During my freshman year of high school, I got a scar on my right hand. It’s a line about an inch long about down the middle of my hand, starting near my wrist and going towards my fingers.
I remember when I got it that I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t go wash it or get a Band-Aid or anything. Typical guy thing, not needing help.
But that’s something I pondered this morning. What is it about guys – or more specifically, me – that causes us to avoid help or healing sometimes?
I think this can be a human problem more than just a guy problem. For some of us, seeking help or allowing someone else to help us is the last thing we want to do. Often it’s called “self-sufficiency.” It’s relying on yourself alone to get through life, to get what you have to get, to know what you need to know, to fix yourself.
There’s some self-sufficiency which is good. If you’re constantly reliant on others, you will, in all likelihood, end up alone anyway. There are certain cases where illnesses force that to be the case, and there’s nothing you can do. But if you spend your entire life totally reliant on others, you’ll get nowhere.
A Christian is not made for self-sufficiency. A human is not made for self-sufficiency. We’re made to need other people. Most importantly, we’re made to need God.
See, we all have scars. We all have weaknesses, injuries, flaws. And if we spend our whole lives trying to fix them ourselves, we’ll never get fully healed. Sure, we might fix one or two on our own. But we need to be willing to let others, and God, in to help with the healing process, and in some cases bring full healing.
This is one of the things I’m learning right now with my fiancée. She’s the sweetest, and it seems she wants nothing more than to simply care for me, do whatever she can for me. As someone who’s self-sufficient most of the time, I have to learn to let her do what she does best: help people.
Self-sufficiency will get us nowhere in the long run. True humility is learning to let someone help us, learning to let go of our pride and accept help in the healing process of those scars.
And then there’s our need for salvation. We can’t do it on our own. We need God to intervene for our eternal state to be secured.
In a self-sufficient world, where it often becomes about “what I can do” and improving our own skills and making a name for ourselves, we need help. We need others to come alongside us and help us through. We need Jesus for life now and life afterwards.
Those scars often don’t take care of themselves. They stay there. They stick.
Author’s Note: This is the first part in a 5-part series called “Refocused Romance,” in which I explore different aspects of dating that often get little attention, particularly in the high school context. By this, I hope to simply bring up thoughts and questions by which we as a body of Christ can grow in our understanding of one another and of how we can honor God in the dating realm.
This second part is about how high standards are important to have, but not impossible ones when it comes to dating.
One of the most common things you’ll find as part of the discussion of dating in the Christian world is how to handle your “negotiables” and “non-negotiables.” Negotiables are the things that you’d ideally want in a spouse, but aren’t required and can be changed. Non-negotiable are the things that are requirements.
For example: a negotiable for me would be that the person I marry would be a soccer fan, particularly of my favorite team, Arsenal FC. That’s something that I could get over if she wasn’t. Fortunately, my lady is! Well, she became one. One of the reasons I love her.
But there’s really only one non-negotiable for believers, and this gets to my point.
Setting impossible standards for who you’re going to date is a waste of your time because you’ll never find anyone. The only non-negotiable that Scripture commands of believers is that they marry someone who is a Christian. That’s it.
I used to end up in this rut where I would have to evaluate the girl I was interested in by so many categories and so many things that I thought she “had to have” or “had to be.” Is she enough of this? Does she believe exactly this set of doctrines? It was overwhelming and exhausting.
What this kind of thought process often leads to is an impossible set of standards that absolutely no one can stand up to. We begin to expect perfection, and expecting perfection in a relationship is a waste of time.
Why? No one will ever be perfect. No one will ever be able to honestly say, “I am without sin.” 1 John 1:8 precludes that – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” If we expect the person that we date or marry to be perfect, we’re deceiving ourselves, we’re ignoring truth.
So when you’re looking for a date or a mate, don’t look for someone perfect. You won’t find them.
Most posts would end there, but I want to add something: don’t expect yourself to be perfect either.
Like I said earlier, there can be a lot of pressure to feel like you have to fit a mold or be somebody specific before you get married or even start dating. You won’t be perfect either.
Of course, there’s some ideals you’d like to get to. When it comes to dating, it’s ideal that you’re able to afford to drive your date somewhere and you can pay for dinner. But besides that, there’s really no honest biblical restriction. Expecting yourself to reach perfection before you start dating means you won’t date, you won’t marry.
One thing I want to emphasize: dating when your identity is in that person instead of in Jesus is scary and potentially deadly. I’ll talk about that more tomorrow.
