Andy Stanley and the Unforgiving Tweeters

Some Twitter Christians are handling this Andy Stanley apology very poorly, but it shows our typical unwillingness to truly forgive.

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, Andy Stanley is a preacher who, in his weekly sermon video, appears to have gotten a little worked up about the topic, and made a jab at parents who take their children/teens to smaller churches. He calls them selfish for wanting to go a small church “where I know everybody,” instead of a larger place where they have enough teens for separate middle and high school groups.

His local church, North Point, has a huge network of congregations, and is one the largest, if not the largest, depending on how you count. Mega-churches are commonly the target for criticism, typically in an ignorant and stereotypical way about the faceless, vague idea of a “mega-church.” So, I’m sure he’s in the position of defending North Point’s size, methodology, and decisions quite often.

That’s not necessarily an excuse, but a possible perspective of where his head might have been. And the point of this sermon was to defend the practice of church, why God designed it, and why it’s beneficial. So someone hears that comment, starts posting for all to see, then in our typical 140-character attention span, we hear only what the headlines read: “Andy Stanley says you’re selfish for going to a small church.”

WHAT?! You’ve got to kidding me? I go to a small church. Well not really, but I maybe once did or know someone who does and just the fact that someone would say that really offends me! Or the fact that someone might be offended offends me.

Even though there may be an element of truth to what he said, the way it came across, especially in the sound bite format that most people will see, does sound harsh. It sounds judge-y. I could retort by listing a dozen positive or necessary reasons for going to a small church. Regardless, he obviously went too far.

He admitted it went too far.

So he apologized.

End of story. Goodnight, folks. See ya next time.

Well, no. Not if you’re still bitter from what he said. Responses are all over the map. Some thank him for his humility. Some remain angry at his arrogance. A few are taking their overall opinion of him and this just adds fuel to their fire. Many demand that he do something more, like take the video down, apologize in a lengthy explanation, go to a small church to apologize in person. But is that forgiveness?

I forgive you, but…

To use the obvious example from Jesus, “How many times should we forgive, 7 times?” “No, 70 times 7.”

…unless you don’t think they’re really sorry.

…unless you’re still angry

…unless you haven’t had a chance to speak your mind

I gave up on internet-arguing years ago. Back in my more politically vocal years, I remember going at it a few times with people polar-opposite of my opinion. And I’m happy to say that I won them over and they’re a completely different person now!

You feel the weight of heavy sarcasm, I hope. Nothing changed. Rarely, very rarely do you find healthy conversations from differing sides online. People seem to lose their decency filter when behind the security blanket of a computer. Hardly anything you see in a comment section would actually be said in a face-to-face conversation. Or at the very least if you shared an opinion, you would pause and make an attempt at being polite.

We can’t get out of our own way. He said some wonderfully, amazing things through the full sermon. Things that many people really need to hear. Especially right before this debatable line. But we naval-gazers aren’t interested in what’s best, we like the drama, we have something to say, or our feelings are hurt.

The worst part is that dude actually apologized! Someone was actually humble enough to admit that he was wrong. No sugar-coating, either. And that’s not good enough for us?

I hope the comments are nothing more than internet trolls. Our response should be different (if a response is even necessary in this case). If we were to use the Forgive 70 x 7 formula, or the Golden Rule, or love others as you love yourself, any of those would change our reaction. Personally, if I said something wrong, then apologized, I would want everyone to about forget it. But I wouldn’t expect them to. I expect to be punished and belittled because that’s just how people are sometimes. So imagine the impact a positive, forgiving response would create. In real life, imagine the bond and friendship that could be formed by truly putting another’s interests ahead of your own. Forget yourself, do the unnatural thing, and truly forgive an apology.

Ironically, the Discussion Guide the church provided for this lesson included this statement: We build churches because the church encourages us to embrace a mandate that could change everything: love your neighbor as yourself.

Thinking Lowly of Myself

A couple weeks ago I was fortunate enough to get a one-on-one meeting with a professional public speaker. We grabbed a cup of coffee and swapped stories and pleasantries for couple hours, touching on what the next steps would be for me to get booked to speak. He ended by saying “Jared, you’re a great speaker, I’ve seen your video. Very personable and engaging. You’ve also got plenty of stories and life experiences to work with here. You’re going to be great.”

One would think that would be enough. Enough encouragement to knock this out of the park. Enough to pick up a phone and get started. One would think…

It’s not that I don’t believe him. It’s not whether I believe in myself. (Well, apparently it is by looking at my actions, but not in my head). I’ve spent the past few months doing research, evaluating how other speakers work. I’ll watch keynote speeches in the same genre I’m looking at doing and think, “Pshh, I could do better than that.” Or worse I’ll critique, or dismiss, or be annoyed, and tell myself that I’m totally good enough.

