You Can’t Blame Hef for Where America Is Now

Author’s Note: Discussion of sex that follows may be frank or a little uncomfortable for some. Rated PG-13.

I woke up this morning to find on my Facebook feed a video obituary from CNN of the life of Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy.

He passed away Wednesday at the age of 91. He was, as The New York Times‘ obituary put it, inseparable from the brand he popularized:

Both advertised themselves as emblems of the sexual revolution, an escape from American priggishness and wider social intolerance. Both were derided over the years — as vulgar, as adolescent, as exploitative, and finally as anachronistic. But Mr. Hefner was a stunning success from his emergence in the early 1950s. His timing was perfect.

His timing was perfect because the timing of sin is always perfect.

Hefner, like every other man in history, was a sinner, just as I am. But he made a fortune, a living and a fame off of sexual sin.

Many in the church lament the place sexual sin has in our culture now. It indeed is mainstream, and we are all affected by it in one way or the other, with countless people addicted to pornography and affairs happening left and right among the rich and famous, splashed on our TV screens everyday.

But we can’t blame Hefner for this. We can’t blame one man’s personal choices and business decisions for the sin nature we already possessed. As Russell Moore so eloquently put it on Twitter this morning:

Sin and Satan created the idea that sex should be freely accessible and open outside the confines of marriage. Sin and Satan created the idea that women are to be sexual objects for man’s pleasure. Hef simply exploited it.

You can’t really blame him. He simply picked up on something man was already prone to when he published the first issue of Playboy in 1953.

Thankfully, there is a rescue from a life of sin. That rescue is called grace, and that rescuer is called Jesus. He may not heal us completely of our sinful nature, but He’ll heal us from the consequences of that sinful nature. Praise the Lord for that.

I hope and pray that, in his later days, Hef found the Jesus of the Bible as I and many others have found Him. I’d love to chat with him in heaven about what he learned about the culture of sex and humanity.

 

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Returning to Vomit: We Like to Go Back to That Which is Gross

One of the more graphic proverbs in the Bible is found in Proverbs 22:6. It reads: “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.”

The image is, well, kinda gross. Nobody really enjoys looking at vomit. I thought about putting a picture of vomit at the top of this post, but decided against it because it’s vomit. It’s puke. It’s food and green stuff and grossness.

I remember when I was in school and people would throw up in class. It was gross, but everybody would watch. Everybody would look at it. And then everybody would talk about it afterwards. There was a fascination with it.

It reminds me of the episode of The Office when an unknown person leaves a gross “package” in Michael Scott’s office. It’s nasty, it’s smelly. The carpet has to come be removed because of the smell and the stain left over. But even though it’s gross and unsettling, the people in the office can’t stop talking about it.

I’ve been thinking about that phrase from that Proverbs verse earlier — “like a dog that returns to his vomit” — and applying that to my own life.

Here’s the thing: vomit is a reminder of something bad. It’s something that we ingested or something happening in our body that is so repulsive the body has to forcefully spit it out. Most of us find this action horrendous and unsettling, so we quickly dispose of it.

Dogs don’t do that — they eat their vomit. Some quick research I did shows that dogs do that because their increased smelling capacities lead them to find and eat the food that’s in the vomit.

That might have some nutritional value for dogs, but it doesn’t for us. But we often do the same thing with our sin.

We often return to the same sins over and over again, even after we’ve felt the negative effects of them. We choose to ignore those negative effects and maybe even terrible guilt we felt after sinning, and just come right back. We’re just like the Israelites in the Old Testament, the classic example of this, who sinned, returned to God, then returned back to the same sins they committed before.

I find this to be a common thread in my own life. For whatever reason, I’ll return to the things that are not helpful, not beneficial, not life-giving, and do them.

What’s the solution to this? How do I, and how do we, overcome the sickness of returning to our vomit, returning to the mistakes we’ve made many times over?

Like this: We recognize the vomit for what it is. We don’t see it as having some small value, but as being totally abhorrent and unhelpful for us.

