‘Our Anxiety Is for Our Good’ — In The Midst of Madness Preview, Pt. 2

NOTE: This is the second preview excerpt of my book In The Midst of Madness: A Christian’s Experience with Anxiety and Finding Relief. The book will be available on Jan. 12, 2018.

Our Anxiety Is for Our Good

You might not believe me. And I wouldn’t blame you for doing so. If you suffer with the amount of anxiety that I do, I totally get it.

It sucks! It’s one of the worst things that you encounter on a regular basis. Sometimes it keeps you in bed. Sometimes it keeps you from interacting with those you love. Sometimes it keeps you from prayer, study of God’s Word, resting in His promises. But if we are to believe that Word and those promises, we have to accept and believe that our anxiety is for our good. Romans 8:28 says:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Those who love God and are called according to His purpose, that’s Christians. We who are Christians love God, and He’s called us to do all things for His glory, His purpose for our lives. So that’s us. And the Bible says that all things work together for good. Our good. Our best.

One of the ways in which He works all things together for our good is how He brings us salvation. He took our sinfulness, something we can’t get rid of on our own, and forgave us for it by sending Jesus to die on the cross and come back to life on the third day.

But it’s not just in how He deals with our sin nature. He works all things together for our good. ALL THINGS. I can’t emphasize this enough. ALL THINGS. Every single thing in our life works together for our good.

This is kind of hard to comprehend. Especially when it comes to dealing with our anxiety. That doesn’t seem like something that can be used for our good. But here are three reasons why:

1) It shows us our weaknesses.

We as a human race don’t like to look at or acknowledge our weaknesses. We don’t like to think about how much we suck at things. We don’t want people to point out our flaws, our scars, our inabilities. We don’t desire for others to know our deficiencies, our blemishes.

Sometimes that leads us to spending so much time trying to remind ourselves of our strengths that we forget that we are weak. And it is absolutely vital that we realize just how much we are weak, just how much we screw things up. Anxiety is a weakness, unfortunately. Sometimes we have no control over when it comes, but it’s a weakness nonetheless. And when we’re reminded of it, we’re reminded of the soft spots on our skin, the chinks in our armor.

2) Our weakness shows us that we need God.

We won’t make it on our own in this life. We need God. Our weakness shows us that we need God. God is the only one that can help us through those weaknesses, that can bring us through the hard times with the direction and purpose that we so desperately need.

He shows us that it’s OK to be weak, that it’s OK that we suck, because He’s there to pick us up, to carry us when we can’t carry ourselves, to provide the strength when we don’t have it. He does it by working through His Holy Spirit, by encouragement and challenge from His Word, by the people He surrounds us with.

3) God grows us through our anxiety.

When we deal with anxiety on a regular basis, we can learn how to deal with fear, how to fight against lies we tell ourselves, how to share our issues with others in moments of lack.

Through the rest of this book, we’ll discuss how we grow through our anxiety in different situations of life. We’ll talk about anxiety in school, relationships and other circumstances we find ourselves in that bring about panic. We’ll also dive into what it means to beat fear, one of the most central ingredients of anxiety. And then we’ll talk about the hope that exists even in the midst of anxiety.

I’ll share a lot of how I’ve grown through dealing with my anxiety in each of these areas. This is a very personal area of life for me. Because I’ve dealt with it so much, I’ve been itching to share my experiences with others in a book. It would be a waste for me to go through this and not try in some way to help at least one person with the anxiety they’re experiencing.

So as we move forward, just know that I’ve got you on my mind. I’m praying for you. And I hope that what I’ve learned, what I’ve experienced, can help you as well.

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Wanna Know What Terrifies Me? Death.

I’m a pretty fearful guy. I’m scared of a lot of things. Bugs, taking risks, going into the unknown. But nothing scares me more than death.

I was reading the story of Lazarus in John 11 this morning and I began to ponder death, when it comes, how I’ll feel, etc. There’s a very real possibility that I won’t be able to contemplate my death before it comes. I could die in a car accident, in a murder, a surprising heart attack. But I could also die a slow, peaceful death, in which I’ll have hours or maybe even days to think about what is going to happen.

As a Christian, I’m supposed to have assurance of what is next: eternity with God, streets of gold, all that jazz. And that’s awesome! I love it. But am I the only one who gets freaked out when thinking about all those things?

Dying is something that we have no firsthand experience of until it happens. Unlike a first marriage, first kid and many other firsts we hear about from others, we can’t speak to someone who has died about the experience of death. And then when we die, we can’t send word back to earth about it. I’ve often thought about if it was possible for me to send a “message in a bottle”-type word to friends and family when I’ve died, but I don’t think that’s a real thing. Sounds like something out of a movie.

Because of this lack of firsthand knowledge about how it goes, death freaks me out. And then another puzzling question comes.

What if I’m wrong about Jesus? What if there is nothing when we die? What if I’ve believed the wrong thing? What if, what if, what if?

