The Church Culture of Shame

I was way too young to understand anything that went on in the Monica Lewinsky scandal that grabbed America’s attention in 1998. I can’t even remember when I first heard about it, to be honest with you. I would have been 5 years old back then, so even if I had known, I would have had no reference point for what adultery was or how crazy it was that the President of the United States was involved in it.

I still didn’t know all that much about it until today, when I was looking over a list of nominees for the 2015 National Magazine Awards on longform.org. Having graduated from college with a degree in journalism and still loving to write, I enjoy a good longform story. I perused the articles and found a link to Monica Lewinsky’s first-person essay in Vanity Fair that was published in May of last year. You can read it here.

She starts out her essay this way:

‘How does it feel to be America’s premier blow-job queen?”

It was early 2001. I was sitting on the stage of New York’s Cooper Union in the middle of taping a Q&A for an HBO documentary. I was the subject. And I was thunderstruck.

Hundreds of people in the audience, mostly students, were staring at me, many with their mouths agape, wondering if I would dare to answer this question.

The main reason I had agreed to participate in the program was not to rehash or revise the story line of Interngate but to try to shift the focus to meaningful issues. Many troubling political and judicial questions had been brought to light by the investigation and impeachment of President Bill Clinton. But the most egregious had been generally ignored. People seemed indifferent to the deeper matters at hand, such as the erosion of private life in the public sphere, the balance of power and gender inequality in politics and media, and the erosion of legal protections to ensure that neither a parent nor a child should ever have to testify against each other.

How naïve I was.

She ended up answering the question. I really encourage you to read the whole piece because 1) it’s incredible writing, 2) it’s historically significant and 3) it reveals something we may already know.

We are a culture who likes shame. We don’t like to feel shame ourselves, of course, but when it comes to others, shame sometimes seems to be our first reaction. Monica Lewinsky, the Washington Redskins refusing to change their name, Barack Obama’s failure to attend a march in France, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences”snubbing” the MLK-centered film Selma from some major awards categories. We love shaming people and places and organizations that have fallen short in our eyes.

And through Lewinsky’s essay, we get a really good glimpse into what that looks like. Another bit from her essay:

Yes, we’re all connected now. We can tweet a revolution in the streets or chronicle achievements large and small. But we’re also caught in a feedback loop of defame and shame, one in which we have become both perps and victims. We may not have become a crueler society—although it sure feels as if we have—but the Internet has seismically shifted the tone of our interactions. The ease, the speed, and the distance that our electronic devices afford us can also make us colder, more glib, and less concerned about the consequences of our pranks and prejudice. Having lived humiliation in the most intimate possible way, I marvel at how willingly we have all signed on to this new way of being.

Let me say this: I don’t excuse her choices or her actions. Monica Lewinsky messed up, and Bill Clinton messed up, and they definitely have no excuses. And in the essay, Lewinsky says she wishes she could go back and erase that scandal happening.

But the stigma of being “that woman” will stick with her for the rest of her life and then onwards because that’s the society we live in today. She may not be convinced that we “have become a crueler society,” but I think there’s lots of evidence that we have become just that. We are generally unforgiving and unaccepting of wrongs as a culture. We revel in other’s misfortune, whether they earned it or not. We gravitate towards wrongdoing. It’s like that old saying about a car crash. It’s ugly to see, but you just can’t help but look.

Some of this gravitation towards wrongdoing is necessary and right. Racism? Yes, we should be talking about it and working against it. We should be speaking out and saying that all of mankind is created equal in the image of God, and each one of us deserves respect no matter the color of our skin, the ethnicity of our parents or the size of our bank accounts. Sex trafficking and slavery? Yes, we should be talking about it and working against it. No one should be forced to be a slave to anyone for anything, particularly for the perverse pleasure and sexual fulfillment of mostly men.

But the culture of shame that perpetrates through celebrities’ marriage troubles and political decisions is a shame. We don’t give others the benefit of the doubt that we beg to be shown to us. And, unfortunately, I think this has creeped into the body of Christ.

A Guy I Admired, He Sinned. 

I wrote a blog post back in October about “selfish holiness,” and how often I fall into the trap of overly-criticizing Christians for being critical of Christians. I admit it: I do it. My self-righteousness is a constant weight on my back, eating away at my attempts to bring God glory in all I do. But I want to re-emphasize what I said while looking at Mark Driscoll.

For those of you who don’t know who Mark Driscoll is or what his story is, he was the pastor and founder of Mars Hill Church, which was a multi-campus church on the west coast that was based out of Seattle, Washington. He was known for his aggressive yet conservative style of preaching. An example:

 

He’s right, by the way.

But the yelling and the language and the confrontation got to some people in the wrong way. And then there were reports of plagiarism in some of his books. And then a lack of submission to confrontation from others. And overwhelming pride. And some comments on a forum under a different name a long time ago. And some other things. Read this story here for some more context.

