Criminals, Suspected or Convicted, Are Humans Made in the Image of God Too.

As a newspaper reporter, I get to see all sorts of things cross my desk, all sorts of news stories and photos and police reports.

One section I’m responsible for putting together is the “Cops” section, which curates the police reports from the local police department and local sheriff’s offices. You’ll see a wide range of things on there — people charged with failure to appear in court for whatever reason, stealing from Walmart (8 times in a 3-day span last week), and sometimes harder offenses.

Last week, there was one day where there were two men charged with several sex offenses – indecent liberties with a child, statutory rape, things like that. It broke my heart. I literally sat at my desk with my hand over my mouth for a good minute because I didn’t know how else to respond.

Turns out, in both cases, the kids weren’t viciously raped, but likely persuaded to participate in these acts by older people and the kids were too young to give consent. But that doesn’t excuse the actions. Justice must be served. The appropriate punishment must take place, if indeed those men are guilty.

At the paper, we often post these reports on our Facebook page with mugshots. Those posts are shared and commented on more than just about any other. It becomes a platform for people to be judges and juries without all the information. The newspaper simply reports what it knows, and we’re careful to not say definitively whether he or she is innocent or guilty, because we don’t know.

But what I’ve seen on those comments sometimes makes me just as sad. In the comments of posts like the ones involving those men I mentioned before, I saw pictures of nooses. There’s harsh words of condemnation. There’s lots of terrible things being said.

Yes, perhaps, some of those things are deserved. Raping a child, as these men were accused with, is horrendous and awful and terrible. If these men were indeed guilty, they deserve their due punishment. I’m not going to talk about whether they do or not because it’s clear, they do.

But the way the information is handled by the public on those things is nuts.

I saw a shining example of how it should be handled on the Facebook page this morning regarding someone arrested for drug offenses. The page is public, so this is readily available. I’m changing the name mentioned here because it’s not relevant to this post. Here it is:

I had the privilege of teaching TONI when she was in high school. She’s a smart, thoughtful, and caring person. It did not take long for me to identify the potential she had to accomplish great things. I do not condone criminal activity in any way. However, I notice that this post refers only to her arrest. It does not refer to her conviction. There are no details or evidence regarding what may or may not have taken place. I can not speak to TONI’s guilt or innocence. The piece in the (newspaper) does not speak to her guilt or innocence either. Why do so many feel the need to condemn someone based on a brief blurb in the (newspaper)? I have seen such harsh and heartless comments on this post, and other posts, referring to this situation. What is solved by berating and degrading TONI? If TONI was involved in this does this sort of language and abuse help her in any way? Where is our humanity? We as a society love to spout the evils of drug use, but fail to understand the power of addiction that can happen to people from all walks of life. To be clear, I have no knowledge of any crimes TONI may or may not have committed and I have never known her to use drugs. I am speaking only to the accusations thoughtlessly posted on social media. I admit that I know TONI only through a student-teacher relationship as opposed to a social relationship, but I think so much of her as a person that I have made a point to check-in with her as often as I can to see how she’s doing. I have seen the love she has for her two beautiful children. I have seen the loyalty and devotion she has for her family. I also had the privilege of teaching one of her sisters who is working towards a degree as a special education teacher. This family doesn’t deserve this treatment whether or not a crime was committed. There are many, many families out there that don’t deserve the kind of abuse I see splashed across social media. Take a moment before pressing “Post” and ask yourself if this is something you would want written about your loved one. If it isn’t, please press “Delete”.

I love this. I can’t really put it any better.

You can tell it comes from a teacher, by the way, a good one. There’s a reverence for and understanding of due process of law. There’s a care for Toni (again, not her real name) as a person because she is a person.

She is someone who was made in the image of God. She’s someone who, on that basis alone, deserves to be loved and respected. If she was guilty of the supposed crime, then yes, she deserves punishment as well.

But even if she is a criminal, even if those two men charged for horrible things with children are found to be guilty, they deserve our love. They deserve our prayers. They deserve to be cared for, even in our thoughts and especially on our Facebook pages. They deserve it because God made them and cares for them.