As a teenager, there’s a lot of pressure from Christian sources as far as who you “have to be” before you start dating. You don’t have to be anything. You’re going to face a lot the same struggles in teenage dating that you’ll face in adult dating: placing God before that person, physical interaction temptations, arguments and disagreements, etc.
Don’t expect yourself to be perfect or even good at relationships. I hope I never get to a place where I think I’m good at relationships.
But I always want to be learning, striving to know more, be more, grow more. My lady, and my God, deserve more. Just because we won’t ever be perfect doesn’t mean we can’t grow.
This is the Gospel displayed: God doesn’t ditch us because we’re not perfect. But He desires better for us. And it’s a good idea to bring into the dating world.
So I wrestled with this question this morning. Where does “get the log out of your own eye” fit in with the command to “make disciples of all nations”? How do we balance our calling as ministers of the Gospel with the command to deal with your own sin before trying to nitpick others?
It’s a question I wrestle with often because there are thousands of tweets, blog posts and other forms of media that every day tell us what we’re doing wrong and what we need to change. And I think God has given us these tools to help and encourage one another, to challenge each other in our following of Jesus.
But is there a degree in which we go overboard in telling people how to behave differently?
It’s this kind of question that I think we don’t like asking or answering because we’re afraid that it’s going to make us feel guilty for how we’ve approached other people. It’s also such a nuanced issue, a matter of levels and intensity instead of something black-and-white.
Here’s the black-and-white:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
These things are the words of Jesus, straight from the Bible, so they’re irrefutable. Let’s key in on specifics.
Let’s start with the second passage. We are called to make disciples of all nations. What are the aspects of making disciples of all nations? Two things: baptizing people, and teaching them to observe what Jesus commands. So there is a command to instruct others how to live. And, to be honest, I don’t like it. But there’s a truth to that I can’t deny.
Here’s where I think it goes wrong: we take that command to the highest extreme, which we are prone to do as people. Just ask my friends, I do it all the flippin’ time. We go overboard on telling people what to do so much so that we forget that we’re called to examine ourselves first.
Then Matthew 7 comes into play. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t tell people that they’re screwing up.” What He does say is this: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus sets up the order for how we are to help others see the faults in their lives.
First, He says, we must examine ourselves.
This is probably one of the hardest things to do as a Christian, at least emotionally. Actually looking at your life for the crap strewn throughout it isn’t that hard – all you have to do is look at your last 24 hours and compare it to what the Bible instructs us to do. But wrestling with the fact that, if we look at ourselves honestly, we fall short can be really tough. For some, it can be a huge blow to the ego and to the pride they’ve built up. For others, it can be incredibly discouraging and can make us forget the Gospel, forget what it means to be forgiven and loved by the Creator of the Universe.
But if we are to fairly look at others’ lives and say, “Hey, you’re missing this,” or, “These people are sinning in this way,” Jesus says we must first examine ourselves and deal with the issue in front of us.
Here’s another question: to what degree do we have to deal with our own sin before we can rightly instruct others? I don’t know the exact answer to that. But what I think (and I could be entirely wrong) Jesus is saying is, “Hey, deal with yourself and make sure you’re doing everything possible to kill the sin in your own life before you go nit-picking in others’ lives.”
One last thing: through His excellent forestry analogy, we see Jesus’ ideal hierarchy for sins. No, it’s not one sin is greater than another.
Your sin, your personal individual sin, is a log. That other person’s sin, it’s a speck. For comparison’s sake:
Compare an individual speck of wood to the log. That’s how others’ sin should look in comparison to ours.
If I see a speck in someone else’s eye, I want to help them out by sharing with them. But I can’t see it properly unless I get rid of the log in my own eye first. This is how we are called tell others about their sin.
But how often do we act differently? And not just in our own minds, but publicly? Do we go to social media to condemn others and their sin, or can we use those tools to also step back and say, “Yeah, I screw up too, and here’s how I do it, and here’s how God is helping me through this and can also help you too!” as well?
I think we could be a lot better witnesses of Christ and follow what the Bible says a lot closer if we took this approach. By sharing our own sin first, we could give God tons more glory and praise than He already gets, and make the Gospel look 10 million times better.
Hyperbole, yes. But the Gospel is worth all the hyperbole we can give it. It’s that awesome. It means the sins we commit – and the sins of others, if they are believers – are forgiven and no longer held against them. I’ll talk about that all day long.
We are a people of extremes. It’s very rare we find ourselves in the middle of something.
I think of the presidential candidates who try to work both sides of the aisle in Congress as one of the more startling examples of trying to be in the middle. It’s not going to work. At the end of the day, for the most part, we are opinionated people who love taking sides. And that’s not a bad thing necessarily.