I’d love to be able to tell you that I’m consistently trusting in God’s plan for me after my life here on earth is through, but I can’t. I have doubts. I have worries. I have concerns. Trying to contemplate the afterlife gives me a headache, I think because it’s such a mysterious, complex thing our feeble brains can’t handle.

To be honest with you, I’d love a Defending Your Life-type heaven where we get to eat as much food as we want and it’s all good and we play mini-golf and ride trams and just hang out with people for a few days. It seems quite relaxing, except for the whole judging-you-off-of-what-you-did-with-your-life part.

Back on the subject: I know that I have nothing really to worry about. If you’re in Christ, your future is secure and you are safe from eternity apart from God because of the blood of Jesus Christ. And I think it’s necessary for me to remind myself of this truth because my doubt comes very often.

There’s nothing wrong with doubting every once in a while. Doubt is something that’s a natural part of life because, as we said before, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the end from firsthand experience.

But for me, the hope and grace of the Gospel gives me comfort unlike anything else in these moments. I won’t believe the Gospel every minute of every day, unfortunately. That’s just real life. I have doubt and skepticism that creeps up every once in a while, sometimes to a crippling degree.

Thankfully, there’s grace to explore that doubt. God doesn’t leave me when I doubt him for a minute or 60. And He won’t leave me when I die either.

The Christian Culture of Condescending Criticism

Perhaps the most public not-so-subtle criticism of a pastor from someone within the Christian sphere came in February 2011, when evangelical stalwart John Piper tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell,” with a link to Justin Taylor’s quick reflection on a promotional video for Bell’s then-forthcoming book Love Wins.

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 “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.

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:

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.17.31 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.17.40 AM

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.

The Five Often Unexamined Characters of the Crucifixion We Have a Lot to Learn From

When you look at the story of the crucifixion, you see Jesus. And you should. He’s the center of the story.

But as the creative type that I am, I love seeing characters within stories and interactions they have with the central flow of action. There are characters other than Jesus who play an important role and from whom we have a lot to learn. Believers and non-believers, some government officials, a couple criminals.

This post is about those characters. My hope is that, the next time you read the crucifixion account, you think about these things and get a bigger grasp on the story of Jesus’ death and what lessons we can take from it and apply to our own lives.

I’ll be using the account in Luke 22:66-23:56. The link goes to the ESV version of the story. If you want, I encourage you to follow along. I’ll cite the Scripture in here if you can’t or don’t want to.

CHARACTER(s) NO. 1: CHIEF PRIESTS AND COUNCIL (22:66-23:2)

These are the villains of the story, and while there’s no sympathy for them to be given here in this tale, we can get a couple insights into their motivations and their mindset.

The first is in verses 67-68:

(They said” “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.”

The CPCs (chief priest and council people) were wanting proof that Jesus was who He said He was. And He was straight up with them and said, “Look, even if I tell you that I am, you won’t believe me. So why even ask?” In today’s culture, we see many people like this who are looking for proof of God and say that they’ll believe in Him when they see proof. But even when proof is given to them, they don’t believe.

This is evidence to me of one thing: real salvation and real life-change can only be brought about in the heart by the work of the Holy Spirit. God can use our evangelistic and even apologetics-based efforts in that process, but the real work is done by the Holy Spirit.

The second is in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 23:

Then the whole company of them [CPCs] arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.”

Except for the last charge, everything else the CPCs accused Jesus of were false accusations. In fact, Jesus was leading people in the right direction, towards God. He also was not forbidding them to give tribute to Caesar, but instead said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (20:25).

Critics of Jesus bring false accusations to the table that have no real foundation. We Christians often do the same thing when we get angry at God. We say He is things that He is not and He is not things that He is. We say He doesn’t have our best interests in mind. We say He is a liar.

CHARACTER NO. 2: PONTIUS PILATE (23:3-16)

This has always been the most interesting character to me in this story. Let’s see his first contribution, in 23:3-4 —

And Pilate asked him [Jesus], “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”

Pilate has the right view of Jesus, at the start and to a point. Pilate is the guy who looks at Jesus and sees nothing wrong with Him. This is half of the Gospel, that Jesus was sinless and did no wrong. However, Pilate’s view is only in the legal sense. But he carries this view throughout the whole of the story. Heading down to verse 14, after sending Jesus to be judged by Herod:

…and (Pilate) said to them [CPCs], “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him.”

Pilate saw right through the CPCs’ false accusations and saw Jesus as He truly was. That is a praiseworthy thing in itself. So while he often gets a bad rap, let’s give him some credit. But here’s where he falls short: he gives into the demands of the crowd. The image in Matthew 27 of Pilate washing his hands of Jesus’ blood stands out.

We can be people who see Jesus as He actually is but do nothing about it, not let it have any effect on our lives, our choices, our character, anything. Pilate is a great example of that. He had the right mindset, but He missed what that mindset was supposed to do to his life.