All things that were sinful. Not questioning that. And I’m not questioning that those things should have been brought to the light. But the tenacity and the thoroughness with which Christians investigated and shamed him is upsetting to me. There’s a whole website dedicated to it, for goodness’ sake, filled with articles nitpicking and analyzing anything and everything that Driscoll has said or done in his ministry.

Just like we do with Barack Obama. Just like we did with Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. The culture of shame has entered the church. We are best at shooting down our own. In this video of Driscoll at the Gateway Conference in California back in October, he says that his family had to move three times to avoid death threats:

 

Something that Robert Morris, the pastor at Gateway Church where the conference was held, says in the video struck me (emphasis mine): “We could crucify him (Driscoll), but since someone has already been crucified for him, the other choice is we could restore him with a spirit of gentleness considering ourselves lest we are tempted. It’s sad that in the church we are the only army that shoots at our wounded.”

It seems as if there’s no freedom to sin in the church. There’s no freedom to mess up and get an honest second chance because things get ruined for you when you mess up the first time. And it might seem like it’s just the leaders. But is it too unrealistic to think that this might be affecting the church as a whole? Our attitude towards people like Mark Driscoll can encourage a church-wide shaming of people who sin, so we might be afraid of being honest about our sin.

I really enjoyed listening to Mark Driscoll. Just about every time I listened to a sermon of his, I was challenged and encouraged with strong, bold biblical truth. I loved it. I loved his ministry to the Gospel-starved city of Seattle. And when he “fell,” my first response, honestly, was disappointment. When anyone lets you down, there is bound to be disappointment. But as the saga wore on and as I loosely followed it, I was disappointed by the reaction of the Christian community. Should he have been removed from his positions in different ministries, even his church? Perhaps. But the vitriol and the lack of forgiveness after repeated apologies made me wonder, “What in the world are we accomplishing by this reaction to a guy doing what he does every day, sinning?”

This Is Where The Gospel Makes Sense.

After capping off the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

I am incredibly guilty of not following through on this. I still hold things against people from years ago, and it’s life-sucking and joy-killing. I refuse to forgive, I refuse to move on, I refuse to let go. I ignore the fact that other people sin and fall short while expecting them to be perfect. Honestly, my unrealistic expectations of others might be more sinful than their actions.

The thing is: God loved and forgave those of us who are believers when we were defined by our sin – “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As sinful people, we will fall short of echoing this kind of love perfectly. But it is the call on our lives, as Jesus said, to forgive others and love others how God forgives and loves us.

I’m afraid that we’ve missed this and instead are quick to shame and to criticize. I was talking with a girl in a small group a couple weeks ago who hadn’t been to church in a long time and I asked her why she hadn’t. She said that she felt judged and condemned and never really wanted to go back. Someone called her a really bad name. To her face. There had been no effort to reach out and love her and seek to show Jesus to her. Instead, there was only quick condemnation, shaming glances. No grace. No love. No acceptance of who she was as a human being, someone broken and in need of a Savior.

This is where the Gospel makes sense. This is where the love of God should be shown to Monica Lewinsky, to Mark Driscoll, to Barack Obama, to Dan Snyder. And I think only when the grace and love of God is made clear is proper confrontation of sin godly and biblical. I think of the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 (a story I’m loving right now and wrote about a few days ago), and Jesus’ words to the woman – “Neither will I condemn you; now, go and sin no more” (v. 11). He starts with a reminder of who she is in Him – saved, no longer condemned. It’s a perfect practical picture of Romans 8:1, in which Paul says there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There is correction and discipline, but no condemnation. Then He tells her that she is to go and no longer sin.

Will she follow that 100 percent? No. But no matter what, she’s forgiven and loved because she submitted her life to Jesus, called him Lord (v. 11). We should be giving the same response to guys like Mark Driscoll, guys like the pastor in your church who might be a little prideful, guys like your friend who unintentionally insulted your wife, people like your college roommate who left dirty dishes in the sink way too often. (That was me, by the way.)

We should be saying: “I don’t condemn you or hold that against you. But try harder! Pray to God for the grace to grow, for the Holy Spirit to convict you of your sin, for the Bible to show you how to live properly, and for your heart to accept God’s forgiveness of your sin and to change in a way that’s glorifying to Him.”

Man, I hope and pray that I can go that way, speak those words and really have that attitude of not holding sins against others and not seeking to shame someone into oblivion. I mean, that’s how God operates, right?

Grace Is Something So Incredibly Radical

I’ve been reading Tullian Tchividjian’s excellent book One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World the last week or so, and it is truly excellent. He discusses the need for a greater understanding for grace in a world that lives by and believes in what he calls “performancism,” being judged and evaluated based solely on your performance.