If we as Christians call ourselves pro-life and pro-love, we’ll care for those lives and we’ll love those people, even just in how we think about them. I’m not saying we ignore those affected by these supposed crimes. They deserve our prayers too. But we need to love those affected by sin and those who commit the sin.

We should see the cops reports as a prayer list. The report, in most cases, lists those who supposedly committed crimes and those who report them. If you want a head start, check out the Sanford Police Department’s list. It’s updated throughout the day with reports and charges brought.

Pray for those people to find Jesus or return to Him. Pray that they understand the weight of their sin. Pray that someone would be sharing the Gospel with them. Pray that their hearts would be healed. Pray for them like you do a family member who isn’t a Christian, or a brother or sister in Christ who’s dealing with sin in their lives.

These people are like Barabbas. Jesus died in their place. Will we pray for them? Will we love them with our thoughts?

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As Far As It Depends on You, Just Get Along With People on Social Media

We live in a culture of vehement disagreement. Just take a look at your News Feed.

Every day, I see (and am sometimes involved in) conversations on someone’s Facebook post that revolves around a vehement disagreement on some political or societal issue. Sometimes that disagreement can be over something trivial and the disagreement can be joking and playful. But sometimes it can be bad and vitriolic.

These kinds of interactions have led some people I know to stay out of conversations on Facebook altogether, and I applaud them. Perhaps it would be better for me to take that route. I’ve been in quite a few of those bad conversations and said some things that were out-of-line or had a sinful attitude and approach.

Romans 12 has some words for me. Verses 16-18:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Live in harmony. Live peaceably. If we look at social media, there’s not a lot of harmony and peace.

There is a place in society for disagreement and people having a conversation in which opposing viewpoints are presented. People are different, so we’ll have different ideas and opinions on how certain things “should” or “ought to be” run or thought about. That’s just part of being human.

But we shoot ourselves in the foot as a society and as the body of Christ when we resort to vehement vitriolic disagreement.

I’m guilty of this. I’ve tried to stay away from being mean in my comments but my attitude has gotten sour over some things said on Facebook. I have done little to create an environment of harmony and peace on social media.

But these verses challenge me, and hopefully challenge you who might read this, to think through how we behave on social media. Are we creating an environment of peace and harmony on social media?

To be fair, there’s only so much we can do, right? We can’t control how other people behave on their Facebooks and Twitters. Romans 12:18 takes care of that, saying that “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” It’s saying that we must do whatever we can to pursue peace in our relationships with everyone. There are going to be times where the other party isn’t as willing to pursue peace, and in those times we can be content knowing that we’re trying to do the right thing. But remember that doesn’t give us license to be spiteful and unfairly critical of the other party.

My fiancée once told me something very wise. We were talking about fighting sin and she said, “You need to do what you need to do to not do what you don’t need to do.” I was like, “Brilliant!” We need to take whatever steps necessary to avoid sinful behavior. Particularly online.

I need to think five times about what I’m about to post. I need to think about something that my dad tells me all the time – “Is this thought helpful?” I need to think about how what I’m about to say can create an environment of peace, even in the midst of disagreement.

It is possible to disagree well.

 

When My Words Become My Sword, I’ve Got to Slow Down.

Perhaps one of the worst side effects of the social media epidemic is the incessant need to respond to things right away. You’ve got the platform, might as well do it, right?

Oh I’ve done that. Even on this blog. I’ve attempted to respond to things as quickly as possible, all the while thinking that I’m “thinking deeper” and “being wise” with what I’m doing and saying. I’ve got to defend this, explain that.

And it often turns out to be a mess.

I was reading through John 18 this morning. It starts with Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas Iscariot comes and Jesus prepares to turn Himself in. Verse 10: “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

I was struck with the imagery, and I think it speaks directly to how we speak nowadays, particularly on social media, in response to world events or to what people are saying. I think there’s a direct parallel we can make.

We are Peter. We are just doing our thing, following Jesus, and then somebody does something that goes against Jesus in some way, or they post something that goes against how we believe, what we think, even what we know to be true.

