, hate, greed, pride, conquest, war and death. God’s wrath means the end of evil. There couldn’t possibly be a higher expression of God’s love for his people and his creation than wrath in this case.

It isn’t cruel to eradicate cancer cells. It’s loving. It’s good. It’s painful and ugly and never something one would choose—we could wish the body never got cancer to begin with. But it has. And cancer’s eradication is ultimately for the flourishing and renewal and life of the body.

In the same way, God’s coming wrath is not to be feared by his people. It isn’t an occasion in which he sets aside his love for a moment in order to loathingly do what has to be done. God’s wrath is an overwhelmingly benevolenteven violent outpouring of his love. It is to be celebrated and invited as the deeply loving act that will, at last, signal the defeat of evil and the death of death; the dawn of worldwide human flourishing and global joy.