Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton suffered a drug relapse involving the use of cocaine and alcohol in the offseason, according to a New York Daily News report.
Hamilton has a well-documented history of substance abuse problems dating to his days in the minor leagues, when he was suspended from baseball from February 2004 to June 2006, for issues related to cocaine and alcohol addiction.
Hamilton, a professing Christian, was the first overall pick in the 1999 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. But his career seemed to be cut short when drug addiction issues forced him to be suspended from the league. He was reinstated in 2006 and his professional career took off, the high point being when he won the American League MVP award in 2010 with the Texas Rangers.
Hamilton has admitted to having relapses of drug and alcohol use in 2009 and 2012, and reportedly again this past offseason. The report has led to a lot of conversation in the sports world about what should happen to him, the suspensions for drug addiction vs. performance-enhancing drugs, etc. That’s just the nature of sports journalism.
One unique nature of Hamilton’s relapse is that he reportedly self-confessed the incident to MLB. Reportedly, it wasn’t something that they found out first and he relented or denied. He came straight to the league with it.
A Bible verse that was recently shared with me came to mind when I thought more and more about the story. Proverbs 24:16 says:
For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.
I want to focus on that first part. What Josh Hamilton is displaying to the world is the embodiment of the righteous falling seven times and rising again. The righteous is not the one who never falls. The righteous is the one who gets up after he falls. It could be really easy for us to just stay down after we fall. But the one who is called “righteous” gets up every time. You could even make the argument of seven being the number of completeness and that the righteous gets up every time he falls. I don’t know how I feel about the “number of completeness” thing, but if that’s what’s truly insinuated here, it makes sense.
One of the struggles we see in Hamilton’s story is one of the biggest difficulties in getting back up. Sometimes society, even the church, can be resistant to people getting back up. We see someone slip and we keep them down, we ask that they be punished, we seek to make sure they know they’re wrong. Even if they know for sure they’re wrong, we try super hard to make it even more clear. And in that “pursuit of justice,” we can limit the opportunity for real healing. Example: Mark Driscoll.
Another struggle in getting back up is that what knocks you down is more often than not stronger than you are. Addictions are stronger than the human will most of the time, if not all the time. One of the most powerful helps in addiction is fighting it alongside other people, and that’s where the first struggle plays in; if there’s no one there to help, will the addicted person get anywhere?
I don’t pretend to know a lot about substance abuse. But as a Christian who sins every day, I’ve got to remember that I show myself a Christian to others not by being perfect, but by getting back up when I fall down. It makes God look more glorious when we do this because we show that He’s worth it, He’s worth getting back up after we get knocked down.
Jesus died to give us the opportunity to get back up. So we should also give the opportunity again (yes, again) to Josh Hamilton, and to ourselves. Josh is showing us what it looks like to get back up again.
So please, if you’re down, get back up again. It’s never too late to get back up again. (Side note: I can’t believe I’m about to put a tobyMac song in my blog post.)
In high school, I made a few short films. I got on a filmmaking kick after working on a few projects for my freshman year English class, and it carried on until even after I graduated from high school. My longest film, called Ransom My Soul, was completed during the summer before I went to college.
However, my favorite film I ever did was called Breaking Winter. Here it is:
It’s about 10 minutes of the most depressing yet joyful high school romance I could possibly muster on a script and on a screen. Every time I watch it, I get a little reminiscent of what all went into making the film. The conversations with my friends to be involved in it. The rewrites of the script. The long editing process. I actually made the entire movie in an 18-minute version and then, on suggestion of my film teacher, reworked the structure of the whole thing and cut it down.
But I also notice all the things I would change if I did it with what I know now. I would have asked the guy with the long hair to be more joyful in the video game scene. I would have done a couple different camera angles. Get the audio quality to be much better.
I think it’s part of my personality. I obsess over the little things. I want to get everything right all the time. And if there’s something I might feel could be wrong, I want to fix it right away, even if it’s not actually wrong; just feeling wrong can be a sign for me.
And this is something I think that’s a flaw. I don’t trust myself fully and, even worse, I don’t trust God fully. I anxiously overthink many things in my life. Most notably, my relationship with God. There have been moments when I doubt if I’m saved. There have been moments when my anxiety just overwhelms me.
One particular area of my life that this strikes is my concern that I’m not doing enough for God. Last night as I was going to bed, I felt like I didn’t get my “Bible fill” for the day. But looking back at the day, I read Scripture, I thought about it, prayed after it. So I was being faithful, but I felt like I didn’t do enough.
I may be the only person who feels this way often. And I think there’s some legitimacy to this feeling. We want to be giving God our best, doing the right things, being obedient. But there’s a sense where thinking we haven’t done enough can often be a self-condemning thought that actually denies the power of grace and the limitations of man.
We will never do “enough” for God, and thankfully we don’t have to do “enough” for God. I think of Philippians 3, one of my favorite chapters in Scripture, where Paul says that he counted doing all the “right things” as loss for the sake of knowing Christ. Simply knowing Christ was enough for his righteousness.
One thing I’ve heard recently was put forth by the guys of the Bad Christian Podcast: Is sin really as big a deal as we make it out to be? Joey Svendsen, one of the guys on the podcast, wrote a blog post about the topic and said this:
I see God concerned about Christians’ sin, but not how you would probably expect. I don’t see Him pissed about our sin. I see Him as one that hates our sin because it infringes on the relationship that He wants to have with us. A Christian that gets tangled up in a continual sin-filled lifestyle can’t (in my opinion) relate and interact with God in the same manner as one that is constantly letting God help with our sin.
From experience, the remedy for living a sinful lifestyle has never been focusing on the do’s and don’ts. This always led me to more sin. The more I focus on God’s love and grace, the more I’m enabled to live according to His loving will.