I think one of the gravest mistakes a Christian can make it not accepting how appetizing sin is. We sin because we like it. Sin isn’t something we do in spite of ourselves, at least most of the time. Sin is something we’re attracted to. It’s something that has some sort of benefit to us.

But we have to recognize the short-lived, non-permanent nature of that benefit. That’s the beginning of getting away from that vomit and eating what’s good for us — obedience, doing what’s right, trusting the Lord.

A Guide to Finding the Joy in Confronting Your Sin

Report card time was always an odd one for me.

I was neither the academic so wrapped up in grades that my happiness depended on making straight As, nor was I the slacker who didn’t care a sliver about my marks. I was right in the middle, caring enough that I wanted to know where I could improve but having a C wouldn’t crush me too hard. Of course, I wanted to get better, wanted to grow academically, but I wasn’t going to die if they didn’t come back exactly how I wanted to.

At times I wish I was a better student. My brother and my wife were wonderful students who made the President’s List at Elon University several times. I’m surrounded by people in my life who were great students because they worked hard and put their studies at a high priority in their lives. It’s something I didn’t do. And I was confronted with it every time that I got those grades back.

Confronting bad grades can be stressful for some people. Doing so can usually lead to one of two things: you work harder to get better grades, or you don’t change anything and the grades get worse or stay the same. They rarely lead you to rejoicing.

But I’ve learned in the last couple years that examining my sinful behavior actually leads me to rejoicing in the great God who loves me.

So go through this process with me as you read this.

First: Think about the most recent sin you committed. Maybe it was lusting after a co-worker, yelling at your spouse, envying the latest tech toy your classmate brought to school. Got it? OK, cool.

Now, and this is the painful part, think about how much it goes against God’s law, what God has laid out for you to do. Either you did something He told you not to do, or you didn’t do something He did tell you to do. You’ve disobeyed God.

This sucks. This feeling right here, when you actually confront your sin, it’s the worst. And it can discourage you from continuing forward in this process when you actually need to. But yes, you need to. Your despair and dismay leaves you needing something more.

Second: Look for the answer to your problem. How do you fix this situation? How do you find relief? How do you find peace? Well, you could try harder, but the truth is, you can always do better. You can always perform better. You can always fight sin better. You can always pursue God better.

Our sinful state limits us in our growth because we’ll never be perfect. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you and to themselves. Yes, we can grow, we can become more obedient, but we will never be perfect. So we can’t find satisfaction and relief in our obedience efforts.

So where can we find peace? In Christ alone, in the Gospel alone, in the grace of God alone.

Third: Bask in the grace God has given you, leading you to rejoice. Trust me, it’s a joy that’s well-earned.

It’s a joy that’s come from seeing that God loves you in the depths, in the midst of your darkest time, in your deepest sin. It’s a joy that reads Romans 8:38-39 and shouts, “Yes! This love is God’s for me!” It’s a joy that reads James 1:2-4 and sees the grace and growth that comes from going through sin and temptation, even when you give in and disobey God.

It’s a joy that 1 Peter 1:3-7 explains and finds the joy discussed in v. 6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Because of the great inheritance and hope that God has given us, we can rejoice in all trials, including facing temptation over and over again, even giving into them, because what we know what we have, we know what’s there at the end. We have hope to rejoice and be happy in spite of the negative that has gone on.

This post is not meant to make light of sin. In fact, it’s to redeem sin, to make it something that we don’t always have to be so upset about. I write to encourage you to confront the darkest part of yourself.

Surprisingly, it just might be the tunnel where, at the end, you’ll see the brightest light.

The Most Important War We Fight Is Not of This World

There are lots of wars going on right now.

I made a mention of it in my post yesterday that there are over 50 armed conflicts ongoing right now in the world. Add that to any kind of “culture war” or athletic rivalry that some call “wars,” and the terminology of war is all around us.

However, by focusing so much on these wars, we may be missing out on the most important war we’ll ever fight – the war on sin in our own lives.

It’s very easy for me to get caught up in fighting the battles that are visible. And I think it’s that way with many believers. But by focusing so much on getting culture to agree with us or keep Christ in Christmas, we might be missing out on fighting against a much deadlier enemy, our sin nature.