As I’ve reflected on what I’ve written over the last couple months, I’ve noticed a pattern. I’m very critical of the Church. I’m very critical of people in the Church. I examined my heart.
Sometimes I hate the Church.
Sometimes I hate Christians.
And that’s never good.
As much as I write about giving grace and love to people on this blog, I very seldom do it to the Christians. Not just on this blog, but in my heart. And I’m sorry.
I won’t apologize for thinking critically about the Church or even being critical of the Church. There aren’t enough Christians who are willing to take a step back and look at ourselves, our people, and point out what we’re missing, how we’re failing at keeping the commands of Christ. I’ll keep doing that.
Initially, the reason for me doing that was wanting to see the Church change, was wanting to see us become a people who give the grace and love of Jesus not only to the world but to each other. I wanted to see us become more like Christ. And I think there’s part of me that still wants that.
But if I can be honest with you, there’s also part of me now that doesn’t want it to change. If it changes for the better, I would have less to write about and I don’t have as much of a platform to stand on anymore. Not that there’s a platform I stand on anyways – I have, on average, about maybe 15-20 visitors to this blog a day. That’s not much.
But this is a very vital part of my life. I pour out my heart on this blog. I’m sharing things I’m thinking through. What I write is very closely entwined with what I’m thinking. And I’m afraid that I’ve showed my hand on my strong dislike, sometimes hatred, for the body of Christ.
What is it that Jesus said to His disciples? “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). If someone looked at my blog, would they be able to tell I am a Christian? I don’t know. I hope so. But I can’t say for sure. They might look at it and simply be like, “Well, that Zach guy, he sure is critical.”
Perhaps in my attempt to stop being so judgmental about the world I’ve become super judgmental of Christians. And that’s not honoring to God. That’s not honoring to Jesus. That’s not giving the grace that I would want for myself and that I know God desires for the world to receive, even though most reject it and miss out on eternity with Him because of that rejection.
So here’s to a change, hopefully. I’ll still be critical of the Church if I feel the need to. But hopefully I’ll grow in giving grace to my brothers and sisters in Christ. God gives grace to me. I hope I can reflect Him.
The best part of any good heist/prison break-out/escape movie is the planning stage. In the planning stage, you get to see how the crooks plan to execute the heist/escape and get away with it. That last part is huge. They don’t just plan the actual job/escape, they plan how they’re going to deal with the ramifications of it.
In the television show Prison Break, Michael Scofield intentionally gets arrested so he can break his wrongfully-accused brother out of prison and get out of the country. Not only does Michael have a plan to break out of prison, he has a plan for afterwards. He’s set the necessary implements in place so he and his brother Lincoln can get away safely.
(I’m not spoiling anything – the show is called Prison Break, you think they’re not going to get out?)
These characters spend a lot of time focusing on the aftermath of their actions. I think we can take a lesson in the Christian community and learn to do the same thing.
We spend a lot of time as a Church telling each other and the world what not to do. We spend a lot of time saying, “No.” And there’s good to that. We need to be speaking truth about things we should not do. We should not look at pornography. We should not gossip about others in the church or in the workplace. We should not lie. We should not physically attack someone unprovoked. We should not hold bitterness in our hearts towards other people, Christian or not.
However, with this focus on what we’re not supposed to do, we miss out on two very important facets.
First, how do we respond if we do these things?
Growing up in the church, you’re told to not do a lot of things. I can look back and remember things I was told not to do. Don’t have sex before you’re married. Don’t cuss. Don’t drink. Don’t hang out with the “bad crowd.” Don’t this, don’t that. What happens if you do? Most of the time we don’t talk about this part. We’ll be hesitant to approach it or we’ll simply say, “Pray and ask God for forgiveness and don’t do it again.” Isn’t there more?
Shouldn’t we spend more time talking about what to do after we sin? We’re going to sin. It’s a proven fact. In those situations, there’s only so much good that comes from saying, “Don’t do ________.” In those situations, we need to learn how to approach the aftermath, how to work through the “getaway,” if you will. We need to be teaching people how to deal with their sin, what to believe about themselves, what to believe about God, how to deal with the guilt and shame that comes from it.
I’m not saying we don’t tell people what not to do. Knowing what is sin is huge. In Romans 7:7, Paul says, “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.'” But the focus needs to be on what to do in response to the inevitable: us sinning.
Second, what can we do instead of these things?
You know the whole idea where someone tells you not to think of a pink elephant and all you can think of is a pink elephant? It’s called the “ironic process theory.” I think we can subconsciously encourage this in Christian culture when we overload on what not to do. We think so much about not doing something that we end up thinking about it and doing it anyways.