CHARACTER NO. 3: BARABBAS (23:18-25)

Barabbas is one of two silent characters in this group, and the only one who does not play an active role in Jesus’ death story. He is passive, and its his passivity that’s most important to us. He’s also incredibly symbolic. This is where the characters begin to look a little better.

He’s only mentioned once in the Luke account, in 23:18-19 —

But they [CPCs] all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas” – a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.

We don’t know much more about Barabbas other than that he was pardoned and Jesus literally died in his place. Barabbas was set for execution, but thanks to a Passover tradition, he got to go free. We see the contrast and the ludicrousness of it in verses 24-25:

So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.

Let’s do a little character replacement here. Replace the CPCs with God and Barabbas with you, Christian. God demands you. Justice says that you are the one who needs to die for your sin, the one who must pay the price for what you’ve done against Him. But God demands, insists, that He must have you free. Who will replace you on the execution block? Why, it’s Jesus.

That’s the Gospel. Barabbas is the literal Gospel come to life. He deserved to die for his sin, but Jesus literally died in his place. He is the first recipient, in a way, of the grace of Jesus. So next time you read, put yourself in the shoes of Barabbas and consider how that might have felt, what that must have meant, in a way.

CHARACTER NO. 4: REPENTANT CRIMINAL (23:39-43)

Skipping over a chunk of the story, we fast-forward to Jesus hanging on the cross, planted between two criminals hanging on crosses on the hill of Golgotha. Let’s get to it:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I love this because this is the Christian. The Christian is someone who realizes that he deserves punishment for his sin and Jesus is perfect. Realizing this, he seeks Jesus for entry into eternal life.

This is who we should desire to be in this story. This is the only time we meet him, the only chance we get to interact with him, but he is the one person who goes through any part of this process and his life is changed by it, the one that we know of at least. He saw Jesus as He was and, unlike Pilate, his life was changed by it.

This is the appropriate response to meeting Jesus, seeing your sinfulness and realizing there’s no other way to find eternal life but through Him. I am the repentant criminal. By God’s grace, I’m not the unrepentant criminal but the one who repented.

CHARACTER NO. 5: JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA (23:50-53)

I noticed something about my boy Joey here this most recent time I read this story. Let’s see here in verses 50-51:

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God.

I had not noticed before that he was part of the CPCs. Joey was against the actions of the council and was seeking after God and saw that Jesus was the way to the kingdom of God.

It’s possible to be a Pharisee and love Jesus, apparently. It reminds me of growing up in the church and being around a lot of law-insisting and righteousness-seeking. Then, you meet Jesus and you’re seeking after the kingdom of God in the right way. I would love to talk to Joey to see what it was like to be in this situation as this character.

Were there any rarely- or under-discussed characters that I missed? Any thoughts on the characters I mentioned? Comment below!

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.

Three Keys to Talking About “Hard Stuff” in the Church Context

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

I’ve been a lot more outspoken recently in groups of people about how I think the church is not willing to talk about certain things, and I’ve gotten an interesting reaction.

What I’ve found is this: those over 35 are quicker to say that that’s not true, that we can talk about things, even hard things, in church without a problem. It’s got to be in the “right” context, yes, but we can talk about. On the other hand, younger folk feel as if certain topics aren’t allowed to be talked about, aren’t allowed to be discussed, particularly the ones most pertinent to their lives. For instance, some of the things I’ve written about in the previous posts in this series.

Why is that, I wonder? There’s a few possible reasons.

  1. The older generation does talk about these things but the younger folk feel excluded from these conversations.
  2. The older generation thinks that these conversations happen but they actually don’t.
  3. The younger folk are not seeing/taking part in these conversations even though they’re happening right in front of them.

I don’t know why, but for some reason that’s what the perceived reality is in the current church context. And there’s only one way to fix it, in my mind. Have the conversations in a broader context. Just talk about it, for goodness’ sake. From my reading of the Bible, there are no restrictions on who you should talk about things with, when you should talk about them, how much you should share. In fact, Scripture says, “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16), “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). So whether it’s sins we’re talking about or difficult culturally relevant topics, the command in Scripture is to talk.

But how do we talk about it? What are the keys to having conversations about difficult issues and topics and growing the church to a place where we talk about these difficult things?


 

Remember the Gospel of grace is your foundational identity.

There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

If we have a full grasp of the Gospel, we will talk about our sin without worry of condemnation. The central point of the Gospel is that we have been given new life in Christ and our sin no longer has a grip on us and our eternity. The more that I’ve grasped this, the more I’ve felt comfortable talking about the things in my life I struggle with.

