The Spiritually Younger Need the Spiritually Older

There have been a few older men who have seriously influenced my life as a Christian man. Let me name a few.

There’s my dad, who has been a model of a father and a husband that his own dad never was, which has taught me the possibilities of resilience and determination even in the face of your own flaws and your past.

There’s Artie, my Campus Outreach staff guy during my sophomore and junior years of college, who helped teach me the importance of being honest and open with someone else and staying true to the Word of God all while being an incredible friend.

There’s Thadd, my youth pastor in high school, who taught me the importance of being faithful to God in front of others and helped lay the foundation of my faith during my formative years before college.

There’s Pastor Andy, who met with me once every two weeks during the spring of my senior year of college to help me deal sin in my life, waking up early and driving 20 minutes out of his way to meet at Dunkin’ Donuts and talk life with me, reading a book and sharing from Scripture.

There’s Ray, probably the happiest person I’ve ever met, who has been like a second father in a way over the years, who never fails to ask me how he can pray for me and gives me a neck hug every time he sees me.

There’s Pastor Bruce, whose wisdom in the Word and concern for my spiritual life have been a welcome blessing since I’ve returned home from school.

Phillip (left) and I while Phillip was working at a summer camp.
Phillip (left) and I while Phillip was working at a summer camp.

There’s my friend Phillip, who, even though he’s just two years older than I am, has been one of my best friends and a guiding presence in my life for eight-and-a-half years.

All of these men I would consider mentors in one way or another. Some were more explicitly mentors, while others were encouragers and a little more. We all need them. Scripture gives us a good example why.

A Young King, An Instructing Priest

In 2 Kings 12, Jehoash begins reigning as king in Judah as a seven-year-old. Seven years old, and he’s got the throne of a whole nation! Can’t imagine he had it all figured out or understood. There had to be some things he had to learn.

2 Kings 12:1-2:

In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibah of Beersheba. And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoida the priest instructed him.

Jehoida the priest was basically a God-fearing boss. Boss as in he rocked at it. Athaliah, Jehoash’s grandmother, had illegitimately taken over the kingdom after the death of her son Ahaziah (Jehoash’s dad) and wasn’t exactly friendly about it (you can read about this in 2 Kings 11). Jehoida was committed to doing things the Lord’s way. So he had her removed from the throne and established Jehoash as the king over Judah.

2 Kings 11:17 records that “Jehoida made a covenant between the LORD and the king and people, that they should be the LORD’s people, and also between the king and the people.” The temple of Baal was then destroyed and the priest of Baal killed. This was the right guy to have instructing Jehoash the young king.

And it paid off. 2 Kings 12:4-18 tells the story of how Jehoash properly went about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of God all his days, and the Scripture says it was a direct result of the instruction of Jehoida the priest. Were things perfect? No. 2 Kings 12:3 says that high places of worship to other gods were still in the country, but Jehoash is remembered as someone who followed God all his days.

The Importance of Old People

As a millennial, I’m part of a very self-determining generation. We like to figure things out on our own. Probably the headline phrase – “I do me.” It’s a way of saying, “I got it, I’ll do it, I’ll do what I want, don’t need any help.” We don’t need anybody. Especially them old farts.

It’s a really discouraging thing. And, even as I write this, I sense in my own heart a resistance to opening myself up to older people, instead just saying, “I’mma do me.”

And when I say “old people,” this is not a disparaging term. For me, it’s a term of affection and one that engenders respect and honor. Not to say that all people more advanced in age than I are worth the respect and honor I have for men like Thadd, Ray and Pastor Andy. But these men were and still are my Jehoidas. They’re people who I can rely on to encourage and challenge me to pursue Jesus through my whole life, in spite of every bit of resistance I can work up.

The only picture I have of Thadd I could find. I had an app with which you could add images of Obama into a picture you were taking. Therefore, here you go.
The only picture I have of Thadd I could find. I had an app with which you could add images of Obama into a picture you were taking. Therefore, here you go.

Thadd was the first real mentor figure I had. He was my youth pastor for all four years of high school, something I found out later was rather rare, as youth pastor is a high turnover position. By the end of my senior year, he may or may not have been tired of me saying at times, “Hey Thadd, can I talk to you about something?” I loved how much he cared for us youth. He spent a lot of time and effort working on ways to help educate us in the Scriptures and in following Jesus.