The Bible doesn’t purport that, he argues several times. He gives one example that I thought was especially powerful (p. 64):

…take an example from the Bible, that of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Once the woman’s accusers left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (v. 11). Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? No! Otherwise Jesus would have instead said, “If you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional; it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an if. The only if the Gospel knows is this: “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

For me, it was a new way to look at that story that shows Jesus’ unconditional love and His gracious giving of second chances. But it hit on a very important truth to remember about the grace and love of God.

God does not primarily view our works as our defining characteristic. He views our hearts and our position with Him as most important. See it in the structure of what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery in John 8 – “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” The first thing He tells her is that she is not condemned. This is true for all of us who are believers: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So we believers can rest in the fact that we are forgiven and loved and headed for eternity with God and Jesus no matter how much we screw up on earth.

But there is also then a following instruction: to sin no more. While it is an instruction we cannot completely fulfill because all men and women sin, it is not the primary way that Jesus relates to us. He relates to us based on the position of our hearts. Are our hearts submitted to following Christ? While wicked in and of themselves, the hearts of those who are believers are being renewed and remade by the Holy Spirit. It is the renewing of those hearts that allows us to pursue holiness and killing sin.

I’m reading through 1 Kings right now and saw a really cool theme throughout Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8. The guy was super wise. He’s praying a prayer of dedication of the temple he helped build for God and includes this passage (v. 46-50):

If they sin against you – for there is no one who does not sin – and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet it they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, “We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,” if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart…then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you…

Solomon, the wisest guy on earth ever, had the right attitude. God desired repentant hearts more than repentant behavior. Repentant hearts lead to repentant behavior.

And when our hearts are truly repentant, and we recognize our sinfulness, and we come to God asking for mercy, He will surely give it to us. That’s why grace is something so incredibly radical. The world doesn’t look primarily at our motives, it looks at our actions. God works the completely opposite way.

I’m Not Convicted Enough

Going to be honest with you here: right now, I’m convicted by sin in my life. But it’s not enough conviction.

Do we ever really see ourselves as we truly are? Are we ever honest enough with ourselves that we’re willing to admit just how jacked up we are? We spend so much time trying to show others that we are good people, that we know what we’re doing. This is super evident in the Christian church.

I look at myself in this very moment, deep in conviction, and think, “Do I really realize how bad this is? Do I really realize how much my sin will affect me? My family, current and future? My friendships? My ministry?” I don’t think I know it enough. I don’t think I have a grasp on the consequences of sin that I should.

Right now, reading through Jeremiah, I’m getting a good picture of the consequences of generational sin that come from ignoring and disobeying the God of all creation, the one who literally created everything. Yet the people didn’t seem to get it. Jeremiah was straight up telling them, “Hey, you guys, you’re going to be judged severely because of your disobedience. You can turn to God and avoid this judgement, or you can just keep going and face it.”

uturn-e12694741572891So often, I’m like one of those Israelites who just shrugs their shoulders and is like, “Eh, doesn’t matter.” I think the consequences of our sin are immensely more than we will ever realize at the time. But we’d rather think about others’ sin before we really face what’s wrong in us.

This is a really difficult thing to do for me, especially because I’m learning so much about grace in my life right now. I’m learning, really deeply for the first time, the depths of God’s love for me and what it means. I spent so much time in the last few years criticizing and judging myself for my sin, and that was not the right approach. So I’ve been refreshing myself on the greatness of God’s grace, and it’s been AMAZING! So awesome.

But the point of God’s grace is to bring us to repentance for our sins, the ones we committed before we came to Christ and the ones we commit while we’re one of Christ’s. Paul questions the Romans: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

God will never run out of kindness and forbearance and patience with us, but it’s all meant to lead us to repentance, to turning the other way, to changing how we live and behave. If I’m not taking that U-turn, something is desperately wrong with me. And I admit, that’s where I’m struggling right now. 

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness,” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:30. I boast in God, who shows me my weakness and shows me that He is the answer to my weakness. I hope this is my boast forevermore, nothing else, no one else.

My help comes from Him. He’s right here pulling me through. He carries my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on His shoulders.

I Don’t Have to Prove a Thing

There’s a sweetness in the gospel in its unfairness. This song captures it pretty well with one line.

 

The line: “And I am learning to believe that I don’t have to prove a thing, ’cause You’re the one that’s saving me.”

If the only way we could be saved is by our actions, our decisions, our choices, we would never be saved. We would never find a way to God. That’s the point of Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The point of grace is so that God gets all the attention. For so long I knew that, but I didn’t see how that brought me joy. How does somebody else getting the attention bring me joy?

It brings me joy because the burden is off my shoulders. My salvation is no longer based on my perfection or lack thereof. It’s based on the perfection of Jesus and the love of God in light of the depravity of man. I don’t have to prove my perfect law-keeping or that my thoughts are 100% pure, because, thankfully, that’s not the point. The point is Jesus was perfect in our place.

So often we work so hard to be perfect, but that’s not the point of Christianity. You follow Jesus is because you’re not perfect. The Bible isn’t about us being good enough, but about how Jesus was good enough.