So often I think we hide things because we’re afraid of what people will think of us. I think that a lot for myself. I want to share current personal struggles, but I’m afraid of what people will think of me. I’m afraid people will trust me less, will think of me as less of a Christian, will not allow me to serve in ways I want to serve in the church. But if my identity is firmly set in Jesus and the cross and the forgiveness and grace the cross offers, the less I will worry about what people think of me. That doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with people’s views of me. It’s a process that takes time, but it’s one worth investing in.

Be intentional about including all ages in your conversations. And do it in love and understanding and patience.

If you’re going to start discussing things like racism, mental illness or profanity, it’s very likely that those under 18 are struggling with those things. If you’re going to talk about social media, technology use or modern dating/relationships, it’s likely that those over 35 aren’t as comfortable with those things. We as a church need each other. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul tells his young companion: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” There seems to be an emphasis on building relationships between age groups, not curtaining them off all the time. I think there’s good to limiting some groups to specific age groups for certain conversations, but there’s also a point to where we need each other.

One fear, especially from the younger crowd pertaining to including the older crowd, is that there won’t be a mutual respect of opinions. There are times I’ve definitely felt that older men don’t respect my opinion or even my feelings on a topic simply because I don’t have the same “life experience” as them. There is some truth to that opinion, but there is no quicker way to make a young person feel less valuable than to say (audibly or by your actions) what they think or feel doesn’t matter because they haven’t experienced enough. Some of us have experienced a lot. Eighteen years is a lot of life. Heck, fifteen years is a lot of life.

Please, be inclusionary. And don’t write us off just because we were born much later than you.

For the love of all things raven, don’t use “Christianese” all the time. Be specific.

One of the most obnoxious things I find about talking about hard stuff in the church today is that we throw out all the churchy phrases we can come up with to mask what’s really going on or what our real thoughts are. We bash politicians for being “politically correct” and then we get all “Christian-politically correct” in church. We end up sounding like these guys:

He’s really T’ing me off. I’m gonna kick his A.

Just talk about how you really feel and what you’re really dealing with. Not just what you dealt with many years ago, but what sins you dealt with earlier this morning. Just talking about things in a general way accomplishes nothing but glossing over the issue. If you’re a doctor, you don’t speak about cancer to your patient in general terms. You speak specifically about what kind of cancer it is, what the specific treatment is going to be. Let’s do the same. Let’s not gloss it over with phrases like, “I’m really struggling with sin” or “There’s a lot of gray area.” Just be specific!


 

This wraps up my series on talking about the “hard stuff” in church. Would love to dialogue with you about it if you want to discuss anything I’ve said. Just shoot me an e-mail at zacharyhornereu@gmail.com or tweet at me at @zacharyhorner.


 

On My Depression, My Anxiety and Following Jesus: It’s Not Really a Contradiction

One of the most devastating things that can happen to me is going to bed.

Don’t get me wrong: I love sleep. I love getting rested for the next day, whatever that day may bring. I love waking up refreshed. But if I go to my room, shut the door, turn off the lights and it get silent, I’m done for.

Why is that? Well, my mind starts to go nuts. I start calculating, thinking, analyzing whatever big thing it is that’s on my plate at the moment. It could be something to do with work, relationships, fighting sin, following Jesus. And this happens just about every night. I’ve gotten a lot better over the last year at controlling it and handling it, but there are still some nights where it’s a knock-down, drag-out fight with my own brain just to get to sleep.

I have anxiety, but more than the normal person. Or so I’m told. I look at other people and how they live their lives and how they seem to be so carefree and I’m thinking, “How the heck do you do that?” I’ve also dealt with bouts of severe depression, so much so that I’ve started taking anti-depressant medication.

But before I get any further, let me start at the beginning.

My Shy, Nervous Childhood

I don’t blame my parents for any of this. Just want to make sure that’s made clear.

Growing up, I was pretty shy. I’m not the kid who’s going to walk up to you in the park and say hello or tell you that your shoes are awesome. Now I think it’s adorable when kids do that, but I never thought that was a good idea when I was younger. I remember my parents taking me to events and introducing me to people, and I would shake hands as firm as I could, but I would mutter a “hello” or “nice to meet you” under my breath.

I think this is just a part of how I was made, part of my personality I can’t change. I still have moments like that today when I meet new people. Ask any of my friends who have introduced me to their friends; they’ll probably tell you that, except on the rarest of occasions, I don’t warm up to the idea of meeting or hanging out with new people.

O'Neal. And a dog.

O’Neal. And a dog.

When I was entering the fifth grade, I moved to a new school, The O’Neal School in Southern Pines, N.C. It’s a fantastic school where I basically prepared for college from the time I got there until the time I graduated. Nothing about college academically threw me off. But socially, O’Neal was a nightmare, particularly in middle school. My naturally shy personality led to me trying to do everything I possibly could to get people to think I was cool, girls to have a crush on me and not to get ignored. I got in two fights in fifth grade trying to “defend my honor.” I was really just being shy and insecure, trying to show off and get people thinking I was cool.