Artie (in the front of the picture at the top of this post) spent two years doing a lot of what Thadd did. He had a lot of responsibilities leading a campus ministry, but he happened to be one of my best friends during the two years we knew each other at Elon. We even went to South Africa for seven weeks the summer after my junior year as part of a team to share the Gospel with South African college students, and he was still a great friend. We were very similar people with very similar personalities, so that helped. He cared.

Then there’s my dad. When you’re growing up, sometimes it can be hard for you to really relate to your dad. He’s the authority figure, el jefe, the head of the family. And there are a lot of responsibilities that come with that. I admit that I harbored frustrations with my dad during some years. He was doing his job, but I was so stubborn and prideful to realize that I needed what he was doing. But our relationship has taken a rather pleasant, refreshing and encouraging turn over the last few years. I think it’s been one result of change in him, something for which I thank and praise my Heavenly Father. I think God has also worked in me a slice of humility that I desperately needed to understand that my dad wasn’t trying to boss me around all the time, but simply wanted to help me grow as a man because he loved me. And it’s been pretty awesome.

Get Yourself A Jehoida

I think that each and every Christian should have a Jehoida that they can go to at anytime for advice and wisdom or even just encouragement or a good time. The spiritually younger need the spiritually older. So my advice: get yourself a Jehoida.

Here are some tips for finding your own Jehoida:

Look for someone who has been a Christian longer than you. One of the greatest teachers is experience. Someone who has been faithfully following Jesus for a long time has learned a few things more than you. Take advantage of that.

Look for someone who is willing to talk about their mistakes. A mentor who is willing to talk about where they’ve screwed up is likely one who has received and experienced the grace of Jesus and can readily share that with you. You’ll probably only find this out by actually spending time with them, and it will probably require some openness on your part, but it’s 100 percent worth it.

My dad (right) and I before we went to a Kansas concert.
My dad (right) and I before we went to a Kansas concert.

Look for someone who serves the local church in some capacity. Your life’s call is to serve God by serving the body of Christ in a church or ministry context. Whether it’s helping out with the kids’ ministry or serving on the church finance committee or as a deacon, serving in the church is usually (not always) evidence of dedication to the cause of Christ. Each of the men I listed at the beginning of this post serve Christ in some capacity. My dad is a deacon at Turner’s Chapel, Artie works for a college ministry, Thadd pastors Connect Church here in Sanford, Pastor Andy is on staff at Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Mebane, N.C., Ray works with the AWANA children’s ministry at TC, and Pastor Bruce and Phillip are the pastor and youth pastor, respectively, at TC. Again, not always evidence of faithfulness, but it’s a good place to start.

Finally, look for someone who will be dedicated to you. Each of these men actually cared for me and have, at some point in my life, made time in their days or weeks to speak with me, pray for me, eat with me, encourage me, challenge me, etc. That makes a world of difference.

But there’s a requirement from you. This thing is a two-way street. You have got to be open to sharing some of the most deepest and intimate parts of your life with somebody else. It’s living out the command in Scripture – “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Or even this – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Another word for it is discipleship. It’s what Jesus did with His disciples. It’s what Jehoida did with Jehoash. It’s what all of us young, hot-headed, prideful kids desperately need.

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Taking God At His Word Is Probably The Best Thing You’ll Ever Do

Have you ever been given some advice that you knew was really good, but decided to just nod, say thanks and then not follow it?

Story of my life. I’ve written before about my stubborn streak and how much I love listening to other people. I also like sarcasm.

I was reading in 2 Kings today – by the way, the Old Testament is super rad – and was trying to make an intentional effort to learn something about God while reading. I think sometimes it’s easy for us to read just to find one little nugget to take away no matter what it’s about, but I really wanted to grasp something about God from my time in the Word this morning.

I read 2 Kings 5-6, and chapter five tells the story of Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria. He was well-regarded as a leader “because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria” (v. 1). He was a “mighty man of valor,” but he was also a leper. Leprosy, for those who don’t know, causes exterior disfigurations of the face and other skin, as well as a lack of ability to feel pain. In Hebrew society, lepers were outcasts, but in Syria things must have been different if Naaman was the commander of the army of the king of Syria.