I love this idea because it releases us from the pharisaical legalism that often threads itself throughout modern Christianity and helps us to really love God, not obsess over the little things we might think we need to do to be a Christian. Because here’s the truth: if I don’t read my Bible for a day, I’m still a Christian. If I don’t pray for more than five minutes in one day, I’m still a Christian.
Now, is there a point where we’re not doing things that are essential to growing in Christ that’s not good? Yes. I should seek to grow in the spiritual disciplines in order to grow as believers.
But as Svendsen writes, the more I focus on God’s love and grace, the more I grow to live for Jesus. When I focus on ways I’m falling short, I just get more discouraged.
The Christian life is all about making constant course corrections, little alterations here and there in order to drive straight. But don’t let the fact that you have to make those course corrections define you or discourage you.
I’m sitting in my friend’s living room while snow falls quickly outside. It’s really funny how my attitude towards snow days has changed. When I was in school, taking classes, I loved snow days because that meant I didn’t have to go to class. What a joy that was! No tests, no homework, nothing.
But now that I’m in the working world, it’s a little different. I get paid by the hour, so when I don’t work hours, I don’t get paid. And since I’m paying for a lot of things these days, not getting paid means not being able to pay for things. It’s funny what a little growing up will do for you.
I’ve had more than one conversation in the last few days about perspective and the importance of seeing things in light of everything else. I struggled a lot with that when I was younger, and I think part of that is simply being young and I didn’t know any better. After all, a shortened definition of having perspective is knowing better. It’s being able to take in everything around you, all the circumstances and factors that play into a situation or a person’s decisions and thinking rightly about it.
For instance, this past Sunday I was at lunch with a few friends and my girlfriend and I ordered fajitas. We got the beans, rice, lettuce, etc., but the main part of our meal didn’t come for a while. Our friends had gotten their food, but we hadn’t gotten ours yet. I was getting a little frustrated, but I was able to slow down and remind myself of a few things:
It was a Sunday at lunchtime and the restaurant was pretty busy.
Fajita meat and veggies is a lot more work to make than shredded lettuce and refried beans.
Our server was not just serving us, but a few other tables around us.
What’s the harm in waiting a few more minutes?
I did have to remind the server that we were missing our main course, but by the grace of God I was able to keep my frustration in check. It’s something God has definitely grown in me. But if only I had more of this perspective when I was younger! Probably the biggest difference would have been this: I wouldn’t have so harshly judged my high school classmates who didn’t come from a Christian home like mine. My self-righteousness was big in high school and into my first year at Elon. How would things have been different had I had this perspective:
Not everyone had the same set of values and morals taught that I had in my home.
Not everyone was probably as aware of their limitations and mistakes as I was.
My self-righteousness and “Christian showing off” did not help convert anyone.
People needed most to be understood by me, not understanding of me.
Honestly, I think it’s only now that I’ve gotten away from school that I’m gaining perspective, and I think it’s come most from understanding myself. Why do I do the things I do, think the way I think? How much did my upbringing/faith/music choices/etc. influence me? As I’ve grown to have perspective on myself, I’ve learned to have more perspective on others. Without perspective, I become quick to judge, quick to get frustrated.
And there are still many times when I forget perspective because it’s convenient. Perspective takes time and patience, things I have less and less of some days. It’s easier to just make a snap decision to think one way about something instead of considering all the variables. I feel this way about Christians deep into politics. I get frustrated because I don’t think it’s that big of a deal and we spend way too much time talking about it.
But then I think of those who are deep into it. There’s probably a few factors that have influenced why they’re that way. Perhaps they grew up in a household that emphasized politics. Perhaps they’re genuinely interested in the political system. Perhaps they see something about politics and its importance that I don’t quite understand. Do I still think it’s too big a deal? Yes, but exploring that is for another time. But having the perspective allows us to love others better.
Think about this: what if God didn’t have perspective on us? What if all He did was look at our disobedience and just forget us, get frustrated, condemn us to hell? But this is the perspective He has on us:
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame;he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14)
God saw that we were a people without hope because of our disobedience, and gave us Jesus so that we could have an opportunity at relationship with Him. Because God had perspective, eternally, He gave us the chance to be saved. How awesome is that?!?!? He shows compassion because He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust, remembers where we come from. After all, He was there when we rebelled.
How do we apply that? Why can’t I show the same compassion and love to others that God shows to me? I think it’s often because I lack the perspective to do so. As I’m learning, a little perspective goes a long way.
There’s something incredibly unique about growing up in a Christian environment, whether that be a home where your parents are believers, a church that preaches the Bible, a Christian school. There’s usually a steady dose of God and the Bible, a certain vocabulary that usually includes words like “saved” and “repent” and a certain pressure that can be either intentional or unintentional.
Pressure: theexertionofforceuponasurfacebyanobject,fluid,etc.,incontactwithit. Whoops, wrong kind of pressure. To force (someone) to a particular end; influence. Either way, you get a glimpse of what happens when there’s pressure on someone. It’s an exertion of force. Force is a negative word, unless you’re talking Star Wars of course. You might associate the word “force” with someone making someone else to do something against their will.
I’ve observed in the Christian world, particularly the evangelical subculture, there’s often a pressure to be a certain way, to use a certain vocabulary. And it’s not necessarily an intentional pressure.
Let’s talk about a couple places where that pressure can be prevalent. By the way, this is from my perspective. I’ve learned recently that I feel lots of pressure in a few of these areas, pressure that’s not necessarily good.
The above video is quite poignant in its humor. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen those kind of posts on Instagram. Several times on my own, I’ve taken a picture of my quiet time layout and said something to the effect of: “I love getting in the Word outside/at Chick-fil-a/in the morning.” Those posts usually get a lot of likes and comments. And don’t get me started on the Bible verses! As the guy in the video says, “Because after all, what’s the point of having devotions if no one knows about it?”