Sin sucks. Sin is horrendous. Sin is deadly. Sin is the reason people miss out on eternity with God. Sin is the reason people wander far from God. Sin is the reason people reject Jesus. Sin is the reason Christians’ relationships with God and each other are strained sometimes. Sin is the reason we are not who we are called to be every single day.

That is the war we must fight, each and every day. And we must be on guard. Paul speaks clear truth in Ephesians 6:12 –

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Our war, our primary war, if not the only war worth fighting, is against the sinful desires of our own heart and the work of Satan to bring us down.

Now, this is not an indictment on any individual “culture war.” Some of those may be worth fighting. I’m not going to pass a judgement on those wars here, although I may have in the past.

I’m simply saying that, at each and every moment, we’re engaged in a battle with Satan. We’re engaged in a war with the enemy of our soul, the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

We must do everything within our power to strap up our armor and fight sin in our lives with every breath we have, every available method.

If it’s lust, pray to God for a redeemed heart. Then watch where you look, confess slip-ups to God and to others, and keep going.

If it’s pride, pray to God for a redeemed heart. Then remember the blessings you’ve been unfairly given as a child of God, confess slip-ups to God and to others, and keep going.

If it’s fear of man, pray to God for a redeemed heart. Then remember God’s approval is all you really need, confess slip-ups to God and to others, and keep going.

If it’s anger, pray to God for a redeemed heart. Then seek after peaceful solutions in difficult circumstances, confess slip-ups to God and to others, and keep going.

If it’s getting impatient with a waiter at the restaurant, pray to God for a redeemed heart. Then put yourself and their shoes and ask what you would want others to do for you, confess slip-ups to God and to others, and keep going.

It’s not always that simple, and there are a lot more steps that go into each of those scenarios. But that’s the basic pattern. Pray to God for healing, make conscious practical decisions and steps to fight the sin, confess when you fall short and don’t give up.

This isn’t a war where waving the white flag is an option.

With Grace, You Don’t Have to Sit in a Waiting Room

Probably the worst part of going to any doctor’s office – physician, dentist, chiropractor, orthodontist, ER, you name it – is having to wait.

You come in, “check in,” then sit with everyone else who has an issue just like you. You flip through a magazine, scroll through your smartphone, watch the overhanging TV or just look aimlessly around the room. It’s a waiting game.

Then, after what seems to be an interminable period of time, the nurse calls your name and you go back to get your problem looked at.

What if you got to go to the doctor’s office, check in and go straight back? No waiting, no magazines, nothing. You’re accepted for attention right away.

That’s what the Gospel looks like.

As soon as you admit your need for help, you’re accepted. You don’t come to the doctor’s office healthy. You’re not expected to. You come because you need help. You come because something needs to be fixed. You come because there’s an issue you can’t deal with on your own.

With God, there’s no need for you to try home remedy after home remedy to fix your need for grace. 

The Gospel means you can have salvation given to you without you doing anything but simply coming to Jesus.

Sin leaves us broken like a disease. It leaves us in need of a cure. Without the cure, we’re diseased for eternity and miss out on health, true health.

Grace provides the remedy. And there’s no need to wait.

Just check in.

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear. But The Church Hasn’t Been a Place Where That Happens.

A Reddit feed on Christianity had a post back in December 2012 that read like this:

Hi there, I recently Felt i have lost touch with my christian faith. I prayed today that God would hear my cry and forgive me of my wrong and help me to live as christ would in this destructive world, but im so scared sometimes that sin would just be too much for me to handle. I want to be holy and pleasing in God’s eyes and celebrate fellowship with other believers, but whenever i went to a bible study they seemed to gossip and talk about other people and how bad they are for sinning. I don’t know whats keeping me from going back to church, but i just want to be accepted by God and my community and become strong in my faith again. I just am worried my pastor will be angry with me.

The post was titled “Afraid to go back to church.” Commenters on the post shared similar struggles and gave some helpful pointers. I’ll get to them later.