Back to the story. In one of Syria’s recent raids, they had captured a servant girl who worked in the house of the king of Israel. The servant girl said that there was a prophet in Samaria who could cure Naaman of his leprosy. So Naaman saddled up a crew and they went to Samaria. After getting turned away at the king of Israel’s gate, God’s prophet Elisha sent for Naaman and his crew to come to him. Verses 9-14:

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

One of the biggest struggles I face is taking God at His Word. Now, I know that it’s true and accurate and, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” I get it. I understand that to be true.

But sometimes I don’t feel it. To be honest, lots of times I don’t feel it. I can be a slave to my emotions, my attitude and my day hinging on how I feeling. There’s some of this that is good – emotions can be helpful, warning signs, encouragements, so on and so forth. But to be lead by emotion is a dangerous thing. We become like drunkards, speaking and acting at our own whimsy.

The story of Naaman proves one thing: Sometimes we see God’s answer to our issue and we get frustrated because it’s not what we thought it would be. But when we submit to His answer and His way, that’s when true healing comes.

pic-biblicalI was reminded today that God’s Word is always beneficial and always profitable, no matter how I feel or how I initially react to it. It’s a pride thing, really. I think I’ve either got it all figured out or I’m just one breakthrough away from understanding it on my own. But instead, I need to submit myself to God’s truth each and every day.

It’s a grace-infused process because we won’t do that. We won’t ever really do what we need to. But God gives us the grace to give it another shot when we fail. When I look back at my life and realize all the times I haven’t taken God at His Word, I don’t have to sit in regret. I accept that I sinned, receive the grace and mercy that He’s given me through Jesus and move forward, giving it another shot. God is the God of 10,000 chances. And one of the many great things about God’s Word is that it never changes, it never alters. We don’t have to be rechecking Romans 8:1 every day to make sure that we’re still not condemned if we’re in Christ. We can trust it and believe it.

God desires the best for us, even if it’s leading us to something we don’t desire to do or don’t feel like doing, because He loves us and cares for us. God’s love for us is at the root of each and every action He takes and each and every word He says. That’s a huge concept we must grasp and wrestle with and believe. He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Because of those things, we can take God at His Word. Each and every day. For the rest of eternity. Hallelujah. Can’t explain to you how that makes me feel. Overwhelmed by grace. Overwhelmed by love. Overwhelmed by my sinfulness and my mistakes. Overwhelmed by the fact that He cares for me enough to send His Word to me. Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.

Every time I get swayed by the temptations of this world, I can come back to the good God of the world who in His Word unconditionally tells me, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It might take six or seven dips in the water of His Word to get it, but each and every one is worth it.

The Church Culture of Compassion

If judgement looms under every steeple, if lofty glances from lofty people, can’t see past her scarlet letter, and we never even met her.

I love the Casting Crowns video above because it shows what the church can be and far too often is, but also what it’s supposed to be. Initially, the people at the church throw lofty glances at the woman or try to scoot away from her. But at the end, one girl approaches the main character with a sympathetic hand and sympathetic word.

I wrote a post a few days ago called “The Church Culture of Shame” describing my thoughts on how much the church seems to lack any sense of grace with some people, particularly those within the body of Christ. I’m flattered by the amount of people that read it and have complimented me on it. Thank you, to all of you. It means more than you know.

But as I was driving to get lunch today, I thought of a different phrase – “the church culture of compassion.” It may come across to some who read that last post that I don’t think such a thing exists. But as I thought about that phrase, some examples came to mind. Let me share them with you here. I hope you are encouraged.

Compassion is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Compassion is really the act of going out of your way to help physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts or pains of another. (Wikipedia)

XXXChurch – Jesus Loves Porn Stars

I first heard about the outreach ministry of XXX Church on the Bad Christian podcast a couple months ago when they interviewed founder Craig Gross. XXX Church has many different facets, but the one I want to focus on is their ministry to the pornography industry.

In 2002, X3 (for short) sent a team to a popular pornography convention “to love on both the consumer and the workers there. This approach was very different from other ‘religious’ organizations present outside of the convention with their posters and megaphones preaching a message of law and hate.” Ever since, X3 booths have been a mainstay at popular adult film gatherings, where teams hand out Bibles that say “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” on the cover while seeking to love and minister to those in attendance.

