Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser

166575-171367I spent twenty two years of my life as a people pleasing machine. I was good. I mean it. You would have loved me. Then God showed me my heart, and began to make me into something new. I am still not completely rebuilt into His Son’s image, and I still struggle with the tendency to fall back into my sinful ways. As such, I frequently have to confess what the Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter, would have called excessive man pleasing. I hate that term, which is why I also like it. I hope you feel the same tension.

I am writing this article as a pastor to the church. As I look out and survey the state of the church in America I see a pattern of shallow relationships and deft accountability avoidance. We have adopted a consumerist approach to the Christian life which values relational breadth over spiritual depth, calm spirits over gospel peace, and happy parishioners over holy nations. We have bowed our knee to the spirit of the age: non-confrontational, non-committal, religious people pleasing.

Heavy, I know, but read further. It gets happier.

Below are listed eleven confessions pretty common among my fellow pleasers and I. Read them and see if they sound like you, and if they sound applicable to you, don’t feel bad; just keep reading until you get to the less common, but far more important, twelfth confession.

  1. I deeply desire the pleasure of God, but I feed off the pleasure of people.
  2. I want to do what is right, and after I do, I want you to notice it, admire it, and tell your friends about it. Praise the Lord for Facebook!
  3. I want people to be happy, not holy.
  4. Although I talk about what is right, I settle for people saying I’m right.
  5. I frequently find peace, because I fervently flee conflict.
  6. I spend an inordinate amount of time considering how you will finish this sentence, “[Whitney](insert your name) is . . .”
  7. The amount of attention someone gets from me varies directly with the amount of praise I get from them.
  8. Although I am called to fish for men, I usually set my bait for compliments.
  9. I might accidentally trample the gospel, but I will never step on your toes.
  10. I am a constant encourager. . . to your face.
  11. I will never tell you no, and sometimes I keep my word.

I want you to read over those and ask yourself if they could apply to you as well as me. It would really make me feel better if they did (yes, that was a test). If they apply to you, then ignore what I wrote earlier – you should feel bad (never trust a people pleaser). Let conviction wash over you like a salty, bitter wave. After you are finished sputtering out the bitterness of your sin, I invite you to make the following confession:

  1. Jesus is King, and I serve Him.

This simple confession, if believed and followed, has the potential to revolutionize your heart, your personality, and ministry. Confess Jesus as your King and stop bowing to the capricious god of public approval. When you learn to serve the one, true King you will find the peace you have been faking, joy you have been missing, and love that cannot be earned – not by you anyways. Jesus earned the Father’s pleasure; by His grace, you get to enjoy it.



I just finished a little facebook tussle, which is second on my list of ultimately futile activities, over status update I made about a hot button cultural issue, which is the straightest line leading to the second most futile activity known to man. In this little back and forth, it became very clear that I was wielding a sword in what the other person assumed was a pool noodle fight. In that scenario, neither person looks too bright.

But this kerfuffle brought a number of thoughts to mind as I reflected. The whole situation was interesting to me on a number of levels:

1. Should we speak? People love to speak, but rarely have something to say. Social media has given us the ability to speak, which has morphed into an obligation to speak. This cuts towards me just as much as it does to the other person involved. I deleted about eight different tweets about the topic I brought up, because it was far too big a topic for a tweet. So why did I keep writing them until I clicked Tweet? Because I felt compelled to speak, primarily because I was able to speak. For the person who responded to me, there was a compulsion to say something in response to my saying something, but a vague and indefinite fortune cookie maxim was all they had available at the moment. But if I was speaking to something much larger than I could reasonably address, and if the person responding had nothing of substance to say in response, perhaps we should both have just stopped typing.

2. Speak with conviction. The person’s initial response was vague, and the follow up responses were a mix of denying what they had vaguely said, backing out of the argument they started, and at one point saying they had no intention at all behind what they said. If there is no intention, why say anything? And the answer is simple – there was intention behind responding to my status update, but the intention lacked the fortification of conviction. Paraphrasing Stinger, The person’s rebuttals were writing checks his conviction couldn’t cash.

3. Taylor Mali knows what I’m talking about.

4. Humility should be attached to ambition, not knowledge. G.K.Chesterton, writing about a hundred years ago noted this new tendency for people to act as though pretending not to know something was humble. That is relativism, agnosticism, or laziness, but it is not humility. Humility is meant to limit our inner world, not write off the outer one.

5. Christians must speak with conviction. Have you ever had that moment when a group of friends are trying to decide where to go eat, and all of them, looking out for the happiness of the others, keep deferring to everyone else, who are all deferring to everyone else? All it takes is one person with the conviction of personal desire, and the Mexican standoff will end. Our culture is at one massive Mexican standoff, and we desperately need Christians to step in and bring the clarity, honesty, and peace that can only come through Christian conviction.

In summary: don’t speak unless you have both something to say and the conviction to bring others with you.

Short Sight and Weak Kings


Not the king I had hoped for.

Christmas is one of those times, every year, where your vision of the future draws closer and closer until you can no longer see past one seemingly important day. The ever approaching nearness of a major day like this one can cloud your vision of the days that follow. Our sight becomes shortened.