Instead, why don’t we focus more on what we could do? We’re losing our minds trying so hard not to sin that we can easily forget what we can do instead. If I’m trying so hard not to look at porn, it would be easy for me to just slip right into it. If instead I focus on what I can do, psychologically I’m more likely to do it. The difficulty is learning to focus on what I can do instead.
And then comes the Gospel. When we don’t do the things we’re supposed to, which is going to happen, we remember the grace of the Gospel, that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t change our eternal state, it doesn’t change God’s love for us, it doesn’t change His loyalty and devotion to us, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re still His adopted son/daughter.
I think thinking about the right things is something the Christian culture could be doing a lot better job of, and it’s an idea that runs through a lot of my blog posts. Instead of speaking out constantly about how bad Planned Parenthood is, we should be helping those who want to get abortions find a different way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Instead of bashing the Supreme Court for their decision on gay marriage, we should be speaking about how doing things God’s way is 10 million times more satisfying. Instead of getting all worked up over Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, we should be doing life with those struggling with their gender identity. This is very conceptual and doesn’t always translate to practicals easily. It depends on the situation. But it’s vital.
I could be wrong, as always, and I could be missing something huge. The cool thing is the grace of the Gospel covers me in that too.
One of my favorite episodes of How I Met Your Mother is “The Chain of Screaming,” when Barney Stinson proposes an idea called, you guessed it, “the chain of screaming.” The quality of the video below is not great, but you’ll get an idea of what it is.
The idea is that anytime someone gets frustrated with someone else, it’s based in someone getting frustrated in them. Whether or not it’s a real thing, your guess is as good as mine, but it’s pretty funny. I thought about it while reflecting on a life experience I had yesterday.
Dictionary.com defines “condescending” as “showing or implying a usually patronizing descent from dignity or superiority” and “criticism” as “the act of passing judgement as to the merits of anything.” When I refer to condescending criticism, I mean “passing judgement on something from a patronizing attitude, usually from some kind of dignity or superiority.” Basically just melding those two definitions together.
It’s my view that we as a body of Christ do this on a regular basis and that it is not helpful, that it is anti-God, anti-Jesus, anti-everything we say we stand for and everything we say we believe. We get upset when famous atheists like Richard Dawkins make derogatory and condescending statements about Jesus, but then turn right around and make them about each other, about political figures like President Barack Obama, about religious figures like Rob Bell, etc.
Through Facebook comments, however, I got some negative feedback.
When I write posts like the one I did yesterday, something that challenges the status quo of Christian culture, I always tell myself that I don’t care what people think, that negative feedback won’t bother me unless it’s well thought-out and reasonable. But as I gauged my emotional response to everything yesterday, I found something completely different.
I was pissed. How dare someone question my well-reasoned arguments! How dare someone think that I’ve said something that’s not completely right! And how dare they say such a thing on Facebook!
This told me that my “don’t-care” attitude was clearly a show I was putting on for an audience of one, and it wasn’t God. It was me. And this forced me to confront a question I wouldn’t rather confront: is it OK to be upset when people disagree with you?
I think there are a lot of times we can’t help how we feel, we can’t help what emotions cross our mind whenever we initially respond to something. And for me, when I was reading the negative comments, I was frustrated. I started getting angry at the people responding, saying that they didn’t know what they were talking about, that they were stuck in their ways and afraid of something different being said.
Yeah, I was pretty sinfully upset. And that’s where I discovered that my upset-ness had gotten to a sinful point. It had led to me being angry with the people that had disagreed with me. And that’s where it’s not OK. My mind had started making ad hominem-style attacks at the person in question. I was trying to find the sinful parts of the person who had questioned me. When they made comments, they weren’t attacking me directly, but I felt that they were, so I decided to do the same.
As much as I write about trying to be like Christ on this blog, and as much as I talk about it with people, I was doing a terrible job of it. I was letting my emotions guide my thinking down a dangerous road towards bitterness and anger. I wanted to mouth off at the people.
How hypocritical I am! How much I was doing the opposite of what I had just written about in the very blog that had provoked the negative response! I began to fear for my future as a writer. If I’m going to be a writer as part of my career – which is my desire – this response to negative feedback can’t do. This will not be helpful. This could be deadly. If I get upset every time someone disagrees with me, I’ll likely be upset all the time.
It was yet another reminder to me – reminders that seem to come almost daily at this stage of my life – of two things.