Why? To point porn stars to Jesus.

We believe that Jesus meets people where they are. We don’t subscribe to the belief system that God only loves those who live the way we or religion think they should live. We believe that it is when Jesus meets, loves and accepts us where we are, no matter that place that we are transformed by that crazy kind of love. – XXXchurch.com

porndebatejpg-869830e20b0f17bb
Ron Jeremy (left) and Craig Gross.

In addition, Gross has a close relationship with Ron Jeremy, described as “the world’s most famous porn star” in this story on ABC News. The two go around the country doing speaking engagements and debates on the topic of pornography.

“There are certain things I don’t like (about the porn industry), and having Craig around, putting things in check, or when girls want to get out of the business they might go to him, and a few have, who are actually friends of mine,” Jeremy told ABC. “And he ministers to them, brings them into the path of righteousness, and I think that’s great.”

Reppin’ the Misfits

And people call themselves Christians, with “God hates fags” written all over their pickets. They play the Holy Spirit and judge people because of the way they sin different. Social Club will always be the difference. I have gay friends and I’m not ashamed to say it, and I love ’em like Christ did and people are gonna hate it. They know what I believe and they might not agree, but I stand as living proof, look what God did to me. Social Club, “Grace Song”

The attitude that Christian rap group Social Club takes in their songs is not one of judgement or of condemnation, but of love. Their call is for the “misfits,” the ones who may not be accepted by the masses. In the “About Us” section of their Tumblr page, they define a misfit: “A misfit by definition is someone who is ‘different than their surroundings.’ Simply put, we believe in being who Jesus has called us to be and not who the world wants us to be.”

In a church culture that seems to care a lot more than we should about appearances, they don’t care.

“One thing we wanted to do is create an environment of openness and accountability…for the gospel,” group member Marty said in an interview with Rapzilla. “We do life music. We don’t do music that is centered around anything other than our lives…We focus on the misfits and the kids that feel like they didn’t fit in.”

The Christian rap genre as a whole does a great job of showing compassion to all, generally not taking a stance of “we’re better than you,” but seeking to be real and honest and showing compassion in that way. They’re also willing to go to the places others might not be willing to. A group of rappers from the label Reach Records visited Riker’s Island Prison in New York to do a concert and minister to the inmates.

From @reachrecords Twitter.
From @reachrecords Twitter.

“We were reminding people of their value and their worth, and it’s not defined by what society says about us but the intrinsic worth that we have in God, being made in His image,” Andy Mineo said in an interview with Wade-O Radio.

How many other Christian artists would take a trip to one of the most notably worst prisons in America? I don’t think many would.

A Guy Named Zacch

I’m going to share one more story of compassion that you can find in the church. It’s the story of a guy named Zacch.

See, Zacch lived in the city of Jericho working for the government. Something like the IRS. Except he was super corrupt. He stole money from people. Legally. He had everything he thought he needed. He was hated by the religious leaders of the day. Not unlike how some Christians these days view the government of the United States of America.

Then one day a teacher came along. He was pretty popular, almost like a rockstar. Zacch stood on a crowded street, trying to see this teacher. But he was short, so he couldn’t see him. Solution: climb up in a tree. Zacch sat in the tree like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Angels in the Outfield, peering out trying to see this guy he had heard about.

The teacher walked by and saw Zacch sitting in the tree. Now, this teacher was a Jewish one who talked about Yahweh, the God of the Torah. A religious guy. I don’t know for sure, but Zacch may have assumed that this teacher thought the worst about him. But, looking at Zacch, the teacher said, “Zacch, come on down, man. Let’s grab some food at your place.”

Joyfully, Zacch leapt down from the tree and practically dragged the teacher to his home. He was filled with joy. After talking with the teacher, Zacch made up his mind. He said: “Half of my goods, I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8).

And the teacher responded, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

I’ll end with a quote from Tullian Tchividjian’s One Way Love:

Jesus is not being cavalier about wrongdoing or suggesting that greed, and its fallout, is not a big deal. He shed tears over our sin; he came to suffer and die for it. No, this is Jesus identifying with the sinner and loving those who least deserve it. He knows that the only way to break the cycle of retribution and oppression and heartbreak is to demolish the ladder of deserving altogether…God lavishes His grace on the foolish, the weak, the despised, and the nothings so He alone will get the glory. (p. 131-132)

Confessions of a Recovering Goody Two-Shoes

There are few truly humble people in this world. Even though we praise in-the-spotlight people when they speak humble words or perform humble actions, we rarely seem to seek it ourselves, make it a part of us.

