I Like to Impress People. Even Though It Annoys Me When Others Do That.

I went to a Christian college ministry conference during the New Year’s weekend of my junior year at Elon University and met Shai Linne.

Shai is a Christian rapper whose rhymes are often characterized as “lyrical theology.” He attempts to explain spiritual truths and theological points in hip-hop form. He performs one of my favorite songs of all-time, “Mercy and Grace” with label mate Timothy Brindle.

In fact, it was Brindle I brought up when I met Shai. After the normal, “Hey man, I like your music,” thing that you always say when you meet a musician you like, I mentioned that I liked a lot of the guys on Lamp Mode Recordings, his label. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but it went something like this:

ZACH: “Yeah, I love what all you guys on Lamp Mode do — S.O., Timothy Brindle, God’s Servant — it’s good. Particularly Tim’s new stuff.”
SHAI: “Have you listened to Tim’s album ‘Killing Sin’?”
ZACH: “No, I haven’t, not yet.”
SHAI: “Bro, it’s so good.”

Within a couple days, I had bought the album.

Again, I don’t think those are the exact words that were used, but that’s generally how the conversation went.

I was reflecting on that conversation recently as I was listening to an S.O. song. While I may not remember the exact words in the conversation, I remember my motives. I wanted to impress Shai Linne. I wanted to be that guy that, as he left the conference hall that night, he remembered. 

I still carry that attitude in a lot of ways. I’ve had similar conversations with comic book store owners, movie reviewers, journalists, pastors, etc., people whom I’ve tried to impress with my knowledge whether or not that knowledge was actually impressive.

I think there’s a part of all of us that wants to impress people, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But here’s where I get tripped up.

It’s one of my pet peeves when other people try to do that to me. I just think they’re trying to make it all about them and what they know and how cool they are. But I do the same thing!

As I pondered this in my car the other day, I shook my head and said to myself, “Zach, what are you doing?”

Impressing people, I think, is part of being human. We want others to think well of us, to remember us, to think we’re pretty awesome, so we try to impress them. There’s the classic scene in the romantic comedy where the guy tries to do something to get the girl’s attention but ends up making a fool out of himself. There’s the politician who tries to spit off the best statistics to support his/her argument. There’s the friend you debate on Facebook who puffs his chest after owning you in an argument. 

And while the root of trying to impress people isn’t necessarily bad, the danger we encounter could be an even bigger mistake: not being ourselves.

Speaking of the coming Messiah, Isaiah says, “…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2b-3). 

Jesus, when He came, was nothing special, and nothing He did was ever to impress anyone. He lived and spoke and work in a way that brought glory to the Father, not to Himself. He never pretended to know something He didn’t, never brought something up in conversation to try to make someone think He was awesome.

In fact — in something that has always confused me — He often told people to not talk about what He did for them. 

If I were Jesus, I’d be trying to find ways to bring up what I could do and what I knew. I like to think of myself as a pretty humble, non-assuming dude, but when it comes to conversations like the one I had with Shai, I prove that totally wrong. I’m just an attention seeker like everybody else. 

God did not call us to draw attention to ourselves. His call for us, I believe, is like what Paul says to the Romans is their’s: “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of (Jesus’) name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5). I believe that’s our’s too. We aren’t called to bring about people thinking we’re awesome and that we know a lot. We’re called to bring about people believing in Jesus.

That’s not to say we can’t have conversations about things we know about, that we can’t share the knowledge we have with someone else for the purpose of establishing a connection. Why do we do it? Why are we trying to impress people? 

I think we can impress people, but for the sake of Jesus. We can impress them with the beauty of His grace, the depth of His love and the gravity of His compassion. We can impress them with the prophetic way God and His people spoke and wrote of the world and of humanity. We can impress them with the way we take His words and His example so seriously that we can’t help but live like Jesus.

That’s the type of impressing I need to work on. 

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The Most Important War We Fight Is Not of This World

There are lots of wars going on right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confessions of a Recovering Goody Two-Shoes

There are few truly humble people in this world. Even though we praise in-the-spotlight people when they speak humble words or perform humble actions, we rarely seem to seek it ourselves, make it a part of us.

Of course, when I say “we,” I’m talking about myself. I’ve got an interesting story when it comes to humility, or lack thereof (which, by the way, is one of my favorite phrases in the English language). This story is in three phases.

Pride in Being “The Best”

Growing up in the stereotypical “Christian home,” I was raised to do all the right things. I didn’t drink, didn’t chew and didn’t go with girls that do. Or did. I didn’t cuss, didn’t see an R-rated movie until I was 14 or 15, and even then it was one that was barely R-rated. I made a habit out of being a “goody-two-shoes.”