If you are a parent, you definitely understand this. Christmas demands so much: lists of names and corresponding gifts, parties to attend, stores to brave, meals to cook, rooms to decorate, toys to assemble, memories to make, pictures to share, and traditions to uphold. Just making it to the day seems like the biggest Christmas present of all, because it is finally over!

And when it ends, when the torn paper settles and the Christmas carols fade, we find ourselves right where we were a month ago, but with more stuff cluttering the hallways of our house and barely hiding the holes in our hearts. Christmas just doesn’t bring what we hoped it would.

We are not the first to experience this situation. There have been countless scores of others who have shortened their vision to focus on a single moment or event, investing all of their hopes and efforts, only to find life on the other side feeling eerily similar to the one they just left.

I saw a past example of this today as I was reading in 1 Samuel, when all of God’s people became convinced they needed a man to be their king. All of their attention was placed upon it, every conversation with God was centered on it, and their hope for deliverance was tied to it.

God kept telling them, look farther down the line.

This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them—chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer.

But the people could not see past this day they expected to come in the future, where everything would be perfect. They would, and did, give everything for it. And when it came, when they found a king, there was a time of joy as he delivered them from the hand of their enemy.

But that day led inexorably to another day when he led them in battle. And another. And another. Before long, everything they had heard would happen with a king, did indeed happen. They had become so focused on one day they stopped thinking about all the ones coming after.

Their king was my Christmas.

Because we do the same thing at Christmas time. If our kids just have this toy, that experience, or these traditions, then we are convinced we are winning.

If we could only get that one thing we need, that one person we want, or that one experience to share, then we are convinced we will be more satisfied.

If we could just make this holiday better than the ones in the past, then we are convinced the rest will be merry as well.

We are just like the Israelites of old; our short sight leads us to prop up weak kings, and they never deliver what we expect.

Do not let your sight be shortened. Do not settle for a weak king. This Christmas, keep Jesus as the king on the throne of your heart. He alone will deliver the fulfillment of your hope and the peace you desire. He alone will bring joy. There is only one king who can truly deliver on the desires we feel.

Don’t let short sight lead you to prop up a weak king.

Strengths Based Leadership In Christian Ministry

leaderYesterday, I saw something scary. Something that I have sadly come to expect. I saw a couple of Executive Level leaders bantering back and forth about the people they cannot wait to cut from their organization. I listened to them discuss the best strategies for engaging people just enough to get their help without creating lines of connection that would be difficult to break. Where I come from, we call that using people. They laughed at the weaknesses, quirks, and eccentricities of the organizations they compete with, and they reveled in their personal aspirations towards greatness. Sadly, I see this all the time.

I see this, because I am a church planter, networking with other church planters.

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A plea to Christians in this important time, BE COURAGEOUS!

0708151631If this post were a picture of my newborn son, I believe it would receive about 150 likes from many of the Christians with whom I am dear friends. Because it is about abortion, I expect it to receive about 10.

I don’t think this is because I am friends with duplicitous, shallow, or uncaring believers. I think it is because most of us lack the courage it takes to look evil in the face.

The word abortion, as a noun, means virtually nothing. It is politi-speak in our culture, and we have learned to ignore it. I am talking about abortion as a verb. The action of abortion is pure evil. It is horrific. And because of this great horror, we usually choose to look away rather than engage.

Christian, you must show courage! Look upon the evil we have allowed in our cities. Look upon the killing field strewn with the bodies of the most defenseless non-combatants the world knows. Find the indignation you feel when you see an abused puppy from a puppy mill, and use that to push you towards the killing machine of Planned Parenthood, killing 900 babies every day. Look at how they harvest organs, LEGALLY! Children are being sacrificed on the altar of lifestyle. Human bodies are being crushed and literally torn apart so that we may lay those parts on the altar of scientific research, giving our children to the medical gods we hope will give back to us health.

This is the reality of what is happening. Look at it. Be repulsed. Be sickened. Have the images of our evil burned into your conscience. Be courageous, and face evil. Because we may have the chance to affect real change.

I think we stand on the precipice of change. For the first time in forty years, abortion is being brought to the front of our cultural consideration. Please do not back down in considering it. I want to provide a list of resources which will track important points of this issue. And I want to give some pointers for keeping the discussion focused.

When King David wanted to enact momentous change, the Bible tells us he recruited a group of men known for their wisdom – the men of Issachar. They “had understanding of the times, and knew what Israel should do.” There many voices crying out right now, so I want to point you to the ones who cry out with wisdom. These people understand the times in which we live. And they are telling us what we should do.

Pay attention. Don’t look away. Share the truth. Pray for change. May God end the reign of child murder in our land.

For a concise explanation of the reality of abortion, read the transcript from John Piper’s sermon, paying specific attention to his 10 bullet points at the end: Father, Forgive, For We Know What We Are Doing

On Planned Parenthood, and the current controversies:

Russell Moore penned one of the best responses to date when this controversy first broke.

Albert Mohler explains the moral reality of what is going on in our collective cultural heart here.