I’m not saying that everybody who posts these kind of Instagrams/tweets/etc. has this approach. But for some, or maybe it’s just me, there’s a pressure to “like” it if 75 of my other friends have or I feel like I need to post something like that as well so 75 of my friends can “like” it too. I mean, if I don’t “like” it, am I denying that it’s truth? There’s almost a contest to be the “most holy” on Facebook. When I was younger and dating, it was making sure that people knew how awesome and godly my girlfriend was. When I got to college, I wanted to make sure I shared the most deep and thought-provoking theological truth so that people would know I was deep and thought-provoking in my theology.
Again, I don’t want to say that everyone who posts stuff like that is just trying to be super holy and get everyone to think of them that way. But there can sometimes be this unspoken pressure to be a certain way on social media so people know that you’re a Christian. Is that really the kind of pressure that we need?
The Most Popular Evangelical Conference/Book/Speaker/Musician/Retreat/Missions Trip/Internship
So what if I’m not a huge John Piper guy? What if I don’t want to watch the free livestream of the CROSS conference? What if I don’t particularly care if Hillsong releases a new CD? Does that make me not a Christian?
I’ve written about hero worship and how I think it’s a little too prevalent in the evangelical subculture, but I think it extends to more than just people. I’m talking about the posts like this on Facebook:
I probably won’t watch any of the livestream. It’s an awesome conference with an awesome message and an awesome goal, but I’m not going to go out of my way to watch it because I genuinely have no desire to. But I bet I’ll see a bunch of my friends tweeting about it and talking about it. And that’s OK! I don’t have a problem with that whatsoever. Do it! But might there be an unwarranted push from a lot of the evangelical world to push things like this into the conversation in an unnecessary way?
What good does watching a livestream under pressure do? What good does reading Jonathan Edwards do if I don’t have an open heart for it? What good does any kind of pressure in this area do? Does it change hearts? Don’t think so.
How You Pray/Study the Bible/”Do Life” with Other Believers
There’s some good to being smart with spending your time. We’re instructed in Scripture to be consuming God’s Word, praying and encouraging other Christians. But how much time you are spent doing those things is a pressure I’ve experienced.
For instance, how much time should we spend in Bible study? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour? I’ve heard different opinions. How should we study the Bible? Just read it? Use five commentaries? Original languages? I’ve heard different opinions. How long should we pray at a time? 10 minutes? 35 minutes? Three hours, like Martin Luther?
To be honest with you, I wonder: does it really matter? As long as we’re growing in Christ and actively pursuing obedience, I don’t think it does. The last few months, I haven’t used a commentary in my Bible reading. I haven’t cracked open Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I’ve just read Scripture and taken a couple notes in the margins of my Bible. And I’ve learned and retained a lot.
We should not be pressuring people to do the Christian life a certain way because people are different and, for the most part, the Bible doesn’t spell out how we should do it. We should just do it! Arguing over the specifics is, in the long run, not as helpful as we make it out to be.
I saw a post on my Twitter feed today about an article asking if President Obama was a Christian and examining evidence for and against the contrary. Does it matter?
Some Christians are all about the politics game nowadays, and if you don’t agree with what they say, well, are you really a Christian? If you’re not passionate about stopping same-sex marriage from becoming legal, do you trust the Bible? If you’re not all about warning the world of the dangers of diminishing religious liberty, are you really aware of current events the way you should be? If you’re not about protecting the Constitution, do you really love America?
I feel like this is more of the older generation than mine that causes this pressure, often exerted on my generation. I’ve experienced this firsthand on a couple occasions, and if I had said what I really thought, I think I might have gotten a couple sideways looks.
Here’s my answer to the pressure: There is nothing that makes you a Christian except the fact that Jesus was perfectly obedient on your behalf and you believe in and trust Him with your life. That’s it! You could be a Democrat who thinks gay marriage is OK or never read your Bible and still be a Christian! This is true! Because being a Christian is one of those things that you are not what you do, because we will never perfectly do what we are called to do.
There’s only one requirement to not be condemned: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So the pressure that is often felt, whether intentional or unintentional, is not warranted.
It’s something that I’ve wrestled with a lot in the last year as I graduated from college and moved back home. Outside of the pressures of being in school, I’ve had opportunities to evaluate why I do what I do. And I’ve learned that I’ve lived under far too much pressure. You can’t really grow under that kind of pressure. There’s freedom in Christ. Live it.
One of the most disheartening things that has ever happened to me was not getting hired for the position I wanted at the student newspaper at Elon during my junior year of college. I had applied for one of the highest positions, but I got what was basically a watered-down version of it with the leadership aspect of it taken out.
The editor-in-chief told me that I hadn’t proven myself enough as a capable leader that could fill the proposed role well enough. I was devastated for a little bit. I felt that a vital part of my personality had been personally attacked. Was that the proper way to think about it? I don’t think so. But it was a dig nonetheless, whether intentional or not. I felt like I was unqualified, incapable of performing the task that I so desired.
I often feel that way when it comes to ministry opportunities. An opportunity may present itself, and I think about whether or not I should do it. The first question that crosses my mind is usually: “Am I qualified?” Or “Have I done anything that would disqualify me?” I think there’s a sense where this is a legitimate question, but at the same time often it’s the wrong question to ask if we take it too far.
God Is With Those He Calls
There are three specific instances I love in Scripture where God calls men to be of service to Him. I love them because I can relate to each and every one of them.
First, Moses. In Exodus 3, God appears in the form of a burning bush and tells Moses that He’s going to use him to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt. Moses isn’t sold. He questions whether or not he’s the right guy because, well, who is he? Verses 11-12:
But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ (God) said, ‘But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.’
Second, Gideon. In Judges 6, “the angel of the LORD” comes to Gideon and charges him with the task of saving Israel from the invading nation of Midian. Gideon isn’t sold. He questions why him because he’s the weakest one in the weakest family. Verses 15-16:
And (Gideon) said to (the angel), ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.’
Third, Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 1, God calls Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah isn’t sold. He questions why him because he’s a young guy. Verses 6-8, Jeremiah writes in the first person:
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’ But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.’