But here’s the difference: they’re doing it and I’m not. I’m nothing more than an ignorant, illiterate big-mouth ranting on youtube.

I looked up a website of an acquaintance who is putting himself out there as a speaker for hire. Once again, I critiqued many of the things, this time out loud to my wife. I said, “even though some of it comes across as fake, my own problem is that I’m not publicizing myself as a legitimate speaker.” She said, “YES! You won’t even let people know you have a blog. You don’t tell people about being a speaker. You don’t talk about it. And your intro on the blog is all [in a whiny voice] ‘who would even hire poor me.'”

Never one to mince words, she was spot on this time. And I listened because she’s also my biggest encourager. But in the same way that she thinks I wear rose-colored glasses when I compliment her looks, I can’t help but second-guess her words. I’ve had plenty of encouragers in my life, people who champion me. Inside I’m hoping for it, love it when it happens, then play it off as if I don’t.

This is how I’ve always been. This weird dichotomy between wanting attention and shying away; thinking highly and lowly of myself, extroverted and introverted. It has never been a real issue because I haven’t had to stick my neck out. But I want to now. So basically, I need to do something in spite of myself.

I’d say the one time I did was when I ran for city council. I didn’t like it, but I loved it. Something akin to jumping off the high-dive for the first time. “That was fun. Let’s do it again!”

Have you ever spoken to a doctor or executive who seemed to just not get it? “But he’s the doctor; why do I feel like I understand and he doesn’t?” If I have learned anything from my various experiences, it’s that people are just people. There are phenomenal people who are not living up to their potential, and others who I can not fathom how in this big, unfair, upside-down world they made it to their esteemed position. This is where I think, “why couldn’t it be me?”

So I’m just going to go for it, a little at a time. Each day closer than the day before.

There’s a line between fake-it-till-you-make-it and complete exaggeration. It’s not that I’m humble, it’s more that I don’t want to come across as arrogant. I need to find the balance between potential-me and pathetic-me.

In a small step in the right direction, let’s start with this blog’s “About Me.” This is just a journal, not a professional site (it’s coming), so rather than this former opening:

I am an aspiring public speaker, without a speech. Oh sure, I could conjure up a 5-7 minute, 3-point, heart-wrenching, moral-to-the-story speech on request, but why would someone want to hire me to stand in front of their company (org, banquet, conference, church, youth group, school) and talk? That’s what this blog is for: to help me find what I have to say that’s worth hearing. Maybe after a while I’ll step back, look at this blog, and my platform will be staring right back at me. Here’s hoping…

I’m going to write a new one that at least doesn’t sound pitiful:

I bring motivation and inspiration by speaking to non-profits, youth groups, churches, civic organizations, and businesses.  I’ve been an accomplished leader and speaker in Toastmasters for eight years as well as a semi-finalist in the World Championship of Public Speaking. Through this blog, I hope to put my thoughts on paper and narrow the focus of my speaking platform. 

Consider this another baby step taken.

Obey Your Thirst

Our church had a men’s retreat with the theme “Obey Your Thirst.” I was asked to do a devotional and was happy to have a speaking opportunity. So the following is that “speech.”

“Obey Your Thirst” is an imperative statement, telling you to do something. It first assumes that you have a Thirst: the thing that you should be doing or want to be doing. Second it assumes that you are not doing it. OBEY your thirst. You have a thirst, now go do something about it!

Yeah, but….

“Yeah, but..” It’s the beginning of a phrase that blocked millions of great things from happening.
Conquer your goals. Yeah! But..
Humble yourself and apologize. Yeeaah… but..
Make friends with that lonely person. Yeah, but..

This one happen to me recently, we had a new employee that didn’t fit the young millennial demographic of my IT dept. He was a little older, of Indian descent (I think), English as a second language. So against my will, I struck up a conversation with him in the break room. Something about drinking lemon water. The next day I was the only one he said “Hello!” to coming in to work. He would awkwardly stand at my desk attempting conversation. I would feel compelled to stick with him in social settings when I’d rather be with others. (This is middle school kind of stuff, isn’t it?) It was a horrible selfish feeling, wanting to be nice but not the side effects. But hey, he quit after 3 weeks, so I guess I caught a break there.  But next time this scenario comes up, I’ll have my excuse trump card ready to use. Remember how weird it was last time? 