Of course, when I say “we,” I’m talking about myself. I’ve got an interesting story when it comes to humility, or lack thereof (which, by the way, is one of my favorite phrases in the English language). This story is in three phases.

Pride in Being “The Best”

Growing up in the stereotypical “Christian home,” I was raised to do all the right things. I didn’t drink, didn’t chew and didn’t go with girls that do. Or did. I didn’t cuss, didn’t see an R-rated movie until I was 14 or 15, and even then it was one that was barely R-rated. I made a habit out of being a “goody-two-shoes.”

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “goody two-shoes” was made popular by the children’s story “The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes” about a girl who grows up with only one shoe. One day, a rich man gives her a complete pair of shoes. She then goes on to live a gloriously happy life, with the story implying her good life comes because she is virtuous. Basically, she was good, so she got good things.

I was generally (but not all the time) respectful and honoring of my parents and teachers. I tried to avoid all the bad things my classmates were doing. I felt like I was a pretty good person. I was hoping to be that “goody two-shoes.”

I hope you’re seeing the pride that made a living in my heart during that time. Even when I committed my life to Jesus at age 13, I still had a ridiculous amount of pride and boastfulness. I thought I was the only committed Christian in my class in high school because I thought I was the only one legitimately showing it. I didn’t cuss, didn’t hook up with girls, didn’t do any of that “bad stuff.” I knew some stuff in the Bible, enough that I felt like I contributed a lot during youth group on Sunday nights.

My pride was purely self-righteousness. It was me thinking I was good enough to warrant being called a “good Christian.” I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be the one people looked at and said, “Man, he’s a good Christian kid. He does all the right things.”

I made sure to not talk about myself this way, because that would be prideful and boastful. But boy, my heart was guilty.

The Despair of Not Being “Good Enough”

When I got to college, I recognized that pride. I recognized the self-righteousness that I loved. Like in high school, I was one of few Christians in my friend group and thought that I carried the cross-emblazoned flag very well. But it hit me during my freshman year that my self-righteousness was turning people away from relationship with me. So I decided to cut back a bit.

And there was growth there. Unfortunately, it was like the growth of a root – only down. I struggled long with sinful temptations and became so burdened with sin and guilt and shame that I started a downturn. The false humility I had before – when I’d play down my “goodness” with a shrug and a sheepish smile – became a self-deprecating “humility.” I would look for ways to put myself down in front of others. People would mention me being a “good Christian” – words I lived for just a couple years before – and I would turn them down, saying, “I’m definitely not perfect. Oh I could list the ways…” and trail off, sincerely hoping they wouldn’t ask me to.

This turned into a prolonged period of depression and rejection of God’s grace in my life. I would take stock of my actions and my thoughts and think, “Well, I suck. I’ve got nothing to offer.” I would work so hard to try to get back on God’s good side. Nights and nights when I would pray and beg God to get better.

Meanwhile, I would seek praise and affirmation from others because I felt so crappy about myself. And when someone praised something I did in the Christian realm, that was even better, because that’s what I felt the worst about.

So I got stuck in that rut. I would be doing well spiritually for a few days, but then I’d do something stupid and would lose it. All the good that I had built up seemed to crumble down in a messy, unruly heap that would take a couple days to sort out.

Grace, Grace, Such Grace

The other day, Paul David Tripp posted this on Facebook: “Our sin is what separates us from God, but it’s our self-righteousness that keeps us from running to Him for the grace He willingly gives to all who come.”

Self-righteousness is the No. 1 stumbling block to receiving God’s grace, and it can work both ways. We can be self-righteous in thinking that our works get us to God, make us look good before Him. We can also be self-righteous in thinking that our works have to be good enough or it’s impossible to be in relationship with Him. In both of those scenarios, our righteousness comes from ourselves. Therefore, self-righteousness.

Those kinds of thought processes prevent us from truly knowing, understanding and receiving grace from God. Grace comes when we realize we are insufficient to reach God on our own. Grace gives us hope in this life of a real relationship with God built on unconditional love and mercy.