Notice the pattern developing? Each time, God told His man that He was with them. And what happened? Moses led the people out of Egypt, was given the Ten Commandments and is responsible for writing the first five books of the Bible. Gideon led a group of 300 soldiers against more than 100,000 men and was victorious. Jeremiah spent his life prophesying about judgement and punishment, but also about coming grace and salvation.
God Qualifies the Called
When I read the Jeremiah story in particular, a few months ago, I was in the midst of a season of depression and frustration over a lot of things in my life. I read that first part and keyed in on how God basically ignored Jeremiah’s complaint and says, “Look, I’ve set this up, I’m calling you! Doesn’t matter what complaints you have. I’ve got you!” What I learned from that is that God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called simply by His presence. There is something to be said for having the skills and tools and talents for doing a certain thing in ministry. But there’s a sense where we shouldn’t be totally reliant on those things. We should be reliant on God working in us and through us in ministry.
Oftentimes it’s easy for me to look at ministry opportunities I’ve been given – like this blog – and think, “Well, because of this one particular sin in my life and my young age and my relative lack of life experience, who am I to do this? There are people far more qualified than me.” And yes, there are.
But I have the opportunities I have because God has given them to me. Not because I have any special qualifications or skills, but because He’s given them to me, because He deemed it necessary for me. Maybe He gave me the talents or skills to help with those things, or set up opportunities for me to learn those things.
But at the end of the day God calls me and you to different kinds of opportunities, within ministry and without, on His merit, not ours. And we should embrace and rejoice in those opportunities, praising God for Him qualifying us by His call on our lives. When we feel inadequate in whatever our calling is, we should pray and ask God for strength, trust that He knows what He’s doing by giving us these opportunities, and move forward, not leaning on our own understanding of ourselves and our weaknesses, but trusting what God says of us and what He’s giving us.
God’s view of you and His leading in your life are the most qualifying things you’ll ever have.
A lot of time in the Christian stratosphere is spent talking and thinking about keeping around those people in my generation, those who are in college or just graduated. They may be kids who grew up in church or appeared really solid spiritually headed into college, but the pressures of their peers or the academics or anything drew them away from continuing to grow in their relationship with Jesus.
As a college graduate myself who faced those pressures and, by God’s grace, came out on the other side of the diploma with an intact faith, I often wonder how that happens. How could so many of my Christian peers, some of whom I was friends with during my first couple years of school, lose their faith? What happened? I saw it happen with my own freshman and sophomore year roommate. It was disheartening and discouraging.
We can talk about the negative college atmosphere – something often perpetrated by films and TV shows highlighting the YOLO college lifestyle – but I’m going to offer you a different perspective, one that I’ve always cherished and believed because I really think it’s true.
I believe a lasting faith begins with a solid foundation before college, usually in the high school years.
Why I Believe This
Ninth grade to twelfth grade, in my view, are the formative years of one’s existence. You start to learn who you are, what you like and how you think. Yeah, you get a little bit of that before and definitely some of that afterwards, but, at least from my experience, high school nearly killed me.
I moved to a new private K-12 school in fifth grade and, to be honest, I still hadn’t adjusted by the time I got to ninth grade, to high school. I’m a naturally slow adjuster who likes to find issues with everything I’m doing, even if in reality it’s going swimmingly, so that’s not a real surprise. I might learn quick, but I adjust slow. I struggled to build friendships in high school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. I’m naturally super self-conscious, slow to fully trust and suspicious of people’s motivations. The one true friend I really had going into high school and I had drifted apart by senior year, each of us motivated by different things. I had some good friendships at school, but the ones that really lasted I didn’t know until senior year and I was ready to graduate.
A lot of that was my own doing. My shyness and insecurities withheld me from developing deep and lasting friendships with my school peers, as well as a self-righteousness that I’ve written about before. I could have easily been led down a path of self-loathing and depression that could have lasted a lifetime, resistant to really engaging people and loving people, except for one thing that God provided.
My youth group. I am still close friends with a few of the guys I met and built friendships with during that time. One of them was my youth pastor, who stayed true to the Bible and taught from it weekly. Our conversations during Sunday mornings and nights and Wednesday nights revolved around truth from Scripture and how to live for Christ. Did my self-righteousness affect my learning? Yes it did. No question. But the faithfulness of a few older men (and by older, I mean mid-20s to early-30s) really planted a seed in my walk with Christ that has continued to last to this day.
Other influences like Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters, a summer camp, and other older people in my life who encouraged me helped to develop a really solid faith foundation in my life.
When I went to college, I spent the first two years living on a dorm floor with a bunch of non-Christians or nominal believers. There were brief temptations to go party or drink alcohol, but I didn’t step foot in a party or take a sip of alcohol during my entire college career. I attribute that to the grace of God working in my life first and foremost, but I can’t help but think that He used the positive influences during my high school years to develop that strong resolve to stay as obedient as I possibly could.
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t struggle. I dealt with a lot of anxiety and depression during those first two years. A couple of conflicts on my hall during the fall of my sophomore year, when I was the RA (read “student cop”), had me thinking about transferring or just quitting because relationships I had with fellow students I lived with were ruined. There were fleeting moments of deep despair. The self-righteousness I carried in high school flipped 180 degrees and, instead of being super prideful in my obedience, I condemned myself daily for my lack of obedience.
So what happened next? God gave me an opportunity to spend time with solid Christian community, and I took it. I learned from my time in high school that I desperately needed to be around Christians, and I hadn’t been doing that enough. A couple guys became a couple of my closest friends and helped pull me out of the mess I was in. I went to church throughout my time in college and, by my junior year, landed at a solid church with faithful biblical preaching and older men who were willing to speak truth to me and really love me no matter what I had done.
Why High School Is a Crucial Time
In high school, you develop who you are and you really build the foundation. I understand the argument about college being the time when you kind of get to choose who you want to be, but that only happens if you don’t discover it in your high school years. It’s also the same with your faith.