Case in point: I remember playing basketball at recess one day that year. A couple sixth graders were standing just off the court and were talking about me. “You see that kid?” one said, pointing at me. “He gets angry and wants to start fighting people.” (Side note: I don’t remember if those were the exact words, but something like those.) I heard him say that and started looking for an opportunity to get ticked at somebody. I found it, and shoved someone. Nothing really came of it, but it’s an exemplary story of where I was in fifth grade. I wanted people to know who I was, talk about me, etc.

As I progressed through middle school, my need to fight diminished but my need for attention and affirmation rose. I don’t think I was any different from any other sixth or seventh grader. I wanted girls (particularly the cute ones) to like me, guys to think I was cool and to get good grades. That last one is just one example of where my Christian upbringing had an interesting impact. I wanted to fit in and I wanted to be cool, but I didn’t want to do it at the expense of being a “good guy.” I’ve written before about my goody-two-shoesedness. I had to be the “best kid” in the whole school.

When it came to girls, it was especially complicated. I wanted to look at girls the “right way,” not going around comparing which one was the “hottest.” I also didn’t want to scare them away, which happened in the eighth grade. Long story short, I freaked one girl out, in her words. Not exactly my brightest shining moment.

So I left middle school and transitioned to high school trying to get people to like me, all the while not trying to freak out girls and be a “good Christian kid.” As if algebra and chemistry didn’t give me enough to worry about already.

My Lonely, Depressed High School Years

I went to high school and found myself resorting to a lot of the same patterns. I had legitimately become a believer during the summer before my ninth grade year, but little seemed to change. I still wanted people to like me, particularly girls, and I wanted to do the right thing. Those things often collided.

There were a couple weeks during my freshman year of high school when I cussed about every chance I could. Never at home, and almost never at church (I did under my breath once), but at school, I let it fly. One time in particular, I got ticked at someone on the basketball court (I’m seeing a pattern here), and let loose a string of expletives so prolific that led someone to tell me that I cussed pretty good. That gave me a sense of satisfaction, that someone saw something I did and recognized it as good.

Let me go ahead and throw something else in here: my parents and my home life were great. I have nothing to complain about there. The issues all came at school. The thing about being at school when you’re that age is that’s where you spend the majority of your time. From 8 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday, you’re surrounded by the same people, doing the same thing, in the same building(s), for four years. That’s at least 35 hours a week, minus the summers, for four whole years. Add in extra-curricular activities, and it’s more. You feel a need to prove yourself.

Things got a little better during my sophomore year. I got into filmmaking and made a short film that won me an award at my school’s small film festival (trailer here). There was some recognition from people and some friendships that were really blossoming. I had my first girlfriend the summer afterwards. Things seemed to be looking up.

Then: depression. For some reason, my junior year was the hardest year of my life up to that point. I had girlfriends during that time, things seemed to be, on the outside, going quite well. People liked me, I was getting along with girls. But something just turned in me. Looking back, I can’t seem to explain why. But at school, things were awful. I felt that no one at school liked me or cared about me. I didn’t think I had any friends. The people that I loved hanging out with the year before didn’t seem to be “caring enough” for me anymore. Again, I can’t explain it.

Me and some of the guys I graduated with.

Me and some of the guys I graduated with.

I would spend all my free periods and sometimes lunch periods sitting away from everyone else. When I started driving to school in the November of that year, I would take those periods in my car, watching episodes of The Office and just generally trying to stay away from people. I didn’t think people liked me, so I figured it would just be easier for me and them for me to stay away.

Let me remind you: I had no real logical basis for this. I had no empirical evidence that people hated me or didn’t want to hang out with me. I’m sure there were people who wouldn’t choose to hang out with me, but you get that everywhere. Anyways, I imagined all or most of it. My anxious desire for people to like me led me to take the slightest probability that someone didn’t want to talk to me and run with it, believing that that person didn’t care if I was alive or not.

During this time, there were occasional moments when I wrestled with thoughts of suicide. I never got serious about it, planned anything. There were just brief moments when I would consider it, consider what it would be like, then shake myself and realize that was not a good idea.

Life continued like that throughout my junior year. As senior year rolled in, things continued. The relationship I was in was not healthy, and that just complicated matters as I spent hours a day trying to figure out what to do. Deciding to go to Elon University didn’t take a lot out of me as most students’ college decisions do; I applied early decision and found out October 31st I was in.

I ended the relationship I was in during the January of my senior year and things started to look up. My depression began to fade as I made new friends, enjoyed life, had some fun. I made a short film that’s probably one of the most depressing short films about high school relationships ever if you understand it properly. But I had fun doing it. I went to my senior prom with a girl I had a crush on, but I think she was just being nice. But I didn’t take it too seriously. It was great!

I went into college with a little bit of anticipation, but mainly just looking forward to what was ahead, learning how to be a filmmaker, learning how to make movies that glorified God.