How many people are afraid in or of church? I’d willing to bet you that many people sitting in a church pew are afraid of something in the church building. Some of my guesses of fears…

  • The pastor saying something that will make them question their goodness
  • Being rejected/judged because of their struggles
  • Being rejected/judged because they think differently than the majority
  • Going “too much” against the status quo

The first one of these reasons is probably a good reason to get scared. We should all be questioned of our “inherent goodness” as humans and realize that, well, we suck. We fall short of obedience in just about everything we do. Paul David Tripp tweeted today: “Today we’ll be tempted to deny the sin inside us. Denying reality is never a step toward the grace that’s the help for what we’re denying.”

But every other reason on that list is inexcusable in the church. And here’s why.

1 John 4:18 says this:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

I think this verse has two practical applications. One of them is a personal application, and the other applies to the church as a whole.

First, the more we understand the love that God has for us, the less we will fear Him. So often we live in fear of God and His judgement for our sins. But when we realize the depth of His love for us, and the truth that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), the fear seeps away and is replaced by love and gratitude. We fear the punishment, but when we realize the punishment has been taken, we can accept the love and, hopefully, be “perfected in love” as John talks about.

The second is an application of that idea to the interactions with the people around us, particularly in the body of Christ.

Some more comments from the Reddit feed:

“I know the feeling, I’m still too afraid to go to my place of worship even though it’s pretty much throwing a gift from God away. 😦 I’m just worried other people will judge the gringo in the masjid who doesn’t do everything perfectly. Hopefully we’ll both be able to go and perhaps find a group welcoming of us.” – Doctor_Yi

“A big part of the church’s job is to be a hospital where hurting people go to get healed and then gain the ability to help others. The church should also be equipping its members to deal with the challenges of others. If neither of those is happening, you need to find a different church to go to because yours is broken.” – macrobite

“God isn’t going to bed upset. Your pastor isn’t going to be upset – and if s/he is, you really need to find a new church. As for the cackling hens of Bible study, there is no good way for you to deal with them alone. Enlist the help of Church elders, officials or someone in a position of authority to put them back in their place. Cackling hens who are not called out on their behavior are a cancer in the church and one of the reasons I refuse to set foot in or have any contact with one of my local congregations.” – In_The_News

These comments reveal the real fears and real concerns of people in the body of Christ. There’s a fear to go to a church and be yourself because of the judgement or the gossip or the rejection. Fear of rejection is a legitimate thing that goes beyond a girl turning you down for a date. And in the body of Christ, this should not be happening.

Of course, some people’s fear is based on biases and a refusal to accept that there could be any other way. But even that is often founded in a bad experience within a church where a lack of love from the church led to fear.

When the Church doesn’t actually love people as God loves us, an atmosphere is created where fear is cultivated, and we have ourselves to blame. I’ve been on the side of being afraid, and I’m sure I’ve been on the side of creating that fear in others. It’s not God’s fault that people are afraid of church, because God loves. If people are afraid of condemnation from God, they don’t know God because He offers love in place of condemnation. If people are afraid of condemnation from Christians, we don’t know how to love people. Our call is this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

There is one difficulty: we will never love perfectly. But we can’t solely accuse those who are afraid of church for not giving us grace and not coming. We must also, and perhaps primarily, blame ourselves and seek to grow in our giving of love.

Perhaps my favorite response on that Reddit post was this:

anybody that gives you a hard time for being a prodigal son needs to get kicked right in the butt. then, they need to do the christian thing and turn the other cheek.

but seriously, if you are worried that people will act unchristian towards you (especially the pastor) because you lost your way, then find another damn church, because the one that gives you crap for not being mr. perfect is not teaching the message of christ.

prayers are with you, and god bless you.

I echo this.

Sin Is Nourishing and Beautiful. And It’s Always Been That Way.

When I’m depressed or frustrated, one of the things I like to do is eat candy.

Peanut M&M’s, Reese’s Cups, Skittles, peanut butter M&M’s and 3 Musketeers are my favorites. You hand me any of those, I’ll chow down. But when I’m depressed or frustrated or sad about something, the chances of me doing almost anything I can to get my hands on one of those go up significantly.