In my story, I had built friendships with and been influenced by men who loved Jesus and cared for me. People had taken the time to show Christ’s love to me. But not just that, they shared truth with me. Truth. Not watered-down, good-feeling words, but truth.
During high school, you get a lot of messages from a lot of places. Friends. School. Church. Media. Popular culture. It’s nearly impossible to wade through all that mess and not get super confused or conflicted. And as a church-going kid or a Christian, it’s even worse. If you grow up in church and are not a Christian, you can either feel bad about going away from the way your parents brought you up or get so repelled that the high school years are just the formative time for your resentment. And if you’re a Christian, you want to stay true but the draw and pull of popular culture is so strong. Everyone else is talking about the latest Kanye CD, why can’t you join right in?
There are three kinds of high school Christians I’ve noticed:
The self-righteous believer: This was me. I was a Christian, I did believe in Jesus, but I was super passionate about it and oftentimes it would affect my relationships with students at my high school. I don’t think I did much for the cause of Christ. In my senior yearbook, my classmates said I most evoked Ned Flanders, the token Christian character on The Simpsons. Super Christian. Super self-righteous. I took it at the time as a compliment that I was being faithful to Jesus. But.
The conflicted believer: This person has some real faith and some real understanding of the gospel and of Jesus, but there’s still some areas in which they live by the world. I think there’s a little bit of this in everyone, but this kid tends to be a little more “ashamed” of Jesus in their high school context. There’s more than just the Sunday faith, but the temptation of the world continues to draw them away. This is the best kind.
The Sunday Christian: They’re legitimately saved, legitimately a follower of Jesus, but that seems to take a backseat during the week. They’re great evidences that the culture and sin has great power over us. And we can’t fully blame the kids. They’re just doing what they naturally do as human beings.
Each of these kids need the Gospel as much as the kid who doesn’t believe, whether he or she grew up in a Christian home or not. And that’s the main reason it’s important to reach high school kids, to reach anybody, because they all need the Gospel. But because of the special pressures surrounding that age group, I believe that special attention is needed. Just like we dedicate ministries to those who suffered abuse as a kid, those who deal with addictions, those who have been divorced, it is equally as vital to be reaching out to the youth.
The Worthy Complications of Youth Ministry
I think adults often see high school kids and they might be a little scared. High school kids can be a little intimidating. A great deal of them are strong-willed and stubborn to resistance, while some are so malleable that they’ll change at the movement of the wind. A high school teacher told me last week that a public high school is a microcosm of society. I tend to agree with her.
But that can scare people. Adults might be afraid that they wouldn’t be able to handle all the issues that come with high school kids. They might be afraid that they won’t earn their respect, their attention, their approval. It’s a legitimate fear to have. Not all fears are to be condemned as lack of faith. There is truth in the idea that our fears have some lack of faith that help feed that fear. But there’s some legitimacy.
Another barrier is time. It takes time and patience to invest in high school kids. You’ve got to be willing to invest yourself emotionally and physically. You’ve got to hang around them. You’ve got to play with them, speak with them, share words with them. Have conversations. Stay involved. Don’t invest yourself halfway in and then give up.
It’s hard because there are going to be days when they don’t respond the way you want them to. There’s going to be days when you don’t feel like it. But that’s all ministry. That’s all relationships. But these kids are the future of not just America, but the church. The future of the Gospel going to all the nations.
They need the Gospel because the world is telling them they don’t. There are millions of things and people vying for their primary affections and attentions. They’re telling them that they’re not enough the way they are and need to be more like the rest of the world or they don’t need any of that religion crap so just do what the world does. They’re being told Jesus’ love for them is not enough for them to live. They’re being told that sex, sports successes, good grades, positive attention, popularity with peers and listening to the right kind of music will be what fulfills them. But that’s not true! Only a real relationship with Jesus is what will really fulfill them.
They need older Christians investing in them. Who else will they hear truth from? Who else will not just tell them the truth but also live it out? Who else will show them that the Christian life is the life worth living? I’ve learned over the last year that I follow Jesus not just because I feel like I have to, but because it’s the life that gives me the most meaning, the most purpose, the most joy to my existence here on earth. The high school kids of today won’t know that unless those of us who are older and have been through that show them, not just tell them, but show them.
That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t just tell us how to live, He also showed us. He didn’t just tell us He loved us, He also showed us. We should seek to do the same to the high school kids around us.
People love superheroes. So much so that they spend millions of dollars to go to a movie theater and watch them take out the bad guys. Here are some worldwide box office numbers for recent superhero movies:
The Avengers (2012) – $1.518 billion
Iron Man 3 (2013) – $1.2 billion
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – $1.084 billion
The Dark Knight (2008) – $1.004 billion
Spider Man 3 (2007) – $890.8 million
All those films are in the top 50 of all-time in worldwide gross box office. The money speaks for itself: there’s somewhat of an obsession with the superheroes on the big screen.
Why? That’s a really good question. A couple reasons come to mind for me. First, they’re fun to watch. No matter the depth of the plot or character development, these movies usually have numerous explosions and fight scenes and a fair number of one-liners that screenwriters hope you’ll quote for years to come. Second, they allow us to see good triumph over evil, something most of us inherently long for (whether we realize or not) and we love seeing on the big screen. Virtue and justice beats evil and injustice. It’s a refreshing thing to see. We just want the good guys to win!
Superheroes usually appear as characters with little to no moral flaws. There will be guys like Tony Stark who may have questionable facets or morals, but they usually redeem themselves in some way by overcoming the very thing that is their weakness. They’re straightforward and honest about their weaknesses and do good in spite of them.
I find that, in Christian culture, we have a similar approach to our theological heroes, particularly in my generation, depending on how nerdy you get. Guys like John Piper, David Platt, R.C. Sproul, Wayne Grudem, Matt Chandler, rappers like Lecrae and Trip Lee, they all get mad props from tons of Christians because they’re heroes of the faith nowadays, modern day Charles Spurgeons, Adoniram Judsons, C.S. Lewises and Billy Grahams.