What is it Ephesians 2:8-9 says? “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” That verse promotes that very two-pronged truth: we’re not saved by our works, but we’re not deemed valueless by that fact. We’re actually given the chance to have much greater value than we would ever have by our actions alone, because our value comes from God, not from ourselves.

I think it was in Jerry Bridges’ excellent book The Discipline of Grace, but I remember reading C.S. Lewis’ quote: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” True humility defines Jesus. He kept an accurate view of who He was: the Son of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, sent to earth to accomplish a mission. But He thought of others – us – more than Himself. We are called to be the same.

Last February, I went to Banner Elk, N.C., in the Appalachian Mountains. I was journaling and writing out 11 points of things I learned those few days I was there with a friend. One of those points was as follows:

Biblical humility is not about saying, “I’m the worst.” It’s about saying, “Jesus is better.” Biblical humility isn’t based in self-degradation; it’s based in Christ-exaltation. So when I’m dealing with my pride, my call should be not that I suck, but that living for and giving the glory to Christ is better.

It’s a lifelong struggle, and it took me nearly 22 years to get to this point right now where I have some sort of semblance of what true humility looks like. And I’m sure that I’ll have to continue to wrestle with all of these things. Grace, grace, such grace. Grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all my sin. Including my pride.

The Church Culture of Shame

I was way too young to understand anything that went on in the Monica Lewinsky scandal that grabbed America’s attention in 1998. I can’t even remember when I first heard about it, to be honest with you. I would have been 5 years old back then, so even if I had known, I would have had no reference point for what adultery was or how crazy it was that the President of the United States was involved in it.

I still didn’t know all that much about it until today, when I was looking over a list of nominees for the 2015 National Magazine Awards on longform.org. Having graduated from college with a degree in journalism and still loving to write, I enjoy a good longform story. I perused the articles and found a link to Monica Lewinsky’s first-person essay in Vanity Fair that was published in May of last year. You can read it here.

She starts out her essay this way:

‘How does it feel to be America’s premier blow-job queen?”

It was early 2001. I was sitting on the stage of New York’s Cooper Union in the middle of taping a Q&A for an HBO documentary. I was the subject. And I was thunderstruck.

Hundreds of people in the audience, mostly students, were staring at me, many with their mouths agape, wondering if I would dare to answer this question.

The main reason I had agreed to participate in the program was not to rehash or revise the story line of Interngate but to try to shift the focus to meaningful issues. Many troubling political and judicial questions had been brought to light by the investigation and impeachment of President Bill Clinton. But the most egregious had been generally ignored. People seemed indifferent to the deeper matters at hand, such as the erosion of private life in the public sphere, the balance of power and gender inequality in politics and media, and the erosion of legal protections to ensure that neither a parent nor a child should ever have to testify against each other.

How naïve I was.

She ended up answering the question. I really encourage you to read the whole piece because 1) it’s incredible writing, 2) it’s historically significant and 3) it reveals something we may already know.

We are a culture who likes shame. We don’t like to feel shame ourselves, of course, but when it comes to others, shame sometimes seems to be our first reaction. Monica Lewinsky, the Washington Redskins refusing to change their name, Barack Obama’s failure to attend a march in France, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences”snubbing” the MLK-centered film Selma from some major awards categories. We love shaming people and places and organizations that have fallen short in our eyes.

And through Lewinsky’s essay, we get a really good glimpse into what that looks like. Another bit from her essay:

Yes, we’re all connected now. We can tweet a revolution in the streets or chronicle achievements large and small. But we’re also caught in a feedback loop of defame and shame, one in which we have become both perps and victims. We may not have become a crueler society—although it sure feels as if we have—but the Internet has seismically shifted the tone of our interactions. The ease, the speed, and the distance that our electronic devices afford us can also make us colder, more glib, and less concerned about the consequences of our pranks and prejudice. Having lived humiliation in the most intimate possible way, I marvel at how willingly we have all signed on to this new way of being.

Let me say this: I don’t excuse her choices or her actions. Monica Lewinsky messed up, and Bill Clinton messed up, and they definitely have no excuses. And in the essay, Lewinsky says she wishes she could go back and erase that scandal happening.