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “goody two-shoes” was made popular by the children’s story “The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes” about a girl who grows up with only one shoe. One day, a rich man gives her a complete pair of shoes. She then goes on to live a gloriously happy life, with the story implying her good life comes because she is virtuous. Basically, she was good, so she got good things.

I was generally (but not all the time) respectful and honoring of my parents and teachers. I tried to avoid all the bad things my classmates were doing. I felt like I was a pretty good person. I was hoping to be that “goody two-shoes.”

I hope you’re seeing the pride that made a living in my heart during that time. Even when I committed my life to Jesus at age 13, I still had a ridiculous amount of pride and boastfulness. I thought I was the only committed Christian in my class in high school because I thought I was the only one legitimately showing it. I didn’t cuss, didn’t hook up with girls, didn’t do any of that “bad stuff.” I knew some stuff in the Bible, enough that I felt like I contributed a lot during youth group on Sunday nights.

My pride was purely self-righteousness. It was me thinking I was good enough to warrant being called a “good Christian.” I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be the one people looked at and said, “Man, he’s a good Christian kid. He does all the right things.”

I made sure to not talk about myself this way, because that would be prideful and boastful. But boy, my heart was guilty.

The Despair of Not Being “Good Enough”

When I got to college, I recognized that pride. I recognized the self-righteousness that I loved. Like in high school, I was one of few Christians in my friend group and thought that I carried the cross-emblazoned flag very well. But it hit me during my freshman year that my self-righteousness was turning people away from relationship with me. So I decided to cut back a bit.

And there was growth there. Unfortunately, it was like the growth of a root – only down. I struggled long with sinful temptations and became so burdened with sin and guilt and shame that I started a downturn. The false humility I had before – when I’d play down my “goodness” with a shrug and a sheepish smile – became a self-deprecating “humility.” I would look for ways to put myself down in front of others. People would mention me being a “good Christian” – words I lived for just a couple years before – and I would turn them down, saying, “I’m definitely not perfect. Oh I could list the ways…” and trail off, sincerely hoping they wouldn’t ask me to.

This turned into a prolonged period of depression and rejection of God’s grace in my life. I would take stock of my actions and my thoughts and think, “Well, I suck. I’ve got nothing to offer.” I would work so hard to try to get back on God’s good side. Nights and nights when I would pray and beg God to get better.

Meanwhile, I would seek praise and affirmation from others because I felt so crappy about myself. And when someone praised something I did in the Christian realm, that was even better, because that’s what I felt the worst about.

So I got stuck in that rut. I would be doing well spiritually for a few days, but then I’d do something stupid and would lose it. All the good that I had built up seemed to crumble down in a messy, unruly heap that would take a couple days to sort out.

Grace, Grace, Such Grace

The other day, Paul David Tripp posted this on Facebook: “Our sin is what separates us from God, but it’s our self-righteousness that keeps us from running to Him for the grace He willingly gives to all who come.”

Self-righteousness is the No. 1 stumbling block to receiving God’s grace, and it can work both ways. We can be self-righteous in thinking that our works get us to God, make us look good before Him. We can also be self-righteous in thinking that our works have to be good enough or it’s impossible to be in relationship with Him. In both of those scenarios, our righteousness comes from ourselves. Therefore, self-righteousness.

Those kinds of thought processes prevent us from truly knowing, understanding and receiving grace from God. Grace comes when we realize we are insufficient to reach God on our own. Grace gives us hope in this life of a real relationship with God built on unconditional love and mercy.

What is it Ephesians 2:8-9 says? “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.” That verse promotes that very two-pronged truth: we’re not saved by our works, but we’re not deemed valueless by that fact. We’re actually given the chance to have much greater value than we would ever have by our actions alone, because our value comes from God, not from ourselves.

I think it was in Jerry Bridges’ excellent book The Discipline of Grace, but I remember reading C.S. Lewis’ quote: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” True humility defines Jesus. He kept an accurate view of who He was: the Son of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, sent to earth to accomplish a mission. But He thought of others – us – more than Himself. We are called to be the same.

Last February, I went to Banner Elk, N.C., in the Appalachian Mountains. I was journaling and writing out 11 points of things I learned those few days I was there with a friend. One of those points was as follows:

Biblical humility is not about saying, “I’m the worst.” It’s about saying, “Jesus is better.” Biblical humility isn’t based in self-degradation; it’s based in Christ-exaltation. So when I’m dealing with my pride, my call should be not that I suck, but that living for and giving the glory to Christ is better.

It’s a lifelong struggle, and it took me nearly 22 years to get to this point right now where I have some sort of semblance of what true humility looks like. And I’m sure that I’ll have to continue to wrestle with all of these things. Grace, grace, such grace. Grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all my sin. Including my pride.