But am I alone in thinking that this is possibly a bad thing? Should we really be praising these men the amount we do?
This thought process was kicked off in my head yesterday. The Facebook page for Desiring God, Piper’s ministry, posted this status with a quote from Piper:
“The closer I get to death and meeting Jesus face to face and giving an account for my life, the more sure I am of my resolve never intentionally to look at a television show or a movie or a website or a magazine where I know I will see nudity. Never. That is my resolve. And the closer I get to death, the more committed I become. And frankly I want to invite all Christians to join me in this pursuit of greater purity of heart and mind. In our day when entertainment media is virtually the lingua franca of the world, this is an invitation to be an alien.”
I applaud his resolve and his drive to fight against lust in his life. It’s a resolve that I desire to have.
But here’s where I struggle. And perhaps I’m alone in this. But I read things like this and I feel like I’m failing at following Jesus. If this great “hero of the faith” is so committed this way and I’m admittedly not as much as I should be, what does that say about me? I want to be as committed as he, but I admit that I am not. I’m sinful. I struggle. I fall.
Perhaps this is me failing to see the grace of God in my life. Perhaps this is me not being “resolved enough.” Perhaps I’m just not as holy as John Piper is. But I read things like this and, when I find I don’t measure up (which is about 95% of the time, maybe even 100%), I feel guilty. I feel condemned. I feel like I’m not being “the way I should be.” I understand the point about being an example and leading people by showing them what it looks like to follow Jesus. But shouldn’t there be a sense where we should lead people by showing them what it looks like when we fail at following Jesus and how we respond to it?
Some of the greatest impacts people have had on my life is when they share ways they’ve fallen and failed and how they responded. A friend of mine had a child outside of marriage, and was open about it on social media and in public. I’ve taken great encouragement and challenge from his openness with his sin, and then been super encouraged and challenged by how he’s raised his daughter and how much he seeks to serve Jesus through it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this kind of honest doesn’t really occur because these leaders are afraid of what will happen when their sins are discovered. Look what happened to Mark Driscoll. His sin was exposed and he lost his job and much of his ministry. But if you go back and listen to his sermons, he was straightforward with the fact that he struggled with pride. I love that about his preaching in that he wasn’t ashamed to talk about ways he struggled and how the grace of God worked powerfully through that. Other preachers and authors I’ve listened to and read such as Perry Noble, Tullian Tchividjian and Brennan Manning take a similar approach in being honest with their sin.
But things like Mark Driscoll’s “fall” happen because we place these heroes on a pedestal, lift them up as “what it looks like to follow Jesus,” and then get disappointed and upset and angry when they fall. When did they become more important to follow than Jesus? Jesus is the only one to whom we should listen to every word that comes out of his mouth. His perfection is the only perfection that has ever existed on the earth apart from the early days in Eden. Yet the church often looks to leaders like Piper and Lewis as bastions of faith so much so that if we find out something bad about them our very lives are shaken.
I found this out during my senior year of college. I was in a class called Jewish-Christian Dialogue and we began a section on the Holocaust examining the persecution of Jews and how it was egged on by Christians in Germany. I was appalled to find that writings of Martin Luther were used as propaganda against Jews. The end of a particular writing of his, titled “On the Jews and Their Lies,” reads this way:
My essay, I hope, will furnish a Christian (who in any case has no desire to become a Jew) with enough material not only to defend himself against the blind, venomous Jews, but also to become the foe of the Jews’ malice, lying, and cursing, and to understand not only that their belief is false but that they are surely possessed by all devils.
He also encouraged burning of synagogues, razing of houses and confiscation of religious texts from the Jews. These writings were used as a tool by the Nazis to help push anti-Semitic thought in Germany. This is the guy who we in the church hold up as this great man of faith. Piper wrote a short book on Luther and not once mentioned this anti-Semitism. The most dangerous symptom of hero worship is the ignorance, either intentional or accidental, of a man’s flaws and weaknesses and the power of Jesus to work grace through them.
This perfection can work one of the three ways. It can be perpetrated by the hero himself, by those that follow the hero or by both the hero and those who follow him. All of them are crippling to the church because it exalts a man above the perfect work and life of Jesus Christ. It’s my belief that Christ is made much of not in our obedience but in our sinfulness. Jesus told Paul that in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
When we can be honest about the fact that we fail and we fall and we don’t do things the way we ought, Jesus and His perfection and His life and His grace are much more glorified and much more honored and much more important than any attempts at righteousness we have.
So here’s my takeaway: I need to stop looking to earthly people as the people I should model my life after and see Jesus as the ultimate example. I can take facets of men that I admire, like my friend’s honesty, my father’s diligence, my mother’s love for others, and seek to emulate those. But never should I look at a man as the perfect example for what I should be and be discouraged when I don’t measure up. I should look at Jesus, see I don’t measure up, and praise Him for that very fact because it’s what allows me to be forgiven!
One of the more popular rallying cries in my generation is “116!” It’s based in the Christian hip-hop collective 116 Clique, based out of Reach Records. It comes from Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” There’s even a really popular song about it.
I was thinking about this verse yesterday. So often in Christianity, we rally around verses or statements – often in that ever-confusing language of Christianese – that we may not fully understand what they mean, but they sound really good, and people usually know the general idea of what we mean when we say them. Well, Christians do at least. I speak in a lot of Christianese around Christians.
But lately I’ve been asking myself this question a lot – “What do you/I mean by that?”
Applied here: When we say “116,” what are we really saying?
If we’re not ashamed of the gospel, I reasoned yesterday, it would make sense that we’re not ashamed of each and every part of the gospel. So what are the parts of the gospel? God is real. We’re sinful. God offers grace. We’re called to live for Him and make disciples. What does it mean to be unashamed of each of those things?