But the stigma of being “that woman” will stick with her for the rest of her life and then onwards because that’s the society we live in today. She may not be convinced that we “have become a crueler society,” but I think there’s lots of evidence that we have become just that. We are generally unforgiving and unaccepting of wrongs as a culture. We revel in other’s misfortune, whether they earned it or not. We gravitate towards wrongdoing. It’s like that old saying about a car crash. It’s ugly to see, but you just can’t help but look.

Some of this gravitation towards wrongdoing is necessary and right. Racism? Yes, we should be talking about it and working against it. We should be speaking out and saying that all of mankind is created equal in the image of God, and each one of us deserves respect no matter the color of our skin, the ethnicity of our parents or the size of our bank accounts. Sex trafficking and slavery? Yes, we should be talking about it and working against it. No one should be forced to be a slave to anyone for anything, particularly for the perverse pleasure and sexual fulfillment of mostly men.

But the culture of shame that perpetrates through celebrities’ marriage troubles and political decisions is a shame. We don’t give others the benefit of the doubt that we beg to be shown to us. And, unfortunately, I think this has creeped into the body of Christ.

A Guy I Admired, He Sinned. 

I wrote a blog post back in October about “selfish holiness,” and how often I fall into the trap of overly-criticizing Christians for being critical of Christians. I admit it: I do it. My self-righteousness is a constant weight on my back, eating away at my attempts to bring God glory in all I do. But I want to re-emphasize what I said while looking at Mark Driscoll.

For those of you who don’t know who Mark Driscoll is or what his story is, he was the pastor and founder of Mars Hill Church, which was a multi-campus church on the west coast that was based out of Seattle, Washington. He was known for his aggressive yet conservative style of preaching. An example:

 

He’s right, by the way.

But the yelling and the language and the confrontation got to some people in the wrong way. And then there were reports of plagiarism in some of his books. And then a lack of submission to confrontation from others. And overwhelming pride. And some comments on a forum under a different name a long time ago. And some other things. Read this story here for some more context.

All things that were sinful. Not questioning that. And I’m not questioning that those things should have been brought to the light. But the tenacity and the thoroughness with which Christians investigated and shamed him is upsetting to me. There’s a whole website dedicated to it, for goodness’ sake, filled with articles nitpicking and analyzing anything and everything that Driscoll has said or done in his ministry.

Just like we do with Barack Obama. Just like we did with Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. The culture of shame has entered the church. We are best at shooting down our own. In this video of Driscoll at the Gateway Conference in California back in October, he says that his family had to move three times to avoid death threats:

 

Something that Robert Morris, the pastor at Gateway Church where the conference was held, says in the video struck me (emphasis mine): “We could crucify him (Driscoll), but since someone has already been crucified for him, the other choice is we could restore him with a spirit of gentleness considering ourselves lest we are tempted. It’s sad that in the church we are the only army that shoots at our wounded.”

It seems as if there’s no freedom to sin in the church. There’s no freedom to mess up and get an honest second chance because things get ruined for you when you mess up the first time. And it might seem like it’s just the leaders. But is it too unrealistic to think that this might be affecting the church as a whole? Our attitude towards people like Mark Driscoll can encourage a church-wide shaming of people who sin, so we might be afraid of being honest about our sin.

I really enjoyed listening to Mark Driscoll. Just about every time I listened to a sermon of his, I was challenged and encouraged with strong, bold biblical truth. I loved it. I loved his ministry to the Gospel-starved city of Seattle. And when he “fell,” my first response, honestly, was disappointment. When anyone lets you down, there is bound to be disappointment. But as the saga wore on and as I loosely followed it, I was disappointed by the reaction of the Christian community. Should he have been removed from his positions in different ministries, even his church? Perhaps. But the vitriol and the lack of forgiveness after repeated apologies made me wonder, “What in the world are we accomplishing by this reaction to a guy doing what he does every day, sinning?”

This Is Where The Gospel Makes Sense.

After capping off the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

I am incredibly guilty of not following through on this. I still hold things against people from years ago, and it’s life-sucking and joy-killing. I refuse to forgive, I refuse to move on, I refuse to let go. I ignore the fact that other people sin and fall short while expecting them to be perfect. Honestly, my unrealistic expectations of others might be more sinful than their actions.