First, I don’t have it all figured out. And I never will. A common stigma with Christians is that we think we have it all figured out and that we just tell the world that we do. This is not true! I will never have it all figured out. As much as I would love to have it all nailed down, I will never be wholly wise or completely smart how I want to be. I’ll never be sinless.
I think I’ll probably always struggle with this response. And I’m OK with that. I want to fight against it, and I hope it never happens ever again. But I’m OK with it because…
Second, God’s grace covers every time I get angry. And it’s growing me and sanctifying me. My walk with Christ didn’t end when I got angry at the people who disagreed with me. God still loves me and views me the same. I just became more aware of another area where I fall short of His perfection, which gives me yet another area to be thankful for His grace.
And that grace doesn’t end with my salvation. It ends when I’m perfected at the end of days, when I reach the end of my race and spend eternity with my Savior in heaven, when I will no longer be upset with people who criticize or disagree with me or what I do or what I say or what I write.
Where there will be – thank God – no chain of screaming.
At the time, I thought that was the holiest of burns. The most God-glorifying calling-out of a public figure on social media that will ever exist. And from my research, no one has ever questioned Piper on it. An interview in Christianity Today briefly scratched the tweet, instead choosing to focus on the possibility of “theological reconciliation” in light of the Rob Bell controversy. Piper said this:
Francis Schaeffer said our differences in the church are a golden opportunity to show love, and instead of throwing hate bombs over the walls that we’ve got between ourselves, we throw love bombs over. In other words, differences can be an occasion for courtesy, kindness, gentleness, listening, and respect—all of which, the world would then look at and say, “They don’t have theological unity, but they do talk to each other in a certain way.” Now, Paul was pretty hard on certain theological differences and Jesus was really hard on certain differences. And so, there’s a point for “Thus far, no further, farewell.” There are other points where we ought to be cultivating all those courtesies.
For a long time, I thought Piper was awesome for saying this. I thought he was bold, brash, faithful, to the point. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought less and less this way and been more concerned with the approach he took, mostly because I see it as an epidemic in the evangelical community.
Christians are quickly becoming known as people who say “no” and people who hate and people who are against things. This YouTube video is very telling:
We can write these people off as biased and having a particular view and that they’ve missed the point. But one of the key points that was brought up time and time again in that video was the idea that Christians are judgmental and they’re anti-this and anti-that. And I agree! And in no place does it come out more than our tendency as Christians to be condescendingly critical.
Before I explain myself further, I want to explain what I mean so we don’t get caught up in semantics. Dictionary.com defines “condescending” as “showingorimplyingausuallypatronizingdescentfromdignityor superiority” and “criticism” as “the act of passing judgement as to the merits of anything.” When I refer to condescending criticism, I mean “passing judgement on something from a patronizing attitude, usually from some kind of dignity or superiority.” Basically just melding those two definitions together.
It’s my view that we as a body of Christ do this on a regular basis and that it is not helpful, that it is anti-God, anti-Jesus, anti-everything we say we stand for and everything we say we believe. We get upset when famous atheists like Richard Dawkins make derogatory and condescending statements about Jesus, but then turn right around and make them about each other, about political figures like President Barack Obama, about religious figures like Rob Bell, etc.
Why Do We Do This?
There are lots of things to criticize. There are lots of things that are wrong with the world. That’s to be expected in a, to use an evangelical term, “post-Genesis 3 world.” When each person living on the earth has at least one thing drastically wrong with them, there are going to be people saying things we disagree with, people saying things that are not in line with Scripture. Therefore, we criticize.
There are also many avenues for criticism, avenues that are easy to use. Just look at social media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, the list goes on and on about avenues we can use to criticize people. And it’s very easy to use it without facing any real backlash or in-your-face response. It’s much easier to say something critical about somebody without having to look them in the eye when you say it.
As sinful people, we’re self-righteous. We think we’ve got it all figured out, therefore we have a basis from which to say the things we want to say. We’ve read the Bible enough, we figure, so we’ve got a foundation from which to speak.
And like I said before, there’s little accountability for things like this. If someone like John Piper or Tim Keller says it, their platform is so high that it’s hard to bring a legitimate case against them because those in the evangelical community will generally agree with whatever they say. Of course you’ll have the rare few who disagree, but for the most part there’s a blind acceptance. I’ve definitely carried that attitude before and to a degree still do.
But here’s the problem I have with this: It’s not bad that we criticize, it’s the tone and frequency with which we criticize and the lack of humility that goes along with that criticism.
Tone Is Everything
An oft-reported, but oft-contradicted, statistic is that 93 percent of communication is non-verbal; basically, the majority of what you say is not the words you use. In the 70s, researcher Albert Mehrabian purported that 55 percent of communication is body language and 38 percent is tone of voice, making up the 93 percent. The other seven percent is the actual words.