The thought process is this: I feel like crap. Candy tastes good. Things that taste good make me feel better. I want to feel better. I should eat candy.

The problem with candy is that it is unhealthy to eat in more than small doses. A study in 2014 said that those who eat too much added sugar are making themselves more susceptible to heart disease and death. Honestly though, I don’t think we needed a study to tell us that.

But isn’t sin the same way?

We get some insight into this idea in Genesis 3:6 –

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

You could dissect a lot of this verse, but I want to focus on the underlined parts.

The tree, the fruit of the tree, was “good for food.”

Food is something that we go to when we seek nourishment and fulfillment. You hungry? You eat a banana/apple/cheeseburger/steak/french fry/ice cream cone/whatever you want. Food was made so we could be nourished and fed.

What sin promises is nourishment. And, let’s be honest, it’s not a completely empty promise. There’s a sense of fulfillment that comes from partaking in sin. We get satisfied.

But it’s only to a degree. And you see that in Adam and Eve’s response. They thought they would be satisfied, they thought they would be wise. The satisfaction was there for a moment in being made wise, but then there was regret and shame. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (v. 7).

Sin is nourishing, but only for a moment. It’s like eating a Reese’s Cup. You can’t have just one. You gotta have more. Why? Because one is not designed to completely satisfy you.

The tree, the fruit of the tree, was a “delight to the eyes.”

We’re attracted to things that are beautiful. We’re drawn to the beauty of the nature. Guys are drawn to beautiful women. A mother is captivated by the simple beauty of her child. Some appreciate the beauty of a well-constructed car.

Sin looks good. Sex outside of marriage looks good and appealing. People look at porn because it looks good to them. Lying to get out of trouble at work looks good. Showing yourself off to others pridefully looks good.

But it’s only to a degree. There’s consequences and end results that don’t look good. The heart-wrenching guilt of addiction, the legal troubles of fraud and the downcast glances of those tired of your bragging can be ugly. God’s words to Adam and Eve following their choice of sin did not look good.

To Eve:“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (v. 16). To Adam: “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (v. 17b-19).

Sin looks good, but only for a moment. It’s like looking at a Photoshopped picture and then seeing the original. It’s not nearly as pretty or appealing.

Yet we give in.

It’s natural. And based on these ideas, we shouldn’t be surprised when we give in. Our first parents showed us the way.

But my favorite part of the Genesis 3 story comes in what God tells the serpent, what He tells Satan. Verse 15:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Eve’s offspring? Jesus. So Jesus will bruise Satan’s head, and Satan will bruise Jesus’ heel. There’s a big difference in the pain caused by a heel bruise and a head bruise. Hitting a head is much more painful and does much more damage than hitting a heel. You know a head shot?

Jesus is gonna crush Satan! Well, He already did once, on the cross. Because He did that, we can be forgiven of our sin. That sin that we’re so susceptible to, God doesn’t keep that on your record if you’re a Christian. And then, at the end, Jesus will do much more than crush Satan. He’ll kick him out of earth! And God will have the victory!

That’s true beauty and true nourishment. Forever. Sin won’t last forever. Jesus will.

Being ‘On Fire for God’ Isn’t Easy for Anxious and Depressed Christians Like Me.

Perhaps the most common response people with anxiety and depression get from others when they bring it up is this: “Just move on. Deal with it and move on.” There seems to be this expectation that, like most people, those dealing with mental disorders have some masterful ability to control their emotions.

This is far from true.

At this very moment, I am depressed. In the past 12 hours, I’ve experienced immense anxiety. And I can’t seem to push it away. I’m trying to deal with the emotions, the anxiety and the depression, but it doesn’t seem to leave. I’ve prayed, I’ve thought about biblical truth, I’ve listened to worship music. I’ve done everything I can think to do, and I’m still in this rut.

One of the most difficult questions that people like me – Christians who struggle with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety – face is this: how do we relate to God when our emotions are so far out of order?