We have a sword. I don’t know exactly why Peter had a sword – perhaps it was a cultural thing. But he had it, and when his way of thinking, his way of life, his Jesus, was threatened, his gut reaction was to use it. So often we get defensive when Christ is mocked or our favorite political candidate is disparaged or somebody says something that seems hypocritical. And we “have to have” a response.

(Also, fun fact: put the “s” in “words” at the beginning of the word, and you have “sword.” Coincidence? Probably. But still…)

So we attack. We cut off their ear. At least, we try. We argue back, we make our point, we have to have the last word. We call it “standing up for Christ” or “defending Jesus.”

But is this really what Jesus would desire for us? Jesus didn’t praise Peter for his “defense” of the Son of God. In fact, He told Him to put his sword away.

I know this isn’t a perfect parallel, but I think we can learn something from Jesus asking Peter to show restraint. I can learn so much too.

So often we like to be quick in our response to things, to make sure we have our two cents in, but how often does that make us look foolish? It sure makes me look foolish. Some of the posts on this blog in the last couple months have probably made me look really silly. We may think through the logical side of what we say, the argument, the debating points, but do we think through how we reflect God or how we love others?

I think there’s a big difference between this and what Peter covered later himself in 1 Peter 3:15-16:

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

We must be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in us, and even then do it with gentleness and respect. Gentleness and respect, I’m afraid, is missing from a lot of my interactions on social media, particularly when it comes to “standing up for Jesus” or “defending my position.” I’ve got to get my word in! And am I truly defending the hope in me, or am I just trying to make a point that probably doesn’t need to be made?

Ask yourself: when you “defend the faith” on social media, is it as Peter directs us to? Is it with a Gospel grace to the person with whom you’re “discussing” things? Are we loving one another? Or are we drawing the sword way too quickly and using it way too rashly?

I don’t know the appropriate way to “defend Jesus” in this. But I’m confident no one will be won over to Christ through our well-thought-out and smart arguments on Facebook. God can make it happen, for sure, He’s done far crazier.

But I can’t help but think I can spend my time doing things so much better than that.

Am I Obsessed with Jesus or Am I Obsessed with Being a Christian?

Confession time: I used to be obsessed with being a Christian.

And I didn’t think much about it at the time. Maybe I didn’t know. But my goal in life was to make sure that people knew I was a Christian. I wanted to do everything possible. A list of some ways:

  • I would post super deep Facebook statuses and check back often to see how many likes I got.
  • My Instagram photos of the sky would include some caption with some spiritually Christian jargon, and then I’d get mad when I only got one like.
  • IMG_1963Before prayer meetings, I would plan what words and phrases I was going to use in prayers so people would think I was awesome.
  • I would drop random biblical phrases into conversation to try to sound spiritual.
  • I would get super psyched whenever someone would reference my biblical knowledge that was “way more” than they knew.

A further example. In the summer of 2012, I started writing a book that basically broke down 1 Peter 5:6-7. Here’s how chapter 1 started:

2011 was my only summer working on staff at a camp called Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters (or SWO for short). SWO is a Christian youth outdoors recreation camp. For more information (shameless plug), check out swoutfitters.com. I highly recommend it.

May 19. I went up to my friend Matt after the night session of a day of Staff Training. Seeing as how it was my first summer on staff and I really wanted to impress people, I asked him what was getting out of his quiet time. The rest of my journal entry records it perfectly:

“He was telling me about what he was getting from his personal quiet time, and it was great stuff. I began to talk and instantly realized I was putting on a persona, acting like I had it all together. I just stopped and said something to the effect of, ‘I’m trying to do what you’re doing.’ He said he was going to bed, got up and left. I talked to him this morning (the 20th) for a little bit before I realized exactly what was going on but getting hints from God…I was studying Acts 1 and wanted to talk about how Jesus said, ‘It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.’ I wanted to talk about it but I had nothing. I realized that my acting charade was beginning to wear off and that’s what the Lord was convicting me of. So, story told. God’s broken me down and now I’m trying to get back to where God can use me to minister properly this summer…I realized I had a big pride issue. I wanted to give off an appearance that I was a solid Christian, while inside I was doubting, struggling.”