Unashamed of God’s existence.
God is real. God exists. God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:17). “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me” (Psalm 116:5-6). And God has established the possibility for mankind, who He created, to have a relationship with Him. All we must do is be called righteous before Him. And because He is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, what He says is true and right and must be obeyed.
To be unashamed of God’s existence means I acknowledge His existence before others. I do not deny there is a God. I rely on the fact that God is everywhere. And that can be really encouraging! Hebrews 13:5 tells us that God will never leave us nor forsake us. If I’m unashamed of God’s existence, I recall to mind that He is with His children, He is with me, and will never leave me. He does not abandon my soul to death. He stays. He loves.
Unashamed of your sinfulness.
I struggle at this thing called life. I fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) every single day. There’s jealousy, bitterness, doubt, lust, sin in my heart. I naturally rebel against God and His Word. I am not faithful to His commands for my life. And that’s from the beginning – “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11).
To be unashamed of my sinfulness means that I acknowledge my sinfulness before others. I don’t pretend that I have it all together. I don’t act like I don’t mess up. But I also do not get discouraged because of my sinfulness or beat myself up because of it. It’s a natural thing for me to sin. I should desire to not sin, but so often I find myself overly frustrated. It’s an important part of following Jesus that we are OK with the fact that we are imperfect, because that makes the next part 100 times better.
Unashamed of God’s grace.
God gives grace for our sinfulness. It’s the only way we can be restored to a right relationship with Him. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). We deserve death for our sins, but God offers, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, forgiveness of those sins and a right relationship with Him because He loves us. This is the most desperate need of mankind: to be forgiven out of love, not out of convenience or obligation.
To be unashamed of God’s grace means that I preach it, I teach it, I proclaim it! It’s the most important thing I could ever believe. If I don’t believe this, I am hopeless. To be unashamed of God’s grace also means that I don’t think I am beyond it, either pridefully or disparagingly. I must not think that I am too good for God’s grace, but I must also not think I am too bad for God’s grace. As Jerry Bridges writes in his excellent book The Discipline of Grace: “Our worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”
Unashamed of your calling.
The Christian is called to do a lot of things, but I think they’re all wrapped up in two statements, one by Jesus and the other by Paul. First, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Second, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That is the crux of our calling.
To be unashamed of my calling means that I seek ways to live this out. Am I serving in my local church? Am I growing in my faith by reading my Bible, praying or spending time in spiritual, intentional conversation with Christian community? Am I doing things to make God look better me? What is my attitude when I approach work/ministry/personal time? Am I embarrassed to live this way?
I hope this has been encouraging to you as you seek to live the 116 way, completely unashamed of the whole gospel. Not just unashamed of who God is, or the fact you’ve been forgiven, but the whole gospel, each and every part of it. I know this has been challenging to me.
My generation (early high school to 20-somethings), let’s live unashamed! All believers, live unashamed. Of EVERY part of the gospel.
So let me add my two cents, or 50 cents (punny), into the 50 Shades of Grey mularkey that’s been all over the Christian blogosphere. Usually I try to avoid the hot button topics of the day when I write, but I feel compelled to share my thoughts.
Don’t you think we as a body of Christ as going way too overboard with all the blog posts and condemnations?
Firstly, I agree that, with my limited knowledge of the series, we should not endorse it. We should not encourage people to see the film. We should not encourage people to read the books. From what I’ve read about the series and the film, they promote objectification of women and lessens the deep implications that sex has on people. We should not promote those things.
In a blog post on Desiring God, Marshall Segal wisely writes, “In a society that downplays the evil of evil, and even glamorizes it, we need to be regularly reminded of the danger of sin. Like a child that discovers a needle on the street and thinks it’s a toy, we can be dangerously naïve about what’s happening in our American entertainment.”
However, there are two things I want to say and encourage us to be careful of when going on our diatribes about why the 50 Shades series is so evil.
There are probably Christians who have read the book(s) and plan to see the movie. And they don’t need condemning.
One of the things we as a body of Christ do a bang-up job of is condemnation. We like to bash on whatever is the “high point of cultural sin” that week. And this week, it’s 50 Shades. And as I said before, warnings should be given from the pulpit, from the small group, from the social media of the day. And they have been.
But do you think that perhaps there might be some Christians who have read the book(s) and plan to see the film? And all this condemnation might drive them to guilt over their stance? There should be conviction. I understand the importance of emphasizing that the film promotes nothing good and should not be supported. But when do we take a step back and consider that we may be doing way too much of that and not enough of really reaching out to people who might be struggling with the fact they read the book(s)?
When all this condemnation happens, some people will pull back from talking about it. They might say to themselves, “Well, I read the book(s), and I was planning on seeing the movie. I didn’t realize it was all that bad. But if I tell someone, they’ll just yell at me or condemn me for doing it. So I won’t say anything.” And I wouldn’t blame them for doing so.
There are real people who struggle with lust and porn and other sexual sin who need our help, not just our condemnation of the material.
There’s already enough people condemning the material that the world is producing. What we miss when we aim our guns at those things is the people whose lives are being affected by the lust that those products are satisfying. If we try to boycott theaters showing the film and take to social media to rant about it, and that’s all we do, that’s like taking medicine to fix the symptoms but not the problem.
Men and women struggle with lust and sexual addiction. Are 50 Shades-type materials helping that? No question, yes, and they should not be consumed. But if we really desire to fix the problem here, we should start with the hearts of the consumers. Are Christians who struggle with pornography being loved and helped in their fight? Are believers who frequently give into lust being poured into and encouraged to keep resisting?
What does God ask of us? That our hearts be penitent and turned towards Him. Condemning porn is like scratching the itch. It might help for a moment, but it doesn’t get to the real issue.
I wonder: How must the actors, director, producers, writers, crew, fans of 50 Shades feel when all they hear from Christians is the hate and the condemnation? A justified rebuke indeed, yes, but think about what Jesus did.