We don’t have to prove nothing, because Jesus is the Savior, not us.

Before We Get All High and Mighty on the Osteens…

There’s been a big Facebook and blogosphere uproar surrounding the YouTube clip of Victoria Osteen’s “worship God for you” declaration in the last couple weeks. 

The clip below has over 1 million views on YouTube:

I will say, the Bill Cosby bit is funny.

The criticism that has come the Osteens’ way for their stance is well-deserved. If you want a good response to what was said, read these excellent blog posts by Albert Mohler (“The Osteen Predicament – Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel”) and Matt Walsh (“Joel Osteen and his wife are heretics, and that’s why America loves them”).

These are things that should be written, and I commend both Dr. Mohler and Walsh’s blogs as must-read if you have any confusion about the theology behind it. But as I pondered these responses and thought about my own reaction, I had to stop and think about myself for a minute.

How many times have I approached God this way? How many times have I spoken false doctrine to others or to myself because it “felt good” to me or would “feel good” to others? When we see false teachers, we should call them out, we should point out the flaws in their teachings. But we must not do it out of self-righteousness, but in love and dedication to the truth.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I have long fought a battle with self-righteousness. I grew up in a Christian family and managed to stay out of trouble for most of my school career – with just the odd silent lunch or reprimanding word here and there. I also attended church regularly and regularly spoke out in youth group. I knew a lot. I knew the answers.

When I went to college, I saw a lot more sin than I did before in high school. Just part of the gig of being a college student. And my freshman year, it manifested itself in self-righteousness. I would look around and see others and, I confess, judged them. Hardcore. I would self-righteously look at them and shake my head (sometimes visibly), astonished by their sinful ways.

BJoel-Osteen-Preaching1ut in the last couple years, I’ve noticed one thing: I’m not much different than they are.

If it weren’t for Christ in my life, I’d be right there with them. I’d be in the same boat. I’d be sinning just like them.

Also, fun fact: I am sinning like them. Maybe it displays itself in different ways, but I’m a sinner just like those kids I went to school with are. Just like the Osteens are.

Just like you are, Christian. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Pharisees loved to do what we’re doing to the Osteens. They loved to look at sinners and condemn them. I notice that sometimes we in the church love to do the same, especially when it comes to false preachers.

Let me go ahead and say again that I don’t approve of what Victoria Osteen said, or what Joel Osteen has said. It’s a horrible misinterpretation of Scripture, to put it mildly.

But before we get to crucifying them, remember that they need Jesus just as much as we do. Remember that Jesus died so that the pastors who misinterpret His Word might have a chance to learn differently, receive grace and spend eternity with Him in heaven. I want them to preach truth.

I also don’t want to give an affirmative answer the Osteens’ salvation, because that’s not my job. If they’re Christians who are just missing something big, pray for them. If they’re not Christians, pray for them.

I don’t want to be the prideful Pharisee that looks down on the repentant tax collector and says, “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” (Luke 18:11-12). Or in this case, “false teachers, liars, misinterpreters of Scripture, or even like this Victoria Osteen.”

Truth is, I’m a lot like them. 

I want to be the Christian that sees the flaws in others and responds in three ways:

  1. Pray that they know and love Jesus.
  2. Examine my own heart for sin.
  3. Pray that I would know Jesus more.

We shouldn’t be comparing one to another; we all fall short in comparison to the glory of God (Romans 3:23). He just wants us – you, me, the Osteens, the kids I knew in college – to be His. 

So please, Christians, let’s be in prayer for the Osteens, not just blast them all over social media and in conversations at church. We must stand for truth, yes, but not at the expense of loving others.

Love Means Backing Up What You Say (Even When You Screw Up)

I couldn’t tell you what the accurate statistics on divorce are, and I could post a bunch of links to studies that show different numbers on divorce in America, divorce in the church, divorce of this kind of couple or this kind.

I could just tell you that people say “till death do us part” and then don’t do that.

Maybe that will make my point. People swear love and faith and truth to one another on their wedding day and a certain number end up quitting for a number of reasons.Love-Fire

Then there’s the other side. The group that doesn’t commit to marriage because they’re scared of that level of commitment. What if I want to back out?, they ask. What if it gets hard? I admit that I find myself in that group sometimes.

I’ve been doing a study on love the last few days. And among the many things I’ve learned is that love isn’t about saying the right things or having the right emotional feelings. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do.

1 John is stocked with nuggets of jumbo truth about what love is, what love looks like, what love means, etc. I want to key in on two verses in particular.

—–

“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18

John’s emphasis is on love being the action and not just the words. It’s really easy to love in words. It’s really easy to say the right things. It’s really easy for me to say to my brother, “Hey, I love you and I’ll always be there for you.” It’s really easy for me to say to my friends, “Hey, I love you guys and I’ll always be there for you.”