Far too often in the Church today, in modern Christian culture, we talk about the stirring of the emotions, of the affections, for God. We should be in awe of His power. We should be amazed by His grace. We should be joyfully overwhelmed by His love. We should be avoiding worry, stress, doubt. We should be “on fire” for God.

All these “should” statements sound great on the surface.

But these are all statements based in a controlling of the emotions and directing them in a certain place. For some of us, that’s not so easy.

There are many blog posts, articles and even books dedicated to how to pursue God when He “feels far away.” But what if He always feels far away? What if we feel so distant from Him every single day?

As someone who deals with anxiety and depression, I’m constantly battling my feelings. I have a tendency to feel sad or feel bad. How I often interpret this is an assumption that God is unhappy with me and I must do something good to feel better, which is a sign that God is happy with me. So often that’s how we all interpret our feelings.

An article on Christianity Today about not feeling close to God said this:

So, next time you don’t “feel” like a Christian, do a gut check. Go to God and ask, “Have I sinned against you?” (See Psalm 139:23-24.) If you determine your bad feelings are a result of sin, ask God to forgive you. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you go on walking with God.

And think about those times when you’re on fire for God. What are you doing during those times that gives you joy? You’re probably reading your Bible, spending time in prayer, hanging out with Christians, going to Bible studies, telling others about your faith.

These are the kinds of things you need to do regularly and consistently. As you do, I think you’ll experience fewer and fewer roller-coaster rides and that fire will burn stronger all the time.

For a Christian dealing with depression and anxiety on a regular basis, the rules are a little different. Studying the Bible and praying don’t necessarily help. Heck, when I’m depressed, I don’t want to do those things. All I want to do is stay in bed, play video games, watch Netflix, and waste away in a heap of self-pity.

It’d be so easy for someone to say to me: “Just push through.” So easy to say when you’re not in the midst of it. And most of the time that’s what I find myself doing because there are not many people who want to dive in and help those of us who are struggling with these things.

So how do I follow Jesus?

There is an emotional side to our faith, true. God can use our emotions to lead us to a place where we are in desperate need of Him or where we’re overjoyed at His provision in our lives. But nowhere in Scripture does it say we have ultimate control over our emotions. Nowhere does it say where we need to have our emotions always attuned properly. In several places, the New Testament instructs us to be “sober-minded,” which means to not be led by our emotions.

What the Bible does tell us to do is to bank on truth all the time. The Bible itself is truth and gives us plenty of pieces of truth to hold onto.

But for those of us with anxiety and depression, it’s a lifelong fight. One worth fighting. But it’s exhausting. It’s tiring. It’s overwhelming. It’s not simply as easy as read your Bible, pray a prayer, go to church. Some days are awful.

I wish I could end this with a happy ending, but not everything is happy.

God gives us grace and love all day, every day. This truth is beautiful and hope-giving.

But joy isn’t as easy to find. Especially when you don’t feel it. And I know joy isn’t necessarily a feeling. But it’s hard to have that attitude, especially when you don’t feel it.

The Church Culture of Church Exceptionalism

Back in May, U.S. President Barack Obama called out the Christians in America to focus more on poverty than divisive issues like gay marriage and abortion. An article on Breitbart.com reported on it:

“There is great caring and great concern, but when it comes to what are you really going to the mat for, what’s the defining issue … this is often times viewed as a ‘nice to have’ relative to an issue like abortion,” Obama said.

He argued that churches should spend more time pursuing “powerful” ideas such as helping those in poverty in order to attract more followers.

“Nobody has shown that better than Pope Francis, who I think has been transformative just through the sincerity and insistence that this is vital to who we are, this is vital to following what Jesus Christ our Savior talked about.”

I find it interesting that this is basically a reflection of what the church often does to President Obama. I could cite a million things that Christians have said that were critical of the President.

Christians get so defensive when the church is criticized. There’s an immediate rush to defense of Christians through all generations. We try to explain away the Crusades. We dismiss the crazies who want to burn Korans. We rush to support Christians who mess up and claim God’s forgiveness for them, while not offering grace to non-Christians who mess up.