College Years of Anxious Depression

I went into college and things started off with a bang. The first night on my hall, a group of about 10 of us worked on putting together one of our new friend’s set of drawers, just hanging out, getting to know each other, having a laugh. I was ready to deal with some of the awkwardness of being around non-Christians a lot – I was one of a few Christians in my entire high school, my brother being one of the other ones – but didn’t exactly handle it well, coming across as quite self-righteous.

Once again, though, I fell into the trap of wanting to impress people and make them like me. But it was a different kind of trap. My anxiety revolved around wanting Christians to like me. I had grown in my faith to the point where it was involved in just about everything I did, and I realized that worrying about how non-Christians perceived me because of it was not helpful. But Christians was another story.

My dudes Eugene (left) and Ryan. Shout-out to Jerry, too.

My dudes Eugene (left) and Ryan. Shout-out to Jerry, too.

During my freshman year of college, the ministry I got involved with was super-loving, super-welcoming and I really enjoyed their company and their ministry. But the next year, I started hanging out with another ministry and, for whatever reason, all the old anxieties and depression came back up. I don’t blame the ministry for it. But being around new people and trying to make new friends brought up all the old feelings from fifth grade – the insecurity and the shyness I naturally carried just reared its ugly head again.

During my sophomore year, I was the RA on my hall, which started off wonderfully, but ended in a mess when a couple bad conversations and questionable decisions by me and others led to factions and divisions in a formerly tight-knit community. I felt solely responsible for the whole thing, and that took its toll.

Another thing I began to realize around this time is how sinful I was. And somehow I missed out on grace and the Gospel and how that applied to me every day. I knew the Gospel, believed the Gospel, but ignored the everyday affects of the Gospel in the life of a Christian. I struggled with sin daily and took it so hard. I became the opposite of the self-righteous person I was in middle and high school. I went from thinking “Oh look at me, I’m such an awesome Christian” to “Oh, don’t look at me, I’m the worst Christian in the world.” So now not only was I anxious about how people viewed me and grades in college, I also had to worry about my sin. “Had” is the operative word there; I didn’t absolutely “have” to worry about it, but it seemed like I did.

And, to be real with you all, I dealt with that until I graduated. Through overseas mission trips, multiple small groups, leading a weekly prayer meeting, living with other believers, I was anxious.

Really Examining the Depression

I haven’t really gotten much into the depression part of things, but it was mainly my anxiety that fed my depression. I would get anxious and overthink something, and then I would get sad about it.

Depression is awful. I can’t exactly put into words exactly what it is but here’s a shot: a condition where you fall very easily into a crippling sadness. The key word there is “crippling.” The Mayo Clinic staff define depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest…it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety or emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living.”

I’d say that’s pretty accurate for me. Sometimes the littlest things could set me off into a stretch of depression. It could be a stray word in conversation or a certain look someone gave me, or a life-altering event that threw my previous plans in a tizzy or a serious losing bout with sin and temptation. And it’s not something you can simply “snap out of,” or just quit.

It’s so easy, when you see someone who is at that very moment depressed, to just say, “try smiling” or “just push forward” or “let go and let God.”But it’s not that simple. It’s not that easy. If it were that easy, almost no one would still be dealing with depression. Most people don’t want to feel sad. But for some, it just comes. And it’s not something we can control.

One of the things that made me feel even more depressed was the thought that Christians shouldn’t struggle with depression. We’re supposed to be joyful and happy all the time, right? Was I really that rebellious that I felt sad at random times for seemingly no reason? Was I that bad a Christian? This led me to doubt my faith, doubt that I was really saved, doubt that I actually had a relationship with Jesus. There were a few times I begged God to save me again if necessary.

1486020_10151972604442054_1292725511_o

That boy Trip Lee.

And for the most part, I held it inside. There were a couple times I did say something about the anxiety and depression, but I felt, for the most part, people didn’t know how to handle it. Christians didn’t know how to handle it. I remember one time being super honest and transparent about all the things I was dealing with, but the person just told me to change myself, do something different. I wanted to yell “It’s not that simple!,” but I didn’t have the guts to.

As I left college and moved back in with my parents, I began to confront this anxiety and depression head-on. I was tired of it affecting my work, my relationships with others and my relationship with God. There’s been some growing and some maturity, but I still struggle with it from time-to-time. As I said before, I’m taking anti-depressant medication to help with it, but there have been two things I’ve realized that have greatly helped me.

Grace and Sovereignty

The thing that I realized that has helped me with my depression is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s grace.

One of the most common forms my depression has taken is condemnation for past and present sins, sometimes future sins. I’ll look at myself and realize how much I suck, and then I get down. Sometimes I’ll think about how my present sins are going to affect my future and get depressed. There is no remedy for that greater than grace. Romans 8:1, which I’ve quoted at least 15 times on this blog as a whole, says there’s absolutely no condemnation for those in Christ. 1 John 4:10 says that love is defined by how God loves me, not by how I love Him.