Thing is, they’re words. In the long run, they’re empty. In his spoken word “Refuge” on Alex Faith’s album ATLast, Christian rapper Odd Thomas says, “I need more than just words. I need God’s words. God’s word is the only word that brings me refuge.” He’s saying, in light of the words of God, our words are sometimes meaningless, oftentimes offered as a well-intentioned platitude during which people might mean well but have no real intention or discipline of trying to follow it up.

Unfortunately, I find myself saying those kinds of things often. God’s words are really the only words that have any lasting effect.

That’s not to dull the power of our tongue. Proverbs 18:21 notably says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” We can encourage or bring down with our words.

But John’s trying to saying our love is most notable in our actions. He gives an example.

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” – 1 John 4:20

John gives the example of someone who says he loves God but then hates another, calling him a liar. He’s saying his words are false and mean little. I think he’s taking it more in the direction of “how can you love something you haven’t seen if you can’t love something/someone you have seen?,” and that makes sense.

But this is an example of someone who says one thing and then acts out another. That’s not love. When the couples who stand on the altar pledge “till death do us part” and then part a few years later, they haven’t kept their word. They promised one thing and then acted out another.

When I tell my brother, “Hey man, I love you, I’ll pray for you,” and then I don’t pray for him, have I really loved him? Have I really?

When I don’t tell my friend that I think he’s in sin and doesn’t see it, even though that’s what I want to do and have told him I will do, have I really loved him? Have I really?

If I say I love God, but disobey one of His commands, have I really loved Him? Have I really?

No.

What a wretched man I am. Who can save me from this body of death?

—–

But praise God that we have an example in Christ. Not only is it an example, it’s the hope we have when we fall short of displaying true love.

“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

God’s love is best displayed in His sending of Christ to earth to die to give us life. It was something He said and then it was something He did.

Said:

  • “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Judah…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31,34b
  • “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

Done:

  • “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” – John 19:30
  • “In (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” – Ephesians 1:7-8a

Love is saying something, then doing it. It’s words that turn into action. Sometimes love doesn’t need words, but the most powerful example of love we’ve ever seen was something that was said and then done, accomplished by the God-man Himself, Jesus Christ. God’s the perfect example, once again.

Because of that love, I’m forgiven whenever I fail at loving others. But I’m also given the grace to get back up and try again. Let that sink in. Just think about it for a second. When (not if) we fail, if we’re in Christ, we’re forgiven and that’s not held against us. We’re forgiven so we can try again.

Whether it’s loving God or loving my wife (in the future) or my brother or my co-worker or my pastor or whoever, love is a word that requires some action. It’s a word that turns into an action. It’s saying you will do it/are that/are working to grow in that and then doing it.

God did it. Thank Him that He did.

We Are Joy Seekers, Pt. 1: Looking in the Wrong Direction for What Satisfies Most

I’ve learned something over and over this year that Blaise Pascal explains quite succinctly: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception…This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”* We’re all looking for happiness in something. We look for satisfaction. We look for joy. We look for fulfillment.

As I was reading the introduction to John Piper’s Desiring God today (where I found that Pascal quote), I came to this one conclusion: The root of all sin is the misdirection of our pursuit of joy. Let me explain what I mean.

Man seeks to find joy in basically three places: himself, others or things.

got-joyWhen man seeks to find joy in himself, he looks for satisfying happiness in who he is and what he does and how that reflects on who he is. The scholar might say, “Well, look at my grades and my academic prowess, I feel quite happy.” The athlete might say, “Well, look at my trophies and my medals and my stats, I feel quite happy.” The businessman might say, “Look at my office and my salary and my title, I feel quite happy.” The person who seeks for joy in himself will be consumed with himself and his thoughts and feelings and moods.

I’m there.

When man seeks to find joy in others, he look for satisfying happiness in how he relates to others and how others relate to him. The high school sophomore will look at his girlfriend and might say, “She makes me happy because she likes me, I feel quite happy.” The college freshman will look at his friends he goes out with on the weekends and might say, “They make me happy because they make me feel important and liked, I feel quite happy.” The over-worked and under-appreciated wife will look at her girl friends (or maybe even another man) and might say, “They make me happy because they actually care about me, I feel quite happy.”

I’m there.

When man seeks to find joy in things, he looks for satisfying happiness in his possessions or in certain activities. The CrossFit junkie will look at the gym he works out at and the work out he’s just completed and might say, “Man, I just killed that workout without a problem, I feel quite happy.” The shoe-loving college girl will look at her footwear collection and might say, “I love how many shoes I have and that I can wear them, I feel quite happy.” The music lover will scan through his iTunes collection and might say, “I have so much good music that I can listen to at any time, I feel quite happy.”

I’m there.

Because I’m there, I can tell you that the music collection, the girlfriend and the grades DON’T bring full satisfaction. They can bring happiness, but only temporary. How many people that love music are ever fully satisfied with the music they currently have? How many guys are ever fully satisfied with either one girlfriend or where they are with their girlfriend? How many students are fully satisfied with one A?