All of these things are symptoms of what I would call “church exceptionalism.” And it’s one of the most dangerous things about Christian culture today.

What is “Church exceptionalism”? From my perspective, it’s this:

Seeing the church, both locally, nationally and universally, as above reproach and as an example of what is right. Perhaps there is some acknowledgement of weakness, but generally there’s a distinction given where the church is higher than, for example, the government, Hollywood, the media, any non-Christian entity.

There is a sense where we are called to exceptionalism. But just because we’re called to it doesn’t mean we can claim it for ourselves.

The Church Isn’t Better than the World

See, the Church is no better than the world. It’s not better than the government. It’s not better than Hollywood. It’s not better than the media. Let me prove it to you.

What do we bash the government for? Cover-ups, not following up on their promises, being fake and phony.

There’s a whole website called StopBaptistPredators.com dedicated to “Shining light on Baptist clergy sex abuse.” I was stunned to find it. There’s a list of articles detailing different cases of pastoral sexual abuse. Is there some hokeyness and probable over-exaggeration on the site? Sure. But the news articles – like this one on a Baptist pastor whose molestation of young boys was ignored for years – speak to the dangerous truth that we cover up things all the time.

In 2011, a pastor named Jim Moats was revealed to have never been a Navy SEAL, which wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that he told his congregation at the Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newville, Penn., and The Patriot-News newspaper that he was. Apparently, this deception is common. Don Shipley, a retired SEAL who reportedly has access to a database of all former SEALs, said, “We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It’s amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up.”

What do we bash Hollywood for? All the divorces and cheating, disregard for and mockery of people of faith, their liberal politics.

The recent Ashley Madison hack and revelation of who used the site is a prime example about how no one is exempt from the temptation to cheat. R.C. Sproul, Jr., a professor at Reformation Bible College and the son of theologian R.C. Sproul, was one of the more prominent names to surface on that site. Christian vlogger Sam Rader was another popular name that came to light. Blogger and researcher Ed Stetzer guesses there were somewhere around 400 pastors on the list.

Think about this: how often do we make fun of or speak disparagingly of other religions like Islam? Members of the Church have called for burnings of the Koran. I’ve heard and read un-loving hate speech towards other religions like Mormonism, Judaism, atheism and agnosticism come from Christians.

What do we bash the media for? Blowing stories up more than they “should be,” an anti-Christian bias, pushing agendas.

We push agendas. Let’s be real. Is our agenda more God-glorifying, Jesus-exalting? Sometimes. Sometimes we spend way too much time focusing on the Supreme Court decision to make gay marriage legal. Sometimes we spend way too much time focusing on pastors having sin in their life. Sometimes we spend way too much time on saying how terrible Hollywood/teenagers/government/secular music is. The church may not have an anti-Christian bias, but like Hollywood, we echo the media in how we mock other faiths.

The Church Is Called To Be More

To a degree, we are called to be set apart from these institutions. There’s an obedient stature to be taken inside that “Church exceptionalism” definition.

As a set-apart people, this is our calling: to go make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), to do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), to seek holiness in all our conduct (1 Peter 1:15). We are supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be that light on the hilltop, that salt on the steak (Matthew 5:13-16).

And if you look at how the Church has behaved, there’s a significant distance between how we’ve acted and what we’ve said we’re about. So there’s no room for Church exceptionalism. There’s no place we have to claim the Church is better. But we ignore that.

What’s the side effect of that ignorance? A few things.

We don’t talk about how we mess up because we think we have to be “better.” The everyday Christian sees him or herself as generally a good person, so we don’t think it necessary to confess the gossip we partake in every day at work, the lust we hold in our hearts towards that person at the grocery store or the bitterness towards someone from long ago. We know we’re supposed to be a “good person,” so we don’t talk about or we ignore the crap we’ve done/we do, the crap we’ve thought/we think and the crap we’ve said/we say.