Pride continues to be an issue in my life. So when I write this chapter about humility, I speak to myself more than I speak to anyone else. I’m slowly realizing in my life that I have nothing to bring before the throne of the almighty God who rules the universe.

I didn’t finish the book, but this moment has stood out to me when it comes to thinking about spiritual pride in my life.

In the opening to this post, I said “used to.” I don’t know if that’s entirely accurate. I think there’s definitely part of my heart that still gets excited and prideful whenever anybody compliments any knowledge of anything biblical I have. God is working on my heart to grow me in this area, to humble me.

I posed the question that is the title of this post on Facebook yesterday and I got one response: those who are obsessed with being Christians are Pharisees. And that’s exactly what I was and to this day still have remnants of in my heart. What were the Pharisees known for? Showing their righteousness before others (Matthew 6:1). They were obsessed with being religious instead of the God who was the basis/center/crux of everything they supposedly believed.

How do you know if you’re obsessed with being a Christian instead of Jesus? I wanted to put together some kind of test, but I couldn’t figure it out.

See, the things you do when you’re obsessed with being a Christian are often the things you do when you’re obsessed with Jesus. You want people to think you’re obsessed with Jesus, so you do all the “right things.” We forget that being a Christian is more about Jesus and less about us showing that we’re Christians. We’re not a Christian because of what we do, we’re a Christian because of what Jesus did.

Can I be honest with you? Sometimes, as I scroll through my Facebook page, I see people post highly-spiritual statuses and photos of their quiet times and everything that they’re doing that’s “holier” than what I’m doing, and I feel two things. First, I feel discouraged that I’m not as “holy” as they are. Second, I wonder if they’re more obsessed with being a Christian than loving Jesus. To that second point, I honest can’t make a judgement on that. I could make guesses.

But to be honest with you, I get mad. I get upset. I get judgmental. I despise those people for what I perceive to be Pharisaical actions on social media. And that reaction is never right. It’s very self-righteous of me.

Social media is perhaps, in my opinion, the newest place for self-righteousness to flourish. In Bible times, Pharisees could walk around the synagogue area, where a lot was going on, and flaunt their righteousness before others. It was the social and religious center of the cities in Israel. Facebook and Twitter are the social centers of today, and they are growing to become, more and more, the religious centers as well. Social media gives us many opportunities to be self-righteous before others, and I’ve taken advantage of it many, many times.

So to answer the question, I don’t know. I can’t look at you and say, “You’re more obsessed with being a Christian instead of obsessed with Jesus.” You have to examine your own heart. We’re not called to be obsessed with being a Christian. The point of being a Christian is to be obsessed with Jesus. And you can pick at that word “obsessed” and go all semantics, but the point is this: our goal is to glorify God. Our goal is to make much of Jesus. Not of ourselves or our personal faith.

10 More Pieces of “Hard Stuff” We Need to Talk About More/Differently in the Church

This is part four of five in my five-part series on talking about the hard stuff within the church context. Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 by clicking on the links. This is an extension of Part 3, kind of a Part 2 to Part 3. Basically, Part 4.

11) Technology use. 

I love technology. I use it every day in my workplace and at home. There’s man-made rules and blog post after blog post within the church about the use of technology and how it might be ruining our society. It’s one of those things that I think we rarely sit back and think deeper about how it can be used for good and for the Gospel.

12) Body image.

I wrote a blog post about this back in April about how I’ve personally struggled with this issue. Because it’s such a personal thing, we shy away from it. It’s uncomfortable. But, like a lot of these topics, it’s something that needs to be discussed because people are struggling with this and they feel alone. Your body is something you see in the mirror every day. Therefore, if you struggle with this, it’s something that confronts you every day. So it’s vital to have conversations about it.

13) Absent parents.

As someone who loves spending time around teenagers, I’ve seen many who have one or two absent parents, parents that either abandoned them before birth or during their life or divorced each other. And I’ve seen the devastating effects that it’s had. This goes along with No. 3 in this list. Not only do we need to talk about it, we need to get more involved in these kids lives.

14) Social media.