Before I make my point, I’m going to say one thing: there’s nothing inherently wrong with strong academic performance, strong athletic performance, strong business performance, having a girlfriend, having friends to hang out with, doing CrossFit, buying shoes or listening to/having lots of music.satisfaction_opt

But when we seek after joy in these things, we’re missing something so much greater. Also quoted in Piper’s Desiring God, C.S. Lewis wrote:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on make mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.^

And because we are far too easily pleased in the short-term with things that seem so easily obtained, we don’t seek for what will satisfy us long-term.

I’ve been thinking on this a lot this school year because I’ve so often sought after the short-term pleasures of attention, affection or pleasure found in temporary, silly things, and seek after them daily. But alas, I’ve found a better way.

Second part coming soon…


 

* Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensees, trans. W.F. Trotter (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1958), 113, thought #425. Cited in John Piper, Desiring God (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah, 2011), 19.

^ C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), 1-2. Cited in Piper, Desiring God, 20.

The Truths in the Greatest Christian Rap Album I’ve Ever Heard, Part 1

That’s a pretty bold statement for sure. But God has used Trip Lee’s The Good Life to pour truth into my life when I needed it. And I want to share with you each song and the truths found in each of them. Thanks to Rapzilla.com for having a listening session with each on their front page here. Check it out.

NOTE: This is part 1 of the series. There are 15 songs on the album, so there will be three parts of 5 songs each.

1. New Dreams feat. Sho Baraka and JR

“If I find I have a need this world cannot meet, then I know this life is a place my hope should not be. I’ve been chasing those things that are real fake. This is not a real place, this is a dream state. Functional saviors ain’t hip, they’re a real waste.” – Sho Baraka

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Jesus asked his disciples, as recorded in Matthew 16:26. All throughout the Word, the world and its pleasures are spoken against. In 1 John 2:15-16, John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the love of the father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world.” Sho Baraka’s bit emphasizes that the world cannot fulfill our needs. And any dreams we have on earth that are not glorifying to the Lord are worthless.

“To the Lord, the good life is really dying.” – Sho Baraka 

“The good life is the life that’s been laid down.” – Trip Lee

Check out Matthew 16:24-25, where Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s very reminiscent of PRo’s album Dying to Live, and the song “A Life Worth Dying For.” It also reminds me of 1 Peter 5:6-7 — “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the might hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” If we really humble ourselves to God’s power and God’s will, and be patient on His timing, we will see His care for us and His guidance.

TRUTH: Jesus asks us to deny our selfish dreams, anything we personally want for ourselves, and totally submit ourselves to His will for our lives. Only then will we see His will.

2. Robot

“So I was still a drone, nothing but a clone, I only knew the lies cause that’s all that I was shown. But I been remade, my heart is no longer stoneWhere my ex-Robots who can sing this song? Now I’ve been remade, I’m no longer hollow. A real man came, changed everything that I know. He gave me truth, that’s a hard pill to swallow. He gave me new commands, and He freed me up to follow.” – Trip Lee

Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of the beat of this song, but the message is truth. Trip talks about how he used to be a “robot,” sitting under the commands of his flesh and what man is naturally. But once He became a Christian, his life was changed. He saw his heart had once been subject to the ways of the world, but it had been changed to be submissive to the Lord and “freed…up to follow” God’s commands.

It makes me think of Romans 8:2-6 — “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 the 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. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

TRUTH: Once we have been set free from control of the flesh by Christ’s death on the cross, and the imputation of His righteousness on us cleanses us from sin’s control, we can follow God’s commands. We’ve got a new Master, and we follow Him alone. We want the good life till it’s gone.

3. I’m Good feat. Lecrae

“I know that I’ma suffer, that’ll only make me tougher. Death is just a doorway to take me to my faithful lover. The lover of my soul’s with me, you can shake a brother. But you’ll never knock me down or take me under, bring the thunder. Let the storms come behind us and hurt us. They can’t take our Lord from us, we got us a verdict. Not guilty. He’s with us and He stays present. He never leaves me, He even gives me stage presence.” – Trip Lee

Great video, by the way. This video really puts the entire song into perspective. It really hits hard on persecution.

Ever read 1 Peter? It was written by the disciple Peter to a group of scattered exiles from Rome who were kicked out of the city when the emperor Nero blamed them for the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. The group was undergoing intense persecution. Peter encourages them with verses like this — “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Despite being under intense persecution, those Christians had a great reward to look forward to. Romans 8:1 says we have no condemnation if we’re in Jesus Christ. Death is gain for the Christian (Philippians 1:21) because we get to see Jesus.