That was so freeing to me! By the time I walked across the stage at Elon to receive my diploma, the majority of my depression came from my lack of obedience. I would sin in some way, and then I’d feel like crap. When I finally realized the depth of this, the width of the love which God has for me, it began to free me up to actually love myself and allow God’s love to guide me and fill me. I began to hold my sin against myself less and less. I began to believe the good things people said about me and actually be encouraged by others.

The thing that I realized that has helped me with my anxiety is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s sovereignty.

The majority of my anxiety has come from my fear of the unknown: what do they think about me, what will I do next, how do I handle this situation. I’ll feel helpless and unable to do anything right. Couple that with my fear of making the “wrong decision,” and it’s a deadly cocktail. There’s no remedy for that greater than God’s sovereignty. Romans 8:28, which I’ve quoted at least 7 times on this blog as a whole, says God works all things together for good those who love God and are called according to His purpose, so Christians.

This was so freeing to me! I can trust God with my unknowns and the decisions I make knowing that, whatever happens, EVERYTHING will work together for my good and God’s glory. And praise Him that it’s not my definition of my good, because that would turn out to be an absolutely dreadful definition. God’s timing is perfect, the cliché goes. It’s a cliché because it’s true. When I finally realized the meaning of this, it gave me so much more peace about decisions I’ll make, events happening around me. I began to be less and less anxious by default about things in my life, little decisions, big decisions, relationships, etc.

So the question is: am I healed from those things? No.

What? But you just said…

I know. I’m almost 100 percent convinced that these things will be things I carry to the grave with me. Thorns in the flesh, if you will. Rarely does an hour go by when I don’t spend at least two or three minutes collectively over-worrying about something I don’t need to worry about at all. It’s almost a constant thing for me, a constant analysis. I’m like those guys who comment on the NFL Draft Combine, but there’s a combine in my head almost all the time. I’ve gotten better at turning the volume down at times, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally off.

Why Do I Share This

As I’ve probably written before, “why” is my favorite question in all of language. You can learn so much about someone from getting them to answer the question why.

I share these things with you for a few reasons.

For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are Christians: You’re not alone. We’re out here. And don’t feel guilty for struggling with these things. If you look at Scripture, you’ll find people who had anxiety and depression. Read Jeremiah. Read Job. Charles Spurgeon struggled heavily with depression during seasons of his ministry. Dealing with these things does not disqualify you from being loved by God or being used by God. If you ever want to talk about it, please reach out to me. I’d love to speak with you.

For those who don’t struggle: Please take the time to read articles like mine or this one or this one. Mental illness is often not handled well by the body of Christ, and most people who write about it come at it from a scientific or outsider’s point of view. The science part of it can be very helpful, true, but there’s nothing like getting down in the trenches. Speak with those who do struggle. Love them enough to let them share this struggle with you. This is a very personal issue that is hard for most people to share about. I don’t relish speaking about this for the most part. Please don’t judge. Be patient. Be understanding.

Me and two of my longest friends. And by that I mean longest time, not longest anything else.

Me and two of my longest friends. And by that I mean longest time, not longest anything else.

For those who are in ministry: I beg of you, come alongside those who deal with this and don’t just rush to saying, “You have to think this way or have this attitude,” and expect it to be fixed. The conclusions I came to about grace and sovereignty weren’t fix-alls. When I’m reminded of them, there’s relief and peace, but it doesn’t stay. It’s a thing I have to be constantly reminded of, either by myself or others. We don’t need ministers who treat depression and anxiety with kid gloves or a casting-off glance. It’s a fearful thing for some of us to be honest about it.

For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are not Christians: I can’t tell you that following Jesus cures me. But I can tell you that following Jesus gives me reason to push forward and continue to live my life with a joy I can’t explain. Give Him a shot.

If anyone has questions or wants more thoughts from someone who’s been there, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at zacharyhornereu@gmail.com or tweet at me at @zacharyhorner.

I hope as you’ve read this that, if you’re a regular reader of my blog (which there might just be 5 or 6 of you), you’re getting a better understanding of where I’m coming from in most of what I write.

Love you guys.

116 Dissected: What Does It Mean to Be Unashamed of the Gospel?

One of the more popular rallying cries in my generation is “116!” It’s based in the Christian hip-hop collective 116 Clique, based out of Reach Records. It comes from Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” There’s even a really popular song about it.

I was thinking about this verse yesterday. So often in Christianity, we rally around verses or statements – often in that ever-confusing language of Christianese – that we may not fully understand what they mean, but they sound really good, and people usually know the general idea of what we mean when we say them. Well, Christians do at least. I speak in a lot of Christianese around Christians.

But lately I’ve been asking myself this question a lot – “What do you/I mean by that?”

Applied here: When we say “116,” what are we really saying?