Denny Burk has been tracking this controversy from the beginning, and his posts include the videos at the center of the controversy here (What Planned Parenthood Is And Why Its Work Is Evil), here (Why The President of Planned Parenthood’s Apology Doesn’t Work), and here (More Smoking Gun Evidence of The Evil of Planned Parenthood).

For some commentary on how this story is being handled in the media, and why it is imperative that you share these posts in your social media circles:

Molly Hemingway shows how pathetic the coverage of this issue has been here. And she also provides the rest of us with a TON of questions that reporters should be asking, but just don’t.

Denny Burk helpfully breaks down what Planned Parenthood is saying in their apologies and press releases. Please do not be fooled – this issue is not about whether the sale of fetal body parts is legal! It is about whether this is moral, and if it should be illegal. Denny also asks an important question of our President, who has spoken out about people waving Confederate flags (which is an embarrassment to those people and our country), but remained silent about the trafficking of human body parts.

Justin Taylor has a great video clip of one anchor discussing the moral reality of abortion in the history of our nation.

I also want to point out Trevin Wax’s simple question which I, for one, would love to hear Planned Parenthood champions answer.

Now, oddly enough, one of the only aspects of this whole controversy being covered at length is whether or not the sting videos,  the ones that catch the “doctors” discussing how they get baby organs without crushing them like the rest of the baby, is illegal or immoral. Doug Wilson handles that from a Christian perspective when he answers the question, “Is deceiving the abortion doctors morally wrong?”

What can we do?

Doug Wilson gives 7 suggestions for what you can do with all of this information. I want to reiterate one of them very plainly: utilize social media to bring the dark deed of abortion into the light. Social media, at its best, gives a voice to those too small to be heard. Let the voiceless be heard through you.

And finally, the most important response any believer can give: pray and fast for the rescue of children.

Managerial Devilry

downloadAbortion is once again making waves in social media. #PlannedParenthood is the #2 trending topic on Twitter as I write this. It is still early enough in the sharing of this video that few major news outlets have been able to cover the topic responsibly. Here is one such article if you have not heard about what is happening.

I will give you the short version, quoted from one person, representing tens of thousands, horrified by the disparity between the grizzly subject of the conversation and the calm demeanor and posh setting in which it took place.

When I watched the video of the discussion between this doctor and a potential buyer of fetal body parts, I remembered a quote from the introduction to the The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. Joe Rigney is the one who cauterized it in my mind in his seminar speech, Live Like a Narnian. It truly captures the reality of this type of horror. I just paraphrased the final line.

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a [a Planned Parenthood executive].

Joe Carter has pointed out that this trade in human body parts is most likely legal, with lots of paperwork to prove it. But legality does not determine the morality. And the harvesting of a baby’s head, legal or not, is morally reprehensible. I pray these disclosures of abortion industry practice will wake us up to the horror of abortion.

We are told that children in the womb are not really human on the one hand, and then we harvest human organs from their still warm corpses with the other.

And at the end of the day, those who prey upon our permissiveness sit at beautiful tables in nice restaurants, sipping wine, calmly discussing the best methods for extracting organs from a child they just finished killing. No amount of outrage can justify our culpability in this societal evil. We need to speak out and put a stop to the slaughter of innocent children.

Elections are coming. Please, make this your single issue, and vote accordingly.

Saturate: Chapter 4

saturatePaul once wrote about how he struggled with sin. He talked about doing the things he did not want to do. I get that. He also talked about not doing the things he did want to do. I get that part also. He lamented about how tough it was to be saved by Christ, yet still caught up in sinful desires. Check that box too. Then, in the midst of his lamentations, Paul draws up and ends the pity party by clearly declaring thanks for Jesus, because “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ!” This is where a lot of Christians get waylaid in their walk with God.

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Saturate: Chapter 3

saturateJesus is better.

That is a pretty simple message for anyone involved in the church for a while. After all, this is the core of the gospel, the good news; whatever you’re idolizing, loving, or desiring – Jesus is better. Whatever you’re hating, running from, or fighting against – Jesus is better. Whatever you’re pursuing, fighting for, or working towards – Jesus is better. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus is better than anything in this world, and you can have him.

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Saturate: Chapter 2


This chapter centers around one big idea: Jesus broke down the divide between secular and sacred, and we should do the same thing in our lives.

Vanderstelt unpacks this idea through a story from his own life (the poker game), the trajectory of Israel towards a divide and Jesus’ intervention, and a diagram that I found a little difficult to decipher. The secular/sacred divide seems to be at the heart of most missional community movements, so this is an important chapter to understand from a Biblical theological perspective. But make no mistake, this goes against the grain of much of the Western church’s history, as Greg, at Jeff’s poker game made clear.

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Saturate: Chapter 1

saturateThe first chapter of Jeff Vanderstelt’s book focuses on the problem he saw with the traditional (practiced by our parents’ generation) understanding of ministry and church. Let’s first off note that Vanderstelt is an excellent writer. His ability to communicate big ideas through simple stories makes it easy for us to capture the heart of what he is saying. So let’s trace the problem as he encountered it.

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