“Partner, you know I’m good to go. Pressure creates diamonds and fire refines the gold. Ain’t nothing on this planet that’s satisfying my soul. I’m living for tomorrow, today is out of control.” – Lecrae

1 Peter 1:6-7, following that awesome bit of verses 3-5, says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” As you see in those verses, we go through trials and tribulations, which may include persecution for our faith, but it’s to make us stronger. And we go through it because nothing on this earth will satisfy us.

TRUTH: We’re good because we have a place in heaven if we trust Christ with our life. No matter what persecution we go through, any earthly thing we lose is worth losing. We know where our eternal resting place is. That’s the good life.

4. War

“This is war, like you ain’t seen. This winter’s long, it’s cold and mean.” – Dustin Kensrue.

“Entombed souls everywhere, dead bodies rottin’. Big glocks poppin’, bodies still droppin’. But I ain’t gonna cry though, ’cause death’ll get swallowed. The Father sent His Son, and the troops gonna follow.” – Trip Lee

Life is spiritual warfare. And this song speaks to it. Life (God) and death (Satan) are in a continual battle over the earth and its inhabitants. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Consider Tedashii’s “Make War.” In the beginning, it has a sample of John Piper — “I hear so many Christians murmuring about their imperfections and their failures and their addictions and their shortcomings, and I see so little war! Murmur, murmur, murmur, why am I this way? MAKE WAR!” Tedashii then goes into a diatribe against Christians who don’t fight their sin.

In this song, I think Trip’s simply saying – there’s spiritual war in the world. Life is fighting against death. But because Christ conquered death, life will win, God will win.

The song samples Dustin Kensrue’s “This is War,” the official music video of which is above.

TRUTH: Check Romans 5:18-21 — “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

5. Fallin feat. J. Paul

“Feeling like throwing in the towel, the guilt is kicking in. Sometimes I climb to heights, but I’m at my lowest sin, cloaked in deception and overdosing on potent sin…now I’m doubled over with my face on my knees, and decide it’s where I want to be. There I go again, I’m fallin.” – Trip Lee

“Face to the pavement, once again faced with the same sin. I don’t think I’mma make it, don’t know how much longer I can take this. So I’m caught up in this sin, I wonder if I’ll see Your face again. Fallin’, fallin’, fallin’, there I go.” – J. Paul

I love this song because it talks about the process Trip goes through once he’s committed a sin. He talks about how sin calls out his name and entices him to join.

I think Romans 7, the entire chapter, is good background Scripture of what Trip’s trying to say here. Paul writes in verses 18-20 — “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

When we reach that stage in our week or our day, it can be very easy to wonder if God really does love us, or if He really will pick us up from the sin we find ourselves in.

Everytime I fall He go’n pick me up. The Lord is my shepherd, homie, He go’n pick me up. I fell into the trap again, but He go’n pick me up, remind me of His promises, in Him I put my trust.” – Trip Lee

“So I gotta face this, but I know there’s nothing that He can’t fix. Looking to the cross where they placed Him, ’cause I know His grace is amazing. He’s covered all my sin, it’s gone, never to be seen again. So we’re callin’, callin’, callin’, out to you.” – J. Paul

The amazing part of this is that God’s grace is amazing. Romans 7:24-25 — “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” Also, Romans 8:38-39 — “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

TRUTH: That’s one of God’s awesome promises, that He will never leave us nor forsake us, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Despite our sinfulness, if we are God’s children, He will always love us.

Check back soon for Part 2, covering the songs “iLove,” “Know Me,” “One Sixteen feat. Andy Mineo and KB,” “Heart Problem” and “Take Me There feat. Jimmy Needham.”

Putting the Crucifixion in Perspective

I had a friend tell me once that she struggled watching The Passion of the Christ as put in Christian worship artist Matt Papa’s music video for his song “It Is Finished.”

To be honest, I didn’t disagree with her. It’s violent, bloody and uncomfortable.

The truth of the matter is, the death and suffering of Jesus Christ is something that should shock us and should inspire us to do more for the kingdom of the Lord.

But our culture, including the Christian culture, likes to play it safe. We want to ignore the bloody, the bold and the outrageous because our society only wants that around election time.

Let’s be honest, we shy away from pain, we shy away from wanting to be broken or hurt or in any kind of emotional or physical pain. It’s difficult for us to handle. It requires humility because we first have to admit that we have been knocked down from the high pedestal that we place ourselves on, whether we intend to or not.

But consider this: Christ suffered pain unlike any human in history.

According to the historical definition of crucifixion, the victims were nailed to the cross at their wrists and at their feet. The nails were placed into the wrists in a position in which they would cause a lot of nerve pain. The nerves being hit would produce bolts of pain in both arms, which would be out-stretched but not taut in place. The victims would hang on their wrists. The same thing happened at the feet, the nails hitting nerves that would set off an enormous amount of pain.

But probably the most excruciating (Latin “excruciatus,” or “out of the cross”) part of death by crucifixion was how it affected one’s breathing. The way one normally breathed would be thrown into limbo by the form the body took while on the cross. Because one would more or less “sag,” the body was not in a position to breathe properly. When the victim would try to lift himself up to breathe properly, the pain of the nails on the hands and the feet would be agonizing and eventually lead to asphyxia. Plus, the scourged back of the victim would scrape painfully against the wood of the cross.