If we’re not ashamed of the gospel, I reasoned yesterday, it would make sense that we’re not ashamed of each and every part of the gospel. So what are the parts of the gospel? God is real. We’re sinful. God offers grace. We’re called to live for Him and make disciples. What does it mean to be unashamed of each of those things?

——

Unashamed of God’s existence.

God is real. God exists. God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:17). “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me” (Psalm 116:5-6). And God has established the possibility for mankind, who He created, to have a relationship with Him. All we must do is be called righteous before Him. And because He is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, what He says is true and right and must be obeyed.

To be unashamed of God’s existence means I acknowledge His existence before others. I do not deny there is a God. I rely on the fact that God is everywhere. And that can be really encouraging! Hebrews 13:5 tells us that God will never leave us nor forsake us. If I’m unashamed of God’s existence, I recall to mind that He is with His children, He is with me, and will never leave me. He does not abandon my soul to death. He stays. He loves.

Unashamed of your sinfulness.

I struggle at this thing called life. I fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) every single day. There’s jealousy, bitterness, doubt, lust, sin in my heart. I naturally rebel against God and His Word. I am not faithful to His commands for my life. And that’s from the beginning – “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11).

To be unashamed of my sinfulness means that I acknowledge my sinfulness before others. I don’t pretend that I have it all together. I don’t act like I don’t mess up. But I also do not get discouraged because of my sinfulness or beat myself up because of it. It’s a natural thing for me to sin. I should desire to not sin, but so often I find myself overly frustrated. It’s an important part of following Jesus that we are OK with the fact that we are imperfect, because that makes the next part 100 times better.

Unashamed of God’s grace.

God gives grace for our sinfulness. It’s the only way we can be restored to a right relationship with Him. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). We deserve death for our sins, but God offers, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, forgiveness of those sins and a right relationship with Him because He loves us. This is the most desperate need of mankind: to be forgiven out of love, not out of convenience or obligation.

To be unashamed of God’s grace means that I preach it, I teach it, I proclaim it! It’s the most important thing I could ever believe. If I don’t believe this, I am hopeless. To be unashamed of God’s grace also means that I don’t think I am beyond it, either pridefully or disparagingly. I must not think that I am too good for God’s grace, but I must also not think I am too bad for God’s grace. As Jerry Bridges writes in his excellent book The Discipline of Grace: “Our worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”

Unashamed of your calling.

The Christian is called to do a lot of things, but I think they’re all wrapped up in two statements, one by Jesus and the other by Paul. First, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Second, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That is the crux of our calling.

To be unashamed of my calling means that I seek ways to live this out. Am I serving in my local church? Am I growing in my faith by reading my Bible, praying or spending time in spiritual, intentional conversation with Christian community? Am I doing things to make God look better me? What is my attitude when I approach work/ministry/personal time? Am I embarrassed to live this way?

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I hope this has been encouraging to you as you seek to live the 116 way, completely unashamed of the whole gospel. Not just unashamed of who God is, or the fact you’ve been forgiven, but the whole gospel, each and every part of it. I know this has been challenging to me.

My generation (early high school to 20-somethings), let’s live unashamed! All believers, live unashamed. Of EVERY part of the gospel.

Something The Princess Bride Taught Me About the Gospel Yesterday

One of my favorite lines in the classic 80s film The Princess Bride (which is my all-time favorite movie, by the way) comes from Westley, the farm boy-turned-pirate who goes to great lengths to get back to his true love, Buttercup, after a long stretch of separation where she feared him dead. In one of the climactic scenes in the relationship between Westley and Buttercup, he shares a great bit of wisdom about true love. Watch the clip below:

The line: “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”

Buttercup: “I will never doubt again.”

Westley: “There will never be a need.”

Let’s make this comparison with the disciples and Jesus. They had developed a strong relationship with Him during His time with them. But then He dies on the cross and they’re in hiding, they’re afraid to associate with him. I gotta imagine there were some strong doubts in their minds about whether or not they should have even followed Him in the first place.

In the film, Buttercup seems to move on, even saying to herself, “I will never love again.” She quits. Her true love is gone, so why even bother giving it another shot? She gets engaged to Prince Humperdinck, who she doesn’t love but since he’s the law of the land she doesn’t really have a choice.

Then Westley returns. It kinda sneaks up on her, but she realizes it and they have the exchange you saw in the video above.

In the same way, Jesus returns. It’s three days, not a few years. And the disciples are changed in such a way that they go from despair to ready to commit their lives to spreading the gospel, dying for it.

Jesus died, yes. He went away for a little bit. But not only did death not stop true love, it was the ultimate act of true love. And because death could not stop true love – the love that Jesus has for us – we have no need to ever doubt. We can go from saying, “I will never love again,” to, “I will never need to doubt again.”

That’s true love. A love that, even if it may look or feel like it’s left, never has and never will.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:9-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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