This goes along with No. 11. How can we use social media to benefit the spreading of the Gospel and the glorifying of God? Also, what is the appropriate behavior of Christians on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter? It’s a gray area because the Bible doesn’t give us straight forward thoughts on it. But it’s worth talking about.

15) Profanity.

This might be the most divisive one on this list. Christians have sworn off (no pun intended) profanity for the most part, and I was once there. But as I’ve grown, I’ve realized something. What is profanity but something that society says is profane? What makes a word in and of itself “sinful” to use? Scripture doesn’t have a list of words we shouldn’t use. In my opinion, it’s more about the thought and intention and the heart behind it. Just like we use stronger non-curse words to convey certain things, would it be the worst thing in the world if we used what might be considered a “curse word” to strongly emphasize how we feel about something? Since this is a gray area, I don’t know for sure. Something to talk about, but ideally not in a condemning way.

16) Pastors sinning.

This is a theme that recurs every once in a while when a pastor of a prominent evangelical church steps down because some sin in his life is revealed, whether by him or by someone else. There seems to be a push to forget about those people or condemn them for doing such a bad thing. Best example: Mark Driscoll (I wrote about it here). Shouldn’t we think about this differently? I doubt that Jesus would handle things the way we have. He used a bunch of sinful dudes. Why should we expect our pastors to be any different?

17) Hierarchy of sins.

This is a difficult topic that I don’t think I fully understand. Recently, it seems as if the evangelical community has placed homosexuality on the top of the pyramid of sins, over sexual sin in the church, over lying, over gossiping, over bitterness. I don’t know what the right answer is. What usually happens in conversations like this is personal opinions getting scattered all over the place, which makes things real tricky. Personally, I just struggle to think that one sin is more important than another save for what 1 Corinthians 6:18 says: “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” But why do we make homosexuality more important?

18) Reformed theology.

The thing that ticks me off most about those in the Reformed camp is their arrogance about their theology. There, I said it. I’ve been there. I’ve been that arrogant one who won’t listen to anyone else or won’t consider that I might be wrong. I’ve been in that place where I’ve thought people who weren’t Reformed weren’t Christians. And there’s a lot of that in the Reformed evangelical camp. Why must we be so rigid to Calvinism nowadays? Have we ever considered that there’s more to Christianity than adhering to Reformed theology?

19) Consuming mainstream news media.

I’m sitting in the waiting room of a Toyota dealership right now getting my car worked on and Fox News is on the TV. Christians tend to flock to Fox News because it suits their worldview the best. That leads to a condemnation of MSNBC and CNN and more liberal news outlets. Can I be honest with y’all? I LOVE watching clips of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and old clips of The Colbert Report. They get it right more than any mainstream media effort. Anyways, who do we trust? What’s the right approach? This is tricky because people get offended and upset if you don’t agree with them.

20) Our own personal current screw-ups.

We’ll talk about the sins of the society, of others, of ourselves in the past all day long. But we shy away from talking about our current struggles. There is nothing more important to be talked about than this. If we say we believe in the Bible, we should be seeking to obey James 5:16 – “Confess your sins to one another.” There’s no qualification about who we confess to, how much we confess, when we confess, who should confess, etc. It’s simply, “Confess your sins to one another.” It’s hard and it sucks, but it’s so important to our own spiritual health and for the health of the church.

Check back soon for Part 5 – How do we talk about these things? What are some good ways to get the conversations started? 

Christian Pressure: Perhaps the Worst Kind

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: the exertion of force upon a surface by an object, fluid, etc., in contact with it. 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.

——

Social Media

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:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 3.25.01 PM

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?

studying-the-BibleTo 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.

Politics

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?1000509261001_2008586720001_BIO-Barack-Obama-SF-FIX-Retry

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.

Trying to Come Up with the Perfect Instagram

I was sitting in church this morning, Easter morning, trying to think, “OK, how can I get the perfect combination of pictures to stitch together for my Instagram?”

I was in the back in the sound booth, so I had a good vantage point of the choir up in the front. I snapped a quick picture of them while they were singing about Jesus’ resurrection. Seeing as how I was in the sound booth, I thought, “Why don’t I get a good picture so that my followers can experience everything I’m doing?” Snapped one of the sound board.hc-social-media-icons-istock-23515213

As soon as I did, a thought hit me. How silly are you, Zach? Why does it matter what you post on Instagram?