This is not by any stretch of the imagination a pretty picture to the human eye. In fact, it’s just a piece of the full, painful truth. He also suffered under the burden of sin, a burden that would take a whole other article to write about. Just trust Scripture in that it was a huge burden.

But to the eye of the Christian, it should be the most stunning, beautiful image to behold.

Jesus’ death on the cross did many things for us.

First, it showed us a picture of ultimate suffering. As has been described, crucifixion was painful. Not something that anybody would want to go through.

Second, it allowed us to see a picture of humility. Philippians 2:6-8 says, “(Jesus) who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Paul implies that dying on a cross is a perfect example of humility.

Third, probably the greatest thing it did, was the removal of the power of sin over us. It eliminated the barrier between God and man, it allowed us to have grace through faith alone. As Papa sings in “It Is Finished,” “the keys of the kingdom were placed into hands of children and priests, and of fishers of men.” We have access to the kingdom of God because Christ said, “It is finished.”

The veil of the temple was torn. Luke 23:45-46 records that “the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” By the way, that’s not a normal curtain. It was protecting the Holy of Holies, the place on earth were the presence of God dwelt in Jerusalem. Matthew 27:51 says the curtain was torn “from top to bottom.” No man could do that. It was a heavy curtain.

Through Jesus’ death on the cross, we are able to pray, able to receive the Holy Spirit, able to spend time just meditating in the presence of God. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, we can receive salvation, justification, sanctification, glorification. It is the most central event in the history of the world, and it is the reason for our existence.

As has been said, the crucifixion of Jesus is bloody, uncomfortable and disgusting. The Passion displays it very well. Director Mel Gibson was criticized for the overly violent portrayal. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Gibson said this:

I wanted it to be shocking; and I wanted it to be extreme … So that they see the enormity – the enormity of that sacrifice; to see that someone could endure that and still come back with love and forgiveness, even through extreme pain and suffering and ridicule. The actual crucifixion was more violent than what was shown on the film, but I thought no one would get anything out of it.

Gibson’s record post-Passion has not exactly been spotless, but he makes a great point. Christ suffered all of that at the hands of man, yet he chose to not only forgive them, but love them.

That’s why the crucifixion is important. That’s why we should be more than okay with the blood and violence. It’s the pain we should be taking seriously because it allows us to feel no pain when we reach eternity.

The Most Beautiful Marriage…But The Bride Cheats

One of the best metaphors in the Bible, I think, is the metaphor that Christ and the church are married like a husband and a wife, respectively.

It’s found in Ephesians 5:22-25 and 32.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Paul’s my homeboy. I want a t-shirt that says that. But that’s beyond the point. The Holy Spirit’s inspiration in this passage is incredible because we can take so much from this. And it’s something that I’ve been contemplating and meditating on a lot today. I’ll try to take this one at a time.

Christ is our husband, as the church. The imagery is incredible. You think about a perfect husband: he’s faithful, he’s loving, he’s serving, he’s sacrificial. That’s how I define a perfect husband because Christ is the perfect picture of a husband and Christ is all those things. The crazy thing is…

We are the most unfaithful of brides. This is put best in Derek Webb’s song “Wedding Dress,” which I posted about a week ago. He sings, “So could you love this bastard child? Though I don’t trust You to provide, with one hand in a pot of gold, and the other in your side. ‘Cause I am so easily satisfied by the call of lovers less wild, that I would take a little cash over Your very flesh and blood.” What a charge made against Christians, a charge that landed Webb in some hot water. But I stand behind it because it’s so true. The fact that we walk around as perpetual whores is convicting. We are constantly, through our sin in word, thought and deed, betraying the love that Christ has for us.

But He loves us anyways because HE IS JEALOUS. A couple lines in songs hit the nail on the head here. The popular worship song “How He Loves” starts, “He is jealous for me.” “Wedding Dress” has a line that goes: “Because money cannot buy a husband’s jealous eyes when you have knowingly deceived his wife.” That particular line has been hitting me upside the head today. God is SO JEALOUS for us that nothing Satan does can take away His love for us. Christ the ultimate jealous husband. And it’s beautiful.

It’s the most beautiful wedding. It’s the most beautiful wedding when a person becomes a Christian. There’s Jesus, the husband. He is loving and sacrificial. He gave His life so that us, the bride could have life in Him. And then there’s us, the bride, the selfish, self-seeking person that Christ loves unconditionally when we submit ourselves to Him. It’s such a beautiful picture because it’s forgiveness and love! Two of the greatest things in the history of the world!

Just some thoughts on what God’s been revealing to me. There’s so much more to this but blog posts need to be relatively short.

Dio ti protegga,

Zach