We men love excuses. All the way from the beginning of time. Adam: yeah but the woman gave me the fruit. Moses: yeah but they won’t listen to me, and I can’t speak well. Jeremiah: yeah but I’m too young and can’t speak well either. That excuse didn’t work for Moses, didn’t work for Jeremiah either.

The most legitimate reason to use an excuse is when it’s true or real. Maybe in that case, it’s not an excuse as much as it is an obstacle or hurdle to overcome. But whether you’re telling yourself that it’s scary, or boring, or not worth your time, if you really thirst to live like Jesus, then you need to recognize your excuses and deal with them.

In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man, and both are faced with various obstacles. This story may not really be about Obeying your Thirst, but I’d like to go through the passage a little at a time and examine the different obstacles and how they could have been used as excuses, or what we might do or say if a similar situation happened in our life. So see if you can relate to any of these situations when life gets in the way and you have a decision on whether or not to obey your thirst.

1 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.

There. Already. An opportunity to use an excuse.

Excuse: I was born this way. This is just who I am. This is how it’s always been.

2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”

Those that will try and trick you, confuse you, deceive you. Jesus had a number of ways he could have dealt with this situation.

Excuse: They’ll second-guess me. I’ll be questioned.

3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

When something bad happens to us, how many times do we say “poor pitiful me” instead of “how can I use this to glorify God?”

4 We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” 6 When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”

He slapped mud on this dude’s face.

Excuse: It’s different from what I’m used to. It’s uncharacteristic, unorthodox.

So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. 8 Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, “Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?” 9 Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.”

Excuse: There will be Arguments, Deniers. No one believes me. No one believes in me.

He kept saying, “I am the one.” 10 So they were saying to him, “How then were your eyes opened?”

Excuse: People will question me. Question my motives, question my intentions.

11 He answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went away and washed, and I received sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I do not know.”
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also were asking him again how he received his sight.

People being persistent. Nagging, bothering. Are you being stubborn? How many times have you not done something simply because you were asked to do it more than once? (e.g. Honey, were you going to take out the trash?)

And he said to them, “He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”16 Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.”

When religion gets in the way.

Excuse: Others will argue about my religion/practice. Difference in opinion.

But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.

Association with a certain group.

Excuse: What will others think of me? “You’re one of them.”

17 So they said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a prophet.”

Excuse: They will demand proof/answers. I will be questioned later.

18 The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight, 19 and questioned them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?”

Pulling family into it.

Excuse: It will affect my kids/spouse.

20 His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.”

Excuse: Laziness, not willing to get involved.

22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.

Excuse: Fear. Uphill battle. Going against people who have made up their minds.

23 For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” 28 They reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.”

Excuse: People with a different viewpoint.

30 The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. 32 Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” 

The blind man’s theology isn’t perfect but he didn’t let it keep him back.

Excuse: Not smart enough. Afraid of Embarrassment.

34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.

Excuse: Being dismissed. Being ignored.

35 Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Excuse: Ignoring God when He is speaking to you.

36 He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” 38 And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.

What’s your thirst? Andy Stanley said it this way: rather than asking what are your resolutions, or goals, instead what is it that breaks your heart? That’s your thirst. What’s that thing that bothers you or keeps you up at night? What could you be doing about it? Why aren’t you? What’s your excuse?

Here are a few takeaways I gathered from this story on how to overcome excuses.

Use Discernment
Jesus at the beginning knew he was being attacked and had to be intentional with how it was approached.
Many of you know that we have been foster parents, and will be again someday. That’s our thirst. But we’re not doing it now for various “excuses” if you will, including having a new baby. When asked in the past to take a foster child, we steer away from those with sexual abuse or who may be potentially physically abusive, all to protect our own family/kids. We’re using the best discernment we can while still obeying our thirst honestly. There are certain precautions you can take that aren’t necessarily excuses.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
The Pharisees were so focused on keeping their way of life going, that they missed God being right in front of them. In a bind, see if one way or the other can hold up to a litmus test against a verse or two:
Mark 12: 30-31 Love God, Love Others as yourself
Micah 6:8 Seek Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with your God
Philippians 4:8 Whatever is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, commendable

Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
The blind man got sick of the drama and you see a complete change in his language when he finally sees Jesus. Don’t lose focus of what the ultimate goal is: to love others the way God loves us through your specific passion.

Stick to What You Know
It’s probably not as complicated as you want to make it. It’s probably not as bad as you fear it might be. Most likely you know what it is you should be doing anyway. Obey your thirst. It’s your purpose. It’s why you were created. When pressed, the blind man stuck to what he knew: “Here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing. The one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”