The thing is: God loved and forgave those of us who are believers when we were defined by our sin – “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As sinful people, we will fall short of echoing this kind of love perfectly. But it is the call on our lives, as Jesus said, to forgive others and love others how God forgives and loves us.

I’m afraid that we’ve missed this and instead are quick to shame and to criticize. I was talking with a girl in a small group a couple weeks ago who hadn’t been to church in a long time and I asked her why she hadn’t. She said that she felt judged and condemned and never really wanted to go back. Someone called her a really bad name. To her face. There had been no effort to reach out and love her and seek to show Jesus to her. Instead, there was only quick condemnation, shaming glances. No grace. No love. No acceptance of who she was as a human being, someone broken and in need of a Savior.

This is where the Gospel makes sense. This is where the love of God should be shown to Monica Lewinsky, to Mark Driscoll, to Barack Obama, to Dan Snyder. And I think only when the grace and love of God is made clear is proper confrontation of sin godly and biblical. I think of the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 (a story I’m loving right now and wrote about a few days ago), and Jesus’ words to the woman – “Neither will I condemn you; now, go and sin no more” (v. 11). He starts with a reminder of who she is in Him – saved, no longer condemned. It’s a perfect practical picture of Romans 8:1, in which Paul says there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There is correction and discipline, but no condemnation. Then He tells her that she is to go and no longer sin.

Will she follow that 100 percent? No. But no matter what, she’s forgiven and loved because she submitted her life to Jesus, called him Lord (v. 11). We should be giving the same response to guys like Mark Driscoll, guys like the pastor in your church who might be a little prideful, guys like your friend who unintentionally insulted your wife, people like your college roommate who left dirty dishes in the sink way too often. (That was me, by the way.)

We should be saying: “I don’t condemn you or hold that against you. But try harder! Pray to God for the grace to grow, for the Holy Spirit to convict you of your sin, for the Bible to show you how to live properly, and for your heart to accept God’s forgiveness of your sin and to change in a way that’s glorifying to Him.”

Man, I hope and pray that I can go that way, speak those words and really have that attitude of not holding sins against others and not seeking to shame someone into oblivion. I mean, that’s how God operates, right?

Grace Is Something So Incredibly Radical

I’ve been reading Tullian Tchividjian’s excellent book One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World the last week or so, and it is truly excellent. He discusses the need for a greater understanding for grace in a world that lives by and believes in what he calls “performancism,” being judged and evaluated based solely on your performance.

The Bible doesn’t purport that, he argues several times. He gives one example that I thought was especially powerful (p. 64):

…take an example from the Bible, that of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Once the woman’s accusers left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (v. 11). Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? No! Otherwise Jesus would have instead said, “If you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional; it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an if. The only if the Gospel knows is this: “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

For me, it was a new way to look at that story that shows Jesus’ unconditional love and His gracious giving of second chances. But it hit on a very important truth to remember about the grace and love of God.

God does not primarily view our works as our defining characteristic. He views our hearts and our position with Him as most important. See it in the structure of what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery in John 8 – “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” The first thing He tells her is that she is not condemned. This is true for all of us who are believers: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So we believers can rest in the fact that we are forgiven and loved and headed for eternity with God and Jesus no matter how much we screw up on earth.

But there is also then a following instruction: to sin no more. While it is an instruction we cannot completely fulfill because all men and women sin, it is not the primary way that Jesus relates to us. He relates to us based on the position of our hearts. Are our hearts submitted to following Christ? While wicked in and of themselves, the hearts of those who are believers are being renewed and remade by the Holy Spirit. It is the renewing of those hearts that allows us to pursue holiness and killing sin.

I’m reading through 1 Kings right now and saw a really cool theme throughout Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8. The guy was super wise. He’s praying a prayer of dedication of the temple he helped build for God and includes this passage (v. 46-50):

If they sin against you – for there is no one who does not sin – and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet it they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, “We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,” if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart…then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you…

Solomon, the wisest guy on earth ever, had the right attitude. God desired repentant hearts more than repentant behavior. Repentant hearts lead to repentant behavior.

And when our hearts are truly repentant, and we recognize our sinfulness, and we come to God asking for mercy, He will surely give it to us. That’s why grace is something so incredibly radical. The world doesn’t look primarily at our motives, it looks at our actions. God works the completely opposite way.