Many researchers question the validity of this statistic, but my guess is that you’ve run across this practically before. How many arguments have been started because you’ve missed the tone of what was said? I think The Office explored this very perfectly:
You can’t communicate what you really mean very well through any text-based medium. That’s one of the difficulties of writing a blog; you have to be very clear in what you mean so your readers don’t get the wrong tone from what you’re writing. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook are very similar. So when tone isn’t clear from what was said, readers have to guess, they have to make a judgment based on what they know about the person, the words used, any capitalizations, italics or bolds, or even emojis.
Often trying to make a point, Christians like myself will post things on social media about a pastor like Rob Bell or a political party or a public figure in a very strongly-worded way. And most of the time, the tone comes across very condescending. We honestly may not intend for it to be that way, but we’re trying to make a point, so we’ll say whatever it takes to make our point.
And most times, it can come from a place of pride and a place of “Look at me, I know better!” There’s the condescending part, where we think we’ve got it all figured out and this person doesn’t, so we criticize in an open forum for people to see, people to “Like,” people to “Comment,” people to “Retweet,” people to “Favorite,” etc. Because it comes from that place, it’s condescending, and it’s not glorifying to God.
A Pharisee’s Lack of Humility
Humility goes out the window when we have this attitude. It’s like we don’t even think about how we’re portraying ourselves and where our hearts are when we post and say these things.
We put ourselves on a moral high ground on which we have no place being. The Gospel gives us no right to place ourselves any higher than the ground on which we currently stand with every other human being. We’re like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 –
(Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We come to God, and then come to man, so thankful that we have it all figured out and we forget to examine our own sinfulness and our own misdeeds and share that as well. We’re so scared that someone will find out something that will disqualify us from being heard and believed, so we don’t share our mistakes, we don’t share the times we purposefully ignored God and did our own thing.
This is the basis of condescending criticism. This is the basis for every time we see something or someone we view as lower than ourselves and our own “proper” view, our own “right” perspective and we take time out of our busy lives to say or post something super critical and condescending about that person or their thoughts. And it’s highly anti-Jesus. It goes against everything Jesus stood for.
Jesus knew who He was and that informed how He approached the world and what He said. Jesus is the only one who can rightly condescendingly criticize because He is the only one on the high horse. He is the only one who is able to say about Himself that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15-16).
We have no place from which blatantly condescendingly criticize fellow humans. Jesus does. If we read through the Gospels, we see that Jesus was critical of those whose life goal it was to be critical.
The Right Way to Criticize
So if criticism in and of itself isn’t sinful, what is the right way to be critical? What is the right way to say something about someone or something that’s not correct? I think it has to have two characteristics.
First, it has to come from a place of humility. We can’t be self-congratulatory about our ability to spot falsehoods from a mile away when we talk about these things. We have no right to congratulate ourselves. And while that may not come across in our posting or our words, it can very well be an attitude of the heart. This is particularly difficult in the social media realm. On page 153 of his book The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication, Justin Wise aptly writes, “Social media catalyzes the ‘me first’ nature of sin. It accentuates our selfishness and destructive need for ego inflation.”
Criticism can never be about making ourselves look better. That was one part of the downfall of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. His attitude before God was that of “I’m better, he’s not, thank goodness.” We can’t ride that high horse in our attitudes when we criticize.
Second, it must be biblically-based criticism, not founded in Christian cultural or societal norms. Often those two can be one and the same, but how often is it not? How often do we make something a norm in the Christian culture that’s not lined up with Scripture? Look at Mark Driscoll. We criticized his methods when they didn’t line up with “how we do things normally.” That’s the criticism that more prevalently comes from the older generation towards the younger generation, but it’s common. That’s not a biblically-based criticism.
Criticism can never be based on our personal opinions. That was another part of the downfall of the Pharisee in the Luke 18 parable. From his perspective, his vantage point, he saw the way he did things and saw things as correct, and others were wrong. That high horse attitude can’t be had in the church.
I’ll Be Honest With You
This post was initially inspired by other people, but I can look at myself and my past and even my present and point to how I’ve been that person I’m writing about. I was intentional about using the word “we” when describing the people I’m talking about because I’m definitely part of that group.
In fact, I struggled a bit with whether or not I wanted to write this because I know that this post could come across as the very thing I’m criticizing. It could easily come across like I’m condescending. And, if I honestly examine my heart, I admit there’s some of that in my thoughts. There’s some of that thought that I have an insight you guys don’t and I need to share it or else the world will miss it.