We are highly critical and shaming of others. We ride our high horses all over the Internet to bash President Obama, CNN and Hollywood progressives who don’t interpret the Bible how we’d like them to. Forget the fact that Jesus wasn’t that way towards those types of people. We’ll go on Twitter and use all 140 characters to lament the state of the country, the state of the media and the movies in the theaters. We say, “Why all this ‘separation of church and state’ talk? It’s not even in the Constitution!” “Look at Hollywood screwing up the Bible!”

We don’t accept the need for grace in our own lives. We get scared if we talk about grace too much. But the truth is we need it so bad! We need grace desperately. We’re a messy people in need of a thorough Savior. If we see ourselves as exceptional, we can miss the need for the Gospel being applied to Christians.

We’re called to be more. But we’re not. And, honestly, we will never be.

The government will never be perfect. Hollywood will never be perfect. The media will never be perfect. The Church will never be perfect.

That doesn’t mean we don’t raise our voices when we see issues. We just keep those things in mind when we examine those entities. And we act/speak/think accordingly.

We give grace and patience to those institutions. We speak grace and love. We avoid harsh, judgmental, overboard criticism. We speak loving truth. We lead with love – the greatest of all things that will abide (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Let us be a Church that leads with love, that always leads with love. If we’re going to be exceptional in anything, let it be that. Let the ego that’s led us die out, and let it be replaced by love, patience, grace, hope and an understanding that nobody is even close to being perfect and never will be.

We’re no better. That’s a fact. But it’s OK because of grace. We’ll make it.

Jesus Died Knowing Something About Us We Don’t Like to Think About

Traffic can be terrible. Especially when it’s raining. It’s so easy to get distracted by the rain, by the cars, by the lights, everything. According to the DOT, 17% of vehicle crashes are due to wet pavement and 11% are due to rain. It’s those kind of distractions that can make driving difficult.

In my life, in the traffic jam that my life can be, one of the most distracting things can be the fact that I sin.

I used to hate thinking that I’m a sinner. I couldn’t stand it. I don’t want to be a sinner. But I’ve grown more and more comfortable with it. I’m growing to understand that it’s just a part of who I am, part of my life, a result of the sin nature in me at conception. Like David, “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).

There are some days when, everywhere I look, I see sin. Not just in the world, but in me. And it can be really discouraging sometimes. It sucks thinking about it.

But my awesome girlfriend (must give credit where it’s due) told me something this weekend that blew my mind.

Jesus died knowing we would continue to sin. God chose to save us knowing we would continue to disobey Him. We were forgiven of all that sin while our Father in heaven knew we’d never fully be the reflection of Christ we’re called to be.

We’d be foolish to sit here and say we will ever be without sin. I doubt that 1 John 1:8 ever becomes false – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” I dare you name someone on earth who ever been without sin other than Jesus. To ever think we will go a day on this earth without sinning in someone is a fool’s errand.

Not only did Jesus come to die while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), He continues to love us while we are still sinners. He continues to give grace upon grace upon grace from an abundant overflow.

See, we don’t stop sinning when we accept Jesus. We try to sin less, yes. But we see our sin even greater, as even more of an offense, even more of an attack on God and His commands. It’s rebellion. But we don’t stop. It’s a fact. Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:

Often I have been asked, “Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?” It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure, because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus. Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel. Because justification through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table.

We get our eyes removed from the cross, from Jesus, and when that happens we lose our foundation and then we fall, just like a house built on sand and not on stone. When we quit focusing on Jesus, we uproot the foundation we have on the Rock of Ages and put it on shaky sand. Our lives are filled with continual foundational uproots, trying to find something that will hold us for the moment.

And Jesus loves us through it all. God saves us knowing that will happen.

Being saved doesn’t make us perfect in our obedience. All it does is make us perfect in our standing before God. And that’s HUGE! That means everything. That means I don’t have to be continually regretful of my sinful decisions, of my sinful actions. It means God looks past it, and will continue to look past it. I, and all believers, can rejoice in that.

In the hectic traffic that is life as a Christian, trying to cope with that fact that most of the time we’re terrible at following Jesus, we can hold onto that truth and keep going straight. Eyes on the road, hands at 10 and 2, trusting those wheels to get us to the end.