Holiday Fever

With holidays like this, I know I get tempted to try to post the best social media thing possible. Here are my attempts:

  • Good Friday: “Praise the Lord for this day so many years ago, when my Savior took the punishment I deserve for the sins I committed today, yesterday and every day until I die.”
  • My birthday: Instagram stitch, “Incredible 21st birthday with some great friends and family, great food and a great Elon soccer victory in PKs. God is good ALL the time. #PraiseHim#turning21.”
  • Election Day 2012: “Today, I pray America would not trust in a Romney or an Obama, but in Jesus, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace, whose Kingdom will last forever after the old heaven and old earth have passed away.”

Now, before I move forward, let me say that I think it can be good to post things like this on these days. I believe that we can use social media to lift up the truth in Scripture and point people to Jesus. But I want to challenge myself, and you who might read this, with something.

Do you try to make the best holiday-related status possible? Why? Do you try to be “more spiritual” than others on Facebook?

I do. Good gracious, I do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve posted a status that in some way attempts to bring glory to Christ, but I check my Facebook every two minutes for the next 30 minutes to see how many people appreciate my statement with a like or a comment.

I’m not writing this to bash those who might like or comment on my statuses or links or pictures or Instagrams or whatever. I’m just saying that more often than not, there’s a part of me that yearns for that social media affirmation like nothing else.

But is that how it’s supposed to be?

Who Are We Speaking to Please?

A week ago, I posted about speaking the gospel with boldness, pointing particularly to Paul’s testimony in 1 Thessalonians 2. I want to zoom in on one particular part of verse 4:

…so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

Paul was speaking specifically about preaching the gospel in the face of opposition, and moving forward in spite of the opposition because we’re ultimately accountable to God. I think the same thing can be applied when speaking about social media.

Writing about this for The Gospel Coalition, Dustin Neely says: “Social media offer us a glimpse into our worldly significance with such tantalizing immediacy as our blog and tweet stats. Many of us check our stats because we are more concerned with the applause of man than the affirmation of Jesus. We forsake justification in the gospel for seeking to be right in our followers’ eyes. In these moments, we are guilty of doing the exact opposite of what we set out to do in the first place—glorify God and serve others.”

I like the way Neely puts it. The temptation with social media comes when we are too concerned with people liking what we post and finding our affirmation and joy in that rather than in the fact that Jesus laid everything out on the line for us.

I’m there. All the time. I tweet, Facebook, Instagram to seek the applause of man. Ultimately, it’s a short-coming on my part, not relying on the satisfaction of Christ’s sacrifice and love for me to find my purpose and significance.

We Have All We Need

I love what Peter says about God in 2 Peter 1:3 –

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…

Peter’s saying that, through knowing God, who’s called us to know His glory and His excellence, we’ve got all we need for “life and godliness.” There’s so much in that, so much that you could probably write a whole book, but I want to focus on one thing. To live, we need affirmation and significance. We were created for that. We were created to find it in God.

crossjesusAnd He’s given it to us, by allowing us to know Him and love Him, by showing us His love for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That’s all we need to be satisfied. We need to be thinking on the truth that God has given us all the joy and satisfaction we need in the fact that we have a relationship with Him.

Much harder done than said, of course. But I would encourage those of us who struggle with seeking affirmation through our social media posts, or through anything that’s not God, to remember what God did to give us the opportunity to have a relationship with us.

He died.

Don’t waste that, especially for the sake of a few likes or a retweet. Those things are temporary. God is eternal.

As Neely aptly ends his blog post: “We are more excited about what strangers say about us that what the God of the universe has already spoken over us through the cross. We are stitching together a flawed coat of fig leaves out of followers, “friends,” and retweets to try to hide insecurities that can only truly be addressed in the gospel. But, by God’s matchless grace, if when we are tempted to go to the the fleeting approval of man, we instead go to the eternal approval of God that is ours in Christ—the approval unaffected by the abundance or absence of re-tweets—we, our followers, and the kingdom are better for it.