I’ve been prideful about my “spiritual insight” and “biblical knowledge” for a long time, and it’s something I need to continue to remind myself that I have no place on that high horse. The Gospel gives me no right because the Gospel applied to me means that I have everything I have because of what Jesus did, not because of what I am or what I’ve learned or what I’ve said.
A couple examples from my Facebook feed:
So you can tell me that I’m a hypocrite and I’ll gladly nod along. I don’t even know for sure if what I’m saying in this post is proper criticism by my own definition.
All I can say is this: I’ve got to learn to live like Jesus. That will be a battle I fight for the rest of my life, a war I’ll face until I reach the grave. And I can’t help but look at myself and see my condescending attitude and think that has no place in my life, no place in the heart of a Christian.
But I can rejoice knowing that one day I’ll be healed from this attitude, healed from the condescending pride I hold in my heart.
I love America. Don’t ever get me wrong on that point.
I was in Dave & Buster’s the other night with a few friends. We had just arrived and were standing in the front of the restaurant and the gang was trying to decide what to do. I was watching the US women’s soccer team playing Germany in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup on a nearby TV. The U.S. was already leading 1-0, and while I was watching, they scored again. Skip to 1:32 in this video.
In the restaurant, in front of my friends and a bunch of strangers, I literally jumped in the air and got excited. I mean, it’s America. I haven’t followed the tournament super closely, and I know who maybe a quarter of the players are. But it’s America. I’ve gotta get pumped.
So now that you know I love America, let me say probably the most unpopular opinion in one half of the evangelical world right now: “returning” America to being a “Christian nation” is not the point of the church’s existence in the world.
With the gay marriage decision right behind us and many fears of the future ahead, there are lots more cries recently about how we’re becoming further and further from returning America to the “way the founders intended it.” Who am I kidding, I’ve been hearing this ever since I could hear and process and understand words. Sin is legal, people are saying, and now we’re even further down that path.
We’re not a Christian nation. We never have been and never will be. And that was never the point of the Gospel.
Let’s get technical for a second: To be a “Christian nation,” I think there has to be two things. First, every person living in the nation has to be a Christian. Second, every law and statute must be taken directly from the Bible. America stands for the opposite of that kind of religious oppression. From the beginning, the United States was meant to be a home for those who who found religious persecution in other nations.
That was the point of the free exercise clause in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” You can argue that this right is disappearing, but let’s be honest: rules are made to be broken, even by the institutions that made them. We shouldn’t be surprised.
At most, we have been a nation that is open to all religions and all peoples. What’s the inscription on the Statue of Liberty?
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Side note: Sounds a lot like Jesus to me. He wasn’t discriminate about what people believed or where they were in their spiritual walk, He just wanted to love them.
Anyways, the laws of this country restrict us from ever being a “Christian nation” in the technical sense of the term. And thank goodness! The whole “Christian nation” thing never really worked in the past. See England with the Catholic Church and then the Anglican church running things, and the people who made the Crusades happen. Yikes.
But I’m getting away from my main point. Politics aside.
It’s not the point of Jesus to make America a “Christian nation” in any sense of the term. If we focus too much on “healing the nation” and not the people in the nation, we’re missing the point of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to fix the government, He came to heal the sick and the lost.
When Jesus came to earth, some of the Jews thought He was going to lead a revolution against the Roman government and restore things to being friendly and un-oppressive to Jews. He was asked about this idea when He stood before Pilate hours before His execution.
John 18:33-37 says:
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
The kingdom of Christ was never meant to be established in this world. And by trying to make America a “Christian nation,” we’re missing the point of Jesus coming. Our goal as Christians is not to make the government better, pass laws or stop people from sinning. Our mission as Christians is to make disciples of all nations.
What happens is that we forget who we really are and where we’re really from and where we’re really headed. Our primary identity is not that we are American. It’s not that we are patriots. It’s not that we are from whatever state we’re from or whatever city we’re from. We can be those things and refer to ourselves as those things and enjoy those things.
But our primary allegiance is not the flag we say a pledge to or sing an anthem about. Our primary identity and primary allegiance is found in one place: God dying for us on a cross.
Ultimately, we’re not citizens of America or citizens of earth. Christians, we’re citizens of a place that’s going to last a lot longer than America. It’s a place where there’s freedoms unimagined, joy unrestrained, peace unbound.
That doesn’t mean you can’t love America. In fact, it should mean that we love America more than everyone else because we want everyone in America to see the beauty of Jesus, the beauty of forgiveness and the beauty of a life fulfilled by knowing Jesus.