Mark 2:15-17 says:
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’
He didn’t agree with what the tax collectors and sinners did. He didn’t sit there and applaud their decisions. But He did sit there and eat with them, speak with them, recline with them, spend time with them. He came to heal them.
Once again, I don’t want to applaud the actions of those who produced 50 Shades of Grey. But it is the desire of my heart that all of them come to know Jesus and experience the life-changing grace and love and mercy that I experience as a follower of Jesus.
I won’t be seeing the movie. I won’t be reading the books. I won’t be telling anyone that they should do those things. But I want to encourage you who reads this to take a deep breath and examine why you condemn and how much you condemn. I need to examine myself daily as well and pray that I grow in showing grace and mercy to all.
Hey guys! Hope you’ve been enjoying the stuff I’ve been writing. There’s a book I’ve been working on that is tentatively titled Transparent: Be Vulnerable. Especially When It Hurts. This is the rough draft of the introduction. I’d love your feedback on it. Check it out below:
I don’t know if you, reader, have ever listened to the Backstreet Boys, but there’s a song they put out called “Shape of My Heart.” It might be my favorite one. I even sang it as part of a five-piece group at a church talent show during my sophomore year of college. I sang one-time-CCM-singer Brian Littrell’s opening verse. My performance was just OK, I think it’s on YouTube somewhere. I haven’t looked too hard to find it.
The chorus goes: “Lookin’ back on the things I’ve done, I was trying to be someone. I played my part, kept you in the dark. Now let me show you the shape of my heart.”
First, what does that even mean? Even in the context of the song, it’s a bit confusing. It makes no sense. But a lot of the Backstreet Boys’ lyrics don’t really make much sense. However, that doesn’t prevent me from thinking some of their songs – including “Shape of My Heart” – are awesome.
Anyways, back to that chorus. The singer talks about how he was trying to be someone before, he played his part and kept his lady in the dark. He prevented his lady, apparently, from seeing the true shape of his heart. But now he’s done with that, he’s realized he was hiding, and he wants to show her the true shape of his heart.
As a general rule, and the reason why I’m writing this: sometimes in the church, we don’t like being ourselves. We don’t like exposing the true shapes of our hearts. We don’t want people to see the “real” us.
Now, before you come at me and say, “No, I know PLENTY of people who are ‘themselves.’ Sometimes I’m even myself before others!” Maybe you are. Maybe you aren’t. But I’m going to make a statement that might surprise you. As a body of Christ, we would be much more reflective of what God wants of us if we were honest about everything in our lives.
Honest about everything? Everything? Every little detail?
Jesus was honest about everything. Paul was honest about everything. Yet we want to be the people that hide our flaws and hide our thoughts about others, ourselves, the world, etc., and therefore we misrepresent ourselves. We put on masks. We put on disguises. We go to church and act like everything is OK, but we go home and look at pornography because we’re longing for satisfaction. We lie to our spouses because we don’t want them to know the truth. We cheat on our taxes because we want to save money for that toy. We force ourselves to puke after meals because we don’t want to be fat. We misrepresent ourselves every day because we’re afraid that people might not like who we actually are.
I could write the umpteenth thousandth book on not being two-faced, but that wouldn’t do us any good. If you’ve been in a church in the last x number of years, you’ve probably heard a pastor or Sunday school teacher or somebody else talk about the importance of being who you say you are, a Christian. And I agree! If we’re Christians, we should pursue obedience and holiness because our actions are a reflection of the status of our faith.
But when they don’t match up, which is going to happen all the time, we hide it.
Some of us are pretty good at being “vulnerable,” being honest about our sins. But even sometimes in our sins we qualify our confession with, “But I’m getting better!” Even if we really aren’t. Sometimes we don’t tell the whole truth.
We’re afraid to be honest because we don’t want people to think we’re weak. That’s a universal thing, I think, but I think it’s even more of a problem in the church.
I write this because you can replace “we” with “I” and “us” with “me” in pretty much every sentence and it describes me to a T. I’ve spent the majority of my life as a Christian thinking that my faith was defined by how good I was at being obedient, how good I was at studying the Bible, at praying, at sharing the gospel, at living in community, at seeking ministry opportunities. I didn’t want other believers to know that I was struggling with hidden, debilitating sin or feeling like I was worthless as a Christian and as a person. Sometimes I would be open and honest with people. And sometimes what I heard back was encouraging.
But I think sometimes my well-meaning brothers in Christ wouldn’t know what to do with that level of honesty and transparency, maybe because we’ve been trained to put on a face and a smile. I think of the penguins in the Madagascar movies. The moment that was the funniest when I first saw the first movie was when they were standing in the zoo being watched by the crowd. The lead penguin instructs the others, “Smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.” Then he turns around and talks to the penguin named Kowalski who was working under a manhole cover covered by fish, planning an escape. That line has always stuck with me and sometimes I’ll insert it in conversation when I’m with people and we’re taking a picture because it’s kind of funny.
But how often do we take that very same attitude to church with us? To conversations with believers outside of church? We smile and wave, putting on a front that everything is OK, that nothing is wrong or nothing is fishy behind the scenes. We hide what’s actually going on in our lives.
Sometimes, nothing is good. Nothing is OK. Everything is terrible. Everything is awful. Everything is going wrong. We feel terrible about ourselves and our sin, the way we look, the way we speak, our grades, our work performance, our friendships, how we handle situations x, y and z. So we hide.
It’s a perfectly natural human reaction, foreshadowed by our forefather Adam in the garden. What was the first thing he and his wife Eve did when they discovered their sinfulness? They hid. They were naked and ashamed. Thing is, God still saw them. He saw their insufficiencies and their failures. He saw their shame.
However, God gave them the opportunity to have their shame covered. It’s a foreshadowing of the shame-covering we get from the blood of Christ. And it’s the same thing we can take into opening our relationships with other people.