I’m afraid that if Jesus came to America right now, people would ask Him to go to Washington, D.C., and talk to Obama, talk to Congress, get them to pass better laws. I’m guessing and hoping (and I could be wrong and I’m OK with that) that He would shake His head, and repeat something He said during His earthly ministry (Matthew 11:27-30):
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
This is the most fundamental of questions I can ask myself because the answer to it tells me so much about my identity, my purpose and my destiny.
And I’m not talking about my age, job, race, gender, etc. I’m talking about things that are eternal. Not defined by any genetic trait or man-given responsibility.
My identity: child of God, co-heir with Christ, beloved by God, brother to my fellow believers, forgiven of all sin past, present and future.
My purpose: make disciples, give glory in all things to God, follow God’s commands, live by grace.
My destiny: perfect sanctification, eternity with Christ.
It seems to me, however, that I disqualify myself from all of that every day. Why?
I sin. I disobey. Deliberately. I ignore the roadblocks to sin that God has put in my life and, like King Asa in 2 Chronicles 16, choose the one who is my enemy to give me peace and victory.
It may, for a minute, give me that “peace” and “victory.” However, it is short-lived, as the conviction of the Holy Spirit, acting like the seer Hanani, reminds me that God is looking out for me always. When I ignore Him, I am shunning His help.
I could respond as Asa, mocking the Holy Spirit, saying, “You are of no help to me. Go away!” But, by God’s grace, hopefully every time, I respond, as the tax collector Jesus spoke of in Luke 18, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
And only in that response is my already-earned justification proved! It is not a response I make on my own. It is a response that the Holy Spirit plucks out of the depths of my sinful ignorance and brings to the light as a repeated phrase.
But the guilt still weighs down! The guilt is heavy, Lord! What must I do in this moment of grief?
I remember my identity. Who am I?
Child of God. Called to make disciples. Forgiven of all sins, past, present and future. Destined for heaven. Regardless of what I do. Regardless of how many times I fail.
Why? Because it’s not an identity I gave myself. It comes from God, and therefore only God can change it. I can’t change it. You can’t change it. The world can’t change it.
So with the answer to that question, I’m left with one query.
I was sitting in my office yesterday, probably reading something on Twitter, when I turned to my right and saw that my blinds were closed. I’m fortunate enough to have an office that has a window. It’s great.
But today, I opened the blinds. I hadn’t opened them for a while. I guess looking outside didn’t do me much good before. But I figured I’d give it another shot.
I looked outside, and at first it wasn’t too bad. A little dreary, but not too bad. An hour later, rain was drizzling on my window, and it looked pretty bad outside. Why did I even open the window?
I thought having my blinds open in my office would let more light in and brighten up my day. Instead, all it is doing is reminding me how dreary it really is outside. I don’t know which I prefer: the pleasant deception or the grim truth.
I like to look at things as better than they actually are. Let’s be real: it’s just rosier and it makes me feel good inside.
It’s so much easier to look at the pleasant deceptions.
I want to look at my favorite sports team – Arsenal, a Premier League soccer team who is known for its incredible talent yet struggles to fulfill expectations – and think they’ve finally got a chance to win the league title this year.
I want to look at the state of the church and think we’ve got it all figured out.
I want to look at my country which I love and think we’ll make all the right decisions in how we handle conflicts at home and abroad.
I want to look at my family and think all disturbances will be resolved and love will reign supreme all the time.
I want to look at myself and think I’m generally a pretty good guy who makes mistakes every once in a while.
However, there are a few grim truths that I’m dying to avoid.
I look at Arsenal and realize that other teams in the league are just better and our players can’t stay healthy long enough to win a title.
I look at the church and realize that we’re an imperfect vessel that will always fall short of being a perfect vessel worthy of God’s service.
I look at my country and realize that there’s a bunch of imperfect people running it who will not always make the best decisions for me and my countrymen.
I look at my family and realize that there’s brokenness and sin that tears us apart at times.
I look at myself and realize that I’m a man who has fallen short of the glory of God over and over again.
There’s a real freedom in acknowledging the grim truths. It’s in the grim truths where the grace of God is found. Especially when I look at myself and see all the grim truths about me. I sin. I fall short. I’m never going to be enough for God on my own.
But in facing that grim truth, I see the grace of God, which is most definitely not a pleasant deception. A grim deception keeps me away from the pleasant truth that is the overwhelming, unfading, eternal, never-ending, grace of God, given through Christ.
And it’s a grace born out of love that will never end. And one day, all those issues will no longer be on my plate. EVER.
And, like Roman Reigns says, you can BELIEVE THAT.